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25: Part 2: Chapter XV

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At Québec the signs of growth were faint and few. By the water-side, under the cliff, the so-called "habitation," built in haste eight years before, was already tottering, and Champlain was forced to rebuild it. On the verge of the rock above, where now are seen the buttresses of the demolished castle of St. Louis, he began, in 1620, a fort, behind which were fields and a few buildings. A mile or more distant, by the bank of the St. Charles, where the General Hospital now stands, the Recollets, in the same year, built for themselves a small stone house, with ditches and outworks for defence; and here they began a farm, the stock consisting of several hogs, a pair of asses, a pair of geese, seven pairs of fowls, and four pairs of ducks. The only other agriculturist in the colony was Louis Hebert, who had come to Canada in 1617 with a wife and three children, and who made a house for himself on the rock, at a little distance from Champlain's fort.

Besides Québec, there were the three trading-stations of Montreal, Three Rivers, and Tadoussac, occupied during a part of the year. Of these, Tadoussac was still the most important. Landing here from France in 1617, the Recollet Paul Huet said mass for the first time in a chapel built of branches, while two sailors standing beside him waved green boughs to drive off the mosquitoes. Thither afterward came Brother Gervais Mohier, newly arrived in Canada; and meeting a crowd of Indians in festal attire, he was frightened at first, suspecting that they might be demons. Being invited by them to a feast, and told that he must not decline, he took his place among a party of two hundred, squatted about four large kettles full of fish, bear's meat, pease, and plums, mixed with figs, raisins, and biscuit procured at great cost from the traders, the whole boiled together and well stirred with a canoe-paddle. As the guest did no honor to the portion set before him, his entertainers tried to tempt his appetite with a large lump of bear's fat, a supreme luxury in their eyes. This only increased his embarrassment, and he took a hasty leave, uttering the ejaculation, "ho, ho, ho!" which, as he had been correctly informed, was the proper mode of acknowledgment to the master of the feast.

A change had now begun in the life of Champlain. His forest rovings were over. To battle with savages and the elements was more congenial with his nature than to nurse a puny colony into growth and strength; yet to each task he gave himself with the same strong devotion.

His difficulties were great. Québec was half trading-factory, half mission. Its permanent inmates did not exceed fifty or sixty persons,— fur-traders, friars, and two or three wretched families, who had no inducement, and little wish, to labor. The fort is facetiously represented as having two old women for garrison, and a brace of hens for sentinels. All was discord and disorder. Champlain was the nominal commander; but the actual authority was with the merchants, who held, excepting the friars, nearly everybody in their pay. Each was jealous of the other, but all were united in a common jealousy of Champlain. The few families whom they brought over were forbidden to trade with the Indians, and compelled to sell the fruits of their labor to the agents of the company at a low, fixed price, receiving goods in return at an inordinate valuation. Some of the merchants were of Ronen, some of St. Malo; some were Catholics, some were Huguenots. Hence unceasing bickerings. All exercise of the Reformed religion, on land or water, was prohibited within the limits of New France; but the Huguenots set the prohibition at naught, roaring their heretical psalmody with such vigor from their ships in the river that the unhallowed strains polluted the ears of the Indians on shore. The merchants of Rochelle, who had refused to join the company, carried on a bold illicit traffic along the borders of the St. Lawrence, endangering the colony by selling fire-arms to the Indians, eluding pursuit, or, if hard pressed, showing fight; and this was a source of perpetual irritation to the incensed monopolists.

The colony could not increase. The company of merchants, though pledged to promote its growth, did what they could to prevent it. They were fur-traders, and the interests of the fur-trade are always opposed to those of settlement and population. They feared, too, and with reason, that their monopoly might be suddenly revoked, like that of De Monts, and they thought only of making profit from it while it lasted. They had no permanent stake in the country; nor had the men in their employ, who formed nearly all the scanty population of Canada. Few, if any, of these had brought wives to the colony, and none of them thought of cultivating the soil. They formed a floating population, kept from starving by yearly supplies from France.

