Considering myself, therefore, under no obligation to his Excellency, I addressed a letter to the Directors, expressing my thanks for the benefit they had conferred upon me, and requesting permission to visit the land of my nativity next year.
I was fortunate enough to find a couple of canoes at Esquimaux Bay, sufficiently large to admit of conveying an outfit to the interior, and equally fortunate to find Mr. Davis, the gentleman in charge of the district, possessed the will and ability to promote my views. All my arrangements at this place being completed, I set off on my return, and was happy to find, on my arrival at the outpost, that the outfit was rendered in safety, not the slightest accident having occurred on the way.
I arrived at Fort Chimo in the beginning of October. The dreary winter setting in immediately, we commenced the usual course of vegetative existence; and I consider it as unnecessary as it would be uninteresting to say anything further concerning it than that this season passed without our being subjected to such grievous privation as during the last. The greater part of the people being distributed among the outposts, reduced our expenditure of provisions so much, that I felt I had nothing now to fear on the score of starvation; and the precautions I had taken the preceding winter enabled us not only to indulge occasionally in the luxuries of bread-and-butter, but also to contemplate the possibility of the non-arrival of the ship without much anxiety.
1842.—On the opening of the navigation I again set out for Esquimaux Bay, where I found letters from the Secretary, conveying the welcome intelligence that my request for permission to visit Britain had been granted, and that the Directors, agreeably to my recommendation, had determined on abandoning Ungava, the ship being ordered round this season to convey the people and property to Esquimaux Bay.
CLIMATE OF UNGAVA—AURORA BOREALIS—SOIL—VEGETABLE PRODUCTIONS—ANIMALS—BIRDS—FISH—GEOLOGICAL FEATURES.
It need scarcely be observed that, in so high a latitude as that of Ungava, the climate presents the extremes of heat and cold; the moderate temperature of spring and autumn is unknown, the rigour of winter being immediately succeeded by the intense heat of summer, and vice versa.
On the 12th of June, 1840, the thermometer was observed to rise from 10 deg. below zero to 76 deg. in the shade, the sky clear and the weather calm; this was, in fact, the first day of summer. For ten days previously the thermometer ranged from 15 deg. below zero to 32 deg. above, and the weather was as boisterous as in the month of January, snowing and blowing furiously all the time. The heat continued to increase, till the thermometer frequently exhibited from 85 deg. to 100 deg. in the shade. This intense heat may, no doubt, be owing in a considerable degree to the reflection of the solar rays from the rocky surface of the country, a great part of which is destitute of vegetation. When the wind blows from the sea the atmosphere is so much cooled as to become disagreeable. These vicissitudes are frequently experienced during summer, and are probably caused by the sea's being always encumbered by ice. It is remarkable that the severest cold in this quarter is invariably accompanied by stormy weather; whereas, in the interior of the continent, severe cold always produces calm.
The winter may be said to commence in October; by the end of this month the ground is covered with snow, and the rivers and smaller lakes are frozen over; the actions of the tide, however, and the strength of the current, often keep Ungava River open till the month of January. At this period I have neither seen, read, nor heard of any locality under heaven that can offer a more cheerless abode to civilized man than Ungava. The rumbling noise created by the ice, when driven to and fro by the force of the tide, continually stuns the ear; while the light of heaven is hidden by the fog that hangs in the air, shrouding everything in the gloom of a dark twilight. If Pluto should leave his own gloomy mansion in tenebris tartari, he might take up his abode here, and gain or lose but little by the exchange.
"The parched ground burns frore, and cold performs The effect of fire."—MILTON.
When the river sets fast, the beauties of the winter scene are disclosed—one continuous surface of glaring snow, with here and there a clump of dwarf pine, of the bald summits of barren hills, from which the violence of the winter storms sweep away even the tenacious lichens. The winter storms are the most violent I ever experienced, sweeping every thing before them; and often prove fatal to the Indians when overtaken by them in places where no shelter can be found. The year previous to my arrival, a party of Indians ventured out to a barren island in the bay in quest of deer, taking their women along with them. While engaged in the chase, a sudden storm compelled them to make for the mainland with all possible speed. The women were soon exhausted by their exertions, and, unable to proceed farther, were at length covered by the snow, and left to their fate. As soon as the fury of the storm abated, the men went in search of them; but in vain; they were never found.
During winter the sky is frequently illuminated by the Aurora Borealis even in the day-time; and I have observed that when the south wind, the coldest in this quarter, (traversing, as it does, the frost-bound regions of Canada and Labrador,) blows for any length of time, the sky becomes clear, and the aurora disappears. No sooner, however, does the east wind blow, which, being charged with the vapours of the Atlantic, induces mild weather even in midwinter, than they again dart forth their coruscations—more brightly at first, afterwards more faintly, till, if the wind continue, they again disappear.
These phenomena seem to warrant the conclusion that the aurora is produced by the evolving of the electric fluid, through the collision of bodies of cold and warm air. The same phenomena are observable in New Caledonia; the east wind, passing over the glaciers of the Rocky Mountains, cools the atmosphere to such a degree as to cause frost every month in summer; the west wind, on the contrary, causes heat; and there, as in Ungava, the change of winds is followed by what may be termed the Mountain Aurora (Aurora Montium?)
During my residence of five years at Ungava, the thermometer fell twice to 53 deg. below zero; and frequently ranged from 38 deg. to 48 deg. for several days together; the extreme heat rose to 100 deg. at noon in the shade.
The soil of Ungava consists principally of decayed lichens, which form a substance resembling the peat moss of the Scottish moors. In this soil the lily-white "Cana" grows, a plant which I have not seen in any other part of the continent, although it may elsewhere be found in similar situations. In the low grounds along the banks of rivers, the soil is generally deep and fertile enough to produce timber of a large size; in the valleys are found clumps of wood, which become more and more stunted as they creep up the sides of the sterile hills, till at length they degenerate into lowly shrubs. The woods bordering on the sea-coast consist entirely of larch; which also predominates in the interior, intermixed with white pine, and a few poplars and birches. The hardy willow vegetates wherever it can find a particle of soil to take root in; and the plant denominated Labrador tea, flourishes luxuriantly in its native soil. In favourable seasons the country is covered with every variety of berries—blueberry, cranberry, gooseberry, red currant, strawberry, raspberry, ground raspberry (rubus arcticus), and the billberry (rubus chamaemorus), a delicious fruit produced in the swamps, and bearing some resemblance to the strawberry in shape, but different in flavour and colour, being yellow when ripe. Liquorice root is found on the banks of South River.
To enumerate the varieties of animals is an easy task; the extremely barren nature of the country, and the severity of the climate, prove so unfavourable to the animal kingdom, that only a few of the more hardy species are to be found here: viz.—
Black, brown, grisly, and polar bears.
Black, silver, cross, blue, red, and white foxes.
Wolves, wolverines, martens, and the beaver (but extremely rare).
Otters, minks, musk-rats, ermine.
Arctic hares, rabbits, rein-deer; and the lemming, in some parts of the interior.
When we consider the great extent of country that intervenes between Ungava and the plains of the "far west," it seems quite inexplicable that the grisly bear should be found in so insulated a situation, and none in the intermediate country: the fact of their being here, however, does not admit of a doubt, for I have traded and sent to England several of their skins. The information I have received from the natives induces me to think that the varieties of colour in bears mark them as distinct species, and not the produce of the same litter, as some writers affirm. Why, otherwise, do we not find the different varieties in Canada, where the grisly bear has never been seen? The sagacious animals seem to be well aware of their generic affinity, since they are often seen together, sharing the same carcass, and apparently on terms of the most intimate fellowship.
It is a singular circumstance, that she-bears with young are seldom or never killed; at least it is so extraordinary a circumstance, that when it does happen, it is spoken of for years afterwards. She must, therefore, retire to her den immediately after impregnation; and cannot go above three months with young; as instances have occurred of their being found suckling their young in the month of January, at which period they are not larger than the common house-rat, presenting the appearance of animals in embryo, yet perfect in all their parts.
Bruin prepares his hybernal dormitory with great care, lining it with hay, and stopping up the entrance with the same material; he enters it in October, and comes out in the month of April. He passes the winter alone, in a state of morbid drowsiness, from which he is roused with difficulty; and neither eats nor drinks, but seems to derive nourishment from sucking his paws. He makes his exit in spring apparently in as good condition as when he entered; but a few days' exposure to the air reduces him to skin and bone.
