Brazilian historians dedicated to research the Portuguese Empire are well aware of the secret stash of old Portuguese sources in the National Library of Rio de Janeiro. Fondly known as BN (Biblioteca Nacional), it is home to part of the old Biblioteca Real, the library of the Portuguese Royal Family.
A couple of years after D. João VI had fled Napoleon and his troops to Brazil, he ordered the transference of the Royal Library to his new capital. Although most of them made the trip back to Europe when he left South America in 1821, part of the royal collection was left in Rio. Among the many books left and others acquired later on, there are some treasures that now are known only in Brazil and by more experienced foreign researchers. I will be dedicating this and the next two posts to some of the works deposited in our beloved BN.
One of the first books I browsed in the library was a compilation of Jesuit letters written in Japan. Entitled “Iesus. Cartas que os Padres e Irmãos da Companhia de Jesus, que andão nos Reynos de Japão escreverão aos da mesma Companhia da Índia, o Europa, des do anno de 1549. até o de 66,” it was published in 1570 in Coimbra and it contains the first sample of Japanese writing printed in Europe, according to the Laures Rare Book Database. The same website also informs that there were actually two editions of this book, one printed in July, the other in August, and there are supposedly only six copies worldwide.
Nevertheless, the Biblioteca Nacional collection of rare books has a copy of this compilation. Donated by the Brazilian collector João Antônio Marques, it is the seventh copy not included in the Japanese database, and the fifth printed in August. For those interested in checking it out, all you need to do is ask for the following number: W1,5,6. Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture of this copy.
Lastly, a curiosity about the August copy kept at the National Library of Portugal. This book bears an inscription handwritten below the original title indicating its owner: Fernando Alvia de Castro. This is none other than the Inspector General of the Spanish Royal Army and Naval Forces in Portugal who, as explained by Keith David Howard, “published his Verdadera razon de estado in Lisbon in 1616, which is a good example of a work that, while demonstrating no unique reading of Machiavelli, nevertheless perpetuates the rethorical operation (…) of attacking the straw figure of Machiavelli while still including Machiavellian discourse.” It would be an interesting exercise to imagine what reading a Spanish Machiavellian intellectual had of Jesuit letters written decades before in Japan.
Next post I will be presenting a rare text that survived the disappearance of the original book.