« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
If perhaps these rhymes of mine should sound not
well in strangers' ears, They have only to bethink them that it happens so
with theirs ; For so long as words, like mortals, call a fatherland
They will be most highly valued where they are best
and longest known.
Note 1. Acadie, home of the happy.-page 4. So much of the charm of the poem of Evangeline is derived from the very foundation of the narrative, the simple dignity and earnestness of the characters, and the deep religious tone of the interest, that it may be acceptable to the reader to give the historical fact which has inspired so exquisite an ideal picture. There are many, doubtless, who have never read the cruel story, and such will be glad to see it in a few words, condensed from the best authority on the subject. The historical accuracy of the poem enhances its beauty. The fact, as given by Haliburton in his History of Nova Scotia, is, in brief, as follows:
Some dispute existing between the English and the French governments respecting the territorial limits of either, to settle the matter, the region about Hudson's Bay, and the province of Acadie, since called Nova Scotia, were, in 1713, ceded to Great Britain.
Acadie was inhabited by an excellent French population. When these good people found their country yielded to England, and themselves no longer subjects of the French king, they were grieved to be forced to acknowledge another master. They knew that the French and English were hostile to each other, and they dreaded to be compelled, some time or other, to take up arms against Frenchmen: they therefore entreated the English that they might never be forced to so painful a service, and might be excused from taking the oath of allegiance.
This request received no special attention, but, for a time,
a kind forbearance was exercised towards them. After a period of forty years, the English government came to the conclusion that these neutral French, as they were called, might become dangerous to its interests, by taking part with the Canadian French, its active enemies. On account of this presumed danger, without the least alleged provocation, or the least show of justice, the English government took upon itself to drive out of their possessions this peaceable, prosperous, and unoffending people.
The Acadians had no warning of their fate. At harvesttime they were ordered to assemble in a certain district, and being collected, were informed they were prisoners,—that their lands, cattle, and movables were no longer their own, but were confiscated by government,—that they might take what they could convey away, but must immediately quit the province.
In one single district, two hundred and fifty-five houses, as many barns, eleven mills, and one church, were destroyed. Ships were in readiness to convey the persecuted Acadians to different parts of the continent, ,--to Louisiana, to French Guiana in South America, and to distant places in the then British provinces on the Atlantic.
These people had been remarkable for their industry, their skilful husbandry, their pure morals, and their exemplary piety. Their lands produced wheat and corn, potatoes and flax, abundantly. Their houses were convenient, and furnished with all things necessary to comfort. Their numerous flocks afforded the wool which was manufactured in the family for their clothing: they had no paper money, and little silver or gold, and lived by simple exchange of commodities. So little contention arose among them, that courts and lawyers were needless: the wise and experienced decided their small differences. They were Catholics ; the priests drew up their public acts, wrote their wills, and kept possession of the documents until death called for the execution of them. To requite these services, the inhabitants allowed them one-twenty-seventh of the harvest for their subsistence.
In September, 1775, Colonel Winslow, an officer usually resident at Marshfield, Plymouth County, Massachussetts, was
sent with the king's commission to demolish the property of the neutrals, and to expel them, without exception, from the province. Colonel Winslow deeply regretted that he should be employed in this cruel service. He knew, so he said, that they were of “the same species ” with himself, and “ it was disagreeable to his make and temper” to inflict pain. His first measure, on landing at Grand Pré, was to make prisoners of several hundreds of the most considerable of the men of the settlement. “In consequence of their earnest entreaties, the prisoners were permitted, ten at a time, to return to visit their wretched families, and to look, for the last time, upon their beautiful fields, and their loved and lost homes."
These unhappy men bore their misfortune with firmness until they were ordered on board the transport ship, many to be dispersed among people in the British provinces, whose customs, language, and religion were opposed to all they held dear and sacred.
On the 10th of September, the prisoners were drawn up six deep; and the young men, one hundred and sixty in number, were ordered to go on board the vessels. They refused to do so, unless their families were permitted to accompany them: this was denied, and the soldiers were ordered to advance upon them with bayonets fixed. The prisoners were thus forcibly driven towards the ships.
The road from the chapel to the shore was crowded with women and children, who, on their knees, and with eyes and hands raised to heaven, entreated blessings on their young friends, so unmercifully torn from them. Some of the latter broke out into bitter lamentations ; others prayed aloud ; and another portion sang mournful hymns, as they took their way to the ships. The seniors formed another detachment, and their departure occasioned a similar scene of distress. Other vessels arrived, and their wives and children followed. Their dwellings were burnt before their eyes, and the work of destruction was complete. Desolate and depopulated was the beautiful tract they had occupied : their homes lay smoking in ruins; the cattle, abandoned by their protectors, assembled about the forsaken dwelling-places, anxiously seeking their wonted masters ; and all night long, the faithful watch-dogs
howled for the hands that had fed, and the roofs that had sheltered them.
The distress of one family will serve to exhibit the sufferings of these refugees. There was among them a notary-public, named René Le Blanc. He loved the English. On one occasion, the Indians would have persuaded him to assist them in an attempt upon the English. He refused; and the Indians, in resentment, made him prisoner, and detained him four years.
At the time of the expulsion, Le Blanc was living at an advanced age. His fidelity to the English, and his sufferings on that account, deserved favour, but he found none. Le Blanc had twenty children, and about one hundred and fifty · grandchildren; these were embarked in different vessels and scattered in different provinces. The unfortunate old man was set ashore in New York, with his wife and the two youngest of their children. Love for those that were scattered led him from one strange city to another. He reached Philadelphia: there he found three of his children, and there, despairing to recover the rest, in penury and sorrow, he sank into the grave. “ It may be questioned,” says a writer in the North American Review, “ if the history of the world exhibits a more heart-rending incident than the exile of this amiable and unfortunate people. When the traveller contemplates the noble dykes reared by their industry; while he walks beneath the shade of their abundant orchards, and stands over the ruins of their cottages, or muses among their graves, his imagination goes back to a scene of rural felicity and purity seldom seen in the world, and his heart melts at the sudden and dreadful fate of the unhappy Acadians.”
NOTE 2. Behold, at last,
Each tall and tapering mast
Is swung into its place.- p. 133. I wish to anticipate a criticism on this passage by stating, that sometimes, though not usually, vessels are launched fully rigged and sparred. I have availed myself of the exception, as better suited to my purposes than the general rule; but the reader will see that it is neither a blunder nor a poetic license. On this subject a friend in Portland, Maine, writes me thus :