The natives pay particular attention to the appearance presented by the unoccupied dens they may discover in summer: if bruin has removed his litter of the preceding winter, he intends to reoccupy the same quarters; if he allows it to remain, he never returns; and the hunter takes his measures accordingly.
The black bear shuns the presence of man, and is by no means a dangerous animal; the grisly bear, on the contrary, commands considerable respect from the "lord of the creation," whom he attacks without hesitation. By the natives, the paw of a grisly bear is considered as honourable a trophy as the scalp of a human enemy.
The reports I have had, both from natives and white trappers, confirm the opinion that certain varieties of the fox belong to the same species,—such as the black, silver, cross, and red; all of which have been found in the same nest, but never any of the white or blue. The former, too, are distinguished for their cunning and sagacity; while the latter are very stupid, and fall an easy prey to the trapper; a circumstance of itself sufficient to prove a difference of species.
There are two varieties of the rein-deer,—the migratory, and the stationary or wood-deer: the latter is a much larger animal, but not abundant; the former are extremely numerous, migrating in herds at particular seasons, and observing certain laws on their march, from which they seldom deviate. The does make their appearance at Ungava River generally in the beginning of March, coming from the west, and directing their course over the barren grounds near the coast, until they reach George's River, where they halt to bring forth their young, in the month of June. Meantime the bucks, being divided into separate herds, pursue a direct course through the interior, for the same river, and remain scattered about on the upper parts of it until the month of September, when they assemble, and proceed slowly towards the coast. By this time the does move onward towards the interior, the fawns having now sufficient strength to accompany them, and follow the banks of George's River until they meet the bucks, when the rutting season commences, in the month of October; the whole then proceed together, through the interior, to the place whence they came. In the same manner, I have been informed, the deer perform their migratory circuits everywhere; observing the same order on their march, following nearly the same route unless prevented by accidental circumstances, and observing much the same periods of arrival and departure.
The colour of the rein-deer is uniformly the same, presenting no variety of "spotted black and red." In summer it is a very dark grey, approaching to black, and light grey in winter. The colour of the doe is of a darker shade than that of the buck, whose breast is perfectly white in winter. Individuals are seen of a white colour at all seasons of the year. The bucks shed their antlers in the month of December; the does in the month of January. A few bucks are sometimes to be met with who roam about apart from the larger herds, and are in prime condition both in summer and winter. These solitaires are said to be unsuccessful candidates for the favours of the does, who, having been worsted by their more powerful rivals in contentione amoris, withdraw from the community, and assuming the cowl, ever after eschew female society; an opinion which their good condition at all seasons seems to corroborate.
The rein-deer is subject to greater annoyance from flies than any other animal in the creation; neither change of season nor situation exempts them from this torture. Their great persecutor is a species of gad-fly, (oestries tarandi,) that hovers around them in clouds during summer, and makes them the instruments of their own torture throughout the year. The fly, after piercing the skin of the deer, deposits its eggs between the outer and inner skin, where they are hatched by the heat of the animal's body. In the month of March, the chrysalides burst through the skin, and drop on the ground, when they may be seen crawling in immense numbers along the deer paths as they pass from west to east.
The only birds observed in winter are grouse, ptarmigan, a small species of wood-pecker, butcher-bird, and the diminutive tomtit. We are visited in summer by swans, geese, ducks, eagles, hawks, ravens, owls, robins, and swallows. The eider-duck, so much prized for its down, is found in considerable numbers. The geese are of a most inferior kind, owing, I suppose, to the poor feeding the country affords; when they arrive in summer the ice is often still solid, when they betake themselves to the hills, and feed on berries.
The lakes produce only white fish, trout and carp. We took now and then a few salmon in the river, and there is no doubt that this fish abounds on the coast.
In the sea are found the black whale, porpoise, sea-horse, seal, and the narwal or sea unicorn; the horn of the latter, solid ivory, is a beautiful object. The largest I procured measured six feet and a half in length, four inches in diameter at the root, and a quarter of an inch at the point. It is of a spiral form, and projects from near the extremity of the snout; it presents a most singular appearance when seen moving along above the surface of the water, while the animal is concealed beneath.
The geological features of the country present so little variety, that one versed in that interesting science would experience but little difficulty in describing them; a mere outline, however, is all I can venture to present.
Along the sea-coast the formation is granitic syenite; then, proceeding about forty miles in the direction of South River, syenite occurs, which, about sixty miles higher up, runs into green stone: very fine slate succeeds. At the height of land dividing the waters that flow in different directions, into Esquimaux and Ungava Bays, the formation becomes syenitic schist, and continues so to within a short distance of the great fall on Hamilton River; when syenite succeeds; then gneiss; and along the shores of Esquimaux Bay syenitic gneiss, and pure quartz: lumps of black and red hornblend are met with everywhere. The country is covered with boulders rounded off by the action of water, most of which are different from the rocks in situ, and must have been transported from a great distance, some being of granite—a rock not to be found in this quarter.
The rugged and precipitous banks of George's River are occasionally surmounted by hills; at the base of all these elevations, deep horizontal indentures appear running in parallel lines opposite each other on either side of the river,—a circumstance which indicates the action of tides and waves at a time when the other parts of the land were submerged, and the tops of those hills formed islands. Along certain parts of the coast of Labrador rows of boulders are perceived lying in horizontal lines; the lowest about two hundred yards distant from high-water mark, while the farthest extend to near the crest of the adjacent hills. Several deep cavities and embankments of sand are observed in the interior, bearing unequivocal marks of having been, at one time, subject to the influence of the sea.
I shall conclude these few remarks by observing that, whatever conclusions the geologist may arrive at as to the remote or recent elevation of this country, the tops of the higher hills appear to have been formerly islands in the sea; and I doubt not but the same may be said of the higher lands on every part of the Arctic regions. Admitting this to have been the case, it contributes to confirm the theory of that distinguished philosopher, Sir Charles Lyell, as to the cause of the changes that have taken place in the climate of the northern regions.
THE NASCOPIES—THEIR RELIGION—MANNERS AND CUSTOMS—CLOTHING—MARRIAGE—COMMUNITY OF GOODS.
The Indians inhabiting the interior of Ungava, or, it may be said with equal propriety, the interior of Labrador, are a tribe of the Cree nation designated Nascopies, and numbering about one hundred men able to bear arms. Their language, a dialect of the Cree or Cristeneau, exhibits a considerable mixture of Sauteux words, with a few peculiar to themselves. The Nascopies have the same religious belief as their kindred tribes in every other part of the continent. They believe in the existence of a Supreme Being, the Ruler of the universe, and the Author of all good. They believe, also, in the existence of a bad spirit, the author of all evil. Each is believed to be served by a number of subordinate spirits. Sacrifices are offered to each; to the good, by way of supplication and gratitude; to the evil, by way of conciliation and deprecation. Their local genii are also supposed to be possessed of the power of doing good, or inflicting evil, and are likewise propitiated by sacrifices; the "men of medicine" are viewed in nearly the same light. A few of them who visit the king's posts, have been baptized, and taught to mutter something they call prayers, and on this account are esteemed good Christians by their tutors; while every action of their lives proves them to be as much Pagans as ever; at least, to those who look for some fruit of faith, and who may be ignorant of the miraculous efficacy of holy water, and can form no idea of its operation on the soul, they appear so.
Of all the Indians I have seen, the Nascopies seem most averse to locomotion; many of them grow up to man's estate without once visiting a trading post. Previously to the establishment of this post they were wont to assemble at a certain rendezvous in the interior, and deliver their furs to some elderly man of the party, who proceeded with them to the King's posts, or Esquimaux Bay, and traded them for such articles as they required. So little intercourse have this people had with the whites, that they may be still considered as unsophisticated "children of nature," and possessed, of course, of all the virtues ascribed to such; yet I must say, that my acquaintance with them disclosed nothing that impressed me with a higher opinion of them than of my own race, corrupted as they are by the arts of civilized life.
The Nascopie freely indulges all the grosser passions of his nature; he has no term in his language to express the sensation of shame; the feeling and the word are alike unknown. Many circumstances might be adduced in proof of this, but I have no desire to disgust the reader. Previously to our arrival here, there was not such an article of domestic utility known among them as a spoon; the unclean hand performed every office. They take their meals sitting in a circle round a kettle, and commence operations by skimming off the fat with their hands, and lapping it up like dogs; then every one helps himself to the solids, cutting, gnawing, and tearing until the whole is devoured, or until repletion precludes further exertions, when, like the gorged beast of prey, they lie down to sleep.
