Bressani, Francesco Giuseppe (1612-1672)
Breve Relatione d’Alcune Missioni de’ PP. della Compagnia di Giesù nella Nuova Francia.
Macerata: Heirs of Agostino Grisei, 1653 $20,000
FIRST EDITION. Bound in 17th c. limp sheepskin parchment. With a large woodcut Jesuit device on the title page, woodcut initial, and a factotum built up from fleurons. There is a neatly written contemporary inscription of the library of the Jesuit Community at Rome on the title page; some leaves foxed, parts lightly browned; there is a minor ink stain on two leaves. In all, a nice, genuine copy with generous margins.
FIRST EDITION of one of the most important eyewitness accounts of 17th-century Canada devoted primarily to the Huron Indians, but also with accounts of other groups, including the Jesuit author’s captivity and mutilation under the Iroquois. He also devotes 25 pages to a 1643 letter written by his Jesuit colleague Isaac Jogues (1607-1646), who was killed by the Mohawks.
Bressani (1612-1672), an Italian Jesuit, travelled to Canada as a missionary in 1642. After two years in Quebec and with the Algonquins on the St. Lawrence River, he set off for the most distant outposts, the missions on Lake Huron’s Georgian Bay, deep in the interior. He was captured by the Iroquois who cut off his fingers and eventually sold him to the Dutch, who helped him reach France. He returned to Canada in 1645, participated in peace talks with the Iroquois and finally reached the Huron missions, where he remained until the Iroquois destroyed them in 1649, killing most of the Hurons and missionaries. On his return to Europe in 1650, he wrote the present Italian account.
A riveting eyewitness account of Canadian Indians and Jesuits in the 1640s.
He opens his description with reference to Pope Urban VIII letter of 1638 that forbade the enslavement of Natives in the New World. As subjects of the missions the natives were recognised as human beings with souls that needed to be saved. It is clear that Bressani shared these ideals and enthusiastically followed them in his mission work. The Breve Relatione is organised into three parts. The first presents a very positive image of the missions: Bressani describes the geography and vegetation of Canada, and then deals with the Native people. The second describes the conversion of the Native people and the many difficulties encountered by the Jesuits who arrived to convert them. The third gives us graphic details about the suffering, torture, and martyrdom of the missionaries including the author. Bressani goes into great detail describing the society of the Hurons. He lists their food and feast celebrations, their communal singing and dances, explains marriage practices and compares them to those of the ancient Jews. He points out that in their system of government tribal chiefs are determined by succession by way of the mother’s line. In their system of justice crimes of theft and murder are dealt with through fines and gift giving for reparation. It is clear that he admires these people for their honesty, hospitality, and inherent sense of right and wrong.
He also describes the many obstacles the Jesuits encountered: the harsh climate, river rapids and waterfalls, the dangers of the journeys due to Iroquois attacks, the problems with the different Indian languages, conflict with the Indian medicine men, and the plagues which killed large groups of Natives. In the second part he includes his letter to his superior in which he recounts his capture by the Iroquois, his tortures, forced travels, beatings, starvation, mutilations, and final rescue. The third and final part of the Breve Relatione deals with the sufferings of the missionaries at the hands of the Iroquois in which Bressani gives several accounts of torture and martyrdom, reproduced from other volumes of the Jesuit Relations written in French, including the martyrdom of Father Isaac Jogues, Father Charles Garnier, and Noel Chabanel. He also recounts the fate of Father Anne de Noue who died of cold when he got lost in the snow.
Alden & Landis 653/15; De Backer & Sommervogel II, col. 133; Walter, Jesuit relations, 43; Church 524; James Ford Bell Lib. B-407; JCB II, p. 428; Lande, Canadiana 57; McCoy, Jesuit relations 82; Sabin 7734; not in Eberstadt; Streeter.