L O I T E R E R.
"Speak of us as we are."
PRINTED FOR THE AUTHOR,
And sold by C. S. RANN, OXFORD;
Messr. EGERTONS, Whitehall, LONDON; Messrs. PEARSON
And ROLLASON, BIRMINGHAM; Mr. W. MEYLER, Grove,
BATH; AND Messrs. COWSLADE and SMART, READING.
L O I T E R E R.
SATURDAY, July 18, 1789.
Πολλωυ δ'ανφρωπων ιδεν
αζεα, και νοον εγνω.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
—— εκ δ' εγγεφαλος Χαμαδις ρεε, δευε δε γαιαν
Τυς δε διαμελειςι ταμων ωπλισσατο δορπον. — Homer.
FOR the Entertainment of my Readers this Day, I purpose laying before them a short Account of a very great literary Curiosity, which I have no doubt will appear as important to them as it does to myself. It is in fact a regular Journal kept by OMAI, the native of one of the Islands in the South Seas, during his Residence in England. The short limits of a periodical Paper will not permit one to particularize the exact manner in which it came into my Possession, but that the literary World may not be hereafter torn into Factions by Disputes respecting its authenticity, I am determined to deposit the original in the archives of the Royal Society, because I have reason to think, that that learned Body will hold it in as much estimation as they would do the most ingenious and elaborate Disquisition on the constituent principles of the Atmosphere, or any other dark and recondite Subject.
It appears from the Journal, that Omai has picked up a smattering of reading and writing from our Sailors, during his passage to England; which (unknown to any person) he had afterwards improved during his Hours of Retirement. I must refer my Readers to the Journal itself for the motives of his Voyage, and for a long and tedious description of the same, that I may be able to dwell the longer on those parts which are most interesting to us; and, in particular his Observations on the Manners and Customs peculiar to his Country. It is worth while, however, en passant, to remark how soon he had begun to philsophise, for he spends more than 100 pages in accounting for the manner in which the various places, where he arrived, had been first peopled from his own Country, the most remote Traditions of which give no account of any of their people having ever sailed further than Bola Bola, or some of the adjacent Islands. After a great number of deep Disquisitions and curious Conjectures, he is obliged at last to suppose, that many Ages ago a large War Canoe and some small fishing Proas had been forced out to Sea, and had gradually peopled all the Countries in the World. As to the difference of Colour which he observes in the Inhabitants of Europe, he accounts for that in a very easy and natural manner, from the coldness of the Climate having occasioned a degeneracy in the human Species, rendering them less vigorous, and consequently of a pale, meagre, sickly, disagreeable complexion. For the Truth of this he appeals to the Fact of the late Circumnavigators, during their Voyage to the South Seas, in some measure gradually recovering the natural pristine complexion of that place. It is true, he passes over the circumstances of the natives of the cold and inhospitable regions of Terra del Fuego being darker than himself; but this not suiting his System, like many other Philosophers he deems it unworthy of his notice. But lest any of his cotemporary Philosophers at home should doubt that the natives, as he calls us, of Pretane are actually derived from those of Otaheite and Ulietea, he assured them that he can prove it from several words in the Language of Pretane, still retaining a similarity of Sound with others of the same signification in his own. He here enters into the several curious etymological discussions, which I shall not detail, as the subject may again occur when he treats of some peculiar Customs of the English. I shall therefore refer my Readers to his Vocabulary, in which there are some very striking marks of resemblance. I shall also pass over the first 500 pages, that I may directly speak of his arrival in England; where, he says, he was no sooner landed, than he was put into a handsome painted House. together with some of his Companions, and that four large animals went off with the House, and them in it, faster than he could have run up level Ground at Ulietea; carrying him an immense way up the Country. — he gave a curious description of these animals, comparing them to large Dogs, the only things we are told, which can possibly convey a faint Idea of them. But he endeavours to make up for the deficiency of his Description by a picture of a Stage Coach and six Horses, with passengers inside and out, which he hath fixed in his Journal; and which, no doubt, with the help of his Comments upon it, will be a wonderful Curiosity amongst the Ladies and Grandees of Otaheite. He reprobates our method of living in Houses huddled as close together as they can possibly stand, in what are called Towns; with which he adds, these foolish people are not satisfied, for they pile three or four of these Towns upon the Top of each other.