The Nascopies practise polygamy more from motives of convenience than any other—the more wives, the more slaves. The poor creatures, in fact, are in a state of relentless slavery; every species of drudgery devolves upon them. When they remove from camp to camp in winter, the women set out first, dragging sledges loaded with their effects, and such of the children as are incapable of walking; meantime the men remain in the abandoned encampment smoking their pipes, until they suppose the women are sufficiently far advanced on the route to reach the new encampment ere they overtake them.
Arrived at the spot, the women clear the ground of snow, erect the tents, and collect fuel; and when their arrangements are completed, their lords step in to enjoy themselves. The sole occupation of the men is hunting, and, in winter, fishing. They do not even carry home the game; that duty also falls to the lot of the female, unless when the family has been starving for some time, when the men condescend to carry home enough for immediate use.
The horrid practice still obtains among the Nascopies of destroying their parents and relatives, when old age incapacitates them for further exertion. I must, however, do them the justice to say, that the parent himself expresses a wish to depart, otherwise the unnatural deed would probably never be committed; for they in general treat their old people with much care and tenderness. The son or nearest relative performs the office of executioner,—the self-devoted victim being disposed of by strangulation. When any one dies in winter, the body is placed on a scaffold till summer, when it is interred.
[Footnote 1: "Quidam parentes et propinquos, priusquam annis et macie conficiantur, velut hostias caedunt, eorumque visceribus epulantur." The Nascopies do not feast on the "viscera" of their victims, nor do I believe the inhabitants of India, or of any other country under heaven, ever did. Yet the coincidence is singular, in other respects, at such a distance of time and place.]
The Nascopies depend principally on the rein-deer for subsistence,—a dependence which the erratic habits of these animals render extremely precarious. Should they happen to miss the deer on their passage through the country in autumn, they experience the most grievous inconvenience, and often privations, the succeeding winter; as they must then draw their living from the lakes, with unremitting toil,—boring the ice, which is sometimes from eight to nine feet thick, for the purpose of setting their hooks, and perhaps not taking a single fish after a day's hard work. Nevertheless, they must still continue their exertions till they succeed, shifting their hooks from one part of the lake to another, until every spot is searched. They understand the art of setting nets under the ice perfectly. Towards the latter end of December, however, the fish gain the deep water, and remain still to the latter end of March. Not a fish enters the net during this period.
Partridges are very numerous in certain localities, but cannot be trusted to as a means of living, as every part of the country affords them food, and when much annoyed at one place they move off to another.
It will be seen from the foregoing remarks, that the Nascopies, like all other erratic tribes, are subject to the vicissitudes their mode of life necessarily involves; at one time wallowing in abundance, at another dying of want. Fortunately for themselves, they are at present the most independent of the whites of any other Indians on this continent, the Esquimaux excepted. The few fur-bearing animals their barren country affords are so highly prized, that the least exertion enables them to procure their very limited wants; and the skin of the rein-deer affords them the most comfortable clothing they could possess. They have a particular art, too, of dressing this skin, so as to render it as soft and pliable as chamois, in which state it becomes a valuable article of trade.
As trading posts, however, are now established on their lands, I doubt not but artificial wants will, in time, be created, that may become as indispensable to their comfort as their present real wants. All the arts of the trader are exercised to produce such a result, and those arts never fail of ultimate success. Even during the last two years of my management, the demand for certain articles of European manufacture had greatly increased.
The winter dress of the Nascopie consists of a jacket of deer-skin, close all round, worn with the hair next the skin, and an over-coat of the same material reaching to his knees, the hair outside. This coat overlaps in front, and is secured by a belt, from which depends his knife and smoking-bag. A pair of leather breeches, and leggings, or stockings of cloth, protect his legs, though but imperfectly, from the cold; his hands, however, are well defended by a pair of gauntlets that reach his elbows; and on his head he wears a cap richly ornamented with bear's and eagle's claws. His long thick hair, however, renders the head-gear an article of superfluity,—but it is the fashion. The dress of the women consists of a square piece of dressed deer-skin, girt round them by a cloth or worsted belt, and fastened over their shoulders by leather straps; a jacket of leather, and cloth leggings. I have also observed some of them wearing a garment in imitation of a gown. The leather dresses, both of men and women, are generally painted; and often display more taste than one would be disposed to give them credit for.
The travelling equipage of the Nascopies consists of a small leather tent, a deer-skin robe with the hair on, a leather bag with some down in it, and a kettle. When he lies down he divests himself of his upper garment, which he spreads under him; then, thrusting his limbs into the down bag, and rolling himself up in his robe, he draws his knees up close to his chin; and thus defended, the severest cold does not affect him.
Considering the manner in which their women are treated, it can scarcely be supposed that their courtships are much influenced by sentiments of love; in fact, the tender passion seems unknown to the savage breast. When a young man attains a certain age, and considers himself able to provide for a wife—if the term may be so debased—he acquaints his parents with his wish, and gives himself no further concern about the matter, until they have concluded the matrimonial negotiations with the parents of their, not his intended, whose sentiments are never consulted on the occasion. The youth then proceeds to his father-in-law's tent, and remains there for a twelvemonth; at the end of this period he may remain longer or depart, and he is considered ever after as an independent member of the community, subject to no control. Marriages are allowed between near relatives; cousins are considered as brothers and sisters, and are addressed by the same terms. It is not considered improper to marry two sisters, either in succession or both at the same time.
The Nascopies have certain customs in hunting peculiar to themselves. If a wounded animal escape, even a short distance, ere he drops, he becomes the property of the person who first reaches him, and not of the person who shot him; or if the animal be mortally wounded and do not fall immediately, and another Indian fire and bring him down, the last shot gains the prize.
In their intercourse with us the Nascopies evince a very different disposition from the other branches of the Cree family, being selfish and inhospitable in the extreme; exacting rigid payment for the smallest portion of food. Yet I do not know that we have any right to blame a practice in them, which they have undoubtedly learned from us. What do they obtain from us without payment? Nothing:—not a shot of powder,—not a ball,—not a flint. But whatever may be said of their conduct towards the whites, no people can exercise the laws of hospitality with greater generosity, or show less selfishness, towards each other, than the Nascopies. The only part of an animal the huntsman retains for himself is the head; every other part is given up for the common benefit. Fish, flesh, and fowl are distributed in the same liberal and impartial manner; and he who contributes most seems as contented with his share, however small it may be, as if he had had no share in procuring it. In fact, a community of goods seems almost established among them; the few articles they purchase from us shift from hand to hand, and seldom remain more than two or three days in the hands of the original purchaser.
The Nascopies, surrounded by kindred tribes, are strangers to the calamities of war, and are consequently a peaceful, harmless people; yet they cherish the unprovoked enmity of their race towards the poor Esquimaux, whom they never fail to attack, when an opportunity offers of doing so with impunity. Our presence, however, has had the effect of establishing a more friendly intercourse between them; and to the fact that many of the Esquimaux have of late acquired fire-arms, and are not to be attacked without some risk, may be ascribed, in no small degree, the present forbearance of their enemies.
THE ESQUIMAUX—PROBABLE ORIGIN—IDENTITY OF LANGUAGE FROM LABRADOR TO BEHRING'S STRAITS—THEIR AMOURS—MARRIAGES—RELIGION—TREATMENT OF PARENTS—ANECDOTE—MODE OF PRESERVING MEAT—AMUSEMENTS—DRESS—THE IGLOE, OR SNOW-HOUSE—THEIR CUISINE—DOGS—THE SLEDGE—CAIAK, OR CANOE—OUIMIAK, OR BOAT—IMPLEMENTS—STATURE.
The Esquimaux are so totally different in physiognomy and person, in language, manners, and customs, from all the other natives of America, that there can be no doubt that they belong to a different branch of the human race. The conformation of their features, their stature, form, and complexion, approximate so closely to those of the northern inhabitants of Europe, as to indicate, with some degree of certainty, their identity of origin. In the accounts I have read of the maritime Laplanders, I find many characteristics common to both tribes: the Laplander is of a swarthy complexion,—so is the Esquimaux; the Laplander is distinguished by high cheek-bones, hollow cheeks, pointed chin, and large mouth,—so is the Esquimaux; the Laplander wears a thick beard,—so does the Esquimaux; the Laplander's hair is long and black,—so is that of the Esquimaux; the Laplanders are, for the most part, short of stature,—so are the Esquimaux; and the dress, food, and lodging of both peoples are nearly the same. The last coincidence may possibly arise from similarity of location and climate; and, taken by itself, would afford no certain proof of identity of origin; but taken in connexion with the aforementioned characteristics, I think the conclusion is irresistible that the Laplanders and Esquimaux are of the same race.
