Society for the History of Discoveries

Kendrick, John.  Alejandro Malaspina:  Portrait of a Visionary.  Seattle:  University of Washington Press, 1999.  212 p.  $18.95, paper.  ISBN 0295983353.

     Contrary to popular and some scholarly opinion, the latter half of the eighteenth century was a dynamic and even relatively progressive period in the history of Spain and its global empire.  It was in the twilight of this era that the amazing though lesser-known Italian soldier-adventurer-intellectual dissenter Alejandro Malaspina made his five-year voyage of exploration and inspection across the Spanish Pacific in 1789-1794.  Upon returning to Spain, Malaspina eventually submitted his reports, accompanied by suggestions for the further rationalization of the Spanish Empire and its administration, to the monarchy.  Consequently and largely for persistent advocacy of his reform ideas, King Carlos IV sentenced him to ten years in prison.  After having served almost eight years, upon the request of Napoleon Malaspina was given a pardon.

     With this volume (simultaneous published with McGill-Queens University Press in Montreal and Kingston), John Kendrick offers us the first English-language biography of this fascinating figure.  Kendrick is a Canadian independent scholar and author who served as the assistant editor of the Hakluyt Society’s excellent translation of Malaspina’s journal of the voyage.  It is clear from reading this book that Kendrick is well acquainted with Malaspina, perhaps too well.  The author assumes not only that his subject’s place in the history of exploration has been thoroughly established, but that his readers know of it as well.

     Interestingly, and as its subtitle already hints at this, the real emphasis in this volume is on Malaspina as a creature of the Enlightenment.  Although the two are not at all separable, Kendrick spends as much time or more on the development of Malaspina’s thought as on his “great voyage” of exploration that so significantly updated and added to the existing knowledge of the Pacific at that time.  Yet no comprehensive worldview of the man or explanation thereof fully emerges from this otherwise well written and informative but brief study.

     Alejandro Malaspina is a quite readable, sporadically illustrated biography of a prominent Pacific explorer of the eighteenth century.  As reflected in its endnotes and bibliography, it is based upon extensive research in the English, Spanish, and Italian sources.  It should be of value as a good introduction of its focus to the devotees of the history of discovery and exploration, and also to those who are not.

Dennis Reinhartz
The University of Texas at Arlington

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