Robbie Richardson. The Savage and Modern Self: North American Indians in Eighteenth-Century British Literature and Culture. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2018. x+247 pp. ISBN: 9781487503444.


Robbie Richardson is a lecturer in eighteenth-century literature at the University of Kent. His recent monograph, The Savage and Modern Self: North American Indians in Eighteenth-Century British Literature and Culture, is based upon his doctoral thesis. Dr Richardson is a Canadian Mi'kmaq who wound up pursuing his research overseas, much as I – a Cherokee from the United States – have. And he clearly has the same passion that I have for studying Early Modern European and Indigenous interaction within Europe. Indeed, this is what sets his study apart from so many earlier investigations, and it is a valuable contribution to a growing field. The ongoing "Beyond the Spectacle: Native North American Presence in Britain" project at the University of Kent, together with recent publications such as Colin G. Calloway's White People, Indians, and Highlanders: Tribal Peoples and Colonial Encounters in Scotland and America (2008), and Kate Fullagar's The Savage Visit: New World People and Popular Imperial Culture in Britain, 1710-1795 (2012), demonstrate the increasing interest in this area of study. This work provides essential nuance to the pioneering studies of scholars such as Robert Berkhofer (1978) and Karen Ordahl Kupperman (1980) and expands our knowledge of Indigenous interaction and representation in the Early Modern Atlantic beyond the English colonies and simplistic dichotomies.


Richardson examines the use of "Indians" in negotiating elements of early modernity and shaping new formations of subjectivity within British eighteenth-century literature, an oft overlooked period in comparison to colonial literature. He writes that these depictions of "Indians" "critiqued and helped articulate evolving practices and ideas such as consumerism, colonialism, 'Britishness,' and, ultimately, the 'modern self'" (3). He concludes that "the modern ... does not set itself against the 'savage' North American in the imaginative works which this study covers, but instead finds definition in imagined scenes of cultural contact" (3). Richardson traces the evolution of this use of the "Indian" and is largely successful in describing particular "sites of encounter": such as the press coverage of the Iroquois delegation of 1710 and in captivity accounts as well as other, more clearly fictitious, works from the period, such as plays and novels. Indeed, the wide variety of genres covered is one of the strengths of this work. Numerous little-known pieces of literature and individuals have been brought to light and properly contextualized, rather than reduced to the level of listed anecdotes, as was the case in earlier studies covering Indigenous representation. This includes the fascinating figure of William Augustus Bowles, the "Ambassador from the United Nations of Creeks and Cherokee to the Court of London" in 1790-1 (155), whose claims to ambassadorial status were rejected, and I am indebted to Dr Richardson for his work in this area. Research into Early Modern cross-cultural diplomacy within Europe, in which the normative practices of the parties concerned are often highlighted in such encounters via conflict and the resultant mediation, have tended to focus on disputes over protocol between various, officially recognized European representatives or on embassies from the East, as opposed to the West. Richardson's coverage of the Bowles embassy will further my own investigations into the fine line between formal and informal cross-cultural diplomacy.


At the same time, however, the wide variety of subject matter brings to light the book's primary flaw: it is not an entirely convincing analysis because it lacks cohesiveness. This can be attributed to various factors. I believe that the fact that it is, in part, based on articles published over the course of his doctorate (x) has resulted in the same narrative breaks that so many thesis publications demonstrate. In addition, the last chapter, while a spellbinding examination of eighteenth-century British interest in and imagining of "Indian" material culture, feels out of place with the rest of the volume, which focuses on literary sources. Then there is Richardson's use of Foucault's genealogy as the basis for his methodology. It lends itself well to erudition, but is not always an aid to clarity of continuity. As such, it is somewhat at odds with his attempt to sketch a kind of evolution in the use of the "Indian" in forming the subject – although, as Richardson says, his text "does not pretend, of course, to have the breadth of a complete genealogy of the Indian in the eighteenth century" (6).


And indeed, there are noticeable gaps in the work. For example, the chapter, "Becoming Indians," in which Bowles is discussed, posits that "[u]nlike earlier examples in the century of fluid subjects who could cross cultural boundaries, Bowles is self-consciously driven by ambition" (159) and that this was the time at which "the hybrid figure who appropriated aspects of Indian culture" emerged (165). Yet in 1730, another British subject, Alexander Cumming, appeared in London at the head of a different – much more celebrated – Cherokee delegation and seems also to prefigure Bowles, to an extent. He too was driven by ambition, manufacturing tales of an elaborate ceremony that made him the spokesman for the Cherokee (Pratt, 1998; Chambers, 2014; LeAnn Stevens-Larré and Lionel Larré, 2014), and although Cumming did not – so far as I am currently aware – adapt any aspect of "Indian" dress as Bowles had, he did lay claim to an "Indian" identity of sorts.


