Alexandro Malaspina to Antonio Valdés (*)

Cádiz, December 23, 1788

    I proposed to Your Excellency in my first plan, as one of the essential objects of a voyage of this type, an examination of the politics of the Americas, boiling down my conjectures to a number of political axioms, to which [proposal] you responded in good time; and, naturally, in shaping for the Ministry such a confidential aspect of the voyage, you referred everything to the national prosperity. If the desire of His Majesty is that I do indeed work on this delicate matter, immediately systematizing (a task to which I am not indifferent) my political principles, without whose backing the whole work would be reduced to a building without foundation, it would only save time for Your Excellency. For some years the study of the national prosperity has occupied a large part of my attention: I believe I have understood the Monarchy; and Your Excellency's character and mine, together with my total indifference to any ulterior motive, make me flatter myself that on this, better than on any other occasion, you would be able to discern (?) all my moral maxims. I do not seek a reputation as having directed this project, neither would my plan be aimed at insignificant reforms or at the simple unearthing of one or another minor administrative defect.

    All the threads of this grand fabric of our Monarchy must be directed towards the same end: they are very complicated, it is true; but without their concerted action the fabric would reveal many flimsy parts, where it may be broken very easily. I offer myself, perhaps inopportunely and with some audacity, for an extremely delicate responsibility, and one which also demands more than the ordinary circumspection and prudence; and in this I am ruled not so much by ambition or self-interest, as by the desire to serve the Monarchy on this occasion with the enthusiasm that has been born with me. Thus I hope that Your Excellency places the step I have taken in the class to which it correctly belongs; and attributes it specifically to my desire of not overstepping the limits that Your Excellency has quite rightly prescribed for my rôle.

    On the detail of operations for the first year, before communicating it to Your Excellency, as I verify in this letter, I would have consulted with Don Vincente Tofiño (1), if his health had not been lately in such a bad state. I am sending to Don José Espinosa (2) a more particular account of the papers from which it was abstracted, and which the lieutenant of the frigate Quintano has just now sent me from the Island [of León]. Perhaps Your Excellency will not dislike seeing it and inferring from it the extensive plan that we will try to embrace in this commission. The same Espinosa will present to Your Excellency directly the note of what might be requested of Paris for the naturalists and draughtsmen.

    Don José Mazarredo (3) advises me that he has requested of Your Excellency the disembarkation of Ship's Lieutenant Don Ventura Varcáiztegui as Second Lieutenant of his Company of Marine Guards. This officer's excellent record, and his friendship with myself and with Bustamante and other officers, will make us very sensitive to his loss; and thus I venture to beg Your Excellency that, if you find it appropriate, you condescend to allow this officer to remain on board, the more so in order that he will be able to replace Frigate Lieutenant Moyán (4).

    On our specific correspondence with various experts from Europe, I believe it necessary because it is impossible in this day and age, even with much study and the abundance of books that can be provided to an officer of the navy, to follow the multiplicity of modern areas of knowledge that are related to marine [exploration], and, on the other hand, it would be unpardonable to omit through ignorance alone any of our investigations which can contribute to the general welfare.

    The attention of the layman is still entirely removed from the foreign establishments that we might have to visit, nor will the scientific correspondence that we undertake ever refer to such places; and thus Your Excellency can be sure that, for my part, it will be entirely hidden from everyone.


(*) Text published in: D. MANFREDI, Alessandro Malaspina e Fabio Ala Ponzone. Lettere dal Vecchio e Nuovo Mondo (1788-1803), Bologna, Il Mulino, 1999, pp. 148-150; PICANYOL, p. 67 (partially). Copy in AMNM (Ms. 583, c. 27), APSF[Editing Criteria]

(1) Vincente Tofiño y Sanmiguel (1732-1795) was an officer and cartographer. He supplied a notable impulse to the study of the astronomy among the officers of the Real Armada.

(2) This officer was entrusted by Malaspina with searching in various Spanish archives for accounts of previous maritime voyages. The list of the ancient accounts copied by him in the Archivo Real de Indias (Madrid) is published in M.D. HIGUERAS RODRIGUEZ, Catálogo crítico de los documentos de la Expedición Malaspina (1789-1794) del Museo Naval, Madrid, Museo Naval, vol. III, 1994, p. 108. Among them appears the account by Lorenzo Ferrer Maldonado of his purported voyage from the Pacific to the Atlantic through the Strait of Anian.

(3) At that time, the officer of the Real Armada José de Mazarredo (1745-1812) was occupied, like the Tofiño mentioned here, in the advancement of astronomical studies.

(4) On this point Malaspina's words fell on deaf ears.

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

Updated: December 28, 2005