The Fall of the 'Good Savage'1
Deepsouth v.4 n.1 (Autumn 1998)
Copyright (c) 1998 by
|Vernon Wybrow - University of Otago, Department of English
"The realities of the contact experience, the shifting demands of the West's expansionist agenda and the rise of racial science within Europe all contributed to the ultimate rejection of the 'Good Savage' as a central organisational principle in the classification of the 'savage world'."
The notion of the 'Good Savage' was a literary and theoretical construct that did not survive the transition from Europe's drawing rooms, libraries and literary salons to the new 'New World' of the Pacific. The romantic and largely imaginary ideal of the 'Good Savage' was one of several competing stereotypes which European writers deployed throughout the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to describe and define the non-European 'other'. It proved to be stereotype that was particularly influential in the initial attempts of European observers to textualise the 'new' peoples they encountered in the Pacific. However as the West's relationship with the Pacific, and indeed the rest of the world, shifted and changed the 'Good Savage' was displaced within the Western discourses of exploration and colonisation by those competing stereotypes which better reflected the concerns at the heart of these new circumstances. The realities of the contact experience, the shifting demands of the West's expansionist agenda and the rise of racial science within Europe all contributed to the ultimate rejection of the 'Good Savage' as a central organisational principle in the classification of the 'savage world'. The textual portrayal of the Maori and Aborigine by a succession of European explorers, travellers and settlers illustrated not only the pervasive influence this ideal had upon Western perceptions of the 'savage other' during the initial moments of cross cultural contact, but also illustrated some of the impressions which eventually displaced it.
The first clear textual expressions of the 'Good Savage' ideal, as it was later applied to the Pacific, were to be found in Europe's initial accounts of the Americas. Drawing upon such neo-classical notions as a 'Lost Golden Age' and the values of the humanist movement, European writers and philosophers described the peoples of this 'New World' as clear examples of 'savage man' living in accordance with the universal laws of nature, happy and content in their natural state. The Italian scholar Pietro Martire d'Anhiera wrote a series of reports regarding the peoples Columbus had encountered:
so that if we shall not be ashamed to confesse the truthe, they seem to lyve in the goulden worlde of the which owlde eryters speake so much; wherin 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.2Similarly two Englishmen, Philip Amadas and George Barlow, wrote an account of the indigenous inhabitants of Virginia in 1584 which described them as 'people most gentle, loving, and faithful, voide of all guile and treason, and such as live after the manner of the golden age.' (Hulme, 1990, 23) The advocates of the 'Good Savage' ideal regarded the perceived simplicity of the stereotypical savage as a virtue, and savagery itself was defined as the original and indeed natural state for the human species. It was assumed that the peoples of America had preserved an original purity, innocence and nobility which a civilised and urbanised Europe had lost. Europe's humanist philosophers and writers deployed impressions of the 'Good Savage' to argue against the worst excesses of their age's ethnocentrism, to promote the perceived virtues of the simplistic savage state and to acknowledge a basic unity of human existence.3
To the poets, writers, and philosophers of Europe the 'Good Savage' was as much a literary device for the critique of the emerging industrialised world as it was a serious attempt to define and classify the non-European world. The French essayist Michel de Montaigne evoked the idealised image of the 'Good Savage' in order to question the conventions and prejudices of his own society;
'We all call barbarism that which does not fit our usages...Those people [The 'Cannibals'] are wild in the sense which we call wild the fruits that nature has produced by herself and her ordinary progress: whereas in truth it is those we have altered artificially and diverted from the common order, that we should rather call wild. In the first we see, in full life and figour, the genuine and most natural and useful vertues and properties, which we have bastardized in the latter, and only adapted to please our corrupt taste...Those nations, then, appear to us so far barbarous in this sense, that their minds have been forced to a very slight degree, and that they are still very close to the original simplicity. They are still ruled by the laws of nature, and very little corrupted by ours.4The English writer Thomas Trahern captured the essence of this argument in the conclusion: 'for verily there is no savage nation under the cope of Heaven, that is more absurdly barbarous than the Christian world. They that go naked and drink water and live upon roots are like Adam, or Angels in comparison to us.'5 Hayden White has argued that the fundamental distinction Montaigne made in his writings on the nature of humanity was between the realms of the natural and artificial: 'For him the natural was not necessarily good but it is certainly preferable to the artificial, especially inasmuch as artificially induced barbarity is much more reprehensible in his eyes than its counterpart among savages.' (White, 1972, 32) Montaigne and those authors who shared his view of humanity did not advocate the adoption of the savage state, but sought to illustrate the restrictive artificiality which they regarded as an obstacle to improvement their own 'civilised' society. Within this intellectual milieu the imagery of the 'Good Savage' often served as a tool in the philosophical debates which many European thinkers, such as Jean-Jaques Rousseau, engaged in during the eighteenth century. Although the images evoked in this context often had the most tenuous of links to first hand accounts of the world's, supposedly, savage nations there were an increasing number of European scholars who wished to locate living examples of the 'Good Savage' in those parts of the globe which had only just been opened to their gaze.
