My discussion of Stritmatter and Kositsky’s “Shakespeare and the Voyagers Revisited” did not address several of their arguments that I regarded as too thin to require refutation. For the sake of completeness, I have gathered the waifs and strays together here, along with my observations concerning their merits. Italicized passages are quoted from S&K.
- Circumstances in Jamestown during the weeks Strachey allegedly composed the letter could not have been worse. When the Bermuda survivors returned to Virginia in May 1610, they had discovered a settlement burnt and in
ruins. . . .Under such circumstances, paper and books must both have been in limited supply. And yet, Strachey’s letter, approximately 24,000 words in length, makes copious use of at least a dozen external sources, some mentioned by name, others silently appropriated.
S&K don’t deny that Strachey probably had books with him when he started for Virginia. They themselves note that it was customary for ships to carry a copy of Hakluyt, and a literate traveler can’t be assumed to leave home for several years without reading material. S&K speculate that books would have been thrown overboard during the storm that wrecked the Sea Venture, but that is merely speculation. They also assume sub silentio that De La Warre’s fleet, which arrived on June 10, 1610, brought neither paper nor books. Even assuming that Strachey was unable to work on his narrative in Bermuda or during the voyage from Bermuda to Jamestown, he still had over a month before Sir Thomas Gates departed for England. To write 22,000 words (the length of the True Reportory without the appendix) in that interval was no remarkable feat.
- Indeed much of True Reportory – although not the parts about the storm or Bermuda – appears to have been written in response to a 14 December 1610 letter to Strachey from Richard Martin, a leading shareholder and Secretary of the company. Martin’s letter, which cannot have been transmitted to Strachey until the 1611 supply ship arrived in May [footnote omitted], does not mention any prior communication from Strachey, but concludes with
an earnest request, that you would be pleased by the return of this ship to let me understand from you the nature & quality of the soil, & how it is like to serve you without help from hence, the manners of the people, how the Barbarians are content with your being there, but especially how our own people do brook their obedience how they endure labor, whether willingly or upon constraint, how they live in the exercise of religion, whether out of conscience or for fashion, and generally what ease you have in the government there.
S&K furnish an appendix that lists Martin’s questions and shows whence more or less responsive answers may be extracted from the True Reportory’s text. I presume that neither has ever worked for a large business organization. A busy executive who desires specific information doesn’t customarily expect a subordinate to produce a 20,000-plus word document full of fustian and irrelevancies. I detect in Martin’s language a certain impatience with Strachey: What was wanted was a utilitarian report, not belles lettres. Certainly, if Strachey wrote “in response to” Martin’s inquiries, he showed a deplorable inability to stick to the subject.
- But in the introduction to his 1612 Laws Strachey himself alludes to an uncompleted work about the Bermudas:
I have both in the Bermudas, and since in Virginea beene a sufferer and an eie witnesse, and the full storie of both in due time shall consecrate unto your
viewes . . . .Howbeit since many impediments, as yet must detaine such my observations in the shadow of darknesse, untill I shall be able to deliver them perfect unto your judgements . . .I do in the meane time present a transcript of the Toparchia or State of those duties, by which their Colonie stands regulated and commaunded. (‘‘Lawes’’ 5) [footnote omitted]
Strachey’s statement that he had been ‘in the Bermudas . . . .a sufferer and an eie witnesse’ suggests that he is describing True Reportory – or a lost text just like it – as not only unpublished but incomplete in 1612.
Try as I may, I see nothing in Strachey’s words to suggest that the True Reportory was incomplete in 1612. The “impediments” are most naturally interpreted as whatever obstacles he had encountered in his attempt to get the book published, rendering him unable to deliver it “perfect unto your judgements”. S&K’s construction would make sense only if he had previously published an imperfect version and hoped to issue an improved one in the future.
- A second factor relevant to ascertaining the composition date and historical significance of True Reportory is William Strachey’s reputation as a plagiarist. On its face the work seems to include portions borrowed from other books not published until November 1610 or later. To preserve its July 1610 composition date, Strachey’s editors have therefore labored to immunise True Reportory from any imputation that Strachey may have actually borrowed these materials at a later date.
Then follows a digression on Strachey’s copying of large sections of his Historie of Travel from John Smith’s Map of Virginia. Regarding the True Reportory, we are told only that it “borrows from Eden (or Willes) and Acosta” as well as from Hakluyt, Erasmus and “other published Bermuda narratives”. Since all of these, except the other accounts of the wreck of the Sea Venture, preceded the True Reportory by years or decades, Strachey’s use of them tells us nothing about whether he wrote in 1610 or 1612. Of the “other published Bermuda narratives”, the one that has the greatest overlap with the True Reportory is the True Declaration, which I discuss in the main post. Any resemblances to the other first hand narrative, Silvester Jourdain’s A discovery of the Bermudas, are exceedingly faint, if not invisible. S&K’s own examples are wholly unpersuasive. To the extent that they exist, there is no reason why Jourdain should not have borrowed from Strachey, as the two men were present in Jamestown at the same time.
