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The Collation

Reading Shakespeare in English in Eighteenth-Century Spain

hand written page showing three Shakespeare editions and other works by authors whose names begin with S
hand written page showing three Shakespeare editions and other works by authors whose names begin with S

Deanne Williams, who was a Folger fellow in 2003, tells the story of how her work on early modern girlhood took shape just after her daughter was born—she began thinking about histories of gender, development, reading and the stage in a new way. My interest in English print in old-regime Spain likewise began with my kids. My daughters were born to three languages—English, Spanish, and Catalan—and grew up among books in all three. Their collection made me wonder about similar polyglot readers in my period of specialisation—the eighteenth century—and the personal networks which brought English print to them in central Barcelona spurred my interest in similar networks all over Spain two centuries ago.

So much for the path that led me to study English-language libraries in eighteenth-century Spain: how did I come to be working on Shakespeare? A chain of archival and scholarly references led me to work on library formation at the Royal Scots College/Real Colegio de Escoceses (RCE), now in Salamanca, in the decades after its refoundation in the university city of Valladolid in 1771. With special authorisation from the Holy Office, the College rectors set out to ready their students for return to Scotland as ordained but clandestine priests, or indeed to serve Catholics in the Scottish diaspora. With purchases from the Catholic bookseller James Coghlan, extensive donations from a Lady Grant of Ballindallach, and books left behind by former students and staff, the College built up what may have been the most extensive collection of English print in the Spanish-speaking world. Spain’s administrative and ecclesiastical elite knew this, using the College to get, or commission translations of, English print in the 1770s and 1780s. And Spanish print flowed to Scotland, too, with Scots- and Gaelic-speakers who had come to Spain as pre-teens, remained into their twenties, and kept up correspondences in Spanish for the rest of their adult lives.

The RCE collection held Shakespeare titles, both stray volumes left by students and a 1792 Edinburgh set of the plays, as well as anthologised Shakespeare in such titles as The Poetical Preceptor (London, 1790). When I chanced upon a 1634 Two Noble Kinsmen among the political economy books, I knew that it was not representative of the English book in Spain—at recusant institutions, among diasporic families, or in the libraries of English-knowing Spaniards—as a social fact in the few generations before exiled liberals founded London periodicals, just as direct translation from English became common. Far more Spaniards knew English in the 1790s than in the 1640s (by which point the TNK quarto was likely in Madrid): it made sense that a census of Spain’s English-language Shakespeares up to, say, 1812 would turn up more eighteenth- than seventeenth-century editions. Knowing who owned and perhaps read Shakespeare in English would add to, and perhaps change, a reception history based almost entirely on the mediating role of French translations and French Shakespeare criticism. But it might also suggest that a diasporic reading public, though supplied by the London book trade, did not constitute a straightforward extension of William St Clair’s reading nation.

Finding the books, or traces of books, would mean checking online catalogues; writing to libraries whose catalogues were not online (but whose collections might feature older English-language stock); travelling to collections to examine Shakespeare titles directly; and looking for period catalogues of both institutional and private libraries. Variant spellings, outguessed amanuenses, and helpful librarians have added substantially to the handlist with which I undertook this research: the tally for pre-1813 editions is nearing 350 volumes. (A number of these can be put down to later collectors; for some I’ve found no trace of provenance.) What I have examined so far—I’ve yet to hear back from some of the libraries I want to visit—had led me to speculate about five phenomena in the early circulation of English Shakespeare in Spain. In what remains of this blog essay, I will discuss the five overlapping patterns: Shakespeare as trophy book; the growing presence of Shakespeare in institutional libraries: Shakespeare and the non-native annotator; the rather cryptic “absent Shakespeares”; and Shakespeare anthologised.

By trophy book, I mean books possibly acquired because of the prestige that lay in possessing them; or perhaps because owning them made the possessor feel cosmopolitan and erudite. I also mean books have seen very little use. The most expensive edition I’ve seen is at the Universidad de Valladolid: all ten volumes of the 1785 Johnson-Steevens-Reed Shakespeare, free of underlining, marginalia, and interlineal glosses, some of its leaves unopened, one ribbon bookmark left in place for so long that it has stained the pages.

open book showing two pages still attached at the corners

A volume of the 1785 Johnson-Steevens-Reed Shakespeare with the pages still unopened. Universidad de Valladolid copy. Photo by John Stone.

