Venice: Appresso i Gioliti, 1586.
Octavo: 15.6 x 10.1 cm. 181,  p. Collation: A-L8, M4 (blank leaf M4 present)
ONE OF THREE EDITIONS, all published in 1586 (1st ed., Rome, Zanetti.) Translations into French, German, and Polish were printed in the same year.
Bound in an attractive, modern cardboard binding and slipcase by Eva Szily. Contents lightly washed, t.p. discreetly mended in gutter, collector’s stamp on title, gathering I lightly toned. With an intricate woodcut compartment and Jesuit emblem on the title page. A number of other attractive headpieces and large woodcut initials in the text. Gioliti’s phoenix device on final text leaf. Provenance: “Bibliotheca Historica A. Hamy” (Alfred le Hamy.).
An important group of letters from Japan and China, beginning with three letters written by the Portuguese Fr. Luís Fróis, S.J. documenting the chaos that arose in Japan after the death of Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582), considered the first great unifier of Japan, and the rise of Nobunaga’s protégé and successor Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536/7-1598).
The letters from China, of which there are eight (see below), are also important, written as they were in the very early years of the Jesuit Mission in China. Four were written by Michele Ruggieri, S.J., “who can be said to have been the first mission post of Christianity in China”(Chan). Ruggieri wrote two of these letters from from Chao-ch'ing (Zhaoqing), shortly after he had won approval from the Chinese authorities to establish the very first Jesuit Mission in China. Another letter was written by Ruggieri’s companion, Matteo Ricci, of lasting fame. In this letter, Ricci describes the book that he and Ruggieri had written in Chinese and published as “Tianzhu shilu” (True Record of the Lord of Heaven), the first book published in China by a European writer.
Each of Fróis’ letters evidences a penetrating observation of Hideyoshi in his drive to unify the entire country under his rule, and describes in great detail the activities of the missionaries in their efforts to continue their work of the evangelization of Japan, a work in which Fróis himself is very prominent.
Fr. Fróis's first letter, dated February 13, 1583, and sent to the General of the Society of Jesus from Kuchinotsu 口之津, gives an account of Jesuit missionary activities; and tells of the confusion around Azuchi after the sudden death of Oda Nobunaga and of the struggle for power among Nobunaga's military chiefs.
Fr. Fróis's second letter, dated January 2, 1584, and sent to the General from Nagasaki 長崎, is the official report for the year 1583. After reporting the arrival in Japan of Pedro Gómez and his companions and the death of Luís de Almeida, Fróis describes the present state of the mission in the three areas of Shimo, Bungo 豊後, and Miyako 都. With regard to the Miyako 都 area, he reports that after the death of Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi has established himself as Oda's successor, and, seemingly determined to go beyond his predecessor in everything, has decided to build a castle in Osaka. The report goes on to tell of the movements of the group around Takayama Ukon and of the destruction of the Azuchi seminary as a result of the disturbance at Honnōji when Nobunaga was assassinated there by his vasal Akechi Mitsuhide. The Portuguese original of this letter can be found in ARSI, Jap.Sin. 45 I, ff. 56-76av.
Fr. Fróis's third letter, dated September 3, 1584, and sent to the General from Nagasaki 長崎, is the official report for the year 1584. In this letter, too, the state of the mission in each of the three areas of Bungo 豊後, Shimo, and Miyako 都 (in that order) is described. For the Portuguese original of this letter, see ARSI, Jap.Sin. 9 II, ff. 280-290v.
The author: Born in Portugal in 1528, Luís Fróis entered the Society of Jesus in 1547 and left for Goa the following year. He arrived in Japan in 1563 and died there, at Nagasaki, in 1597.
The eight letters from China are:
• 1. A letter written by Michele Ruggieri, dated February 7, 1583, sent from Zhaoqing.
• 2. A letter written by Francesco Pasio, dated June 27, 1583, sent from Macao.
• 3. A letter written by Francisco Cabral, dated November 20, 1583 sent from Macao.
• 4. A letter written by Michele Ruggieri, dated January 25, 1584, sent from Macao.
• 5. A letter written by Michele Ruggieri, dated May 30, 1584, sent from Zhaoqing.
• 6. A letter written by Michele Ruggieri, dated October 21, 1584, sent from Macao.
• 7. A letter written by Matteo Ricci, dated November 30, 1584, sent from Canton.
• 8. A letter written by Francisco Cabral, dated December 8, 1584, sent from Macao.
Michele Ruggieri, “who can be said to have been the first mission post of Christianity in China”(Chan), entered the Society of Jesus in 1572. He was sent to India, arriving in Goa in 1578. The following year he was in Macao, where he studied the Chinese language. In 1580 he made his first trip to Canton in company of a group of Portuguese merchants. Ruggieri worked diligently to improve his command of the Chinese language and was ever-mindful of observing Chinese customs and etiquette. By 1583, the connections that he had forged with influential Chinese allowed him to establish himself, and the Jesuit Mission, in Zhaoqing. In his letters, he describes details of his novel encounters and documents the birth and progress of the Mission. In one remarkable letter, Ruggiere transcribes a Latin poem written by Ch’en Jui, the Chinese viceroy of Kuang-tung and Kuang-hsi, who had given the Jesuits permission to build a house and church in Zhaoqing. Ruggiere tells us that he had the verses inscribed on tablets and placed above the residence and the church. An English translation of the first of Ruggieri’s letters in this volume, (“Letter from the City of Chao ch’ing, February 7, 1583,”) can be found in “Jesuit Letters from China, 1583–84”, ed. and trans. M. Howard Rienstra (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986), 15–19.
The First book Written by a European to be Published in China:
The letter by Ricci is also remarkable. In it he describes the book that he had written in Chinese with Ruggieri and had published as “Tianzhu shilu” (True Record of the Lord of Heaven). Written in the form of a dialogue between a Confucian scholar and a Jesuit, it was the first book published in China by a European writer.
Ricci also reports that he has been charged with making a world map “in the manner of our maps of Europe” in the Chinese language. Ricci’s map was to be the first created in China using European cartographic principles.
The authors of the other letters, Francisco Cabral, and Francesco Pasio, eventually moved to Japan and became leaders of the Church there, the former as superior of the mission, and the latter as vice-Provincial of Japan.
Cordier, Bibliotheca japonica, col. 81; Sommervogel (Vol. III) devotes 9 columns to this work; Streit, IV, pp. 451-452 (1670). For the full text, see https://digital-archives.sophia.ac.jp/view/kirishitan_bunko/JL-1586-KB8-181-96