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Few passages of history are more striking than those which record the efforts of the earlier French Jesuits to convert the Indians. Full as they are of dramatic and philosophic interest, bearing strongly on the political destinies of America, and closely involved with the history of its native population, it is wonderful that they have been left so long in obscurity. While the infant colonies of England still clung feebly to the shores of the Atlantic, events deeply ominous to their future were in progress, unknown to them, in the very heart of the continent. It will be seen, in the sequel of this volume, that civil and religious liberty found strange allies in this Western World.
The sources of information concerning the early Jesuits of New
France are very copious. During a period of forty years, the
Superior of the Mission sent, every summer, long and detailed
reports, embodying or accompanied by the reports of his
subordinates, to the Provincial of the Order at Paris, where they
were annually published, in duodecimo volumes, forming the
remarkable series known as the Jesuit Relations. Though the
productions of men of scholastic training, they are simple and often
crude in style, as might be expected of narratives hastily written
in Indian lodges or rude mission-houses in the forest, amid
annoyances and interruptions of all kinds. In respect to the value
of their contents, they are exceedingly unequal. Modest records of
marvelous adventures and sacrifices, and vivid pictures of
forest-life, alternate with prolix and monotonous details of the
conversion of individual savages, and the praiseworthy deportment of
some exemplary neophyte. With regard to the condition and character
of the primitive inhabitants of North America, it is impossible to
exaggerate their value as an authority. I should add, that the
closest examination has left me no doubt that these missionaries
wrote in perfect good faith, and that the Relations hold a high
place as authentic and trustworthy historical documents. They are
very scarce, and no complete collection of them exists in America.
The entire series was, however, republished, in 1858, by the
Canadian government, in three large octavo volumes.
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The Jesuits in North America in the Seventeenth Century, 1867
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