« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
hardly a trace to be found of their meritorious function. The cause of their failure," he adds, must be attributed to a want of due consideration in the mode employed by them to propagate the religion of which they were the zealous ministers. They habituated themselves to the savage life, and naturalized themselves to the savage manners; and by thus becoming dependent, as it were, on the natives, they acquired their contempt rather than their veneration.
Many of the missionaries, it is well known, fell victims to the revenge or superstition of the natives; while such of them as were permitted to live in the wilds, endured every species of suffering which can arise from cold, hunger and fatigue. But the principal cause of failure in their pious labours is to be traced, not to the circumstance of their becoming as savage as the Indians, and of rendering themselves dependent upon them for food and clothing; it is to be discovered in the vain attempt already mentioned, of conveying to uncultivated minds the abstruse learning of systematic theology, and of founding upon that learning a reverence for ceremonies, which otherwise could not fail to appear ridiculous. The Indian listened, but received no impression. The rites of the Roman Catholic seemed good enough for the white man; but as the Great Spirit had given to his red children a more simple and rational religion, they would not accept of the former, except in so far as they were bound by complaisance and decorum. The Indians, says Charlevoix, have been seen to attend our churches for years together, with an assiduity and solemnity which made it be supposed they entertained a sincere desire to learn and embrace the truths of Christianity; but they would suddenly refrain from coming to church, saying coolly to the missionary, You had no one to pray with you; I took compassion upon you in your solitude, and kept you company; others, at present, are willing to render you the same service; I therefore take my leave.' The same writer tells us, that several of the Indians had carried their complaisance so far, as to request and receive the rites of baptism, performing for some time the christian duties; after which they declared they had done all this only to please the priest, who was pressing them to change their religion.
The father Hennepin likewise observes, that the Indians reckon it highly improper to contradict any thing that is said; and they will not dissent from you, even if you make the most absurd assertions. They always answer, Brother, you are right—it is well.” Yet, in private, they only believe what
they please, and shew the greatest indifference even for the great truths of the Christian religion. It is this, he adds, which forms the principal obstacle to their conversion.
"The Tonicas were visited by Charlevoix, and, bating always their dislike to conversion, he found them a well disposed and hospitable nation. In the year 1718, when M. Du Pratz travelled up the Mississippi, he also paid a visit to them, and found the missionary Davion then residing amongst them. I asked him,' says Du Pratz, if his great zeal for the salvation of the Indians was attended with success?' He answered, with tears in his eyes, that notwithstanding the great respect they shewed him, it was with difficulty he could get leave to baptize a few children at the point of death; that those who were grown up excused themselves from embracing our holy religion, saying, they were too old to accustom themselves to rules so difficult to be observed; that their grand chief, since he had put to death the physician who had attended his only son in a distemper of which he died, had taken a resolution, in consequence of Davion's reproaches, to fast every Friday during his life; that this old chief attended at church both morning and evening, the women and children likewise assisting; but as to the men, they did not come often, and when they did, they took more pleasure in ringing the church bell.'”
The Baron de la Hontan remarks, that almost all the conquests gained to Christianity by the Jesuits, are those infants who have received the rites of baptism, and those old men who, at the point of death, find no inconvenience in being baptized. Pere Lallemant, in the account of his early mission among the Hurons, states nearly the same thing. "We have this year baptized more than a thousand, most of them afflicted with the small-pox, of whom a large proportion have died with every mark of having been received among the elect. Of these there are more than three hundred and sixty infants under seven years of age, without counting upwards of a hundred other little children, who having been baptized before, were cut off by the same malady, and gathered by the angels as flowers in paradise. With respect to adult persons in good health, there is little apparent success; on the contrary, there have been nothing but storms and whirlwinds in that quarter.
The storms here alluded to respected the dissatisfaction of the Indians on the subject of matrimony; the missionaries insisting upon curtailing their wonted privileges in regard to the number and succession of wives. On this head too, as on many others, the practice of the Europeans was utterly opposed to their doctrines. The planters and traders ob
served no other limits than their own conveniency in the amount of their domestic establishment; a fact upon which the natives did not shut their eyes, nor allowed to pass unnoticed in their disputes with the christian teachers.
No one who has read with candour the history of the French missions in Canada, has ever found any other thing to blame besides the injudicious attempt to teach savages the mysteries of our holy religion. The zeal, devotedness, and perseverances of the missionaries are worthy of all praise. It is gratifying to find, that the same good spirit continues to actuate the Roman Catholic clergy in the endeavours which they are making, at the present day, to instruct the Indians, and eventually to bring them within the pale of the church. So far as benevolence, charity and paternal care, can afford comfort to the Indian, he receives it at their hands; and to any one, says Mr. Halkett, "who feels an interest in the fate of that race, it must be satisfactory to observe the kindness of their Catholic teachers in Canada, and painful to contrast it with the barbarous conduct of the Spanish North American missions bordering upon the shores of the Pacific ocean."
