Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
When, in 1759, Voltaire published his Candide: Ou, L’Optimisme (Candide: Or, All for the Best, 1759), Michel-Guillaume Jean de Crèvecur was already planning to cultivate his garden hewn out of the Pennsylvania frontier. Like Voltaire’s naïve hero, Crèvecur had seen too much of the horrors of the civilized world and was more than ready to retire to his bucolic paradise, where for nineteen years he lived in peace and happiness until the civilized world intruded on him and his family with the outbreak of the American Revolution.
The twelve essays that make up his Letters from an American Farmer are, ostensibly at least, the product of a hand unfamiliar with the pen. The opening letter presents the central theme quite clearly: The decadence of European civilization makes the American frontier one of the great hopes for a regeneration of humanity. Crèvecur wonders why people travel to Italy to “amuse themselves in viewing the ruins of temples . . . . half-ruined amphitheatres and the putrid fevers of the Campania must fill the mind with most melancholy reflections.” By contrast, Crèvecur delights in the humble rudiments of societies spreading everywhere in the colonies, people converting large forests into pleasing fields and creating thirteen provinces of easy subsistence and political harmony. He has his interlocutor say of him, “Your mind is . . . a Tabula rasa where spontaneous and strong impressions are delineated...
(The entire section is 1816 words.)
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