The Golden Savage Land

Editor’s introduction:  In January, 1967, Jack Adamson delivered the Frederick Williams Reynolds lecture at the University of Utah.  The Reynolds lectures, a series which continues to this day, are sponsored by the U. of U.’s Dept. of Continuing Education and are intended to highlight the results of original scholarly research.

Jack’s lecture, “The Golden Savage Land,” grew out of work he had recently conducted while writing a biography of Walter Raleigh–The Shepherd of the Ocean–which would be published in both the United States and Great Britain to critical acclaim in 1969.  The lecture explores the myths that early European explorers and settlers projected onto the New World and compares these with the realities they encountered.

No one had really meant it to be that way, but the vision was golden, the reality was savage, and between vision and reality there had fallen a fatal shadow.

The Reynolds Lecture was a major annual event on Utah’s campus, and in a day when lectures retained some prominence as a significant public event, was well-attended and widely covered by local media.

Thirty-First Annual Frederick William Reynolds Lecture

The Golden Savage Land

Jack H. Adamson

Professor, Department of English

University of Utah

Delivered at Kingsbury Hall, University of Utah, Tuesday, January 31, 1967

Notes from original program:

The Annual Reynolds Lectureship at the University of Utah serves a double purpose. First, through a distinguished member of the faculty, the University presents an important yearly offering to the public. Second, the Lectureship commemorates in a fitting way the unique services to the University and to the State of Frederick W. Reynolds, Professor of English, and organizer and first Director of the Extension Division. The Committee responsible for selection of each year’s speaker consists of members of the Executive Committee of the Reynolds Association and the President and Academic Vice President of the University.

The yearly presentation is a joint undertaking of the Division of Continuing Education and the Reynolds Association.

“In these lectures, as the years go by, new knowledge, important subjects, and vital issues will be discussed. It is more than likely that some of these issues may be controversial in nature, about which (differences of opinion and strong feeling may exist. But even upon such questions it is proposed that the speaker shall be free to approach his subject with intellectual courage and vigor and advance any ideas which he can support with facts and logic.

“It is assumed, of course, that good taste shall not be violated, that propaganda in the narrower sense shall never intrude, and that due regard to the rights and feeling of others shall always be evident. But as long as the treatment of a subject is intelligent, objective, and critical, it is assumed that the speaker shall be free to follow facts and reasoning through to their conclusion.

“If such a policy, perchance, shall change some of our beliefs-then so be it. For beliefs are the framework upon which we do our thinking. Many present beliefs are the product of other times and other conditions – useful then, perhaps, but possibly hampering now. When certain beliefs hinder the effective use of intelligence, or hamper our adjustment to new conditions in a rapidly changing world, then more helpful beliefs become priceless -and desirable even at the expense of some temporary loss of tranquility.

The products of intellectual activity and scientific investigation are to be brought here, not the reiteration of uncritical traditional views. On no other basic premise can a Frederick William Reynolds Lecture be true to its name-or be even worthy of its name.”

From introductory remarks by H. L. Marshall, President of the Frederick William Reynolds Association, at the first annual lecture, January, 1936.

The Golden Savage Land

Jack H. Adamson

Europe’s most adventurous men have always dreamed of sailing west. The Pillars of Hercules, that narrow opening in the western Mediterranean, seemed to the Greeks a symbol of limit and restraint. To sail beyond them was an act of deadly pride. Ulysses was the one man who, with full understanding of its symbolic meaning, had scudded before the eastern wind through those stone gates and into the unknown.

In the Inferno, Dante and Vergil saw Ulysses and they asked him how he died. He replied,

Neither fondness for my son, nor pity

for an old father, nor the love for Penelope

which should have made her happy,

could overcome in me the desire I had

to gain experience of the world

and of the vices and worth of men.

I set out on the high open sea

with only one ship and with that little company

by which I was not deserted.

That company passed the Pillars and, as Columbus was later to do, sailed west-southwest, watching with awe the rise and fall of new constellations. Finally they saw land and rejoiced. But then, from the new land, came a whirlpool which struck their ship. It went down and the sea closed over the mariners.[1] Ulysses unwittingly had embodied in his voyage the principal theme of new world colonization: immortal hopes followed by mortal disasters.

So Ulysses was punished for his pride, but the memory persisted of a man who by sailing west had personified the spirit of adventure and discovery. Francis Bacon recalled that memory when he came to write his scientific work, the Instauratio Magna, in which he said he would begin anew the entire labor of the human mind. For though man had lost his insights into the workings of nature, by a proper scientific method, he would discover the kind of knowledge which could be converted into power. To symbolize this quest for new knowledge, Bacon designed a frontispiece for his book which shows a stylized representation of the Pillars of Hercules and, beyond them, the vessel of the human intellect steering west under spread canvas (see fig. 1). New intellectual frontiers, like new geographical worlds, lay somewhere beyond the western stars.

Other Greeks than Ulysses had been intrigued with the theme of “perfection beyond the sunset.”[2] Since it seemed appropriate that the land where the sun slept should be the home of dead heroes, both the Elysian Fields of Homer and the Hesperides of Hesiod were conceived to be somewhere in the western sea. And Plato had speculated about a western island called Atlantis where throve a sophisticated civilization.[3] This brilliant kingdom had been devoured by the sea, but men still believed remnants of a lost civilization might be found somewhere west of Gibraltar. Before Columbus sailed, Europe was filled with stories about wonderful lands in the west.

Columbus seemed to confirm these stories when in February of 1493, (during his homeward voyage, he wrote a letter which was the first eyewitness report of the new world. It now seems clear that Columbus described not so much what he saw as what he wanted to see, the images he had carried in his mind from Spain. In the new world, he said it was perpetual spring where the people were innocent and happy and where the nightingale sang. Actually there were no nightingales in the new world, nor was it spring. And the lives of the people might better have been described in the words of Thomas Hobbes as “nasty, brutish and short.”

