Web and Book design,
Copyright, Kellscraft Studio
(Return to Web Text-ures)
TRANSLATOR TO THE READER.
THE present volume, both for its curiosity and ingenuity I dare recommend to the perusal of our English nation, whose glorious actions it contains. What relates to the curiosity hereof this piece, both of Natural and Human History, was no sooner published in the Dutch original than it was snatched up for the most curious libraries of Holland; it was translated into Spanish (two impressions thereof being sent into Spain in one year); it was taken notice of by the learned Academy of Paris; and finally recommended as worthy our esteem by the ingenious author of the Weekly Memorials for the Ingenious, printed here at London about two years ago. Neither all this undeservedly, seeing it enlarges our acquaintance of Natural History, so much prized and enquired for by the learned of this present age, with several observations not easily to be found in other accounts already received from America: and besides, it informs us (with huge novelty) of as great and bold attempts in point of military conduct and valour as ever were performed by mankind; without excepting here either Alexander the Great or Julius Cæsar or the rest of the Nine Worthies of Fame. Of all which actions, as we cannot but confess ourselves to have been ignorant hitherto (the very name of Buccaneers being as yet known but to few of the ingenious, as their lives, laws and conversation are in a manner unto none), so can they not choose but be admired, out of this ingenious Author, by whosoever is curious to learn the various revolutions of human affairs. But, more especially 6, our English Nation, as unto whom these things more narrowly appertain. We having here more than half the Book filled with the unparalleled if not inimitable adventures and heroic exploits of our own countrymen and relations, whose undaunted and exemplary courage, when called upon by our King and Country, we ought to emulate.
From whence it has proceeded that nothing of this kind was ever as yet published in England, I cannot easily determine; except, as some will say, from some secret ragion di Stato. Let the reason be as it will, this is certain, so much the more we are obliged to this present Author, who, though a stranger to our nation, yet with that candour and fidelity has recorded our actions, as to render the metal of our true English valour to be the more believed and feared abroad, than if these things had been divulged by ourselves at home. From hence peradventure will other nations learn, that the English people are of their genius more inclinable to act than to write; seeing as well they as we have lived unacquainted with these actions of our nation, until such time as a foreign Author to our country came to tell them.
Besides the merit of this piece for its curiosity, another point of no less esteem is the truth and sincerity wherewith everything seems to be penned. No greater ornament or dignity can be added to History, either human or natural, than truth. All other embellishments, if this be failing, are of little or no esteem; if this be delivered, are either needless or superfluous. What concerns this requisite in our Author, his lines everywhere declare the faithfulness and sincerity of his mind. He writes not by hearsay, but was an eye-witness, as he somewhere tells you, to all and every one of the bold and hazardous attempts which he relates. And these he delivers with such candour of style, such ingenuity of mind, such plainness of words, such conciseness of periods, so much divested of rhetorical hyperboles of the least flourishes of eloquence, so hugely void of passion or national reflections, that he strongly persuades all along to the credit of what he says; yea, raises the mind of the Reader to believe these things far greater than what he has said; and having read him, leaves only this scruple or concern behind, that you can read him no longer. In a word, such are his deserts that some persons peradventure would not stickle to compare him to the Father of Historians, Philip de Comines: at least, thus much may be said, with all truth imaginable, that he resembles that great Author in many of his excellent qualities.
I know some persons have objected to the greatness of these prodigious Adventures, intimating that the resistance our Buccaneers found in America was everywhere but small. For the Spaniards, say they, in the West Indies, are become of late years nothing less, but rather much more, degenerate than in Europe, the continual peace they have enjoyed in those parts, the defect of military discipline, and European soldiers for their commanders, much contributing hereunto. But more especially and above all other reasons the very luxury of the soil and riches, the extreme heat of those countries and influence of the stars being such as totally incline their bodies to an infinite effeminacy and cowardice of mind.
Unto these reasons I shall only answer in brief, This history will convince them to be manifestly false. For as to the continual peace here alleged, we know that no peace could ever be established beyond the Line, since the first possession of the West Indies by the Spaniards till the burning of Panama. At that time, or few months before, Sir William Godolphin by his prudent negotiation in quality of Ambassador for our most Gracious Monarch concluded at Madrid a peace to be observed even beyond the Line and through the whole extent of the Spanish Dominions in the West Indies. This transaction gave the Spaniards new causes of complaints against out proceedings, that no sooner a peace had been established for those parts of America, but our Forces had taken and burnt both Chagre, St. Catharine, and Panama. But our Reply was convincing, That whereas eight or ten months had been allowed by Articles for the publishing of the said Peace through all the Dominions of both Monarchies in America, those hostilities had been committed, not only without orders from his Majesty of England but also within the space of the said eight or ten months of lime. Until that time the Spanish inhabitants of America being, as it were, in a perpetual war with Europe, certain it is, that no Coasts nor Kingdoms in the World have been more frequently infested nor alarmed with the invasions of several nations than theirs. Thus front the very beginning of their conquests in America, both English, French, Dutch, Portuguese, Swedes, Danes, Courlanders and all other Nations that navigate the Ocean, have frequented the West Indies, and filled them with their robberies and assaults. From these occasions have they been in continual watch and ward, and kept their Militia in constant exercise, as also their Garrisons pretty well provided and paid;; as fearing every sail they discovered at ea to be Pirates of one nation or another. But much more especially, since that Curacoa, Tortuga and Jamaica have been inhabited by English, French and Dutch, and bred up that race of huntsmen, than which no other ever was more desperate nor more mortal enemies to the Spaniards, called Buccaneers. Now shall we say that these People, through too long continuation of peace, have utterly abolished the exercises of war, having been all along incessantly vexed with the tumults and alarms thereof?
