Skip to main content
The Collation

Spanish Book Collection at the Folger

One of Andres’ projects was to determine the scope of the Spanish book collection at Folger, which is, for the most part, only searchable in the card catalog, and therefore can only be discovered by readers onsite. A longer version of Andres’s post as well as a spreadsheet including a list of over a thousand titles with their subject headings will be available shortly in Folgerpedia. When I suggested to Andres to work on this project, I did not expect him to do such an in-depth exploration of our collections in so little time (during this period, Andres only worked a day per week at the Folger!). Let me thank him here for his outstanding work and for having been a delightful co-worker during his time at Folger.

We hope that his work will be of interest and of use to you.

Caroline Duroselle-Melish, Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Early Modern Books and Prints.

The Spanish Collection, though a valuable resource, remains one of the lesser-known collections at the Folger, in part, no doubt, because much of it has yet to be cataloged in Hamnet.1 The present post is the end result of a long process of exploration in the library card catalog for Spanish material. Diving in and out of the card catalog in a haphazard fashion over the course of several months, I [Andres] have been able to compile a searchable list of over a thousand Spanish titles in the Folger collections. Given the random nature of the searches—searching for both common Spanish surnames and the names of important Spanish authors—the list, though extensive, cannot pretend to be comprehensive. There is yet much more to discover: every search in the card catalog yields new and unexpected discoveries. This list is therefore open-ended, as much the result of a long-term project as an invocation for further investigation.

Although the list remains incomplete, it starts to reveal trends in the collection. In general, the collection seems to have been assembled more with a view to tracing Spanish influence on the rest of Europe—and England specifically—than looking at Spain per se. In fact, in many cases, the Folger has more editions of popular Spanish books in other languages—i.e. French, Italian, and English—than in the original Spanish. It is telling that translations from Spanish far outweigh translations into Spanish. The way in which the collection was assembled also means that certain titles were preferred to others, affecting the overall makeup of the collection, determining its strengths and weaknesses. For instance, Spanish authors who enjoyed influence or editorial success abroad are generally better represented than ones that enjoyed limited success in translation, their importance to Spain notwithstanding. Nevertheless, the collection gives valuable insight into the ways in which Spain actively contributed to European culture. This is the strength of the collection: it shows Spain to have been incorporated into the rest of Europe, its works sought after and translated abroad, its influence wide-reaching and profound.

The collection can be divided into a series of broad categories that represent major areas of interest, discussed briefly below.


Perhaps not surprisingly, religion ranks among the best-represented topics in the Folger’s collections: after all, the Protestant Reformation coincides with the Folger’s period of study and represents a major area of interest in the collections in general. In counterpoint to the works of Protestant authors, the Spanish collection offers a valuable reflection of the foundational changes wrought by the Reformation on Europe, both religiously and politically, from a Catholic perspective. Spanish religious books reveal the state of Catholicism during that time period, both in Spain and in Europe as a whole, and offer insight into important moments of the Counter-Reformation. The effects of these developments can be traced across many registers, from Latin disquisitions to popular spiritual guides.

The Folger’s collection abounds in devotional literature, much of it in translation, revealing a thriving demand for Spanish religious books to fulfill the spiritual needs of Catholic Europe. Among the authors with the most titles in the Spanish collection as a whole is the Dominican friar, writer, and preacher Luis de Granada, whose Libro de la oración y meditación, Memorial de la Vida Cristiana, Guía de pecadores , among others are present in multiple editions and languages. The six English editions of Libro de la oración y meditación (Of Prayer and Meditation) and the seven of Memorial de la Vida Cristiana (Memorial of a Christian Life) give witness to the reading and spiritual preferences of recusant audiences, and to the high demand for Spanish devotional books in England.

Related to books on personal devotion are books by Spanish mystics. Spanish mysticism flourished during the 16th and 17th century and provided an important impetus to the Counter-Reformation. The titles at the Folger are likewise overwhelmingly in translation.

Books related to religion are not, however, constrained to devotion or the achievement of spiritual perfection. The convocation and closing of the Council of Trent gave occasion to a remarkable efflorescence of sermons and Latin disquisitions, and Spanish clergymen, many in Rome, contributed significantly to this upsurge in publications on official Catholic doctrine. Also interesting are publications related to the Inquisition, whether expurgatory indices, such as Bernardo de Sandoval y Rojas’ Index librorum prohibitorum et expurgatorum from 1619 (Z1020 1619 Cage); books related to Inquisitorial procedures like Pablo García’s Orden que comunmente se guarda en el santo oficio de la inquisición from 1622 (171- 980q); or descriptions of autos-da-fé like José Vicente del Olmo’s Relación histórica del auto general de fe, que se celebró en Madrid este año de 1680 (167- 708q).

