Accounting for one's self: the business of alterity in fur trade narratives.
Fidler, Hearne, and Turnor were all fur traders for the Hudson's Bay Company in Rupert's Land, that region of North America over which the company held its monopoly, encompassing the territory surrounding Hudson Bay and all the bodies of water emptying into it (Hudson's Bay Company, Charters 11). The focus of this study is Journals of Samuel Hearne and Philip Turnor between the Years 1774 and 1792, a publication of accounts written by not only Hearne and Turnor, but also other traders including Fidler. This study also analyzes a transcription of the Stowe Manuscript of Hearne's accounts from December 7, 1770 to June 30, 1772 ("Mr. Hearne's Narrative") located in the National Archives of Canada. The original version of these accounts is either lost or nonextant. A Journey from Prince of Wales's Fort in Hudson's Bay to the Northern Ocean, the version of Hearne's accounts which he personally revised and had published in 1795, is analyzed as well.
Fur trade accounts are generally unrevised and unpublished records of observations and experiences written by traders for a readership of company shareholders. Until recently, nonfictional exploration accounts have, for the most part, been ignored by literary analysts because, as the third Earl of Shaftesbury argues, the works cannot be considered "literary" since the writers usually "received no more than a grammer school education," they "wrote little besides the accounts of their voyages," and "most of the narratives were written for the practical purpose of providing a record of a voyage" (1: 222--23). Northrop Frye is less earnest but equally convincing with his claim that fur trade accounts are "as innocent of literary intention as the cry of a mating loon" (334). Because of the authors' specialized audience and lack of literary finesse, however, the accounts exemplify the prose form arising from the concerns with materialism and objectivity that dominated eighteenth-century scientific, political, and moral discourse. Less covert than texts intended to persuade a general readership, fur trade accounts more readily expose the rhetorical mechanics that underlie implied objectivity.
The recent realization of the literary and sociohistorical value of exploration and trade accounts has led to a dramatic increase in the study of the texts from literary perspectives. Nevertheless, numerous paths of critical exploration remain untrodden, including the path of self-representation. Most analyses of exploration and trade accounts do not fully address the influence of changes in environment and readership on the author, thereby implying that the writer's perceptions and value systems remained virtually unaffected by changes in social context. Though sensitive to the role of self-image in depictions of the New World, Tsvetan Todorov's The Conquest of America and Stephen Greenblatt's Marvelous Possessions both lack information on the influence that travel and exploration had on writers' self-representations. Similarly, while Mary Louise Pratt states in Imperial Eyes that she is interested in how travel and exploration writing has produced "Europe's differentiated conceptions of itself" (5), she does not propose that her master model of transculturation accommodates the social power struggles inherent in the British social system itself. While Pratt defines the predominant theme of her text as "how travel books by Europeans about non-European parts of the world went (and go) about creating the 'domestic subject' of Euroimperialism" (4), Eric J. Leed's The Mind of the Traveler directly addresses the change in a travel writer's self-image. Leed focuses on texts written by travelers defined as agents moving through unfamiliar societies, as in the Grand Tour. This construct does not apply to most of the accounts written by the fur traders, whose relatively fixed position within a nomadic community presented them with a greater potential for assimilation.
Some historical and anthropological work addressing changes in self-perception amongst individuals living in upper North America exists (see Cox, and Trigger, Morantz, and Dechene). Recently, generic and narrative studies of fur trade accounts that overtly acknowledge the writer's changing consciousness have also appeared (see Greenfield, MacLulich, and Hodgson). I. S. MacLaren's essay on Samuel Hearne, though focusing primarily on generic conventions in the version of Hearne's text published in 1795, also discusses authorial self-representation. I am concerned here with the ways in which eighteenth-century views of society influenced representations of the self and social context.
Though the traders were physically isolated from Britain, Western scientific and social values did follow them to Rupert's Land. During his career with the Hudson's Bay Company, Hearne, for example, became friends with, among others, Thomas Pennant (an eminent zoologist at the time), Dr. John Douglas (the editor of Cook's Third Voyage), and William Wales, who travelled with James Cook on his second global circumnavigation. Hearne met Wales during the scientist's trip to Hudson Bay to observe the transit of Venus over the sun in 1769, an excursion sponsored by the Royal Society. Hudson's Bay Company employees in Rupert's Land were also kept up-to-date on issues of concern back in Europe by a continuous supply of reading material. It was not uncommon for the central posts, York Factory and Prince of Wales Fort, to be stocked with a complete series of the previous year's newspapers. During Fidler's winter among the Chepawyan Indians his major complaint, other than insufficient clothing, was that "the Nautical Almanack & requisite Tables composed the whole of my Library" (496). Only seventeen days after sending a message to Prince of Wales Fort requesting "some Book or other" (547), he received a "bound magazine which will pass away several long hours the remainder of the Spring" (550). By the time of Fidler's death, approximately 500 books had found their way from England to his private library in Canada (Bryce 283). Though employees in Rupert's Land were at least three months out of date on changes in European political and social views, they were not beyond their influence, which can be seen in the fur trade writer's struggle for textual self-realization.
