LAET, Johannes de (1593-1649). Novus Orbis, seu descriptionis Indiae occidentalis... Leiden: Elzevir, 1633.

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LAET, Johannes de (1593-1649). Novus Orbis, seu descriptionis Indiae occidentalis... Leiden: Elzevir, 1633.


Folio (12 6/8 x 8 4/8 inches). Half-title, engraved architectural title-page, 14 engraved double-page maps by Hessel Gerritsz (very browned), numerous woodcut illustrations of plants, animals and inhabitants of the New World in text. Contemporary vellum, yapp fore-edges, title written in manuscript on the spine.

Provenance: early annotations to verso of the front free endpaper. 

First Edition in Latin, first published as "Nieuwe Wereldt ofte Beschrijvinghe van West-Indien" in Leiden in 1625. 

"One of the most famous contemporary descriptions of the natural history of the New World. The work was highly praised a century later by Charlevoix, attesting to its accuracy... Winsor referred to Laet's book as the standard seventeenth-century work on New Netherland" (Streeter sale I:37).  

De Laet was a director of the Dutch West India Company, and so had access to the latest information, both from the company's personnel and from the archives. Although an important record - and perhaps the best seventeenth-century account - of the Americas, the real significance of the book is the suite of maps used to illustrate it, drawn by Hessel Gerritsz, official mapmaker to the Dutch West India Company and to the East India Company, chosen in preference to Willem Blaeu.

De Laet maintained the currency of subsequent editions by adding events as they occurred, making this the most complete edition, recording the sacking of Bahia, the conquest of Olinda, Itamaraca, Parahiba, and Rio Grande do Norte. There is also a contemporary marginal note in English (p. 259) disputing a claim made in the text on the capture of Truxillo in Honduras.

The work was used as an atlas during the second half of the seventeenth century and is recognized for the accuracy of its maps because Laet had access to the latest geographic data as a director of the Dutch West India Company. Burden points out the new, more open style of engraving which was adopted by Blaeu and Jansson.

This edition includes four regional American maps first published in the enlarged second edition of 1630. The map of "Nova Anglia" is of "extreme importance being the first printed one to use the names "Manbattes" (Manhattan), and "N. Amsterdam", or New York, founded in 1626. It is also the earliest to use the Dutch names of "Noordt Rivier" and "Zuyd Rivier", for the Hudson and Delaware Rivers respectively, as well as the Indian "Massachusetts", for the new English colony" (Burden).

Many of the maps served as prototypes for later Dutch maps of the region; The translation from the Dutch was probably by Laet himself. 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). Alden & Landis 633/65; Borba de Moraes p. 451; Burden 229-232; Cumming "Southeast" 34; Phillips 1149; Sabin 38557; Schwartz and Ehrenberg, p. 105; Willems 382. Catalogued by Kate Hunter