|Cover image © Penguin.|
To celebrate the 80th Anniversary of Penguin books, the publisher has released a selection of 80 ‘Little Black Classics’ for a tiny 80p each. After being greeted by a wall of them in the Islington Green branch of Waterstones, I was sold on the concept and bought a load.
The first book to catch my attention was The Voyage of Sir Francis Drake Around the Whole Globe by Richard Hakluyt. The book contains two narratives of maritime journeys.
The eponymous account tells the story of Sir Francis Drake’s circumnavigation of the world between 1577 and 1580. The story that is told, in many respects, is void of any great detail, but it is apparent that what you’re in fact reading is a form of propaganda extolling the virtues of English maritime exploration and belittling the Spanish at every opportunity.
Ultimately, the whole circumnavigation of the globe takes meagre twenty or so pages, and, other than providing a few interesting details about coconuts and the colonisation of Nova Albion (a settlement in modern-day California), it is over too soon.
Perhaps more interesting, mainly for the extra detail it affords the modern reader, is the snappily titled Prosperous voyage of the worshipful Thomas Candish of Trimley in the County of Suffolk Esquire, into the South Sea, and thence round about the circumference of the whole earth, begun in the year of our Lord 1586, and finished 1588.
Thomas Cavendish was a privateer, a sort of state-approved pirate, who was granted permission by the Crown to attack enemy ships and colonies. His voyage was the first to purposefully try and follow the earlier journey of Drake.
Hakluyt’s accounts of his captain's interactions with various indigenous peoples in South America, skirmishes with Spanish colonists and then trading during a stay in Java are perhaps the most engaging moments in what is another whirlwind story of round the world travel.
The detailed moments of description do evoke a sense of excitement for the maritime and global discovery of the past; descriptions such as:
“There are also in this garden fig-trees which bear continually, also pompions, melons, cucumbers, radishes, rosemary, and thyme, with many other herbs and fruits. At the other end of the house there is also another orchard, where grow oranges sweet and sour, lemons, pomegranates, and limes, with divers other fruits.”
It is hard to imagine a time where there were genuinely parts of the earth that were only partially discovered and barely understood, and what Hakluyt does, albeit with great brevity, is bring that moment to life.
For more information about Richard Hakluyt visit: http://www.hakluyt.com/