[This article was first published in the George Borrow Bulletin, n° 28 (2004), pp. 22-37.]
[Footnotes will be found at the end of the article]
My first ever article for the Bulletin, the biographical sketch of Borrow’s Santiago collaborator Francisco Rey Romero (1), ended on a somewhat sour note. I had managed to locate practically every essential document in the old bookseller’s life, but no matter how much I looked, I could not discover his last will. This bothered me no little, since in its absence, it was impossible to tell what had become of Rey Romero’s books and personal papers: a collection which might well contain some interesting Borroviana.
By nature, the true Borrovian is something of a maniac; I myself certainly no less than others. Unwilling to admit defeat, I kept scrutinising books and archives for the solution to this riddle over the next five years; and a while ago my obsession finally paid off. It turns out that the absence of the will is immaterial, because Rey Romero, that ‘very wealthy and respected’ (2) gentleman, as Borrow confidently called him.... died bankrupt
This unexpected discovery puts the man and his works in a completely different light. Rey Romero’s great fortune and business talent, both of which impressed Borrow so much, seem to have been more of a pose than a reality. Small wonder, then, that the economic slump which hit Spain in the mid-1830s due to world conjuncture and the Carlist Civil War, seriously hurt his business. Sure enough, the bookshop continued to function until Rey Romero’s death in May 1848. But then, when they took a look at the bills and the bottom-lines, his widow Ramona Perez and his three surviving children - Juan, Ramón and Lucía - discovered that he had mortgaged so much of his real estate and contracted so many loans - 38,000 reales
in all - that his debts nearly outstripped the value of his possessions. Worse still, his creditors - who had graciously spared the venerable gentleman in his life-time - showed no such leniency towards his heirs. They immediately initiated legal proceedings to recuperate their loans, and they put such pressure on Ramona that she was forced to close the bookshop in the summer of 1848.
After lengthy consultations with friends and lawyers, the family took the only feasible way out: in exchange for some monetary compensation and redemption of their debts, they ceded the bulk of the inheritance to a company called the ‘Sociedad regular colectiva “Librería nacional y estranjera de Minerva”: Rodriguez del Valle y Costanti
’. This ‘limited company’ was founded on 9 September 1848 for the sole purpose of taking over and restructuring Rey Romero’s estate. It was owned by Julian Rodriguez del Valle, a wealthy university professor and some time journalist, and Francisco Costanti, the husband of Lucía Rey Perez, and therefore Rey Romero’s son in law (3). Ten days after its foundation, on 19 September, during a sort of legal love-feast in which the family, the new owners, the creditors and the notary Manuel Pereiro participated, the inheritance was formally ceded to ‘Minerva’, Rodriguez and Costanti paid off the creditors, and the widow and children were granted lump sums of cash and their personal belongings (4). The two houses on Azabachería 16 and 17 where the bookshop was located, and its entire stock of books (valued at 40,000 reales
) passed into the hands of Rodriguez and Costanti, while the two Rey Romero sons, Juan and Ramón, went their separate ways; the latter, it seems, with a bit of a grudge. (5)
Ann Ridler, Chairman of the George Borrow Society, posing before the Azabacheria houses where Rey Romero’s bookshop used to be
A fortnight after their acquisition, Rodriguez, Costanti and Lucia Rey re-opened the bookshop under the new name ‘Librería Minerva’. Because the commercial registers for the early 1850s are lost, we do not know how it fared exactly, but there are a few indications as to its fate. The bookshop certainly existed until December 1848. In April 1849 Rodriguez and Costanti divided up much of the remaining Rey Romero property among themselves, and they may have done the same, at a later date and before a different notary, with the Azabachería houses and the stock of books. The houses stood empty throughout 1849, and from 1850 onward were occupied by two large families of seamstresses. It is a fair guess that the bookshop Minerva
- called so yearningly after the goddess of thrift - did not prosper for any large period of time (6). In this sadly inconspicuous manner, then, ended the ‘Librería Rey Romero
’, that ‘splendid and commodious establishment’ whose modest but well-deserved fame had been sung to the world by George Borrow and Richard Ford.
The other Testaments of importance in Rey Romero’s life were, of course, George Borrow’s vernacular gospels, of which the old bookseller sold so many in so little time: 98 copies in less than 10 months (7). Such sales figures were no small accomplishment in a city like Santiago, which was built essentially as a service-station to its famous cathedral. Even under the anti-ecclesiastical régime of the 1830s, the church still wielded incomparable power here, and it was one thing to sell five dozen heretical books in a town like Lugo, whose Bishop, Don Hipólito Sanchez Rangel, was a man of the most liberal stamp (8); but quite another to do so under the nose of Spain’s most conservative and inquisitorial hierarchy, a group of men whose doings and ideas came so close to Carlist high treason that, early in the civil war, the government had decided to exile many of its dignitaries, including Archbishop Rafael de Velez himself.
