A noble savage is a literary stock character
who embodies the concept of the indigene
, outsider, wild human, an "other
" who has not been "corrupted" by civilization
, and therefore symbolizes humanity's innate goodness. Besides appearing in many works of fiction and philosophy, the stereotype was also heavily employed in early anthropological
In English, the phrase first appeared in the 17th century in John Dryden
's heroic play ''The Conquest of Granada
'' (1672), wherein it was used in reference to newly created man. "Savage" at that time could mean "wild beast" as well as "wild man". The phrase later became identified with the idealized picture of "nature's gentleman", which was an aspect of 18th-century sentimentalism
. The noble savage achieved prominence as an oxymoron
ic rhetorical device after 1851, when used sarcastically as the title for a satirical essay by English novelist Charles Dickens
, who some believe may have wished to disassociate himself from what he viewed as the "feminine" sentimentality
of 18th and early 19th-century romantic primitivism
The idea that humans are essentially good is often attributed to the 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury
, a Whig
supporter of constitutional monarchy
. In his ''Inquiry Concerning Virtue'' (1699), Shaftesbury had postulated that the moral sense
in humans is natural and innate and based on feelings, rather than resulting from the indoctrination of a particular religion
. Shaftesbury was reacting to Thomas Hobbes
's justification of an absolutist central state
in his ''Leviathan
'', "Chapter XIII", in which Hobbes famously holds that the state of nature
is a "war of all against all" in which men's lives are "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short". Hobbes further calls the American Indians
an example of a contemporary people living in such a state. Although writers since antiquity had described people living in conditions outside contemporary definitions of "civilization", Hobbes is credited with inventing the term "State of Nature". Ross Harrison
writes that "Hobbes seems to have invented this useful term."
Contrary to what is sometimes believed, Jean-Jacques Rousseau
never used the phrase ''noble savage'' (French ''bon sauvage
''). However, the archetypical character that would later be termed ''noble savage'' appeared in French literature at least as early as Jacques Cartier
(coloniser of Québec
, speaking of the Iroquois
) and Michel de Montaigne
(philosopher, speaking of the Tupinamba
) in the 16th century.
Pre-history of the noble savage
' ''De origine et situ Germanorum''
(''Germania''), written 98 AD, has been described as a predecessor of the modern noble savage concept, which started in the 17th and 18th centuries in western European travel literature
Other roots are the Ten Lost Tribes
and Prester John
, which are objects of the colonial search for them, as primitive religious relatives, among indigenous peoples. The Mongol Khan
is another example for being identified as a noble savage.
Following the discovery of America
, the phrase "savage" for indigenous peoples was used disparagingly to justify colonialism. The concept of the savage gave Europeans the supposed right to establish colonies without considering the possibility of preexisting, functional societies.
During the late 16th and 17th centuries, the figure of the "savage" — and later, increasingly, the "good savage" — was held up as a reproach to European civilization, then in the throes of the French Wars of Religion
and Thirty Years' War
. In his famous essay "Of Cannibals" (1580), Michel de Montaigne
— himself a Catholic — reported that the Tupinambá people
of Brazil ceremoniously eat the bodies of their dead enemies as a matter of honour. However, he reminded his readers that Europeans behave even more barbarously when they burn each other alive for disagreeing about religion (he implies): "One calls 'barbarism' whatever he is not accustomed to." Terence Cave comments:
In "Of Cannibals", Montaigne uses cultural
(but not moral
for the purpose of satire. His cannibals were neither noble nor exceptionally good, but neither were they suggested to be morally inferior to contemporary 16th-century Europeans. In this classical humanist
may differ but human beings in general are prone to cruelty in various forms, a quality detested by Montaigne. David El Kenz explains:
The treatment of indigenous peoples by Spanish Conquistador
s also produced a great deal of bad conscience and recriminations. The Spanish priest Bartolomé de las Casas
, who witnessed it, may have been the first to idealize the simple life of the indigenous Americans. He and other observers praised their simple manners and reported that they were incapable of lying, especially in the course of the Valladolid debate
European angst over colonialism
inspired fictional treatments such as Aphra Behn
's novel ''Oroonoko
, or the Royal Slave'' (1688), about a slave revolt
in the West Indies
. Behn's story was not primarily a protest against slavery
; rather, it was written for money, and it met readers' expectations by following the conventions of the European romance novel
la. The leader of the revolt, Oroonoko, is truly noble in that he is a hereditary African prince, and he laments his lost African homeland in the traditional terms of a classical Golden Age
. He is not a savage but dresses and behaves like a European aristocrat
. Behn's story was adapted for the stage by Irish playwright Thomas Southerne
, who stressed its sentimental aspects, and as time went on, it came to be seen as addressing the issues of slavery and colonialism, remaining very popular throughout the 18th century.
