First Issued: 18 December 2004
Reissued: 13 August 2012
Revised (substantive): 4 June 2015
Part I: Editor’s Introduction to Flecknoe’s Brazilian travelogue
ETTERS XXIII and XXIV in Flecknoe’s A Relation of Ten Years Travells in Europe, Asia, Affrique, and America (first printed at London, c.1656) document his fascinating “Sea Voyage from Lisbon to the Brasils” in 1648–50. They are provided here in HTML format for their historical interest — not just as exotic traveler’s tales dating from Europe’s Golden Age of Discovery, but also as a record of the type of popular science (mostly natural history and cultural anthropology) promoted by the rapidly expanding specialist travel literature of the early-modern period. As Lisa Jardine has already summarized,
We are coming increasingly to understand how influential in the seventeenth century, in all kinds of areas of life and thought, were the detailed accounts — and images — of new cultures brought home by enthusiastic travelers.
(Lisa Jardine, On a Grander Scale: The Outstanding Career of Sir Christopher Wren, 366)
Flecknoe’s A Relation of Ten Years Travells in Europe, Asia, Affrique, and America was privately printed for the author c.1656, then reissued in 1665, right before Flecknoe retired to Welbeck (the Nottinghamshire seat of William and Margaret Cavendish) following the outbreak of the Great Plague in London. The Relation is a compilation of letters written to Flecknoe’s “noble friends” and patrons, many of whom were women, while traveling to Gant, Brussels, Paris, Marseilles, Monaco, Genoa, Rome, Naples, Constantinople, Lisbon, Provence, “the Brasils,” Amsterdam, Utrecht, and Antwerp. The letters date from 1640, with the first letter postmarked “Gant, Anno 40.” (and subtitled: “The Reasons of his Going over Seas”), and cover a ten-year period, ending in 1650.
Flecknoe’s text was strategically dedicated to “All those Noble Personages mentioned in the following Letters,” opening with a complimentary epistle “To the Lord Marquis of Newcastle,” and closing with a “consolatory epistle” to the queen mother of France, Mary of Medicis, “written about the year, 41.” Flecknoe’s letters are witty in a way which stresses the new urbanity associated with the coffee-house and its influence, the salon, and coterie publication in general. Like others in the Cavendish Circle, Flecknoe practiced and preached a Hobbesian aesthetic, arguing in his essay “Of Wit” (in A Farrago of Several Pieces, pub. 1666) that dialogue is its true source (wit is “not acquir’d by Art and Study, but Nature and Conversation,” he writes). Flecknoe’s increasingly urbane conception of natural and social inquiry was prophetic. The model of sociable science institutionalized in 17th-century London was very much in this mold, and reliant on traveler’s tales and observations for much of its data.
The philosophical traveler
Indeed, early modern travelers were trained in the finer points of scientific observation by such books as Albertus Meierus’ Certaine briefe, and speciall Instructions for Gentlemen, merchants, students, souldiers, marriners, &c. Employed in services abrode, or anie way occasioned to converse in the kingdomes, and governementes of forren Princes (Englished by Richard Hakluyt’s brother minister, the Reverend Philip Jones of Cirencester, in 1589). Jones instructed travelers to study intelligently a wide range of phenomena having to do with geography, navigation, husbandry, politics, religion, literature, and learning. His traveler’s syllabus is broken into 12 divisions:
1. Cosmographie, or, the description of the worlde.
2. Astronomie, or, the art of skill, in the course of the starres and planets.
3. Geographie, or, the drawing and proportioning of the earth.
4. Chorographie, or, the demonstration of Cities and Regions.
5. Topographie, or, the portraiture of particular places.
8. The Politicall State.
9. Ecclesiasticall State.
Each section consists of queries and suggestions in tabular form, designed to remind the traveler just what to look for and to record. Jones comments in his dedication to Sir Francis Drake that the original “Methode”
was composed by one M. Albertus Meier, at the command, direction, and charge of the honorable Henry Ranzou, now lord of Bredenberge, Counsailer and deputie to Christiern, the young King of Denmark in his Dukedoms of Sleswike, Holst, Stormare, and Dithmarsen, a man of singular wisdome, learning, and zeale, both to his countrie, and the utilitie and furtherance of vertuous minds in generall.
