François de Chateaubriand
Translated by A. S. Kline © 2005 All Rights Reserved.
This work may be freely reproduced, stored, and transmitted, electronically or otherwise, for any non-commercial purpose.
London, April to September 1822. (Revised December 1846)
I was impatient to continue my journey. It was not Americans I had come to see, but something totally different from the men I understood, something more in accord with the customary nature of my ideas; I longed to throw myself into an enterprise for which I was equipped with nothing but my imagination and courage.
When I framed the idea of discovering
the North-West Passage, it was not known whether
This discovery might have made me change direction and head due north; but I would have had scruples about altering the plan agreed between myself and Monsieur de Malesherbes. So I decided to travel west, so as to strike the north-west coast above the Gulf of California; from there, following the trend of the continent, and keeping the sea in sight, I hoped to explore the Behring Straits, double the northernmost cape of America, descend by the eastern shores of the Polar Sea, and return to the United States by way of Hudson Bay, Labrador, and Canada.
What means did I possess to execute
this prodigious peregrination? None. Most French explorers have been solitary
men, abandoned to their own resources; only rarely has the Government or some
company employed or assisted them. Englishmen, Americans, Germans, Spaniards
and Portuguese have accomplished, with the support of the national will, what
in our case impoverished individuals have attempted in vain. Mackenzie, and
others after him, have made conquests in the vast expanses of America, to the
benefit of the United States and Great Britain, which I dreamt of making in
order to extend the possessions of my native land. If I had succeeded, I would
have had the honour of giving French names to unknown regions, of endowing my
country with a colony on the
I found no encouragement in Philadelphia. I recognised then that the
object of this first voyage would not be achieved, and that my journey was only
the prelude to a second, longer voyage. I wrote to this effect to Monsieur de
Malesherbes, and while awaiting future events, I dedicated to poetry whatever
would be lost to science. Indeed, if I failed to find in
A stage-coach, like the one which had
brought me to Baltimore, carried me from
London, April to September 1822.
I embarked on the packet sailing for Albany,
on the upper reaches of the Hudson
River. The company was numerous. Towards evening on the first day, we were
served a collation of fruit and milk; the women sat on the benches and the men
on the deck, at their feet. Conversation was not long maintained: at the sight
of a beautiful natural picture one involuntarily falls silent. Suddenly someone
called out: ‘There is the place where Asgill
was captured.’ They asked a Quaker girl from
This advice, whose validity I inwardly
recognised, annoyed me. If I had believed in myself, I should have left for the
Pole right away, as one sets off from
Mr Swift engaged a Dutchman for me who
spoke several Indian dialects. I bought a pair of horses and left
The whole stretch of country between
that town and
When the Mohawk had been crossed, and I had entered woods where no trees had ever been felled, I was seized with a sort of intoxication of freedom: I went from tree to tree, left and right, saying to myself: ‘Here there are no more roads, no more towns, no monarchies, no republics, no presidents, no kings, no human beings.’ And, to see if I was truly re-possessed of my original rights, I indulged in wild antics which enraged my guide, who in his heart, thought me mad.
Alas! I thought I was alone in that
forest where I held my head so high! Suddenly, I almost bruised my nose on the
side of a shelter. Once beneath it, I set astonished eyes on the first savages
I had ever seen. There were a score of them, men and women, painted like
sorcerers, bodies half-naked, ears slit, crows’ feathers on their heads, and
rings through their noses. A little Frenchman, hair curled and powdered, in an
apple-green coat, a woollen jacket, and a muslin shirt-frill and ruffles, was
scraping a pocket-fiddle, and making the Iroquois dance to Madelon Friquet. Monsieur Violet
(for so he was called) was dancing-master to these savages. They paid for his
lessons in beaver skins and bears’ hams. He had been a scullion in the service
of General Rochambeau, during the
American War. Remaining in
Was it not a devastating experience for a disciple of Rousseau, this introduction to savage life via a dancing-lesson given to the Iroquois by General Rochambeau’s scullion? I was greatly tempted to laugh, though I felt cruelly humiliated.
