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Before pursuing farther these obscure, but noteworthy, scenes in the drama of human history, it will be well to indicate, so far as there are means of doing so, the distinctive traits of some of the chief actors. Mention has often been made of Brébeuf,--that masculine apostle of the Faith,--the Ajax of the mission. Nature had given him all the passions of a vigorous manhood, and religion had crushed them, curbed them, or tamed them to do her work,--like a dammed-up torrent, sluiced and guided to grind and saw and weave for the good of man. Beside him, in strange contrast, stands his co-laborer, Charles Garnier. Both were of noble birth and gentle nurture; but here the parallel ends. Garnier's face was beardless, though he was above thirty years old. For this he was laughed at by his friends in Paris, but admired by the Indians, who thought him handsome. ["C'est pourquoi j'ai bien gagne quitter la France, où vous me fesiez la guerre de n'avoir point de barbe; car c'est ce qui me fait estimes beau des Sauvages."--Lettres de Garnier, MSS.] His constitution, bodily or mental, was by no means robust. From boyhood, he had shown a delicate and sensitive nature, a tender conscience, and a proneness to religious emotion. He had never gone with his schoolmates to inns and other places of amusement, but kept his pocket-money to give to beggars. One of his brothers relates of him, that, seeing an obscene book, he bought and destroyed it, lest other boys should be injured by it. He had always wished to be a Jesuit, and, after a novitiate which is described as most edifying, he became a professed member of the Order. The Church, indeed, absorbed the greater part, if not the whole, of this pious family,--one brother being a Carmelite, another a Capuchin, and a third a Jesuit, while there seems also to have been a fourth under vows. Of Charles Garnier there remain twenty-four letters, written at various times to his father and two of his brothers, chiefly during his missionary life among the Huron. They breathe the deepest and most intense Roman Catholic piety, and a spirit enthusiastic, yet sad, as of one renouncing all the hopes and prizes of the world, and living for Heaven alone. The affections of his sensitive nature, severed from earthly objects, found relief in an ardent adoration of the Virgin Mary. With none of the bone and sinew of rugged manhood, he entered, not only without hesitation, but with eagerness, on a life which would have tried the boldest; and, sustained by the spirit within him, he was more than equal to it. His fellow-missionaries thought him a saint; and had he lived a century or two earlier, he would perhaps have been canonized: yet, while all his life was a willing martyrdom, one can discern, amid his admirable virtues, some slight lingerings of mortal vanity. Thus, in three several letters, he speaks of his great success in baptizing, and plainly intimates that he had sent more souls to Heaven than the other Jesuits.
Next appears a young man of about twenty-seven years, Joseph Marie Chaumonot. Unlike Brébeuf and Garnier, he was of humble origin,--his father being a vine-dresser, and his mother the daughter of a poor village schoolmaster. At an early age they sent him to Châtillon on the Seine, where he lived with his uncle, a priest, who taught him to speak Latin, and awakened his religious susceptibilities, which were naturally strong. This did not prevent him from yielding to the persuasions of one of his companions to run off to Beaune, a town of Burgundy, where the fugitives proposed to study music under the Fathers of the Oratory. To provide funds for the journey, he stole a sum of about the value of a dollar from his uncle, the priest. This act, which seems to have been a mere peccadillo of boyish levity, determined his future career. Finding himself in total destitution at Beaune, he wrote to his mother for money, and received in reply an order from his father to come home. Stung with the thought of being posted as a thief in his native village, he resolved not to do so, but to set out forthwith on a pilgrimage to Rome; and accordingly, tattered and penniless, he took the road for the sacred city. Soon a conflict began within him between his misery and the pride which forbade him to beg. The pride was forced to succumb. He begged from door to door; slept under sheds by the wayside, or in haystacks; and now and then found lodging and a meal at a convent. Thus, sometimes alone, sometimes with vagabonds whom he met on the road, he made his way through Savoy and Lombardy in a pitiable condition of destitution, filth, and disease. At length he reached Ancona, when the thought occurred to him of visiting the Holy House of Loretto, and imploring the succor of the Virgin Mary. Nor were his hopes disappointed. He had reached that renowned shrine, knelt, paid his devotions, and offered his prayer, when, as he issued from the door of the chapel, he was accosted by a young man, whom he conjectures to have been an angel descended to his relief, and who was probably some penitent or devotee bent on works of charity or self-mortification. With a voice of the greatest kindness, he proffered his aid to the wretched boy, whose appearance was alike fitted to awaken pity and disgust. The conquering of a natural repugnance to filth, in the interest of charity and humility, is a conspicuous virtue in most of the Roman Catholic saints; and whatever merit may attach to it was acquired in an extraordinary degree by the young man in question. Apparently, he was a physician; for he not only restored the miserable wanderer to a condition of comparative decency, but cured him of a grievous malady, the result of neglect. Chaumonot went on his way, thankful to his benefactor, and overflowing with an enthusiasm of gratitude to Our Lady of Loretto.
