restricted access 5. The Second Phase of the Dispute
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The Second Phase of the Dispute I. THE POLEMIC EXPANDED AND UPLIFTED WITH these refinements and modifications of Buffon's position the first phase of the polemic comes to a close. America and the Americans had found themselves sucked into a maelstrom of debate, trapped in the middle of its endless arguments on problems of zoological geography, ethnography , climatology, moral theology, and the philosophy of history; and with the coming of de Pauw they were thrust to the very depths of this vortex of doctrine and diatribe. As Europe of the Enlightenment became fully aware of itself as a new civilization with its own distinct character and a universal, no longer quite simply Christian, mission, it realized too the necessity of finding a place in its schemes for the transoceanic world - this world that it had rescued from obscurity, on which it had already begun to set its mark, and which had almost no other connections apart from those with Europe ; a world that had disappointed the hopes of its earliest panegyrists in the sixteenth century, but which now once more seemed to exemplify an ideal way of life, to give promise of a splendid future. Such an optimistic vision seemed too good to be true, and this age of keen criticism and sharpened Europeistic self-esteem greeted it with doubt, denigration, and abuse. Crippling attacks were leveled at the entire physical nature of the new continent. But to stem the tide of insult, as it engulfed men and animals, the land, the flora, and the atmosphere, there arose from the depths of time the vision of history marching toward the west; and it was this that guaranteed the future of the New World and barred the way to the prophets of degeneration. It was this same vision again which in its tum enriched the relationship between Europe and America by providing it with its own internal dialectic. America was Europe's offspring (as Asia and Africa obviously were not; as Oceania too would be, but on a so much smaller scale)-it 157 158 THE DISPUTE OF THE NEW WORLD was both Europe and non-Europe-its geographical, physical, and soon even political antithesis. Thus, as Europe's heir, it could be entrusted with a mission that neither Asia nor Africa had ever been qualified to receive . As the threads of the polemic are slowly disentangled one becomes aware then that its fundamental concern is a search for synthesis, a need to account for all parts of the world, both behind and beyond Europe, to bring within the reach of man's mind and understanding the entire world, and within that world to find Europe the most complete and richest part. Bodin had once given voice to his aspirations in rapt impatient jubilation; with the discovery of the Americas the world is complete: "All men are linked one to another and partake marvelously of the universal Republic, as if they formed but one same city";l now these very same ideas were reappearing, but this time as a critical notion, as a problem to be solved. Yet it was an angrier and stormier historical climate in which they made their reappearance. The reborn and growing faith of the Europeans in their civilizing task came face to face with the burgeoning reputation of America, where the colonies were becoming restless for independence; and the reflected glow of this fiery political conflict lit up the scientific debate kindled by Buffon, giving it both an impassioned ardor and an interest of immediacy.2 It was at this stage that the dispute began to attract the attention of men of superior intellect and culture, men with practical rather than merely cognitive interests. Never straying too far from its initial starting point, the debate then tackled the most heteroclite subjects, expanding as it passed from country to country and continent to continent, touching on all sorts of ancient and modem manias, provoking oblique objections and unexpected doubts, and occasionally lending its support to the most timeworn prejudices. II. ROBERTSON AND THE VASTNESS AND POVERTY OF NATURE IN AMERICA The work which made Buffon's and de Pauw's ideas known and indeed almost commonplace throughout Europe was William Robertson's highly successful History ofAmerica (1777). Fluent and elegant in its presentation , and published at a time when interest in America was at its height,3 the book was immediately translated into a number of languages and was repeatedly reprinted right up into the middle...


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