Histoire Naturelle des Indes
Binding: 30 x 21 cm; individual leaves: 29.3 x 19.7 cm.
Bequest of Clara S. Peck, 1983
MA 3900 (fol. 71v–72)
In 1983, The Morgan Library & Museum received, as the bequest of Clara S. Peck, an extraordinary volume whose beautiful paintings and descriptions document the plant, animal, and human life of the Caribbean late in the sixteenth century. Spaniards had already begun to exert influence over the indigenous people of the area when explorers from England and France arrived, among them Sir Francis Drake. The volume, known as the Drake Manuscript and titled Histoire Naturelle des Indes when it was bound in the eighteenth century, gives us a wonderful picture of daily life at the time of Drake's many visits to the region. Although Drake's connection to the manuscript is uncertain, he is mentioned on more than one occasion by the authors. Drake himself is known to have painted, but none of his work survives.
Contents: 199 images of West Indian plants, animals and human life, with accompanying manuscript captions written in late sixteenth-century French.
Medium: Most of the illustrations consist of a black chalk underdrawing and a combination of pen and brown ink with watercolor; on some images selected areas have also been glazed with a gum.
Binding: Bound or rebound in brown leather in the late 18th century.
Pagination: Penciled folio numbers (1–125) in lower right corner of each page were added by The Morgan Library & Museum. Folios 92v–93, 93v–94, and 95v–96 are fold-out leaves.
They are small flies which are so small that one cannot see them, they are very dangerous. When there is no wind and the weather is calm, they come in droves attacking people, stinging them in such a manner that one would take them for lepers. Where they bite, the flesh swells up like a pea and if one kills said flies where they have stung, this protects them from the swelling. The Indians make a fire in their houses in order to keep them away and they only appear at night, retreating during the day close to the sea in the sand.