By the eighteenth century the imagery of the 'Good Savage' had gained a powerful influence over Europe's collective imagination, and as the realities of European colonial expansion made it more difficult to sustain the ideal in the Americas, the search for a living manifestation of the 'Good Savage' shifted to the Pacific. Discouraged by the apparent failure of the Americas to provide a lasting example of the 'Good Savage', but encouraged by the initial reports which many European explorers had brought back from the Pacific the English geographer John Callander cautiously suggested that it would be in the Pacific, 'if anywhere, [where] we may expect to find a faithful picture of the innocence and simplicity of the first ages.'6 Others were more confident that the Pacific would yield evidence confirming the 'Good Savage' ideal as the central organisational principle for the understanding of those peoples they defined as savage. In his enthusiasm for the ideal Dr Commerson, the botanist on Bougainville's Pacific voyage, applied this imagery to the peoples of Tahiti unaltered:
It is the only corner of earth where live men without vices, without prejudices, without dissensions-they recognise no other gods but love...the state of natural man, born essentially good, free from all bias and following without suspicion as without remorse, the gentle impulses of an instinct which is always sure because it has not degenerated into reason.7The notion of the 'Good Savage' informed the reactions of many European explorers in their first encounters with the inhabitant of Eastern Polynesia and it was in this region of the Pacific that many imagined the purest examples of the 'Good Savage' would be found. (Smith, 1985, 41)
Just as the Pacific seemingly confirmed the 'Good Savage' stereotype, it also presented increasingly numerous contradictions for Europe's philosophers, commentators and scholars to contemplate. Both Dampier's description of the Aborigine as the 'miserablest people in the world' and Tasman's conclusion that New Zealand was inhabited by 'treacherous villains' illustrated some of the counter discourses present within European thought, and foreshadowed some of the conclusions later travellers would apply to those peoples they encountered in the Pacific. The response of European explorers and travellers to the Maori and Aborigine in relation to this notion of the 'Good Savage' illustrated both its wide spread influence and the strength of the reaction against it.
Both Captain James Cook and Joseph Banks used elements of the 'Good Savage' in their portrayals of the Pacific's human inhabitants. This was particularly clear in their reaction to the Tahitians but its influence was also discernible, to varying degrees, within their textual profiles of the Maori and Aborigine.8 Although Cook's account of the Aborigine described their way of life as miserable, wretched and far inferior to those of other Pacific peoples he qualified his opinions with the following comments:
From what I have said of the natives of New Holland they may appear to some the most wretched people upon the Earth, but in reality they are far more happy than we Europeans, being wholy unacquainted not only with the superfluous but the necessary conveniences so much sought after in Europe, they are happy in not knowing the use of them. They live in a tranquillity which is not disturbed by inequalities of condition: The Earth and sea of their own accord furnishes them with all things necessary for life.9Regardless of how well read he was in the philosophies surrounding the ideal, Cook clearly deployed a classic expression of the idealised imagery associated with the 'Good Savage' in this particular passage.10 Banks was less emphatic in his expression of this ideal but his text still echoed its sentiments: 'Thus live these I had almost said happy, people, content with little nay almost nothing...From them appear how small are the real wants of human nature, which we Europeans have increased to an excess which would appear incredible to these people could they be told it.'11 Both the explorer and the travelling scholar regarded the Aborigine as a simplistic people who lived in a state close to nature and were content in their ignorance of 'civilisation's comforts.'