On his third voyage, Columbus wrote from the island of Hispaniola (modern Haiti) that he believed in his soul that the Garden of Eden was situated somewhere near the source of the Orinoco River.[4] Such views helped to create in Europe the widespread conviction that the native peoples of America were a living embodiment of the golden age. This myth of a golden age, Freud was later to say, is one of mankind’s most persistent and powerful dreams. During the golden age, people lived simply and according to nature. They did not dye their clothing; they did not wound the breast of Mother Earth with the sharp point of the plow, and Mother Earth in turn showered fruits upon them. They did not cut down tall trees to make masts for ships that carried them among strange who challenged their home-centered values. In this age there was neither greed nor deceit, and the impious rifling of the bowels of the earth for metal was unknown. John Milton, accepting some of these golden age values, placed the origin of mining in hell.[5] And some American Puritans who had read Milton, or were otherwise persuaded, held that their success in the New World was due to their stout refusal to seek gold. To those descended from Puritan stock (like the Mormons), mining was an evil best left to those who, in their ignorance, were content to become vulgarly rich.

All those perilous sophistications that had accompanied the loss of the golden age, Columbus told the world, had never been known in America, where men were still resplendent (as Milton was later to say) in their “first naked Glory.” The mind of Europe soon responded. In 1516, Thomas More published his Utopia. Nine years earlier, Amerigo Vespucci had published his Four Voyages, in which he mentioned discovering in the west a people who held all of their possessions in common and who had created an ideal society. He also said that he had left twenty-four men with arms and six-months’ provisions to further explore the American islands. It was one of these mariners whom More pretended to have met and from whom he learned of the just society in America. This mariner, said More, “like the prudent prince, Ulysses,” had sailed westward where he had found something far more important than marvels and wonders. He had found a commonwealth where citizens “were ruled by good and wholesome laws.”

This commonwealth, conceived by an intellectual humanist with little interest in pastoral boredom, was not primitive. The Utopians were rather men who had fully utilized the natural light of reason, and their society, although it strikes us today as being in some ways repressive, was a product of rational thought. Every able-bodied person was required to work, and because there was a fair distribution of the burdens of labor, no one needed to spend more than six hours a day at his job. Wealth, like labor, was equitably distributed. When a city became overcrowded, colonists were sent out to found a new city and the Utopians thus avoided the sprawl and blight and smog that characterized More’s London. But more important than any specific provision, however prophetic, was the underlying theme: a rational approach to social problems is possible and conditions that make for crime, social unrest, poverty, ignorance and despair can he meliorated by thoughtful political action.

More did not forget the themes of the golden age. His Utopians did not dye their clothes and they used no money. Rather they made chamber pots out of gold and felons’ shackles out of silver. Rubies and pearls were toys for children, all of whom were nursed by their own mothers, which has long been a male panacea for curing the ills of the world. And, although the Utopians had no creed, like the native Americans as seen by Columbus, they intelligently worshiped a divine power.

More never for a moment believed that a commonwealth such as his Utopia actually existed, but soon his readers began to wonder. For, eight years after Utopia was published, the bloody and illiterate Pizarro stumbled into the Inca kingdom in Peru. About all he noticed were the hangings of gold and silver plates in the Temple of the Sun at Tumbez , but some of his followers began to speak of a Utopian kingdom of the Incas. It was asserted that these Incans used no money, that they kept an exact census and took taxation in kind; when cities grew too populous, new ones were colonized in the wilderness; the laws were just and mild; no one was allowed to remain idle, yet labor was not oppressive. Occasionally, unwary scholars, forgetting their dates, have said that More may have got some of his ideas from the Incan empire, and a man whom I knew, throwing all caution aside, insisted that More had somehow heard of Peru before Pizarro discovered it and that the Utopia was a description of an actual American state and not an imaginative construct at all. That thesis I would not care to defend. But enthusiasm for the Jncan empire has always run high. One distinguished historian believed that “probably never in the world has a communistic experiment, on a large scale, attained a greater measure of success.” [6] It seemed possible that a great civilization lay concealed somewhere in America and that possibility intrigued Sir Walter Ralegh among others.

The circumstances in which Ralegh was to approach the new world were being created in France. There Gaspard de Coligny, as Admiral of France, fell heir to the difficulties of French colonization in America. His biggest problem was that Spain and Portugal were there ahead of him. When Columbus had discovered the West Indies, it appeared that a major conflict might erupt between Spain and Portugal. Pope Alexander VI, who did not wish to see two Catholic powers bleed one another, issued on May 4, 1493, a bull which was intended to pacify the new world. In this bull, the Pope ceded to Spain

all islands and lands found and to be found, discovered and to be discovered to the west and south by making and drawing a line from the Arctic or North Pole to the Antarctic, or South Pole, which line shall be distant an hundred leagues west and south of any of the islands which are commonly called the Azores. . . .

For a number of reasons the bull was a bad legal document, its principal ambiguity lying in the language which said that Spain was to have all lands west and south of a meridian, for south can have no meaning with reference to a meridian. The document could be construed to mean that two lines should be drawn, a meridian 100 leagues west of those islands and a latitude 100 leagues south; some who took the bull seriously did so interpret it. Such a view left everything north of the modern state of Florida open to exploration and settlement.

In the year 1555, the Seigneur de Villegaignon, who was also Vice-Admiral of Brittany, Proposed to Coligny that he be allowed to seek a refuge in America for Huguenots.   Because he thought it would be a brilliant stroke of foreign policy to substitute a foreign enterprise for the bitter dissensions at home which seemed to be leading to religious and civil war, Coligny included his ear. Villegaignon played the now familiar themes about Western colonization: the natives would be brought to a knowledge of Christ; the country would be populated with the Frenchmen who would trade profitably with the homeland and France would flourish. When the enterprise was approved by the king, Villegaignon made an appeal to God-fearing men, but such men, it seemed, preferred to fear God at home and sop he filled his ships with vagabonds and brawlers whom he found conveniently assembled in the jails of Brittany.

His two boats carried sailors, soldier, artisans, and ministers but no gardeners or farmers. There was a large theological library but no seeds or plows. When the colony landed at the present site of Rio de Janeiro, Villegaignon could scarcely control his enthusiasm. He has found, he wrote, a new Garden of Eden; the simple people were men of the golden age.

The new settlement, named Coligny, was reinforced in March, 1557, by a new company, some of whom has been personally chosen by John Calvin. Again these colonists brought no equipment with which they could plant or reap; they seem to have regarded themselves as traders and their ships were piled with cheap trinkets which they bartered to the Indians for food. Villegaignon, now bored and restless, began to browse in the theological library. From reading the Fathers of the Church, he concluded that John Calvin was in mortal error and he thereupon forbade the practise of Huguenot religion in the colony that has been established as a refugee for it. When most of the Huguenots deserted, Villegaignon himself abandoned the colony, which was captured with some slaughter by the Portuguese.