Origin of term
In English, the phrase ''Noble Savage'' first appeared in poet John Dryden
's heroic play, ''The Conquest of Granada
I am as free as nature first made man,
Ere the base laws of servitude began,
When wild in woods the noble savage ran.
The hero who speaks these words in Dryden's play is here denying the right of a prince to put him to death, on the grounds that he is not that prince's subject. These lines were quoted by Scott as the heading to Chapter 22 of his "A Legend of Montrose" (1819). "Savage" is better taken here in the sense of "wild beast", so that the phrase "noble savage" is to be read as a witty conceit meaning simply the beast that is above the other beasts, or man.
Ter Ellingson believes that Dryden had picked up the expression "noble savage" from a 1609 travelogue about Canada by the French explorer Marc Lescarbot
, in which there was a chapter with the ironic heading: "The Savages are Truly Noble", meaning simply that they enjoyed the right to hunt game, a privilege in France granted only to hereditary aristocrats. It is not known if Lescarbot was aware of Montaigne's stigmatization of the aristocratic pastime of hunting, though some authors believe he was familiar with Montaigne. Lescarbot's familiarity with Montaigne, is discussed by Ter Ellingson in ''The Myth of the Noble Savage''.
In Dryden's day the word "savage" did not necessarily have the connotations of cruelty now associated with it. Instead, as an adjective, it could as easily mean "wild", as in a wild flower, for example. Thus he wrote in 1697, 'the savage cherry grows. ...';.
One scholar, Audrey Smedley
, believes that: "English conceptions of 'the savage' were grounded in expansionist conflicts with Irish
pastoralists and more broadly, in isolation from, and denigration of neighboring European peoples." and Ellingson agrees that "The ethnographic literature lends considerable support for such arguments"
In France the stock figure
that in English is called the "noble savage" has always been simply "le bon sauvage", "the good wild man", a term without any of the paradoxical frisson of the English one. Montaigne
is generally credited for being at the origin of this myth in his Essays
(1580), especially "Of Coaches" and "Of Cannibals". This character, an idealized portrayal of "Nature's Gentleman", was an aspect of 18th-century sentimentalism
, along with other stock characters such as, the Virtuous Milkmaid, the Servant-More-Clever-than-the-Master (such as Sancho Panza
, among countless others), and the general theme of virtue in the lowly born. The use of stock characters (especially in theater) to express moral truths derives from classical antiquity and goes back to Theophrastus
's ''Characters'', a work that enjoyed a great vogue in the 17th and 18th centuries and was translated by Jean de La Bruyère
. The practice largely died out with advent of 19th-century realism
but lasted much longer in genre literature, such as adventure stories, Westerns, and, arguably, science fiction. Nature's Gentleman, whether European-born or exotic, takes his place in this cast of characters, along with the Wise Egyptian, Persian, and Chinaman. "But now, alongside the Good Savage, the Wise Egyptian claims his place." Some of these types are discussed by Paul Hazard in ''The European Mind''.
He had always existed, from the time of the ''Epic of Gilgamesh
'', where he appears as Enkidu
, the wild-but-good man who lives with animals. Another instance is the untutored-but-noble medieval knight, Parsifal
. The Biblical
shepherd boy David
falls into this category. The association of virtue with withdrawal from society—and specifically from cities—was a familiar theme in religious literature.
''Hayy ibn Yaqdhan
,'' an Islamic philosophical tale (or thought experiment
) by Ibn Tufail
from 12th-century Andalusia
, straddles the divide between the religious and the secular. The tale is of interest because it was known to the New England Puritan
divine, Cotton Mather
. Translated into English (from Latin) in 1686 and 1708, it tells the story of Hayy, a wild child
, raised by a gazelle, without human contact, on a deserted island in the Indian Ocean. Purely through the use of his reason, Hayy goes through all the gradations of knowledge before emerging into human society, where he revealed to be a believer of natural religion
, which Cotton Mather, as a Christian Divine, identified with Primitive Christianity
. The figure of Hayy is both a Natural man and a Wise Persian, but not a Noble Savage.
The ''locus classicus
'' of the 18th-century portrayal of the American Indian are the famous lines from Alexander Pope
's "Essay on Man
Lo, the poor Indian! whose untutor'd mind
Sees God in clouds, or hears him in the wind;
His soul proud Science never taught to stray
Far as the solar walk or milky way;
Yet simple Nature to his hope has giv'n,
Behind the cloud-topp'd hill, a humbler heav'n;
Some safer world in depth of woods embrac'd,
Some happier island in the wat'ry waste,
Where slaves once more their native land behold,
No fiends torment, no Christians thirst for gold!