Champlain, in his singularly trying position, displayed a mingled zeal and fortitude. He went every year to France, laboring for the interests of the colony. To throw open the trade to all competitors was a measure beyond the wisdom of the times; and he hoped only to bind and regulate the monopoly so as to make it subserve the generous purpose to which he had given himself. The imprisonment of Conde was a source of fresh embarrassment; but the young Duo de Montmorency assumed his place, purchasing from him the profitable lieuteuancy of New France for eleven thousand crowns, and continuing Champlain in command. Champlain had succeeded in binding the company of merchants with new and more stringent engagements; and, in the vain belief that these might not be wholly broken, he began to conceive fresh hopes for the colony. In this faith he embarked with his wife for Québec in the spring of 1620; and, as the boat drew near the landing, the cannon welcomed her to the rock of her banishment. The buildings were falling to ruin; rain entered on all sides; the courtyard, says Champlain, was as squalid and dilapidated as a grange pillaged by soldiers. Madame de Champlain was still very young. If the Ursuline tradition is to be trusted, the Indians, amazed at her beauty and touched by her gentleness, would have worshipped her as a divinity. Her husband had married her at the age of twelve when, to his horror, he presently discovered that she was infected with the heresies of her father, a disguised Huguenot. He addressed himself at once to her conversion, and his pious efforts were something more than successful. During the four years which she passed in Canada, her zeal, it is true, was chiefly exercised in admonishing Indian squaws and catechising their children; but, on her return to France, nothing would content her but to become a nun. Champlain refused; but, as she was childless, he at length consented to a virtual though not formal separation. After his death she gained her wish, became an Ursuline nun, founded a convent of that order at Meaux, and died with a reputation almost saintly.

At Québec, matters grew from bad to worse. The few emigrants, with no inducement to labor, fell into a lazy apathy, lounging about the trading-houses, gaming, drinking when drink could be had, or roving into the woods on vagabond hunting excursions. The Indians could not be trusted. In the year 1617 they had murdered two men near the end of the Island of Orleans. Frightened at what they had done, and incited perhaps by other causes, the Montagnais and their kindred bands mustered at Three Rivers to the number of eight hundred, resolved to destroy the French. The secret was betrayed; and the childish multitude, naked and famishing, became suppliants to their intended victims for the means of life. The French, themselves at the point of starvation, could give little or nothing. An enemy far more formidable awaited them; and now were seen the fruits of Champlain's intermeddling in Indian wars. In the summer of 1622, the Iroquois descended upon the settlement. A strong party of their warriors hovered about Québec, but, still fearful of the arquebuse, forbore to attack it, and assailed the Recollet convent on the St. Charles. The prudent friars had fortified themselves. While some prayed in the chapel, the rest, with their Indian converts, manned the walls. The Iroquois respected their palisades and demi-lunes, and withdrew, after burning two Huron prisoners.

Yielding at length to reiterated complaints, the Viceroy Montmorency suppressed the company of St. Malo and Rouen, and conferred the trade of New France, burdened with similar conditions destined to be similarly broken, on two Huguenots, William and emery de Caen. The change was a signal for fresh disorders. The enraged monopolists refused to yield. The rival traders filled Québec with their quarrels; and Champlain, seeing his authority set at naught, was forced to occupy his newly built fort with a band of armed followers. The evil rose to such a pitch that he joined with the Recollets and the better-disposed among the colonists in sending one of the friars to lay their grievances before the King. The dispute was compromised by a temporary union of the two companies, together with a variety of arrets and regulations, suited, it was thought, to restore tranquillity.

