Mrs. Moodie (nee Strickland) sailed on an immigrant ship of mainly Scots headed to Canada in 1832. She writes with a refreshing candour about the trials and tribulations of life in the Canadian bush, direct enough to warrant a Norton Critical Edition in 2007, with extensive supporting material about her life and work.
p. 9, on entering Canada at Grosse Isle near Quebec: I have heard and read much of savages, and have since seen, during my long residence in the bush, somewhat of uncivilized life; but the Indian is one of Nature’s gentlemen he never says or does a rude or vulgar thing. The vicious, uneducated barbarians who form the surplus of over-populous European countries, are far behind the wild man in delicacy of feeling or natural courtesy. The people who covered the island appeared perfectly destitute of shame, or even of a sense of common decency. Many were almost naked, still more but partially clothed. We turned in disgust from the revolting scene, but were unable to leave the spot until the captain had satisfied a noisy group of his own people, who were demanding a supply of stores.
And here I must observe that our passengers, who were
chiefly honest Scotch labourers and mechanics from the vicinity
of Edinburgh, and who while on board ship had conducted
themselves with the greatest propriety, and appeared the most
quiet, orderly set of people in the world, no sooner set foot
upon the island than they became infected by the same spirit
of insubordination and misrule, and were just as insolent and
noisy as the rest. While our captain was vainly endeavouring to satisfy the unreasonable demands of his rebellious people, Moodie had discovered a woodland path that led to the back of the island. Sheltered by some hazel-bushes from the intense heat of the sun, we sat down by the cool, gushing river, out of sight, but, alas! not out of hearing of the noisy, riotous crowd.
p. 31: It might be made a subject of curious inquiry to those who
delight in human absurdities, if ever there were a character drawn in works of fiction so extravagantly ridiculous as some
which daily experience presents to our view. We have encountered people in the broad thoroughfares of life more eccentric than ever we read of in books; people who, if all their
foolish sayings and doings were duly recorded, would vie with
the drollest creations of Hood, or George Colman, and put to
shame the flights of Baron Munchausen. Not that Tom Wilson
was a romancer; oh, no! He was the very prose of prose, a man in a mist, who seemed afraid of moving about for fear of knocking his head against a tree, and finding a halter suspended to its branches a man as helpless and as indolent as a baby.
p. 37, where Mrs. Moodie’s husband asks a fellow immigrant, Tom Wilson, to summarize a lecture on emigration to Canada:
"What! I I I I give an account of the lecture? Why, my dear fellow, I never listened to one word of it!”
"I thought you went to Y on purpose to obtain information on the subject of emigration to Canada?"
"Well, and so I did; but when the fellow pulled out his pamphlet, and said that it contained the substance of his lecture, and would only cost a shilling, I thought that it was better to secure the substance than endeavour to catch the shadow so I bought the book, and spared myself the pain of listening to the oratory of the writer. Mrs. Moodie, he had a shocking delivery, a drawling, vulgar voice; and he spoke with such a nasal twang that I could not bear to look at him, or listen to him. He made such grammatical blunders, that my sides ached with laughing at him. Oh, I wish you could have seen the wretch! But here is the document, written in the same style in which it was spoken. Read it: you have a rich treat in store."
p. 51: I had to get through the long day at the inn in the best manner I could. The local papers were soon exhausted. At that period they possessed little or no interest for me. I was astonished and disgusted at the abusive manner in which they were written, the freedom of the press being enjoyed to an extent in this province unknown in more civilized communities.
p. 91: Tom, too, had a large packet of letters, which he read with
great glee. After re-perusing them, he declared his intention of setting off on his return home the next day. We tried to persuade him to stay until the following spring, and make a fair trial of the country. Arguments were thrown away upon him; the next morning our eccentric friend was ready to start.
"Good-bye!" quoth he, shaking me by the hand as if he
meant to sever it from the wrist. "When next we meet it will be in New South Wales, and I hope by that time you will know how to make better bread." And thus ended Tom Wilson’ s emigration to Canada. He brought out three hundred pounds, British currency; he remained in the country just four months, and returned to England with barely enough to pay his passage home.
p. 151-52: Jenny never could conceive the use of books. "Shure, we can live and die widout them. It’s only a waste of time
botherin’ your brains wid the like of them; but, thank good ness! the lard will soon be all done, an thin we shall hear you spakin again, instead of sittin’ there doubled up all night, desthroying your eyes wid porin’ over the dirthy writin’."