Rey Romero may not have been much of a business genius, but he was a cautious and a realistic man, who from personal experience knew perfectly well to what dangers he exposed himself by selling such controversial literature. As long ago as 1805, his brother Pedro, who started the business, had been prosecuted for possession of forbidden books (9). Rey Romero himself had figured, at the height of the post-war political tension of May 1814, on a lynching list of 40 prominent Liberals published by the vitriolic newspaper La Estafeta
And all the readers of The Bible in Spain
will surely remember his own story of how he had to hide from prosecution when the Liberal Trienio
came to an abrupt end in 1823, and how the ecclesiastical officers who took charge of his shop thought he ‘ought to be burned for the books [he] had sold’ (11).
To modern ears, such threats sound a little dramatic, not to say farcical. Yet the exaggeration was only slight; for books did indeed bring forth the most murderous passions in this period. Certain socio-economic reforms aside, there was never a hotter item in the endless struggle between Spain’s Liberals and Absolutists than the powers of the Church to forbid, control and prosecute literature which it considered menacing to ‘Altar and Throne’. For the last hundred years, this task had been the main priority of the Inquisition, which after 1750 rarely busied itself any more with rooting out heretics, renegade converts, and peasants who dabbled in pagan practices. Instead, it concentrated its efforts on the discovery and destruction of dangerous literature: the writings of the French Enlightenment, translated works of Muslim and Jewish theology; magical Grimoires
; books that contained condemned ideologies of Jesuit, Jansenist and Molinist stamp; and last but certainly not least: vernacular Scripture.
Because of its geographical position, Galicia always played a prominent role both in the introduction and in the prosecution of such forbidden works. Its rugged coast-line, its countless harbours, the size and sweep of its commercial contacts, the hardy smuggling traditions of a thousand years... All these combined to make the province one of the hot spots of the black market in books. Forbidden titles were carried into the harbours by merchant vessels of all nationalities, by battle ships Spanish and foreign, and even by the tiny Galician fishing sloops which - as Borrow himself observed - occasionally found their way as far as the estuary of the Thames (12). Such contraband was mostly petty and small. It concerned a few books carried in the personal luggage of crew-members who understood that Forbidden Fruit is worth its weight in gold. But there are also many well-documented cases of vast cargoes discovered aboard ship, confiscated by the port authorities and handed over to the Inquisition. In one telling instance, a consignment of 82 books was seized in September 1709, which included a pair of Bibles in French and Flemish, two New Testaments in French and Italian, a Pilgrim’s Progress
, works of Wycliff and Grotius and a variety of philosophical-historical treatises of a Calvinist and Lutheran stamp (13).
Since very few people could read such foreign books, their final destination must have been intellectuals, possibly the academics of Santiago University. But common folk were no less eager to buy and read books they were told were bad for them, particularly translated Scripture, which in most cases - Borrovians may feel a pang of pride! - consisted of the famous Scio translation. Thus, early in the 19th century, the Inquisition ordered its officials in an unknown area of Galicia to seize ‘the countless copies of the New Testament, printed in London in the year 1808’. In December of 1828, one Salvador Bezane Bunillo from the village of San Vicente de Noal, sent the Santiago Archbishop two copies of ‘the New Testament translated into Spanish from the Latin vulgate by the Most Illustrious Father Philipe Scio de San Miguel (...), Paris, in the printshop of J. Smith, 1822’, asking His Eminence if these works were forbidden by a Pastoral letter published on the subject in 1827. And in mid 1835 - when Borrow was already active in the Peninsula - a cargo boat belonging to a merchant called Cabuzudo brought into the harbour of Caramiñal, possibly from Gibraltar (14), a number of translated Bibles, which were sold for 20 reales
each to local inhabitants. The ecclesiastical authorities in Santiago got wind of this trade by November, and immediately dispatched a letter to the Archpriest of the nearby church of Santa Eulalia de Boiro, asking him to investigate the matter, ‘since it is said that several clerics and laymen have bought them.’ The Archpriest managed to acquire one of the four copies of whose existence he had heard, and in his report described it as a Bible in Spanish, translated by Father Scio and printed in London in 1824 without any notes or comments, ‘for which reason it is my opinion that its use should not be allowed to those who cannot distinguish the truthful from the false, and who do not grasp the spirit of that which the bare words express’ (15).
