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02 July 2015

The senses emblematised

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Ver, oir, oler, gustar, tocar; empresas, que enseñan, y persuaden su buen uso, en lo politico, y en lo moral; que ofrece el hermano Lorenço Ortiz .. En Leon de Francia : en la Emprenta de Anisson, Posuel y Rigaud. A costa de Francisco Brugieres, y Compañia, 1687. British Library RB.23.a.22596

A very Jesuitical book, this: meditations on the five senses of man and the rightful uses to which they should be put.  And the genre it belongs to is one close to the heart of the Society of Jesus: the emblem book.

The emblem typically consists of a picture, a motto and a commentary, the daddy of the genre being the Emblemata of man of law Andrea Alciati, first printed in 1531. The briefer the motto, the better; the more obscure the picture, the better. The commentary, sometimes a poem, sometimes in prose with verse quotations, had to be clearer. And ever since its birth, the emblem was erudite: any sort of classical or biblical knowledge could be marshalled.

Father Ortiz begins his book of emblems with an emblem to orientate the reader (below). Look at your hands: they have five fingers, as you have five senses. And if your right hand is rightful, your left is sinister.

There follow five chapters on the senses.  Let’s focus on Taste.

So, a picture of a hand (a right one) picking a fig from a dish.  

We learn that Xerxes king of Persia went to war with the Greeks because he loved to eat their figs. There follow examples of the gluttony of the banqueters of antiquity, such as Dionysius Tyrant of  of Sicily, who made his palace into a ‘bodegón’, a still life of groaning tables loaded with delicacies. Mention of the tongue leads Ortiz into thoughts on speech and its vices (see blog of 24 September 2014).  Nowhere is so far away that it can’t furnish an improving example: the Hoitzitziltot bird (the humming bird) teaches us not to be overdelicate in our tastes, as it dies in summer when the flowers which are its favourite food wither. Ortiz then invents his versions of Ovid’s Metamorphoses (frequently allegorised in the 17th century): a glutton turned into a dog; a fusspot turned into a cat; the excessive abstainer turned into a chamaleon (they lived on air, you remember), etc. etc.

And the motto?  After 40 pages of disquisition on taste, Ortiz ends with a poem whose final line forms the motto in the picture: ‘O si bien loco, general empleo!’, which I take to mean ‘Oh, taste, you are good but foolish, and common to all’.

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Collections

Glasgow University Emblem Website:

Pedro F. Campa, Emblemata Hispanica : an annotated bibliography of Spanish emblem literature to the year 1700 (Durham, NC, 1990), pp. 67-68.   Open Access Rare Books and Music Reading Room RAR 704.946

30 June 2015

Never use your employer’s printing office for your own writings

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The Treaty of Amiens which ended the war between Britain, France, The Batavian Republic and Spain, prompted the Dutch to attempt to reclaim, amongst others, the Cape Colony in Southern Africa.

A former possession of the Dutch East India Company,  it had been taken by the British in 1795. The government of the Batavian Republic sent Commissioner General J. A. de Mist as head of a  new administration to rule the Cape according to the principles of the French revolution: Liberty, Equality and Fraternity!

One of the officials was a young nobleman from Ommen in the province of Overijssel  Andries van Pallandt van Eerde, whose father had lost his privileges in the new Batavian Republic.

AvPallportraitAndries van Pallandt pictured on the cover of Siem van Eeten,   Andries van Pallandt van Eerde, belevenissen van een 19e-eeuwse klokkenluider (Zutphen, 2015) YF.2015.a.11274

Upon arrival in the Cape, Andries was appointed private secretary to the Governor. He started his work full of enthusiasm, quickly establishing good relations with the English, among them probably John Barrow, the author of Travels into the Interior of South Africa. Barrow had a Dutch wife.

View of Cape Town from John Barrow, Travels into the Interior of South Africa (London, 1806) 10094.g.10.

Andries soon realized that the reality on the ground differed from the ideas of the Dutch policy makers and concluded that the Colony would never be self-supporting. What’s more, it would be extremely difficult to defend the Cape against the British enemy with the small number of Dutch troops, without support from indigenous people. However, the Dutch colonists, the Afrikaners, had treated the local tribes so badly, that they were considered more likely to support the English who treated them far better.  

Van Pallandt found it impossible to discuss his ideas with his superiors, so in 1803 he wrote a pamphlet, entitled Remarques générales sur le Cap de Bonne Espérance (English translation General remarks on the Cape of Good Hope; Cape Town, 1917;  09061.ff.55; picture below)  He had the pamphlet printed in the Government’s printing-office at his own expense, to be sent to the Netherlands in order to trigger a debate.

