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Art. XI. — Astoria, or Anecdotes of an Enterprise beyond
the Rocky Mountains. By WASHINGTON JRVING. In Two Volumes. 8vo. Philadelphia ; Carey & Lea. 1836. The object of this work, as the name imports, is to narrate the history of the enterprise undertaken by Mr. Astor, to establish the fur trade at the mouth of the Columbia River. This enterprise, considered as a private undertaking, was equally marked with sagacity and commercial courage. In its connexion with public interests, it bid fair to be of vast political importance. Had it proceeded as prosperously as it was happily conceived, it would have laid the foundation of the settlement and colonization, under the auspices of the United States, of the mighty empire drained by the Columbia River and its tributaries. A most disastrous succession of events, both of a private and public nature, defeated the hopes and anticipations, with which the enterprise was undertaken. As a commercial adventure, it resulted in the almost total loss of the vast capital which had been embarked in it ; and as a commencement of the settlement of the country, it was equally abortive. But this topic may demand more of our attention in the sequel of the article.
The ingenious avarice of civilization finds temptation everywhere ; and no zone of the new-found regions of the East or the West but afforded scope for the pursuit of wealth, by the agency of the improved arts of Europe. It would not perhaps be an abuse of language, to pronounce the age, in which America was discovered and colonized, and a path opened to the East Indies, as the age of plunder; and man, we fear, might, among the other definitions, be not inaptly described as a stealing animal. The discovering nations, at the outset, appropriated to themselves the new-found_regions, - continents and Archipelagoes coextensive with Europe, — and on this primitive and comprehensive robbery, they founded in detail the system of rapine, by which all the individual sources of wealth were turned into their coffers. Thus the adventurers of Europe swarmed out in pursuit of the gold and silver of Mexico, Peru, and Brazil, the spices of the Moluccas, the silks of India, and the men of Africa. The kindred blood of common humanity formed no exemption ; and benevolence instituted her plunder, (the most iniquitous of all others,)
in order to alleviate the misery caused by the plunders of avarice. Men were stolen from Africa, in the philanthropic purpose of mitigating the hardships inflicted by the goldstealers of America on the oppressed natives of the new world!
A curious dissertation might be written on the ingenuity, which has been applied to the work of pillage, by the great nations of modern times. The various modes under which the one great end has been pursued, the instruments which have been employed, the pretences which have been pleaded, the institutions which have been gradually organized for this purpose, form a new text of international law,
a sort of anti-constitutional system of politics, a code of ethics founded on the scorn of "morality, and a religious faith clothed in Christian language and breathing a spirit hot from Pandemonium. It is not in the Arabian Nights, but in the sober history of Europe, that we read of a proclamation of the Pope, giving to the Portuguese all on one side of a certain meridian, and to the Spaniards, all on the other. It is a fact equally well authenticated, that the entire native population of Cuba, an inoffensive, gentle race, amounting, it is said, to millions, were exterminated as idolaters, by a band of refined, highspirited, and Christian conquerors. They were exterminated, because the island was of convenient diinensions to be immediately reduced to plantations, cultivated with tropical products; and the African race was found more patient of labor than the Indian. The natives of Mexico and Peru, after the sword of the conquerors had reaped the first bloody harvest of desolation, were enslaved and preserved. It was found that a degraded native caste was the most efficient instrument for the mineral enterprises of the Spanish nobility, to whom the country had been granted. So that under the auspices of one and the same power, and in the same hemisphere, we see in one quarter a native population exterminated, in another preserved ; exterminated through zeal for religion ; - preserved to be enslaved. The element of force is, of course, a component part of this monstrous system of politics, and this is furnished by the veteran troops of Castile. Africa, entrenched in her pestiferous marshes, - guarded from conquest by her contagious fevers and blasted deserts, invincible beneath the fevers of her vertical sun, and strong in her myriads of fierce and unsubdued barbarians, - she too is soon VOL. XLIV. - NO. 94.
