«By Robert Hilliker M. A., Brown University, 2003 B. A., University of British Columbia, 2000 Thesis Submitted in partial fulfillment of the ...»
Bercovitch does, in fact, make a passing acknowledgement of a Canadian version of the American myth in the introduction to Rites of Assent, but he quickly dismisses it as being merely a “colonial” variant of the American one (7). And yet, the work of Canadian scholars like Dana Culhane has shown that the Canadian variant of this myth is more complicated, in large part because the continued presence of native peoples is more strongly felt and thus the contradictions between universalist rhetoric and exclusionary reality are more apparent. As to Spanish America, Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra has argued, in his Puritan Conquistadores, that many of the tropes central to Puritan millenarian writings, including the notion of the the myth of America. By doing so, he thus loses sight of the epistemological problem the Americas and their native inhabitants represented to all Europeans (and Euro-Americans) in the seventeenth century: if Columbus and those Europeans who followed him had truly found a “New World,” then that “‘New World’ had now to be incorporated into their cosmographical, geographical and, ultimately, anthropological understanding” (Anthony Pagden 5).
As has been suggested by Peter Burke, among others, the “newness” of the “New World” had a delayed impact upon European thought—Burke characterizes it as “creep[ing] into” European awareness over the course of the seventeenth century and gradually forcing the production of a new paradigm for world history (37, 40-47). Indeed, as my previous chapters have made clear, the entire project of American colonization, especially for the French and English, was marked by belatedness. Individual authors like Montaigne may have struggled with the question of whether the Americas were accounted for in the Bible or the writings of the Ancients, but, with the possible exception of the debate between Hugo Grotius and Joannes de Laet, it was not until the latter half of the seventeenth century that this question had a pervasive impact on European intellectual writing. The publication, in particular, of Isaac de la Peyrère’s Systema theologicum, ex praeNative Americans as minions of Satan, are directly prefigured in the criollo writings of authors like Alonso de Ovalle and that these continue to exert an influence on contemporary Spanish American society. Brazil is another story still, as Joseph Smith notes in his History of Brazil, with its “concept of [itself] as a ‘racial democracy’ … los[ing] … credibility” in the face of ongoing social and economic inequalities among indigenous peoples, those of primarily African descent, and those of European descent (231; see also Gilberto Kujawski’s Idéia do Brasil for a nuanced and challenging examination of notions of Brazilian identity). And one could further add that each of these monolithic mythologies is itself divisible into various sub-national myths—the Quebecois notion of pur lainité, for example, which is the polar opposite of the voluntary métissage that characterizes Francophone populations in many other parts of the Americas, including neighboring New Brunswick with its flourishing bilingual population (some 34.2% according to the Canadian Census of 2001, up from 29.5% in 1991)—and yet all of them are still focused around the problematic position of Native Americans in putatively post-colonial societies.
Adamitarum hypothesi in 1655 brought this question to the forefront of contemporary cosmological and theological debate. Peyrère posited that God had created “men before Adam”—the phrase being part of the subtitle for an English translation of his work published the very next year—and he thereby gave birth to polygenetic theories of human origins that would be used as the basis for many prominent racial theories of the eighteenth century, including those of Voltaire (see Essais sur les moeurs 6ff.), and opened the door to the scientific racism of such nineteenth century figures as Samuel George Morton, Louis Agassiz, and Arthur de Gobineau.
