Chauncey Brewster Tinker.

Nature's simple plan; a phase of radical thought in the mid-eighteenth century online

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was established in 1912 with a bequest of $25,000 under the will
of Louis Clark Vanuxem, of the Class of 1879. By direction of
the executors of Mr. Vanuxem 's estate, the income of the Foun-
dation is to be used for a series of public lectures delivered
in Princeton annually, at least one half of which shall be on sub-
jects of current scientific interest. The lectures are to be pub-
lished and distributed among schools and libraries generally.

The following lectures have been published:

The Theory of Permutable Functions, by Vito Volterra.

Lectures delivered in Princeton in connection with the dedica-
tion of the Graduate College of Princeton University, by Emile
Boutroux, Alois Riehl, A. D. Godley, and Arthur Shipley.

Romance, by Sir Walter Raleigh.

A Critique of the Theory of Evolution, by Thomas Hunt Mor-

Platonism, by Paul Elmer More.

Human Efficiency and Levels of Intelligence, by Henry Herbert

Philosophy and Civilization in the Middle Ages, by Maurice
De Wulf .

The Defective Delinquent and Insane, by Henry A. Cotton.

Omai, the South Sea Islander.

From an engraving by John Jacobs, after a portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds.

Louis Clark Vanuxem Foundation



MID-EIGHTEENTH CENiliftV '; 'v' ' " >









Copyright, 1922
Princeton University Press

Published, 1922
Printed in the United States of America


In this study of the theory of simplicity — the
way of Nature — in the England of 1770, I have
begun with an essay intended to set forth the gen-
eral conviction that civilisation had somehow or
other failed of its goal — was at least on the de-
cline — and that primitive man, in his savage or
even animal state, was better off than the citi-
zens of Europe. The dream of a finer nation,
conceived in simplicity and liberty, in which the
arts, and particularly poetry, might flourish as
in their native soil, is the subject of the paper on
Corsica which forms the second essay.

But simplicity is not of the future only. There
must have been a time, far back in the childhood
of the nation, when untutored genius sang forth
its passion unrestrained by the doctrines of the
schools and the narrowing influence of caste;
perhaps even now such bards may be found in
some remote island. The third essay is therefore
entitled Ancient Bard and Gentle Savage, Per-
haps, untrained by schools and free from the
trammels of a conscious art, which is ever grow-
ing more artificial, native genius may even now
be seeking expression in poetry rude but wildly


sweet. This is the subject of the last essay on
the Inspired Peasant.

The phrase, 'Nature's simple plan,' is from an
anonjTTious poem on Otaheite, pubhshed in 1774,
a phrase which was evidently part of the literary
jargon of the day. As late as Wordsworth we
find 'Nature's holy plan' {Lines written in Early
Spring) and 'simple plan' {Rob Roy) . Numer-
ous eighteenth century parallels might be cited.

My choice of such a theme at this particular
moment hardly requires comment.

London, January 11, 1922.



The difference between the savage and civi-
lised state of man has been much considered of
late years, since so many discoveries of distant
regions and new nations have been made under
his present majesty's jyatronage, and since an
eloquent writer upon the continent and even a
learned judge who is an author in our own island
have thought jit to maintain the siiperiority of
the former,

— Boswell, Hypochondriack.

In the spring of the year 1773, four of the
most distinguished gentlemen of their day, who
had met together at dinner, were engaged in dis-
cussing a topic of current and vital interest. The
four men were General Oglethorpe (the host),
Dr. Samviel Johnson, James Boswell and Oliver
Goldsmith; and the theme of their conversation
was the menace of luxury. On this perennially
engaging topic each of the four men had the



cleai*est (foiiviciibns^.but neither on this occasion
nor in subsequent discussions did they discover a
common ground of agreement. Had it looked,
at any moment, as though they might attain to
an easy or courteous unanimity of opinion, Bos-
well would probably have thwarted them; for
unanimity puts an end to discussion, and it was
BoswelFs office to keep the talk going. Johnson,
of course, would listen to no denunciation of the
age in which he lived; but Goldsmith had no such
loyalty. He expatiated on the degeneracy of the
nation, and assigned as the cause of the general
decline the insidious vice of luxury. To this
Johnson at once demurred, contending that not
only were there as many tall men in England as
ever — proof that the national stature was not on
the decline — but also, since luxury could reach
but few persons, it was no real menace. *Lux-
ury,' he said, 'so far as it reaches the poor, will do
good to the race of the people : it will strengthen
and multiply them. Sir, no nation was ever hurt
by luxury.'

