Remarkable providences! An eighteenth-century Jesuit is blogging now at Charlevoix (“a blog about New France”). Those of you in the know will recognize the blogger as the late Pierre F.-X. Charlevoix (1682-1761), who is considered one of the first historians of New France. (I say one of the first historians of New France, because I consider the unsung annalists of women’s religious orders to be historians of New France as well–and most of them in the eighteenth century were Canadian-born historians, not imports like Charlevoix.)
Here’s a little flava, a brief comparison of New England and New France in his Journal of a Voyage to North-America (London, 1761; Readex Microprint, 1966, in two volumes), an English translation of his 1744 French travel narrative:
To judge of the two colonies by the way of life, behaviour, and speech of the inhabitants, nobody would hesitate to say that ours were the most flourishing. In New-England and the other provinces of the continent of America, subject to the British empire, there prevails an opulence which they are utterly at a loss how to use; and in New France, a poverty hid by an air of being in easy circumstances, which seems not at all studied. Trade, and the cultivation of their plantations strengthen the first, whereas the second is supported by the industry of its inhabitants, and the taste of the nation diffuses over it something infinitely pleasing. The English planter amasses wealth, and never makes any superfluous expence; the French inhabitant again enjoys what he has acquired, and often makes a parade of what he is not possessed of. That labours for his posterity; this again leaves his offspring involved in the same necessities he was in himself at his first setting out, and to extricate themselves as they can. The English Americans are averse to war, because they have a great deal to lose; they take no care to manage the Indians from a belief that they stand in no need of them. The French youth, for very different reasons, abominate the thoughts of peace, and live well with the natives, whose esteem they easily gain in time of war, and their friendship at all times. I might carry the parallel a great way farther, but I am obliged to conclude (I: 113-114).
Ah, yes, the old familiar stereotypes: the nation of shopkeepers, people who know the price of everything but the value of nothing, and the nation of good-time Jean-Baptistes who cultivate and are loyal to their Native allies. (Anglophone American historian Francis Parkman would agree with these stereotypes a century later, although he’d praise the cautious planning of the English and deplore the emphasis on living well and the closeness with Indians that Charlevoix admired.)
If seventeenth and eighteenth-century Jesuit missionaries had Twitter, Instagram, and blogs, isn’t this how the Jesuit Relations would have been published–in real time, and (perhaps) with less artifice? Or just a different, genre-driven kind of artifice: because who makes their lives look more boring or less eventful online than they really are? Just imagine the kind of rebellion that Pontiac and others could have organized by flashmobbing English forts with French muskets throughout the Great Lakes in 1763!
Now that I think of it, maybe I should start a Twitter account for Esther Wheelwright. What do you think? Disrespectful, weird, or unfunny? (All three?)