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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 19

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Early History of Illinois

Sidney Breese

published by E. B. Myers & Company,
Chicago, 1884

The text is in the public domain.

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Chapter 21
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p210  Chapter XX

The Roman Catholic Church; the author's estimate of it

That quaint edifice, that time-worn relic of departed years, which awakened in my boyhood a feeling akin to reverence, with its tall spire and gable surmounted by the emblem of the religion to which it was dedicated, with its coarse architecture, its ample portals, its little font, its rudely carved and latticed confessional, its unsculptured altar and rude paintings, is now no more. The hand of the spoiler has been busy there, destroying that which was, in its own original rudeness and peculiar melancholy beauty, a touching memento of another age.

The bell no more tolls for the matin and the vesper hour, for the burial or the bridal.

I am inclined to think, this peculiar religion had not an unfavorable influence upon the social structure. When their isolated position is considered, separated by a long river and a  p211 vast ocean from old France, and by a trackless wilderness from Canada, and the seats of civilization beyond the mountains, every institution calculated to inspire the feelings of equality and soften and subdue their native asperities would in this way contribute to swell the measure of their happiness, and what could be better adapted to this end than a religion whose holy days and fetes brought the whole population so frequently together as on one common level. Factitious distinctions of rank and estate found no encouragement in any of its forms or ceremonials. At the same altar knelt the rich man and the poor man, the same ordinances and sacraments were administered to each, and dying, both were buried in the same cemetery, the same rites performed, and the same "miserere" and "de profundis" chanted.

This feeling of equality thus generated and encouraged marked all the social intercourse, and entered largely into their various amusements. In the same dance all classes cheerfully participated — in no bosom rankled the pride of family, and no one felt or affected a superiority. The condition of the greater part  p212 of both sexes required from them exertion, they were compelled to labor to live, and labor being the common lot, was neither odious nor disgraceful. The black-eyed brunette, who engaged as a daily avocation in what the fashionable and proud might consider menial services, in the ball-room, attired in her finery, full of cheerful smiles and artless coquetry, might be the leading star of every eye, as she moved with her native grace in the mazes of the dance, and for the honor of her hand the most polished cavalier might sue. To her, a courtly knight of "The Military Order of St. Louis" might bow with the most respectful obeisance, while, at the same time, she was the betrothed of a poor, but honest laborer.

All shared alike, too, in the festivities of the carnival, and all, at its close, with the same becoming humility, repaired to the church at "matin's prime," to receive upon their foreheads the sprinkling of ashes, typical of their end, and all observed the same self-denying ordinances in the Careme or Lent succeeding.

Even in the merriments of shrovetide or "Mardigras," as it was termed, in the madcap frolics of the Guillone, or in the noisy Charivari,  p213 no other sentiment prevailed, than that home-bred American sentiment, "I am as good as you are," that is to say, the rights and privileges of every one of the mass of community were just as great and no greater than those of another. Society, it is true, had its divisions, the wealthy, who had the means of education, and were intelligent, and the poor, who were illiterate, but the artificial distinctions which are elsewhere recognized as their lawful claim, producing bitter fruits, music, unhappiness and woe, were not acknowledged here. If the poor man lacked that refinement which education, aided by wealth, helps to confer, or those ambitious aspirations of which they may be the parent, he was not, for these causes, excluded from the society of the more fortunate.

A bland and a kind courtesy was manifested in all their intercourse, and although society might not have presented the most polished surface, there was, notwithstanding, a strong and deep undercurrent constantly in motion, giving impulse to all the kindest charities of life.

Such a people required but little government and they had what they required.

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