From Out of Soundings, Copyright 1931 by H. M. Tomlinson, New York and London: Harper & Brothers Publishers. Chapter 5, p55-81.
H. M. Tomlinson
THAT quaint and pious narrative by Fletcher of Drake's circumnavigation of the globe, with its occasional rustic levity when the stealing of Spanish property has to be recorded, is a tantalizing document. Fletcher was "Preacher in this imployment," and he carefully counts the coins when a Spaniard is lightened of his purse, and then dismisses the wretch with a genial reminder of his good fortune in having fallen into kindly hands. This is attractive; it gives us a clear peep at Parson Fletcher. He is hearty, but in our day he might be thought loutish; the other wonders of the voyage, not quite so accountable as prize-money, did not always win his close regard, and his record therefore is often childish and idle just when we are most curious. It is easier to deduce Fletcher from The World Encompassed than Drake. Here and there during the voyage a reader grows a little impatient; for the time came when the ship entered the labyrinth of the islands we call Indonesia. Those islands were at the end of the earth to Tudor seamen, and hardly more authentic than a fascinating invention, yet Fletcher reports little more than unidentifiable scraps about that region. Tired, maybe, of the long voyage, he appears to have been as incurious, off Celebes, as the modern tourist who comes on deck one morning when his palatial liner, on its way round the world, is making for Macassar through the Spermondes, and who asks cheerfully, where are we now? One has to guess at the track of the Golden Hind after Drake got her out of the Bay of Gorontalo, which disappointed him because he had entered it under the supposition that it was an east-and-west passage.
The most recent and the best edition of The World Encompassed, which Mr. N. W. Penzer edited for The Argonaut Press, boldly includes a map devised to suggest Drake's course, after he departed from Ternate, through an ocean which is as remarkable with islands as is a dark clear night with stars. The landfalls were named to Drake's men by Malays; we may only guess at the islands they sighted. A glance at current charts of the east coast of Celebes and of the Banda and Flores Seas, besprinkled as they are with soft but outlandish names, is enough to warn us that if today we were dependent only on the gentle voice of a native pilot, with his tanjongs and gunongs, we could do no better than Drake's men, especially as friendly Malays occasionally name an object to suit the taste of their questioners. There is that excuse for Mr. Preacher Fletcher's sketchy geography, but it does not altogether show why fervour is fading from his narrative by the time we are in the Moluccas. Those islands, and Java, did not appear to interest him as much as plate ships. Yet let us be fair to him. The precious Cacafuego was by good fortune captured before the Golden Hind set a course into the blue; after that happy occasion came the crossing of the Pacific, a wide and anxious matter. Then, when the Islands of the Kings were left, and the meridian of the journey was past, doubtless the men of the Golden Hind had set their minds on home; but they were met by adverse winds in unknown seas perplexing with coral reefs and strong tide rips. While they were wondering, after their disappointment in the Bay of Gorontalo, when they would clear that everlasting coast of Celebes, they ran aground; they must have been thinking, by that time, much more of Devonshire than of Spice Islands. Mr. Fletcher's attention to the novelties about him was dulled. He was thinking of home, not of Java, and so should we have been. Let us make that concession to him; we are then free to ask why he is so vague in his record of the Doughty affair, for Doughty was executed before even the capture of the Cacafuego. Except the terrific buffeting of Drake's little fleet in the neighbourhood of Cape Horn--an episode in the voyage of which commentators have made hardly enough, for it was a miracle the adventurers survived--the execution of Doughty was till then the most remarkable event of the voyage; it must have echoed with heaven knows what intrigues of distant London and the court. Francis Drake was a just man, and it is hard to believe that he would have had Doughty put out of the way except on evidence which would stand the right tests. But what was it? Fletcher was present, yet what he offers are generalities which would be accepted today only by one who has made up his mind that a dog were better dead. Still, Preacher Fletcher's account of it is the most we shall get; for Drake's own record has gone the way of other personal testaments which we should value, if we could happen upon them, more than the discovery of fresh fields of oil. The parson's substitute, for all its quaintness, is certainly unappeasing in its bovine insensibility. Its bucolic heartiness over trivial affairs which, we may judge, Drake was barely aware of except that they indicated the healthy spirit of his men, and so dismissed, has not been without an unfortunate consequence.