linked in with frightful ingenuity, into the all-grasping system of gainful violence. Her savage princes are stimulated to eternal wars, and America is thrown open as one great slavemarket for their prisoners; and thus, without an attempt to take possession of any part of the African continent, beyond a few spots on the coast, occupied for the purposes of the traffic, this entire quarter of the globe has been subjugated by nations, that never set foot upon it, - wasted by a distant foe, ravaged by powers that sit quietly at home, in a distant quarter of the globe, — desolated without hostile navies or armies, and made herself the eager instrument of her own ruin. But even these strange combinations of vice and misery, of crime and woe, do not exhaust the ingenuity of modern civilization. With substantially the same results, a totally different method of procedure is pursued in the East. The miner subdues some ores by roasting them in vast fires ; others are pounded into dust by mighty trip-hammers ; and in others a curious process of amalgamation draws out the precious metal from its native compound. So the colonizer, (if we may be pardoned so formal a comparison,) by turns Jays waste with fire and sword ; -- with the heavy mace of oppression, crushing, but not quite destroying ; -- and with a subiler interference of civilized arts and power in native policy, which conquers empires, without abating an epithet from the grandiloquent titles of their native sovereigns. This last is the policy, with which Great Britain has conquered and holds Hindostan. It was a matter of curiosity to see how, in the last half of the eighteenth century, by a nation of Protestant Christians, of constitutional politicians, the metropolis of philanthropy, the citadel of liberty, the problem of subjugating a hundred and thirty millions of unoffending and unwarlike fellow beings would be solved. In the middle of the last century, the British empire in America and in India, formed a curious contrast. In America, Quebec
. fell in 1759, before a handful of brave men, led by an adventurous young officer, and the entire continent from the Gulf of Mexico to the North Pole, passed under the British sceptre, in consequence of a victory, in which were sowed the seeds of a revolution, destined shortly to deprive Great Britain of almost all that was valuable in her American empire. In India, in 1756, the British empire was shut up, by the barbarous subaltern of an Indian prince, in the black hole of
Calcutta ; and now, eighty years only have passed away, and from the foot of the Himala Mountains to the southernmost point of Ceylon, — from the Indus to the Irrawaddy, -a
territory equal to the entire domain of the United States east of the Rocky Mountains, receives the law from the India House, in London. Talk of Alexander and Cæsar, of Napoleon and Wellington; the British East India Company, the incorporate hero, the chartered despot of modern days, outshines them all. Paragon indeed of policy, prowess, and fortune! Wonderful in itself as a political phenomenon ; momentous in its probable influence on a fifth or sixth portion of the human race ;— but truly astounding as the work of British power, achieved under the sanction of British laws ; as if it had been the object of her statesmen, out of her free institutions of constitutional liberty at home and her stupendous tyranny at the Antipodes, to build up the grandest political dualism the world has ever seen ;-a temporal Manichæism, only less extensive and terrific, than that to which ancient philosophers subjected the moral universe.
We are not quite so far from Astoria, in these discursive suggestions, as might at first be thought. When the British colonies on the American continent were, by the peace of 1783, separated from the territory recently conquered from France, that territory, the only remaining possession of Great Britain on the continent, still constituted a mighty empire, about equal, in geographical extent, to the United States of America or the continent of Europe. This territory too has been penetrated and colonized, by a process still going on, peculiar in its character and thanks to the climate) with less offence to the laws of humanity, than any other, with which the march of colonial empire has ever been marked. This whole mighty region, from the eastern shores of Labrador to the mouth of the Columbia River, is traversed by a chain of hunting posts. A mighty despotism exists; but it is one of peltry, the sea otter and the beaver have been the principal victims. The human population has found safety, by entering into the alliance against their four-footed neighbours of the woods; and we understand, there are actually regions, within the chain of posts belonging to the North-west Company, where both Indians and beavers are on the increase. What will be the future character of this grand venatical empire, it is impossible to foresee. From a considerable portion of the hunted territory,
the rigors of the climate will for ever exclude a dense civilized population. Whether the hunting stations, in many parts, will not eventually prove so many centres of communities subsisting by such agriculture, as the soil and climate admit, by the commerce of exchange and supply, required by the wants of the company's establishments, and by the mechanic arts, may be a matter of doubt. We incline to think they will, and that by degrees, the interior of the continent north of the United States will in this way become settled. The progress, however, will be slow. Better land in a more tolerable climate will for a long time give a more southerly direction to the current of adventure; and hunting posts are very far from being the establishments most disposed to invite a permanent neighbourhood. We have heard dark suggestions, that an interloping squatter is very apt at dusk to fall in with a chance rifle-bullet, travelling the same road, and with too short notice, to turn out of its way. Mr. Irving inclines to regard the fur trade as the instrument, by which this part of the continent will eventually be settled, "leading the way to remote regions of beauty and fertility, that might have remained unexplored for ages, and beckoning after them the slow and pausing steps of agriculture and civilization."
Mr. Irving observes in the Introduction to his work, that, in the course of occasional visits to Canada, many years since, he became acquainted with some of the principal partners of the great North-west Fur Company, who at that time lived in genial style at Montreal, and kept almost open house for the stranger. At their hospitable boards he occasionally met with partners, and clerks, and fur traders from the interior posts; men who had passed years remote from civilized society, among distant and savage tribes, and who had wonders to recount of their wild and wide peregrinations, their hunting exploits, and their perilous adventures and hairbreadth escapes among the Indians. “I was then,” continues Mr. Irving,
“I was then at an age, when the imagination lends its coloring to every thing, and the stories of these Sinbads of the wilderness made the life of a trapper and a fur trader perfect romance to me. I even meditated at one time a visit to the remote posts of the company, in the boats which annually ascended the lakes and rivers, being thereto invited by one of the partuers; and I have ever since regretted that I was prevented