We have, as the means of exchanging sentiment, one English family of refinement and education, on the American side of the river, and two others, an English family and the Hudson Bay House in charge of a Scotch gentleman, on the Canada shore. We have the officers attached to a battalion of infantry, most of them married and having their ladies and families with them, and about a dozen American citizens besides, engaged in traffic and other affairs. These, with the resident metif population of above 300 souls, and the adjacent Indian tribes, constitute the world—the little isolated world—in which we must move for six months to come. About fifty miles off, S.E., is the British post of Drummond Island, and about forty west of the latter, the ancient position and island settlement of Michilimackinack, that bugbear to children in all our earlier editions of Webster’s Spelling Book.
All the rest of the United States is a far-off land to us. For one, I draw around my fire, get my table and chair properly located, and resort to my books, and my Indian ia-ne-kun-o-tau-gaid let the storm whistle as it may.
25th. Zimmerman may write as much as he pleases about solitude. It is all very well in one’s study, by his stove, if it is winter, with a good feather bed, and all comforts at hand; but he who would test his theories should come here. It is a capital place, in the dead of winter, for stripping poetic theories of their covering.
Amusements during the winter months, when the temperature is at the lowest point—Etymology of the word Chippewa—A meteor—The Indian “fire-proof”—Temperature and weather—Chippewa interchangeables—Indian names for the seasons—An incident in conjugating verbs—Visiting—Gossip—The fur trade—Todd, McGillvray, Sir Alexander Mackenzie—Wide dissimilarity of the English and Odjibwa syntax—Close of the year.
1822. December 1st. We have now plunged into the depths of a boreal winter. The blustering of tempests, the whistling of winds, and the careering of snow drifts form the daily topics of remark. We must make shift to be happy, with the most scanty means of amusement. Books and studies must supply the most important item in this—at least, so far as I am concerned.
It is observed by Dr. Johnson “that nothing can supply the want of prudence, and that negligence and irregularity, long continued, will render knowledge useless, wit ridiculous, and genius contemptible.” This sententious apothegm is thrown out in contemplating the life of Savage, one of the English poets who united some of the highest requisites of genius with the lowest personal habits. But how much instruction does it convey to all! It does not fall to the lot of all to have wit or genius, or to be eminent in knowledge. None, however, who are not absolute idiots are without some share of the one or the other. And in proportion as these gifts are possessed, how fruitless, and comparatively useless do they become, if not governed by prudence, assiduity, and regularity!