Essays in librarianship and bibliography/Paraguayan and Argentine bibliography

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[Bibliographica, vol. i., pt. 3, published by Messrs. Kegan Paul & Co.]

The great merit of the Spanish and Portuguese bibliographers has in some degree missed recognition from the exceptional character of their themes. They have done little for general bibliography or the literary history of other nations, but, observant of the German precept, have "swept before their own doors" in the most thorough manner. Nicolas Antonio and Barbosa Machado have given magnificent examples of what may be termed bio-bibliography, where not only the literary productiveness, but the life of the author is the subject of investigation. There are few books of the class to which resort can be made with so fair a prospect of being able to find exactly what is required. The dimensions of modern literature forbid the hope of such works being ever seen again. Bibliography and biography must henceforth walk apart, or at most, as in our own Dictionary of National Biography, one must sink into a mere appendage to the other. Works like Antonio's or Machado's belong to the extinct mammoths of the past: yet more modern Spanish and Portuguese bibliographers have displayed equal diligence in more restricted fields. It would be difficult to praise too highly the research of a Mendez, a Salva, or an Icazbalceta, who, like their predecessors, manage to convey the impression of having exhausted their subjects. To these is now to be added Señor Jose Toribio Medina, a Chilian gentleman who has taken an entire continent for his province. In 1891 he produced his bibliography of Chilian literature to 1810, the era of South American independence. In 1892 the assistance of the Museo de la Plata, stimulated by the approaching congress at Huelva in commemoration of the discovery of America, enabled him to publish his bibliography of the Argentine Republic, including Paraguay and Uruguay, on a scale, and with a wealth of illustration, to ensure the book, if not the author, a foremost place amongst bibliographical mammoths, and to suggest that it might be used as collateral security for a new Argentine loan, could such things be. Compared with the tiny but serviceable lists of early South American books which Senor Medina has so frequently published in limited editions, his present volume is as the Genie outside the vase to the Genie within, and it must be the earnest hope of all interested in bibliographical research, and especially of all those who from personal acquaintance have learned to appreciate his indefatigable patriotism and single-minded earnestness, that the step now taken in advance may not be retraced, but that he may find encouragement to produce the still more important bibliography of Peru, now nearly ready for the press, with equal completeness, if not on a scale equally magnificent. When this has been effected, Señor Medina will be at no loss for more worlds to conquer. "We shall follow up the subject," he says, "with the history of printing in the Captain-Generalship of Quito, in Bogota, Havana, Guatemala, and, please Heaven, in the Viceroyalty of Mexico, the cradle of the typographic art in America. Finally, we shall publish the general history of printing in the old Spanish colonies, for which we shall be able to employ a great number of documents hitherto entirely unknown."

The history of South American typography is as interesting in a bibliographical, as it is barren in a literary point of view. The hand-list of the productions of the Lima Press in colonial days, already published by Señor Medina, would alone be a sufficient indictment of Spanish rule, and a sufficient apology for the mistakes of the emancipated colonists. Apart from religious books published in the native languages, and the grammars and dictionaries associated with them, scarcely anything can be found indicative of intellectual life, or imparting anything that the citizen needs to know. Public ceremonies, bull-fights, legends of saints, theses in scholastic philosophy, make up the dreary catalogue, and show how a lively and gifted people were systematically condemned, in so far as their rulers' power extended, to frivolity, superstition and ignorance. But if South America was for nearly three centuries a desert for literature, it was and is a happy hunting-ground for bibliography. The limited interest and limited circulation of such books as were produced conspired to make them rare; the best religious and philological works in Indian languages were commonly worn out or mutilated by constant use; local difficulties occasioned the production of others under peculiar and even romantic circumstances; such as the half-dozen perhaps printed, certainly published at Juli, twelve thousand feet above the level of the sea; or those rude but deeply interesting Paraguayan books which form the subject of Señor Medina's first chapter.[2]

