The States General of the United Provinces having granted an exclusive privilege to the Dutch East India Company, prohibiting all their subjects, except that company, from trading to the eastwards beyond the Cape of Good Hope, or westwards through the Straits of Magellan, in any of the countries within these limits, whether known or unknown, and under very heavy penalties; this prohibition gave great dissatisfaction to many rich merchants, who were desirous of fitting out ships and making discoveries at their own cost, and thought it hard that their government should thus, contrary to the laws of Nature, shut up those passages which Providence had left free. Among the number of these discontented merchants was one Isaac Le Maire, a rich merchant of Amsterdam, then residing at Egmont, who was well acquainted with business, and had an earnest desire to employ a portion of the wealth he had acquired in trade in acquiring fame as a discoverer. With this view he applied to William Cornelison Schouten of Horn, a man in easy circumstances, deservedly famous for his great skill in maritime affairs, and his extensive knowledge of trade in the Indies, having been thrice there in the different characters of supercargo, pilot, and master.
[Footnote 102: Harris, I.51. Callender, II. 217.
It is proper to remark, that in this and several of the subsequent circumnavigations, considerable freedom has been taken in abbreviating numerous trivial circumstances already noticed by former voyagers: But whereever the navigators treat on new topics of discovery, or other subjects of any importance, the narratives are given at full length. Had not this liberty of lopping redundancies been taken, this division of our collection must have extended to a very inconvenient length, without any corresponding advantage.—E.]
The main question proposed to him by Le Maire was, Whether he thought it possible to find a passage into the South Sea, otherwise than by the Straits of Magellan; and if so, whether it were not likely that the countries to the south of that passage might afford as rich commodities as either the East or the West Indies? Schouten was of opinion that such a passage might be found, and gave several reasons as to the probable riches of these countries. After many conferences, they came to the determination of attempting this discovery, under a persuasion that the States did not intend, by their exclusive charter to the East India Company, to preclude their subjects from discovering countries in the south by a new route, different from either of those described in the charter.
[Footnote 103: The idea of rich countries is here surely wrong stated, as none such could possibly be conceived to the south of the Straits of Magellan. The expected rich countries must have been to the westwards of these straits, and in the tropical regions far to the north, in the hope of not trenching upon the exclusive trade to the East Indies.—E.]