LAET, Johannes de (1593-1649). L'Histoire du Nouveau Monde ou Description des Indes Occidentales. Leiden: Chez Bonaventure & Abraham Elzevir, 1640
Folio (13 6/8 x 8 6/8 inches). Title-page printed in red and black with woodcut printer's device, 14 double-page engraved maps, over 60 woodcut illustrations in text (a few leaves lightly spotted, this copy without the 2-leaf dedication to Richelieu). 18th-century calf, gilt (hinges cracked, worn with minor loss at the extremities).
Provenance: 18th-century armorial bookplate partially removed from the front paste-down.
THE SECOND PRINTED ATLAS OF THE AMERICAS
First edition in French, and including many important maps, particularly: "America sive Indiae Occidentalis Tabula Generalis", which does not show California as an island and is therefore one of the most accurate maps of the Pacific coastline of North America of its time: "the maps were some of the first to depart from the heavier style of the Mercator and Ortelius period. This more open style of engraving was one that both Blaeu and Janssonius would use in their atlases" (Burden).
First published as "Nieuwe Wereldt ofte Beschrijvinghe van West-Indien" in Leiden in 1625. De Laet was a director of the Dutch West India Company, and so had access to the latest information, both from the company's personnel and from the archives. Although an important record - and perhaps the best seventeenth-century account - of the Americas, the real significance of the book is the suite of maps used to illustrate it, drawn by Hessel Gerritsz, official mapmaker to the Dutch West India Company and to the East India Company, chosen in preference to Willem Blaeu.
De Laet maintained the currency of subsequent editions by adding events as they occurred, making this the most complete edition, recording the sacking of Bahia, the conquest of Olinda, Itamaraca, Parahiba, and Rio Grande do Norte.
The work was used as an atlas during the second half of the seventeenth century and is recognized for the accuracy of its maps because Laet had access to the latest geographic data as a director of the Dutch West India Company. Burden points out the new, more open style of engraving which was adopted by Blaeu and Jansson.
The maps in the first edition focussed on South America and the West Indies; with the Dutch settlement on Manhattan, de Laet added new maps of the Americas, maritime Canada, the eastern seaboard from New England to the Carolinas and of the south east. Each of the regional maps was a landmark in the mapping of that region, with huge influence on the work of the Blaeu and Hondius-Janssonius families, and subsequent mapmakers, but none more than the New England map, which is "of extreme importance" (Burden), being the first printed map to name Manhattan (as "Manbattes"), N. Amsterdam (New York), Noordt Rivier (Hudson River), Suydt Rivier (the Delaware) and to use the name "Massachusets" for the nascent English colony in New England.
De Laet was born in Antwerp but in 1585, the family, like thousands of Flemish protestants, fled to the northern Netherlands. After studying philosophy in Leiden the young de Laet traveled to London in 1603, obtained his denizenship, but after the death of his wife returned to Leiden, where in April 1608 he "married Maria Boudewijns van Berlicum (d. 1643). There he made a fortune through overseas trade and land investments, at home and at Laetburg, near Albany, in New Netherland. In 1619 he was appointed a director of the Dutch West Indies Company, a position he held until his death.
"In the ongoing religious quarrels which troubled Holland, de Laet sided with the counter-remonstrants (Gomarists) against the remonstrants (Arminians), an allegiance evident in his 'Commentarii de Pelagianis et Semi-Pelagianis' (1617). In 1618 he was delegated for Leiden to the Synod of Dort, where he befriended the theologian Samuel Ward, master of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, one of the several English delegates. In his leisure time he proved a prolific, many-sided scholar with a keen interest in theology, geography, botany, classical philology, and comparative historical linguistics. Still of importance are his lavishly illustrated books on the Americas—'Nieuwe wereldt' (1625), which he also translated into Latin (1633) and French (1640) [as here], a detailed account of the early years of the 'Dutch West Indies Company' (1644), and 'Historia naturalis Brasiliae' (1648). He contributed eleven volumes to the Elzevier 'Respublicae' series, including ones on Scotland and Ireland (1627), England (1630), and India (1631). In a magisterial polemic with Hugo Grotius, he disproved Grotius's claims that the Native Americans originated from China, Ethiopia, and Norway (1644). His de luxe edition of Vitruvius's 'De architectura' (1649) includes his Latin translation of Sir Henry Wotton's 'The Elements of Architecture' (1624). De Laet was an astute Anglo-Saxonist, corresponding and co-operating with (but also envied by) such antiquaries as William Camden, Sir Henry Spelman, Sir John Spelman, Abraham Wheelock, Sir Simonds D'Ewes, John Selden, and Patrick Young. Archbishop James Ussher lent him the famous ‘Caedmon’ manuscript (Bodl. Oxf., MS Junius 11) for an Old English–Latin dictionary he was compiling. His correspondence with John Morris reflects contemporary Anglo-Dutch intellectual exchange, while his unpublished epistolary exchange with Sir William Boswell (d. 1649), English ambassador in The Hague, is a particularly rich quarry for evidence of political and economic interchange between England and Holland.
"In 1638 de Laet visited England for several months both in connection with his dictionary and to obtain denizenship for his son Samuel, who had married Rebecca, daughter of Timothy Cruso of London. During another visit in 1641 parliament asked his advice on the prospects for an English West Indies Company and Charles I requested him to provide the genealogy of his future son-in-law, William II of Orange" (Rolf H. Bremmer jun. for DNB). Alden-Landis 640/111; Borba de Moraes I:451; Burden 215,229- 232; Sabin 38558; Willems 497. Catalogued by Kate Hunter