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PREFACE TO VOL. X
Following is a synopsis of the third and final installment of Document XXVI., contained in the present volume:
XXVI. In the Preface to Vol. VIII., we explained that the Relation of 1636, like many others of the series, is a composite. Part I. is a general report to the provincial of the Jesuits, at Paris, upon the progress and condition of the missions in New France, in 1636, from the pen of the superior, Le Jeune; Part II. consists of a specific Relation, addressed to the latter by Brébeuf, of the mission to the Hurons for this year. In Vols. VIII. and IX. were presented Le Jeune's Relation proper, the present volume being devoted to Brébeuf's Huron Relation, thus completing the document.
As usual, Brébeuf commences his annual letter by describing "the conversion, baptism, and happy death of some Hurons." During the year, the missionaries in that far-away field have baptized eightysix savages, an encouraging gain over the fourteen who were " rescued from the service of the devil" during the first year of their labors. Their great hope is in the conversion of the children, who, they report, show surprising aptitude and willingness to learn the doctrines of the Christian faith; and, through them, many parents have been reached.
At a council of the Huron chiefs, Brébeuf produces
letters from Champlain and Duplessis-Bochart, who exhort the tribesmen to follow the teaching of the missionaries, and embrace Christianity; to emphasize this advice, and in accordance with the custom of the country, he " presents to the assembly a collar of twelve hundred beads of Porcelain, telling them that it was given to smooth the difficulties of the road to Paradise."
The writer describes the unusual and intense drought which prevailed throughout Canada, in the spring and early summer of 1635. The Huron country, being sandy, is especially affected, and is threatened with a total failure of the crops. The sorcerers," or medicine men, practice all their arts to bring rain, but without success, and attribute their failure to the cross erected by the missionaries. The latter, as a last resort, appeal to their patron saints; and abundant rains are secured,-in June, by a novena of masses in honor of St. Joseph; and in August, by another novena for St. Ignace. The result is a plentiful harvest, which increases the good will of the savages toward the black gowns.
The Hurons are in constant dread of hostile incursions from the Iroquois; the missionaries promise to assist them in such emergencies, and instruct them how to improve the fortifications around their villages; for this, the Hurons are duly grateful.
In August, Mercier and Pijart arrive from Quebec, a welcome reinforcement. Many details of missionary work are given,-journeys, instructions, debates with Indians, conversions, baptisms, etc. Louis de Sainte-Foi (Amantacha), who had been educated in France during 1626–28, is praised for his intelligence, fidelity, and Christian character;
and he greatly aids the labors of the missionaries. An embassy of Island savages (from the Allumettes) visits the Hurons, attempting, but in vain, to incite them to an attack on the Iroquois. Brébeuf takes this opportunity to win, for himself and his brethren, the friendship of these Islanders,—giving them a canoe and other presents.
For the benefit of those of his brethren in France who desire to undertake missionary work in the Huron country, Brébeuf recounts the many perils of the journey hither, and the annoyances and dangers to which apostles of the faith are continually exposed among the savages; but he offers much encouragement and consolation to those who are willing, nevertheless, to brave all obstacles, and to devote themselves to the conversion of the natives.
The missionaries are compiling a grammar and dictionary of the Huron dialect; and Brébeuf devotes a chapter to the peculiarities of this tongue.
The second part of this Relation, is occupied by a minute account of "the beliefs, manners, and customs of the Hurons," their myths of Deity and creation; their notions regarding the nature of man's soul, and its condition after death; their worship of the sky, and of demons; their superstitions, and faith in dreams; their feasts and dances; their games, and the general habit of gambling. Then are described, at length, the tricks of medicine men; the national characteristics of the Huron tribes; their customs, both in peace and war; their councils and oratory; and, finally, their solemn feast of the dead,―at which ghastly ceremony, once in twelve years, the corpses of all who have died during that time receive a public and common burial.
Brébeuf closes his account with an expression of much hope for the future success of their labors,— mingled, however, with fear lest these savage neophytes may grow restive when placed under greater restrictions on their moral and social conduct, than have thus far seemed advisable to the cautious missionaries.
The translation of Brébeuf's portion of the Relation of 1636, contained in the present volume, was made by the late James McFie Hunter, M. A., of Barrie, Ont.
R. G. T.
MADISON, WIs., October, 1897.