Jean de Léry’s Histoire d’un voyage faict en la terre du Brésil is not a book. It is, at the very least, a series of publications, and during Léry’s lifetime, a multimedia phenomenon. The edition with which most modern readers are familiar, that of 1580, was the second of five published in French during Léry’s lifetime, and as Frank Lestringant indicates in the introductory note to his modern edition of the Histoire (based on that famous 1580 text), “Léry retranche rarement… il ajoute toujours au fil des cinq éditions contrôlées par ses soins1.” One hears echoes here of Michel de Montaigne: like the essayist, Léry “ajoute, mais [il] ne corrige pas.” If, according to Paul Gaffarel, Léry was dubbed the “Montaigne des voyageurs” for his benevolent view of the Tupinamba2, it is equally apt to link these two authors on the basis of their writing practices. Certainly, for Léry, what Lestringant aptly calls “les incrustations progressivement élargies” (ibid.) over the course of the five French editions of the Histoire were not mere footnotes or appendices, any more than Michel de Montaigne’s modifications of his Essais were for him. Indeed, Léry himself attempted to devise a way to signal the couches of his text for the 1585 French edition, which is prefaced with a note to the reader that explains that “Ce qui a esté adjousté, depuis la premiere Impression, est marqué en ceste troisieme, par deux estoilles : l’une au commencement de l’addition & l’autre à la fin3.” Though it may be the case that, as Pierre Villey postulated, the Essais move from citation to self expression4, while Léry’s Histoire appears to head in a contrary direction, eventually becoming what Lestringant calls “une somme de témoignages convergents, et [non] plus ce reflet immédiat d’une aventure unique, tel qu’il se donnait à lire à l’origine5,” both texts present themselves as open-ended works-in-progress. This discursive dynamism is an integral part of the Histoire d’un voyage faict en la terre du Brésil.
Indeed, we would be justified in asserting that Léry’s account is ultimately a more polyvalent work than are the Essais, for when we think of the Histoire as a discursive event during Léry’s lifetime, we must factor in its illustrations (five in the first edition of 1578, eight in the 1580, 1585, 1600, and 1611 editions); its Latin edition of 1586 (a more or less faithful translation of the 1585 French edition, which includes the original eight illustrations in more or less the same place relative to the text); a second Latin edition in 1594 (substantially the same as the preceding one); a Dutch translation in 1597 (with plates copied from the French originals6); a German translation in 1593 with completely new copperplate illustrations; and a partial, unillustrated English translation in 16117. In the case of Léry’s Histoire, then, we are dealing with a multilingual, multimedia, international phenomenon that was not only repeatedly expanded by its author, but also translated, adorned, and received in a wide variety of contexts while its author was still living. Any attempt to interpret the work in a broader cultural sense must take into account these multiple incarnations and this wide circulation.
In order to convey a sense of the difficulty involved in privileging any one publication as incarnating Jean de Léry’s Histoire in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, I will offer here a partial analysis of the German version of Léry’s narrative that appeared in Book Three of the De Bry thirteen-volume America series, which is a part of the larger De Bry collection of European travel narratives to all parts of the world8. This particular volume was first published in 1593 and reissued many times thereafter9. My focus will be on what Frank Lestringant calls the “immense excroissance,” beginning with the 1585 French edition, of Léry’s meditations on cannibalism10. What appears as an appendix in Lestringant’s scholarly edition is fully integrated in both Léry’s French and in De Bry’s German version. Rather than presume to offer a definitive reading of the relationship between these two versions, my aim here is to bring to the fore the complex dialogues in which Léry’s Histoire was enmeshed, and to underline the degree to which Léry’s “book” continuously evolved and changed as a result of these dialogues.
