Aubert de Gaspé, Cameron of Lochiel, Le Bon Gentilhomme, Les Anciens Canadiens, Sir Charles G. D. Roberts, the Noble Savage
Paul Lemire consider aspects of Les Anciens Canadiens as “discordant.” Aubert de Gaspé‘s Anciens Canadiens tells “stories,” the first of which is La Corriveau. La Corriveau is described as a legend, but a real Marie-Josephte Corriveau was hanged on 18 April 1763, shortly after the Treaty of Paris was signed (10 February 1763). Therefore, the Corriveau’s demise happened after Arché visited the d’Haberville. In his Notes et avertissements to Les Anciens Canadiens (p. 318). Paul Lemire sees the Corriveau episode as an anachronism, but anachronisms are paradox literature. As the author of a historical novel, Aubert de Gaspé depicts New France, but Aubert de Gaspé also knew the aftermath. By virtue of George III’s Royal Proclamation of 1763, Amerindians were protected, but the Royal Proclamation
introduced policies meant to assimilate the French population to British rule. These policies ultimately failed and were replaced by the Quebec Act of 1774.The Royal Proclamation of 1763, The Canadian Encyclopedia.
The Good Gentleman
Although Les Anciens Canadiens is a historical novel, it is also autobiographical. Le Bon Gentilhomme is monsieur d’Egmont, a Frenchman who carelessly loans money and endorses loans. In fact, he loaned money he did not have and found out was accused of défalcation, embezzlement and moved to Canada with his valet, André Francœur. The two live in a cottage on the Trois Saumons River. Jules visits with him before leaving for Europe to join the French military.
According to monsieur d’Egmont, Jules, a seigneur‘s son, resembles him. In Chapter Two, Jules d’Haberville gives money he does not have to a classmate named Dubuc who fears his father’s anger. Dubuc has kicked Jules, yet Jules does not want Dubuc to reimburse him. As for the money Jules gives Dubuc, it has been given to him by a woman who is grateful to the d’Haberville. It is this kind of behaviour that destroys monsieur d’Egmont’s life and he recognizes in Jules his blind generosity:
Je t’ai vu naître, d’Haberville ; j’ai suivi, d’un œil attentif, toutes les phases de ta jeune existence ; j’ai étudié avec soin ton caractère, et c’est ce qui me fait désirer l’entretien que nous avons aujourd’hui ; car jamais ressemblance n’a été plus parfaite qu’entre ton caractère et le mien.Les Anciens Canadiens (X: p. 222)
I have watched you from child-hood up; I have studied your character minutely, and that is what has caused me to seek this conversation. Between your character and mine I have found the closest resemblance.Cameron of Lochiel (IX: 142-143)
Le bon gentilhomme was born to a well-to-do family and received a fine education. He then entered a promising career. However, his generosity destroyed his life. He loaned money to anyone who asked and also endorsed loans. He also loaned money that was not his. So, he was accused of défalcation (embezzlement) and he was jailed.
Mes affaires privées étaient tellement mêlées avec celles de mon bureau que je fus assez longtemps sansLes Anciens Canadiens (X: p. 228 )
m’apercevoir de leur état alarmant. Lorsque je découvris la vérité, après un examen de mes comptes, je fus frappé comme d’un coup de foudre. Non seulement j’étais ruiné, mais aussi sous le poids d’une défalcation considérable !
My private affairs were so mingled with those of my office that it was long before I discovered how deeply I was involved. The revelation came upon me like a thunderbolt. Not only was I ruined, but I was on the verge of a serious defalcation.Cameron of Lochiel (IX: 145-146)
So, Les Anciens Canadiens is both a historical and biographical novel. Jules gives money he does not have by borrowing it from Madeleine who is grateful to the d’Haberville. However, the d’Haberville provided help or “money” they could provide.
It took years for authorities to determine whether or not Aubert de Gaspé should be jailed. Meanwhile, he had found a refuge at his mother’s seigneurie. At that time, he had nine children. During his imprisonment, the family resided near Aubert de Gaspé’s prison. He was jailed from 29 May 1838 until 18 September 1841. (See Aubert de Gaspé, Dictionary of Canadian Biography)
The Noble Savage
Monsieur d’Edmont would have liked to be able to earn the money he owed. This, in 19th-century France, was not possible. Nor was it possible in 19th-Lower Canada. Imprisonment tied his hands. Moreover, Aubert de Gaspé could see from his cell two of his children fall ill, and could not help.
To an Amerindian, earning money to pay one’s debts is acceptable. An Amerindian cannot hunt for beavers if he is incarcerated. He tells about an Amerindian who sees a large building in New York inside which Amerindians who have not paid a debt are confined.
Un Iroquois contemplait, il y a quelques années, à New-York, un vaste édifice d’assez sinistre apparence ; ses hauts murs, ses fenêtres grillées l’intriguaient beaucoup : c’était une prison. Arrive un magistrat.
– Mais sauvages pas capables de prendre castors ici !Les Anciens Canadiens (X: p. 232-233)
The Iroquois examined the structure with ever-increasing interest, walked around it, and asked to see the inside of this marvelous wigwam. The magistrate, who was himself a merchant, was glad to grant his request, in the hope of inspiring with wholesome dread the other savages, to whom this one would not fail to recount the effective and ingenious methods employed by the pale faces to make the red-skins pay their debts.
