THE JESUIT VIEW OF JAPAN BETWEEN 1548 – 1564


Rerum a Societate Iesu in oriente gestarum…. Accessere de Iaponicis rebus epistolarum libri 4, item recogniti, & in latinum ex hispanico sermone conuersi

Dillingen, Sebaldum Mayer, 1571.

£9,500

FIRST EDITION. 8vo. ff. (viii) 228 (iv). Roman letter. Historiated woodcut initials, ‘liber collegi moguntini socetatis Jesu’ (Mainz) in contemporary hand on title and verso of penultimate leaf, crossed out, stamp of ‘Dom S. Aloys Jerseiens S. J’ (Jersey) on title, small C19th label of ‘Dom. Laval S.J.’ on pastedown partially covering contemp. bibl. note, small C19th stamp on fly with shelf no. pasted beneath, couple of early ms notes in Latin and German above. Title fractionally dusty, the odd marginal mark. A very good copy, crisp and clean, in contemporary blindstamped pigskin over boards, covers triple blind ruled to a panel design, panels with blind floral rolls, blind fleurons at center, spine with raised bands, blind tooled in compartments, later calf label gilt, upper joint cracked at head, a little worn and rubbed.

Rare first edition of the first attempt to write a detailed history of the Jesuit missions in the East, especially in Japan, and one of the most important and diverse compilations of letters relating to the Jesuit mission in the Far East; prefaced by Acosta’s important “Commentarius”, the work includes some 39 letters dating from between 1548-1564, most of which relate to Japan. As early in the 1550’s influential Jesuits argued for an official synthesis of letters from the missions, motivated in part by the fear that someone else would do it for them, and in part to promote their enormous successes in the east. The text is based on a manuscript ‘Historia dos missiones do Oriente até o anno de 1568’ written by the Portuguese, Manuel da Costa. Da Costa, a Jesuit missionary and bibliographer who taught at Coimbra where most Jesuit letters were available in uncensored form. His manuscript was sent to Rome, translated into Latin, and was given to the young novice Giovanni Pietro Maffei (1533-1603) to prepare for publication. Maffei added the ‘De Japonicis rebus epistolarum’ containing abridged Latin translations of letters sent from the Jesuits working in Japan until the year 1564. In his introduction Maffei congratulates Da Costa on his effort in summarizing the contents of the letters together in the commentary. Maffei was later to write the hugely successful ‘Historiarum Indicarum libri XVI’, much praised for its excellent treatment of Japan.

The letters begin with the Japanese convert Paul’s letter from Goa written in December 1548, followed by two famous letters of St. Francis Xavier published here for the first time. The first of these is written from Malacca in June 1549, the second on his arrival in Japan dated Kagoshima, November 1549. Letters by Frois (1532-1597), Vilela (1525-1572), and Almeida (1525-1583) are of particular interest in that they give much detail of Japanese religion, culture, and customs. This work was reprinted and translated many times, and made a significant contribution to early European perceptions of the east. A very good copy of the rare first edition of this seminal work that paints one of the earliest detailed pictures of Japan, from the Jesuit college in Mainz now the Johannes Gutenberg University.

BM STC C16 Ger. p. 2. Cordier, Japonica 58.

L1082

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