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Talon and the Clergy

Talon And The Clergy

In the instructions which Talon had received from Louis XIV on his departure from France in 1665 it was stated that Mgr de Laval and the Jesuits exercised too strong an authority and that the superiority of the civil power should be cautiously asserted. The intendant was quite ready to follow these directions. He had been reared in the principles of the old parliamentarian school and was thoroughly imbued with Gallican ideas. But at the same time he was a sincere believer and faithful in the performance of his religious duties. It is not surprising, therefore, that he should be found ever earnest in his endeavors to promote the extension of Christianity and ready to protect the missionaries, as well as the charitable and educational institutions, in their work. Neither is it surprising that he should sometimes seem jealous of ecclesiastical influence in matters where Church and State were both concerned.

The following incident will show to what lengths he was prepared to go when he thought that there was an encroachment of the spiritual on the civil power. The winter of 1667 was very gay at Quebec. Peace had been secured, confidence in the future of the colony was restored, and there manifested itself a general disposition to indulge in social festivities. Indeed the first ball ever given in Canada took place in February of this year at M. Chartier de Lotbiniere's house, as is recorded in the Journal des Jesuites. Now there was at this time in Quebec a religious association for women called the Association of the Holy Family. Laval himself had framed their rules, one of which directed the members to abstain from frivolous entertainments and to lead a pious and edifying life amidst the distractions and dissipations of the world. Seeing that many members of the association had departed from the rules by taking part in these pleasures, Laval threatened to suspend their meetings. Naturally a strong impression was made on the public mind. Talon resented what he deemed an undue interference. He laid a complaint against the bishop's action before the Sovereign Council and asked that two of their number be directed to report on the social entertainments held during the last carnival, in order to show that nothing improper had taken place. When the report was made, it declared that nothing deserving of condemnation had occurred in these festivities, and that there was no occasion to censure them. Evidently, if there was encroachment upon this occasion, it was encroachment of the civil on the spiritual power. The special rules of a pious association in no way affected the safety of the state or public order. If a number of ladies wished to join its ranks and accept its discipline in order to follow the path of Christian perfection and lead a more exemplary life in the world, they should be free to do so, and their directors should be free to remonstrate with them if they were not faithful to their pledge. In this incident the intendant was not at his best. He seems to have sought an occasion of checking the bishop's authority, and the occasion was not well chosen. It is likely that M. de Tracy, still in the colony at the time, intervened in the interests of peace, for the entry in regard to Talon's complaint was erased from the register of the Sovereign Council.

In a state paper by Talon for Colbert's information, in 1669, the intendant's Gallican views reveal themselves fully. He complains of the excessive zeal of the bishop and clergy which led them to interfere in matters of police, thus trespassing upon the province of the civil magistrate. He went on to say that too strict a moral discipline of confessors and spiritual directors put a constraint on consciences, and that, in order to counterbalance the excessive claims to obedience of the clergy then in charge, other priests should be sent to Canada with full powers for administration of the sacraments. It is more than probable that in writing these lines Talon was thinking of the vexed question of the liquor traffic, always a source of strife between the civil and the spiritual authorities.