The dynamic exchange between De Bry and Léry, and indeed that between Léry and himself, is acutely evident in the interplay between image and text in the two publications under consideration here. Léry directly discusses within his text the woodcut images that appeared in the editions he oversaw, offering a sort of verbal key to the visual image and anchoring the plates within the larger verbal account. There are eight illustrations, in the form of woodcut plates, in the 1585 French edition of Léry’s Histoire, two of which are identical. Given their placement, the five images that were included in the first (1578) French edition initially illustrate, emphasize and enhance the religious polemic that runs throughout Léry’s text, since they are frequently linked to a critique of Catholic practices in the text. By 1585, however, Léry’s polemic is founded on a broader juxtaposition of Europeans and cannibals; the “immense excroissance” on this topic runs over twenty-three pages at the end of chapter XV (Léry 1585, 243-266). Léry’s apparently sympathetic view of the Tupí as put forth in the images that accompany the French text both justifies and enhances this ever-expanding critique of European religious violence, which seems all the more depraved by comparison.
Figure 1: Tupi Family (from Jean de Léry, Histoire d’un voyage, ed. 1585).
Courtesy of the John Carter Brown Library.
The very first illustration from Léry’s Histoire appears – and is directly referred to – in the eighth chapter of the account, the first to treat of the Tupinamba11. In the text, Léry offers five different verbal descriptions of the Tupi (he enumerates them himself): first, “comme il est ordinairement en son pays” (112); second, bedecked with bird feathers attached by means of a sticky tree sap; third, adorned for war, with the feathers plus bracelets and headdresses (what Léry characterizes as the Tupi’s “grand pontificat,” 114); fourth, having donned a pair of European pants or a French jacket (which, Léry reports, they put on only for fun, to the general merriment of all present); and fifth, naked again, but with the maracas and rattles used for dancing. The Tupi ultimately selected for the illustration here is a Tupinamba man “comme il est ordinairement en son pays.” Why, we might ask, does Léry choose this image, of a state claimed to be “natural” and “customary,” to illustrate his extended verbal representation of the Tupinamba?
While economic and technical constraints most certainly played some role in Léry’s commission of this particular version of the Tupí, the choice is also partly determined by Léry’s rhetorical aims. Hardly the record of any single historical moment or particular experience, the portrait is an artfully arranged still life that neatly illustrates some of Léry’s basic ethnographic theses. In the course of his discussion of Tupi women, he insists that
les attifets, fards, fausses perruques, cheveux tortillés, grands collets fraisés, vertugales, robes sur robes, et autres infinies bagatelles dont les femmes et filles de par-deçà se contrefont et n’ont jamais assez, sont sans comparaison, cause de plus de maux que n’est la nudité ordinaire des femmes sauvages qui cependant ne sont pas moins belles que les autres […]. (121).
If Calvinist modesty is ultimately Léry’s preferred sartorial style, Léry’s initial opposition between Tupi nudity and French adornment suggests that he finds Tupi nudity more congenial to his morals than French dress; the simple nude portrait reinforces this opposition. Moreover, if Tupi war adornment is the equivalent of a “grand pontificat,” the decision to portray the Tupi without it serves to distance them, pictorially, even further from the Catholics from which Léry has fled.
In the process of distancing the Tupi from excessively adorned Europeans, the image rhetorically situates the viewer closer to the Tupinamba, as the close-up perspective suggests. There is no landscape, no scene; nothing meets our gaze save the Tupinamba themselves. The full frontal view of the man suggests an opening toward the viewer. Though the man and the baby look off to the side, the woman looks directly at the viewer, meeting our gaze and thus establishing a certain intimacy between herself and whomever is observing her. With his slack bow and his arrows turned toward the ground, this Tupi père de famille is hardly portrayed as a warrior, much less a cannibal; his wife, for her part, manages to maintain a measure of modesty despite her nudity, snuggled strategically between her child and (presumably) the child’s father. In light of the text, the picture proposes as the natural state of the Tupinamba an unadorned and wholly unprovocative nakedness that serves as a rebuke both to excessive feminine adornment and to extravagant ‘papal splendor.’
Figure 2: Cannibals (from Jean de Léry, Histoire d’un voyage, ed. 1585).
Courtesy of the John Carter Brown Library.
