MANDEVILLE, Sir John (d.1372)
[Gouda: Gerard Leeu, 1483-before 11 June 1484]. Super-Chancery Quarto. (7 3/8 x 5 1/8 inches). Type: 5:82G; 33 lines, initial spaces, with 51 initials supplied in red in a contemporary manuscript hand. Collation: A-F8 G6 H8, lacking A1 (an initial blank). Colophon H8r: ' Explicit jtinerarius [i.e. itinerarius] a terra anglie i[n] p[ar]tes ierosolimitanas et in vlteriores transmarinas editus p[ri]mo in lingua gallicana a domino Iohanne de Mandeuille milite suo auctore. Anno incarnacionis D[omi]ni Mcclv. in ciuitate leodiensi [et] paulo post in eade[m] ciuitate tra[n]slatus in dicta[m] forma[m] latina[m] Quod opus vbi inceptu[m] simul et co[m]pletu[m] sit ip[s]a elementa seu singularu[m] seorsu[m] caracteres i[tine]rarum quibus impressu[m] vides venetica monstrant manifeste'. (Lacking front blank, neat expert restoration to upper blank margin of first page).
Red 20th-century morocco by Zaehnsdorf of London, covers with single gilt fillet border, spine gilt in six compartments with raised bands, lettered in the second, date in the third, the others plain but for a single fillet gilt border, gilt turn-ins, gilt edges
At the very beginning of printed travel literature stands the tales of the English knight Sir John Mandeville, whose narrative describes extensive and often rather incredible adventures outside of Europe to the East in the first half of the 14th century. The authenticity of Sir John Mandeville and his travels have been matters for debate for centuries - what is undeniable is the popularity of the travel narrative, which was the most widely read of its time. Mandeville's stories are the bridge between the fabulous tales of the Middle Ages and the real, but remarkable, encounters of Europeans venturing into the wider world. Apocryphal or not, the Mandeville adventures set the stage for all of published travel literature. Notably, they were published at the same time and place as the first edition of Marco Polo's narrative of his travels to China.
The Mandeville narrative has long been ascribed to one John of Burgundy, who died at Liege in 1372; the earliest known manuscript version, in the Bibliotheque Nationale, is dated to 1371. This is the first of some three hundred manuscript versions created over the next century, making the Mandeville narrative one of the most popular secular texts prior to the invention of printing. It tells the story of a young English knight from St. Albans who left Britain in 1322 and spent the next thirty-four years travelling in the East, visiting the Middle East and Palestine before continuing to India, Tibet, China, Java, and Sumatra, then returning westward to Egypt and North Africa. Records of the Mandeville family show that a John Mandeville sold his land and property in 1321, then disappears from records until 1358, when a further record of him occurs. While some parts of the Mandeville narrative are lifted from other sources, and others may be fabulous, it certainly seems that the text is built around a core of truth.
Donald Lach, while arguing that the Mandeville narrative is a literary invention of either a Burgundian or possibly written by Mandeville himself, points out that the book was accepted at face value at the time, and was translated from the original Latin into every major European language by 1500. He points out the many existing sources drawn upon, from Pliny and Solinus to Odoric of Pordenone's account of the Middle East and numerous other contemporary sources. "Mandeville's book certainly owes much of its popularity to the sheer artistry displayed by the author in weaving the available sources into a rich backdrop for his personal, fictional, narrative." Lach acknowledges that many of the accounts of the East given by Mandeville are accurate, citing his description of the use of the Southern Cross in navigation from India to Sumatra, and the kinds of spices grown in Java. "Mandeville utilized the travel and mission accounts to their fullest and sought to integrate this newer knowledge with more traditional materials. Since his veracity was generally unquestioned until the seventeenth century, his work helped to mold significantly the learned and popular view of Asia."
This is the fine Robinson copy of the second edition of this famous work. This edition is evidently preceded only by the Zwolle edition of Pieter van Os, completed on Sept. 17, 1483, also in Gouda (Goff M-159). There is a gap in the printed output from Leeu's workshop from the late summer of 1482 to some point in 1483 when he begins again with a new font - the same font as used here. The colophon in the present work alludes to the Venetian origin of the matrix, and it may be that the hiatus in Leeu's output was because he took time to visit Venice personally to collect the type.
A fine copy of the printed book at the very foundation of travel literature. The first edition, the year prior to this one, is so rare as to be impossible; no copy has appeared on the market in modern times. Only two copies of this edition have appeared at auction in the last thirty-five years.
BMC IX, 27 (IA. 47355); NCBEL I, 471-473; CA 1998; Cinquième Centenaire 129c, pp.280-8; Goff M-160; HC 10644*; IDL 3063; Klebs 652.3; Polain 2584; C.W.R.D. Mosley, "The Use of Sources" in the Travels of Sir John Mandeville (1983); Lach, Asia in the Making of Europe, I, pp. 77-80; Howgego M39.