In many ways the first French colony was an epitome of colonies to come. It had the same noble motivations, the same haphazard preparations, the same predictable failures. And this first colony strengthened the Columbian myth that the new world was the Garden of Eden before the serpent where the simple lives of the people, ordered in nature’s way, offered a contrast and a rebuke to civilization. And yet, not many of the European colonists really liked these children of nature when they were filling Europe with romantic stories about the, Later, a group of Martin Frobisher’s men on Baffin Island caught an Eskimo woman and pulled off her mukluks to see if she ha a cloven hoof. Just a little frustration and the colonists saw the children of the golden age as demons. The bitterest curses about America came from those who had lived for awhile in paradise.

France made two other attempts to settle in Florida, in territory which, under the Pope’s bull, belonged to Spain. Both colonies were failures and last one was annihilated. The lesson was clear. Spain and Portugal intended to keep the new world free from intruders. It was a common saying that there was no peace beyond the line which the Pope had drawn. Whoever ventured out there had better be prepared for rough play.

This was clearly understood by a young Englishman who had served the Huguenots under Admiral Coligny in the French Wars of Religion. That young man, Walter Ralegh, not yet a knight of England, knew as well as any man alive what Coligny had tried to do and why he had failed. He and his half-brother, Humphrey Gilbert, were anxious to find the Northwest Passage, believed to be a calm inland waterway running roughly from Newfoundland to San Francisco by means of which English trading vessels could sail safely toward the riches of Cathay (see fig. 2).

Finally having secured the first Letters Patent ever given in England for colonizing in the new world, Gilbert and Ralegh prepared an expedition. In 1581, the English Parliament, alarmed at Catholic plots against the Queen’s life, had passed a new recusancy law. In the future, the penalty for failing to conform to the established religion would be an almost confiscatory fine of 20 pounds sterling a month. It was a bleak situation for English Catholics and so, like the French Huguenots before them, they thought of the new world as a refuge from the intolerance of the old. Some of them approached Gilbert who, for a consideration, assigned them nine million acres of land between Florida and Cape Breton. Gilbert also worked out an idealized scheme of government of which he was to be the head.

But when the Spanish ambassador heard of the plans, he persuaded the Pope to oppose them, and when the English priests also withdrew their support, the Catholic gentlemen reluctantly dropped the enterprise. If the plan had succeeded the legend of America might have been somewhat different. North America might have been looked on primarily as the refuge of oppressed Catholics rather than a haven for persecuted Protestants. Gilbert’s project aroused tremendous excitement in England where many felt that the nation had already delayed too long in building an overseas empire. A Hungarian scholar, Stephen Parmenius, then at Oxford, wrote an Embarkation Ode in elegant Latin hexameters.[7] He began it with a tribute to Gilbert, a lasting ornament of the British race, who would discover, somewhere in the new world, a land where the Spaniards did not practice their bloody cruelties in the name of religion. There :also he would find a people sprung from mother earth who still retained their ancient manners. The golden age was not yet known, even in England, but was there any reason why it could not exist already in lands unknown? Soon a foreign people would be united under Gilbert’s benign rule. The citizens of this new country would know neither fraud nor guile; they would find happiness in virtue which would be measured by worth rather than birth; there would be no rich or poor and liberty would flourish. This vision of society so intoxicated Parmenius that he offered his services to Gilbert and lost his life on the expedition, paying the ultimate high price for confusing fantasy and reality. Nor was Parmenius the only poet of the occasion. Half the sea-dogs of England turned versifier for this event that stirred them so deeply. Among the laureates was John Hawkins, England’s first slave trader. With some difficulty his verses limped through the familiar arguments: religion would be brought to the natives, England’s problem of overpopulation would be solved and those who furthered the expedition would reap a “private gain.” That was poetry seamen could understand.

Even Francis Drake was moved by the muse. His lines are a little stilted but they express the man reasonably well.

“Who seeks by worthy deeds to gain renown for hire;

Whose heart, whose hand, whose purse is pest to purchase his desire;

If any such there be that thirsteth after fame,

Lo! here a means to win himself an everlasting name.”[8]

But seldom has there been such a gulf between vision and reality. Except for its tragic ending, Gilbert’s expedition was pure comic opera. On June 11, 1583, with a small fleet, he sailed for Newfoundland, a country that had been desultorily inhabited by fishermen of all nations for at least seventy-five years. On the way he passed 350 fishing vessels and when he arrived at St. John’s harbor, his own countrymen, at first, would not allow him to enter. When informed of the Queen’s commission, they reconsidered and the expedition sailed grandly in, so preoccupied with the greatness of (lie occasion that Gilbert’s own ship grounded on rock.

In no way dismayed, Gilbert assumed command of his kingdom. Cynics about government will enjoy hearing that his first act was the imposition of a tax on every ship in the harbor. The next day, he cut a piece of turf and broke a twig, lifted them up, one in each hand, and took possession of the land for 600 miles in every direction.   He now owned more real estate than any monarch in Europe.

To the relief of the fishermen, the new king of North America soon sailed south looking for a more likely site for the colony. On the uncharted Atlantic coast, his largest ship foundered and went down without a survivor. Gilbert then turned homeward and, to show his own courage, sailed a pinnace of fifteen tons, no larger than a modern lifeboat. North of the Azores the two remaining ships ran into an evil storm. St. Elmo’s fire flamed on the yard arm; the seas swelled and rolled. The pinnace, at one moment, flung high on a crest, at the next would dip out of sight in a trough. Gilbert sat on deck, calmly reading his Bible. He had found himself a phrase for the occasion and whenever the two ships came within hailing distance he would cry out, “We are as near Heaven by sea as by land.” We are also as far but that thought did not occur to Gilbert. About midnight the lights of his pinnace disappeared.

So ended the first English attempt to colonize America. Much later an English admirer, whose facts were slightly awry, but whose sentiments were impeccable, attempted to immortalize Gilbert’s deeds in verse:

“’Twas but three days from Newfoundland

When overboard he failed,

And as he was a-going down,

Upon the Lord he called.

Hesiod put it better. “It is an awful thing to die among the waves,” especially for a man who had sailed with such golden hopes.