Of course, not every woodcut in Léry’s book portrays the Tupinamba with similarly peaceful connotations. A potentially more disturbing image depicting two Tupi males appears in two consecutive chapters, the first describing Tupi warfare, the second giving an account of their cannibalistic rituals, and it is this image that shall be of particular interest for our discussion of De Bry’s adaptation of Léry. In Léry’s 1585 French edition, it is again a question of an overtly staged still life, rather than a snapshot of eyewitness history. Without the help of Léry’s text, it is not immediately apparent that cannibalism is even referred to here. Though the severed head tucked away in the bottom right corner, behind the partially hidden second figure, is certainly an indication of violence at some prior moment, neither of the two Tupi men pictured are caught in the act of killing anyone, much less eating them. Since the heads were in any case not eaten, but rather saved as trophies (as Léry explains), we could even go so far as to suggest that the cannibalized victim does not appear at all here. As in the first image, of the Tupi family, the full frontal orientation to the viewer in the foreground constitutes an opening outward, superimposed upon – and thus mitigating somewhat – the more aggressive figure in the background.
One can glean from a reading of Léry’s chapter fifteen that the man in the foreground is holding the wooden club used to strike dead a prisoner, before the latter is skinned, cut up, roasted, and eaten. The slashes in the Tupi man’s skin are self-inflicted after the cannibal ritual, a proud record of the number of prisoners he has killed. To be sure, everything that happens in between the initial fatal blow of the club and the concluding slash is described in horrific detail in Léry’s text – and he acknowledges at more than one point how horrified he is – but here again, none of these potentially damning elements makes it into the picture. Thus, even as the picture obliges the viewer to search in the text for a key to understanding, the image puts a decisive slant on any reading of Léry’s description.
Léry doesn’t mention any shortage of space, or funds, or paint to explain the fact that this is the lone picture chosen to illustrate cannibalism in his Histoire. But as in the case of the picture of the Tupi family in its putatively natural state, Léry’s motivations for choosing this particular image are readily discernible in his text. At the end of the chapter on cannibalism, he acknowledges that he has probably made his readers “avoir horreur, et dresser à chacun les cheveaux en la teste” (243). “Neantmoins,” he continues, “à fin que ceux qui liront ces choses tant horribles, exercees journellement, presques entre toutes ces nations barbares de l’Amérique et terre du Brésil, sçachent qu’il en fait bien d’autres ailleurs” (243). Subsequently, Léry goes on to describe acts of cannibalism perpetrated against French Protestants during the Saint Bartholomew’s Day massacres of 1572 – after his time in Brazil, but before he wrote up and published his history. Drawing the lesson from this juxtaposition, he concludes:
Parquoy qu’on n’haborre plus tant desormais la cruauté des Sauvages Anthropophages, c’est à dire, mangeurs d’homme. Car puisqu’il y en a de tels, voire d’autant plus detestables et pires au milieux de nous qu’eux […] il ne faut pas aller si loin qu’en l’Amérique pour voir choses si monstrueuses et prodigieuses […] (Léry, Histoire, 1585, 260-1).
The apologetic rhetoric of Léry’s text with respect to the Tupinamba is echoed in the visual image: these might be cannibals, but they are after all not so abhorrent; by the looks of them, they are certainly neither monstrous nor prodigious. The context of French religious violence as Léry describes it underpins the claim made in the visual image – that is, that these men can be cannibals yet at the same time not immediately monstrous, and that the real prodiges are to be found elsewhere. The Tupi mother in the earlier image, directing her gaze at the viewer, could be seen to embody this invitation to the viewer to situate him or herself with respect to the scene, rather than remain wholly outside of it.
