Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation, by Richard Hakluyt

A letter of Gerardus Mercator, written to M. Richard Hakluyt of Oxford, touching the intended discouery of the Northeast passage, An. 1580.

Literæ tuæ (vir humanissime) 19. Iunij demùm mihi redditæ fuerunt: vehementer dolui visis illis tantam, non modo temporis, sed multò magis tempestiuæ instructionis iacturam factam esse. Optassem Arthurum Pet de quibusdam non leuibus ante suum discessum præmonitum fuisse. Expeditissima sanè per Orientem in Cathaium est nauigatio: et sæpè miratus sum, eam foeliciter inchoatam, desertam fuisse, velis in occidentem translatis, postquam plus quàm dimidium itineris vestri iam notum haberent. Ingens sinus post Insulam Vaigats et Nouam Zemblam. Nam post Insulam Vaigats et Noua Zembla continuò ingens sequitur Sinus, quem ab ortu Tabin immane promontorium complectitur. In hunc medium maxima illabuntur flumina, quæ vniuersam Regionem Sericam perluentia vtque existimo in intima continentis vsque magnis nauigijs peruia, facillimam rationem exhibent quaslibet merces ex Cataio, Mangi, Mien, cæteríseque circumfusis regnis contrahendi, atque in Angliam deportandi. Cæterùm cùm non temerè cam nauigationem intermissam crederem, opinabar ab Imperatore Russorum et Moscouiæ obstaculum aliquod interiectum fuisse. Quod si verò cum illius gratia vlterior illac nauigatio detur, suaderem profecto non primùm Tabin promontorium quærere, atque explorare, sed Sinum hunc atque flumina, in ijsque portum aliquem commodissimum, stationémque Anglicis Mercatoribus deligere, ex quo deinceps maiore opportunitate, minoribúsque periculis Tabin promontorium, et totius Cathai circumnauigatio indagari posset. Tabin promontorium ingens. Esse autem ingens in Septentrionem excurrens promontorium Tabin, non ex Plinio tantùm, verùm et alijs scriptoribus, et tabulis aliquot (licèt rudius depictis) certum habeo. Polum etiam Magnetis haud longè vltra Tabin situm esse, certis Magnetis obseruationibus didici: circa quem et Tabin plurimos esse scopulos, difficilémque et periculosam nauigationibus existimo: difficiliorem tamen ad Cathaium accessum fore opinor, ea pua nunc vía in Occidentem tentatur. Propinquior enim fiet hæc nauigatio polo Magnetis quàm altera, ad quem propiùs accedere non puto tutum esse. Quo propius ad polum acceditur, eò directorium Nauiticum magis a Septentrione deuiat. Quia verò Magnes alium quam Mundi polum habet, quo ex omni parte, respicit: quo propiùs ad eum acceditur, eò directorium illud Nauticum magnetis virtute imbutum, magis à Septentrione deuiat, nunc in Occidentem, nunc in Orientem, prout quis vel orientalior, vel occidentalior est illo Meridiano qui per vtrumque polum Magnetis, et Mundi ducitur, Mirabilis est hæc varietas, et quæ nauigantem plurimùm fallere potest, nisi hanc Magnetis inconstantiam nòrit, et ad poli, eleuationem per instrumenta subinde respiciat. In hac re si non sit instructus D. Arthurus, aut ea sit dexteritate, vt deprehenso errore eum inuenire et castigare possit timeo ne deuias faciat ambages, tempus ilium fallat, et semiperacto negotio, à gelu præoccupetur: Aiunt enim Sinum illum fortiùs quotannis congelari. Quod si contingat: hoc quod consultius mihi visum fuit, proximum illi erit refugium, vt in eo sinu, ijsque fluminibus quæ dixi, portum quærat et per Legatum aliquem, cum magno Cham nomine Serenissimæ Reginæ, notitiam, amicitiámque contrahat: quam opinor Maximo orbis Imperatori gratam, imo gratissimam fore propter remotissima commercia. Bautisus et Oechardus maxima flumina in hunc Sinum illabuntur. Opinor ab ostijs Bautisi et Oechardi fluminum maximorum, vsque ad Cambalu Regiam summam Chami, non vltra 300. milliaria Germanica esse, et iter sumendum per Ezinam vrbem regni Tangut, quæ 100. tantùm milliarijs Germanicis ab ostijs distare videtur, et paret Magno Cham.