Rooted in a belief in the innate goodness of humanity, the predominant British social theories in the latter half of the eighteenth century did not define the self as a distinct entity but as an element within a moral and political network based on social interdependence and sympathy. David Hume, for instance, writes that,
we can form no wish, which has not a reference to society....
Whatever other passions we may be actuated by; pride, ambition,
avarice, curiosity, revenge or lust; the soul or animating principle of
them all is sympathy, nor wou'd they have any force, were we to
abstract entirely from the thoughts and sentiments of others. (363) Hume fuses his view that "the minds of men are mirrors to one another" (365) with skeptical empiricism when he writes that "ourself, independent of the perception of every other object, is in reality nothing: for which reason we must turn our view to external objects; and 'tis natural for us to consider with most attention such as lie contiguous to us, or resemble us" (340--41). Similarly, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who defines sympathy as a crucial characteristic of the ideal citizen, considers compassion to be "the only natural virtue" ("Origin" 182). Sympathy, for Rousseau, involves self-objectification through a mental affiliation with the subjective stance of another. This transposition enables us to "go beyond ourselves, and identify ourselves with the suffering animal, by leaving, so to speak, our own nature and taking his" (Emile 4: 184). Samuel Johnson gives sympathy similar importance in his discussion of individual liberty, arguing that, "in order to regain liberty, [the individual] must find the means of flying from himself ... he must adopt the joys and the pains of others, and excite in his mind the want of social pleasures and amicable communication" (57). The individual is not simply supported by empathy but is actualized by it. Empathy -- Johnson's "fleeing from himself" and Rousseau's "leaving ... our own nature" -- is required if one is to be a complete individual.
Mikhail Bakhtin makes a parallel argument in his essay "Author and character in aesthetic activity," the crucial difference being that the eighteenth-century theorists are defining a social relationship, while Bakhtin defines a textual one that interacts with the social. Such a model is useful for analyzing social contingency in fur trade accounts that were written at a time when such texts held a pseudo-actual status as objective re-creations of reality; that is, they were understood to confirm or allow access to the "real" way of seeing the world. Bakhtin claims that, if a character is to be "complete," the character and the author must experience both empathy and exotopy, the latter of which Bakhtin defines as
the author's outside position in relation to the hero, the author's loving
removal of himself from the field of the hero's life ... the compassion-
ate understanding and consummation of the event of the hero's life in
terms of real congnition and ethical action by a detached, unparticipating
beholder. ("Author" 14--15) The author does not control the character, but is one of two interdependent elements in a social dialogue. The text is a continuation of a dialogue between character and author in the character's social realm, even as it becomes a dialogue between author and reader in the social realm of the reader. The author mediates between the two realms, and, if the character represents the author, the two realms must concur for the character to be realized as unified. The unified character of the trader has the potential of being realized only when the character and the author experience exotopy as well as empathy with what each perceives to be his social context.
Neither Bakhtin's theory of exotopy nor eighteenth-century theories of social sympathy correlate with the imperialist program of the Hudson's Bay Company, the primary defining construct for the accounts. Though the Hudson's Bay Company committee of shareholders was always concerned with validating its own imperialist image, efforts increased after a parliamentary inquiry into the validity of the company's monopoly.(1) In the 1740s, various petitioners complained that the full commercial and political benefits of Rupert's Land were not being realized and that this deficiency was "intirely owing to the Monopoly and Avarice of the Hudson's Bay Company (not to give it a harsher Name)" (Dobbs 2). The petitioners argued that the company had no interest in locating either a northwest passage or additional resources because such findings would have jeopardized their monopoly and profit margin (see Ellis 78).
