« ZurückWeiter »
Hinckes at Nineveh and Behistun. But really the laborers upon the Dighton rock ought to remember that an inscription cannot be deciphered, even by the greatest learning and skill, if it be not certain that an alphabetic inscription exists.
Mr. Schoolcraft has unwittingly furnished evidence, in this very work, that his hypothesis of the alphabetic character of a part of the Dighton inscription is untenable. He has furnished engraved copies of several other rude inscriptions upon rock, unquestionably of Indian origin, which have been found at different places in the interior of the country. These are certainly pictographic, being such rude outlines of familiar objects as a child three years old will scrawl upon a slate. One of them, quite perfectly preserved, has been recently
covered upon a rock on the south side of Cunningham's Island, Lake Erie. It is larger and more distinct than the Dighton inscription, for most of the objects which it was intended to delineate can be clearly made out; but is not a whit more artistic. Mr. Schoolcraft justly gives it a recent date, as he thinks that figures intended to represent Europeans can be detected in it. Had it been exposed a century longer to atmospheric influences, and also to abrasion and accretion from the ebb and flow of a tide, the indistinct remains of it would have formed a very faithful counterpart to the Dighton inscription. As it is, our author rightly observes that “its leading symbols are readily interpreted.” But the following account of them is rather magniloquent and imaginative. “ The human figures, pipes, smoking groups, the presents and other figures, denote bribes, negotiations, crimes, turmoils, which tell a story of thrilling interest, in which the whiteman or European plays a part.” Another of these rude scrawls on rock is copied in an elaborate engraving from a spot near Esopus Landing, on Hudson River. It is unquestionably Indian, and must have been made at a time subsequent to the landing of the whites. It represents a single human figure, wearing two feathers, and holding a gun. A white, though a schoolboy, would not have had patience enough to carve such a figure in so stubborn a material.
When Mr. Schoolcraft was at Mackinaw, he showed an engraved copy of the Dighton inscription to an Indian of that neighborhood whom he had observed to have a taste for drawing signs and figures, and who was reputed to be an expert in interpreting Indian pictography, and requested him to decipher it to the best of his ability. The savage readily complied, and furnished an interpretation which we must consider as far more probable than that of the Copenhagen antiquaries. Taking it piecemeal, he explained each portion either as a rude semblance or arbitrary symbol of some object or event familiar to the red men. He made no attempt to connect these together as parts of one legend, though he affected to consider the whole as the memorial of a contest between two hostile tribes. Among the objects or figures which he identified were those of a pipe, a dart, a chief and his sister, a sweating lodge, a war-club, symbols of the sun and moon, and many others. We commend this interpretation, made by the Algonquin priest, Chingwauk, to the serious attention of all learned European antiquaries, who are prone to find Runic inscriptions in the rude scrawls of savages, and to add a new chapter to the history of the world upon the strength of them.
Children and savages are equally fond of gaudy pictures. It is this taste, in its lowest stage, which leads the latter to paint their bodies and faces so hideously when they go out to war, or upon any other grand occasion. Advanced one step farther in the cultivation of the art, if art it can be called, they draw rude outlines of familiar objects, sometimes on the rock, as in the cases we have just examined, and sometimes on skins, the bark of trees, or the trees themselves; and these they smear with the same bright pigments which they use to disfigure their faces. At times, when a particular animal is taken as the symbol or totem of a tribe, these representations come to have a symbolic character. In a similar manner, a hatchet comes to signify war, and the calumet is the token of peace. With a few of the tribe, especially with the priests, these figures may be applied, to a small extent, to mnemonic uses, or, when used for the purposes of a message, may darkly indicate a menace which the sender is unwilling to pronounce distinctly. But savages who have made so little progress as our North American Indians stop here, and seldom accomplish even as much as this in their attempts to communicate ideas by other means than speech. Mr. Schoolcraft grossly exaggerates when he claims for the art” the term of picture-writing; and we think only of “the art” of bookmaking when we find over a hundred pages, and about a score of colored engravings, devoted to a detailed exposition and discussion of this profitless theme. Sheet after sheet, covered with sprawling outlines of man, bird, and beast, smeared with bright yellow or dirty red, add nothing to our knowledge of Indian character or Indian history. Engraved copies of Egyptian hieroglyphics and specimens of Mexican picture-writing, introduced ostensibly for comparison, do not enrich or dignify the barren subject; this whole series of plates, and the letter-press with which they are accompanied, might afford amusement to infants, but certainly could impart no instruction to a child five years old.