The Maori proved to be a more problematic prospect in regards to Banks and Cook's deployment of the 'Good Savage.' For many European observers the apparent eagerness of the Maori to engage in warfare and their participation in acts of cannibalism brought into question the relevance of this image within the New Zealand context. The impressions which the practice of cannibalism, in particular, generated in the mind of the European observer were contrary to those they typically associated with the preconceived visions of the 'Good Savage' stereotype. As Oskar Spate has pointed out in regard to other exploration narratives, such 'inconvenient anomalies' were often side stepped or explained away by the authors of such accounts. (Spate, 1988, 247) In the New Zealand context J. C. Beaglehole has noted that in one of his journal's earlier drafts Cook commented: 'this [cannibalism] seems to come from custom and not from a savage disposition...they appear to have but few vices,' a passage that went at least a step towards absolving the Maori of the brutality and cruelty Europeans usually associated with this particular practice. (Beaglehole et al., 1955, 539) Despite their observation and, at times, lengthy discussion of these 'anomalies', both Cook and Banks still suggested that the Maori were an essentially good and noble people. Reflecting the core elements of the 'Good Savage' Banks made numerous references in his text to the open, friendly and affectionate character of the Maori, while Cook was characteristically direct: 'Notwithstanding they are Cannibals, they are naturally of a good disposition and have not a little share of humanity.'12 Despite the apparent contradictions Maori cannibalism seemed to raise for Cook and Banks, both were still prepared, with some hesitation, to attribute these people with naturally 'good' and essentially humane disposition of the 'Good Savage.'
Johann Rienhold Forster's observations of the Pacific's inhabitants during Cook's second voyage were suggestive 'Good Savage', but ultimately the theoretical methodology he adopted undermined the central elements of this stereotypical figure. In his descriptions of the Tahitians in particular, and the Polynesian peoples in general, Forster echoed many of the impressions generated by advocates of the 'Good Savage' ideal. He described the Tahitians as a happy and friendly people: 'The natives of these isles are generally of a lively, brisk temper, great lovers of mirth and laughter, and of an open, easily benevolent character...In short their character is as amiable as that of any nation that ever came unimproved out of the hands of nature.'13 As with other expressions of the 'Good Savage' this ideal of simple happiness and contentment in nature was reflected back upon Europe which was, to some extent, found wanting. Forster expressed the wish 'that our civilized Europeans might add to their many advantages, that innocence of heart and genuine simplicity of manners, that spirit of benevolence' found amongst the Polynesian peoples. (Forster, 1778, 349) However, despite these occassional expressions of romanticism and sentimentality Forster's 'civil Tahitian' bore little more than a passing resemblance to the 'innocent children of nature' described by the true advocates of the 'Good Savage.'14
Far from being an example of primitive savagery, 'Good' or otherwise, Forster's 'Tahitian' emerges from his text in a state which, at times, was closer to civilisation. Rather than attributing the 'happy' existence of the Tahitians to a proximity to nature he instead referred to the abundant resources of their 'happy region' as fostering a state of society that was one rank above barbarity and on the verge of civilisation. (Forster, 1778, 216-421) Similarly Forster considered the virtues other philosophers had attributed solely to the domain of the 'Good Savage' as being attainable within a civilised society. Forster was convinced that whenever the savage and civilised states were considered 'objectively', as he believed he had done in his own Observations, civilisation would always prove to be the superior state. He constantly referred to the advantages offered by the 'numberless improvements', 'the excellent laws', 'humane feelings' and 'regulated state' of a civilised nation. At one point Forster advanced a defence of the civilised state in opposition to that of the savage and in doing so rejected a fundamental element of the 'Good Savage' ideal:
the happiness which European nations enjoy and are capable of becomes on account of the degeneracy of a few profligate individuals, very much debased, and mixed with the miseries, which are entailed upon or civilized societies, by luxury and vice; if therefore the felicity of several European or Asiatic nations, seem so inferior to that of some of the nations in the South Sea, it is owing to the above mentioned causes, since it does not seem to follow, that a high degree of civilisation must necessarily lessen or destroy natural, moral, or social happiness. (Forster, 1778, 287)Here Forster attributed the failings he perceived within European society to the actions of a minority of individuals rather than the actual civilised state. It is the apparent freedom of the Tahitians from the influences of such 'degenerate' individuals that Forster wishfully envies, not their state of greater primitivity.
