3 Volumes, Large 8º (volumes of slightly different sizes, approximately 21 x 15 cm): vol. I: , iii, 231 pp., ; vol. II: , iii, 210 pp., ; vol. III: , viii, 252 pp., ; each volume bound in fine contemporary brown mottled calf with gilt tooling; old bookseller’s label of ‘Alvaro Garzon / Bogotá’ inside of front covers of each volume; dedication inscription in blue ballpoint pen dated 1966 to blank verso of ‘Advertencia’ leaf of vol. I (Very Good, overall clean and crisp, just a few areas of light sporadic toning; bindings overall lovely with some wear and abrasions with some superficial loss).
This a highly attractive and complete example of the first Spanish language edition and first Ecuadorian printing of Juan de Velasco’s Historia del reino de Quito, or history of Ecuador, one of the most famous and controversial of all Latin American historical works. The masterpiece, written in 1789 by Velasco, an exiled Ecuadorian Jesuit priest and Enlightenment scholar, remained unpublished for four decades. Immediately upon its printing in Quito in the early 1840s, it caused a sensation, utterly dominating the study of Ecuadorian and Andean history. The work is a curious combination of valuable facts and insights predicated upon rigorous empirical research, as well as curious interpretations of Ecuador’s pre-Inca history.
Velasco’s work is divided into three parts, or volumes. The first volume concerns the natural history of Ecuador; the second explores the ‘Ancient’, or pre-Columbian history; and the third focusses upon the ‘modern’, or Spanish colonial history of the country up to 1789. Velasco’s work contains a vast wealth of historical facts, vignettes and insights that appear in print for the very first time. A rigorous scholar, who once had unfettered access to Quito’s vast Jesuit libraries and archives, he was perhaps able to consult the now-lost manuscript of Father Marcos de Niza (c. 1550-58), one of the first Christian missionaries in South America. The first and third volumes of the Velasco’s work are considered foundational texts in the history of Ecuador, while the second volume on pre-Columbian history is, and always was, a lightning rod for controversy.
In the second volume, Velasco highlights the role of the ‘Reino del Quito’ (the Kingdom of Quito), a national polity, based in modern-day Quito, that ruled much of what is today Ecuador, southwestern Colombia and northern Peru from the 9th Century AD until the Incan invasion and conquest which commenced in 1463. Today many historians believe that the so-called ‘Quitus’ were a militarily feeble society that came to be dominated by the rival Shyiris people, who merged into and took over their power structure. They maintain that while the Quitu-Shyiris nominally ruled over vast amounts of territory their authority was weak and they were not especially culturally advanced.
Controversially, Velasco elaborately portrays the Kingdom of Quito as a powerful, as well as a culturally and politically advanced empire, being far more impressive in stature than any Amerindian entity that preceded or succeeded it. He gives the impression that Ecuador was the finest flower of indigenous culture in the Americas. In contrast to the clinical and scientific rigour of the rest of his work, Velasco’s portrait of the Quitus is sentimental, and while in some ways initially convincing, it does not necessarily strand up to scrutiny.
Velasco spent the last 24 years of his life in exile in Italy and wrote the ‘Historia del reino de Quito’ in 1789. The unpublished manuscript was preserved and circulated in Jesuit circles until the 1830s. In 1837, Abel Victoriano Brandin published an error-filled except of Volume III. This was followed by a French translation of the complete text of Velasco’s original manuscript, edited by Henri Ternaux-Compans, and printed by Artus Bertand in Paris from 1837 to 1841. This was followed by an Italian translation of Ternaux-Compans’s edition, published in Prato, Tuscany in 1842.
Enter General Juan José Flores, who served as the first President of the Republic of Ecuador (from 1830-34 and 1839-45). In 1830, Ecuador gained its independence having separated from the Gran Republica de Colombia. It had never been a distinct political entity under Spanish colonial rule, and it had rocky relations with its larger neighbours, Colombia and Peru, who coveted its territory. President Flores made valiant efforts to create a clear national identity for Ecuador. As the country lacked a ‘ready-made’ foundational narrative, Flores and his associates reached back into history to find one.