Within a week Ralegh had heard of Gilbert’s loss; he immediately asked the Queen to transfer to him the Letters Patent for colonizing the new world. She agreed, Parliament approved and, in March of 1584, Ralegh had exclusive rights to the North American continent north of Florida. Such was his swift energy when his interest was fully engaged that within one month he had a reconnoitering expedition on the way under Captains Amadas and Barlow.

This expedition made landfall at Wococon, an island which is part of a long sand reef off the coast of North Carolina. The land breeze carried to them the scent of a “delicate garden.”[9] The Englishmen were especially impressed by the abundance of grapes, for England had never known the art of wine making. On July 4 they lifted up turf and twig and took possession of the land in the name of Queen Elizabeth.

Soon Indians appeared. They were “very handsome and goodly people and in their behavior as mannerly and civil as any of Europe.” Immediately the Englishmen and Indians fell to trading and the sailors made the same mistake as Coligny’s colony by taking advantage of the natives. They were delighted when the simple heart of Granganimo, brother of the chieftain was overcome by the glitter of a tin dish. “They told him that he could have it for twenty deerskins. Delighted, he hung it around his neck, saying that it would defend him from the arrows of his enemies. When he saw a suit of armor, he offered a box of pearls for it. But Barlow would not trade: he wanted not only the pearls but also the knowledge of where they were obtained.

Trading promoted confidence and soon Granganimo brought his wife and children aboard one of the ships. She was wearing a necklace of pearls and he had on his head a broad plate of “gold or copper,” impossible to identify because it was unpolished. Ralegh’s captains tried to get the Indian to remove the plate and let them examine it but he would not. Finally he allowed them to feel it; it was malleable and so Barlow put the scent of gold into English nostrils.

After a few days, the expedition sailed north some twenty miles to Roanoke Island. There they saw their first Indian village and John White later made a drawing of it (see fig. 3). The Englishmen were hospitably entertained; Harlow was so impressed with the “love and kindness” shown to his men that he concluded, as had Columbus, Villegaignon and Parmenius before him, that the ancient myth of the golden age was already a reality in the new world.

We found the people most gentle, loving and faithful, void of all guile and treason, and such as lived after the manner of the golden age.

But the Indians were friendly not for the Rousseauistic reason that they were unspoiled by civilization hut rather because of superstitious veneration that sustained contact with their guests was likely to vitiate. The Indians, marvelling at the whiteness of English skins, thought their visitors to be re-incarnated men who had come from the pale world of shades. The fact that the visitors brought no women with them and managed to ignore the bare brown flesh they saw all around them supported that theory. But even more, it was ripe and lush summer; fish were plentiful, crops were ripening; food was easy to get. It was a pleasure to share it with visitors who brought excitement :and wonder mid tin dishes.

In the ten days that Ralegh spent in Virginia, he sowed peas, which grew more than an inch a day. He also persuaded two lusty warriors to return to England with him where he gave Ralegh a written report which Sir Walter, in turn, presented to the Queen. The news about pearls. grapes, the fertility of the soil and the friendliness of the natives was all very good. But to the critical eye, and the Queen had one, there were some disturbing overtones. Especially troubling was the matter of the continual civil wars in which the Indians seemed to be engaged. Their bloody feuds were characterized by treachery, surprise, broken faith, and perpetual hatreds. Barlow had intended to convey a picture of a land flowing with grape and money possessed by a gentle people who desired to trade and were extremely inept at it, the very thing England was looking for.   But there were also evidences that might have suggested more caution than Ralegh’s eager colonists ultimately displayed.

While the expedition was away, Ralegh had pursued his larger aims. He had a friend in France, Richard Hakluyt, who had known members of the French colonies and who, like Ralegh, had a passionate sense of mission about the new world. Ralegh therefore commissioned him to prepare a treatise which would persuade Elizabeth and her counselors that it was in England’s interests to make a nationwide effort in America comparable to that being made by Spain. Before Amadas and Barlow had returned, Hakluyt had finished his paper, and Ralegh immediately gave it to the Queen. It was called A Discourse on Western Planting. An American colony, Hakluyt argued, could make England a self-sufficient nation. Further, England had many idle men; here was a way to employ them. Colonists in North America would soon discover the Northwest Passage and the resulting trade with Cathay would make England prosperous. Hakluyt’s attitude toward the natives is both naive and ominous. He repeatedly insists that the people are gentle, amiable and obedient. “England will make every effort to trade peaceably with them, but if necessary she will force the Indians to surrender “the natural commodities of their lands.”

To interest Elizabeth in a national effort, Ralegh tempted her brilliantly. Would Her Majesty, the Virgin Queen, allow the new land to be called Virginia.[10] Elizabeth, naturally, was delighted, but she was too shrewd and skeptical to invest the pitifully small resources of her treasury in an American venture. Her country was full of ambitious young men, especially from Devon and Cornwall, who had plans which involved her kingdom in great risks and made substantial drains on he treasury. Let Ralegh manage the affair in America; she would see how things went.

Elizabeth also, for reasons best known to her, informed Ralegh that he would have to send someone else in charge of the expedition. He selected his cousin, Sir Richard Grenville, a man of fanatical courage, a most formidable captain. The ship’s company included other remarkable men. There was Ralph Lane, who was to be in charge when the colonists arrived. He was the Queen’s equerry and had commanded troops in Ireland and in the low countries. There was Thomas Cavendish, who was later to circumnavigate the globe, and there was Thomas Hariot, probably England’s best scientist, who was to make a survey of the plants, animals, and minerals of the new world.

On June 20, 1585, the expedition made landfall. As a result of poor navigation, the largest ship, the Tyger, sank. It was now too late to plant crops and the Tyger had carried most of the provisions on which the colonists were to have lived through the coming winter. They had food enough for only twenty days; they must then either live off the natives or starve.

On September 3, Ralph Lane sent a latter to Richard Hakluyt.[11] Everything that England imported from Spain, France, or Italy, he said, could be grown in America. And the people are “most courteous: and they needed English woolens. The air was wholesome; there was not one sick man.

To conclude, if Virginia had but horse and kine in some reasonable proportion, I dare assure myself, being inhabited with English, no realm in Christendom would be comparable to it.

