Page images

it, and sleep where they please. To ascertain whether I was really in possession of my original rights, I put in practice a thousand acts of human will, as fancy suggested them. These proceedings highly enraged the great Dutchman, who accompanied me as a guide, and who in his soul believed me to be a madman.

Released from the tyrannical yoke of society, I comprehended the charms of that natural independence, far surpassing all the pleasures of which civilized man can have an idea. I comprehended why a savage was unwilling to become an European, why several Europeans had become savages, and why the sublime discussion on the inequality of conditions was so little understood by most of our philosophers. It is incredible to what a state of lit. tleness nations and their highly boasted institutions were reduced in my eyes. It appeared to me that I was looking at the kingdoms of the earth with an inverted telescope, or rather that I myself was enlarged, exalted, and contemplating, with the eyes of a giant, the remains of my degenerate fellow creatures.

You, who wish to write of mankind, transport yourselves into the deserts. Become for an instant the children of nature.--then, and not till then take the pen.

Among the innumerable enjoyments, which I expe. rienced during these travels, one in particular made a lively impression upon my heart. *

* Almost all that follows is taken from the manuscript of my Travels in America, which perished together with several other incomplete works. Among them I had begun one, Les Tableaux de la Nature, which was the history of a savage tribe in CaDada, moulded into a sort of romance. The fraine, which incloseed these pictures of nature, was entirely new, and the paintings themselves, being strange to our climate, might have merited the indulgence of the reader. Some praise has been bestowed upon my manner of delineating nature, but if the public had seen the Work now mentioned, written as it was by fragments on my knee among the savages themselves, in the forests and on the banks of American lakes, I presume to state that they would probably have found matter more deserving their notice. Of all this work only a few detached leaves remain iri my possession, and among them is the Night, which I now insert. I was destined to lose by the revolution fortune, parents, friends, and what is never to be regained when once lost, the detail of reflections as they naturally arose during my travels. Our thoughts are perhaps the only property to be called really our own-even these were taken from me.

I was going to see the celebrated cataract of Niagara and had taken my road through the Indian nations, which inhabit the wilds west of the American plantations. My guides were the sun, a pocket compass, and the Dutchman whom I have mentioned. This man perfectly understood five dialects of the Huron language. Our equipage consisted of two horses, to the necks of which we fastened a bell at night and then allowed them to go at large in the forest. At first I was rather afraid of losing them, but my guide removed this apprehension by pointing out the ad· mirable instinct, which causes these sagacious animals never to wander out of sight of our fire.

One evening, when we conceived that we had proceeded so far as to be only about eight or nine leagues from the cataract, we were just about to alight from our horses, that we might prepare our hovel, and light our fire according to the Indian custom. At this moment we perceived a blaze in the woods, and soon afterwards espied some savages seated on the bank of the same stream, which flowed past us. We approached them, and the Dutchman having, by my order, asked permission to pass the night with them, it was granted on the spot. Accordingly we all began our labours together. After having cut branches from the trees, fixed stakes in the ground, stripped off bark to cover our palace, and performed some other general services, each of us turned his attention to his own affairs. I fetched my saddle, which

[ocr errors]

faithfully served as my pillow during the whole journey. The guide attended to our horses, and with regard to his preparations for the night, he was not so delicate as my. self, and generally availed himself of some old trunk of a tree for his bed. Our work being finished, we seated ourselves in a circle, with our legs crossed like tailors. In the centre of us was an immense fire, at which we prepared our' maize for supper. I had a bottle of brandy too, which not a little increased the gay spirits of the savages. They produced in return some legs of bear, and we made a royal repast.

The party was composed of two women with infants at the breast, and three warriors. Two of the latter might be about forty to forty-five years of age, though

they appeared to be much older; the third was a young




The conversation soon became general, that is to say, by some broken expressions on my part, and by many gestures, an expressive kind of language, which the In. dian tribes comprehend with astonishing readiness, and which I learnt among them. The young man alone preserved an obstinate silence, keeping his eyes stedfastly fixed on me. In spite of the black, red, and blue streaks, with which he was disfigured, and the further mutilation of having no ears, it was easy to perceive the noble and sensible expression which animated his countenance. How favorably did I think of him for not liking me! He appeared to be mentally reading the history of all the calamities, with which Europeans had overburthened his country,

The two little children, which were entirely naked, had fallen asleep at our feet, before the fire. The women took them gently in their arms, and laid them upon skins, with that maternal care which it was delicious to observe among these pretended savages. The conversation at

[ocr errors]

length died away by degrees, and each person sunk to rest in the place which he had hitherto occupied.


was, however, an exception, being unable to close my eyes. Hearing the deep breathing of my companions on all sides, I raised my head, and resting on my elbow, contemplated, by the red light of the expiring fire, the sleeping Indians stretched around me. I acknow. ledge that I found it difficult to refrain from tears.' Good young man! How affecting did thy repose appear to me! Thou, who didst seem so feelingly alive to the misfor. tunes of thy country, wert of too lofty and superior a dis-, position to suspect a stranger of evil intentions. Europeans, what a lesson is this for us! These savages, whom we have pursued with fire and sword, whom our ava. rice has not even left in possession of a shovel full of earth to cover their dead bodies on all this vast continent hereto. fore their patrimony—these very savages received their enemy in their hospitable huts, shared with him their mi. serable repast, and their couch to which remorse was a stranger, enjoying close to him, the sleep of the virtuous. Such virtues are as much above our conventional ones, as the souls of these uncultivated people are superior to those of man in a state of society.

The moon was bright. Heated by my ideas I rose and took a seat at some distance, upon the root of a tree which crept along the side of the rivulet. It was one of those American nights, which the pencil of man never will be able to pourtray, and which I have remembered a hundred times with delight.

The moon had reached the highest point of the Hea. vens, and a thousand stars glittered in the great clear ex. panse. At one time the queen of night reposed upon a group of clouds, which resembled the summit of lofty mountains crowned with snow. By slow. degrees these clouds stretched themselves out, assuming the appearance of waving transparent zones of white satin, or transform.

[ocr errors]

ing themselves into light frothy fakes, of which countles3 numbers wandered through the blue plains of the firmament." At another time the aerial vault appeared as if transformed into the sea shore, where horizontal beds, and parallel ridges might be discovered, apparently formed by the regular flux and reflux of the tide. A gust of wind then dispersed the clouds, and they formed themselves into large masses of dazzling whiteness, so soft to the eye that one almost seemed to feel their delicate elas- . ticity. The landscape around me was not less enchanting. The cerulean velvety light of the moon silently spread over the forest, and at intervals descended among the trees, irradiating in some degree even the deepest thickets. The brook, which Aowed at my feet, hiding itself now and then under the umbrageous oaks, sallows and sugar-trees, and re-appearing a little further off, all brilliant from the constellations of the night, resembled an azure riband studded with diamonds, and transversely marked with black lines. On the other side of the stream, in a large natural meadow, the clear light of the moon shone without motion on the turf, extending like a curtain over it. At one moment the birch-trees, which were scattered here and there through the Savanna, were, by the caprice of the breeze, confounded with the soil on which they grew, and enveloped in a sort of grey gauze; at another they ceased to retain this chalky appearance, and buried themselves in obscurity, forming, as it were, islands of floating shade upon a motionless sea of light. Silence and repose prevailed throughout the scene, except when a few leaves fell here and there, or a sudden gust of wind swept past, accompanied occasionally by the dismal note of the owl. At a distance and at intervals too I heard the solemn sound of the cataract at Niagara, which, in the calmness of night, was lengthened out from one desert to another, and expired among the soli. tary forests.

« PreviousContinue »