(Jones, “To the most valiant, and renowned Knight, Sir Francis Drake, the ornament of his Country, the terror of the enimie, the Achilles of this age,” A2r)
Given the growing importance of travel and travel narratives for all European states with colonial ambitions, Jones knew that a more methodical gathering of intelligence by English travelers abroad was needed “in order to memorize and order knowledge” (Giard, 32) for profitable use.
I have heard speech of a wise Gentleman of Naples, who sometime for a triall dismissed his son, and gave him libertie to travell to certaine other Citties, and territories of Italy, but without instructions, and upon his returne, he made report that he had seene men, women, wals, houses, woods, and medowes, but of the state, manners, lawes, governement and natures of the people, his simple wit could make no reasonable answere. Many of our owne Nation have beene taken tardy and tripping in the grosenesse: as divers Gentlemen verie studious in cases of pollicie, and navigation, by questions and examinations have found. In whom the ancient complaint of the Poet hath beene too truely and fully verified.
Coelum non animum mutant, qui trans mare currant, “Some by passing the seas, change ayres but not mindes,” returning with brains nothing bettered, & spirits nothing quickned with the varieties of the world. I doubt not, but that if our men will vouchsafe the reading, portage, and practise of this pamphlet of notes, (a soveraigne Antidotum, or preservative against the poyson of that disease) the thicke mistes of ignorance, and harde conception will soone be scattered, and the same converted into a quicke sight, and illumination of the senses, so that the traveller (although in that course a Novice) after his ranginges and peregrinations, shall retyre himselfe a man of skill, and bring more to his home from over-seas, than the servant did to his Maister from Paules crosse, which peradventure was a hat and a cloke, but no profite by doctrine.
(Jones, “To ... Sir Francis Drake ...,” A2v–A3r)
And to drive his point home, Jones closed his translation of Meyer’s booklet of instructions for travelers with a Latin quote from none other than “Abrahamus Ortelius, the notable Geographer, ... written by himselfe in his Itinerarium Belgiae” (well before the advent of photography and camera-enabled SmartPhones) “concerning the use of notes and observations in travell”:
In English thus.
If in our peregrinations and travels, we shal observe and note in our tables, or papers those things which doo occurre and seeme worthie of regard, we shall make our journies and voyages in great measure, pleasant and delectable unto us: not thinking that our diligence can search & mark any things in any place, which other men before us have not seene, but to discourse and recorde any thing, rather then to passe the way, and spend the time in idlenesse: and with all by this meanes, this commotitie is reaped, that whatsoever the eye seeth, is the easier and the better remembred, if it be once written. And when the time commeth, that we make an ende of our travels, and personall view of forren parts, it will bee a singular pleasure unto us, whensoever we are do disposed to recognize, and recount those things which we have seene, quietlie & in our chambers, without any trouble of journie, or toile of bodie.
(Ortelius, qtd. in Certaine Briefe, and Speciall Instructions, 22)
After The Royal Society of London for the Improving of Natural Knowledge launched its serial publication, the Philosophical Transactions, in 1665, requests for intelligence from those traveling by land, as well as by sea, were able to be more broadly disseminated and officially organized. In December 1666, Henry Oldenburg published Robert Hooke’s detailed list of “Inquiries” for travelers to Turkey, as “recommended to an Ingenious Gentleman, bound for that Country; and desired also to be taken notice [of] by others, that may have occasion to visit the same” (“Inquiries for Turky,” 360).
Already published at the beginning of 1666 was the two-part “Directions for Seamen,” drawn up by Lawrence Rooke, “and by him presented to those, who appointed him to expedite such an one,” with the announcement that the Directions were thus made “publique” in order “more conveniently to furnish Navigators with Copies thereof” (“Directions for Sea-men, Bound for Far Voyages,” 141). Rooke’s Directions for Seamen included an array of complex research tasks (e.g., Rooke wanted ships to carry special scales and vials which could be filled with sea water for the purpose of weighing it, to see if the weight varied in different locations). English navigators were directed to map coasts, promontories, islands, the depths of ports and their approaches, and the nature of the sea bed at such places, and to keep a register of changes in the weather, record remarkable meteorological events (such as hurricanes and waterspouts, lightning, and comets), and provide detailed documentation on the nature of the trade winds. Moreover, seamen were to record their data and observations in
... an exact Diary, delivering at their return a fair Copy thereof to the Lord High Admiral of England, his Royal Highness the Duke of York, and another to Trinity-house to be perused by the R. Society.
