Imágenes de páginas

head. Referring, for instance, in a note, to the great Indian Council held in 1793 at the foot of the Miami Rapids, he cries out,

“ What a pity that, at such a congress, a bench of stenographers could not have been present! What bursts of thrilling eloquence, the unsophisticated language of nature, gathering its metaphors, fresh and glowing, from her own rich store house, the flowers, the forests, and the floods, the sun, the stars, and the blue sky, the winds, the earthquake, and the storms, must there have been poured forth but to die away upon the earth that heard them!”

Now, we are not wholly insensible to the philosophy of this observation, somewhat glowingly expressed as it is. We should like ourselves to have heard Brant and the Cornplanter on this very occasion. It is probable they must have said something worth remembering, in a manner worth seeing. Something of that sort is likely to occur in most great conventions of men, of whatever generic character or individual ability. Among the Indian tribes have been many such occasions, as among ourselves. We cannot think, however, that history or posterity has so strong an interest in employing a band of stenographers wherever they occur, especially if the consequence should be the publication or preservation of all the minutiæ of the scene or the “ talk," or of any considerable portion of it. Very much the larger part of this talk is, to speak plainly, and following the most unprejudiced authorities, intolerably stupid and tedious ; as unimportant to the public or to posterity in all cases, as the ordinary daily speechifying of caucuses among the whites; and very much more so in many. Such men as Cornplanter, or Brant, or Cornstalk, or Logan, or Red Jacket, may, now and then, say something characteristic, curious, or even striking, on such an occasion ; but the peculiarity, perhaps the merit, of this consists, we should say, in its utter simplicity, its perfect literal plainness, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred ; and as for the others, the great majority of speakers, the Messrs. “ Cat's Eyes," and " Carry-one-about,we should as soon think of employing a band of stenographers to preserve all that is uttered at any New England town-meeting, on the first Monday in March, as to report their lucubrations. It is far better, we take it, to lose the rare good things which do occur under these circumstances, than to undergo the whole, or any great part of it, or even to be put to the trouble, which is

ich the same thing, - of having to ransack the whole mass of inanity and

jargon in search of the grain or two in question which may be worthy of notice.

Nor is there much lost in kind, any more than in quantity. As we said before, genuine Indian eloquence, their only eloquence which deserves attention as such, is essentially of one style, and that easily imagined, readily ascertained, indeed, from the specimens which have been preserved. There are some of these specimens as such, of a remarkable character, in the volumes before us; in their way most admirable compositions. But these, we think, and others of like kind, which are elsewhere to be found, are sufficient for the purposes they subserve. We are content to leave the rest to imagination, or to estimate, as we can so safely, the unknown by the specimens we have. Such, for aught we know, was our author's design in preserving so many of these long, rigmarole speeches, as well as so many that are worth preserving. Nothing was more natural than that his enthusiasm should deceive him for the moment. One of the chief characteristics of his work, in our eyes almost its first merit, and that a very rare and high one, is his partiality, we were going to say, for the Indians; his impartiality, however, we mean; but the course of history and of literature at large, the tone of public sentiment too generally among us, has been so perverse on this subject so long, that strict justice itself to the Indians has come to be regarded not only as a virtue, but as something more, --- a generosity, a grace ; --- or, on the other hand, perhaps, an evidence of a somewhat romantic sensibility,

an amiable weakness, a feeling more to be watched and warned against, however, than trusted in, far less admired. Now we know of no American historian who has shown more of this weakness than Mr. Stone, - the determination, cost what it might, to give the Indians fair play. This weakness may be called, without much of a blunder, his forte. It has given him strength, at all events, to achieve a mighty reform in our Indian annals, - an Herculean purgation, unrivalled since the days of the Augean stable. Other writers have discovered a just feeling on the subject, especially within a few years ; and these writers, Irving and Bancroft for example, have said and done something, not a little, to purify public opinion in regard to it. For this they deserve praise. Mr. Stone, on the same principle, deserves much more. He has taken hold of this work, not incidentally, nor sentimentally. He has not contented himself with a general expression, or even exertion, on behalf of the


red men, any more than with merely abstaining from abusing them, as others have done before. To do them absolute, accurate, ample justice, this was his aim. This was, more than anything else, the gist of the whole of his laborious enterprise. In the prosecution of it nothing has discouraged him. The labor, to say nothing of the odium, was prodigious; but his spirit is unflinching to the last. What wonder, if, under these circumstances, in the course of the discoveries the plan led to, and of the reflections they occasioned, a little more than just enough of the true historical ardor, which alone could impel any man through such an enterprise, should have been sometimes excited, — if the enthusiasm, which is not only so amiable and noble a quality in the historian in itself, but lies at the foundation of so many other of his merits, should,

66 much enforced, show a hasty spark” of needless flame. The coldblooded writer, who, in the midst of the most exciting considerations, can so command himself as to defy all criticism, must be hardly worth criticising, hardly worth reading at all. The historian should not rush upon his subject, certainly, like a Quixote; but, on the other hand, he must feel, no less than think, and he must feel deeply that he may think, and that he may do all that his hands find to do, and do it with a spirit which only such feeling can give; and how are we to have the face to demand of such a writer that every arrangement, every word, shall conform to the popular standard, or even to the proper one, - to everybody's taste and mood, or to those of the perfectly disinterested (that is, uninterested) observer ? The « faultless" historian, in such a case, would be indeed monster.” We cannot say that the world may never produce such a one; but certainly it never has.