London, April to September 1822.
I bought a complete outfit from the
Indians: two bearskins, one to serve as a half-toga; the other as a bed. I
added to my new apparel the red cap in ribbed cloth, the cloak, the belt, the
horn for calling in the dogs, and the bandolier of a trapper. My hair hung down
over my bare neck; I sported a long beard, I was savage, hunter, and missionary
all in one. They invited me to a hunt taking place next day, to track down a
carcajou, or wolverine. This species is almost entirely extinct in
We embarked before dawn, to ascend a river flowing from the woods where the wolverine had been seen. There were thirty or so of us, Indians as well as American and Canadian trappers: part of the group walked the bank beside the flotilla, with the dogs, and the women carried our provisions.
We found no trace of the carcajou; but we killed some lynxes and muskrats. The Indians would go into deep mourning, when they accidentally killed any of the latter, since the female muskrat is, as they all know, the mother of the human race. The Chinese, being even better observers, maintain with certainty that the rat can turn into a quail, the mole into an oriole.
Our table was furnished with an abundance of river-birds and fish. The dogs are trained to dive; when they are not hunting they go fishing: they throw themselves into the rivers and seize the fish from the very bottom of the water. The women cooked our meals on a large fire, round which we took our places.
We had to lay flat, faces to the earth, to protect our eyes from the smoke, clouds of which, floating above our heads, preserved us to some degree from mosquito bites.
The various carnivorous insects, seen through a microscope, are formidable creatures. They were those winged dragons perhaps whose fossils are met with: diminished in size, in the way that matter loses energy, those hydras, griffons and the rest, are found today in an insect state. The antediluvian giants are the little men of our own day.
London, April to September 1822.
Monsieur Violet offered me letters of
credence for the Onondagas, the remnant of one of the six Iroquois nations. I came first of all to the
Fifteen years later, when I bivouacked among the sands of the desert of Saba, a few steps from the Jordan, on the edge of the Dead Sea, our horses, those slight offspring of Arabia, looked as though they were listening to tales of the Sheiks, and taking part in the story of Antar or Job’s steed.
It was scarcely four hours after when we completed our camp. I took my gun and went to explore the neighbourhood. There were few birds. Only a solitary pair flew up in front of me, like the birds I hunted in my native woods; from the colour of the male I recognised the white sparrow, passer nivalis of the ornithologists. I also heard the osprey, so well characterised by its call. The flight of that exclamator, led me through the woods to a valley hemmed in between bare and rocky heights; half-way up stood a wretched cabin; a lean cow was grazing in a meadow below.
I like such little shelters: ‘A
After a few minutes, I heard a voice in the valley: three men were driving five or six fat cows along; they set them to grazing and drove the lean cow off with blows from their switches. An Indian woman came out of the hut, went towards the frightened animal, and called to it. The cow ran towards her stretching out its neck and lowing. The settlers threatened the woman from the distance, as she returned to the cabin. The cow followed her.
I rose, descended the slope on my side, crossed the valley, and climbing the opposite hill, arrived at the hut.
I pronounced the greeting I had been taught: ‘Siegoh! I am come.’ The Indian woman, instead of replying to my greeting by repeating the usual phrase: ‘You are come’, failed to reply at all. Then I stroked the cow: the sad yellow face of the Indian woman showed signs of feeling. I was moved by those mysterious acquaintances in adversity: there is tenderness in grieving over ills which no one else has ever grieved over.
The woman gazed at me for some time with lingering doubt then she came forward and placed her own hand on the brow of her companion in misery and solitude.
Encouraged by this mark of confidence, I said in English, since I had exhausted my Indian: ‘She is very thin!’ The Indian replied in bad English: ‘She eats very little’ – ‘She was badly treated,’ I continued. And the woman replied: ‘We are both accustomed to it; Both.’ I said: ‘This field is not yours then?’ She answered: ‘The field belonged to my dead husband. I have no children, and the pale-skins drive their cattle into my field.’