The title page of the Scio New Testament
Documents such as these inevitably bring to mind the story of the Skippers of Padrón, which Borrow says he heard from a good-humoured priest who one day strolled into Rey Romero’s bookshop and saw the translated Gospel on the counter (16). The story, which supposedly took place in the latter half of the 1810s, may be apocryphal, and some of Borrow’s wilder claims certainly seem to be so. Nevertheless, the episode reflects the attitudes of the more free-thinking coastal populace perfectly well, as it does the irreconcilable opposition of the clergy to these books. Never mind the Liberal régime, never mind the constitutional Freedom of the Press, and never mind the final dissolution of the Inquisition in 1834! The Churchmen considered it their solemn and sacred duty to combat such subversive literature, in the interest of their worldly power, there can be little doubt about it, but also, quite sincerely, to guarantee the orthodox worship on which, in their eyes, the salvation of the souls of the faithful ultimately depended. And these Churchmen were no dupes; they were no feeble or faint-hearted adversaries to deal with. They were highly qualified scholars with an iron sense of purpose, and one did well to anger them as little as one could!
Francisco Rey Romero did his best to sail a safe course. He was as discreet as he could be. Either out of Liberal convictions, or because he badly needed the money, he did sell books to which the Church objected. Borrow’s New Testament is one case, but there are others. The Santiago Biblioteca Xeral, for instance, today holds a copy of Bentham’s Tratado de las pruebas judiciales
, a forbidden book confined to the Classified Section, which, according to a bookmark on its flyleaf, was bought at Rey Romero’s shop (17). But it is a telling sign of the man’s discretion that he never advertised Borrow’s vernacular gospels in the local periodicals, as he did with other books throughout his career (18). He only sold them “under the counter”, with word-of-mouth advertisement as the only publicity, giving as little offence as could be.
Even so, his best-selling activities could not, and did not go unnoticed. All through 1837 and 1838 the religious authorities of Santiago were aware of, and alert to, the presence of Borrow’s note-less New Testaments in their very own town. And when the long-awaited moment finally arrived, when in the spring of 1838 the Graydon scandal at last gave the government its pretext to put a stop to the distribution of Protestant literature, the Churchmen of Compostela, who had lain low for so long, who had bided their time so patiently, were not only ready to sweep down on the place they considered a source of heretic contamination, but were eager to do so.
When the prohibition of Borrow’s gospels is described, it is not always sufficiently stressed that the clerical desire to intervene was rooted in solid constitutional legitimacy. Admittedly, the Freedom of the Press was guaranteed after the Liberals came to power in 1833; but each of the many Constitutions which followed each other in rapid succession during these disorderly decades, stipulated without exception
that articles and books touching on politics and religion did not fully enjoy that privilege. They always remained under some form of government or ecclesiastical control, be it large or limited, be it censorship before or sanction after publication (19). When the Inquisition was definitively abolished in 1834, the formal right to prohibit offensive religious literature did not disappear, but reverted upon the Spanish bishops. And this is the reason why the government, when giving the go-ahead for the crack-down, did not always turn to its own worldly officers, but often acted through the ecclesiastical authorities of the diocese. That is how it happened in Santiago de Compostela, where the initiative came from Madrid, but the action was provided by men of the cloth.
On 30 May 1838, Don Ventura González Romero, under-secretary of the Ministry of Justice, wrote a letter on behalf of his superior to the ecclesiastical governors of Santiago (who ran the diocese in the absence of the exiled Archbishop). Marked with a large Reservado
(‘Classified’) in the margin, it explained to the canons that, in view of the scandal in Malaga that was caused by the sale of incomplete vernacular Bibles without notes, ‘it will be opportune to forbid its publication and sale, without, however, bothering or doing harm to the English subjects, who in recent times, driven by their own particular kind of religious zeal, import them into the Kingdom and sell them for bargain prices, thinking that they are doing good while in reality they inflict damage, as has just now happened in Malaga.’ For this reason, González explained, Her Majesty the Queen had decided on 19 May to prohibit the printing, sale and importation of such books, and had ordered that ‘those which are available for public sale be seized and handed over to their owner in a wrapped and sealed package, with the obligation to remove them [from Spain] by the custom-post of a frontier or a harbour’ (20).
This letter - which is almost a carbon copy of the official diplomatic message sent to Sir George Villiers, the British minister, by Prime Minister Ofalía on 19 May (21) - was received in Santiago on 12 June, and the ecclesiastical governors lost no time to act. That very same day, Doctor Fermín Alvarez de Eulate and Doctor Diego Mosquera, both canons of the cathedral, presented themselves to the secretario interino de camera
(somewhat like the diocese’s own notary) to make a formal statement that news had reached them of forbidden, vernacular Bibles being sold in the bookshop of Rey Romero in the Azabachería, and that they presently intended to visit the shop and investigate the matter.
