VERBIEST, Ferdinand (1623-1688)
Epistola P. Ferdinandi Verbiest vice Provincialis Missionis Sinensis, anno 1678, die 15. Augusti, ex Curia Pekinensi in Europam ad Socios missi.
[Peking, 15 August, 1678].
Folio (320 x 210 mm), ff 10, xylographically printed on rice paper, in fine condition; housed in modern silk boards within a custom-made quarter morocco case.
Xylographically printed letter from the Flemish Jesuit missionary Father Ferdinand Verbiest as Vice-Provincial in China to the fathers of the Society of Jesus in Europe. This is the first Latin language letter to have been printed in Peking for European recipients. It was circulated widely in Jesuit colleges across Europe.
In his letter, Verbiest makes an appeal for funds to support the Jesuit missions in the Far East as well as for suitable missionaries, listing his desiderata as follows: ‘[The missionary] has to be a man gifted with a particular virtue, especially prudence, patience and magnanimity, based upon the trust in God and union with Him. Before all, he should master astronomy, both speculative and practical, and be acquainted with the more elegant mathematics…’
Verbiest laments the paucity of mathematical training in the Jesuit colleges, a circumstance which is in stark contrast to the high esteem in which mathematics is held in China. In further praise of Chinese learning and culture, he alludes to the regard for China demonstrated by commentators from neighbouring realms: ‘For such is the opinion of Chinese wisdom and the outstanding system of writing held by the surrounding nations … that whatever China has adopted, they persuade themselves is without doubt the best. And such is their political system of ruling, such the splendour and brightness of their things, so civilized the cultivation between men of mutual intercourse, and their way of doing things, that apart from the Europeans, all other nations when compared with the Chinese should really be seen as barbarians.’
Streit V, 2454; not in Chan, Chinese Materials in the Jesuit Archives in Rome; not in Cordier, L’imprimerie sino-européenne en Chine. Copies are listed in the Royal Library (Bibliotheca Hultemiana) in Brussels, and in the Watson Library, University of Kansas.
Provenance: Sotheby’s, London June 27th 1996, lot 227, to Isseido.