Richard Hakluyt c. 1552–1616
English editor, geographer, and translator.
As a translator and editor, Hakluyt played an important role in the dissemination of navigational and topographical information which encouraged English explorers to set out on voyages of discovery and conquest during the sixteenth century. His Voyages (1598-1600) constitutes a unique record of European exploration that provides insight into Elizabethan thought preceding England's colonial expansion. A founding member of the Virginia Company, Hakluyt was also instrumental in the establishment of a permanent English colony in North America.
Hakluyt was born in London, the second of five children, to Margery and Richard Hakluyt of Hereford-shire. At the age of five, following the death of his father, Hakluyt was taken in by his cousin and guardian—also named Richard Hakluyt—then a student in the Middle Temple, and later a lawyer much involved in international exploration and mercantilism. The elder Hakluyt first sparked his younger cousin's interest in geography by showing him a map, then drawing the young scholar's attention to the 23rd and 24th verses of the 107th Psalm of the Bible, which states: "They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; these see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep" (King James translation). Subsequently, a dual interest in exploration and religion was to characterize Hakluyt's entire career as both geographer and cleric. Following his schooling at Westminster, Hakluyt was admitted to Christ Church College, Oxford University, where he was a contemporary of Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Philip Sidney. He received his B.A. 1574 and an M.A. in 1577; he was ordained in 1580, and in 1583 he was appointed chaplain to Sir Edward Stafford, the English ambassador to Paris. In Paris, Hakluyt became familiar with French, Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese narratives of exploration, and while translating the voyage narratives of Antonio Galvano and Ferdinando de Soto, he became determined to promote English exploratory seafaring. In 1582 he published his first collection of voyage narratives, Divers Voyages Touching the Discouerie of America (1582), and followed this with A Discourse on Western Planting (1584). Hakluyt's career as a cleric sustained his scholarship, and his literary endeavors brought royal preferment in the form of clerical appointments. Elizabeth's pleasure with Hakluyt's Discourse on Western Planting resulted in his appointment as a prebendary of Bristol, a major port city, in 1584. In 1590, following the publication of his most important work, The Principall Navigations, Voiages and Discoveries of the English Nation (1589), he was granted the rectory of Witheringsett-cum-Brockford, in Suffolk. Here he prepared a new enlarged edition of the Principall Navigations, and worked with Raleigh to publicize and encourage investment in the Virginia Company. In 1602 Hakluyt received a prebend at Westminster, and the following year he was appointed Archdeacon. During the last four years of his life, Hakluyt was rector of Gedney, Lincolnshire. He died on November 23, 1616.
Hakluyt's Divers Voyages Touching the Discouerie of America presented legal argument for England's claim on American land, accounts by Giovanni da Verrazano and Giovanni Battista Ramusio with maps by John Lok describing the east coast of North America, and practical advice for potential explorers. His next work, A Discourse on Western Planting (1584) gained the attention of Queen Elizabeth I. Designed to persuade the Queen to support American colonization, it was intended as a private court document with the title, "A Particular Discourse Concerning the Great Necessity and Manifold Commodities That Are Likely to Grow to This Realm of England by the Western Discoveries Lately Attempted." Finally published in 1877, it provides the most direct evidence of Hakluyt's own thoughts on the links between economics and geography, and the likely material benefits of English colonization of North America.
Hakluyt is best known as the editor of The Principall Navigations, Voiages and Discoveries of the English Nation (1589; enlarged edition, 1598-1600). The enlarged edition of this work, reprinted in 1908 as Hakluyt's Voyages, included such new exploration chronicles as the voyages of Sir John Hawkins, Sir Humphrey Gilbert, Martin Frobisher, and Sir Francis Drake. Blending the romance and wonder of travel with the sparse, restrained style of the sailor witness, Hakluyt's Voyages was Hakluyt's magnum opus, and remains his most celebrated work. Although Hakluyt's motives were strongly patriotic, he also acknowledged and translated many foreign narratives, including René de Laudonnière's A Notable Historie Containing Foure Voyages Made by Certayne French Captaynes unto Florida (1587), Antonio Galvano's The Discoverie of the World from Their First Originall unto the Yeere of Our Lord 1555 (1601), and Ferdinando de Soto's Virginia Richly Valued, by the Description of the Maine Land of Florida, her Next Neighbour (1609).