Postulata Mercatoris de quibus certior fieri cupit. Valde optarem cognoscere, quàm altè communiter exurgat æstus maris in eo Moscouiæ portu quem vestri pro statione habent, et in alijs versùs orientem locis vsque ad Tabin. Item, an mare in hoc districtu semper in vnam partem, videlicet Orientem, aut Occidentem fluat, an verò pro ratione æstuum fluat et refluat, in medio inquam canali, hoc est, an ibi, sex horis in occasum, et iterum sex in ortum fluat, an verò semper hi eandem partem: aliæ enim speculationes non parum vtiles hinc dependent. Idem optarem à D. Frobiscero in occidentem obseruari. Quod ad sinum Merosro, et Canadam, ac Nouam Franciam attinet, ea in meis tabulis desumpta sum ex quadam Tabula marina, quæ à quodam sacerdote ex earum ditionum Naucleri peritissimi Galli descriptione excerpta fuit, et illustrissimo Principi Georgio ab Austria episcopo Leodiensi oblata. Non dubito, quin quantum ad littorum situm attinet et poli eleuationem, ad veritatem ea quàm proximè accedant. Habebat enim ea tabula præter scalam graduum latitudinis per medium sui extensam, aliam præterea praticularem Nouæ Franciæ littoribus adiunctam, qua deprauatæ latitudines, occasione, erroris Magnetis ibi commissæ, castigarentur. Iacobi Cnoyen Buscoducensis itinerarium per omnem Asiam, Affricam, et Septentrionem, olim mihi Amicus Antuerpiæ ab alio mutuò acceptum communicauit, eo vsus sum, et reddidi: post multos annos eundem ab amico repetij et reminisci ille non potuit à quo accepisset. Gulielmi Tripolitani et Ioannis de plano Carpini scripta non vidi, tantùm excerpta ex illis quædam in alijs scriptis libris inueni. Abilfadæ Epitome gaudeo verti, vtinam citò habeamus.

Hæc (mi Domine) tuis repondenda putaui: si quid est aliud quod à me desideres, libentissimè tibi communicabo: hoc vicissim amanter à tua humanitate petens, vt quæ ex vtriusque nauigationis cursu obseruata nancisci poteris, mihi communices, penes me pro tuo arbitrio manebunt omnia, et quæcunque inde collegero, fideliter ad te perscribam, si forte ad pulcherrimum, vtilissimúmque orbi Christiano hoc nauigationis institutum aliquid opis et consilij adferre possint. Bene vale, vir doctissime. Duisburgi in Cliuia. 28. Iulij 1580.

Dulce mare inter Nouam Zemblam et Tabin suspicatur. Redeunte Arthuro, quæso discas ab illo quæ optaui, et num aticubi in suo itinere, dulce mare, aut parum salsum inuenerit: suspicor enim mare inter Noua Zembla, et Tabin dulce esse.

T.H. paratissimus quantus quantus sum,

Gerardus Mercator.

The same in English.

Sir I receiued your letters the 19. of Iune: it grieued me much that vpon the sight of them the time being spent, I could not giue any conuenient instructions: I wish Arthur Pet had bene informed before his departure of some special points. The voyage to Cathaio by the East, is doutlesse very easie and short, and I haue oftentimes marueiled, that being so happily begun, it hath bene left of, and the course changed into the West, after that more then halfe of your voiage was discouered. For beyond the Island of Vaigats and Noua Zeembla, there foloweth presently a great Baie, which on the left side is inclosed with the mightie promontorie Tabin. A great gulfe is beyond Vaigats, whereinto mighty riuers descend. Into the mids hereof there fall great riuers, which passing through the whole countrey of Serica, and being as I thinke nauigable with great vessels into the heart of the continent, may be an easie means whereby to traffique for all maner of merchandize, and transport them out of Cathaio, Mangi, Mien, and other kingdoms thereabouts into England. But considering with my selfe that that nauigation was not intermitted, but vpon great occasion, I thought that the Emperor of Russia and Moscouie had hindered the proceeding thereof. The best course to be taken in discoueries. If so be that with his grace and fauour a furthur nauigation may be made, I would counsell them certainly not first to seeke out the promontorie Tabin, but to search this baie and riuers aforesayd, and in them to picke and chuse out some conuenient port and harborough for the English merchants, from whence afterward with more opportunitie and lesse perill, the promontorie Tabin and all the coast of Cathaio may bee discouered. And that there is such a huge promontorie called Tabin, I am certainly perswaded not onely out of Plinie, but also other writers, and some Maps (though somewhat rudely drawen:) and that the Pole of the Loadstone is not farre beyond Tabin, I haue learned by the certaine obseruations of the Loadstone: about which pole and Tabin I thinke there are very many rockes, and very hard and dangerous sailing: and yet a more hard and difficile passage I think it to bee this way which is now attempted by the West, for it is neerer to the pole of the Loadstone, to the which I thinke it not safe to approach. And because the Loadstone hath another pole then that of the world, to the which from all parts it hath a respect, the neerer you come vnto it, the more the needle of the Compasse doeth varie from the North, sometimes to the West, and sometimes to the East, according as a man is to the Eastward or to the Westward of that Meridian, that passeth by both the poles of the Magnes and the World.

