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THE FIRST EDITION OF THE FIRST BOOK PRINTED IN SPANISH RELATING TO AMERICA, THE FIRST PRACTICAL GUIDE TO SAILING IN AMERICAN WATERS, AND THE FIRST NAVIGATIONAL MANUAL PRINTED IN SPAIN.
‘Martín Fernández de Enciso’s Suma de geographía (1519) is one of the cornerstones of Spanish cartographic and navigational literature in the first half of the sixteenth century. Although the book is known today mainly for containing the first printed description of America in Spanish, the Suma was in fact a synthesis of the geographic knowledge of all the known world’ (Andrès Prieto, Alexander and the Geographer’s Eye: Allegories of Knowledge in Martín Fernández de Enciso’s ‘Suma de geographía’, in: Hispanic Review, Vol. 78 (2010), p. 169).
‘Fernández de Enciso (ca.1470-ca.1528) was one of the earliest settlers in Santo Domingo, the capital of Hispaniola, where he practiced law and participated actively in sea expeditions. The Suma attempts to cover the world’s geography, but its most valuable information is the chapter on the West Indies. The word “America” was here used for the first time in a Spanish printed text, a denomination that in Spain remained rare until the nineteenth-century, the word “Indies” being the preferred term. Using a great variety of both oral and written sources plus his own experience, Enciso compiled a practical book with useful information, especially for pilots. In his description of the natives he gives precise information about the distinct physical characteristics of each tribe as well as their particular attitude towards the Spanish’ (The John Carter Brown Library, Spanish Historical Writing about the New World).
‘It is not known when, why, or with whom he went to America, but in 1508 [Enciso] was living on the island of Santo Domingo, where he had accumulated a fortune in the practice of law. In 1509 Alonzo de Ojeda (or Hojeda) had been granted the government of Terra Firme (the region about the Isthmus of Darien), but he lacked the funds necessary to colonize the country. He then applied to Enciso, who had the reputation of being rich, able, and adventurous, and the latter agreed to provide a vessel with men and provisions. Ojeda set out in advance in 1509, and it was agreed that Enciso was to equip his vessel and follow him in 1510. When the latter arrived, he found that Ojeda, having been beset by hostile Indians, and having exhausted his supplies and ammunition, had returned in search of him. Taking the survivors of Ojeda’s expedition, Enciso founded the town of Santa María la Antigua del Darien (1510).
Among his followers was one Vasco Nuñez de Balboa who afterwards became famous for his discovery of the Pacific Ocean, then called the South Sea (Mar del Sur), and who had joined the expedition without Enciso’s knowledge or authority, seeking to escape his creditors. Soon after the founding of the new city, Balboa stirred up rebellion among the men, and was able to depose Enciso, whom he banished to Spain. Here, the latter complained to the king of Balboa’s arbitrary conduct and injustice, and the king, partly owing to these accusations, sent Pedrarias Dávila to America in 1514 as Governor of Darien, with instructions to have the wrongs of Enciso righted. Enciso accompanied the expedition as “alguacil mayor” and continued to oppose Balboa until the latter’s execution by Dávila in 1517. He soon afterwards returned to Spain where he published his “Suma de Geografia que trata de todas las partidas del mundo”, the first account in Spanish of the discoveries in the New World. The work was published in 1519 at Seville and was reprinted in 1530 and in 1549. It is dedicated to the Emperor Charles V, and in it, according to Navarrete, Enciso has embodied all that was then known of the theory and practice of navigation.
‘The geographical portion is given with great care, and contains the first descriptions of the lands discovered in the western seas, that is, the results of the explorations of the Spaniards up to 1519. It is, on the whole, a more accurate work than the other early works of its kind’ (Catholic Encyclopedia).
Enciso ‘fixed the latitudes of the islands discovered, and of several points on the mainland. Cape Higuey, in Santo Domingo, is marked 20°, and Cape Cruz 23°, and those positions, although incorrect, are less so than those found in Ruysch, Peter Martyr de Anghiera, and others’ (Edited Appleton’s Encyclopedia).
‘A great hydrographer and explorer, his work is invaluable for the early geographical history of this continent’ (Harrisse).
Early leaves very gently cleaned; a very few minor marginal repairs and a few wormholes filled in but a very attractive copy of this great book.
Whilst copies are held in a number of institutional libraries, the first edition of Enciso’ Suma de Geografia very rarely appears on the market. The last complete copy to appear for sale was the Streeter copy, sold by Christie’s, New York, on April 17, 2007 (lot 178, $288,000), and with which the copy offered here well compares.