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

§ 8. Australia and Madagascar

Much more might be written about the eastern navigations of the century; but perhaps enough has been said to enable the reader to understand what was the character of the literature of the sea so far as it dealt with exploration and discovery. Before leaving the subject, however, two other volumes may be referred to, which are concerned with the discovery of two great islands in the south and east—one of them a continent—namely, Australia and Madagascar. In the exploration of the eastern hemisphere, as of the western, much was brought to knowledge by the printing of translations or summaries of foreign books and letters. The collections of Peter Martyr, Oviedo and Ramusio had been a revelation to Englishmen of the great work done by foreign seamen, and Eden, Hakluyt and Purchas worked industriously in the field of their researches Others followed in their footsteps. Thus, a pamphlet printed in 1617 for John Hodgetts was a translation of a Spanish letter under the title Terra Australis incognita, or A new Southerne Discoverie, containing a fifth part of the World, lately found out by Ferdinand de Quir [Pedro Fernandez de Quiros] a Spanish captaine; never before published. It is in the form of a humble petition to the Spanish king not to neglect a golden opportunity, revealed by one who had devoted fourteen years to the discovery and had wasted fourteen months at the Spanish court in vain.

De Quiros says that this new discovery is of the fifth part of the terrestrial globe, and “in all probability is twice greater in Kingdoms and seignories than all that which at this day doth acknowledge subjection and obedience to your Majesty.” De Quiros denominated his land “Austrialia del Espiritu Santo,” but Wytfliet had indicated the continent as “Terra Australis” in 1598. The publication of de Quiros’s account in an English form caused some stir in this country; but the Dutch were before us in exploring the continent, and it was not until 1770 that an Englishman, the great circumnavigator captain Cook, examined the east coast.

The other volume referred to is that of a merchant who had been concerned in the East India trade, and had suffered much in his efforts to draw the attention of his countrymen to the resources of some countries little known to them. This merchant is Richard Boothby, whose Briefe Discovery or Description of the most famous Island of Madagascar or St. Laurence in Asia near unto East India was published in 1646, having been delayed two years by the hindrance of a “captious licenser,” who blamed the rudeness of the author’s style, and would place the island in Africa, whereas Boothby insisted that it belonged to Asia. The pamphlet is dedicated to the king, the author saying that his estate has been ruined through envy, malice and revenge in India, and oppressed by deep ingratitude, partiality and injustice at home, and imploring his majesty to support the plan of effecting an English plantation in Madagascar, for, “he that is Lord and King of Madagascar may easily in good time be Emperor of all India.” The richness of the island and its resources are extolled as of great promise to the mercantile community.

We now may turn to another important class of literature concerning the sea, namely that which tells how seamen regarded their own profession and its duties, and in which they gave the fruit of their professional knowledge and skill for the advantage of their comrades and those who were to come after them. The sea service was becoming more highly organised and more scientific, and the distinction between war and merchant vessels, which before had been scarcely noticeable, began to be more clearly marked. Serious writers, like Henry Maydman, Robert Crosfeild, captain St. Lo and William Hodges, towards the end of the seventeenth century, began to concern themselves with the provision of men for the fleet, and the health and treatment of the seamen were much discussed. The seaman himself appeared earlier in the Whimzies of Richard Brathwaite (1631) and in the Characters attributed to Sir Thomas Overbury. The rise of a school of professional seamen was a marked feature of the age. There was a long-standing difference between hard, practical seamen and gentlemen captains, and, as we shall presently see, a controversy arose between the former and men of more scientific training. Drake, certainly, had the root of the matter in him when he said, on that memorable occasion during his voyage of circumnavigation when he enforced the need of union in the fleet and of hard, honest work in the sea service:

  • Here is such controversy between the sailors and the gentlemen and such stomaching between the gentlemen and the sailors that it doth even make me mad to hear it. But, my masters, I must have it left. For I must have the gentleman to haul and draw with the mariner, and the mariner with the gentleman.