[Richard Hitchcock is Emeritus professor of Hispano-Arabic studies of Exeter University. Since retiring he divides his time among various pursuits, including writing. He contributed a chapter on ’Gayangos in the English Context‘ to Pascual de Gayangos. A Nineteenth-Century Spanish Arabist, edited by Cristina álvarez Millán and Claudia Heide, Edinburgh University Press, 2008, pp. 89-105. He is currently working on a book on Muslim Spain, in which a number of issues are being reconsidered. ’The Bookseller of Logroño’ is a lecture delivered during the 1992 meeting of the George Borrow Conference and was first published in the Proceedings of the 1992 George Borrow Conference, ed. G. Fenwick, Toronto 1993, pp. 45-52.]
The story of the bookseller of Logroño is a striking one. It comes at the beginning of The Zincali
which is presumably some indication as to the importance which Borrow attached to it. You might even say that it was intended to occupy the role of showpiece of the entire book. It is the dramatic tale of how, in the middle of the sixteenth century, one man with a mysterious past, the bookseller Francisco Alvarez, thwarted the attempts of a sizeable detachment of Gypsies to sack the town of Logrono. The Gypsies poisoned the water supply, but he marshalled the defences and led the surviving citizens to victory when the attack came. Alvarez himself disappeared during the course of the battle and was never heard of again. Most commentators seem quite content to dismiss it as a picturesque figment of Borrow's fertile imagination. After all, Borrow himself supplies his own disclaimer in a footnote at the end of the story. He says, 'In the above little tale the writer confesses that there are many things purely imaginary'. However, I am not sure about the extent to which this apparently frank admission can be taken at face value. Borrow goes on to insist that 'the most material point', 'the attempt to sack the town during the pestilence, which was defeated by the courage and activity of an individual, rests on historical evidence the most satisfactory' (I, III). Even a cursory examination of those sources that are available reveals that this claim is scarcely true. The so-called historical evidence is flimsy at best, and yet the story is endowed with a conscious aura of historicity.
The most likely immediate origin of the story is that it was one of the tales with which Juan Antonio Bailly regaled Borrow in Seville in 1839. Bailly was the raconteur, guide and literary go-between who was commissioned by Borrow in January that year to collect, in Knapp's phrase, 'the so-called gitano literature in the purlieus of the town.' (1)
Click Yellow Bar to Hide Note(Richard Hitchcock, The Bookseller of Logroño note 1).
William J. Knapp, Life, Writings and Correspondence of George Borrow (London: John Murray, 1899)1 301.
Borrow settled in Sevilla in April 1839 with the principal purpose, it seemed to Knapp 'to gather materials for his first original work,' that is to say The Gypsies of Spain.
In February Bailly had sent to Borrow in Madrid two brief Romany texts which he called the 'Conversation of the Thieves' and the 'Jealousy of the Gitana' which were later to be incorporated, with translations, in The Gypsies
Click Yellow Bar to Hide Note(Richard Hitchcock, The Bookseller of Logroño note 2).
Letter in Spanish from Bailly to Borrow, dated Seville, 27 February 1839, and partially reproduced in Knapp II 289; The Zincali Appendix.
Knapp also refers to 'poetic and prose specimens', the originals of which he possessed in Bailly's handwriting. Knapp who perused them observed that they 'seem to be garbled from older copies', and indeed he even referred to the possibility of a sixteenth-century source. (3)
Click Yellow Bar to Hide Note(Richard Hitchcock, The Bookseller of Logroño note 3).
Knapp I 376.
It does not seem unreasonable to assume that a version of el librero de Logroño
was transmitted by Bailly to Borrow in 1839 for the express purpose of forming part of the proposed new book. Furthermore, Bailly complained to Samuel Cook-Widdrington in 1842 that some of his best anecdotes had been plagiarised by several tourists who made no mention of the source of their information. Could the story of the bookseller of Logrono have been one of these anecdotes, and could Borrow have been one of those unnamed plagiarists? (4)
Click Yellow Bar to Hide Note(Richard Hitchcock, The Bookseller of Logroño note 4).
Samuel Cook [Widdrington], Spain and the Spaniards in 1843 (London: T. & W. Boone, 1844).
