Lettre de la chine de l’an 1601
Paris, Claude Chappelet, 1605
FIRST EDITION thus. 12mo., ff. 53. a-d12, e5 [lacking blank e6]. Roman letter some Italic. Small woodcut printers unicorn device on title, small grotesque woodcut initials and headpieces, c1700 autograph of Louis Demet on title, modern engraved bookplate on pastedown in Chinese. Light age yellowing, the occasional mark or spot. A very good copy in modern marbled boards, title gilt lettered direct on spine.
Very rare first French translation of this important account of China by the rector of the Jesuit college at Macao, Valentin Carvalho, dealing with the Jesuit activities in the interior and giving a detailed account of Chinese society, first published at Rome in 1603.
“The Society of Jesus insisted from its very beginnings on the production of reports on the activities of its members. These annual letters (Annuae) and other specific reports on events and apostolic activities were primarily intended for the centre—the superior general and his assistants—but from very early began to be copied and circulated, often in printed form. ..Their writers were well educated in the canons of Renaissance humanist history writing. They are more than chronicles or in-house newsletters and although they stray into hagiography at times this is not more marked than in many other histories of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. They are generally not uncritical or naïve. ..Such published mission letters were often reprinted in local editions, translated into languages other than the original Latin, included in collections of voyages and the new scholarly periodicals that were read by the educated and well-informed. .. Regarding China, a few of the earliest ones achieved particular notoriety and wide circulation, probably as much for what they reported on a Chinese empire hitherto hardly known to Europeans as for their appeal to a devout European Catholic public. Such, for example, was the annual letter, published in Rome in 1603, of the rector of the Macao college, Valentim Carvalho (1559–1630). Although the format is a report on what were then the three centres of the mission in 1601, some twenty years after the opening of China proper, and so treated Macau, Nanjing, and Shaozhou, it contains in its 108 pages much “curious” as well as “edifying” information to use the illuminating distinction of the later French Jesuit collections. It is particularly significant for its account of the second and successful attempt by Matteo Ricci (1552–1610), to establish a residence in Beijing. It is, of course, second-hand regarding events inside China but contains much interesting detail not found in other extant writings. It provides, for example, a graphic account of a typhoon which hit Macao, it discusses travel by waterways through China, the Chinese system of government, and the impact of European scientific ideas on Chinese scholars. It would be hard to deny it the label of “history,” nor “mission history” since mission by definition involves what is being “missioned.”.” Paul Rule. ‘The Historiography of the Jesuits in China.”
This French translation is particularly rare, we have found only four copies in libraries, three at Paris; the BNF the Bibliothèque Mazarine and the Muséum national d’histoire naturelle, and one other at the BL.
BM STC Fr. C17th p. 268, J169. Cordier Sinica 801.