Memoires touchant l'etablissement d'une mission chrestienne dans le troisieme monde: Autrement appele, La Terre Australe, Meridionale, Antartique, & Inconnue.
Les Geographies du Monde 7. Ed. Margaret Sankey. Paris: Honore Champion Editeur, 2006. 400 pp. + 22 b/w pls. index. append. illus. map. bibl. CHF 95. ISBN: 2-7453-1382-7.
Andre Thevet. Histoire d'Andre Thevet Angoumoisin, Cosmographe du Roy, de deuz voyages pay luy faits aux Indes Australes, et Occidentales.
Travaux d'Humanisme et Renaissance 416. Eds. Jean-Claude Laborie and Frank Lestringant. Geneva: Librairie Droz S. A., 2006. 496 pp. + 16 b/w pls. index. append. illus. gloss. bibl. CHF 150. ISBN: 2-600-01042-4.
The Abbe Jean Paulmier, whose Memoires were composed around 1654 and first published in 1663 without his express authorization, then republished a year later with a preface by the author, urged the French to explore and evangelize the vast "terres australes" hypothesized on maps and in geographical texts since antiquity. Although this edition of the Memoires is the first since the seventeenth century, Paulmier's work had a far-reaching impact, according to Margaret Sankey, since it influenced Charles de Brosse, whose 1756 Histoire des Navigations aux Terres Australes in turn inspired both Bougainville's and James Cook's southern voyages. Whatever their role in the eventual European appropriation of Australia, the Memoires offer a rich and revealing picture of the early stages of the French colonial enterprise, caught between an evangelizing mission that inevitably involved Rome, and commercial and political initiatives that manifested a more overtly nationalistic posture.
It is clear that the Abbe was primarily concerned with saving souls. Nonetheless, though he argued for the establishment of "missions sans colonies," he was forced to rely on the support of those whose interests were rather more profane. By tracking variants in her notes (especially in chapter 6), Sankey traces the increasing influence of those forces on the Memoires from an early manuscript to the first unauthorized edition through to the second printing overseen by the Abbe and finally to correspondence regarding the project up until 1670, when Paulmier seems to have abandoned hope of realizing his grand vision.
Sankey's detailed and informative preface situates Paulmier's project in the context of European missionary and colonizing activity during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and explains the state of geographical knowledge of the southern lands in this period (the volume includes a selection of twenty-two relevant maps). She also gives a helpful overview of the controversies surrounding Paulmier's supposed ancestor, Binot Paulmier de Gonneville, who may or may not have been the first Frenchman in South America. (It is generally agreed that, if he did in fact exist, Binot's 1503 voyage did not take him to Australia as the Abbe stated, and that the Abbe's claim to be descended from a native of "ces Contrees Meridionales" --a claim not made in the earliest manuscript of the Memoires--has no factual basis.) In the Memoires, the Abbe offers excerpts of a travel account purported to be Binot's as proof of France's early presence in the terres australes, and consequently of the special interest the French ought to take in evangelizing the region's peoples. He goes on to emphasize France's Catholic identity (Paulmier published three anti-Protestant pamphlets in 1644), and that the Spanish and Portuguese were too busy elsewhere, in order to justify his view that the French should take the lead in establishing a mission in this little-explored territory.
No such clear goal drives the writings of Andre Thevet, cosmographe du roy under Henri II and his sons. Jean-Claude Laborie and Frank Lestringant call Thevet's Histoire ... de deux voyages, written up for the most part by a scribe between 1585 and 1588, "un texte monstre." The label is apt, since the Histoire borrows and reassembles parts of many of Thevet's other works, in particular the Singularitez de la France antarctique (1557), the Cosmographie universelle (1575), and the as-yet-unpublished Grand insulaire (ca. 1586-87), texts that are themselves already monstrously heterogeneous. Thevet is not shy about his method of compilation here: indeed, he repeatedly cites his own writings, sometimes reproducing the passages so alleged and sometimes merely directing the reader to the Thevetian source. (For example, he makes frequent reference in the Histoire to illustrations that appear only in his other works: Laborie and Lestringant helpfully supply the engravings in question.) Though there are excurses into Africa and Canada, the core of the account is devoted to Brazil (according to the editors, Brazil occupies "100 feuillets sur 167"  in the manuscript). As Laborie and Lestringant explain, insofar as Thevet's history has a discernible profile, it is as a "riposte" to the Protestant Jean de Lery's Histoire d'un voyage faict en la terre de Bresil (which itself was in part a retort to some passages from Thevet's Cosmographie universelle). Thus, material recycled from Thevet's other works is here positioned as a foil to the authority of "Lery personnage sans lettres, et sans experience" (96), "ce maitre rapetasseur de souliers" (182).
Gracefully acknowledging their debt to the groundbreaking work of Suzanne Lussagnet, the editors sum up the perspective of current scholarship on Thevet. This is a field dominated by Lestringant himself, as the ideas put forward in the introduction and the citations in the notes and bibliography amply attest. (Lestringant is absent from the index nominum, though his publications make up a significant part of the extensive and detailed bibliography of critical studies "sur et autour d'Andre Thevet" at the end of the volume.) As one has come to expect from Lestringant, the notes are copious and detailed, exhibiting not a little of Thevet's own compilational spirit; the volume as a whole is all but exhaustive. Very welcome and extremely useful for students of Thevet are the volume's several appendices, indices, and bibliographies, which include a concordance between the Histoire de deux voyages and Thevet's Grand insulaire, an index of authors cited by Thevet (authors whose work is fully referenced in the bibliography), and indices locorum, nominum, and rerum. The inclusion of not one but two glossaries, one of the Tupi vocabulary that appears in Thevet's history and the other of "la langue de Thevet" himself, underscore the degree to which Thevet's world has become a foreign country for modern scholars. Thankfully, Laborie and Lestringant serve as energetic and capable truchements.
University of Maryland
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2007|
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