ACOSTA, Jose de.

The Naturall and Morall Historie of the East and West Indies.

Intreating of the remarkeable things of Heaven, of the Elements, Mettalls, Plants and Beasts which are proper to that Country: Together with the Manners, Ceremonies, Lawes, Governements, and Warres of the Indians. Written in Spanish and translated into English by E.G.

London: Val. Sims for Edward Blount and William Apsley, 1604 Stock Code: 141468
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In an attractive contemporary binding

First edition in English of "the most convincing, detailed, and reliable account" of the Americas at this time, in a notably attractive contemporary binding (Hill). While this influential work is well-held institutionally it is scarce in commerce, and especially so in a contemporary binding, with only five such copies appearing at auction in the last thirty years.

Acosta's De Natura Novi Orbis was first published in Salamanca in 1588, and expanded in 1590 under the title Historia Natural y Moral de las Indias. The translation into English is commonly attributed to prolific translator and historian Edward Grimeston (d. 1640). Acosta's work "is one of the most important contributions to Spanish scientific thought and made an immediate impact in Spain, where the educated elite was eager for information about the American colonies", consequently "six editions were published within three years of its appearance" (Speake, p. 2). Based on Acosta's church commissioned expeditions during 17 years as a Jesuit missionary in the Americas, this work provides "a more thoughtful and a more thorough account of the Indian world than anything then available" (Pagden, p. 149). While the first four parts of the work demonstrate Acosta's keen observational eye as a natural scientist, the fifth and sixth parts discussing 'moral matters' have "led some critics to identify Acosta as an important precursor of anthropology and ethnography" (Speake, p. 2). Thomas Streeter remarks that Acosta's provision of "great detail in his descriptions of sailing directions, mineral wealth, trading commodities, and Indian history operated more strongly than any other in opening the eyes of the rest of Europe to the great wealth that Spain was drawing from America" (Streeter).

This copy has an 18th-century ownership inscription: "ex libris de Horsey" on the title page, with 26 marginal manuscript annotations in the same hand, dated 1726, commenting on the text and acutely reflecting contemporary interests. By a section discussing the use and merits of tobacco, for example, the owner has noted that "the vertues of tobacco are not worth a fart", and has neatly illustrated the section discussing bezoars, a prized object in many 18th-century cabinets of curiousities.

This copy is in the printing variant without "R. F." to the title page, with no priority given between the two states.

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Small quarto (180 x 136 mm). Contemporary calf, neatly rebacked with original spine laid down, front endpapers renewed, titles in gilt to morocco label to spine, raised bands, foliate motif stamped to compartments in gilt, boards ruled in blind, board edges tooled in gilt, edges sprinkled red. Housed in a custom green cloth solander box.


Bound without the front and rear blanks. Woodcut head- and tailpieces and initials.


Michael Ward bookplate to front pastedown, his ownership inscription to front free endpaper. Leather a little marked and scuffed. Some leaves close trimmed to upper margin, no loss to text, occasional foxing and faint marking to contents. Printing flaw to pp. 113-4 affecting a couple of letters. Overall a very good, remarkably well-preserved, copy.


Church 328; ESTC S100394; Hill 4; Howgego, I, A7; Anthony Pagden, The Fall of Natural Man: The American Indian and the Origins of Comparative Ethnology, 1986; Sabin 131; Jennifer Speake, Literature of Travel and Exploration, vol. I, 2003; Streeter Sale 32


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