- [T]he following writers have all, at one time or another, been accused of borrowing from Strachey’s True Reportory: the anonymous author of True Declaration, Lord de la Warre [footnote omitted], and Shakespeare. Which is more plausible:to suggest that these writers, whose publications all preceded his, took from Strachey, or to recognise, based on Strachey’s record of plagiarism as well as the facts of each case, that he took from them?
The True Declaration has been discussed in the main post. Lord De La Warre’s letter to the Company, to which S&K refer, was dispatched with the July 15, 1610, return fleet. It does indeed have material in common with the True Reportory. At the time of its writing, Strachey was serving as De La Warre’s secretary, and his signature appears on the letter, along with those of four other officials of the colony. S&K reject the natural inference – that Strachey helped draft the letter and borrowed from his own text to speed the work of composition – on the ground that “it is written in the first person of de la Warre, describing among other episodes his voyage from England”. Again, I presume that neither has much experience working in large organizations. Or do they imagine that the “personal” communication written by an underling was any less common in King James’ day than in our own?
- Finally, S&K bring forward two passages in the True Reportory that are, they claim, plagiarized from Smith’s Map of Viriginia, which was not published until 1612. First:
Smith: There is but one entraunce by sea into this country, and that is at the mouth of a very goodly Bay, the widenesse whereof is neare 18 or 20 miles. The cape on the South side is called Cape Henry in honour of our most noble Prince. The shew of the land there, is a white hilly sand like unto the Downes, and along the shores great plentie of Pines and Firres. The north Cape is called Cape Charles in honour of the worthy Duke of Yorke. Within is a country that may have the prerogative over the most pleasant places of Europe, Asia, Africa, or America….This Bay lieth North and South…
Strachey: This is the famous Chesapeake Bay, which we have called (in honour of our young Prince) Cape Henry, over against which within the Bay lieth another headland, which we called, in honor of our princely Duke of York, Cape Charles; and these lie northeast and by east and southwest and by west, and they may be distant each from the other in breadth seven leagues [footnote omitted], between which the sea runs in as broad as between Queenborough and Leigh. Indeed it is a goodly bay and a fairer not easily to be found.
Except for the well known origins of the names of Capes Henry and Charles, and the commendation of the “goodly” aspect of Chesapeake Bay, these passages have virtually nothing in common. They don’t even agree on the distance between the capes, which Smith gives as “18 or 20 miles” and Strachey as “seven leagues”, which is not only a different unit of distance but works out to 23 miles, over a league greater than Smith’s figure. [Correction: Very carelessly, I relied on a Stritmatter-Kositsky footnote stating that “One league = 3.3 miles”. I should have known better. In clearer minded moments, I do. A league is usually three miles, so Smith and Strachey have about the same distance.]
Smith: [The Indians’] houses are built like our Arbors of small young springs bowed and tied, and so close covered with mats or the bark of trees very handsomely, that not withstanding either wind rain or weather, they are as warm as stoves, but very smoky; yet at the top of the house there is a hole made for the smoke to go into right over the fire.
Strachey: A delicate wrought fine kind of mat the Indians
make. . . .The houses have wide and large country chimneys in the which is to be supposed (in such plenty of wood) what fires are maintained; and they have found the way to cover their houses now (as have the Indians) with barks of trees, as durable and as good proof against storms and winter weather as the best tile, [defending likewise the piercing sunbeams of summer and keeping the inner lodgings cool enough,] which before in sultry weather would be like stoves.
I have inserted in brackets words omitted by S&K. As they do not mention, Smith is describing the Indians’ houses, Strachey those built by the Jamestown colonists. Moreover, in Smith, the covering of mats or bark makes the houses “warm as stoves”; in Strachey, it keeps them cool, so that, “in sultry weather, they do not become “like stoves”. None of this suggests that either passage was borrowed from the other.
Both individually and taken as a whole, the preceding arguments add only bulk, not weight, to the Stritmatter-Kositsky thesis.