Mr. Fletcher's story has foisted on us a notion of Drake which can be only a popularly entertaining caricature of that original and bold but very prudent seaman. Mr. Fletcher did not intend to demean his hero. He did the best he knew. His admiration for his leader was genuine. The preacher was a cheerful fellow with a simple heart; he was a natural and uncritical servant, and knew no more of the loneliness of leadership than he did of the mysteries of navigation. He was unable to discern in his master more than those features which cause the young to adore a man who can lift weights beyond their strength. Fletcher was the innocent originator of the Drake myth, the dreary legend of the "bluff sea-dog." Nobody ever thinks of Captain James Cook as a sea-dog. We may only guess at the peculiar virtues of such a dog, that robust and hairy creature who would be more in place in a bestiary, but, as it happens, is considered by many good people to embody the essential qualities of a British seaman. Fletcher may be said to have begun the distressing legend with Drake. Drake was the original of all sea-dogs.
We see here, maybe, an early indication of the simple man's instinctive aversion from the attributes of a mind which is superior, the qualities popularly described, when it is wished to dismiss them as inappropriate and inclement, as "high-brow." The ways of such a mind appear to be unnatural; they will cut across the common routine, which is fairly safe for most of us, we have found, if we do not experiment with it too much; they are apart from the noticeable broad streams of human thought, for they usually come of reasoning which issues from premises quite other than those best suited to justify ordinary appetities. Those bluff sea-dogs would be in place in collier brigs, and at times would be tiresome enough there. No doubt in such ships, with such work, they could live their useful lives unnoticed in a rough and conducive environment. We may be quite sure they would be out of place if ever they attempted the navigation of ships, and the leadership of men, in uncharted seas where the problems were so abruptly challenging, so different from the commonplace of home waters, that the natural fearful doubts of crews had to be allayed with the continual successful determination of lurking shallows and unknown landfalls. Such a task required the maintenance of an art, and a faith in loneliness amid an alien world, possible only to men able to think and live apart. Useless, between Gilolo and Java, for mere sea-dogs to rely on bluff! That will not help a navigator in uncharted waters when a crew is sick and fearful. A master-mariner so situated must be as accurate in his estimates of time and place, and the moods of his men, as circumstances will allow to his science and experience. He may not trust to high spirits and the horseshoe over his cabin door. His design is to bring again to their home port his men and his ship with exactly what he set forth to add to human knowledge and wealth. Drake must have known, as Cook certainly knew, that it is the incompetent leader, or the ill-advised leader, who is almost sure to meet in his enterprise with those tragic happenings that bring a venture to ruin, and make what romantic commentators call "an epic story." Drake understood, as did Cook, that the chance of tragedy frustrating a venture may be lessened by prudence, good knowledge, and bold judgment. Such explorers do not set out to find an epic story, but to add to verified things and the welfare of their fellows. Drake was an imaginative man, but his essays with the unknown were under the control of a patient and calculating mind.
A careful reading of Fletcher's account of the first English voyage round the world reveals the sea-dog in command as one whose success with his bold and original tactics awoke in simple souls only a faith in his lucky audacity; he was, they saw, like one of the old Greek heroes, a favorite of the gods. It ought to be clear to us that he was a wary leader, with his desires under strict discipline. He never ordered his men to a risk where he judged the cost of failure would be more than the expedition could afford to pay. He withdrew from a project, or withheld an attack upon what seemed rich and unsuspecting prey, if his estimate gave him too much to doubt. Drake's intention was to extend the influence of the English; the right of the Pope to divide the outer seas and continents between Spain and Portugal he ignored; those countries could only monopolize the riches of America and the Orient if they could keep out English seamen, and he did not think they were able to do that. Their monopoly he intended to challenge, whatever his own sovereign might think; he was as astute as Elizabeth, but whereas she temporized with the threatening powers about her, retarding the crisis, for she was not so sure as her seamen that the Spanish colossus was growing unstable, Drake, when he could be sure of his blow, struck at it, and left the awkward consequence to the politicians. He was confident the English could safely defy august and ancient prohibitions, and could go where they chose, when prepared as he and Hawkins and Frobisher knew how to prepare ships and men. To him the seas were free, and he could deal with those who tried to take the wind out of his sails. An English voyage to America then was unlawful, and Drake was a pirate and transgressor whenever he held too far to the westward; but he intended that English seamen should destroy the fanciful bounds of Spanish dominion. Preacher Fletcher would be unaware of this; he was not told.