Hariot played an important role, perhaps a decisive one, in the relations of the colonists with the natives. He showed the Indians some of the scientific inventions that were revolutionizing the technology of the Elizabethan world. When the Indians saw these things, they thought they “were rather the works of gods than men,” and Hariot concludes that it led the Indians to feel that God must especially love such a people to have taught them so much.[12]

Hariot does not tell us what he did to amaze the natives, but we know what could be done with various devices.[13] The perspective glass, a precursor of the telescope, could be set up in such a way that, buy concentrating the rays of the sun, it would start a fire several yards away. Further, one of the glasses was so made that if the viewer stood close, he would see things in their usual size and appearance. If he stepped back, however, the image would suddenly would “seem of a marvelous bigness.” While the wiroan was still shaking his head in disbelief, Hariot would shift the focus further outward until suddenly all the images would be reversed. People and animals would be standing with their head downward, their feet pointing straight up.

At these and other tricks, the Indians were properly amazed, although scarcely more so than Hariot’s own countrymen. Later, in England, Christopher Marlowe sophomorically proclaimed that Moses was only a “juggler” and that Thomas Hariot could do more than he. Marlowe’s point was that Moses, having been reared in sophisticated Egypt, had been able to perform “wonders” in the eyes of his simple Israelite countrymen just as Hariot had in America. As things turned out, it was fortunate that Hariot had astounded the natives.

For things soon began to go badly. The Indians, never having learned Puritan thrift, stored only enough maize to see them through the winter. Nothing except fear could induce them to part with their seed corn and it had to be a fear more terrible than that of starvation.

During the winter, Hariot, Lane, and a small group of soldiers traveled from village to village surveying the land and the people. They made an idealistic effort to live according to the spirit of Ralegh’s venture, to avoid Spanish cruelties and to win the natives by kindness. Naturally the Indians took every advantage of such a liberal policy and practised many “subtle devices.” The colonists, however, under the dissuasions of Hariot, never retaliated. And then Hariot thought he bean to perceive a pattern. Whenever the colonists practised non-retaliation, a strange sickness came upon the inhabitants of offending towns and many people died. Soon the Indians too discerned this pattern: the god of the white man, it seemed, had given him the skill to slay at distance without weapons.

Immediately the colonists slaughtered all the chiefs. Jehovah and Dagon had met again in Virginia.

A week later, Sir Francis Drake and an English fleet appeared and the English colonists dispiritedly decided to return to England with him. The new world had yielded neither gold mine nor pearl fishery. The children of nature had proved cunning and deadly, their instruction in the Christian religion superficial and empty. In one year the English had managed to make themselves and their religion despised as much as were the Spaniards further to the south. They had kidnapped Indians, robbed their fish weirs, spoiled their cornfields; and worst of all they had murdered in the name of Christ, the thing Parmenius had singled out as the essence of Spanish cruelty. No one had really meant it to he that way, but the vision was golden, the reality was savage, and between vision and reality there had fallen a fatal shadow.

A short while later an anonymous account said that the hand of God had come on the colonists for the outrages and cruelties which some of them had practised against the Indians.” And yet this same account showed no basic disillusionment; rather it concluded like a mournful travelogue by regretting that the colonists had left “this paradise of the world.” Twenty-three years Inter, when the Jamestown colonists were preparing to sail, Michael Drayton picked up that phrase and used it in his stirring Ode to the Virginian Voyage:

You brave heroic minds,

Worthy your country’s name,

That honor still pursue,

Go and subdue,

Whilst loitering hinds

Lurk here at home with shame.


And cheerfully at sea,

Success you still entice

To get the pearl and gold

And ours to hold,


Earth’s only paradise.

Visions are indestructible.

The finest thing to come out of the first English colony was Thomas Hariot’s report. He surveyed the trees, grasses, oil, deer hides, medicinal herbs, dyes and lumber. He was admirably reticent about precious metals, and was the first Englishman to write with intellectual respect of the Indian religion. The Indians believed in God, he said, in the immortality of the soul and in punishment and reward for a life of virtue or vice. In Hariot’s report, as in Sir Thomas More’s Utopia, a people using the light of natural religion, without special revelation, appeared to have perceived through a glass darkly, some central religious truths.

If there was to be profitable trade between the two nations, a commodity was needed which could be cheaply freighted and sold at a profit in England. Such a commodity existed and Hariot had described it. It was a medicinal herb, tobacco. Through the use of this herb, Hariot says, the Indians have avoided many diseases which afflict the English. And he explained how tobacco was used for sacrifice, to quiet storms and pacify the gods. When the Indians wished to dedicate new fish weir or when they had escaped some danger, they would throw tobacco up into the air, always with “strange gestures, stamping, sometimes dancing, clapping of hands, holding of hands, and staring up into the heavens, uttering therewithal, and chattering strange words and noises.”

When James of Scotland, the world’s leading authority on witchcraft, read that passage, he realized that tobacco was an agent of sorcery and he hardened his heart against the man who had been responsible for its popularity at Elizabeth’s court.

But Ralegh himself loved all the strange new things that came to him from America. Naturally his hot young heart would have liked gold and pearl and a passage to the Orient. But still, he was fascinated with tobacco and the potato and other American plants. He knew a place in Ireland, in the deep soil by the Blackwater River, where they just might grow. He had a silver pipe cast for himself and, in his usual manner, made it into his personal symbol. When he lighted it, the ladies would squeal and run away in pretended fright and an old servant allegedly threw water on him when he saw smoke pouring from Ralegh’s nostrils. Soon many of his countrymen were being strangely soothed and then captivated by the Indian medicine; they were willing to lay down an ounce of silver for n few dried leaves. America itself was still an alien land, still awaiting a people who would pay the price of exile for it.

Another of Ralegh’s ventures beyond the Pillars of Hercules aroused the English imagination and resulted in some brilliant literature. Back in 1584 when Hakluyt was trying to persuade Elizabeth to make a national effort in America, he had mentioned a glittering alternative to Virginia: the land of Guiana which lay between the Orinoco and Amazon rivers and stretched westward to the Andes mountains. Whoever colonized this land would drive an iron wedge between the Spanish empires of Peru and Mexico and would control the waterways into the interior. English warships based along this coast could choke off the flow of gold to Spain and could attack the Spanish-held islands and the fortified cities of the Spanish Main. The Spanish empire would then topple and the entire action would be financed by the inconceivable wealth of Guiana.

Two years after Hakluyt had written, some of Ralegh’s pirate ships, out looking for pirate gold, had captured a Spanish nobleman, Sarmiento. Ralegh liked him and in his courtly Elizabethan way entertained him in his home. From him, as he later wrote, first

had knowledge…of that might, rich, and beautiful Empire of Guiana, and of that great and golden city which the Spaniards call El Dorado and the naturals Manoa.

