How much of the present Knowledge of the Parts of the World is owing to late Discoveries, may be judged by comparing the Modern with the Ancient’s Accounts thereof; though possibly many such Histories may have been written in former Ages, yet few have escaped the Injury of Time, so as to be handed safe to us. ’Twas many Ages possibly before Writing was known, then known to a few, and made use of by fewer, and fewest employed it to this purpose. Add to this, that such as were written, remained for the most part Imprisoned in the Cells of some Library or Study, accessible to a small number of Mankind, and regarded by a less, which after perished with the Place or the Decay of their own Substance. This we may judge from the loss of those many Writings mentioned by Pliny and other of the Ancients. And we had yet found fewer, if the Art of Printing, first Invented about 240 years since, had not secured most that lasted to that time. Since which, that Loss has been repaired by a vast number of new Accessions, which besides the Satisfaction they have given to Curious and Inquisitive Men by increasing their Knowledge, have excited many more to the like Attempts, not only of Making but of Publishing also their Discoveries. But I am not ignorant still; that as Discoveries have been this way preserved, so many others nave been lost, to the great Detriment of the Publick. It were very desirable therefore that the Causes of these and other Defects being known, some Remedies might be found to prevent the like Losses for the future. The principal Causes I conceive may be these;
First, The want of sufficient Instructions (to Seamen and Travellers,) to shew them what is pertinent and considerable, to be observ’d in their Voyages and Abodes, and how to make their Observations and keep Registers or Accounts of them.
Next, The want of some Publick Incouragement for such as shall perform such Instructions.
Thirdly, The want of fit Persons both to Promote and Disperse such Instructions to Persons fitted to engage, and careful to Collect Returns; and Compose them into Histories; by examining the Persons more at large upon those and other Particulars. And by separating what is pertinent from what is not so, and to be Rejected; who should have also wherewith to gratifie every one according to his Performances.
Fourthly, The want of some easie Way to have all such Printed: First singly, and afterwards divers of them together. It having been found that many small Tracts are lost after Printing, as well as many that are never Printed; upon which account we are much oblig’d to Mr. Haclute and Mr. Purchas, for preserving many such in their Works.
Fifthly, The want of taking care to Collect all such Relations of Voyages and Accounts of Countries as have been Published in other Languages; and Translating them either into English, or (which will be of more general use) into Latin, the learned Language of Europe. There being many such in other Countries hardly ever heard of in England.
The Difficulties of removing which Defects is not so great but that it might easily fall even within the compass of a private Ability to remove, if at least Publick Authority Would but Countenance the Design, how much less then would it be if the same would afford also some moderate Encouragement and Reward?
The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, has not been wanting in preparing and dispersing Instructions to this end, and is ready still to promote it, if the Publick would allow a Recompence to the Undertakers. The desirableness and facility of this Undertaking may, I hope, in a short time produce the Expedients also. In the Interim all means should be used, to try what may be obtain’d from the Generosity of such as have had the Opportunities of knowing Foreign Countries.
There are but few who, though they know much, can yet be persuaded they know any thing worth Communicating, and because the things are common and well known to them, are apt to think them so to the rest of Mankind; This Prejudice has done much mischief in this particular as well as in many other, and must be first remov’d. There are others that are conscious enough of their own Knowledge, and yet either for want of Ability to write well, or of use to Compose, or of time to Study and Digest, or out of Modesty and fear to be in Print, or because they think they know not enough to make a Volume, or for not being prompted to, or earnestly solicited for it, neglect to do it; others delay to do it so long till they have forgotten what they intended. Such as these Importunity would prevail upon to disclose their knowledge, if fitting Persons were found to Discourse and ask them Questions, and to Compile the Answers into a History. Of this kind was lately produc’d in High Dutch a History of Greenland, by Dr. Fogelius of Hamborough, from the Information of Frederick Martin, who had made several Voyages to that Place, in the doing of which, he made use of the Instruction given by the Royal Society.
