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The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Fifth Edition
Paul Lauter, General Editor

Louis Armand de Lom d'Arce, Baron de Lahontan
(1666-1715)


Louis Armand de Lom d'Arce, Baron of Lahontan, was born into an aristocratic family in 1666 in Mont-de-Marsan, France. His father, Isaac de Lom, Sieur d'Arce, was a distinguished civil engineer who was seventy-two years old at the time of his son's birth. Not surprisingly, Lahontan was orphaned at an early age, but his inheritance turned out to be little more than an encumbered estate. His family helped him obtain a cadetship in a Bourbon regiment; later he entered the marine corps, the body in charge of France's colonies, in a position considered a fast track to advancement for young noblemen. Charles Bragelonne, a relative of Lahontan's, was one of the Company of the Hundred Associates, created by Cardinal Richelieu in 1627 to spur colonization in the New World and granted a complete monopoly of the lucrative fur trade in New France. In 1683, the governor of New France petitioned the French court to send eight hundred regular troops as reinforcements against the Iroquois. Among this detachment was the young baron, then only seventeen years old.

Lahontan remained in Quebec for the next ten years and spent time not only in garrison in Montreal but also exploring the surrounding countryside and acquainting himself with the languages and cultures of the native inhabitants of Canada. He describes a hunting trip spent "In a Canow upon several Rivers, Marshes and Pools, that disembogue in the Champlain Lake, being accompany'd with thirty or forty of the Savages that are very expert in Shooting and Hunting, and perfectly well acquainted with the proper places for finding Water-foul, Deer, and other fallow Beasts." His enjoyment of the wilderness did not prevent him from reading the classical authors, and he remarks urbanely: "Besides the pleasure of so many different sorts of Diversion, I was likewise entertained in the Woods with the company of the honest old Gentlemen that lived in former Ages. Honest Homer, the amiable Anacreon, and my dear Lucian, were my inseparable companions. Aristotle too desired passionately to go along with us, but my Canow was too little to hold his bulky Equipage of Perpatetick Silogisms: so that he was e'en fain to trudge back to the Jesuits, who vouchasafed him a very honorable Reception."

Lahontan's account of his travels, New Voyages to North-America, was first published in 1703 as the desperate act of a bankrupt fugitive. Written mostly in the form of letters to someone described as an "old relation" to whom Lahontan had promised letters in exchange for financial assistance, it was translated into English, under the patronage of the Duke of Devonshire, as well as into German, Dutch, and Italian. With its accounts of adventures at sea, its portraits of the colonial society of New France and of the culture of native Canadian groups, its recounting of native traditional stories, and its risqué and irreverent descriptions of marriage and courtship not only among French settlers but also among Canadian Indians, its success is easy to understand. One of the most fascinating parts is a dialogue between a fictional version of Lahontan and a Huron called Adario, in which the latter is presented as a rational human being uncorrupted by society and its deceits. The figure of Adario, the prototype of the Noble Savage, would have an incalculable effect on French Enlightenment thinkers such as Voltaire and Rousseau.

Susan Castillo
University of Glasgow


Texts
In the Heath Anthology
New Voyages to North-America [...] and the Various Adventures between the French, and the Iroquois Confederates of England, from 1683 to 1694, in Two Volumes
      from A Short View of the Humors and Customs of the Savages. (c. 1703)
      from Volume I: "A Discourse of the Interest of the French, and of the English, in North-America" (c. 1703)
      from Volume II: New (c.1703)

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Links

Introduction to a New Land
http://www.civilisations.ca/vmnf/explor/laho_e2.html
  A pictorial history of Lahontan's journey, including several primary document scans.

Lahontan (1703)
http://www.nlc-bnc.ca/2/8/h8-237-e.html
  A brief biography and a beautiful scan from Lahontan's book.

Secondary Sources

J.F. Bosher, Business and Religion in the Age of New France (1600-1760): Twenty-Two Studies, 1994

Nancy Nahra, "The Secular Continent of Baron de Lahontan," Historical Reflections/Reflexions Historiques, Fall, 18(3) 1992: 59-75

Charles Scruggs, "La Hontan: Precursor of the Enlightenment and the Myth of the Noble Savage," The Language Quarterly, Spring-Summer 19(3-4) 1981: 23-25, 31

Christoph Wolfart, "Lahontan's Bestseller," Historiographia Linguistica: International Journal for the History of the Language Sciences/Revue Internationale pour l'Histoire, 16(1-2) 1989: 1-24





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