At first glance, the engravings in De Bry’s German version of Léry appear wholly to undermine the spirit of Léry’s original images by visually transforming Léry’s beloved Tupí into wicked, flesh-eating monsters. In virtually every case, Léry’s obvious sympathy for the Tupinamba, underlined and illustrated by the visual images he chose to accompany his French text, is entirely absent from De Bry’s copperplates. We know that De Bry used the 1586 Latin translation of Léry’s Histoire prepared by the Protestant Urbain Chauveton for the Latin edition of America III; Chauveton’s Latin translation in turn was done from the 1585 French edition of Léry’s Histoire, which includes our “immense excroissance”. America III is the sole volume of the De Bry travel books that incorporates the engravings directly into the narratives (other volumes have the images all gathered at the end of the tome). Displaying considerable technical skill, De Bry sets his images right in the middle of specific stretches of text. This peculiarity makes it possible for us to be relatively sure about what part of the narrative the De Brys wanted to link to a given engraving, and allows us to compare the interplay of image and text in Léry’s 1585 French edition with that in De Bry’s America, and in particular in their respective depictions of cannibalism.
Figure 3: Cannibals 1 (from Théodore de Bry, America III, 1593).
Courtesy of the John Carter Brown Library.
Whereas Léry had depicted two Tupi warriors marked by signs that pointed to the moments before and after the act of cannibalism, De Bry captures a large Tupi crowd in flagrante delicto, chomping on the dismembered bodies that they have roasted on the boucan that Léry’s text takes care to describe. The victim is not presented as a prisoner of war, but as a random assortment of body parts; and his utter dehumanization serves utterly to dehumanize those who consume him as they would consume a piece of grilled fish. Indeed, as Michèle Duchet has pointed out, this image of a cannibal feast in De Bry’s Léry does not occur in the chapter about cannibalism; rather, it accompanies Léry’s description of Tupi cooking and eating habits. Duchet therefore characterizes De Bry’s placement of the image here as an “étrange métonymie qui […] fait du boucan l’instrument essentiel de la conservation ou de la consommation des corps” (31). But the metonymy is already there in both Léry’s French 1585 (and Latin 1586) editions: after describing the Tupí’s use of the boucan for preserving meat, Léry explains that
vous n’iriez gueres en leurs villages que vous ne les vissiez garnis, non seulement de venaisons ou de poissons, mais aussi le plus souvent (comme nous verrons cy apres) vous les trouveriez couverts tant de cuisses, bras, jambes que autres grosses pieces de chair humaine des prisonniers de guerre qu’ils tuent et mangent ordinairement […] (Léry, Histoire, 1585, 143).
It is Léry, prior to De Bry, who reframes the discussion of Tupí dietary habits as an anticipation of the cannibal ritual; De Bry simply chooses this particular passage as the point of reference for his illustration. The resulting image of the boucan arguably hews fairly closely to Léry’s verbal description in the 1585 edition.
This example should already serve as a warning not to jump too quickly to the conclusion that De Bry’s engravings somehow betray Léry’s text12. If De Bry’s images are indeed strikingly different from the ones in the editions Léry oversaw, none of the copperplate engravings stray very far from Léry’s verbal descriptions. Nonetheless, the presence of a European figure in this image does constitute a clear departure from the iconography of Léry’s French text. Whereas Léry invited his reader to contemplate his cannibal directly, De Bry supplies a distraught spectator, seemingly to model an appropriate European response to the scene. This is also the case in De Bry’s engraving for Léry’s actual account of Tupi cannibalism in Chapter XV, which depicts graphic violence, as women skin the dead body of the prisoner and prepare to remove his entrails.
Figure 4: Cannibals 2 (from Théodore de Bry, America III, 1593).
Courtesy of the John Carter Brown Library.
The tableau is extremely dynamic: its atmosphere of agitation – perhaps most clearly communicated by the woman running in the background – seems to invite some kind of active and indeed urgent response, rather than the calm “contemplation” Léry solicits via his visual images13. The apparent sorrow of the Tupi woman at the center left of the engraving should not fool us; she is the Tupi “wife” that had been assigned to the prisoner during his captivity, and now she is, according to Léry’s description of the custom, making a brief show of mourning before setting in to eat her share of the victim’s flesh.
