The New World in Renaissance Literature

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Representative Works

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Columbus, Christopher
Diario del primer viaje [Journal of the First Voyage] 1492-1493

Cortés, Hernán
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

Hakluyt, Richard
The Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques, and Discoveries of the English Nation 1599

Harris, John
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

Robertson, William
History of America 1777

Waldseemiiller, Martin
Cosmographiae Introductio 1507

Winthrop, John
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

*Montaigne discusses the New World in his essays "Of Cannibals" and "Of Coaches."

J. H. Elliott (essay date 1970)

SOURCE: "The Uncertain Impact," in The Old World and the New: 1492-1650, Cambridge at the University Press, 1970, pp. 1-27.

[In the following essay, Elliott considers the impact of the New World on European thought during the Renaissance, and suggests that "tradition, experience, and expectation were the determinants of vision. "]

Nearly three hundred years after Columbus's first voyage of discovery, the Abbé Raynal, that eager inquirer

after other men's truths, offered a prize for the essay which would best answer the following questions. Has the discovery of America been useful or harmful to mankind? If useful, how can its usefulness be enhanced? If harmful, how can the harm be diminished? Cornelius De Pauw had recently described the discovery of the New World [in Recherches Philosophiques sur les Américains, in Œuvres Philosophiques, 1794] as the most calamitous event in human history, and Raynal was taking no chances. 'No event', he had cautiously begun his vast and laborious Philosophical and Political History of the Settlements and Trade of the Europeans in the East and West Indies (1770), 'has been so interesting to mankind in general, and to the inhabitants of Europe in particular, as the discovery of the new world, and the passage to India by the Cape of Good Hope.' It took the robust Scottish forthrightness of Adam Smith [in The Wealth of Nations, 1776], whose view of the impact of the discoveries was generally favourable, to turn this non-committal passage into an ex cathedra historical pronouncement, 'the discovery of America, and that of a passage to the East Indies by the Cape of Good Hope, are the two greatest and most important events recorded in the history of mankind'.

But in what, precisely, did their importance lie? As the candidates for Raynal's essay prize soon found out for themselves, this was by no means easy to decide. Of the eight essays which have survived, four took an optimistic view of the consequences of America's discovery, and dwelt at length on the resulting commercial advantages. But optimists and pessimists alike tended to wander uncertainly through three centuries of European history, anxiously searching for pieces of stray ammunition with which to bombard their predetermined targets. In the end, it was perhaps not surprising that standards were considered insufficiently high, and no prize was awarded.

Raynal's formulation of his questions no doubt tended to prompt philosophical speculation and dogmatic assertion, rather than rigorous historical inquiry. But this...

(This entire section contains 14814 words.)

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was less easily evaded in 1792, when the Académie Française asked competitors to examine the influence of America on the 'politics, commerce and customs of Europe'. It is difficult not to sympathize with the sentiments of the anonymous prize-winner. 'What a vast and inexhaustible subject', he sighed. 'The more one studies it, the more it grows.' Nevertheless, he succeeded in covering a great deal of ground in his eightysix pages. As might have been expected, he was happier with America's political and economic influence on Europe than with its moral influence, which he regarded as pernicious. But he showed himself aware of the concealed danger in this enterprise—the danger of attributing all the major changes in modern European history to the discovery of America. He also made a genuine attempt, in language which may not sound totally unfamiliar to our own generation, to weigh up the profits and the losses of discovery and settlement. 'If those Europeans who devoted their lives to developing the resources of America had instead been employed in Europe in clearing forests, and building roads, bridges and canals, would not Europe have found in its own bosom the most important objects which it derives from the other world, or their equivalent? And what innumerable products would the soil of Europe not have yielded, if it had been brought to the degree of cultivation of which it is capable?'

In a field where there are so many variables, and where the qualitative and the quantitative are so inextricably interwoven, even the modern arts of econometric history cannot do much to help us assess the relative costs and benefits involved in the discovery and exploitation of America by Europe. Yet the impossibility of precise measurement should not be allowed to act as a deterrent to the study of a subject which has been regarded, at least since the late eighteenth century, as central to the history of Europe and the modern world.

For all the interest and importance of the theme, the historiography of the impact of America on Europe has enjoyed a distinctly chequered career. The eighteenth-century debate was conducted in terms which suggest that the participants were more concerned to confirm and defend their personal prejudices about the nature of man and society than to obtain a careful historical perspective on the contribution of the New World to Europe's economic and cultural development. It was not until Humboldt published his Cosmos in 1845 that the reactions of the first Europeans, and especially of the Spaniards, to the alien environment of America assumed their proper place in a great geographical and historical synthesis, which made some attempt to consider what the revelation of the New World had meant to the Old.

Nineteenth-century historiography did not show any great interest in pursuing Humboldt's more original lines of inquiry. The discovery and settlement of the New World were incorporated into an essentially Europocentric conception of history, where they were depicted as part of that epic process by which the Renaissance European first became conscious of the world and of man, and then by degrees imposed his own dominion over the newly-discovered races of a newly-discovered world. In this particular story of European history—which was all too easily identified with universal history—there was a tendency to place the principal emphasis on the motives, methods and achievements of the explorers and conquerors. The impact of Europe on the world (which was regarded as a transforming, and ultimately beneficial, impact) seemed a subject of greater interest and concern than the impact of the world on Europe.

Twentieth-century European historiography has tended to pursue a similar theme, although from a very different standpoint. The retreat of European imperialism has led to a reassessment—often very harsh—of the European legacy. At the same time the development of anthropology and archaeology has led to a reassessment—sometimes very favourable—of the pre-European past of former colonial societies. Where European historians once wrote with the confidence born of an innate sense of European superiority, they now write burdened with the consciousness of European guilt.

It is no accident that some of the most important historical work of our own age—preoccupied as it is with the problem of European and non-European, of black and white—should have been devoted to the study of the social, demographic and psychological consequences for non-European societies of Europe's overseas expansion. Perhaps future generations will detect in our concern with these themes some affinity between the historians of the eighteenth and twentieth centuries. For Raynal and his friends were similarly consumed by guilt and by doubt. Their hesitancy in evaluating the consequences of the discovery and conquest of America sprang precisely from the dilemma involved in attempting to reconcile the record of economic and technical progress since the end of the fifteenth century with the record of the sufferings endured by the defeated societies. The very extent of their preoccupation with the great moral issue of their own times, the issue of slavery, helped to create a situation not without its parallels today. For if their preoccupation stimulated them to ask historical questions, it also tempted them to reply with unhistorical answers.

The Académie Française competition of 1792 shows that one of those questions concerned the impact of overseas expansion on Europe itself; and it is not surprising to find a renewed interest in this same question today. As Europe again becomes acutely aware of the ambivalence of its relationship to the outer world, so it also becomes aware of the possibility of seeing itself in a different perspective—as part of a universal community of mankind whose existence has exercised its own subtle and transforming influences on the history of Europe. The awareness is salutary, although it contains an element of narcissism, to which the eighteenth century self-indulgently succumbed. Moreover, where the relationship with America is concerned, this element is likely to be particularly well represented. For this has always been a special relationship, in the sense that America was peculiarly the artefact of Europe, as Asia and Africa were not. America and Europe were for ever inseparable, their destinies interlocked.

The part played by the American myth in the spiritual and intellectual development of Europe has now become a commonplace of historical study. In the early years of this century, the impressive work of Gabriel Chinard on America and the exotic dream in French literature [L'Exotisme Américain dans la Littérature Française au XVIe Siècle, 1911, and L'Amérique et le Rêve Exotique dans la Littérature Française au XVIIe et au XVIIIe Siècle, 1913] revealed in brilliant detail the fluctuating process by which an idealized New World helped to sustain the hopes and aspirations of the Old until the moment when Europe was ready to accept and act upon America's message of renovation and revolution. Chinard's work was complemented and amplified by Geoffrey Atkinson's study of French geographical literature and ideas [Les Nouveaux Horizons de la Renaissance Française, 1935], and, more recently, by Antonello Gerbi's massive survey of the eighteenth-century debate on America as a corrupt or an innocent world [La Disputa del Nuoro Mondo]. One further book stands out amidst the rapidly growing literature on Europe and the American dream—The Invention of America, by the distinguished Mexican philosophical historian, Edmundo O'Gorman, who has ingeniously argued that America was not discovered but invented by sixteenth-century Europeans.