In one Chapter he abounds with curious Remarks upon the strange and fantastical Dresses of our Females, and does not scruple to affirm, that at first he was very much disgusted with their unnatural complexions, particularly those that are much tataowed. He thought it very hard that he should himself be obliged to be tataowed, but nothing that he could say or do could prevent it from being done by the most famous Tataowed in the Country. At first he says he was horribly mattoowed, or frightened, but found at last, after a great deal of Ceremony, it was nothing more than a slight scratch above the Elbow, the mark of which he still retains. He informs us, that many of the Females set off their complexions a little by rubbing something red upon their Cheeks; and in time he got reconciled to the complexions of our Ladies in the same manner as he supposed the Gentlemen of the Ships became enamoured of Tyna mai and the other Ladies of Otaheite. Here he digresses a good deal into secret History, and makes many remarks, which I do not think it altogether prudent to repeat. But on the subject of the red Cheeks, he became perfectly delighted with them at last, after going down into the Country, where the Houses were interspersed with Fields and Plantations of Trees. Here he found the Cheeks were naturally streaked with red, which made them exquisitely beautiful, far superior to those he had seen where the Towns were built upon the Top of each other. In this part he dwells very much on the Charms of THEDAI RYMAI DOLLEY, a Lady, by his account, of very great Consequence; who had the entire dominion over several large animals, as big as those which carried him about the Country in Houses. He then proceeds with a rapturous Description of Curds and Cream, fresh Butter and syllabub; which last he thinks not inferior to the Kava (or syllabub) of Otaheite.
He seems delighted by a discovery which he accidentally made, that the Chiefs or Great Men of Pretane were formerly (though very seldom now) called Heroes, which he conceives to be the same as the Erys or Chiefs of his own Country. In discoursing on this subject one day at dinner on this subject with the King of the Ships, he discovers him to be an Earl, which he also deems a mere corruption of the former. And he adds, that he immediately asked him to shew him the marks of his Wounds, that he might be certain he was a valiant Ery or Chief; but the King of the Ships, we are told, looked rather silly, first laughed, then tried to evade the Question; and at least being rather closely pushed, acknowledged that he had never received any Wounds, but in the Wars of Venus. Upon his wishing, with native simplicity, for an Explanation of those Wars, he says the whole Company laughed immoderately; and the King of the Ships sent him for a perfect Explanation to Thedai rymai dolley.
I am sorry to repeat the very degrading Idea, which he entertains of us in his 44th Chapter, which treats of our great propensity to thieving. He sets out with asserting roundly, that we are all downright thieves from the highest to the lowest; and proves it by observing, that the Doors and Windows of our Houses are obliged to be fastened every Night with Locks, Bolts and Bars of the most curious and intricate construction. These, he says, are to prevent the external Thieves from entering, but adds, that they are not sufficient; for every Room, Closet, and Box in the inside of the House are also obliged to be locked. Husbands and Fathers hardly daring to trust either their wives or their Children, Masters their Servants, nor Servants their Masters; Brothers and Sisters, Friends and Foes being all equally obliged to have their Locks and their Keys. Nay, to his utter astonishment, he afterwards found, that even the property of the King himself was not safe. Many Artificers, he says, live merely by making these Utensils, so great is the demand, and of course the necessity for them.