Forster's accounts of the Maori, Terra Del Fuegians (The inhabitants of South America's southern most coast) and more indirectly the Aborigine provided a better example of those peoples he considered to be truly representative of the savage or barbaric state. In terms directly contrary to the principles of the 'Good Savage' Forster textually reconstructed both the Maori and Aborigine as 'degenerated' savages. (Forster, 1778, 301-308 and 382) The Maori, for example, were often described in terms more consistent with the European stereotype of the brutal and ferocious 'Wild Savage' than that of the 'Good Savage.' At one point he wrote: '[The Maori] have not those tender, humane feelings and emotions, of which we are capable, in so highly civilized state, with a refined education and principles infinitely superior to theirs.' (Forster, 1778, 326) Forster also specifically questioned the value of the 'contentment and happiness' which Banks and Cook had associated the Aborigine:
this situation of the savage or barbarian, is nothing more than a state of intoxication; his happiness and contentment founded on mere sensuality, is transitory and delusive...and of so little value, that a man in his senses cannot but think himself happy that he was born in a civilized nation. (Forster, 1778, 302)Forster attributed the Maori with this same 'savage disposition'. Referring specifically to the Maori and Terra Del Fuegians Forster wrote: 'though their condition appear to us forlorn and they themselves be in our eyes the outcast of the human species; they do not think so meanly of their own situation; nay, so far from supposing themselves unhappy they rather glory in te advantages of their own way of living.' (Forster, 1778, 301) For Forster any sign of contentment amongst the 'savages' was simply further evidence of the depths of their 'ignorance', for in their 'self-delusion' they were unable to even recognise the preferable conditions offered by civilisation. Within the confines of Forster's theoretical framework savagery, rather than 'Good,' is defined as a brutal and degenerated example of human society which confirmed for him the fundamental superiority of the civilised state, as found in Europe and to a lesser extent Asia. Ultimately Forster's account rejects the idealised imagery of the 'Good Savage' as a meaningful way of textualising the world's savage peoples.
Fran*ois P*ron's account of the Aborigine reflected a similar set of responses to the textual figure of the 'Good Savage' and those who were supposed to embody it in the south Pacific. Although his textual account of the Aborigine contributed to the eventual displacement of the 'Good Savage' ideal P*ron's initial reaction to the Aborigine of Van Diemen's Land illustrated a sympathy for the ideal, indeed Miranda Hughes has suggested that prior to the voyage P*ron was an advocate of the 'Good Savage' philosophy.15 Of the first group he meet P*ron commented that their appearance was, 'not the least austere or fierce,' and that they demonstrated a good natured benevolence and kindness in their character.16 However, during the course of his voyage P*ron abandoned this sympathetic outlook and adopted a set of impressions and conclusions which repositioned the Aborigine within his text as examples of a more brutal savagery. It would seem that in the light of his experience and through the deployment of 'empirical methodologies,' the Aborigine fell short of P*ron's preconceptions of what represented the 'Good Savage.' In terms similar to those used in Forster's earlier descriptions of the Maori, P*ron referred to the Aborigine as a vicious and treacherous people. Following several encounters where the French had felt threatened or were subjected to minor attacks P*ron offered the following comment:
I must declare frankly that the whole tenor of their conduct shewed a treacherous disposition, and a degree of ferocity that disgusted both me and my companions....In those places where the inhabitants are said to posses the greatest gentleness and mildness of character, unprotected Europeans have experienced many great dangers, and very often have fallen victims to their own generous confidence. (P*ron, 1809, 221)He went as far as suggesting that his experience of the Aborigine had shown 'how imposable it is to conquer the natural ferocity of their character.' (P*ron, 1809, 223) P*ron regarded these observations and experiences as uncontestable 'proof' of the fallacies upon which the 'Good Savage' ideal had been built.