Alongside these contributions to the study of the myth of America in European thought, an increasing amount of attention has been devoted, especially in the Hispanic world, to the writings of the Spanish chroniclers, missionaries and officials, as interpreters of the American scene. A vast amount of close textual study still remains to be undertaken, but enough has already been achieved to confirm the justice of Humboldt's slightly condescending verdict: 'If we carefully examine the original works of the earliest historians of the Conquista, we are astonished at finding in a Spanish author of the sixteenth century, the germs of so many important physical truths.' There are still great opportunities for research into the Spanish texts, as indeed into the general sixteenth-century literature of exploration and discovery. But the most rewarding results of this textual research are likely to come from intelligent attempts to set it into a wider context of information and ideas. The evidence of the texts can tell us much that we still need to know about non-European societies, by providing the essential material for 'ethnohistory', which sets the results of ethnographic study against European historical records. It can also tell us something of interest about European society—about the ideas, attitudes and preconceptions which made up the mental baggage of Early Modern Europeans on their travels through the world. What did they see or fail to see? Why did they react as they did? It is the attempt to suggest answers to some of these questions which makes Margaret Hodgen's recent history of Early Anthropology in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries such an important pioneering work.

This select company of books stands out, not only because of their intrinsic excellence, but also because of the particular line of approach adopted by their authors. All of them have sought, in some way, to relate the European response to the non-European world to the general history of European civilization and ideas. It is here that the most promising opportunities are to be found; and here, too, that there is most need for some kind of reassessment and synthesis. For the literature on the discovery and colonization of the New World is now enormous, but it is also in many respects fragmentary and disconnected, as if it formed a special field of historical study on its own.

[J. R. Hale, in Renaissance Exploration, 1968 said that] 'What is lacking in English is an attempt to tie in exploration with European history as a whole'. This lack provides some justification for an attempt to synthesize, in brief compass, the present state of thought about the impact made by the discovery and settlement of America on Early Modern Europe. Any such attempt must clearly lead into several different fields of inquiry, for America impinged on sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century Europe at innumerable points. Its discovery had important intellectual consequences, in that it brought Europeans into contact with new lands and peoples, and in so doing challenged a number of traditional European assumptions about geography, theology, history and the nature of man. America also constituted an economic challenge for Europe, in that it proved to be at once a source of supply for produce and for objects for which there existed a European demand, and a promising field for the extension of European business enterprise. Finally, the acquisition by European states of lands and resources in America was bound to have important political repercussions, in that it affected their mutual relations by bringing about changes in the balance of power.

Any examination of European history in the light of an external influence upon it, carries with it the temptation to find traces of this influence everywhere. But the absence of influence is often at least as revealing as its presence; and if some fields of thought are still curiously untouched by the experience of America, a hundred years or more after its discovery, this too can tell us something about the character of European civilization. From 1492 the New World was always present in European history, although its presence made itself felt in different ways at different times. It is for this reason that America and Europe should not be subjected to a historiographical divorce, however shadowy their partnership may often appear before the later seventeenth century. Properly, their histories should constitute a continuous interplay of two distinctive themes.

One theme is represented by the attempt of Europe to impose its own image, its own aspirations, and its own values, on a newly-discovered world, together with the consequences for that world of its actions. The other treats of the way in which a growing awareness of the character, the opportunities and the challenges represented by the New World of America helped to shape and transform an Old World which was itself striving to shape and transform the New. The first of these themes has traditionally received more emphasis than the second, although, ultimately, the two are equally important and should remain inseparable. But at this moment the second is in need of more historical attention than the first. From around 1650 the histories of Europe and America have been reasonably well integrated. But for the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, the significance of America for Europe still awaits a full assessment.

'It is a striking fact', wrote the Parisian lawyer, Etienne Pasquier, in the early 1560s, 'that our classical authors had no knowledge of all this America, which we call New Lands'. With these words he caught something of the importance of America for the Europe of his day. Here was a totally new phenomenon, quite outside the range of Europe's accumulated experience and of its normal expectation. Europeans knew something, however vaguely and inaccurately, about Africa and Asia. But about America and its inhabitants they knew nothing. It was this which differentiated the response of sixteenth-century Europeans to America from that of the fifteenth-century Portuguese to Africa. The nature of the Africans was known, at least in a general way. That of the Americans was not. The very fact of America's existence, and of its gradual revelation as an entity in its own right, rather than as an extension of Asia, constituted a challenge to a whole body of traditional assumptions, beliefs and attitudes. The sheer immensity of this challenge goes a long way towards explaining one of the most striking features of sixteenth-century intellectual history—the apparent slowness of Europe in making the mental adjustments required to incorporate America within its field of vision.

At first sight, the evidence for the existence of a timelag between the discovery of America and Europe's assimilation of that discovery does not seem entirely clear cut. There is, after all, ample evidence of the excitement provoked in Europe by the news of Columbus's landfall. 'Raise your spirits … Hear about the new discovery!' wrote the Italian humanist Peter Martyr to the count of Tendilla and the archbishop of Granada on 13 September 1493 [in Epistolario de Pedro Már tir de Angleria,]. Christopher Columbus, he reported, 'has returned safe and sound. He says that he has found marvellous things, and he has produced gold as proof of the existence of mines in those regions.' And Martyr then went on to recount how Columbus had found men who went around naked, and lived content with what nature gave them. They had kings; they fought among each other with staves and bows and arrows; although they were naked, they competed for power, and they married. They worshipped the celestial bodies, but the exact nature of their religious beliefs was still unknown.

That Martyr's excitement was widely shared is indicated by the fact that Columbus's first letter was printed and published nine times in 1493 and had reached some twenty editions by 1500. The frequent printing of this letter and of the reports of later explorers and conquistadores; the fifteen editions of Francanzano Montalboddo's collection of voyages, the Paesi Novamente Retrovati, first published at Venice in 1507; the great mid-century compilation of voyages by Ramusio—all this testifies to the great curiosity and interest aroused in sixteenth-century Europe by the news of the discoveries.

Similarly, it is not difficult to find resounding affirmations by individual sixteenth-century writers of the magnitude and significance of the events which were unfolding before their eyes. Guicciardini lavished praise on the Spaniards and Portuguese, and especially on Columbus, for the skill and courage 'which has brought to our age the news of such great and unexpected things'. Juan Luis Vives, who was born in the year of America's discovery, wrote in 1531 in the dedication of his De Disciplinis to John III of Portugal: 'truly, the globe has been opened up to the human race'. Eight years later, in 1539, the Paduan philosopher Lazzaro Buonamico introduced a theme which would be elaborated upon in the 1570s by the French writer Louis Le Roy, and would become a commonplace of European historiography: 'Do not believe that there exists anything more honourable to our or the preceeding age than the invention of the printing press and the discovery of the new world; two things which I always thought could be compared, not only to Antiquity, but to immortality'. And in 1552 Gómara, in the dedication to Charles V of his General History of the Indies, wrote perhaps the most famous, and certainly the most succinct, of all assessments of the significance of 1492: 'The greatest event since the creation of the world (excluding the incarnation and death of Him who created it) is the discovery of the Indies.'

Yet against these signs of awareness must be set the no less striking signs of unawareness of the importance both of the discovery of America and of its discoverer. The historical reputation of Columbus is a subject which has not yet received all the attention it deserves; but the treatment of Columbus by sixteenth-century writers indicates something of the difficulty which they encountered in seeing his achievement in any sort of historical perspective. With one or two exceptions they showed little interest in his personality and career, and some of them could not even get his Christian name right. When he died in Valladolid, the city chronicle failed to record the fact. It seemed as though Columbus might be doomed to oblivion, partly perhaps because he failed to conform to the sixteenth-century canon of the hero-figure, and partly because the true significance of his achievement was itself so hard to grasp.

There were, however, always a few spirits, particularly in his native Italy, who were prepared to give Columbus his due. The determination of his son, Hernando, to perpetuate his memory, and the publication in Venice in 1571 of the famous biography [Vida del Almiranta Don Cristóbal Colón], helped to keep his name before the world. When Sir Francis Bacon included a statue of Columbus in the gallery in New Atlantis devoted to the statues of 'all principal inventors', his intended tribute to the discoverer of America was not in fact very original. In his History of the New World, published in 1565, the Italian Benzoni alleged that if Columbus had 'lived in the time of the Greeks or of the Romans, or of any other liberal nation, they would have erected a statue'. The same idea was expressed a few years earlier by another of Columbus's compatriots, Ramusio, who in turn probably lifted it from the History of the Indies, written by his Spanish friend, Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo. Recalling famous statues of classical antiquity, Oviedo insisted that Columbus, 'the first discoverer and finder of these Indies', was even more worthy of commemoration. 'As a brave and wise sailor, and a courageous captain, he showed to us this New World, which is so full of gold that thousands of such statues could have been made out of the gold that is sent to Spain. But he is still more worthy of fame and glory for having brought the Catholic faith to these parts ….'

