Dear Sir,

Unused to the adulatory language of dedications, I am well aware that any such mode of address would offend your delicacy. While, therefore, I gratify my own feelings by inscribing this work with your valued name, I only use the freedom to assure your Excellency, that I have the honour to be, with the warmest sentiments of respectful esteem and sincere regard,
Dear Sir,

Your affectionate friend,
and gratefully devoted servant,

Edinburgh, 1st March 1811.



In this enlightened age, when every department of science and literature is making rapid progress, and knowledge of every kind excites uncommon interest, and is widely diffused, this attempt to call the attention of the public to a Systematic Arrangement of Voyages and Travels, from the earliest period of authentic history to the present time, ought scarcely to require any apology. Yet, on appearing before the tribunal of public opinion, every author who has not cherished an unreasonable estimate of his own qualifications, must necessarily be impressed with considerable anxiety respecting the probable reception of his work; and may be expected to offer some account of the plan and motives of what he proposes to lay before the public.

The present work is the first of the kind that has ever been attempted in Scotland: and though, as already avowed in the Prospectus, the Editor has no wish to detract from the merits of similar publications, it might appear an overstrained instance of false delicacy to decline a statement of the circumstances which, he presumes to hope, will give some prospect of the work being received with attention and indulgence, perhaps with favour. It certainly is the only General History and Collection of Voyages and Travels that has been hitherto attempted in the English language, upon any arrangement that merits the appellation of a systematic plan. And hence, should the plan adopted be found only comparatively good, in so far the system of arrangement must be pronounced the best that has been as yet devised. If this be conceded, and the fact is too obvious to require extended proof or minute elucidation, the Editor shall not feel mortified even if his arrangement may be considerably improved hereafter.

The only work on the subject that has the smallest pretensions to system, and that is fanciful, involved, irregular, abrupt, and obscure, is PURCHAS HIS PILGRIMS. Even admitting the plan of that work to be in itself excellent; although it may be a General History, so far as it extends, it certainly is in no respect a Complete Collection of Voyages and Travels. In a very large proportion of that curious work, it is the author who speaks to the reader, and not the traveller. In the present work, wherever that could possibly be accomplished, it has uniformly been the anxious desire of the Editor that the voyagers and travellers should tell their own story: In that department of his labour, his only object has been to assume the character of interpreter between them and the readers, by translating foreign or antiquated language into modern English. Sometimes, indeed, where no record remains of particular voyages and travels, as written by the persons who performed them, the Editor has necessarily had recourse to their historians. But, on every such occasion, the most ancient and most authentic accessible sources have been anxiously sought after and employed. In every extensive work, it is of the utmost consequence that its various parts should be arranged upon a comprehensive and perspicuously systematic plan. This has been accordingly aimed at with the utmost solicitude in the present undertaking; and the order of its arrangement was adopted after much deliberation, and from a very attentive consideration of every general work of the same nature that could be procured. If, therefore, the systematic order on which it is conducted shall appear well adapted to the subject, after an attentive perusal and candid investigation, the Editor confidently hopes that his labours may bear a fair comparison with any similar publication that has yet been brought forward.

In the short Prospectus of this work, formerly submitted to the public, a very general enunciation only, of the heads of the intended plan, was attempted; as that was then deemed sufficient to convey a distinct idea of the nature, arrangement, and distribution of the proposed work. Unavoidable circumstances still necessarily preclude the possibility, or the propriety rather, of attempting to give a more full and complete developement of the divisions and subdivisions of the systematic arrangement which is to be pursued, and which circumstances may require some elucidation.

An extensive and minutely arranged plan was carefully devised and extended by the Editor, before one word of the work was written or compiled, after an attentive examination of every accessible former collection; That plan has been since anxiously reconsidered, corrected, altered, and extended, in the progress of the work, as additional materials occurred: yet the Editor considers that the final and public adoption of his plan, in a positively fixed and pledged systematic form, any farther than has been already conveyed in the Prospectus, would have the effect to preclude the availment of those new views of the subject which are continually afforded by additional materials, in every progressive step of preparation for the press. The number of books of voyages and travels, as well general as particular, is extremely great; and, even if the whole were at once before the Editor, it would too much distract his attention from the division or department in which he is engaged for the time, to attempt studying and abstracting every subdivision at once. The grand divisions, however, which have been already indicated in the Prospectus, and the general principles of the plan, which are there explained, are intended to be adhered to; as no reasons have been discovered, after the most attentive consideration, for any deviation from that carefully adopted arrangement, the heads of which are here repeated.