We make no great account, then, of this criticism on the Indian speeches. Some of them are unsurpassed, almost unequalled, by anything of the kind which has yet appeared. The rest, which are not so good, nevertheless have a comparative value, at least in the eyes of readers of a certain taste. The rest of us can easily, as we said before, turn over a few leaves at once, and escape the calamity of having to read them. We apprehend that the author himself will presently become one of these. By the time that three more editions of his work have been taken up, he will have acquired that coolness of judgment which is quite as necessary to good revision, as his own ardor is to glowing and graphic composition. Horace


would have had him wait for this state of mind much longer than we should be willing to have him. “Nine years” might do for a poem. For some histories it would, but not for one like this. Taken up so late as it has been, were there no other reason for something like a business energy in the publication, as well as the execution of the work, it would be found in the peculiar character of a large part of its material. Much of this, under the circumstances, may be said to want seasoning ; but that is a process it can only undergo to advantage in the open air. So much of these volumes as may be called oral, traditional, conjectural, experimental in a word, must be proved. We must see how it bears examination such examination as the public may see fit to superadd to the author's. Of this original matter, as we have intimated, there is a vast deal ; few American historians, if any, have looked up as much, or as interesting. Now let it pass through the furnace of criticism, the sooner the better. "In respect to a great part of it, those, who alone are competent to criticise, are fast passing away, the Revolutionary generation. These, too, are the authorities to be looked to for timely additions. Contributions of this kind, for his future editions, the author cannot but receive, as it is. We take the liberty, in our imagination, to regard a writer of Mr. Stone's well known enthusiasm, industry, and experience, putting forth a book of this kind, as a species of literary longtongued ant-eater, eagerly watching for all sorts of reminiscences, making a luscious meal of them now and then, and always standing ready for any quantity more. Our historian, to do him justice, is almost at the head of these fact-gatherers, for energy and variety of collection, though we do not mean to charge him, by any means, with an indiscriminate appetite for everything of this nature that comes in his way. It is easy to see that he had, in these volumes, a huge work of selection and rejection to do. The wonder is, how even he has managed to call forth so clear, so connected, and so condensed a system of narrative as this is, out of a chaos like that in which he commenced his labors.

Let us render him something like justice in this matter. Pains-taking and patience are prime qualities in a historian. In an American historian they are especially needed, for ours is much of it new ground, - as it were historical forest. He who explores it must hew his own path-way, and encounter no small hardship at the best. And yet, must this work be done

[ocr errors]

better yet.

by somebody just as it was and is necessary that the literal wilderness, which covers a great portion of the face of the country, should be cleared away for the advancement of civilization. We look upon men like Mr. Stone as Boones or Putnams, first settlers and surveyors of the wild land of literature. The spirit, which makes men pioneers in the one case as in the other, is a spirit to which America owes a vast debt, and must owe a greater one still. When that enterprise and energy are combined with perseverance, science, system, and good sense, it is

These are the men who "constitute a State," and who are daily creating States upon this continent, as they have been creating them for two hundred years. We want authors of a corresponding hardihood, for there is still heavier drudgery for them to do. Witness, in illustration, this case of Brant. Speaking of the latter portion of his work, our author says so. Most of our readers, we dare say, would suppose the same.

But it proved otherwise. He had to visit Canada for materials, to begin with. Fortunately he learned the existence there of a great mass of manuscripts, left by the Chieftain, including an extensive correspondence. These were finally obtained from Brant's youngest daughter, Mrs. Kerr, of Wellington Square, U. C. (a full-blooded Indian lady, of high respectability and finished education). This acquisition, however, was but a first step. These papers were nearly all connected with Brant's career subsequent to the war, and when the author came to examine them, he found - but let us hear what he


66 That his life and actions had been intimately associated with the Indian and Canadian politics of more than twenty years after the treaty of peace; that a succession of Indian Congresses were held by the nations of the great lakes, in all which he was one of the master spirits ; that he was directly or indirectly engaged in the wars between the United States and Indians from 1789 to 1795, during which the bloody campaigns of Harmar, St. Clair, and Wayne took place; and that he acted an important part in the affair of the North-Western posts, so long retained by Great Britain after the treaty of peace. This discovery compelled the writer to enter upon a new and altogether unexpected field of research. Many difficulties were encountered in the composition of this branch of the work, arising from various causes and circumstances. The conflicting relations of the United States, the Indians, and the Canadians, together with the peculiar and sometimes apparently equivocal position in which the Mohawk

« AnteriorContinuar »