When De Mist found out about the pamphlet he was furious. He ordered an investigation by the Attorney General, Beelaerts van Blokland. To avoid a public shaming, which would mean the end of his career, Van Pallandt signed a confession and was found guilty of using the Government’s printing office without permission. All printed copies of the pamphlet were confiscated, apart from the three he had already sent to important people in the Republic.

Disappointed, Van Pallandt returned home. In the meantime, war had resumed between Britain and the Batavian Republic and on 1 January 1804 his ship was taken by a Guernsey privateer.  Andries was held captive on Guernsey for several months. There he wrote a journal about his adventures, which has now been translated from French into Dutch  as  Andries van Pallandt van Eerde, belevenissen van een 19e-eeuwse klokkenluider; a launch event for the book was held in the Castle of Eerde (Netherlands), the former home of the Van Pallandt family, on 29 April 2015, and the book is available for  consultation in the British Library.

Siem van Eeten, independent researcher.

References and further reading:

A. van Pallandt’s diary of his time on Guernsey:  Free online resource

Interrogation of Andries van Pallandt at St. Peters Port, Guernsey on 17 January 1804.
Free online resource

Eeten, S. van, ‘A captured Dutch nobleman in Guernsey: a chance discovery’, In: Report and transactions / Société Guernesiaise, Vol XXVII (2013) , Part III. DSC7638.242000.

26 June 2015

The people’s Book Fair: a personal view

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There are two major book fairs in Spain annually. One (LIBER) takes place in the autumn, in Madrid or Barcelona alternately, and is aimed at professionals in the book trade world-wide.  The other caters for the general public and since 1933 has been held over in late May/early June and in recent years in the Buen Retiro park in Madrid.  This year it ran from May 29 to June 14. As many as 368 booths were hired by national publishers and bookshops and, as ever, there was great competition to secure those with most shade – and thus maximum possible sales – as the sun generally blazes down until early evening.  The books on display cover many genres and most subjects: comics, children’s books, maps and guides, literature, art books, expensive facsimiles, academic and even official publications. Unlike at LIBER, the books are readily on sale.

FeriaRetiro2Visitors browsing at the Retiro Book Fair (Photograph: Geoff West)

Arguably, the most notable feature of the Retiro Fair is the opportunity to have your book signed by one of your favourite writers. This year’s authors included the novelists Javier Cercas, Luis Goytisolo, Almudena Grandes and Arturo Pérez Reverte; the Swedish crime writer, Camila Läckberg; the polemical right-wing historian Pío Moa; and the lawyer and new Mayor of Madrid, Manuela Carmena. Other politicians were signing this year, particularly members of the various new parties.  A more familiar face to me was that of another novelist, Juan Pedro Aparicio, former Director of the Instituto Cervantes in London, who has just published an ironic and distinctly fantastical look at the English in a series of interlinked microfictions, London Calling.

There is also the opportunity to attend events similar to those at literary festivals.  This year, three ‘big names’, Elvira Lindo, Luis Landero and Javier Marías spoke about the three Ages of Reading (one’s first books; books for young people and books for adults).  There were homages paid to two famous authors who had recently died, Carmen Martín Gaite and Ana María Matute. There was space too for the less famous and for participation: opportunities for new writers; storytelling for children; a young poet who would write a poem for you to order; a wall where you could pin a microrelato (‘brief encounters’ seemed a popular theme) and compete for a prize.  

Feria-del-libro-2015      The official poster for the 2015 Feria by Fernando Vicente, expressing the love of books and reading

The Feria is a very important cultural event – opened this year as in other years by Queen Sofía – for booksellers who boost their sales, the public whose appetite for books and reading is hopefully renewed, and for children who find more than enough to entertain them. By books, I do mean those on paper – the e-book is still conspicuous by its absence from the Feria.  

So what then is in it for the librarian from overseas?  I for one have made useful discoveries: the highly imaginative graphic re-working of Don Quixote by the German artist Flix, works of up-and-coming Spanish writers, new editions of classic works that are new editions.  As an employee of a major research library some publishers have generously donated books with a view to their output being better known, or with a view to future sales!  I have also been made aware of just what a small proportion of Spain’s total published output would come within our scope even with the most generous budget, but also how selective we are forced to be when budgets are as hard-pressed as they are now. There is nothing like actually having  a book in your hand before making the decision whether to buy.  So long may the Feria continue.

Geoff West, Former Curator Hispanic Studies