(Lawrence Rooke, and Henry Oldenburg, ed., “Directions for Sea-men, Bound for Far Voyages,” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 1.8 [Jan. 1665/6], 141)
Given mariners’ lack of scientific training, and
... the general doctrine of our Governors [of Christ’s Hospital Mathematical School], who are for the Children’s being taught nothing beyond Plain Sailing, saying what need is there of our Boys being more learned than our Ancient seamen, Drake, Hawkins etc.?
(Flamsteed to Pepys, responding to the latter’s request for recommendations about the standards and proper direction for Christ Church Hospital Mathematical-School for Boys, originally envisioned as a school where 40 youths were to be instructed in the principles of astronomy and navigation in preparation for careers at sea; qtd. in Taylor, Mathematical Practitioners, 119)
Rooke’s expectations were unrealistic, and the information collected was of uneven quality. As noted by E. G. R. Taylor, “the notion of precision and accuracy remained foreign to men of a governing class bred only in the humanities” (Mathematical Practitioners, 122). As a consequence, the merchant marine (run by businessmen) tended to be better equipped, and merchant mariners better trained, than the military marine.
In 1695 Pepys asked Halley to furnish him with a comprehensive report on “The Deficiency of present Navigation Methods”, in which he could but reiterate the old complaints: the obstinate clinging of masters to the plain chart, lack of training, lack of knowledge of currents and of the variation, points such as Pedro Nuñez and John Rotz had made in the days of Henry VIII. And while he admitted that failure to adopt new methods was not universal, confirmation of a generally low level of practice comes from Lieutenant Edward Harrison, who declared that during the recent French war he had been in ships of six different rates and had not seen an azimuth compass on a single one of them. Before he was commissioned in the Navy Harrison had had experience of the East India voyage, on which, he said, masters were accustomed to rely on the variation to check their position, and there is evidence that among masters and pilots employed by the East India Company the reckoning was much more carefully kept (by frequent reading of the log checked by celestial observations) than by masters on other voyages, no doubt partly because of the much greater distance and dangers.
(Taylor, Mathematical Practitioners, 123–4)
The resulting inaccuracy of marine charts was especially problematic, as Pepys learned first-hand on his Tangier voyage in 1683.
It was maintained by some observers that instrumental navigation was actually a danger because it gave a master a false sense of security so that he neglected the old-fashioned study of land-marks and use of lead and line. Certainly the use of the chart was a danger when charts were defective, and Richard Norwood, as has already been mentioned, warned seamen that the faulty transference of a coast-line from a plain projection to Mercator’s might be a source of gross errors. And there were others. Pepys in his colloquies at sea with Thomas Phillips was, for example, shocked to learn “how Seller’s book in 1668 was the very same platts with the Dutch, without the Dutch words so much as turned into English, much less anything in the maps altered. And he says he knows it to be true, and Seller will not deny it, that he bought the old worn copper-plates for old copper, and had them refreshed in several places, and has used them in his pretended new book.” The two voyagers agreed, however, that the cost of making new charts was something far beyond what any private person could afford, and must be a matter for the Crown. Yet Phillips appears to have destroyed his own argument about the need for better charts by remarking “that the Dutch, who are more exact in their learning and charts than any other people, do make more faults than any other, and therefore that many masters who know not how to write and read have fewer losses than the more skilfull.”
This military engineer (typically the versatile practitioner) was actually keeping the daily reckoning for Lord Dartmouth (who was in command) on a hand-drawn chart made specially for the voyage by John Seller, and was making use of Henry Bond’s tables of the variation of the variation which “my lord” had been taught (a sidelight on the clients of the teachers of navigation) and had kept by him. But on the return voyage there was at one point a difference of opinion as to whether they were east or west of the Scillies, the latter being the opinion of the master and master’s mates, who were eventually proved correct, whereupon, as Pepys recorded, “My lord is ... mightily convinced and angry at Seller’s platt (made on purpose for him this voyage) proving worse than the master’s old Dutch one”.