The words of General Oglethorpe on this oc-
casion are not recorded, but in a subsequent con-
versation he remarked, as an old soldier might
have been expected to do, that, inasmuch as what
we call the best in life depends upon our own at-
titude of mind, it is obviously wrong to overesti-


mate the physical comforts of civilisation. There-
upon he quoted Addison's description of the Nu-
midian savage, in Cato :

Coarse are his meals, the fortune of the chase,
Amid the running stream he slakes his thirst.
Toils all the day, and at the approach of night,
On the first friendly bank he throws him down,
Or rests his head upon a rock till morn ;
And if the following day he chance to find
A new repast or an untasted spring.
Blesses his stars, and thinks it's luxury.^

On tliis occasion, however, it was Goldsmith who
denounced modern luxury and the * degenerate
times of shame' in which he lived. This had, in
truth, become his characteristic vein, though per-
haps not his genuine conviction. Three years be-
fore, he had published The Deserted Village, in
which, to use his own words, he 'inveighed against
luxury,' and in which he had proceeded to the
melancholy conclusion that the rural virtues were
deserting England. Piety, Loyalty and faithful
Love — to make use of those allegorical capitals
which the age affected — were departing with the
emigrants to America; and along with them —
also to America — was going the Muse of Poetry,
to whom, at the end, the author addresses an elo-
quent though mournful farewell. In the new

1 The lines are quoted as given in the Life of Johnson (Hill's
ed.), vol. 3, p. 282.


world, the Muse, if she try her voice, is admon-
ished to teach erring man a lesson (of the need
of which the poet seems to have had a prophetic
realisation) — to spurn 'the rage of gain.'

Teach him that states of native strength

Though very poor, may still be very blest.

Perhaps, as I have intimated, Goldsmith was less
concerned about this vice of luxury than lie
liimself was aware, for, as a matter of fact, he
cared not at all for the primitive blessings of
rocky pillow and untasted spring so dear to Cato
and Oglethorpe. He loved the good things of
civilisation quite as well as did his friend John-
son, and, in truth, sometimes snatched at those
beyond his reach. Nevertheless he was presum-
ably sincere in his view that poetry flourishes only
in a civilisation much simpler than any which he
had known. Men like Johnson and Goldsmith
might, one would suppose, dismiss the decline of
civilisation from their fears if it concerned noth-
ing more alarming than a reduction in the num-
ber of tall men or an increase in the consumption
of tea and spirits; but it was a vital problem in-
deed if the production of poetry and the arts was
to be hindered by the national love of luxury.
Was poetry declining? Had it become artificial
and false? Did it flourish better in 'a state of


nature' ? These were the really important aspects
of the question. Could it be that the arts are not
subject to human control, but spring up natur-
ally in a youtliful civilisation? If so, we are
forced back once more to the original question, Is
civilisation so far corrupted that art no longer
springs naturally into life?

To these questions no simple reply could be
given. To follow nature is obviously desirable.
A 'return to Nature,' if peradventure we have
got away from nature, is also desirable ; but what
is the state of nature, and how, in the name of
all that is reasonable, are we to return to it?
There's the rub. But, surely, people may move
in the direction of simplicity by renouncing the
soft indulgences of civilisation that have proved
most perilous? Savages, peasants, animals even,
may serve to show us how far we have departed
from the nonii. To such questions the world of
1770 addressed no slight or casual attention.