An affirmative answer to both questions seems likely.
It is quite probable then that Borrow translated into English the Spanish text of 'The Bookseller of Logroño' that was supplied to him by Bailly. However, what was eventually published was far from a simple translation. Most obviously, it contains the academic endnote which one could claim uncontroversially would not have been provided by Bailly. The intention can only have been to convey the impression that the story had an authentic historical foundation. At the same time, the text of the story reads as though it were a translation which, as such, bears comparison with Borrow's version of Lope de Vega's Ghost Story
Click Yellow Bar to Hide Note(Richard Hitchcock, The Bookseller of Logroño note 5).
The text, with facsimile, is given by Knapp 1120-124.
The tone is also deliberately archaising, reminiscent of a Spanish original. For example what was presumably tocando la guitarra
is rendered 'touching the guitar', and at the point when the Gypsy hordes had been successfully repulsed by the townsfolk of Logrono, Borrow writes: 'That night there was repique or ringing of bells in the towers of Logroño.' (The Zincali
Part 1, Chapter III). This was rendered into Spanish, or back into Spanish by Azaña as por la noche hubo repique general en las torres de Logroño. Repique
is not a word used in this sense in English, so what reason could Borrow have had in leaving it in with a paraphrase? The erudite gloss and stilted translation when taken together, both suggest to me that Borrow was employing Cervantine techniques to intrigue and captivate his reader. I am not necessarily asserting that Borrow had Cervantes's Exemplary Novel, La gitanilla,
'The Little Gypsy Girl', in mind as he composed 'The Bookseller of Logroño', but there are suggestive points of reference with this and other Exemplary Novels. What I do think is undeniable, however, is that Borrow is testing the credulity of the reader using analogous if not identical techniques as those employed by Cervantes. A historical framework is overtly created by means of specific references to verifiable details such as named locations within the city. This is a typical stratagem employed with spectacular success by Cervantes who, in Don Quixote,
invented a chronicler, the onomastically ludicrous Cide Hamete Benengeli, in part as a device to reinforce the historical credibility of the narrative. This, incidentally, was precisely what Borrow's contemporary Washington Irving did in his Chronicle of the Conquest of Granada from the MSs of Fray Antonio Agapida.
In the Introduction to this work Irving asks 'who is this same Agapida, who is cited with such deference, yet whose name is not to be found in any of the catalogues of Spanish authors?' This question Irving goes on to say 'is hard to answer'. (6)
Click Yellow Bar to Hide Note(Richard Hitchcock, The Bookseller of Logroño note 6).
Washington Irving, A Chronicle of the Conquest of Granada from the Mss of Fray Antonio Agapida (London: John Murray, 1829)1 V.
It is indeed hard to answer because Antonio Agapida was Washington Irving's own literary creation. Both Cervantes and, following him Irving and, it has to be said, many other writers of the sixteenth century, exploited this device of the fictional chronicler in order to pass off fiction as fact. The mixture of realism with the eminently recognizable setting and fantasy with the fairy-tale-like coincidences is reminiscent of Cervantes in both La ilustre fregona
and La gitanilla.
This deliberate ambiguity is calculated to keep the reader guessing.
It is well known and indeed self-evident from The Gypsies of Spain
that Borrow drew on a number of early works in Spanish and Latin, characterised by one critic as 'too much second-hand material from relatively worthless sources.' (7)
Click Yellow Bar to Hide Note(Richard Hitchcock, The Bookseller of Logroño note 7).
Michael Collie, George Borrow Eccentric (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982) 164, quoting Richard Ford.
Knapp, who lists them, also observed that 'Usoz and Gayangos (then librarian at the "National") had furnished him with an immense amount of material from little-known authors of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and these he trimmed and digested so as to adapt them to his purpose.' (8)
Click Yellow Bar to Hide Note(Richard Hitchcock, The Bookseller of Logroño note 8).
Knapp 1 375-376, 328.
More specifically these two, and perhaps also Estébanez Calderón, identified the appropriate passages which were then copied by an amanuensis for Borrow to evaluate and incorporate in his book. These texts would seem to correspond to the 44 pages of manuscript sources in Latin and Spanish listed by Knapp but not apparently recorded in the definitive bibliography, and therefore presumably now lost. (9)
Click Yellow Bar to Hide Note(Richard Hitchcock, The Bookseller of Logroño note 9).