That the Esquimaux and the natives of Greenland are also of a kindred race, is a fact ascertained beyond a doubt, from the reports of the Moravian Missionaries, who have settlements among both.
The way in which they must have passed from the one continent to the other, must now be left to conjecture. There is nothing improbable in the supposition that some of them might have been drifted out to sea by stress of weather, and wafted to the shores of Greenland; whence some might, in course of time, remove to the opposite coast of America. From the southern extremity of Labrador to Behring's Straits, the Esquimaux language is the same, differing only in the pronunciation of a few words. We had a native of Hudson's Bay with us, who had accompanied Captain Franklin to the McKenzie and Coppermine Rivers, and who assured us that he understood the Esquimaux of that quarter, and those of Ungava, although some thousands of miles apart, as well as his own tribe.
In manners, customs, and dress, there is a like similarity. The Esquimaux have ever remained a distinct people; the other natives of America seeming to consider them more as brutes than human beings, and never approaching them unless for the purpose of knocking them on the head. Every one's hand is against them. I have seen Esquimaux scalps, even among the timid tetes des boules of Temiscamingue; yet no people seem more disposed to live at peace with their neighbours, if only they were allowed. Circumstanced as they are, however, they are likely to suffer hostile aggression for a long time. Even a coward, with a musket in his hand, is generally an overmatch for a brave man with only a bow or a sling; but once possessed of fire-arms, they will teach their enemies to respect them, for they will undoubtedly have the advantage of superior courage and resolution.
The Esquimaux is not easily excited to anger; but his wrath once roused, he becomes furious: he foams like a wild boar, rolls his eyes, gnashes his teeth, and rushes on his antagonist with the fury of a beast of prey. In the winter of 1840, a quarrel arose between two individuals about the sex, which led to a fight; the struggle was continued for a time with tooth and nail; when one of the parties at length got hold of his knife, and stabbed his adversary in the belly. The bowels protruded, yet the wounded man never desisted, until loss of blood and repeated stabs compelled him to yield the contest and his life. Gallantry seems to be the main cause of quarrels among them. Strange! that this passion should exercise such an influence in a climate, and, as one would be led to suppose, on constitutions so cold; yet nothing is more certain than that the enamoured Esquimaux will risk life and limb in the pursuit of his object.
With unmarried women there is no risk, as they are entirely free from control; not so with the married, who are under strict surveillance; but the husband's consent asked and obtained—which not seldom happens—saves the gallant's head, and the lady's reputation.
Their courtships are conducted in much the same manner as among the inland Indians, the choice of partners being entirely left to the parents. Some are affianced in childhood, and become man and wife in early youth: I have seen a boy of fourteen living with his wife who was two years younger. There are no marriage festivals, and no ceremonies of any kind are observed at their nuptials. Polygamy is allowed, ad libitum; and the husband exercises his authority as husband, judge, or executioner; no one having any right to interfere. Should, however, the woman consider herself ill-treated, she flees to her parents, with whom she remains till an explanation takes place. If it lead to a reconciliation, the parties are reunited; if not, the woman may form a new connexion whenever she pleases.
I know not whether the Esquimaux can be said to have any idea of religion, as the term is generally understood. The earth, say they, was in the beginning covered with water, which having subsided, man appeared—a spontaneous creation. Aglooktook is the name of the man who first created fish and animals: chopping a tree which overhung the sea, the chips that fell into that element became fish; those that fell on the land, animals. Their paradise is beneath the great deep; those who have lived a good life, proceed to a part of the sea abounding with whales and seals, where, free from care and toil, they fare sumptuously on raw flesh and blubber, in secula seculorum. The wicked, on the contrary, are condemned to take up their abode in a "sea of troubles," where none of the delicacies enjoyed by the blessed are to be found; and even the commonest necessaries are procured with endless toil, and pain, and disappointment. Although the "tomakhs," or dead men, become the inhabitants of the sea, they indulge in the pleasures of the chase on their old element, whenever they please; and are often heard calling to each other while in pursuit of the deer.
The Esquimaux have their "men of medicine," in whose preternatural powers they place the most implicit confidence; by working on the superstitious fears of the people, these impostors obtain much authority. They are allowed to take the lead in every affair of importance; and, in short, all their movements are, in a great measure, regulated by these harlequins, who appear to be the only chiefs among them.
They dispose of their dead by placing them on the rocks, and covering them over with ice or stones; these tombs prove but feeble barriers against the wolves and other beasts of prey, who soon carry off the bodies. The property belonging to the deceased is placed by the side of his grave;—his caiak, or skin canoe, his bows, arrows, and spears. Thus equipped, the emigrant spirit cannot find itself at a loss on arriving at a better country!
It is said by some that the Esquimaux abandon their aged parents: from inquiry, as well as observation, I am led to believe there is no foundation for the charge. It is not reasonable to expect that the more refined feelings of humanity should be found in the breast of a savage, or that he should honour his father and mother in the same degree as he whose principles are moulded by the precepts of Christianity; yet I must do them the justice to say, that they appeared to me to treat their parents with as much kindness, at least, as any other savage nation I have met with. They do not deny, however, that old people no longer able to provide for themselves, and without any relative to care for them, are sometimes left to perish.
No people suffer more from hunger than the Esquimaux who inhabit the shores of Ungava Bay; seals being extremely scarce in the winter season, and no fish to be found; so that the poor creatures are often reduced to the most revolting expedients to preserve life. An Esquimaux, who had been about the post for two years, proceeded, in the winter of 1839, to join some of his relatives along the coast. When he returned in the ensuing spring, I observed that his mother and one of his children were missing. On inquiring what had become of them, he replied, that they had been starved to death, and that he and the rest of his family would have shared their fate, had it not been for the sustenance the bodies afforded.
The Esquimaux always pass the winter near the element that yields them their principal subsistence; and as they are unacquainted with the use of snow-shoes, they cannot follow the deer any distance from the coast. As soon as the rivers are free from ice in summer, they proceed inland and find abundance of food. Their manner of preserving their meat is quite characteristic. When an animal is killed the bowels are extracted, then the fore and hind quarters are cut off, and being placed inside the carcass, are secured by skewers of wood run through the flesh. The whole is then deposited under the nearest cleft of rock, and stones are built round so as to secure it from the depredations of wild animals until the hunters return to the coast; when the meat is in high flavour, and considered fit for the palate of an Esquimaux epicure.
The Esquimaux do not share their provisions as the Nascopies do, although they relieve each other's wants when their means can afford it: each individual engaged in the chase retains his own game, his claim being ascertained by distinctive marks on the arrows. When a whale is killed a rigid fast is observed for twenty-four hours, not in gratitude to Providence, but in honour of the whale, which is highly displeased when this is neglected, studiously avoiding the harpoon afterwards, and even visiting the offender with sickness and other misfortunes.
Should the summer and fall hunt prove successful, the Esquimaux is one of the happiest animals in the creation. He passes his dreary winter without one careful or anxious thought; he eats his fill and lies down to sleep, and then rises to eat again. In this manner they pass the greater part of their time; night and day are the same, eating and sleeping their chief enjoyments. When, however, they do rouse their dormant faculties to exertion, they seem to engage with great good-will in the few amusements they have, the principal of which is playing ball, men and women joining in the game. Two parties are opposed, the one driving the ball with sticks towards the goal, the other driving it in the opposite direction; in short, a game of shinty. They have dancing too,—ye gods! such dancing! Two rows of men and women, sometimes only of one sex, stand opposite to each other, exhibiting no other motion in their dancing than raising their shoulders with a peculiar jerk, bending their knees so as to give their whole bodies, from the knee upwards, the same motion, and grinning horribly at each other, while not a foot stirs.
As to the music to which this dance is performed, I know not well how to describe it. By inflating and depressing the lungs so as to create a convulsive heaving of the breast, a sound is produced, somewhat similar to the groans of a person suffering from suffocation; and it is to this sound they grin, and jerk their shoulders. The whole performance is quite in keeping; the music worthy of the dancing, the dancing worthy of the music. They have boxing too, but do not practise the art after the fashion of the Cribs and Coopers; they disdain to parry off the blow; each strikes in turn with clenched fist; the blow is given behind the ear, and, as soon as one of the parties acknowledges himself defeated, the combat ceases. They are also adepts at wrestling; I have witnessed frequent contests between them and the inland Indians, when the latter were invariably floored.
