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

V. Seafaring and Travel

§ 4. Captain John Smith

The name of captain John Smith will ever be associated with the foundation of Virginia. Purchas has preserved some extracts from descriptions of his enterprises, but Smith’s own account is contained in his book, The General History of Virginia, New England, and the Summer Isles, with the names of the Adventurers, Planters, and Governors from their first beginning in Anno 1584 to this present 1624. Of this famous book, there were other editions in 1626, 1627 and 1632. Smith’s whole being had been mastered by the enthusiasm for planting new states in America, and, in the early days of Virginia, that colony depended for its life and preservation on his firmness and courage. The History is a freely written and very remarkable, but apparently straightforward, direct and forcible, narrative and record, and its author deserves a place in the literature of the sea above most men. Not only was he, in his own person, an adventurer, explorer and settler, as well as a writer and recorder, but he had an intense belief in the necessity to this country of possessing a powerful navy. He quotes with approval what Master Dee had said in his British Monarchy, concerning the creation of a fleet of sixty sail—a “little Navy Royall”—in queen Elizabeth’s reign:

  • To get money to build this navy, he saith, who would not spare the one hundredth penny of his rents, and the five hundredth penny of his goods; each servant that taketh forty shillings wages, four pence; and every foreigner of seven years of age, four pence, for seven years; not any of these but they will spend three times so much in pride, wantonness or some superfluities.
  • This, he would have them do by way of benevolence, and he proceeds to say how vast would be the advantage in spreading terror among pirates and amazement among enemies, while giving assistance to friends, security to merchants, and a great increase to navigation. Smith has also a title to our admiration as the author of a Sea Grammar for young seamen, of which some account will be given later.

    In the history of the several plantations and settlements in the new world, Virginia, the New England colonies and Pennsylvania have literatures of their own. The prosperity of Virginia was retarded by many untoward circumstances, and, in a pamphlet issued in 1649, entitled Virginia Impartially examined, and left to publick view, to be considered by all judicious and honest men, William Bullock endeavours to discover the reason of this slow progress. He had known the pioneers and captains in the trade, his father had lived in the colony twelve years and he himself had had extensive commerce with it. Accordingly, he offers his little book as

  • no other than the adventurer’s and planter’s faithful steward, disposing the adventure for the best advantage, advising people of all degrees, from the highest master to the meanest servant, how suddenly to raise their fortunes.
  • There is a study of the food and sport of the country, its economic necessities, how it might be recovered, how money might be disposed to advantage there, and how the plantation might be reached, with advice to the adventurer, to the planter and to servants. Edward Williams’s Virgo Triumphans; or Virginia Really and truly valued (1650), was written with the same purpose.