Andrea, Bernadette."Review of James Ellison, George
Sandys: Travel, Colonialism and Tolerance in the Seventeenth Century."
Early Modern Literary Studies 9.3 / Special Issue 12 (January, 2004):
8.1-4 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/09-3/revandr.htm>.
Travel, Colonialism and Tolerance, from the subtitle of this monograph,
presents a compelling cluster of concerns centered on the personally enigmatic
and generally marginalized George Sandys (1578- 1644). Author of the frequently,
albeit selectively cited A Relation of a Journey through much of the
Ottoman Empire; colonial administrator of the tenuous Virginia settlement;
equivocal courtier during the unravelling reign of Charles I; and translator
of Virgil, Ovid, the Psalms, the Book of Job, and Hugo Grotius, Sandys has
warranted two previous published monographs: Richard Beale Davis's biography
(1955) and Jonathan Haynes's more focused study of Sandys's Relation
(1986). However, Ellison's is the first to move beyond the limits of "the
life of a man" mode to analyze the full range of Sandys's writings within
a nexus of cultural, literary, and politics influences leading to the beginnings
of the English colonial project and towards the English-cum-British civil
wars. Not just a thorough cultural history and focused biography, Ellison's
study emphasizes the neglected literary merit of Sandys's oeuvre, particularly
his often overlooked translations, by pursuing careful explications of their
rhetorical and intertextual relations. The following summary of the fundamental
concerns of this monograph thus underlines its indispensability for scholars
of early modern England and the Ottoman Empire, England's imperial project
in North America, religious controversy in pre-Civil War England, debates
over monarchical absolutism, the relative merits of Caroline poetry between
the era of Donne and Herbert and that of the mature Milton, and much more.
Importantly, Ellison grounds his discussion of "the politics of religion"
by defining "toleration" and "tolerance" in a seventeenth-century sense: the
former meaning that various churches are permitted in one state; the latter,
that various views are permitted within one state church (2). Sandys, in this
historical specific sense, represents the "liberal outlook" of many Englishmen
of his class -- primarily landed gentry, aligned with disaffected aristocrats
-- in promoting Christian ecumenism and monarchy modified by the institution
of parliament. Sandys is nonetheless "unique" in Ellison's estimation for
the breadth of his experience and understanding. He was the only English poet
of his era, whether Protestant or Catholic, to travel to Jerusalem; he was
the first English poet to write from North America; and he was the foremost
literary voice representing the Great Tew Circle's latitudinarian alternative
to Laudian or Puritan absolutism. Sustaining a parallel between the better
known George Sandys and his unjustly neglected brother, Edwin, Ellison establishes
that Sandys's representation of the Ottoman Empire, in contradistinction to
Richard Knolles's, derives from his brother's widely circulated proposition
that the pressure of the Ottoman Empire on the southwestern flank of the extensive
Catholic Hapsburg territories enabled fledgling Protestantism to establish
it roots. Without the Ottomans, understood both Sandys brothers, England might
remain neither an autonomous nor a Protestant nation, but become a satellite
of the Hapsburg Empire dominated by Spain. "Toleration" in the seventeenth-century
sense, however, did not extend to the Ottomans as Muslims. Yet, as Ellison
convincingly argues, to label George Sandys's attitude to the region as colonialist
or orientalist remains anachronistic and simplistic.
By contrast, Sandys was an unabashed imperialist in the Americas, though
Ellison specifies the early English imperial project in Virginia as "Christian
imperialism," subtended by the classical model of the "virtuous imperialist"
(82, 84). Hence, Sandys's propensity for "tolerance" -- in the seventeenth-century
sense of allowing multiple views under a single hegemony -- similarly characterizes
his stance as a colonial administrator. Still, it was under Sandys's administration
that the 1622 "great massacre" of most of the Virginia settlers by resisting
natives occurred, thus shifting the project of English imperialism in North
America from accommodation of the native peoples to anglocentric civility
to their elimination from the lands the English were invading. Sandys's liberalism,
that is, sought to expropriate native lands and assimilate native peoples
on the basis of "tolerance" without acknowledging its hegemonic construction.
Colonialism, however, necessarily involves violence, and to efface that fact
in the fantasy of "friendly" relations inevitably leads to the sort of disillusionment
that resulted in calls for genocide from formerly "tolerant" men such as Sandys.
Yet, although Ellison's careful analysis of the nuanced attitudes of the early
English colonists in Virginia presents a valuable corrective to the ahistorical
condemnation of the English as "blinkered" imperialists, it does not foreground
the related contradictions structuring Sandys's adherence to "virtuous imperialism."
For instance, Ellison reiterates the colonial cliché that the English "had
been duped" by the Indians, when the English were actually deluded by their
own colonial desires for an "easy" conquest. Still, the lineaments of such
conclusions may be gleaned from Ellison's precise delineation of Powhatan's
counter-empire as a response to previous encounters with European, albeit
Spanish, imperialists, as well as from his thorough genealogy of the classical
roots of the Renaissance discourse of empire at the core of Sandys's American
Sandys returned to England after this colonial debacle to an increasingly
absolutist court under the tenure of Archbishop Laud. The balance of Ellison's
study examines the hitherto marginalized interventions of Sandys into these
political debates: perhaps a "minor" poet, Sandys was nevertheless the literary
voice for a significant circle of disaffected gentry and noblemen centered
at Lucius Cary's estate, Great Tew. As Ellison demonstrates through a method
combining "inference and close readings" of Sandys's later translations (47),
including the commendatory poems by founding members of the Great Tew circle,
neither consensus nor containment accurately describes the divided social
landscape of Charles I's reign. Sandys's translations, in particular, serve
to critique the absolutist tendencies in the Caroline church and state without
rejecting either the state church or the monarchy. When Ellison concludes,
therefore, that "George Sandys's literary contribution deserves to be finally
recognized" (246), the reader of his wide ranging study of this ultimately
self-effacing, rather than self-fashioning, Renaissance man is persuaded to
answer resoundingly in the affirmative. Ellison's several appendices finally
sketch links between Sandys and Milton, Grotius, and Jonson to offer productive
directions for further research.
Davis, Richard Beale. George Sandys, Poet-Adventurer. New York:
Columbia UP, 1955.
Haynes, Jonathan. The humanist as traveler : George Sandy's Relation
of a journey begun an. Dom. 1610. Rutherford: Fairleigh Dickinson UP,
Responses to this piece intended for the Readers'
Forum may be sent to the Editor at M.Steggle@shu.ac.uk.