I had nothing to offer God’s creature. We parted. The woman said many things to me which I could not understand; no doubt wishes for my prosperity; if they were not heard in heaven, it was not the fault of the one who offered them, but the fault of him for whom the prayers were offered. Every soul does not possess an equal capacity for happiness, just as every field does not bear the same harvest.
I returned to my ajoupa (shelter), where a meal of potatoes and maize awaited me. The evening was magnificent; the lake, smooth as an un-silvered mirror, showed never a wrinkle; the river, murmuring, bathed our almost-island that the spice-bushes (calycanthus floridus) perfumed with the scent of apples. The whippoorwill repeated its cry: we heard it, now near, now far away, as the bird altered the location of its amorous calls. It was not my name being called. Weep, poor Will!
London, April to September 1822.
Next day, I went to visit the sachem
of the Onondagas; I reached his village
at ten in the morning. Immediately, I was surrounded by young savages who spoke
to me in their language, intermixed with English phrases and a few French
words; they made a great noise, and seemed happy, like the first Turks I saw
later at Modon, when I disembarked on the
Those who explored the North American interior found all the different forms of government known to civilised peoples, among the various savage nations. The Iroquois belonged to a race which seemed destined to conquer all of the Indian races, if strangers had not arrived to bleed his veins dry, and arrest his genius. That intrepid creature was not awed by firearms, when they were first used against him; he stood firm while bullets whistled and cannon roared, as if he had heard them all his life; he seemed to pay them no more attention than a passing storm. As soon as he could procure a musket, he employed it more effectively than a European. He did not abandon the tomahawk, scalping-knife, or bow and arrow, because of it; he added to them the carbine, pistol, dagger and hatchet: he seemed never to have enough weapons to match his valour. Doubly equipped with the murderous instruments of Europe and America, head decorated with feathers, ears slit, face daubed with diverse colours, arms tattooed and blood-smeared, this champion of the New World became as redoubtable in appearance as in battle, on the shores which he defended foot by foot against the invaders.
The sachem of the Onondagas was an old Iroquois in the full meaning of the word; in his person he guarded the ancient traditions of the wilderness.
English writers never fail to call the Indian sachem the old gentleman. Now, the old gentleman is completely naked; he sports a feather or a fishbone piercing his nostrils, and sometimes covers his head, smooth and round as a cheese, with a three-cornered hat edged with lace, as a European mark of honour. Does Velly not portray history with the same realism? The Frankish chieftain Chilpéric rubbed his hair with rancid butter, infundens acido comam butyro, painted his cheeks with woad, and wore a striped jacket or a tunic of animal skins; Velly represents him as a prince magnificent to the point of ostentation as to his furniture and retinue, voluptuous to the point of debauchery, scarcely believing in God, whose ministers were subjected to his mockery.
The sachem of the Onondagas received me courteously and invited me to be seated on a mat. He spoke English and understood French; my guide knew Iroquois: the conversation was relaxed. Among other things, the old man told me that though his nation had warred with mine, he had always respected it. He complained of the Americans; he found them unjust and covetous and regretted that in the partition of Indian territories his tribe had not augmented the share that went to the English.
The women served us a meal. Hospitality is the last virtue retained by the savages in the midst of the vices of European civilisation; what that hospitality once was is well-known; the hearth was as sacred as the altar.
When a tribe was driven from its woods, or when a man came seeking hospitality, the stranger began what was called the dance of the suppliant; the youngest child in the hut touched the threshold and said: ‘Here is the stranger!’ And the chief replied: ‘Child, bring him into the hut.’ The stranger, entering into the child’s protection, went to sit among the ashes of the hearth. The women sang a song of consolation: ‘The stranger has found a wife and a mother. The sun will rise and set for him as before.’