If my Readers should blush a little at this humiliating representation of European Manners, they will smile when I mention the particulars of his 45th Chapter, in which he proves us, from ocular Demonstration, to be Men Eaters, absolute Cannibals. He never suspected this till he happened one Day, after going through a place called a Market, to get in a great Crowd, where he had an opportunity of seeing nearly twenty Men slaughtered at once; and one woman actually roasted, immediately after being strangled, much after the same manner as they do Pigs in Otaheite. His Curiosity was strongly excited to see how they intended to dispose of the Bodies of the Men; he therefore left the Woman half roasted, and followed the body of one of the Men, which was carried to a large house near the place where they have been strangled. With some little difficulty he got admittance, and saw the body stripped and laid naked on a large Table, where he understood that it was continued till the day following, when it would be cut up before a great Crowd. His Curiosity, he observes, was so strongly excited, that he did not fail to be there the next Day: and arrived in time to see the Body cut up and mangled in several places, the Head opened, and the Brains laid on a platter. The Cook, who was dressed in a large Aprons and Sleeves, with a Knife in his Hand, was standing; all the rest were sitting on Benches around. The Cook made a very long harangue, which he did not comprehend; but he could plainly observe him every now and then taking great pains to shew them all the fattest and the nicest parts. But at last he says, just as he was going to fall to, when he saw him put the Knife into his mouth, he could stand it no longer, for the sight of this, together with the mangled Body, struck him with horror, and filled his Mind with Indignation. In short, he felt such a sudden qualm come over him, that he was obliged to run out of the Room, sick and ready to faint, and left them to finish the horrid Banquet by themselves. In a note he says, that these meetings must be very frequent, for he saw the Bones of several Men and Women hanging up to dry round the place, which had been lately picked quite clean. And he hopes, after this plain account of what passed immediately under his own observation, none of his countrymen will hereafter doubt of the Fact. Yet still he says, he must do these people the Justice to observe, that in the main, “notwithstanding their being Cannibals, they are naturally of a good disposition, and have not a little humanity.” In respect to their Humanity, however, he hath sometimes been a little in doubt, from observing a strange and barbarous Custom which prevails very much among them, viz, that of cutting off the legs and arms of several of their own people: he was seldom a day without seeing one or two, sometimes half a Dozen that had been served in this manner. He took much pains to find out the reason, but all in vain: the only Information that he could acquire, was, that they were generally a set of brave fellows, that had killed a great number of their Enemies; and that this was the method, and often the only method, which they took to distinguish and reward them.
In his 58th Chapter he speaks of the wonderful Love and Affection, which these people entertain for their King; far exceeding any thing in his own Country. For here it is usual, he says, for almost every Person to get as many little round pieces of Metal as he possibly can, with the Image of the King piccaried upon them; and so astonishingly fond are they of these, that any thing whatever may be obtained for them, and particularly for the yellow ones. Their attachment to these little round Images is so great, that for a long time he concluded they were the Gods of Pretane; but he afterwards learnt that this very singular people set a greater value upon little slips of thin Cloth or paper (far inferior to the worst Cloth at Otaheite) with an image of a female, which he supposes to be the Queen, slightly piccaried upon it. He was unable to find out what use this thin paper could possible be of; and what was to him even more astonishing, notwithstanding the great value which every Body put upon it, yet they strangled, Without mercy or exception, almost every person that was ingenious enough to make it. In short, he adds, in many things it is absolutely impossible to assign any Reason whatever for the actions of this extraordinary People; who would run all maimer of risks, and part with almost every thing that had in the World to procure such Baubles, and yet would laugh at him for setting a proper value upon a red Feather.
In the 359th page of his third and last Volume, he expresses the most unbounded satisfaction in having found out the true Eatuas or Gods, which the people of Pretane worship. And when I observed the rapturous manner in which he speaks upon this occasion, I began to be in hopes that some pains had been taken with this harmless Indian and that he had at last imbibed some proper notions of the Deity. I even began to hope, that together with a Taste for the vices and refinements of the new World, he might stand a Chance to carry back with him some sparks of that divine Religion, with which this Kingdom hath been so pre-eminently enlightened. But my Readers will easily judge how much I was hurt and disappointed after hearing him speak in such Raptures of our Eatua, to observe him express Hopes that the King of the Ships would permit him to carry two or three of them to Otaheite. He says he was conducted to a very large building, surrounded by a great number of marays or burying places. Here he was told the people were assembled to worship their Eatua or Deity, and he was delighted to hear the large one speak. — The Voice was sometimes like Thunder from the Clouds; — then soft and slow, thrilling through the Heart as if it made him wish to go to Heaven; — then on a sudden it would change, and become quick and lively like the nose flutes of Ulietea, so that he expected every moment the People would jump up and dance the Timorodee . In short, it does not appear from this or any other account which I have yet seen, that Omai might not have pitched upon the Church Organ, the chiming Clock, or the repeating Watch, for the Gods of Great-Britain.
* * *
< < Previous List of Issues Next > >
Sophia's Home page