This is a strange alteration and very apt to deceiue the Sailer, vnlesse hee know the vnconstancie and variation of the Compasse, and take the eleuation of the pole sometimes with his instruments. If master Arthur be not well prouided in this behalfe, or of such dexteritie, that perceiuing the errour he be not able to correct the same, I feare lest in wandering vp and downe he lose his time, and be ouertaken with the ice in the midst of the enterprise. For that gulfe, as they say, is frozen euery yere very hard. Which if it be so, the best counsel I could giue for their best safetie, were to seeke some harborough in that baie, and those riuers whereof I haue spoken, and by some Ambassador to make friendship and acquaintance with the great Can, in name of the Queenes maiestie, which I beleeue will be gratefull to the mightiest Emperour in the world, yea most excellent for the length of the traffique, and great distance of the places. The mouthes of Bautisus and Oechardus 300. leagues from Cambalu. I thinke from the mouthes of the mighty riuers Bautisus and Oechardus to Cambalu the chiefest seat of the prince the Can, there are not past 300. Germaine miles, and to passe by Ezina a citie of the kingdom of Tangut, which seemeth to be but 100. Germaine miles from the mouthes of the sayd riuers, and is subiect to the great Can.

I would gladly know how high the sea doeth flowe commonly in the port of Moscouia where your men do harborow, and in other Easterly places vnto Tabin. Vpon the obseruations of the tides depend great speculations. And also whether the sea in this streight do flow alwaies one way to the East or to the West, or whether it do ebbe and flow according to the matter of the tides in the middle of the chanel, that is to say, whether it flow there sixe houres into the West, and as many backe againe to the East, for hereupon depend other speculations of importance. I would wish M. Frobisher to obserue the same Westwards. Concerning the gulfe of Merosro and Canada, and new France which are in my mappes, they were taken out of a certaine sea card drawn by a certaine priest out of the description of a Frenchman, a Pilot very skilfull in those partes, and presented to the worthy Prince George of Austria, bishop of Liege: for the trending of the coast, and the eleuation of the pole, I doubt not but they are very neere the trueth: For the Charte had beside a scale of degrees of latitude passing through the middest of it, another particularly annexed to the coast of New France, wherewith the errour of the latitudes committed by reason of the variation of the compasse might be corrected. The historie of the voyage of Iacobus Cnoyen Buschoducensis throughout al Asia, Affrica, and the North, was lent me in time past by a friend of mine at Antwerpe. After I had vsed it, I restored it againe: after many yeeres I required it againe of my friend, but hee had forgotten of whom hee had borrowed it. The writings of Gulielmus Tripolitanus, and Ioannes de Plano Carpini I neuer saw: onely I found certaine pieces of them in other written hand bookes. I am glad the Epitomie of Abilfada is translated, I would we might haue it shortly.

Thus much Sir I thought good to answere your letters: if there bee anything els that you would require of me, I will most willingly communicate it with you, crauing this likewise of your curtesie, that whatsoeuer obseruations of both these voyages shall come to your hands, you would impart them to me, they shall all remaine with mee according to your discretion and pleasure, and whatsoeuer I gather of them, I will faithfully signifie vnto you by letter if happily they may yeeld any helpe or light vnto this most excellent enterprise of nauigation, and most profitable to our Christian common wealth. Fare, you well most learned friend. At Duisburg in Cliueland, 28. of Iulie, the yeere, 1580.

At Arthur his returne I pray you learne of him the things I haue requested, and whether any where in his voiage, he found the sea fresh, or not very salt: for I suppose the Sea betweene Noua Zembla and Tabin to be fresh.

Yours wholly to my power to be commanded.

Gerardus Mercator.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/h/hakluyt/voyages/v04/chapter31.html

Last updated Monday, March 24, 2014 at 19:54