GONZALES DE MENDOZA, Juan (1545-1618). The Historie of the great and mightie kingdome of China,... London: Printed by I. Wolfe for Edward White,1588.

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GONZALES DE MENDOZA, Juan (1545-1618). The Historie of the great and mightie kingdome of China, and the situation thereof: Togither with the great riches, huge Citties, politike governement, and rare inventions in the same. Translated from Spanish into English by Robert Parke. London: Printed by I. Wolfe for Edward White, and are to be sold at the little North doore of Paules, at the Signe of the Gun, 1588.

8vo., (7 2/8 x 5 4/8 inches). Woodcut device on title-page, 3 woodcut Chinese characters in the text on pages 92 and 93, one 10-line historiated initial, 1 9-line historiated initial, 5 9-, 8-, or 7-line floriated initials, 2 woodcut head-pieces, 3 -tail-pieces (natural weakness to page 183/184 leaving a small hole affecting the text). BEAUTIFUL CONTEMPORARY ELIZABETHAN binding of panelled speckled calf, each cover decorated with borders of blind fillets, surrounding an inner border of dot, semi-circle, and floret roll tools, with a large fleuron at each outer corner, the spine in six compartments, with five raised bands, morocco lettering-piece in the second, the others gilt ruled (small discreet and early repair to the head of the spine, joints a bit scuffed).


Provenance: The Harcourt Family, with the engraved armorial bookplate, on the front paste-down, of Aubrey Harcourt (1852-1904), of Nuneham Park and Stanton Harcourt, High Sheriff of Oxford, Deputy Lieutenant of Oxfordshire, and Justice of the Peace, their sale Sotheby's London, 4th November, 2014, lot 189.

First edition in English, of the revised and most complete edition of this EXCEEDINGLY RARE HISTORY OF CHINA, in a fine contemporary Elizabethan binding. Regarded as one of the most important and influential Elizabethan books of exploration and discovery. The first edition in Spanish was published in Rome in 1585 and this translation is taken from the revised Madrid edition of 1586. It was translated by Robert Parke, as he says himself, at the request and encouragement of the celebrated Richard Hakluyt, before the publication of his own "Principall Navigations".

Arranged in three parts, the first part contains an account of the fifteen provinces of China "euery one of them is bigger than the greatest kingdome that we doo vunderstand to be in all Europe" (page 13), and descriptions of cities, towns, architecture: "in al places there be men excellent in architecture: and the necessaries that they have to build with is the best in the word" (page 16), of costume, religion, Kings and Emperors, taxes, the army, judicial system, navy, printing, fishing with ducks, artillery, marriage customs and criminals. As such, this is the first major survey of China in English, although travelers had been writing down their adventures to China since the first decades of the second millennium. The first account to appear in English was a rendering of Portuguese Galeote Pereira's 1565 description of China, as "Reportes of the Province of China" published by Richard Eden in his "History of Travayle in the West and East Indies", a translation of Peter Martyr, the second edition, published in 1577. The three woodcut Chinese characters/letters, found on pages 92 and 93, are THE FIRST TO APPEAR IN A EUROPEAN BOOK. Mendoza's account proved immensely popular and it ran to some 33 editions, in several languages, between 1585 and 1613. 

Actually Mendoza never visited China himself, but in 1562 he sailed for Mexico where he acquired original reports from Augustinian and Franciscan missionaries to the Philippines and China recounting the economics, politics and customs of those distant lands up to 1583. He also had access to a collection of works in Chinese acquired by Martin de Rada (or de Herrada) (1533-1578) in Fukien in 1575.

The second part is devoted to three Spanish  expeditions: that of Martin de Rada to the Philippines in 1575, Pedro de Alfaro's journey in 1578, and allegedly that of Martin Ignacio de Loyola in 1581, which was actually details of Tordesillas' voyage from Manila to China, the first Franciscan mission to China in 1579.

The third part contains "A Commentarie of the New World", which describes the discovery of New Mexico by Antonio d'Espejo (which was never published separately), Cuba, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Santo Domingo and the Canaries. "This cittie of Mexico is one of the best that is in all the whole world, and is situated upon water after the manner and fashion of Venice in Italie: in all this kingdome almost you cannot know when it is winter, or when it is summer, for that in al the whole yeare, there is smal difference betwixt the daies and the nights, by reason of the temperature of the countrie; the fields are greene almost all the whole yeare, and trees beare fruit also almost all the whole yeare..." (page 317).

So comprehensive was Mendoza's account of New Spain, that on the verso of his map of "New Spaine", the immensely successful and influential publisher of atlases, Abraham Ortelius (1527-1598) declared: "The nature, situation, and customes of this citie and of the territory adiacent, who desires more perfectly to know, may reade the relations of Fernando Cortez. Extant they are in the volume intituled "Novus orbis"; and in the volume of Navigations printed at Venice in Italian: but especially John Gonsaluo, who in his little booke of China hath a most large description of this region. You have also many notable discourses herein the third Volume of M. Hakluyt's English Voyages" (London: John Norton and John Bill, 1606). 

The translator, Robert Parke (fl. 1588–1589) "is an obscure figure, known only for his Historie of the great and mightie kingdome of China,...1588 [as here]. It is a translation of Gonzales de Mendoza's account of China first published at Rome in 1585. Mendoza's work proved immediately popular, with several more editions, and translations into Italian, French, German, and Latin, in addition to Parke's translation. Parke dedicated the work to Thomas Cavendish, the explorer, on 1 January 1589. He stated that the translation had been undertaken ‘at the earnest request and encouragement of my worshipfull friend Master Richard Hakluit late of Oxford’. With a familiar mixture of providential and economic language, Parke encouraged Cavendish, who had just returned from his first voyage to the Philippines and China, to attempt to reach the China seas by a north-west passage, an action ‘so highly importing the generall state of this lande’... It has been suggested that Parke was the R. P. who translated various parts of Diego Ortuñez de Calahorra's Espejo de principes y cavalleros into English from 1585 to 1601. Another possible candidate is the author Robert Parry" (Ronald Bayne, rev. Eleri Larkum for DNB). STC 12003; Cordier, Sinica 13; Sabin 27783 "It is so rare that we have never seen it"; not in Lowendahl but cf. 13 and 18-23; not in Lust but cf. 23-28. Catalogued by Kate Hunter