Addendum (4/10/08): S&K’s rejoinders significantly alter the theory that they proffer in “Shakespeare and the Voyagers Reconsidered”. In the article, they never mention the “Bermuda draft” of Strachey’s letter, a copy of which came to light in 1983 and was described by Ivor Noël-Hume in “William Strachey’s Unrecorded First Draft of his Sea Venture Saga”, 6 Avalon Chronicles (2001). (Neither Mr. Hume’s article nor Strachey’s text is available on-line at present.) The draft covers the same general ground, with many differences in wording and detail, as the True Reportory: the wreck of the Sea Venture, the stranded passengers’ life in Bermuda, their construction of new ships, and the eventual completion of their voyage to Virginia. It concludes with a very brief account of events after their arrival. The final words, before a postscript added by a copyist, are –
All the arms stores and People, were therefore embarked in vessels which set sail [from Jamestown, which the colonists had decided to abandon] on the 7th [of June] but next afternoon very unexpectedly falling in with Lord Delaware, who had been sent from England to take the Government, the intentions of the colonists were altered and the settlement established anew.
S&K, who omitted this document from their article, now elevate it to a significant place in their speculative universe. They do not deny that it was written in the New World before July 15, 1610. Their amended theory is that it was sent to England with Sir Thomas Gates’ returning ship and used as a reference by the compiler of the True Declaration. The True Reportory, they then argue, was an expanded and embellished version, not completed until after Strachey’s own return to England. If they are correct, some – though far from all – of the parallels between Strachey and The Tempest vanish, since they are found in the True Reportory but not the Bermuda draft. On the other hand, the parallel that has generally impressed commentators most, viz., the sequence of events in the storm, remains intact. S&K have tacitly watered down their thesis from, “Strachey is not a possible source” to “The number of parallels between Strachey and Shakespeare is slightly less than previously believed”. So we seem to be making progress.
When the Bermuda draft is taken into account, it is untenable to argue that the specific facts about the storm related in the True Declaration came from an unknown source and were subsequently plagiarized by Strachey in the True Reportory. Those same facts are set down in the Bermuda draft and differ from other first hand accounts. Either the True Declaration took them from Strachey, or Strachey and an unknown source coincided on each of a number of disputed points. S&K are correct when they adopt the more economical hypothesis. The remaining question is which Strachey the True Declaration used: the True Reportory or the Bermuda draft.
Drawing firm conclusions about the draft is difficult, because what we have is, at best, a copy of a copy. The final copyist states in a prefatory paragraph that he does not know the identity of the author; the document may not even have borne an author’s name. There is nothing in the text to indicate that it was a letter. It is unlikely that it was a report to the Virginia Company, for Strachey held no official position during the period that it covers. These facts suggest, though they do not conclusively prove, that it was never sent to anyone; that it wound up serving Strachey as an aide mémoire for the True Reportory, then was left behind in Jamestown, passing through unknown hands to the Tucker family of Bermuda, who rediscovered it in an old family trunk. Related Tuckers had lived in Virginia since 1608, so the transmission, while now untraceable, is highly plausible. (Ivor Noël-Hume thinks that Strachey sent the document to England and that it was initially copied in Ireland, but his reasoning depends on the assumption that a copyist in America wouldn’t have known that Bishop George Berkeley had held the deanship of Derry. That was, however, his title during his sojourn in America (1728-31) and he was, in any event, one of the most famous churchmen of the 18th Century.)
Hence, there is no evidence that the Bermuda draft ever left the New World or could have been consulted for purposes of the True Declaration. By contrast, the internal evidence of the True Reportory overwhelmingly supports the view that it was completed in time for Gates’ return to England. S&K’s contrary assertions rest on nothing more solid than their conviction that, since Strachey committed plagiarism in another book, he would not have been copied by anyone else. (They of course contradict that premise when they propose the Bermuda draft as a source for the True Declaration. That it has no merit is self-evident.)
A comparison of the accounts of the storm in the Bermuda draft, the True Reportory and the True Declaration provides clues to which of the former documents the writer of the last one had at hand. On two factual points, the draft differs from the True Reportory; on both, the Reportory and the Declaration agree.
The True Reportory gives the latitude at which the storm struck as between 26 and 27 degrees north. The True Declaration says 27 degrees. The Bermuda draft is silent. Silvester Jourdain’s account, also first hand and available to the True Declaration’s author, puts it at 30 degrees.
The True Reportory states that the location of the Sea Venture’s most serious leak was not found despite a diligent search. The True Declaration refers to it as a “secret leak”. The Bermuda draft, however, after describing the search in much the same terms as the True Reportory, states that “The leak was at length discovered in the hold, on Tuesday
morning. . . .”
S&K concede that the writer of the True Declaration used some version of Strachey. Between the two versions extant, the weight of evidence favors the True Reportory as that source.