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"Feci intender questo mio pensiero alla Maestà del Re il qual fu molto contento et mi armò due caravelle di tutto ciò che era dibisogno et fu del 1496 nel principio della state.”
It will not be understood, that we consider Cabot to have named the year 1496; but it is only important here to negative an expression which seems to argue such a looseness of feeling as to this memorable incident.
It may not be without interest to shew the source of Hakluyt's
The first English writer on this subject, is RICHARD Eden, who published, in 1555, a black-letter volume, of which a good deal will be said hereafter, entitled, “Decades of the New World, &c.” It consists of a translation of the three first Books of Peter Martyr d’Angleria, to which he has subjoined extracts from various other works of an early date on kindred subjects; and amongst the rest, this passage of Ramusio is given, (fol. 251) as found in “The Italian Hystories of Navigations.” as appears from his book, a personal friend of Cabot ; and when he came to the round assertion as to the date, 1496, which he knew to be incorrect, he qualified it by introducing (fol. 255) the words in question.
It is the less excusable for Hakluyt and the rest, to have blindly adopted such an interpolation, as there were other translations within reach in which, a correct and elegant version is given of the
passage. The.“ Biographie Universelle” considers Hakluyt as first bringing it forward, but the whole is found in the celebrated Collection of De Bry, published ten years before. At the end of the second part of the Grand Voyages, is a cento of authorities on the subject of the discovery of America, in which the passage from Ramusio is correctly given. It is needless to say, that the “as farre as I remember" finds no place ; "anno igitur 1496, in principio veris ex Anglia solvi.” Bare justice to Ramusio demands a reference to another
passage in which the English translators have made him utter
The reader must have been struck with the absurd
commencement of the passage in Hakluyt-"Do you not understand how to pass to India towards the North-West, as did, of late, a citizen of Venice, &c.;" after which, we are informed that this citizen of Venice abandoned the effort at 56° “ despairing to find the passage
!” Ramusio must not be charged with this blunder, for the original is, “ Et fatto alquanti di pauso voltatosi verso di noi disse, Non sapete à questo proposito d'andare a trovar l' Indie per il vento di maestro quel che fece già un vostro cittadino,” (“and making somewhat of a pause, he turned to us and said—Do you not know, on this project of going to India by the N. W., what did formerly your fellow-citizen, &c.") not at all asserting the success of the enterprise, but only that it was suggested by the subject of the previous conversation. A correct translation is found in De Bry :-“An ignoratis inquit (erat autem sermo institutus de investiganda orientali India quâ Thracias ventus flat) quid egerit civis quidam vester, &c.”
A more material error remains to be pointed out. The speaker in Ramusio says, that finding himself some years ago in the City of Seville, and desiring, &c. (“che ritrovandosi gia alcuni anni nella Citta di Siviglia, et desirando, &c."); but on the page of Hakluyt this becomes, “ being certain years in the City of Seville, and desiring, &c.” The Latin version in De Bry is correct, “ Quem ante aliquot annos invisi cum essem Hispali.” The importance of the error is apparent. As truly translated the words confess the great lapse of time since the conversation, and of course the liability to error, while the erroneous version conveys only the idea of multiplied opportunities of communication, and a consequent assurance of accuracy. The same form of expression occurs in another part of the paragraph, and the meaning is so obvious, that it has not been possible to misunderstand it. When the Legate represents Cabot as stating that his father left Venice many years before the conversation, and went to settle in London to carry on the business of merchandise, the original runs thus, “ partito suo padre da Venetia gia molti anno et andato à stare in Inghiltera à far mercantie.” Again, in that passage, in the
third volume, which is properly translated," as many years past it was written unto me by Sebastian Cabot,” the original is, come mi fu scritto gia molti anno sono.”
Having thus ascertained what is, in reality, the statement of Ramusio, we proceed to consider the circumstances under which the conversation took place. It occurs, as has been seen, in the course of a Treatise on the trade in Spices. After expatiating on the history of that trade, and the revolution caused by the discovery of the passage round the Cape of Good Hope, Ramusio says, (Edit. of 1554, tom. iii. fol. 413 A.), that he cannot forbear to add a report of a conversation which he had heard at the house of his excellent friend Hieronimus Fracastor. He then proceeds to give the discourse, which is a very long one, on the subject of Cosmography, the conjectures of the ancients as to a Western World, and the discoveries which had taken place in the speaker's own time. It is only incidentally that Cabot's name is introduced, and with regard to the whole, Ramusio makes this candid prefatory remark, " Which conversation I do not pretend to be able to relate circumstantially as I heard it, for that would require a talent, and a memory beyond mine; nevertheless, I will strive briefly, and as it were by heads, to give what I am able to recollect—" Il qual ragionamento non mi basta l'animo di poter scriver cosi particolarmente com’ie le udì, perche visaria dibisogno altro ingegno et altra memoria che non è la mia; pur mi sforzerò sommariamente et come per Capi di recitar quel che io me potrò ricordare.”)
