The "Delicious" Land


Tudor folk were fascinated by the trappings of Indian life and the spectacle of Indians, from the time Cabot brought some back to the streets of Westminster, and a Brazilian chief was presented at the court of Henry VIII. In 1614—when the great Virginian venture was much in mind—two masques were given by the Inns of Court. Bacon’s Masque of Flowers argued the merits and demerits of Virginia’s chief product, tobacco, before the antitobacconist James I. Chapman’s masque, a much grander affair dressed by Inigo Jones, had the masquers attired in Indian costume, “with high sprigged leathers on their heads, hair black and large waving down to their shoulders.” The musicians were attired like Virginian “priests”—no doubt from John White’s drawing. But the serious-minded Chapman addressed himself to a searching theme, the problem posed by the diversity of religion revealed by a new world, of which Holy Scripture, which held the key to all human history, had no knowledge. The orthodox poet spoke through Eunomia, representing civilized order:

Virginian princes, you must now renounce Your superstitious worship of these Suns, Subject to cloudy darkenings and descents, And of your fit devotions turn the event To this our British Phoebus, whose bright sky (Enlightened with a Christian piety) Is never subject to black error’s night, And hath already offered heaven’s true light To your dark region.

There were people, even then, who speculated sensibly whether the American Indians hud not come across the narrow divide ol the Bering Strait from Asia. Some reflection of these speculations may be seen in Bacon’s jeu d’esprit, Tlie New Atlantis . Naturally the influence of the voyages and of reading Hakluyt is apparent, and Bacon had a direct interest in coloni/ation by this time: he was one of the Council for Newfoundland. Bacon’s Utopian island was in the Pacific, which might still have islands and continents not yet come to light—Australia was yet to come out of it. But he refers to the inundation ol an Atlantic continent, and the shrinking Atlantic shelf of America. Hence the American Indians were but remnants ol a people: “Marvel you not at the thin population of America, nor at the rudeness and ignorance of the people; for you must accept your inhabitants of America as a young people: younger a thousand years, at the least, than the rest of the world.”

The mind of the poet Donne was markedly stimulated by the geographical curiosity of the time. This is reflected in the unexpected images he reaches out for on the subject of love:

Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone. Let maps to others worlds on worlds have shown, Let us possess one world, each hath one and is one. Where we can find two better hemispheres Without sharp North, without declining West?

Or in addressing his mistress, going to bed, in somewhat unusual terms:

O my America.’ my new-found-land, My kingdom, safeliest when with one man manned!

Many were the sermons that were preached to speed the Virginia enterprise; but Donne’s sermon is the finest specimen of the class, in which it is elevated to literature. As we should expect, he raised the issues presented by coloni’ation to a higher plane. Hc warned those going against seeking independence or exemption from the laws of England. “If those that govern there would establish such a government as should not depend upon this, or il those that go thither propose to themselves an exemption from laws to live at their liberty, this is to … divest allegiance and be under no man.” And Donne had something to say which is very much to the point in the modern discussion about colonialism. The law of nations ordains “that every man improve that which he hath … the whole world, all mankind must take care that all places be improved as far as may be to the best advantage of mankind in general.”