TRIGAULT, Nicolas Due lettere annue della Cina del 1610 e del 1611

Milan, per l’her. di Pacifico Pontio & Gio. Battista Piccaglia, 1615


FIRST EDITION (?). 8vo. pp. (viii) 221 (iii). Roman letter, occasional Italic. Jesuit device to t-p, decorated initials, typographical headpiece. Slight age browning, faint water stain to lower outer part, two little worm holes to first and last gathering, one touching a few letters. A good copy in modern vellum.

An uncommon edition of Nicolas Trigault’s two earliest, important letters from China, sent in 1610 and 1611 to Cardinal Claudio Acquaviva in Rome. Trigault (1577-1628) was a Flemish Jesuit who carried out ground-breaking missionary work in China. Inspired by the activities of Matteo Ricci, Trigault founded new missions and encouraged the translation of European works on science and religion (including liturgies) into Chinese. A portrait of Trigault in Chinese costume (now at the New York Metropolitan Museum) was painted by Peter Paul Rubens in 1617, when Trigault visited the Jesuit college in Antwerp to raise funds for his missions. The two letters in this edition were written shortly after his first arrival in Peking and contributed greatly, together with Ricci’s texts, to bring in greater knowledge of China to Western Europeans. The 1610 missive is a beautifully-written and engaging factual and anecdotal survey, in the form of a travelogue, of the political, cultural and religious situation of China, including its government (‘the King acknowledges no other God but himself’) and religious cults, and a description of the principles of the Chinese language (with ‘hieroglyphs’ which only express ‘sounds’, not vowels or consonants). The second letter is a long account focusing on the Jesuits’ ‘adventures’ during their missionary work, from their flight from a house fire to meetings with local governors, the administration of holy water to native converts resembling more an exorcism rather than a Christian ritual, and the great difficulties they faced in obtaining a burial place for Matteo Ricci in Peking. Another edition of these influential letters was printed in Rome by Bartolomeo Zannetti in the same year, but no priority has been established.

Newberry and Minnesota at Minneapolis copies recorded in the US.Cordier II, 808. Not in BL STC C17 It., Brunet or Graesse.
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