At the inquiry, the apparently objective fur trade accounts were used as evidence that the company's primary concern was for the success of British imperialism. The fur trade writer was presented as an external validator of the committee's image of itself as an honorable mercantile organization supporting the hegemonic program of the nation. Though Parliament ultimately judged in the committee's favor, for reasons of international politics, the company chose to enhance its self-legitimizing campaign. It increased inland exploration and made it clear to the fur trade writers that the accounts were to contain practical information presented in a plain, direct style. Stylistic simplicity had been affiliated with exploration and travel writing for centuries and was still a common correlation in the eighteenth century. Thomas Sprat's suggestion, in 1667, that a scientist use "a close, naked, natural way of Speaking ... bringing all Things as near the mathematical Plainness as they can" (113) still echoed strongly at the end of the eighteenth century, when Vicesimus Knox wrote that "the style of voyages and travels should be plain, perspicuous, and unaffected" (118). The Hudson's Bay Company shareholders were aware that such a direct style would suggest the practicality, honesty, and reliability of the entire company. In addition to legitimizing the committee's actions, the stylistic simulation of empirical rationalism also erased the committee's instructional involvement in its self-depiction.
Though erasing the shareholders' own role in the act of representation, the accounts accented their role as active imperialist explorers. In the foreword to his accounts, of which only the 1795 version is available, Hearne's direct style and unassuming demeanor not only legitimize his claims, but also obfuscate the distance between his experiences and the London-based committee taking credit for them:
As the following Journey, was undertaken at your Request and
Expense, I feel it no less my Duty than my Inclination to address it to
you; hoping that my humble Endeavours to relate, in a plain and
unadorned Style, the various Circumstances and remarks which
occurred during that Journey, will meet with your Approbation.
I am, with much Esteem and Gratitude,
Your most obedient, and
most obliged humble Servant,
SAMUEL HEARNE. (A Journey xlvii) Hearne implies that the constancy of his respect and admiration for the shareholders, acknowledged by his supplication and self-disparagement, is also signified by the humble style of his prose. The lack of adornment and reflection attests to the employee's unwavering devotion to the parent company and its cause. The journals are made possible by the committee and, as such, are a reflection of the shareholders' devotion to Britain.
Similar acts of conflation occur in other accounts. The writers constantly refer to themselves and other traders as "the servants of the Company," "Your Honors servants," or just "the Company." The major trading centers constructed in Rupert's Land, such as York Factory, Fort Prince of Wales, and Rupert House, were named after company shareholders or British royalty, thereby implying the superiors' immediate presence. While recounting a canoeing accident caused by some faulty grapnels, Turnor maneuvers the committee into the thick of the adventure by concluding that "your Honours have been ill used" (Hearne and Turnor 268). Another employee, Malcolm Ross, similarly positions the shareholders within the context of New World activities when he notes that a knowledge of the Chepawyan language "will be very necessary if your Honours settles in this Quarter" (Hearne and Turnor 443). The "Honours" had no intention of setting foot in the wild hinterland, of course, even if Ross succeeded in turning it into a somewhat tame "quarter" through his choice of words. Though Edward Ive, in his 1773 text A Voyage from England to India, claims that "the man who writes his own journey, is under a necessity ... of making himself the hero of his own tale" (vii), the fur trade writer more often abased himself into virtual nonexistence, with the hero of the tale being the company and its shareholders. The mercantile hierarchy and the self-heroizing campaign of the shareholders countered any efforts on the writer's part for the realization of a character modelled after himself.
One of the most revealing contexts for the fur trade writer's exploration of the self and society is that of the indigene community. Though the only social order in Rupert's Land to which the trader might have turned for empathy was the kinship system of the indigenes, he saw this society through various distorting filters. One of the most familiar viewpoints was that displayed by eighteenth-century British works of fiction, which usually depicted the North American indigene as noble and morally upright, signifying an inherently Christian basis to humanity. As Percy Adams notes, it was in "the second half of the eighteenth century ... [that] the novel exploited the Noble Savage most" (231).(2) While this caricature of the indigene corresponds to eighteenth-century notions of social sympathy, it contradicts the concepts of the individual and community as seen by the indigenes themselves, and undermines the program of the committee for whom the accounts were primarily being created.
Hearne himself addresses the conflict between the European concept of ideal sympathy and the indigene image of social order, noting that "the humanity of [the influential members of the indigene communities] is seldom known to extend beyond their own families" (A Journey 69). He also acknowledges the strength of the kinship bond when describing the Chepawyan's preparations to massacre the Inuit, an event at which he stood as horrified spectator: "if ever the spirit of disinterested friendship expanded the heart of a Northern Indian, it was here exhibited in the most extensive meaning of the word" (A Journey 98). Hearne writes that the various customs of the indigenes, which are "apparently so unnatural ... may with justice be ascribed tonecessity and self-preservation, rather than to the want of humanity and social feeling, which ought to be the characteristic of men, as the noblest part of the creation" (A Journey 132). Hearne's articulation of the practical basis for differences in social systems appears in the version written after his employment with the Hudson's Bay Company. During his career in trade and exploration, such reflection was dangerous to the image of hierarchical contingency necessary to support the company's growth.
