[The term noble savage (French, bon sauvage), expresses the concept an idealized indigene, outsider (or “other”), and refers to the literary stock characterof the same. In English the phrase first appeared in the 17th century in John Dryden’s heroic play, The Conquest of Granada (1672), where it was used by a Christian prince disguised as a Spanish Muslim to refer to himself, but it later became identified with the idealized picture of “nature’s gentleman”, which was an aspect of 18th-century sentimentalism. The noble savage achieved prominence as an oxymoronic rhetorical device after 1851, when used sarcastically as the title for satirical essay by English novelist Charles Dickens, who wished to disassociate himself from 18th and early 19th-century romantic primitivism.
The idea that in a state of nature humans are essentially good is often attributed to the Earl of Shaftesbury, a whig supporter of constitutional monarchy (such as England possessed after the Glorious Revolution of 1688). In his Inquiry Concerning Virtue (1699), Shaftesbury had postulated that the moral sense in humans is natural and innate and based on feelings rather than resulting from the indoctrination of a particular religion. Like many of his contemporaries, Shaftesbury was reacting to Hobbes’s justification of royal absolutism in his Leviathan, Chapter XIII, in which he famously holds that the state of nature is a “war of all against all” in which men’s lives are “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”. The notion of the state of nature itself derives from the republican writings of Cicero and of Lucretius, both of whom enjoyed great vogue in the 18th century, after having been revived amid the optimistic atmosphere ofRenaissance humanism.] [Read More]