Skip to main content
The Collation

A Dictionary for Don Quixote

For scholars interested in the history of translation and language learning in early modern England, signs of use in books designed to teach their users how to read, speak, or write in another language are especially exciting. Annotations, corrections, and translations in the margins and fly leaves can offer a glimpse, partial though it may be, into the purposes and processes for acquiring another tongue.1

Hoping to find evidence of this sort when I was a graduate student participant in the 2010-2011 Folger Institute “Researching the Archive” seminar, I eagerly called up all nine of the Folger’s copies of John Minsheu’s 1599 expansion of Richard Perceval’s 1591 Bibliotheca Hispanica. Five of these copies were part of a 1623 reissue that coincided with a marked rise in English interest in Spanish texts in response to the proposed (but ultimately failed) “Spanish Match” between Prince Charles and the Infanta María Ana of Spain.2 In its fullest form, Minsheu’s folio features a dictionary, a grammar with translations of proverbial phrases taken from “the best authors” of Spanish literature, and a set of “pleasant and delightfvll dialogues” in both languages. Although they are often bound together as a set, each of these sections has a discrete title page and, sometimes, a distinct STC number.

1. Title pages from John Minsheu, A Dictionarie in Spanish and English, A Spanish Grammar, and Pleasant and Delightfvll Dialogues in Spanish and English. (London: Edmund Bollifont, 1599). All of the Folger’s copies of STC 19620 are bound with STC 19622.

As I worked my way through the Folger’s copies of this book, I came across a handful of manuscript annotations and added entries in Copies 2 and 3 of STC 19620 (A Dictionarie in Spanish and English, 1599).

2. Left: Manuscript annotations in John Minsheu, A Dictionarie in Spanish and English (London: Edmund Bollifont, 1599), R1v. STC 19620 Copy 2. Right: Manuscript annotations in John Minsheu, A Dictionarie in Spanish and English (London: Edmund Bollifont, 1599), C2v–C3r. STC 19620 Copy 3.

With the exception of a few names or marks of ownership inscribed on the title pages, most of the other copies were remarkably—or perhaps unremarkably—clean. Neither of these two patterns could have prepared me, however, for what I found when I opened Copy 2 of STC 19621b.5, one of the variants issued in 1623.3

The number and variety of annotations on the title page and paratexts alone suggest that this book has passed through the active hands of several readers.

3. Annotations on the recto and verso of the title page and the first page of the dedicatory epistle (A2r) in John Minsheu, A Dictionary in Spanish and English (London: John Haviland for Matthew Lownes, 1623). STC 19621b.5 Copy 2.

At some point in the life of this copy, something fascinating happened: the Spanish-to-English dictionary section was removed from its original binding, interleaved with new sheets of paper, trimmed, and rebound. These new sheets of paper were ruled to mirror the three columns of the dictionary entries now on the opposite page. In various places throughout these ruled columns, a reader then inscribed a series of two or three numbers that correspond to words in the dictionary. Where the dictionary lacks a particular word, this user has added entries and numbers on the opposite page.

4. Left: A page with three ruled columns and numerical annotations Right: The opposite page with additional annotations in John Minsheu. A Dictionary in Spanish and English. (London: John Haviland for Matthew Lownes, 1623), C3r. STC 19621b.5 Copy 2.

At first, I struggled to make sense of these cryptic numerical annotations. To what exactly did they correspond? Why, I wondered, did so many of them start with an underlined “2”? As I looked more closely during one of my visits to the Folger that year, however, I noticed that the annotator had added an entry for the name “Dulcinea,” and it finally clicked: this book was made into a concordance or reading dictionary for Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote!

5. An added entry for “Dulcinea” in John Minsheu, A Dictionary in Spanish and English. (London: John Haviland for Matthew Lownes, 1623), K3v. STC 19621b.5 Copy 2.

Once I made this connection, I was able to confirm that the numbers correspond to the chapter and, presumably, the line number where a given word appears in the edition from which this reader was working. Entries that begin with a “2” refer to instances of that word in the second part of Cervantes’s novel, which was published in 1615, a decade after the first part appeared in print. Thomas Shelton’s English translation of the first part was published in 1612. An English translation of the second part—possibly done by Shelton or possibly another translator—was published in 1620.

It’s difficult to determine whose annotations these are or precisely when they were made, but information about the book’s last known owner offers some interesting clues about its post-1623 journey. The book was purchased by the Folger in 1955 from the London bookseller W.H. Robinson Ltd. According to the Folger’s catalog and a note inscribed on one of the book’s fly leaves in a different hand, the book once belonged to renowned Scottish-born surgeon John Hunter (1728-1793), who is best known for his major contributions to comparative anatomy and surgical science.