No one enjoys a joke better than an Esquimaux, and when his risibility is excited he laughs with right good will, evincing in this, as in every other respect, the difference of disposition between them and the Indians, whose rigid features seldom betray their feelings. Much the same diversity of character and disposition is to be observed among the Esquimaux as among other barbarous tribes. Some instances of disinterested kindness and generosity fell under my notice while residing among them, that would have done honour to civilized man.
An Esquimaux who had attached himself to the establishment from the time of our first arrival at Ungava, kept a poor widow and her three orphans with him for several years, and seemed to make no difference between them and the members of his own family. It must be acknowledged, however, that the unhappy widows seldom fall into so good hands; their fate is the most wretched that can be imagined, unless they have children that can provide for them. In years of scarcity they are rejected from the community, and hover about the encampments like starving wolves, picking up whatever chance may throw in their way, until hunger and cold terminate their wretched existence.
Whatever may be said of the awkwardness of the Esquimaux dress, it must be allowed to be the best adapted to the climate that could be used: a pair of boots so skilfully sewed as to exclude the water, and lined with down, or the fine hair of the rein-deer, protects the feet from wet and cold; two pairs of trousers, the inner having the hair next the skin; and two coats or tunics of deer or seal skin, the outer having a large hood that is drawn over the head in stormy weather, and a pair of large mits, complete the dress. The women also "wear the breeks," their dress being similar to that of the men in every respect, with this difference, that the female has a long flap attached to the hind part of her coat, and falling down to her heels; a most extraordinary ornament, giving her the appearance of an enormous tadpole. This tail, however, has its use; when she has occasion to sit down on the cold rocks she folds it up and makes a seat of it.
In the winter season the Esquimaux live in huts built of snow; and we may imagine what must have been the necessity and distress that could first have suggested to a human being the idea of using such a material as a means of protecting himself from cold. Be that as it may, the snow igloe affords not only security from the inclemency of the weather, but more comfort than either stone or wooden building without fire. The operation requires considerable tact and experience, and is always performed by the men, two being required for it, one outside and the other inside.
Blocks of snow are first cut out with some sharp instrument from the spot that is intended to form the floor of the dwelling, and raised on edge, inclining a little inward around the cavity. These blocks are generally about two feet in length, two feet in breadth, and eight inches thick, and are joined close together. In this manner the edifice is erected, contracting at each successive tier, until there only remains a small aperture at the top, which is filled by a slab of clear ice, that serves both as a keystone to the arch, and a window to light the dwelling. An embankment of snow is raised around the wall, and covered with skins, which answers the double purpose of beds and seats. The inside of the hut presents the figure of an arch or dome; the usual dimensions are ten or twelve feet in diameter, and about eight feet in height at the centre. Sometimes two or three families congregate under the same roof, having separate apartments communicating with the main building, that are used as bedrooms. The entrance to the igloe is effected through a winding covered passage, which stands open by day, but is closed up at night by placing slabs of ice at the angle of each bend, and thus the inmates are perfectly secured against the severest cold.
The Esquimaux use no fuel in winter; their stone lamps afford sufficient heat to dry their boots and clothes, or warm their blubber and raw meat when they are so inclined. They are inured to cold by early habit; the children are carried about in the hoods of their mothers' jackets until three years of age; during this period they remain without a stitch of clothing, and the little things may be sometimes seen standing up in their nests, exposing themselves in the coldest weather, without appearing to suffer any inconvenience from it. The Esquimaux never sleep with their clothes on, not even when without any other shelter than the cleft of a rock.
It is well known that they eat their food, whether fish or flesh, generally in a raw state; hence their appellation, "Ashkimai," in the Cree and Sauteux, means, eater of raw meat, and is doubtless the origin of the name Esquimaux first applied by the earlier French discoverers, and since then passed into general use. They sometimes, indeed, warm their food in a stone kettle over a stone lamp, but they seem to relish it equally well when cut warm from the carcase of an animal recently killed, which they may be seen devouring while yet quivering with life.
In winter they prefer raw meat, especially fish, which is considered a great delicacy in a frozen state; the Esquimaux stomach, in fact, rejects nothing, raw or boiled, that affords sustenance. Like the inland Indians, they can bear hunger for an amazing length of time, and afterwards gorge themselves with more than brutal voracity without suffering inconvenience by it.
The Esquimaux breed of dogs are wolves in a domesticated state, the same in every characteristic, save such differences as may be expected to result from their relative conditions; the dog howls, never barks. These animals are of the most essential service to their masters, and are maintained at no expense. How they manage to subsist appears inexplicable to me; not a morsel of food is ever offered to them at the camp, and when employed hauling sledges on a journey, a small piece of blubber given them in the evening enables them to perform the laborious work of the ensuing day.
From ten to fifteen dogs are employed on a long journey. They are harnessed separately by a collar and a single trace passing over their back, and fastened to the fore-part of the sledge. The traces are so arranged that the dogs generally follow in a line, conducted by a leader, who is trained to obey the word of command in an instant; the least hesitation on his part brings the merciless whip about his ears. The lash is about fifteen feet in length, the handle eighteen inches; continual practice enables the Esquimaux to wield this instrument of torture with great dexterity. The sledges are about five feet in length and two in breadth; the runners generally shod with whalebone or ivory, and coated over with a plaster of earth and water, which becomes very smooth, and is renewed as often as it is worn out.
The Esquimaux caiak, or canoe, is about twelve feet in length, and two feet in breadth, and tapers off from the centre to the bow and stern, almost to a mere point. The frame is of wood covered with seal-skin, having an aperture in the centre which barely admits of the stowage of the nether man. These canoes are calculated for the accommodation of one person only; yet it is possible for a passenger to embark upon them, if he can submit to the inconvenience—and risk—of lying at full length on his belly, without ever stirring hand or foot, as the least motion would upset the canoe. Instances, however, have been known of persons conveyed hundreds of miles in this manner. These canoes are used solely for hunting; and, by means of the double paddle, are propelled through the water with the velocity of the dolphin; no land animal can possibly escape when seen in the water; the least exertion is sufficient to keep up with the rein-deer when swimming at its utmost speed. When the animal is overtaken, it is driven towards the spot where the huntsman wishes to land, and there despatched by a thrust of the spear.
The Esquimaux of this quarter have not the art of recovering their position, when they upset. An accident of this kind is, therefore, sure to prove fatal, unless aid be at hand. It is seldom, however, that aid is wanting, for these accidents never happen except in the excitement of the sport, especially harpooning whales, when there are always a number present. The ouimiack, or skin-boat, is a clumsy-looking contrivance, but not to be despised on that account; from the buoyancy of the materials of which it is built, the ouimiack stands a much heavier sea than our best sea-boat. This kind of craft is rowed by women, and used for the purpose of conveying families along the coast.
The few implements these people use for hunting or fishing, display much taste and ingenuity. Their caiaks are proportioned with mathematical exactness, the paddles often tastefully inlaid with ivory; their spears are neatly carved, and their bows are far superior to any I have seen among the interior tribes, combining strength and elasticity in an eminent degree.
Their mode of capturing the white whale is extremely ingenious. A large dan, or seal-skin inflated with wind, is attached to the harpoon by a thong some twenty feet in length. The moment the fish is struck the dan is thrown overboard, and being dragged through the water, offers so great a resistance to the movement of the fish that it soon becomes exhausted by the exertion, and when it emerges lies exposed on the water, to take rest ere it dive again. The Esquimaux then approaches from behind, and often secures his game with one thrust of the spear. The Esquimaux also uses a javelin with considerable skill, and some are so dexterous in the use of the sling as to bring down wild fowl on the wing.
The complexion of the Esquimaux is swarthy; I have seen some of their children, however, as fair as the children of the fairest people in Europe, yet these become as dark as their parents when advanced in years. This circumstance cannot be accounted for by filthiness or exposure to the weather; for I have observed, on the coast of Labrador, the descendants of an Esquimaux mother and a European father of the third generation as dark as the pure Esquimaux; and these, too, enjoyed the comforts of civilized life, were cleanly in their persons, and not more exposed to the weather than others.
The Esquimaux are low of stature, but I do not think the epithet "dwarfish" applies to them with propriety. With the view of ascertaining this point, I once took five men promiscuously from a party of twenty, and found their average height to be 5 feet 5 inches. Some individuals of the remainder measured 5 feet 7 or 8 inches, and one exceeded 6 feet. The fact is, the Esquimaux are generally thicker than Europeans; their peculiar dress also adds greatly to their bulk, so that they appear shorter than they really are. They are so bound up in their seal-skin garments that their movements are necessarily much impeded by them, we can, therefore, form no idea of their agility; but I do not hesitate to say that their strength exceeds that of any other nation on the continent.