To be, contents his natural desire;
He asks no angel's wing, no seraph's fire:
But thinks, admitted to that equal sky,
His faithful dog shall bear him company.
To Pope, writing in 1734, the Indian was a purely abstract figure— "poor" either meant ironically, or applied because he was uneducated and a heathen, but also happy because he was living close to Nature. This view reflects the typical Age of Reason
belief that men are everywhere and in all times the same as well as a Deistic
conception of natural religion (although Pope, like Dryden, was Catholic). Pope's phrase, "Lo the Poor Indian", became almost as famous as Dryden's "noble savage" and, in the 19th century, when more people began to have first hand knowledge of and conflict with the Indians, would be used derisively for similar sarcastic effect.
Attributes of romantic primitivism
In the 1st century AD, sterling qualities such as those enumerated above by Fénelon (excepting perhaps belief in the brotherhood of man) had been attributed by Tacitus
in his ''Germania
'' to the German barbarians, in pointed contrast to the softened, Romanized Gauls
. By inference Tacitus was criticizing his own Roman culture for getting away from its roots—which was the perennial function of such comparisons. Tacitus's Germans did not inhabit a "Golden Age
" of ease but were tough and inured to hardship, qualities which he saw as preferable to the decadent softness of civilized life. In antiquity this form of "hard primitivism", whether admired or deplored (both attitudes were common), co-existed in rhetorical opposition to the "soft primitivism" of visions of a lost Golden Age
of ease and plenty.
As art historian Erwin Panofsky
In the 18th century the debates about primitivism centered around the examples of the people of Scotland as often as the American Indians. The rude ways of the Highlanders were often scorned, but their toughness also called forth a degree of admiration among "hard" primitivists, just as that of the Sparta
ns and the Germans had done in antiquity. One Scottish writer described his Highland countrymen this way:
Reaction to Hobbes
Debates about "soft" and "hard" primitivism intensified with the publication in 1651 of Hobbes
'' (or ''Commonwealth''), a justification of absolute monarchy
. Hobbes, a "hard Primitivist", flatly asserted that life in a state of nature
was "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short"—a "war of all against all":
Reacting to the wars of religion
of his own time and the previous century, he maintained that the absolute rule of a king was the only possible alternative to the otherwise inevitable violence and disorder of civil war. Hobbes' hard primitivism may have been as venerable as the tradition of soft primitivism, but his use of it was new. He used it to argue that the state was founded on a social contract
in which men voluntarily gave up their liberty in return for the peace and security provided by total surrender to an absolute ruler, whose legitimacy stemmed from the Social Contract and not from God.
Hobbes' vision of the natural depravity of man inspired fervent disagreement among those who opposed absolute government. His most influential and effective opponent in the last decade of the 17th century was Shaftesbury
. Shaftesbury countered that, contrary to Hobbes, humans in a state of nature were neither good nor bad, but that they possessed a moral sense based on the emotion of sympathy, and that this emotion was the source and foundation of human goodness and benevolence
. Like his contemporaries (all of whom who were educated by reading classical authors such as Livy
, and Horace
), Shaftesbury admired the simplicity of life of classical antiquity. He urged a would-be author "to search for that simplicity of manners, and innocence of behavior, which has been often known among mere savages; ere they were corrupted by our commerce" (''Advice to an Author'', Part III.iii). Shaftesbury's denial of the innate depravity of man was taken up by contemporaries such as the popular Irish essayist Richard Steele
(1672–1729), who attributed the corruption of contemporary manners to false education. Influenced by Shaftesbury and his followers, 18th-century readers, particularly in England, were swept up by the cult of Sensibility
that grew up around Shaftesbury's concepts of sympathy
Meanwhile, in France, where those who criticized government or Church authority could be imprisoned without trial or hope of appeal, primitivism was used primarily as a way to protest the repressive rule of Louis XIV
, while avoiding censorship. Thus, in the beginning of the 18th century, a French travel writer, the Baron de Lahontan
, who had actually lived among the Huron Indians
, put potentially dangerously radical Deist
and egalitarian arguments in the mouth of a Canadian Indian, Adario, who was perhaps the most striking and significant figure of the "good" (or "noble") savage, as we understand it now, to make his appearance on the historical stage:
Published in Holland
, Lahontan's writings, with their controversial attacks on established religion and social customs, were immensely popular. Over twenty editions were issued between 1703 and 1741, including editions in French, English, Dutch and German.