Gold and conversion—these were the two most immediate and obvious connotations of America, and those most likely to be associated with the name of its discoverer. It was only by slow degrees that Columbus began to acquire the status of a hero. He figured as the central protagonist in a number of Italian epic poems written in the last two decades of the sixteenth century, and in 1614 he at last appeared as the hero of a Spanish drama, with the publication of Lope de Vega's extraordinary play, El Nuevo Mundo descubierto por Cristóbal Colón. Lope shows a genuine historical appreciation of the significance of Columbus's achievement when he puts into the mouth of Ferdinand the Catholic a speech affirming the traditional cosmography of a tripartite globe, and scoffing at the possibility that there might exist a portion of the world still to be discovered. At the same time, his Columbus, as a dreamer mocked by the world, has already started on his career as the romantic hero who becomes the symbol of man's unquenchable spirit of discovery.

There were already intimations of this romanticization of Columbus during the sixteenth century. But more commonly he was set within the framework of a providential interpretation of history, which depicted him as a divinely appointed instrument for the spreading of the gospel—and even here he was likely to find himself relegated to second place by the more obviously heroic figure of Hernán Cortés. But not even the mass-conversion of hitherto unknown peoples was sufficient of itself to ensure a firm place for Columbus, or Cortés, or for the New World, in the European consciousness. In some circles—especially certain humanist and religious circles, and in the merchant communities of some of Europe's leading cities—the interest was intense, although partial, and often specialized, in character. But it seems that the European reading public displayed no overwhelming interest in the newly-discovered world of America.

The evidence for this assertion unfortunately lacks the firm statistical foundation which it should properly possess. At present, the most comprehensive information about sixteenth-century reading tastes comes from France, where Atkinson's survey of geographical literature indicates that between 1480 and 1609 four times as many books were devoted to the Turks and Asia as to America, and that the proportion of books on Asia actually increased in the final decade of his chosen period. For other parts of Europe, conclusions remain impressionistic. In England, there is little sign of literary interest before the 1550s, when the new Anglo-Spanish connection provided a belated stimulus. In Italy, the very considerable interest during the opening phase of the discoveries does not appear to have been maintained beyond the ending of active Italian participation around 1520; but a spate of translations of foreign accounts suggests that it revived sharply after 1550. Except for those with a professional interest in the subject, Spanish authors in the century following the discovery were strangely reticent about the New World. Until the publication in 1569 of the first part of Ercilla's Araucana, epic poems recounted the feats of Spanish arms in Italy and Africa, but ignored—to the chagrin of Bernal Díaz—the no less heroic feats of Spanish arms in the Indies. This neglect, in the nation where it is least to be expected, is not easily explained. It may be that neither conquistadores of relatively humble origins, nor their barbarian opponents, measured up to the high standards required of epic heroes.

But even if more statistical studies existed, it would not be easy to interpret their conclusions. This is a field in which the attempt to draw qualitative conclusions from quantitative data is more than usually dangerous. A recent investigation has uncovered at least sixty references to America in thirty-nine Polish books and manuscripts of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The number is not unimpressive, but on closer inspection it transpires that the New World constantly reappears in a limited number of contexts—either as a symbol of the exotic, or as a testimonal to the achievements of the church triumphant—and that sixteenth-century Poles were not much interested in America. Conversely, it could be argued that the qualitative changes introduced into European thought by accounts of the New World and its peoples, far outweigh the quantity of information at the disposal of the reader. Montaigne was dependent on Gómara's History of the Indies for much of his information; but his reading of this one book, in the 1584 edition of the French translation, had profound consequences for his whole approach to the question of conquest and colonization.

In spite of this, it is difficult not to be impressed by the strange lacunae and the resounding silences in many places where references to the New World could reasonably be expected. How are we to explain the absence of any mention of the New World in so many memoirs and chronicles, including the memoirs of Charles V himself? How are we to explain the continuing determination, right up to the last two or three decades of the sixteenth century, to describe the world as if it were still the world as known to Strabo, Ptolemy and Pomponius Mela? How are we to explain the persistent reprinting by publishers, and the continuing use by schools, of classical cosmographies which were known to be outdated by the discoveries? How are we to explain that a man as widely read and as curious as Bodin should have made so little use of the considerable information available to him about the peoples of the New World in the writing of his political and social philosophy?

The reluctance of cosmographers or of social philosophers to incorporate into their work the new information made available to them by the discovery of America provides an example of the wider problem arising from the revelation of the New World to the Old. Whether it is a question of the geography of America, its flora and fauna, or the nature of its inhabitants, the same kind of pattern seems constantly to recur in the European response. It is as if, at a certain point, the mental shutters come down; as if, with so much to see and absorb and understand, the effort suddenly becomes too much for them, and Europeans retreat to the half-light of their traditional mental world.

There is nothing very novel about the form of this sixteenth-century response. Medieval Europe had found it supremely difficult to comprehend and come to terms with the phenomenon of Islam; and the story of the attempt at understanding is an intricate story of the interplay of prejudice, puzzlement and indifference, where there is no clear linear progression, but rather a series of advances and retreats. Nor is this a matter for surprise, for the attempt of one society to comprehend another inevitably forces it to reappraise itself. In his essay on 'Understanding a Primitive Society', Professor Peter Winch writes: 'Seriously to study another way of life is necessarily to seek to extend our own—not simply to bring the other way within the already existing boundaries of our own, because the point about the latter in their present form, is that they ex hypothesi exclude that other.' This process is bound to be an agonizing one, involving the jettisoning of many traditional preconceptions and inherited ideas. It is hardly surprising, then, if sixteenth-century Europeans either ignored the challenge or baulked at the attempt. There was, after all, an easier way out, neatly epitomized in 1528 by the Spanish humanist, Hernán Pérez de Oliva, when he wrote [in Historia de la Invención de las Indias] that Columbus set out on his second voyage 'to unite the world and give to those strange lands the form of our own'.

'Give to those strange lands the form of our own.' Here, surely, is revealed that innate sense of superiority which has always been the worst enemy of understanding. How can we expect a Europe so conscious of its own infallibility—of its unique status and position in God's providential design—even to make the effort to come to terms with a world other than its own? But this Europe was not the closed Europe of an 'age of ignorance'. Instead, it was Renaissance Europe—the Europe of 'the discovery of the world and of man'. If Renaissance ideas and attitudes played an important part—however elusive it may be to determine exactly what part—in prompting Europeans to set out on voyages of discovery and to extend their mental as well as their geographical horizons, might we not expect a new kind of readiness to respond to fresh information and fresh stimuli from a newly-discovered world?

The conclusion does not necessarily follow. In some respects the Renaissance involved, at least in its earlier stages, a closing rather than an opening of the mind. The veneration of antiquity became more slavish; authority staked fresh claims against experience. Both the boundaries and the content of traditional disciplines such as cosmography or social philosophy had been clearly determined by reference to the texts of classical antiquity, which acquired an extra degree of definitiveness when for the first time they were fixed on the printed page. Fresh information from alien sources was therefore liable to seem at worst incredible, at best irrelevant, when set against the accumulated knowledge of the centuries. Given this deference to authority, there was unlikely to be any undue precipitation, least of all in academic circles, to accept the New World into consciousness.

It is also possible that a society which is wrestling—as late medieval Christendom was wrestling—with great spiritual, intellectual and political problems, is too preoccupied with its internal upheavals to devote more than fitful attention to phenomena located on the periphery of its interests. It may be too much to expect such a society to make a further radical adjustment—and one which this time involves the assimilation of an entirely new range of alien experiences. Against this, however, it could be argued that a society which is in movement, and displays symptoms of dissatisfaction, is more likely to show itself capable of absorbing new impressions and experiences than a static society, satisfied with itself, and secure in the assurance of its own superiority.

The degree of success or failure in sixteenth-century Europe's response to the Indies can to some extent be measured by reference to another response in a not dissimilar situation—the response of the Chinese of the T'ang dynasty to the reconquered tropical southern lands of Nam-Viet, which has recently been examined by Professor Edward Schafer, in his remarkable book, The Vermilion Bird. His findings suggest that the difficulties confronting colonial officials of seventh-century China and of sixteenth-century Spain in assessing and describing an alien environment were by no means dissimilar, and that the nature of their response was much the same. The Chinese, like the Spaniards, observed and assiduously wrote down their observations, but they were, in Professor Schafer's words, the 'prisoners of their ecological lexicons'. Their minds and imaginations were preconditioned, so that they saw what they expected to see, and ignored or rejected those features of life in the southern lands for which they were mentally unprepared. They found (because they expected to find) the inhabitants barbarian and apelike, and the tropical landscape unalluring. No doubt the tendency to think in clichés is the eternal hallmark of the official mind; but it was only slowly that the unfamiliar environment widened the perceptions of some of the Chinese in the southern lands, and enriched their literature and thought.