Valladolid was home to two recusant colleges in the later eighteenth century: the late eighteenth-century English stock at the university’s historic Biblioteca de Santa Cruz—The Wealth of Nations, Johnson’s Poets and Lives of the Poets, Hume’s History of England, Pope’s Homer (in 1779 editions), The Spectator (1788), Hale’s History of the Common Law—suggest an effort to amass books the librarians thought they should have rather than books that would see use, as though someone had asked the Scots or English rector to draft a shopping list.

A twenty-volume Basel edition at the Real Instituto Asturiano in Oviedo is so forlorn as to make one wonder if the purchaser was separated from the purchase by death or war. Bearing the label of the Parisian bookseller and English-language publisher Theophile Barrois (at an address to which he had moved his shop by 1804), this set was never rebound: the wrappers and handwritten labels are, apparently, original. Few of the leaves have been opened (Figure 2.). Perhaps only The Tempest, in Vol.4, was examined by bookseller or purchaser, for the first twelve leaves have been opened and the pages show a few stains.

open book showing pages still attached along the top edge

Unopened leaves in a volume containing The Winter’s Tale, held at the Real Instituto Asturiano in Oviedo. Photo by John Stone.

Perhaps the clearest-cut example of Shakespeare as trophy book is a library set for which we have both the original catalogue entry and the volumes, in period Spanish binding.

one the left, a hand-written library catalog entry describing an edition of Shakespeare; on the right a closed book in a brown lether binding with a gold ownership stamp in the middle

Left: Manuscript catalog page from the Osuna Library, now held at the Biblioteca Nacional de España.
Right: One of the cataloged Shakespeare works, in a contemporary Spanish binding.
photos by John Stone & the Universitat de Barcelona library

Maria Josefa Pimentel, Duchess of Osuna by marriage and Countess of Benavente in her own right, to whom the early Spanish feminist Inés Joyes dedicated her only publication, was instrumental in expanding the ducal library—using the Paris book trade to acquire English stock—and opening it to the public in the Madrid of the late 1780s. The twenty-volume John Bell Dramatick Writings and 9-volume Bell edition of Johnson-Steevens Annotations, all bearing an Osuna supralibris, appear in a catalogue compiled before the library was closed at the onset of war in 1808, so this set may have been available to the Madrid reading public as early as 1790. (It may, in fact, have been the set with which the Spanish journalist and critic Cristóbal Cladera was working with when he composed a pamphlet attacking Moratín Hamlet in 1800, i.e. “la misma edición de Shakespeare por Johnson y Steevens que tengo sobre la mesa” [1800, xxi]).

The Osunas also owned a 1616 Every Man in His Humour: but there’s no knowing if this should be read as bibliophilic on the part of Pimentel or an inheritance from one of her or her husband’s ancestors, as the book is lost.

Though sometimes called Madrid first public library, the Osuna Library was the third to grant the public some measure of access. The first was the Biblioteca Real (sometimes confused with the private Biblioteca de Palacio), which by the end of the century possessed three Shakespeare editions, dating from 1740, 1767, and 1770–1771:

hand written page showing three Shakespeare editions and other works by authors whose names begin with S

Manuscript catalog of the Biblioteca Real. Photo by John Stone.

All twenty-four volumes are all now at Biblioteca Nacional in Madrid and bear period Biblioteca Real bookstamps, but they are likewise tight and show few signs of use. Two other institutional libraries added to their Shakespeare holdings towards the end of Spain’s long eighteenth century: both, however, were colleges for recusants under the protection of the Spanish crown where students would have been expected to know English, though not all were English speaking. In one of the coastal cities with a considerable Hiberno-Irish community as well as wine-trade links to the British isles, the Sociedad Ecónomica de Amigos del País de Málaga—a sort of civic-improvement think-tank—retains seven out of the nine volumes of an edition printed by H Baldwin and Son in 1798. The RCE likely added its 1793 Edinburgh edition in this period, though without an ex libris, books stamp, or book plate, this is speculative. At Salamanca, the Irish college certainly added what may be the Johnson-Steevens editions of 1778 at some point between a 1767 inventory and the 1819 catalogue now at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth:

manuscript catalog page showing an edition of Shakespeare's works

Page from the 1819 catalogue of Salamanca, now at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth. Photo by John Stone.