Even if the fur trade writer had found an indigenous social order that accommodated eighteenth-century notions of sympathy, he could not have affiliated himself with the indigenes without disrupting the committee's imperialist program. The mercantile hierarchy implied that the writer was in a subordinate position to the shareholders, and in a position of authority and control over the indigenes with whom, in actuality, he was interdependent.(3) Victor Hopwood notes that "much of the drama between whites and Indians developed because whites did not recognize or live up to the obligations of kinship, being concerned only with gaining trade" (27). The fur trade accounts try to solve the conflict by depicting the indigenes as willing agents in the imperialist missions of Europe, and thereby imply that the mercantile hierarchy is a natural, and therefore ideal, social system.
James Barry's painting Commerce, or the Triumph of the Thames is a model of the contemporary image of the compliant subordination of trading continents to Britain's commercial enterprise (Figure 1).(4) The culminating piece in Barry's series The Progress of Human Culture (1777--83), which depicts the six stages of civilization's development, the painting is a somewhat discordant, though not unprecedented, mixture of classical allegory and contemporary figures. Hermes, the messenger of the gods and the mortals' guide through life, flutters above the head of the personification of Commerce like an unfurled flag. His direction of travel is in concord with that of Commerce, whose posture, William L. Pressly notes, echoes that of Michelangelo's Adam in the Sistine Chapel (101). Meanwhile, the nyriads, who represent the trading partner continents, frolic around the deity's throne, their group anachronistically punctuated with various explorers. Sebastian Cabot, Captain James Cook, Sir Frances Drake, and Sir Walter Raleigh help the anonymous exotics support the deity's seat (Bernard Smith 180), signifying the crucial role of exploration in Britain's commercial "triumph." Appropriately, the navigational instruments Commerce uses to guide him were invented or improved by members of British society as well (Pressly 101).
Using the equation of light and dark, Barry completes the imperialist allegory by marrying his image of mercantile exploration to colonial cooperation. Though he complicated the equation in 1801 by adding a glowering naval pillar to the background in response to an architectural competition, the general binary construct remains. Commerce, situated in the left foreground and apparently sailing further in that direction, is the structural focus of the work. His colossal physique glows more radiantly than anybody else's, while the brightest section of the sky creates a halo around his head. He steers his vessel toward male personifications of the trading continents of America, Africa, Asia, and Europe, a trail of illumination extending behind him. In response, the continents display their natural bounty to the paternal gaze of the god of British mercantilism. America is shown offering its furs. Meanwhile, the nyriads celebrate their marriage to Commerce by forming a hand-to-hand ring at the base of the deity's chariot. Positioned thus, the women sketch the general framework of the vessel of humans that supports the deity. The trade continents are thereby defined as both willing participants and subordinate partners in the British commercial program.
To Barry's contemporaries, the image of the mercantile system as natural and inevitable was reassuring. The all-encompassing system of cooperation appeased the eighteenth-century concern with social interdependence without sacrificing Britain's authority. The triumph of the Hudson's Bay Company similarly depended on the fur trade accounts' depictions of the indigenes as pleased to participate in the imperialist program initiated by the committee back in London. Turnor, like the other fur trade writers, often notes that "the Chepawyans ... as well as all the others of their country people seemed heighly pleased at hearing Your Honors Servants are coming this way to settle" (Hearne and Turnor 361). The indigenes probably were pleased with the prospect of a shorter travel distance for trade; Turnor implies, however, that they were delighted with the prospect of dealing specifically with the Hudson's Bay Company. Actually, indigenes who were not Home Guard Indians showed minimal favoritism and dealt with those traders who, in their opinion, gave the highest return.(5) In the version of his journals written after his employment with the company, Hearne notes that, when he hesitated to comply with the Chepawyan leader Matonabbee's requested payment for furs, Hearne was soon answered, That he [Matonabbee] did not expect to have been denied such a trifle as that was; and for the future he would carry his goods where he could get his own price for them. On my asking him where that was? he replied, in a very insolent tone, "To the Canadian Traders." (A Journey 187) This, Hearne notes, is "one instance, out of many hundreds of the kind" (187). Given the committee's desired image of a natural hierarchy and voluntary cooperation, it is not surprising that Hearne did not include his depiction of the indigenes' lack of cooperation in the version submitted to the committee.