Drake contemplated an end that was out of sight of his companions; his lucky audacity was that only to surprised and admiring followers on whom he had not wasted time beforehand with an exposition of his reckoning. We may suppose that cheerful Mr. Fletcher fell into the common error of seeing an original and masterful character, keeping its own counsel safe from the corruption of debate, merely as a man whose virtues were common to all, but by Drake were expressed with greater courage and clarity. That is a view which is flattering to us. Thus the sea-dog is one of us, but a little better. The original character is ordinary, after all, yet somewhat larger than usual. It does not otherwise differ; and so we resolve a forgivable fear and dislike of a difference in nature. When the hidden processes of personality manifest superiority with an unmistakable success, a success which would have been sheer luck had it come our way, then it can be disenchanted by attributing it to perseverance, pluck, and good fortune. What could Fletcher do, when he saw Drake in action? Nothing but the beginning of that legend of the jolly and rough sea-dog.
Drake was not only the most remarkable of Elizabeth's seamen, but his cabin, so to speak, was in a ship his men could not enter; their knowledge could not find it; he was already a leader of an Empire that had not come, and he seems to have guessed it. He did have, it must be admitted, to aid him in this, some gifted friends and colleagues. It must be remembered that England then was a poor country. The common idea of its opulence is wrong; but, as evidence that it had come of age and was outgrowing its confines, it was rich with an astonishing number of discerning and energetic politicians, merchants, soldiers, and sailors. They may not have been conscious of what was stirring them, but they meant to get out of a back room. In Mr. McFee's biography of Sir Martin Frobisher he doubts that scholars of a peaceful temperament should attempt to write history; and certainly that period of the English in which came the Reformation, the overthrow of Latin dominion, the poetry of Shakespeare, and the beginning of the British Commonwealth, suggests that it is not easy for anyone to write history, for it is a curious fact that no scholar has yet attempted to make a full and reasonable story of those years in a way which would be of significance to us, though the attractions of the subject are notable, and invite a life-long devotion. It surprises Mr. McFee that the Elizabethan poets left it to Dutchmen and others to magnify the deeds of English seamen. Tennyson, every child knows--or it was common knowledge with children before 1914--sang the glory of the Light Brigade at Balaclava. Shakespeare, however, who knew of Drake's great voyage, and very likely saw the Golden Hind at Deptford, and who, if he did not hear the Armada's guns, at least saw the heralding beacon fires and knew their dread import, is silent on it all, or at most is briefly allusive. What was the matter with him and his fellow singers? Even though the wine at the Mermaid Tavern were thin stuff, here were matters which were inspiriting without wine. But the world encompassed by an English ship, the fears and gossip which grew out of news from the Continent of Spain's preparation of a vast armament, the beacon lights which at last signalled the danger offshore, and then the news that the Spanish fleet was scattered, left the English poets still seeking their themes in mediæval romance and classical lore. However, it is worth noting, meanwhile, that we are still waiting for an epic poem entitled Ypres. Troy has one, but not Ypres.
