You can only get to Lambeth by ferry.
There have I ventured five several times
to view the rarities at John Tradescant’s Ark,
where I did spend the whole day in perusing,
and that superficially, such as he had gathered,
and was near persuaded that a man
might in one day behold there more things
than if he spent all his life in travel,
as beasts, fowl, fishes, precious stones,
serpents, worms, coins, shells and feathers
of sundry nations, forms and colours;
diverse curiosities in carving and painting;
and a garden with diverse outlandish plants.
I had the pleasure to meet Master Tradescant
(sometimes written Tradeskens, Tredeskyns,
Tradeskin, or in numerous other forms),
lately the Keeper of His Majesty’s Gardens,
Vines and Silkworms at the Oatlands palace.
He is a boyish old man (senex puerilis)
in finery worn ragged, like to a digger’s clothes.
I have heard men swear he is a Dutchman.
He told such tales I did scarce believe
of a voyage of embassy in 1618
that sailed from Gravesend to Archangel,
known as Muscovy; of an expedition
to Barbary against Algerian pirates,
where he did spend much time ashore
and saw the Gladiolus Corn Flag
spread over many acres of ground;
and of the times his son, the younger John,
was passing in the colony for his Majesty
to gather all rarities of flower, plant and shell.
He has not seen his son since April last,
he told me, and then bade me leave,
and vanished to an adjoining wilderness.
His garden is of an exact oval figure
planted with cypress, cut flat and set as even
as a wall could have formed it. The tulips,
anemones, ranunculi and crocuses
are held for the rarest in the world,
drawing all the virtuosi
and persons of most illustrious quality.
The Christian world is also indebted
unto that painful industrious searcher
and lover of all nature’s variety
for the late knowledge of the spiderwort,
the soon-fading spiderwort,
the which he first received of a friend
who thought it was the silkgrass of Virginia.
In his courtyard there lie two ribs of a whale
and a very ingenious little boat of bark,
and in the Ark there are a salamander,
a chameleon, a pelican, a remora,
a lanhado from Africa, a white partridge,
a goose which has grown in Scotland on a tree,
a flying squirrel, a squirrel like a fish,
all kinds of bright coloured birds from India,
a number of things changed into stone
(viz. a piece of human flesh on the bone,
gourds, a piece of wood, an ape’s head,
a cheese, et cetera), a picture wrought in feathers,
the hand of a mermaid, the hand of a mummy,
a very natural wax hand under glass,
all kinds of precious shells, stones and coins,
a piece of wood from the cross of Christ,
pictures from the church of St Sophia
in Constantinople copied by a Jew,
two cups of ‘rinocerode’ (but is this the horn
of the quadruped or the beak of the hornbill?),
a cup of an Indian alcedo, which is a kind
of unicorn, many Turkish shoes,
a sea parrot, a toad-fish, an elk’s hoof
with three claws, a bat as large as a pigeon,
a human bone weighing forty-two pounds,
Indian arrows, an elephant’s head, a tiger’s,
encephalitic and Siamese foetuses
pickled in vinegar, a fine hawking glove
believed to have been made for Henry VIII
and a hawk’s hood of gold foil and chain-work,
an instrument used by the Jews in circumcision,
some very light African wood,
the mantle of Chief Powhatan of Virginia
of tanned hides from the white-tailed deer
and bead-work from the shells of marginella,
a girdle like the Turks in Jerusalem wear,
the passion of Christ carved daintily on a plum stone,
eighty faces carved on a cherry stone,
pictures to be seen by a cylinder
which otherwise appear like confused blots,
a large magnet stone, St Francis in wax under glass,
a stone found in the Indies in the water
whereon were graven Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
a beautiful gift from the Duke of Buckingham
of gold and diamonds affixed to a feather
by which the four elements are signified,
Isidor’s manuscript of De Natura Hominis,
a scourge with which Charles V scourged himself
and a hat band of snake bones.
I do believe
that of all places in England, Tradescant’s Ark
is best for the improvement of children
for the variety of objects which may be seen
by taking the ferry from Westminster to Lambeth.
I gather from his manservant Master Bayler
that Master Tradescant made his will this year,
being sickly in body but perfect in his mind,
with all his properties being left to his son,
the younger John, on the proviso
that if he shall desire to part with the cabinet
of rarities, he offer it first to the King.
Pray God the collection be not broken up
as the man’s body shall be broken up
as dust for worms: we would never see such wonders
of nature and artifice in one place again.
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