Talon and his colleagues, Tracy and Courcelle, had to deal with the question of tithes. In 1663 tithes had been fixed by royal edict at one-thirteenth of all that is produced from the soil either naturally or by man's labor. This edict was prompted by the erection of the Quebec Seminary by Laval, and established in Canada the tithes system for the benefit of the new clerical institution, to which was entrusted the spiritual care of the colonists. The latter, who previously had paid nothing for the maintenance of the clergy, protested against the charge, notwithstanding that it was in conformity with the common practice of Christian nations. Laval, taking into consideration the poverty of the colony at the time, freely granted delays and exemptions, so that in 1667 the question was still practically in abeyance. In that year the bishop presented to Tracy a petition for the publication of a decree in respect to the tithes. The lieutenant-general, the governor, and the intendant gave the matter their attention, and after discussion an ordinance was passed for payment of tithes, consisting of the twenty-sixth part of all that the soil grows, naturally or by man's labor, for the benefit of the priests who ministered to the spiritual wants of the people. There was a proviso stating that the words 'by man's labor' did not include manufactures or fisheries, but only the products of the soil when cultivated and fertilized by human industry. The assessment of one-twenty-sixth was to be levied for a term of twenty years only, after which the tithes were to be fixed according to the needs of the time and the state of the country. Later on, in 1679, a royal edict made perpetual the rate of one-twenty-sixth. For years the practice prevailed of levying tithes only on grain. But in 1705 two parish priests maintained that they should be levied also on hemp, flax, tobacco, pumpkins, hay--on all that is grown on cultivated land. A heated discussion in the Sovereign Council took place, led by the attorney-general Auteuil. The two priests contended that the ordinance of Tracy, Courcelle, and Talon did not limit the tithes to grain; it stated that they should be levied on all that the soil grows naturally or by man's labor. Unfortunately they had only a copy of the ordinance of 1667 to file in support of their contention. The attorney-general maintained that the original ordinance of 1663 limited the tithes to grain, and that the constant practice was a confirmation and an evidence of the rule. But, strange to say, he could not put the original ordinance on record. It had been lost. However, the practice was held to decide the case, and the priests' contention was not sustained. From that time the question was settled, definitely and for ever; the tithes were levied only on grain, as they are still levied in the province of Quebec, on all lands owned by Catholics. But it is interesting to know as a matter of history that the two litigant priests were right. Had the original ordinance been before the council, it would have been found to enact the levying of tithes not on grain alone but on 'all that the soil grows naturally or by man's labor.' An authentic copy of this ordinance was discovered in our day, nearly two centuries after the lawsuit of 1705, and it bears out the plea of the two priests.

Another feature of Talon's relations with the clergy and religious communities--and a pleasant one this time--was his strong interest in the francisation (Frenchification) of the Indians. It was Colbert's wish that efforts be made to bring the Algonquins, Huron, and other Indians more closely within the fold of European civilization--to make them alter their manners, learn the French tongue, and become less Indian and more European in their way of life. Talon was of the same mind and lost no opportunity of impressing the idea on those who could best do the work. Laval had already been active in the same direction, and had founded the Quebec Seminary partly with this end in view. The great bishop thought that one of the best means of civilizing the Indians would be to bring up Indian and French children together. So he withdrew from the Jesuits' College a number of pupils whom he had previously placed there and established them, with a few young Indians, in a house bought for the purpose. Such were the beginnings of the Quebec Seminary, opened on October 9, 1663. The first class consisted of eight French and six Indian children. The seminary trained them in the practice of piety and morality. For ordinary instruction they went to the Jesuits. The Jesuits' College had been founded in 1635 and was of great service to the colony. It was pronounced by Laval in 1661 almost equal in educational advantages and standing to the Jesuits' establishments in France; and according to a trustworthy author it 'was a reproduction on a small scale of the French colleges: classes in letters and arts, literary and theatrical entertainments, were found there.' Some of the public performances given at the Jesuits' College were memorable, such as the reception to the Vicomte d'Argenson when he entered upon the government of New France, and the philosophical debate of July 2, 1666, which was graced with the presence of Tracy, Courcelle, and Talon. Two promising youths, Louis Jolliet and Pierre de Francheville, won universal praise on that occasion; and Talon himself, who had been accustomed in France to such scholastic exercises, took part in it very pertinently, to the great delight of all present.

