Every time I open this book, I get another and new appreciation for the Seventeenth century, even by 1708 I think people thought it was amazing. This volume of MISCELLANEA CURIOSA is ‘ a collection of Voyages” but it is so much more, it expresses the exuberance of discovery and the burning desire to know the world. This is the sort of book, which makes it clear why we Need to keep reading and appreciating early books!!
MISCELLANEA CURIOSA Containing a Collection of Curious Travels, Voyages, and Natural Histories of Countries, As they have been Delivered in to the Royal Society VOL. III
London: for R. Smith, at the Bible under the Piazza of the Royal Exchange in Cornhill 1708. $2,500
Octavo, . First edition 430 (2) pp., 6 pl. Seven Plates five folding .
This copy is unfortunately bound in full library buckram.
Miscellanea Curiosa was published in 1708 as a “collection of curious travels, voyages, and natural histories of countries” that were submitted to the Royal Society. The travels encompass the years 1668 to about 1688. Included in this compilation are some letters by John Clayton, Rector of Crofton at Wakefield in Yorkshire, relating his visit to Virginia in the late seventeenth century. Here are some excerpts from Clayton’s letter:
“Having oftentimes been urged to give an Account of Virginia, by several of the Worthy Members of the Royal Society, I cannot but, as far forth as I am able, obey Commands whereby I’m so much honour’d, and shew my Respect by my ready Compliance; tho’ I am so sensible of my own Weakness and Incapacity to answer your Expectations, that before-hand I must Apologize for my self. And indeed by Sea I lost all my Books, Chymical Instruments, Glasses and Microscopes, which rendred me uncapable of making those Remarks and Observations I had designed, they were all cast away in Captain Win’s Ship, as they were to follow me; and Virginia being a Country where one cannot furnish ones self again with such things, I was discourag’d from making so diligent a Scrutiny as otherwise I might have done, so that I took very few Minutes down in Writing; and therefore, since I have only my Memory to rely on, which too has the Disadvantage of it’s own Weakness, and of the Distance of two Years since now I left the Country, if future Relations shall in some small Points, make out my Mistake, I thought this requisite to justify my Candor; for I ever judg’d it villanous to impose in matters of Fact; but Descriptions of things that depend on Memory may be liable to Mistakes; and yet the Sincerity of the Person that delivers them intire. But hereof I shall be as cautious as possible, and shall rather wave some things whereof I have some Doubts, and am uncapable now of satisfying my self, than in any sort presume too far. The Method I design is, first, to give an Account of the Air, and all such Observations as refer thereto; then of the Water, the Earth and Soil; the Birds, the Beasts, the Fishes, the Plants, the Insects; and lastly, the present State of the Inhabitants: But at present I shall neither trouble you nor my self with any more than an Account of what refers to the Air alone, being conscious the honourable Society may receive such a Glut with the Imperfection of this, as to excuse me from a farther Relation. But before I begin, perhaps it may not be impertinent to acquaint you with some things that happen’d in our Voyage. We sail’d in the Ship Judith, Captain Trim Commander, ’twas Flyboat built, about 200 or 250 Tuns; she sprung a considerable Leak. When the Captain had made long and diligent Search, had tried all Methods that Sea-men use upon such Occasions, or he could think of, all in vain, and that the Leak encreased, he came pensively to consult me. Discoursing with him about it, and understanding that the Ship was cieled within; so that though the Leak might possibly be in the Fore-part, it would fill the whole Cavity betwixt the Cieling and the Planks, and so run into the Hold at all the Crevices of the Cieling up and down: I thereupon conceived, that where it burst in betwixt the Cieling and the Planks, it must needs make some Noise. He told me, they had endeavoured to find it out that Way, and according to custom had clapt Cans to their Ears to hear with; but the working of the Ship, the Tackle and the Sea made such a Noise, that they could discover nothing thereby. I happily bethought my self of the Speaking Trumpet; and having one which I had contrived for some other Conveniences, of a differing Shape from the common Sorts, I bid him take it and apply the broad End to the Side of the Ship, the narrow End to his Ear, and it would encrease his Hearing as much as it augmented the Voice the other Way, and would ward the Ear the too from the Confusion of foreign Noise. Upon the first Application, accordingly they heard it, tho’ it happened to be at a considerable Distance; and when they removed the Trumpet nigher, they heard it as if it had been the Current of a mighty River, even so distinctly, as to have Apprehensions of the bigness and figure of the Hole that the Water came in at; so that cutting there the Cieling of the Ship, they immediately stopt the Leak.
In the Sea I saw many little things which the Seamen call Carvels; they are like a Jelly, or Starch that is made with a cast of Blue in it; they Swim like a small Sheeps Bladder above the Water, downwards there are long fibrous Strings, some whereof I have found near hall a Yard long. This I take to be a Sort of Sea-Plant, and the Strings its Roots growing in the Sea, as Duck-weed does in Ponds. It may be reckon’d among the Potential Cauteries; for when we were one Day becalm’d, getting some to make Observations thereof, the sportful People rub’d it on one anothers Hands and Faces, and where it touch’d it would make it look very Red, and make it smart worse than a Nettle. In my Return for England we struck a Hauks-bill Turtle, in whose Guts I found many of these Carvels; so that it’s manifest
fest they feed thereon. ‘Tis commonly asserted by the Seamen, that they can smell the Pines at Virginia several Leagues at Sea before they see Land, but I could receive no Satisfaction as to this Point; I could not discern any such thing when at a moderate Distance, I fear much of this may be attributed to Fancy; for one Day there came three or four full Scent to tell me they were certain they smelt the Pines; but it afterwards prov’d that we were at that Time two hundred Leagues from the Shoar, so that I was satisfied that was therefore meer Fancy. Indeed we thought, by the general Accounts of the Ship, that we had been just on the Coast, but all were deceived by a Current we met with, that at that Time set about South-East, or East South-East, which when once becalmed we tried thus: We hoised out a Boat, and took one of the Scuttles that covered one of the Hatches of the Ship, tying thereto a great Weight, and a strong long Rope, we let it sink a considerable Depth, and then fastning it to the Boat, it serv’d as an Anchor, that the Boat could not drive; then with the Glass and log Line we found the Current set, as I say, Eastward, at the rate of a Mile and a half an Hour. This Current is of mischievous Consequence, it does not always run one way, but as it sets sometimes as we proved Easterly, so does it as they say, set at other Times Westerly, whereby many Ships have been lost; for then the Ships being before their Accounts, they fall in with the Land before they are aware. Thus one Year many Ships were lost on Cape Hattarasse, and thereabouts.”