Voyages and Discoveries (English Library) Reissue Edition, Kindle Edition
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It's the quintessential English "sea-dog" book, mostly composed by said sea-dogs themselves and has always served as a companion piece to the national anthem, with its chorus about Britannia ruling the waves and what not. These excerpts - ending slightly after the defeat of the Spanish Armada - cover, however, tales that took place BEFORE England ruled the waves. Spain is the pre-eminent sea power through almost all of the book, and Spain and RCs get rather a bad rap herein. All for the better, I say. The book was written by men who had been imprisoned by the Spanish, tortured by the Spanish and who had fought to the death with the Spanish. Should we gloss their feelings to create a book more suited to modern global sensibilities? Heaven forefend!
If you like books about the perils and glories of the sea, you'll love these abridged narratives. If not, not. I couldn't help, whilst poring over these tales, of which my favourite is of the - no doubt mad - Lord Grenville, a sort of apologia written by Raleigh for his seemingly unaccountable derring-do, recall Johnson's remark to Boswell about ships and sailors:
"No man will be a sailor who has contrivance enough to get himself into jail; for being in a ship is being in a jail, with the chance of being drowned."
And one can't help agreeing with the lexicographic curmudgeon on this one. As Hakluyt puts it regarding the relatively "prosperous" voyage of James Lancaster:
"By this may be seen that there is no sure safety of things in this world."
To be sure, but it's quite an innocuous thrill to read about such bracing tales of dangerous feats upon the main - whilst tilling the ships from the safety of one's armchair.
The first half of the book is practically all dedicated to trading trips to Russia and Persia via the White Sea, the river Dvina, the river Volga and the Caspian Sea.
The second half is devoted to seafaring tales, including pirating, which is always fun. The descriptions of attempts to find a North West or North East passage to China were tedious to me since they're all doomed to tragic failure.
The description of the famous battle with the Spanish Armada is kind of irritating, it's been repeated to me since I was a little shaver. It was interesting to learn that one reason the Armada ships were so big was that they were troop carriers hoping to land an invasion force. It was also interesting to learn that a second fleet of smaller ships lead by the Duke of Parma was planned to rendezvous with the Armada: maybe if that had happened I'd be typing this in Spanish right now. It would be interesting to read an impartial military analysis of this famous battle, as it stands it leaves the impression that the Spanish had way more money than brains. The Spanish are portrayed in a very bad light throughout this book, which I'm sure is pretty accurate.
The 16th century style of speech made this a little difficult but by reading it aloud I was able to comprehend and appreciate it.
The main text is 411 pages. After the main text there are: 1) a few pages of end notes, 2) a few pages of short bios of some of the principal actors in these expeditions, 3) a glossary of some of the archaic terms, and 4) an index.
Other voyages depicted here are those made by Sir Francis Drake and Thomas Cavendish. I have already read a biography of Drake, which I recommend it for sure, but this was the only source I was able to find for the voyages of Cavendish, so that is another reason for my interest in this book. "Slain" is one of the words that is most frequently used in these accounts, showing that the people involve in those voyages suffered a great deal -- and I have only admiration for them.