The extreme difficulty of introducing any kind of literature into South America under the Spanish regime, cannot be better illustrated than by the history of the first Paraguayan book, now extant in a single copy in the library of Señor Trelles, a citizen of the Argentine Republic. First of all, about 1693, Father Jose Serrano translates Father Nieremberg's treatise " on the difference between things temporal and things eternal," into Guarani, the vernacular of the Paraguay Indians. Father Tirso Gonzalez, the head of the mission, thinks it well that this translation and another of Ribadeneira's "Flos Sanctorum," also made by Father Serrano, should be printed nearer home than at Lima, the only city in the vast South American continent then in possession of a printing-press. Though they are religious works of the most edifying character, it is necessary to memorialise the Council of the Indies. Father Gonzalez does not make up his mind to this step until December 1699. At length, however, he writes to Spain, obtains permission, and, by the beginning of 1703, types have been cast and the numerous engravings in the Antwerp edition of Nieremberg's treatise copied by the native Indians, whose extraordinary imitative talent is celebrated by Father Labbe, who visited La Plata about this time. "I have seen," he says, "beautiful pictures executed by them, books very correctly printed by them, organs and all kinds of musical instruments. They make pocket timepieces, draw plans, engrave maps, &c."[3] One thing, however, they could not do, found types of proper hardness, inasmuch as the requisite metal for alloy did not exist. The consequent blurred appearance of the impression has led high authorities to assert that the types were made of hard wood, which would not a priori have appeared improbable. The late lamented Mr. Talbot Reed, however, assured the present writer that this could not have been the case; and Señor Medina proves by an official letter, written in 1784, more than twenty years after the ruin of the missions, that the material was tin. The types which existed at that period have disappeared, the remains of the printing-press are still extant in the La Plata Museum. Señor Medina thinks that they ought to be restored: and so do we, provided only that enough remains to distinguish restoration from re-creation.

The book, announced as about to be printed in January 1703, eventually made its appearance in 1705; with the licenses of the Viceroy of Peru, the Dean of Asuncion, and the acting provincial of the Jesuits, two recommendations by divines, and two dedications by Father Serrano himself, the first to the Holy Spirit, who is addressed as "Your Majesty"; the second to Father Gonzalez. The place of imprint is given as "en las Doctrinas," probably the mission station of Santa Maria la Mayor. We must refer our readers to Señor Medina's volume for the interesting and minute bibliographical 'particulars it affords, as well as for the facsimiles of the original engravings, a remarkable episode in the history of the art, and only made accessible through Senor Medina's instrumentality, since the original exists in but a single copy.

The reader will have observed Father Labbe's statement that he has seen books printed by the Indians. At least one other book, therefore, should have been executed by them between 1705 and 1710, and Father Serrano undoubtedly intended to publish his Guarani version of Ribadeneira's "Flos Sanctorum." If he did, no trace of the publication exists at present, nor is any further record of typography in Paraguay found until 1721, when a little liturgical manual for the use of missionaries, entirely in Guarani, with the exception of the first fifteen leaves, was printed at the mission station of Loreto. In 1722 and 1724 the "Vocabulario de la Lengua Guarani" and the "Arte de la Lengua Guarani," both by Antonio Ruiz de Montoya, a Peruvian missionary of the seventeenth century, were reprinted from the original Spanish editions, with copious additions, those to the latter work certainly, those to the former probably, by Paulo Restivo. Both these books were printed at Santa Maria la Mayor, as also was the catechism of Nicolas Yapuguai, a native Paraguayan, in 1724. His "Sermones y Exemplos" appeared at San Francisco Xavier in 1727, and in the same year and at the same place was printed the letter of the unfortunate ex-governor Joseph Antequera y Castro, indited in his prison at Lima, to his adversary the Bishop of Paraguay, who apparently only allowed it to be printed that he might add a more prolix reply. From this time until after the overthrow of Spanish authority, all trace of a press in Paraguay disappears. It should be added that the seven books recorded are undoubtedly productions of one and the same press, although the place of imprint is frequently varied. One curiosity remains to be mentioned, a fragment of a Guarani catechism and syllabary, consisting of two wooden leaves paginated 4 and 13, on which characters are cut in relief precisely as in Chinese stereotypic printing. It is to be supposed that they are older than the books printed with movable types. They are in the library of Señor Lamas, to whom they were presented by an English traveller.