There is but scant material for a close biography of Frobisher. That leader of Tudor seamen was quick-tempered, loyal to his friends, bold to recklessness in action, and knew as much of his trade as would a man of energy and enterprise who was most of forty years in ships, exploring, slave-hunting, and fighting; he was the discoverer of Davis Strait, and the first Englishman to attempt to found a colony on the American continent. He was so tall and strong that once he grabbed an Eskimo paddling alongside the ship, and lifted him inboard, complete with canoe and weapons. That feat, as Mr. McFee explains, says something about the freeboard of a ship then daring the unknown Arctic. Nevertheless, though such incidents are delightful to youthful readers, they do not greatly help a biographer towards a portrait of a man, with a reasonable guess at his period for a background. His biographer, therefore, is compelled to use Frobisher as a tentative introduction to sixteenth-century Europe with its inherencies that later were to develop into American civilization. That theme is immense, but it is, for the most part, out of soundings. Those Tudor days, compared with the long stretch of human history, are only just off the current calendar; yet the motives of the actors developing that drama which is now materially manifest in the skyscrapers of New York, and playing their parts either deliberately, or under the ægis of Zeus, or moved by the fateful timespirit which is much more mysterious than was the prompting of the gods to the people within and without the walls of Troy, are often as inscrutable as the spread of plasm in a coral reef. So, we remember, were the motives of the counsellors of Europe, as their memoirs show, whose knowledge and desires brought that continent to war and revolution in our own day. Mr. McFee wonders why the Tudor poets were dumb about their own romantic time; so do we. That is one of the problems which arise from his provocative and lively biography of an Elizabethan seaman. We see in that problem, to our surprise, another of the wonders of Gloriana's reign, and it is enough to check the most flamboyant of the historians of our own great war and our still more remarkable peace. Who will expound it for us? For the man who wrote King Lear is silent about it; he ignores the sensational events which must have caused nearly all the talk on Tudor quaysides and in the taverns of London. Can there be a complete and satisfactory answer? Clearly we dare not say that Shakespeare was what is now called, disdainfully, a "pacifist," and that therefore he was aware--he was aware of most of the things which disturb us, which check us with doubts--that as a historian he would be mean and inadequate. Yet, even so, he might still have celebrated the triumphs of his great contemporaries? Well, he did not.
We note, in passing, that even Mr. McFee, when he mentions Gloriana, is not too circumspect with her regal splendour and her undoubted genius; he thinks her parsimony was near to insanity. It really does seem so. Had the crisis been left to her, then the Spaniards might not have seen an English warship in the Channel. We see, too, that the biographer of so honest a man as Frobisher will not leave us undisturbed with our rosy supposition that it was pure patriotism which took English ships to sea to meet Spain's Armada; he advises us that the hope of loot was also strong. The English ships had scant ammunition, they were badly provisioned, and their men were wanting their wages. They were anxious to meet those Spaniards; they were not in the least impressed by the size and the scrollwork of the enemy's galleons, nor by the Papal blessing upon them. They had learned, in their rough schooling, that they had more seaworthy ships, and were better seamen and better gunners, that they could get their vessels to go about while a portentous enemy was lumbering to leeward full of dignity and wounded men; Drake and the rest of them hoped to make the Spaniards pay. It may be possible, it is fair to suggest, that the lazy poets who frequented the Mermaid Tavern knew what Mr. McFee knows. Expanding commerce, the increase of a nation's estates, and the discovery of loose gold, are good; yet in some important ways they are not good enough. It is not easy to be lyrical over them. They are not easily translated into noble music. I do not suggest that this is why the Elizabethan poets were dumb when their age was so resounding with guns and fanfares, yet certainly they must have known Grenville better than Tennyson, though they have said less about him. For our part, that would make an entertaining romance if a writer could come to the inner truth of it, that international trustification of the chemical industry, with Lord Melchett, audacious and wise, presiding in what is the modern equivalent of the admiral's cabin of the Golden Hind, that guarded room where meet privileged company-promoters and directors; yet perhaps the very suggestion that music should be made of it would set Athene's owl hooting.
The canny bird would hoot at it. But it is safe to dare the suggestion that Shakespeare did as well, in his own way, as the great sea-captains of Gloriana; and, incidentally, that a poet may now be singing, even unheard, because far in our own background, who will be remembered when all the chemicals of Lord Melchett's international trust are dissolved. There was more accomplished in Elizabeth's time than the shattering of the Spanish colossus, and the clearing and settling of New World sites for Mr. Ford's automobile factories and such. Today we can fly around the world, and count the journey in days, not years; and, even so, it is just beginning to dawn on us, with this new power to our hand controlled by levers described as fool-proof, that we do not know our whereabouts, precisely, but must discover it. The globe must again be encompassed; our explorers must be guided by stars Drake never saw in his heavens. An industrious New World, though equipped with machinery that could supply an automobile and an aeroplane to every villa, cannot help humanity in its new voyage of discovery to learn its whereabouts and a right course; that essential truth cannot be found with an output of standardized machinery which is even prodigious in its magnitude.
