Certaine errors in nauigation, .. with many additions that were not in the former edition.

[London] : Printed by Felix Kingsto[n] at London, 1610.


4to. pp. [lvi], 472; 122, [xxii]. [without the large engraved maps, as almost always]. Roman letter some Italic. Remarkable engraved title within border in two parts,  world map below (“World map on engraved title page is one of the first to mention Virginia.” Sabin) navigation instruments above, one folding woodcut plan ‘the draught of the Meridians’, two engraved plates, one full-page, numerous woodcut text diagrams, and tables, floriated and white on black criblé woodcut initials, head and tail-pieces, book plate of the Fox-Pointe library on pastedown. Light age yellowing, last six leaves with tear at lower outer corners, just affecting catchwords and a few numerals, title-page slightly dusty and rubbed with very minor loss along fore-edge, the odd marginal thumb mark or spot. A very good copy, crisp and clean, in contemporary limp vellum, slightly detaching, remains of ties, all edges blue.

Rare and important second edition, corrected and much enlarged, of the most important and most famous English book on the art of navigation. The work is considerably augmented from the first; The list of nineteen “additions to this edition that were not in the former” includes “A table of the observations of the variation of the compasse”, “A new theorik of the Sun” and “the errors of Simon Stein in finding fault with my table of Rumbs” and, most importantly, “The diuision of the whole art of nauigation”, a translation of “Compendio de la arte de navegar” by Rodrigo de Zamorano, which has separate pagination. The first edition appeared in 1599 and started a “revolution in navigational science, which for the first time (was) based firmly on mathematical principles…His fame chiefly rests on his tables of the construction of maps using ‘Mercator’s projection’…Wright also formulated instructions for the use of the compass and the cross-staff, made improvements in navigational instruments and gave tables of magnetic declinations.” PMM 106 (1st edn.). This work was “a book that set the seal on the supremacy of the English in the theory and practice of the art of navigation at this time. It contained a brilliant summary of all the chief contemporary practices of navigation together with a critical examination of their faults, and either the actual means for eliminating them or else sound guidance on the measures necessary to do away with them…Wright’s Certaine Errors was so packed with learning, was such an able survey of navigation practice at the close of the sixteenth century, and by its chart projection introduced such order out of the former cartographical confusion, that it and his other work merit fuller attention than can be devoted to it in a survey of this scope.” David W. Waters, The Art of Navigation in England in Elizabethan and Early Stuart Times .

A mathematician and cartographer, Wright was prompted to examine map projections on his trip to the Azores in 1589. ‘Certaine errors in navigation’ contains his subsequent justification of the Mercator map projection. Recognising that lines of latitude must by lengthened in greater proportion to the degrees of longitude for cartographic representation as straight lines, Wright devised tables for calculating projections which are still in use today. His work was taken up even before its publication and resulted in new, significantly more accurate maps by Hondius, Hakluyt and William Barlow. This free use of his work prompted Wright finally to publish Certain errors in navigation in 1599. He includes his account of his travels to the Azores with the Earl of Cumberland, which had previously been published in Hakluyt’s Principal Navigations (1598-1600).

While the first edition of ‘Certaine Errors’ contained an abridged table six pages in length, in the second edition Wright published a full table across 23 pages with figures for parallels at one-minute intervals. The table is remarkably accurate. In this second edition Wright also incorporated various improvements, including proposals for determining the magnitude of the Earth and reckoning common linear measurements as a proportion of a degree on the Earth’s surface “that they might not depend on the uncertain length of a barley-corn”; a correction of errors arising from the eccentricity of the eye when making observations using the cross-staff; amendments in tables of declinations and the positions of the sun and the stars, which were based on observations he had made together with Christopher Heydon using a 6-foot quadrant; and a large table of the variation of the compass as observed in different parts of the world, to show that it is not caused by any magnetic pole.

Wright made significant contributions to other scientific works of the day, most notably to Gilbert’s ‘De magnete.’ Exceptionally rare and important navigational text, which gives tremendous insight into the problems faced by pilots and captains in the Elizabethan age of Discovery.

ESTC S95920. STC 26020; Sabin 105573 “World map on engraved title page is one of the first to mention Virginia.” Alden 610/121 “Included are numerous refs. tot he Americas.”


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