Witnesses to a Vanishing America

Witnesses to a Vanishing America: The Nineteenth-Century Response

LEE CLARK MITCHELL
Copyright Date: 1981
Pages: 340
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7zvp1r
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  • Book Info
    Witnesses to a Vanishing America
    Book Description:

    Propelled across the continent by notions of rugged individualism" and "manifest destiny," pioneer Americans soon discovered that such slogans only partly disguised the fact that building an empire meant destroying a wilderness. Through an astonishing range of media, they voiced their concern about America's westward mission. Drawing on a wide variety of evidence, Lee Clark Mitchell portrays the growing apprehensions

    Originally published in 1987.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5615-2
    Subjects: Zoology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. PREFACE
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
  5. CHAPTER ONE FROM LANDSCAPE TO CULTURE, PRESERVATION TO CRITIQUE
    (pp. 1-22)

    The New World has long fascinated the Old by seeming to promise regeneration to a civilization tired of itself. That America was as old as Europe geologically; that its native population was as large and, in places, as concentrated; that its civilizations claimed illustrious pedigrees—these facts mattered little against such a powerfully attractive conception.¹ The land could hardly resist. Its assumed physical newness meant that for as long as territory lay open, a setting might be found for every sort of Utopian second chance. Popular belief went so far as to ascribe rejuvenating powers to the very soil itself.²...

  6. CHAPTER TWO THE VANISHING WILDERNESS
    (pp. 23-64)

    After living happily abroad for seventeen years, Washington Irving (1783-1859) sailed home in the spring of 1832. During those years, he had garnered an illustrious reputation as America’s first internationally acclaimed writer. Sophisticated, cosmopolitan, fully at ease in the best European court circles, Irving was returning at the height of his powers. For months beforehand, the New York City press heralded the arrival of the man who to most Americans personified success. Yet he also represented a silent, possibly reproving, judgment of his countrymen’s sometimes rude Jacksonian virtues. Others crossing the Atlantic to view the young “democratic experiment” had frequently...

  7. CHAPTER THREE PRESERVING FRONTIER HISTORY
    (pp. 65-92)

    J. Hector St. John de Crévecoeur fully shared his contemporaries’ belief in westward progress. HisJourney in Northern Pennsylvania and the State of New York(1801)—that lively journal-dialogue of frontier peregrinations made more than thirty years earlier—rarely strays from well-beaten paths through the intellectual wilderness. At one point, however, Crèvecoeur remarks on the whirlwind transformation of pioneer communities and unexpectedly suggests preserving their scattered ruins, the “traces of the passing of generations that preceded us.” He adds: “instead of hastening the ruin of this debris, one should consider its destruction a sacrilege; its conservation a religious act.”¹

    At...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR GEORGE CATLIN’S MISSION
    (pp. 93-110)

    Few nineteenth-century Americans committed themselves as completely to America’s vanishing wilderness as did George Catlin (1796-1872). Others, witness to troubling changes, went to extraordinary pains to compile accurate records. But they did so only as the western experience touched some part of their careers, and even then only as isolated gestures against the inevitable. The conventional demands of work and family prevented greater sacrifice. Indeed, Catlin’s devotion to such a professional life led some to regard him as merely eccentric, a judgment he himself encouraged. InShut Your Mouth and Save Your Life(1860), for instance, he attempted to prove...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE INDIANS AND IMAGE CATCHERS
    (pp. 111-150)

    Few major american writers in the first half of the nineteenth century seemed less interested in Indian tribes than Nathaniel Hawthorne. His literary career traces a series of moral and symbolic fictions; efforts at authentication led him more often to the seventeenth century than to the nineteenth, to New England than to the West. At the age of thirty-one, however, with his career still before him, Hawthorne recognized with some sadness a direction that his writing would not take: “It has often been a matter of regret to me, that I was shut out from the most peculiar field of...

  10. CHAPTER SIX THEIR TRIBAL LORE PRESERVED
    (pp. 151-188)

    On December 20, 1819, an Episcopal minister stepped before the New-York Historical Society to present a “Discourse on the Religion of the Indian Tribes of North America.” The Reverend Samuel Farmar Jarvis could claim firsthand knowledge neither of the Indians he chose to speak of that day nor of their religion. Yet his speech, culled mostly from published sources and printed by the society the following year, reveals an unusually sensitive mind and presages some of the major issues that would trouble Americans throughout the rest of the century. Declaring that woodland Indians had long since ceased to inspire fear...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN MELVILLE’S CANNIBALS AND CHRISTIANS
    (pp. 189-212)

    Herman Melville’sMoby-Dick(1851) either stimulates or stymies its reader with its plethoric display of knowledge about whales. From its opening “Etymology” and “Extracts” of whaling quotations, through its long disquisitions on cetology and its taxonomy of species and hunting tools, to its catalogue of whaling paintings, the book aspires to exhaust the possibilities of its material. Critics have rightly interpreted this exhaustiveness in thematic terms: in spite of all one can learn about whaling, the whale itself forever evades the harpoon of definition.¹

    The impressive array of facts marshaled in this metaphysical quest also presents another aspect: a genre...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT TOWARD CULTURAL RELATIVISM
    (pp. 213-252)

    An eminent modern anthropologist has provided a simple touchstone for studies by his fellow practitioners. “Know what he thinks a savage is,” Clifford Geertz claims, with a gleam in his eye, “and you have the key to his work.”¹ Despite his assurances, such a simple key aids more surely in theory than in practice. In part, this is because the concept of the “savage”—the “primitive” or the “wild man”—masks such a welter of attitudes as to render the label inadequate to those it purports to define. Melville, for a prime instance, explored the concept in ways unmatched in...

  13. CHAPTER NINE WEIGHED, MEASURED, AND FOUND WANTING
    (pp. 253-268)

    In 1845 a popular southern author explained the reasons for “our blinding prejudices against the [Indian] race—prejudices which seem to have been fostered as necessary to justify the reckless and unsparing hand with which we have smitten them in their habitations, and expelled them from their country. We must prove them unreasoning beings, to sustain our pretensions as human ones—show them to have been irreclaimable, to maintain our own claims to the regards and respect of civilization.”¹ Or, as Melville allowed Tommo to consider a year later, “they whom we donominate ‘savages’ are made to deserve the title.”...

  14. CHAPTER TEN EPILOGUE
    (pp. 269-280)

    It is customary in literary and cultural history to see the catastrophe of World War I as closing a century of faith in rationality and progress. Perhaps so, but the state of mind associated with the young American men and women thereafter had more distant antecedents. From the vantage of 1900, glancing over figures dotting this book’s landscape, we can see these latter-day doubts evolving long before 1918. Whether they were prompted by aesthetic, historical, or cultural considerations, or some mix of the three; whether they expressed their concerns through federal and institutional efforts or those characteristically private (not to...

  15. SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 281-312)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 313-320)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 321-321)