"This elaborate and excellent Collection, which redounds as much to the glory of the English Nation as any book that ever was published, has already had sufficient complaints made in its behalf against our suffering it to become so scarce and obscure, by neglecting to republish it in a fair impression, with proper illustrations and especially an Index. But there may still be room left for a favourable construction of such neglect, and the hope that nothing but the casual scarcity of a work so long since out of print may have prevented its falling into those able hands that might, by such an edition, have rewarded the eminent Examples preserved therein, the Collector thereof and themselves according to their deserts."
Thus wrote Oldys (The British Librarian, No III, March, 1737, page 137), nearly 150. years ago, and what has been done to remove this, reproach? The work has become so rare that even a reckless expenditure of money cannot procure a copy [Footnote: Mr. Quantch, the eminent Bibliopole, is now asking £42 for a copy of the 1598-1600 edition.]
It has indeed long been felt that a handy edition of the celebrated "Collection of the Early Voyages, Travels and Discoveries of the English Nation," published by Richard Hakluyt 1598, 1599, 1600, was one of the greatest desiderata of all interested in History, Travel, or Adventure. The labour and cost involved have however hitherto deterred publishers from attempting to meet the want except in the case of the very limited reprint of 1809-12. [Footnote: Of this edition 250 copies were printed on royal paper, and 75 copies on imperial paper.] As regards the labour involved, the following brief summary of the contents of the Second Edition will give the reader some idea of its extent. I refer those who desire a complete analysis to Oldys.Volume I. (1598) deals with Voyages to the North and North East, and contains One hundred and nine separate narratives, from Arthur's Expedition to Norway in 517 to the celebrated Expedition to Cadiz, in the reign of good Queen Bess. Amongst the chief voyages may be mentioned: Edgar's voyage round Britain in 973; an account of the Knights of Jerusalem; Cabot's voyages; Chancellor's voyages to Russia; Elizabeth's Embassies, to Russia, Persia, &c.; the Destruction of the Armada; &c., &c. Volume II. (1599) treats of Voyages to the South and South East, beginning with that of the Empress Helena to Jerusalem in 337. The chief narratives are those of Edward the Confessor's Embassy to Constantinople; The History of the English Guard in that City; Richard Coeur de Lion's travels; Anthony Beck's voyage to Tartary in 1330; The English in Algiers and Tunis (1400); Solyman's Conquest of Rhodes; Foxe's narrative of his captivity; Voyages to India, China, Guinea, the Canaries; the account of the Levant Company; and the travels of Raleigh, Frobisher, Grenville, &c. It contains One hundred and sixty-five separate pieces. Volume III. (1600) has Two hundred and forty-three different narratives, commencing with the fabulous Discovery of the West Indies in 1170, by Madoc, Prince of Wales. It contains the voyages of Columbus; of Cabot and his Sons; of Davis, Smith, Frobisher, Drake, Hawkins; the Discoveries of Newfoundland, Virginia, Florida, the Antilles, &c.; Raleigh's voyages to Guiana; Drake's great Voyage; travels in South America, China, Japan, and all countries in the West; an account of the Empire of El Dorado, &c.
The three volumes of the Second Edition therefore together contain Five hundred and seventeen separate narratives. When to this we add those narratives included in the First Edition, but omitted in the Second, all the voyages printed by Hakluyt or at his suggestion, such as "Divers Voyages touching the Discoverie of America," "The Conquest of Terra Florida," "The Historie of the West Indies," &c., &c., and many of the publications of the Hakluyt Society, some idea may be formed of the magnitude of the undertaking....