For over three centuries Father Escobedo’s enormous (over 21,000 lines) poem has awaited publication. Important to the historian, for whom it is a basic source, and to the litterateur—for Escobedo was not a great poet, yet not a poor one either—it deserved publication in the original language. It is to be regretted that this first printed version should be an incomplete, careless, and inaccurate translation. Little better could be expected from the remarkable procedure described by the editor: two ladies (of unstated qualifications) making a hand copy of the manuscript in Madrid, “translating many of the words from ‘old’ Spanish into the language of the Twentieth Century”; then, a translation made in Tampa by an accountant-notary, “a native of Santander, Spain”; then, a ‘checking’ by “a native of Cuba who speaks Spanish and English equally well”; and, finally, editing by an American historian who apparently knows little Spanish. (Nowhere is there indication that the translator saw either the manuscript or a photocopy of it)
This volume has many defects: mistranslation; bad English; inaccurate reference to the original manuscript; frequent misprints; some errors in fact; almost unbelievably bad Spanish orthography.
Mistranslations: Checking casually the first hundred pages of Professor Covington’s book with photocopies of the original, this reviewer found some thirty eases. Two examples must suffice: “with two young men by his side” (p. 87); in the manuscript, “con dos moças a los lados” (240r) these being the daughters of a shipwrecked Spaniard, as is fully explained in the text. And page 33: “He crossed the sea in such a relaxed manner it seemed as if he were on a mill stone turned by horsepower. Throughout the entire trip … he cooked the meals for everyone.” This involves a mistranslation of atahona. The real meaning is: “He was as relaxed on the voyage as if he were at home in a food shop, cooking all our meals for us” (159r).
Bad English: “the worse of all” (45); “the hostiles” (41, n. 54); “I insisted on working the pumps and to forget the music” (49); “Their shouts was …” (75); “Everyone must pay for their crimes” (57).
Inaccurate reference: The numbers inserted to indicate the pages of the manuscript are frequently lacking; others are misplaced. Some twenty errors or omissions appeared in the first 95 pages. Also, the arrangement of the original in partes and cantos is difficult to perceive in the Covington-Falcones version.
Errors of fact: It is stated that Escobedo “claims he came with the group” (i.e., the Silva expedition to Guale in 1595). This section is one of the few in the poem in which Escobedo does not claim personal knowledge of what he tells. Again: Note 47 on page 40 correctly states that “no account lists Escobedo as … in the 1595 group leaving Sanlucar (sic).” But the reference in the text is to a 1587 expedition.
Spanish orthography: Cartagéna consistently; also Miguél, Baracóa; but Sanlucar always, unaccented. Also Matánzas; Juan and Juán; Hernan Cortéz; Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion; senor; Díos and Dios; etc., etc. It almost seems that the incorrect forms outnumber the correct.
The English exemplifies ‘translation English’ in some of its least attractive aspects.
Professor Covington’s notes, drawn from a variety of sources, provide valuable commentary. If they could be used in connection with a scholarly edition of the original text, they would be invaluable. Professor Arnade’s foreword is excellent, summarizing concisely our knowledge of Escobedo and his poem. This is really the best part of the volume.