LAHONTAN, Louis Armand, Baron de (1666-1715). New Voyages to North-America. Containing an Account of the Several Nations of That Vast Continent

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LAHONTAN, Louis Armand, Baron de (1666-1715). New Voyages to North-America. Containing an Account of the Several Nations of That Vast Continent. A Geographical Description of Canada. London: H. Bonwicke, T. Goodwin, W. Wotton, B. Tooke, 1703.


2 volumes, 8vo (7 2/8 x 4 2/8 inches). (2-inch tear on pp. 77-78). Fine folding engraved “General Map of New France Com, call’d Canada” (short tear at mount, affecting the image); fine folding engraved “Map of ye Long River…” (professionally repaired tear); fine engraved folding plan of “The Beaver hunting spoken of in ye 16 letter”; 8 full-page engraved maps and plans; frontispiece in vol. 2; fine folding engraved plate; 11 engraved plates. Contemporary mottled sheep, stamped in blind, the spines in 6 compartments separated by 5 raised bands, with gilt-tooled binding edges, preserved in a modern cloth slipcase (hinges starting).

Provenance: Supralibros of “RS” branded into both covers of each volume.

First edition in English, with a new map of Newfoundland and corrected plates: “To the translation of my first volume, I have added an exact map of Newfound-land...I have likewise corrected almost all the cuts of the Holland Impression, for the Dutch Gravers had murder’d em, by not understanding their Explications, which were all in French. They have grav’d Women for Men, and Men for Women; naked Persons for those that are cloath’d” (Lahontan, “Preface”). Lahontan came to New France in 1683 as captain of a regiment which he led in expeditions against the Iroquois: “Between the fifteenth and sixteenth year of my Age I went to Canada, and there took care to keep up a constant Correspondence by Letters with an old Relation Tis these very letters that make the greatest part of the first Volume. They contain an account of all that pass’d between the English, the French, the Iroquese, and the other Savage Nations, from the year 1683 to 1694” (Lahontan, “Preface” to English edition). Lahontan journeyed west in 1687 with Duluth and was given command of Fort St. Joseph on the St. Clair River. In 1688 he travelled further west by the Fox-Wisconsin portage and reached the upper Mississippi. In all Lahontan spent twenty years in the colony fighting the Iroquois and his work is considered “one of the best early works on the subject” (Streeter Sale). During the decade he had spent in North America, Lahontan “had not lacked opportunities to distinguish himself. He had taken part in two campaigns against the Iroquois, had twice been besieged by the English, had visited almost all parts of New France and may well have reached the Mississippi at a time when few Frenchmen had seen it. But he appears to have made little mark; except during his final months at Placentia, the official correspondence of the time scarcely mentions him But while serving and travelling in New France he had done something few of his fellow officers thought to do: ‘In the course of my Voyages and Travels, I took care to keep particular Journals of every thing...’, sometimes even making notes on birch-bark. From these diaries he was able later to compose the three books which were to make him, next to Louis Hennepin, the most widely read author on North America in the first half of the 18th century.

“Lahontan’s works appeared at a time when travel narratives were enjoying an extraordinary vogue in Europe and when interest in North America, aroused by the ‘Jesuit Relations’ and whetted by the voyages of Hennepin and Henri Tonty, was greater than ever before. His ‘Nouveaux voyages dans l’Amérique septentrionale’ and their sequel, ‘Mémoires de septentrionale,’ were published in January 1703 at The Hague and were twice pirated within a few months. A third volume, entitled ‘Supplément aux voyage’ containing dialogues possibly written in collaboration in England, appeared later in 1703 in both English and French, the two earlier volumes having meantime been translated into English.

“Lahontan’s three volumes embraced a wide variety of subject-matter. The ‘Nouveaux voyages...’ recounted in the then popular epistolary form his ten years in New France; midway through the narrative a letter four or five times as long as the rest told a fanciful tale of his imaginary voyage up the Long River. The ‘Mémoires’ provided a lively geographical account of New France, followed by an anthropological study of its Indian inhabitants and completed by a linguistic commentary and glossary of the Algonkian language. In the third volume the travel narrative was resumed, this time in little-known European states: Portugal, Aragon, Holland, the Hansa cities, and Denmark. The remainder of the book was made up of five imaginary dialogue with an Indian chief whose name, Adario, was a partial anagram of that of the recently deceased Kondiaronk. The dialogues treated Christian belief, French laws and society, medicine, and marriage.

“Lahontan’s writings, in his first two volumes at least, were based on personal observation of events and practices in New France, of Indian customs, and of flora and fauna. They included an impressive wealth of detail and, except for some exaggeration in the numbers of persons involved, were remarkably accurate in their information. The infrequent occasions on which Lahontan retailed hearsay – for example in his jesting page on the marriageable girls sent out to New France, or in his tale of the Long River – have drawn refutations which by their violence bear witness to his relative veracity elsewhere.

“But Lahontan’s gifts were not merely descriptive. His identification of the eight abuses prevalent in New France is perceptive and sound. His assessment of the best method of fortifying the Great Lakes, his awareness of the loss to the colony of the talents of the Huguenots, his appreciation of the common interest of France and England in encouraging trade, his realization of the unwisdom of attempting to destroy the Iroquois, and his vision of the future greatness of North America demonstrate his powers of judgement and imagination, and his grasp of the situation in New France.

“Quite apart from the information and opinions they communication about North America, moreover, Lahontan’s works were a compendium of early 18th-century ‘philosophic’ ideas about the folly of superstitions, the vices of European society, the illogicalities of Christian dogma and the virtues of the ‘noble savage.’ The same ideas, better expressed, would be found in the writings of major 18th-century authors: in the fourth book of Swift’s ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ (1726), in Rousseau’s ‘Discours sur les origins de l’inégalité…’ (1755), in Voltaire’s ‘L’Ingénu’ (1767), or in Diderot’s posthumously published ‘Supplément au voyage de Bougainville.’ More than a century after their author’s death, Lahontan’s books lived on: in Chateaubriand’s ‘Les Natchez’ (1826), one of the chief figures is called Adario, and the names of all Chateaubriand’s Indian characters are taken from Lahontan’s Algonkian glossary” (David M. Hayne for CDB). Alden & Landis 703/86; Arents “Tobacco” 454; JCB (1) III:36; Pilling “Algonquian” pp. 290-291; Sabin 38644; Staton & Tremaine/TPL 6357; Streeter Sale I:107.