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DICTIONAIRE CARAIBE FRANCOIS MESLÉ DE QUANTITÉ DE REMARQUES HISTORIQUES POUR L'ESCLAIRCISSEMENT DE LA LANGUE. [bound with:] DICTIONAIRE FRANCOIS-CARAIBE. [bound with:] PETIT CATECHISME OU SOMMAIRE DES TROIS PREMIERES PARTIES DE LA DOCTRINE CHRESTIENNE. TRADUIT DU FRANÇOIS, EN LA LANGUE DES CARAIBES INSULAIRES....
Auxerre, [France]: Gilles Bouquet, 1665/1666/1664. Three titles bound in one volume. ,480; 415 (without the inserted signature à4 found in some copies; 70pp, including full-page woodcut. Text in double columns in French and Carib. Small octavo. Contemporary French mottled calf, spine richly gilt, raised bands. Boards rubbed and edge worn, bands rubbed, some wear to the joints. Contemporary manuscript inscription on front free endpaper, slightly later manuscript note on front fly leaf. Modest tanning. Very good. Item #WRCAM62208
Three scarce, important, and early works, all in first edition, on the language of the Carib people of the West Indies. All three were prepared by the French Dominican missionary, Raymond Breton, and were issued in close succession. Breton (1609-79) was one of the earliest French missionaries to the Antilles, arriving on Guadeloupe in 1635 and spending nearly two decades in the Antilles. He was one of four of his order who helped establish the mission of the Frères Pecheurs in the French West Indies, and seven years after his arrival he was allowed to establish a mission on the island of Domenica, which put him in close contact with the Carib people. Breton also issued a fourth work in 1667, the Grammaire Caraibe, which is not present here (likely this group was bound before its publication). Each work stands on its own and they are sometimes found separately, though preferably bound together, as here.
Breton's works are not simply dictionaries or catalogues of the Carib language. It is clear that he had attained a remarkably sympathetic understanding of the culture of the Indians, as well as a comprehensive grasp of their language. He translated spoken Carib into spoken French in order to teach future Dominican missionaries how to communicate with the tribe, and, as Gaetano DeLeonibus writes, his entries "offer diligent commentaries on native life and culture and attempt to dispel myths about Caribs. DeLeonibus discusses at considerable length the historic and ethnographic value of the present works:
"Breton's dictionaries are an astounding work....For the Caribbean [they] still serve as the most complete record of any of the indigenous languages spoken by the Amerindian peoples of the area....One should not be misled by the word 'dictionary' in the title of this work into supposing that it closely resembles dictionaries of his time. Instead Breton seems to have used the dictionary format to catalogue much about the Carib and to reveal the differences between European and Carib societies as he experienced them and could articulate them in a description of Carib language and society....Breton's entries offer diligent commentaries on native life and culture and attempt to dispel myths about Caribs....He provides a careful orthographic transliteration of words of Carib, with notes on the categories and semantics of the language, at a period when Europeans were neither recording such distinctions, nor allowing native cultures more than a marginal space in official documents and reports."
The language Breton recorded is now essentially extinct, largely displaced by Arawak, so these comprehensive lexicons are important historical documents. "His works...are among the rare relics of the Carib language as it was spoken when the Europeans first began to make contact with the natives of that linguistic group" - JCB.
Another issue of the second text here, the DICTIONAIRE FRANCOIS-CARAIBE, contains an inserted gathering à(4) containing two letters which begin "A Monsieur Claude André Lecler" and "Aux Révérends Pères Missionaire." That gathering is not in the present copy, but those letters do appear at the start of the third text here, the PETIT CATECHISME.
All of these publications are of considerable scarcity in commerce, and are of significant historical importance. DAMPIERRE, ANTILLES FRANCAIS, pp.49-50. PILLING, PROOF-SHEETS 472, 473, 471. SABIN 7739, 7740, 7742. JCB (3)III:123, 140, 108. EUROPEAN AMERICANA 665/20, 666/12, 664/31. CUNDALL 99. BEINECKE LESSER ANTILLES COLLECTION 54, 53. STREIT II:685. Gaetano DeLeonibus, "Raymond Breton's Dictionaire caraïbe-francois" in The French Review (April, 2007), Vol. 80, Number 5, pp.1044-55.