P*ron supplemented this consideration of the Aborigine's 'wicked and treacherous' character with an appeal to objective science and empirical evidence. One aspect of the 'Good Savage' thesis which particularly interested P*ron, a student of the emerging discipline of comparative anatomy, was the belief that the degeneration of 'man's' health and strength was in proportion to their state of civilisation and that the savage state conversely promoted the development of superior health and strength. With the intention of 'objectively' testing the accuracy of this hypothesis P*ron conducted a handful of experiments during his voyage with an instrument called a dynamometer, a device used to measure the relative strength of specific groupings of arm and leg muscles. From the handful of results he managed to collect during the course of his voyage, and without any consideration of the contexts in which the tests were conducted, P*ron was confident that his results disproved the initial hypothesis. With an air of some satisfaction he concluded, 'That the inhabitants of Diemen's Land, most savage of all, and the real child of nature of modern philosophers, are the weakest of any,' and that the European's obtained the highest results from the test. P*ron regarded these measurements as proof enough to support the conclusion, 'that physical strength is not diminished by civilisation, nor is it a natural consequence of a savage state.' (P*ron, 1809, 314) For P*ron the status of the Aborigine as a 'degenerate savage' had already been well established but the results of this 'empirical' experimentation provided him with further 'proof' and thus undermined an aspect of the 'Good Savage' image.
In the light of his 'objective experiments' and his personal experiences P*ron came to see himself as participating in a general effort to overturn the 'false' imagery of the 'Good Savage' through the application of accurate scientific observation. He wrote in his conclusion:
That singular period is still recent, in which we saw many celebrated men led away by an ardent imagination, or with dispositions soured by the misfortunes inseparable from our social state of existence, unite to ridicule that state, and despising the benefits it confers, attribute to savages all the sources of happiness and every principle of virtue....Happily modern travellers, by successively describing various savage people, have enabled the world to form a just opinion of those ridiculous sophisms: and our expedition may in this respect still farther contribute to the progress of true philosophy. (P*ron, 1809, 311-312)
In relation to this intellectual framework the Aborigine emerge from P*ron's account as evidence that the 'Good Savage' ideal was inadequate as an analytical tool for classifying and explaining the nature of the world's savage peoples.
P*ron's denunciation of those philosophers who continued to promote the ideal of the 'Good Savage' echoed the sentiments offered by one of his countrymen, Julien Crozet, some thirty years earlier. Unlike Forster and P*ron, Crozet did not locate his account of the savage, in this case primarily the Maori, within any particular scholarly discourse but instead laid claim to his personal experience of 'savage treachery and brutality' as the basis for his complete rejection of the 'Good Savage' ideal. Crozet was a senior officer who had accompanied Marc-Joseph Marion du Fresne's expedition to the South Pacific in 1771. In his encounters with both the Aborigine and Maori Marion had shown himself to be sympathetic to the ideal of the 'Good Savage'. On his arrival off the coast of Van Diemen's Land, he is supposed to have instructed his men to strip naked and enter the surf in order to meet with the Aborigine as 'natural men.'17 His enthusiasm for the reception the Maori had given his arrival in New Zealand was illustrated by a report from one of his officers who attributed to Marion the comment: 'How can you expect me to have a poor opinion of a people who show so much friendship for me? Since I do nothing but good, surely they will not do me any harm?'18 However in the context of this voyage any invocation of the 'Good Savage' died with Marion. It was Marion's death at the hands of the Maori which allowed the image of a 'brutal savage' to dominate Crozet's account at the expense of the 'Good Savage.'
