Having just received your highly-valued letter of March 6 last, I felt moved to answer you with all dispatch, not only on account of its subject, of supreme interest to both of us, but also because of my desire to engage more closely a written correspondence with you that will bring me continued instruction and delight. He would be guilty in the highest degree (and owing to the bonds of friendship and kinship that unite our two families I myself even more) who failed to make the utmost effort to improve the fine ground that you, esteemed Father Abbot, have cultivated up to now with such providential care and have enabled to provide abundant fruit. Having already grasped the first steps in the field of theoretical astronomy and made sufficient progress in maritime studies to serve immediately without fear of embarrassment, young Fabio, in fifteen days’ time and by my side, will take up the active rôle which, in education as much as in naval service, I have always told the Court is best, since it provides natural strengthening of the constitution, an immense variety of tasks pleasant to the young, and the exhaustion that, in my view, is the only safeguard against vice. I hope therefore to instil in him from the outset two great and useful diversions: the love of music and the love of hard work, so that from the latter he may gain natural agility and exceptional strength in a body that, at great cost to the nation, would otherwise incline him to a sedentary life of study. The study of books can be for us of no more than secondary importance, since at any moment all sorts of things can disturb our concentration: on board, one’s own duties, the nights spent awake, the insecurity, the cramped conditions, the constant noise – all of these conspire to make methodical study difficult or even impossible; moreover, obliged at every moment to bury the most beautiful ideas beneath practical considerations, we cannot rely completely on a grand theory as the principal rudder of our actions. Therefore, if you approve, I will accustom our young scholar to thinking of mathematics just as the Spartan lads were made to think of food, namely that no matter how necessary it is, they should nevertheless consume it in secret. For the books you have sent us, I am forever in your debt, just as I am to the Marquis Gian Francesco and his son Daniele, to whom I ask you to convey my respects. Whatever the limited space forbids us to take on board, including duplicates, we shall deposit with either Count Prasca or Count Greppi. This will help our young man to restrict his natural desire for possession to useful objects. I will be careful to cultivate the excellent morals with which he is provided, primarily by encouraging him to extend them to all men, of whatever form or clime, and instilling in him, through an appreciation of the great variety of beings and the balance of nature, the closest idea of our Creator that it is granted us down here to conceive.
But I dwell too much on subjects which, no matter how very grateful I am for the opportunity, I am unable for the moment to develop. The day before yesterday our corvette was launched, so that already we have our home for the next three or four years, after which I have every hope of hurrying back with our Fabio to see you again.
In my opinion, the tables of heavenly bodies produced in Milan are of the utmost interest to astronomy and navigation. Messrs. Cesaris, Reggio and Oriani (1) bring great honour to Italy, and if I did not have to abandon this observatory, to which H.M. at my request is going to grant a special endowment, I should have begged you to secure me their correspondence as soon as possible. The Litta levels (if they are highly accurate) will enable me to decide the issue of the level of the two seas between Panamá and Portobelo.
I await eagerly your thoughts about my impending voyage, and for the moment I will stop here, begging you to believe me, with greater affection and gratitude, your …
(*) Original in private collection; D. MANFREDI, Alessandro Malaspina e Fabio Ala Ponzone. Lettere dal Vecchio e Nuovo Mondo (1788-1803), Bologna, Il Mulino, 1999, pp. 177-179. [Editing Criteria]
(1) The Brera astronomers Angelo De Cesaris, Francesco Reggio and Barnaba Oriani exchanged various astronomical data with the officers of the expedizion. Contact was maintained through Ximénez. He himself, just a few days before this letter, had written to Fabio: "... Do me the great favour, if it falls to you to do so and if it is also of interest to Cavaliere Malaspina, of making all the observations you can of those which my friend De Cesaris mentions in his letter to me. He and his colleagues will also make them in Brera at tehj same time; on your return you will consult together and compare them; and the results you will arrive at will bring you immortal honour. I enclose his letter, since it will serve you as reminder and a prompt ..."; see the draft of the letter of March 30, 1789, unpublished, in ACAM.
Updated: June 5, 2018