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- The French in the Heart of America - 3/57 -


explorations where the two rivers invited to the west and northwest, so Cartier joined the companions who had been left near Quebec to build a fort and make ready for the winter. As if to recall that bitter weather, the hail beat upon the windows of the museum at St. Malo on the day when I was examining there the relics of the vessel which Cartier was obliged to leave in the Canadian river, because so many of his men had died of scurvy and exposure that he had not sufficient crew to man the three ships home. And probably not a man would have been left and not even the _Grande Hermine_ would have come back if a specific for scurvy had not been found before the end of the winter--a decoction learned of the Indians and made from the bark or leaves of a tree so efficacious that if all the "doctors of Lorraine and Montpellier had been there, with all the drugs of Alexandria, they could not have done so much in a year as the said tree did in six days; for it profited us so much that all those who would use it recovered health and soundness, thanks to God."

Cartier appears again in July, 1536, before the ramparts of St. Malo with two of his vessels. The savages on the St. Charles were given the _Petite Hermine_, [Footnote: James Phinney Baxter, "A Memoir of Jacques Cartier," p. 200, writes: "The remains of this ship, the _Petite Hermine_, were discovered in 1843, in the river St. Charles, at the mouth of the rivulet known as the Lairet. These precious relics were found buried under five feet of mud, and were divided into two portions, one of which was placed in the museum of the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec, and destroyed by fire in 1854. The other portion was sent to the museum at St. Malo, where it now remains. For a particular account _vide Le Canadien_ of August 25, and the _Quebec Gazette_ of August 30, 1843; 'Transactions of the Quebec Literary and Historical Society for 1862'; and 'Picturesque Quebec,' Le Moine, Montreal, 1862, pp. 484-7."] its nails being accepted in part requital for the temporary loss of their chief. Donnacona, whom Cartier kidnapped.

A cross was left standing on the shores of the St. Lawrence with the fleur-de-lis planted near it. Donnacona was presented to King Francis and baptized, and with all his exiled companions save one was buried, where I have not yet learned, but probably somewhere out on that headland of France nearest Stadacone, the seat of his lost kingdom.

Cartier busied himself in St. Malo (or Limoilou) till called upon, in 1541, when peace was restored in France to take the post of captain- general of a new expedition under Sieur de Roberval, "Lord of Norembega, Viceroy and Lieutenant-General of Canada, Hochelaga, Saguenay, Newfoundland, Belle Isle, Carpunt, Labrador, the Great Bay and Baccalaos," [Footnote: Baxter, "Memoir of Jacques Cartier," note, p. 40, writes: "These titles are given on the authority of Charlevoix, 'Histoire de la Nouvelle France,' Paris, 1744, tome I, p. 32. Reference, however, to the letters patent of January 15, 1540, from which he professes to quote and which are still preserved and can be identified as the same which he says were to be found in the Etat Ordinaire des Guerres in the Chambre des Comptes at Paris, does not bear out his statement."] with a commission of discovery, settlement, and conversion of the Indians, and with power to ransack the prisons for material with which to carry out these ambitious and pious designs, thereby, as the king said, employing "clemency in doing a merciful and meritorious work toward some criminals and malefactors, that by this they may recognize the Creator by rendering Him thanks, and amending their lives." Again Cartier (Roberval having failed to arrive in time) sets out; again he passes the gloomy Saguenay and the cliff of Quebec; again he leaves his companions to prepare for the winter; again he ascends the river to explore the rapids, still dreaming of the way to Asia; again after a miserable winter he sails back to France, eluding Roberval a year late, and carrying but a few worthless quartz diamonds and a little sham gold. Then Roberval, the Lord of Norembega, reigns alone in his vast and many-titled domain, for another season of snows and famine, freely using the lash and gibbet to keep his penal colonists in subjection; and then, according to some authorities, supported by the absence of Carder's name from the local records of St. Malo for a few months, Cartier was sent out to bring the Lord of Norembega home.

So Cartier's name passes from the pages of history, even if it still appears again in the records of St. Malo, and he spends the rest of his days on the rugged little peninsula thrust out from France toward the west, as it were a hand. A few miles out of St. Malo the Breton tenants of the Cartier manor, Port Cartier, to-day carry their cauliflower and carrots to market and seemingly wonder at my curiosity in seeking Cartier's birthplace rather than Châteaubriand's tomb. It were far fitter that Cartier instead of Châteaubriand should have been buried out on the "Plage" beyond the ramparts, exiled for a part of every day by the sea, for the amphibious life of this master pilot, going in and out of the harbor with the tide, had added to France a thousand miles of coast and river, had opened the door of the new world, beyond the banks of the Baccalaos, to the imaginations of Europe, and unwittingly showed the way not to Asia, but to a valley with which Asia had nothing to compare.

For a half century after Cartier's home bringing of Roberval--the very year that De Soto's men quitted in misery the lower valley of the Mississippi--there is no record of a sail upon the river St. Lawrence. Hochelaga became a waste, its tenants annihilated or scattered, and Cartier's fort was all but obliterated. The ambitious symbols of empire were alternately buried in snows and blistered by heat. France had too much to think of at home. But still, as Parkman says, "the wandering Esquimaux saw the Norman and Breton sails hovering around some lonely headland or anchored in fleets in the harbor of St. John, and still through salt spray and driving mist, the fishermen dragged up the riches of the sea." For "codfish must still be had for Lent and fast-days." Another authority pictures the Breton babies of this period playing with trinkets made of walrus tusks, and the Norman maidens decked in furs brought by their brothers from the shores of Anticosti and Labrador.