The central place given to this attack in Crozet's portrayal of the Maori was indicated, somewhat ironically, in his account:
had we departed about this time [prior to Marion's death], we would have brought to Europe the most favourable account of these savages, we would have painted them in our relations with them as the most affable, the most humane and the most hospitable people on the face of the Earth. From our accounts philosophers fond of praising primitive man would have triumphed in seeing the speculations of their studies confirmed by the accounts of travellers whom they would have recommended as worthy of belief. But we would all of us have been wrong.19In Crozet's opinion the Maori attack on Marion's party had merely revealed the realities inherent in the savage state to European eyes. Crozet believed that the 'true' nature of the savage had been hidden from the philosopher's studies, but had been revealed to him through the lens of his experience.
From his standpoint, Crozet could conceive only one possible interpretation of the Maori's action after a month of peaceful contact: 'I cannot believe that there can be on the face of the Earth greater traitors than these savages. I can affirm that not even on the slightest occasion had these savages any reason to complain of us.' (Rochon, 1891, 62)20 Having absolved the French of any possible provocation Crozet concluded that the Maori had intended to do them harm from the beginning and that all indications to the contrary had been deception. As to the motivation for the deceit and bloodshed conducted by the Maori, Crozet simply citied the true nature of the savage as reason in itself. For Crozet his experience of the Maori confirmed the brutality of this savage nature and the ignorance of those who romanticised it:
Here then we have a picture of these primitive men, so extolled by those who do not know them, and who attribute gratuitously to them more virtues and less vices than possessed by men whom they are pleased to call artificial, because forsooth education has perfected their reason. For my part I maintain that there is amongst all animals of the creation none more ferocious and dangerous for human beings than the primitive and savage man,...I have seen everywhere that when reason is not assisted and perfectioned by good laws or by good education, it becomes the prey of force or of treachery, equally as much so among primitive men as amongst animals, and I conclude that reason without culture is but a brutal instinct. (Rochon, 1891, 63)Crozet derides the 'Good Savage' as the uninformed imaginings of misguided writers and held forth his own experience as the ultimate authority for speaking of the Maori as 'brutal savages'. He claimed that he had read from the book of nature in the course of his voyages and so had a better understanding of the true nature of the savage than those who remained in the comfort of Europe.
The ill fated French Captain La P*rouse drew a similar conclusion from conflicts which his crew had experienced in both Samoa and New Holland. In a letter written after a clash between his crew and the Aborigine of Botany Bay La P*rouse consolidated his rejection of the 'Good Savage' as a legitimate expression of savagery's true nature. Although he expressed anger towards those he viewed as having treacherously attacked his men with no provocation he wrote:
I am however a thousand times more angry with the philosophers who so exalt the savages than with the savages themselves. This unfortunate Lamanon, whom they massacred, said to me on the eve of his death, that these men [The Aborigine] were more worthy than ourselves. A rigid observer of the order given in my instructions, I have always treated them with the greatest consideration, but I assure you that if I were to make a new voyage of this kind, I would demand diferernt orders. A navigator, on leaving Europe. ought to consider savages as enemies. (Spate, 1987, 263)Once again the opponents of the 'Good Savage' ideal had laid it to rest together with the sacrifice of another 'naive' believer in this romantic vision. La P*rouse and Crozet reflected the opinions of many European narrators as these scenes of cross cultural conflict, followed by their self righteous denunciation of the savage, were repeated throughout the Pacific during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. In the British experience the death of crewmen from the Adventure at the hands of the Maori and Cook's violent demise in Hawaii were both notable events which also brought the character of the 'Good Savage' into question. Increasingly Europeans interpreted the violence which often accompanied the cross cultural encounter as evidence of a brutal and treacherous, rather than 'Good,' savagery. From their ethnocentric stand point these explorers could not or would not recognise their own role in these clashes, instead it was the savage 'other' who were made to bear the burden of responsibility alone.
