Special Collections Provenance Project at MSU
(4th edition, 1677)Sir Thomas Herbert’s 17th century travelogue features a number of wondrous illustrations and descriptions of lands far from the author’s native England. It was an amazingly ambitious work for its time, and undoubtedly inspired many with its fanciful descriptions of strange creatures and exotic locales.
Some Yeares Travels into Africa and Asia
The work is perhaps best known for its description of the now-extinct dodo bird, once native to Mauritius, an island East of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. Of the dodo, Herbert writes:
Her body is round and fat which occasions the slow place… few of them weigh less than fifty pound. Meat it is with some, but better to the eye than stomach; such as only a strong appetite can vanquish. But otherwise, through its oiliness it cannot choose but quickly cloy and nauseate the stomach, being indeed more pleasurable to look than feed upon. It is of a melancholy visage, as sensible of Nature’s injury in framing so massive a body to be directed by complemental wings, such indeed as are unable to hoist her from the ground, serving only to rank her amongst Birds.
As evidenced in this passage, Herbert often tried eating the various creatures he came across on his travels. In his passage on the penguin (which he calls “a degenerate duck”), encountered near the Cape of Good Hope in southern Africa, Herbert says:
[It] is very fat and oily, and some adventure to eat them, for curiosity may invite… but to make a meal I cannot advise.
The travelogue is full of similarly amusing (and antiquated) accounts and illustrations, including a rather fanciful woodcut of a shark (Herbert writes that “the Niceans took a shark that weighed 400 pound, in which they found a whole man coffin’d”), but for its time it was a remarkable work. It remains a very readable book, and it is fascinating to see one man’s take on peoples, places, and beasts unfamiliar to him and his contemporary English audience.
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Andrew Lundeen, a Special Collections Librarian at MSU, is a recent master’s graduate in Library and Information Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (‘14). Since September 2013, Andrew has spearheaded the MSU Provenance Project, an effort to document marks of ownership and marks of use in rare books at MSU.