Adams, Percy G. Travelers and Travel Liars 1660-1800. New York: Dover, 1980. (Originally,

 

Adams, Percy G. Travelers and Travel Liars 1660-1800. New York: Dover, 1980. (Originally,
University of California Press, 1962)

This book is concerned with the ways travelers have used their tales to make money, or to
promote a point of view. It takes a broad view of travel liars (of the years in the title) and tries to
indicate what's been going on, what they have been doing, what they have been selling. Liars are
trying to sell and are audiences willing to buy. It is an interrelationship which doesn't exactly
require exhaustive analysis. Liars need believers for their tales and there have been believers
down through the years. But it is not enough to explain lying; one must understand the desire to
believe.

What is a liar? One who exaggerates? One who dramatizes? One who emphasizes? The straight
story can be dull but the writer who dramatizes may be accused of not "telling it like it is." That
is not what this author means: he is concerned with the knowing fabricator. The traveler-liar sells
something the audience wants to believe. Understanding the successful story-teller is important
in understanding the ideas of the hour. Not only did liars profit from the interest in traveling, they
told tales to scholars who wanted evidences for their pet theories. A traveler could always be
relied on to provide a story which could be used to criticize the European mode of existence. For
this telling of tall tales is an early form of comparative sociology, comparative psychology and
cultural anthropology. If one would understand these disciplines, look to the selected evidence
provided to them by travelers. The idea of the noble savage, for example, is detailed over and
over again in the travel literature because people were looking for civilization's sullying the
beauty of simple folk. "With so many false facts about natural history being brought back by
travelers, sedentary scientists could not help but err in making compilations or improvising
theories." (p. 234)

Time has not been kind to truth tellers. "One effect of travel deceptions on recent business can be
found in the sales catalogues of outstanding bookstores. In 1960 such a catalogue offered the
honest Captain Dixon's first edition, in two volumes, at 115 Pounds, while at the same time
asking over four times as much for the one volume first edition of his opponent, the lying
Captain Meares. The same catalogue wanted 130 pounds for Hennepin's pretended discovery of
the mouth of the Mississippi." (p. 232)