Though apparently willing participants in imperialist exploits, the indigenes were shown not to be natural imperialists. The accounts thereby affirmed the indigenes' subordinate position in the mercantile system and cleared the way for imperialist depredation. According to the accounts, in spite of their eager-beaver attitude, the indigenes were indolent, undirected, and lacking in foresight. The accounts contain numerous passages on the indigenes' dysfunctional spontaneity and lack of resolve, but the following episode recorded by Turnor is notable for its contrast with his description of the indigenes as "heighly pleased" and cooperative mercantile partners:
Sept 29th Indians ... very troublesom for Brandy of which a gave them
the Last of 8 Gallons ... Sept 30th Wednesday the Indians very trouble-
som the fore part of this day thretning to take our things from us but by
our exerting our selves they desisted more from their timidity than
goodness of Hart ... Oct 1st Thursday the Indians being again Sober are
quiet and well behaved. The Honourable Hudsons Bay Company may
think it imprudent to give the Indians Liquor but without it, it is
impossible to get them to doe any thing. (Hearne and Turnor 207--08) The Chepawyans are not only deprecated for complaining and drinking, they are also made responsible for the presence of the liquor through their lack of industry. Signs of the Chepawyans' disrespect are similarly rerouted into references to their lack of courage.
The disparagement of the character of the indigene served another function in the accounts, as profiles of the indigenes were often used as foils to accentuate the imperialist integrity of the Hudson's Bay Company. The character of the trader is the hero of a mercantile allegory, personifying attributs that the audience was intended to decipher and accept as reflections of its own honor and virtuosity. The following passage from Turnor's journals is one of numerous examples of the hero/villain formula:
Their seems a settled dislike to the Canadians amongst the whole of
them [i. e., a group of Chepawyans] which would most likley manifest
it self if once the Honble Company had good Settlements amongst
them.... I saw them trade their Ice Chizels, Guns, Blankets and Coats
with the Canadian Master for Rum he said they would get them in debt
again in the fall and that they would pay well for their drink. (Hearne
and Turnor 453) The "good" and "honourable" company, by settling in Rupert's Land, would frustrate the plans of the villainous Canadians and restore peace to the land. The imperialist gesture becomes a necessary, virtuous act done for the benefit of the indigenes. The company that trades goods for furs becomes a company that trades for "the good" of humankind.
In his description of the company's lack of market elasticity, Hearne adopts the same formula to deflect blame from the committee onto both the indigenes and the competition:
It may be the opinion of some in this service that the Pedlors will soon
be cut out and oblig'd to desist frequanting those parts, but ...
considering the indolant state of the Natives in general ... tho the
Indians allow the Compy goods and standard the Prefrance in many
articals yet for want of Resolution they can never pass a Canadian house
without calling in, where they seldom fail of meeting with sufficiant
alurements to make them part with what they have. (Hearne and
Turnor 193) Though the author of the text is nowhere to be seen, the company as a whole is acknowledged by its goods. Like most Hudson's Bay Company writers, Hearne refers to the competition by the derogatory term "Pedlors." While disoussing the inflexibility of the London-based company in comparison to the competitive "Canadians," Hearne makes reference to the high quality of the Hudson's Bay Company's trading wares, while blaming the loss of sales on the competition's ambiguous "alurements" and lack of professionalism, and the Chepawyans' indolence and lack of resolve.
Regardless of both the committee's desire to separate the traders and the indigenes and the textual strategies employed to imply that the separation was natural, Hearne and Fidler both hint at a sense of lost company support and an affiliation with the Chepawyans. This questioning of allegiances can be seen in Hearne's records of his attempts to reach the mouth of the Coppermine River from 1769 to 1772, and in Fidler's records of his winter with the Chepawyans in 1791 and 1792. In both cases, the writers spent an extended period of time with an indigenous community without any other Europeans being present. Both writers imply that they were willing agents in their move away from the control of the parent company; their submersion into a foreign society, however, led to self-depictions which are arguably as self-effacing as the earlier ones. Though the trader was somewhat liberated from the mercantile hierarchy, a conflict still existed between the European concept of social contingency based on natural morality and the indigene social systems based on survival strategies.
The indigenes were willing to accommodate the traders, as long as they did not burden the community, but they did not involve them in their kinship system or political plans. On his first two attempts to reach the mouth of the Coppermine River, Hearne is unsuspecting when Chepawyan members of the expedition desert him. Similarly, on his third attempt, Hearne remains in a position of ignorance and dependence. When the leader of the Chepawyans decides to change direction in order to meet up with another group of indigenes, Hearne passively concludes that Matonabbee "seemed so resolutely determined on his design that it gave me all natural reason to think this attempt [to reach the mouth of the river] was laid aside" ("Mr. Hearne's" 14). Similarly, when the Chepawyans with whom he travels prepare to massacre the Inuit, Hearne writes that "I endeavoured to persuade the whole from putting their design in execution but without success" ("Mr. Hearne's" 16), leaving him with no option but to accept the event. This passivity is not due to a lack of determination on Hearne's part, but rather to conflicting views of social order.