Now what is there to oppose to a report coming to us by a route so circuitous, and expressed at last in a manner thus hesitating? The positive and explicit information conveyed in Cabot's own letter. Nor does Ramusio confine himself to the statement contained in the Preface to his third volume, for in the same volume, (fol. 417,) is a discourse on the Northern Regions of the New World ; in which, speaking of the Baccalaos, he says, that this region was intimately known to Sebastian Cabot, “Ilquale a spese del Re Henrico VII., d'Inghiltera, scorse tutta la detta costa fino a gradi 67° (“ Who at the cost of Henry VII., king of England, proceeded along the whole of the said coast, as far as 670.") It is plain, therefore, that the communication from Cabot had completely satisfied the mind of Ramusio, when we find him in this separate treatise assuming the fact asserted in the letter as conclusively settled.
This last consideration is strengthened by another circumstance. The passage in the third volume which refers to Cabot's letter, and which Hakluyt quotes as from the “Preface,” is, in fact, part of a Discourse addressed to Hieronimus Fracastor, the very personage at whose house the conversation had taken place. Ramusio, in conveying the deliberate statement of Cabot, whose correspondent he had intermediately become, and whom he designates as “huomo di grande esperienza et raro nell'arte del navigare et nella scienza di cosmografia," does not think it necessary, even to advert to his own former representation. He is not found balancing, for a moment, between this written and direct information, and what he had before stated from a casual conversation with a third person, which had rested, for some time, insecurely, in his own confessedly bad memory, aside from the peril to which it had been subjected, before reaching him, of misconception on the part of Butrigarius, or of his forgetfulness during the years which elapsed between the interview with Cabot and the incidental allusion to what had passed on that occasion.
A comparison of the two passages shews further that no great importance was attached to the latitude reached; for in the latter, Ramusio is found to drop the half degree. It furnishes, too, án additional item of evidence, as to the scrupulous accuracy with which the language of the Letter is reported. In giving us that, he is exact even to the minutes; but when his eye is taken from the letter, and he is disengaged from the responsibility of a direct quotation, he slides into round numbers.
When we add, that in every fact capable of being brought to the test, the statement of the conversation is erroneous, and that the limited latitude is inconsistent with the continued day-lighta circumstance more likely to be remembered than a matter of figures——what can be more absurd, than, at the present day, to dwell on that which Ramusio himself, two hundred and seventyfive years ago, is plainly seen to abandon? Yet such has been the course pursued by every writer on the subject, and the only difference discoverable is in the shades of perversion.
To the account of the voyage to Hudson's Bay by the Dobbs and California, drawn up by Henry Ellis, Esq., is prefixed a sketch of the previous attempts in pursuit of a North-West passage. After Ramusio's statement that Cabot reached the latitude of 67o and-a-half the writer complacently adds, (p. 6)
“ There is an error in the latitude of ten degrees; but, however, it is plain from this account that the voyage was made for the discovery of a North-west passage, which was the reason I produced it. But in a letter written by Sebastian Cabot himself to the Pope's Legate in Spain (!) he gives a still clearer account of this matter, for therein he says, that it was from the consideration of the structure of the globe, the design was formed of sailing to the Indies by a North-west coursé. He observes further, that falling in with land unexpectedly (for he thought to have met with none till he had reached the coasts of Tartary,) he sailed along the coast to the height of 560, and finding the land there run eastward, he quitted the attempt, and sailed southward.”
Forster remarks, (Northern Voyages, p. 267,)“ some say, he went to 67° 30' N. lat.; others reckon his most southerly track to have been to 58° N. lat. He himself informs us, that he reached only to 56° N. lat.”
Mr. Barrow (Chronological History of Voyages, &c. p. 33) says, “If there be any truth in the report made to the pope's legate in Spain, and printed in the collection of Ramusio” “ It would appear by this document,” &c. He then gives the conversation, not as “ printed in the collection of Ramusio,” for Mr. Barrow could not have looked into that- but with all the absurd perversions of Hakluyt-and then, in official language, confers the title of “a Report,” “a Document,” on an unguarded error into which Ramusio had been betrayed, and which that honest personage hastened to correct !