The History of Emily Montague (New Canadian Library)

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9780771034572: The History of Emily Montague (New Canadian Library)

This charming love story captures the lives of Quebec City’s early English-speaking inhabitants, the Québécois, and the Native people, in the decade between Wolfe’s victory on the Plains of Abraham in 1759 and the American War of Independence in the 1770s.

First published in 1769, The History of Emily Montague, which brings the 18th-century novel into a New World context, is rightly called Canada’s – indeed North America’s – first novel.

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About the Author:

Frances Brooke was an eighteenth century English novelist, playwright and translator. Best known for her novels The History of Lady Julia Mandeville and The History of Emily Montague, Brooke also published a weekly periodical called Old Maid using the name Mary Singleton, Spinster. Frances Brooke died in 1789.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

LETTER 1

To John Temple, Esq; at Paris.
Cowes, April 10, 1766.

After spending two or three very agreeable days here, with a party of friends, in exploring the beauties of the Island, and dropping a tender tear at Carisbrook Castle on the memory of the unfortunate Charles the First, I am just setting out for America, on a scheme I once hinted to you, of settling the lands to which I have a right as a lieutenant-colonel on half pay. On enquiry and mature deliberation, I prefer Canada to New-York for two reasons, that it is wilder, and that the women are handsomer: the first, perhaps, every body will not approve; the latter, I am sure, you will.

You may perhaps call my project romantic, but my active temper is ill suited to the lazy character of a reduc’d officer: besides that I am too proud to narrow my circle of life, and not quite unfeeling enough to break in on the little estate which is scarce sufficient to support my mother and sister in the manner to which they have been accustom’d.

What you call a sacrifice, is none at all; I love England, but am not obstinately chain’d down to any spot of earth; nature has charms every where for a man willing to be pleased: at my time of life, the very change of place is amusing; love of variety, and the natural restlessness of man, would give me a relish for this voyage, even if I did not expect, what I really do, to become lord of a principality which will put our large-acred men in England out of countenance. My subjects indeed at present will be only bears and elks, but in time I hope to see the human face divine multiplying around me; and, in thus cultivating what is in the rudest state of nature, I shall taste one of the greatest of all pleasures, that of creation, and see order and beauty gradually rise from chaos.

The vessel is unmoor’d; the winds are fair; a gentle breeze agitates the bosom of the deep; all nature smiles: I go with all the eager hopes of a warm imagination; yet friendship casts a lingering look behind.

Our mutual loss, my dear Temple, will be great. I shall never cease to regret you, nor will you find it easy to replace the friend of your youth. You may find friends of equal merit; you may esteem them equally; but few connexions form’d after five and twenty strike root like that early sympathy, which united us almost from infancy, and has increas’d to the very hour of our separation.

What pleasure is there in the friendships of the spring of life, before the world, the mean unfeeling selfish world, breaks in on the gay mistakes of the just-expanding heart, which sees nothing but truth, and has nothing but happiness in prospect!

I am not surpriz’d the heathens rais’d altars to friendship: ’twas natural for untaught superstition to deify the source of every good; they worship’d friendship, which animates the moral world, on the same principle as they paid adoration to the sun, which gives life to the world of nature.

I am summon’d on board. Adieu!

Ed. Rivers.
LETTER 2

To Miss Rivers, Clarges Street.
Quebec, June 27.

I have this moment your letter, my dear; I am happy to hear my mother has been amus’d at Bath, and not at all surpriz’d to find she rivals you in your conquests. By the way, I am not sure she is not handsomer, notwithstanding you tell me you are handsomer than ever: I am astonish’d she will lead a tall daughter about with her thus, to let people into a secret they would never suspect, that she is past five and twenty.

You are a foolish girl, Lucy: do you think I have not more pleasure in continuing to my mother, by coming hither, the little indulgencies of life, than I could have had by enjoying them myself? pray reconcile her to my absence, and assure her she will make me happier by jovially enjoying the trifle I have assign’d to her use, than by procuring me the wealth of a Nabob, in which she was to have no share.

But to return; you really, Lucy, ask me such a million of questions, ’tis impossible to know which to answer first; the country, the convents, the balls, the ladies, the beaux — ’tis a history, not a letter, you demand, and it will take me a twelvemonth to satisfy your curiosity.

Where shall I begin? certainly with what must first strike a soldier: I have seen then the spot where the amiable hero expir’d in the arms of victory; have traced him step by step with equal astonishment and admiration: ’tis here alone it is possible to form an adequate idea of an enterprize, the difficulties of which must have destroy’d hope itself had they been foreseen.

The country is a very fine one: you see here not only the beautiful which it has in common with Europe, but the great sublime to an amazing degree; every object here is magnificent: the very people seem almost another species, if we compare them with the French from whom they are descended.

On approaching the coast of America, I felt a kind of religious veneration, on seeing rocks which almost touch’d the clouds, cover’d with tall groves of pines that seemed coeval with the world itself: to which veneration the solemn silence not a little contributed; from Cape Rosieres, up the river St. Lawrence, during a course of more than two hundred miles, there is not the least appearance of a human footstep; no objects meet the eye but mountains, woods, and numerous rivers, which seem to roll their waters in vain.

It is impossible to behold a scene like this without lamenting the madness of mankind, who, more merciless than the fierce inhabitants of the howling wilderness, destroy millions of their own species in the wild contention for a little portion of that earth, the far greater part of which remains yet unpossest, and courts the hand of labour for cultivation.

The river itself is one of the noblest in the world; it’s breadth is ninety miles at it’s entrance, gradually, and almost imperceptibly, decreasing; interspers’d with islands which give it a variety infinitely pleasing, and navigable near five hundred miles from the sea.

Nothing can be more striking than the view of Quebec as you approach; it stands on the summit of a boldly-rising hill, at the confluence of two very beautiful rivers, the St. Lawrence and St. Charles, and, as the convents and other public buildings first meet the eye, appears to great advantage from the port. The island of Orleans, the distant view of the cascade of Montmorenci, and the opposite village of Beauport, scattered with a pleasing irregularity along the banks of the river St. Charles, add greatly to the charms of the prospect.

I have just had time to observe, that the Canadian ladies have the vivacity of the French, with a superior share of beauty: as to balls and assemblies, we have none at present, it being a kind of interregnum of government: if I chose to give you the political state of the country, I could fill volumes with the pours and the contres; but I am not one of those sagacious observers, who, by staying a week in a place, think themselves qualified to give, not only its natural, but it’s moral and political history: besides which, you and I are rather too young to be very profound politicians. We are in expectation of a successor from whom we hope a new golden age; I shall then have better subjects for a letter to a lady.

Adieu! my dear girl! say every thing for me to my mother. Yours,

Ed. Rivers.
From the Trade Paperback edition.

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