«By Robert Hilliker M. A., Brown University, 2003 B. A., University of British Columbia, 2000 Thesis Submitted in partial fulfillment of the ...»
If Morton and Lescarbot’s grounding of national identity in custom represents a radical break, its rapid assimilation into the writings of early colonists such as Anne Bradstreet and Marie de l’Incarnation suggest that it serves as a potent rhetorical tool in the ongoing dialogue with the metropole about maintaining Englishness and Frenchness in the Americas. People in the metropole also began to use custom as a way of speaking about their identity, as their concerns are increasingly expressed on its terms: did the colonists, they wondered, still eat bread, drink beer and wine, and dress their meat with salt, as had been their custom in Europe? As it is used more frequently, the concept of custom becomes more complicated, raising a whole series of new questions: why, for example, do the colonists increasingly figure the relationship between the colony and the home country as familial in nature? Why do de l’Incarnation and Bradstreet in particular—a cloistered nun and a minister’s wife—turn to the figure of the family, and how is it inflected by their religion? Further, how does this figure fit in the larger discussion of custom, of which it will become such a central part?
It is key to recognize that a shift takes place from thinking about the maintenance of identity (among emigrants) in the colonies to thinking about its reproduction (in the children who would be born there), suggesting not only why the figure of the family takes on so much importance, but also why the mother/child relationship is emphasized above all others. (The mere fact that the works considered in the second chapter are the publications of a pair of mothers indicates the significant social shift that accompanied this discursive shift, although this discursive shift is apparent in the writings of male authors as well.) The family as the site and product of reproduction is, in Bradstreet’s The Tenth Muse and de l’Incarnation’s L’École sainte [The Sacred School], metaphorically projected onto the community as a whole and then rhetorically linked with the role of education as a bulwark against the influences of a strange new environment. Even religious community, in their writings, is conceived of more in terms of family relations than congregations. This metaphorical expansion of the family enables imperial expansion as well, justifying the assimilation of Native Americans.
Ultimately, these texts imagine a mother country turning to the colonies for succor in a reversal of the traditional hierarchy: the same colonies that vented the excess populations of the metropole—and which the metropolitans feared would develop degenerate customs—turn out to have preserved those customs and qualities the mother country has lost and so badly needs.
In chapter three I examine Mary Rowlandson’s Sovereignty and Goodness of God and Pierre–Esprit Radisson’s Voyages in order to show how thinking about national identity in terms of custom exposes that identity to corruption at the same time as it makes the colonization of the Americas rhetorically feasible: after all, if Native Americans can adopt a European way of life, what is to stop Europeans from adopting theirs? The family remains central in this chapter, not only in the mother/child pair, but as an extended kin group under the threat of dissolution in the face of “savage” resistance to colonization. By placing Rowlandson’s captivity narrative alongside that of Radisson— who belonged to French, English, and Mohawk communities at different points in his life—I reveal the link between “keeping the family together,” which is a central motif in Rowlandson’s narrative, and the mistrust of those, whether Native American or colonial European, who converted to another way of life. Rowlandson’s insistence on the distinction between “true Christians” and “praying Indians” (Native American converts) ultimately exposes the limits of education as a means of assimilation, and, consequently, the limits of custom as a means of quelling metropolitan fears of degeneration in the colonies. More troubling is her complete inability to recognize Native Americans as anything other than a devilish shadow of English Puritan society, hollowly mimicking the colonists’ appearance and behavior while secretly harboring malice towards them.
Radisson’s narratives reinforce Rowlandson’s sense of the dangers of international relations, but Radisson responds to those dangers by remaining open to those relations, rather than refusing them as does Rowlandson. Because of this openness, manifest in his ability to establish kin relations with diverse groups, Radisson becomes a successful international merchant, helping to remind us of the intersection between custom’s commercial implications and its broader social significance.
In turning to the writings of Cotton Mather and Joseph–François Lafitau, which I treat in my fourth and final chapter, the contradictory impulses of both Rowlandson’s and Radisson’s texts find an outlet. Mather and Lafitau show us the rise to dominance of a rhetoric of Christian universalism that, paradoxically, helped reinforce the sense of a binary opposition between “civilized” Europeans and “savages” while it forced a radical rethinking of custom. For both of these authors customs are to be interpreted not as signs of distinct national and religious identities, but rather as proof of the ultimate sameness of all people. Thus, in Mather’s sermon on “Evil Customes,” all custom is a symptom of man’s fall from grace, while, in his Moeurs des sauvages amériquains [Customs of the American Indians], Lafitau proves God and Christianity to be the source of all custom, and sees the variation between customs as an indication of the degree of degeneration from the state of grace that has occurred in a particular community. In order to effect this refiguration of custom, Lafitau and Mather draw on the work of their Enlightenment contemporaries, insisting on the split between literate and oral societies, and using the rationalizing and totalizing generic features of the system to neutralize the threat—and many of the possibilities—that custom had represented to their predecessors. In the end, Lafitau and Mather reduce custom from an independent force to be reckoned with to a mere datum from which reasoned principles can be abstracted.
Even as Mather and Lafitau significantly restrict the importance of custom (though not its scope), much of their rhetoric still draws on tropes that are already present in the writings of Morton and Lescarbot a full century earlier: the diversity of human practices as the confirmation, rather than the negation, of the unity of humankind, for example, or Native American society as a tabula rasa. Similarly, all four of these authors are highly conscious of the potential national and international political consequences of their respective texts, taking care to situate themselves in an ongoing European and transatlantic discussion about the significance of the Americas vis-à-vis European identity. As such, they lend credence to my argument that British and French North America were, in the seventeenth century, as conceptually contiguous as they were geographically so.
