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WEBB, John.

An Historical Essay Endeavoring a Probability That the Language Of the Empire of China is the Primitive Language.

London: for Nath. Brook, 1669 Stock Code: 128767
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One of the earliest books in English discussing Chinese culture

First edition of "the first extensive European treatise on the Chinse language" (Chen Shouyi), and one of the earliest books in English discussing Chinese culture in any depth.

The architect John Webb, a pupil of Inigo Jones, argued that Noah could be identified with the legendary king Yao; that he had withdrawn from the tribes whose languages were confounded at Babel long before that point in biblical history, and that he had built the Ark in China, landed it there, and bequeathed to China the language spoken by Adam, preserved to Webb's day in modern China as the language of the court. Webb's view of Chinese script was strongly influenced by not only Semedo but also the Jesuit polymath and hermeticist Athanasius Kircher. Webb was also inspired by John Wilkins's recent publication on artificial language, arguing that Wilkins, whether knowingly or not, had based the idea of his artificial language on Chinese. Webb's proposed harmonisation of world history was taken seriously by many; his work was a major spur to the construction of English sinology in the later decades of the 17th century. The work precedes by almost two decades the Paris Jesuit edition of Confucius, published in 1687.

The rare folding map of China, often lacking, derives from that included by Purchas in his Hakluytus Posthumus, 1625, an extract of one obtained by a Captain Saris at Bantam. Purchas reports that the original map was more than a yard square. The map is changed in several respects for publication here, including the addition of an inset of a king of China, and the crest and name of Edmund Squib at the bottom left, perhaps the half-brother of the Fifth Monarchist Arthur Squibb (see ODNB).

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Octavo (169 x 105 mm). Modern half calf to style, morocco label, marbled sides.


Large folding engraved map of China, title printed in red and black. With the errata leaf p3 at end but without final blank.


Foxe Point bookplate. A couple of early leaves creased and dusty at upper outer corner where turned down as placemarkers, a very good copy.


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