Hakluyt's industrious and painstaking scholarship brought him substantial royal favor, the friendship of Raleigh and Sidney, and the patronage of Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth I's secretary of state. While Hakluyt's Voyages was used as both a practical guide by explorers and as a spur to motivate the next generation of adventurers, Hakluyt also contributed a significant literary influence: Shakespeare's Othello, Twelfth Night, and The Tempest all make reference to Hakluyt's Voyages, as does Milton's Paradise Lost. Hakluyt's reputation as an editor grew markedly after his death, when readers were disappointed with the comparatively lackluster editing of his successor and literary executor Samuel Purchas. In the eighteenth century, the practical value of Hakluyt's Voyages diminished as English geographical knowledge became more refined, but the literary quality of his endeavors found new favor. His reputation received a considerable boost in 1846 with the founding of The Hakluyt Society, which has continued to publish accounts of exploratory travel. In the modern era, critics such as Clennell Wilkinson have found the appeal of Hakluyt's Voyages to lie in the documentary flavor of its "true stories." Virginia Woolf emphasized the influence of Hakluyt's editions on the English language, and detected in Hakluyt's Voyages a new, self-conscious literary mode. More recently, the descriptive language of Hakluyt's narratives has been analyzed from a postcolonial perspective, with critics such as Emily C. Bartels providing a re-assessment of the Elizabethan colonial mind.
Divers Voyages Touching the Discouerie of America, and the ilands adiacent vnto the same, made first of all by our Englishmen, and afterwards by the Frenchmen and Britons (travel essays) 1582
A Notable Historie Containing Foure Voyages Made by Certayne French Captaynes unto Florida [translator] (travel essay) 1587
De orbe novo Petri Martyris Anglerii Mediolanensis [editor] (travel essay) 1587
The Principall Navigations, Volages and Discoveries of the English Nation, Made by Sea or over-land, to the remote and farthest distant quarters of the Earth, at Any Time within the compasse of these 1500 yeeres (travel essays) 1589; revised and enlarged, 1598-1600; also published as Hakluyt's Voyages 1908
The Discoveries of the World from Their First Originall unto to Yeere of Our Lord 1555 [editor and translator] (travel essays) 1601
Virginia Richly Valued, by the Description of the Maine Land of Florida, Her Next Neighbour [translator] (travel essay)
A Discourse on Western Planting, Written in the Year 1584 (essay) 1877
(The entire section is 149 words.)
SOURCE: "The Elizabethan Lumber Room," in Collected Essays, Vol. I. Harourt, Brace & Company, 1966, pp. 46-53.
[Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) was an influential modern British novelist and essayist associated with the Bloomsbury Group. In the following review essay, originally published in The Common Reader (1925), Woolf detects Hakluyt's influence on the English language, arguing that the "extravagance" and "hyperbole" of Elizabethan literature stems from the Elizabethan passion for discovery that was promoted by Hakluyt's publications.]
These magnificent volumes [Hakluyt's Voyages] are not often, perhaps, read through. Part of their charm consists in the fact that Hakluyt is not so much a book as a great bundle of commodities loosely tied together, an emporium, a lumber room strewn with ancient sacks, obsolete nautical instruments, huge bales of wool, and little bags of rubies and emeralds. One is for ever untying this packet here, sampling that heap over there, wiping the dust off some vast map of the world, and sitting down in semi-darkness to snuff the strange smells of silks and leathers and ambergris, while outside tumble the huge waves of the uncharted Elizabethan sea.
For this jumble of seeds, silks, unicorns' horns, elephants' teeth, wool, common stones, turbans, and bars of gold, these odds and ends of priceless value and complete worthlessness, were the fruit...
(The entire section is 3146 words.)
SOURCE: "Hakluyt," in The London Mercury, Vol. XVII, No. 97, November, 1927, pp. 62-9.
[In the following laudatory essay, Wilkinson provides an overview of Hakluyt's life and work and considers his qualities as an editor. Wilkinson suggests that the strength of The Principal Voyages lies in Hakluyt's artless editing and his skill at finding the romance in true stories.]
I think it was Mr. Hilaire Belloc who once divided funny stories into two classes—those which are funny simply because they are funny, and those which are funny because they are true. He might have gone further and applied his theory to stories of all sorts. Even then he would not have reached the central fact, which is that true stories have a particular quality, a manner and charm of their own, which distinguishes them from all others. "Truth is stranger than fiction," we say; and certainly its strangeness, its delightful unexpectedness, is one of the characteristics that mark it off most decisively from the manufactured climaxes of a modern novel. But it would be better to say simply that truth is different from fiction—that it is not only stranger, but, in its own way, more beautiful, more moving, stronger, deeper, touching some chord in us that fiction can never reach. For we all can recognize a true story. We can recognize its style—what we call the "ring of truth." It is almost as though all true stories...