In like manner is it false to accuse their defect of military discipline for want of European Commanders. For who knows not that all places, both military and civil, through those vast Dominions of the West Indies are provided out of Spain? And those of the Militia most commonly given to expert Commanders trained up from acir infancy in the Wars of Europe, either in Africa, Milan, Sicily, Naples or Flanders, fighting-against either English, French, Dutch, Portuguese or Moors? Yea, their very garrisons, if you search them in those parts, will peradventure be found to be stocked, three parts to four with soldiers both born and bred in the Kingdom of Spain.
From these considerations it may be inferred what little difference ought to be allowed betwixt the Spanish soldiers, inhabitants of the West Indies, and those of Europe. And how little the soil or climate has influenced or caused their courage to degenerate towards cowardice or baseness of mind. As if the very same arguments, deduced from the nature of that climate, did not equally militate against the valour of our famous Buccaneers, and represent this to be of as degenerate metal as theirs!
But nothing can be more clearly evinced than is the valour of the American Spaniards, either soldiers or officers, by the sequel of this history. What men ever fought more desperately than the garrison of Chagre? Their number being 314, and of all these only thirty remaining; of which number scarce ten were unwounded, and among them not one officer found alive? Were not 600 killed upon the spot at Panama, 500 at Gibraltar, almost as many more at Puerto del Principe, all dying with their arms in their hands and facing bravely the Enemy for the defence of their country and private concerns? Did not those of the town of San Pedro both fortify themselves, lay several ambuscades, and lastly sell their lives as dear as ever any European soldier could do, L'Ollonais being forced to gain step by step his advance unto the town with huge loss both of blood and men? Many other instances might be produced out of this compendious volume of the generous resistance the Spaniards made in several places, though Fortune favoured not their arms.
Next, as to the personal valour of many of their Commanders, what man ever behaved himself more briskly than the Governor of Gibraltar; than the Governor of Puerto del Principe, both dying for the defence of their towns; than Don Alonso del Campo, and others? Or what examples can easily parallel the desperate courage of the Governor of Chagre, who, though the palisades were fired, the terrepleins were sunk into the ditch, the breaches were entered, the houses all burnt about him, the whole castle taken, his men all killed, yet would not admit of any quarter, but chose rather to die under his arms, being shot into the brain, than surrender himself as a prisoner unto the Buccaneers? What lion ever fought to the last gasp more obstinately than the Governor of Porto Bello, who seeing the town entered by surprisal in the night, one chief castle blown up into the air, all the other forts and castles taken, his own assaulted several ways, both religious men and women placed at the front of the enemy to fix the ladders against the walls, yet spared not to kill as many of the said religious persons as he could; and at last, the walls being scaled, the castle entered and taken, all his own men overcome by fire and sword, who had cast down their arms and begged mercy from the enemy, yet would admit of none for his own life? Yea, with his own hands killed several of his soldiers, to force them to stand to their arms though all were lost. Yea, though his own wife and daughter begged of him upon their knees that he would save his life by craving quarter, though the enemy desired of him the same thing, yet would hearken to no cries nor persuasions, but they were forced to kill him, combating with his arms in his hands, being not otherwise able to take him prisoner as they were desirous to do. Shall these men be said to be influenced with cowardice, who thus acted to the very last scene of their own tragedies? Or shall we rather say, that they wanted not courage, but fortune? It being certainly true that he who is killed in a battle may be equally courageous with him that kills. And that whosoever derogates from the valour of the Spaniards in the West Indies diminishes in like manner the courage of the Buccaneers, his own countrymen, who have seemed to act beyond mortal men in America.
Now, to say something concerning John Esquemeling, the first author of this history. I take him to be a Dutchman, or at least born in Flanders, notwithstanding that the Spanish translation represents him to be native of the Kingdom of France; his printing this history originally in Dutch, which doubtless must be his native tongue, who otherwise was but an illiterate man, together with the very sound of his name, convincing me thereunto. True it is, he set sail from France and was some years at Tortuga, but neither of these two arguments, drawn from the history, are prevalent. For were he a Frenchman born, how came he to learn the Dutch language so perfectly as to prefer it to his own — especially that not being spoken at Tortuga nor Jamaica, where he resided all the while?
I hope I have made this English translation something more plain and correct than the Spanish. Some few notorious faults either of the printer or of the interpreter I am sure I have redressed. But the Spanish translator complaining much of the intricacy of style in the original (as flowing from a person who, as hath been said, was no scholar) as he was pardonable, being in great haste, for not rendering his own version so distinct and elaborate as he could desire; so must I be excused from the one, that is to say, elegance, if I have cautiously declined the other, I mean confusion.