Item #211 The natural and morall historie of the East and West Indies. José de ACOSTA.
The natural and morall historie of the East and West Indies.
From the Library of the Virginia Colonist George Sandys
The First English Translation of Acosta’s Historia natural y moral de las Indias,
The Only Work Concerning the Americas to have Survived with a Sandys’ Provenance
Cited 3 Times by Sandys in his Famed ‘Virginia Ovid’ of 1632
[Virginia Colony] / [Georges Sandys].
London, Val. Sims for Edward Blount and William Aspley, 1604.

The natural and morall historie of the East and West Indies.

8vo. [19.2 x 12.9 mm], (3) ff., 590 (i.e. 592) pp., (7) ff., with woodcut headpieces, tailpieces and initials. Bound in contemporary calf, spine in compartment gilt, brown morocco lettering piece laid to spine, gilt and blind fillet border to boards, gilt armorial centerpiece (of Sandys) to upper and lower covers, red edges, manuscript title (much rubbed) on fore-edge, bookplate of Earls of Macclesfield (North Library) inside upper cover, housed in a custom box. Minor rubbing and edge wear to spine and boards, upper joint tender. Macclesfield blind stamp to first two leaves, without blank at end of prelims (A1) and blank at end of volume (b4), ff. Aa3-Aa6 bound out of order, a few small tears and marginal losses not affecting text, occasional very minor staining and toning.

An extraordinary volume – previously unrecognized in bibliographic scholarship – which once formed part of the library of George Sandys (1578-1644), the poet, traveler, colonial treasurer of the Virginia Company, and “one of the most important men in the history of Colonial Jamestown” (Grizzard, p. 193), whose English verse translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses was largely composed on Virginian soil and which thus has been considered, “the first utterance of the conscious literary spirit articulated in America” (Tyler, vol. I, p. 54), and indeed “the first real poetry composed in English in America” (R. B. Davis, “Volumes,” p. 450). Here – preserved in its original armorial binding – is Sandys’ copy of the first English translation of the Jesuit José de Acosta’s (1539-1600) influential Historia natural y moral de las Indias (1590), a work which (remarkably) Sandys is known to have used in preparation for his deluxe 1632 edition of the Metamorphoses (where he more than once cites Acosta on Peru and the Andes).

 This is only the 11th book identified from what once – judging from Sandys’ uncommon erudition – must have been an extensive personal library. Sandys translated a portion of the Metamorphoses before departing for the New World, continued work while at sea in 1621, and finished the greater part while in America before his return to England in 1625. It is entirely possible that the present volume accompanied him during this period. In the early 1610s, Sandys traveled to Turkey, Egypt, and Palestine, and Italy, and he “had spent weeks in Venice, had visited Naples and Paris and Rome, and undoubtedly brought back to England copies of many of the books he was to use as he composed his travel-account in 1612-1614 (published 1615) and his 1632 edition of Ovid. It is unthinkable that he did not carry certain favorites to America with him (R. B. Davis, “Volumes,” p. 452).

“In 1626, George Sandys, lawyer, traveler and chronicler of his journeys and, most recently, resident treasurer of the Jamestown colony in Virginia, published a complete translation into English verse of the Metamorphoses (five books having appeared earlier [in 1621]). They contain what is probably the first English poetry written in America – Sandys (pronounced, and often written, “Sands”) sailed back to England after an adventurous administrative career in 1625. Seven years later, an edition of the complete 15 books appeared as Ovid’s Metamorphosis Englished Mythologiz’d, and Represented in Figures. To each book of the translation was appended a long mythological essay, discussing the stories in a glittering array of interpretive modes, richly alluding to, and elegantly translating from classical sources as well as patristic and ‘modern’ (i.e., Renaissance) ones” (John Hollander, p. 5). It is in these annotations that Sandys refers to Acosta (pp. 22, 334, and 338), and these and other extensive references to the Americas have increasingly prompted scholars to read Sandy’s translation in light his experiences – both first hand and literary – with the New World (see especially R. B. Davis, “America in George Sandys’ ‘Ovid’,” and R. Lynne, Ovid’s Changing Worlds: English Metamorphoses 1567-1632).

This first English edition of Acosta’s eyewitness anthropological account of the Americas, chiefly Inca Peru and Aztec Mesoamerica, was “a more thoughtful and a more thorough account of the Indian world than anything then available” (Pagden). Acosta’s crowning achievement in the present volume is his extensive history and ethnology of the Inca and Aztec peoples. He traces the history of the Aztecs from their estimated arrival in Mesoamerica to the defeat of Moctezuma II (c. 1466-1520) by Cortés, and he devotes over 200 pages to observations on Aztec and Inca religious beliefs, feasts and holidays, political and social hierarchies, marriages, funerals, and architecture, including three chapters on Aztec ceremonies of human sacrifice. “The idea of a ‘moral history,’ a history, that is, of mores – of customs – was an unusual one in the sixteenth century.  No one, as Acosta was at pains to point out, had ever attempted to write a true “history” of the Indians, though there had been accounts of the origin and growth of the Spanish colonies which included a (usually cursory) glance at the indigenes … Of all the vast literature on the Indies during this period Acosta’s Historia was perhaps the only work which contemporaries recognized as having broken new ground” (Pagden 149-157). George Sandys did much of the work on his translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses in the Virginia colony at a turbulent point in its early history (he arrived just months before the bloody 1622 Powhatan uprising), and it can only be imagined what parallels he saw between the Native Americans in the vicinity of Jamestown and those in Central and South America as described by Acosta.