(The entire section is 4093 words.)
SOURCE: An introduction to Richard Hakluyt and the English Voyages, by George Bruner Parks, edited by James A. Williamson, American Geographical Society, 1928, pp. xi-xvii.
[In the following excerpt, Williamson places Hakluyt's English Voyages in a historical context. Williamson considers Hakluyt the major historian of Elizabethan colonial expansion, and finds in his work crucial evidence of the "ideas and outlook of the Elizabethans. "]
The Elizabethan age was not spacious, as we are sometimes told, but narrow and needy. It was a time of industrious study of man and nature as well as of books, and its adventures were undertaken not from swashbuckling zest but because good men found their country in a tight place and staked their lives and fortunes to redeem it. It was a time of more loss than profit, of more misery than glory. Drake's record has deceived many; he was an exception, not a type. He was supremely fortunate, but few of those who followed him came home rich; most of them left their bones in the tropics. Sir Humphrey Gilbert did hard and varied service and made nothing by it. Sir John Hawkins deserves to live less for his slaving than for his prosaic battle with corruption in the Navy Office. Sir Francis Walsingham, a chronic invalid, toiled for the state, lived frugally, and died in debt. And as a type of the merchant-patriot we may take old Michael Lok, who made a modest fortune in...
(The entire section is 2808 words.)
SOURCE: "Richard Hakluyt," in Richard Hakluyt & His Successors: A Volume Issued to Commemorate the Centenary of the Hakluyt Society, edited by Edward Lynam, The Hakluyt Society, 1946, pp. 9-46.
[In the following excerpt, Williamson describes the conditions that prompted English maritime expansion and considers Hakluyt's role as a publicist and "master mind" behind Elizabethan colonial enterprise.]
That Hakluyt was consciously a publicist and a historian as well as a geographer may be seen from his own words. In his dedication of a publication to Raleigh in 1587 he remarks that 'geography is the eye of history', in a context which leaves no doubt that history is the primary motive and geography the accessory. Eleven years later he repeats the idea in his preface to the first volume of the enlarged Principal Navigations. Having spoken of his labour to bring to light the ancient deeds and to preserve the recent exploits of the English nation 'for the honour and benefit of this commonwealth wherein I live and breathe', he says that he has used the aids of geography and chronology, 'the sun and the moon, the right eye and the left, of all history'. In the dedication of the same volume to Lord Howard of the Armada, he describes how, having 'waded on still farther and farther in the sweet study of the history of cosmography, I began at length to conceive that with diligent observation something might...
(The entire section is 3530 words.)
SOURCE: "Hakluyt's Voyages: An Epic of Discovery," in The William and Mary Quarterly, third series, Vol. XII, No. 3, July, 1955, pp. 447-55.
[In the following essay, Francis notes the commercial and patriotic origins of English seafaring in the late sixteenth century. Providing a brief sketch of a typical voyage from The Principal Voyages, Francis praises Hakluyt's restrained editorial style and his industrious scholarship.]
In an age when tales of strange voyages are reasserting their age-old fascination, when any strange craft from Heyerdahl's primitive balsa raft to Beebe's super-scientific bathysphere is almost sure to produce a best seller, an older classic of the literature of discovery deserves to be known. I call it an epic, though it was not primarily intended as a work of literature at all; most of its many authors were blunt men of action, to whom the pen was an unwieldy instrument at best. Yet in one sense my title is not a misnomer, since the book possesses to a high degree many of the qualities which distinguish the great epics—in its setting, which is the oceans of the world, from the arctic ice north of Russia to the islands of the South Seas; in its recurring tales of conflict between man and man and between man and the elemental forces of nature; and in its theme, the turning outward of England from insularity to empire, and the growing resolve of Englishmen to make up...
(The entire section is 3701 words.)
SOURCE: "Ralegh—Science, History, and Politics," in Intellectual Origins of the English Revolution, Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1965, pp. 154-62.
[Hill is an important Marxist historian whose work focuses on the English Civil War. In the following excerpt, Hill considers Hakluyt's work as publicist and foreign policy propagandist for Sir Walter Ralegh.]
Ralegh's foreign policy was not his private affair, but was the policy of a whole group, whose main publicists were the two Richard Hakluyts. Ralegh was intimately connected with them. The younger Hakluyt's Discourse of Western Planting was written in 1584 'at the request and direction of Ralegh', to whom most of Hakluyt's works were dedicated. The policy of the Hakluyts was at once patriotic and imperialist. England had got left behind in the grab for the New World by Spain and Portugal, whose empires were menacingly united in 1580. After a rapid expansion of English cloth exports in the first half of the sixteenth century, relative stagnation followed. Unemployment created social, political, and national dangers, as Ralegh and many other observers noted. But the younger Hakluyt was shrewd enough to realize that England's overpopulation was only relative. The colonization of North America would not only get rid of England's immediate surplus population: it would also provide raw materials for home industries, and so prepare for a long-term...
