DE LAET, Johannes (1581-1649). Maiores Minores Que Insulae Hispaniola, Cuba Lucaiae Et Caribes. Leyden: Chez Bonaventure & Abraham Elseviers, 1640.
Single-sheet (13 6/8 x 16 1/8 inches, full margins showing the plate mark). Fine engraved map of the Caribbean, the title within a magnificent mannerist strapwork cartouche, marking the Tropic of Cancer.
From the first French edition of De Laet's "L'Histoire du Nouveau Monde ou Description des Indes Occidentales" in 1640, first published as "Nieuwe Wereldt ofte Beschrijvinghe van West-Indien" in Leiden in 1625, without this map which was first published in the 1630 edition. The text and maps of de Laet's work were the most accurate available at the time, "arguably the finest description of the Americas published in the seventeenth century... the maps are some of the first to depart from the heavier style of the Mercator and Ortelius period. This more open style of engraving was one that both Blaeu and Janssonius would develop in their atlases" (Burden).
De Laet was born in Antwerp but in 1585, the family, like thousands of Flemish protestants, fled to the northern Netherlands. After studying philosophy in Leiden the young de Laet traveled to London in 1603, obtained his denizenship, but after the death of his wife returned to Leiden, where in April 1608 he "married Maria Boudewijns van Berlicum (d. 1643). There he made a fortune through overseas trade and land investments, at home and at Laetburg, near Albany, in New Netherland. In 1619 he was appointed a director of the Dutch West Indies Company, a position he held until his death.
"In the ongoing religious quarrels which troubled Holland, de Laet sided with the counter-remonstrants (Gomarists) against the remonstrants (Arminians), an allegiance evident in his 'Commentarii de Pelagianis et Semi-Pelagianis' (1617). In 1618 he was delegated for Leiden to the Synod of Dort, where he befriended the theologian Samuel Ward, master of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, one of the several English delegates. In his leisure time he proved a prolific, many-sided scholar with a keen interest in theology, geography, botany, classical philology, and comparative historical linguistics. Still of importance are his lavishly illustrated books on the Americas—'Nieuwe wereldt' (1625), which he also translated into Latin (1633) and French (1640) [as here], a detailed account of the early years of the 'Dutch West Indies Company' (1644), and 'Historia naturalis Brasiliae' (1648). He contributed eleven volumes to the Elzevier 'Respublicae' series, including ones on Scotland and Ireland (1627), England (1630), and India (1631). In a magisterial polemic with Hugo Grotius, he disproved Grotius's claims that the Native Americans originated from China, Ethiopia, and Norway (1644). His de luxe edition of Vitruvius's 'De architectura' (1649) includes his Latin translation of Sir Henry Wotton's 'The Elements of Architecture' (1624). De Laet was an astute Anglo-Saxonist, corresponding and co-operating with (but also envied by) such antiquaries as William Camden, Sir Henry Spelman, Sir John Spelman, Abraham Wheelock, Sir Simonds D'Ewes, John Selden, and Patrick Young. Archbishop James Ussher lent him the famous ‘Caedmon’ manuscript (Bodl. Oxf., MS Junius 11) for an Old English–Latin dictionary he was compiling. His correspondence with John Morris reflects contemporary Anglo-Dutch intellectual exchange, while his unpublished epistolary exchange with Sir William Boswell (d. 1649), English ambassador in The Hague, is a particularly rich quarry for evidence of political and economic interchange between England and Holland.
"In 1638 de Laet visited England for several months both in connection with his dictionary and to obtain denizenship for his son Samuel, who had married Rebecca, daughter of Timothy Cruso of London. During another visit in 1641 parliament asked his advice on the prospects for an English West Indies Company and Charles I requested him to provide the genealogy of his future son-in-law, William II of Orange" (Rolf H. Bremmer jun. for DNB).