While now you are observing your ship approach Tanjong Priok, and are noting the violet heights beyond of central Java, an aeroplane may pass overhead, and a submarine may be in view. These may serve us as signs of a control, "fool-proof," as the saying is, of our visible world, where once were truculent rajahs ashore, and head-hunters at sea. The aeroplane and the submarine suggest control of the good things for particular peoples; and it was to secure such a control, by the English, which was the compelling thought of Drake. Control? We know now, unluckily, that Western man's insatiable curiosity and inventiveness have at last added factors to discovery which have disturbed the foundations of the profitable order it was Drake's intention, and ours, to establish like granite. For today, among the islands which Drake's men looked upon with awe and surprise, and only three and a half centuries ago, wireless telephony, the cinematograph and Moscow are making insidious differences and antipathies; they are rousing the once docile populations of those large cities built in the East to the needs of a Western culture, densely populated by Chinamen and others to whom that culture is alien, and even hateful, and can never be in harmony. The world discovered--no, only rediscovered--by Tudor navigators, has changed more since their recent day than it had in the thousand years before Henry the Navigator began to make old things new again in the seas where the explorations of the Egyptians and the Phoenicians were forgotten. It will have to be discovered and mapped anew, by us. Yet to what end? That end, we are beginning to guess, is far beyond the range of the interests which dispatched Drake's fleet from Plymouth to encompass the earth. Its exploration will, we must admit, demand of us precisely those virtues by which Drake found his way round the globe against the opposition of the King of Spain and the Pope's prohibition, to the Islands of the Kings; qualities of character that made him noteworthy but misunderstood in years of remarkable human activities. Those aeroplanes and submarines which may be seen this year among the Malay Islands are evidence, not of the beginning of a new era, but of the end of one. They are at the end of a conquest which was conjectured by Henry the Navigator and Drake. Human curiosity, unable to rest satisfied with what was at home--for we always think the good things are far away--pried beyond the horizon, till home was reached again, and the world was encompassed. And thus we see it now. Curiosity, with the aid of material science, can do no more. We must go now to the discovery of a world where aeroplanes and submarines cannot take us. The harder task is ours.
Though doubtless, if we but knew it, the clues and bearings for that new exploration are all about us. The ultimate islands reached by Drake, the farthest that mariners had then attained, had been reached before his day, maybe, but had been forgotten. When Henry the Navigator began to wonder what was beyond the horizon--and that is little more than a matter of months, when we remember the prehistoric paintings in the caves of Altamira--what the horizon was hiding had already been learned, but the facts were forgotten. The Egyptians had ships about sixty centuries ago. Venturers from the Mediterranean went through the Pillars two thousand years before Henry's day, but what they had found was lost. How far they ventured it is impossible to say, but certainly they went far. It is safe to assume there were men before the dawn of history who had a fund of lore and skill beside which the culture of most of the inhabitants of our modern cities would seem helpless and savage. When the Saxons were so behaving in England that historians cannot say much about them, except that they were destructive, two centuries before Alfred began to civilize them, the Javanese were voyaging to Madagascar, Zanzibar, and China. Archæologists are speculating over the resemblance of rites of the Solomon Islanders to those known in ancient Egypt. It has been wondered why craft on some rivers of the Far East resemble so closely those which anciently navigated the Mediterranean. A more remarkable attribute of man than his eager curiosity which compels him to discover is the tenacity with which he sticks to old things, and especially to old opinions. The knowledge that something may be done in another and a better way satisfies him; he does not want to attempt that way; and at length he forgets the fact. A new and significant discovery will stir his interest, yet the next odd fact, perhaps of less significance, will distract his attention, and so the first discovery sinks out of sight of human knowledge, maybe for half a millennium. Man really is never in a hurry, in spite of the illusion of the well-advertised aerodromes which mark the route from London to Baghdad.
