Histoire des découvertes et conquestes des Portugais dans le Nouveau monde

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Author: Lafitau, Joseph-François, (1681-1746)

Year: 1733

Publisher: Chez Saugrain pere, quai des Augustins, au coin de la rue Chez Saugrain pere, quai des Augustins, au coin de la rue Pavee

Place: Paris


2 volumes. [8]+xxiv+616+[47]+[1] pages with 4 maps ad view (one folding) and 3 plates (one folding); [2]+693+[89]+[2] pages with 1 map and 6 plates. Quarto (10 1/4" x 10 1/4") bound in half leather with raised spine bands and gilt lettering to spine over marbled boards. (Borba de Moraes, page I:453; European Americana 733/146; Sabin 38591) First edition.

Joseph-François Lafitau was a French Jesuit missionary, ethnologist, and naturalist. He is best known for his use of the comparative method in the field of scientific anthropology, the discovery of ginseng, and his writings on the Iroquois. Lafitau was the first of the Jesuit missionaries in Canada to have a scientific point of view. Lafitau is considered the first of the modern ethnographers and a precursor of scientific ethnology for his work on the Iroquois. He developed a model of studying peoples that involved describing existing cultures on their own terms—not in comparison to European society. He distinguished generic and specific traits, transforming the "generic savage" into specific tribal groups. He explained that "only from specific identities can genetic relations be inferred."[5] Furthermore, he was the first to declare, "contemporary primitive cultures throw light upon the culture of ancient people and vice versa. Lafitau is remembered for applying the comparative method with a greater level of competency than any of his contemporaries. Through original field observations, he was able to critique the works of earlier writers on Primitive peoples. By using the Comparative Method, Lafitau rejected all theories of social and cultural change and instead used his study to demonstrate the similarities in customs, practices, and usages of the Native North Americans with diverse peoples from different continents and centuries. He consistently relied on the doctrine of degeneration: all men originally shared one religion with one God but over time as people migrated to separate margins of the earth where they then lost touch with the values and traditions of this one true religion and culture. Therefore, Lafitau believed in the "psychic unity of mankind" and the doctrine of primitive monotheism. His major work, written in French, was first published in 1724 in Paris. It is entitled Customs of the American Indians Compared with the Customs of Primitive Times (Moeurs des Sauvages Amériquains, Comparées aux Moeurs des Premiers Temps) and is 1,100 pages in total. In 1974, William Fenton and Elizabeth Moore made the first translation into English available. Lafitau published two other works. One, Histoire de Jean de Brienne, Roy de Jérusalem et Empereur de Constantinople (Paris, 1727), was released before he returned to Canada; it is little known and seldom seen. A two-volume Histoire des découvertes et conquestes des Portugais dons le Nouveau Monde . . . (1733) appeared after he came home to France. Frequently found in libraries, it is not just a compilation of original sources but an attempt to make available to French readers a story of exploration and adventure otherwise denied to them; in the chronicles he sees a long development of customs hitherto unnoticed, such as he had reported in the Mœurs; from them, understood only, he says, in the original languages of the people who practice them, he builds his "system" or philosophy of history, and once more he is concerned too with the relation between custom and natural history, or ecology.


Beautifully rebound in half leather. Faint dampening to second volume; early owner's signatures on title pages, inked stamps of St Charles Borromeo Seminary on front paste-downs and first title page, lacks frontispiece else a very good to fine set.