Outside of institutions, Shakespeare was being rebound, repurposed, and annotated by heritage speakers or Spanish learners of English. A seven-volume 1790 Rivington set, given by Peter Puget to one Rozas in Valparaiso in 1795 is crammed with glosses, though the hand may be much later than the gift; and the glosses are sometimes mistaken (a hare is not a buitre—a buzzard—in in Macbeth’s “Yes, as sparrows, eagles, or the hare, the lion”). The same can be said of four plays bound together in various 1780s and 1790s John Bell editions, now at a Ministry of Foreign Affairs library in Madrid: Julius Caesar and Romeo and Juliet especially are glossed on almost every page.

But most interesting such case is one in which the plays, and other English plays, were clearly rebound in Spain and, on rebinding, became in a sense Spanish books. Now at a high school in Zaragoza, King John, Henry IV (Parts I and II, Henry V, Richard II, are all mid-eighteenth-century Foulis editions from Glasgow: the few glosses are in English, and a misspelling in a note to Henry V is corrected.

two images of the spines of books, both bound in cream colored shiny velum with hand written words on the spines

Spanish bindings on English Shakespeare editions, now at a high school in Zaragoza. Photos by John Stone.


printed text pages with pencil-written annotations

English annotations in Henry V (left) and Henry IV, Part 2 (right). Now held at a high school in Zaragoza. Photos by John Stone.

Finally, some Shakespeares are absent: that is, where there was a great deal of English print, and certainly English-knowing readers, Shakespeare seems not to have ticked all the boxes. Take the libraries of multi-generations Hiberno-Spanish families, the Wild Geese of Irish historiography (and their descendants) who prospered in trade, banking, the military, and colonial administration. Much English print that once belonged to these families may be found in the entrepot towns where the Hispano-Irish were very prominent, such as Cádiz and Seville, as well as the Biblioteca de Castilla-La Mancha at Toledo, some forty-five miles south of Madrid. Various early eighteenth-century Irish immigrants and Hiberno-Spaniards signed poetic miscellanies, The Art of Wheedling or Insinuation; The Dramatic Works of John Dryden; Otway’s Don Carlos, Prince of Spain; Durfey’s Love for Money; Addison’s Cato; and The Man of Feeling.

printed title page with handwritten notes including the name of the owner of the book

Annotated page of a poetical miscellany with a Spanish ownership mark. Photo by John Stone.

Yet there is only one Shakespeare set that can be traced to a possible Hiberno-Spaniard, Patrick/Patricio Kincaid of Cádiz, who like many in the community appears on both British and Spanish subscribers’ lists. (Kincaid’s subscriptions suggest that he was Scottish.) Could it be that these families, for whom English was soon a heritage language (most hailed from Waterford and Wexford: they were not likely to be Irish speakers), were looking for less archaic language for readers whose English was less bookish, just as I started my kids on children’s books that seemed closest to my own idiolect? It’s not that drama per se is absent from what’s left of these libraries: it’s Shakespeare, specifically, and more broadly pre-Restoration plays. This takes me to my final point: a proper survey of English-language Shakespeare in old-regime Spain should be expanded to take in anthologies, especially those intended by compilers and printers for schools, as such titles dovetailed nicely with the sociolinguistic situation of diasporic families. A Tirry family bookplate in a 1797 copy of Knox’s Elegant Extracts at the Universidad de Sevilla—Book the Third is headed “Dramatic, Chiefly from Shakespeare”—is a good illustration of this, as the Tirry marquesses were then in their fourth Andalusian generation. It’s only by factoring in the circulation of Shakespeare in forms better tailored to the needs of heritage speakers that a distinct history of Shakespeare and his diasporic readerships will begin to emerge.


The unopened pages remind me of a book I requested from the Folger vault many years ago. Uncut pages! A librarian cut them for me, and I felt privileged to be the book’s first reader. Wish I could remember which book it was.

Richard Waugaman, M.D. — May 24, 2022