Saturday, January 26, 2013

National Treasures

Title page of Louis Nicolas's Grammaire algonquine from  Bibliotheque Nationale de France
 I am almost wetting myself with excitement. Sorry to evoke that image, but I just found an online manuscript of Louis Nicolas' Grammaire algonquine, in his own hand, with a signature even! It is part of the collection of the Bibliotheque Nationale de France, an institution that obviously treasures the history of its country (unlike the sadly underfunded National Library and Archives of Canada, which probably wants to treasure our history, but has been gutted by Stephen Harper.) The Grammaire, a study of the language spoken by some of the people he encountered during his time in New France as it was then called, was another of his great contributions to the early history of Canada. (And I think it was the only work of his published during his lifetime, although I'll have to check on that.) He hoped that it would be published but his Jesuit superiors were not enthusiastic because they were very reticent about publicizing any details about their missions.
Page from Louis Nicolas's Grammaire algonquine from  Bibliotheque Nationale de France
It is utterly fascinating to see how he edited himself as he wrote. A similar clumsiness of hand is evident in his penmanship when compared to the drawings of the Codex Canadensis. There are also some odd doodles similar to those that appear in the Codex. This all serves to make him more tangible, more of a real person in my mind.

I hate to imagine how distressed he may have been by the idea that, three hundred years after his death, a middle-aged woman in the country of his adventures would be thinking so much about him (and delaying a trip to the bathroom because she was so thrilled by his manuscript). It's okay, Pere Louis, I promise to do my best by you.

5 comments:

  1. Anonymous8:43 PM

    he would not be distressed, he would understand the excitement of finding something new and wanting to explore it further. I'm quite sure he went through a few moments of self denial.
    It is profoundly wonderful to see you so engaged in this and the work you have done on Deuteronomy.

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  2. Don't you just love how much fabulous stuff is available on the internet? Stuff that in the past you would have had to travel and make appointments to see (or maybe not be accessible at all). I'm old enough to still be impressed by this treasure!

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  3. I should think he'd be so glad to know that something he did mattered to someone 300 years later. If there's any way for the cosmos to deliver that message to his soul, I hope it does.

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  4. onesmallstitch10:22 AM

    what wonderful research and it is evident in your interpretation. He added his own style and now you have added yours. wish all your work could be kept together. What an amazing collection.

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  5. Anonymous8:03 AM

    Wonderful discovery, finding and image of Pére Louis' signature on-line. Basically I'm a Luddite but I have to admit that the web has opened doors for us ordinary folk, doors that in the past were only open to specialists who had access to the archives of the world. I must say though, that even some French are not always happy with the historical preservation record of their own country. If you search for Les UX you will find out about an incredible group of people in Paris who have infiltrated the underground (literally, under the ground) and for the past 30 years have conducted a clandestine campaign to restore neglected architecture and artifacts. It's a story almost too amazing to be true. H-m-m-m-m-... Do you think some creative Canadians could oppose our pathetic government with the same sort of creative rebellion? Jean-Pierre

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