The Discovery of Guiana
The Discovery of Guiana is a book by Sir Walter Raleigh, who wrote this account one year after his 1595 journey to "Guiana", the Venezuelan region of Guayana. He also visited Trinidad. The book includes some material of a factual nature, but postulates the existence of a gold-rich civilisation on the basis of little evidence.
After enjoying several years of high esteem from Queen Elizabeth I, which stemmed in part from his previous exploits at sea, Raleigh suffered a short imprisonment for secretly marrying one of the Queen's ladies-in-waiting. In an attempt to bring himself back into favor, Raleigh sailed to Guiana in 1595, hoping to find gold and other material to exchange or extort. One contemporary scholar remarks of this journey, "Although the expedition itself was hardly a success—Ralegh conquered no lands, found no stores of wealth, and discovered little not observed by earlier adventurers—he created a triumph for himself by publishing The Discovery." He returned to Guiana one more time, in 1617, this time after a twelve-year imprisonment at the hands of King James I. Unfortunately for Raleigh, this adventure did not yield more gold, nor did it yield a published account, likely since he was arrested soon after returning, and sentenced to death.
As was common practice in this time period, The Discovery of Guiana was not the actual name at the time of its publication. It was actually called The discovery of the large, rich, and beautiful Empire of Guiana, with a relation of the great and golden city of Manoa (which the Spaniards call El Dorado). However, today it is generally simply referred to as The Discovery of Guiana.
Claims vs. findings
There are gold deposits in Venezuela, but Raleigh appears to have exaggerated how easy it was for him to find gold there. Raleigh having promised Queen Elizabeth a "gold-rich empire more lucrative than Peru." King James was probably a little more willing to temporarily forgive Raleigh's charge of treason to see if he could find the place he had claimed to have found, and make it profitable. But the scholar argues that this came from Raleigh's prodigious literary skill, wherein he was able to make it sound like he had found much gold, but without ever saying or relating the precise finding of it, or bringing anything back.
On the second voyage, Raleigh's men, under the command of Lawrence Keymis, attacked the Spanish on the river Orinoco. At Raleigh's subsequent trial, he was not only tried for treason against the crown for disobeying King James I's orders to avoid engaging in combat with the Spanish, but, argues one scholar, also for essentially lying about the abundance of gold to be had in Guiana.
- Black, Joseph. "Sir Walter Ralegh." The Broadview Anthology of British Literature. 2nd ed. Vol. 1. Peterborough, Ont.: Broadview, 2009. 334. Print.
- Head, David M. Rev. of The Discovery of Guiana by Sir Walter Ralegh: With Related Documents, ed. Benjamin Schmidt. The Historian 72.3 (2010): 704. Web. 10 August 2011.
- Fuller, Mary C. "Raleigh's Fugitive Gold: Reference and Deferral in The Discoverie of Guiana." Representations 33 (1991): 42. Web. 10 August 2011.
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