An historical essay endeavoring a probability that the language of the empire of China is the primitive language.
London,”printed for Nath.Brook, at the Angel in Gresham Colledge” 1669.
8vo. (8) + 212 + (2)pp (without the accompanying folding engraved map). Title printed in red and black. Contemporary full calf. Title leaf slightly browned and a small stain in outer blank margin of last three leaves. From the library of the Earls of Macclesfield, with their mid nineteenth century armorial bookplate, dated 1860, and their armorial blindstamp towards top of first two leaves (as customary with books from this library).
First edition of this remarkable publication by John Webb (1611-1672), Inigo Jones’s pupil, architectural assistant and professional successor. In his independent architectural career since the 1650s Webb had had both successes and disappointments, but his executed buildings show that he was an adept handler of the Palladian style of architecture introduced into England by Inigo Jones, and his inheritance from Jones both of Jones’s drawings and of Jones’s library of printed books provided him with the best reference archive of any English architect of his generation. By 1669 Webb’s career as an architect was drawing to a close and this evidently gave him the leisure to write the present book, in which he argues that the Chinese language was essentially the same language that was spoken throughout the world before Noah’s flood, and also provides an extensive discussion of Chinese culture and of the remote origins of the Chinese empire. Webb’s text is entirely based on existing printed sources, but his is nonetheless the earliest extensive discussion of the Chinese language by an European author, and it is possible to reconstruct from his remarks exactly which books he possessed on China (some no doubt inherited from Inigo Jones). Speculation on the peoples and culture of the distant past both by Jones and by Webb himself had been a feature of their successive books on Stonehenge, respectively published in 1655 and 1665, and a lingering memory at Wilton House of Inigo Jones’s interest in comparative languages no doubt accounts for the remarkable statement in Nicola Haym’s original preface to his early eighteenth century engraved catalogue of Lord Pembroke’s coin collection that “I desir’d my Lord [Pembroke] to let me print what he has writ of Mr.Jones’s explanations not only of the Samaritan & Arabick but also Phoenician the which he spoke from a boy being educated in Mount Atlas” (sic !).Regrettably, our copy lacks the accompanying “exact mapp of China”, copied from one originally published in Purchas his Pilgrimes, 1625, but copies with the map are very rare outside older libraries – the only copy with the map offered at auction in the last two decades fetched $18000 US dollars in a recent sale – and the present copy offers an opportunity for a collector, scholar or institution to acquire Webb’s text at a more reasonable price. BAL Cat 3600 (with the title leaf and the map in facsimile).