In light of Léry’s description of the cannibal ritual, there is not much in De Bry’s engraving that invites sympathy. Moreover, the figure of the distraught European in the center of the image appears to undercut Léry’s prodding of the French reader that he “n’haborre plus tant desormais la cruauté des Sauvages Anthropophages” – we are in fact encouraged to abhor it, as modelled by the hand-wringing spectator14. But who in fact occupies the position of the spectator here, and who the savage? De Bry’s overdetermined visual condemnation of Tupi cannibalism could be seen to lend a new potency to Léry’s invitation to think more carefully about the things that go on every day in Europe (in De Bry’s German, “so lasset uns [deshalb] etwas mehr Achtung geben, auf die Handlung und auf das Wesen, wie es unter uns getrieben wird15”, 204). Rather than setting European violence next to an immobilized, unthreatening still-life, De Bry’s engraving has Léry’s German text condemn European cruelty in juxtaposition with images of acts of vivid and startling barbarity that unfold before our very eyes. De Bry’s German version of Léry extends the critique of European cruelty by transforming the visual images alongside which it is read, thereby creating the potential for one of the most searing condemnations of European religious violence in the period.
Ultimately, I would argue, De Bry’s juxtaposition of visual images of extreme savagery with Léry’s affectionate nostalgia for the New World serves to intensify Léry’s own increasingly urgent denunciations of Old World violence. In De Bry’s German, faithful to Léry’s originals, European usurers are “viel Blutgieriger und eines mörderischen Gemuts als die Wilden in America16” (204). Those who are shocked by Tupi cannibalism should think about “wie viel hier bey uns sind [...] unter denen die sich Christen rühmen17” who have gone so far as to eat the heart and liver of their enemies. The German Léry could tell us countless stories of this kind, but he has special knowledge of events in France: the German version includes all of the stories of Catholic-on-Protestant and Protestant-on-Catholic religious violence that appear in Léry’s 1585 French version, including that of a new mother whose baby was taken from her and killed by a man who reportedly said that “Man sollte auch den Lutherischen Fasel ausrotten und nit leben lassen18” (205). Whereas in the French version, another anecdote follows in which a dead Huguenot’s heart is eaten, De Bry’s German version makes this the dead infant’s heart, shared between the murderer and his accomplice, who announce, “Das haben wir vorhin gesagt, dass wir die Huguenotten fressen wollten19” (206). Given this unbridled verbal account of European religious violence, it should come as no surprise that, despite his undeniably “savage” visual portrayal of the Tupinamba, De Bry does not attempt to disguise Léry’s hesitation at the prospect of returning to France at the end of the book: “Nemlich das ich mich offtermal wiederumb zu den Americanis wuenschte/wenn ich gedenk wie wol es mir bei ihnen ergangen ist/bei denen ich denn mehr treu und auffrichtigkeit befunden hab/als bei den meisten Hauffen unser Maulchristen20” (De Bry 266; there are no engravings after this).
The interplay between barbaric images and a textual critique of European violence in the Historia der Schifffahrt Joannes Lerij vividly exposes the intra-European fractures of the age of religious war, and, ultimately, serves to underline the distance between God and Man21. Although De Bry’s images for Léry’s account undoubtedly do depict an irredeemably savage Tupinamba, its German text suggests that the European violence that ultimately forced De Bry out of his native Netherlands and into England and Germany was in fact far more depraved. The visual images that support this anthropology in Léry’s French edition, as we saw, question the morality of the Europeans by turning the Tupí into prototypes of the noble savage; in De Bry’s version, by contrast, the European compares unfavorably to images of the most extreme barbarity.
Léry’s evolving stance, which increasingly characterizes Western religious violence as worse than what even American animals do, can thus be seen as having been vividly amplified by De Bry’s engravings22. This amplification is achieved in large part as a result of De Bry’s visual amalgamation of Léry’s Histoire with the story of Hans Staden’s captivity in Brazil, which immediately precedes Léry’s history in America III. De Bry’s engravings for this swashbuckling autobiographical account of Staden’s capture by the Tupinamba are for the most part based on the rather crude woodcuts in Staden’s 1557 original23. The Staden woodcuts repeatedly depict a naked, bearded, ostensibly European man – Staden – threatened by crowds of looming savages, and include numerous scenes of graphic cannibalism. As has long been recognized, the images that originated with Staden clearly influenced those that the De Bry workshop prepared for the German Léry; indeed, five out of the ten De Bry engravings that are placed within Léry’s account in America III also appear in the Staden account in the same volume, including the cannibal scenes that we have been discussing24. But does this amalgamation ultimately justify readings that see in De Bry a betrayal of Léry’s intent?