While Richardson briefly mentions this earlier delegation (69), he does not examine it in any great detail. This is unfortunate, as an analysis of the press surrounding the 1730 embassy would, I think, have helped to join together disparate chapters. For example, there were many similarities between the coverage of the 1730 Cherokee and 1710 Iroquois delegations. Indeed, Richardson cites the latter in the first chapter as a template for later encounters (25). An examination of the 1730 embassy would have helped bridge the gap to the second chapter, in which he discusses the "Indian" as a cultural critic. In fact, one of the more interesting pieces of literature concerning the 1730 delegation is a satire on the aristocracy that appeared in Issue Number 100 of Fogg's Journal on August 22 of that year. I do not think this particular lacuna in any way undermines the evolution that Richardson has sketched out, but filling it in over the course of his future research will perhaps add additional nuance and further support for his thesis.


Lastly, the hardback volume is attractively packaged, and printed on recycled paper using vegetable-based inks. Considering the inroads that e-publications are making in academic publishing, and as someone who still prefers to have a hard copy of what they are reading while not wanting to contribute to environmental problems, I greatly appreciate the publisher's selection of materials. However, other choices within the body of the work are less salutatory. While the table of contents is fairly clear, and the volume contains a useful bibliography and index, the list of illustrations is confusingly subdivided by chapter, and – more problematically – the citation formatting is clumsy. The combination of in-text citations and endnotes has not resolved the problems usually experienced with the selection of one or the other. It is still necessary to page back and forth in order to obtain a complete reference, and the in-text page citations, while decidedly clearer with regard to what they refer to, break up the flow of the text and form a distraction – at least to this particular reader. For all of the above reasons, I would much prefer that academic publishers simply use footnotes.


Such minor quibbles aside, which in all fairness probably relate more to my own research interests and editorial pet peeves than to Richardson's, this remains a significant and valuable contribution to the literature on British identity formation, as well as the body of work concerning Native American presence in Europe. It is not understating the case to claim that the "Red Atlantic" as a field of study has thus far been rather lopsided in favour of the American colonies. And when developments elsewhere have been discussed, they have generally centred on economics or the Columbian Exchange. It is time to redress the balance by demonstrating that the figure of the "Indian" – whether real or imagined – also played an important role in intellectual developments in other regions of the world. Finally, Dr Richardson was completely successful in producing a work that questions, and ultimately undermines, both our notions of fixed identity and the place of "Indians" on the margins of modernity.


Thomas Donald Jacobs, University of Ghent


Works Cited


Berkhofer, Robert. The White Man's Indian: Images of the American Indian, from Columbus to the Present. Knopf, 1978.


Calloway, Colin G. White People, Indians, and Highlanders: Tribal Peoples and Colonial Encounters in Scotland and America. Oxford University Press, 2008.


Chambers, Ian David. "Alexander Cumming – King or Pawn? An Englishman on the Colonial Chessboard of the Eighteenth-century American Southeast." Journal of Backcountry Studies. Vol. 8, No. 1 (2014): 35-49.


Fullagar, Kate. The Savage Visit: New World People and Popular Imperial Culture in Britain, 1710-1795. University of California Press, 2012.


Kupperman, Karen Ordahl. Settling with the Indians: The Meeting of English and Indian Cultures in America, 1580-1640. New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 1980.


Pratt, Stephanie. "Reynolds' 'King of the Cherokees' and Other Mistaken Identities in the Portraiture of Native American Delegations, 1710-1762." Oxford Art Journal. Vol. 21, No. 2, (1998): 135-150.


Stevens-LarrŽ, LeAnn and Lionel LarrŽ. "A Mad Narrator as Historian: Sir Alexander Cuming among the Cherokees (1730)." Les Narrateurs fous / Mad Narrators. Edited by Nathalie Jaëck, Clara Mallier, Arnaud Schmitt, and Romain Girard. Publisher city: Maison des Sciences de l'Homme d'Aquitaine, 2014. 127-146.


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Copyright (c) 2018 Thomas Donald Jacobs