The decline in the writer's status during his period among the Chepawyans exposed him to the indigenes' unsympathetic approach toward those who are either external or burdensome to the kinship group. At one point, Hearne records an incident in which, due to excessive walking, his feet were "swelled & blistered in such a manner as to become quite stiff from above the ancles & under & between all my toes was entirely raw" ("Mr. Hearne's" 34). In the published version, Hearne accentuates the agony by noting that several of his toe nails "festered and dropped off" (A Journey 120). He claims to have "left the print of [his] feet in blood almost at every step" (120). Regardless of his pain, "the Indians without asking if I could walk moved about 8 miles ... & I with much difficulty followed them" ("Mr. Hearne's" 34--35). Hearne, as a fellow-traveler, was accommodated as long as he did not hinder the welfare of the community. It should be noted that members of the kinship group who became a burden were not treated with great sympathy either. Such a response was reserved for members who aided the community in its survival efforts.
Fidler fared no better in his winter with the Chepawyans. He notes that "the more an European does of work with them the worse he is respected by them ... if he stiffly refuses from the first that he is with them they will be very kind to him & will give him a larger allowance of provisions" (535). Fidler's argument is that implied status leads to actual status, and his diminished position during his winter with the Chepawyans seems to confirm his conclusion. Lacking sufficient clothing for the winter, he writes that he "cannot purchase any Leather from the Indians for no consideration they wanting to make Tents of it I am in a very bad situation for the want of that very useful article ... I was under the necessity of cutting off both Sleeves of my Leather Coat to make a pair of Shoes" (514). The Chepawyans' indifference is especially noticeable when compared to the compassion they show toward members viewed as assets to their community. Fidler records that, when the group hears that two of its members starved to death,
every one set up a most dismal & disagreeable crying or rather howl on
account of the unfortunate death of their Countrymen ... They kept
up this way nearly the whole night that alarmed me not a little not
knowing but in their frantic fits of desperation they might have hurt me
as I was one alone. (542) The Chepawyans' concern leads Fidler to reflect upon his own lack of a sympathetic support system. While recovering, probably from a flu, the negative force of this isolation becomes even more obvious. Fidler writers, "Got tolerable well thank God to be ailing alone with the Indians is a melancholy situation for any one that ever experience it, [being] absent from all friends & Countrymen" (549). As with Hearne's experience, the decreased influence of the mercantile system on Fidler's relationship with the Indians weakens and marginalizes his character, rather than enhances it. While self-representation is not wholly impeded, the fact that the writer's experience fails to coincide with the image that the intended audience expects, whether it consists of shareholders or British society in general, leads to an ambiguous, and often discordant, self-representation.
The character of the trader in these sections of Hearne and Fidler's accounts is less central to the narrative than the allegorical character depicted in those passages written while the writer held greater authority. Whereas previously the oppressive mercantile program had hindered the author's realization of his character, now the writer faced both an alien social order and a disjuncture between who the character must turn to for social empathy and who the author must turn to for the same. Months away from "friends and countrymen," and surrounded only by seemingly unsympathetic indigenes, Hearne and Fidler lacked both the empathy and exotopy required to create a coherent character.
Of all the accounts analyzed in this study, only Hearne's record of his successful journey to the mouth of the Coppermine River also exists in a version revised for the consumption of the English reading community. Published as A Journey From Prince of Wales's Fort In Hudson's Bay to the Northern Ocean (1795), the text includes accounts of Hearne's first two failed attempts to reach the Coppermine River, of which the original versions are not known to be extant. A comparison of the published text with the Stowe manuscript of Hearne's original account of the third trip reveals that Hearne ultimately succeeded in creating a complete and cohesive character of the fur trader as a figure upholding eighteenth-century notions of social sympathy supported by the author and his new society of readers.