These customs appear as if borrowed
from the Greeks: Themistocles,
calling on Admetus, kisses the penates and his host’s young son; (At Megara I trod perhaps on the poor woman’s
hearthstone, under which Phocion’s
cinerary urn was hidden); and Ulysses, in Alcinous’ palace, implores Arete: ‘Noble Arete, daughter of Rhexenor, after suffering cruel misfortune,
I throw myself at your feet…’ Having spoken these words, the hero goes and sits
among the ashes of the hearth. – I took leave of the old sachem. He had been
present at the siege of Quebec. Among the shameful
years of Louis XV’s reign, the episode of
the Canadian War consoles us, as if it were a page of our ancient history
discovered in the
charged with defending
London, April to September 1822.
Now my guide and I remounted our horses. Our trail became more difficult, marked only by a line of felled trees. The trunks of these trees served as bridges over the streams, or as fascines through the quagmires. At this time Americans were settling nearer to the Genesee concessions. These concessions fetched a higher or lower price depending on the condition of the soil, the quality of the trees, and the course and force of the water.
It has been observed that settlers are
often preceded in the woods by bees: the vanguard of the farmers, they are
symbols of the civilisation and industry they herald. Strangers to
The clearings on both sides of the road along which I travelled, offered a curious blend of the natural and civilised state. In one corner of a wood which had only ever known the yell of the savage and the calls of wild creatures, one came across a ploughed field; from the same viewpoint one saw an Indian wigwam and a planter’s cabin. Some of these cabins, already finished, recalled the neatness of Dutch farm-houses; others only half-complete, had no roof but the sky.
I was received in these dwellings, the result of a morning’s work; there I often found a family surround by European elegance: mahogany furniture, a piano, carpets and mirrors, a few paces from an Iroquois hut. In the evening, when the farm-workers had returned from the woods and fields armed with axes and hoes, the windows were opened. My host’s daughters, their lovely blonde hair in ringlets, accompanied at the piano would sing the duet from Paisiello’s Pandolfetto, or a cantabile by Cimarosa.
In the better districts, small towns were established. The spire of a new church rose from the heart of an old forest. As the English take their customs with them wherever they go, when I had crossed a region without a trace of inhabitants, I would come across an inn-sign swinging from the branch of a tree. Trappers, planters and Indians, met together at these caravanserais: the first time I stayed at one, I swore it would be my last.
On entering one of these hostelries, I stood amazed at the sight of an immense bed, built in a circle round a post: each traveller took his place in this bed, his feet against the post in the middle, his head at the circumference of the circle, so that the sleepers were arranged symmetrically, like the spokes of a wheel or the sticks of a fan. After some hesitation, I climbed into this contraption, since I could see no one else within. I was beginning to doze, when I felt something slide against me: it was the leg of my big Dutchman; I’ve never in my life experienced a greater sense of horror. I leapt from the hospitable receptacle, cordially cursing the customs of our good forefathers. I went and slept in my cloak in the moonlight: that voyager’s bedfellow at least was all sweetness, freshness, and purity.
On the bank of the
London, April to September 1822.
We rode on to Niagara. We were no more than twenty miles or so distant, when we saw, in an oak-grove, the camp-fire of some savages who had halted beside a stream, where we ourselves thought of bivouacking. We profited from their prior efforts: after grooming the horses, and preparing for night, we approached the group. Legs crossed in the manner of tailors, we seated ourselves among the Indians, round the fire, to roast our maize-cakes.
The family comprised two women, two infants at the breast, and three braves. The conversation became general that is to say a great many gestures were interspersed with a few words from me; later they all fell asleep where they were sitting. The only one left awake, I went to sit by myself on a tree root which stretched alongside the stream.
