Samuel Purchas c. 1577-1626
English editor, travel writer, and essayist.
Purchas was the compiler and editor of travel narratives and the author of prose works derived from his reading of travel writings. His Purchas his pilgrimage (1613) profoundly influenced generations of readers, from James I to Samuel Taylor Coleridge. King James is said to have read it seven times, and the work's description of Xanadu inspired Coleridge's Kubla Khan. Purchas is, however, better remembered today for Hakluytus posthumus, or Purchas his pilgrimes (1625), his four-volume collection based on the writings of Richard Hakluyt, the most prominent travel writer of his time. A clergyman, Purchas saw his publications not merely as historical and geographical studies but as works of moral and religious instruction. The titles of three of his major works contain references to the concept of pilgrimage, and, as James P. Helfers has observed, in these volumes of travel literature, “Purchas takes upon himself the task of spiritual interpreter for the history of English travel and exploration,” a project in which pilgrimage becomes “less a concrete journey than a metaphor for spiritual growth.”
Purchas was born in Thaxted, Essex. The date of his birth is uncertain, but various records and references in his works suggest a date of around 1577. He obtained his master's degree from St. John's College, Cambridge, in 1600 and married the following year. From 1604 to 1613 he served as vicar of Eastwood in Essex, not far from the port of Leigh, where he likely came into contact with seamen and other travelers. In 1613 he published his first work, Purchas his pilgrimage, a survey of the world's religions. It was a great success, and in 1614 he was named the personal chaplain to the Archbishop of Canterbury, George Abbot, who had written a geographical work himself. Further appointments and honors followed. The publication of Purchas his pilgrimage also marked the beginning of Purchas's relationship with Richard Hakluyt. The first edition of Purchas's work acknowledged a debt to Hakluyt's chronicle of his travels in the Americas, Principall Navigations, and Hakluyt provided manuscripts that Purchas used in the 1614, expanded, edition of Purchas his pilgrimage. A third, enlarged, edition appeared in 1617. After several deaths in his family, Purchas entered a meditative period during which he produced Purchas his pilgrim. Microcosmus, or, The Historie of Man (1619). By 1621 Purchas was at work on his presentation of Hakluyt's travel writings, Hakluytus posthumus which was pulished in 1625; he died just one year after that work was released, and only months after the fourth edition of Purchas his pilgrimage was issued.
In Purchas his pilgrimage Purchas provides a survey of world religions that is geographical as well as historical. In the preface he describes his intention and method: “I here bring Religion from Paradise to the Ark, and thence follow her round about the World, and (for her sake) observe the World itself, with the several Countries and Peoples therein.” To produce Purchas his pilgrimage Purchas drew upon the works of seven hundred authors—a number that would grow in the course of the subsequent editions to thirteen hundred. Purchas his pilgrim. Microcosmus, or, The Historie of Man similarly reviews world cultures, religions, and geography, but in the form of an eight-hundred-page meditation on the origins, degeneration, and potential salvation of humanity. While the voluminous Hakluytus posthumus is founded on Hakluyt's writings, Purchas supplemented those narratives with material from other travelers; George Parks has estimated that only forty percent of the work is derived from Hakluyt. In Hakluytus posthumus Purchas struck a distinctly nationalistic tone, glorifying England and advocating overseas commerce and colonization.
Purchas's works were extremely popular with his contemporaries, as evidenced by the successive editions of Purchas his pilgrimage, the several appointments he received after its initial publication, and the favorable comments of both King James and King Charles, to each of whom Purchas presented a copy of his first work. Over the centuries Purchas's editorial methods have occasionally been censured, as some critics have judged Purchas undiscriminating in his selection of materials, while others have lamented the loss of sections he excised from his sources. Some scholars have detected contradictions between accounts of the same incidents in different works by Purchas. E. G. R. Taylor and others, however, have defended Purchas's methods, arguing that while it may be true Purchas “mutilated” some of the manuscripts he worked with, he should be judged by the standards of his time rather than modern ones. Colin Steele, in his detailed evaluation of the works of Hakluyt and Purchas, has declared that the efforts of these two “set a standard of achievement and enterprise which was not to be realised again in the seventeenth century. They ensured that travel literature became established in the public interest, free from the myths of the past and the simplicity of the [earlier] compendiums. Not least also was the fact that they, more than any others, made the New World and its narratives known to the Old.”