The paradox of Peyrère’s influence, however, is that by making America the center of attention it also paved the way for the discursive disappearance of the Native Americans themselves. And it would be two “American” authors—Cotton Mather and JosephFrançois Lafitau—who perfected this erasure. Beverly’s text follows the conventional practice of European histories of the Americas as far back as José Acosta, dividing his work into sections on flora and fauna, on native customs, and on the recent history of the European exploration and settlement. Mather and Lafitau, on the other hand, utterly transform the genre. Mather, in his Magnalia Christi Americana (first published in 1702), only concerns himself with the history of America after the arrival of the Puritan settlers, while Lafitau, in his Mœurs des sauvages américains comparées aux mœurs des premiers temps (first published in 1724), strives to recreate the pre-historical record of human activity through his careful and systematic analysis of Native American customs, or mœurs. With this simple and seemingly straightforward divvying up of their subject matter, Mather and Lafitau instantiate a fundamental division between history and ethnology that would relegate Native American peoples to the timeless realm of prehistory once and (almost) for all.139 “L’ORIGINE SUPPOSÉE COMMUNE” Perhaps no-one will be more surprised than Mather and Lafitau would themselves have been to see these two early Enlightenment authors placed cheek-by-jowl as the objects of a comparative analysis. Mather, after all, was not merely a New England Puritan, but one of the staunchest defenders of the traditional values of the first generation of Puritan colonists. From his birth in 1663 to his death in 1728, he never left the New England colonies. As David Levin notes, Mather’s father taught him and his brothers and sisters “to believe that their own lives were exemplary” (Cotton Mather 11). This message was further reinforced by Cotton’s own given name, taken from his maternal grandfather, John Cotton, one of the most prominent ministers in New England (see Cotton Mather 55), and finally confirmed by an angelic visitation, recorded in his diaries, wherein he discovered his destiny: to have “[h]is books published not only in America but also in Europe” and to “perform great works against sinners and in behalf of Christ’s Church in the revolutions that were imminent” (Cotton Mather 107; see 106-108 for a full discussion of Mather’s visitation). Mather identified himself wholly with the Puritan As any number of scholars, from historians to anthropologists, have noted, “[i]n both popular culture and the academy, Native Americans are people who either have no significant history or exist outside history” (Richard White “Using the Past” 218). Were it not for the work of scholars such as White, James Clifford, and Hilary Wyss—among others—even my parenthetical qualification of this absolute erasure would be an exaggeration.
colonies, devoting his life to serving his community as a preacher and as a public intellectual, though Mather himself hardly distinguished between the two roles.
Lafitau, by contrast, was an important member of the Society of Jesus, an institution created precisely to help counter the Reformation of which Mather placed himself at the forefront. Born in Bordeaux in 1681, Lafitau joined the Jesuits at the age of fifteen; after several years as a student and then a teacher, he successfully petitioned to be sent to Canada to work among the Iroquois in 1711. He spent six years there before returning to France, where he became famous for his discovery of a North American variety of ginseng, and was appointed procurator for the Canadian Missions of the Jesuits, an administrative position of great authority.140 He remained in that position until 1741, having returned once to Canada, and traveled twice to Rome, in the performance of his duties.
While Mather and Lafitau belonged to diametrically opposed religious groups, and while Lafitau’s worldly experience far outstripped that of Mather, for whom Boston was the greatest metropolis he would ever see, the two had a great deal in common as well. To begin with, an excellent education: Mather entered Harvard College at the age of twelve As William Fenton notes in his introduction to the translation of Lafitau’s Moeurs, Lafitau’s discovery of ginseng highlights his scientific and ethnological skills, particularly his ability to “combine theory and verification” (xxxiii). That Lafitau knew of ginseng is itself a testament to the Jesuits’ global reach. The plant’s existence had first been documented for Europeans by the Jesuit Father Pierre Jartoux, who had seen it during his travels in Mongolia in 1709; Jartoux’s travel relation made its way to France and thence to Québec, where Lafitau read it. Noting the ecological similarities between the Montréal area and that described by Jartoux, Lafitau concluded that there must be a variety of ginseng in New France. It turned out that the Iroquois had been using the plant as an herbal medicine for some time, but the global craze started by Lafitau’s publication of Mémoire … concernant la précieuse plante du gin-seng, découverte en Canada in 1718 led them to harvest it to the verge of extinction to supply Asian demand.