Unrivalled opportunities were now offered for
a comparison of savage and civilised life. The
accession of George III had been marked by a
sudden development of the geographical and
ethnographical sciences. The single decade of
the 'sixties had seen the expeditions of Commo-
dore Byron, Captain Cartwright. James Bruce,
Captain Tobias Furneaux, Captam Wallis, and


Lieutenant (later Captain) Cook. In 1764 By-
ron set sail for the southwest. He brought home
stories of a race of splendid giants in Patagonia,
who had been seen by the sailors as they were
entering the Straits of Magellan. Captain Sam-
uel Wallis rediscovered the South Sea Isles, and
named the one which has since been called Ota-
heite and Tahiti, 'King George Ill's Island.'
Captain George Cartwright, who lived for six-
teen years in Labrador, made six voyages out and
back during that time, and brought home with
him the first Esquimaux who ever visited Eng-
land. James Bruce penetrated into Abyssinia,
and made a valuable study of its primitive cul-
ture. To this series of brilliant explorations the
voyages of Captain Cook, which began in 1768,
formed the splendid climax.

Along with the interest in these voyages there
grew up the desire to see and study man in his
primitive state. It was recalled that Peter the
Wild Boy (known to Swift and Arbuthnot) who
had been caught in the woods near Hanover a
generation earlier, was still living in England.
He was sought out and catechised respecting the
state of nature; but, as he had never learned to
articulate a score of words, not much of value
was discovered. There was a Savage Girl, too,
who had been found years before in the woods of


Champagne, and who was still living in France.
She went by the name of Mile. Le Blanc; but
this sobriquet, though elegant, was a little inap-
propriate, for the account of her relates that
when she was caught, at the age of nine, she
*seemed black; but it soon appeared after wash-
ing her several times, that she was naturally
white, as she still continues.' The girl was gen-
erally thought to be an Esquimau, who, having
been sold into slavery, escaped from her captors
or was abandoned by them, and ran wild in the
woods, until by chance she reached the banks of
the Mame, where she was finally caught by some
French peasants. She must have sojourned in
the wilderness for a long time, probably for sev-
eral years, since, when she was discovered, she
had lost all use of language and could give no
rational account of herself. When found, she
was living hke a wild cat in a tree. The account
of her, pubhshed by M. de la Condamine, was
translated into English under the supervision of
the Scottish philosopher. Lord Monboddo, and
published, with a preface from his own pen, in
the year 1768. It is a readable little book, though
it was intended by the editor merely as a docu-
ment for the investigation of the state of nature.
He laments that, when he saw Mile. Le Blanc in
1765, she was *in a poor state of health, having


lost all her extraordinary bodily facidties [such
as incredibly sharp sight, agility in swimming,
and speed in running] and retaining nothing of
the savage but a certain wildness in her look and
a very great stomach' ; nevertheless his Lordship
says she is proof that 'the philosopher will dis-
cover a state of nature very different from what
is commonly known by that name.' He himself
used her as an example of his new and startling
doctrine that mankind has passed through many
stages, 'from the mere animal to the savage, and
from the savage to the civilised man.'^''

But the supreme excitement was caused by
the appearance in London of Omai or Omiah, a
South Sea Island savage, who liad been brought
home by Captain Furneaux after Cook's second
voyage to the Pacific. Omai was gentle, court-
eous, likable — almost, as we shall see later,
'genteel,' — and there was a widespread desire to
regard his as the true state of natui'e. The
British reception in the South Seas had been,
on the whole, remarkably cordial. The Tongan
Islands, for example, had been named by Cap-
tain Cook the Friendly Islands. Whether they
stood more in need of the blessings of civilisation
or civilisation more in need of the lessons of the
South Seas was a question which could now be

I* Ail Account of a Savage Girl, Edinburgh, 1T68, p. xviii.


seriously debated. Horace Walpole, who sneered
at everything, despised the 'forty dozen of is-
lands,' picked up the Lord knows where, which so
far as he could see, had nothing of more in-
trinsic interest about them than 'new sorts of
fleas and crickets,' or hogs and red feathers.
However, he opined that, if properly husbanded,
they might produce forty more wars.^ But his
was a lonely voice from the seat of the scornful.
The British imagination decked the new islands
in the glowing colours of romance. Here was a
land of perpetual summer, where man was nour-
ished without toil by the indulgence of Nature.
Bread grew on trees and a natural milk flowed
from the cocoanut. Under the palm-tree lay the
child of the South Seas, 'as free as Nature first
made man,' who ever and anon burst into
snatches of song as he paid his passionate court
to the dusky mistress at his side. Ah, here was
Paradise enow!

