[LA PEYRÈRE, Isaac de].


[LA PEYRÈRE, Isaac de]. Relation du Groenland

Paris, Augustin Courbé, 1647


FIRST EDITION. 8vo. pp. [xvi] 278 [iv]: ā, A-R8, S4, T2. (without T2 blank), folding engraved plate and map (including northern North America). Roman letter, some Italic. Title with Courbé’s engraved printer’s device of a palm tree, small woodcut initials, typographical ornaments, ms. author’s name on title in an early hand, engraved armorial bookplate of George Wilbraham, MP (1779–1852) on pastedown. Light age yellowing, title slightly dust soiled, some dust soiling in upper margins, the odd spot. A good copy in C19th polished calf, covers bordered with a double gilt rule, rebacked, spine remounted.

First edition of the first work to deal extensively with Greenland (the edition was shared by Courbé with the bookseller Louis Billaine, also at Paris), charmingly illustrated with a map of Greenland and its environs and a folding plate representing a family of Greenlanders, a kayak and a description of a narwhal. In epistolary form addressed to La Mothe Le Vayer, this report is based on materials gathered by the author a member of the French embassy sent to Denmark from 1644 to 1646; Isaac de La Peyrère was attached to the retinue of Gaspard Coignet de La Thuilerie the French ambassador. In this work La Peyrère confined himself to the role of a compiler, taking up medieval Icelandic texts and accounts of recent voyages, such as those of Frobisher who traveled, at the end of the 16th century, in search of a passage to the kingdom of Cathay around North America. He had many of the documents he found in Denmark translated and others explained to him as he did not read Danish. La Peyrère’s work forms a fascinating collection of curiosities and anecdotes, given without any real order or methodical classification, but its great merit is that it is the first book to focus on and specifically study Greenland, with chapters on its demography, trade, and history etc. The first part of the book details the first Icelandic and Danish chronicles relating to Greenland (population, fauna, etc.) and details elements of the voyages of Frobisher and Hudson. He debates at length the existence of marine and terrestrial unicorns. Although he has proof that the great marine horn is a narwhal tooth, he does not deny the parallel existence of terrestrial unicorns, even detailing their physiognomy. In the second part La Peyrère describes Jens Munk’s voyage (1619-1620), made by order of the King of Denmark and Norway, to find a northwest passage for the Dutch East India Company. Munk’s expedition, which turned back after reaching the west shore of Hudson’s Bay, brought back much information of the area and aroused great interest in Europe. Munk’s voyage dispelled the belief that Greenland was contiguous to the American continent; he passed through Hudson Strait and sailed west to the mouth of the Churchill River where he wintered (and where the wreck of his second ship was discovered by Christopher Middleton in 1742). Of the sixty-four men who embarked on the voyage, only Munk and two sailors survived and were able to return to Norway in September 1620. “Isaac de La Peyrère (1596-1676) is most famous for his Pre-Adamite hypothesis, but he was also an important writer of French knowledge of the North, being the author of a Relation du Groenland and a Relation d’Islande. During a stay in Denmark, he used local archives to compile the first modern study of Greenland, based on medieval Icelandic sagas and recent navigation accounts. Far from the Arctic territory we know, La Peyrère actually depicted a “Green Land,” colonized by Norsemen.” Antoine Chevereau. ‘Le territoire groenlandais dans la Relation du Groenland de La Peyrère, 1647.’

USTC No. 6005854. Sabin 38970. Lande 1278. JCB III 89. Field 857 \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\"considered among the bibliographical rarities”. Alden 647/93 “Includes accounts of the Norse in North America and the search for a Northwest passage”.
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