with an already complete knowledge of Latin, a solid foundation in Greek, and the beginnings of Hebrew as well; Lafitau, for his part, attended and taught at institutions in Pau, Limoges, Saintes, Poitiers, and Paris, receiving a thorough grounding in the traditional humanist subjects of grammar and rhetoric, as well as theology. More particularly, the antagonism between Puritans and Jesuits forced each to become more than passingly familiar with the other’s literature: Mather’s family library held a number of volumes in English, French, and Latin concerning various Catholic orders, including the Jesuits, while Lafitau, though he generally prefers to cite Jesuit sources, shows a broad awareness of contemporary Protestant literature on the Americas and even cites the notorious Calvinist Pierre Bayle approvingly (1.5-6/1.29).141 Given their positions at opposite extremes of the conventional binary divide between Catholicism and Protestantism, it seems wholly in keeping that Mather and Lafitau should be responsible for this disciplinary division between history and ethnology, itself so fundamental to a whole series of binary oppositions from savage/civilized to nature/culture. In many ways Lafitau’s project is the polar opposite of Mather’s: he takes Native Americans as his primary subject, insisting on their pivotal place, as well as their pivotal importance to world history. He also seems to hold a much more positive view of Native American society, following the lead of Marc Lescarbot and other Europeans who Throughout this chapter, I provide a double citation for any references to Lafitau’s Moeurs: the first of these is always to the first French edition of 1724 (not to be confused with the second edition, published the same year, which is in duodecimo rather than quarto) and the second to the authoritative English translation prepared by William Fenton and Elizabeth Moore for The Champlain Society. Mather, for his part, owned several of Bayle’s works, including an English translation of his Dictionnaire universelle et critique (first published in French in 1697, Mather likely owned the English translation of 1710) and eight volumes of his periodical, Nouvelle République de la littérature (which began publication in 1684).
use accounts of Native American customs as a basis for the critique of European mores;
for example, Lafitau notes that “[p]ar bonheur pour eux, ils ne connoissent ni Code, ni Digeste, ni Avocats” (1.485), a sentiment that Lescarbot surely would have seconded given his own legal troubles in France.142 Moreover, the entire purpose of Lafitau’s work is to refute Peyrère’s polygenetic theory by discovering the “origine supposée commune aux Amérindiens et aux Occidentaux dans les premiers temps,” as Andreas Motsch, perhaps the leading modern critic of Lafitau’s work, points out (Lafitau 9).143 That said, Lafitau’s text is, like Mather’s, a signal moment in the erasure of Native Americans from history. It is, as Motsch is hardly the first to note, “le texte fondateur de l’ethnologie comparative … du point de vue méthodologique” (“Mémoire” 117).144 Yet it is precisely this method itself that proves to be responsible for relegating Native Americans to the blank and timeless void of pre-history.
Lafitau begins his work by discounting previous scholarship on the subject of the origin of Native Americans as being based on “conjectures … si vagues et si incertaines, qu’elles font naître plus de doutes qu’elles n’en éclaircissent” (1.2).145 Foremost among these doubts, in Lafitau’s account, is “si les hommes qui l’habitoient, étoient de la race “By good fortune for them, they know neither code of law, nor digest, nor lawyers” (1.299) “The presupposed common origin of Amerindians and Occidentals at the dawn of time” (translation mine).
“the foundational text for comparative ethnology, from a methodological point of view” (translation mine).
“conjectures … so vague and uncertain that they rather give rise to more doubts than clarify the existing ones” (1.26) d’Adam” (1.28),146 a doubt furthered by “la plûpart des Relations [qui] nous les ont peints comme gens qui n’avoient aucun sentiment de Religion” (1.5).147 Thus, Lafitau defines his project as a demonstration of the conformity between Native American practices and those of the “premiers temps,” or “first times,” in order to prove the common source for all human activity in “une Religion pure et sainte en elle-même et dans son principe : une Religion émanée de Dieu qui la donna à nos premiers Peres” (1.14).148 The essence of his demonstration lies in “la comparaison de ces Moeurs et de ces Coûtumes” in order to uncover “les premieres idées que les Peres des Peuples avoient transmis à leurs enfans, et qui s’étoient conservées chez la plûpart presque sans aucune alteration, ou du moins sans une alteration fort sensible malgré leur distance et leur peu de communication” (1.48).149 Insofar as his project is focused on custom, then, it would seem inclined to privilege Native Americans as a source of knowledge about the true source of Christianity.