Since we have alluded to the conduct of the Spaniards, we shall transcribe a paragraph from the voyages of La Perouse, who visited California in 1786. At that period, there were in the country twenty-five missions labouring among about fifty thousand Indians, of whom about a fifth part were said to have embraced Christianity. In one of these missions, Perouse thus notices the usual occupation of the converted Indians: "Every day they have seven hours of labour, two of prayers, and four or five on Sundays and feast days, which are set apart for repose and divine worship. Corporal punishment is inflicted upon the Indians of both sexes who fail in their religious exercises; and several offences, for which in Europe the punishment is left to the hand of divine justice, are punished here with irons. From the moment that a neophyte is baptized, it is the same as if he had taken perpetual vows; and if he should escape from the mission, and take refuge among his relations in their Indian villages, he is summoned three times to return. If he refuses, the missionary applies for the authority of the governor, who dispatches soldiers to drag him from the bosom of his family, and take him back to the missions, where he is sentenced to receive so many lashes. These Indians are of so timid a character, that they never make any opposition to those who thus violate every human right. And this practice, against which reason cries aloud, is maintained, because
theologians have decided, that the rite of baptism ought not in conscience to be administered to men of so inconstant a turn of mind; for whom the government must, therefore, in some degree act as sponsors, and answer for their perseverance in the faith.
It is painful to reflect, that after the experience of so many years, the Spaniards have not yet resorted to more lenient and liberal means for propagating the Gospel. Kotzebue, the latest voyager to that part of the American continent, informs us, that he landed at California a short time before the festival in honour of that saint was to be celebrated. Upon entering the church, which is spacious and handsomely fitted up, he found several hundred half-naked Indians kneeling, who were never permitted, after their conversion, to absent themselves from mass, although they understand neither Latin nor Spanish. As the missionaries, he adds, do not trouble themselves to learn the language of the Indians, he cannot conceive in what manner they have been instructed in the Christion religion. "Twice in the year they receive permission to return to their native homes. This short time is the happiest of their existence, and I myself have seen them going home in crowds, with loud rejoicings. The sick, who cannot undertake the journey, at least accompany their happy countrymen to the shore where they embark, and then sit for days together, mournfully gazing at the distant summits of the mountains which surround their homes. They often sit in this situation several days, without taking any food; so much does the sight of their lost home affect these new Christians. Every time some of those who have the permission to visit their homes, run away; and they would probably all do it, were they not deterred by their fears of the soldiers, who catch them, and bring them back to the mission as criminals. Langsdorff, who had visited the mission of San Francisco a few years before, made a similar observation. When the Indian is retaken, he is brought back to the mission, where he is bastinadoed, and an iron rod is fastened to one of his feet, which has the double use of preventing him from repeating the attempt, and of frightening others from imitating his example.' The timidity of those runaway convicts is so great, says Kotzebue, that seven or eight dragoons are sufficient to overpower several hundred Indians."
This mode of dragooning the American heathen into Christianity, and that too in the nineteenth century, is, as Mr. Halkett remarks, scarcely to be credited; and yet the circumstance is confirmed by the united testimony of witnesses of various
countries, and professing different religions;-by French, Rus sian and British travellers; by members of the Roman, Greek and English church. It was observed by the celebrated Eliot, known in New England as the apostle of the Indians, that" in order to christianize the savages, it was necessary at the same time to civilize and make men of them;" but the priests at San Francisco seem to have thought it more consonant with the mild precepts of Christianity, that they should begin by enslaving them. "The savage, says Kotzebue, comes unthinkingly into the mission, receives the food which is willingly offered to him, and listens to their instructions. He is still free; but as soon as he is baptized he belongs to the church; and hence he looks with pain and longing to his native mountains."
But still we repeat, that the main error among the Romanists was their constant practice of identifying baptism with Christianity;-the substitution of the opus operatum for improvement of the understanding, change of habits, and extension of useful knowledge. It was no matter to the Jesuit, whether his convert continued to live like a savage, and feel like a barbarian, if he kneeled the stated time during mass, and crossed himself at the proper intervals. Dr. Robertson, in his History of America, informs us, that in the course of a few years after the reduction of the Mexican empire, the sacrament of baptism was administered to more than four millions. Proselytes, he justly remarks, adopted with such inconsiderate haste, and who were neither instructed in the nature of the tenets to which it was supposed they had given their assent, nor taught the absurdities of those which they were required to relinquish, retained their veneration for their ancient superstitions in full force, or mingled an attachment to its doctrines and rights with that slender knowledge of Christianity which they had acquired.
The absurdity of such conduct, as pursued by the French in the upper provinces, at length provoked the interference of the learned doctors of the Sorbonne. After some discussion on the point, it was determined, that "with respect to dying infants and adults, the missionaries might risk the sacrament of baptism when asked for; presuming that God would give to the adults some ray of light, such as it was believed had already occurred in several instances: that as to the other savages, it ought not to be administered, unless where, by a long trial, it appeared that they were instructed, and detached from their own barbarous customs, or where they had habituated themselves to the manners of the