This text is part of:
Table of Contents:
 proper soon became domesticated in this country. The Geography made easy of Jedidiah Morse, first published at New Haven in 1784, quickly went through a number of editions and transformations. About 1796 President Dwight of Yale, in his Travels, records that a work of Morse is studied by both freshmen and sophomores, probably referring to a revision of the more extensive American geography of 1789. Dwight himself made judicious use of it. The indefatigable Morse, though not a Humboldt, a Ritter, or a Leopold von Buch, was a lowly precursor of the European scientists who furnished the next generation with ideals in geography and travel. If territorial expansion and the development of geographical science are to be noted in studying the literature of travel, the general background of eighteenth-century thought must not be forgotten. The so-called rationalism of the French, with its tendency to destroy traditional distinctions, to suppress imagination, and yet to end in a kind of deism, is too large a subject for more than passing notice. On the other hand, we may dwell for a moment upon the sentimental treatment of external nature in Rousseau, and upon his conception, in part derived from early American travellers, of the “natural” man in a terrestrial paradise. Such a being could, in fact, exist only in a tropical or sub-tropical environment such as the favoured regions in which the first American explorers and missionaries encountered the natives. Yet the transference of the idea to the Indians of North America was easy in an age when popular geography was vague; and the faith of the Jesuits in the potential goodness of the savage doubtless helped to propagate a general belief that the aborigines were noble. The idea, which seems rather to have come from the travellers than from Rousseau, but possibly is dormant in almost every educated mind, is well established in American literature from William Bartram to Fenimore Cooper. The related notion of social equality in a state of nature has a more solid basis. As in Cravecoeur's American Farmer, it grows out of the facts of life in a new agricultural settlement. An opposite conception was also prevalent. Side by side with the ideal of an eloquent stoic, artless, magnanimous by nature, we find-often in the same book of travels — the cruel savage as he is, vengeful and impure. Montaigne, indeed, a
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.
An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.