Does the account seem extravagant? Listen

^Letters, August 23, 1772; December 2, 1784. The conception
of Tahitan as superior to European civilisation is as old as the
discovery of the island, and the vitality of the notion is shown
by the ever-increasing literature of the South Seas. Of the in-
fluence of Tahiti on the character of Torquil and his companions,
Byron says in The Island (2.368) that it

Tamed each rude wanderer to the sympathies
Of those who were more happy if less wise,
Did more than Europe's discipline had done,
And civilised Civilisation's son.


to the voice of the poet who in 1774 put forth
anonymously, a poem entitled Otaheite:

But Fancy leads us o'er yon Isle to rove,
~~~^The Cyprus of the South, the Land of Love.
Here ceaseless the returning seasons wear
Spring's verdant robes and smile through-
out the year.
Refreshing zephyrs cool the noontide ray,
And plantane groves impervious shades dis-
The gen'rous soil exacts no tiller's aid
To turn the Glebe and watch the infant blade.
Nature their vegetable bread supplies,
And high in air luxurious harvests rise.
No annual toil the foodful plants demand.
But unrenewed to rising ages stand;
From sire to son the long succession trace.
And lavish forth their gifts from race to race.
Beneath their shades the gentle tribes repose ;
Each bending branch their frugal Feast

For them the Cocoa yieldi its milky flood^
To slake their thirst, and feed their temp'rate

No ruddy nectar their pure bev'rage stains.
Foams in their bowl, and swells their kind-
ling veins.

Their ev'ning hours successive sports pro-
The wanton dance, the love-inspiring song.

3 Cf. Byron, The Island, 2.256 fF.


Impetuous wishes no concealment know.
As the heart prompts the melting members

Each Oberea* feels the lawless flame
Nor checks desires she does not blush to


No boding presage haunts them through
the night,
No cares revive with early dawn of light.
Each happy day glides thougK|ess as the last,
Unknown the future, unrecalled the past.
Should momentary clouds, with envious

Blot the gay scene and bid its colours fade,
As the next hour a gleam of joy supplies.
Swift o'er their minds the passing sunshine

No more the tear of transient sorrow flows.
Ceased are the lover's pangs, the orphan's


All this is not merely a poet's dream. Many
took such statements literally. Lord Monboddo,
in a serious scientific work, asserted in so many
words, that the Golden Age yet lingered in the
islands of the South Seas,^ 'where the inhabitants ( »

4 Oberea was queen of Otaheitc.

5 From Olaheife, London, 1774, an anonymous poem. My friend, '
Professor Collins of Prince! on calls my attention to the fact that

a selection from this poem appeared in the Pennsylcanm Maga- it
zine for March, 1775.

^Origin and Progress of Language, Second ed., 1774'; l.Q^6n.,
390 w.


live without toil or labour upon the bounty of
Nature.' In Otaheite, he says, 'the inhabitants
pull bread off trees, which grow with no culture,
for about nine months of the year, and when this
food fails, it is supplied by nuts and other wild

Boswell, who knew Captain Cook, expressed a
wish to go and live for three years in Otaheite, in
order to meet with people so different from any
that had yet been known, 'and be satisfied what
nature can do for man.' ^

We have reached this point without mention
of Rousseau. It would, perhaps, be possible to
avoid it altogether, for, in truth, Rousseau was
not at this time widely read or generally popular
in England. Important as was his later influ-
ence, it was slight in comparison with the im-
press made upon the national mind by Captain
Cook in the decade of the 'seventies. Neverthe-
less, Great Britain had her student and critic
of Rousseau. James Burnet, more generally
known by his judicial title. Lord Monboddo, may
be called the Scottish Rousseau,^ for he held the

7 Life of Johnson, ed. Hill, vol. 3, p. 59.

8 Among other references to Rousseau, see his Origin of Lan-
guage 2d ed. 1.403 and 41*4 n, and Antient Metaphy sicks, 3.333.
Chapter XII in the first volume of the former work is avowedly
an attempt to solve 'Mons. Rousseau's great difficulty with respect
to the invention of language.' In the preface to the History of


savage mode of existence superior to civilised life.
It was he who first applied to the study of the
'&tate of nature' the historical or evolutionary
method as opposed to the older philosophic or
'systematic' m.ethod. Monboddo's chief claim to j
remembrance — a recognition which science has I
not even grudgingly accorded him — is his doc- <
trine of a gradual progression of living things \