Purchas his pilgrimage. Or, Relations of the world and religions observed in all ages and places discouered, from the creation unto this present (prose) 1613
Purchas his pilgrim. Microcosmus, or, The Historie of Man. Relating the Wonders of his Generation, Vanities in his Degeneration, Necessity of his Regeneration, Meditated on the words of David. Psalm 39.5. (prose) 1619
The king's towre and triumphant arch of London. A sermon (prose) 1623
Hakluytus posthumus, or Purchas his pilgrimes, contaying a history of the world in sea voyages and lande travells, by Englishmen and others. 4 vols. (prose) 1625
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SOURCE: Parks, George B. “The Hakluyt Legacy.” In Richard Hakluyt and the English Voyages, edited by James A. Williamson, pp. 223-29. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1928.
[In the following excerpt, Parks discusses Purchas's handling and publishing of Hakluyt's materials regarding his travels.]
Of Hakluyt's collections during these final years before his death in 1616 it is at length time to speak. By an arrangement which has not been fully recorded they passed to another clergyman of somewhat similar interests and were by him, though with what completeness we cannot say, included in the fourth great collection of the records of travel, Purchas His Pilgrims. … This book is Hakluyt's literary legacy. Published in 1625, it continued Hakluyt's career in the catch title of Hakluytus Posthumus.1
One's first impression of the Reverend Samuel Purchas, chaplain to the Archbishop of Canterbury, is that he distinctly lacked dignity. The tone of his prefaces is a mixture of naïve parade with fawning humility. The style is a vapid and tasteless euphuism of a sophomoric sort. By contrast Hakluyt immediately increases in moral stature; his lapses, as they seem now, from self-respect become insignificant, his manner of address to men of rank a model of dignity. To dwell on the contrast is to discover a growing dislike to Purchas, whose features gradually and...
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SOURCE: Wright, Louis B. “Samuel Purchas and the Heathen.” In Religion and Empire: The Alliance between Piety and Commerce in English Expansion 1558-1625, pp. 115-33. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1943.
[In the following essay, Wright examines the most famous works of Purchas, how and why he came to write them, and the enormous impact they had on his audience.]
On a summer's day in 1797, the Reverend Samuel Taylor Coleridge sought relief from the toothache by taking a dose of opium and reading the works of his brother cleric, the Reverend Samuel Purchas. From the modern point of view, one could hardly find a book better calculated to put one to sleep than Purchas his Pilgrimage (1613), the volume which Coleridge selected. But, before the poet fell asleep, he discovered in his reading enough wonders to inspire a poetical vision which took the form of a marvelous piece of imagery known to us as “Kubla Khan.” Long before Coleridge's time, Purchas' work had stirred the imaginations of Englishmen and kindled in them an interest in the expanding world and the customs and beliefs of heathen peoples in lands till then unknown. King James I made the book “Ordinarie of his Bed chamber,” the author boasted, and read it through seven times1—no mean task, even for the English Solomon, because the first edition ran to 752 folio pages. Subsequent editions were...
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SOURCE: Taylor, E. G. R. “Samuel Purchas: 1612-26.” In Late Tudor and Early Stuart Geography, 1583-1650: A Sequel to Tudor Geography, 1485-1583, pp. 53-66. New York: Octagon Books, Inc., 1968.
[In the following essay, Taylor analyzes the works of Purchas and finds them to be as invaluable to readers of modern times as they were to readers of the past. In addition, he defends Purchas against his detractors.]