There was no European equivalent to the poetically evocative response of the Chinese to their strange new world, but America ultimately extended Europe's mental horizons in other, and perhaps more important, ways. In both instances, however, there was the same initial uncertainty, and the same slowness to respond. Given the great mental adjustments to be made, the response of sixteenth-century Europe was perhaps, after all, not as slow as it sometimes appears to be. Nor was it by any means as slow as might have been anticipated from Christendom's record during the preceding millennium. Early Modern Europe showed itself quicker to respond to the experience of the New World of America, than Medieval Europe to the experience of the world of Islam. This may suggest that the lessons taught by the Indies were more easily learnt, or that Europe at this moment was more ready to go to school. Probably it was a combination of both. No doubt it is possible to feel impatience at the slowness of the educational process—at the hesitations and the setbacks, and at the blind spots which still existed when the lessons were learnt. But there is also something rather moving about the groping of those sixteenth-century Europeans who sought to come to terms with the lands and peoples that had been so unexpectedly revealed to them on the far side of the Atlantic.

For the obstacles to the incorporation of the New World within Europe's intellectual horizon were formidable. There were obstacles of time and space, of inheritance, environment and language; and efforts would be required at many different levels before they were removed. At least four different processes were involved, each of which raised peculiar difficulties of its own. First of all there was the process of observation, as defined by Humboldt when he wrote: 'To see … is not to observe; that is, to compare and classify.' The second process was description—depicting the unfamiliar in such a way that it could be grasped by those who had not seen it. The third was dissemination—the diffusion of new information, new images and new ideas, so that they became part of the accepted stock of mental furniture. And the fourth was comprehension—the ability to come to terms with the unexpected and the unfamiliar, to see them as phenomena existing in their own right, and (hardest of all) to shift the accepted boundaries of thought in order to include them.

If one asks what Europeans saw on arriving on the far side of the Atlantic, and how they saw it, much will inevitably depend on the kind of Europeans involved. The range of vision is bound to be affected both by background, and by professional interests. Soldiers, clerics, merchants, and officials trained in the law—these are the classes of men on whom we are dependent for most of our first-hand observation of the New World and its inhabitants. Each class had its own bias and its own limitations; and it would be interesting to have a systematic survey of the extent and nature of the bias for each professional group, and of the way in which it was mitigated or altered, in individual cases, by a humanist education.

One Spanish official in the Indies who transcended many of the limitations of his class, and achieved an unusual degree of insight into Quechua society by dint of learning the language, was Juan de Betanzos. In the dedication to his History of the Incas, written in 1551, he spoke of the difficulties he had met in composing the work. There was such a quantity of conflicting information, and he was concerned to find 'how differently the conquistadores speak about these things, and how far removed they are from Indian practice. And this I believe to be due to the fact that at that time they were not so much concerned with finding things out as with subjecting and acquiring the land. It was also because, coming new to the Indians, they did not know how to ask questions and find things out, for they lacked knowledge of the language; while the Indians, for their part, were too frightened to give them a full account.'

The professional preoccupations of the conquistadores, and the difficulties of conducting any form of effective dialogue with the Indians, are more than enough to account for the deficiencies of their reports as descriptions of the New World and its inhabitants; and it is a piece of unusual good fortune that the conquest of Mexico should have thrown up two soldierchroniclers as shrewd in their observation and as vivid in their powers of description as Cortés and Bernal Díaz. In Cortés's letters of relation it is possible to see at work the process of observation, in Humboldt's sense of the word, as he attempts to bring the exotic into the range of the familiar by writing of Aztec temples as mosques, or by comparing the marketplace of Tenochtitlán with that of Salamanca. But there are obvious limits to Cortés's capacity as an observer, particularly when it comes to depicting the extraordinary landscape through which his invading army marched.

This failure to describe and communicate the physical characteristics of the New World is not peculiar to Cortés. Admittedly, the failure is by no means complete. The Italian Verrazano conveys a clear impression of the thickly forested character of the North American coast; the French Calvinist minister, Jean de Léry, vividly describes the exotic flora and fauna of Brazil; the Englishman, Arthur Barlowe, conjures up the sights and smells of the trees and flowers on the first Roanoke voyage. Columbus himself shows at times a remarkable gift for realistic observation, although at other times the idealized landscape of the European imagination interposes itself between him and the American scene. But so often the physical appearance of the New World is either totally ignored or else described in the flattest and most conventional phraseology. This off-hand treatment of nature contrasts strikingly with the many precise and acute descriptions of the native inhabitants. It is as if the American landscape is seen as no more than a backcloth against which the strange and perennially fascinating peoples of the New World are dutifully grouped.

This apparent deficiency in naturalistic observation may reflect a lack of interest among sixteenth-century Europeans, and especially those of the Mediterranean world, in landscape and in nature. It may reflect, too, the strength of traditional literary conventions. The Spanish soldier of fortune, Alonso Enríquez de Guzmán, who embarked for the New World in 1534, firmly announces in his autobiography [Libro de la Vida y Costumbres de Don Alonso Enríquez de Guzmán]: 'I will not tell you so much about what I saw as about what happened to me, because … this book is simply a book of my experiences.' Unfortunately he proves as good as his word.

Even where Europeans in the New World had the desire to look, and the eyes to see, there is no guarantee that the image which presented itself to them—whether of peoples or of places—necessarily accorded with the reality. Tradition, experience and expectation were the determinants of vision. Even a presumably sober official of the Spanish Crown, Alonso de Zuazo, manages to transmute Hispaniola in 1518 into an enchanted island where the fountains play and the streams are lined with gold, and where nature yields her fruits in marvellous abundance. Bernal Díaz, in many ways so down-to-earth and perceptive an observer, still looks at the conquest of Mexico through the haze of romances of chivalry. Verrazano brilliantly describes the Rhode Island Indians, with their dark hair, their bronzed colouring, their black and lively eyes. But were their faces really as 'gentle and noble as those of classical sculptures', or was this the reaction of a man with a Florentine humanist upbringing, who had already created for himself a mental image of the New World inspired by the Golden Age of antiquity?

It is hard to escape the impression that sixteenth-century Europeans, like the Chinese in the southern lands, all too often saw what they expected to see. This should not really be a cause for surprise or mockery, for it may well be that the human mind has an inherent need to fall back on the familiar object and the standard image, in order to come to terms with the shock of the unfamiliar. The real test comes later, with the capacity to abandon the life-belt which links the unknown to the known. Some Europeans, and especially those who spent a long time in the Indies, did successfully pass this test. Their own dawning realization of the wide divergence between the image and the reality, gradually forced them to abandon their standard images and their inherited preconceptions. For America was a new world and a different world; and it was this fact of difference which was overwhelmingly borne in upon those who came to know it. 'Everything is very different', wrote Fray Tomás de Mercado in his book of advice to the merchants of Seville; 'the talent of the natives, the disposition of the republic, the method of government and even the capacity to be governed'.

But how to convey this fact of difference, the uniqueness of America, to those who had not seen it? The problem of description reduced writers and chroniclers to despair. There was too much diversity, too many new things to be described, as Fernández de Oviedo constantly complained. 'Of all the things I have seen', he wrote of a bird of brilliant plumage, 'this is the one which has most left me without hope of being able to describe it in words.' Or again of a strange tree—'it needs to be painted by the hand of a Berruguete or some other excellent painter like him, or by Leonardo da Vinci or Andrea Mantegna, famous painters whom I knew in Italy'. But the sheer impossibility of the task itself represented a challenge which could extend the boundaries of perception. Forcing themselves to communicate something of their own delight in what they saw around them, the Spanish chroniclers of the Indies occasionally achieved a pen-picture of startling intimacy and brilliance. What could be more vivid than Las Casas's description [in Apologética Historia Sumaria] of himself reading matins 'in a breviary with tiny print' by the light of the Hispaniola fireflies?