“The Iroquois went over the whole building with the minutest care, descended into the dungeons, tried the depth of the wells, listened attentively to the smallest sounds, and at last burst out laughing.
‘Why,’ exclaimed he, ‘no Indian could catch any beaver here.’Cameron of Lochiel (IX: 148-149)
We meet the Noble Savage again in Chapter IX/X
Only one of monsieur d’Egmont’s debtors repays him, for which he is immensely grateful. Aubert de Gaspé was compassionate and understanding, in which he stood above others, but not above the law.
Aubert de Gaspé fictionalizes himself as Jules, Chapter II, and as the Good Gentleman in Chapter IX/X. Aubert de Gaspé graces a fall that leads to imprisonment with the naïve but morally correct and natural justice of the Noble Savage. Yet, both the good gentleman and Aubert de Gaspé break the law.
Mon frère pas capable de prendre castors, si le visage pâle lui ôte l’esprit, et lui lie les mains.Les Anciens Canadiens (X: p. 234)
‘My brother can take no beaver if the pale face ties his hands.’ Why,’ exclaimed he, ‘no Indian could catch any beaver here.’Cameron of Lochiel (IX: 148-149)
Lève la tête bien haut dans ta superbe, ô maître de la création ! tu en as le droit. Lève la tête altière vers le ciel, ô homme ! dont le cœur est aussi froid que l’or que tu palpes jour et nuit. Jette la boue à pleines mains à l’homme au cœur chaud, aux passions ardentes, au sang brûlant comme le vitriol, qui a failli dans sa jeunesse.Les Anciens Canadiens (X, p. 237-238)
Lève la tête bien haut, orgueilleux Pharisien, et dis : Moi, je n’ai jamais failli.
Lift up your head in your pride, lord of creation! You have the right to do so. Lift your haughty head to heaven, O man whose heart is as cold as the gold you grasp at day and night! Heap your slanders with both hands on the man of eager heart, of ardent passions, of blood burning like fire, who has fallen in his youth! Hold high your head, proud Pharisee, and say,151 ‘As for me, I have never fallen!’Cameron of Lochiel (XI: 150-151)
The image at the top of this post features Job, but The Woman caught in adultery and The Prodigal Son demonstrate the same charity. Le bon gentilhomme/Aubert the Gaspé may have fallen unconsciously, but he/they broke the law, just or unjust.
- The Order of Good Cheer (19 June 2021)
- Canada’s Residential Schools (26 June 2021)
- La Débâcle/The Debacle (13 June 2021)
- Jules d’Haberville & Cameron of Lochiel (12 June 2021)
- Les Anciens Canadiens/Cameron of Lochiel (9 June 2021)
- Alexis de Tocqueville & John Neilson: a Conversation, 27 August 1831 (13 May 2021)
- Germaine Guèvremont’s Le Survenant (23 June 2012)
- The Aftermath cont’d: Aubert de Gaspé’s Anciens Canadiens (30 March 2012)
- Canadiana.1 (page)
- Canadiana.2 (page)
Sources and Ressources
Les Anciens Canadiens (ebooksgratuits.com). FR
Cameron of Lochiel (Archive.org ), Sir Charles G. D. Roberts, translator. EN
Cameron of Lochiel is Gutenberg [EBook#53154], Sir Charles G. D. Roberts, translator. EN
Une Colonie féodale en Amérique: l’Acadie 1604 – 17 (Rameau, Google Books)
 Paul Lemire is the editor of my copy of Les Anciens Canadiens ([Montréal: Bibliothèque Québécoise, 1988] p. 318)
Love to everyone 💕
© Micheline Walker
8 July 2021
Fascinating analysis, dear Micheline.
I hope you are well.
This novel is a treasure and it can be read online quite easily. No, I am not well. My memory and ability to concentrate are impaired. I have known for decades, but it is now slowing me down and I make mistakes. I caught the H1N1 virus. It led to a form of “slow Covid.” Covid attacks the brain. Most victims will never feel very well. I hope you are well.
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100 Country Trek said:
This in interesting.
Thank you so much. Aubert de Gaspé wrote a fine novel. I love the way he makes an Iroquois speak in a rather modern New York.
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I think my reply left on its own. I’m pleased this novel is on the internet. It is a classic. As well, the French lived and worked with Amerindians. There is something very real about this novel. Thank you for writing. 🙂
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cindy knoke said:
Fascinating. Canadian history is such. Traveling a lot in Canada in my (reasonably) contemporary life, I was struck by how much recent 20th century history, is not talked about much. All the forced immigrant work camp memorials got my attention when I saw them discretely posted at various sites over the years. Conditions were barbaric.
Canada, especially after Confederation, was not exactly good. It made the Chinese build the railroad. They died. Amerindians were mistreated. The government has compensated Amerindians who were sent to residential schools. My dear Cindy, the sins of history! I so love your beautiful weblog. What a gift to the public.
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This looks a fine analysis
Derrick, the Iroquois is quite right. How can you pay a debt in a prison cell? Prisoner cannot earn money. Moreover, the law is the law. The central plot is a fall. New France falls to Britain. As for le Bon Gentilhomme, he has broken the law. Aubert de Gaspé also breaks the law, albeit unconsciously. But the law is the law…
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