First French Edition of Solís

“A poem without verse...written in epic style”

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525. SOLÍS [Y RIVADENEYRA], Antonio de. Histoire de la conquête du Mexique, ou de la Nouvelle Espagne. Traduite de l’Espagnol de Don Antoine De Solis. Paris: Chez Maurice Villery, à l’entrée du quay des Augustins, à l’Image S. Jean Chrysostome, [colophon: De l’Imprimerie de Laurent Rondet. 1691], 1691. [30], 1-630, [26] pp., 12 copper-engraved plates (10 folded) and 2 folded maps by Möise-Jean-Baptiste Fouard (see maps & plates list below); wood-engraved text ornamentation. 4to (25.5 x 20 cm), contemporary full dark brown French calf, spine gilt-lettered and decorated with raised bands, marbled endpapers, new flyleaves, red-tinted edges. Joints repaired at an early date but separating again, lower spine chipped, corners bumped. Except for occasional minor browning and scattered foxing, interior and plates fine. With contemporary printed ownership slip of Augustinian Laurence Orceau pasted to title page (his name in ink also on title page). Uncommon. Difficult to find complete.

Maps & Plates

[1]       [MAP]. Untitled map of Mexico from R. de Palmas on the Gulf of Mexico to Oaxaca on the Pacific west coast and including the interior towns of Guanajuato, Michoacán, etc. Located are settlements, rivers, and islands; small symbols indicate churches, architecture, and landmarks. Border to border: 21.2 x 17 cm. Opposite first page of text.

[2]       Riviere de Panuco autrement Rio de Canoas. Image plus note at top and title below: 19.5 x 26.5 cm. Opposite p. 26. Battle scene with Natives in canoes and Spanish ships under Juan de Grijalva at the river Pánuco on the shores of Mexico.

[3]       Isle de Cuba Port St. Jacques. Image plus note at top and title below: 20.3 x 26.7 cm. Opposite p. 34. European ships sail from a harbor, one ship with flag boldly inscribed: “In hoc signo Vinces.” Cortés’ departure from Cuba in 1518 to explore Mexico.

[4]       Vaisseaux de Cortez desagrées et échouez par ses ordres [below image] I. van Beecqping.| M. Fouard sculp. Image plus note at top and title below: 21.6 x 29 cm. Opposite p. 145. Cortés’ ruined ships at Veracruz, with tents and dwellings on shore. The scene represents Cortés’ ultimate insurance against desertion by his army: sinking of his own fleet.

[5]       [MAP]. Environs du Lac de Mexique. Border to border: 25 x 16.7 cm. Opposite p. 272. Bird’s-eye view map of the area around the Aztec city of Tenochtitlán, including present-day Mexico City. Most place names in Nahuatl.

[6]       A. Tezcuco. B. La chaussée principale. C. Quitlavaca. D. Iztacpalapa. E. Mexico. F. Aqueduc. G. Cuyoacan. H. Magiscatzingo. I. Cimameca. K. Suchimilco. L. Deux autres Chaussées. Borderlines plus text at top and title below: 21.5 x 52.5 cm. Opposite p. 273. Sweeping panorama of Mexico City or Tenochtitlán encompassing islands, aqueduct, causeways. Lettered identifications in title.

[7]       La Ville de Mexique. Border to border: 19.5 x 27.5 cm. Opposite p. 274. Tenochtitlán as imagined before European arrival, with Old World architecture, foreground with men on horseback herding livestock.

[8]      L’Ydole Viztzilipuztli. Border to border: 19.8 x 14 cm. Opposite p. 275. Aztec temple scene of worship and human sacrifice with priest excising and offering the heart of a human victim to Huitzilopochtli, the god of war, sun, human sacrifice, and patron of the city of Tenochtitlán.

[9]       Le Grand Temple de Mexique. Border to border: 19.7 x 27.5 cm. Opposite p. 278. Bird’s-eye view of the Great Temple and sacrificial scene—a major icon of Aztec architecture.

[10]     Danses appellées Mitoles. Border to border: 19.8 x 27.5 cm. Opposite p. 290. Native dance featuring men standing on each other’s shoulders, balancing on a rope, musical instruments, etc.

[11]     Untitled historical scene of Spanish soldier directing that an Aztec chief be chained and put irons. Border to border: 19.7 x 14.2 cm. Opposite p. 324.

[12]     Bataille dans la vallée d’Ottumba. A. Descente de Cortez dans la vallée. B. Général des Mexicains. Border to border: 21 x 54 cm. Opposite p. 466. Spacious landscape scene showing the battle of Otumba, depicting Cortés’ retreat from Tenochtitlán pursued by Aztec warriors. Ultimately the Spanish prevailed at great loss to the Natives.

