Marsh, T. N.
The Rice Institute Pamphlet, Volume 43, Number 3 (1956)
At the outset I must confess that it was mere whimsy that prompted me to supply this title when the Historical Society kindly invited me to give this paper. What I have actually been up to in the studies of which this essay presents representative selections is the investigation of the encounters of Tudor Englishmen with North and South American and Caribbean Indians in the course of the voy- ages of exploration and discovery to the New World. The idea of what it was like to be a man living in a primitive society underwent some rapid and decisive changes during the period when these discoveries were being made; and these changes, in turn, brought about perforce some inter- esting revisions in antiquaries’ concepts of life in Britain before the advent of the Romans.
Until the Tudor adventurers brought back reliable and eyewitness accounts of the nature of primitive man, English historians were content to repeat the old legend, given its greatest currency by Geoffrey of Monmouth in the twelfth century, that Britain had been founded by refugees from the Trojan War under the leadership of one of the scions of the house of Priam, Brutus (hence the name Britain). This was a comfortable tale, of course, implying that civilization had rather sprung full-blown in Britain from the temple of Zeus, than climbed painfully upward from savagery to the world of light. All the countries of western Europe, as the late Professor George Gordon observed, had “‘forged Trojan passports,” but all of them had turned them in for more official-looking papers before the sixteenth century.