Eight years had passed since then. years filled with mighty events including the coming of the Armada. But Sarmiento’s story haunted Ralegh like a wild dream. In 1594 he finally asked for Letters Patent from the Crown authorizing him to explore and settle Guiana. He received them and on February 6, 1595, he stood out to sea. Six months later he was back in England, “withered and a beggar.” He had a few dubious gems and most of his men had brought home ore samples which were pronounced worthless by an officer of the Mint. Ralegh himself had dug some ore out of quartz with his dagger; this ore had been assayed by three refiners, including two officers of the Mint, and it was found to be fabulously rich.

But the calumniators were soon at work. Some said that Ralegh had never left England; he had spent the six months in Cornwall. Others said that he had sailed to the Barbary Coast and had traded there for some gold ore. To convince the Queen and his countrymen that he had gone to Guiana, Ralegh wrote an account which he called Discovery of the large, rich and beautiful Empire of Guiana. . . .[14] The late Bernard DeVoto considered this narrative to be the greatest piece of prose to come out of the English Renaissance; certainly it is one of the most imaginative and stirring adventure stories ever written.

What was the legend that hail lured Ralegh across the seas? He had heard accounts of the Incan empire, elaborately embroidered by Spanish historians. He had heard of those features of the Incan civilization which resembled More’s Utopia. By this time the Incan empire was desolated but not necessarily through the slaughters of Pizarro. Some of the Incas, it was thought, had fled eastward into the Andes mountains. At that point they became another lost tribe concerning which fact ends and fancy begins. Ralegh had both heard and read that a younger son of the Emperor of Peru had fled eastward from Eden, with several thousand warriors called Orejones. They had captured all of the land lying between the two great rivers and had founded a capital city called Manoa on a large inland lake known ;is the Lake of Parima. This eastward flight seemed to explain the puzzling fact that, despite all the gold ornaments and plates found in Peru, there were no gold mines that would account for such wealth. The Spaniard had found, quite literally, a mountain of silver, but all of his feverish search for gold over many decades toil yielded practically nothing. It was believed, therefore, that the gold mines must exist somewhere in the interior and the rivers of Guiana were the veins along which that golden stream had once flowed into the Incan empire.

The capital city, Manoa, received its Spanish name of El Dorado from one of the principal ceremonies of this ceremonious people. Ralegh had probably known something about it since he was a child. For old Martin Cockram, a Devon man, had been to Brazil, and he probably did talk to the boy Ralegh just about as it is imagined in Millais’ painting, The Boyhood of Ralegh. And Cockram could have told him of two rivers that ran for thousands of miles into a heartland that no man had ever seen; somewhere in that land, according to Columbus, were the Earthly Paradise and the Fountain of Life. In the bright forests there were orange and tawny wings; deer fed along the streams; and lithe panthers, dappled like sunlight on leaves, screamed in the deep jungle. Somewhere in that heartland was a golden city where men were ruled by just laws. Every year at the appointed time, the king anointed his body with balsam and then had fine gold dust blown over him until he shone like the sun he worshiped. Then El Dorado, the gilded one, his hands filled with emeralds and amethysts, would dive into the sacred lake, itself as blue and pure as a sapphire.

Ralegh was attracted by the prospect of uniting forces and destinies with these civilized Peruvians. Good minds are almost as fascinating as gold mines; the combination is irresistible. In Guiana he would find a people with whom he could deal rationally, who would understand and appreciate English law, English arts and the English Bible. They would not be artful savages like Pemisapan and his Virginia warriors. The English and Incan empires would have much to give one another. Marco Polo, in Cathay, had discovered a civilization to match the brilliance of the Venetian state. Ralegh probably hoped to do no less.

Alone of Englishmen, George Chapman caught Ralegh’s vision and expressed it in an epic song of Guiana (De Guiana Carmen Epicum) :

Guiana, whose rich feet are mines of gold,

Whose forehead knocks against the roof of stars,

Stands on her tip-toes at fair England looking,

Kissing her hand, bowing her mighty breast,

And every sign of all submission making,

To be her sister and the daughter both

Of our most sacral maid.

The daughter and sister of England. Manoa and London, a mingling of laws, arts, culture and wealth. That was what Ralegh wanted.

Little was known of the golden city. Two men claimed to have been there. Ralegh had read their accounts and the narratives of the Spanish historians about the Incan empire. From these latter he extrapolated. If their accounts were true of the ancient empire they must also be true of the new kingdom in Manoa. Those accounts claimed that the Inca had dishes and vessels of gold and silver in his house, that he had giant statues of gold, each worth at least 100,000 pound s sterling. “I know,” Ralegh wrote to Robert Cecil, “that in Manoa these are store of these.”[15]

And what really sent the imagination soaring in the Spanish account was a “garden of pleasure” which the emperor was said to have built on a pleasant island. There he had counterfeited in gold everything that lived or grew in his country. There were beasts, birds, trees, herbs, fishes, flowers, all imitated in gold and silver, all life size and cunningly wrought, “an invention and magnificence until then never seen,” according to Ralegh.

And the Spaniards believed enough of all this to have risked much toil and some treasure in pursuit of the fabled city. Finally it appeared that one Spaniard had found it. His name was Juan Martinez, master of the munitions to Diego Ordas who was a Knight of the Order of Santiago and a diligent searcher for El Dorado. Ordas had sailed 1117 the Orinoco River to Morequito, a native village at the juncture of the Orinoco and Caroni rivers. At Morequito, through some accident, the entire store of powder was burned and this meant that the expedition of Ordas was finished. Martinez was held responsible and ordered executed. There was protest from the other soldiers, however, and finally Juan of the ill-hap was set adrift in a canoe without food or arms upon the swift current of the uncharted Orinoco.

Some natives found him drifting alone and, having never seen white men before, they carried him into the interior “to be wondered at.” He was passed along from town to town, ever deeper into the jungle until he came to the borders of Manoa. At the border he was blindfolded and led along for fifteen days until he came to the gates of a city. There the blindfold was removed and he was led toward the Emperor’s palace. The city was so large that it took him a day and a half to get there. He was entertained for several months in the Golden City and finally sued for permission to leave. His suit was granted and he was laden with 311 the gold he could carry. When he came again to the border country the Orenoqueponi Indians, he said, took all of his gold except for two gourds which were filled with curiously wrought golden beads. He brought these and his story back to the Spanish Main. Later, when he lay dying, Martinez swore to the truth of his adventure and gave the gold beads to the church under the wise condition that continued prayers would be said for his soul.