Velasco’s work, which showcased the Reino del Quito, based in what became Ecuador, as being perhaps South America’s most culturally sophisticated pre-Columbian empire, was the perfect solution. It gave Ecuador an illustrious historical pedigree, distinct form its arch-nemesis Peru, which was seen to have produced the Incas, the comparatively barbarous empire that destroyed the enlightened Quitus.
A faithful copy of Velasco’s original Spanish language manuscript was brought to Quito and skilfully edited by Agustín Yerovi, where it was printed with President Flores’ blessing by the Government Press, in three volumes issued between 1841 to 1844. An expensive and elaborate production by contemporary Ecuadorian standards, it seems that the volumes were produced in a haphazard manner. For instance, while Volume I was published in 1841, the title page for the tome was not printed until 1844 (and while present here, is not present in many examples). Moreover, each of the volumes is of a slightly different size. The manner of the work’s production and issue accounts for the fact that while isolated volumes appear from time to time on the market, it is very rare to encounter a complete set.
In any event, the publication of the Quito edition of Velasco’s work caused a firestorm in academic circles, not only in Ecuador, but throughout Latin America. Historians everywhere valued Velasco’s contribution to Ecuador’s natural and colonial history, while his portrayal of the Quitus was incredibly controversial. Some Ecuadorians happily embraced Velasco’s conception of their ancient historical identity and for many years it was adopted for nationalistic propaganda purposes. Elsewhere, especially in Peru, historians and commutators reacted with anger at Velasco’s “invention” of the Quitu civilization and his lack of regard for the Incas. The controversy unleashed by the present edition of Velasco’s work had continued to shape the study of history and Ecuador’s sense of national identity to the present day.
The present example of the book bears the a manuscript dedication inscription on the verso of the ‘Advertencia’ leaf of Volume I, dated June 23, 1966, in Pasto, Colombia, from Ernesto Andrade Cárdenas, a senior official in the Colombian Finance Ministry, to his friend, Dr. Carlos Peña Baena, a diplomat who served at one time as the Colombian Consul General in Montréal.
A Note on Rarity
Complete examples of the Quito edition of the Historia del reino de Quito, with all 3 volumes, are very rare on the market. We could not trace any other examples as having appeared since a set was offered at Sotheby’s in 1999.
Juan de Velasco: Foundational Historian of Ecuador
Juan de Velasco y Pérez Petroche (1727–1792) was one of the towering figures of the Enlightenment in South America, even though he spent much of his working life in exile in Italy. A native of Riobamba (likewise the hometown of the famed geographer Pedro Vicente Maldonado), he was ordained into the Jesuit Order and became a professor of philosophy and theology at the Real Audiencia of Quito. By the early 1760s, he gained great acclaim as a scholar and author of books on various fields ranging from history to physics to poetry.
Upon the Suppression of Jesuits thoroughout the Spanish Empire in 1767, Velasco was exiled to the Italy, whereupon he spent the rest of his life in Faenza, in the Papal States. There he was permitted to continue his studies, having access to his voluminous notes taken in Quito from privileged sources, while continuing to research various church archives. His magnum opus was the Reino del Quito which he penned in 1789 not long before his death. The immense latent force of this work was not unleashed until over forty years later, upon the appearance of the present Quito edition.
References: Palau 357145; Sabin 98793; De Backer-Sommervogel VIII, 540, 2; Francisca BARRERA; ‘La idea de Historia en la Historia del Reino de Quito de la América Meridional del jesuita Juan de Velasco’, Anales de Literatura Hispanoamericana, vol. 41 299-319; Nicola FOOTE, ‘Reinventing the Inca Past: The Kingdom of Quito, Atahualpa and the Creation of Ecuadorian National Identity’, Latin American and Caribbean Ethnic Studies, 5:2 (2010), 109-30.