A new change was at hand. Montmorency, tired of his viceroyalty, which gave him ceaseless annoyance, sold it to his nephew, Henri de Levis, Duc de Ventadour. It was no worldly motive which prompted this young nobleman to assume the burden of fostering the infancy of New France. He had retired from the court, and entered into holy orders. For trade and colonization he cared nothing; the conversion of infidels was his sole care. The Jesuits had the keeping of his conscience, and in his eyes they were the most fitting instruments for his purpose. The Recollets, it is true, had labored with an unflagging devotion. The six friars of their Order—for this was the number which the Calvinist Caen had bound himself to support—had established five distinct missions, extending from Acadia to the borders of Lake Huron; but the field was too vast for their powers. Ostensibly by a spontaneous movement of their own, but in reality, it is probable, under influences brought to bear on them from without, the Recollets applied for the assistance of the Jesuits, who, strong in resources as in energy, would not be compelled to rest on the reluctant support of Huguenots. Three of their brotherhood—Charles Lalemant, Enemond Masse, and Jean de Brebeuf—accordingly embarked; and, fourteen years after Biard and Masse had landed in Acadia, Canada beheld for the first time those whose names stand so prominent in her annals,—the mysterious followers of Loyola. Their reception was most inauspicious. Champlain was absent. Caen would not lodge them in the fort; the traders would not admit them to their houses. Nothing seemed left for them but to return as they came; when a boat, bearing several Recollets, approached the ship to proffer them the hospitalities of the convent on the St. Charles. They accepted the proffer, and became guests of the charitable friars, who nevertheless entertained a lurking jealousy of these formidable co-workers.

The Jesuits soon unearthed and publicly burnt a libel against their Order belonging to some of the traders. Their strength was soon increased. The Fathers Noirot and De la Noue landed, with twenty laborers, and the Jesuits were no longer houseless. Brebeuf set forth for the arduous mission of the Hurons; but on arriving at Trois Rivieres he learned that one of his Franciscan predecessors, Nicolas Viel, had recently been drowned by Indians of that tribe, in the rapid behind Montreal, known to this day as the Saut au Recollet. Less ambitious for martyrdom than he afterwards approved himself, he postponed his voyage to a more auspicious season. In the following spring he renewed the attempt, in company with De la Noue and one of the friars. The Indians, however, refused to receive him into their canoes, alleging that his tall and portly frame would overset them; and it was only by dint of many presents that their pretended scruples could be conquered. Brebeuf embarked with his companions, and, after months of toil, reached the barbarous scene of his labors, his sufferings, and his death.

Meanwhile the Viceroy had been deeply scandalized by the contumacious heresy of Emery de Caen, who not only assembled his Huguenot sailors at prayers, but forced Catholics to join them. He was ordered thenceforth to prohibit his crews from all praying and psalm-singing on the river St. Lawrence. The crews revolted, and a compromise was made. It was agreed that for the present they might pray, but not sing. "A bad bargain," says the pious Champlain, "but we made the best of it we could." Caen, enraged at the Viceroy's reproofs, lost no opportunity to vent his spleen against the Jesuits, whom he cordially hated.

Eighteen years had passed since the founding of Québec, and still the colony could scarcely be said to exist but in the founder's brain. Those who should have been its support were engrossed by trade or propagandism. Champlain might look back on fruitless toils, hopes deferred, a life spent seemingly in vain. The population of Québec had risen to a hundred and five persons, men, women, and children. Of these, one or two families only had learned to support themselves from the products of the soil. All withered under the monopoly of the Caens. Champlain had long desired to rebuild the fort, which was weak and ruinous; but the merchants would not grant the men and means which, by their charter, they were bound to furnish. At length, however, his urgency in part prevailed, and the work began to advance. Meanwhile the Caens and their associates had greatly prospered, paying, it is said, an annual dividend of forty per cent. In a single year they brought from Canada twenty-two thousand beaver skins, though the usual number did not exceed twelve or fifteen thousand.

While infant Canada was thus struggling into a half-stifled being, the foundation of a commonwealth destined to a marvellous vigor of development had been laid on the Rock of Plymouth. In their character, as in their destiny, the rivals were widely different; yet, at the outset, New England was unfaithful to the principle of freedom. New England Protestantism appealed to Liberty, then closed the door against her; for all Protestantism is an appeal from priestly authority to the right of private judgment, and the New England Puritan, after claiming this right for himself, denied it to all who differed with him. On a stock of freedom he grafted a scion of despotism; yet the vital juices of the root penetrated at last to the uttermost branches, and nourished them to an irrepressible strength and expansion. With New France it was otherwise. She was consistent to the last. Root, stem, and branch, she was the nursling of authority. Deadly absolutism blighted her early and her later growth. Friars and Jesuits, a Ventadour and a Richelieu, shaped her destinies. All that conflicted against advancing liberty— the centralized power of the crown and the tiara, the ultramontane in religion, the despotic in policy—found their fullest expression and most fatal exercise. Her records shine with glorious deeds, the self-devotion of heroes and of martyrs; and the result of all is disorder, imbecility, ruin.