A formal document was drawn up to this effect, and with the necessary legal foundation having been laid, Don Fermín, Don Diego and the notary then crossed the Plaza de San Martin and entered the bookshop (most probably in the company of some sturdy Episcopal footmen). Inside the shop they only found Ramona Perez and Juan Rey Romero, the wife and eldest son of the bookseller. The canons asked for Rey Romero himself, but were told that he was out of town, and that he would not be back for a number of days. The canons, however, were in a hurry, and they decided to address the matter here and now nevertheless. They pressured Ramona and Juan to tell them ‘if they sold or distributed copies of the Holy Bible; and they answered that in commission of Mr. Jorge Borrow, director of the Dependency of the Bible Society of London established in Madrid, they had received 125 copies of the New Testament, of which number they still possess 27; that the others had been sold for ten reales
each, the price prescribed by the Commission of Madrid according to the orders of said director. His excellency then asked to be shown one of the copies, and identified it as a volume in 8° [major], normal binding, whose title-page read Nuevo Testamento traducido al Español de la Vulgata Latina por el Rmo. Pe. Felipe Scio de San Miguel de las Escuelas Pias, Obispo electo de Segovia: Madrid, imprenta a cargo de Dn. Joaquin de la Barrera: 1837
. It contains the four gospels, the acts of the Apostles, and the Apocalypse on 534 pages, including its list of contents.’
Observing that the title-page made no mention of a licence to print this work, and that such a publication therefore broke the law of the church and the realm, the canons then ‘instructed Doña Ramona and her son to retain [these books] under the strictest responsibility, to sell no other copy, and to keep the 27 remaining ones locked away, without allowing anyone to read them, until the necessary decision about their fate be taken.’ Ramona and Juan wisely promised to do so, and signed the pertaining document as a token to that effect (22).
Four days later, on 16 June, Don Fermín informed Ventura González in Madrid of the action taken. He told his Justice department friend the whole story of the successful raid, but in spite of the happy result, the canon clearly remained unsatisfied. ‘We ensured,’ he wrote, ‘that the copies were placed in a box, which we then bound and sealed, instructing the bookseller to put them at the disposition of their owner, and to inform us when that person intends to recuperate them, so that we can impress upon him the obligation to remove them from the Kingdom. But,’ Don Fermín fretted, ‘we fail to see how we can ensure that he will comply with this obligation, and that he will truly remove them from the realm, or how to stop the copies so lost from sight from being read and circulated. Consequently we beg of Her Majesty that she agrees to amplify her wise measures to avoid the serious damages, and call a halt to the baneful consequences, which her Royal Pity intends to evade.’ Behind the remarkable arabesques of this canonical poetry one recognises that Don Fermín solicits permission to confiscate the box of New Testaments himself, and - if possible - to keep or destroy them, without having to hand them back to George Borrow (23).
That far, however, not even the zealous Don Ventura dared to go. A different wind had begun to blow in Madrid, particularly as a result of the vehement protests of the British Legation, and González now needed to move with caution. First of all, on 2 July, he informed the office of the Secretary of State about the proceedings in Santiago, copying out Don Fermín’s latest letter verbatim (24). Then, it seems, he waited patiently for instructions from on high to see how far he might go in so delicate a diplomatic matter, for it was to take him a full two weeks before, on 19 July, he finally managed to dash off an answer to Don Fermín (25). The decision reached was something of a compromise. He could not allow the ecclesiastical governors to confiscate the books or to destroy them; but he did give them the go-ahead to collect the box, and to place it en depósito
, i.e. lock it away, either in some government office like that of the Civil Governor, as seems to have been the case in Madrid, or in a building of their own, as ultimately happened in Seville and Toledo (26). So it was done. Two weeks later again, on 3 August, the ecclesiastical governors wrote back to Don Ventura, acknowledging receipt of his last letter and explaining that the box had been put en depósito
, ‘until its owner, the Englishman Borrow, issues a formal promise to remove them from the Kingdom, under overall supervision of the competent authorities, proving that he has done so by a valid document of the Customs Service’ (27).
The ball was now in Borrow’s court. On 7 July, Count Ofalia had taken the cautious diplomatic step of informing the British Minister of the proceedings in Santiago and various other places (28). Lord William Hervey, acting head of the Legation in the absence of Villiers, passed that information on to Borrow, when the Bible salesman returned from his trip to Vila Seca at the end of the month (29). Of course, as news goes, it was pretty stale. Borrow had already heard of the seizure of his books in various Spanish cities by 25 May, and speaks of the seizure of “all” the Society’s books except his own Madrid stock, on 26 June (30). But only by 23 July does he positively mention the confiscation in Santiago; and it is a fair guess that he first learned of this from Ofalía’s message to Villiers. It was to be nearly another year before he received a final reckoning from Rey Romero for the 35 unsold copies embargoed in Santiago and Pontevedra (31), and much longer still until he could get them out of the country. But, as the above shows, he may have been fortunate to get them back at all.
