The Jesuits in North America in the Seventeenth Century

MR. FRANCIS PARKMAN has been fortunate in finding unappropriated, untried even, a dramatic subject of well-defined and completed historical interest, for the treatment of which his taste and talents give him an extraordinary adaptation. He has rightfully asserted his claims to be regarded as occupying the whole of a field whose scope and contents he has so ably mastered, and portions of which he has wrought to such good purpose. He has for many years had in view a series of historical narratives,−each complete and independent in itself, though having an organic relation to the others,−which should present the whole story of early French and English enterprise and rivalry in North America. Under the title of “ Pioneers of France in the New World,” published two years ago, and noticed at the time in these pages, we had a volume which initiated the full development of the results of his labors as far as they dealt with the earliest events and actors connected with French enterprise on this continent. In his “ History of the Conspiracy of Pontiac,” published sixteen years ago, Mr. Parkman had already given us the last act in a drama of intense interest.

“The Jesuits in North America” is the title of a new volume, and of a well-rounded and nobly-wrought theme. The English reader had nothing within his reach before from which he could learn what is offered to him here. Rich as the subject actually is in documentary and printed materials of prime Century. By FRANCIS PARKMAN. Boston : Little, authenticity, and in the infinite minuteness of detail in their contents, these materials were widely scattered and not readily accessible. Mr. Parkman has either copied or procured the copying of many thousand pages ot manuscripts illustrating his theme. He has gathered all the pamphlets, volumes, and maps which have any relation to it. He has put himself in communication with officials, custodians, and antiquarian students, who could help him in his researches, and, by visits of exploration and inquiry to the localities which form the scene of his narratives, he has faithfully met all the conditions external to his own more special qualifications for the exacting work which he has undertaken, and, so far, so successfully accomplished.

We have intimated that Mr. Parkman has special qualifications, taste, and talents for the line of historical studies to which he has devoted his life, and in which−in spite of most discouraging and embarrassing impediments of ill-health and physical suffering in eye and limb, and the sympathetic demands of the brain for rest and inaction except at long intervals and for short efforts−he has already done enough to give him place in our foremost literary ranks. We might emphasize our assertion of these special aptitudes and talents of his even up to a point which to those who are not familiar with his pages would seem enthusiastic or exaggerated. The curiosity, or sympathy, or reference to his own historical purposes,−call it and regard it which of these motive influences we will,−which has led Mr. Parkman to seek the closest contact with many of the Indian tribes in our domains, − to share their life, to be domiciled in their dirty lodges, to partake of their unappetizing feasts, to listen to their traditionary and tribal lore, and to endeavor to put himself into communication with the inner workings of their thought and being, − has accrued most helpfully to the benefit of his readers. We feel that he is for us a faithful and competent interpreter and commentator of Indian life, manners, superstitions, and fortunes. He has a marvellous skill in observing and describing the phenomena of nature, − the teatures and scenes of the wilderness amid which they roved. Those gentle or strong touches for shading and blending, for bringing into bold relief, or for suggesting what is alone for the thought and not for the sight, which the skilful painter uses in his service, are paralleled by Mr. Parkman in the felicity of his verbal delineations. We know of no writer whose pages are so real and vivid in qualities harmonizing with his theme as are his. The abundant material to which we have referred required just that elucidation and illustration which he has given to it by familiarity with the scenes and subjects embraced in it. In some very important points the author, by his thoroughness, candor, and judicial spirit, corrects some false impressions generally accepted, and substitutes fact for the fancies of romance.

