A FEMINIST’S AMERICANUM

Naturall and Morall Historie of the East and West Indies.

London, Printed by Val: Sims for Edward Blount and William Aspley, 1604.

£29,500

FIRST EDITION thus. pp. [viii], 188, 187-590, [xvi]. A⁴ B-2P⁸ a⁴ b⁴(-b4). First leaf blank but for signature, “A”, last blank, variant omitting the words “the R.F.” on the title page, xylographic “The” at head of title. Roman letter, some Italic. Small woodcut ornaments on title, grotesque woodcut initials and headpieces, typographical ornaments, autograph of ‘George Chudleigh’ on title, and recto of last, many notes aphorisms, maxims and poetry, in Latin and English, in his hand such a quote from Herbert “religion stands on tiptoe in our land ready to pass to y American Strand”, in margins of first and last few leaves, autograph ‘Mary Chudleigh’ the poet on fly, repeated on verso of t-p, “Iain Drake 1846” on fly, marginal pencil nota bene in Book Five concerning religion in America. Light age yellowing, title a little thumbed at head, minor occasional oil stains in lower blank margins, the rare mark or spot. A very good copy, crisp and clean, with good margins, in fine C19th olive calf, gilt and blind ruled to a panel design, covers bordered with a triple gilt and triple blind rule, stopped at corners with small fleurons, blind fleurons to outer corners, spine with gilt ruled raised bands, richly gilt in compartments, red morocco label gilt, edges and inner dentelles gilt, combed marbled end-leaves, all edges marbled to match, extremities fractionally rubbed. 

Rare and important first edition of the first English translation, by Edward Grimestone, of Jose de Acosta’s most valuable work on the Geography of the Americas and customs of their inhabitants. José de Acosta (1540-1600) was among the first Jesuit missionaries to embark for the Spanish New World. He spent much of his life in Peru. The main settlement of the order was situated in the village of Juli, on Lake Titicaca, where a college was set up to study the languages of the locals, while the newly-funded Jesuit printing press issued the first printed book of the Americas in 1577. Later, Acosta moved to Lima and taught theology at the university. Acosta took a very active part in the Third Council of Lima (1582-1583) reorganising the American church, and became its official historian. Following an adventurous journey through Mexico, in 1587 he headed back to Spain, where he was appointed head of the Jesuit college in Valladolid and later Salamanca. A prolific writer, he is mostly famous for this work, a most knowledgeable, realistic and detailed description of the New World. it was very successful and soon translated into Italian, French, German, Dutch and English. In this work Acosta provided the first account of altitude sickness, which affected him while crossing the Andes, and also describes snow blindness and the way in which he was cured by an Indian woman. He divided the Amerindians into three categories, acknowledging the Incas and Aztecs as advanced societies. Acosta attempted to demonstrate to his contemporaries that Amerindians were part of God’s original plan for mankind and thus were not inferior creatures undeserved of being Christianised and saved. In grounding his argument, the idea that the first inhabitants of America migrated from the biblical world (specifically from Asia), played a crucial role. Indeed, he was the first writer to postulate the existence of a land bridge at the northern or southern extremities of the two continents, long before the discovery of the Bering Strait. In his missionary zeal, Acosta was much concerned with the preparation and morality of priests, who he encouraged to study the aboriginal languages as an essential part of their duties. The work provides one of the most important descriptions of the ancient civilisations of Peru and Mexico in the C16th at a crucial moment, particularly of the religion, folk-lore and festivals of the Peruvians.

A most interesting provenance. The Lady Mary Chudleigh was an English poet whose strong views on the emancipation of women were, perhaps, well ahead of their time. She wrote a number of poems and essays on the relationships between men and women and maintained a strong feminist stance in much of her work. Her poem ‘To the Ladies’ is a clear message to those women who, usually by tradition, have to suffer the social and financial domination of their husbands. She was born Mary Lee in August 1656 in the Devon town of Winslade. It was not common for girls to be well educated but she managed to teach herself much on the subjects of philosophy and theology and she was a keen reader of literature. By the age of 18 she married Sir George Chudleigh, 3rd Baronet of Ashton, Devon, probably whose notes are in this work. It has been suggested that an overbearing husband may have influenced her feminist-themed writing however, he did not stand in the way of her writing career. Her social circle included such intellectuals as Lady Mary Wortley, Elizabeth Thomas and Mary Astell, all fellow writers. Her early work appeared to be typically Restoration in style – lyrical and satirical – while later pieces were of a much more philosophical nature. Her relatively small output included The Ladies’ Defence, published in 1701, and Poems on Several Occasions which was published in 1703 and dedicated to Queen Anne as a safety net from the social backlash that she clearly expected once her views became public. In 1993 The Poems and Prose of Mary, Lady Chudleigh was published by the Oxford University Press.

ESTC S100394. STC 94. Sabin. 131. Alden 604/1. Church 328. Arents 67. JCB II:24.

K147

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