Many of the most incendiary passages in Raynal
's book, one of the bestsellers of the eighteenth century, especially in the Western Hemisphere, are now known to have been in fact written by Diderot
. Reviewing Jonathan Israel
's ''Democratic Enlightenment: Philosophy, Revolution, and Human Rights'', Jeremy Jennings
, notes that ''The History of the Two Indies'', in the opinion of Jonathan Israel, was the text that "made a world revolution" by delivering "the most devastating single blow to the existing order":
In the later 18th century, the published voyages of Captain James Cook
and Louis Antoine de Bougainville
seemed to open a glimpse into an unspoiled Edenic culture
that still existed in the un-Christianized South Seas
. Their popularity inspired Diderot
's ''Supplement to the Voyage of Bougainville
'' (1772), a scathing critique of European sexual hypocrisy and colonial exploitation.
Benjamin Franklin's ''Remarks Concerning the Savages of North America''
, who had negotiated with the Native Americans during the French and Indian War
, protested vehemently against the Paxton massacre
, in which white vigilantes massacred Native American women and children at Conestoga, Pennsylvania
in December 1763. Franklin himself personally organized a Quaker militia to control the white population and "strengthen the government". In his pamphlet ''Remarks Concerning the Savages of North America
'' (1784), Franklin deplored the use of the term "savages" for Native Americans:
Franklin used the massacres to illustrate his point that no race had a monopoly on virtue, likening the Paxton vigilantes to "Christian White Savages'". Franklin would invoke God
in the pamphlet, calling for divine punishment of those who carried the Bible in one hand and the hatchet in the other: 'O ye unhappy Perpetrators of this Horrid Wickedness!'"
Franklin praised the Indian way of life, their customs of hospitality, their councils, which reached agreement by discussion and consensus, and noted that many white men had voluntarily given up the purported advantages of civilization to live among them, but that the opposite was rare.
Erroneous identification of Rousseau with the noble savage
, like Shaftesbury, also insisted that man was born with the potential for goodness; and he, too, argued that civilization, with its envy and self-consciousness, has made men bad. In his ''Discourse on the Origins of Inequality Among Men'' (1754), Rousseau maintained that man in a State of Nature had been a solitary, ape-like creature, who was not ''méchant'' (bad), as Hobbes had maintained, but (like some other animals) had an "innate repugnance to see others of his kind suffer" (and this natural sympathy constituted the Natural Man's one-and-only natural virtue). It was Rousseau's fellow ''philosophe
'', Voltaire, objecting to Rousseau's egalitarianism, who charged him with primitivism and accused him of wanting to make people go back and walk on all fours. Because Rousseau was the preferred philosopher of the radical Jacobins
of the French Revolution
, he, above all, became tarred with the accusation of promoting the notion of the "noble savage", especially during the polemics about Imperialism
and scientific racism
in the last half of the 19th century. Yet the phrase "noble savage" does not occur in any of Rousseau's writings. In fact, Rousseau arguably shared Hobbes' pessimistic view of humankind, except that as Rousseau saw it, Hobbes had made the error of assigning it to too early a stage in human evolution. According to the historian of ideas, Arthur O. Lovejoy:
In his ''Discourse on the Origins of Inequality'', Rousseau, anticipating the language of Darwin, states that as the animal-like human species increased there arose a "formidable struggle for existence" between it and other species for food. It was then, under the pressure of necessity, that ''le caractère spécifique de l'espèce humaine''—the specific quality that distinguished man from the beasts—emerged—intelligence, a power, meager at first but yet capable of an "almost unlimited development". Rousseau calls this power the ''faculté de se perfectionner''—perfectibility. Man invented tools, discovered fire, and in short, began to emerge from the state of nature. Yet at this stage, men also began to compare himself to others: "It is easy to see. ... that all our labors are directed upon two objects only, namely, for oneself, the commodities of life, and consideration on the part of others." ''Amour propre''—the desire for consideration (self regard), Rousseau calls a "factitious feeling arising, only in society, which leads a man to think more highly of himself than of any other." This passion began to show itself with the first moment of human self-consciousness, which was also that of the first step of human progress: "It is this desire for reputation, honors, and preferment which devours us all ... this rage to be distinguished, that we own what is best and worst in men—our virtues and our vices, our sciences and our errors, our conquerors and our philosophers—in short, a vast number of evil things and a small number of good." It is this "which inspires men to all the evils which they inflict upon one another." To be sure, Rousseau praises the newly discovered "savage" tribes (whom Rousseau does ''not'' consider in a "state of nature"), as living a life that is simpler and more egalitarian than that of the Europeans; and he sometimes praises this "third stage" it in terms that could be confused with the romantic primitivism fashionable in his times. He also identifies ancient primitive communism under a patriarchy, such as he believes characterized the "youth" of mankind, as perhaps the happiest state and perhaps also illustrative of how man was intended by God to live. But these stages are not all good, but rather are mixtures of good and bad. According to Lovejoy, Rousseau's basic view of human nature after the emergence of social living is basically identical to that of Hobbes. Moreover, Rousseau does not believe that it is possible or desirable to go back to a primitive state. It is only by acting together in civil society and binding themselves to its laws that men become men; and only a properly constituted society and reformed system of education could make men good. According to Lovejoy:
