Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 2014

Department 1



Working from Crèvecoeur’s two accounts of visits to the Niagara peninsula, together with the two maps accompanying those narratives, this essay argues that Crèvecoeur never visited the area during the years he claims, 1785 and 1789. Although the narratives thus reflect the centuries-old convention of the traveler/explorer as liar, more significantly they reveal Crèvecoeur’s substantial reworking of the received eighteenth-century response to the natural sublime. Both the 1785 Letter to his son and the longer retelling of his supposed 1789 visit in A Journey into Northern Pennsylvania and the State of New York predictably record an initial, expected reaction to the Falls as involving astonishment, horror, and fear of annihilation, but each subsequently carries the experiencing subject beyond this to a rather different conclusion. Anticipating the Romantic period’s transformation of the terrifying sublime into a transcendent experience of the beautiful, both the Letter and the Journey transport the subject to a higher state of perception wherein “our feelings are harmonized into placid contemplation.”

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