MARTYR, Peter (Pietro Martire d'ANGHIERA, 1457-1526), et al.; EDEN, Richard (translator) (c.1520-1576)
The Decades of the newe worlde or West India, Conteyning the nauigations and conquestes of the Spanyardes, with the particular description of the moste ryche and large landes and Ilandes lately founde in the west Ocean perteynyng to the inheritaunce of the kinges of Spayne.
… Wrytten in the Latine tounge by Peter Martyr of Angleria, and translated into Englysshe by Rycharde Eden. Londini : In aedibus Guilhelmi Powell, Anno. 1555. Colophon (one of four known variants): Imprynted at London in Paules Churchyarde at the signe of the Bell by Robert Toy … M. D. LV. Quarto (178 x 130 mm), later vellum binding with manuscript title to spine; marbled endpapers, title within woodcut border, ff [xxiv], 361, (13) (without the inserted leaf 4I2 found in some copies); three full-page astronomical woodcut diagrams, including two of Andrea Corsali’s depictions of the Southern Cross, historiated initials; a few leaves with paper repairs to the margins, some light staining, a very good and complete copy of an exceptionally rare book.
The first edition of the first collection of voyages in English. Eden’s work contains the earliest printed illustrations and descriptions in English of the Southern Cross constellation; and the first use of the word China in English :
‘Next unto this, is found the great China, whose kyng is thought to bee the greatest prince in the worlde, and is named Santoa Raia. Furthermore, all that is written hereafter of this kyng and these regions, they lerned by the information of a Moore that was in the Islande of Timor. He affirmed that the sayde kynge hathe threescore and tenne crowned kynges under his empyre, and hathe a porte in the sea named Canthan; and two principal cities named Nauchin and Connulaha where he remayneth hym selfe, and hath ever foure of his chiefe princes lying abowt his pallaice on every syde, towards the Easte, Weste, Northe, and South givinge dylygente attendaunce what is doone in everye of theyr quarters.’ (f.230).
Richard Eden’s The Decades of the newe worlde is a landmark work of immense historical importance. ‘Besides the first Three Decades of Peter Martyr it contains a translation of that author’s writings of the recently discovered islands, De nuper sub D. Carolo repertis Insulis, first printed in 1521. It also contains the Bull of Pope Alexander, , in Latin and English, by which the world was divided between Spain and Portugal, as well as translations of the most important parts of the works of Oviedo, Maximilian of Transylvania, Vespuccius, Gomara, and others, pertaining to the maritime discovery of the New World’ (Church).
Preceding Hakluyt, Eden’s work ‘… for over a quarter of a century … proved to be the English source-book of geographical and navigational knowledge. As such it was to be of the utmost value to men like Hawkins and Drake … It contains the first printed English treatise on the compass, and the first description of “What degrees are”, and “A demonstration of the roundness of the Earth”‘ (D.W. Waters, The Art of Navigation in England in Elizabethan and Early Stuart Times, New Haven 1958, p.87).
The first accounts of the New World in English had an even longer-lasting influence on the imagination of English writers, in particular Shakespeare, who drew inspiration from Eden’s book for The Tempest (first performed in 1611). This play is scattered with allusions to the New World gleaned from Eden’s collection of travel narratives: Caliban’s mother, for example, worships a Patagonian god called Setebos (1.2.373), a deity that Shakespeare found in the account of Magellan’s circumnavigation of the globe by Maximilian of Transylvania (Maximilianus Transylvanus), a Flanders-based author who produced the earliest published account of Magellan and Elcano’s first circumnavigation of the world (1519-22).
The two woodcut diagrams of the Southern Cross constellation, based on those made from direct observation by the Florentine explorer Andrea Corsali, are contained within Eden’s translation of Maximilian’s Magellan narrative. The Decades of the newe worlde is the first English book to illustrate and describe this famous constellation, for centuries used by European voyagers as a navigational aid.
In the preface is to be found, for the first time in print, an argument for the colonization of North America by the English: ‘Besyde the portion of lande perteynyng to the Spanyardes … and beside that which perteineth to the Portugales, there yet remayneth an other portion of that mayne lande reachynge towarde the northeast … not yet knowen but only by the sea coastes…. In this lande there are many fayre and frutefull regions, hygh mountaynes, and fayre ryvers, with abundaunce of golde and dyvers kyndes of beaste’.
The Italian historian Peter Martyr d’Anghiera (1457-1526) based his writings on Spain and its explorers on primary source documents, including letters of Christopher Columbus.
A great rarity, and one of the highpoints of sixteenth-century travel literature.
Alden & Landis 555/13; Borba de Moraes II:532; Church 102; Howgego M65; JCB (3) I:187; Sabin 1561; STC 648.