Ad majorem Dei gloriam, − “ For the greater glory of God,”− the noble motto of the Society of Jesus, had inspiration enough in its sublime simplicity and fulness of aim to consecrate any great enterprise into which piety and zeal and self-sacrificing toil could throw themselves, under whatever limitations of ignorance or superstition. All the perplexing questions, shifting and deepening from age to age, and finding moie adequate answers as to what consists with the glory of God, may help to train a more intelligent and practical judgment in the estimate of means and ends. But no comparative allowance of this sort can reduce the tribute due to devotion and heroism in an untried service for a holy cause, however bewildered and futile the endeavorMr. Lecky confronts us with the perhaps undeniable, but still unwelcome fact, that ardor and zeal cool proportionately as intelligent and practical aims diiect the humane or the religious activities of men. Enthusiasm has an affinity, if not with superstition, yet with exaggerated and ill-adjusted estimates of the relations between the body and the soul, the visible and the invisible, the temporal and the eternal.

There can be no reasonable doubt that the missionary Jesuits, whose life so sore a martyrdom that they must have found relief even in a cruel death inflicted by the Indians, did balance their view of what would consist with the glory ot God by some equivalent benefit which they thought to secure tor the barbarians. It has become very desirable, for various good reasons, to concentrate all the efforts of thorough research and of discriminating judgment upon the actual condition of the native tribes on the northern part of this continent when European enterprise or zeal introduced among them new and potent agencies for good or ill. Is their decay, their extermination, to be ascribed to the cupidity and heartlessness of the white man, with his skilled and calculating arts for overmastering the rude children of nature ? Were they a happy, contented race, supported by the forest and the stream, and sharing among themselves such relations as served for their uses in the stead of the more elaborate and artificial institutions of civilization ? Did their compensatory advantages balance to any extent the rude and stern conditions of their existence ? Did the white man try, even with moderate humanity and sympathy, to lift them to an equality with himself, and to share peacefully and with mutual benefit their old domain ? Was their destruction a foredoomed conclusion, a calculated purpose, an acknowledged necessity from the first? or was it slowly and reluctantly accepted as an inevitable destiny decided by conditions which overruled and thwarted every scheme and device of philanthropy ? Were the Indians in the way of self-development, working upwards to intelligent improvement in their means and ways of life ?

Would they have retained their heritage here up to this day, had the white man never come among them ? These and many similar questions may be asked, either by curiosity or in the interest of humanity, or in the service of ethnologic science. Mr. Parkman contributes more abundant and more instructive means for discussing and for deciding these questions in the light of authenticated facts, and of fair deductions from them, than do all who have preceded him on the subject.

In an Essay, introductory to his present volume, he embodies the results of many years of study, research, and personal observation concerning our Northern aborigines, −their tribal, treaty, and confederate relations, their distribution and numbers, their government, their family life, their customs, modes of subsistence, and warfare, their character and traits, their intellectual stage, their superstitions, their religious notions and observances. It is evident that his task, to this extent, was made an exacting one, not only by its inherent difficulties and complications, but by the misleading and guess-work representations of other writers who have been accepted as authorities. He makes stupendous reductions from the romance which has invested Indian character and life. "The noble savage,”the ideal of so much fanciful and morbid sentimentality, becomes in his pages the representative of quite other qualities than those ascribed to him. In all that constitutes and ennobles manhood and in all the conditions which should elevate the human above the brute creature, the savage and his lot are wanting.

Mr. Parkman says of the HuronIroquois family, that, from average capacity, superior cranium, and such advancement as is indicated by what we must call their mode of government, we might look to them, if to any of the aborigines, for examples of the higher traits popularly ascribed to Indians. But if we so look, we look in vain. Rather do we find in them the more repulsive and hideous qualities of the fiercest and the foulest brutes and reptiles,− a relentless and untamable ferocity and a homicidal frenzy. From the calm and exhaustive analysis of the philosophy of his theme, as well as from the tragic story which fills his thrilling pages, it is evident that Mr. Parkman traces to the nature and circumstances of the savage himself the prime causes of his extermination. Independently of the white man’s agency, − saving only the sale of guns by the Dutch traders at Albany to the Iroquois, − the decay of the Indian tribes is to be ascribed to their own incapacity for civilization, and to their own homicidal passion. One might as well expect to neutralize the game flavor in the deer or the seafowl, as to bring an Indian tribe under the conditions of what we call culture and civilization. Mr. Everett, in his address in commemoration of the mas-, sacre at Bloody Brook, near Deerfield, Massachusetts, vindicated the general course of the white men towards the aborigines of these regions, by claiming for it an accordance with the manifest will of Providence from an economical point of view. The Indian was a wasteful, wretched, improvident consumer and spoiler of the means of subsistence and enjoyment for communities of civilized men. So reckless and ruthless was he, so idle and thriftless, that he required for his precarious and beastly subsistence a domain which would furnish cities with all their comforts and luxuries. A thousand white men might subsist in comfort through the whole year where five Indians could find but enough with which to gorge themselves for a small part of the year, while for the rest of it they suffered for lack of food, fire, and shelter.

Undeniable, also, is the fact that, according to the measure of what represented Christianity to themselves, and the form and degree ol benefit which they personally by experience derived from it, the earliest European comers labored sincerely, and at cost, to impart the blessing to the Indians. They made this attempt with equal fidelity under the inspiration and guidance respectively of the two very different forms in which Christianity, as a religion, was accepted by themselves, and divided the range of Christendom. Eliot and the Mayhews stand, and will ever stand, as exponents of the purest, most patient and persistent zeal of Protestantism, matched only, but not surpassed, by the chivalrous devotion, constancy, and martyr-heroism of the subjects of Mr. Parkman’s volume, in all the aims and toils of their impracticable work. The Protestant offered the Gospel to the Indians through intellectual teachings ; the Romanist tried the experiment through a symbolism which one might, at first thought, regard as admirably adapted to the nature and circumstances of the savage. Success of a certain sort seemed to have secured, in both experiments, the promise of an ultimate reward for labor.

Happily, too, the Jesuit and the Protestant might alike find comfort in referring the disastrous overthrow of their hopes, not to the failure of their work, nor even to the inconstancy of their respective converts, but to the fortunes of the ferocious warfare by which the native tribes exterminated each other. Mr. Parkman first, or most lucidly and emphatically among our historians, and without a particle of special pleading, but simply by the fidelity of his narrative, makes it appear that the common impression as to the prime or fatal agency of the white man in visiting so ruthless a destiny on the Indians is exaggerated, if not substantially false. The tragic element in his pages, deep and plaintive as it is, comes in to show how Christian zeal and humane effort were thwarted by animosities and passions working among the Indian tribes before the continent was occupied by Europeans.

One of the most suggestive exercises to which the perusal of Mr. Parkman’s book will quicken the minds of many of his readers, and for the more intelligent pursuit of which his pages will be found to afford the most helpful material, will be a comparison or contrast, not only of the genius of the Catholic and the Protestant religions in the work of missions among barbarians, but of the less spiritual and more homely qualities of the French and English proclivities, as exhibited in their respective relations with the savages. The French came more closely and familiarly into sympathy and intercourse with them. The English never could fraternize with them. If an Englishman of the lowest grade took a squaw for his partner, he sank to the level of barbarism himself. It was quite otherwise with the Frenchman. After the permanent occupation of Canada was secured, a race of half-breeds constituted, so to speak, a very respectable, as well as the most efficient, element in its population. It was enough if the squaw of the Frenchman had been the subject of Christian baptism. But that ordinance, however effective for the life to come, did not qualify a native woman for English wedlock. Sir William Johnson, indeed, made no disguise of his manner of life, which the complexion of the daughters who sat at his table with his most honored guests would have rendered rather difficult; but their mother−or mothers−were not presentable.

A very engaging episode in Mr. Parkman’s narrative−we propose it to our artists as a subject of rare and novel interest, and rich in capacity− presents us two noble specimens of Christian zeal, in the persons of a Jesuit and a Protestant missionary in amicable intercourse with each other. Would that we had a more detailed account of the interview, and of the conversation which must have given it the highest charm of courteous sympathy, though with reserve, between two men who represented the sharpest antagonisms of creed, while a common faith may have proved an inner attraction for their hearts. The Colony of Massachusetts had applied to the French at Quebec, in negotiations looking toward a reciprocity of trade. The Jesuit missionary Druilletes was sent in that behalf to Boston. His diplomatic character saved him from the penalty of the halter, which Puritan law had pronounced upon any one of his profession who should be caught in this jurisdiction. He arrived in the autumn of 1650, and had a most hospitable and kindly reception, though he failed in his object. The scene we have proposed to a painter is that which finds Druilletes a welcome and honored guest in the humble dwelling of the apostle Eliot, at Roxbury, who invited the Jesuit to remain through the winter. We are sure they met and communed as friends, − high-souled, respecting each other, recognizing in each other aims and purposes, and the experience, alike in success and failure, of the arduous nature of a work which brought into a true communion of piety the spirits consecrated by it.

Not quite a score of years − from 1634 to 1650 − suffice for the dates of the chief events in the profoundly interesting and saddening story of effort and failure which Mr. Parkman rehearses with such masterly ability. Starting with the renewed occupancy of Quebec in 1634, and the accession of the Jesuits to the abortive enterprise of the Recollet Fathers, he traces out for us the history of the Mission to the Hurons, giving us the characters of all its agents, an account of the settlements established, and the methods pursued till the work was frustrated.

It is but a sad and painful story−in some of its incidents harrowing and revolting− which Mr. Parkman has to tell us. So far as strict fidelity to his subject would admit, he has had regard to the sensibilities of his readers, and where he could neither hide nor soften, he has contented himself with intimating and suggesting what it would have been simply shocking for him to follow into further details.

With an acute skill in the reading of human nature, and a cosmopolitan spirit of his own which identifies religious toleration and charity with common sense, Mr. Parkman, in a few paragraphs crowded with facts and philosophy, takes us into the inner organization of Jesuitism, indicates the spring and aliment of its vitality, and explains to us how it reconciles the abnegation of the will with the concentration of resolve in obedience. Starting from Quebec as a centre of operation, and the place where French supplies and Indian traders were brought into contact in the spring of each year, the Fathers, tollowing the direction of their Provincial at home, through their Superior resident, Le Jeune, radiated towards the dismal localities where each looked to live and die, as the majority ot them did. We ought to have their names before us. The first six of them at Quebec were Le Jeune, Brébeuf, Masse, Daniel, Davost, and De Nouë. To these were added Buteux, Bressani, Ragueneau, Chabanel, Garreau, Garnier, Lalemant, Jogues, Chaumonot, and Vimont. Most of them were very young men, of noble lineage, and with the finest prospects of worldly success had they sought the prizes of courts and of civilized life. With few exceptions, they were not robust, but delicate. Eight of them died under Indian torture. Not one of them failed in purpose or in courage.

It is not possible for the pen of either Romanist or Protestant to make a Jesuit a lovely or attractive object to a Protestant. The flaw, if not the falsehood, in their claim to the loftiest homage, vitiates the appeal of the disciples of Loyola to the profoundest regard of the human heart, independently of the antipathies of creed. It is enough to know that their fellow-Romanists of other orders share to the full the sentiment of distrust towards them which no pleading in their defence has weakened in the common Protestant mind. Their devotion, their heroism, their stern constancy to the recognized principles of their severe discipline, does not neutralize, even if it qualifies, the persuasion, which has, not lacked evidence to support it, that, in the service of God, they have been willing to learn art and subtlety from the Devil. True, we are told that a generous candor will always enable and dispose us to honor and reverence self-sacrifice with a sincere purpose, even when folly, instead of necessity, crowns it with martyrdom. The plausibility of this plea lies in a vague use of the word sincere. The honors of martyrdom are yielded by a fine discrimination, as graduated by a scale recognizing a varying proportion of truth and value in the purpose for which the self-sacrifice is made. Every grain of superstition, duplicity, or recklessness reduces − every element of loftiness, high-thinking, and wise-purposing exalts −the honors rendered to a sufferer and a victim. We think that Mr. Parkman has held a fair balance in those almost alternate sentences in which, with a terse and comprehensive way of communicating his judgment, he recognizes the personal devotion, and compassionates the puerility and aimless toil, of the Jesuit missionaries. They might be pardoned for believing that the direction which the soul of a dying Indian child would take, either for heaven or for hell, was decided by their being able to cross a moistened finger upon its face. But to turn that saving charm into an act of jugglery, deceiving or falsifying to the parents, was an act which reduced the performer of it, either in intelligence or honesty, below the level of the sorcerer.

Mr. Parkman sets up no plea, positive or comparative, in behalf ot that remarkable−we cannot say engaging −class of all-enduring men whose grim toils and sufferings he so faithfully narrates. Yet we have been spellbound, and deeply stirred, as we have slowly read and mused over his pages. So graphic and skilful is his method, so animated is his style, so vivid and real does he make the scenes, the surroundings, and the phenomena of his subject, that, while we might dispense wholly with the exercise ot the imagination, we find that it has actually beguiled us into its most effective exercise by persuading us that we have seen and shared in many of the personages and incidents of the narrative.

The rules of the Order required of the missionaries something in the nature of a diary, or journal, which, passing through the hands of the local Superior, should reach the Provincial at Paris. From these official papers, entering into the fullest minuteness of detail, confidential in their contents, and of the utmost trustworthiness, were composed “The Relations,” which, annually made public, were of double service,−in reporting the hopeful labors of those already in the hard and drearyfield, and in quickening the fervent zeal for new accessions to it. From these Relations, and from the voluminous and equally rich private correspondence between the missionaries and their European friends, Mr. Parkman, contributing what he has learned from other sources, is able to construct for us a continuous narrative, which anticipates every question we might ask, and informs us fully on every point of interest in his theme. He describes to us the Jesuit living on visions and dreams, reinforcing his spirit by meditations, and keeping his enthusiasm up to the needed point byassuring himself, on emergencies, of the direct interposition of the saints in his behalf. He makes us join the travelling party of the missionary as he avails himself of an Indian escort to penetrate into the wilderness, sharing its perils and its annoyances, aggravated always, even when not created, by the shiftlessness of his companions. We are initiated into all the methods and appliances of travel, of hunting, of encamping, of lodge-building, of feasting and starving, on the trail and in the village. The resources of forest life as presented by Thoreau. who had houses into which he might bring up at night, the furnishings of a wardrobe, and the comfort of salt, will be found on comparison to obtrude many broad contrasts with the realities encountered by the Jesuits and their entertainers. These all-enduring, patient men, born amid the luxuries of civilized life, left all behind them when they embarked in the canoe which was itself, with its contents, to be carried as a burden over the frequent portages connecting streams or avoiding cataracts. The first care of the “Black-Robes” was to provide the vessels and materials for the mass, with paper, pen, and ink. A few trinkets, and perhaps some implements of the rudest home-use, completed their outfit. They were disgusted, all but infuriated, by the filth and vermin, the loathsome familiarities, and the blinding smoke of the wigwam. Their feelings as civilized men were outraged by the fiendish barbarities of which they were spectators. Their lives always hung on a thread, at the mercy of caprice, jealousy, superstition, and hate, which were always active in savage breasts. Yet they toiled and suffered and persevered and hoped, as men can do and will do only when they believe themselves working for heaven, − to obtain heaven for themselves and to fit others for it.

  1. The Jesuits in America in the Seventeenth Century. By FRANCIS PARKMAN. Boston : Little, Brown, & Co.