The moon showed above the treetops; a
balmy breeze, which that Queen of the Night brought with her from the Orient,
seemed to precede her through the forest, as if it were her cool breath. The
solitary light rose higher and higher in the sky: now following her course, now
traversing banks of cloud that resembled the summits of some snow-crowned
mountain chain. All would have been silence and peace, but for the fall of a
few leaves, the passage of a sudden breeze, the hooting of a tawny owl; far
off, the dull roar of
Next day, the Indians armed themselves, while the women collected the baggage. I distributed a little gunpowder and some vermilion amongst my hosts. We parted, touching our foreheads and chests. The braves gave out a cry as a signal to march, and set off in front; the women walked behind, carrying children, who, slung in furs from their mothers’ backs, turned their heads to look at us. I followed their departure with my eyes, until the whole troupe vanished among the forest trees.
The savages of
London, April to September 1822.
I spent two days in the Indian village, from which I wrote another letter to Monsieur Malesherbes. The Indian women occupied themselves in various tasks; their babies were slung in nets from the branches of a large copper beech. The grass was covered with dew, the breeze emerged from the forest all scented, and the cotton plants, their bolls inverted, resembled white rose-bushes. The breeze rocked the aerial cradles with an almost imperceptible motion; the mothers rose from time to time to see that their children were asleep, and had not been woken by the birds. It was ten miles or so from the Indian village to the falls: it took me and my guide half as many hours to reach them. Already, six miles away, a column of mist indicated the position of the waterfall. My heart beat with joy mingled with terror on entering the wood which hid from view one of the greatest spectacles that Nature has offered mankind.
We dismounted. Leading our horses by
the bridle, we made our way through heaths and copses, to the bank of the
The guide held me fast, for I felt drawn, so to speak, towards the flood, and had an involuntary desire to hurl myself into it. Now I gazed at the river banks upstream, now downstream at an island that separated the waters, and the point where those waters suddenly ceased, as if they had been cut off in mid-air.
After a quarter of an hour of perplexity, and an indefinable admiration, I went on to the falls. You can find the two descriptions of them I have given, in the Essai sur les révolutions, and in Atala. Today, wide highways lead to the cataract; there are inns on the American side, and the British, and mills and factories below the chasm.
I cannot convey the thoughts that stirred in me at the sight of such sublime disorder. In the wildernesses of my early existence, I was forced to invent people to adorn them; I drew from my own substance beings I found nowhere else, that I carried within me. So I placed the remembrances of Atala and René beside Niagara Falls, as if they were an expression of its sadness. What is a cataract, falling eternally beneath the senseless gaze of earth and sky, if human nature is not there with its misfortunes and destiny? To sink into that solitude of water and mountains, and know not whom to tell of that great spectacle! The waves, rocks, woods, torrents there for itself alone! Give the soul a companion, and the smiling finery of the hills, the breath of fresh air from the flood, becomes wholly delightful: the day’s travels, the sweetest of rests at the end of the journey, the passage of the waves, sleep on a bed of moss, elicit the deepest tenderness from the heart. I seated Velléda on Armorica’s shores; Cymodocée under Athenian porticos; Blanca in the Alhambra’s halls. Alexander created cities everywhere he passed: I have left dreams everywhere I have trailed my life.
I have seen the cascades of the
Et praeceps Anio ac Tiburni lucus:
I was holding my horse’s bridle twisted round my arm; a rattlesnake started rustling among the bushes. The frightened horse reared and backed towards the falls. I could not free my arm from the reins; the horse ever more terrified, dragged me with him. His forefeet already off the ground, on his haunches at the edge of the abyss, he held position only by the strength of his loins. It was all over with me, when the animal himself astonished by his new peril, pirouetted backwards to safety. Dying in the Canadian woods, would my soul have borne, to the supreme tribunal, sacrifices, good works, virtues like those of Père Jogues and Père Lallemand, or wasted days and wretched fantasies?
This was not the only danger I ran at
London, April to September 1822.