The great champion of absolutism, Richelieu, was now supreme in France. His thin frame, pale cheek, and cold, calm eye, concealed an inexorable will and a mind of vast capacity, armed with all the resources of boldness and of craft. Under his potent agency, the royal power, in the weak hands of Louis the Thirteenth, waxed and strengthened daily, triumphing over the factions of the court, the turbulence of the Huguenots, the ambitious independence of the nobles, and all the elements of anarchy which, since the death of Henry the Fourth, had risen into fresh life. With no friends and a thousand enemies, disliked and feared by the pitiful King whom he served, making his tool by turns of every party and of every principle, he advanced by countless crooked paths towards his object,—the greatness of France under a concentrated and undivided authority.

In the midst of more urgent cares, he addressed himself to fostering the commercial and naval power. Montmorency then held the ancient charge of Admiral of France. Richelieu bought it, suppressed it, and, in its stead, constituted himself Grand Master and Superintendent of Navigation and Commerce. In this new capacity, the mismanaged affairs of New France were not long concealed from him; and he applied a prompt and powerful remedy. The privileges of the Caens were annulled. A company was formed, to consist of a hundred associates, and to be called the Company of New France. Richelieu himself was the head, and the Marechal Deffiat and other men of rank, besides many merchants and burghers of condition, were members. The whole of New France, from Florida to the Arctic Circle, and from Newfoundland to the sources of the—St. Lawrence and its tributary waters, was conferred on them forever, with the attributes of sovereign power. A perpetual monopoly of the fur-trade was granted them, with a monopoly of all other commerce within the limits of their government for fifteen years. The trade of the colony was declared free, for the same period, from all duties and imposts. Nobles, officers, and ecclesiastics, members of the Company, might engage in commercial pursuits without derogating from the privileges of their order; and, in evidence of his good-will, the King gave them two ships of war, armed and equipped.

On their part, the Company were bound to convey to New France during the next year, 1628, two or three hundred men of all trades, and before the year 1643 to increase the number to four thousand persons, of both sexes; to lodge and support them for three years; and, this time expired, to give them cleared lands for their maintenance. Every settler must be a Frenchman and a Catholic; and for every new settlement at least three ecclesiastics must be provided. Thus was New France to be forever free from the taint of heresy. The stain of her infancy was to be wiped away. Against the foreigner and the Huguenot the door was closed and barred. England threw open her colonies to all who wished to enter,—to the suffering and oppressed, the bold, active, and enterprising. France shut out those who wished to come, and admitted only those who did not,—the favored class who clung to the old faith and had no motive or disposition to leave their homes. English colonization obeyed a natural law, and sailed with wind and tide; French colonization spent its whole struggling existence in futile efforts to make head against them. The English colonist developed inherited freedom on a virgin soil; the French colonist was pursued across the Atlantic by a paternal despotism better in intention and more withering in effect than that which he left behind. If, instead of excluding Huguenots, France had given them an asylum in the west, and left them there to work out their own destinies, Canada would never have been a British province, and the United States would have shared their vast domain with a vigorous population of self-governing Frenchmen.

A trading company was now feudal proprietor of all domains in North America within the claim of France. Fealty and homage on its part, and on the part of the Crown the appointment of supreme judicial officers, and the confirmation of the titles of dukes, marquises, counts, and barons, were the only reservations. The King heaped favors on the new corporation. Twelve of the bourgeois members were ennobled; while artisans and even manufacturers were tempted, by extraordinary privileges, to emigrate to the New World. The associates, of whom Champlain was one, entered upon their functions with a capital of three hundred thousand livres.

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