Quarto (225 x 170 mm.), early vellum binding, spine with ornate gilt ruled compartments, each with central gilt floral decoration, red calf gilt title label affixed. Two parts bound in one, pp. , 326, . With vignette title-page, folding engraved map, engraved headpieces and initial letters, lightly browned and foxed, marginal stains to the foot and gutter margins just affecting the text, otherwise in good condition.
The FIRST EDITION of an important early work on Vietnam published in Rome in 1650 containing the FIRST PRINTED MAP of the region. Alexandre de Rhodes (1591-1660) was a Jesuit priest born in Avignon, France, who devoted most of his life to missionary work in Vietnam. He wrote the first Vietnamese catechism and had a major influence on Vietnamese writing. He was a gifted linguist who mastered Vietnamese in only six months. He went on to compile the first Portuguese-Latin-Vietnamese dictionary. He was also one of the first to attempt to Romanize the Vietnamese alphabet, in other words to write it using western characters. The present day national language of Vietnam, Quoc Ngu, is based on his original phonetic and transliteration work. As a missionary Rhodes was constantly battling with the local pagan priests, was exiled twice and nearly sentenced to death for his teachings. Rhodes claimed in his reports that he converted more than 6,000 Vietnamese. He also worked as a missionary in China, Macao and Persia, but his true love was for the Vietnamese people. The first part of the work is a description of Tonking and its customs, the second part discusses his activities in the region. The engraved map is the earliest to show Vietnam in detail and is centred on the Gulf of Tongking and Hainan. It extends to Macao in the east, the borders of Laos and Quang Ngai in the south. Cordier Indosinica 1619; Suarez ‘Early Mapping of Southeast Asia’ p. 217; Walravens ‘China illustrata’ 158.