The Esquimaux features are far from being disagreeable; some females I observed among them whose expression of countenance was extremely prepossessing, and who would pass for "bonnie lasses" even among the whites, if divested of their filth and uncouth dress, and rigged out in European habiliments. The women fasten their hair in a knot on the crown of the head, and anoint it with rancid oil in lieu of pomatum; they also tattoo their faces, with the view, no doubt, of enhancing their charms in the estimation of their blubber-eating lovers. Their teeth are remarkably white and regular; the eyes are black, and partake more of the circular than the oval form; the cheek-bones are prominent, forehead low, mouth large, and chin pointed.
The Esquimaux generally enjoy good health, and no epidemic diseases, as far as I could learn, are known among them.
LABRADOR—ESQUIMAUX HALF-BREEDS—MORAVIAN BRETHREN—EUROPEAN INHABITANTS—THEIR VIRTUES—CLIMATE—ANECDOTE.
The country denominated Labrador, extends from Esquimaux Bay, on the Straits of Belleisle, to the extremity of the continent, Cape Chudleigh, at the entrance of Hudson's Strait. The interior is inhabited by two tribes of Indians, Mountaineers and Nascopies, members of the Cree family. The coast was inhabited at one time by Esquimaux only, but the southern part is now peopled by a mongrel race of Esquimaux half-breeds, a few vagabond Esquimaux, and some English and Canadian fishermen and trappers, who are assimilated to the natives in manners and in mode of life. While the European inhabitants adopt from necessity some of the native customs, the natives have adopted so much of the European customs that their primitive characteristics are no longer distinguishable; they cook their victuals, drink rum, smoke and chew tobacco, and generally dress after the European manner, especially the females, who always wear gowns. They have also a smattering of French and English, and are great proficients in swearing in both languages; nor do they seem ignorant of the more refined arts of cheating, lying, and deceiving. Taking everything into account, however, we may be surprised that their manners are not more corrupt than they are.
A number of small trading vessels from the United States hover about the coast during summer; the accursed "fire-water" constitutes a primary article in their outfit, and is bartered freely for such commodities as the natives may possess. These adventurers are generally men of loose principles, and are ever ready to take the advantage of their customers. The natives, however, are now so well instructed that they are more likely to cheat than be cheated.
The Esquimaux inhabiting the northern parts of the coast differ in every respect from their neighbours of the south. They have acquired a knowledge of the Christian religion, together with some of the more useful arts of civilized life, without losing much of their primitive simplicity. The Moravian Brethren, those faithful "successors of the Apostles," after enduring inconceivable hardships and privations for many years, without the least prospect of success, at length succeeded in converting the heathens, collecting them in villages around them, and at the same time not only instructing them in things pertaining to their eternal salvation, but in everything else that could contribute to their comfort and happiness in the present life. There are four different stations of the Brethren; Hopedale, Nain, O'Kok, and Hebron. At each station there is a church, store, dwelling-house for the Missionaries, and workshops for native tradesmen. The natives are lodged in houses built after the model of their igloes, being the best adapted to the climate and circumstances of the country, where scarcely any fuel is to be had: the Missionaries warm their houses by means of stoves.
The Brethren have much the same influence with their flocks as a father among his children. Whatever provisions the natives collect are placed at their disposal, and by them afterwards distributed in such a manner as to be of the most general benefit; by thus taking the management of this important matter into their own hands, the consequences of waste and improvidence are guarded against, and the means of subsistence secured.
In years of great scarcity the Brethren open their own stores, having always an ample supply of provisions on hand, so that through their fostering care the natives never suffer absolute want. The Brethren have also goods for trading, which they dispose of at a moderate profit; the profits accruing from the business are thrown into the general funds of the institution. It is said they carry on trade in every part of the world where they have missions. Their object is not to acquire wealth for selfish purposes, but to extend the kingdom of Christ on earth; to enlighten the nations; and by instructing them in the knowledge of Divine truth, to "ameliorate their condition" in this life, and secure their eternal happiness in the life to come.
From the paternal anxiety with which these good people watch over the morals of their flocks, they discourage as much as possible the visits of strangers; fearing that intercourse with them might open their eyes to the allurements of vice. In spite of all their vigilance, however, they have sometimes to deplore the loss of a stray sheep. It is an established rule, moreover, with them, never to allow a stranger to sleep within their gates; he is hospitably received and treated with kindness and attention, but on the approach of evening he is apprised that he must shift for himself: care is taken, however, to provide him with lodgings in one of the native huts, where he can pass the night in tolerable comfort. Should he not be pleased with his treatment, he is at liberty to depart when he pleases.
The European inhabitants of Labrador are for the most part British sailors, who, preferring the freedom of a semi-barbarous life and the society of a brown squaw, to the severity of maritime discipline and the endearments of the civilized fair, take up their abode for life in this land of desolation.
In course of time the gay frolicksome sailor settles down into the regular grave father of a family; and by sobriety and good conduct, may ultimately secure a comfortable home for his old age. Jack's characteristic thoughtlessness, however, sometimes adheres to him even when moored on dry land; and when this is the case, his situation is truly miserable.
They pass the summer in situations favourable for catching salmon, which they barter on the spot with the stationary traders for such commodities as they are in want of. When the salmon fishing is at an end, they proceed to the coast for the purpose of fishing cod for their own consumption, and return late in autumn to the interior, where they pass the winter trapping fur animals.
The planters, as they are designated, live in houses which they call "tilts," varying in shape and size according to the taste or circumstances of the owner. These buildings are generally formed of stakes driven into the ground, chinked with moss, and covered with bark; they are always warmed with stoves, otherwise the igloe would afford more comfort.
The half-breeds live in much the same way as their European progenitors; they are generally sober and industrious; and although unacquainted with any particular form of religious worship, they evince, in their general deportment, a greater regard to the precepts of Christianity than many who call themselves Christians. They are entirely free from the crimes that disgrace civilized life, and are guilty of few of its vices; should a frail fair, however, make a faux pas, it is no bar to her forming a matrimonial connexion afterwards. The women are much fewer than the men, and on this account a greater indulgence may be extended to their faults than otherwise would be.
I was surprised to find them all able to read and write, although without schools or schoolmasters. The task of teaching devolves upon the mother; should she (what seldom happens) be unqualified, a neighbour is always ready to impart the desired instruction.
The Esquimaux half-breeds are both industrious and ingenious; they are at a loss for nothing. The men make their own boats, and the women prepare everything required for domestic convenience; almost every man is his own blacksmith and carpenter, and every woman a tailor and shoemaker. They seem to possess all the virtues of the different races from which they are sprung—except courage; they are generally allowed to be more timid than the natives. But if not courageous, they possess virtues that render courage less necessary; they avoid giving offence, and are seldom, therefore, injured by others.
The Hudson's Bay Company obtained a footing here a few years ago, by buying out some of the petty traders, whose operations extended to the interior, and consequently interfered with the hopeful Ungava scheme; independently, however, of this consideration, expectations were entertained that Labrador might become the seat of a profitable branch of the business, from its various resources in fish, oil, and furs. These expectations were not realized, owing to the strong competition the Company met with; while their interference in the trade subjected them to the charge of "grasping ambition," a charge which appears but too well founded, considering the monopoly they possess of the whole fur trade of the continent. "Plus le D——e a, plus il voudrait avoir," is an old adage; nor have we any reason to believe that any other mercantile body would be less ambitious of increasing their gains, than their honours of Fenchurch-street.
There are several establishments along the coast, belonging chiefly to merchants from Plymouth and Dartmouth, who carry on the salmon and cod fisheries on an extensive scale, and traffic also with the planters. This business was at one time considered very lucrative; of late years, however, competition has increased from all quarters, and prices in the European market have diminished, so that the profits are now greatly reduced.
The climate of the southern section of Labrador is by no means severe; the thermometer, even in the coldest months of the year, seldom falling lower than 30 deg. below zero. Along the shores of Esquimaux Bay, a few spots have been found favourable for agriculture, and potatoes and other culinary vegetables have been raised in abundance. Grain, especially oats and barley, would doubtless also thrive; it so happens, however, that the inhabitants are under the necessity of devoting their attention to other pursuits during the season of husbandry; so that the few that attempt "gardening," derive small benefit from it. They sow their seed before starting for the coast, and leave nature to do the rest.
