CARON, François (1600-1673)
Beschrijvinghe van het Machtigh Koninghrijcke Japan … …
Amsterdam : Joost Hartgers, 1652. Small quarto, later quarter vellum over marbled papered boards, spine with manuscript title in black ink; title with woodcut vignette of two ships, pp 78; headpiece, historiated initials, side notes; a fine copy.
Caron’s rare and highly important contemporary description of Japan was first published in 1648 as part of Joost Hartgers’ Oost-Indische Voyagien door dien Begin en Voortgangh, van de Vereenighde Nederlandtsche Geoctroyeerde Ost-indische Compagnie. ‘This extraordinary Collection of Voyages is sometimes called the “Dutch De Bry” or the “Dutch Hulsius”; for in beauty of execution and intrinsic interest it rivals both of those famous collections. In point of rarity there is no comparison, this being scarcely known to bibliographers. How many parts Hartgerts published is even now uncertain, although the most active research has been made by collectors of Voyages and Travels for many years. The parts were probably issued and sold separately, and their collection into sets, with a collective title, preface, etc., was an afterthought. This collection has an advantage over De Bry and Hulsius, in that many of the voyages are in the language in which they were originally written, while most of those by De Bry and Hulsius are translations’ (Bartlett, Bibliotheca Americana, Vol. II., pp. 261-2).
That the present copy of the 1652 edition of Beschrijvinghe van het Machtigh Koninghrijcke Japan was separately issued is beyond dispute; however, whether it is the third, fourth or perhaps even fifth edition, is not clear. (The nineteenth-century Amsterdam bookseller, Frederik Muller, expressed the opinion in his Americana catalogue of July 1850 that this 1652 imprint actually formed part of a fifth edition of 1650).
The French Huguenot François Caron served with the VOC (Dutch East India Company) for thirty years. He arrived in Japan in 1619 as a cook’s mate on board the Dutch ship Schiedam, and was to remain in that country for over twenty years, gradually rising through the Company’s ranks. In 1627 he acted as interpreter for the VOC mission to Edo, the shogunal capital, and later became the VOC Opperhoofd (chief factor or merchant) in Japan. Caron married a Japanese woman and had six children, settling with them at Nagasaki after the Japanese had forced the Dutch to close their outpost at Hirado. He took his Japanese family with him on moving to Batavia in 1641. After a brief sojourn in Europe Caron returned to the East in 1643, commanding a VOC force against the Portuguese in Ceylon. He was appointed Governor of Formosa in 1644 and served there until 1646, when he was removed once more to Batavia. In 1647 he was appointed Director-General at Batavia, second in command after the Governor-General. In his final years Caron was Director-General of the French East Indies Company.
Cordier, Japonica, 340, noting editions of 1648, 1649, 1652 (Bibliothèque nationale de France) and 1661; see Landwehr, VOC, 251 and 517 (1648 edition), and 518 (1661 edition, which he regards as the ‘first authentic edition’, and the most complete).