PART I. -- Voyages and Travels of Discovery in the middle ages; from the era of Alfred, King of England, in the ninth century  to that of Don Henry of Portugal at the commencement of the fourteenth century.

PART II. -- General Voyages and Travels chiefly of Discovery; from the era of Don Henry, in 1412, to that of George III in 1760.

PART III. -- Particular Voyages and Travels arranged in systematic order, Geographical and Chronological.
Note.--This part will be divided into five books, comprehending, I. Europe.--II. Asia.--III. Africa.--IV. America.--V. Australia and Polynesia; or the prodigious multitude of islands in the great:Pacific Ocean. And all these will be further subdivided into particular chapters or sections correspondent to the geographical arrangements of these several portions of the globe. [[Part III remained incomplete on the author's death.]]

PART IV. -- General Voyages and Travels of Discovery during the era of George III which were conducted upon scientific principles, and by which the Geography of the globe has been nearly perfected. [[This part had not been written when the author died.]]

PART V. -- Historical Deduction of the Progress of Navigation Discovery  and Commerce by sea and land, from the earliest times to the present period. [[This part was written by William Stevenson after the author's death.]]

In the deliberate construction of this systematic plan, it has been a leading object of anxious consideration, to reduce the extensive and interesting materials of which the work is composed under a clear, intelligible, and comprehensive arrangement, so combined in a geographical and chronological series, that each successive division and subdivision, throughout the whole work, may prepare the mind of the reader for that which is to follow, and may assist the memory in the recollection of what has gone before. By these means, an attentive perusal of this work must necessarily be of material usefulness, in fixing distinct and just ideas of geography, history, and chronology in the minds of its readers; besides the important information and rational amusement which it will afford, by the frequent description of manners, customs, laws, governments, and many other circumstances, of all the countries and nations of the world.

In determining upon an era for the commencement of this work, the Editor was naturally led, from a consideration of the accidental discovery of Iceland by the Norwegians in the ninth century, as coincident with the reign of the great ALFRED, who ascended the throne of England in 872, to adopt that period as the beginning of the series, both because the commencement of modern maritime discovery took place during the reign of a British sovereign, and because we derive the earliest written accounts of any of these discoveries from the pen of that excellent prince. It is true that the first accidental discovery of Iceland appears to have been made in 861, eleven years before the accession of Alfred to the throne; yet, as the actual colonization of that island did not take place till the year 878, the seventh of his glorious reign, we have been induced to distinguish the actual commencement of maritime discovery by the modern European nations as coinciding with his era.

From that time, till the year 1412, when Don Henry, Prince of Portugal, first began to prosecute a consecutive series of maritime discoveries along the western coast of Africa, during which a long inactive period of 551 years had elapsed, the only maritime incident connected with our subject, was the accidental re-discovery of the Canary or Fortunate Islands, by a nameless Frenchman, about the year 1330, though they were not attempted to be taken possession of till 1400. This long interval, between the eras of King Alfred and Don Henry, constitutes the first Part, or grand division of our work, in the course of which, a considerable number of adventurous travellers penetrated into the almost unknown regions of Tartary and the East, and considerable notices of the empire of China, and even of Japan, and of the coast and islands of India and north-eastern Africa,  were communicated to the Europeans by the Polos and others.

In separating Part IV. from Part II. the General Voyages and Travels of Discovery which have been undertaken during the long and busy reign of our present venerable Sovereign, from those of a similar nature which succeeded the discovery of the new world, and of the route by sea to India, the Editor only pays a just tribute to the enlightened spirit of the age, under the munificent and enlightened patronage of the beloved Monarch of a free and happy people. Those former voyages of Part II. were mostly undertaken from mere interested views of direct or expected commercial benefit; while these of the era of George III. originated in the grand principles of endeavouring to extend the bounds of science and human happiness.