Martinez did not entirely invent his story. He had heard legends which circulated throughout Guiana and these legends must have had some dim and vague basis in historical fact. It is difficult for us, as it was for Ralegh, to believe that a devout and dying Catholic would lie to this confessor. But whereas Ralegh conclude that he must therefore have told the truth, most men would be inclined to think that fear and shame and a humiliating sojourn in the jungles and villages of Guinea had done something to the man’s mind, ion which reality and fantasy were thereafter fused.

One other man said he had been to Manoa, but he too was a lone survivor. “I only am escaped alone to tell thee,” became the theme of the Spanish search for Manoa. From these stories and from his study of the Spanish expeditions that had failed to find the golden city, Ralegh came to believe that he knew exactly where Manoa was. He must sail up the Orinoco to its junction with the Caroni. There at the village of Morequito, he would find Topiawari, the new cacique. He would win his confidence and the chief, in turn, would show him a trail around the Caroni cataract. Once on top of the scarp from which the Caroni fell he would be within a dew days’ march of one of the earth’s mighty nations (see fig 5). That nation, by wit or valor, he meant to win for England.

And there were other things beyond that scarp; wonders in Guiana were endless. Beyond the Caroni, on one of its branches, said Ralegh, there dwelt

a nation of people, whose heads appear not above their shoulders; which though it may be thought a mere fable, yet for mine own part, I am resolved it is true, because every child in the provinces of Aromaia and Canuri affirms the same: they are called Ewaipanoma: they are reported to have their eyes in their shoulders, and their mouths in the middle of their breasts, and … a long train of hair growth backward between their shoulders.

Ralegh was not a fool; he had interviewed a number of people who swore that they had seen these monsters. But no one in England appears to have believed the story except that beautiful creation of Shakespeare’s imagination, the fair Desdemona. When the formidable Moor came to court her, he told her of the wonders Ralegh had heard about in Guiana and she was fascinated by the story, among others, of men” whose heads/ Do grow beneath their shoulders.”

And there were more wonders. The Amazon River , as everyone knew, was named for those wild and lovely warriors who dwelt on its southern bank. Ralegh wanted to find out the truth about these women and he finally found a man who had been there. (Guiana would have been wonderful land for lawyers; they could have found an eyewitness to anything.) These women, he learned, refrained from the company of men except for one month during the year, the month of April, he believed. In that month when it was best to be in England and in Amazonia, the kings of the border would gather for their intriguing ritual. Once suitably paired off, the border kings and the Amazons would feast, dance, and drink wine, their party growing in gaiety as the moon waxed. When the moon waned and died, all returned to their own countries (fagged out, one would think) to await the results. All the women who gave birth to sons sent them to the borderlands to be with their fathers; those who bore girls nursed and nourished them. In the classic myths of the Amazons it had always been said that the women cut off their right breasts in order that they might better hurl the spear and shoot the bow. “This,” says Ralegh, “I do not find to be true. ” He was obviously a man who appreciated symmetry. And there was great store of gold plates in Amazonia, that much Ralegh knew, although somehow, in such a setting, even gold seems superfluous.

And he saved his best legend for the last. Antonio Berreo, the governor of Trinidad, had confessed to him that in the temples of Peru there had been found many ancient prophecies. One of these said that Inglatierra would some day come to Guiana and restore the Incas to liberty. I protest before the Majesty of God, says Ralegh, that it is true.

Ralegh’s expedition made its way up the Orinoco River to the town of Morequito where he found Topiawari just as he had planned. After he had gained the cacique’s friendship, Ralegh asked him the question on which everything depended. Pointing to the mountains rising to the westward, he asked who lived beyond the high escarpment. The old cacique sighed deeply and said that in his father’s lifetime a mighty people had come from the west. They wore large coats, he said, and hats of crimson color. They were called Orejones and they were as numberless as the leaves on the trees.

It was everything that Ralegh had come to hear. For three weeks, rowing through steaming jungles, past villages of naked Indians with matted hair and “villainous low foreheads,” lie had nourished himself with the vision of Manoa. Now he believed himself within reach of the Incan warriors, an “appareled people.”

Even a less enthusiastic explorer than Ralegh would have believed the old man, for he spoke the truth. But it was his truth, and the dialogue was between men of different worlds who spoke different sounds and thought in different images. At the head of the Caroni River was a great savannah which, in the spring floods, was completely inundated. Then it resembled a lake and that was the basis for the stories of the Lake of Parima. And it was true that a tribe from the highlands of Guiana had extended its frontiers at the expense of the Morequitos whom they slaughtered. It was also true that they were somewhat more advanced than those whom they conquered and spoiled. But Ralegh was measuring the cacique’s reply in terms of an imaginative vision he had carried from the Thames, and so the two men completely misunderstood one another. As things turned out , it mattered little anyway for the river rose alarmingly, swollen by heavy rains, and Ralegh returned to his ships without ever having penetrated the highlands where he believed Manoa to be.

When he returned to England, his expedition a failure, Richard Hakluyt wrote another pamphlet urging the Queen to support a new expedition, and George Chapman wrote of Ralegh’s sustaining “pain, charge, and peril” for the good of his country:

Then most admired sovereign, let your breath

Go forth upon the waters, and create

A golden world in this our iron age.”[16]

There it was again; the dream that wouldn’t die. But Elizabeth was old and tired; she knew that she was not Jehovah and she did not believe in golden worlds. And there were others, children of the world, who saw the disparity between the golden city and the jungle village, between the children of the golden age and the malnourished savages whose intellectual horizons would scarcely give an Englishman room in which to spend one restless night. Could they ever be harmonized with one another, these hopes and these disasters?

So far we have seen the vision and the reality in Newfoundland, in Virginia and in Guiana. There is one more American setting that occupied a special place in the minds and literature of Englishmen – the Bermuda Islands. Lying eastward from the Gulf of Mexico, they were in the track of the hurricanes and were especially dangerous the rocky reefs that surrounded them: the Spanish sailors had named the Isle of Devils. They were, it was said “feared and avoided of all sea travelers live, above any other place in the world.”[17] Portuguese sailors believed that demons lived in the American islands and on the mainland and that they sometimes lured vessels to their destruction. Ralegh knew of the reputation of the Bermudas and on his voyage to Guiana had avoided them. “The Bermudas,” he wrote :are a hellish sea for thunder, lightning, and storms.”

