In 1710 four Iroquois sachem from the Confederacy of the Five Nations came to London, staying for five weeks. This was at the height of the War of Spanish Succession with France (1702–13), and American colonial leaders had hoped to form a bond between the Iroquois and England, seeking Queen’s Anne’s aid for a joint invasion of French-held Canada (Native American tribes would be pawns in the power struggles between France and Britain in America until after the War of American Independence). The visit was very much a public performance planned by diplomats, they were given invented royal titles, displayed in their indigenous dress, supplied with English finery and invited to a bewildering array of social functions. At a number of times, their attendance at plays was advertised on the playbill, suggesting that this exotic spectacle was part of the evening’s entertainment. Their public presence was often accompanied by crowds, and they were the subject of much social commentary. The idea of a fictional account that would be in the voice of one of the sachems was originally Jonathan Swift’s, and bears comparison with his other satirical writings. By ventriloquising the voice of a noble savage from beyond the shores of ‘civilisation’, Swift and Addison created a satirical distinction between the uncorrupted nature of the American natives, and the follies and hypocrisies of contemporary society.
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- Jonathan Swift and Joseph Addison, The Spectator, no. 50 (27 April 1711)
Stephen H. Gregg
- Macmillan Education UK
- Sequence number