I shall close my description of Labrador by narrating a rather tragical event that occurred a few years ago. An old fisherman, formerly a sailor, and his only son by an Esquimaux squaw, lived together in the greatest amity and concord. The son, after the death of his mother, attended to domestic affairs, and also assisted his father at out-door's work. As the fishing season approached, however, it was considered expedient to hire a female, so that they might give their undivided attention to the fishing. The girl had not remained long with them, when her charms began to make an impression on Jack's still sensitive heart; the son also became enamoured; both paid their addresses, and, as a matter of course, the young man was preferred.
The demon of jealousy now took possession of the father's breast; and his conduct became so violent and cruel, that his son determined on parting company with him and carrying off the girl. Seizing the only boat that belonged to his father, he slipped away under cover of night with his companion, and put ashore on the first island they found. A violent storm arose in the course of the night, and either dashed the boat to pieces on the rocks, or carried her out to sea; and thus the unfortunate lovers were left to their fate. This event happened late in autumn. The winter passed without any word being heard of the lovers; in the ensuing spring their bodies were found clasped in each other's arms, and the young man's gun close by with fifteen notches cut in the stock, supposed to mark the number of days they suffered ere relieved by death.
VOYAGE TO ENGLAND—ARRIVAL AT PLYMOUTH—REFLECTIONS—ARRIVE AT THE PLACE OF MY NATIVITY—CHANGES—DEPOPULATION—LONDON—THE THAMES—LIVERPOOL—EMBARK FOR NEW YORK—ARRIVAL—THE AMERICANS—ENGLISH AND AMERICAN TOURISTS—ENGLAND AND AMERICA—NEW YORK.
1842.—I embarked for England on the 18th of August, on board a small schooner of sixty tons, deeply laden with fish and oil. It is scarcely necessary to observe, that the accommodations the craft afforded were of the meanest kind; but the inconveniences weighed lightly in the scales, when compared with the anticipated delight of visiting one's native land. We had a very fine passage; a steady fair breeze carried us across the broad Atlantic in a fortnight. The green hills of Cornwall came in view on the 1st of September, and I had the satisfaction of treading the soil of England early on the 3d.
I remained a few days at Plymouth, to feast my eyes on scenery such as I had long been a stranger to;—scenery, I may say, unrivalled by any I had ever beheld at home or abroad. What spot in the world, in fact, can present such varied charms, as the summit of Mount Edgecumb? where the most refined taste, aided by the amplest means, has been employed for a thousand years in beautifying the glorious landscape. To me, just arrived from Ungava, the beauties of the scene were undoubtedly heightened by the contrast; and one short visit to Mount Edgecumb effaced from my mind the dreary prospect of bleak rocks, snow banks, and icebergs, with which it had been so long and so sadly familiar, and inspired it with a rapture and delight to which it had long been a stranger. Yet this terrestrial paradise, I am informed, belongs to a noble lord, who is a miserable invalid. Alas, for poor humanity! neither wealth nor grandeur preserve their possessors from the ills that flesh is heir to: and this nobleman may, perhaps, envy the lot of the humblest individual that visits his enchanting domain.
Bidding adieu to Plymouth, and its delightful environs, I set out for London on the 11th of September. The desire of home, however, now urged me forward; so that even the wonders of this wonderful city could not detain me. Passing over the uninteresting incidents of steamboat and railroad travelling, I arrived on the 20th of September at the spot from which I had started twenty-three years before. The meeting of a mother with an only son, after so long an absence, need not be described, nor the feelings the well-known scenes of youthful sports and youthful joys gave rise to. These scenes were still the same, as far as the hand of Nature was concerned:—there stood the lofty Benmore, casting his sombre shades over the glassy surface of Lochba, as in the days of yore; there were also the same heath-covered hills and wooded dells, well stocked with sheep and cattle; but the human inhabitants of the woods and dells—where were they?—far distant from their much-loved native land in the wilds of America, or toiling for a miserable existence in the crowded cities of the Lowlands,—a sad change! The bleating of sheep, and lowing of cattle, for the glad voices of a numerous population, happy and contented with their lot, loyal to their sovereign, and devotedly attached to their chiefs! But loyalty and attachment are but fancies, which, in these utilitarian and trading days, are flat and unprofitable; yet the aristocratical manufacturers of beef and mutton may live to feel the truth of the lines of Goldsmith:—
"But a bold peasantry, their country's pride, When once destroyed, can never be supplied."
I remained about six weeks in my native country, and set out for London, where I arrived early in November,—"the beginning of the gay season;" but it appeared to me the reverse. The city was shrouded in a cloud of condensed smoke and fog, that shut out the light of heaven. During three whole days the obscurity was so great that the steamboats were prevented from plying on the Thames, and the gas-lights were seen glimmering through the windows at noon-day. How applicable is the description of the Roman historian to the Rome of our day:—"Caput orbis terrarum, urbis magnificentiam augebant fora, templa, porticas, aquaeductus, theatra, horti denique, et ejus generis alia, ad quae vel lecta animus stupet." My time was too limited, however, and the weather too unfavourable, to admit of my seeing all the "lions;" but who would think of leaving London without visiting that wonderful work—the Tunnel,—that lasting monument of the genius of a Brunell, and of the wealth and enterprise of British merchants!
A Cockney may well boast of his great city, its wealth, its vast population, and its magnificent buildings; but with regard to the Thames, of which he is equally proud,—he that has seen the St. Lawrence, the Hudson, the McKenzie, and many others, compared to which the Thames is but a rivulet, may be excused if he cannot view its not very limpid waters with the same extravagant admiration as the Londoner, who calls the Serpentine a river, and dignifies a pond of a few roods in extent with the name of a lake. Yet there is one feature about the Thames, of which he can scarcely be too proud, and which is unparalleled perhaps in the world,—the often-noticed "forest of masts," extending farther than the eye can reach, and suggesting,—not the silence and solitude of the forests with which I have been familiar,—but the countless population, the wealth, and the grandeur of Britain; and the might and the majesty of civilized and industrious man.
I took leave of London on the 12th of September, and set out for Liverpool by railroad, and reached it in six hours. I had sufficient time to visit its docks, crowded by the ships of every nation; its warehouses containing the produce of every clime; and, though last, not least in my estimation, the splendid monument erected to the memory of Nelson. No monument of stone or brass is necessary to perpetuate our hero's fame; he lives in the heart of every true Briton, and will ever live, till British oak and British prowess shall cease to "rule the waves."
I embarked on the 15th of December on board a sailing-packet bound for New York. These vessels are so punctual to the hour of sailing advertised, that, if the wind proves contrary, and blows fresh, they are towed out to sea by steamboats. This proved to be our case, and we kept tacking about in the "chops" of the Channel for six days, when a fair wind sprung up that soon carried us out of sight of England. England! great and glorious country, adieu! I shall probably never see thee more; but in quitting thy white-cliffed shores, I quit not my ardent attachment and veneration for thee;—and now for thy eldest daughter beyond the ocean!
To me, who had spent so much of my lifetime in solitude, the tedium of the voyage so much complained of was gaiety itself; with three fellow-passengers besides the captain, the time passed very agreeably. On board these floating palaces a passenger, in fact, finds everything that can contribute to his comfort; the best of accommodation, the best of fare, and the best of attendance; so that there is nothing wanting but stability, to make him fancy himself in a first-class hotel on shore.
The weather proved extremely favourable throughout the passage; not an incident occurred worthy of notice; and on the 17th of January, 1843, I landed safely at New York, and thus found myself for the first time in a foreign land; and, since fate has so decreed, among a foreign people. Yes! they are foreigners, if being called by another name, and living under a different form of government can make them so; yet in language, in laws, in religion, and in blood, we are the same. Their ancestors brought abroad with them the same sentiments of regard and attachment to their native land as we feel; they rejoiced in the prosperity of Britain; felt proud of her victories, and grieved at her misfortunes. Alas, how different the feelings of the present race! Britain may, in fact, reckon the Americans of the present day her most inveterate foes; those who are of our own kindred, and whom therefore we might expect to stand by us in our hour of need, regard us with more envy and hatred than the "hereditary foes" with whom we have been for centuries engaged in mortal strife.
