L'Homme Sauvage, Histoire traduite de... Par M. Mercier. Amsterdam, Zacharie, 1767.
Second Edition. 12mo (162 x 94 mm), pp. [iv], -309, , lacking the front and rear blanks but with extra endleaves, in contemporary mottled calf, spine gilt in compartments, dark red morocco label lettered in gilt, marbled endpapers, red edges, old casemark to front free endpaper.
A significant work in the Mercier canon treating of the concept of the noble savage and following the adventures of two children born and raised - ‘élévés dans la nature’ - in Peru. This is an important work in the French utopian tradition, representing Mercier’s early treatment of the theme that came to fruition in his L’An Deux Mille Quatre Cent Quarante, 1771, the work which led to his being dubbed ‘the father of the modern utopia’. It also shows how much Mercier was influenced by Rousseau, perhaps earning him one of his less flattering sobriquets, ‘le singe de Jean-Jacques’.
The novel is largely told in the first person by the noble savage of the title, Zidzem, who lives in an idealised society in Peru. Zidzem’s adventures with his sister are the focus of the novel, against a backdrop of the Chebutois’ resistance against the Spanish colonisation of Peru, as they are forced to fight or escape to surrounding territories. Inspired by Rousseau, it presents a sharp contrast between the brave and loyal natives and the violent and rapacious European invaders:‘Je suis né parmi les Chébutois, peuple du sud de l’Amerique; peuple long-tems illustre & vainqueur’.
Despite being banned on publication, L’Homme Sauvage was an immediate publishing triumph, with three editions in the first year alone and some fifteen editions before the end of the century. The first edition was published by the veuve Duchesne and although this has the same pagination, it has been entirely reset. ‘This novel is little remembered today, accessible only in the rare book collections of a few limited libraries. During its time, however, it made something of a splash in Europe - it was edited in French, German, and Dutch between 1767 and 1787 - and bears significant links to the writings of Rousseau, Prévost, and Chateaubriand’ (Prasad, ‘Colonialism’, p.76). Based in part on Johann Gottlieb Benjamin Pfeil's utopian novel Der Wildeman, it was for years catalogued under Pfeil, but it is now generally accepted that most of the work is Mercier’s own (see Winfried Engler, Merciers Abhängigkeit von Pfeil und Wieland’, Arcadia, III, 1968, 251-261, and T.E. Annandale, ‘Johann Gottlob Benjamin Pfeil and Louis-Sébastien Mercier’, Revue de litt. comparée, 44. année, no. 4, oc-déc, 1970, 444-459).
MMF 67:42; Cioranescu 44548; Higgs, Bib. of Economics, 4232; Palau 165160.