In Don Fermín’s subtle suggestion as to what really
ought to be done to Borrow’s New Testaments, one clearly hears the pent-up echoes of the book-battling Inquisition. And in the zeal of the Santiago canons, one recognises how jealous these men still were of their right to prohibit books which touched upon religion. In hindsight, and enamoured as we are with our favourite church-bashing author, that may appear highly bigoted to us. But perhaps our impression is a little unfair. First of all the church’s right to intervene in such matters was, as pointed out above, fully justified by the reigning Constitution. And secondly, many of the clergy sincerely believed that to prohibit vernacular Scripture was the lesser evil of the two, and no measure of “enlightenment” would convince them of the contrary. Well might Borrow think, as he wrote months after the above events, that Scripture could quietly and peacefully be introduced in Spain ‘with the consent, or at least with the connivance’ of the clergy, a great part of whom were ‘by no means disposed to offer any serious opposition to such a measure, they having sense and talent enough to perceive that the old system can no longer be upheld of which the essential part is, as is well known, to keep the people in ignorance of the great sterling truths of Christianity’ (32). But men of sense and talent do not always reach the same conclusions from the same raw data, and Borrow was being very optimistic if he truly thought the Spanish clergy were going to see eye to eye with him on this.
The title page of the Pastoral of the Bishop of Tuy
A fine illustration of the point is the case of Don Francisco García Casarrubios y Melgar, Bishop of Tuy, the Galician city on the Portuguese border. Don Francisco was certainly a very
sensible and talented man, not at all averse to new Liberal ideas, and no rabid reactionary. Early in the Carlist Civil War, he had co-operated loyally with the Liberal Captain-General Pablo Morillo in an attempt to keep the province pacified and stave off bloodshed. Some years later, in April 1838, during a brief occupation of Tuy by a band of ruthless Carlist guerrilleros
, he personally intervened, at considerable risk to himself, to avoid the shooting of the wife of a notorious - but absent - Liberal official in the porch of Tuy cathedral (33).
This upright and fairly open-minded man, then, published a pastoral letter in late 1838 on the subject of forbidden literature, in which he explained and defended the reasons for the prohibition of vernacular Scripture (34). It is a most enlightening document to read. Don Francisco’s most valid argument among many is, without a doubt, his observation that one cannot expect semi-literate peasants to grapple successfully with texts which are so complicated that they often baffled the greatest philological minds of two millennia. ‘If those most learned and best versed in the lecture of the Bible, with the greatest knowledge of the languages in which its books were originally written, fail to fathom the depths of the Books of Job, of Proverbs, of Wisdom and the Song of Songs, nor understand the visions of Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and the other prophets (...) then how,’ he asks, ‘could the fool, the ignoramus, or the first fish-wife into whose hands a vernacular version of Holy Writ is put, possibly do so without the help of notes?’ The Protestant answer to that is of course that, despite their ignorance of subtleties, laymen of good faith and intentions will invariably profit from reading ‘the great sterling truths’ of such holy texts in an honest translation. And Borrow might add what he told the schoolmaster of Colhares, who used the same argument, namely that ‘there was no part of Scripture so difficult to understand as those very notes which were intended to elucidate it, and that it would never have been written if not calculated of itself to illume the minds of all classes of mankind’ (35).
That is all well and good, but in the course of its long existence, the Catholic Church had battled it out with innumerable varieties of heresy, most of which were firmly based on Scripture, and she was adamant against all temptation. ‘Our Mother Church,’ Don Francisco explained, ‘extended her maternal care even so far as to forbid the translation of Holy Scripture into the vulgar tongue, for having learned from experience, that due to the rashness, the ignorance, or the depravity of men, more damage than profit results from the permission of reading the Bible in such a language.’ And if the truth were told, to produce and spread those translations was part of a deliberate heretic scheme to undermine the true faith and the salvation of souls, undoubtedly inspired - although His Eminence never says so explicitly - by the Devil himself. ‘Thus we have seen,’ he writes, ‘that the heretics of recent days dedicate themselves with all their might to the task of translating the Bible into vernacular languages, contaminating their versions with the errors of their sects, strewing them around in all directions and selling them off for bargain prices, thus causing grave damage to souls. They put into the hands of every odd artisan and each old hag a Bible which not one of them can understand, with the evil aim of making these people the judges of religious controversy, thereby denying the unique and infallible authority of the Church in this field, and causing spiritual degeneracy.’ It takes very little to imagine what Bibles the Bishop had most in mind. They were indeed the ‘copies of the Bible, introduced into Spain over the last few years, as is publicly known, by the so-called “Bible Society” from London; imported from abroad or sometimes printed surreptitiously in our own country, translated into Spanish and sold for a trifle, with the sinister aim of vulgarising its reading, and of putting Holy Scripture at the beck and call of the uneducated and uninstructed plebs, with the evident risk that they will abuse or depreciate the word of God or that they will be blinded and grow confused because of it.’ Well might Borrow write that ‘not a single voice was raised against the Bible Society or its agent’ in Santiago (36); but as this quotation shows: his journey through Galicia had not passed unnoticed!