’Tis much to be wondred that we should to this Day want a good History of most of our West-Indian Plantations. Ligon has done well for the Barbadoes, and somewhat has been done for the Summer Islands, Virginia, &c. But how far are all these short even of the knowledge of these and other Places of the West-Indies, which may be obtain’d from divers knowing Planters now Residing in London? And how easie were it to obtain what is Defective from some Ingenious Persons now Resident upon the Places, if some way were found to gratifie them for their Performances? However till such be found, ’tis to be hoped that the kind Acceptance only the Publick shall give to this present Work, may excite several other Ingenuous, and knowing Men to follow this Generous Example of Captain Knox who though he could bring away nothing almost upon his Back or in his Purse, did yet Transport the whole Kingdom of Cande Uda in his Head, and by Writing and Publishing this his Knowledge, has freely given it to his Countrey, and to You Reader in, particular.
’Twas not I confess without the earnest Solicitations and Endeavours of my self, and some others of his Friends obtain’d from him, but this uneasiness of parting with it was not for want of Generosity and Freedom enough in Communicating whatever he knew or had observed, but from that usual Prejudice of Modesty, and too mean an Opinion of his own Knowledge and Abilities of doing any thing should be worthy the view of the Publick. And had he found leisure to Compose it, he could have filled a much greater Volume with useful and pertinent, as well as unusual and strange Observations. He could have inrich’t it with a more particular Description of many of their curious Plants, Fruits, Birds, Fishes, Insects, Minerals, Stones; and told you many more of the Medicinal and other uses of them in Trades and Manufactures. He could have given you a compleat Dictionary of their Language, understanding and speaking it as well as his Mother Tongue. But his Occasions would not permit him to do more at present. Yet the Civil Usage this his First-born meets with among his Countreymen, may ’tis hoped oblige him to gratifie them with further Discoveries and Observations in his future Travels.
To conclude, He has in this History given you a tast of his Observations. In which most Readers, though of very differing Gusts, may find somewhat very pleasant to their Pallat. The Statesman, Divine, Physitian, Lawyet, Merchant, Mechanick, Husbandman, may select something for their Entertainment. The Philosopher and Historian much more. I believe at least all that love Truth will be pleas’d; for from that little Conversation I had with him I conceive him to be no ways prejudiced of byassed by Interest, affection, or hatred, fear or hopes, or the vain-glory of telling Strange Things, so as to make him swarve from the truth of Matter of Fact: And for his opportunity of being informed, any one may satisfie himself when he understands his almost 20 years Abode and Converse among them. His Skill in the Language and Customs of the People, his way of Employment in Travelling and Trading over all Parts of the Kingdom; add to this his Breeding till 19 years of Age under his Father a Captain for the East-India Company, and his own Natural and acquired parts; but above all his good Reputation, which may be judged from the Employment That Worshipful Company have now freely bestowed upon him, having made him Commander of the Tarquin Merchant, and intruded him to undertake a Voyage to Tarquin.
Read therefore the Book it self, and you will find your self taken Captive indeed, but used more kindly by the Author, than he himself was by the Natives.
After a general view of the Sea Coasts, he will lead you into the Country by the Watches, through the Thorney Gates, then Conduct you round upon the Mountains that Encompass and Fortifie the whole Kingdom, and by the way carry you to the top of Hommalet or Adam’s Peak; from those he will descend with you, and shew you their chief Cities and Towns, and pass through them into the Countrey, and there acquaint you with their Husbandry, then entertain you with the Fruits, Flowers, Herbs, Roots, Plants and Trees, and by the way shelter you from Sun and Rain, with a Fan made of the Talipat-Leaf. Then shew you their Beasts, Birds, Fish, Serpents, Insects; and last of all, their Commodities. From hence he will carry you to Court, and shew you the King in the several Estates of his Life; and acquaint you with his way of Governing, Revenues, Treasures, Officers, Governors, Military Strength, Wars: and by the way entertain you with an account of the late Rebellion against him. After which he will bring you acquainted with the Inhabitants themselves, whence you may know their different Humours, Ranks and Qualities. Then you may visit their Temples such as they are, and see the Foppery of their Priests Religious Opinions and Practices both in their Worship and Festivals, and afterwards go home to their Houses and be acquainted with their Conversation and Entertainment, see their Housewifery, Furniture, Finery, and understand how they Breed and Dispose of their Children in Marriage; and in what Employments and Recreations they pass their time. Then you may acquaint your self with their Language, Learning, Laws, and if you please with their Magick & Jugling. And last of all with their Diseases, Sickness, Death, and manner of Burial. After which he will give you a full account of the Reason of his own Going to, and Detainment in the Island of Ceylon, and Kingdom of Conde-Uda. And of all his various Conditions, and the Accidents that befel him there during Nineteen years and an halfs abode among them. And by what ways and means at last he made his Escape and Returned safe into England in September last, 1680.