As he journeyed towards Rome, an old burgher, at whose door he
had begged, employed him as a servant. He soon became known to a
Jesuit, to whom he had confessed himself in Latin; and as his
acquirements were considerable for his years, he was eventually
employed as teacher of a low class in one of the Jesuit schools.
Nature had inclined him to a life of devotion. He would fain be a
hermit, and, to that end, practised eating green ears of wheat; but,
finding he could not swallow them, conceived that he had mistaken
his vocation. Then a strong desire grew up within him to become a
Récollet, a Capuchin, or, above all, a Jesuit; and at length the
wish of his heart was answered. At the age of twenty-one, he was
admitted to the Jesuit novitiate.1 Soon
after its close, a small duodecimo volume was placed in his hands.
It was a Relation of the Canadian mission, and contained one of
those narratives of Brébeuf which have been often cited in the
preceding pages. Its effect was immediate. Burning to share those
glorious toils, the young priest asked to be sent to Canada; and his
request was granted.
It is scarcely necessary to add, that signs and voices from
another world, visitations from Hell and visions from Heaven, were
incidents of no rare occurrence in the lives of these ardent
apostles. To Brébeuf, whose deep nature, like a furnace white hot,
glowed with the still intensity of his enthusiasm, they were
especially frequent. Demons in troops appeared before him, sometimes
in the guise of men, sometimes as bears, wolves, or wildcats. He
called on God, and the apparitions vanished. Death, like a skeleton,
sometimes menaced him, and once, as he faced it with an unquailing
eye, it fell powerless at his feet. A demon, in the form of a woman,
assailed him with the temptation which beset St. Benedict among the
rocks of Subiaco; but Brébeuf signed the cross, and the infernal
siren melted into air. He saw the vision of a vast and gorgeous
palace; and a miraculous voice assured him that such was to be the
reward of those who dwelt in savage hovels for the cause of God.
Angels appeared to him; and, more than once, St. Joseph and the
Virgin were visibly present before his sight. Once, when he was
among the Neutral Nation, in the winter of 1640, he beheld the
ominous apparition of a great cross slowly approaching from the
quarter where lay the country of the Iroquois. He told the vision to
his comrades. "What was it like? How large was it?" they eagerly
demanded. "Large enough," replied the priest, "to crucify us all."3
To explain such phenomena is the province of psychology, and not of
history. Their occurrence is no matter of surprise, and it would be
superfluous to doubt that they were recounted in good faith, and
with a full belief in their reality.
1 His age, when he left his uncle, the priest, is
not mentioned. But he must have been a mere child; for, at the end
of his novitiate, he had forgotten his native language, and was
forced to learn it a second time.
2 "Je n'eus pas plutôt appris sa glorieuse mort, que je lui promis tout ce que je ferois de bien pendant huit jours, à condition qu'il me feroit son héritier dans la connoissance parfaite qu'il avoit du Huron."--Chaumonot, Vie, 61.
3 Quelques Remarques sur la Vie du Père Jean de
Brébeuf, MS. On the margin of this paper, opposite several of the
statements repeated above, are the words, signed by Ragueneau, "Ex
ipsius autographo," indicating that the statements were made in
writing by Brébeuf himself.
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The Jesuits in North America in the Seventeenth Century, 1867
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