(The entire section is 2290 words.)
SOURCE: An introduction to Virginia Voyages from Hakluyt, edited by David B. Quinn and Alison M. Quinn, Oxford University Press, London, 1973, pp. vii-xvii.
[In the following essay, the critics provide an overview of Hakluyt's career and chronicle his involvement, along with that of Grenvilie and Ralegh, in the discovery and settlement of North America.]
(The entire section is 4782 words.)
SOURCE: "Hakluyt's Emporium," in The Times Educational Supplement, No. 3404, September 25, 1981, p. 25.
[In the following review essay, Vansittart provides a vivid sampling of Hakluyt's narratives of discovery, and considers their place in the English literary tradition.]
Geographer, linguist, historian, Richard Hakluyt was also Archdeacon of Westminster, diplomat, and busy advocate of Elizabethan sea-power, overseas trade, colonial enterprise. Often considered chiefly as a maritime narrative … [Hakluyt's Voyages] is an anthology of both land and sea travels, from eye-witnesses of most varied classes, ranks, occupations, involving Raleigh (as author), Humphrey Gilbert, Hawkins, Frobisher, Drake, and other names lesser but scarcely ignoble. Heroes, rakes, profiteers, zealots, desperadoes, all were space-invaders and, encountering so many strange peoples in different cultural stratas, they were also time-travellers. Their assignments ring like antique gongs: Muscovy, Cathay, Bohara, Ormuz, Kazan, Astrakhan, Alexandria. They describe Persia, Goa, Venice, Jerusalem, India, penetrate Newfoundland, venture the Straits of Magellan and dare the Horn. Gilbert, significantly, spent two years preparing an expedition to find the North West Passage, yet failed, fatally.
The missives are primarily business reports involving the prospects of exchanging cloth, ornaments, general goods, for...
(The entire section is 986 words.)
SOURCE: "Imperialist Beginnings: Richard Hakluyt and the Construction of Africa," in Criticism, Vol. XXXIV, No. 4, Fall, 1992, pp. 517-38.
[In the following essay, Bartels provides a close textual analysis of the accounts of voyages to Africa in The Principal Navigations. With particular reference to descriptions of Moors and Negroes, Bartels detects and discusses an implicit "strategy of representation" in the narratives and in Hakluyt's editorial policy.]
In 1589, when Richard Hakluyt produced his first edition of the Principal Navigations, England was a long way from securing an empire or articulating an imperialist policy. Despite some forty years of cross-cultural exploration and trade, its efforts paled in comparison to those particularly of the Spanish, French, and Portuguese, who dominated the trade in Asia, Africa, and the Americas. While the state patented such companies as the Muscovy (1552) and Levant (1581), which staked claims to trading rights in specific regions and along certain routes, these enterprises and other, colonialist projects such as Ralegh's Virginia settlement were financed primarily by enterprising merchants and entrepreneurial nobles. Only in Ireland, whose "restless population" was pressing all too closely upon the borders, did Elizabeth support settlement, and then only to a limited degree.
As Kenneth Andrews has argued, [in Trade,...
(The entire section is 7503 words.)
Review of The Principal Navigations, by Richard Hakluyt. The Athenaeum, No. 3979 (30 January 1904): 137-8.
Review of two volumes of The Principal Navigations which finds in Hakluyt's literary style an echo of Robert Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy.
Jones, John Winter. Introduction to Divers Voyages Touching the Discovery of America and the Islands Adjacent. London: The Hakluyt Society, MDCCCL, 171 p.
A wide-ranging introduction to Hakluyt's first major work. Addresses the French exploration of Florida, includes Hakluyt letters, dedicatory epistles, and the latin text of Royal patents for discovery.
Froude, James Anthony. "England's Forgotten Worthies." In Short Studies on Great Subjects, pp. 32-77. London: Dent, 1964.
Generally unfavorable review of The Hakluyt Society's edition of Hakluyt's Voyages. Froude nonetheless praises the English voyagers whose narratives constitute "the Prose Epic of the modern English nation."
Cawley, Robert Ralston. "Warner and the Voyagers." Modern Philology XX, No. 2 (November 1922): 113-47.
A close textual study which traces the influence of Hakluyt's The Principal...
(The entire section is 423 words.)