Yet there are times when the chroniclers seem cruelly hampered by the inadequacies of their vocabulary; and it is particularly noticeable that the range of colours identifiable by sixteenth-century Europeans seems strictly limited. Again and again travellers express their astonishment at the greenness of America, but can get no further. Just occasionally, as with Sir Walter Raleigh in Guinea, the palette comes to life: 'We sawe birds of all colours, some carnation, some crimson, orenge tawny, purple, greene, watched [i.e. light blue], and of all other sorts both simple and mixt …' [The Discoverie of the Large, Rich and Bewtiful Empyre of Guiana, 1596]. Jean de Léry, too, can give some idea of the brilliance of plumage of the tropical birds of Brazil. But Léry possesses a quite unusual capacity for putting himself in the position of a European who has never crossed the Atlantic and is forced to envisage the New World from travellers' accounts. He instructs his readers [in his Voyage fait en la Terre du Bresil], for instance, how to conceive of a Brazilian savage. 'Imagine in your mind a naked, well-formed and well-proportionated man, with all the hair on his body plucked out … his lips and cheeks pierced by pointed bones or green stones, pendants hanging from his pierced ears, his body painted … his thighs and legs blackened with dye …' Yet even Léry admits defeat in the end. 'Their gestures and countenances are so different from ours, that I confess to my difficulty in representing them in words, or even in pictures. So, to enjoy the real pleasure of them, you will have to go and visit them in their country.'

Pictures, as Léry implied, could aid the imagination. Trained artists who accompanied expeditions to the Indies—like John White, on the Roanoke voyage of 1585, and Frans Post, who followed Prince John Maurice of Nassau to Brazil in 1637—might at least hope to capture something of the New World for those who had not seen it. But the problems of the artist resembled those of the chronicler. His European background and training were likely to determine the nature of his vision; and the techniques and the colour range with which he had familiarized himself at home were not necessarily adequate to represent the new and often exotic scenes which he now set out to record. Frans Post, trained in the sober Dutch tradition, and carefully looking down the wrong end of his telescope to secure a concentrated field of vision, did manage to capture a fresh, if somewhat muted, image of the New World during his stay in Brazil. But once he was back in Europe, with its own tastes and expectations, the vision began to fade.

Even where the observer depicted a scene with some success, either in paint or in prose, there was no guarantee that his work would reach the European public in an accurate form, or in any form at all. The caprice of publishers and the obsession of governments with secrecy, meant that much information about the New World, which might have helped to broaden Europe's mental horizons, failed to find its way into print. Illustrations had to run further hazards peculiar to themselves. The European reader was hardly in a position to obtain a reliable picture of life among the Tupinambá savages of Brazil when the illustrations in his book included scenes of Turkish life, because the publisher happened to have them in stock. Nor was the technique of woodcuts sufficiently advanced, at least until the second half of the sixteenth century, to allow a very faithful reproduction of the original drawing. Above all, the existence of a middleman between the artist and his public could all too easily distort and transform the image he was commissioned to reproduce. Readers dependent on De Bry's famous engravings for their image of the American Indian could be forgiven for assuming that the forests of America were peopled by heroic nudes, whose perfectly proportioned bodies made them first cousins of the ancient Greeks and Romans.

In spite of all the problems involved in the dissemination of accurate information about America, the greatest problem of all, however, remained that of comprehension. The expectations of the European reader, and hence of the European traveller, were formed out of the accumulated images of a society which had been nurtured for generations on tales of the fantastic and the marvellous. When Columbus first set eyes on the inhabitants of the Indies, his immediate reaction was that they were not in any way monstrous or physically abnormal. It was a natural enough reaction for a man who still half belonged to the world of Mandeville.

The temptation was almost overpoweringly strong to see the newly-discovered lands in terms of the enchanted isles of medieval fantasy. But it was not only the fantastic that tended to obtrude itself between the European and reality. If the unfamiliar were to be approached as anything other than the extraordinary and the monstrous, then the approach must be conducted by reference to the most firmly established elements in Europe's cultural inheritance. Between them, therefore, the Christian and the classical traditions were likely to prove the obvious points of departure for any evaluation of the New World and its inhabitants.

In some respects, both of these traditions could assist Europeans in coming to terms with America. Each provided a possible norm or yardstick, other than those immediately to hand in Renaissance Europe, by which to judge the land and the peoples of the newly-discovered world. Some of the more obvious categories for classifying the inhabitants of the Antilles were clearly inapplicable. These people were not monstrous; and their hairlessness made it difficult to identify them with the wild men of the popular medieval tradition. Nor were they Negroes or Moors, the races best known to medieval Christendom. In these circumstances, it was natural for Europeans to look back into their own traditions, and seek to evaluate the puzzling world of the Indies by reference to the Garden of Eden or the Golden Age of antiquity.

The reverence of late medieval Europeans for their Christian and classical traditions had salutary consequences for their approach to the New World, in that it enabled them to set it into some kind of perspective in relation to themselves, and to examine it with a measure of tolerant interest. But against these possible advantages must be set certain obvious disadvantages, which in some ways made the task of assimilation appreciably harder. Fifteenth-century Christendom's own sense of self-dissatisfaction found expression in the longing for a return to a better state of things. The return might be to the lost Christian paradise, or to the Golden Age of the ancients, or to some elusive combination of both these imagined worlds. With the discovery of the Indies and their inhabitants, who went around naked and yet—in defiance of the Biblical tradition—mysteriously unashamed, it was all too easy to transpose the ideal world from a world remote in time to a world remote in space. Arcadia and Eden could now be located on the far shores of the Atlantic.

The process of transposition began from the very moment that Columbus first set eyes on the Caribbean Islands. The various connotations of paradise and the Golden Age were present from the first. Innocence, simplicity, fertility and abundance—all of them qualities for which Renaissa Once Europe hankered, and which seemed so unattainable—made their appearance in the reports of Columbus and Vespucci, and were eagerly seized upon by their enthusiastic readers. In particular, they struck an answering chord in two worlds, the religious and the humanist. Despairing of the corruption of Europe and its ways, it was natural that certain members of the religious orders should have seen an opportunity for reestablishing the primitive church of the apostles in a New World as yet uncorrupted by European vices. In the revivalist and apocalyptic tradition of the friars, the twin themes of the new world and the end of the world harmoniously blended in the great task of evangelizing the uncounted millions who knew nothing of the Faith.

The humanists, like the friars, projected onto America their disappointed dreams. In the Decades of Peter Martyr, the first popularizer of America and its myth, the Indies have already undergone their subtle transmutation. Here were a people who lived without weights and measures and 'pestiferous moneye, the seed of innumerable myscheves. So that if we shall not be ashamed to confesse the truthe, they seem to lyve in the goulden worlde of the which owlde wryters speake so much: wherein men lyved simplye and innocentlye without inforcement of lawes, without quarrelling Iudges and libelles, contente onely to satisfie nature, without further vexation for knowledge of thinges to come.'

It was an idyllic picture, and the humanists made the most of it, for it enabled them to express their deep dissatisfaction with European society, and to criticize it by implication. America and Europe became antitheses—the antitheses of innocence and corruption. And the corrupt was destroying the innocent. In his recently discovered History of the Discovery of the Indies, written in 1528, Pérez de Oliva makes the Indian caciques express their plight in speeches that might have been written for them by Livy. By emphasizing their fortitude and nobility of character, he effectively points the contrast between the innocence of the alleged barbarians, and the barbarism of their supposedly civilized conquerors. It was a device which was employed at almost the same moment by another Spanish humanist, who may also have been thinking of the horrors of the conquest—Antonio de Guevara in his famous story of the Danube peasant. As Sir Thomas More had already shown, the overseas discoveries could be used to suggest fundamental questions about the values and the standards of a civilization which was perhaps beyond reform.

But by treating the New World in this way, the humanists were closing the door to understanding an alien civilization. America was not as they imagined it; and even the most enthusiastic of them had to accept from an early stage that the inhabitants of this idyllic world could also be vicious and bellicose, and sometimes ate each other. This of itself was not necessarily sufficient to quench utopianism, for it was always possible to build Utopia on the far side of the Atlantic if it did not already exist. For a moment it seemed as if the dream of the friars and the humanists would find its realization in Vasco de Quiroga's villages of Santa Fe in Mexico. But the dream was a European dream, which had little to do with the American reality. As that reality came to impinge at an increasing number of points, so the dream began to fade.

Percy G. Adams (essay date 1976)

SOURCE: "The Discovery of America and European Renaissance Literature," in Comparative Literature Studies, Vol. XIII, No. 2, June, 1976, pp. 100-15.

[In the following essay, Adams discusses the treatment of the theme of the New World in several literary genres during the Renaissance.]

