“The Foundation of a Library of California”. A Jesuit Natural history of California. With the Kino Map

Venegas, Miguel, S.J. (1680-1764)

Natural and Civil History of California: Containing an accurate description of that Country, Its Soil, Mountains, Harbours, Lakes, Rivers, and Seas; Its Animals, Vegetables, Minerals, and Famous Fishery for Pearls. The Customs of the Inhabitants, Their Religion, Government, and Manner of Living Before Their Conversion the Christian Religion by the missionary Jesuits : together with accounts of the several voyages and attempts made for settling California and taking actual surveys of that country, its gulf, and coast of the South-sea : illustrated with copper plates, and an accurate map of the country and the adjacent seas / tr. from the original Spanish of Miguel Venegas, a Mexican Jesuit, published at Madrid 1758

London: For James Rivington and James Fletcher, 1759


Two large octavo volumes: [20], 455; [8], 387. I. A8, a2, B-Z8, Aa-Ff8, Gg4 II. A4, B-Z8, Aa-Bb8, Cc2. With four added engraved plates and a large folding map.

FIRST ENGLISH EDITION. With the large folding Jesuit map of California and eight illustrations on four copper-engraved plates, including the martyrdoms of the Jesuit Fathers Carranco and Tamaral. Bound in contemporary speckled calf, rebacked, spines gilt, leather labels. The front hinge of the first volume expertly reattached. Slight wear to edges and corners. Very good, with the bookplate of James Smith of Jordanhill (1782-1867), a Scottish scholar and merchant who was a noted collector of books on early voyages and travels.

The four engraved plates are all present, which, as Cowan states, is unusual: "Four plates appear to have been issued with but a few copies of the work, as two is the number usually found." The map is based on Kino's famous Jesuit map of 1702, first published in the 1726 issue of the German collection of missionary reports, "Der Neue Welt Bott". The original Spanish edition contained no plates, but had engraved illustrations as a border to this map. In this printing the same illustrations have been included as bound plates instead. They are of; men of California, women of California, the coyote, California deer, the native manner of curing the sick, the sorcerers of California, the martyrdom of Father Carranca, and the martyrdom of Father Tamaral.

This English translation preceded the French and German translations. Considered by Cowan to be "the foundation of a library of California," this work is the most extensive account of Lower California of its period. It was presumably published in part to counteract anti-Jesuit statements that had appeared in accounts of George Anson's voyage in the Pacific (1740-1744). Venegas was for many years a Jesuit missionary among the Indians of Mexico and California and his account of the Jesuit Missions in California ("The Reduction of California by the Jesuits, and their transactions to the present time") occupies more than half of the text of both volumes (more than 450 pages). Compiled by Venegas from Jesuit archives, it begins with the arrival of Father Juan Maria de Salva-Tierra in 1697 and concludes with a discussion of the mission of California, Sonora, and Pimeria in the year 1752. Venegas gives detailed accounts of the foundation of each of the California missions, describing political developments in Mexico and California, Jesuit interactions with and policy towards the native inhabitants (including several accounts of bloody martyrdoms), and the exploration of the interior. Venegas' work includes information on geography, flora and fauna, and the history of the early European settlement from the arrival of Cortez up to the 18th century. His manuscript, completed in 1739, was edited in Spain by Father Andres Marcos Burriel, who revised and substantially enlarged the text, adding fresh information sent home from the missions up to the date of publication. The final section is devoted to the early exploration of the Northwest coast and includes extracts from López de Gómara and an account of the Vizcaino expedition (1602-1603) taken by Torquemada from the diary of António de la Ascensión. Burriel is notable for rejecting as apocryphal the purported voyages and discoveries of de Fonte and de Fuca.

Sommervogel VIII, col 559; Cowan, p. 658. Graff 4471. Hill, p. 307.