For Rousseau the remedy was not in going back to the primitive but in reorganizing society on the basis of a properly drawn up social compact, so as to "draw from the very evil from which we suffer .e., civilization and progress
the remedy which shall cure it." Lovejoy concludes that Rousseau's doctrine, as expressed in his ''Discourse on Inequality'':
19th century belief in progress and the fall of the natural man
During the 19th century the idea that men were everywhere and always the same that had characterized both classical antiquity and the Enlightenment
was exchanged for a more organic and dynamic evolutionary concept of human history. Advances in technology now made the indigenous man and his simpler way of life appear, not only inferior, but also, even his defenders agreed, foredoomed by the inexorable advance of progress
to inevitable extinction. The sentimentalized "primitive" ceased to figure as a moral reproach to the decadence of the effete European, as in previous centuries. Instead, the argument shifted to a discussion of whether his demise should be considered a desirable or regrettable eventuality. As the century progressed, native peoples and their traditions increasingly became a foil serving to highlight the accomplishments of Europe and the expansion of the European Imperial powers, who justified their policies on the basis of a presumed racial and cultural superiority.
Charles Dickens 1853 article on "The Noble Savage" in ''Household Words''
In 1853 Charles Dickens
wrote a scathingly sarcastic review in his weekly magazine ''Household Words
'' of painter George Catlin
's show of American Indians when it visited England. In his essay, entitle"The Noble Savage"
Dickens expressed repugnance for Indians and their way of life in no uncertain terms, recommending that they ought to be “civilised off the face of the earth”. (Dickens's essay refers back to Dryden's well-known use of the term, not to Rousseau.) Dickens's scorn for those unnamed individuals, who, like Catlin, he alleged, misguidedly exalted the so-called "noble savage", was limitless. In reality, Dickens maintained, Indians were dirty, cruel, and constantly fighting among themselves. Dickens's satire on Catlin and others like him who might find something to admire in the American Indians or African bushmen is a notable turning point in the history of the use of the phrase.
[For an account of Dickens's article see Moore, "Reappraising Dickens's 'Noble Savage'" (2002): 236–243.]
Like others who would henceforth write about the topic, Dickens begins by disclaiming a belief in the "noble savage":
Dickens' essay was arguably a pose of manly, no-nonsense realism and a defense of Christianity. At the end of it his tone becomes more recognizably humanitarian, as he maintains that, although the virtues of the savage are mythical and his way of life inferior and doomed, he still deserves to be treated no differently than if he were an Englishman of genius, such as Newton or Shakespeare:
Scapegoating the Inuit: cannibalism and Sir John Franklin's lost expedition
Although Charles Dickens had ridiculed positive depictions of Native Americans as portrayals of so-called "noble" savages, he made an exception (at least initially) in the case of the Inuit
, whom he called "loving children of the north", "forever happy with their lot", "whether they are hungry or full", and "gentle loving savages", who, despite a tendency to steal, have a "quiet, amiable character" ("Our Phantom Ship on an Antediluvian Cruise", ''Household Words
'', April 16, 1851). However he soon reversed this rosy assessment, when on October 23, 1854, ''The Times'' of London published a report by explorer-physician John Rae
of the discovery by Eskimo
s of the remains of the lost Franklin expedition
along with unmistakable evidence of cannibalism
among members of the party:
Franklin's widow and other surviving relatives and indeed the nation as a whole were shocked to the core and refused to accept these reports, which appeared to undermine the whole assumption of the cultural superiority of the heroic white explorer-scientist and the imperial project generally. Instead, they attacked the reliability of the Eskimos who had made the gruesome discovery and called them liars. An editorial in ''The Times'' called for further investigation:
This line was energetically taken up by Dickens, who wrote in his weekly magazine:
Dr. John Rae rebutted Dickens in two articles in ''Household Words'': "The Lost Arctic Voyagers", ''Household Words'', No. 248 (December 23, 1854), and "Dr. Rae’s Report to the Secretary of the Admiralty", ''Household Words'', No. 249 (December 30, 1854). Though he did not call them noble, Dr. Rae, who had lived among the Inuit, defended them as "dutiful" and "a bright example to the most civilized people", comparing them favorably with the undisciplined crew of the Franklin expedition, whom he suggested were ill-treated and "would have mutinied under privation", and moreover with the lower classes in England or Scotland generally.