There is great danger in talking about the "Renaissance," almost as much danger as there is in using other such terms—"Classicism," "Romanticism," "Baroque." Tags are neat but they are constricting and, ultimately, confusing. Haydn's fine study [The Counter-Renaissance, 1950] has suggested that to avoid a "doctrinaire approach" we can demonstrate the diversity of the period by speaking of a Renaissance and then of a Counter-Renaissance. But while two categories may be more acceptable than one, the thesis depends on leaving the so-called backward-looking "Classicists" in the "Renaissance" and placing the reforming "Romanticists" in the "Counter-Renaissance," Calvin and Machiavelli lying side by side in the counter camp. And so, having redefined by employing definitions that are themselves "doctrinaire" and, today, almost useless—witness Donald Greene on "Neo-Classicism"—we are back to our problem. Fortunately, we need not define but can simply agree that we are concerned with the literature of Europe at a period in time extending from the discovery of the New World in the West to about the middle of the seventeenth century.

But we are to discuss not only the literature of the Renaissance; but also that New World in the West. And, no doubt, to define that World is even harder than to define the Renaissance—for many reasons. First, just as the Renaissance changed its countenance with time, so its knowledge of the Americas altered with every newly returned ship and every freshly written account, from the oft-published letters of Columbus and Vespucci to Raleigh and Van Noort, and from great collections such as Montalboddo's and Waldseemüller's in 1507 to Acosta and De Bry at the end of the sixteenth century. And, with changing information, maps were altered each decade; terrestrial globes replaced celestial globes; places and place names came and went, expanded or contracted.

Second, each part of Europe had its writers and its time for learning. The Italians and the Spanish, for example, were quick with their books while the English were notoriously late in sailing or publishing.

Third, the Spanish New World existed from Florida south; France ended in the late sixteenth century with its New World in Canada, while England only after 1580 cornered its Virginia and New England. Thus, because of different climatic conditions, kinds of people encountered, fur-seeking in Canada and gold-seeking in South America, the extended and heavy impact of Spanish culture on its possessions as opposed to a shorter and smaller impact in North America—because of many factors, then, each empire-seeking nation received its particular image with the use of the term "New World."

Fourth, since the Old World civilization and the New World peoples at first found it impossible to communicate with each other, not only, for example, do reports of the Conquistadores of South and North America conflict but they often show how the natives, out of fear, told not the truth but what the threatening Europeans wanted to hear.

Because, fifth, Europe brought much of its own image and bias with its soldiers and priests who crossed the Atlantic. Over and over it has been shown how Europe searched for, or found to its satisfaction, the Terrestrial Paradise, Atlantis, Ophir, even Prester John. And there were other marvels transplanted or invented, from interpretations of Indian religion to fantastic natural facts such as Pigafetta's Patagonian giants, David Ingram's elephants in North America,

or John Hawkins' Florida unicorn.

Sixth, the image of the New World was not only constantly changing and corrupted by its reporters, but various conflicting traditions grew up depending on whom one read—translators, for example, often blatantly altered facts that may or may not have been right to begin with. There was, for example, what Levin calls "the moral ambivalence of the golden lure" in the search for Paradise in the West, or the double myth about the indigenes of the Indies—one, that he was a Noble Savage, the other that he was sub-human and should be enslaved or exterminated. One example of intended mistranslation is the rendering of the Spanish physician Nicolás Monardes (1569-71) by John Frampton, who left the impression that all plants in the New World were health-giving and that henceforth there would be a cure for every physical ill; another is that of the zealous Hakluyt and his treatment of the account of De Soto's expedition as written by the Portuguese Gentleman of Elvas.

Seventh, and last, there were the Renaissance pictures of the people of the New World and there were the people themselves brought back to be displayed. Nearly every sixteenth-century collection or summary of voyages had certain illustrations—gigantic warriors bending Greek bows, nude nymphs, Europeanized landscapes. The eye-witness drawings by John White and Le Moyne were placed in De Bry in 1590 and thereafter became the bases for idealized pictures which gave the Indians the appearance and nature of ancient Greeks or Spartans. Such pictures did not always conform to the appearance of the real natives who were sometimes seen in Europe—almost every voyager to the New World treacherously captured one or more to bring back as slaves, to be presented to Frobisher's Henry VII or Ribaud's Queen, to be Europeanized, to dance on village greens on feast days, to die far from home.

It was, then, a changing, distorted, paradoxical New World which entered and affected Renaissance literature. To suggest the extent of that influence, let us look at two important literary themes and then sample the various literary genres.

Avoiding the Noble Savage, Paradise, and certain other themes so often and sometimes so beautifully handled by recent writers, let us turn first to the theme of the Cruelty of the Spaniards in the New World. From the earliest discoveries in the West Indies, greed for Western gold and condescension toward Indian "ignorance" of its value led to demands impossible to fulfill, bloody retaliations by the natives, and the rise of the extreme form of that "anti" image of the New World man as impossible to Christianize or civilize; that is, the judgment stated by Dr. Chanca on Columbus's second voyage, "their degradation is greater than that of any beast." But also, from the very beginning, there was a vigorous defense of the natives and an attack on their mistreatment by the Spaniards, all coming of course from Spain itself. After Montesinos' famous sermon of 1511 defending the Indians, the transplanted Italian Pietro Martire over and over asserted that certain of them "seeme to live in the goulden worlde," and he openly and shamefacedly condemned atrocities such as those of that butcher governor of Panama, Pedro Arias de Avila. When the debate grew heated over the nature of the Indians, with writers like Oviédo and Quevédo proving their sub-human nature by resorting to Aristotle, Bartolomé de las Casas came forward and, from about 1519 to his death, remained the chief spokesman against Spanish mistreatment. At least in theory his campaign won out, for in 1537 Pope Paul III's famous Bull made the Indians officially human, and in 1552-53 Las Casas was able to publish tracts which were not only inflammatory and exaggerated but which went all over Europe to give comfort and aid to Spain's political and religious enemies. In spite of the fact that saintly Spanish priests devoted their lives to the Americans, in spite of the fact that debates between Las Casas and Sepúlveda inspired "admirable laws," in spite of the fact that Spain led the way in exposing its own sins, the myth of Spanish cruelty in the New World became one of the strongest myths in history.

But that cruelty, of whatever amount, had been reported and other nations, especially England and France, adopted it with enthusiasm. As a theme in Renaissance literature, it is reflected best in the drama, which became so important in Europe only after Las Casas and his words were well known everywhere, and since England and Spain were rivals in producing good drama as well as good navigators, their plays expose the cruelty most often. The first to do so apparently came less than five years after Las Casas' fiery pamphlets in 1557 in Toledo. It was called Las Cortes de la Muerte (The Assembly of Death) and is a kind of morality play in which the body is a character, angels are personified, and the author laments Spanish lust for gold and the resulting cruel treatment of innocent Indians. Also in the morality tradition is Lope de Vega's well known El Nuevo Mundo descubierto por Colón, in which, along with Columbus and Indians, Providence, Idolatry, Religion, and the Devil argue as characters the rights and wrongs, the advantages and disadvantages of the discovery of America. But, as in a great number of his plays which deal with America, Lope's El Nuevo Mundo reflects his pride in Spanish conquests and colonizing achievements even as it laments the evil that went with the good, a fact true also of Tirso de Molina's patriotic trilogy about the Pizarros.

No English dramatists or poets, however, and there were many who dealt with the theme, found the good. Thomas Heywood in at least three plays, including IfYou Know Not Me, You Know no bodie (1605), made the Spanish "tyrannous, cruel, lascivious," while Robert Greene in Spanish Masquerado (1589), inspired by the destruction of the Armada and finding evidence not only in Las Casas but in Castanheda's account of De Soto's expedition, showed the Spanish hunting Indians with dogs, cutting off their hands, tearing them with horses. It was a theme often found in England outside the drama, of course, as in John Donne's simile:

And if they stand arm'd with seely honestie,
With wishing prayers and neat integritie,
Like Indians 'gainst Spanish hosts they be.

The best known of all English treatments of the theme is surely Davenant's "opera" The Cruelty of the Spaniards in Peru (1658), written two years after what is perhaps the most famous of all translations of Las Casas, that by Milton's nephew John Phillips. By Davenant's time, the cruelty of the Spaniards was being regularly contrasted with the kindness and humanity of the French, like Cartier and Champlain, or the good Protestant English, even after Puritan atrocities in New England and after the horrible aftermath of the 1622 massacre in Virginia. So Davenant not only has a spurious history of the Incas in his spectacle but concludes his conglomerate of speeches, songs, dances, and acrobatics with English soldiers heroically arriving to save the natives of Mexico from the villainous Cortés. By the time of Descartes and the Restoration of Charles II, then, such pieces of literature had helped advertise to Europe outside the Iberian peninsula the horrors of Spanish conquest and colonization.