6. “From the Collection of John Hunter Esq. who died 16 October 1793.” Fly leaf inscription in John Minsheu, A Dictionary in Spanish and English (London: John Haviland for Matthew Lownes, 1623). STC 19621b.5 Copy 2.

Jacob W. Gruber’s entry on Hunter in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography notes that, in addition to publishing landmark treatises about teeth, venereal disease, blood, and gunshot wounds and creating a museum of natural history specimens that survives today, he also collected paintings, sculptures, and rare books.4. Gruber is quick to add, though, that “the motive for collecting appears to have been acquisitiveness rather than connoisseurship.”

Fortunately for us, however, auctioneer James Christie created a detailed catalog of Hunter’s book collection in order to sell it off after his death. What we find upon closer inspection is that his library was a veritable treasure trove of books dedicated to early modern languages and literature. In addition to listing multiple concordances, indexes, and editions of Shakespeare’s works, the catalog names major works by English and European authors. Among them are no fewer than nine editions of Don Quixote in Spanish and in translation. Complementing Hunter’s books in French, Italian, and Spanish are listings for dictionaries in those same languages and the following relevant entry: “Delpino’s Spanish Dictionary—Minsheu’s Dictionary of 9 languages and 2 more.” While the book explicitly referenced here appears to be the second edition of Minsheu’s Ductor in linguas, The guide into tongues, which only included nine languages instead of the original eleven published in 1617, we can be fairly certain that the curiously annotated copy of Minsheu’s 1623 Spanish-English dictionary currently held in the Folger was among the “2 more.”5

Gruber’s ODNB entry insists that Hunter was “not a learned man,” explaining that “[h]is literary background was meagre, his linguistic skills inferior to the manual.”6 While it is entirely possible that John Hunter had more of an interest in languages and literature than his biographers have assumed, or that these books were acquired from someone else who had such interests, it is equally possible that these books belonged to another member of the Hunter household: his wife Anne Hunter (née Home), a poet who hosted literary salons in their home and famously wrote the English texts for several songs in Joseph Haydn’s VI Original Canzonettas for the voice with an Accompaniment for the Piano-Forte.7 The annotations in the Hunter copy of Minsheu’s dictionary do not appear to match the handwriting samples I have been able to locate for either John or Anne Hunter, but the inclusion of this book in their remarkably polyglot library—whether it was before or after it became a dictionary for Don Quixote—presents an intriguing snapshot of the place and use of early modern texts in the multilingual literary world of London after 1623.

  1. For detailed studies of readers’ marks and signs of use in language learning books, see Andrew Keener, “Printed Plays and Polyglot Books: The Multilingual Textures of Early Modern English Drama,” Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 112:4 (2018): 481–511. See also, John Gallagher, Learning Languages in Early Modern England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019).
  2. Scholars disagree about whether or not this book was completely reset in 1623. While Alexander Samson has suggested that the 1623 edition is the 1599 edition with a new title page and reset preliminaries, Richard J. Steiner has compellingly argued that the text was reset and reprinted entirely. See Samson, “1623 and the Politics of Translation,” in The Spanish Match: Prince Charles’s Journey to Madrid, 1623, ed. Alexander Samson (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006), 91–106 and Richard J. Steiner, Two Centuries of Spanish and English Bilingual Lexicography (1590-1800) (The Hague: Mouton, 1970), 55–57.
  3. Several title page variants of this volume exist because the book changed hands among publishers William Aspley, Matthew Lownes, and George Latham during the process. See Steiner, 55.
  4. Jacob W. Gruber, “Hunter, John (1728–1793),” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Accessed October 31, 2019.
  5. For copies of Minsheu’s Ductor in linguas the Folger collection, see STC 17944, STC 17945.2, and STC 17947.
  6. Gruber, “Hunter, John (1728–1793).”
  7. Haydn’s Canzonettas were dedicated to “Mrs John Hunter.” For more on Anne Hunter, see Aileen K. Adams, “‘I am happy in a wife’: a study of Mrs John Hunter (1742–1821),” in Papers Presented at the Hunterian Bicentenary Commemorative Meeting (London: Royal College of Surgeons of England, 1995), 32–37. See also Caroline Grigson, The Life and Poems of Anne Hunter: Haydn’s Tuneful Voice (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2009).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *