The Habitant of Lower Canada

AT the conquest in 1760, Lower Canada contained seventy-two thousand French Canadians, the descendants of less than ten thousand emigrants from France. This was a marvelous increase, considering that the little colony had twice recruited the army of Montcalm, waged unceasing war for a century and a half against the Indians, and sent out settlers and traders to the uttermost confines of New France. After the conquest, seven thousand colonists, mostly seigneurs and their families, returned to France. The English statesmen of that period confidently expected that the French language would soon die out and the habitant be absorbed in the British settlements, and the province was divided up, to that end. But the stone, in this instance, is breaking the hammer. The French Canadian population in Quebec now numbers twelve hundred thousand souls. There are one hundred thousand people of Acadian descent in the Maritime Provinces. Manitoba is nearly half French. French Canadian settlements are found in the valley of the Saskatchewan and on the other side of the Rocky Mountains. Ottawa, the capital of the Dominion, is more French than English. The habitant has crossed the line dividing Upper and Lower Canada, and is marching westward through the counties of Glengarry, Dundas, and Prescott, and northward by the valley of the Ottawa. The French language, which is universal in Quebec, has the same legal status as English in the Dominion Parliament and the Supreme Court of Canada. Even the comparatively new English settlements in the Eastern Townships are being overrun. Somerset becomes Saint-Morisette, Stamfold Sainte-Folle, Boulton Bouton, as parish after parish is invaded by the race which England thought she had effaced on the Plains of Abraham. The habitant has also swarmed over the boundary into New England and the Western States, and the sixty-five thousand peasants left to shift for themselves in the abandoned colony which Voltaire described as “ a few arpents of snow ” have increased, until their number in North America is not short of two million souls.

The French Canadian is an admirable colonist. He may lack enterprise, but his staying qualities are not surpassed by those of the Scotchman. He is a living monument to the truth of the old saw that “ blood will tell.” New France, unlike many colonies founded by European nations, was not a penal settlement. The earliest emigrants were honest and intrepid pioneers, like Cartier and Champlain, who led them. The seigneurs came of the best stock in France, being chiefly young nobles whose purses were not long enough to enable them to bask at Versailles, and retired officers. From 1621 to 1641 the settlers came mostly from Normandy, Beauce, Poitou, Perche, Ile de France, and Le Pays d’Aunis. In 1665, the Prince de Carignan regiment, the first European corps sent to America, arrived in the colony, and was disbanded. The officers, nearly all of whom belonged to the haute noblesse, received land grants and founded family dynasties, some of which exist to this day. The common soldiers were also put upon the land, and this crack regiment, fresh from fighting the Crescent on the plains of Hungary, was speedily absorbed in the population. Laval, the first bishop of Quebec, whose see extended from the St. Lawrence to the Gulf of Mexico, was a high-born Montmorency. Ladies of rank and fortune, headed by Madame de la Peltrie, a handsome young widow of Alençon, founded the first religious houses, of which the Hôtel Dieu was endowed by Richelieu’s niece, the Duchesse d’Aiguillon. The governors, the intendants, and the minor officers of the king were of the bluest blood in France, and their influence upon the manners of the people is visible to this day.

The habitant was the French peasant transported to a better world. He was a devoted royalist, believing with Pernetty that when kings are good they are a present from Heaven ; when they are bad, they are a chastisement. The French peasant of that period was crushed beneath the noble and the taxgatherer. At the close of the seventeenth century La Bruyère wrote: “ Certain savage - looking beings, male and female, are seen in the country; black, livid, and sunburnt, and belonging to the soil which they dig and grub with invincible stubbornness. They seem capable of articulation, and when they stand erect they display human lineaments. They are, in fact, men. They retire at night into their dens, where they live on black bread, water, and roots.” On the banks of the St. Lawrence the serf breathed the air of freedom. He was still a serf, under the Custom of Paris; but the Canadian seigneur was a kind master, and the king’s assessor no longer reaped where the husbandman sowed. The Récollets, who were the first missionaries, attended to his spiritual wants ; and when they gave place to the Jesuits, churches soon dotted the clearings. If the church bled the habitant freely for tithes, its numerous saints’ days lightened his drudgery. Moreover, he paid the tithes cheerfully ; for, unlike the Irish peasant under the Protestant garrison, he was not maintaining an alien creed. Cœlum, non animum, mutant, qui trans mare currunt : the habitant, in the loneliness and isolation of the forest, cherished with deeper affection the faith as well as the superstitions of his native land. The king’s was a paternal government. The minister Colbert provided the settler with a wife, and encouraged large families by royal premiums. The first batch of girls sent from the parent country to meet the keen demand in the matrimonial market arrived October 7, 1665 ; and the Mother of the Incarnation, superior of the Ursuline Convent, relates in her diary that they were all, to the number of one hundred, happily married by October 29th. La Hontan has made a cruel charge against these state brides. They were peasant girls, chosen for their robustness and virtue, and orphans of good character, taken from the Hôtel Dieu at Paris. Boucher, writing in 1663, declares that when a black sheep was found among them she was at once sent back to France ; and this is corroborated by Father C. Leclercq, 1673—90. La Fontaine writes to his friend, Saint-Evremond, in 1687 : —

“Le mieux est de me taire,
Et surtout n’être plus chroniqueur de Cythère,
Logeant dans mes vers les Chloris,
Quand on les chasse de Paris.
On va faire embarquer ces belles :
Elles s’en vont peupler l’Amerique d’ Amours.
Que maint auteur puisse avec elles,
Passer la ligne pour toujours! ”

This may or may not have been true of the girls sent to New Orleans and St. Christopher in the West Indies ; upon those sent to New France it is a libel. The registers of the church of Notre Dame at Quebec bear testimony to the singular purity of the people. In the first seventy years of its settlement, when the population of Quebec was composed of a motley crowd of soldiers, sailors, and peasants, there were only two illegitimate births. Charlevoix, in 1720, testified that at that day the French Canadian women preserved their reputation unsullied. A royal gratuity of twenty francs was given to lads who married at twenty years of age or under, and to girls who found husbands before they were sixteen. It was no uncommon thing for the united ages of the bride and bridegroom to fall short of thirty years. A premium of three hundred francs was awarded to parents with ten living children, and of four hundred francs to those with twelve. Men of family were preferred to bachelors for the petty public offices. Young widows, obeying his most Christian majesty’s edict, soon dried their tears. Dollier de Casson, in his history of Montreal, tells of one who married her second husband whilst number one lay dead in the house. Large families are the rule to this day. M. Ouimet, the excellent superintendent of education in Quebec, is the twenty-sixth child in his family. At a funeral at Beauport, not long ago, twenty-seven children followed the remains of the twenty-eighth to the grave. Fourteen golden weddings have been celebrated at one time in a single parish in L’Assomption. The seigneurs married the daughters of seigneurs, and Talon, the intendant, occasionally wrote to Colbert for a consignment of “ young ladies of good birth and breeding,” for the subalterns of the Carignan regiment and the young civil officers whose taste could not be suited in the colony. Feudalism and religion walked hand in hand in those days, and the colony waxed strong with a pious, thrifty, and prolific people. The Norman colonist was a veritable Aberdonian in acquisitiveness. His Breton neighbors said he prayed not for wealth, but only to be placed near somebody who had it. Emigration from France practically ceased in 1700. Since then the French Canadians, in spite of the conquest, the burdens imposed upon them by the early British governors, the stream of British emigration that has been steadily running into Canada since the union of the two provinces in 1841, and the overflow from Quebec into New England and the West, have increased to such a degree out of their own loins that now, like Israel in Egypt, “ the land is filled with them.”

The feudal tenure, which existed for two centuries and a half, has left an ineffaceable mark upon the character of the habitant. It was the feudal institution of France modified by local usages. The royal commission to La Roche, the king’s governor and lieutenant-general in 1598, and the conveyance in 1626 of a certain tract of land to Louis Hébert, the first head of a family who settled at Quebec (1617), contain traces of the Custom of Paris. But in 1627-28 the colony was vested by royal charter in the Hundred Associates, who were to enjoy it à perpétuité, en tonte propriété, justice et seigneurie, together with a monopoly of the fur trade, on payment of tribute in the shape of a crown of gold, four pounds in weight, to each new king of France. This charter established the feudal tenure throughout the country, and in 1663 the company made the first concession en fief to Robert Giffard, seigneur of Beauport, a doctor who settled there with a party of Percherons. The title of the Hundred Associates was extinguished in 1663, and the government was wielded by the king, acting through the Sovereign Council at Quebec ; but the colony was ceded in the following year to the West India Company, which was abolished by royal edict in 1674, and from that time until the conquest the royal administration held entire sway. The feudal tenure, however, was continued after the conquest, until 1854, when it was quietly abolished, at a direct cost to the united provinces of Upper and Lower Canada of six million dollars. But as Upper Canada had to be compensated for this purely Lower Canadian expenditure, the act of extinguishment, accomplished after fifty years of bloodless agitation, may be said to have cost the country ten million dollars, —an enormous outlay for that poor and straggling population. France introduced the seigneurial system into the colony solely as a means of peopling it. The seigneurs rendered homage to the king’s representative at Quebec once a year, and the custom was continued under British rule. The seigneur knelt before the governor, delivered up his sword, placed his hand between the hands of the governor, and repeated the oath of allegiance. The seigneur also paid to the king the right of quint ; that is to say, the fifth part of the price received for the property whenever it changed hands. He was bound also, by the right of banalité, to build grist-mills on his estate for the benefit of the censitaires, or tenants; to use all due diligence in inducing emigration and colonization; to perform military service when called upon; to see that the clergy were well treated ; and under certain fiefs to administer justice, haute, moyenne, et basse. In France the banalité was conventional, and had no existence at common law. In Canada it was also conventional until 1686, when it was recognized and enforced by statute; the seigneurs being bound, as has been said, to build grist-mills, and the censitaires being compelled to carry their grist there, and nowhere else, paying the seigneur a fourteenth part for the grinding. Again, the seigneur in France was absolute master over his estate, in that he might rent it or not as he saw fit; but in Canada the seigneur could not lock up his lands, nor refuse to cede them to censitaires for a fair price, fixed according to the average rent paid in the neighborhood. This law prevented the holding of land for speculative purposes ; indeed, so keenly alive were the king’s ministers to the danger of “ holding for speculation and monopoly ” that by the arrêt of 1732 it was provided that lands lying fallow, or remaining uncleared, should after a certain time lapse to the crown. The seigneur could not exact anything from the censitaire when the latter entered on possession, nor demand a rent of more than two sous per superficial acre ; but the lods et ventes, an impost by which the seigneur secured a twelfth part of the value of the farm whenever it changed hands, and the banalité were a source of large profit. It must not be supposed, however, that the seigneur ate the bread of idleness. “ At St. Ours,” writes one of the king’s agents, " I saw two young ladies at the plow-tail.” The dowry of Mademoiselle Magdelaine Boucher, daughter of a Three Rivers seigneur, who married Urbain Baudry dit Lamarche in 1647, was as follows: Two hundred francs cash, four sheets, two tablecloths, six linen pieces, a mattress and coverlet, two dishes, six spoons and six pewter plates, a saucepan and a copper kettle, a table and two benches, a kneading-trough, a trunk with a key, a cow, and two mated pigs. The seigneur’s daughters helped their mother to do the household work, and the seigneur himself “ bossed ” his laborers, and looked after his roads and rents. Little by little, however, the seigneur increased the weight of his feudal exactions. In a lawsuit he had a great advantage over the censitaire, for the judges of course belonged to the seigneur class. The cens et rentes, from being two sous an acre, with a forty-sou capon thrown in were increased to six and eight sous. The right of retrait, by which the seigneur forced a purchaser within forty days after the sale of a farm to transfer it back again, enabled him to protect himself against fraudulent sales ; but in later times it was abused, and tended greatly to hamper the transfer of land. The corvée, or forced labor upon the roads, was not burdensome (it exists at this day under the name of statute labor) ; but the same could not be said for the practice which crept in of forcing the purchaser of a farm to compound the lods et rentes by a cash payment. The seigneur might compel the censitaire to supply gratis all the wood and stone required for the estate, and by virtue of the right attached to the domaine privé in unnavigable streams he collected rent for water-power for driving mills, and seized a tenth part of all the fish the censitaire caught.

The feudal system was admirably adapted for the creation of a peasant proprietary ; and it kept the colony from falling into the hands of a few rich landlords. In 1850, four years before the seigneurial title was extinguished, there were two hundred and twenty-seven seigneuries; but as the seigneur was compelled to lease and sell, his own private estate never became unmanageably large. The degrading badges of vassalage which the villein in Europe wore were never fastened upon the French Canadian. The infamous droit de jambage is said to have been inserted in the patent of one Canadian seigneur, but no trace of it can be found ; nor were any of the fanciful droits of the class of droits honorifiques in force. The system, rude as it was, taught the people the virtue of obedience to constituted authority. From the seigneur, who had to render foi et hommage to the king, down to the poorest censitaire, whose disobedience would either consign him to the dungeon, or bring down upon him the torture of the cheval de bois, all were “ subject unto the higher powers.” And so the habitant of to-day, whether in his native parish, or as an alien in New England, is loyal and respectful to his superiors, — a great conservative force on a continent which has always been the refuge of the uneasy spirits of the world.

Before Jacques Cartier and his comrades sailed from the roadstead of St. Malo in the good ships Grande Hermine, Petite Hermine, and Emerillon, on May 19, 1535, they went reverently to the old cathedral of the town, and received the holy sacrament and the blessing of Bishop Bohier, Their first act, upon touching at Ile aux Coudres, below Quebec, on September 7th, the eve of the feast of the nativity of the Blessed Virgin, was to celebrate the holy sacrifice. It was a mellow day in the beautiful Canadian fall. The coudriers (hazel bushes) and the odorous pine were tinged with the fierce scarlet which the Indians say is the breath of summer. Dom Antoine and Dom Guillaume le Breton, the almoners of the expedition, carried the sacred vessels ashore, and the company, planting the fleur de lys in the name of Francis I., joined in the first mass said on Canadian soil. Religion has entered largely into the history of the country so consecrated. The Jesuit missionaries raised a cross to mark the metes and bounds of their explorations. The old coureurs des bois " blazed ” crosses upon the trees for guide-posts. The habitant in the new settlements erects a cross near his shanty, and at noon, when he knows by the course of the shadows that it is Angelus time in his native village far away, makes the forest resound with his litanies. A French Canadian settlement is founded on religion and democracy. When the young habitant goes abroad into a new district, his kit consists of little more than his axe and rosary. lie works all winter clearing the land, and in the spring puts in his first crop. If the land is good, he returns after seed-time to his friends and neighbors, and tells them the news; the next fall two or three of them join him, and the process of hewing homes out of the virgin forest begins in earnest. It is hard work, but the habitant is a woodman born. In the course of three or four years the settlement feels big enough for parish and municipal honors, and efforts are made to secure a priest. Religious duties have not been wholly neglected in the mean time. On Sundays the most book-learned man in the party reads aloud out of L'Imitation de Jésus Christ, and the forest reverberates with the peasant’s hymn to the Virgin :—

“ Je mets ma confiance,
Vierge, en votre secours:
Servez-moi de défense,
Prenez soin de mes jours! ”

At Eastertide they return without fail to their native parishes. Those who neglect the church at this season are known as renards, and the young habitant will walk many a weary mile to the nearest church to escape that branding. At last some good priest offers to visit them once a month. A rude log-house is hurriedly built as a temporary chapel, and the women garnish it with wild flowers. A few pine boards serve as the altar, and the priest brings the sacred vessels with him in his knapsack. Before mass, confessions are heard. Then the little community ask for God’s blessing upon their enterprise, and pray for their absent friends. By and by, when the parish has been duly set apart by the bishop, a corvée, or “ bee,” is summoned; a chapel is soon built by willing hands, and a levy is made for a clock, — a clock with a sonorous bell that makes itself heard when the forest is ringing with the din of the axeman and the cries of the teamster to his stubborn oxen. Then the three marguilliers, the trustees or churchwardens of the parish, are elected. The marguilliers hold office for three years, the members retiring in rotation. The marguillier whose turn it will be to retire next presides at the meetings in the priest’s absence, and on special occasions the ex-marguilliers are convened, and occasionally all the members of the congregation. The marguilliers compose the fabrique, or vestry, of which the priest is ex officio president. All the temporalities of the parish ecclesiastical are vested in the fabrique for the time being. The marguilliers have seats opposite the pulpit and facing the congregation, and a crucifix and two candles burning before them are the symbols of their authority. It is the duty of the marguilliers to aid the priest in the general management of the parish, and they accompany him at Christmas when he visits the parishioners pour la quête de l'Enfant Jésus, soliciting alms for the poor. The habitant is not crushed by clerical imposts. Newly cleared land is exempt from tithes for five years. On other land, the tithes are payable in kind, being one twentysixth part of all the grain grown. If the owner of the farm is a Catholic and the tenant a Protestant, the land pays no tithes; the liability depends upon the religion of the actual occupier. The tithe system was established in 1663, when one thirteenth of the harvest was exacted ; subsequently, the proportion was reduced to one twenty-sixth, and the system was legalized on the cession of the colony to Great Britain. If a habitant abjures the Catholic faith, his tithe liability ipso facto ceases. Besides tithes, the church levies the supplément, a tax of from one eighth to one fourth per cent. of the annual assessment of tradesmen and others not subject to tithes.

As a class, the French Canadian priests are men of much merit. Their parishes in very many cases are as large as an English county, and their work, especially in the winter time, involves not only arduous toil, but no small peril. The history of the priesthood is the history of the country. They were the discoverers in the heroic age of the colony ; they are the colonization agents now. They are men of dauntless courage. Fathers Brebœuf and Lalemant, who went to the stake and defied Indian torture on the shores of Lake Simcoe in 1649, have won, if they have not yet received, the martyr’s crown ; but they were no braver than the priest who risks his life in canoeing rivers during the frosts of November and the thaws of April, or in forcing his way through the bush in the dead of an arctic night to answer a sick call.

The habitant is a model of thrift. He grows his own tobacco, makes his own “ beef” moccasins, and manufactures his own whisky. His wife spins the wool out of which is made l'étouffe du pays, a kind of frieze, in which he clothes himself. His house is a picture of neatness. The outside is whitewashed at least twice a year; the inside is swept and garnished until it is as bright as a new pin. The floor of pine boards is scrubbed and sanded every day. The walls are hung with pictures, somewhat gaudy as to color, of the Pope, St. Cecilia, St. Joseph, and St. Anne, and photographs of the parish priest and of the children who are away in New England or Minnesota. Over the broad fire-place, in which huge logs blaze in winter-time, hangs the family fusil, the old flint-lock a sire carried under Montcalm, and now used to kill an occasional bear, and to fire a feu de joie on St. Jean Baptiste day and other great occasions. Near it are medals brought from Rome by the priest or the bishop, and the rosary that has come down as an heir-loom in the family. The house is decorated with sampler work of saints and angels, for which the women are famed. A crucifix hangs above the fusil, and in settlements near a church the house is always supplied with holy water. The patriarch of the family sits in the ingle-neuk, puffing blasts of smoke from his long pipe up the bellowing chimney, and sporting the toque, an old-fashioned red night-cap with a brilliant tassel, which his fathers before him wore under the ancien régime. The goodwife, in mantelet of calico, skirt of homespun blue, and neat Norman cap, is at the spinning-wheel; the eldest daughter, soon to marry the honest husbandman in the next clearing, is weaving her linen outfit at a handloom. The pot in which the pea-soup, the staple dish, is made is gurgling on the fire; a smaller pot contains the pork ; and in the Gulf parishes the tiaude, composed of alternate layers of pork and codfish, is still the piŃce de résistance. The bedrooms are furnished with oldfashioned bedsteads, covered with patchwork quilts of cunning and patient workmanship. Here too are pictures of the Madonna and St. Ignatius, and a small plaster figure of the great Napoleon, meditating with folded arms on the cliffs of St. Helena; a bough of palm blessed at Eastertide; holy water, a specific against lightning; and the snow-shoes on which the habitant visits his little kingdom of eighty or one hundred arpents in the long winter season. The housewife bottles an infinite variety of preserves in the fall, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, huckleberries, and other wild fruits which the bush and the swamps yield in abundance; and in the spring the maples furnish a sweet harvest of sugar. When the défricheur comes in from the woods on a cold evening, he fortifies himself with a draught of the mordant whisky; the blessing of God is asked on the more substantial repast, and he falls to, a valiant trencherman, with an appetite as keen as his axe. The bon homme gets out his rosin and his bow, the lads and lasses come in from the neighboring farm-houses, and as Longfellow has it of the Acadians in Evangeline, —

“ Gayly the old man sings to the vibrant sound of his fiddle,
Tous les Bourgeois de Chartres and Le Carillon de Dunkerque.”

The dances of the olden time still hold their own in the country districts. The cotillons, the gigues, the galopades, the menuets, the danses rondes, and the ancient ballads, the Claire Fontaine and En Roulant, are ever new. At ten o’clock the grandfather puts away his fiddle, and reverently gives his blessing to the company, which now disperses, to be up and at work by the first peep of morning.

The parish municipal is organized and governed on a system similar to that which is in vogue in the American and Upper Canadian townships, the people having paramount control of affairs and enjoying absolute home rule. In a French Canadian parish, the habitants, having shared in common the hardships of pioneer life, are divided by no caste distinctions when the sun of prosperity rises upon their horizon. They are one family, and in this unity lies the secret of their strength as colonists. The priest, the notary, the doctor, and the village postmaster are the leaders of public opinion. It was the fashion not long ago, especially among Parisian writers who occasionally paid a flying visit to the province, to describe the habitant as steeped in ignorance and superstition. Oscar Commettant, who published a book of travels in 1860, told how the habitants had asked him affectionately after Louis XIV. and Madame de Maintenon, and were much put out to hear of their death! The absurdest stories always find the readiest credence. As a matter of fact, the system of education in use in Lower Canada is equal to the best on the American continent. The better class of people speak pure French, and nearly all can speak fair English. The church has encouraged education since the earliest times. Pacifique Duplessis, the Franciscan, founded the first school in Quebec in 1616. The College of the Jesuits was opened in 1636. At the time of the British conquest primary education was conducted by the Jesuits, or with the help of the Jesuit endowments, aided by a few Ursuline and Récollet teachers. But in 1800, on the death of Père Cazot, the last of the fathers (the company having been suppressed by Clement XIV. in 1773), the British government seized the property of the order, thus despoiling and closing the parish schools. Some of the early British officials were not distinguished for fair dealing. Governor Murray, writing six years after the conquest, pronounced them the “ most immoral collection of men ” he ever knew. Monseigneur Plessis, one of Laval’s most illustrious successors, struggled for years to save the colony from being made a close Protestant preserve in spite of the liberality of the Articles of Capitulation and the Treaty of Paris of 1763. It was not until 1841 that the church regained control of the primary education of the people. Great progress has been made of late in native literature. Garneau and L’Abbé Ferland, the historians, are dead, but their works will endure forever. De Gaspé, who began authorship at seventy, left behind him a standard work on the manners and customs of the old régime. Among living writers, Benjamin Sulte, L’Abbé Casgrain, Lemoine, Tassé, Dr. Taché, Fabre, Marmette, Ernest Gagnon, Faucher de St. Maurice, and others are creditably sustaining the reputation of the province. M. Frechette, editor of La Patrie of Montreal, and a poet of no mean order, was recently crowned by the French Academy.

Through all these years the habitant has clung to the language of his forefathers with extraordinary tenacity. It is often said by transient visitors, and commonly accepted as true by those who have never set foot in the province, that the habitant speaks a rank patois.This is not the case. The Norman accent prevails in some of the rural districts, and the educated classes have almost lost the French intonation; but the French spoken is the pure French, the classic French of the golden age of French literature,—blurred, however, by anglicisms, and slurred in the pronunciation. It is true that there are hundreds of words in use which are not found in the Dictionary of the Academy. But it must be remembered that the habitant has had to coin words during his life in the bush. There are, for instance, many appliances used in making maple-sugar, in logging, in making potash and pearl ash, of which the Academy never heard; but such words are not barbarisms. In other cases, old words still cherished by the habitant have become debased currency in France. Thus, if you ask after the crops, the habitant will tell you that he has had de l’avoine à plein. The phrase ô plein is not used in France nowadays, but it is sterling coin for all that, being found in Pascal and other writers of his day. If you request the habitant to go for a walk round his farm, he will ask you politely to espérer, for attendre, a while; but espérer is good old French. Other expressions which jar upon French ears are phrases used by the old Norman seadogs which the habitant has preserved. Thus, the peasants embark on and disembark from their wagons. They do not dress but rig themselves; they refit a broken vehicle, and so on. The words which the habitant has coined are those which most offend the Parisian. But what does Paris know of the forest sucrerie, of the brassin, goudrelle, toque, tire, trempette, and other technical terms of the backwoods refinery ? The Forty Immortals never saw the inside of a shanty, and their French is incapable of describing the technicalities of lumbering; yet when they hear the words and phrases of this industry they accuse the habitant of speaking an unintelligible jargon ! Nor are the Immortals learned on the subject of a Canadian winter. Baliser un chemin is an expression which a recent French writer quotes in support of his charge that the peasant speaks a patois, and he translates it “ to ballast a road.” Baliser is a nautical term, meaning to mark out by beacons or buoys, and baliser un chemin is tc plant trees on the roadside, so that when the road itself is obliterated by snowdrifts the teamster may know how to steer and take his bearings. So, also, the habitant, when storm-driven, says, Je me suis trouvé dégradé par la tempête, a phrase derived from his seafaring ancestor, whose ship was often dégradé ; that is to say, abandonné or jeté hors de sa route par la violence des vents. Littré knew what a raquette (snow-shoe) was, but a French journalist not long since gravely informed his readers that the Canadians traveled in winter en jaquette ! The anglicisms used by the habitant are indeed barbarous. Thus he calls a light-house litousse; speaks of his boss in the shanty or the shop, of marchandises séches for dry goods, and so forth. But when it is considered that he has been surrounded and governed by Englishspeaking people since the conquest, the wonder is not that anglicisms should have crept in, but that any French should have survived.

In his instructions to the committee appointed in 1852 to search for French ballads, M. Ampère noted these marks of the ancient ballad: " The use of assonance in place of rhyme; the brusque character of the recital, the textual repetition, as in Homer, of the speeches of the persons ; the constant use of certain numbers, as three and seven ; and the representation of the commonest objects of every-day life as being made of gold and silver.” Judged by this standard, the French Canadian ballads are the pure and unadulterated article of the Middle Ages. Indeed, the French collectors have actually been indebted to their transatlantic kinsmen for some of the best specimens of the ballad of Normandy and Brittany. The first three verses of En Roulant ma Boule will give the reader a good idea of the subject matter and style of these ballads : —

“ Derriére ckez-nous ya-t-un étang,
En roulant ma boule.
Trois beaux canards s’en vont baignant,
Rouli, roulant, ma boule roulant.
En roulant ma boule roulant
, En roulant ma boule.
“Trois beaux canards s’en vont baignant,
En roulant ma boule.
Le fils du roi s’en va chassant,
Rouli, roulant, ma boule roulant,
En roulant, etc.
“Le fils du roi s’en va chassant,
En roulant ma boule,
Avec son grand fusil d’argent,
Rouli, roulant, ma boule roulant
En roulant,” etc.

The king’s son is a leading personage in many of the ballads, and his weapons and accoutrements are always of gold and silver. In some ballads, the Claire Fontaine for example, a love-sick youth discourses with a nightingale on the merits of his mistress ; others deal with seafaring incidents, and others, again, with field sports and military adventures. The ballad of St. Malo is a very popular one. It begins : —

“ A Saint-Malo, beau port de mer (bis)
Trois gros navir’s sont arrivés,
Nous irons sur l’eau
Nous y prom’ promener,
Nous irons jouer dans l'île.
“ Trois gros navir’s sont arrivés (bis)
Chargés d’avoine, chargés de bled,” etc.

Cutting out the repetitions, the following translation expresses the sense of the ballad: —

“ At St. Malo, good port of the sea,
Three big ships in the harbor be,
Laden with grain right heavily;
To purchase it go goodwives three!
‘ Merchant, what may thy figures be ? ’
' Six francs the wheat, the oats for three.’
‘ Too dear by half for us goodwives three.’
‘ But, goodwives, come on board with me.'
‘ Dealer, none of thy truck take we.’
‘ Well, if sell it I can’t, here, take it free.’
' Ah, well, at that price we may agree! ’ ”

The habitant holds fast to the ballads of his forefathers, as to their language, religion, and legends. In all things he is a strict conservative. To the church he renders faithful obedience. Every island and rock in the St. Lawrence marks the scene of a miracle, or of the exploit of some sainted missionary ; and wherever he goes he carries with him a primitive belief in the Christian mysteries which rarely succumbs to the materialism of these latter days. The church has taught him to “ fear God,” and the church and the feudal tenure to “ honor the king.”

Edward Farrer.