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Auction 15: Fine Collection of Californiana Formed by Daniel G. Volkmann Jr.

Lots 207-209: First Mission Attempt in the Californias, Udell, Urculla

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207. UDELL, John. Incidents of Travel to California, across the Great Plains; Together with the Return Trips through Central America and Jamaica; To Which Are Added Sketches of the Author’s Life. Jefferson, Ohio: Printed for the Author, at the Sentinel Office, 1856. viii [9]-302 [1, errata] pp. 12mo, original blind-embossed brown cloth, title stamped on spine. Slight losses to spine ends, cloth faded, shelf-worn, corners bumped, hinges starting, shaken, rear blank flyleaf torn with loss, staining and foxing throughout including light waterstaining toward rear. This copy seems to have been ridden hard and hung up wet.
    First edition, the issue without the frontispiece, which Howes conjectures was added after some copies had been distributed. Becker, Christy, p. 22. Byrd 60. Cowan I, p. 235. Cowan II, pp. 648-649. Eberstadt 123:204. Flake 9068. Graff 4230. Heckman, Overland on the California Trail 363. Holliday 1112. Howell 50, California 885. Howes U3. Kurutz, The California Gold Rush 644. Mattes, Platte River Road Narratives 995. Matthews, p. 328. Mintz, The Trail 473. Norris 4042. Plains & Rockies IV:281. Sabin 97663. Streeter Sale 3180. Turner 162. Wheat, Books of the California Gold Rush 213. An unemployed Iowa Baptist minister, Udell has the distinction of being one of the few gold seekers to make several trips to California, in 1850, 1852, 1854, and 1858, staying in the area after his last trip. His practice was to travel overland going out, stay a while and mine for gold, and then generally to return by sea. His style is rather factual and his personal reactions to events somewhat restrained. For example, he deadpans: “This afternoon, in going up Pacific-street, I was robbed of $50.50 by three stout, well-dressed young men” (p. 87). The book contains Udell’s diary for January 1, 1850, through July 5, 1855, along with an account of his early activities and further comments on his trips to California and observations on Central America and Salt Lake City (including many flattering words about the Mormons).

208. URCULLA, José de. The California Text-Book; Containing a Grammar of the Spanish Language in English; Of the English in Spanish; Conversational Dialogues in Both Languages, and a Full Description of California. Compiled Chiefly from the Grammar of Don Jose de Urcullu, and the United States Surveys. San Francisco: Marvin & Hitchcock, 1852 [C. W. Benedict, stereotyper and printer, 201 William Street, N. Y.; copyright by A. Armstrong]. viii [9]-258 pp. 16mo, contemporary half red sheep over brown cloth, spine gilt-lettered. Spine nearly detached and wanting a 1.2 cm (1/2-inch) piece at top and small piece at bottom, both costing a little of the lettering, shelf-worn, light foxing to first few leaves, uniform age toning. Pencil ownership inscription of J. B. Pownell on front free endpaper.
    First edition? Norris 4049: “The first text-book published in San Francisco. Published by Marvin and Hitchcock, San Francisco’s first book-sellers.” Sabin 98117. An unusual example of linguistic ecumenicalism in the new territory of California, apparently translated from Urculla’s Gramática inglesa reducida á veinte y dos lecciones (Philadelphia, 1852). The first 146 pages are taken up with Spanish grammar; pp. [147]-191 with English grammar; pp. [192]-229 with bilingual vocabulary; and pp. [230]-258 with a glowing description of California. According to the preface, the work is intended for immigrants to California and New Mexico. The author also wrote historical literary works with Spanish-American themes (see Sabin 98118 and 98119).

209. [VERBIEST, Ferdinand]. Voyages de l’empereur de la Chine dans la Tartarie, ausquels on a joint une nouvelle découverte au Mexique. Paris: Chez Estienne Michallet, ruë S. Jacques, à l’Image S. Paul, 1685. [8] 110 pp., woodcut initials, head- and tail-pieces. 12mo, full contemporary speckled calf, raised bands, spine gilt. Upper joint slightly split near top but strong, one corner bumped, interior fine except for extremely light staining to upper parts of first few leaves. Blue morocco over blue boards slipcase with chemise.

    First edition. Barrett 117. Beristain I, p. 109. Cowan I, p. 239. Cowan II, p. 659. European Americana 685/177. Hill 1771. Howell 50, California 249. JCB (4) 160. Palau 359120-II. Sabin 98928. Streeter Sale 2420. Streit II:2223. Wagner, Spanish Southwest 58a. Cf. Mathes, California Colonial Bibliography 22 and Medina, Hispano-Americana 1790 for Atondo y Antillón’s related 1686 account. Verbiest (1623-1688) was a Jesuit priest famous in both Europe and China. He spent practically his whole life as a missionary and astronomer in China, accumulating so much credit with the Emperor Kangxi that he was allowed freedoms and privileges previously unheard of for a Christian in China. At one point, the emperor even became his ardent astronomy student. It was through Verbiest’s tremendous standing with the emperor that the Christian religion was able to gain a substantial foothold in China during his ministry. The section entitled “Nouvelle descente des Espagnols dans l’isle de Californie L’an 1683” (pp. [79]-110) is the account of Isidro de Atondo y Antillón’s failed attempt to establish a Spanish colony in California at the Bay of La Paz. He was accompanied by Father Kino, whose intrepid activities among the Native Americans are described and discussed. California is depicted as a paradise ripe for conversion to Christianity. The source of Verbiest’s information is disputed.


Ferdinand Verbiest, born in 1623 in Flanders, entered the Society of Jesus in Antwerp in 1641, was ordained in Sevilla in 1655, and sailed from Lisbon to the Jesuit mission in Macau. In 1660, he was sent to Beijing to assist Johan Adam Schall, S.J., in the opening of Jesuit missions in China, and he became a tutor and advisor to Kangxi who became emperor in 1667. Verbiest introduced astronomy, a modern perpetual calendar, and the modern concept of world cartography to China, and the observatory he constructed in Beijing survives. Although his position as a mandarin of the emperors was widely criticized, he received papal support in 1681, and accompanied Emperor Kangxi to Mongolia in 1682. He died in Beijing in 1688 and was buried with great ceremony.
    In America, the peninsula of California had resisted Spanish settlement from its discovery in 1533, and, following failed commercial expeditions to the Gulf of California in the seventeenth century, in 1679 the Spanish crown granted the license to evangelize the region to the Society of Jesus. Command of military and maritime matters was given to Isidro de Atondo y Antillón and recently arrived Eusebio Francisco Kino, S.J., was named as religious leader. Following several years of preparation on the coast of Sinaloa, Atondo and Kino sailed for the Bay of La Paz in 1683, and following a failed attempt to establish a mission there, continued northward to a site named San Bruno, where the first mission in the Californias was founded in October. Sadly, the mission at San Bruno never became self-sustaining: fresh water was lacking, agriculture failed, and conflicts with Native Americans ensued. In spite of its brief life of eighteen months, San Bruno was considered important as it was the first attempt at Jesuit evangelization in peninsular California, a goal not achieved until 1697 with the founding of Nuestra Señora de Loreto.
    Although the travels of Father Verbiest to Mongolia were far more interesting to European readers of the time and composed the greater part of the volume, a French version is appended of the Relación puntual de la entrada del almirante Isidro de Atondo y Antillón a la grande isla de la California este año de 1683.

––W. Michael Mathes

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