Nor would the Galician clergy let Borrow’s clients and collaborators off the hook so easily. After twelve pages of diatribe and indignant fulmination, Don Francisco concluded that ‘we therefore see ourselves under the bitter obligation of raising our voice (...) to announce that the reading of such Bibles is prohibited; that all who sell them or who, in whatever manner, aware that its lecture is forbidden, help its circulation, or read them and keep them, without handing them over to the ecclesiastical authorities, will experience the spiritual punishments imposed by the Church on the transgressors of its just precepts in matters of forbidden books.’ To wit: excommunication.
That collection of delinquents included, of course, Francisco Rey Romero - one of the five Galician booksellers who distributed Borrow’s vernacular gospels in Galicia. As I have noted before: Rey Romero was a far more religious man than Borrow makes him out to be in The Bible in Spain
. So we may imagine that he heard this reference to himself when the Pastoral Letter was read out during Sunday mass some time in late 1838. Yet even if he did not, he must have known of this condemnation, for Don Francisco’s pastoral letter was printed a little while later by Josefa Ribas, the ‘Widow Compañel’, Rey Romero’s neighbour at Azabachería n° 18 and his occasional business partner. With Borrow back in Britain and out of harm’s way, we can only guess at the old bookseller’s feelings as he contemplated these menacing words from the very Bishop of Tuy.
Was Fray Francisco an example of the very worst that backward Papism had to offer? No, not really. At least His Eminence regarded Bibles and Gospels as valuable religious books, whose integrity must be protected. And that was not always the case. Thirty years later, on 7 July 1868, an official of the Capitanía General of Ferrol wrote to the Archbishop of Santiago that he had just boarded the steamship San Francisco de Borja
which had come from London, where the sailors often picked up forbidden books to smuggle them back into Spain. He had searched the vessel and discovered 63 books, all of which he had confiscated and instantly burned on the docks, for being ‘books and pamphlets against Religion and Christian morality.’ He copies their titles at the end of his letter. These horrid, godless, yes: devilish books included ... ‘Bibles; The New Testament; The Gospel according to Saint John and the Gospel according to Saint Mark.’ Old habits die hard; and little had changed in the three decades since George Borrow saw his books forbidden, seized and hurled out of the land (37).
Abbreviations used in the notes:
Archivo Histórico Diocesano de Santiago de Compostela
Archivo Histórico de la Universidad de Santiago de Compostela
George Borrow, The Bible in Spain
George Borrow Bulletin
(1) Missler, P., ‘“The most considerable of them all”: Rey Romero, Borrow’s bookseller in Santiago,’ GBB 16, p. 32-44.
(2) Letter of Borrow to Brandram from Santiago, 19 August 1837, T.H. Darlow, Letters of George Borrow to the British & Foreign Bible Society (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1911), 247; BiS, chapter 27.
(3) The founding act is kept in AHU, sección Archivo Municipal, file Libro de inscripciones de comerciantes 1830-1869.
(4) AHU, sección Archivo Notarial, Protocolos de Manuel Pereiro, año 1848, n° 7.835, folio 207ff, ‘Cession de herencia fincable de Don Francisco Rey Romero’, of 19 September 1848. See also A. Odrialoza, and X.R. Barreiro Fernández, Historia de la Imprenta en Galicia (Coruña, 1992). Note that the new owners already informed the public of their adquisition on 1 September 1848, as is shown by a newsitem in the “Boletín Bibliográfico Español y Estrangero”, Año IX, núm .17, 1 de septiembre de 1848, pp. 315-316, which says that ‘La Sociedad Rodríguez del Valle y Costanti, de Santiago, acaba de adquirir la librería y demás bienes fiscales de D. Francisco Rey Romero, que mediante cesión que a su favor han hecho la viuda e hijos del mismo.’ (Revistas especializadas en Biblioteconomía y Documentación en el siglo XIX: El ‘Boletín Bibliográfico Español y Estrangero’ (1842-1868) by Ana Belén López García, in: Documentación de las Ciencias de la Información 2007, vol. 30, p. 212, n° 5).
