THE NEW WORLD’S FAUNA AND FLORA IN FIRST AND ONLY EDITION

Historia Naturae Maxime Peregrinae.

Antwerp, Plantin, Balthasar Moretus, 1635.

£7,500

FIRST EDITION. Folio pp. (viii) 502 (cvi), last blank, text in double column. Roman letter, some Italic and Greek. Title in red and black with Plantin’s finely engraved device, woodcut compass device on verso of last, woodcut initials and tail pieces. Text illustrated by 69 beautiful woodcuts, 54 of animals and 15 of plants, often signed C.I., autograph “Labouritte 1778” on pastedown, the initials ‘M M’ with shelfmark beneath, early C18th library stamp “Ex Musaeo J. P Borin” beneath that, contemporary manuscript ex libris “R. L. M. Colleg soc.tis Jesu Mons” at head of title page. General even browning (as usual), some light mostly marginal water staining in places, the odd spot or mark. A good copy, in contemporary vellum over boards, stubbs from an early antiphonal leaf, corners and extremities a little worn.

First and only edition of Niermberg’s important and encyclopaedic natural history, devoted for the most part to the flora and fauna of the New World, and particularly Mexico. There had been earlier accounts of the natural history of the New World, mostly in passages of travel books, but this was the first attempt to order them, and can properly be described as the first American Natural History. Many species are described or illustrated here for the first time, and in supplying the indigenous names for the plants and animals described, the work is an important linguistic source for the Nahuatl language of the Aztecs. There is also much information on the culture and rites of the Aztecs and Incas, and of Mexico before the conquest.

Nieremberg’s sources are various but it seems certain that much of this work is derived from manuscripts brought back by Francisco Hernandez, who had made a large compendium of Aztec flora and fauna, using a group of Aztec artists and draughtsmen. This work is all the more important in that the original drawings were destroyed along with a large part of the famous library at the Escorial, and perhaps the charm of the boldly stylised illustrations reflect their manuscript origin. The woodcuts were made by the Flemish artist Christoffel Jegher who worked as Ruben’s engraver and extensively for the Plantin-Moretus publishing house. They include the raccoon, rattlesnake, dodo, toucan, birds of paradise, water lily, coconut tree, cactus, iguana, amongst others, a great deal of them in their first representation in a printed work.

The text is scientifically organised by genus: plants, fish, birds, minerals etc. with much technical observation of animals, minerals, and plants and their properties. There is also a chapter on tobacco and its therapeutic use. The book ends with two fascinating chapters on Nieremberg’s observations on miraculous events in Europe and the Holy Land, followed by an extensive and very useful index. Nieremberg was a noted theologian and prolific writer, born of German parents in Madrid in 1595, who taught humanities and natural history for sixteen years at the Imperial College, having joined the Society of Jesus in 1614. His writings on occult philosophy and natural magic were influential. The book is dedicated to Gaspar de Gusman, Count of Olivares, Grand Chancellor to the Indies.

Palau 190738. Brunet IV pp. 76 “on y trouve des particularités importantes qui n’étaient pas encores connues alors.” Sabin 55268 “the greater part of this work relates to the natural history of Mexico, or New Spain, it also contains some particulars relative to Mexico before the conquest”. Wellcome 4546. Nissen (2 vol.) 2974. Arents 3278. Pritzel 6701. Alden 635/94. Not in JFB.

L1549

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