Indeed, we are compelled to believe that one of the princi. pal objects in getting up the work was to afford a profitable job to the engravers. There are seventy-six plates in the first volume, and most of them are of such common objects as arrow-heads, axes, tomahawks, beads, amulets, spear-heads, gorgets, pipes, and other articles of Indian manufacture, all of which can be found in the national collection at Washington, and in almost every museum in the country. The same purpose, to patronize the engraver, is still more glaringly exhibited in the second and third volumes. In all seriousness, we ask, what useful end is answered by multiplying costly line engravings of such fanciful scenes as those of the landing of the Whites in Virginia in 1584, the Interview of Hendrick Hudson with the Indians in 1609, the Interview of Massasoit with the Pilgrims in 1620, the Defeat of Vasquez D'Ayllon by the Chicoreans in 1518, and De Soto with his party at Tampa Bay, Florida, in 1539? If the object had been to illustrate an annual or gift-book, such engravings might seem appropriate, especially if accompanied by some indifferent stanzas in further commemoration of the scene represented in them. But here they have no historic or antiquarian significance or verity. It will not be contended, we suppose, that the costumes either of the Indians or European actors in these ancient scenes, or any of the circumstances attending them, are here depicted with historic accuracy. They are just as fanciful as Raphael's painting of St. Cecilia singing so divinely, that the heavens above her open and display a choir of seraphs, duly equipped with fiddles and psalm-books, who sing and play an accompaniment. Equally impertinent for the ostensible objects of this work are the engraved views of the Valley of the St. Peters, the Ruins of Old Fort Mackinac, Esopus Landing on the Hudson River, Pittsburg as it appeared in 1790, and Humboldt Landing, California.
As to the relations preserved between the author and the engravers, we are compelled to believe, in most of the cases, that the text was written in order to illustrate the plates, instead of the plates being designed to elucidate the writer's meaning. Some account has already been given of the manner in which heterogeneous topics are huddled together in the first volume. But the method therein pursued seems order itself when compared with the confusion worse confounded” of the Second and Third Parts. The want of system is the more conspicuous, as Mr. Schoolcraft seems to have a clear idea of the benefits of a scientific arrangement, and prints, at the commencement of the volumes, a list of the generic divisions of the subject, to which the subsequent matter is to be referred. But the arrangement seems to be made only for the purpose of being departed from. The whole work forms only a huge repertory, in which are jumbled together all the materials that the editor can lay his hands upon, - letters from correspondents, abstracts of old books, vocabularies, statistics, independent essays on general subjects, any matter to illustrate a fine engraving, etc. A reference, near or remote, to the North American Indians is generally perceptible, but not always. Here, for instance, is an essay three pages long, by the editor himself, on the “ Importance of the Pastoral State on Races of Men;" and it is followed by one, four pages in length, from the pen of John Johnston, Esq., on the " Means of Melioration.” Some notices of the natural caves in the Sioux country, taken from the posthumous papers of Mr. Nicolet, precede a diary kept by Lieut. Whipple while surveying the southern boundary line of California. What distinct information respecting the “ History, Condition, and Prospects of the Indian Tribes" can be gathered from so miscellaneous a selection, or collection, of papers as this, we leave our readers to imagine.
As Mr. Schoolcraft has passed a large portion of his life among the aborigines of this continent, with whom he has also connected himself by marriage, we were led to hope that he might at least have gathered from them some interesting traditions of their former state and the vicissitude-trough which they have passed, and some distinct knowledge of their religious belief and modes of worship. But even this hope was disappointed, the information given upon these points being meagre and fragmentary to the last degree. The few legends and mythical stories that are narrated, seem to have received so much factitious embellishment in the translation, that they throw little light upon the history or the intellectual habits of those among whom they originated. But our readers shall judge for themselves, as the following is one of the best that is reported. It is entitled “ Mondamin, or the Origin of the Zea Maize, a Chippewa Allegory," and purports to have been gathered from the oral traditions of this tribe during the author's residence among them at the Sault Ste. Marie.
“A poor Indian was living with his wife and children in a beautiful part of the country. His children were too young to give him any assistance in hunting; and he had but ill luck himself. But he was thankful for all he received from the forest, and although he was very poor, he was very contented.
“ His elder son inherited the same disposition, and had ever been obedient to his parents. Ile had now reached the age at which it is proper to make the initial fast, which the Indian lads all do at about fourteen or fifteen. As soon as the spring arrived, his mother built him a little fasting-lodge in a retired spot, where he would not be disturbed; and when it was finished, he went in and began his fast. He amused himself for a few mornings by rambling about in the vicinity, looking at the shrubs and wild-flowers, (for he had a taste for such things,) and brought great bunches of them along in his hands, which led him often to think on the goodness of the Great Spirit in providing all kinds of fruits and herbs for the use of man. idea quite took possession of his mind, and he earnestly prayed that he might dream of something to benefit his people ; for he had often seen them suffering for the want of food.