The Hispanic World, 1492-1898



The immense value of a manuscript as a primary source for research cannot be obscured by a growing tendency to publish works of synthesis which rely chiefly on printed works and the like, however useful these syntheses may be.

In my own experience, I owe a life-long interest in the cultural history of Ibero-America to a manuscript found at the Bancroft Library of the University of California at Berkeley. It was the year 1926 and, as a graduate student of Professor Herbert A. Bolton, I was invited to analyze a document whose contents and author were a mystery to him. Thus, I came into contact with a fascinating account of a popular uprising that I later edited: Alboroto y Motín de México del 8 de junio de 1692. Relación de Don Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora en una carta dirigida al Almirante don Andrés de Pez (México: Talleres del Museo Nacional de Arqueología, Historia y Etnografía, 1932).

In deciphering the seventeenth-century account of the disturbance, it helped me to have lived in Mexico City in 1925 behind the Cathedral. By that experience, it was possible to visualize the scene that Sigüenza had witnessed from a street corner as he watched apprehensively the riot that took place on the cathedral plaza and the raging fire that was destroying his beloved manuscripts in the viceroyal palace.(1) My interest in Sigüenza took me to Spain for a year in 1930. I worked first in Santander at the Menéndez y Pelayo Library, then in the Archivo General de Indias at Seville. Although I found little on Sigüenza, it was at the latter archive that I began to work on the book trade and shipment of books to the New World, stimulated by references to foreign works noted in Sigüenza's writings.

Today, I can still recall the sense of discovery and awe at the blotting sand used by the escribanos to dry the ink-- indicating that most of the legajos had remained unopened for two to three hundred years! A real discovery at the Archivo de Indias was the bills of lading of ships sailing to Spain's American colonies.(2) These documents gave evidence that "libros de entretenimiento" were carried to the Spanish Indies on nearly every ship that departed from Seville. Corresponding documents in the archives of Perú and México added proof of the arrival of the shipments registered in Seville. Not surprisingly, on my return from Spain in 1931, the study of the book trade remained my topic of research. From it came the publication of Romances of Chivalry in the Spanish Indies with Some Registros of Book Shipments to the Colonies (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1933) and numerous related articles. Perhaps the most interesting of these revelations was the shipping of probably the first printing of Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quijote to the New World.(3) These preliminary studies culminated in the publication of Books of the Brave: Being an Account of Books and Men in the Spanish Conquest and Settlement of the Sixteenth-Century New World (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1949) which clearly disproves that Spanish authority pursued a policy of obscurancy in their overseas colonies. Many memories and enriching experiences are recalled as I ponder on the many possibilities available to a serious and dedicated student of the Hispanic world in such a Guide as this one now being published by the Library of Congress. A Guide to microfilms and other archival reproductions of original documents in Spain and available in the repositories of the United States, Guam and Puerto Rico is a welcome tool, not only for scholars in this country, but for all Hispanists throughout the world. Indeed, I congratulate the Library and Professor Guadalupe Jiménez Codinach for such an undertaking that will provide access to microfilms and copies of valuable sources. I hope that each legajo listed, each map, drawing, and document reported here will prove as fruitful and life-lasting as the manuscript I perused sixty-three years ago in the Bancroft Library of the University of California.

Irving A. Leonard
Alexandria, Virginia


1. A note in one of Mexico City's Cabildo records reads: "Don Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora...libró este libro y los que le siguen del fuego en que perecieron los archivos de esta ciudad la noche del 8 de junio de 1692..." [Libro I, foja IIIv] in Irving A. Leonard, Don Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora., (México: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1984) 17, n. 6.

2. Some bills were scattered in Contratación, legajo 1079.

3. See Irving A. Leonard, "Don Quixote and the Book Trade in Lima," Hispanic Review, 9 (July 1941), 359-375.

Go to:

Library of Congress Library of Congress

Comments: Ask a Librarian ( July 15, 2010 )
Legal | External Link Disclaimer