Imagine Jane Austen at her writing desk while sister is downstairs playing the harpsichord. Suddenly there is an excited knock on the door and Cassandra comes running up the stairs. ‘Jane, tis so exciting, some Inuit have come to the Hall. George Cartwright brought them back from Labrador.’ Jane puts down her pen and passes into the garden flushed with curiosity and her memories of George.
Well, to the best of Beach’s knowledge Jane never got to meet the men of snow. But some of the letters from the Cartwrights in 1773 about their Inuit visitors read uncannily like a JA pastiche. Enjoy the squirearchy’s flirtation with the far north. First a description of Catherine Cartwright’s least favourite Inuit.
E-cong-oke his Wife, is a low broad set woman plain in the face, of a light brown complexion, ungenteel & heavy in her movements, has a sensible cheerful countenance; & is a very shrewd, lively, sensible woman, & remarkable ingenious, shewing great taste & fancy in all her designs, but she is exceeding selfish, which was visible on all occasions; & has a sturdy disagreeable temper where she dare shew it when provoked; but where she has not power, & to those whom it is her interest to oblige, she is obliging & also cunning & coercing; that she is no favorite here tho’ perfectly well behav’d so far as civility, sense, decency went, but as she discover’d none of those amiable dispositions, & gentility of manners so apparent in the rest, we neither lov’d her while she staid or regretted parting with her; such low Characters as hers being to be met with all the world over. She has an ordinary vulgar appearance, & no grace in any of her actions, or anything engaging in her manner: her age 24.
Bitchy. Next we put the Inuit through the paces of the eighteenth-century English countryside near Nottinghamshire. For example, can they dance quadrilles well?
Amongst other things we taught them to dance, an exercise they are very fond of, and they were most apt Scholars, particularly Caubvic who dances as genteel a Country dance & moves as gracefully thro’ the figure of minuet as most you will meet with. They have all fine ears & are fond of music & singing. Their own tunes are in the compass of a few notes, which they sing in the exactest measure, but most of their songs are so dolorous & ridiculous you wou’d laugh with one eye & cry with the other to hear them.
Or what about a spot of fox-hunting? Beach doesn’t know whether to feel sorrower for the fox or for the Inuit.
On Monday last Lord George Sutton entertained the Esquimaux Chiefs, who are here, with an English Fox Chace. The Day was remarkable fine, and near an hundred Horsemen were in the Field. The Fox broke Cover in Sight of the Indians, took a Woodland Country, and made great Sport. With all the Variety which is incident to this noble Diversion, the Hounds pursued him for fourteen Miles, running harder and harder as the Chace continued. He was forced out of a very strong Cover, when he had no Strength to reach another, so that he was overtaken in an open Field, when not above ten of the numerous Company were in at the Death, amongst which happy Number were the two Indians. They enjoyed the Chace with the greatest Transports, and their Horsemanship was the Admiration of the whole Field, as it might well, for it was but the fifth or sixth Time they had ever been on Horseback. The Priest was so struck with the Circumstances of the Day, that he told Captain Cartwright he shall record them in a Song which will be sung by his Posterity to the latest Generations.
The countryside naturally went mad for the Inuit.
The curiousity that raged in the environs of Marnham is not to be imagin’d: for above a month we never stirred without a Mob; and all our acquaintance far & near came to see them. They also return’d many visits and all our Neighbours exerted themselves to make them happy and shew them civilities. The commanding Officer of two troops of Elliots Eight horse, quarter’d on the Forest, who had formerly known my Brother in Germany, wrote him a very polite Card to say ‘if it wou’d be any entertainment to his Labrador friends to see a hussar skirmish, begg’d he wou’d appoint the day for one.’
Naturally, the invitation was accepted.
George gladly [accepted] Cap’n. Baines’s polite offer… what between the mock fight & the real sight above 6000 people [!!!!!] were assembled in the Field. Our Innuets were plac’d on the most advantageous spot & had 3 dragoons prancing in a semi-circle behind them to keep the mob off, a compliment they thoroughly comprehended & enjoy’d, as it was extremely disagreeable to them to be stared at in the rude manner they were by the Kip-pa-loots (common people) for they were the An-gi-coke (great people) and in Labrador the Angicoke never condescend to associate with the Kippaloots, nor the Kippaloots with the Pim-ma-ja (servants).
Damn right. Of course, it all ended in tears. Of the five pictured above four died of small pox on the boat returning: the beautiful Caubvick, second from the left was the only to survive. Our author Catherine was devastated as were the household: ‘Scarce a servant in the house who has not cry’d; twice I have been witness to the Butler’s being oblig’d to quit the room at tea, unable to command his tears’.
Other Amerindians in Europe: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com
These wonderful letters taken from Arctic 63 Stopp and Mitchell. Compliments to the editors.