Alexandro Malaspina to Gian Francesco Ala Ponzone *

Italian Original

[Cádiz, February (6?), 1789] (1)

Much honour and at the same time much pleasure has been brought to me by your kind greetings of last January 15th, which I did not answer by return of post because I was obliged to pass over such matters in favour of the preparations for my next voyage.

Since I have been away from beautiful Italy, and far from my relatives, for so long a time (too long out of my country to have any news of it), you can imagine how important it is to me to have with me your worthy son (2), who, over and above the ties of friendship, hospitality and kinship that exist between our two families, combines together all the qualities that an excellent nature, an illustrious talent and an admirable education can produce.

I will see to it, therefore, since he is my companion on the voyage, that he is rather my friend than a subordinate. Without tiring him out with reflections not quite suited to his capacities, I will have him take all necessary notice, not so much of the present state of the Kingdom as of what will come about twenty-five or thirty years from now, a time when there will be need of great understanding, and after which, if I am not seriously mistaken, will come the period in which the great revolutions will occur, and consequently it will be more difficult to combine together all the articles of correct and admirable conduct. (3).

As for his profession as an officer of the Marina, I entertain the hope that he will learn it well. To tell the truth, it places great demands on one to have to pursue the careful study of difficult sciences in surroundings of the greatest inconvenience, continuous danger and above all with the mortification of seeing at every moment the most elegant implications of theory overcome by practical considerations; but one acquires a certain strength and constancy in the face of these difficulties - the only way, to my way of thinking, to triumph over them; and, I would add, the greatest variety of projects can only open up the path to greater knowledge and provide one with a correct understanding of the Creator, of mankind and of the surface on which he lives.

I do not think that Don Fabio will have need of very much: in a letter written to Abbot Ximénez a few weeks ago, I mentioned to him some books and documents; in particular the Litta books, which would suit us very well; then again, concerning what should be included in some shipments of books that we will be able to receive in two years' time in China or the Philippines, I will let you know in due course, at which time you will be able also to receive our news and to see to it that your greetings get to us. I will tell Count Prasca what our needs are, and I have already discussed with him the means of accustoming the lad to a little hardship, relating always to the requirements, whether of travel or of study, that make a man at the same time a lover of propriety and nothing but a beneficiary of his own travail and thrift.

Do not doubt that my greatest pleasure will be to show you how grateful I am to you and how much I desire to exert myself in your service. Believe me therefore tried and true, who have the honour to reaffirm myself . . .

* Original in ACAM. Text published in: D. MANFREDI, Alessandro Malaspina e Fabio Ala Ponzone. Lettere dal Vecchio e Nuovo Mondo (1788-1803), Bologna, Il Mulino, 1999, pp. 163-164. [Editing Criteria]

(1) The document is not dated but, since it is closely connected with the subsequent letter, it is likely enough that it was written on the same day.

(2) Malaspina is referring to Fabio Ala Ponzone, the son of Gian Francesco, who took part in the whole expedition.

(3) As can be seen, Malaspina understood that the sun was about to set on l'ancien régime, even if he did not believe it would happen quite so imminently.

Text courtesy of the Centro di Studi Malaspiniani, Mulazzo, Italy; notes by Dario Manfredi; translated by John Black.

Updated: June 5, 2018