4to. [21 x 14.5 cm], (8) ff., 1193, (1) pp., (7) ff., including title printed in red and black. Bound in contemporary French calf, spine in 6 compartments richly gilt, morocco title label. Upper margin of title shaved, brushing the tops of a few letters. Some mild even toning and a handful of leaves with some pale waterstaining, but an exceptionally fresh copy, excellent.
Rare first French edition of the earliest written eyewitness account of Japan, by the adventurer, pirate, missionary and mercenary who was among the first Europeans to visit that country. In 1537 Mendes Pinto (1509?-1583) began a 21-year odyssey to the East. Although his reliability has been questioned almost since the original publication of this work in 1614, it is generally considered to offer authentic and valuable information on 16th-c. Asia, and its importance for the development of the European image of Japan is unquestioned: “Certainly no other 17th-century Iberian work on Asia enjoyed a comparable diffusion; and certainly Mendes Pinto may be characterized as ‘the Mandeville’ of his day” (Lach). It includes perhaps the earliest accounts of pirate battles in Eastern seas, wild beasts in Asia’s equatorial forests, and the Dalai Lama.
Mendes Pinto gives a detailed and reliable description of Japan, which he visited four times—in fact, he claims to have been with the Portuguese who first made landfall there in 1542 or 1543. He was an ardent admirer of Francis Xavier, to whom he lent money for the building of a church in Yamaguchi, and may have been the founder of the first European settlement near Yokohama in 1548. After Xavier’s death in 1552 (which he describes), Mendes Pinto gave up a large fortune to return to Japan as ambassador and missionary, even briefly becoming a member of the Society of Jesus. His fortune came from some rather disreputable sources: helping pirates loot silk, silver and porcelain from Chinese junks, and fighting in China, Tartary, Pegu, India, Ethiopia, Ormuz and points in between.
In 1558 Mendes Pinto returned to Portugal, poor, disillusioned, and exhausted by his efforts to obtain some reward for his services. Although he had completed the writing of his Peregrinacam by 1569, it remained unpublished until long after his death. Soon after its first appearance, Lisbon, 1614, it became one of the most popular and widely read travel books ever written, appearing in Spanish, German and English translations as well as French.
NUC: LC, New York Public, Hopkins, Cleveland and Boston Public; OCLC adds the Bell.
* Laures 260; Cordier Japonica 37; Streit V.115; Lach, Asia in the Making of Europe, III.1.324-25; not in Alt Japan; on the controversy over the author’s credibility, see the summary of Boxer in The Christian Century and Japan, pp. 453-33.