JESUITS IN JAPAN

Epistolae japanicae.

Louvain, apud Rutgerus Velpius, 1570.

£2,950

8vo. pp. 401 (xxv). Roman letter, with Italic. Typographical border to t-p, woodcut vignette to verso of last leaf, decorated initials. Occasional slight browning, a little mostly marginal waterstaining, principally to first and last few ll., minor soiling at gutter of first two gatherings and to couple of other ll., clean tear (repaired) with no loss to one leaf of Index touching text. A good copy in modern vellum, new eps.

Good copy of the second edition of one of the earliest accounts of early modern Japan, with mentions of China and the Moluccas. It is a collection of letters sent by eminent Jesuit missionaries, including Francis Xavier, Antonius Quadrus and Petrus Mascarena, in the 1540s and 50s. They were selected from those included in the two-volume 8vo first edition of the ‘Epistolae japanicae’ published by Velpius in 1569. Concerned with ethnography, travel, theology and linguistics, these accounts celebrated efforts to combat ‘idolatry’ undertaken through the rigorous Jesuit missionary spirit. It begins with an introduction to Japan—‘discovered by the Portuguese in 1543’—encompassing its geography, religion (e.g., they believe in heaven, purgatory and hell, and have traditions of strict hermitism) and customs (e.g., mothers will kill some of their children when they have too many and cannot feed them). Francis Xavier called the Japanese ‘curious and ingenious’ as well as ‘belligerent’; he also described and criticised at length the beliefs and customs of the Bonzi, Buddhist monks who opposed the Jesuits’ swift expansion and conversion of native inhabitants in the early days of their missionary activity. The adventurous travel narratives of Melchior Nunez provide a variation to the religious-ethnographic content, especially his passage through Singapore and Canton, before returning to the difficulty in the conversion, as a brief parenthesis, of the Chinese. The laborious missionary work and the way in which the Jesuits’ agenda penetrated the early modern Japanese world remain the focus of the work. Gaspar Vilella told of a maxi-conversion of 1300 Japanese within two months, with the apparition of crosses in the sky and the use of crucifixes to upset the Buddhist Bonzi. Balthazar Gagi devoted a long account to the idols of the Japanese (e.g., Guanon) which he called ‘daemones’. A ground-breaking, thorough account of the life, customs and politics of C16 Japan and a Counter-Reformation celebration of the enterprising expansion of the Catholic faith.

Harvard, Cornell and JFB copies recorded in the US.

Cordier, Bib. Japonica, 53; Sabin 35780 (1569 ed.); USTC 452579; BM STC Dutch (1569 ed.), p. 107.

L3039a
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