At the outset of A Journey, Hearne makes it clear that the text is no longer a mercantile tool of the shareholders but a work intended "for the amusement of candid and indulgent readers" (xlix). For the benefit of his new audience, Hearne redefines many of his experiences from an overtly European perspective. As Hopwood notes, Hearne, in the published version of his accounts, "is frequently moved to compare European and Indian ways, [and] to comment on the effects of environment and custom on the outlook of people" (27; cf. A Journey 43, 57, 59, 78, 83, 85, 97, 104, 164). Suggesting an awareness of contemporary landscape aesthetics, Hearne turns what was a bleak and treacherous trail through the Stony Mountains in the original version into a path "as plain and well-beaten, as any bye foot-path in England" (85). Similarly, the Chepawyans' painted targets are now "many degrees worse than our country sign-paintings in England" (97). Almost all the food, whether it be deer intestines or buffalo tongue, is comparable in some way to British fare. During a period of starvation, a trial that gets minimal attention in the Stowe manuscript, Hearne is led to contrast his dire straits with the Christmas feasts he imagines occurring back at home at the same time:
When I recollected the merry season which was then passing, and
reflected on the immense quantities, and great variety of delicacies
which were then expending in every part of Christendom, and that
with a profusion bordering on waste, I could not refrain from wishing
myself again in Europe. (43)
Christian references, though rare in fur trade accounts in general, appear often in A Journey (see 43, 69, 82, 83, 97, 98, 105, 126, 130). The text's penultimate chapter also includes a lengthy section on the religion of the Chepawyans, in comparison to Christianity (217-22). In the published accounts, the numerous extended passages of reflection signify the civilized and sensitive writer pondering an alien culture's relation to contemporary British society, rather than the mercantile explorer actively claiming new territory for the nation. Hearne's text, outside of the immediate influence of the company and the indigenes, becomes the site of his selfrepresentation as a supporter of the image of human sympathy and social responsibility advocated by his intended audience.
Though Richard Glover defines Hearne's "unconscious revelation of his own attractive personality" as one of the published text's attributes (xxx), a comparison with the Stowe manuscript shows that Hearne was highly aware of his newly permitted presence within his text. Whereas in the Stowe manuscript, the indigenes are depicted as showing little, if any, respect for the trader's views, in A Journey the narrator is often solicited for his opinions. At one point, Hearne is asked by some indigenes for his response regarding a medical conjurer's swordswallowing act, and he responds with skepticism to this "very nice piece of deception" (126). As a result of this lack of faith, the conjurer, when required to perform again three months later, specifically requests Hearne's presence at the center of activity, "on which the mob made a lane for me to pass, and I advanced close to him" (139). Once again,
to give colour to my scepticism, which might otherwise perhaps appear
ridiculous, it is necessary to observe, that this feat was performed in a
dark and excessively cold night ... there was great room for collusion:
for though the conjurer himself was quite naked, there were several of
his fraternity well-clothed, who attended him very close. (139)
And once again, "not long after the above performance had taken place, some of the Indians began to ask me what I thought of it" (140). Unable to lie, Hearne "urged ... the impossibility of a man's swallowing a piece of wood, that was not only much longer than his whole back, but nearly twice as broad as he could extend his mouth" (140). No longer dependent on the Chepawyans, the author repositions his European character closer to the center of events, with the trader becoming a spokesman for British morality and empirical observation.
A similar focus on the European's opinion arises when Matonabbee tries to murder a member of the Chepawyan group (an act, Hearne notes, which he has never seen another Chepawyan attempt): "Matonabbee returned to his tent ... sat down as composedly as if nothing had happened, called for water to wash his bloody hands and knife, smoked his pipe as usual, seemed to be perfectly at ease, and asked if I did not think he had done right?" (67). The leader of the Chepawyans turns to Hearne for vindication of an act against the kinship system. Even the structure of the passage, with its series of quick clauses culminating with the question to Hearne, leads the reader to focus on the European's final judgment, one the author probably saw as so obvious to his readers as not to require articulation.
The shift of focus away from the events themselves and toward the explorer's sentiments is a familiar development in late eighteenth-century travel literature.(6) In A Journey, descriptions of Hearne's horror at the Chepawyans' actions and his pity for the victims are so frequent that sympathy becomes one of the character's primary personality traits. In one episode not mentioned in the Stowe manuscript, Hearne describes a Chepawyan woman who experiences labor for 52 hours. According to Hearne's account, rather than allowing her time to recover, the group of indigenes proceeds on its journey, seemingly unsympathetic to the woman's condition. The response of the British citizen reveals a greater sensitivity: "although she was a person I greatly disliked, her distress at this time so overcame my prejudice, that I never felt more for any of her sex in my life; indeed her sighs pierced me to the soul" (58). For Hearne, the woman's suffering elicits a moment of moral ecstasy and unprejudiced human sympathy.