Knapp II 379; Michael Collie and Angus Fraser, George Borrow A Bibliographical Study (Winchester: St Paul's Bibliographies, 1984) 37.
The works themselves are difficult to handle, not very 'user-friendly' in fact, thus rendering it unlikely that Borrow himself would have waded through all of them whilst in Madrid in early 1839, in pursuit of the often elusive passages which have a bearing on the Gypsies. It would seem far more feasible to suppose that others did this work for Borrow and that he made use of the results of their researches. It also follows that Borrow may not be speaking from personal experience when he claims that the Didascalia
is 'one of the most curious and instructive books within the circle of universal literature' (The Zincali
Part I, Chapter III), although I believe that this particular book may have passed through his hands. In this proposed scheme for the literary genesis of 'The Bookseller of Logroño', I have discarded the possibility that Borrow was, in any way, interested in Logroño. He does not appear ever to have visited this town, nor to have verified the topographical details of the story. For him the interest lay in the extraordinary early life of the bookseller and in the venomous hostility of the Gypsies.
Turning to the principal acknowledged source, a copy of which is to be found in Usoz's library, not a great deal is known about Fernández de Córdoba beyond the information contained in the Didascalia multiplex,
which comprise treaties on various subjects. He was racionero
or prebendary in the Cathedral of Córdoba and on the evidence of the dedicatory material in the work, he was highly regarded by fellow-scholars and churchmen. His discourse on the Gypsies which constitutes the final chapter of the book seems to be a learned if somewhat dense account of their origin. My tentative English version of the relevant paragraph is: 'In years gone by, these men (the Gypsies) attempted to take possession of the city of Iuliobriga, commonly known as Logroño suffering from a devastating epidemic, and to plunder it because it was uninhabited. They would have accomplished their purpose had not God the Best and the Greatest through the agency of a certain bookseller, turned the ruin which they strove to bring upon the city on to their own heads.' I sense that Fernández de Córdoba would have taken his data from Krantz (1580) whose material on the Gypsies was first published in his posthumous Saxonia
(1520) and was used subsequently by Munster (1550), amongst others. (10)
Click Yellow Bar to Hide Note(Richard Hitchcock, The Bookseller of Logroño note 10).
Alberti Krantzii, Reram Germanicarum historici clanss. Saxonia (Francfurt: Andreas Wechelum, 1580) Book XI, Chapter I 285,287; Sebastian Munster, Cosmographiae universalis (Basic: 1550) Book III 267-68.
In neither of these sources could I find any reference to a bookseller nor to Logroño, nor to sacking cities by introducing illness into the population in advance. There is always the possibility of an oral source which Fernández de Córdoba thought fascinating enough to transmit. There is a further curious detail. It may be a possibility that Borrow or whoever translated the passage from the Latin, misinterpreted a phrase with somewhat startling consequences. The words in eorum capita
can only properly be rendered 'on their heads'. In other words the implication is that God in his wisdom decided to take his revenge on the Gypsies by inflicting on them the self-same plague or epidemic that the citizens of Logroño were suffering. Had Borrow perhaps realised that capita
had no direct reference to the bookseller, then he well might have fleshed out a story with a wholly different emphasis.
Borrow's story is quite out of proportion with the information provided by Fernandez, and I believe that he would have altered details of the version supplied to him by Bailly in order to create the impression that the tale had a historical base. What we have, I think, is a composite story with various random elements being fused together. The first and most notable of these elements is the bookseller, Alvarez. Borrow may have taken the name from that of Juan Alvarez de Mármol who signed the tasa
(or authorization) of. the Didascalia
on 10 May 1615. (11)
Click Yellow Bar to Hide Note(Richard Hitchcock, The Bookseller of Logroño note 11).