Four out of these seven books are in the British Museum—the Vocabulario and Arte of Ruiz de Montoya, Yapuguai's Catechism, and the letter of Antequera y Castro. The first two were presented in 1818 by Mr. George Bellas Greenough, the founder of the Geological Society. The Catechism was purchased in 1889, and the letter in 1893. The latter is the only copy hitherto known, and is the only one of the seven books of which some portion is not facsimiled by Señor Medina.

Printing had died out in Paraguay before its introduction into any other portion of the great La Plata region. It revived under Jesuit auspices at Cordova, where towards the end of the seventeenth century a college had been founded by Duarte y Quiros, which had become the chief educational institution of the country. By 1765 it had attained sufficient consequence to become sensible of the inconvenience of being unable to print its theses and other academical documents, which, so wretched was the provision then made for the intellectual needs of the Spanish colonies, could only be done at Lima, more than a thousand miles off on the other side of the Andes. The Viceroy of Peru was accordingly appealed to, and permission obtained, fenced with all imaginable precautions and restrictions. No time was lost in printing five panegyrical orations upon the pious founder Duarte y Quiros, probably by Father Peramas, which appeared in 1766. Two, or possibly three, minor publications, now entirely lost, had followed, when the existence of the press was abruptly terminated by the suppression of the Jesuits, and Cordova never saw another until after the independence. The types, however, not tin like the Paraguayan, but imported from Spain and cast secundum artem, were preserved in the college, and in 1780 were transferred to Buenos Ayres, where it had been resolved to introduce typography; not for its own sake, but as a means of raising money towards the support of a foundling hospital, endowed with the proceeds of the printing-press. Official and ecclesiastical patronage were not wanting; by the end of 1781 twenty-seven publications of various descriptions, mostly of course on a very small scale, had issued from the Buenos Ayres press. The first of any kind was a proclamation relating to the militia, facsimiled by Seftor Medina; the first deserving the character of a book was, as in British North America, an almanac. The most interesting from their subject were pastoral letters by two bishops on the overthrow of the rebel cacique Tupac Amaru in Peru. The press continued to thrive, and in 1789 it was necessary to procure a new fount of type from Spain. The total number of publications known to the end of 1810 is 851—a very large proportion of which, however, are merely fly-sheets. Some, nevertheless, are of exceptional interest, such as the translation of Dodsley's "Economy of Human Life," perhaps the first translation of an English book ever published in Spanish America, and the numerous broadsides attesting the impression at first produced in the colonies by Napoleon's invasion of the mother country. Eight proclamations by General Beresford during the brief occupation of the city by the British forces in 1806 are of especial interest to Englishmen. In one Beresford endeavours to conciliate the good-will of the inhabitants by promising deliverance from the financial oppression of the Spanish colonial system. They soon afterwards took the matter into their own hands: the publications for the last months over which Señor Medina's labours extend are chiefly proclamations by the Junta and similar revolutionary documents. Among them, duly facsimiled by Senor Medina, is the proclamation of the Junta, with the date of May 23, 1810, announcing the virtual deposition of the Viceroy, the first document of Buenos Ayrean independence, although the authority of Ferdinand the Seventh is still acknowledged in name, and the autonomy of the country was not proclaimed until 1816. Another curiosity, also facsimiled, is a proclamation in Spanish and Quichua, "from the most persecuted American," Iturri Patiño, to the inhabitants of Cochabamba in Upper Peru, more than a thousand miles from Buenos Ayres, exhorting them to welcome their deliverers. The interest is greatly enhanced by Señor Medina's industry in tracing out other works of the writers, published in other parts of South America.

