In Chapter X/IX of Les Anciens Canadiens, monsieur d’Egmont speaks about an Iroquois who does not like a building located in New York. In the large building an Iroquois examines, “sauvages” who have not paid the white man are incarcerated and cannot therefore catch beaver pelts to repay their debt. Their hands are tied. However, I have not quoted the Good Gentleman’ full statement. The bon gentilhomme believes that civilization thwarts the human mind, in which the novel uses the myth of the Noble Savage :
Une chose m’a toujours frappé : c’est que la civilisation fausse le jugement des hommes, et qu’en fait de sens commun, de gros bon sens, que l’on doit s’attendre à rencontrer dans la cervelle de tout être civilisé (j’en excepte pourtant les animaux domestiques qui reçoivent leur éducation dans nos familles), le sauvage lui est bien supérieur. En voici un exemple assez amusant. 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.
– Le visage pâle veut-il dire à son frère, fit l’Indien, à quoi sert ce grand wigwam?
– C’est là qu’on renferme les peaux-rouges qui refusent de livrer les peaux de castor qu’ils doivent aux marchands.
Les Anciens Canadiens (X: p. 232)
[“It has always struck me that civilization warps men’s judgment, and makes them inferior to primitive races in mere common sense and simple equity. Let me give you an amusing instance. Some years ago, in New York, an Iroquois was gazing intently at a great, forbidding structure. Its lofty walls and iron-bound windows interested him profoundly. It was a prison. A magistrate came up.
“‘Will the pale face tell his brother what this great wigwam is for?’ asked the Indian. The citizen swelled out his chest and answered with an air of importance: “
“‘It is there we shut up the red-skins who refuse to pay the furs which they owe our merchants.'”]
Cameron of Lochiel (IX: 147-149)
One can understand that Aubert de Gaspé (1786-1871) would look upon Amerindians with kindness. Le bon gentilhomme is a fictionalized Aubert de Gaspé. Aubert de Gaspé was too generous and did not realize at which point he started loaning money he did not have. Had monsieur d’Egmont not given his entire property, within ten years, one of the houses he owned would have repaid his debt in full. Authorities waited before incarcerating Aubert de Gaspé, but he was imprisoned and unable to help his two sick children. He was careless and wanted to repay authorities. However, in 1841, after nearly four years of detention, he was heard by authorities and released.
Aubert de Gaspé was not a seigneur during the years he spent in a prison. His mother was the seigneuresse de Saint-Jean-Port-Joli. Quebec had its nobility and many feared being sent back to France. Several died when l’Auguste, a ship, sank as a storm raged. However, Aubert de Gaspé would be a seigneur after his mother’s death. He would be the last seigneur of Saint-Jean-Port-Joli. The Seigneurial System was abolished in 1854, before Aubert de Gaspé published his book (1863).
Interestingly, Aubert de Gaspé fictionalized himself as le bon gentilhomme, the Good Gentleman, the man who was too severely punished, and, as Jules, an image of innocence. It is as though le bon gentilhomme, monsieur d’Egmont, had seen Jules loan money he did not have to a person who had kicked him. To help Dubuc, Jules borrows money from Madeleine who has a debt of gratitude, but gratitude is rare.
The novel is historical and autobiographical. But it is also a cautionary tale. Le bon gentilhomme wants to tell his story to Jules, so Jules’s generosity does not lead him astray (II: pp.22… ) (I: 22-26). (Aubert de Gaspé experienced rulings that did not take into account his good character and extenuating circumstances. In 1841, Aubert de Gaspé was freed after nearly four years of detention. His conviction was not legally unjust, but it was “unfair” and disloyal. Therefore, Aubert de Gaspé uses the myth of the Noble Savage, a soul untainted by civilization. Moreover, the bon sauvage is at hand. Nouvelle-France was home to Amerindians.
Incarcerating a good man, monsieur d’Egmont, le bon gentilhomme, is discordant. Discordant is a term I have borrowed from Maurice Lemire, the editor of my copy of Les Anciens Canadiens. In Les Anciens Canadiens, the uncivilized are Europeans, not the natives of New France. One remembers the Jesuit Relations and Lahontan‘s Noble savage. Les Anciens Canadiens attacks civilized men. Montgomery who orders Arché to burn his friends’ manoir is inferior to the “Noble Savage.” Aubert de Gaspé’s fate, imprisonment, may be legal, but it is disloyal, and given his fault, detention is discordant. We can therefore situate Aubert de Gaspé’s novel among literary works pertaining to the myth of the Noble Savage. It is close to the Enlightenment, Jean-Jacques Rousseau viewed man in the state of nature as good, at times because of a Social Contract, but Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan pictured man in the state of nature as a horrible zoomorphic serpent.
