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which he was censuring others, for suffering their relation of facts to be perverted, by an attachment to preconceived theories.*
Volney, in opposition to the sentiments of Rousseau, has endeavoured to sink the character of the savage, in the same proportion as that eccentric author sought to raise it. On the subject of the Indian religion especially, no one should be read with greater caution. He who could imagine that Christianity was only an astronomical allegory, and that the birth of our Saviour meant no more than that the sun had entered the constellation Virgo, can hardly be considered as perfectly sane, even when he treats on the religion of Heathens.† We need not be surprised, therefore, at the assertion, that the Indians have no regular system of religion; that each one employs the liberty allowed him of making a religion for himself; and that all the worship they know is offered to the authors of evil. Never was there an
* See Robertson's America, book iv. §. vii.
† See Les Ruines, ou Meditations sur les Revolutions des Empires, par M. Volney. Nouvelle edition, corrigée, Paris, 1792, 8vo. chap. 22. p. 185. 221-4. In this work, Volney had the hardihood to maintain, not only that our Saviour was an allegorical personage, but that all religions, Heathen, Mahometan, and Jewish, as well as Christian, are in substance the same; that all have arisen from a literal interpretation of the figurative language of astronomers; and that the very idea of a God, sprung from a personification of the elements, and of the physical powers of the universe. At the sight of this monstrous creation of a disordered fancy, one cannot help exclaiming with Stillingfleet, "Oh what will not Atheists believe, rather than a Deity and Providence."
+ Volney's View of the United States, ut supr. trans. by Brown, p. 416.
assertion more unfounded; but it enabled him to quote that maxim of the Epicurean poet, which is so frequently in the mouths of unbelievers, that all religion originated in fear :
Primos in orbe Deos fecit timor.
On the other hand, an hypothesis has somewhat extensively prevailed, which exalts the religion of the Indians as much above its proper level, as Volney has debased it below; I mean that, which supposes them to be the descendants of the ten tribes of Israel. This theory so possessed the mind of Adair, that, although he had the greatest opportunities of obtaining knowledge, his book is, comparatively, of little use. We are constantly led to suspect the fidelity of his statements, because his judgment had lost its equipoise, and he saw every thing through a discoloured medium. I feel myself bound to notice this hypothesis the more, because it has lately been revived and brought before the public, by a venerable member of this society, whose exalted character renders every opinion he may defend a subject of respectful attention.*
To the mind of every religious man, the history of the Hebrews is a subject of peculiar interest; and it is impossible to read of the extermination of the
*See Dr. Boudinot's Star in the West, or a humble attempt to discover the long-lost ten tribes of Israel, preparatory to their return to their beloved city Jerusalem. Trenton, (N. J.) 1816. 8vo.
kingdom of Israel, without a feeling of compassion for the captives, who were thus torn from the land of their prerogative. The impenetrable darkness which hangs over their subsequent history, combines with this sentiment of pity, the powerful excitement of curiosity. It is not, then, to be wondered at, that when the disquisitions arose respecting the peopling of America, the idea of tracing to these western shores the long-lost tribes of Israel, should also have arisen before the eye of imagination with captivating splendour; that the thought should have been seized with avidity by men who were pious, and ardent, and contemplative; and that, in the establishment of a theory which every one could wish to be true, facts should be strained from their natural bent, and resemblances imagined, which have no existence in reality.
The most unequivocal method of tracing the origin of the aborigines of America, as Charlevoix has sensibly remarked, is to ascertain the character of their languages, and to compare them with the primitive languages of the eastern hemisphere.*
But this test will, I conceive, be found very fatal to the theory in question. The best informed writers agree, that there are, exclusive of the Karalit or Esquimaux, three radical languages spoken by the
* Charlevoix's Dissertation sur l'origine des Amériquains, prefixed to his Journal d'un voyage dans l'Amer. Septent.-Hist. de la nouvelle France, tom. iii. p. 36.
Mr. Heckewelder de
Indians of North America.* nominates them the Iroquois, the Lenapé, and the Floridian. The Iroquois is spoken by the six nations, the Wyandots or Hurons, the Naudowessies, the Assiniboils, and other tribes beyond the St. Lawrence. The Lenapé, which is the most widely extended language on this side of the Mississippi, was spoken by the tribes, now extinct, who formerly inhabited Nova-Scotia and the present state of Maine, the Abenakis, Micmacs, Canibas, Openangos, Soccokis, Etchemins, and Souriquois: dialects of it are now spoken by the Miamis, the Potawotamies, Missisaugoes, and Kickapoos; the Conestogos, Nanticokes, Shawanese, and Mohicans; the Algonquins, Knisteneaux, and Chippeways. The Floridian includes the languages of the Creeks or Muskohgees, Chickesaws, Choctaws, Pascagoulas, Cherokees, Seminoles, and several others in the Southern states and Florida. These three languages are primitive, that is to say, are so distinct as to have no perceivable affinity. All, therefore, cannot be derived from the Hebrew; for it is a contradiction in terms, to speak of three languages radically different, as de
*See Note C.
+ Transactions of the Historical and Literary Committee of the American Philosophical Society, held at Philadelphia for promoting useful knowledge. Vol. i. Philad. 1819, 8vo. No. I. An account of the history, manners, and customs, of the Indian nations who once inhabited Pennsylvania, and the neighbouring states. By the Rev. John Heckewelder, of Bethlehem. Chap. ix. p. 104.
rived from a common source.*
Which then, we may well ask, is to be selected as the posterity of the Israelites: the Iroquois, the Lenapé, or the southern Indians?
Besides, there is one striking peculiarity in the construction of American languages, which has no counterpart in the Hebrew. Instead of the ordinary division of genders, they divide into the animate and inanimate. It is impossible to conceive that any nation, in whatever circumstances they might be placed, could depart, in so remarkable a manner, from the idioms of their native language.†
But supposing that there were some affinity in any one of the languages of North America to the Hebrew, still it would not prove that the persons who speak it are of Hebrew descent. The Arabic and the Amharic have very strong affinities with the Hebrew but does it thence follow that the Arabs and Abyssinians are Hebrews? Admitting, therefore, the fact of this affinity, in its fullest extent, the only legitimate inference would be, that the languages of America are of oriental derivation, and, consequently, that America was peopled from Asia.
To pursue this subject further, would occupy too much time upon a point which is merely subsidiary.‡ But I cannot forbear remarking, that, while the nation of Israel has been wonderfully preserved, the
* See Note D.
+ See Note E.
↑ See Note F.