(Taylor, Mathematical Practitioners, 120–1)
In addition, inaccurate panoramas of coastal landmarks as seen from the sea, crudely produced by sailors, but still featured in pilot-books and charts, prompted Robert Hooke to recommend, yet again in 1694, that mariners switch from freehand drawing to the use of drafting aids, such as the portable camera obscura he had designed in the early 1660s:
’Tis well known, that the Books commonly made for the Use of Seamen, (now commonly called Wagoners, because one Wagoner printed a Collection of many such Observations) that these Books, I say, are full of the Prospects of Countries, as they are said to appear upon the Sea, at such Distances and in such Positions: and I lately saw a Book containing the Prospects of all the Western Coasts of America; but any one, that understands Prospect, will easily discern, how rude, imperfect, and false a Representation, all such Books contain of the Places themselves: For, not to mention the Impossibilities they often represent, as the Over-hanging of Mountains for half a Mile, or a Mile, which, tho’ the Mountain were made of cast Iron, were impossible to be sustain’d in such a Posture: The extravagant Heights they generally raise the Hills to, and the sudden and very decline Descents they make them have into the Vallies, do plainly enough demonstrate them to be no true Representations of what they are design’d for. And, indeed, they are most made by the Hands of the Mariners, who are, generally, very little skill’d in the Art of Delineation; and, therefore, ’tis not to be expected that they should be very exact: however, even these are of very good Use for Navigators; and they furnish them with a better Idea of the Appearance to be look’d for, than Descriptions by many Words would inform them....
It is, therefore, the Interest of all such, as desire to be rightly and truly informed for the future, to promote the Use and Practice of some such Contrivance as I shall now describe; whereby any Person that can but use his Pen, and trace the Profile of what he sees ready drawn for him, shall be able to give us the true Draught of whatever he sees before him, that continues so long Time in the same Posture, as while he can nimbly run over, with his Pen, the Boundaries, or Out-Lines of the Thing to be represented; which being once only truly taken, ’twill not at all be difficult to add the proper Shadows and Light pertinent thereunto. By the same Instrument also, the Mariner may very easily and truly draw the Prospect of any Shore, and from Time to Time denote the Rising thereof, as he does nearer and nearer approach it, and the Depression, or Sinking of it, as he does recede. ... [U]pon the first Institution of the Royal Foundation of Christ-Church, I propounded it to the Governors there, for the Use of the Children: but Sir Jon. More undertaking to write an Institution, and having omitted it, it has not been there brought into Use.
(Hooke, “An Instrument of Use to Take the Draught, or Picture of any Thing,” paper communicated to the Royal Society, 19 Dec. 1694; Derham, Philosophical Experiments and Observations of the Late Eminent Dr. Robert Hooke, 1726, 293–6)
Hooke’s camera was manufactured by the famous instrument-maker of Hosier Lane, Smithfield, Anthony Thompson, collaborating with Richard Reeves, and even if students at Christ Church Hospital Mathematical School never had access to it, other sea-going travelers who could afford the latest camera technology did. The royalist army and naval officer, Rupert von der Pfalz (aka Prince Rupert, Count Palatine of the Rhine) — nephew to Charles I of England, a “founder and patron” of the Royal Society, and a virtuoso in his own right, with varied intellectual, artistic, and scientific interests, including maritime exploration and mapping — owned one of Hooke’s camera designs, as did the French traveler and savant, Balthazar de Monconys (aka Monconis), who purchased his portable camera obscura from Thompson when visiting London in 1663.
Such men were model philosophical travelers, of the sort envisioned by Albertus Meierus and Philip Jones in 1589. But it was not necessary to travel abroad in order to make valuable contributions to the body of information being “Collected for the general use of our countrymen” (Seller, The English Pilot, 1671–1672, engraved title-plate). Early-modern students of the natural and human worlds were to attend carefully to quotidian detail in whatever countryside they found themselves. John Aubrey (1626–1697), elected a Fellow of the Royal Society on 7 January 1663, explained in an autobiographical fragment what it meant to travel mindfully through life:
My studies (geometry) were on horse back, and [in] the house of office: (my father discouraged me). My head was alwaies working; never idle, and even travelling (which from 1649 till 1670 I was never off my horsback) did gleane som observations, of which I have a collection in folio of 2 quiers of paper + a dust basket, some wherof are to be valued.