(5) Juan, the older half-brother, went into printing, as I already noted in GBB 16, p. 40 and note 23. Ramón moved house to Azabachería n° 14 with his wife Mathilde Balcarcel and their children Marcelino and Julia (AHD, Padron Vecinal de San Juan de Adentro, año 1849). He set up a small printing and bookbinding business at n° 12 next door with his partner Juan Cuveiro (this shop is first mentioned in the Diario de Santiago n° 1 of 9 October 1848). Soon after, however, he inserted a statement in what seems to be a reading portfolio to the effect that ‘as son of [Rey Romero] he believes that his father’s bookshop belongs to him by right of inheretence’ (que como hijo el primero se cree que le pertenece la librería de su padre por herencia y así seria si este no la hubiera vendido a Rodríguez del Valle y Costanti’). (See: Revistas especializadas en Biblioteconomía y Documentación en el siglo XIX: El “Boletín Bibliográfico Español y Estrangero” (1842-1868) by Ana Belén López García, in: Documentación de las Ciencias de la Información 2007, vol. 30, p. 212f, n° 6.) The final deal, in short, may have been less ‘neat’ than appears from the impassive notary papers. Owing to some unfortunate gaps in the surviving documents, I cannot say how long Ramon’s shop existed.
(6) Minerva is first mentioned in the same Diario de Santiago n° 1. On page 3 of its issue n° 65 of 22 December 1848, an advertisement describes it as ‘la librería de Rodriguez del Valle y Costanti, antes de Rey Romero’. Madoz, P., Diccionario geográfico-estadístico-histórico de España y sus posesiones de ultramar, Madoz, Tomo XIII (Madrid 1849), p. 822, says there were six bookshops in Santiago at the time, of which Madoz only mentions Rodriguez de Valle & Costanti and Sanchez & Rua by name. The division of property of 9 April 1849: AHU, sección Archivo Notarial, Protocolos de Manuel Pereiro, año 1849, n° 7.836, folio 93f. Seamstress families: AHU, sección Archivo Municipal, file 948, Padron Vecinal de San Juan Apostel, año 1850; also AHD, Padron Vecinal de San Juan de Adentro, for 1849 onward. Note that these houses inhabited by ‘seamstresses’ (nearly always consisting of an elder matron and a fairnumber of young ladies) often were simple undercover brothels.
(7) See below for this estimate, the difference between an original stock of 125 and the 27 embargoed copies. See also Missler, P., A Daring Game (forthcoming), chapter II.2.2.vii on the sales in Santiago de Compostela, and chapter IV.1.4 for the sales in Galicia as a whole.
(8) As Borrow himself observed in BiS, chapter 26. Borrow’s observations concerning the Bishop of Lugo are born out by X.R. Barreiro Fernández, El Carlismo Gallego (Santiago, 1976), 128 and 161f; and E. González López, El Reinado de Isabel II en Galicia (Coruña 1984), 41 and 206.
(9) Galicia Diplomática, n° 14, 7 October 1883, tomo 2, 107: anonymous article El archivo de la Inquisición de Galicia.
(10) Reproduced in A. Meijide Pardo, Sinforiano López Alia (1780-1815) (Coruña, 1995), 94f.
(11) BiS, chapter 27. I have already expressed some doubts about the truthfulness of this episode in GBB 16, p. 44 note 18. To this may be added that a comprehensive and laudatory list of Santiaguese victims of post-Trienio conservative prosecution, published on page 7 of the Tertulia de Picaños (31 October 1836), does not mention Rey Romero either.
(12) BiS, chapter 28.
(13) González Fernández, M., ‘Autos de fe. Filosofía e Inquisición en Galicia, 1700-1770,’ in Ilustración e Modernidada, Os Avatares da Razón (Santiago, 2001), 40. The article mentions a fair number of such smuggling ships from the 17th and 18th century, and copies some lists of confiscated books.
(14) Compare Borrow’s letter to Brandram from Madrid of 25 December 1837, Darlow, 274-5.
(15) All three cases mentioned here will be found in the correspondence kept in AHD, Mazo 473, Legajo 1°, Ramo de Imprenta 1777-1894. The final - and telling - sentence runs in Spanish: ‘y por lo mismo soy de sentir que no debe permitirse su uso a los que no pueden discernir lo verdadero de lo falso y que no penetran el espirito de lo que dice la letra’.
(16) BiS, chapter 28.
(17) I owe this knowledge - and much help with the writing of this article - to Ms Concha Varela Orol, former chief librarian of the Biblioteca Xeral of Santiago and expert on the library’s Classified Section. On page 151 of her most instructive article, ‘Quien no moliniza janseniza; lecturas prohibidas nas bibliotecas compostelanas’, in Ilustración e modernidade, Os avatares da Razón ( Santiago, 2001), 107-158, Ms Varela points out that ‘the works of Bentham had a special importance in the decade of the 1830s’; something which Borrovians who remember the Mayor of Corcubión will surely be happy to hear. Cf. also A. Fraser, in GBB 12, 78.
(18) Advertisements of Rey Romero may be found in the Buletín Oficial de la Coruña, El Idolatro, El Avisor Santiagues and others. See also my article in GBB 16, p. 38.