In resisting the arbitrary acts of a misguided government, the American people only proved themselves possessed of the same noble spirit that procured for their English progenitors the confirmation of Magna Charta, and that hurled a tyrant from his throne. The heroes of the American revolution nobly fought and conquered; they entered the arena with fearful odds against them; they continued the struggle under every disadvantage, save the sacredness of their cause; and finally won the prize for which they contended. Of that prize the Americans of the present day have undisputed possession; and nothing can be more certain than that the Britons of the present day have no wish to deprive them of it—even if they could. What cause, then, can there be for still cherishing those feelings of animosity which the unhappy disruption gave rise to? If our fathers quarrelled, cannot we be friends? But are not the British themselves to blame, in some measure, for the continuance of these irritated feelings? The mercenary pens of prejudiced, narrow-minded individuals contribute daily to add fuel to the flame. Our "Diaries," and our "Notes," replete with offensive remarks, are, from the cheapness of publication, disseminated through the length and breadth of the Union, and are in everybody's hands; and those foolish remarks are supposed to be the sentiments of the British nation; when they are in fact only the sentiments of individuals whose opinions are little valued at home, and ought to be less valued abroad.
Circumstances taken into consideration, I think it very unfair to draw comparisons between the social condition of young America, just become a distinct nation, and of old England, whose empire has lasted a thousand years. The American people are still too much occupied with the necessaries of life to devote much of their time to its elegancies; they are still engaged in the pursuits that ultimately ensure wealth and real independence. Those results attained, what is there to prevent the American gentleman from becoming as polished and accomplished as his cousin in Britain? Can it be supposed, with the least shadow of reason, that the short period that has elapsed since the Revolution can have been sufficient to produce that alteration in the character and manners of the Americans, which our travellers love to exercise their wit upon? It is impossible. The Americans "guessed," and "calculated," and "speculated," while they were British subjects, just as they do now; nor have they learned to chew, and spit, and smoke tobacco since the 4th of July, 1782.
As to the peculiar phrases the Americans use in conversation, I am convinced that their forefathers brought the greater part of them from Britain, as many of those phrases are to be found in the works of old English authors still extant. The English language as spoken in America, is elegance itself, compared to the provincial dialects of Britain, or even to the vile slang one hears in the streets of London. This is a fact that every unprejudiced person who has travelled in America must admit.
It appears Americans find leisure, of late years, to travel and take notes, as well as their transatlantic brethren; and, in return for the polite attentions of our travellers, describe England and Englishmen in the bitter language of recrimination and retort; and thus the enmity between the mother and daughter is kept alive and perpetuated. A publication of this kind fell lately into my hands, entitled, "The Glory and Shame of England." The writer, said to be a Christian minister, with the malignity of baser minds, sinks and keeps in the background her "glories," and brings into relief and dwells upon her shameful parts; representing in the most sombre colours the misery of the "squalid" population of our cities. Would to God there were not so much truth in the picture! His reverence, however, seems to have lost sight of the clergyman; and in gratifying his resentment against England, and in his zeal to kindle the same unchristian feeling in the breasts of his countrymen, has not hesitated to sacrifice the truth;—and he a clergyman, whose office it is to "proclaim peace on earth, and good-will to men!"
That there is much misery and wretchedness in England, none can deny; but will not the well-informed philanthropist consider it rather as our misfortune than our reproach?—consisting mainly, as that mass of wretchedness does, of those ills which neither "kings nor laws can cause or cure." What plan would this philanthropic divine recommend to remove those evils, which, while he affects to deplore, he yet glories over? Strip the nobility and land-owners of their possessions—convert our monarchy into a republic—and the church into a "meetin ouse?"
These reforms effected, would the people of England be permanently benefited by them? Supposing the whole arable soil of England were divided in equal portions among its crowded inhabitants, (passing by the injustice of robbing the present proprietors of their lawful possessions—many of them acquired by the same hard labour or skill by which an artisan gains his weekly wages,) would the equality of property long continue? Would not the sloth, improvidence, and imprudence, that ever distinguish a great proportion of mankind; and the industry, foresight, and ambition that characterise others, soon bring many of the equal lots into one, thus forming a great estate, the property of an individual,—when matters would just be at the point where his reverence found them? And then, of course, would follow another "equitable adjustment," to relieve the wants of the poor, whose progenitors had squandered their patrimony. Or, admitting that the lots remained in possession of the families to whom they were originally granted, would the produce be equal to the maintenance of their numerous descendants, when the property became divided and subdivided into fifty or a hundred shares?
The present proprietors of the soil of England have, undoubtedly, large incomes; but what becomes of those incomes? Do they not flow back into the hands of the merchants, tradesmen, servants, &c.?—the greater proportion, at least; for the sums expended by our tourists on the continent form so inconsiderable a portion of those incomes, as not to be worth mentioning. The same may be said of the alleged wealth of the clergy; for (admitting the allegation) it all flows back into the channels whence it issued; and, although neither belonging to the Church of England, nor approving of her forms of government, I do not think that her downfall would improve the temporal condition of the people. If we wish to remain a Christian nation, we cannot dispense with the services of the clergy; and in order that those services may be efficient, they must be maintained in independence and respectability.
As to a republican form of government, that experiment has been already tried in England, and failed; it may be tried again with no better success. The circumstances in which the American people found themselves after the Revolution, rendered the adoption of republican institutions both safe and beneficial. They had learned by experience that the remote position of their country secured their independence from the ambitious projects of any power in Europe; while they had nothing to fear from any power in America. Thus situated, any form of government, consistent with the due maintenance of good order at home, answered their purpose. The nascent republic might, at the period in question, have adopted as its motto, "Liberty and Equality," with the utmost propriety; for all enjoyed equal liberty, and nearly equal fortunes. Experience, however, shows that liberty and equality cannot long exist under any form of government; industry procures wealth, wealth induces ambition, and ambition sighs after distinction and power.
While America feels secure from the aggression of her neighbours, Great Britain is surrounded by powerful states, some of whom afford her daily proofs of their envy of her greatness and their hatred of her power; and only want the ability, not the will, to annihilate both. Those states are, for the most part, ruled by absolute or despotic governments, who can call fleets and armies into action without losing a moment in debating the justice or injustice, policy or impolicy, of their movements. With such neighbours as these, would the Messenger of Peace recommend the "Britishers" to adopt a form of government which would necessitate them to debate and consult while their enemies were acting; and to remit to the people to discuss the question of peace or war, when they should be enlisting and drilling them?
Columbia, happy land! the broad Atlantic intervenes between thee and the envy or hatred of Europe; thy wide domain, presenting millions of acres of untenanted land, stands open to the industry and enterprise of thy citizens. How thankful, then, ought they to be for the blessings they enjoy, compared with the condition of their brethren "beyond the water," confined as they are to the narrow limits of their sea-girt isle, whose soil is no longer sufficient for the support of its over-crowded inhabitants, and surrounded by hostile nations, who have long since pronounced the sentence, "Delenda est Britannia!"
"Boz" has already told his countrymen all that is worth telling about New York, and something more. What the "Dickens" brought him to the "Five Points?" Did he never visit Wapping with the same views, whatever they might be? If he did, did he observe nothing in that sink of filth and wickedness equal to the scenes that shocked him so much in the outskirts of New York? One just arrived from England finds little in this city to excite wonder or admiration, unless it be the extraordinary width of some of the streets. Were those streets kept clean, and the liberty of the pigs a little restrained, the citizens might well boast of their superiority to most of the streets of our British cities; and as their taste improves, everything unsightly will be removed.
Nature has done much for New York: she possesses one of the finest harbours in the world; her climate is pleasant and salubrious; and one of the noblest rivers of America gives her the command of the commercial resources of a country which equals in extent nearly all Europe. New York will undoubtedly become one of the first cities in the world; in commerce, in wealth, in population, she has advanced at a prodigious rate within the last fifty years, and her progress is not likely to be arrested.
The aqueduct that supplies the town with water, pure, wholesome, and abundant, is well worth the notice of a stranger. This stupendous work was executed at a cost of nine millions of dollars, and conveys the water from a distance of forty miles!—the genius of the engineer and the power of money overcoming every obstacle. The two great reservoirs, near the city, present splendid specimens of that kind of architecture. Happening in company to express my opinion of this work, as reflecting the highest credit on the enterprise of the citizens, a gentleman present, evidently an American, in reply to the compliment, observed, "It is very much to their advantage, no doubt, and it will also be much to their credit, if they pay the debt they incurred in constructing it." The fact is, that this and many other public works in the United States, have been executed by British capital. Would to heaven that our sympathising friends, who are so jealous in regard to the honour of America, where a few thousand acres of worthless land are concerned, were equally jealous in regard to it when, under the newly-invented name of repudiation, the honour of their country is tarnished by a vast system of unblushing robbery! Would to heaven that their sympathies were extended to the thousands who are involved in misery and ruin by this audacious system of national perfidy!