The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IV. Prose and Poetry: Sir Thomas North to Michael Drayton.

IV. The Literature of the Sea

§ 10. John Davys

Thus did the spirit of discovery make its influence felt in literature. What had been achieved was being recorded or made known by rumour and report, and the bold work of navigators made a profound impression upon thinking men at home, who, by speech and pen, impelled them to new conquests in the unknown. In the record of these achievements, no name stands higher than that of John Davys, the famous voyager, beloved by his comrades, who made three Arctic voyages and gave his name to Davis strait. All these expeditions of Davys are related in the pages of Hakluyt’s Principall Navigations. The narratives of the first and third voyages were written by John James, and of the second by Davys himself, the detached voyage of the “Sunshine” being narrated by Henry Morgan, the purser. Davys had, of course, kept logs during all these voyages, but the log of his third voyage is the only one that has been preserved. Davys was also the author of The Seaman’s Secrets, published in 1594, and several times reprinted. It is a valuable treatise on navigation, devoted to “the three kinds of sayling, horizontall, paradoxall, and sayling upon a great circle,” and including a tide table and a “regiment” for finding the declinations of the sun. Davys’s Arctic voyages were all made with the object of discovering the north-west passage, in the navigability of which he was a firm believer, and his name, with those of Gilbert and Frobisher, will ever be associated with the early efforts to penetrate the icy barrier and discover a direct route to Cathay and the Spice islands. His arguments in favour of it will be found in his volume, The Worlde’s Hydrographical Description, a black letter treatise, published in London in 1595, wherein he sought to show that the earth was habitable in all its zones, and navigable in all its seas. In his fervid imagination, difficulties disappeared, and he draws a glowing picture of the advantages which would accrue to England from the discovery of a passage by the north-west. He sets forth the arguments against the passage, and then, with cumulative force, endeavours to prove them untenable, and he quotes Isaiah from memory (lxv, I, “They seeke me that hitherto have not asked for me; they find me that hitherto have not sought me”).