" Good-bye !" quoth he, shaking me by the hand as if he
meant to sever it from the wrist. " When next we meet it
will be in New South Wales, and I hope by that time you will
know how to make better bread." And thus ended Tom Wil
son s emigration to Canada. He brought out three hundred
pounds, British currency ; he remained in the country just four
months, and returned to England with barely enough to pay
his passage home.
p. 155: Tom, too, had a large packet of letters, which he read with great glee. After re-perusing them, he declared his intention
of setting off on his return home the next day. We tried to persuade him to stay until the following spring, and make a fair trial of the country. Arguments were thrown away upon him; the next morning our eccentric friend was ready to start.
p. 166: Seventeen years has made as great a difference in the state of society in Canada, as it has in its commercial and political importance. When we came to the Canadas, society was
composed of elements which did not always amalgamate in the best possible manner.
We were reckoned no addition to the society of C[anada].
Authors and literary people they held in supreme detestation;
and I was told by a lady, the very first time I appeared in
company, that " she heard that I wrote books, but she could
tell me that they did not want a Mrs. Trollope in Canada."
I had not then read Mrs. Trollope’s work on America, or I should have comprehended at once the cause of her indignation ; for she was just such a person as would have drawn forth the keen satire of that far-seeing observer of the absurdities of our nature, whose witty exposure of American affectation has done more towards producing a reform in that respect, than would have resulted from a thousand grave animadversions soberly written.
p. 167-68: Anxious not to offend them, I tried to avoid all literary subjects. I confined my conversation to topics of common interest; but this gave greater offence than the most ostentatious show of learning, for they concluded that I would not talk on such subjects, because I thought them incapable of understanding me. This was more wounding to their self-love
than the most arrogant assumption on my part ; and they regarded me with a jealous, envious, stand-aloofishness, that was
so intolerable that I gave up all ideas of visiting them. I was
so accustomed to hear the whispered remark, or to have it
retailed to me by others, "Oh, yes, she can write, but she can do nothing else," that I was made more diligent in cultivating every branch of domestic usefulness; so that these ill-natured sarcasms ultimately led to my acquiring a great mass of most useful practical knowledge. Yet such is the contradiction inherent in our poor fallen nature these people were more annoyed by my proficiency in the common labours of a household, than they would have been by any displays of my unfortunate authorship. Never was the fable of the old man and his ass so truly verified.
p. 168: I am speaking of visiting in the towns and villages. The
manners and habits of the European settlers in the country are far more simple and natural, and their hospitality more genuine and sincere. They have not been sophisticated by the hard, worldly wisdom of a Canadian town, and still retain a warm remembrance of the kindly humanities of home.
Volume II (from London: Richard Bentley, 1852 edition):
p. 36: It is a melancholy truth, and deeply to be lamented, that the vicinity of European settlers has always produced a very demoralising effect upon the Indians. As a proof of this, I will relate a simple anecdote.
John, of Rice Lake, a very sensible, middle-aged Indian, was conversing with me about their language, and the difficulty he found in understanding the books written in Indian for their use. Among other things, I asked him if his people ever swore, or used profane language towards the Deity.
The man regarded me with a sort of stem horror, as he replied, " Indian, till after he knew your people, never swore— no bad word in Indian. Indian must learn your words to swear and take God’s name in vain."
Oh, what a reproof to Christian men! I felt abashed, and degraded in the eyes of this poor savage —who, ignorant as he was in many respects, yet possessed that first great attribute of the soul, a deep reverence for the Supreme Being. How inferior were thousands of my countrymen to him in this important point!
p. 108, on visiting a wilderness shanty: There was a large fire-place at one end of the shanty, with a chimney, constructed of split laths, plastered with a mixture of clay and cow-dung. As for windows, these were luxuries which could well be dispensed with; the open door was an excellent substitute for them in the daytime, and at night none were required. When I ventured to object to this arrangement, that he would have to keep the door shut in the winter time, the old man replied, in the style so characteristic of his country, “Shure it will be time enough to^think of that when the could weather sets in.” Everything about the house wore a Robinson Crusoe aspect, and though there was not any appearance of original plan or, foresight, there
was no lack of ingenious contrivance to meet every want as it arose.
Judy dropped us a low curtsey as we entered, which was followed by a similar compliment from a stout girl of twelve, and two or three more of the children, who all seemed to share the pleasure of their parents in receiving strangers in their unpretending tenement. Many were the apologies that poor Judy offered for the homely cheer she furnished us, and great was her delight at the notice we took of the "childher.” She set little Biddy, who was the pride of her heart) to reading the Bible; and she took down a curious machine from a shelf, which she had “conthrived out of her own head,” as she said, for teaching the children to read. This was a flat box, or frame, filled with sand, which saved paper, pens, and ink. Poor Judy had evidently seen better days, but, with a humble and contented spirit she blessed God for the food and scanty raiment their labour afforded them. Heronly sorrow was the want of “idication” for the children.