Images de page

tims continue to chant their death-song with a firm voice; they boast of their own exploits; they insult their tormentors for their want of skill in avenging their friends and relations; they warn them of the vengeance which awaits them on account of what they are now doing, and excite their ferocity by the most provoking reproaches and threats. To display undaunted fortitude in such dreadful situations, is the noblest triumph of a warrior. To avoid the trial by a voluntary death, or to shrink under it, is deemed infamous and cowardly. If any one betrays symptoms of timidity, his tormentors often despatch him at once with contempt, as unworthy of being treated like a man. Animated with these ideas, they endure without a groan, what it seems almost impossible that human nature should sustain. They appear to be not only insensible of pain, but to court it. Forbear,' said an aged chief of the Iroquois, when his insults had provoked one of his tormentors to wound him with a knife, • forbear these stabs of your knife, and rather let me die by fire, that those dogs, your allies, from beyond the sea, may earn by my example to suffer like men.' This magnanimity, of which there are frequent instances among the American warriors, instead of exciting admiration, or calling forth sympathy, exasperates the fierce spirits of their tormentors to fresh acts of cruelty. Weary at length of contending with men, whose constancy of mind they cannot vanquish, some chief, in a rage, puts a period to their sufferings, by despatching them with his dagger, or club.

** This barbarous scene is often succeeded by one no less shocking. As it is impossible to appease the fell spirit of revenge which rages in the heart of a savage, this frequently prompts the Americans to devour those unhappy VOL. I.


[ocr errors][merged small]

persons, who have been the victims of their cruelty. In the Ancient World, tradition has preserved the memory of barbarous nations of cannibals who fed on human flesh. But in every part of the New World there were people to whom this custom was familiar. It prevailed in the southern continent, in several of the islands, and in various districts of North America. Even in those parts, where circumstances, with which we are unacquainted, had in a great measure abolished this practice, it seems formerly to have been so well known, that it is incorporated into the idiom of their language. Among the Iroquois, the phrase by which they express their resolution of making war against an enemy is, Let us go and eat that nation. If they solicit the aid of a neighbouring tribe, they invite it to eat broth made of the flesh of their enemies.' Nor was the practice peculiar to rude unpolished tribes; the principle from which it took its rise is so deeply rooted in the minds of the Americans, that it exsisted in Mexico, one of the civilized empires in the New World, and relics of it may be discovered among the more mild inhabitants of Peru. It was not scarcity of food, as some authors imagine, and the importunate cravings of hunger, which forced the Americans to those horrid repasts on their fellow-creatures. Human flesh was never used as common food in any country, and the various relations concerning people who reckoned it among the stated means of subsistence, flow from the credulity and mistakes of travellers. The rancour of revenge first prompted men to this barbarous action. The fiercest tribes devour none but prison. ers taken in war, or such as they regard as enemies.

Women and children who were not the objects of enmiiy, if not cut off in the fury of their first inroad into an hostile

country, seldom suffered by the deliberate effects of their revenge.

“ The people of South America gratify their revenge in a manner somewhat different, but with no less unrelenting rancour. Their prisoners, after meeting at their first entrance, with the same rough reception, as among the North Americans, are not only exempt from injury, but treated with the greatest kindness. They are feasted and caressed, and some beautiful young women are appointed to attend and solace them. It is not easy to account for this part of their conduct, unless we impute it to a refinement in cruelty. For, while they seem studious to attach the captives to life, by supplying them with every enjoyment that can render it agreeable, their doom is irrevocably fixed. On a day appointed the victorious tribe assembles, the prisoner is brought forth with great solemnity, he views the preparations for the sacrifice with as much indifference as if he himself were not the victim, and meeting his fate with undaunted firmness, is despatched with a single blow.

The moment he falls the women seize the body, and dress it for the feast. They besmear their children with the blood, in order to kindle in their bosoms a hatred of their enemies, which is never extinguished, and all join in feeding upon the flesh with amazing greediness and exultation. To devour the body of a slaughtered enemy, they deem the most complete and exquisite gratification of revenge. Wherever this practice prevails, captives never escape death; but they are not tortured with the same cruelty as among tribes which are less accustomed to such horrid feasts.”*

• Robertson's History of America, Vol. 11, p. p. 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, and 45.- Eighth Ed.

The only other quotation I shall make, is from the same Historian, in his account of the siege of Mexico and the disaster which befel the Spaniards before it. “On a signal which he (Gualimosin) gave, the priests in the principal temple struck the great drum, consecrated to the god of war.

No sooner did the Mexicans hear its doleful solemn sound, calculated to inspire them with contempt of death, and enthusiastic ardour, than they rushed upon the enemy with frantic rage. The Spaniards, unable to resist men urged on no less by religious fury, than hope of success, began to retire; at first leisurely, and with a good countenance, but as the enemy pressed on, and their own impatience to escape increased, the terror and confusion became so general, that when they arrived at the gap in the causeway, Spaniards and Tlascalans, horsemen and infantry, plunged in promiscuously, while the Mexicans rushed upon them fiercely from every side, their light canoes carrying them through shoals which the brigantines could not approach. In vain did Cortez attempt to stop and rally his flying troops; fear rendered them regardless of his entreaties or commands. Finding all his endeavours to renew the combat fruitless, his next care was to save some of those who had thrown themselves into the water; but, while thus employed, with more attention to their situation than to his own, six Mexican captains suddenly laid hold of him, and were hurrying him off in triumph; and though two of his officers rescued him, at the expense of their own lives, he received several dangerous wounds before he could break loose. Above sixty Spaniards perished in the route; and what rendered the disaster more afflicting, forty of these fell alive into the hands of an enemy never known to shew merey to a captive,

“ 'The approach of night, though it delivered the dejected Spaniards from the attacks of the enemy, ushered in what was hardly less grievous, the noise of their barbarous triumph, and of the horrid festival with which they celebrated their victory. Every quarter of the city was illuminated ; the great temple shone with such peculiar splendour that the Spaniards could plainly see the people in motion, and the priests busy in hastening the preparations for the death of the prisoners. Through the gloom they fancied that they discovered their companions by the whiteness of their skins, as they were stript naked, and compelled to dance before the image of the god to whom they were to be offered. They heard the shrieks of those who were sacrificed, and thought that they could distinguish each unhappy victim, by the well-known sound of his voice. Imagination added to what they really saw or heard, and augmented its horror. The most un feeling melted into tears of compassion, and the stoutest heart trembled at the dreadful spectacle which they beheld.”*

In every Pagan country it is not only a fact, that the cultivation of the fine arts, and the refinement of literature, have contributed nothing to the improvement of religion; but that on the contrary, they have multiplied its absurdities and darkened its gloom. The history of Egypt, of Greece, and of Rome, is a demonstrative proof of this observation. While some of their barbarous neighbours worshipped only a few gods, the Greeks and Romans filled their Pantheon with thirty thousand. Idolatry is like a river, which in its course is ever receiving fresh supplies of waters, and which, being fed by a thousand streams that flow into it, grows in its progress till it swells into a

• Robertson’s History of America, Vol. 11, p. p. 240, 241, and 242.

« PrécédentContinuer »