Dickens and Wilkie Collins
subsequently collaborated on a melodramatic play, "The Frozen Deep
", about the menace of cannibalism in the far north, in which the villainous role assigned to the Eskimos in ''Household Words'' is assumed by a working class Scotswoman.
''The Frozen Deep'' was performed as a benefit organized by Dickens and attended by Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, and Emperor Leopold II of Belgium, among others, to fund a memorial to the Franklin Expedition. (Dr. Rae himself was Scots).
Rae's respect for the Inuit and his refusal to scapegoat them in the Franklin affair arguably harmed his career. Lady Franklin's campaign to glorify the dead of her husband's expedition, aided and abetted by Dickens, resulted in his being more or less shunned by the British establishment. Although it was not Franklin but Rae who in 1848 discovered the last link in the much-sought-after Northwest Passage
, Rae was never awarded a knighthood and died in obscurity in London. (In comparison, fellow Scot and contemporary explorer David Livingstone was knighted and buried with full imperial honors in Westminster Abbey.). However, modern historians have confirmed Rae's discovery of the Northwest Passage and the accuracy of his report on cannibalism among Franklin's crew. Canadian author Ken McGoogan
, a specialist on Arctic exploration, states that Rae's willingness to learn and adopt the ways of indigenous Arctic peoples made him stand out as the foremost specialist of his time in cold-climate survival and travel. Rae's respect for Inuit customs, traditions, and skills was contrary to the prejudiced belief of many 19th-century Europeans that native peoples had no valuable technical knowledge or information to impart.
In July 2004, Orkney and Shetland MP Alistair Carmichael
introduced into the UK Parliament a motion proposing that the House "regrets that Dr Rae was never awarded the public recognition that was his due". In March 2009 Carmichael introduced a further motion urging Parliament to formally state it "regrets that memorials to Sir John Franklin outside the Admiralty headquarters and inside Westminster Abbey still inaccurately describe Franklin as the first to discover the orthwest
passage, and calls on the Ministry of Defence and the Abbey authorities to take the necessary steps to clarify the true position".
Dickens's racism, like that of many Englishmen, became markedly worse after the Sepoy Rebellion
of 1857 in India.
It was said that Dickens's racism "grew progressively more illiberal over the course of his career". Grace Moore, on the other hand, argues that Dickens, a staunch abolitionist
and opponent of imperialism, had views on racial matters that were a good deal more complex than previous critics have suggested. This event, and the virtually contemporaneous occurrence of the American Civil War
(1861–1864), which threatened to, and then did, put an end to slavery, coincided with a polarization of attitudes exemplified by the phenomenon of scientific racism
In 1860, John Crawfurd
and James Hunt
mounted a defense of British imperialism
based on "scientific racism
". Crawfurd, in alliance with Hunt, took over the presidency of the Ethnological Society of London
, which was an offshoot of the Aborigines' Protection Society
, founded with the mission to defend indigenous peoples against slavery and colonial exploitation. Invoking "science" and "realism", the two men derided their "philanthropic" predecessors for believing in human equality and for not recognizing that mankind was divided into superior and inferior races. Crawfurd, who opposed Darwinian evolution
, "denied any unity to mankind, insisting on immutable, hereditary, and timeless differences in racial character, principal amongst which was the 'very great' difference in 'intellectual capacity. For Crawfurd, the races had been created separately and were different species. Crawfurd was a Scot, and believed the Scots "race" superior to all others; whilst Hunt, on the other hand, believed in the supremacy of the Anglo-Saxon "race". Crawfurd and Hunt routinely accused those who disagreed with them of believing in "Rousseau's Noble Savage". The pair ultimately quarreled because Hunt believed in slavery and Crawfurd did not. "As Ter Ellingson demonstrates, Crawfurd was responsible for re-introducing the Pre-Rousseauian concept of 'the Noble Savage' to modern anthropology, attributing it wrongly and quite deliberately to Rousseau." In an otherwise rather lukewarm review of Ellingson's book in ''Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History
'' 4:1 (Spring 2003), Frederick E. Hoxie writes:
"If Rousseau was not the inventor of the Noble Savage, who was?" writes Ellingson,
Ellingson finds that any remotely positive portrayal of an indigenous (or working class
) person is apt to be characterized (out of context) as a supposedly "unrealistic" or "romanticized" "Noble Savage". He points out that Fairchild even includes as an example of a supposed "Noble Savage", a picture of a Negro slave on his knees, lamenting his lost freedom. According to Ellingson, Fairchild ends his book with a denunciation of the (always unnamed) believers in primitivism or "The Noble Savage"—who, he feels, are threatening to unleash the dark forces of irrationality on civilization.