The work is also notable for Acosta’s theorizing – over 100 years before the discovery of the Bering Strait – that Indians migrated into New Spain from Asia, as well as for his description of the now-eponymous altitude sickness (Acosta’s disease) that he suffered from while crossing the Peruvian Andes. The present English translation, by Edward Grimeston, “made available much new information, both geographical and philosophical, to English readers [and] important and rational ideas concerning the origins of American Indians were revealed … His ideas [regarding the Bering migration] had a profound impact on later English writers on the subject such as Strachey, Brerewood and Purchas” (Steele, p. 17).

R. B. Davis in 1957 first identified the markers of a volume from Sandys’ library and described 5 such books (see R. B. Davis, “Volumes”). The gold tooled arms of the Sandys family, with a fleur-de-lys added to indicate ownership by the sixth son (George) (‘a fess dancetty between three cross crosslets fitchy a fleur-de-lys for difference’), identify a book as having belonged to George Sandys. Sandys also tended to add horizontal abbreviated titles in manuscript near the top of the fore-edge (Sandys apparently preferred to shelve his books old style, with fore-edge out). Both of these features are to be seen in the present Acosta book (the fore-edge title is much rubbed). Some books also carry Sandys’ motto (habere eripitur / habuisse nunquam) and his signature (neither present here). In 1976 M. A. Rogers reported a further 4 volumes which once belonged to Sandys (M. A Rogers, “More Books from the Library of George Sandys”), and 1 further title was later identified, bringing the total to 10. To our knowledge, the present volume is the 11th example known, and the only surviving example whose subject is the Americas.

Surviving volumes from Sandys’ library:

Volumes preserving Sandys’ armorial binding: (1) Leminus Levinus, De miraculis occultis naturae libri IIII (Frankfurt, 1611; Library Company of Philadelphia, Sev Lemn Log 9288.D); (2) Bartolomaeus Platina, Historia de vitis Pontificum Romanorum (Cologne, 1574; Library Company of Philadelphia, Log 498.F); (3) Pliny the Elder, Historie of the World (London, 1601; Pennsylvania Hospital Library, Folio QH15 P71); (4) Jacobus de Voragine, Legendario (Venice, 1607; British Library C.128.f.8); (5) Lucan, Pharsaliae libri X (Basel, 1578); formerly collection of R. B. Davis [today University of Virginia UVA PA6478 .A2 1578]); (6) George Sandys, Relation of a journey Begun an: Dom: 1610 (London, 1621; Bodleian K. 5. 12. Art.). Volumes without the armorial binding but identifiable by Sandys’ motto and signature: (7) Quintus Horatius Flavius, Poemata (London, 1606; Royal College of Physicians, 871-1 [d] 14878); (8) Petronius, Satyricon (Leiden, 1596; Yale Ih. Sa57. Zz. 696); (9) Plato, Opera omnia (Lyons, 1590; Yale, 1742 Library, 3.2.3.); (10) Michael Marullus, et al., Poetae tres elegantissimi (Paris, 1582; Durham University Library, SB 0073).

 * Church 328; STC 94; Alden 604/1; Cordier Japonica 120 (1590 Ed.); Morton 2244; Sabin 131; Sommervogel I.35; Steele 1; Pagden, The fall of natural man: the American Indian and the origins of comparative ethnology, pp. 149-157; R. B. Davis, “America in George Sandys’ ‘Ovid’,” The William and Mary Quarterly, vol. 4, no. 3 (1947), pp. 297-304; R. B. Davis, “Volumes from George Sandys’s Library now in America,” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, vol. 65, no. 4 (1957), pp. 450-57; M. A Rogers, “More Books from the Library of George Sandys,” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, vol. 84, no. 3 (1976); R. B. Davis, “In Re George Sandys’ Ovid,” Studies in Bibliography (Papers of the Bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia), vol, 8 (1956), pp. 226-30; J. Hollander, “Ovid’s Metamorphoses,” The New York Times, (15 August 1971), p. 5; J. Elison, George Sandys: Travel, Colonialism, and Tolerance in the Seventeenth Century; R. Lynne, Ovid’s Changing Worlds: English Metamorphoses 1567-1632; F. E. Grizzard and D. B. Smith, Jamestown Colony: A Political, Social, and Cultural History;

M. C. Tyler, History of American Literature during the Colonial Time; Catalogue of English Literary Manuscripts 1450-1700 (CELM) (, nos. SaG 53-62; British Armorial Bindings, SAN006 (



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