Ainsi j’espere que nôtre Roy tres-Chrétien, tres-Auguste et tres-victorieux HENRY IIII. apres le tonerre des sieges de villes et des batailles cessé, reverent les Muses et les honorant comme il a desja fait, non seulement il remettra sa fille ainée en son ancienne splendeur … [m]ais aussi établira sa Nouvelle-France, et amenera au giron de l’Eglise tant de pauvres peuples qu’elle porte affamez de la parole de Dieu, qui sont proye à l’enfer : et que pour ce faire il donnera moyen d’y conduire des Sarronides et des Bardes Chrétiens portans la Fleur-de-lis au coeur, lesquels instruiront et civiliseront ces peuples vrayment barbares, et les ameneront à son obeïssance.
–– Marc Lescarbot, Histoire de la Nouvelle France (3.6.370-71)41 This striking passage announces the colonial pretensions of the French empire at a moment when that empire consisted of a single building on the margins of a vast continent. It is striking, certainly, in its conformity to the work of Anthony Pagden and others who have drawn our attention to the role of translatio studii, or the transmission of knowledge, in translatio imperii, the transfer and extension of imperial power. More “Thus I hope that our most Christian, most august, and most victorious King Henry IV, after the thunder of the sieges of cities and battles has ceased, revering the Muses and honoring them as he has already done, will not only restore them to their ancient splendor in their oldest daughter … but also establish his New France, and bring into the fold of the Church so many poor people who hunger for the word of God, and are prey for hell; and that, in order to achieve this, he will send Christian Sarronides and Bards with the fleurde-lis in their hearts, who will instruct and civilize these truly barbarous people, and lead them to obeisance.” While my citation of Lescarbot’s French text is taken from the bilingual edition of W. L. Grant and H. P. Biggar, The History of New France, this and subsequent translations of Lescarbot’s Histoire are my own.
striking still if we properly understand Lescarbot’s reference to the “Muses’ oldest daughter” as a call to re-establish the Université de Paris, creating an imperial role not only for the international transfer of knowledge, but also for its intranational cultivation, which serves as the justification for France’s (and Lescarbot’s) imperial ambitions. Read such a light, this passage also affirms recent work by Barbara Fuchs and others who insist on the mutually reinforcing relationship between the internal consolidation of “empire” in Europe’s emerging nation-states—“empire” understood in its broad sense as “[s]upreme and extensive political dominion” (Oxford English Dictionary Online, definition I.1) — and their external expansion through colonization and military conquest.42 Examined in its context—a comparative ethnography, and, more particularly, a chapter on “Letters”—this passage illuminates facets of the relationship between translatio imperii and translatio studii that have been hitherto neglected, particularly the relationship between ethnographic writing (and printing) and imperial expansion. The scholarship of Pagden and, more recently, Mary Baine Campbell has ably shown that the discovery of the Americas helped fuel the development of anthropological discourse, but the role of anthropological writings in imperial expansion has been relatively neglected to this point.43 Steven Mullaney’s notion of a “rehearsal of cultures” in The Place of the Stage has offered perhaps the most suggestive work in this direction, establishing a See, for example, the introduction to Fuchs’ Mimesis and Empire as well as her more recent article “Imperium Studies.” The third chapter of Joyce Chaplin’s Subject Matter constitutes a notable, though limited, exception to this, offering a reading of early English ethnographic reports about Native Americans as a form of military intelligence.
connection between the published records of ritual performances and the nascent imperial power of France and England.
My concern in this chapter is to explore some of the possibilities opened up by Mullaney’s work, particularly by the attention he draws to the roles of ritual performance, writing, and printing in establishing (and policing) the boundaries of an emergent national identity. If we understand writing and printing to be part of the process by which rituals and other customary practices are promulgated—a notion which, in the wake of our reading of Montaigne and Bacon, should not seem so terribly strange—then Lescarbot’s Histoire de la Nouvelle-France (1608, 1612, 1617) and the New English Canaan (1636) of his English counterpart, Thomas Morton, can be read as part of a larger, European project of forming coherent, pervasive, and potent national identities, rather than simply a text “consacré aux singularités animale et botanique”—an opinion held by even such a sympathetic reader as Éric Thierry, Lescarbot’s most recent (and successful) biographer (179).44 Though both authors have historically occupied a marginal place in American literary studies, their significance has been increasingly recognized of late, in part because of critical attention to literary performances in the early modern world and in part because of their significant role in contemporary colonial conflicts. While this recent criticism has cast new light on these texts, even now we generally find a focus on their activities in the Americas without much attention to their import in the emerging imperial discourses “consecrated to botanical and zoological oddities” (translation mine) of national identity.45 In order to understand these texts properly we must note, for example, that Lescarbot and Morton respond in their texts to contemporary concerns, fueled by early modern climate theory in particular, that transplanting Europeans to the New World would radically alter their character.46 By appealing to ritual and customary behaviors as the basis for individual and communal identity, however, Morton and Lescarbot separate identity from its traditional “ground,” as it were. National identity thereby becomes a question of phenomenology rather than ontology: something that one performs, and thus a question of appearances, rather than something that one is.