A second theme, much more subtle, is that of the New World's possible influence on the doctrine of progress. In spite of the argument in J.B. Bury's seminal book leading to his thesis that the idea of progress really begins only with Descartes, the more one reads Renaissance writers the more one agrees with Hans Baron and others that Humanism did not slavishly follow the Greeks and Romans but, inspired by the ancient greats, took pride in its own accomplishments and looked forward to still greater ones. At any rate, the notion of progress is obviously closely linked with the Quarrel of the Ancients and Moderns and with the doctrine of Manifest Destiny, the former often considered late seventeenth-century, the other often considered distinctively American. It is provocative to see how the New World, discovered simultaneously with ancient thought and letters, gave gigantic impetus to this complex of theories found everywhere in literature.

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. Pietro Martire (1533) is only one such early historian to point out that the ancients knew nothing, "as we do," of the New World. Another, Gómara (1552), expressed pride in the way Spain had "improved" her colonies and more than once announced that the moderns had gone beyond the Greeks and Romans; Granada (1582) pointed out that "in new lands there are discovered daily new animals with new abilities and properties, such as have never been known …," a thesis supported by his predecessor, the physician Monardes, and even more vigorously by Monardes' translator, Frampton. The Inca Garcilaso (1609) not only defined three distinct stages of development in the history of his people but proudly asserted that the exploits of De Soto surpassed those of the ancients. With countless witnesses such as these, one can see why sixteenth-century geographers, philosophers, and readers scorned the ancient and once honored Ptolemy as each new map showed him ever more wrong or why they attacked Aristotle long before Bacon did.

The intellectual leaders of the sixteenth century knew and were impressed by America and what it meant. It would be easy to demonstrate that More, Erasmus, and other Humanists, as well as reformers like Luther, believed in progress, but it is appropriate here to start with that much admired friend of Erasmus and More, Juan Luis Vives. Close to great geographical as well as philosophical developments, the Spaniard Vives praised the giants of antiquity, but, he said, "they were men as we are, and were liable to be deceived and to err." Furthermore, the ancients, he asserted, knew that future ages would rise to heights they did not know, for they "judged it to be of the very essence of the human race that, daily, it should progress in arts, discipline, virtue and goodness." Even more influential throughout Europe was Jean Bodin, closely followed by his contemporary disciple Le Roy. Bodin, in more than one book, rejected all golden ages and the theory of man's degeneration and ended by showing that his age had not only invented gunpowder, the compass, and printing but also discovered new worlds and circumnavigated the globe. Preceded by thinkers like these and praising with so many of his immediate ancestors the geographical discoveries as well as the three wonderful inventions of the previous hundred years, Bacon developed out of Bruno the then striking theory that the moderns are the true ancients because they are the result of the aging of creativity and experience. And not only like the others was Bacon impressed with the opening up of a New World by means of the compass and gunpowder; he echoed Acosta in believing the Andes taller than any Old World mountains, praised Spain's farsighted activity in developing its dominions, pointed out that the Aztecs and Incas were examples of progress in America, and, exactly like Bruno and others, compared his own bent to intellectual discovery with the great discovery of Columbus.

With such New World historians and Old World thinkers to inspire them, belletristic writers of the Renaissance everywhere reflect the idea of progress and the worth of the moderns, some referring to the New World directly or to the theories of thinkers influenced by the New World. Even as Magellan was sailing through his Strait, Torres Naharro (1517) was comparing his new book to a ship setting sail to discover new worlds. Just as Du Bellay's famous Défense (1549) is nothing if not an illustration of a belief in progress, his friend Ronsard, who often turned to America for image and theme, believed with their friend Le Roy in some kind of forward movement in a designed world—"Toute chose à sa fin et tend à quelque bût" ("Hymne de l'été"). Across the Channel and a bit later, Spenser, like his teacher Ronsard, employed the New World in image and metaphor and believed in "a goal of perfection." But when, inconsistently, he argued in the "Mutabilitie" cantos that Nature had arranged all things neatly only to have Mutabilitie come along and destroy the order, his friend Hervey wrote that famous letter reprimanding him for such a philosophy because "Nature herself is changeable" and, Hervey said, because Jean Bodin was right in believing the present better than the past. One of the best examples of a great Renaissance creative writer's belief in progress is Ben Jonson, whose Timber; or Discoveries shows how closely he depended on the Vives passages we started with.

The entire subject needs another book-length study, one that would relate Progress and the Ancient-Modern debate to the theory of Manifest Destiny. For just as the Spanish believed they were the race chosen to improve, Christianize, and profit from the New World, as holy papal bulls even agreed, so French and English believed they were not just building empires in America but following a vision, carrying out a mandate from God or his earthly representative. Early in the sixteenth century, the Spanish Humanist Perez de Oliva saw a westward course of empire with Spain as God's agent. Edward Hayes, with Gilbert in Newfoundland, argued that "God had reserved" the New World north of Florida "to be reduced unto Christian civilitie by the English nation," a belief held later by many early colonizers of Virginia. Even John Donne, in spite of all his poems on the decay of man or of the loved one, preached that famous send-off sermon in 1622 in which he told the prospective colonists that they were leaving to make "this island … a bridge, a gallery to the new [World]." Such visions of a Passage to India, whether derived from good or evil or mixed motives, led smoothly to Jefferson's westward-looking eyes and Monroe's manifesto.

There are countless such themes given impetus by news out of the New World that could be traced through European literature, but let us also try the great literary genres, although we can pass over drama—late starting and already mentioned—and most lyric poetry, which, especially from the Pléaide to Dryden's "Ode to Charleton," has so many allusions to and metaphors depending on a knowledge of the New World. There are, however, two types of lyric poems uniquely related to America—the promotion poems like Drayton's famous Ode and the Bon Voyage or "puffing" poems such as those of Ronsard, de Baif, and Jodelle for Thévet's book on America, and Chapman's for Keymis on his expedition to Guiana. There is also a whole body of satirical literature inspired by new geographical discoveries, from Brant's Narrenschiff (1494) to the Elizabethan play Eastward Ho! to Bishop Hall's ridicule of lying travelers. Yet another genre is the dialogue or colloquy, important in university training and high on the best seller lists. Erasmus, easily the great name here, more than once turned to the New World for inspiration, as in "The Well-to-do Beggars," where the conversation dwells on cultural relativism by way of comparing naked Americans with clothed Europeans. There are other genres that need more attention, however.

One of these is the prose romance. The relation between the romance and the exploration of the New World is both complex and intriguing because the influence went west as well as east. Until the time of Don Quixote, Spain, even more than other countries, avidly read these romances and was inspired to seek the marvels described in them. The popularity of Amadis and Palmerin from 1508 on paralleled the popularity of the letters of Columbus and Vespucci or the Decades of Martire, and just as the romances told of giants, Amazons, dwarfs, Seven Cities, El Dorados, or fountains of youth, the "real" accounts brought back stories of giants, golden idols, and enchanted places mas allá. The educated Cortés read Amadis to his soldiers around the campfire, Spaniards were easily persuaded to join expeditions to an America that might be the ideal land for valorous action as well as rich treasure, and descriptions of Mexico City or Peru sent home to Spain often sounded like the literary romances themselves. Irving Leonard has told the story well, concentrating on early reports about islands of Amazons and on Caravajal's record of Orellana's voyage down the great river named for the women warriors he had to fight. In 1510 Montalvo published the fifth volume of his Amadis cycle, which was named Sergas de Esplandián and went through six Spanish editions during the century. In it is told the story of Calafia, queen of a race of Amazons who reside on a craggy island named '"California,"' celebrated for "its abundance of gold and jewels." All of this literature, but none more than Esplandián, had an incalculable influence on the exploits of Cortés and the Pizarros. For example, Cortés' fourth letter to the King tells how an expedition he sent out looking for Amazons and gold returned with the exciting news that ten days beyond their stopping point, the soldiers were told, there was an island rich in treasure and inhabited by women. This "island," or one like it, decorates most maps of the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, for not until after 1700 were cartographers finally convinced that lower California was a peninsula.

