A Discourse of Western Planting, by Richard Hakluyt

Introductory Note.

The following Discourse, one of the most curious and valuable contributions to the History of early discovery in the New World, has remained practically unknown from the date of its composition to the present time. Written, as appears from the title page, of which I give a copy on page 173, by Hakluyt at the request of Mr. Walter Raleigh,1 it must, according to the same authority, have been composed between the 17th of April and the middle of September 1584, the former being the date of sailing of Raleigh’s two ships there mentioned and the latter the date of their return. The title-page itself must have been added afterwards, as it speaks of “Mr. Walter Raghly, nowe knight,” and the 21st chapter of the Discourse seemes to have been added at the same time. Its object was evidently to urge Elizabeth to support Raleigh’s adventure, in which he was then embarked under a patent granted him on 25th March 1584. It is not, therefore, surprising to find from a letter written by Hakluyt to Sir Francis Walsingham on the 7th April 1585,2 and from another paper in the Rolls Office, indicated in Mr. Lemon’s Calendar of State Papers of the reign of Elizabeth, 1581–90, Vol. cxcv., art. 127, that this Discourse was presented to the Queen by Hakluyt in the early autumn of 1584.3 Four copies were certainly made of this Discourse — the original, which Hakluyt would probably keep; one for the Queen; one for Walsingham (as appears from the paper in the Record Office mentioned above); and the copy from which the present text is taken, and which alone seems to have contained the 21st Chapter. Perhaps this last copy was made for the Earl of Leicester, as the paper above alluded to states that the Earl “hath very earnestly often times writ for it.” However this may be, no copy of the Discourse was known to exist till the sale of Lord Valentia’s collection, when Mr. Henry Stevens bought the manuscript here published. Its value seems to have been properly appreciated by him, owing perhaps to the following memoranda written in pencil on the second blank leaf, in the handwriting, it is believed, of Lord Valentia:—

“This unpublished manuscript of Hakluyt’s is extremely curious.

“I procured it from the family of Sir Peter Thomson.4

“The editors of the last edition would have given any money for it, had it been known to have existed.”5

After fruitless endeavours “to find for it a resting place in some public or private library in America, and subsequently in the British Museum,”6 Mr. Stevens sent it to Puttick & Simpson’s Auction Rooms, where it was knocked down to Sir Henry Phillipps for £44. (May, 1854.)

In the library, then, of Thirlestane House, Cheltenham, did our manuscript lie till 1867, when Dr. Leonard Woods, late President of Bowdoin College, was commissioned by the Governor of Maine, in pursuance of the Resolves of the Legislature in aid of the Maine Historical Society, to procure, during his travels in England, materials for the early History of the State. An application made by Dr. Woods to Sir Thomas Phillipps revealed the existence of Hakluyt’s Discourse. Dr. Woods set to work to edit this valuable document, but a fire destroyed most of his materials, and was followed by physical infirmity which forbade literary labour. Dr. Charles Deane’s familiarity with the topics suggested by the matter in hand, and his position as a “Collaborateur” of Dr. Woods for some months, at once pointed him out as the right man to do the work to the Standing Committee of the Maine Historical Society. Dr. Deane undertook the task, and an excellent octavo edition of Hakluyt’s Discourse appeared in due course, entitled:—

“Documentary History of the State of Maine. Vol II., containing A Discourse on Western Planting, written in the year 1584, by Richard Hakluyt. Published by the Maine Historical Society, aided by appropriation from the State. Cambridge (Mass.): Press of John Wilson and Son. 1877.”

The text of the MS. has been preserved in every essential particular, but, following Dr. Deane’s example, some capital letters have had liberties taken with them, and some few abbreviated words have been printed in full. A few corrections have also been made in the quotations from English and foreign writers, where a comparison with the originals has shown such corrections to be necessary. Dr. Deane’s notes have been necessarily much shortened, and are distinguished from my own by the initials C.D.

This “extremely curious” manuscript, which by some extraordinary oversight was not included in Hakluyt’s Collection of Voyages of 1598–1600, so appropriately called by Froude “the great prose Epic of the modern English nation,” and which Evans would, according to Lord Valentia, “have given any money for,” for his edition of 1809–12, is now at length inserted in its proper position. This I owe to the courtesy of Dr. Deane to whom I was a perfect stranger, save perhaps in my character of corresponding member of the Nova Scotia Historical Society and of the Oneida Historical Society. To Dr. Deane, therefore, I venture to tender my warmest thanks. — E.G.

1 He was only knighted some time between December 1584 and February 1585.

2 Public Record Office. Dom. Eliz. Addenda, Vol. xxix., No. 9. This letter was printed in full in the Maine Historical Society’s Documentary History of the State of Maine, Vol. ii.

3 See the Introduction by Leonard Woods to the Reprint of Hakluyt’s Discourse for the Maine Historical Society.

4 A great collector of Rare Books, who died in 1770, and whose library was sold in 1815.

5 This “last edition” is evidently the limited one of Hakluyt’s Collection of Voyages of 1809–12, 5 vols. 4to, edited by R. H. Evans and printed by Woodfall.

6 Stevens’s Historical and Geographical Notes, p. 20.


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