Perhaps it may occur to some readers, that PART V. the last in order of the general heads of our plan, ought to have formed PART I. as partaking of the nature of an introduction to the subject, and forming a summary of the whole work. Upon even a very slight consideration, however, it must be obvious, that it is impossible to compose that proposed deduction in any adequate manner, until the whole mass of selected materials is possessed by the Editor, and definitively arranged. It may likewise be known to many, that introductions and prefaces, though usually placed at the beginning of books, are uniformly and necessarily last composed, and usually last printed, except in new editions.

A great variety of Collections of Voyages and Travels have been published at different periods, many of which are inaccessible from their scarcity, or from being in foreign languages: And such great numbers of Voyages and Travels to particular regions and countries have been printed, as to be altogether unattainable by the generality of readers. Every thing, however, which could contribute to the perfection of this work has been collected, or will be carefully procured during its progress; and no pains or expense shall be withheld which, can contribute to render it as complete and comprehensive as possible. In the employment of the vast variety and extent of excellent materials, great care shall be taken to insert every useful and curious information, reduced, where necessary, to modern language; and nothing shall be omitted which is conducive to valuable information and rational amusement.

In our approach towards the present times, the multitude of particular Voyages and Travels increases prodigiously; and, in employing these, it becomes peculiarly necessary to make a selection of the best in every period, and especially of those best adapted for conveying just ideas of each geographical division and subdivision of the world; while those of less merit, but which contain useful notices of the regions and countries of which they treat, shall be carefully epitomized in illustration of the different subjects. Without the employment of discriminate selection and occasional abridgement, this work must have extended to an inconvenient and consequently expensive size, or must have been left unfinished and abrupt in some of its parts: But abridgement shall be very seldom employed and never without acknowledgment. Indeed, the grand object of the present work is to bring together a more complete and entire collection of Voyages and Travels, than has hitherto appeared in any language.

From the nature of the plan, it is utterly impossible to ascertain, with any precision, the exact length to which it may extend; but, so far as can be judged of at present, it is not expected to exceed eighteen or twenty volumes. Throughout the whole work, a series of Maps and Charts will be inserted in their proper places, carefully selected and constructed for the purpose of illustrating the various Voyages and Travels. At the close of the whole, a complete Index will be given to the entire series of volumes, so arranged as to form a regular Gazetteer of the whole world. In every article which has been adopted into this work, the original and accessory sources of all the materials shall be distinctly indicated. Notes of explanation will be given, wherever necessary; and, as many of these are drawn from various sources, the names of the authors from whom they are adopted shall always be acknowledged: Such notes as are marked by the letter E. are by the Editor of the work.

Owing to the indispensable nature of this work, it makes no positive claim to the character of an original composition, in the strict acceptation of that term; and he, therefore, who has undertaken the care of its collection and arrangement, assumes no higher title than that of Editor. In the discharge of that duty, however, the labour which he has necessarily bestowed, though always pleasing, has often been considerable, and sometimes arduous; and he trusts that the plan of the work, which is altogether original, will be found appropriately adapted to the end in view, and that the execution may appear not inadequate to the high importance of the subject. Without imputation of arrogance, he may be permitted to assert, that he has exerted the most unremitting attention and industry, in the collection, selection, and preparation of the several portions of the whole work, and in the arrangement and distribution of its parts. He has the satisfaction to add, that all his efforts have been seconded with the utmost readiness and liberality by the Proprietor of the work, who has spared no trouble, and withheld no expense, in procuring and supplying the necessary materials.

It is with much grateful satisfaction, that the Editor has to acknowledge his high obligations to the Curators and Librarians of the Edinburgh public libraries, belonging to the Faculty of Advocates, the University, and the Writers to his Majesty's Signet, for the communication of many valuable and scarce materials. Nor ought he to withhold his tribute of gratitude, on this occasion, from the liberal spirit of a private individual, the Reverend Henry White of Lichfield, who has most obligingly offered the use of his valuable Collection of Voyages and Travels, and other curious and scarce works connected with the subject, for assisting towards the perfection of this publication.

Having thus briefly announced the nature, plan, and object of the present work, of which this first Volume is now before the public, it only remains to say, that the Editor and Proprietor, each in his particular department, are resolved to exert their utmost endeavours, that nothing may be omitted which can contribute to render the work deserving of public approbation and extensive patronage.


 -- *back to the Robert Kerr index page* -- *FWP's main page --