Meanwhile in Brouage on the Bay of Biscay a boy is born whose spirit, nourished of the tales of the new world, is to make a permanent colony where Cartier had found and left a wilderness, and is to write his name foremost on the "bright roll of forest chivalry"--Samuel Champlain.

Once the sea, I am told, touched the massive walls of Brouage. There are still to be seen, several feet below the surface, rings to which mariners and fishermen moored their boats--they who used to come to Brouage for salt with which to cure their fish, they whose stories of the Newfoundland cod-banks stirred in the boy Champlain the desire for discovery beyond their fogs. The boys in the school of Hiers-Brouage a mile away--in the Mairie where I went to consult the parish records--seemed to know hardly more of that land which the Brouage boy of three centuries before had lifted out of the fogs by his lifelong heroic adventures than did the boy Champlain, which makes me feel that till all French children know of, and all American children remember Brouage, the story of France in America needs to be retold. The St. Lawrence Valley has not forgotten, but I could not learn that a citizen of the Mississippi Valley had made recent pilgrimage to this spot. [Footnote: For an interesting account of Brouage to-day, see "Acadiensis," 4:226.]

In the year of Champlain's birth the frightful colonial tragedy in Florida was nearing its end. By the year 1603 he had, in Spanish employ, made a voyage of two years in the West Indies, the unique illustrated journal [Footnote: "Brief Discours des Choses plus remarquables que Sammuel Champlain de Brouage, reconnues aux Indies Occidentalles au voiage qu'il en a faict en icelles en l'annee V'C IIIJ'XX XIX (1599) et en l'annee VJ'C J (1601) comme ensuite." Now in English translation by Hakluyt Society, 1859.] of which in his own hand was for two centuries and more in Dieppe, but has recently been acquired by a library in the United States [Footnote: The John Carter Brown Library at Providence, R. I.]--a journal most precious especially in its prophecy of the Panama Canal: [Footnote: Several earlier Spanish suggestions for a canal had been made. See M. F. Johnson, "Four Centuries of the Panama Canal."] "One might judge, if the territory four leagues in extent, lying between Panama and the river were cut thru, he could pass from the south sea to that on the other side, and thus shorten the route by more than fifteen hundred leagues. From Panama to Magellan would constitute an island, and from Panama to Newfoundland would constitute another, so that the whole of America would be in two islands."

He had also made one expedition to the St. Lawrence, reaching the deserted Hochelaga, seeing the Lachine Rapids, and getting vague reports of the unknown West. He must have been back in Paris in time to see the eleven survivors of La Roche's unsuccessful expedition of 1590, who, having lived twelve years and more on Sable Island, were rescued and brought before King Henry IV, "standing like river gods" in their long beards and clad in shaggy skins. During the next three years this indefatigable, resourceful pioneer assisted in founding Acadia and exploring the Atlantic coast southward. Boys and girls in America are familiar with the story of the dispersion of the Acadians, a century and more later, as preserved in our literature by the poet Longfellow. But doubtless not one in a hundred thousand has ever read the earlier chapters of that Aeneid.

The best and the meanest of France were of the company that set out from Dieppe to be its colonists: men of highest condition and character, and vagabonds, Catholic priests and Huguenot ministers, soldiers and artisans. There were theological discussions which led to blows before the colonists were far at sea. Fiske, the historian, says the "ship's atmosphere grew as musty with texts and as acrid with quibbles as that of a room at the Sorbonne." There was the incident of the wandering of Nicolas Aubry, "more skilled in the devious windings of the [Latin Quarter] than in the intricacies of the Acadian Forest," where he was lost for sixteen days and subsisted on berries and wild fruits; there was the ravage of the relentless maladie de terre, scurvy, for which Cartier's specific could not be found though the woods were scoured; there were the explorations of beaches and harbors and islands and rivers, including the future Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth, and the accurate mapping of all that coast now so familiar; there were the arrivals of the ship _Jonas_ once with temporal supplies and again, as the _Mayflower of the Jesuits_, with spiritual teachers; there was the "Order of Good Times," which flourished with as good cheer and as good food at Port Royal in the solitude of the continent as the gourmands at the Rue aux Ours had in Paris and that, too, at a cheaper rate; [Footnote: "Though the epicures of Paris often tell us we have no Rue aux Ours over there, as a rule we made as good cheer as we could have in this same Rue aux Ours and at less cost." Lescarbot, "Champlain Society Publication," 7:342.] there was later the news of the death of Henry IV heard from a fisherman of Newfoundland; and there was, above all else except the "indomitable tenacity" of Champlain, the unquenchable enthusiasm, lively fancy, and good sense of Lescarbot, the verse-making advocate from Paris.

There is so much of tragic suffering and gloom in all this epic of the forests that one is tempted to spend more time than one ought, perhaps, on that bit of European clearing (the only spot, save one, as yet in all the continent north of Florida and Mexico), in the jolly companionship of that young poet-lawyer who had doubtless sat under lecturers in Paris and who would certainly have been quite as capable and entertaining as any lecturers on the new world brought in these later days from America to Paris, a man "who won the good-will of all and spared himself naught," "who daily invented something for the public good," and who gave the strongest proof of what advantage "a new settlement might derive from a mind cultivated by study and induced by patriotism to use its knowledge and reflections."

It cannot seem unworthy of the serious purpose of this book to let the continent lie a few minutes longer in its savage slumber, or, as the Jesuits thought it, "blasted beneath the sceptre of hell," while we accompany Poutrincourt and Champlain, returning wounded and weather-beaten from inspecting the coast of New England, to find the buildings of Port Royal, under Lescarbot's care, bright with lights, and an improvised arch bearing the arms of Poutrincourt and De Monts, to be received by Neptune,


The French in the Heart of America - 3/57

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