It might be surprising to learn that, far from spurning association with his German predecessor, Léry wholeheartedly embraced Staden’s account in a subsequent French edition of the Histoire d’un voyage25. Having been made aware of Staden’s German text by one Dr Felix Platerus (Felix Platter) on a visit to Basel in 1586, Léry reports going to the trouble of having the work translated into French for his private perusal. He subsequently reads Staden’s book “avec grand plaisir” (Léry, Histoire, 1600, 468), judging that
Nous avions si bien rencontré en la description des Sauvages Bresiliens […] qu’on diroit que nous avons communiqué ensemble avant que faire nos narrations. Ainsi ce livre de Jean Staden […] merite semblablement d’estre leu de tous ceux qui desirent savoir au vrai les coustumes & façons de faire vraiment Sauvages des Bresiliens […]. (Léry, Histoire, 1600, 469).
Léry goes on here to enlist Staden as yet another witness in his campaign to refute virtually every aspect of André Thevet’s account of Brazil in the Cosmographie universelle, in which Thevet charged the French Protestants at Guanabara with sedition. Whereas Thevet portrayed the Tupí chief Quoniambec as a gun-wielding, naked giant, Staden’s account shows him to be “seulement un puissant homme” (Léry, Histoire, 1600, 470), albeit a cruel and inhuman one. Léry takes this as further proof that Thevet’s Cosmographie is made up of “fadaises” (ibid.).
Whatever Léry’s aim here, however, one of the effects of his eager appropriation of Staden’s account is to lend a retrospective legitimacy to De Bry’s conjoining of Staden’s Wahrhafftige Historia and Léry’s Schifffahrt in America III (in both the German and Latin versions). In 1600, no less an authority than Léry himself publicly declares that Hans Staden’s description of the Tupí was substantially the same as his; moreover, he imagined that readers might even think that they had conferred with one another before publishing their respective accounts. In America III, the De Bry workshop orchestrates a collaboration avant la lettre between the two traveller-writers, one that Léry was subsequently happy to endorse. Léry’s observation about the appearance of prior communication between the two of them would only have consolidated the impression of a joint project that was already put in place by the De Bry collection. Indeed, it seems very possible that Léry had seen the De Bry engravings for his account of Brazil prior to his public embrace of Staden’s depictions of the Tupinamba. In the 1599 edition of the Histoire d’un voyage, Léry had introduced his observations on the “grande conformité que les Virginiens ont avec les Bresiliens,” basing his judgment on the images of the Algonquin that accompany De Bry’s publication of Thomas Harriot’s account of Virginia, issued simultaneously in English, Latin, German, and French in 1590 and eventually renamed America I26. We are therefore dealing here with an extremely complex dynamic of circulation that invites us to consider how Theodor De Bry’s images might in fact have shaped Jean de Léry’s vision of Brazil.
In the wake of an initial twenty-plus-year delay in publishing his account after his return to France from Brazil, Léry rewrote and republished his Histoire with astonishing rapidity. His contemporaries were equally industrious in translating and adapting his account, as the De Bry volumes spectacularly show. This activity resulted in a continual reframing of the material, manifesting a fundamental discursive dynamism that resists easy synthesis. Léry’s account continually altered its inflections and, we might say, changed its tune as it was positioned and repositioned in the turbulent flux of discourses at the intersection of cultural encounter and religious conflict in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. As his late and perhaps somewhat surprising embrace of Hans Staden suggests, Léry was untroubled by certain associations from which many modern readers have sought to shield him. Rather than trying to discern a single voice behind the Histoire d’un voyage faict en terre du Brésil, then, let us take it as a signal example of a widespread early modern practice of writing, akin to what Michel de Montaigne called “l’art de conférer”. Et l’unisson est qualité du tout ennuyeuse en la conference27.