Francisco Fernández de Córdoba, Didascalia múltiplex Lugduni: Horatii Cardon, 1615). Fernández was granted a ten-year licence on 13 February 1613 prohibiting anyone to print or sell his book without his express permission. Usoz's copy (U2328) and the Heber Library copy (3/56728) are in the Biblioteca Nacional, Madrid. Although they share the same title page the introductory matter differs appreciably. In the latter it is in Spanish and contains the tasa signed by Alvarez; in the Usoz copy there is nothing in Spanish and various poems dedicated by Jesuits to Fernández de Córdoba.
As for the bookseller Alvarez's mysterious past, this was close at hand in the character of Borrow's own acquaintance in Sevilla, Dionysius of Cephalonia. Borrow paints a picturesque portrait of Dionysius in The Bible in Spain,
who told him that 'after many adventures and changes of fortune, he found himself one morning on the coast of Spain, a shipwrecked mariner, and that, ashamed to return to his own country in poverty and distress, he had remained in the Peninsula, residing chiefly at Seville, where he now carried on a small trade in books.' According to Borrow 'it is difficult to imagine a situation more forlorn and isolated than that of this man, - a Greek at Seville, with scarcely a single acquaintance, and depending for subsistence on the miserable pittance to be derived from selling a few books.' The parallel with Alvarez may be remarked upon, as he too had been a considerable traveller and had undergone many changes of fortune in his early life. In his confession to his friend the priest he observed revealingly: 'my adventures were numerous, and I frequently experienced great poverty.' Furthermore he was reticent about his early travels; 'his gloom and melancholy increased' whenever these were mentioned (The Bible in Spain
421, 426). (12)
Click Yellow Bar to Hide Note(Richard Hitchcock, The Bookseller of Logroño note 12).
Following Knapp (II 343), this is the Dionysio Cariano who, according to Gayangos in a letter to Ford written, one presumes, in late 1844, had become 'the greatest bookseller' of Madrid. Ford, in a letter to Borrow, noted that he was 'the Greek you knew at Seville and who recollects you well as one of the caballeros ingleses who used to pay him very high prices for his books.' Ford or Gayangos could well have been mistaken here, for according to SamueI Teakle Wallis, Spain: Her Institutions, Politics and Public Men (Boston: Ticknor, Reed, and Fields, 1853) Chapter XX, the Madrid bookseller who occupied the position of pre-eminence in 1850 was a Catalan (223-24).
Dionysius dealt in antiquarian books, many of them in ancient Greek, acquired on the dissolution of the convents. Alvarez possessed books 'in foreign tongues and characters, so foreign, indeed that none but himself and some of his friends, the canons, could understand them.' (The Zincali
Part I, Chapter III). He claimed that he had brought 'many of these from strange lands which I visited' and indeed he was carrying an Arabian book with him when he overheard the Gypsies plotting. I am not necessarily saying that Alvarez was modelled on Dionysius, just that there are aspects of the character of the true-life bookseller reflected in the fictional creation. Alvarez, I believe, had more distant literary progenitors.
When Alvarez eventually raises the veil on his past life, it reads as though it could have come out of the pages of one or more of Cervantes's Exemplary Novels: 'I went to acquire an education at Salamanca; I continued there until I became a licentiate, when I quitted the university and strolled through Spain, supporting myself in general by touching the guitar, according to the practice of penniless students'. There is a picaresque quality about his youthful exploits, recalling La Ilustre Fregona
where the two youthful heroes, Carriazo and Avendaño, study or purport to study in Salamanca, but having no taste for it travel through Spain in search of adventures. When Alvarez with his Gypsy band was 'opposite the Moorish coast' he was 'seized and bound by the other Gitanos, conveyed across the sea, and delivered as a slave into the hands of the Moors'. This calls to mind the ever present threat to the liberty of the picaro
down in the tunny fisheries on the strand at San Lucar - 'he could not sleep soundly at nights for fear that he would be suddenly swept off from the Strand to Barbary and perpetual slavery.' (13)
Click Yellow Bar to Hide Note(Richard Hitchcock, The Bookseller of Logroño note 13).
Cervantes, 'Novela de la Ilustre fregona' in Novelas exemplares. Nueva impresión corregida (Madrid: Antonio de Sancha, 1783)11 72: 'y es no poder dormir sueño seguro sin el temor de que en un instante los trasladen de Zahara a Berberia.' The translation is mine.
