Northern noble savages? Edward Daniel Clarke and British primitivist narratives on Scotland and Scandinavia, c.1760-1822
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Andersson Burnett, Linda Carin Cecilia
Burnett, Linda Carin Cecilia Andersson
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This thesis analyses a growing metropolitan British fascination with northern Scandinavia and Scotland towards the end of the eighteenth century. These two northern regions underwent a dramatic transformation, from being places people avoided to being realms writers considered worthy of visiting, observing and narrating. This thesis examines the importance of the primitivist discourse of northern noble savagery in that transformation. While encounters with the ‘noble savage’ were largely associated with the extra-European world, the fascination with the north was in observing Europe’s very own native examples of the breed. The Highlanders and Islanders of Scotland and the northern Scandinavians, the Sami people in particular, were often romanticised in this context. Despite the Sami being celebrated in British fiction and natural-history works at the time, there has been, in contrast with Scandinavia’s ‘Vikings’, little scholarly attention given to them in a British context. The origin and function of the northern-noble-savage discourse is anchorerd in naturalhistory texts. This study emphasises the importance of the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), who travelled in Lapland in 1732, in constructing idealised depictions of the Sami. Linnaeus also provided a model of domestic exploration in which naturalists produced inventories of regions and their inhabitants previously relatively unmapped by the state. Although the image of the northern savage often bore little resemblance to reality, it had real application and effect. Such imagery allowed allegedly backward regions to be incorporated into the national narrative, and through this the national community sought to benefit from these peripheries and their communities. The thesis also studies the consequences of actual encounters between metropolitan observers and the local populations of these northern regions. The travelogues of the celebrated natural historian and traveller Edward Daniel Clarke (1769-1822), who sojourned in Scotland and Scandinavia in 1797-1799, is the focus of the investigation. In a comparative analysis of his Scottish and Scandinavian accounts, this study presents Clarke as an ambivalent primitivist who both praised and condemned the Highlanders and Sami. Clarke was, for example, critical of what he regarded as the superstitious beliefs of both peoples. His narrative on the Highlanders was, however, far more positive than that on the Sami because of Clarke's adherence to racial classifications, which paradoxically Linnaeus had instigated, which demoted the Sami to mere savages. After Clarke’s death in 1822, attitudes towards the Highlanders and Sami continued to diverge against a backdrop of increased racialisation in British thought. While the Highlander became firmly integrated into a British narrative, the Sami was displaced by growing interest in a Scandinavian invader of Britain, the Viking, whose image went on to provide a robust challenge to the romanticisation of the Celtic Highlander in the century that followed. Meanwhile, the optimism over the Highlands’ economic prospects that had permeated the Linnaean project of exploration in Scotland was now gone. Whereas the idealised gaze of the eighteenth-century explorer had surveyed Highland history in order to chart a course to the future, the focus of the nineteenth-century tourist tended to be firmly on the past.