Press Marks Anniversary With Bermuda Book

May 3, 2013

VoyageIn May 1964, the University of Virginia Press released its first original publication, “A Voyage to Virginia in 1609, Two Narratives” by William Strachey and Silvester Jourdain, twin accounts of the “Sea Venture”  wreck in Bermuda edited by the late Louis B. Wright, who at the time was director of the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC.

To commemorate the press’s 50th anniversary, a deluxe new edition of the book is being published this month containing the first-hand reports of the authors who were travelling from England to Jamestown when they were shipwrecked off the coast of Bermuda in 1609.

“There are two things about the book that are fascinating and align so well with the history of the press that it made sense for us to do this,” said Mark H. Saunders, interim director of the University Press, said in a recent interview. “This narrative, which is typical of its day, was written to impress a woman in England.

“The narrative fell into the hands of William Shakespeare and he used it as the inspiration for ‘The Tempest.’ The other neat thing about this reissue is that we went looking for somebody who could say what was important about this book today.

“One of our assistant editors found a man [Alden Vaughan] who has written about this narrative, and he wrote a new preface for it. Here’s a perfect example of a book that is important to the press, relevant — and we found the one living person for whom this book is a seminal keystone in his career in some ways.”

Mr. Vaughan is professor emeritus of history at Columbia University, where he taught colonial history for many years. He is one of the preeminent authorities on this subject.

Writing about the “Sea Venture” wreck — which led to the permanent settlement of Bermuda in 1612 — Mr. Vaughan has said: “No humans, European or aboriginal, inhabited the Bermuda archipelago when the ‘Sea Venture’ fortuitously arrived.

“Sea Venture” painting by marine artist  Deryck Foster

Sea Venture

“During the previous century, ships of many nations had crashed on its reefs, and a few survivors had lived to describe the ‘Isle of Devils’, but the most tangible signs of those accidental visits were the wild hogs whose ancestors swam ashore from shipwrecked vessels. Yet Bermuda was, as the Sea Venture’s passengers quickly realized, an island paradise strategically located for transatlantic commerce or piracy and free for the taking. Instead of the reputed devils and malicious spirits, the English encountered docile and abundant birds, fish, tortoises, and the immigrant hogs; fruits and berries were ubiquitous.

“The story of the ‘Sea Venture’s’ wreck on the Bermuda Islands has often been told [because] it opened Shakespeare’s works to the influences of English colonisation and, perhaps more important, because it undergirds the theory—espoused intermittently since the late nineteenth century — that Shakespeare set ‘The Tempest’ on Bermuda and intended the characters to reflect early American persons and events. Bermuda, to this day, reminds visitors of its reputed Tempest connections …”

The new edition of  ”A Voyage to Virginia in 1609, Two Narratives” can be pre-ordered at various online outlets.

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