We have to note in Fletcher's narrative his increasing dislike for the coast of Celebes, which is as attractive a mountainous shore as the seas can offer. The Golden Hind tried to work round the north of that island, and failed. She attempted passage to the south, and was three days retreating from the deep Gulf of Gorontalo, which was imagined to be a thoroughfare; it was there that the Spaniards and the Portuguese hoped that Drake would get lost. Drake worked his ship farther south, against head winds, and presently ran her upon a bank of live coral. English mariners then were not used to live coral. The Golden Hind was held to the edge of the bank by the wind, but at length she heeled towards deep water, and, "freed her keele and made us glad men. Of all the dangers that in our whole voyage we met with, this was the greatest; but it was not the last, as may appeare by what ensueth. Neither could we indeed for a long season free ourselves from the continual care and fear of them; nor could we ever come to any convenient anchoring, but were continually for the most part tost among the many Islands and shoales (which lye in infinite number round about the South part of Celebes) till the eight day of the following month."
The ship took a month to clear that coast, and Fletcher, reflecting, we may suppose, the mood of the majority of his companions, grew a little desperate at the enduring uncanny picture of those tumbled forested crags in a torrid glare to starboard; that strange coast had put a spell upon them. The novelty of Celebes did not attract him. His curiosity in wonders was glutted; he did not want to know what mysteries were hidden by those green heights. He says:
"Jan. 12, being not able to beare our sayles, by reason of the tempest, we let fall our anchors upon a shoale in 3deg. 30min. Jan. 14, we were gotten a little further South, where, at an Island in 4deg. 6min., we againe cast anchor, and spent a day in watering and wooding. After this wee met with foule weather, Westerly winds, and dangerous shoales for many dayes together; insomuch that we were utterly weary of this coast of Sillebis, and thought best to bear with Timor." That, in general, is what the coast of Celebes is like today. A seaman must repel its enticement, and be very prudent, when in sight of its forests. A few steamers call regularly at certain points of it, but its primitive aspect, its appearance of having been just like that since time began, has not altered since the Golden Hind was beating about there, in spite of our aeroplanes. Its interior is still largely unexplored.
It was in November, 1579, that Drake was at Ternate. He was most kindly received by the Sultan and his people. Fletcher grows lyrical over the benefits of that delightful little island kingdom, where the Golden Hind found some of the happiest days of her long travail. What is progress? In those very waters, in 1844, the Samarang, a British warship, in the command of an experienced navigator, and also on a voyage of exploration, destroyed some native craft and many of the people, including women and children, in what was but a silly panic that arose out of ignorance. Nothing had been gained in three hundred years; something had been lost; good will was shot away. It is easier to use a gun than to show courage. When Drake was anchored off Ternate he must often have seen the immense spectacle of sunrise over the mountains of Gilolo, or Halmaheira, the main island across the strait, and watched at sunset the colours which then make its peaks unearthly. Drake must have thought it an enchanted region, of incredible richness, a Paradise to which he was but opening the door. In his day the Spice Islands were but a romantic name, a call to adventurers; and here he was, at long last. So slowly does man come to knowledge, and so easily does he forget, that Gilolo is still exactly as he saw it. Even Wallace did not venture into its interior, which is hardly better known than when Drake viewed its mountains from Ternate.
If one turns to the current Directions for Pilots, the volume for the Eastern Archipelago, printed for the Hydrographic Office of the Admiralty, it is possible to read such an entry as this, concerning the Moluccas: "Ceram Island has not been hitherto thoroughly explored, for the interior consists, especially in the west, of mountainous country, with dense forests and peopled by savages, who are by no means well disposed to Europeans." Or this: "Taliabu (of the Sula Islands), the westernmost and largest, is very little known." There are many others, for which the directions to mariners are just as explicit and admonishing. Even the world we have "encompassed" is not quite well known to us yet; we have not made much of it, so far, even on its material side since Henry the Navigator began to show the way, and the industrial revolution followed soon with its cheap cotton, its coal and iron, and latterly with its destroyers, aeroplanes, submarines, the cinematograph and Karl Marx. Before even our cheap cotton has got to Taliabu we must begin the encompassing of this so newly discovered world with an idea or two which may serve to hold it securely together. The world has been explored, it may be, too fast and too casually. Pioneers did not quite know where they were going, nor exactly what they wanted to do with a place when they had found it. And in this new exploration, in the hope of a light which will help us to make the best of a world of which at present we know but the superficies not too well, let the instance of Preacher Fletcher be a warning. We may hitherto have attached too much importance to bluff sea-dogs.