SAVAGES of NORTH-AMERICA,
A LETTER of the Father CHARLEVOIX,
A LADY of Distinction,
To give you, Madam, a summary sketch of the character of the savages in this country, I am to observe to you, that under a savage appearance, with manners and customs, that favor entirely of barbarism, may be found a society exempt from almost all the faults that so often vitiate the happiness of ours.
They appear to be without passion, but they are in cold blood, and sometimes even from principle, all that the most violent and most unbridled passion can inspire into those, who no longer listen to reason.
They seem to lead the most miserable of lives, and they are, perhaps, the only happy of the earth. At least those of them are still so, amongst whom the knowledge of those objects that disturb and seduce us, has not yet penetrated, or awakened in them, those pernicious desires which their ignorance kept happily dormant: it has not, however, hitherto made great ravages amongst them.
There may be perceived a mixture in them of the most ferocious and the most gentle manners; of the faults reproachable to the carnivorous beasts, with those virtues and qualities of the head and heart, that do the most honor to human-kind.
One would, at first, imagine, that they had no sort of form of government, that they knew no laws nor subordination, and that living in an entire independence, they suffered themselves to be entirely guided by chance, or by the most wild, untamed caprice: yet they enjoy almost all the advantages, which a well-regulated authority can procure to the most civilized nations. Born free and independent, they hold in horror the very shadow of despotic power; but they rarely swerve from certain principles and customs, founded upon good-sense, which stand them in the stead of laws, and supplement in some sort to their want of legal authority. All constraint mocks them; but reason alone hold them in a kind of subordination, which, for its being voluntary, does not the less answer the proposed end.
A man, whom they should greatly esteem, would find them tractable and ductile enough, and might very nearly make them do any thing he had a mind they should; but it is not easy to gain their esteem to such a point. They grant it only to merit, and that merit a very superior one, of which they are as good judges as those, who, amongst us, value themselves the most upon being so. They are, especially, apt to be taken with physiognomy; and there are not in the world, perhaps, men who are greater connoisseurs in it: and that is, because they have for no man whatever, any of those respects that prejudice or impose on us, and that studying only nature, they understand it well. As they are not slaves to ambition or interest, those two passions that have chiefly cancelled in us that sentiment of humanity, which the author of nature had engraved in our hearts; the inequality of conditions is not necessary to them, for the support of society.