The realities of the cross cultural encounter and the agenda driving forward the West's colonial expansion proved to be to great a challenge for what was essentially a construction of the European romantic imagination. As Peter Hulme has noted in relation to the American experience of the 'Good Savage': 'it was a perspective whose soft tones required the distancing provided as readily by the Atlantic as by the centuries separating Europe from prehistory.' (Hulme, 1990, 22-23) The removal of this 'distance' through 'exploration', scientific observation and eventually colonisation ensured the ultimate collapse of the 'Good Savage' ideal. This process can be clearly seen within the textual accounts of both the Maori and Aborigine in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. In her consideration of the 'Good Savage' ideal and its influence on Baudin's south Pacific expedition, Miranda Hughes has given the expedition a symbolic role in the ultimate fall of the ideal: 'Baudin's expedition departed in the sunset of the enlightenment and returned to the dawn of the nineteenth century, where benevolence to the "noble savage" had been displaced.'21
The European explorers, scholars, travellers and settlers who attempted to describe the indigenous peoples of Australia and New Zealand they had encountered all provided illustrations of this displacement and provided sketches of those ideas which eventually assumed the role of explaining human difference. All laid claim to personal experiences, empirical study, or objective observation as the basis for these 'new truths' they had supposedly revealed about the perceived savagery of the Maori and Aborigine. However, these 'new truths' had little to do with any fundamental discoveries regarding the nature of these examples of the non-European other. Indeed the shift revealed more about the changing nature of Europe's systems of scientific discourse and the shifting colonial process than it did about the human inhabitants of the Pacific. It represented nothing more than the overturning of one set of Euro centric classificatory conventions for another. In an intellectual environment where the evangelical movement, racial science and the establishment of colonial settlements were exerting an increasing influence over Western views of the Pacific and the world in general the 'Good Savage' went into decline as significant organisational principle. As Bernard Smith has suggested this process never completely banished the stereotypical figure of the 'Good Savage' from the European imagination. Its imagery survived as part of the literary traditions from which it had emerged and the sentimental visions of many who felt dissatisfied with the realities of the industrialised world. (Smith, 1985, 123) Echo's and fragments of the image still emerged from within the texts of Western travellers or settlers on occasion, but by the mid-nineteenth century it was no longer considered to be a meaningful tool for shaping the West's understanding of the world's savage 'others.' A new set of texual constructs and conventions were called upon to serve this role within the colonial discourses of the West.
The phrase 'Good Savage' is used in this discussion in preference to the
more commonly cited 'Noble Savage' largely as an acknowledgment of the
arguments forwarded by Oskar Spate and Arthur Lovejoy. First; the term
'good' better encompasses all of the variations of meaning associated with
the ideal during the eighteenth century. As Spate has pointed out the 'Noble
Savage' is more accurate when used to refer to the 'harder' expressions
of this ideal. The term 'Good Savage', as it was often used by the French
(le bon sauvage), can be regarded as being more inclusive in this context.
Second; by using the 'Good Savage' any association with the misconceived
cliche of 'Rousseau's Noble Savage' is minimised. As Lovejoy and Spate
have argued, the ideal it encompassed not only predated the writings of
Rousseau but he never used the term. Furthermore his own 'primal man' did
not conform to the most common expressions of the ideal. Oskar H. K. Spate,
Paradise Found and Lost, Sydney, 1987, pp.245-246, Geoffrey Symcox, 'The
Wild Man's Return: The Enclosed Vision of Rousseau's Discourses', in Edward
Dudley and Maximillian E. Novak, eds., The Wild Man Within. An Image in
Western Thought from the Renaissance to Romanticism, Pittsburgh, 1972,
pp.223-248, and Arthur O. Lovejoy, Essays in the History of Ideas, Baltimore,
(2) Annemarie De Waal Malefijt, Images of Man - A History of Anthropological Thought, New York, 1974, p. 40 and Peter Hulme, 'The Spontaneous Hand of Nature: Savagery, Colonialism and the Enlightenment', in Peter Hulme and Ludmilla Jordanova, eds., The Enlightenment and its Shadows, London, 1990, p.22.