from a rudimentary to a more developed state, y
In his study of this progression he anticipated
some important conclusions of the nineteenth
centurj^ : *In all natural things/ he wrote, 'there
is a progress from an imperfect state to that
state of perfection for which, by nature, the thing
is intended. This is so evident to me that, from
theory only, though it could not be proved by
facts, I should believe that man was a mere ani-
mal before he was an intelligent being, and that
there was a progression in the species such as we
are sure there is in the individual.'^

The man who wrote those words might, I
should suppose, fairly be reckoned among the

the Wild Girl Monboddo says that Rousseau is the 'only philoso- "
pher of our time' who has conceived the magnum opus of philoso-
phy to be *to inquire whether, by the improvement of our facul-
ties, we have mended our condition and become happier as well
as wiser.' But, he adds, though Rousseau had the idea, none has
executed it.

^ Antient Metaphysics, vol. 3, p. 282.


c forerunners of Herbert Spencer; but when he is
• j'eferred to at all, Monboddo is called a predeces-
'Cf sor of Darwin. This is because he contended that
the orang-outang was man in his primitive state.
This in itself was sufficient to draw upon him the
ridicule of his contemporaries; for though they
were eager to assert the essential nobility of the
savage, they had no disposition to extend their
admiration to the animal kingdom and dwell on
the simple dignity of orang-outangs. Yet Mon-
boddo, it would seem, might have expected to
receive recognition from a later generation to
Whose habit of thought his own was more natur-
ally related. Two of his contemporaries, it is
true, interested themselves in his theories if the}"
did not actually accept them — Robertson the his-
torian and Sir Joseph Banks the botanist, who
sailed in Cook's first expedition, and had seen
man in his natvn*al state.

But Monboddo had certain faults wliich ex-
posed him to the derision of his readers, and, in-
deed, impaired the entire value of his books. He
' had, for one thing, the credulity of a child, with
T'espect to anything which he wished to believe.
Since he had no real acquaintance with primitive
man, save what visits to Peter the Wild Boy and
IMlle. Le Blanc had given him, this was a ruinous
defect. Much of the evidence which he seriouslv


presents for the stud}^ of historians and scientists
would have disgraced a book written two hundred
years before, and some of the more amusing
anecdotes would adorn the lighter pages of Griil-
livers Travels. Monboddo must have been de-
liberately gulled by practical jokers, returned
travellers, and 3^am-spinning sailors. He be-
lieved nearly everything he was told and all that
he found in print. He quoted from Cardinal
Polignac the account of an animal in the Ukraine
called the hauhacis, which inhabits caverns under-
ground, makes wars, takes other animals into
slavery, and lays up provisions for itself :

They make those slaves lie down upon their
back, and hold up their legs, and then they pack
the hay upon them, which their legs keep to-
gether, and having thus loaded these living carts,
as our author calls them, they drag them along
by the tail. I think it can hardly be doubted that
this animal, with so much sagacity, if it had like-
wise the organs of speech would in process of
time, invent a language.^^

But the most famous of his heresies was his be-
lief in the existence of men with tails. His other
lapses from common sense might have been for- "^
gotten in time, but his perpetual emphasis on the
caudal appendage put all his readers in hysterics : — .

10 Origin of Lanf/uage, 1.423.


I could produce legal evidence by witnesses
yet living of a man in Inverness, one Barber, a
teacher of mathematics, who had a tail about half
a foot long which he carefully concealed during
his life ; but was discovered after his death, which
happened about twenty years ago."

In Monboddo's theory the existence of a tail
was all-important because it would demonstrate
man's relation to the speechless brute/^ To Mon-
boddo, you see, it was the missing hnk. Hence
his eagerness to discover a man, or, better still,
a tribe of men with this useful member. It is re-
lated that when James Bruce, the explorer, re-
turned to Scotland from Abyssinia, he went into
a court-room where Lord Monboddo was sitting
as judge, and that he at once received a note
from the noble Lord requesting to be immediate-
ly informed if he had encountered any men with
tails. Such men, he believed,^^ existed in the

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