Probably the most analyzed excerpt from Hearne's book is the passage on the massacre of the Inuit by the Chepawyans, a passage that also appears in the Stowe manuscript. In the Spring of 1771, the Chepawyans with whom Hearne is travelling decide to attack a group of Inuit who they discover are camping on the Coppermine River. Hearne's record of the seven-week approach and the preparations for war is notable for its clear demonstration of the unquestioned priority of the tribe over the trading company for the Chepawyans. According to the Stowe manuscript, during the actual massacre, Hearne follows the attackers "close at their backs where [he] stood neuter & saw the cruel massacre which was soon accomplished, the inhabitants being all asleep" (28). Before we realize it, Hearne's most horrific experience as an explorer has ended. The lack of description, Hearne's neutrality, and his position in the margins of the action, detract from any involvement or any sense of sympathy on the reader's part.
In comparison, A. J. M. Smith describes Hearne's representation of the same scene in A Journey as "the cumulatively horrifying tragedy of the slaughter of the Esquimaux gain[ing] a strange power from the tender sensibility of the helpless narrator" (53). Though Hearne again positions himself "neuter in the rear" (99), this time he becomes the center of a lengthy semi-Gothic encounter strewn with vivid descriptions of cruelty and tantalizing hints of necrophilia. Hearne writes that the Chepawyans "used the bodies they had so cruelly bereaved of life" in a way that was "shocking" and "indecent to describe; particularly their curiosity in examining, and the remarks they made, on the formation of the women" (100). While greatly extending his description of the events, Hearne also notes his abhorrence of the acts and his sympathy with the victims. Positioning himself within the social network of his intended audience, Hearne notes that "[e]ven at this hour I cannot reflect on the transactions of that horrid day without shedding tears" (100). Regardless of the fact that the character of the trader is physically affiliated with the aggressors, a desperate Inuit girl sees him as an image of salvation and chooses to twine herself about his legs while the attackers "transfixed her to the ground" (99) with their spears. In accordance with the Chepawyan kinship system (though this connection is not offered in A Journey), the writer's pleas for mercy regarding the murder of "a fellow creature" are met with the Chepawyans' mocking inquiry as to whether Hearne "wanted an Esquimaux wife" (100). The actions of the indigenes become cues for the eighteenth-century man of sentiment to take center stage.
Fidler, Hearne, and Turnor's accounts were used not only as records of observations and experiences, but also as tools for validating competing theories of social order. In an effort to correlate their experiences in an alien society with various notions of social contingency, the authors ultimately accentuated the conflict. When working for the company, their efforts at self-realization, as perceived from their western European perspective, were hindered by similar efforts on the part of the shareholders. When Fidler and Hearne were distanced from the organizational oppression, as in their experiences among the indigenes, the alien social order, while not disallowing self-representation, led to a disjuncture between social context and readership. The resulting discord countered self-realization by having the author's depiction of himself contradict the self-image he contextualized through his assumed audience. When the author's immediate community also constituted his readership, however, as was the case when Hearne rewrote his accounts to create A Journey, social and textual sympathy converged, thereby allowing for the realization of a cohesive, centralized character. Fidler, Hearne, and Turnor's accounts, though lacking literary intent and authorial finesse, display a complex struggle for a fusion of social contingency and textual self-realization. More importantly, they demonstrate that textual self-realization depends on a correlation between the company we keep and the company we envision entertaining.
(1)Rich gives a concise history of the parliamentary investigation into the Hudson's Bay Company Charter in the first volume of his work. See also chapter 6 in MacKay.
(2)Depictions of the stereotype can be found in John Shebbeare's Lydia (1755), the anonymous Memoirs of the Life and Adventures of Tsonnonthonian, A King of the Nation called Roundheads (1763), Henry Mackenzie's The Man of the World (1773), and Robert Bage's Hermsprong (1796), to cite only the more familiar examples.
(3)For discussions of the trader's dependence on the indigenes, see Innis, chapters 6 and 7, MacKay, chapter 6, and Foster.
(4)Stafford analyzes the relationship between scientific objectivity and exploration painting. Analyses of Barry's painting from an imperialist perspective appear in Pressly and Bernard Smith.
(5)Home Guard Indians are those indigenes who chose to live near the fur trade forts, running errands and mediating between the Europeans and the other indigenes. Foster analyses the practicality of indigene trade methods, as well as the familial bonds that began to blur the economic bonds between the Home Guard Indians and the traders.
(6)For a discussion of this literary trend see Adams, and Batten, chapter 2.
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|Title Annotation:||The Legacy of Columbian Encounters: Selected Perspectives|
|Date:||Oct 1, 1993|
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