The Hakluyt Society: Publishing in Wartime
In 1946, the Hakluyt Society published the last two volumes in its Second Series, The Suma Oriental of Tomé Pires, translated and edited by Armando Cortesão from Portuguese manuscripts in the Bibliothèque de la Chambre des Deputés, Paris. Correspondence in the Hakluyt Society archive at the British Library reveals just how difficult it was to undertake ‘business as usual’ publishing for the Society during the Second World War, and how difficult it could be for individuals to undertake such work during wartime conditions.
Armando Frederico Zuzarte Cortesão (1891-1977) had been an Olympic sprinter for Portugal, who had then qualified as an agronomist and had worked as a colonial administrator on Sao Tome and Principe before overseeing the Agência Geral das Colónias. Increasingly interested in history and cartography, Cortesão left Portugal in 1932 for political reasons and did not return until 1952, spending his ‘exile’ in England and France.
In 1938, Cortesão was working on his transcription of the Tomé Pires codex, alongside translator Margery Withers, and by May 1939 he hoped to have everything ready for publication in early 1940. The war obviously changed all that. In September 1939 he informed the Hakluyt Society that he would have to put his work for the Society on hold as he was working both for the BBC and for the Ministry of Information, splitting his time between London and Evesham. The Society was understanding: 'I fully understand your position and when you began your book nobody foresaw this war' wrote Edward Lynam, although the Council was worried about its ability to produce the books that its members were expecting in return for their subscription. Letters from both Cortesão and Lynam in October and November 1940, the height of the Blitz, refer to falling bombs and blown out windows.
Despite the practicalities and the call on Cortesão’s time, by the end of 1943 the manuscript was complete, with only Appendices, Foreword, and some notes on maps outstanding. The Society was writing to publisher Cambridge University Press and casting about for a printer. CUP couldn’t give any promises due to contract work for Naval Handbooks and with work for HMSO. Printers Robert Maclehouse and Co. had available paper (the Hakluyt Society had no regular paper ration), but they also had no way of knowing whether they would have available manpower. Emery Walker agreed to print the plates 'subject to our being able to obtain the paper'.
Letter from printers Robert Maclehose & Co, 28 March 1945 - Mss Eur F594/6/3/5 f.36r & f.36v
The Hakluyt Society was surprised at the length of Cortesão’s notes and asked him to reduce them substantially. He replied: 'I am tired… I think that the notes cannot bear further cuttings, and I hope that the Council will now find that they are within the limits of reason and that I have done my best to please every body'. A compromise was reached, and the rest of 1944 was taken up with typesetting and preparation. In March 1945, the question again arose of the availability of paper for the print run; the book was longer than expected and Cortesão had requested an additional 50 copies which he would pay for. Maclehose managed to find a few reams of paper from another publication, which caused further issues as it was a different thickness. At the same time, the Ministry of Supply were insisting that Maclehose reduce their electricity consumption to 75% of their weekly total, while also under pressure to print University Examination Papers 'at the same scale as in peace time'.
Hakluyt Society minutes state that the binders promised delivery of the book by April 1946. Despite their wartime delay, the volumes were deemed to be the Society’s 1944 publication and distributed to subscribers who received them by June 1946.
Cataloguer, India Office Records
Hakluyt Society 2/89: The Suma Oriental of Tomé Pires / An Account of the East, from the Red Sea to Japan, written in Malacca and India in 1512-1515 / and The Book of Francisco Rodrigues / Rutter of a Voyage in the Red Sea, Nautical Rules, Almanack and Maps, Written and Drawn in the East before 1515 / Translated from the Portuguese MS in the Bibliothèque de la Chambre des Deputés, Paris, and Edited by Armando Cortesão. Containing the translated Books I-IV of the Suma Oriental (Hakluyt Society, 1944).
Hakluyt Society 2/90. The Suma Oriental of Tomé Pires … Vol. II. 1944. Pages 229-578 + 10 maps, 5 illustrations. Book VI of the Suma Oriental, together with a translation of Rodrigues’ ‘Book’, the entire Portuguese texts, and a letter from Pires to King Manuel, 1516. (Hakluyt Society, 1944).
Mss Eur F594/6/3/5: 'Pires Voyages in the China Sea', Apr 1938-Nov 1945.
Mss Eur F594/1/2 Hakluyt Society Council Minutes, 18 Jul 1923-7 Jan 1965.