JESUITS AND THE ORIENT

Epistolae Indicae et Japanicae.

Louvain, apud Rutgerus Velpius, 1570.

£2,950

FIRST EDITION thus. 8vo. pp. (xxiv) 316 (xx). Roman letter, little Italic. Typographical border to t-p, woodcut printer’s device to verso of last leaf, decorated initials. Water stain to lower outer corner of first few ll. and slightly to outer margin and gutter of last four, old crayon mark to margin of t-p and first leaf, slight toning. A good copy in modern vellum, library stamp of Jesuit College of Tournai to recto and Jesuit College of Louvain to verso of t-p, occasional slightly later Latin annotation.

Good copy of this scarce first collected edition of Jesuits travel in India, Persia and the Moluccas, with mentions of Japan. Although Sabin (36082, following ‘Bibliotheca Grenvilliana’) calls it the third edition, it is rather—as appears in Cordier’s ‘Bibliotheca japonica’—a collection of material from the ‘Epistolae indicae’ and the ‘Epistolae japanicae’ (Petrus Mascarena’s letters) first printed by Velpius with slightly differing titles in 1566 (the former) and 1569 (both). It gathers letters written in the 1540s and 50s by eminent Jesuits including Francis Xavier, Gasparus Belga, Henricus Henriquez, Antonius Quadrus, Emanuel Texeira and Petrus Mascarena. Concerned with ethnography, travel, theology and linguistics, these accounts celebrated efforts to defy ‘idolatry’ undertaken through the rigorous Jesuit missionary spirit. The transmission of the Catholic creed through education and argument was a fundamental tenet. Francis Xavier explained that in Goa the children who heard him preach ‘would then instruct their parents and servants’ and they would be more easily encouraged to turn away from their traditional cults, including the veneration of cows. Among the questions posed to the missionaries by Indian locals was ‘whether God be white or black, according to colour differences perceived by human beings’. The Jesuits’ attention to the pitfalls of translation were omnipresent; for instance, Henricus Henriquez prepared a grammar of the Malabar language to argue with local ‘doctores’ on religious matters. ‘Epistolae’ also told of travels in Arabia and Persia, like the visit of Gasparus Belga to the Portuguese possession of Hormuz Island, a place with no grass or birds, where the soil is red and rocks encrusted with salt due to little precipitation. A new colonial, Counter-Reformation martyrology was also being honed as in the episode, narrated by Antonio Quadro, of the 30 Indian adolescents kidnapped by the Turks and forced in vain to abandon Christianity in favour of Islam. A scarce, densely packed work on Oriental travel and ethnography seen through the lens of the Counter-Reformation.

Only Illinois copy recorded in the US.

Cordier, Bib. Jap., 52; Sabin 36082; USTC 401453; BM STC Dutch, p. 104; JFB J87.

L3039b
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