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CR: The New Centennial Review 2.1 (2002) 33-54
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Ronsard on Edge:
"Les Amours d'Eurymédon et Callirée" (1570)
Work on travel in early modern europe has grown at a aalthusian pace since the 1992 quincentenniel celebrating the discoveries of the New World. Recent research has shown, contrary to public festivals in 1892 that ranked Thomas Edison on a par with Christopher Columbus, that discovery might well be replaced by encounter, and that indeed, if his Libro de las profecias is kept in mind, conquest might well be a more fitting substantive for what we know about "encounter." Shortly after Columbus's three voyages, flotillas of ships headed west, and conquest and colonization moved at full tilt. 1 Other studies have demonstrated that despite the ambition of Iberian pr ograms an overall feeling of manifest destiny driving Europeans to the new shores may not have prevailed as it had in Seville and similar cities. French settlers soon established an adventitious network of trade as coureurs de bois living along the eastern coast of the realm they called "antarctic France." In the years of the wars of religion French motives and policies behind a modest colonial expedition at the Bay of "Guanabara" (Rio de Janeiro) ended in abysmal failure, as did another, with René de Laudonnière, on the eastern shores of Florida. [End Page 33]
Impact of travel to the New World upon the Old has also been revised. It has been correct to think that the inventions of moveable type and artificial perspective were of a tenor equal to the Columbian discoveries. Yet historians who work closer to home, in their own national traditions, who seek to depict life as it had been lived from day to day in the murkier depths of reality as they had been sensed by anyone and everyone, have discovered that for most people the New World might have always been "over there." And, if it were really there, it meant little in the midst of the travails of daily life. Rabelais, whose intuition of the new space was acute, folded the idea of the New World into the mouth and upon the tongue of his eponymous hero of Pantagruel (1532). He transposed its exotic wonder into a familiar landscape of the Touraine. When he continued the narrations of the adventures of his prince, in drawing on Jacques Cartier's relation of his voyage to Canada among other models for the Quart Livre (1548 and 1551), he aims his ships in self-negating directions. They move at once to the east and the west. 2 The reader is left wondering if the expedition is based on a satirical or mental cartography that ultimately leads nowhere. And for Montaigne, an inner and perilous voyage into the crannies and the folds of the self, in an "espineuse entreprinse, et plus qu'il ne semble, de suyvre une alleure si vagabonde que celle de nostre esprit; de penetrer les profondeurs opaques de ses replis internes; de choisir et arrester tant de menus airs de ses agitations" [a thorny enterprise, and greater than it seems, to follow an allure so vagabond as that of our thoughts; to penetrate the opaque depths of its inner folds; to choose and arrest so many of the slightest stirrings of its agitations], 3 becomes the prevailing subject of the Essais. He devotes a short but telling chapter to the New World in "Of Cannibals," in which the material he culls is entirely third-hand, taken from the cosmographers whom he takes to task for being overblown and false where in their views topographers are veracious, exacting, and unremittingly balanced. The "topographers" he discovers are the Indians he invents from memory of an earlier trip he reports having taken to Rouen in about 1562.
If the New World was "over there," its impact was measured in shapes perceived and known and spaces cultivated "right here." It probably exercised, nonetheless, a productively alienating view of familiar places. Perhaps [End Page 34] the idea of...