It should be noted, moreover that the wars Nouvelle France fought with or on behalf of Amerindians were exhausting. Our visitor to New York is an Iroquois, an Amerindian confederacy allied to the British. The French were allied mostly to the Hurons-Wendats. In chapter VII/VI, le capitaine d’Haberville is described as battled wearied:
Le seigneur d’Haberville avait à peine quarante-cinq ans, mais il accusait dix bonnes années de plus, tant les fatigues de la guerre avaient usé sa constitution d’ailleurs si forte et si robuste : ses devoirs de capitaine d’un détachement de la marine l’appelaient presque constamment sous les armes. Ces guerres continuelles dans les forêts, sans autre abri, suivant l’expression énergique des anciens Canadiens, que la rondeur du ciel, ou la calotte des cieux ; ces expéditions de découvertes, de surprises, contre les Anglais et les sauvages, pendant les saisons les plus rigoureuses, altéraient bien vite les plus forts tempéraments.
Les Anciens Canadiens (VII: pp. 155-156)
[The Seigneur D’Haberville was scarcely forty-five years old, but the toils of war had so told on his constitution that he looked a good ten years older. His duties as captain in the Colonial Marine kept him constantly under arms. The ceaseless forest warfare, with no shelter,104 according to the stern Canadian custom, except the vault of heaven, the expeditions of reconnoissance or surprise against the Iroquois or against the English settlements, carried on during the severest weather, produced their speedy effect on the strongest frames.]
Cameron of Lochiel (VI: 103-105)
We meet our first Amerindian, a Huron, at Trois-Saumons River. When he arrives at monsieur d’Egmont’s cottage, he is ill. Monsieur d’Egmont and André Francœur look after him for several weeks. Four years later, when he has nearly been forgotten, he visits Monsieur d’Egmont carrying a fortune in pelts, moccassins, and other valuable products the French cherished.
Ce n’était pas le même homme que j’avais vu dans un si piteux état : il était vêtu splendidement, et tout annonçait chez lui le grand guerrier et le grand chasseur, qualités inséparables chez les naturels de l’Amérique du Nord. Lui et son compagnon déposèrent, dans un coin de ma chambre, deux paquets de marchandises de grande valeur : car ils contenaient les pelleteries les plus riches, les plus brillants mocassins brodés en porc-épic, les ouvrages les plus précieux en écorce, et d’autres objets dont les sauvages font commerce avec nous. Je le félicitai alors sur la tournure heureuse qu’avaient prise ses affaires.
Les Anciens Canadiens (X: pp. 224-225)
[“I had entirely forgotten my Indian, when about four years later he arrived at my door, accompanied by another savage. I could scarcely recognize him. He was spendidly clad, and everything about him bespoke the great hunter and the mighty warrior. In one corner of my room he and his companion laid down two bundles of merchandise of great value—the richest furs, moccasins splendidly embroidered with porcupine quills, and exquisite pieces of work in birch bark, such as the Indians alone know how to make. I congratulated him upon the happy turn his affairs had taken.]
Cameron of Lochiel (IX: 143-145)
– Écoute, mon frère, me dit-il, et fais attention à mes paroles. Je te dois beaucoup, et je suis venu payer mes dettes. Tu m’as sauvé la vie, car tu connais bonne médecine. Tu as fait plus, car tu connais aussi les paroles qui entrent dans le cœur: d’un chien d’ivrogne que j’étais, je suis redevenu l’homme que le Grand Esprit a créé. Tu étais riche, quand tu vivais de l’autre côté du grand lac. Ce wigwam est trop étroit pour toi : construis-en un qui puisse contenir ton grand cœur. Toutes ces marchandises t’appartiennent.
Les Anciens Canadiens (X: p. 225)
[“‘Listen to me, my brother,’ said he. ‘I owe you much, and I am come to pay my debt. You saved my life, for you know good medicine. You have done more, for you know the words which reach the heart; dog of a drunkard as I was, I am become once more a man as I was created by the Great Spirit. You were rich when you lived beyond the great water. This wigwam is too small for you; build one large enough to hold your great heart. All these goods belong to you,’]
Cameron of Lochiel (IX: 144-145)
Le bon gentilhomme is moved to tears. Gratitude is a quality lacking in the individuals to whom he loaned money. Our Noble Savage, returns to the Trois-Saumons River carrying precious gifts: pelts, moccasins, and other goods. Monsieur d’Egmont could build a much better wigwam by selling the pelts and other riches the Noble Savage has brought. But he chooses otherwise. A priest will distribute among the needy the riches the grateful Amerindian has brought to thank the God Gentleman.
Ironically, le bon gentilhomme’s cottage will be home to the d’Habervilles after their manoir is destroyed by fire and Quebec City house, destroyed. Arché’s superior, Montgomery, orders Arché to set fire to every house.
– Mais, dit le jeune officier, qui était Écossais, faut-il incendier aussi les demeures de ceux qui n’opposent aucune résistance ? On dit qu’il ne reste que des femmes, des vieillards et des enfants dans ces habitations.
[“But,” said the young officer, who was a Scotchman, “must I burn the dwellings of those who offer no resistance? They say there is no one left in these houses except old men, women, and children.”]
– Il me semble, monsieur, reprit le major 265 Montgomery, que mes ordres sont bien clairs et précis ; vous mettrez le feu à toutes les habitations de ces chiens de Français que vous rencontrerez sur votre passage. Mais j’oubliais votre prédilection pour nos ennemis !