Aug. 1. 1681.
To the Right Worshipful Sir William Thomson Knight, Governor, Thomas Papillon Esquire; Deputy, and the 24 Committees of the Honorable EAST-INDIA Company hereunder Specified, Viz.
The Right Honorable George Earl of Berkley,
The Right Honorable James Lord Chandois.
Sir Matthew Andrews Knight,
Sir John Bancks Baronet,
Sir Samuel Barnardiston Baronet,
Mr. Christopher Boone,
John Bathurst Esquire,
Sir Josia Child Baronet,
Mr. Thomas Canham,
Collonel John Clerk,
Sir James Edwards Knight,
Mr. Joseph Herne,
Richard Hutchinson Esquire,
James Hublon Esquire,
Sir John Lethieullier Knight,
Mr. Nathaniel Petton,
Sir John Moor Knight,
Samuel Moyer Esquire,
Mr. John Morden,
Mr. John Paige,
Edward Rudge Esquire,
Daniel Sheldon Esquire,
Mr. Jeremy Sambrook,
Robert Thomson Esquire.
Since my return home to my Native Countrey of England, after a long and Disconsolate Captivity, my Friends and Acquaintance in our Converse together have been Inquisitive into the State of that Land in which I was Captivated; whose Curiosity I indeavour to satisfie. But my Relations and Accounts of Things in those Parts were so strange and uncouth, and so different from those in these Western Nations, and withal my Discourses seeming so Delightful and Acceptable unto them, they very frequently called upon me to write what I knew of that Island of Ceilon, and to digest it into a Discourse, and make it more Publick; unto which motion I was not much unwilling, partly that I might comply with the Desires and Councels of my Friends, and chiefly that I might Publish and Declare the great Mercy of God to me, and Commemorate before all Men my singular Deliverance out of that Strange and Pagan Land, which as often as I think of or mention, I cannot but admire and adore the goodness of God towards me, there being in it so many notable Footsteps of his signal Providence.
I had then by me several Papers, which during my Voyage homeward from Bantam at leisure times I write concerning the King and the Countrey, and concerning the English there, and of my Escape; which Papers I forthwith set my self to Peruse and draw into a Method, and to add what more might occur to my Thoughts of those Matters, which at length I have finished, contriving what I had to relate under four Heads. The first concerning the Countrey and Products of it. The second concerning the King and his Government. The third concerning the Inhabitants, and their Religion and Customs, and the last concerning our Surprize, Detainment and Escape; In all which I take leave to Declare, That I have writ nothing but either what I am assured of by my own personal Knowledge to be true, and wherein I have born a great and a sad share, or what I have received from the Inhabitants themselves of such things as are commonly known to be true among them. The Book, being thus perfected, it required no long Meditation unto whom to present it, it could be to none but your selves (my Honoured Masters) by whose Wisdom and Success the East-Indian Parts of the World are now near as well known, as the Countries next adjacent to us. So that by your means, not only the Wealth, but the Knowledge of those Indies is brought home to us. Unto your Favour and Patronage therefore (Right Worshipful) I humbly presume to recommend these Papers and the Author of them, who rejoyce th at this opportunity to acknowledge the Favours you have already conferred on him, and to profess that next unto God, on you depend his Future Hopes and Expectations; being
Your most obliged and most humble and devoted Servant to be Commanded,
London. 18th. March, 1680/81.