To return to the francisation of Indians: the Ursulines were also enlisted in the cause. Since their arrival in Canada in 1639 it had been for them a labor of love. In the convent and school founded by Mother Marie de l'Incarnation and Madame de la Peltrie, both French and Indian girls received instruction in various subjects. Seven nuns attended daily to the classes. The Indian girls had special classes and teachers, but they were lodged and boarded along with the French children. Some of these Indian pupils of the Ursulines afterwards married Frenchmen and became excellent wives and mothers. Special mention. is made of one of the girls as being able to read and write both French and Huron remarkably well. From her speech it was hard to believe that she was born an Indian. Talon was so delighted with this instance of successful francisation that he asked her to write something in Huron and French that he might send it to France. This, however, was but an exceptional case. Mother Mary declared in one of her letters that it was very difficult, if not impossible, to civilize the Indian girls.

During this period the Ursulines had on an average from twenty to thirty resident pupils. The French girls were supposed to pay one hundred and twenty livres. Indian girls paid nothing. The Ursuline sisters and Mother Mary, their head, did a noble work for Canada; the same must be said of the venerable Mother Marguerite Bourgeoys and the ladies of the Congregation of Notre-Dame founded in 1659 at Montreal. At first this school was open to both boys and girls. But in 1668 M. Souart, a Sulpician, took the boys under his care, and thenceforth the education of the male portion of the youth of Ville-Marie was in the hands of the priests of Saint-Sulpice. At this time the Sulpicians of Montreal were receiving welcome accessions to their number; the Abbes Trouve and de Fenelon arrived in 1667, and the Abbes Queylus, d'Allet, de Galinee, and d'Urfe in 1668. In the latter year Fenelon and Trouve were authorized by Laval to establish a new missionary station. for a tribe of Cayuga as far west as the bay of Quinte on the north shore of Lake Ontario. The progress of mission work was now most encouraging. Peace prevailed and the Iroquois country was open to the heralds of the Gospel. Fathers Fremin and Pierron were living among the Mohawks; Father Bruyas with the Oneidas. In 1668 Father Fremin was sent to the Seneca, Father Milet to the Onondagas, and Father de Carheil to the Cayuga. The bloody Iroquois, who had tortured and slain so many missionaries, were now asking for preachers of the Christian faith, and receiving them with due honor. It is true that the hard task of conversion remained, and that Indian vices and superstitions were not easily overcome. But at least the savages were ready to listen to Christian teaching. Some of them had courage enough to reform their lives. Children and women were baptized. Many received when dying the sacraments of the Church. Moreover, the sublime courage and self-devotion of the missionaries inspired the Indian mind with a profound respect for Christianity and added very greatly to the influence and prestige of the French name among the tribes.

On the whole the situation in Canada at the end of 1668, three years after Talon's arrival, was most satisfactory. Peace and security were restored; hope had replaced despondency; colonization, agriculture, and trade were making progress; population was increasing yearly. In this short space of time New France had been saved from destruction and was now full of new vigor. Every one in the colony knew that the great intendant had been the soul of the revival, the leader in all this progress. It may therefore be easily imagined what was the state of popular feeling when the news came that Talon was to leave Canada. He had twice asked for his recall. The climate was severe, his health was not good, and family matters called for his presence in France; moreover, he was worried by his difficulties with the governor and the spiritual authorities. Louis XIV gave him leave to return to France and appointed Claude de Bouteroue in his stead.

Talon left Quebec in November 1668. Expressions of deep regret were heard on all sides. Mother Marie de l'Incarnation wrote: 'M. Talon is leaving us and goes back to France. It is a great loss to Canada and a great sorrow for all. For, during his term here as intendant, this country has developed more and progressed more than it had done before from the time of the first settlement by the French.' The annalist of the Hotel-Dieu was not less sympathetic, but there was hope in her utterance: 'M. Talon,' she said, 'left for France this year. He comforted us in our grief by leading us to expect his return.' Perhaps these last words show that Talon even then intended to come back to Canada if such should be the wish of the king and his minister.

This site includes some historical materials that may imply negative stereotypes reflecting the culture or language of a particular period or place. These items are presented as part of the historical record and should not be interpreted to mean that the WebMasters in any way endorse the stereotypes implied.

Chronicles of Canada, The Great Intendant, A Chronicle of Jean Talon in Canada 1665-1672, 1915


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