THOSE who wish to discover the real reason why England can establish colonies, while France and Germany fail whenever
they travel abroad, cannot do better than read this voyage of Ralph Fitch, which is but a fragment from one of the noblest books in our literature,—Hakluyt's Voyages. Here, indeed, are exemplified all the virtues of enterprise and self-reliance which have built up our Empire. The merchant adventurers who in Elizabeth's glorious age made our Navy and created our trade did not receive too much encouragement from their Government. They were driven abroad by the love of enter- prise and money ; they conducted their business not only for their own profit, but for the glory of their country, and it is due to them that England is to-day, as she was when she beat the Armada, "the lady of the sea,"—to use Bacon's words.
But before we say a word of Fitch we would quote a letter sent to the Queen shortly before Drake set out upon his memorable voyage. It is dated November 6th, 1577, and it is as wise and cynical a pronouncement concerning the spirit and policy of England as exists. Its "slimness," to use the Boer phrase, is detestable, but yet the fire of genius and of daring is in every line. Thus it runs :—
" Your Majesty must first seek the Kingdom of Heaven, and make no league with those whom God has divided from you. Your Majesty must endeavour to make yourself strong and to make them weak, and at sea you can either make war upon them openly or by colourable means :—by giving license under letters patent, to discover and inhabit strange places, with special proviso for their safeties whom policy requires to have most annoyed—by which means the doing the contrary shall be imputed to the executor's fault; your Highness's letters patent being a manifest show that it was not your Majesty's pleasure so to have it. Afterwards, if it seem well, you can avow the fact, or else 7.ou can disavow it, the fact, and those who did it as league-breakers, leaving them to pretend it was done without your privity. I will undertake, if you will permit me, to fit out our ships, well-armed, for Newfoundland, where they will meet with all the great shipping of France, Spain, and Portugal. The best I will bring away, and I will barn the rest. Commit us afterwards as pirates if you will, but I shall ruin their sea-force, for they depend upon their fishermen for their navies. It may be objected that they may be against your league; but I hold it as lawful in Christian policy to prevent a mischief betimes as to revenge it too late. You may be told it will ruin our commerce. Do not believe it ; you will but establish your own superiority at sea. If you will let us first do this, we will next take the West Indies from Spain. You will have the gold and silver mines, and the profit of the soil. You will be monarch of the seas and out of danger from everyone. I will do it if you will allow me; only you must resolve and not delay or dally. The wings of man's life are plumed with the feathers of death."
For its mixed spirit of cunning and bad faith, prophecy and filibustering there is nothing in all literature quite like this extraordinary letter. The writer knew precisely what be
wanted, and how it might be attained. He held, more- over, that success could only follow a bold interpretation of the law. "It is as lawful in Christian policy to prevent a mischief betimes as to revenge it too late." How many lives would have been saved had the politicians of the nineteenth century remembered the maxim. But who was it that wrote this Machiavellian compost of treachery, poetry and sound sense? The signature is erased, and yet is it fanciful to suppose that it is signed in every line by Sir Walter Raleigh?
However, the purpose of the book is to set forth the voyage of Ralph Fitch and his companions, who in 1503 organised an expedition to study the far-off lands whence Spain was thought to draw her wealth. They started, did these adventurers, under the auspices of the Levant Company, and the first object of their journey was com- merce. At the same time, they carried letters from the Queen of England to Akbar and the King of China ; and while they were really merchants, they discharged also the functions of an Embassy. Of their pluck there is no question. They were going into a far, unknown land. Yet never once does Ralph Fitch repine. At the outset he and his companions were assured of a safe return. Prison they suffered gladly, knowing always that they would compass their escape. What they feared most was the Portuguese rule and the system of corruption that it encouraged. Still, they persevered, and after
• Ralph Fitch, England's Pioneer in India. By J. Horton Ryley. London : T. Fisher Unwin. [10a ed. net.] a perilous journey they succeeded in reaching the goal of their ambition. Fitch's description of India is a veritable vision of the Arabian Nights. No longer do you wonder that the East was always " gorgeous " to the early travellers. "One of the first tonnes which we came unto," writes Fitch, is called Bellergan, where there is a great market kept of Diamonds, Rubies, Saphires, and many other soft stones:, What an image of wealth and splendour it evokee,—this market of "soft stones " ! Nor was their treasure limited to jewels. "Here be many elephants," notes the traveller, "which they goe to war withal!. Here tbey.have good store of gold and silver." Not less interesting is the description of the beggars, whom Fitch esteemed not highly. One was so proud, "bee would not speake to the King"; another "they took for a great man, but surely he was a lasie lubber." There we see the insular prejudice in favour of hard sense and industry. But presently he came to Kuch Behar, where he found men who "poison all the waters, if any wars be." And worse still, they "have earea which be marvellous great of a span long, which they draw out in length by devises when they be young."
At last Ralph Fitch reached Burmah, and it is no small glory to him that he was the first Englishman to penetrate so far. Of course he visited this distant country when it had lost none of its ancient character, and here is his descrip. tion of the famous white elephants :—" The King in his title is called the King of the white elephants. If any other King have one, and will not send it him, he will make warre with him for it : for he had rather lose a great part of his Kingdome, than not to conquere him. They do very great service unto these white elephants ; every one of them standeth in a house gilded with golde, and they do feede in vessels of silver and gilt." But the ambition of Fitch was not satisfied with Burmah. Through Malacca he journeyed to China, and in these terms he celebrates the sanctity of the Chinese King :—" And when he rideth abroad he is carried upon a great chaire or serrion gilded very faire, wherein there is made a little house with a latise to looke out at; so that he may see them, but they may not looke up at him : and all the time that he passeth by them, they heave up their hands to their heads, and lay their heads on the ground, and looke not up untill he be passed." So Fitch returned to Tripolis, "where finding English shipping, be came with a prosperous voyage to London, where by God's assistance I safely arrived the 29 of April 1591, having bene eight yeeres out of my native country."
It is such men as Ralph Fitch who have made our Empire, and it is interesting to know that the adventurer's blood did not deteriorate. Not many years ago Lieutenant-General Albert Fytche was Chief Commissioner in the British Burmah, which Ralph Fitch was the first Briton to visit. It is an admirable continuity, and the parallel is the more striking when we remember that the literature of Burmah begins with the narrative of Ralph Fitch and ends (or did end in 1878) with the excellent Burma, Past and Present of his dis- tinguished descendant. In conclusion, we recommend this story of England's pioneer to India with perfect confidence; and we only wish that it were the forerunner of what we need more than other work,—a complete reprint in a dozen port- able volumes of Hallnyt's incomparable Voyages.