(Aubrey’s Brief Lives, ed. by Andrew Clark, i. 42)
Throughout the early modern period, the travelogue (real or imaginary, and in the hands of Athanasius Kircher and Margaret Cavendish, it was both) was a form of writing long favored by philosophers and scientists. And the sociable “poetaster,” Richard Flecknoe, had a particular talent for it.
Flecknoe’s detailed account of his two-year excursion to Rio de Janeiro is given in Letter XXIII of A Relation of Ten Years Travells in Europe, Asia, Affrique, and America, and addressed to Madamoiselle de Beauvais, princess of Aramberg, who lived south of Brussels (then the capital of the Spanish Netherlands) in Beersel. Judging by the number and tone of the letters written to her and later published by Flecknoe in A Relation, Madamoiselle de Beauvais actively supported Flecknoe in his travels (e.g., ensuring that he was fêted in great style — with “infinite ... Entertainments” — by the Marquis Philippo Palavicino while visiting Genoa, in 1645). Madamoiselle de Beauvais was also a central figure in the literary salons of “the Flandres Ladies,” as Flecknoe put it in one of his letters, and as such, an excellent conduit for Flecknoe’s communications with the “great” personages, in Old and New worlds, with whom he wished to associate.
Letter XXIV of the Relation briefly recounts Flecknoe’s maritime adventures on his return trip to Europe; it is dated 1650, and is addressed to Father John Pererio, a Jesuit in Brazil. In it, Flecknoe thanks Father Pererio for his hospitality, and for procuring him first-class passage home on a Portuguese carvel, captained by Don Roderigo d’Alancastro. Again, ever attentive to the ways in which his epistolary travelogue helped to maintain his status in the dominant socio-political networks of European high society, Flecknoe tells Pererio that he has informed “the King himself ... of the many favours I received from you in Brasil, chiefly for his sake, next to God” and that he has “written also to Rome, that I might repay your curtesies the sooner, the more I should call into contribution to the debt, of which Letter behold the Copy.” (The letter to Rome, written in Latin, is dated 1650, and addressed “Ad Eminentissimum Card. Fra. Barba.” A copy is appended to Letter XXIV in Flecknoe’s Relation.)
Flecknoe traveled to Brazil with the Portuguese, who had developed their ships and rigging empirically “during the long probing voyages of the fifteenth century down the coast of Africa.” (Cumming, Skelton, and Quinn, The Discovery of North America) By the time Flecknoe set sail with a flotilla “of 4 ships ... and more than 4 hundred men,” the Portuguese had become masters of the ocean passage.
Even in the later sixteenth century English explorers liked to have a Portuguese pilot with them — Drake rarely sailed without one — and a number of foreigners also appeared in the later French expeditions, even though the standard of French navigation was very high indeed by the later sixteenth century.
(Cumming, Skelton, and Quinn, The Discovery of North America, 15)
Flecknoe describes his life aboard the ocean-going Portuguese vessels as comfortable (replete with all the “commodities and delicacies you have on Land”) and congenial (“And thus sleeping, eating, drinking, and recreating our selves, we made our voyage secure from storms, secure from Pirats and Enemies ...”).
Of note, Flecknoe positions himself in Letter XXIII as a philosophical traveler, one who has embarked on his journey to Brazil out of “curiosity,” versus the usual 3Cs undergirding the Age of Discovery (converts, conquests, and commerce):
... all who frequent those parts being either Merchants, who lodge with their Correspondents, or Seafaring men, who lodge aboard, never any man like me before making that voyage merely on Curiosity.
Flecknoe’s letter to Madamoiselle de Beauvais is full of poetic descriptions of the ocean environment, with its dramatic seascapes (“like your seenes in Masques and playes”) and sea gardens (“with many Gridiline Flowers besides like our Crocus’s, rendring it a most delightfull spectacle”), and of Brazilian flora and fauna, such as the amusing account of his run-in with “animated dust,” and the charming tales of his beloved pet sagoins (“my Pocket Lyons”), a creature most likely known to his readers from earlier accounts in Topsell’s Four-Footed Beasts (1607) — which took its authoritative portrait of the sagoin from “a very learned Apothecary of Antwerpe” — and in the ever popular Purchas His Pilgrimage (1613). But Flecknoe adds vivid personal details to his account of the small South American monkey, always careful to frame the new and exotic in terms of the known (in this case, the most prized lapdogs of European ladies).
