The prolific French Jesuit Laurent Le Brun (1608-1663) first published his Latin Franciad in 1639. Dedicated to the infant Dauphin (later Louis XIV), the work comprises two books of elegiac epistles written in the voice of Nova Gallia, the fictive tutelary deity of 17th century New France. Obviously inspired by the Jesuit Relations on missionary work in Canada, the Franciad employs a thoroughly old-world language and poetic form to describe First Nations life in Québec (Book I) and to beg Europe for help (Book II). Despite several editions during and after his lifetime, Le Brun’s work has had no modern translation or edition, and has received very sparse commentary (e.g. Gourcuff, 1890). The Franciad calls for renewed attention today both because of its largely unexampled Neo-Latin treatment of a North American topic, and for the sophistication of that treatment. The purposes of this paper are (1) to explicate Le Brun’s complex classicizing poetics and (2) to show how they work—sometimes surprisingly—to deliver a Christian Humanistic ideology to an 17th century imperialist audience.
The first part of my paper focuses on Book I. Here I show that Le Brun’s poetic strategy is informed by a broad-based double intertext. His exploration of First Nations life can be traced almost exclusively to the volumes of the Jesuit Relations that pre-date the Franciad’s first publication (Thwaites, 1898). In putting the Relations into a classical poetic form, however, Le Brun does far more than versify their prose. His elegies lack the minute attention to details of tribal difference and annalistic descriptions of missionary efforts for which the Relations are famous. Hunter-gatherers and settled agriculturalists are grouped together in a composite characterization, and in the voice of Nova Gallia we have an effort to distil the First Nations’ point of view. In formulating that perspective in Latin verse, moreover, Le Brun engages in profuse allusion to poetic texts of classical antiquity. Sometimes overt, sometimes concealed, Le Brun’s knowing allusions both show him to be heartily engaged in the literary jousts beloved by his contemporary confreres (Haskell, 2003), and suggest angles of interpretation that run far deeper than surface meaning. Such allusiveness is the product of a rigorous Jesuit education that married (in the most thoughtful of the order’s writers) a Christianizing zeal with a universalizing humanistic outlook adapted from ancient Rome (cf. Haskell 2010; Westra-Nicolic, 2009). To conclude this first part of the paper, I explain how Le Brun enacts his program of individual allusions to authors like Catullus, Virgil, and, above, all, Ovid, within an overarching generic affiliation with the latter author’s Epistulae ex Ponto. Herethe Jesuit inverts the appeal of Ovid’s missives from exile. For where Ovid’s letters to Rome sought the return of an alienated individual to his homeland, Nova Gallia’s letters to France redress a whole people’s alienation from its own true nature.
The second part of my paper, focused on Book II, argues that Le Brun uses the Nova Gallia of Book I to level a subtle epistolary rhetoric at individual and corporate imperial stake-holders in France (e.g. King
Louis XIII, Cardinal Richelieu, and the Society of Jesus). This rhetoric, I argue, turns Nova Gallia’s alienation onto her would-be saviors in Old France, showing them with dazzling imperialist logic that their salvation lies in saving, and that their homeland will remain foreign to them until it domesticates “Canadian Barbary” across the sea.
- de Gourcuff, Olivier « Les Élégies Canadiennes du Père Le Brun, jésuite Nantais. » Revue de Bretagne, de Vendée, et D’Anjou 3 (1890) : 363-368.
- Le Brun, Laurent. Nova Gallia Delphino. Paris: Camusat, 1639.
- Haskell, Yasmin. Loyola’s Bees : Ideology and Industry in Jesuit Latin Didactic Poetry. Oxford: OUP, 2003. 5-7.
- ---. “Practicing What They Preach? Vergil and the Jesuits”, in A Companion to Vergil’s Aeneid and its Tradition. Ed. Joseph Farrell and Michael C.J. Putnam. Malden: Blackwell, 2010. 203-216.
- Thwaites,Reuben Gold, ed. The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents: Travels and Explorations of the Jesuit Missionaries in New France, 1610-1791.vols. 4-15.Cleveland: Burrows Brothers, 1898-1901
- Westra, Haijo J. and Nicolic, Milo, with Mercer, Alison “The Sources of the Earliest Latin Descriptions of Canada and First Nations by the Jesuits.” Fons Luminis 1 (2009): 61-82.