I stayed for twelve days with my doctors, the Indians of Niagara. I saw tribes there who had come from Detroit or from the country to the centre and east of Lake Erie. I enquired about their customs; for a few small gifts I obtained re-enactments of their ancient rites, since the rites themselves scarcely exist now. Nevertheless, at the beginning of the American War of Independence, the savages still ate their prisoners, or rather the dead ones: an English captain, ladling some soup from an Indian woman’s cooking pot with a ladle, retrieved a hand.
The Indian customs associated with birth, and death, are the least eroded, since they have not been thoughtlessly lost, like those of the segments of life which separate them; they are not things of passing fashion. In order to honour him, the new-born child still has the most ancient name of his family bestowed upon him; that of his grandmother for instance: since names are always taken from the maternal line. From that moment, the child occupies the place of the woman whose name he has received; in speaking to him, one grants him the status of the relative brought to life again by the name; so an uncle may address his nephew by the title of grand-mother. This custom, laughable thought it may seem, is nevertheless touching. It resurrects the ancient dead; it recreates in the feebleness of the first years of life, the feebleness of the last; it brings together the extremities of life, the beginning and end of a family; it confers a species of immortality on their ancestors and imagines them present in the midst of their descendants.
In what concerns the dead, it is easy to find signs of the savage’s attachment to sacred relics. Civilised nations, in order to preserve their country’s memories, have the mnemonics of writing and the arts; they have cities, palaces, spires, columns, obelisks; they have the marks of the plough on once-cultivated fields; their names are cut in bronze and marble, their actions recorded in their histories.
Nothing of that appertains to the
peoples of the wilderness: their names are not written on the trees; their
huts, built in a few hours, vanish in a moment; the sticks with which they
labour barely scratch the earth, and cannot even raise a furrow. Their
traditional songs die with the last memory that retains them, vanishing with
the last voice that repeats them. The tribes of the
I wished to hear the songs of my hosts. A little fourteen-year old Indian girl, called Mila, a very pretty girl (Indian women are only pretty at that age) sang something quite delightful. Was this not the very couplet cited by Montaigne? ‘Adder stay now! Stay now, Adder, so my sister may take from the pattern of your markings, the embroidery and style of a fine belt I may give my beloved: so shall your beauty and decoration be preferred forever above all other snakes.’
The author of the Essais met with Iroquois at
London, April to September 1822.
Canadians are no longer such as were described by Cartier,
Charlevoix and the
Lettres édifiantes: the
sixteenth century and the start of the seventeenth century were still an era of
powerful imagination and simple customs; the wonder of the former reflected
virgin nature, and the candour of the latter recreated the simplicity of the
savage. Champlain, at the finish of his first voyage to
The savage population of North America, not including the Mexicans or Eskimos, comprises today no more than four hundred thousand souls, on both sides of the Rocky Mountains; travellers even put it as low as a hundred and fifty thousand. The decline of Indian customs has gone hand in hand with the depopulation of the tribes. Their religious traditions have become confused; the instruction spread by Canadian Jesuits has mingled foreign ideas with the native ideas of the indigenous peoples: one finds, in their crude fables, Christian beliefs disfigured; most of the savages wear a cross as an ornament, and the protestant traders sell them what the Catholic missionaries give them. Let me say, to the honour of our country and the glory of our religion, that the Indians are strongly attached to us; that they never cease to mourn our absence, and that a robe noire (a black robe, a missionary) is still the subject of veneration in the American forests. The savage continues to love us beneath the trees where we were his first guests, on the soil we have trodden, and where we have consigned to him our graves.
When the Indian was naked, or dressed in skins, he had something great and noble about him; in our time, European rags, without covering his nakedness, are a witness to his wretchedness: he is a beggar at the inn-door, no longer a savage in the forest.
In the end, an intermediate race, the Métis, formed, born of colonists and Indian women. These men, nicknamed Boisbrûlés(Burntwoods), because of the colour of their skin, are the exchange-brokers between the creators of their twin origin. Speaking the languages of both their fathers and their mothers, they possess the vices of both races. These bastards of a civilised and a savage nature, sell themselves now to the Americans, now to the English, so that they might grant them the fur monopoly; they fuel the rivalry between the English Hudson’s Bay and North West companies, and the American companies, Columbian-American Fur, Missouri Fur and the rest: they hunt themselves, as paid specialists, and with the hunters paid by the companies.
the great war of American Independence is famous. We forget that blood also
flowed on account of the minor interests of a handful of merchants.