Les Anciens Canadiens (XII: pp. 265-266)
[“I think, sir,” replied Major Montgomery, “that my orders are quite clear. You will set fire to every house belonging to these dogs of Frenchmen. I had forgotten your weakness for our enemies.”
“Every house you come across belonging to these dogs of Frenchmen, set fire to it. I will follow you a little later.”]
Cameron of Lochiel (XI: 169-170)
The Noble Savage has returned:
– Voilà donc, s’écria-t-il [Arché] avec amertume, les fruits de ce que nous appelons code d’honneur chez les nations civilisées ! Sont-ce là aussi les fruits des préceptes qu’enseigne l’Évangile à tous ceux qui professent la religion chrétienne, cette religion toute d’amour et de pitié, même pour des ennemis. Si j’eusse fait partie d’une expédition commandée par un chef de ces aborigènes que nous traitons de barbares sur cet hémisphère, et que je lui eusse dit : « Épargne cette maison, car elle appartient à mes amis ; j’étais errant et fugitif, et ils m’ont accueilli dans leur famille, où j’ai trouvé un père et des frères », le chef indien m’aurait répondu : « C’est bien, épargne tes amis ; il n’y a que le serpent qui mord ceux qui l’ont réchauffé près de leur feu. »
Les Anciens Canadiens (XII: pp. 276-277)
[“Behold,” said he, “the fruits of what we call the code of honor of civilized nations! Are these the fruits of Christianity, that religion of compassion which teaches us to love even our enemies? If my commander were one of these savage chiefs, whom we treat as barbarians, and I had said to him: ‘Spare this house, for it belongs to my friends. I was a wanderer and a fugitive, and they took me in and gave me a father and a brother,’ the Indian chief would have answered: ‘It is well; spare your friends; it is only the viper that stings the bosom that has warmed it.’]
Cameron of Lochiel (XI: 176-177)
Jules and Arché (Cameron of Lochiel)’s friendship will survive the War. However, Aubert de Gaspé needed the bon sauvage. New France’s Amerindians were friends of the French, but there is no entity called the Noble Savage. It is an image and a wish. However, Amerindians have a great deal of common sense. I quite agree with the Jesuits who saw Amerindians as good persons who did not need to be converted. Yet, they continued their work as missionary and a few fell victims to the Iroquois who, as noted above, were friends of the British. La Grande-Loutre is an Iroquois. The Iroquois confederacy were allies of the British and protected by the British. The French were allies of the Hurons-Wendats and protected the Hurons-Wendats.
Aubert de Gaspé went further in the rehabilitation of the defeated French. Not only did he feature the Noble Savage, but he created Cameron of Lochiel, a Scot, whose father fought at Culloden. Arché will move to Canada and have a house built, half of wish will be Dumais’s home. He saved Dumais ‘s life who saved Archie from torture and death when the Iroquois captured him. The Royal Proclamation of 1763 will be the Amerindians’s “precedent,” and is included in the 1982 Constitution Act, Canada.
As for the Quebec Act of 1774, it constitutes a “precedent” to a bilingual Canada. The French in America did not attempt to assimilate Amerindians. Monsieur d’Egmont and André Francœur have in fact left France, Europe being too civilized, to live among natives. Jules and Cameron of Lochiel will remain friends. Some of Aubert de Gaspé’s children would marry the Scots, or the English. It is not treason, but a legitimate and realistic wish to take part in the political life of Canada. Finally, persons whose origins are not the same may fall in love. The French in Quebec were happy to have escaped the French Revolution. This reaction, however, was often dictated by the clergy and the seigneurs. At any rate, Canadians must clean up a mess: Residential Schools, the remnants of Imperialism.
I will write briefly about the Battles, but I have already done so in Canadiana.1. I must include Les Anciens Canadiens‘s Plains of Abraham.
- New France’s Last and Lost Battle: The Battle of the Plains of Abraham
- The Battle of Fort William Henry & Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans
- Louis-Joseph de Montcalm-Gozon, Marquis de Saint-Veran
- The Jesuit Relations: an invaluable legacy, revisited (22 May 2015)
- Cartier, Champlain & Missionaries (16 March 2012)
- More on the Jesuit Relations (16 March 2012)
- The Good Gentleman (9 July 2021)
- The Order of Good Cheer (19 June 2021)
- La Débacle/the Debacle (13 June 2021)
- Jules d’Haberville & Cameron of Lochiel (12 June 2021)
- Les Anciens Canadiens/Cameron of Lochiel (9 June 2021)
- The Noble Savage: Lahontan’ Adario (26 October 2012)
Sources and Resources
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)
Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Noble savage”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 24 Apr. 2019, https://www.britannica.com/art/noble-savage. Accessed 14 July 2021.
Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Quebec Act”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 12 Jul. 2016, https://www.britannica.com/event/Quebec-Act. Accessed 14 July 2021.
Love to everyone 💕
© Micheline Walker
15 June 2021