Closely related to the romance, especially in the Renaissance, is the epic, and while it has often been remarked that the great epics of the time looked back to Greece and Rome or were really romances in poetry like Orlando Furioso (1516), in one of these epics, Gerusalemme Liberata (1575), Tasso proudly announced the discovery of America by his countryman: "Un uom liguria," the gentle guide answered the wondering knight Ubaldo, "avrà ardimento / All' incognito corso esporsi in prima." That is to say, she went on, "Tu spiegherai, Colombo, a un novo polo / Lontano si le fortunate antenne, / Ch'a pena seguirà con gli occhi il volo/ La Fama ch'ha mille occhi e mille penne." And Tasso's friend Stigliane apparently thought of writing an epic to honor Columbus. Stigliane may have given up, but others did not, at least in England and Spain, for in those countries there were long poems inspired by the New World. None is as good, however, as Comoes' Os Lusíadas (1572) celebrating da Gama and Portugal. Of the many poems about America that have epic qualities, the best is undoubtedly Ercilla's La Araucana, published in three parts (1569, 1578, 1589) and written by a soldier-statesman who was in Peru for the wars he described in his poem. Ercilla, impressed not only by the Montesinos-Las Casas tradition but by his own experiences, treats the Araucanian Indians sympathetically in their heroic struggle against Spanish domination. In ottava rima, the poem provides local color, epic debates and a vision, much bloodshed, and reminiscences of scenes in Homer, Virgil, and Lucan. While Voltaire did not like its emphasis on war, neither did he approve of the Iliad, and he even found a speech by the cacique Colacola in Ercilla's second canto superior to anything in Homer. La Araucana may be the best epic in the Spanish language.

There is no English epic of the period, if we stop before Milton, unless we count The Faerie Queene, but there were long poems written in England dealing with America which come close. One was by a lad of eighteen at Exeter named William Kidley, who in 1624 used not only Richard Hawkins' own Observations but information collected from other sources to tell a patriotic tale of Britain's great exploits in the New World. A generation earlier, another young man, Stephen Parmenius, came to England from Hungary, bringing with him a fine classical education gained on the Continent. In England, he studied navigation at Oxford with Richard Hakluyt the younger, became enthusiastic about the colonizing ventures discussed all around him, wrote a kind of épic published in 1582, the year of Hakluyt's first propagandistic collection, the Divers Voyages, and then, having convinced himself with his poem, sailed with Gilbert to Newfoundland and, like Gilbert, lost his life in the cold North Atlantic. The poem, in Latin hexameters, since Parmenius knew English most inadequately, has been retranslated (1972) in a splendid volume. Parmenius begins with fulsome praise of God, Queen Elizabeth, and Gilbert, considers the origins of the American Indians, most idealistically hopes to witness their conversion, longs to write the epic of "the rise of the new race," attacks Spain's cruelty and Europe's lust for gold, employs copious classical allusions, shows the influence of Virgil and Camoes, catalogues the exploits of British voyagers to the New World, and ends with a prayer to God, Elizabeth, and Britain that they will gently civilize the savages and join them with the English in a great expansionist and progressive movement. His is one of the most attractive poems about the New World, even though it has had no influence historically.

One of the chief influences in belles lettres that came with the discovery of America is the impetus given by that discovery to travel literature and pseudo-travel literature. Of course, the early Renaissance had its Marco Polos and Mandevilles to help, and then there was Pliny, whose unnatural natural history affected the best and worst of travel books until well after 1700; but after 1492 voyage literature not only became more popular with printing and with a New World to write about but it became better. The travel letters of two Italians, Columbus and Vespucci, for example, are both personal and objective, marvelous and yet realistic, a combination that would make such books more and more fascinating to European readers. Columbus could be objective in reporting his sailings and landings and troubles and yet insert a story of meeting a large Indian boat off Mexico filled with people dressed in dyed cotton, or Vespucci might tell of women warriors and a horrible cannibalistic orgy and record personal impressions of South America, where feathers were more valuable than precious metals. A Spaniard such as Alonso Enriquez de Guzmán, setting out for America in 1534, might have little on flora and fauna but much about his own experiences. A different kind of travel book, the letters of Cortés to his king, or Bernal Diaz's account of the conquest of Mexico, will often be as personal, but it will also become invaluable in every way to historians of Mexico and, at the same time, be as gripping as any novel. Such books will lead to others, to, for example, Ralegh's Guiana, which may be the best of real Renaissance travels, comparable to the best of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and a favorite, for example, of Defoe. By the end of the Renaissance, then, Europe had learned to write and read huge quantities of travel literature about the New World.

Close to the real travel book, so close in fact that often one cannot separate them, is the imaginary voyage, which, inspired in great part by the many actual travel accounts of the New World, grew to maturity in the Renaissance. These imaginary voyages could, in fact, pretend to be real, as did La Vida de Marcos de Obregón, by Vicente Espinel, who borrowed information and dates from Sarmiento's west-side visit to Magellan's Strait and then included what all readers agree is "geografia fantástica;" or an anonymous French " … lettre envoyée de la Nouvelle-France, par le sieur de Combes" (1609), which takes a fictional person to Canada by borrowing facts from Champlain and inventing others, carriages on wheels, for example. Or they could be completely plagiarized and intend to deceive, as in the case of Roberval's famous pilot Jean Alphonse and his Cosmographie, taken from a Spanish book of 1519 by Fernandez de Enciro. Or they could consist of marvelous adventures not all of which were intended to be taken as real, as the later books of Pantagruel, for example, which draw heavily onac counts of the New World, especially on those written by and told about Jacques Cartier, who lived in and sailed from Rabelais' Saint-Malo. Such pseudo-travel books would increase in number after the Renaissance and lead to many dozens in the eighteenth century.

And finally there are the Utopias. What can one say briefly? That after Plato, Utopias were normally celestial while, after America was discovered, they became earthly during the Renaissance, only to return often to outer space, or inner space, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. That in the Renaissance, from More (1516) to Campanella (1623) and Bacon (1624, published later), Utopias were placed often in the West and employed facts gleaned from writers about America. More's Hythloday accompanied Vespucci, crossed South America with other travelers, and sailed west to Utopia, where, as with Martire's Indians, no one distinguished between meum and tuum, land is held in common, gold is despised, there is a plurality of religions, and, as with Vespucci, each home has behind it a beautiful garden open to all. Campanella, as Baudet says, "based much of his ideal state … on what he thought he knew of the Incas." And Bacon, who in the Novum Organum had thought the travels of the ancients "no more than suburban excursions" when compared with the voyages of Columbus and Magellan, in the New Atlantis often cites the New World historian Acosta as well as the Inca Garcilaso, shows a great interest in theories about ancient Atlantis as America, is one of the first important thinkers to ponder the question of the Jewish or other possible origins of human life in the New World, and of all the statues in his famous house of Salomon names one, that of Columbus, a fact that points not just to Benzoni, Ramusio, and Oviédo, all of whom had suggested that statues of Columbus be erected, but also to the long sixteenth-century tradition of using Columbus, as Lope said, as a symbol for "man's unquenchable spirit of discovery."

It is perhaps this spirit of discovery, of experiment, of innovation, that is one of the marked characteristics of Renaissance belles lettres—from Erasmus and Luther, to Rabelais and the Pléaide, to the new drama, to Bruno and Bacon, just as it is of the early historians of America and of the daring sailors, greedy gold seekers, faithful or cruel government officials, and saintly priests who actually went to the New World. And perhaps as important for us to note now is that the influence of the New World on Renaissance literature is often no greater than the influence of that literature on the New World itself, its conquest and civilization. Not only, for example, did the literary themes of progress, science, Spanish cruelty, the earthly Paradise—all so indebted to Columbus, Magellan, and America—give back that influence to explorers and colonists in Virginia and South America, and not only did the chivalric romances receive encouragement from and yet aid exploration, but More's Utopia, which looked to the Western World and its European visitors, became a sort of second Bible to certain of those Spanish saints who hoped to Christianize the Indians. Las Casas tried to create Utopias, especially in Venezuela, but Vasco de Quiroga, a bishop and jurist, actually built communities in Mexico "pattern [ed] from the good republic proposed by Thomas More," its family and village plan, its elective system, its hospitals. It may be true, as Atkinson has shown for France, that in the sixteenth century western Europe published more books about the Old World than about the New, and certainly there were more love sonnets than embarkation odes, more plays about English Henrys and Richards than about Spanish Pizarros, but the New World, with its changing, challenging image, its cannibals and Noble Savages, its elusive waterways and treasures, its Aztecs and Incas, its villains and saints, its heroes and hopes—all this New World, without hundreds of years of written tradition, still attracted and inspired almost every writer, certainly every literary genre, after Columbus returned with his stirring news.




Utopia Vs. Terror In The New World