Ellingson argues that the term "noble savage", an oxymoron, is a derogatory one, which those who oppose "soft" or romantic primitivism use to discredit (and intimidate) their supposed opponents, whose romantic beliefs they feel are somehow threatening to civilization. Ellingson maintains that virtually none of those accused of believing in the "noble savage" ever actually did so. He likens the practice of accusing anthropologists (and other writers and artists) of belief in the noble savage to a secularized version of the inquisition
, and he maintains that modern anthropologists have internalized these accusations to the point where they feel they have to begin by ritualistically disavowing any belief in "noble savage" if they wish to attain credibility in their fields. He notes that text books with a painting of a handsome Native American (such as the one by Benjamin West on this page) are even given to school children with the cautionary caption, "A painting of a Noble Savage". West's depiction is characterized as a typical "noble savage" by art historian Vivien Green Fryd, but her interpretation has been contested.
Opponents of primitivism
The most famous modern example of "hard" (or anti-) primitivism in books and movies was William Golding
's ''Lord of the Flies
'', published in 1954. The title is said to be a reference to the Biblical devil
for "Lord of the Flies"). This book, in which a group of school boys stranded on a desert island
revert to savage behavior, was a staple of high school and college required reading lists during the Cold War
In the 1970s, film director Stanley Kubrick
professed his opposition to primitivism. Like Dickens, he began with a disclaimer:
The opening scene of Kubrick's movie ''2001: A Space Odyssey
'' (1968) depicts prehistoric ape-like men wielding weapons of war, as the tools that supposedly lifted them out of their animal state and made them human.
Another opponent of primitivism is the Australian anthropologist Roger Sandall
, who has accused other anthropologists of exalting the "noble savage". A third is archeologist Lawrence H. Keeley, who has criticised a "widespread myth" that "civilized humans have fallen from grace from a simple primeval happiness, a peaceful golden age
" by uncovering archeological evidence that he claims demonstrates that violence prevailed in the earliest human societies. Keeley argues that the "noble savage" paradigm has warped anthropological literature to political ends.
The noble savage is described as having a natural existence. The term ignoble savage has an obvious negative connotation. The ignoble savage is detested for having a cruel and primitive existence.
In fantasy and science fiction
The "noble savage" often maps to uncorrupted races in science fiction and fantasy genres, often deliberately as a contrast to "fallen" more advanced cultures, in films such as ''Avatar
'' and literature including Ghân-buri-Ghân
in ''The Lord of the Rings
''. Examples of famous noble savage characters in fantasy and science fiction that are well known are Tarzan
created by Edgar Rice Burroughs
, Conan the Barbarian
created by Robert E. Howard
, and John from ''Brave New World
and such are lesser known. Tarzan, Conan, and John are not only known through their literature, but by movie adaptations and other licensed material.
Other movies containing the "noble savage":
*''Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron'' (2002)
*''The Gods Must Be Crazy'' (1980)
*''Rabbit-Proof Fence'' (2002)
*''The Mosquito Coast'' (1986)
*''Dances With Wolves'' (1990)
*''The Indian in the Cupboard'' (1995)
*''Little House on the Prairie'' (TV series) (1974–1982)
Noble savage idea today
According to critics like the ''Telegraph
s Tim Robey, romantically idealized portrayals of non-industrialized or exotic people persist in popular films, as for example in ''The Lone Ranger
or ''Dances with Wolves
Another contemporary example is the claim in some queer theory
sources that the two-spirit
phenomenon is universal among Indigenous American cultures when, in fact, the cultural views on gender and sexuality in Indigenous American communities vary widely from nation to nation.
* Racism in the work of Charles Dickens
* ''Essays'' (Montaigne)
* Jean-Jacques Rousseau
* Native Americans in German popular culture
** Native American hobbyism in Germany
* Natural state
* Positive stereotype
* State of nature
* Stereotypes about indigenous peoples of North America
* Racial fetishism
* Romantic racism
* Virtuous pagan
* Wild child
* Wild man
* Human zoo
* Cultural relativism
* Golden Age
* Master-slave dialectic
* Social progress
* State of nature
* ''The Blue Lagoon'' (novel)
* ''Brave New World
* ''A High Wind in Jamaica'' (novel)
* Legend of the Rainbow Warriors
* ''Lord of the Flies
* Magical Negro
* Plastic Shaman
* Barnett, Louise. ''Touched by Fire: the Life, Death, and Mythic Afterlife of George Armstrong Custer''. University of Nebraska Press 986
* Barzun, Jacques
(2000). ''From Dawn to Decadence
: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to the Present''. New York: Harper Collins. pp. 282–294, and passim.
