A spectacular example in 18th century red morocco of the very rare first edition of Peter Martyr in French and the first travel anthology in the French language.
Apart from a French translation of Cortés’s second letter (Antwerp, 1522? extant in 2 incomplete copies only), Martyr’s Extraict ou Recueil des Isles nouvellement trouvees is the earliest printed work in French exclusively on America and the first to treat the recent American discoveries. (Cortés’s second letter was restricted to the Yucatan peninsula.) Among vulgate translations of Peter Martyr, the present work is preceded only by an extremely rare German translation of Martyr’s first letter (1520 BAV 102). The present work contains an abridged translation of the first three Decades (from De orbo novo, first published in 1516 in Alcalá) and three additional accounts: a résumé of the fourth decade taken from the Basel edition of 1521 and abbreviated translations of the second and third letters of Cortés (Nuremberg, 1524).
Peter Martyr’s Decades were based upon his extensive correspondence with many of the most important figures of the Age of Discovery, “but were written with more care and give more ample details. His works were held in the highest esteem by his contemporaries and have always been placed in the highest rank of authorities on the history of the first association of the Indians with the Europeans, and are indispensable as a primary source for the history of early American discoveries” (Church I, p. 86).
The first three Decades, covering the period from 1492 until 1514, contain the earliest accounts of Columbus’ voyages, as well as the first printed reference to the Cabot exploration and to the discovery of the Pacific Ocean by Balboa. The entire First Decade relates to Columbus and his expedition, and to that of Pinzon. In Book X, Martyr refutes Columbus’s theory that he had reached the Indies, and explains that Cuba, long considered to be a continent, had been found to be an island. The second Decade reports on the exploits of Alfonso Hojeda, Diego de Nicuesa, Pedro Arias de Avilá, Vasco Nunes de Balboa and others, while the third opens with the narrative of Balboa (here Vascus), gives an account of the fourth voyage of Columbus (f. 105v), and reports on Cabot in the sixth book (f. 114v). (The First Decade was first printed in Seville in 1511, and Decades One through Three appeared together in an Alcalá edition in 1516.)
Following the first three Decades, there appears a text entitled “Narration premiere prinse de Pierre Martire” 1518 (f. 132), which is a distillation of the Fourth Decade. This important tract continues the De Orbo Novo up through the year 1520, and is considered a replacement for the first lost letter of Cortés. There had been a passing reference to the most famous of the conquistadors in a German newsletter (Nuremberg, 1520), but this is the first substantial report of his actions and discoveries: the first and second embassies of Montezuma, the founding of the Port of Vera Cruz, and an account of the Aztec calendar, the practice of human sacrifice and Mayan hieroglyphics. Martyr was especially interested in the career of Cortés, and resisted believing the calumnies repeated about him in Spain. This translation is based on the 1521 Basel adaptation, which appeared under the title De Nuper… Repertis Insulis… Streeter points out that De Nuper “supplements, rather than overlaps other narratives by the author” (Streeter Sale 1, 8). It also includes an account of Diego de Velasquez’s conquest of Cuba.
The final two sections of the volume consist of French translations of Cortés’s second (1520, f. 155v) and third (1522, f. 192v) letters, including the famed description of Temixtitlan, the seat of Montezuma’s power. The editor notes that this version is based on the Latin translation of the original Spanish done by Pietro Savorgnano Foroiuliense, doctor of laws—“although the good doctor does not have Peter Martyr’s graceful way of describing history, there are still many interesting things to note and worth remembering” (f. 132v).
Martyr had originally dedicated the books of the First Decade to Pope Alexander VI and several cardinals including the nephew of King Ferdinand of Spain while the Second and Third Decades were addressed to Pope Leo X. The French editor has included new dedicatory letters (the second dated 1530), addressed to the two youngest children of Francis I: the first and final sections were dedicated to Charles, Duc d’Angoulême (1522-45), and the second to his sister Marguerite (1523-74). “And when you see your name at the beginning of the book, may you be inspired to read… You will see many strange things declared in this book, from a part of the world which has only been known for the last dozen years” (f. 132r).
Pietro Martire d’Anghiera (1485-1547) was a papal diplomat resident in Spain during the golden age of New World discovery, contemporary of Columbus (whom he knew personally), Cabot, Cortés, Magellan, Vasco da Gama and Vespucci. As a member of the Council for the Indies, he had access to their reports and although he never travelled to the New World himself (a term he was responsible for coining, no less), he is generally regarded as the first historian of America (Penrose, p. 291).
First and last leaves somewhat soiled; some occasional slight spotting, a few leaves browned, marginal tears on A7 & A8. Overall in very good condition.
Provenance : The Pierre S. Dupont III collection of navigation, Christie’s New York, 8 Octobre 1991, lot 162 (then the first copy having been offered at auction since 1955).