[13]     Combat des Brigantins de Cortez contre les canots des Mexiquains. Borders plus text and title: 25 x 27 cm. Opposite p. 544. View of Tenochtitlán in Lake Texcoco with European ships firing guns at Native American boats and canoes. Relates to Cortés reconquest of Tenochtitlán.

[14]     Retraite de Guatimozin pris par Holguin. Borders plus text and title: 20 x 26.8 cm. Following p. 624. Another battle scene with Spanish ships firing on Native American boats, this one relating to Cuauhtémoc, who was being held hostage by the Spanish.

     First French edition (one of eight issues of the French edition in 1691, differing only in the substitution of title pages). At the end of the preliminary material on p. [30] is the following statement: “Achevé d’imprimer pour la premiere fois, le vingt-deuxiéme jour de Fevrier mil six cens quatre-vingt onze.” Arocena, Solís 8. European Americana 1691/129. Medina, Hispano-Americana 1773n: “Sin duda las más popular de cuantas se han escrito de historia americana, de que dan elocuente testimonio las numerosas ediciones que aún durante este siglo se han hecho de ella.” Palau 318667. Sabin 86475. This edition was translated from the Madrid, 1684, edition by Bon-André de Broë, Seigneur de Citry et de La Guette. The Preface is an original contribution to Mexican and Spanish history in that it is the first biography of Cortés to appear in French. The author’s treatment of his subject is fairly even-handed, although he obviously admires Cortés, even as he criticizes the love of gold and treasure that drove him and others to cruel excesses, a criticism, he observes, that has already been directed against him by his own countrymen.

     J. Benedict Warren, “An Introductory Survey of Secular Writings in the European Tradition on Colonial Middle America, 1503-1818” in Handbook of Middle American Indians, Volume 13 (“Guide to Ethnohistorical Sources”), Part 2, pp. 50-51:

In 1661 Antonio de Solis was appointed to succeed Antonio de León Pinelo as chronicler of the Indies. He was a native of Alcalá and had studied classics, philosophy, and laws there and in Salamanca. He served as secretary to the Conde de Oropesa and, after 1654, as Oficial of the first Secretariat of State. His writings prior to his appointment as chronicler were of a literary nature, principally dramatic and poetic. His work as chronicler showed the influence of his literary background. He at first intended to write a continuation of Herrera’s Historia. In preparing himself for this he found a prejudice in the works of foreigners and his own nation that he decided to rewrite the story of the conquest of Mexico, which he found most in need of revision. His work, therefore, was affected by two elements which damaged its historical value: his desire to write a well-balanced literary work and his determination to defend the Spanish national honor.

The result of his labors was his Historia de la conquista de México, población y progreso de la Amérique Septentrional conocida con el nombre Nueva España, which appeared in 1684. The actual content of the work does not come up to the indications of the title. Solís was able to complete only the first part, which told the history of the conquest of Mexico, 1519-1521. He was working on the continuation of the work when he died in Madrid in 1686.

Solis’ Historia has been called a poem without verse, as it is written in epic style, with a great central hero and with the facts selected according to the needs of the story. It became the first standard literary version of the Conquest until Prescott’s history and other later works. It went through numerous Spanish editions and was translated in the major European tongues.... A lengthy study of Solís and his history, by Luis A. Arocena, saw publication in Buenos Aires in 1963.

     Wilgus (pp. 155-156) remarks on the long-standing popularity of Solís’ work and reports that Prescott read Solís in order to learn Spanish. Prescott praised Solis’ history as the “most remarkable in the Castilian language.” Wilgus comments that noted ethnographer-archaeologist Charles-Étienne de Brasseur de Bourbourg became interested in America by reading Solís. Bancroft noted that although Solís made up the speeches by his characters, his work must be considered generally accurate. On the other hand, Wilgus notes that Solís has been called bigoted and fanatical because he considered the Indians in league with the devil. “Cortés was his hero and the Conquest was a ‘Holy War’” (p. 156). Opinions vary, but if one is not moved by the words of this book, certainly the images of this well-illustrated edition, speak volumes. Parisian engraver Möise-Jean-Baptiste Fouard (1653-1726) specialized in landscapes, seascapes, views, and battles. The painting of at least one of the images is attributed to Dutch marine painter, Jan Karel Donatus van Beecq (1638-1722).

     After all the praise, popularity, hostility, and antipathy heaped upon Solís’ book, it is a rich irony that he was never paid a centime for his work.


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