(3) This is a topic addressed by numerous writers. Some of the works which discuss the topic in relation to ideas of the 'Good Savage' include, Hayden White, 'The Forms of Wildness: Archaeology of an Idea', in Edward Dudley and Maximillian E. Novak, eds., The Wild Man Within - An Image in Western Thought from the Renaissance to Romanticism, Pittsburgh, 1972; Marshall and Williams, The Great Map of Mankind - British Perceptions of the World in the Age of Enlightenment, London, 1982; Peter Hulme, 'The Spontaneous hand of Nature' and De Waal Malefijt, Images of Man.
(7) Jack K. Dowling, 'Bougainville and Cook', in Walter Viet, ed., Captain Cook: Images and Impact - South Seas Discoveries and the World of Letters, Vol.1, Melbourne, 1972, p.36, cited from Bibliotheque du Mus*um d' Histoire Naturelle, Paris, manuscript, 1927, 'Post-Scriptum sur de la Nouvelle Cythere ou Tayti'.
(9) J. C. Beaglehole, J. A. Williamson, J. W. Davidson and R. A. Skelton , eds., The Journals of Captain James Cook on his Voyage Around the World, Vol.1, London, The Voyage of the Endeavour, 1768-1771, 1955, p.399.
(10) M. P. K. Sorrenson suggests that it was unlikely that Cook would have been familiar with the writings of those philosophers who promoted the idea of the 'Good Savage'. M. P. K. Sorrenson, Maori Origins and Migrations - The Genesis of Some Pakeha Myths and Legends, Auckland, 1979, p.59.
(14) This point is also raised by Nicholas Thomas. Nicholas Thomas, "'On Varieties of the Human Species': Forster's Comparative Ethnology', in Michael Dettlebach, Harriet Guest and Nicholas Thomas, eds., Observations Made During a Voyage Around the World, Honolulu, 1996, p.xxxiii.
(15) Miranda Hughes, 'Tall Tales or True Stories? Baudin, P*ron, and the Tasmanians, 1802', in R. MacLeod and P. F. Rehbock, eds., Nature to it Greatest Extent: Western Science in the Pacific, Honolulu, 1988, p.68.
(17) Le Dez, 'Summary of the Voyage by Le Dez', in Isabel Ollivier, ed., Extracts from the Journals Relating to the Visit to New Zealand in May-July 1772 of the French Ships Mascaarin and Marquis De Castries Under the Command of M.-J. Marion Du Fresne, Wellington, 1985, p.274 and D. J. Mulvaney, Encounters in the Place, Outsiders and Aboriginal Australians 1606-1985, Melbourne, 1989, p.29.
(18) Jean Roux, 'Journal of Jean Roux', in Isabel Ollivier, ed., Extracts from the Journals Relating to the Visit to New Zealand in May-July 1772 of the French Ships Mascaarin and Marquis De Castries Under the Command of M.-J. Marion Du Fresne, Wellington, 1985, p.175. Both Roux and Crozet presented Marion's trust of the Maori in contrast to their own suspicions, but the extent to which this was done in the light of hind sight needs to be questioned.
(20) Although Crozet could not conceive any alternative explanation for the Maori attack on Marion the editor of the French edition of his book did offer some possible explanations beyond the simple conclusion that they did it because they were savage. Indeed this was one of the few points in the text that L'Abb* Rochon offers an opinion in direct opposition to Crozet's own narrative. Rochon, ed., Crozet's Voyage to Tasmania, p.117.