Twelve of the letters from Dr. Francisco Hernandez to King Philip II, and a petition:
- May 15, 1571. OK, I’m here in Mexico. Things are going well so far.
- May 15, 1571. Like my last letter said, the geographers and painters are doing well by me, but can I ask that you remove some of the legal limitations placed on me in this land, as they will impede my progress. Thanks.
- November/December 1571. So far over 800 completely new plants have been catalogued. You will be famous, like Alexander (and like Aristotle). I stay up each night thinking of new ways to serve you. By the way, could you extend my stay here, and pay me more?
- April 30, 1572. There is so much medicine here. I’m almost done with my third book (I’m writing in both Latin and Spanish). I’m having problems with the viceroy; if you can talk to him I might be able to finish in 2 years, otherwise it will be 20. I’m planning to travel further now (oh, could you send more money for that?). Also, I haven’t really been practicing medicine here as you told me, even though many people need care, mostly because of legal issues I’m having with administration. I seem to have misplaced some documents…
- September 22, 1572. I have made great progress here: three books on plants, and two more on animals. The exotic birds are great here. Unfortunately, I’ve been having some kidney problems. I feel better now, though. I promise I’ll send you some of these books soon.
- December 12, 1572. Things are going well, and I’m up to four books on plants now. I’d like to go home, but my duty to you and passion for my work keeps me here, and if possible I’d like an extension of another three or four years. Most of my time is unfortunately squandered between travel, illnesses, and bureaucratic red tape with your viceroy. Also, could you provide me with some native painters here in New Spain before I embark for Peru? They’ll only be more expensive en route or in that country.
- March 31, 1573. As I said, four volumes of plants, one of animals. 1,100 plants, 200 animals. I even catalogued the sounds they make. I really like the painters. (I’ve even named two in my will.) I need more herbalists. I’m also having trouble with a geographer; he refuses to go on my commission. Anyway, here’s the method I’ve developed. I don’t catalog a plant until:
- I have seen it ten or more times in different seasons
- I have smelled and tasted all its parts
- I have asked many native doctors individually what they think of the plant, and note their agreements and disagreements.
- November 10, 1573. I’m getting ready to ship you a bunch of stuff: six or even seven volumes. The viceroy talked some sense into the geographer and he is marking out the land as we speak.
- March 20, 1575. I would send my work to you now, but knowing this is coming to a close, and I am almost sixty and don’t have much time to live, I’d rather continue working until my time is up and send you the completed set. I still need to translate my books into Spanish, then Nahuatl so that the natives may benefit, and then collect all the seeds to send to you. But if you could possibly extend my time here, and send me more money, I can finish my work. My son is with me here, and helps me with everything.
- October 22, 1575. A ship is in port that I said I would return on, but please allow me to go on the next one, not this one. Also, I need more money. I think you will enjoy my masterpiece, which just needs some finishing touches. I am also working on a translation of Pliny.
- February 10, 1576. I know, I know. I should have left on the last boat. I’m sorry, but I still have work to do. I won’t make it to Peru, and I may not even survive the trip back to Spain. I need to be there to ensure the printing of these books. I have incurred many costs in this enterprise, spending over 20,000 pesos of my own money. What I would need from you is a letter of extension, a permit for departure, and more money.
- March 24, 1576. I am sending you sixteen volumes, the last two of which are incomplete. The paintings are out of order and I’ll need to sort everything out before printing. The medicines formed from these plants are already starting to make a difference here.
- Petition, early 1577. Many of those who have helped me, including doctors and Indian artists, have died from this latest plague. I achieved much in eight years, and here are my accomplishments:
- I catalogued the plants and animals of these lands.
- I saw to the surveying of the land
- I wrote on the customs of the people of this land.
- I translated Pliny
- I described the plants of the islands of Santo Domingo, Cuba, and the Canaries.
- I wrote a treatise on sixty natural purgatives, from this land as well as Spain, used experimentally on patients here. [note, this is now lost to us]
- I sent fifteen plants in barrels, six of which survived.
- I sent sixty different types of seed, one of which is already sprouting, the rest will be planted in the spring.
- I’m sending some medicinal drugs I used in experiments in the hospital.
Written on January 24, 2018