(19) This was the main, and frankly valid, argument wielded by the government and the Civil Governor of Madrid for the confiscation of Borrow’s New Testaments in April 1838. Borrow, they argued, had failed to offer this work to the pertinent ecclesiastical commission for approval; hence his publication broke the law. Cf. Jenkins, H., The Life of George Borrow (London: Murray, 1912), 233 and 245.
(20) Letter kept in AHD, Mazo 472, Ramo de Imprenta, Legajo ‘Leyes, Decretos y RR.OO. 1813-1860’. The Spanish text of the quotations runs: ‘sera conveniente que se impida su publicacion y venta, pero sin vejar ni molestar a los subditos ingleses, que de algun tiempo a esta parte conducidos por un celo religioso a su manera las introducen en el Reyno y las venden a precios infinos, creyendo hacer un bien cuando en realidad causan perjuicios como acaba de suceder en Malaga.’ And ‘que las que se hallan puestas en venta publica se recogen y en un paquete precintado y sellado se entregen a su dueño con obligacion de estraerlo por las aduanas de la frontera o puertos.’
(21) See Jenkins, 254-255.
(22) The report, called ‘Declaración y reconocimiento’ of 13 June 1838, is kept in AHD, Mazo 472, Ramo de Imprenta, Legajo ‘Leyes, Decretos y RR.OO. 1813-1860.’
(23) The original draft of this letter is in AHD, Mazo 473, Legajo 1°, Ramo de Imprenta 1777-1894. A copy of the definitive version in AHD, Mazo 472, Ramo de Imprenta, Legajo ‘Leyes, Decretos y RR.OO. 1813-1860.’ The text as translated here is approximate, due to Don Fermín’s difficult handwriting. Original Spanish quotation: ‘[los] egemplares dispusimos encajonar precintar y sellar intimando al librero que asi los retenga a disposicion de su dueño, y nos avise cuando este trate de recojerlos, a fin de inculcarle la obligacion de extraerlos del Reyno; pero no prevemos el modo de asegurar que cumpla la obligacion, y realmente los estriga (?) del Reyno, ni como impedir que se lean y circulan los asi (?) perdidas (?); sobre lo cual suplicamos a S.M. se digna ampliar sus sabias //// medidas para evitar los graves perjuicios y atallar los funestas consequencias que su Rl. Piedad se propone impedir.’
(24) Archivo Histórico Nacional de Madrid, Legajo 5.502, n° 59, Ingleses, Borrow y Graydon, letter of Don Ventura González to the Ministerio de Estado. My notes are confused about the date of this letter, giving in one case 2 July, in another 7 July. I am not at present able to consult the original documents.
(25) Letter of 19 July 1838 in AHD, Mazo 472, Ramo de Imprenta, Legajo ‘Leyes ,Decretos y RR.OO. 1813-1860.’
(26) Jenkins, 283-284. Also Borrow, letter to Brandram of 12 January 1839, in Darlow, 380-382.
(27) Letter of 3 August 1837 in AHD, Mazo 472, Ramo de Imprenta, Legajo ‘Leyes, Decretos y RR.OO. 1813-1860’. Quotation in Spanish: ‘hasta que su dueño el Yngles Borrow constituye obligacion formal de esportarles del Reyno con intervencion de las autoridades respectivas; y acredita haberlo hecho por documente fehaciente de la Aduana.’
(28) See the translation of Ofalía’s letter to Hervey, in Jenkins, 273f, footnote 2.
(29) Borrow, letter to Brandram of 23 July 1838, Darlow, 341-343; see also Jenkins, 271ff.
(30) Borrow, letter to Brandram of 25 May 1838, Darlow, 319; idem of 25 June 1838, Darlow, 328-329.
(31) Letter from Rey Romero to Borrow, 22 June 1839, in A. Fraser, ‘Benedict Mol, treasure-digger of Saint James’, Bulletin 12, 80f . See also Missler, P., A Daring Game (forthcoming), chapter II.2.2.vii on the sales in Santiago de Compostela and Pontevedra, and chapter IV.1.4 for the sales in Galicia as a whole.
(32) ‘Account of Proceedings in the Peninsula’, Darlow, 359-374.
(33) González López, 25 and 252.
(34) Pastoral del excmo., é illmo. señor D. Fr. Francisco Garcia Casarrubios y Melgar, Obispo de Tuy, dirigida al Clero y Fieles de su Diocesis, Santiago, Imprenta de la viuda é hijos de Compañel, 1838.
(35) BiS, Ch.1.
(36) ‘Account of Proceedings’, Darlow, 363.
(37) AHD, Mazo 473, Legajo 1°, Ramo de Imprenta 1777-1894; letter of 7 July 1868 by an official of the Capitanía General of Ferrol to the Archbishop of Santiago.