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

§ 4. Richard Eden

In the literature of English navigation and discovery, a notable place must be given to Richard Eden, not, indeed, as an original narrator, but as a diligent interpreter of the work of others. His object was to make known to his countrymen what the Portuguese and Spaniards had done, and with that object he translated and published in 1553, from the Latin of Sebastian Münster’s Universal Cosmography, A Treatyse of the newe India with other new founde landes and Islands, as well eastwarde as westwarde, as they are knowen and founde in these our dayes. He followed this, in 1555, with a translation from Peter Martyr: The Decades of the Newe Worlde or West India, conteyning the Navigations and Conquestes of the Spanyardes, with particular description of the most ryche and large Landes and Islandes lately found in the West Ocean. These Decades are narratives of the voyages of Columbus and his companions, of Pedro Affonso, of Vincenzo Pinzon and of Nicuesa and others, and Eden added translations from Oviedo and matter descriptive of some other Spanish explorations. His object was national and patriotic; and, in presenting to his countrymen some record of the achievements of Spanish navigators, he censures the timidity of his times, and makes an eloquent appeal to seamen and merchants to quit the well-worn tracks of trade and commerce and to adventure boldly to the coasts of Florida and Newfoundland. Eden was born about the year 1521, and was a student at Cambridge under Sir Thomas Smith. He was a good Latin and Italian scholar, and tells his readers that, in his youth, he had read “the poet Hesiodus.” He was minded to translate the whole of the Pyrotechnica of Vannuccio Biringaccio, but, having completed only a few chapters, he lent them to a friend to read, and they were lost. In the introduction to his translation of the Decades of Peter Martyr, he expresses contempt for the previous issue, entitled, Of the newe founde landes, as “a shiete of printed paper (more worthy so to be called than a boke).” He had witnessed the splendours of the marriage procession of Philip and Mary, and was moved by its “within significance” for the future of England. His rendering is simple, direct and forcible, and, in a poetical epilogue entitled “Thinterpretours excuse,” he says he has not been very curious to avoid “the scornes of Rhinoceros nose,” nor “the fyled judgment of severe Aristarchus.”

  • I am not eloquent I know it ryght well;
  • If I be not barbarous I desyre no more;
  • I have not for every woorde asked counsell
  • Of eloquent Eliot or Syr Thomas Moore.
  • Take it therefore as I have intended;
  • The faultes with favour may soon be amended.
  • Eden was not content to point out merely what foreigners had accomplished; he desired to show what were the fruits of their discoveries and to explain the secrets of land, sea and stars which must be known to those who would follow in their footsteps. Accordingly in 1561, at the expense of certain members of the Muscovy company, he published, under the title of The Arte of Navigation, a translation of Martin Cortes’s Breve compendio de la Sphera y de la arte de navigar, printed at Seville in 1556. He likewise busied himself with gathering together the records of the Muscovy voyages, which formed so valuable a part of the subsequent collection of Hakluyt.