The limitations of such ethnocentric framing are clearest when Flecknoe tries to describe the taste of unfamiliar fruits in familiar terms. So, for instance, Flecknoe associates the banana with beans and apricots, telling his European audience that it grows
some 40 together in a bunch, in husks like Beans, all yellow when they are ripe, the fruit of colour and tast much like our Apricock, but much more firm and more delicious.
And the guava is subjectively described as
round and green, like to our Nectarins, but crusht, you finde a round red pulp within, about the bignesse of a Bilyard ball, eating like so many Strawberries moulded into a past.
But it is Brazil’s native peoples who are most disserved by Flecknoe’s imported schemes of comparison/contrast. While historians now believe that religion was more important than phenotype (e.g., skin color, facial features, hair texture) or nationalism in justifying and framing European colonialism in the Americas (see, e.g., Cumming, Skelton, and Quinn’s The Discovery of North America), it is also true that by the time Flecknoe was writing mid-century, colonialist ideologies were changing. Increasing numbers of American Indians had been converted to Christianity by then, so their non-Christian status could no longer be used to justify further land-grabs and acts of inhumanity.
Flecknoe’s own uneasiness with the quasi-Christian status of the Brasilian natives “who live among the Portugals” is apparent in his expressions of disgust over their non-European appearance and demeanor. Despite their having earned the same right to divine salvation as other men, “these Brasilians” are portrayed by Flecknoe as belonging to some strange category of “both Man and Beast”; they are, he thinks, “like Asses, dull and phlegmatick, in servitutem nati, and only fit for toil and druggery [drudgery].” Flecknoe is here searching for new human categories able to justify transplanted European hierarchies of birth and status and political order (to quote Flecknoe: god, king, and law) with the same force as the old contrast scheme of Christian vs. non-Christian.
Cultural associations of color with psychology and ethnicity surface in Flecknoe’s Letter XXIII, as they will once again in a passage of theater criticism prefaced to his play Love’s Dominion, pub. 1654 (for a separate discussion of this, see the GALLERY exhibit, Portraits of Melancholy — IV). It was a common enough theme — then, as now — within scientific and non-scientific circles alike. Flecknoe concludes Letter XXIII by introducing a New World spin on Old World verities:
I will conclude this Treatise of Brasil with a word or two of the Starrs of the other Hemisphere, garnisht with many constellations wholly unknown to us, of which the Cruciero or Crosse is the principalst, consisting of 5 or 6 Stars of the first magnitude, as bright as any in our Hemisphere; whose brightnesse, as with a foil, is set off the more by a great black cloud that’s continually under it, as is the whitnesse of the Milky Way tendred more perspicuous, by a streak of black in the midst of it, tending towards the same constellation; both which, as also another great black cloud on th’other side the Milkie way, I observ’d at my being there, for more than six months continually: whence I concluded, ’twas the natural complexion of that sky (as ours is blew) to have much part of it black, which perhaps renders the people of that Climat far more melancholy than ours, which black clouds I much wonder none (as I know of) has observ’d besides my self, especially since there are 2 white clouds not far from the Cruciero appearing always in the same posture and figure, so generally observ’d and known, as they are call’d Nubes Magellanicae, from Magellan, who first discovered them.
And the cultural significations of color (especially black) are reinforced yet again in Flecknoe’s description of the dying dorado. By this point, European interest in the dorado fish (Coryphaena hippuris) was intense; ocean travelers, including Flecknoe, were captivated by its splendid coloring and velocity of movement, all the more remarked on by mariners because of what they perceived to be its “delight” in sporting around their vessels. But this beautiful fish was known to 17th-century audiences for a curious, unexplained phenomenon as well: its changing, almost chameleon-like, identity in death. When taken out of the water, the dorado’s beautiful colors undergo rapid changes of hue. As Flecknoe reports,
... being ta’n, strange it was to behold the curious colours of its seales, fading by degrees, as death won on life, (just as the skies colour does when night comes on) till quite dead it became all black, with good reason, it putting on mourning for its death, whose life had cloath’d it in such rich and glittering colour.