The story of the introduction, expulsion, and revival of printing in Monte Video is one of the most curious—we might almost say dramatic—episodes in the history of the art. The city, which had existed nearly two hundred years without any more typographical implement than a stamping machine, was taken by an English expedition in February 1807. With the invaders came an enterprising Briton whose name is unfortunately not recorded, but who, before leaving England, had invested in a printing-press and types, and brought them with him with the view of earning an honest penny by dissipating South American darkness. He received every encouragement from the English military and naval authorities, but most probably had to train native compositors, who could not be extemporised in a city destitute of a printing-press. At all events he did not get to work till May, when the first production of his press was a proclamation, from which it appears that General Whitelock, whose expedition was to end so disastrously, at the time considered himself entitled to exercise authority over the whole of South America. And whereas it has been asserted that wherever an Englishman goes the first institution he creates is a public-house, be it noted that the next official announcement imposes a swinging tax upon the public-houses already existing, without any loophole for local option. On May 23, an eventful date in Argentine history, appeared the first numbers of The Southern Star, La Estrella de Sur, a journal in English and Spanish, conducted by Adjutant-General Bradford, proudly displaying the lion and the unicorn, and addressing the native population as "fellow-subjects," a description softened in the Spanish version into amigos. The consternation produced by this portent at Buenos Ayres was excessive. "The enemies of our holy religion, of our king, and of the weal of mankind," declared the Audiencia, "have chosen the printing-press as their most effectual weapon. They are diffusing papers full of the most detestable ideas, even to the pitch of asserting that their infamous and abominable religion differs very little from ours." The misfortunes of the British arms, however, extinguished The Southern Star after the third number, and the publisher, whose property in his press and types was guaranteed by the capitulation, was glad to sell them to the Buenos Ayres Foundling Hospital for five thousand pesos, which, whether in the spirit of speculation or by reason of the deficiency of the circulating medium so unhappily chronic in those regions, he received in cascarilla at the rate of twelve reals a pound. The object of the authorities was no doubt to get the press and its appurtenances away from Monte Video. Within three short years Buenos Ayres became the focus of revolution, while Monte Video was still precariously loyal. The Princess Regent and her advisers, then established at Rio de Janeiro, finding that the revolutionists were flooding the country with their pamphlets, invoked the power they had striven to suppress, and deeming to cast out Satan by Beelzebub, shipped a quantity of Brazilian type, very bad, to judge by Señor Medina's facsimile, to Monte Video, where, for the short remaining period comprehended in Señor Medina's work, it was employed in producing Government manifestos and an official journal; edited for a time by Father Cirilo de Alameda, of whom it is recorded that he never wrote anything tolerable except a defence of the Spanish constitution, and that this was adapted from a panegyric on the Virgin.

This slight notice can give but a very imperfect idea of the varied interest and splendid execution of Señor Medina's volume, a work as creditable to the country which has produced it for the excellence of the typography and the beauty of the numerous facsimiles, as to the author for the extent and accuracy of his research, and the curious and interesting particulars, biographical as well as bibliographical, which he brings to light on every page. Could the remainder of Spanish America be treated in a similar style, that much-neglected part of the world would rival, if not surpass, any European country in the external dignity of its bibliographical record. This may be too much to expect, but it is greatly to be hoped that Señor Medina will find means for giving to the world what is actually indispensable to the completion of his important task. He is a citizen of the most prosperous, progressive, and orderly state in South America. It would be to the honour of the rulers of Chili if, overlooking all political differences, they gave their distinguished fellow-citizen the means of associating the name of his country, as well as his own, with as meritorious an undertaking as ever appealed to the sympathy of an enlightened State.

  1. Historia y Bibliografia de la Imprenta en la America Española. (Parte Segunda, Paraguay y el Vircinato del Rio de la Plata.) For Jose Toribio Medina (La Plata, 1892).
  2. It has always been supposed that Paraguay was the first country of South America to possess a printing-press after Peru, but this honour may possibly be due to Brazil. In the memorial of the inhabitants of the province of Pernambuco to John IV., King of Portugal, beseeching his assistance in the expulsion of the Dutch invaders (1645), printed in "O Valoroso Lucideno" by Manoel Calado, Lisbon, 1648, the Dutch are accused of having propagated heresy by means of tracts, "which have been found in the hands of many persons of tender age." These cartilhas must evidently have been in Portuguese, they are more likely to have been printed than in MS., and it is perhaps more probable that they were printed on the spot than exported from Holland. If this is the case, Pernambuco is entitled to the honour of being the first city in South America in which printing was exercised after Lima.
  3. Several Spanish books printed at Manila in the eighteenth century have frontispieces admirably engraved by native artists. We have seen an English pamphlet printed in the Orange Free State, prefaced by an apology for mistakes of the press on the ground that the compositors were Hottentots.