26.6.08

Jesuit relations:

From the foreword of volume One of the Jesuit relations:


It may truly be said that the History of every one of our northern tier of commonwealths, from Maine to Minnesota, has its roots in the French regime. It is not true, as Bancroft avers, that the Jesuit was ever the pioneer of New France; we now know that in this land, as elsewhere in all ages, the trader nearly always preceded the priest. But the trader was not often a letter-writer or a diarist; hence, we owe our intimate knowledge of New France, particularly in the seventeenth century, chiefly to the wandering missionaries of the Society of Jesus. Coming early to the shores of Nova Scotia (1611), nearly a decade before the landing of the Plymouth Pilgrims, and eventually spreading throughout the broad expanse of New France, ever close upon the track of the adventurous coureur de bois, they met the American savage before contact with civilization had seriously affected him. With heroic fortitude, often with marvelous enterprise, hey pierced our wilderness while still there were rut Indian trails to connect far-distant villages of semi-naked aborigines. They saw North America and the North Americans practically in the primitive stage. Cultivated men, for the most part,—trained to see as well as to think, and carefully to make record of their experiences,—they left the most luxurious country in Europe to seek shelter in the foul and unwelcome huts of one of the most wretched races of man. To win these crude beings to the Christian Faith, it was necessary to know them intimately, in their daily walks. No coureur de bois was more expert in forest lore than were the Jesuit Fathers; and the records made by these soldiers of the Cross,—explicit and detailed, while familiar in tone,—are of the highest scientific value', often of considerable literary interest. The body of contemporary, documentary material which, in their Relations and Letters, the Jesuits of New France have bequeathed to the historian, the geographer, and the ethnologist, entitles them to the enduring gratitude of American scholars. For forty years, these documents have, in part, been more or less familiar to Americanists as a rich storehouse of material. But, hitherto, they have existed only in rare and costly forms, when in print at all,—as original products of ancient French, Italian, and German presses, or as reprints issued in sparse number for small circles of bibliophiles; while many important papers, capable of throwing light upon certain portions of Canadian history hitherto in shade, have as yet remained in manuscript.

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A.M.D.G.
Vive le Roy!
de Brantigny

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