The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 57
Weise, Arthur James.—The Discoveries of America to the year 1525. London, Richard Bentley and Son: 1884,8vo., pp. xii. and 380, plates and maps. Price 15s.
This work contains a summary of the various, statements of historical writers concerning the voyages of the persons whom they believed to have been the discoverers of certain parts of the coast of America between Baffin's Bay and Tierra del Fuego, numerous extracts from old and rare books being given either in the language of the writers, or in faithful translations, so that the intended significance of the information can be perceived, and impartial conclusions formed. The bulk of the volume is marked by laborious research and discriminating criticism, but the first chapter, which deals with pre-historic times, including the early voyages of the Northmen, is likely to find scant favour with classical scholars, as the author boldly propounds, as an accepted truth, the theory that the circumstantial account of Atlantis given by Plato in his "Critias" was founded on genuine historical tradition. He gives a literal translation of a large part of the "Critias," which he seems to find no difficulty in accepting as history, and he is evidently disposed to see in the account of the peopling of the continent by the descendants of Cleito and Poseidon, an actual tradition of the unions between the sons of God and the daughters of page 261 men as related in Genesis. Considering the startling apparent confirmation which Plato's description of the lost Atlantic island received from the discoveries of the Spaniards, and from the wonderful vestiges of an antique American civilisation which yet remain, it is not surprising that some persons should have been led to the conclusion that the philosopher actually had the authority of Egyptian tradition for his remarkable statements. Such speculations, however, are rather out of place in the work of a sober-minded historian. With regard to the Sagas, Mr. Weise is not so easily satisfied, and he considers that no geographical information contained in them verifies the assertion that the Northmen discovered America, and explored the coast of a part of the present territory of the United States. He agrees with Mr. Haliburton* that the site of Vinland the Good is nearer Greenland than Rhode Island, and is of opinion that "as there is no reliable information to indicate that the Northmen of the tenth century had any instruments by which they could accurately measure the changing spaces of day and night, or that their observations of the sun gave them the knowledge of astronomical time, an attempt to elucidate the exact duration of the shortest day in Vinland from the vague signification of the words eyktar-stad and dagmála-stad would consequently be futile and unsatisfactory."
The second chapter embraces the period between 1295 and 1487, including an outline of the story of Marco Polo, and a sketch of the life of Prince Henry of Portugal, and the remainder of the volume is devoted to the achievements of Columbus, and the numerous voyages of discovery to which they gave rise; but as this is all more or less solid ground, it is only necessary to add that Mr. Weise has succeeded in bringing together a large amount of useful information, some of it not easily accessible elsewhere, and as it is enriched by copious footnotes, the whole may be regarded either as a valuable work of reference, or an introduction to more extended study.
Besides "a representation of the astrolabe found in 1867 in the county of North Renfrew, province of Ontario, Canada, supposed to have been lost by Champlain on his way to Ottawa in 1613," and two small charts showing the field of voyages to America, the text is illustrated by the following twelve copies of rare maps, viz.—I. Delineation of the Hyperborean Regions by Sigurd Stephanius in 1570. II. A part of the map of the New World contained in the edition of Ptolemy's Geography printed in Strasburg in 1513. III. A part of the Cabot-map of 1544 in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris. IV. Map of the New World contained in Peter Martyr's "Legatio Babylonica," printed in 1511. V. A tracing representing the limits of the discoveries of Juan Ponce de Leon and Francisco de Garay, 1521. VI. A part of the map of the fourth part of the world contained in the Cosmographie Universelle by André Thevet, printed in Paris in 1575. VII. Map of Terre de la Franciscane in the Cosmography of Jean Alphonse and Raulin Secalart, 1545. VIII. Map of a part of North America made by Giacomo de Gastaldi in 1553. IX. A part of the map of the world made by Gerard Mercator in Duisburg in 1569. X. A part of the map of the world made by Juan de la Cosa in 1500 (cover-pocket). XI. A part of the map of the world made by Johann Ruysch, contained in the edition of Ptolemy's Geography printed in Rome in 1508 (cover-pocket). XII. A part of the map of the world made by Visconte de Maiollo in 1527 (cover-pocket).