Nonfiction > Henry Craik, ed. > English Prose > Vol. I. Fourteenth to Sixteenth Century
Henry Craik, ed.  English Prose.  1916.
Vol. I. Fourteenth to Sixteenth Century
Critical Introduction by W. P. Ker
Richard Hakluyt (c. 1553–1616)
[Richard Hakluyt (c. 1553–1616) was educated at Westminster as a Queen’s scholar; he was admitted a student of Christ Church in 1570. Before he had left school he was drawn to geography. He describes in one of his dedications the visit to his cousin in his chambers in the Temple, which gave him his first decided bent, and led to the resolve to “prosecute that knowledge and kind of literature.” His first publication was a collection of Divers voyages touching the discouerie of America and the Ilands adiacent vnto the same (1582), dedicated to “Master Philip Sydney, Esquire.” His Discourse concerning Westerne discoueries (1584) was left unprinted. In 1586 he edited Laudonnière’s voyages to Florida, and published in the following year his own translation of the same, dedicating both books to Sir Walter Raleigh. He also dedicated to Raleigh in 1587 his revised edition of the De Orbe Novo of Peter Martyr Anghiera. In 1589 he brought out in one volume the first edition of his great work, The principall navigations, voiages, and discoueries of the English nation, dedicated to Sir Francis Walsingham. The three volumes of the second and greatly enlarged edition were published in 1598, 1599, and 1600, and dedicated, the first to the Lord Admiral, the other two to Sir Robert Cecil. To the end of his life Hakluyt encouraged and aided the publication of travels. The manuscripts left by him were edited by Purchas in his Pilgrimes.]  1
LITERARY fame was the last in importance of Hakluyt’s motives. There is not very much in all his volumes of his own original writing. What he desired most was increase of knowledge, and of the dominion and wealth of England. The “special commodities” and “particular wants” of different countries formed part of the lesson in geography given by Mr. Richard Hakluyt of the Middle Temple to his young cousin and namesake, the Westminster scholar, who in all his later work among the papers of travellers kept in mind the practical and mercantile utility of the notes he collected. In the dedication of his second volume (1599) to Sir Robert Cecil he calls attention to new openings for trade in Eastern Asia, in “the manifold Islands of Japan, and the Northern parts of China”; “because our chief desire is to find out ample vent of our woollen cloth, the natural commodity of this our realm.” He is alert to pick up and make use of all the enemies’ documents; he calls attention particularly to a discourse “which was printed in Latin in Macao, a city of China, on China paper, in the year a thousand five hundred and ninety, and was intercepted in the great carack called Madre de Dios two years after, inclosed in a case of sweet cedar wood, and lapped up almost an hundred-fold in fine calicut-cloth, as though it had been some incomparable jewel.” He gathers from the enemies’ freights every possible hint that can be turned to profit by English merchants. About the development of trade he has wider views than are represented by his notes, still extant, of “commodities in good request.” He kept on urging with all his might the advantage of colonies in America. This is the first topic of his letter to Sidney, the dedication of his first book:—  2
  “I marvel not a little (right worshipful) that since the first discovery of America (which is now full fourscore and ten years) after so great conquests and plantings of the Spaniards and Portingals there, that we of England could never have the grace to set fast footing in such fertile and temperate places as are left as yet unpossessed of them. But again, when I consider that there is a time for all men, and see the Portingals’ time to be out of date, and that the nakedness of the Spaniards and their long hidden secrets are now at length espied whereby they went about to delude the world, I conceive great hope that the time approacheth and now is, that we of England may share and part stakes (if we will ourselves) both with the Spaniard and the Portingal, in part of America and other regions, as yet undiscovered. And surely if there were in us that desire to advance the honour of our country which ought to be in every good man, we could not all this while have forslown the possessing of these lands which of equity and right appertain unto us, as by the discourses that follow shall appear most plainly. Yea, if we would behold with the eye of pity how all our prisons are pestered and filled with able men to serve their country, which for small robberies are daily hanged up in great numbers, even twenty at a clap, out of one jail (as was seen at the last assizes at Rochester) we would hasten and further every man to his power the deducting of some colonies of our superfluous people into those temperate and fertile parts of America, which being within six weeks’ sailing of England, are yet unpossessed by any Christians, and seem to offer themselves unto us, stretching nearer unto her Majesty’s dominions than to any other part of Europe.”  3
  This was the argument, also in 1584, of his Particular discourse concerning Westerns discoueries, written “at the request and direction of the righte worshipfull Mr. Walter Raghly.”  4
  Hakluyt’s book has been called an epic; it is an epic of the artless kind, consisting of several independent adventures, of various authorship, strung together without any attempt at fusion. Hakluyt, except in his introductions, scarcely reveals himself at all. He collects narratives and illustrative documents; he arranges them according to time and place, and that is his work. He does not interrupt or interfere with his authors.  5
  It takes three or four ordinary pages merely to reproduce Hakluyt’s titles; to give any succinct account of his vast work is not easy. In three great divisions it contains the voyages towards the north and north-east, to the south and south-east parts of the world, and “to all parts of the Newfound world of America and the West Indies”; “my Western Atlantis,” he calls this third division of his book. It contains, besides much antiquarian matter, the record, generally ample and detailed, of all the great English voyages of Hakluyt’s own time and of the preceding generation. Hakluyt has brought together into one collection the voyages, to name no more than the most famous, of Sir Hugh Willoughby and Anthony Jenkinson, of Martin Frobisher and John Davys, of Gilbert, Hawkins, Drake, and Raleigh. There are some omissions; one of the most adventurous of all the Western expeditions is passed over with scant notice by Hakluyt; Drake’s voyage to Nombre de Dios in 1572 did not get its due from him. But not much is left out in comparison with the profusion of magnificent things here treasured up and saved from neglect.  6
  Hakluyt’s own writing is spirited and energetic; some of it is splendid, especially the summary of the English travels in the north-east and in the Arctic ocean, set off against the supposed more comfortable explorations of the Spaniards and Portuguese in the south. “But besides the foresaid uncertainty, into what dangers and difficulties they plunged themselves, animus meminisse horret, I tremble to recount. For first they were to expose themselves unto the rigour of the stern and uncouth northern seas, and to make trial of the swelling waves and boisterous winds which there commonly do surge and blow; then were they to sail by the ragged and perilous coast of Norway, to frequent the unhaunted shores of Finmark, to double the dreadful and misty North Cape, to bear with Willoughbie’s land, to run along within kenning of the countries of Lapland and Corelia, and as it were to open and unlock the sevenfold mouth of Duina.”  7
  The poets are indebted to the voyagers for sonorous names. The influence of names was strongly felt by Hakluyt; they set the rhythm of his periods, as they control his thoughts and imagination. Passages like this may serve to show, if that be necessary, how far removed the industry of Hakluyt was from the dull ways of “continual plodders.” He might easily have made a name for himself as a writer, as an essayist or commentator, if he had not sacrificed this prospect for the sake of his lifelong work of research.  8

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