Among the readers of Drayton's Polyolbion was a man who had pored also over the pages of Hakluyt and Ramusio, who had delighted in the Collections of De Bry and in the Virginian pictures of de Morgues. This man was Samuel Purchas, who, born in 1577, in Thaxted in Essex, and destined never to leave his native land, never even to travel so far as two hundred miles from his birthplace, made up his mind, while still at St. John's College, Cambridge, to win fame through the medium of voyages and travels. He had the advantage that he was a parson, and his preferment to the cure of the South Essex village of Eastwood, near the little port of Leigh, brought him into contact with seafaring men, both active and retired. These found in him an absorbed listener to their narratives of adventure, and one who took genuine pleasure in examining the curios that they had brought home. His remark regarding a certain manuscript, that he had it of Master Borough, Controller of Her Majesty's Navy, opens...
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SOURCE: Steele, Colin. “1603-1626: Richard Hakluyt and Samuel Purchas.” In English Interpreters of the Iberian New World from Purchas to Stevens: A Bibliographical Study, 1603-1726, pp. 15-51. Oxford: The Dolphin Book Co. Ltd., 1975.
[In the following essay, Steele examines the skill with which Purchas and Hakluyt put together travel narratives by which “they, more than any others, made the New World and its narratives known to the Old.”]
The translations which appeared between 1603 and 1626 were largely the result of the activity of two men, Richard Hakluyt and Samuel Purchas. Hakluyt continued the work he began in the Elizabethan era, albeit with slightly less intensity, and after his death in 1616 the tradition was maintained by his self-appointed successor, Samuel Purchas. Purchas's Pilgrimage was published in 1613, 1614, 1617 and 1626, whilst his four volumes Pilgrimes was published in 1625. Hakluyt and Purchas had few rivals as translators for no men emerged from the merchant background, as Frampton and Nicholas had done in the earlier period. The changed political situation was one reason for this. A new ruler, James I, had brought a new policy towards Spain. Peace was officially sealed between Spain and England by the Treaty of London, the terms of which were ratified in 1605. James pursued a generally pro-Spanish policy throughout his reign and involved first Prince Henry...
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SOURCE: Helfers, James P. “The Explorer or the Pilgrim? Modern critical opinion and the editorial methods of Richard Hakluyt and Samuel Purchas.” Studies in Philology 94, No. 2 (Spring 1997): 160-86.
[In the following essay, Helfers compares Hakluyt and Purchas, their methods, goals, and critics. Helfers concludes that the harshness of modern critical opinion of Purchas is unwarranted.]
Victorian critic J. A. Froude calls Richard Hakluyt's Principal Navigations1 “the prose epic of the English Nation.”2 On the other hand, G. B. Parks characterizes Samuel Purchas, editor of Hakluytus Posthumus, or Purchas his Pilgrimes, as a “mere worker in archives” who “arranged a museum,” in contrast with Hakluyt, who “gathered the materials of a history and dealt so cunningly with them that they became a history while retaining the guise of raw materials.”3
These two critical opinions rehearse the relative importance given by modern scholars to the two greatest English Renaissance collections of travel and exploration narratives. Such estimates of relative importance have changed over the years, however. The critics of the eighteenth century thought more of Purchas's collection than they did Hakluyt's.4 These changes in critical appraisal have come about in part because of changing attitudes toward the use and purpose of travel...
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Foster, William. “Samuel Purchas.” In Richard Hakluyt & His Successors, edited by Edward Lynam, pp. 49-61. London: The Hakluyt Society, 1946.
Surveys the life and career of Purchas.
Echeruo, Michael J. C. “Robinson Crusoe, Purchas His Pilgrimes and the ‘Novel’.” English Studies in Africa 10, No. 2 (September 1967): 167-77.
Considers similarities between Defoe's and Purchas's writings and discusses the influence the works of Purchas had on Defoe, especially on the writing of Robinson Crusoe.
Jennings, Francis. “Savage Form for Peasant Function.” In Invasion of America: Indians, Colonialism and the Cant of Conquest, pp. 59-84. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1975.
Discusses Purchas's rationalization of colonization by conquest in his writings.
Rogers, Ben J. “Melville, Purchas, and some names for Whale in Moby Dick.” American Speech 72, No. 3 (Fall 1997): 332-36.
Examines the possible impact Purchas and his works may have had on Herman Melville and his writings, including his most famous work.
Additional coverage of Purchas's life and career is contained in the following source published by the Gale Group: Dictionary of Literary...
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