Such a profound change of color in death, so noticeable to the human eye, appealed to more than just Flecknoe’s poetic imagination. The ambiguously-colored dorado would figure in poetry through the 19th century (we find it mentioned, for example, in verses by Lord Byron and Elizabeth Barrett Browning).
Natural changes in skin color — whether of fish or humans — took on added significance in a world where
The Inhabitants are of two sorts, viz. free People, and Slaves; the Slaves are African Negro’s, and the others, Netherlanders, Portugueses, or Brasilians ...
(from the description of northern Brazil in John Ogilby’s America: Being the Latest, and Most Accurate Description of the New World [London, 1671], 602)
Flecknoe’s letter includes several mentions of the brutal conditions under which African servants and slaves labored in Brazil, one being a chilling account of work conditions in the Portuguese sugar mills:
And in these Mills (during the season of making Sugar) they work both day and night, the work of immediately applying the canes into the Mill being so perillous as if through drousinesse or heedlessnesse a fingers end be but engag’d betwixt the Posts, their whole body inevitably follows, to prevent which, the next Negro has alwayes a Hatchet readie to chop off his Arm, if any such Misfortune should arive.
Because native Brasilians were designated “free People,” having come in to the European-dominated settlement areas “of their own accords” (Ogilby’s America, 602), they had more options than African slaves and were far better treated, with policies in place to ensure
that the Owners of the Sugar-Mills do them no injury: They [native Brazilians] never suffer themselves to be Hir’d for above twenty days, at the end whereof they demand their Wages; they are commonly employ’d to chop Wood to boyl the Sugar with, but by reason of the scarcity of Negros, they are often made use of for other Business, which to avoid they hide themselves ....
(Ogilby’s America, 602)
In contrast, Dutch “Handicraftsmen” — “that went from the Netherlands to Brasile on their own Accounts” — were held in such esteem that they could earn “ten or twelve Shillings a day” for their work extending colonial jurisdictions, towns and villages ever further along the coast and into the interior.
Flecknoe is mildly critical of Brazilian colonial development, noting the political imperatives driving monocultural production for export. It is not environmental limitations or natural causes, he writes, but
some politique reason to keep them with that necessary dependency [for basic commodities such as corn, wine, and salt] on Portugal, to vent their commodities, and prevent revolt ....
The overdevelopment of the colony’s sugar trade inevitably resulted in an insatiable need for slave labor. Pernambuco, the heart of the West India Company’s plantation in northern Brazil, had
a hundred and twenty Sugar-Mills, of which a great number stand still for want of Negro’s.
(Ogilby’s America, 601)
In all, the West India Company owned 160 working sugar mills by the latter half of the 17th century, plus another 46 mills idled by repairs and/or lack of slave labor. Company accounts reprinted in Ogilby’s America report that 4,000 African slaves “work in the Sugar-Mills between the River Grande and Francisco” (Ogilby’s America, 600), but this was nowhere near enough.
Ogilby’s Dutch source states matter-of-factly that
The Labor which is requir’d in the Sugar-Mills, no Men are able to undergo but the Negro’s.
(Ogilby’s America, 602)
— a situation with devastating consequences for the Black Atlantic, especially Angola, whose peoples were in greatest demand by Portuguese and Dutch mill owners who believed that
The Angolan Slaves can undergo greater Labor than any other.
(Ogilby’s America, 603)
The attrition rate consequent to such forced labor was egregious, with an annual turnover involving three-quarters of the entire slave labor force in the West India Company’s Brazilian sugar mills:
The Cape Verde, Mina, Angola, Ardra, and Calabria, generally provide three thousand [slaves] in a year, to supply the number of the Sick, or those that run away.
(Ogilby’s America, 600)
Even Flecknoe’s philosophical tourism shies away from too close an encounter with this ugly underside of the Brazil he wittily called “the Paradise of Birds.”
NOTE: There are 6 “pop-ups” (or “hover” boxes) used on this Web page.
To learn more about pop-up technology (and possible display problems with it),
visit She-philosopher.com’s “A Note on Site Design” page. To view all 6 of this Web
page’s hover notes in a second-window aside, click/tap here.
go up a level: Table of Contents page for the She-philosopher.com LIBRARY