AMONG the explorers of the seventeenth century La Salle holds a foremost place. From the time that he first set foot in America he cherished the same ambition: the discovery of the" Father of Waters,"—the Mississippi. For fifteen years he pursued his quest, and, 1Pke many another pioneer, he lost his life in the service of his country. No man of his time did more than he to extend the dominion of France, and by great goad fortune we have an account of his last voyage which yields in interest to few stories of travel.
Joutel, to whom we owe the narrative of this voyage, was an honest burgher of Rouen. His family had close and honourable relations with the family of La Salle. His father, in fact, had been head gardener to La Salle's uncle, and Joutel himself needed no temptation to assist in La Salle's enterprise. He was not a hero, the honest Joutel ; when La Salle was murdered he followed a prudent course and saved his skin. But there was no obvious reason why he should have taken a needless risk when La Salle's blood was already shed, and we can feel a wise and proper gratitude that he ran away, not to fight another day, but to write his admirable account of the hero's voyage. And the account, so happily composed, had the farther good fortune to be translated into excellent English, the authentic speech of the time ; and it is this version which is here faithfully reprinted and skilfully annotated by Dr. Stiles, to whom we are pleased to give the credit of a sound and scholarly piece of work.
La Salle had the good luck to discover his metier early in life. Educated for a Jesuit, he found out his mistaken choice of a profession before it was too late ; and though his recalcitrancy had deprived him of all claim upon his father's estate, he managed to get to Canada in 1666. He was one of a large class of adventurers who were driven by prejudice or lack of sympathy from their native land, and nobly did he prove the wisdom of a hard system. No sooner did be land in Canada than he was granted the seigniory of Lachine. Here he spent his days in cultivating the soil, and in mastering the Iroquois and Algonquin dialects. But it was from the Senecas that he learned of the great river flowing into the sea, a lesson which disquieted his soul, and drove him from the comfort of his seigniory into the wild and unknown West. On his voyage he explored the Ohio, and he persisted in his enterprise despite the jealousy of the Jesuits and the base defection of his comrades. But he was not satisfied with the results of his journey, and when it was finished he returned to France, hoping to gain the support of the King and his advisers. In Paris he met with a cordial reception. He was ennobled, he was given a seigniory in the neighbourhood of Lake Ontario, and he was promised the support of France. And yet he did not begin his second voyage under good auspices. There was no opposition, no embarrassment, which he did not encounter. Whenever be separated himself from his base of operations he was the victim of the paltriest intrigues. His men deserted him; his ship, the Griffin,' which he had built with infinite care, sailed away from him, and was no more seen. Hunger and cold assailed him, but he persisted in his valiant enterprise. As his biographer says, "both man and nature seemed in arms against him ; his agents had plundered him, creditors had seized upon his property, a vessel from France, laden with stores valued at over 10,000 crowns, had been lost at the mouth of the St. Lawrence, and of twenty men hired in Europe, some had been detained by the Intendant Duchesneau, and all but five of the remainder had been told that he was dead, and had returned home." As though that were not enough, his furs were stolen and his magazine plundered, and the thieves, * Jouters Journal of La Salle's Last Voyage, 1684-7. With Historical and Biographical Introduction, Annotations, and Index by Henry Reed Stiles, A.M., M.D. Albany, N.Y.; McDonough. 115-3 hoping to escape punishment, stalked him on the shore of Lake Ontario with the firm intention of putting him to death. But he was undismayed. Neither the fury of his enemies nor the greed of his creditors turned him aside from his purpose. In February, 1682, he had reached the Mississippi. He had explored the three mouths of the river, and he had added a vast territory to the Crown of France. On April 9th, 1682, "a column was erected and near it a plate was buried bearing the arms of France and inscribed with the words, Louis le Grand, Roy de France et de Navarre, Le Neuvilme Avril 1682. Then while the Te Deum, the Ezaudiat and the Doming Saloum Fa,c Begem, were chanted, volleys of musketry were discharged by the men under arms, with cries of Vive le Boi, a cross was planted beside the column, and Le Sieur de La Salle, sword in hand, proclaimed the new-found territory as Louisiana, and Louis XIV. as its King and rightful Lord."
That was the great day in La Salle's life. He had overcome unnumbered obstacles, and be had increased the realm of Louis Is Grand by a vast territory. But he was not content. Though much was done, much remained to do, and La Salle was resolute to do it. And from the outset this last expedition of his was foredoomed to failure. The command was divided, his colleagues were not loyal to his enterprise, and the expedition ended in disaster and death. His purpose still held to explore the Mississippi from the Gulf of Mexico, and the voyage was by no means ineffectuaL But by this time La Salle's character had grown harsher, his sense of justice more positive. He lacked the geniality of temper which might have softened the asperity of his manners and endeared him to his companions. Cold, reserved, and reticent, he would not condescend to explain his plans or to accept advice. In brief, like many another great man, he preferred to keep himself aloof. "Absorbed as he was," says Dr. Stiles, "with the details of his great plans, and the responsibilities which they imposed upon him, he was ever self-contained and self- repressed. Even the few most faithful and trusted com- panions of his labours could hardly be considered as on terms
of intimacy with him It was, in fact, this lacking quality, which was ever thwarting his plans, and which rendered his brief career of eight years in exploration work an almost uninterrupted record of disaster, leading—though with one momentary triumph—to a tragic end."
La Salle failed, as all men must fail who think that they can rely upon themselves, that they need the aid of no man. He exhausted the patience of his followers, who were not content to serve, and who were at last persuaded to avenge what seemed to them a series of insults. In other words, La Salle paid the penalty of his superiority. The simple tragedy of his death is admirably expressed by JouteL "The first of the conspirators," says he, "spying Monsieur de la Sale at a Distance, as he was coming towards him, advanc'd and hid himself among the high Weeds, to wait his passing by, so that Monsieur de la Sale suspecting nothing, and having not so much as charged his piece, saw Larcheveque at a good Distance from him, and immediately asked for his Nephew Mai-anget, to which Larcheveque answeed, That he was along the river. At the same Time the Traitor Dubant fir'd his Piece and shot Monsieur de in Sale thro' the Head, so that he dropp'd down dead on the Spot, without speaking one Word." To this simple narrative nothing need be added. La Salle fell a victim to the jealousy and discon- tent of incompetent men. But his work was done. He had changed the map of the world; he had added a vast territory to the kingdom of France.