When Borrow visited San Lucar this strand created a deep impression on him and he waxed lyrical about it in The Bible in Spain:
'Cervantes himself has immortalised this strand in the most amusing of his smaller tales, La Ilustre Fregona.
In a word, the strand of San Lucar in ancient times, if not modern, was a rendezvous for ruffians, contrabandistas, and vagabonds of every description.' (The Bible in Spain,
The one other Cervantine link to which I wish to draw attention arises out of the following comment by Alvarez; 'I continued for a long time in slavery in various parts of Morocco and Fez, until I was at length redeemed from my state of bondage by a missionary friar who paid my ransom. With him I shortly after departed to Italy, of which he was a native.' Here one finds an echo not specifically of any one particular piece of Cervantes's fiction but of Cervantes's life. He had travelled as a soldier in Italy and was captured by Algerian pirates whilst returning to Spain in 1575. His ransom was paid five years later by his family in this instance and not through the intermediary of a friar which was standard practice. My concluding observation at this point is that Cervantes drew on the experiences of his own colourful early life and embellished them in his fiction, which procedure precisely characterises Borrow's.
As to the substance of the story, attempts have been made to discover the historical source, but they have failed, because the tale is a composite one, a patchwork quilt of variegated sources. There does exist an old ballad (1599),
which I have not seen, on an outbreak of plague in Logroño but Gypsies are nowhere mentioned. The histories of Logroño do not refer to an assault on the town by Gypsies. Had there been one, there would most likely have been a reference in such contemporary documents as the Arte de Brujería y relación de Auto de Fe; celebrado en la ciudad de Logroño, en los dias 7 y 8 de noviembre de 1610,
where members of all other marginalised communities are mentioned except Gypsies. (14)
Click Yellow Bar to Hide Note(Richard Hitchcock, The Bookseller of Logroño note 14).
Quinta edición (Barcelona: Verdaguer, 1836).
The source for the history of Logroño available to Borrow was the one used by Richard Ford in his Hand-Book,
Fernando Alvia de Castro, originally published in Lisbon in 1633. (15)
Click Yellow Bar to Hide Note(Richard Hitchcock, The Bookseller of Logroño note 15).
Fernando de Alvia y Castro, Memorial histórico apologético la ciudad de Logrono (Lisbon: Lorenzo Craesbeck, 1633). There was another edition, without publisher and printer's details, in Logrono in 1843.
The only point of contact with the story is that he and his two brothers all studied at Salamanca, just as Alvarez is said to have done. The heroic resistance of the logroñeses
against the French in the siege of 1521 is recounted at length and one feels that if anyone is to mention the attack by the Gypsies and the plague, then this author, so passionately eulogistic towards his native city, would have done so. From Esteban Oca, an early twentieth-century historian, one learns that there was a Franciscan convent between the walls of the city and the Ebro, mentioned by Alvia as having been founded in 1214, but this had ceased to exist by 1914. (16)
Click Yellow Bar to Hide Note(Richard Hitchcock, The Bookseller of Logroño note 16).
Esteban Oca y Merino, Historia de Logrono (Logrono: Hijos de Merino, 1914) 76.
Neither Alvia nor the account of the Auto de Fe
nor Oca mention any Augustinian presence in or near the city, and certainly not 'on the plain in the direction of Saragossa.'
The theme of the story is the unmitigated wickedness of the Gypsies which is reflected in the polemical and vitriolic seventeenth-century accounts of Sancho de Moncada (1619) and Juan de Quiñones (1631) who both advocated their expulsion from Spain (17)
Click Yellow Bar to Hide Note(Richard Hitchcock, The Bookseller of Logroño note 17).
Sancho de Moncada, Restauración política de España: Ocho discursos (Madrid: Luis Sánchez, 1619). Discurso Séptimo, Segunda Parte: 'Expulsión de los gitanos' 9-16; Juan de Quiñónes, Discurso contra los Gitanos (Madrid: Juan González, 1631) 24ff.