* Bataille, Gretchen, M. and Silet Charles L., editors. Introduction by Vine Deloria, Jr. ''The Pretend Indian: Images of Native Americans in the Movies''. Iowa State University Press, 1980*Berkhofer, Robert F
. "The White Man's Indian: Images of the American Indian from Columbus to the Present"
* Boas, George (933
1966). '' The Happy Beast in French Thought in the Seventeenth Century.'' Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press. Reprinted by Octagon Press in 1966.
* Boas, George (948
1997). ''Primitivism and Related Ideas in the Middle Ages''. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press.
* Bordewich, Fergus M. "Killing the White Man's Indian: Reinventing Native Americans at the End of the Twentieth Century"
* Bury, J.B.
(1920) ''The Idea of Progress: an Inquiry into its Origins and Growth''
(Reprint) New York: Cosimo Press, 2008.
* Edgerton, Robert (1992). ''Sick Societies: Challenging the Myth of Primitive Harmony.'' New York: Free Press.
* Edwards, Brendan Frederick R. (2008 "'He Scarcely Resembles the Real Man': images of the Indian in popular culture".
Website ''Our Legacy''
Material relating to First Nations, Metis, and Inuit peoples, found in Saskatchewan cultural and heritage collections.
* Ellingson, Ter. (2001). ''The Myth of the Noble Savage'' (Berkeley, CA.: University of California Press).
* Fabian, Johannes. ''Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes its Object''
* Fairchild, Hoxie Neale (1928). ''The Noble Savage: A Study in Romantic Naturalism'' (New York)
* Fitzgerald, Margaret Mary (947
1976). ''First Follow Nature: Primitivism in English Poetry 1725–1750''. New York: Kings Crown Press. Reprinted New York: Octagon Press.
* Hazard, Paul
1947). ''The European Mind (1690–1715)''. Cleveland, Ohio: Meridian Books.
* Keeley, Lawrence H. (1996) '' War Before Civilization
: The Myth of the Peaceful Savage''. Oxford: University Press.
* Krech, Shepard (2000). ''The Ecological Indian: Myth and History.'' New York: Norton.
* LeBlanc, Steven (2003). ''Constant battles: the myth of the peaceful, noble savage''. New York : St Martin's Press
* Lovejoy, Arthur O.
(1923, 1943). “The Supposed Primitivism of Rousseau’s Discourse on Inequality, ” Modern Philology Vol. 21, No. 2 (Nov., 1923):165–186. Reprinted in ''Essays in the History of Ideas''. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1948 and 1960.
* A. O. Lovejoy and George Boas (935
1965). ''Primitivism and Related Ideas in Antiquity.'' Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press. Reprinted by Octagon Books, 1965.
* Lovejoy, Arthur O. and George Boas. (1935). ''A Documentary History of Primitivism and Related Ideas'', vol. 1. Baltimore.
* Moore, Grace (2004). ''Dickens And Empire: Discourses Of Class, Race And Colonialism In The Works Of Charles Dickens (Nineteenth Century Series)''. Ashgate.
* Olupọna, Jacob Obafẹmi Kẹhinde, Editor. (2003) ''Beyond primitivism: indigenous religious traditions and modernity''. New York and London: Routledge. ,
* Pagden, Anthony
(1982). ''The Fall of the Natural Man: The American Indian and the origins of comparative ethnology''. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
* Pinker, Steven
(2002). ''The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature
* Sandall, Roger
(2001). ''The Culture Cult: Designer Tribalism and Other Essays''
* Reinhardt, Leslie Kaye "British and Indian Identities in a Picture by Benjamin West"
''Eighteenth-Century Studies'' 31: 3 (Spring 1998): 283–305
* Rollins, Peter C. and John E. O'Connor, editors (1998). ''Hollywood's Indian : the Portrayal of the Native American in Film.'' Lexington, Kentucky: University of Kentucky Press.
* Tinker, Chaunchy Brewster (1922). ''Nature's Simple Plan: a phase of radical thought in the mid-eighteenth century''. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
* Torgovnick, Marianna (1991). ''Gone Primitive: Savage Intellects, Modern Lives'' (Chicago)
* Whitney, Lois Payne (1934). ''Primitivism and the Idea of Progress in English Popular Literature of the Eighteenth Century''. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press
* Eric R. Wolf (1982). ''Europe and the People without History''. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Massacres during the Wars of Religion: The St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre: a foundational eventLouis Menand. "What Comes Naturally". A review of Steven Pinker's ''The Blank Slate'' from ''The New Yorker''Peter Gay. "Breeding is Fundamental". ''Book Forum''. April / May 2009
Category:Ethnic and racial stereotypes