The New World in Renaissance Literature
The New World in Renaissance Literature
The revelation of America as a newly-discovered continent challenged fundamental aspects of the Renaissance worldview while introducing a new body of ideas and myths into European thought. Strongly influential in shaping perceptions of the New World were the published diaries and letters of such explorers as Sir Walter Raleigh and Hernán Cortés, which documented the course of exploration voyages and the characteristics of the new land and its inhabitants. The literary outgrowths of these popular writings included the expansion of travel literature, fictional genres including the imaginary voyage and the prose romance, and the imaginary societies depicted in Renaissance Utopian literature.
Contemporary critics have noted that Renaissance exploration chronicles are characterized by the imposition of European images and values onto an unfamiliar world—explorers often recorded only what they expected to see, overlooking or severely altering features of the American landscape and Native American culture for which they had no familiar reference point. The Christian tradition, for example, contributed to the early conception of America as an Edenic land populated by "peaceful and innocent children", free from the corruption of material possessions and government. Conversely, as conflicts arose between Europeans and Natives, Indians were widely regarded as "children of Satan" who symbolized the dangerous implications of a world free of law or religion. The Renaissance idea of progress was also influential in depictions of the New World. Percy G. Adams commented: "Very early in the sixteenth century, the discovery of America became a symbol of discovery and invention in general as well as evidence to historians of the New World that their age had made advances over former ages." Such notions as manifest destiny, which have been formative in shaping the course of American history, find their roots in the earliest European colonization efforts and writings that promoted the myth of a European mandate from God to Christianize and profit from the New World.
Diario del primer viaje [Journal of the First Voyage] 1492-1493
Carias de relación de la conquista de Méjico [Letters front Mexico] 1519-1526
Diaz del Castillo, Bernal
Historia Verdadera de la conquista de la Nueva España 1632
Gómara, Franciso López
Historia General de las Indias 1552
The Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques, and Discoveries of the English Nation 1599
Navigantium atque Itinerantium Bibliotheca; or, a Compleat Collection of Voyages and Travels 1705
Las Casas, Bartolomé de
Historia de Las Indias [History of the Indies] c. 1527
Brevisima relación de la destrucción de las Indias [The Devastation of the Indies: A Brief Account] 1552
Montaigne, Michel Eyquem de
Essais [*Essays] 1572-80
Raleigh, Sir Walter
The Discoverie of the Large, Rich and Bewtiful Empire of Guiana 1596
History of America 1777
Cosmographiae Introductio 1507
A Journal of the Transactions and Occurrences in the Settlement of Massachusetts and the Other New-England Colonies, from the Year 1630 to 1644 1790...
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Utopia Vs. Terror In The New World
Howard Mumford Jones (essay date 1964)
SOURCE: "The Anti-Image," in O Strange New World: American Culture: the Formative Years, The Viking Press, 1964, pp. 35-70.
[In the following essay, Jones examines the opposing idealized and terrifying visions of the New World that characterized Renaissance thought.]
The concept that the New World is the peculiar abode of felicity lingered for centuries in the European imagination and, like the youth of America, is one of its oldest traditions. Virginia, wrote Michael Drayton in his famous poem of 1606, is earth's "onely paradise," and Goethe not long before his death declared: "Amerika, du hast es besser/Als unser Continent, das Alte. " As for France, the studies of Gilbert Chinard have shown the connection between America and an exotic dream of difference and perfection. The vitality of the idea runs so deep and long, the traditional image can be adapted to humor, so that William Byrd's satirical "Journey to the Land of Eden" in 1733 and Martin Chuzzlewit's unfortunate real-estate speculation in the fever-ridden Eden of Dickens' novel are proof of the vigor of a concept that has a thousand aspects, … But the coin, to change the figure, has another side. Before we study its obverse, however, it is relevant to examine three or four famous philosophic evocations of the New World as the home of social perfection.
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New World Explorers And Native Americans
J. H. Elliott (essay date 1975)
SOURCE: "The Great American Debate," in The New York Review of Books, Vol. XXII, No. 8, May 15, 1975, pp. 3-6.
[In the following excerpt, Elliott discusses the debate surrounding exploration and colonization of America during the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, which is the subject of Antonello Gerbi's critical study The Dispute of the New World. He then considers the "double vision" which "proved to be of critical importance for the evolution of European attitudes to the indigenous peoples of the Americas. "]
Anyone who is bothered by the marked absence of elephants from the woods and forests of America has only to turn to the pages of that great eighteenth-century naturalist, Buffon, to find the reason for this sad lacuna. Nature in America is less active, less varied, and less vigorous than in Europe because America is a new continent. Therefore the best it can manage in the line of pachyderms is the modest tapir. With time, perhaps, things may change—not that the tapir can ever hope to grow into an elephant, but at least those European breeds which, like the sheep and goat, have made the transatlantic crossing will no longer actually decrease in size in their new environment.
Buffon was a large man—a fact which may help to explain his predilection for the bigger animals as representing a higher level on the...
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"Elizabethan Explorers." The Church Quarterly Preview XXXIII, No. LXV (October, 1891): 216-35.
Offers a historical overview of the most influential exploration voyages and chronicles of the Elizabethan period.
Cressy, David. "Elizabethan America: 'God's Own Latitude?'" History Today, 36. (July 1986): 44-50.
Provides an overview of "what the English wanted from America during the first Elizabethan period, and what they achieved."
Edwards, Philip, ed. Last Voyages: Cavendish, Hudson, Ralegh: The Original Narratives. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988, 268 p.
Presents a modernized edition of The Last Voyage of Thomas Cavendish, 1591-1593, The Last Voyage of Henry Hudson, 1610-1611, and The Last Voyage of Sir Walter Ralegh, 1617-1618.
Ife, B. W. "Alexander in the New World." Renaissance and Modern Studies XXX. (1986): 35-44.
Examines language and narrative structure in several accounts of Spanish discovery and conquest in the New World.
Iglesia, Ramón. "Bernal Díaz del Castillo's Criticisms of the History of the Conquest of Mexico, by Franciso López de Gómara." The Hispanic American...
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