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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Critical and Biographical Introduction

By Richard Hakluyt (c. 1553–1616)

RICHARD HAKLUYT has himself told how, when he was one of Queen Elizabeth’s scholars at Westminster, he was inspired to the study of cosmography by a visit to the chamber of a kinsman, a gentleman of the Inner Temple in London. He saw there all manner of books on geography, and resolved thereupon to make their acquaintance. And while studying for holy orders at Oxford, and afterward in France, as chaplain to Sir Edward Stafford, both reading and observation gave him knowledge of English slothfulness in maritime discovery and enterprise.

Before Hakluyt was sent as ambassador’s chaplain to Paris, however, he had published his first work, ‘Divers Voyages touching the Discoverie of America, and the Islands adjacent unto the same, made first of all by our Englishmen, and afterwards by the Frenchmen and Britons: And certaine notes of advertisements for observations, necessarie for such as shall hereafter make the like attempt, With two mappes annexed hereunto, for the plainer understanding of the whole matter.—Imprinted at London for Thomas Woodcocke, dwelling in Paules Church-yard, at the Signe of the Blacke Beare,’ 1582. The book, which appeared when he was thirty, was dedicated “To the right worshipfull and most vertuous Gentleman, master Phillip Sidney Esquire”; and in the address to his patron, Hakluyt complains of England’s failure to possess herself of lands rightly hers.

This was to preface a plea for the establishment of a lectureship to advance the art of navigation;—“for which cause I have dealt with the right worshipfull Sir Frances Drake, that, seeing God hath blessed him so wonderfully, he would do this honour to himselfe and benefite to his countrey, to be at the coste to erecte such a lecture.” But his efforts proved futile.

The most memorable fruit of Hakluyt’s life in Paris was ‘A particuler discourse concerning the greate necessitie and manifolde commodyties that are like to growe to this Realme of Englande by the Westerne discoueries lately attempted, written in the yere 1584, by Richarde Hackluyt of Oxforde, at the requeste and direction of the righte wershipfull Mr. Walter Rayhly, nowe Knight, before the comynge home of his twoo barkes,’ a part of which notable paper is given at the end of this article. The energy, zeal, vigor, and conviction the piece displays bear out the claims of Robertson, who in his ‘History of America’ asserts that it is the Elizabethan preacher “to whom England is more indebted for its American possessions than to any man of that age.” Hakluyt’s faith and earnestness were so eager that he even had a thought of personal hazard, as a second letter to Walsingham bears evidence.

During a visit to England in 1584 he had presented his ‘Particuler discourse concerning Westerne discoueries,’ “along with one in Latin upon Aristotle’s ‘Politicks,’” to his royal mistress, who in recognition of his pains and loyalty had given him a prebend at Bristol. In May 1585 he brought in person, before the chapter of the cathedral at Bristol, the Queen’s order for the preferment. Upon this and like ecclesiastical stipends he lived and did his work,—“the most versed man in that skill” (cosmography), says Hacket, “that England bred.” While in Paris Hakluyt translated and published in 1587 Laudonnière’s ‘Histoire Notable de la Florida,’ under the title ‘A notable historie containing foure voyages made by certayne French Captaynes into Florida.’ At the same time and in the same year he was preparing and publishing ‘De Orbe Novo Petri Martyris Anglerii Decades octo illustratæ, labore et industria Richardi Hackluyti.’ In this work is the copper-plate map upon which the name of Virginia is for the first time set down. In 1588 Hakluyt returned to England, and in the following year published a solitary volume, the precursor of his magnum opus, ‘The Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques, and Discoveries of the English Nation,’ which appeared in London in three folio volumes between 1598 and 1600.

  • “In a word,” says Thomas Fuller in his ‘Worthies,’ “many of such useful tracts of sea adventure, which before were scattered as several ships, Mr. Hackluyt hath embodied into a fleet, divided into three squadrons, so many several volumes: a work of great honor to England; it being possible that many ports and islands in America which, being bare and barren, bear only a bare name for the present, may prove rich places for the future. And then these voyages will be produced and pleaded, as good evidence of their belonging to England, as first discovered and denominated by Englishmen.”
  • The work is invaluable: a storehouse of the facts of life, the habits of thinking and doing, of the discoveries abroad of the Englishmen of the high seas in Elizabeth’s day. The salt air of the northern seas blows over Hakluyt’s pages, as well as the hot simoom and baffling winds. We run aground with the castaways, adventure in bargaining with natives, and in company with the mariners lament the casting overboard, to save our good bark, of three tons of spice. The men of that day were seekers after a golden fleece, the Argonauts of the modern world, and their rough-hewn stories are untellable save in their hardy vernacular. Some of them were traders, with now and then the excitement of a skirmish or a freebooting expedition—a salt to harden the too tender flesh of easy commerce. All were self-gainers and all soldiers of fortune, and by the simplest facts the forerunners of the seventeenth-century buccaneers, and every sort of excess and turpitude that name connotes.

    After Hakluyt had completed his great work he edited a translation from the Portuguese, ‘The Discoveries of the World’ (1601), and in 1609 published his own translation of De Soto’s discoveries in Florida. In this work, called ‘Virginia Richly Valued,’ he endeavored to promote the interests of the infant settlement. Certain of his manuscripts fell after his death into the hands of Samuel Purchas, and were by him edited and included in his ‘Pilgrimes’ (1625–26).

    “He paid his last debt to nature,” says Antony à Wood, “23 Nov. in sixteen hundred and sixteen, and was buried in the abbey church of Westminster, dedicated to S. Peter, on the 26th of the same month.”

    The ‘Particuler Discourse’ was first printed from a contemporary manuscript by Dr. Woods of Bowdoin College and Mr. Charles Dean of Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1877. Dr. Woods had trace of the paper while searching in England for historical documents in behalf of the Historical Society of Maine. The copy from which he made his transcript was doubtless one of the four which Hakluyt prepared at the time he presented this ‘Discourse’ to Queen Elizabeth. Its object was evidently to gain Elizabeth’s support for Raleigh’s adventure, which he had undertaken under a patent granted him in March 1584. The MS. is most curious and valuable, and was exhibited in New York at the Hakluyt Tercentenary (1916). Besides proving that Hakluyt had sagacity, penetrative insight, and an imagination that could seize upon and construct in practical affairs, it is typical of the English attitude through all centuries.

    Hakluyt’s memory has been fittingly preserved in the admirable publications of the Hakluyt Society, which in the wide scope of its interest and the accuracy of its scholarship has nobly realized the vast designs of the great Englishman whose name it commemorates.

    Hakluyt’s ‘Principal Navigations and Voyages’ were republished in 1809–1812. ‘The Voyages of the English Nation to America’ were edited by Mr. Edmund Goldsmid in 1889. The ‘Particuler Discourse’ appears in these latter volumes as well as in the publications of the Maine Historical Society.

    An excellent reprint of Hakluyt’s ‘Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques, and Discoveries of the English Nation,’ with many maps, was issued by MacLehose of Glasgow in 1903–5.