. Amongst the list of the crimes committed by the Gypsies is their assault on Logroño, which both of these authors also mention with relish, giving Fernández de Córdoba as their sole source for it, thus no doubt helping, in large measure to perpetuate the myth. However the means employed to secure the capture of the city, that is to say poisoning the city's water supply has no literary precedent (17b)
Click Yellow Bar to Hide Note(Richard Hitchcock, The Bookseller of Logroño note 17b).
Although there does in fact exist one single, distant forerunner from classical times. In Book II, § 48, of his famous History of the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides tells how in the spring of 430 B.C., at the time when the Spartan spring invasion of Attica was wont to start, a devastating epidemic broke out which undermined the Athenian efforts to beat off the attacker. ‘In the city of Athens,’ the paragraph runs, ‘[the illness] appeared suddenly, and the first cases were among the population of Piraeus, where there were no wells at that time, so it was supposed by them that the Peloponnesians had poisoned the reservoirs’ (Thucidides, History of the Peloponnesian War, translation by Rex Warner, Penguin Classics, London 1972, p. 152) This belief seems to have been strengthened by the observation that the Spartan army itself barely suffered from the desease, while it decimated the population of Athens and in the long run was even to carry off noble Pericles himself. (This information was kindly provided by Peter Missler).
. Borrow seems to have centred his account on the Gypsies' employment of drao
which was in his words 'a noxious preparation which they are in the habit of casting in the mangers of cattle, to cause sickness and death.' (The Zincali
Vocabulary). I have, to date, found no references when this was administered to humans. What was this drao
which contaminated 'the fountains of Logroño' and which Alvarez said had been brought by the Gypsies' ancestors 'from the isles of the Indian sea.' The fact that it was transported by boat immediately suggests that it was some kind of vegetal or herbal concoction. The prime candidate appears to be what was called the acqua toffana,
a poison much in vogue in the seventeenth century and named after a woman from Palermo who used to dispense it in Palermo. It was a transparent liquid without taste or smell, could be administered in small or large doses depending on whether the effects were required slowly or rapidly. It may have been a mixture of arsenic with the juice of a poisonous plant, antirhynum cymbalaria. (18)
Click Yellow Bar to Hide Note(Richard Hitchcock, The Bookseller of Logroño note 18).
Enciclopedia Universal Espasa-Calpe 67 (1928) (1978] 963.
Borrow, however, described one suspects with some relish the symptoms of the poisoning: convulsive retchings, swelling, and 'a dark blue colour, checkered with crimson spots.' Vomiting, inflammation and discolouration of the skin are all symptoms of irritant poisons and arsenic is said to be the most important of the metallic irritants, but it is hardly feasible that sufficient quantity of the poison could be introduced in a town's water supply to bring about such drastic effects. It is true that the hills above Logroño, in which the Gypsies were concealed were extensively mined in the sixteenth century mainly for silver and mercury, the latter in Castañares de los Cameros. The hills were rich in mineral deposits which could be potentially harmful if allowed to seep into the drinking fountains. It is difficult however to lend much credence to the hypothesis that a whole city could be devastated overnight in this way, as the author of the tale would have us believe.
Gypsies acting in gangs could and were dangerous to local communities: this is well testified. The dénouement of the story, however, with the tantalisingly truncated description of the pitch battle between Gypsies and logroñeses
is melodramatic farce. Borrow‘s descriptive powers took charge and the story, for which every attempt had been to create the illusion of reality, degenerates into the unbelievable. Not even Borrow's claim for the historicity of the tale is sufficient to retrieve it. And yet, it still sends investigators scurrying into recondite niches in pursuit of imaginary sources. Cervantes achieved the same result with both his Novelas ejemplares
and Don Quijote.
Statues have been erected to commemorate Don Quijote's 'life'; perhaps one day a statue will be erected in Logroño to honour the bookseller Francisco Alvarez who saved the city from the Gypsies? (19)
Click Yellow Bar to Hide Note(Richard Hitchcock, The Bookseller of Logroño note 19).
When this article was in proof stage, I received through the kindness of Antonio Gómez Alfaro a photocopy of Nicolás de Vargas, Trágico sucesso, mortifero estrago (Córdoba: Salvador de Cea Tesa, 1651), in which Gypsies are blamed for the introduction of the plague into Córdoba in 1649. A patean may be perceived but there is no mention of Logroño.