Alexandro Malaspina to Ramón Ximénez (*)

Cádiz, February 6, 1789

     Do not be concerned, esteemed Father Abbot, that, at once admiring of the excellent maxims and education that you have infused into the young Don Fabio and desiring not only that they be successful, but also that they produce in abundance the fruits appropriate to his birth, I take the liberty of writing to you directly. I have this youth with me now, and the rich experiences that he will soon encounter during the voyage of which you have been informed cause me little concern, as they would if they were to come to him as a person brimming with dissolute youth, in an age which breathes nothing if not liberty and, finally, among all those distractions that will prevent me time and time again from being able to watch closely over his conduct. I take heart, to tell you the truth, from his talent and his desire to distinguish himself; but I should like him to unite these with great tractability, to consider me a friend who desires only his good, and to be extremely diligent in his methods of study, for, as you well know, our studies, dry in their very nature, yielding fruit only after long delay, and comparing disadvantageously with the attractions of literature, have furthermore the great inconvenience of not permitting a partial grasp: for us a thing is known well, or is not known at all. I have no intention therefore of drawing him away from the fine arts, nor from those agreeable subjects without which a naval officer soon becomes a coarse man who either has nothing at all to say or else recounts only storms, shipwrecks and hunger, using a thousand swear-words whose only saving grace is that they are incomprehensible. But the task I shall set him for the time being (though he has not yet accepted it) is that he establish a firm foundation of study for his career, combining the practical with the theoretical so that he does not become fond of superficiality in the sciences, and then, this done, that he wander at his leisure, now here, now there, in search of that diversion which books themselves, in all their variety, so constantly and beautifully furnish.

     Encumbered by the many preparations required by my commission, I cannot dilate on this important topic as much as I should like nor, perhaps, as much as you would like. Pray, do not withold from him your fatherly reminders (and thus the memory of your good wishes) on these points; then when I recall these forcefully to his attention, and when at the same time the gratitude and respect toward you which such sound maxims have inspired are working in him, I do not doubt that he will succeed in achieving a noble and Christian career.

     I shall not miss the opportunity to tell you also something of my voyage, to whose happy conclusion I should like you too to have the goodness to contribute, not only by sending young Don Fabio those instruments and books which you think can be more useful to him, but also by guiding my operations, in part, with any news and details which may prove useful and which, in your view or in those of your knowledgeable friends, will support our ongoing investigations in the sciences. We shall cover the whole of Spanish America, from Buenos Aires up to Monterrey, in California, and the Marianas, Carolinas and Philippines likewise will be subjects of our work, concerning not only geodesics and astronomy, but also natural history and the study of Man in general. We shall sail also to the Sandwich Islands [Hawaii], the Society Islands and others in the Pacific Ocean; we shall visit New Holland [Australia] and New Zealand and, since I have explained to the Minister of the Navy that voyages around the world nowadays have to be concerned not so much with new discoveries as with the perfection of those already made, I do not doubt that we can determine many matters with philosophical certainty, if the wise, as I have already invited them to do, are willing to decide where, each by each, we might be able to direct our investigations.

     One question arises, among others, which perhaps we might be able to resolve, and that concerns the level of the two oceans (1): for this purpose I am desirous, not only of the timely arrival here of the immersion-level requested by Don Fabio, but also of the essay by Du Carla (2), which I am requesting from Paris, and which it would please me also for Don Fabio to receive, if it can be found in Milan; I should also like some small machines for dissolving fixed air [carbon dioxide] in drinking water; a precaution that I believe most useful for long voyages (3).

     I conclude here, desiring only your command, by declaring myself anew your obedient servant,

     P. S. He has an excessive tendency to spend; I should like you also to have given some little advice on this to our Don Fabio. However so far he has not abused it; I hope that he never will, and this is more likely if, from time to time, there is counsel to reinforce his taking the right path.

    Please pay my respects to Marchese Gian Francesco.

(*) 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. 164-167. Ramón Ximénez was the tutor of Fabio Ala Ponzone. [Editing Criteria]

(1) Malaspina is referring to the much-debated question of whether or not the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, in the latitude of Panamá, were at the same level.

(2) DU CARLA, Expression des nivellemens ou Méthode pour marquer rigoureursment terrestres et marines les hauteurs et les configurations du terrein, Paris, Cellot, 1782.

(3) On this matter Malaspina had already requested the opinion of Dr. José Salvaresa, Chief Medical Examiner of the Royal Navy, receiving favourable responses. Nevertheless, it does not seem that that foresight was put to effective use during the expedition to improve the potability of the water. (See A. OROZCO ACUAVIVA: "Alejandro Malaspina y el protomédico de la Armada José Selvaresa" in B. SAIZ (ed.), Malaspina '93, pp. 181-205.

Original Italian text courtesy of the Centro di Studi Malaspiniani, Mulazzo, Italy; notes by Dario Manfredi. Translation by John Black.

Updated: June 5, 2018