« ÎnapoiContinuă »
THE NORTH AMERICAN INDIAN.
THERE is, in the fate of the unfortunate Indians, much to awaken our sympathy, and much to disturb the sobriety of our judgment; much which may be urged to excuse their own atrocities; much in their characters which betrays us into an involuntary admiration. What can be more melancholy than their history? By a law of their nature they seem destined to a slow, but sure extinction. Everywhere, at the approach of the white man, they fade away. We hear the rustling of their footsteps, like that of the withered leaves of autumn, and they are gone forever. They pass mournfully by us, and they return no more.
Two centuries ago, the smoke of their wigwams, and the fires of their councils, rose in every valley, from Hudson's Bay to the farthest Florida, from the ocean to the Mississippi and the lakes. The shouts of victory, and the war-dance, rung through the mountains and the glades. The thick arrows, and the deadly tomahawk, whistled through the forests; and the hunter's trace, and the dark encampment, startled the wild beasts in their lairs. The warriors stood forth in their glory. The young listened to the songs of other days. The mothers played with their infants, and gazed on the scene with warm hopes of the future. Braver men never lived; truer men never drew the bow. They had courage, and fortitude, and sagacity, and perseverance, beyond most of the human race. They shrunk from no dangers, and they feared no hardships.
If they had the vices of savage life, they had the virtues also. They were true to their country, their friends, and their homes. If they forgave not injury, neither did they forget kindness. If their vengeance was terrible, their fidelity and generosity were unconquerable also. Their love, like their hate, stopped not on this side of the grave. But where are they? Where are the villages, and warriors, and youth? the sachems and the tribes? the hunters and their families? They have perished. They are consumed. The wasting pestilence has not alone done the mighty work. No; nor famine, nor war. There has been a mightier power, a moral canker, which hath eaten into their heart-cores; a plague, which the touch of the white
man communicated; a poison, which betrayed them into a lingering ruin.
The winds of the Atlantic fan not a single region which they may now call their own. Already the last feeble remnants of the race are preparing for their journey beyond the Mississippi. I see them leave their miserable homes, the aged, the helpless, the women, and the warriors, "few and faint, yet fearless still." The ashes are cold on their native hearths. The smoke no longer curls around their lowly cabins. They move on with a slow, unsteady step. The white man is upon their heels, for terror or dispatch; but they heed him not. They turn to take a last look of their deserted villages. They cast a last glance upon the graves of their fathers. They shed no tears; they utter no cries; they heave no groans.
There is something in their hearts which passes speech. There is something in their looks, not of vengeance nor submission, but of hard necessity, which stifles both; which chokes all utterance; which has no aim nor method. It is courage absorbed in despair. They linger but for a moment. Their look is onward. They have passed the fatal stream. It shall never be repassed by them; no, never. Yet there lies not between us and them an impassable gulf. They know, and feel, that there is for them still one remove further, not distant, nor unseen. It is to the general burial-ground of their race.
Reason as we may, it is impossible not to read, in such a fate, much that we know not how to interpret; much of provocation to cruel deeds and deep resentments; much of apology for wrong and perfidy; much of pity mingling with indignation; much of doubt and misgiving as to the past; much of painful recollection; much of dark foreboding. Philosophy may tell us, that conquest, in other cases, has adopted the conquered into its own bosom; and thus, at no distant period, given them the common privileges of subjects; but that the red men are incapable of such an assimilation. By their very nature and character, they can neither unite themselves with civil institutions, nor with safety be allowed to remain as distinct communities.
Policy may suggest that their ferocious passions, their independent spirit, and their wandering life, disdain the restraints of society; that they will submit to superior force only while
it chains them to the earth by its pressure. A wilderness is essential to their habits and pursuits. They can neither be tamed nor overawed. They subsist by war or hunting; and the game of the forest is relinquished only for the nobler game of man. The question, therefore, is necessarily reduced to the consideration, whether the country itself shall be abandoned by civilized man, or maintained, by his sword, as the right of the strongest.
It may be so; perhaps, in the wisdom of Providence, it must be so. I pretend not to comprehend, or solve, such weighty difficulties. But neither philosophy nor policy can shut out the feelings of nature. Humanity must continue to sigh at the constant sacrifices of this bold but wasting race. And Religion, if she may not blush at the deed, must, as she sees the successive victims depart, cling to the altar with a drooping heart, and mourn over a destiny without hope and without example.
YET Sometimes, in the gay and noisy street
THE romantic story of Pocahontas forms a beautiful episode in the early history of Virginia. Her intercession for Smith is thus described by the historians of that period. "The captive, bound hand and foot, was laid upon the stones, and Powhatan, to whom the honor was respectfully assigned, was about to put him to death. Something like pity beamed from the eyes of the savage crowd, but none dared to speak. The fatal club was uplifted; the captive was alone among hostile savages, without a friend to succor him. The multitude were anticipating the dreadful crash that was to deprive him of life, when the young and beautiful Pocahontas, the king's darling daughter, with a shriek of terror and agony, threw herself on the body of the victim. Her dark hair unbound, her eyes streaming with tears, and her whole manner, bespoke the agony of her bosom. She cast the most beseeching looks at her angry and astonished father, imploring his pity, and the life of the captive, with all the eloquence of mute, but impassioned sorrow."
"The remainder of this scene" says Burke " is highly honorable to Powhatan, and remains a lasting monument, that, though different principles of action, and the influence of custom, had given to the manners of the people an appearance neither amiable nor virtuous in general, yet they still retained the noblest property of human character; the touch of sympathy, and the feelings of humanity. The club of the Emperor was still uplifted; but gentle feelings had overcome him, and his eye was every moment losing its fierceness. He looked around to find an excuse for his weakness, and saw pity in every face. The generous savage no longer hesitated. The compassion of the rude state is neither ostentatious nor dilatory, nor does it insult its object by the exaction of impossibilities. Powhatan lifted his grateful and delighted daughter from the earth, but lately ready to receive the blood of the victim, and commanded the stranger captive to rise."
Pocahontas, who performed so important a part in this interesting scene, though born and reared in savage life, was a creature of exquisite loveliness and refinement. The gracefulness
of her person, the gentleness of her nature, her benevolence, her courage, her noble self-devotion in the discharge of duty, elevate this lovely woman to an equality with the most illustrious and most attractive of her sex; and yet, those winning graces and noble qualities were not the most remarkable features of her character. This was even more distinguished by the wonderful tact, and the delicate sense of propriety, which marked all the scenes of her brief, but eventful history.
The mingled tenderness and heroism of her successful intercession for the adventurous Smith present a scene, which for dramatic effect and moral beauty, is not excelled either in the records of history, or the most splendid creations of inventive genius. Had the generous spark of love, which is inbred in the heart of woman, been cherished by the refinements of education, it could not have burned with a brighter flame. The motive of that noble action was benevolence, the purest and most lofty principle of human action. It was not the caprice of a thoughtless girl, it was not a momentary passion for the condemned stranger, pleading at a susceptible heart, for her affections were reserved for another, and the purity, as well as the dignity of her after life, showed that they were truly and cautiously be
By her intervention, her courage, and her talent, the colony of Virginia was several times saved from famine and extermination, and when perfidiously taken prisoner by those who owed every thing to her noble devotion to their cause, she displayed in her captivity a patience, a sweetness of disposition, and a propriety of conduct, that won universal admiration. As the wife of Rolfe she was equally exemplary; and when at the British court she stood in the presence of royalty, surrounded by the beauty and refinement of the proudest aristocracy in the world, she was still a lovely and admired woman, unsurpassed in the appropriate graces of her sex.