Sir Walter Ralegh – “The Discovery of Guiana

Sir Walter Ralegh, after his imprisonment for seducing and marrying the queen’s lady-in-waiting, decided to get back in Elizabeth’s good graces by discovering a colony rich in gold, similar to the ones Spanish had. So in 1595 he sailed off to South America, from this comes this report (the original title is much too long to put it in the headline). His “Guiana” is not the present-day state of Guyana but the Venezulean region on the river Oronoco. I don’t know much about Venezuela, but I can tell Ralegh grossly exaggerates, for instance when he writes that every stone his soldiers picked up promised to be a piece of golden or silver ore. Well, maybe he does not exaggerate – it may have promised that, but I doubt it turned out to be really such on closer inspection. The same goes for all other Ralegh’s claims – Guiana is the most beautiful, healthiest, the easiest to conquer and the easiest to defend region in the world. As you can see, sometimes his claims are mutually exclusive, for instance when he writes about Guiana being the healthiest place in the world because none of his one hundred soldiers ever got ill, despite of the alternating periods of melting heat and sudden showers of rain. Doesn’t sound like the best climate in the world, does it? And it may have been lost in the editing of the excerpt, but I doubt Ralegh pays much attention to the actual human inhabitants of the place, although he writes much about beautiful birds.

One fascinating tidbit – Ralegh mentions something I didn’t know before, that is that Bartolomeo Columbus petitioned king Henry VII on behalf of his brother Christopher for the support of his expedition to what they believed would be India. Henry VII, being notoriously tight-fisted, refused and as we all know, Christopher found support elsewhere, while Henry VII must have been kicking himself at least until the end of 1493. Ralegh elegantly rephrases it: instead of writing “your grandfather was a fool” he writes “of course he was right not to trust a foreigner, but I’m your most loyal subject, and could I ever repay you for all the favours I’ve received from Your Majesty with lies? Could I? Could I?”

At this point, as I mentioned in my earlier post, the narrative is interrupted by a printing error. So that’s that.


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