In May of 1609, a fleet of nine ships and 500 colonists under Sir Thomas Gates and Sir George Somers set out to strengthen John Smith’s Virginia colony. On July 25, the flagship of the fleet, the Sea-Adventure, was separated from the rest of the vessels by a storm. She had sprung a leak, had taken on nine feet of water in her hold and was in imminent peril of swamping in the heavy seas. n ~ The crew, for hours, bailed, pumped, and worked like madmen, but the winds drove the ship toward the shore. Three leagues from a sandy bay, she struck a rocky ledge. All aboard called upon God to receive their souls and helplessly awaited the great breakers that would pound the ship to kindling and drown them all.

And then there was a miracle. The ship was driven between two large rocks where she stuck upright and fast as if she were in drydock in the Thames. And the billows which should have “shivered her in pieces” suddenly became calm. The colonists, “with extreme joy and amazedness, “ were able to unship their goods and arrived on shore without the loss of a man or merchandise.   One of them wrote, “It pleased our merciful God to make even this hideous and hated place, both the place of our safety and the means of our deliverance.”

Because these islands had never known man, the wildlife behaved strangely. If the men would halloo, sea-birds by the hundreds would come would come flocking around, some even landing on their shoulders. When eaten, they proved as tasty as partridges. And then the mariners remembered that God once before had led a band of his people through a watery maze in the Red Sea and then had fed them with birds. As the castaways ate the delicate pineapple, the rich pomegranate, and enjoyed a climate that seemed to be everlasting spring, they reflected on a number of strange analogies. The Bermudas lay along a latitude that almost exactly that of the city of Jerusalem. And cedars grew on that island as they had once grown in Lebanon. But the principal wonder, enough to fire any man’s imagination, was the paradox that the islands of devils had proved to be islands of grace and that the path to certain death had led to a new and richer life.

The vision of a magic island, a new garden, which was a refuge for the innocent, was strengthened as persecutions or the Puritans were intensified ill England. James I had said that the Puritans would conform or he would harry them out of the land. After his death, Archbishop Laud was doing his best to accomplish o accomplish one or the other of those objectives, and soon Puritans were leaving for America in increasing numbers. In 1633, George Herbert, himself a devout and saintly Anglican, wrote in sorrow,

Religion stands on tip-toe in our land,

Ready to pass to the American strand.

And of all places in America, the Bermudas most powerfully symbolized the hidden garden where suffering man could be restored and refreshed. Around 1630, the Reverend John Oxenbridge fled the Laudian persecutions and lived for a time in the Bermuda Islands. When he returned to England he lived at Eton College where a young poet named Andrew Marvell boarded at his home. And Marvell wrote a poem about the Bermudas that brilliantly captured the imaginative vision of those islands. But, as usual, there was a reality to be reckoned with and we need to see the reality before we consider the poem.

After the wreck, when Captain Somers’ men were safely landed, they soon became lazy. “The ease and plenty of the place begot a content and a carelessness in the men.” Some of them, like lotus eaters, saw no reason ever to leave those islands. The company did finally build two pinnaces and sailed to Virginia, but Somers carried in his heart an urgent desire to the Bermudas. Finally he did. He died there and his body was carried hack to England.

Three men, at that time, were left behind at their own request. These three, true to the spirit of the new world, decided to set up an ideal commonwealth “with equal and brotherly regency,” and for awhile it seemed to work. They arose in the fresh mornings and cleared ground, planted grain and cut down timber for their cabins. They lived pleasantly and idyllically together. And then, by chance, one of them found a 190-pound lump of ambergris, the largest that man had ever known. This “gray amber,” a secretion of the sperm whale, was used in Europe for the making of perfumes. Immediately the three men knew that they were potentially rich and with that knowledge, the troubles began. They fell into violent contentions to see who would command; they kicked, hit and even bit one another and, as a climax of silliness, challenged one another to a duel with swords. In short, they acted like madmen, like savages deprived of reason.

After two years a new governor and some colonists arrived. The three castaways tried to conceal the ambergris, but knowledge of the find leaked out, causing much dissension. Back in England, the captain of the ship which had transported the new governor plotted to get the gray amber and his plan included, if necessary, the murder of all the colonists. Whatever finally happened to the gray amber I have been unable to discover.

[1]Canto XXVI, Prose trans., by H.R. Huse.

[2] Howard Mumford Jones, O Strange New World (New York, 1964), p. 4.

[3] In the dialogues of Critias and Timaeus.

[4] Here I have followed the account in the first chapter of Strange New World.

[5] Paradise Lost, I, 685 ff.

[6] Roger Bigelow Merriman, The Rise of the Spanish Empire (New York, 1925), III, 548.

[7] This ode is reproduced in William Gilbert Gosling, The Life of Sir Humphrey Gilbert (London, 1911), pp. 216ff.

[8] Both poems are reproduced in Louis B. Wright, The Elizabethan’s America (Harvard University Press), 1965, pp. 94-95.

[9] Captain Arthur Barlow’s report has been reprinted by the Hakluyt Society, second series, No. 104 (London, 1952) and has been brilliantly edited and annotated by David B. Quinn in The Roanoke Voyages (1584-90). It has also been reproduced by Wright in The Elizabethan’s America.

[10] Reprinted in The Elizabethan’s America.

[11] Reprinted in The Elizabethan’s America.

[12] Our information about the English colonists and the first year in America comes from primarily two documents: Thomas Hariot, A Brief and true report of he New Found Land of Virginia, which has been reprinted many times, and an account by Ralph Lane, reprinted in Richard Hakluyt’s Principal Navigation, Voyages, Traffiques, and Discoveries of the English Nation (Glasgow, 1914(, Vol. VIII.

[13] For example, see William A. Bourne, A Treatise on the Properties and Qualities of Glasses for Optical Purposes (London, 1583), reproduced in Rara Mathematica, ed. J. O. Halliwell (London, 1839).

[14] This narrative has been reproduced many times and is readily available. The most brilliant edition, with many supporting documents, is that of V.T. Harlow.

[15] Ralegh’s letters are collected in Vol. II of the Life by Edward Edwards.

[16] From De Guiana Carmen Epicum.

[17] William Strachey, A True

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