The Hudson’s Bay
Company sold, in 1811, to Lord Selkirk, land along
no longer, in
small tribes of the
Live on so, Bossuet, that in the end your masterpiece may outlast, in a bird’s memory, your language and your remembrance among men!
London, April to September 1822.
Speaking of Canada and Louisiana, or looking, on the old maps, at the extent of the former French colonies in America, I have asked myself how the government of my country could have allowed those colonies to perish, that today would have been an inexhaustible source of prosperity for us.
From Acadia and Canada to Louisiana, from the mouth of the St Lawrence to that of the Mississippi, the territory of New France surrounded that which formed the confederation of the first thirteen united states: eleven others, with the district of Columbia, the territory of Michigan, the North-West, Missouri, Oregon and Arkansas, belonged to us, or would have belonged to us, as they do belong to the United States after their transfer by the English and Spanish, our successors in Canada and Louisiana. The region between the Atlantic to the north-east, the Arctic Sea to the north, the Pacific Ocean and the Russian possessions to the north-west, and the Gulf of Mexico to the south, that is to say more than two thirds of North America, acknowledged French law,
I fear that the Restoration has simply lost its way among ideas contrary to those which I express here: its obsession with holding onto the past, an obsession which I never ceased to oppose, would not have been a disaster if it had merely overthrown me by removing a prince’s favour from me; but it might in fact overthrow the throne. Stasis is impossible in politics; power must advance with human intelligence. Let us respect the greatness of time; let us contemplate with veneration the flow of the centuries, made sacred by the memory and footsteps of our forefathers; however let us not try to progress backwards towards them, because they no longer possess anything of our real being, and if we attempt to seize them, they vanish. The Chapter of Notre Dame d’Aix-la-Chapelle opened Charlemagne’s tomb, they say, around 1450. They found the emperor seated on a golden chair, holding in his skeletal hands the Book of the Gospels written in letters of gold: before him were set his sceptre and his shield of gold; at his side was his sword Joyeuse, sheathed in a golden scabbard. He was dressed in Imperial robes. On his head, which a gold chain held upright, was a veil that covered what had been his face, surmounted by a crown. They touched the phantom; it fell to dust. We owned vast countries overseas: they offered a refuge for our excess population, a market for our trade, a source of supply for our navy. We are excluded from a new universe, where the human race is starting again: the English, Portuguese, and Spanish languages serve, in Africa, Asia, Oceania, the South Sea Islands, and on the continent of the two Americas, to convey the thoughts of many millions of men; while we, disinherited of the conquests achieved by our courage and our genius, are at pains to hear the language of Colbert and Louis XIV spoken in some little town of Louisiana and Canada, under foreign domination: it remains only as a witness to our reverses of fortune, and our political mistakes.
And who is the king whose power now replaces that of the King of France in the Canadian forests? He who long ago had this note penned to me:
Monsieur Le Vicomte,
I am commanded by the King to invite Your Excellency to dine and stay overnight here on this Tuesday 6th.
Your very humble and very obedient servant,
It was my destiny to be tormented by princes. I broke off; I re-crossed the Atlantic once more; I restored the arm broken at Niagara; I stripped myself of my bearskin; I put on my gilded vestments again; I returned from an Iroquois wigwam to the Royal Lodge of his Britannic Majesty, monarch of three united kingdoms, and Emperor of India; I left behind my hosts with pierced ears and the little beaded native girl; wishing Lady Conyngham the sweetness of Mila, and her years which still belong only to the earliest moment of spring, to those days which precede the May month, and which our Gallic poets call l’Avrillée.
End of Book VII
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