O Brother Where Art Thou?

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The English-American (London, 1648).

This little nugget of Americana came to my notice as I was straightening books on a shelf one day. Written by Thomas Gage (ca. 1595-1656), who was (according to the DNB) sent by his father to Spain in 1612 to study with the Jesuits, but fled them to join the Dominicans. Enchanted by some of the tales of the New World by a few who had traveled there, Gage smuggled himself aboard a ship bound for the Philippines (foreigners were not allowed to travel in Spanish territories), and eventually spent 12 years knocking around what is now Mexico and Central America. He describes Mexico City, then in Spanish hands for almost a century, among many other things (read the very long title for a complete list).

The book itself was dedicated to Sir Thomas Fairfax, third Baron of Cameron (1612-1671), “captain-general of the Parliament’s army.” The English-American was the first travel narrative in English that described the territories in the New World conquered, guarded, and exploited by Spain. In his epistle dedicatory, Gage urges Fairfax (and thus England) to turn his eye to the possibilities of conquest in this largely Spanish arena, and also gives Fairfax a place to put his restless standing army (a perennial problem in Europe–what to do with all those trained men when the most recent conflict is over): the same God who hath led your Excellency through so many difficulties towards the settlement of the peace of this Kingdom, and reduction of Ireland, will, after the perfecting thereof (which God of his mercy hasten) direct your Noble thoughts to employ the Souldiery of this Kingdom upon such just and honourable designs in those parts of America, as their want of action at home may neither be a burden to themselves nor the Kingdome. To your Excellency therefore I offer a New-World . . .

What also interesting about this copy: on the second fly-leaf is written “To Mrs. Charles S. Fairfax December 1883.” This might have been Mrs. Charles Snowden Fairfax (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_S._Fairfax), which would make this perhaps one of the copies owned by the dedicatee (or his descendants).

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