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 predecessor of Rousseau in admiring the unlettered aborigines, had held that the European surpassed the savage in barbarity; yet when he turns from the ideal to the actual, there is but a step between Montaigne and Hobbes, who declares the life of nature to be “nasty, solitary, brutish, and short.” And Hobbes merely anticipates Voltaire and Pauw, whose unedifying pictures of American natives were put together from the accounts of travellers. We have, then, in the literature of Europe the same opposition between observed fact and preconceived notion that we meet in Bartram or Carver. On the one hand, we have La Jeune Indienne of Chamfort, presented at the Theatre Francais in 1764, or Rousseau's Chanson des Sauvages and Danse Canadienne; on the other, a debate among the learned on the question whether the villainy of the Indians was original, or had been acquired through contact with civilization. In De l'amerique et des Americains, published at Berlin in 1771, the anonymous author attacks the theories of Pauw, and vigorously contends that the savages were evil enough to begin with. Man in a state of nature suggests solitude; and solitude, with its charms for the eighteenth-century poet, suggests the so-called “feeling for nature” that of late has been much discussed by literary students in dealing with that period. Though the point is not always made clear, the actual topic under discussion is the Neoplatonic doctrine of divine immanence. To a man who believes in this, the world, with its plants and animals, is no longer a work of art, shaped by the fingers of a Master-Artist; it is filled with a subtle spirit which is interfused in all material and living things, “rolls” through them, and is their principle of movement and pulsation. In one form or another, this notion of immanence, familiar in the earlier poems of Wordsworth, characterizes the reaction against the age of reason, and may be found in many observers of nature in America. Its origin is obscure; nor can one readily see why Neoplatonic ideas should cast a spell over minds so diverse as those of Rousseau, Goethe, Wordsworth, and the Quaker Bartram. The suggestion has been made that the writings of the mystic Boehme had an influence upon the Society of Friends. But the sources of the “feeling for nature” are likely to have been as various as the evidences of it in American travellers.
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