The Conquest of New France


Bougainville once said that the highest literary distinction of a Frenchman, a chair in the Academy, might be within reach of Montcalm as well as the baton of a Marshal of France.He had a prodigious memory and had read widely.His letters, written amid the trying conditions of war, are nervous, direct, pregnant with meaning, the notes of a penetrating intelligence.He had deep family affection."Adieu, my heart, I believe that I love you more than ever I did before"; these were the last words of what he did not know was to be his last letter to his wife.In the midst of a gay scene at Montreal, in the spring of 1759, he writes to Bourlamaque, then at Lake Champlain, with acute longing for the south of France in the spring.For six or seven months in the year he could receive no letters and always the British command of the sea made their expected arrival uncertain."When shall I be again at the Chateau of Candiac, with my plantations, my oaks, my oil mill, my mulberry trees? O good God." He lays bare his spirit especially to Bourlamaque, a quiet, efficient, thoughtful man, like himself, and enjoins him to burn the letters--which he does not, happily for posterity.Scandal does not touch him but, like most Frenchmen, he is dependent on the society of women.He lived in a house on the ramparts of Quebec and visited constantly the salons of his neighbor in the Rue du Parloir, the beautiful and witty Madame de la Naudiere.In two or three other households he was also intimate and the Bishop was a sympathetic friend.His own tastes were those of the scholar, and more and more, during the long Canadian winters, he enjoyed evenings of quiet reading.The elder Mirabeau, father of the revolutionary leader of 1789, had just published his "Ami des Hommes " and this we find Montcalm studying.But above all he reads the great encyclopaedia of Diderot.By 1759 seven of the huge volumes had been issued.They startled the intellectual world of the time and Montcalm set out to read them, omitting the articles which had no interest for him or which he could not understand.C is a copious letter in an encyclopaedia, and Montcalm found excellent the articles on Christianity, College, Comedy, Comet, Commerce, Council, and so on.Wolfe--soon to be his opponent--had the same taste for letters.The two men, unlike in body, for Wolfe was tall and Montcalm the opposite, were alike in spirit, painstaking students as well as men of action.

At first Montcalm had not realized what was the deepest shadow in the life of Canada.Perhaps chiefly because Vaudreuil was always at Montreal, Montcalm preferred Quebec and was surprised and charmed by the life of that city.It had, he said, the air of a real capital.There were fair women and brave men, sumptuous dinners with forty or fifty covers, brilliantly lighted salons, a vivid social life in which he was much courted.The Intendant Bigot was agreeable and efficient.Soon, however, Montcalm had misgivings.It was a gambling age, but he was staggered by the extent of the gambling at the house of the Intendant.He did not wish to break with Bigot, and there was perhaps some weakness in his failure to denounce the orgies from which his conscience revolted.He warned his own officers but he could not control the colonial officers, and Vaudreuil was too weak to check a man like Bigot.Whence came the money? In time, Montcalm understood well enough.He himself was poor.To discharge the duties of his position he was going into debt, and he had even to consider the possible selling of his establishment in France.He had to beg the court for some financial relief.At the same time he saw about him a wild extravagance.There was famine in Canada.During the winter of 1758-59 the troops were put on short rations and, in spite of their bitter protests, had to eat horse flesh.

Suffering and starvation bore heavily on the poor.Through lack of food people fell fainting in the streets.But the circle of Bigot paid little heed and feasted, danced, and gambled.Montcalm pours out his soul to Bourlamaque.He spends, he says, sleepless nights, and his mind is almost disordered by what he sees.In his journal he notes his own fight with poverty and its contrast with the careless luxury of a crowd of worthless hangers-on making four or five hundred thousand francs a year and insulting decency by their lavish expenditure.One of the ring, a clerk with a petty salary, a base creature, spends more on carriages, horses, and harness than a foppish and reckless young member of the nouveaux-riches would spend in France.Corruption in Canada is protected by corruption in France.Montcalm cries out with a devotion which his sovereign hardly deserved, though it was due to France herself, "O King, worthy of better service, dear France, crushed by taxes to enrich greedy knaves!"The weary winter of 1758-59 at length came to an end.In May the ships already mentioned arrived from France, bringing Bougainville and, among other things, the news that Pitt was sending great forces for a decisive attack on Canada.At that very moment, indeed, the British ships were entering the mouth of the St.Lawrence.Canada had already been cut off from France.

Montcalm held many councils with his officers.The strategy decided upon was to stand at bay at Quebec, to strike the enemy if he should try to land, and to hold out until the approach of winter should force the retirement of the British fleet.

George Mckinnon Wrong