Dear readers:
For our sixth anniversary in May 2010, The Caribbean Review of Books has launched a new website at www.caribbeanreviewofbooks.com. Antilles has now moved to www.caribbeanreviewofbooks.com/antilles — please update your bookmarks and RSS feed. If you link to Antilles from your own blog or website, please update that too!

Friday, 4 May 2007

"Every subsequent writer on Guiana has stolen more or less of the subject matter"

Since 1846, the Hakluyt Society, based in London, has undertaken the publication of "scholarly editions of primary sources on the 'Voyages and Travels' undertaken by individuals from many parts of the globe. These include early accounts dealing with the geography, ethnology and natural history of the regions visited." (Read more about the history of the Society here.) These editions are celebrated for their scrupulous research and attention to detail, and they range from accounts of famous (or infamous) explorers like Columbus, Drake, Hudson, and Ibn Battuta, to relatively obscure texts like The Arctic Whaling Journals of William Scoresby the Younger.

Their three most recent volumes, as it happens, will be of immediate interest to some Caribbean readers. Volume 15 of the Hakluyt Society's Third Series is a new edition of Walter Ralegh's Discoverie of Guiana, edited by Joyce Lorimer (an earlier edition of the Discoverie was one of the first volumes to be published by the Society in the nineteenth century). And volumes 16 and 17, edited by Peter Riviere, contain The Guiana Travels of Robert Schomburgk, 1835-1844, a series of texts, long out of print, which are among the most important primary documents of Guyana's early history.

By coincidence, the current issue of the Guyana Review reprints some material from Travels in British Guiana, 1840-44 (1847) by Richard Schomburgk (Robert's brother, who accompanied him on his later expeditions): the original author's preface, as well as an introduction by Walter Roth, who made the first translation of the book in 1920. An excerpt from Roth's introduction:

Some thirty years ago, when strolling along the ponds in the Queensland Botanic Gardens, Brisbane, I gazed in wonder and awe at the lovely Victoria Regia lilies which just happened to be in bloom: I never dreamed in those days that I should live to visit their native home in the reaches of the upper Rupununi River. It was the first occasion that gave me the name of Schomburgk, their discoverer, which thus fixed itself upon my memory for all time.

Twenty years later, whilst annotating the literature bearing on Guianese Ethnography, I had the pleasure of perusing in the original, Richard Schomburgk's Travels, and was at a loss to understand how much a monumental, so interesting, and valuable a work, had become forgotten as it were, and had never been "done into English", since it deserves to rank with the highest works on South America travel and adventure.

On the other hand I regret to admit that almost every subsequent writer on Guiana has stolen more or less of the subject matter without acknowledgement....


Anonymous said...

I'm sorry that you thought that my Hakluyt volume on Scoresby is obscure. I did try to make my Introduction as clear as possible, and Scoresby's own text is easy to follow, at least with help of the glossary I provided.

I hope you didn't mean that the topic is obscure. As Gordon Jackson (no relation) wrote: 'It is doubtful if any trade, save that in human beings, has attracted so much attention as whaling.'

However, you may be glad to know that the 3rd and final volume of the Journals, now nearing completion, contains some exciting accounts of piracy in the Caribbean.

Ian Jackson

Nicholas Laughlin said...

Dear Ian,

Thanks very much for your comment. In referring to your edition of Scoresby as "obscure", I meant that Scoresby himself is relatively unknown, certainly by comparison with writers like Ralegh. It was not a criticism--some of my favourite books are obscure, in the sense of little-known, and I'm full of admiration for the Hakluyt Society's efforts to present the journals of Scoresby and so many others in definitive form. I am indeed glad to hear that the final volume is almost ready. Congratulations--and thanks.

Nicholas Laughlin