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A Description of the Coasts of East Africa and Malabar in the Beginning of the Sixteenth Century

Library of Alexandria
The Spanish manuscript from which this volume has been translated is in the handwriting of the beginning of 1500, full of abbreviations, and without punctuation or capital letters at the beginnings of sentences or for the proper names, which adds much to the difficulty of reading it. It contains eighty-seven leaves. The handwriting more resembles an example of the year 1510 than those dated 1529 and 1531, given at p. 319 of the Escuela de Leer Letras Cursivas Antiguas y Modernas desde la entrada de los Godos en España, por el P. Andres Merino de Jesu Christo, Madrid, 1780. This work was translated into Spanish from the original Portuguese in 1524, at Vittoria, by Martin Centurion, ambassador of the community of Genoa, with the assistance of Diego Ribero, a Portuguese, cosmographer and hydrographer to his Majesty Charles V. There are reasons (as will be shewn in the notes) for supposing that the Spanish translation, probably this copy and not the Portuguese original, assisted the compilers of the early atlases, especially that of Abraham Ortelius, of Antwerp, 1570, other editions of which were published in succeeding years.[1] The similarity of the orthography of this manuscript and of that of the names in maps as late as that of Homann, Nuremberg, 1753, shews how much geography up to a recent period was indebted to the Portuguese and Spaniards. It may also be observed that from their familiarity at that time with the sounds of Arabic, the proper names are in general more correctly rendered in European letters, than used to be the case in later times. This MS. is in the Barcelona Library and is there catalogued Viage por Malabar y costas de Africa, 1512: letra del siglo xvi. It was supposed to be an original Spanish work, for the statement of its having been translated is in the body of the MS., no part of which can be read without more or less difficulty. This work is not a book of travels as the title given in the catalogue, though not on the MS., indicates; it is rather an itinerary, or description of countries. It gives ample details of the trade, supplies, and water of the various sea-ports mentioned in it. It contains many interesting historical details, some of which, such as the account of Diu, the taking of Ormuz, the founding of the Portuguese fort in Calicut, their interruption of the Indian trade to Suez by capturing the Indian ships, the rise of Shah Ismail, etc., fix pretty nearly the exact date at which this narrative was composed as the year 1514. Two other MS. copies of this work are preserved in the Royal Library at Munich: the first of these, No. 570 of the catalogue of that library, is in a handwriting very similar to that of the Barcelona MS., and apparently of the same period. It consists of one hundred and three leaves, and is stated to have proceeded from the episcopal library of Passau. This MS. does not contain the appendix respecting the prices of the precious stones. The other MS. No. 571, is of fifty-three leaves, and is written in two handwritings, both of which are much rounder and dearer than that of No. 570; the catalogue states that this MS. came from the library of the Jesuits of Augsburg. There are several verbal differences between the two MSS., and perhaps No. 571 agrees more exactly with the Barcelona MS. The two Munich MSS. frequently write words such as rey with a double r, as rrey, which does not occur in the Barcelona MS., where, however, words begin with a large r, which is also used for a double r in the middle of a word. The piracies of the Portuguese are told without any reticence, apparently without consciousness of their criminality, for no attempt is made to justify them, and the pretext that such and such an independent state or city did not choose to submit itself on being summoned to do so by the Portuguese, seems to have been thought all sufficient for laying waste and destroying it. This narrative shows that most of the towns on the coasts of Africa, Arabia, and Persia were in a much more flourishing condition at that time than they have been since the Portuguese ravaged some of them, and interfered with the trade of all. The description of the early introduction of the cultivation and weaving of cotton into South Africa by the Arab traders will be read with interest; and the progress then beginning in those regions three hundred and fifty years ago, and the subsequent stand still to which it has been brought by the Portuguese and by the slave-trade to America, may be taken as supporting the views lately put forward by Captain R. Burton and others at the Anthropological Society