Title page, 167- 708q, Folger Shakespeare Library. Photographed by Caroline Duroselle-Melish

Frontispiece, 167- 708q, Folger Shakespeare Library. Photographed by Caroline Duroselle-Melish

In direct opposition to the official Catholic doctrine promulgated at the time is the short-lived and mostly forgotten upsurge of Protestantism in sixteenth-century Spain, centered in the diverse port city of Seville and among the academic elite of Valladolid. Among the books written by Spanish Protestants is A Dictionary and Playne Declaration of Sundry Subtill Practices of the Holy Inquisition of Spayne (STC 11996 copy 1, STC 11996 copy 2, STC 11997), the English translation of a work originally in Latin. The Folger also boasts of a series of very rare titles by Cipriano de Valera, who fled from the Inquisition to England. In 1602, he published a revision of the Spanish Bible (BS299.R4 1602 Cage), first brought to light by fellow Protestant Casiodoro de Reina in 1569, and, in 1597, translated John Calvin’s Institutes into Spanish (STC 4426).


Some of the best-represented Spanish authors at the Folger are philosophers and theologians. Ramon Llull ranks among the Spanish authors with the most titles. Llull was a Medieval Spanish philosopher, logician, writer, and martyr, a pioneer of computation theory and a major influence on Leibniz. The Folger holds multiple editions of his Ars Magna and Ars brevis, the abbreviation of the latter, which was more commented on during the Renaissance. Ars Magna puts forth a combinatorial logical system for uncovering truth that was conceived of as an instrument in interfaith dialogue, to convert non-Christians to the Christian fold.

Of the Ars Magna there is a 1517 edition from Lyon, commented on by the Franciscan Bernard de Lavinheta, an important Lullist of the early 16th century (B765.L8 A7 1517 Cage).

A computational volvelle in an edition of Llull’s Ars Magna from 1517, B765 L8 A7 1517, Folger Shakespeare Library. Photographed by Caroline Duroselle-Melish

Another important figure, well-represented in the Folger collections, is Juan Luis Vives, a humanist scholar. De institutione feminae christianae, first published in 1524, was written for the education of the future Mary I of England of the “proper” roles befitting women. The Folger has multiple editions of this book. De institutione feminae christianae finds its counterpart in the much shorter book De los deberes del marido, intended for husbands. In 1524, Vives brought forth the extremely popular Introductio ad sapientiam (Introduction to Wisdom), a short ethical handbook that blended Stoicism and Christianity, four English copies of which are at the Folger.


The composition of the literary holdings is perhaps the most idiosyncratic result of the Folger’s approach to collecting Spanish materials. The collection reveals the popularity of certain genres of Spanish literature abroad, which are sometimes collected more assiduously than works of more enduring renown. Although the time period covered by the Folger coincides with the Spanish Golden Age, the library’s holdings are, in fact, a bit sparse when it comes to Spain’s literary giants. Nevertheless, there are significant and rare works by important figures of Spanish literature, and the abundant holdings of 16th and 17th century best-sellers provides a privileged view into the reading practices, tastes, and literary culture of early modern Europe.

Of the authors of the Golden Age, Cervantes, Gracián, and Quevedo are among the best-represented, though mostly in translation.

Of Cervantes, there is a second edition of Don Quixote, published in Brussels by Roger Velpius and Hubert Antoine (PQ 6323 A2 1611 Cage).

PQ6323 A2 1611 Cage, Folger Shakespeare Library. Photographed by Caroline Duroselle-Melish

Also printed by in Brussels by Roger Velpio and Huberto Antonio is a copy of Cervantes’ Novelas Ejemplares brought to light in 1614 (PQ 6324 A1 1614 Cage), a year after it was first published in Madrid by Juan de la Cuesta. The Novelas Ejemplares, a set of twelve short novels following the model established in Italy, were an important source of inspiration for Jacobean drama.

Baltasar Gracián was a Jesuit priest, philosopher, and noted writer of Spanish prose. The Folger holds a copy of Gracián’s Agudeza y arte de ingenio published by Juan Nogues in Huesca in 1649 (PQ6398.G3 1649 Cage), a book that deals in Baroque rhetoric and literary theory. It also holds the 1681 English translation of El Criticón (G1470), an allegorical romance that betrays Gracián’s pessimistic worldview—an enduring masterwork of Spanish literature. But it is Gracián’s moral philosophy—his ethics of the ideal gentleman and courtier—that is best-represented at the Folger. El heroe, published in 1637, is the first book in which he treats the qualities of the ideal gentleman, including astuteness, intelligence, discernment, and even dissimulation. The Folger has a copy printed in Spanish in Amsterdam in 1659 by Juan Blaeu (PQ6398.G3 A6 1659 Cage), the first translation into English done in 1652 (G1417), and an English edition from 1726 (PQ6398.G3 H45 Cage).

Francisco de Quevedo y Villegas was the greatest representative of the literary movement known as “Conceptismo,” characterized by directness, witty metaphors, and wordplay conveying multiple meanings and conceptual intricacies in a concise manner. The Folger’s holdings give an inkling of his diverse oeuvre, which ranges from love sonnets to mordant satirical poems. After Quevedo’s death, his friend Jose Antonio Gonzalez de Salas published Quevedo’s poems in a commented anthology, El parnaso espanol (PQ6422.P3 1650 Cage).

Frontispiece in the second edition of El parnaso espanol with a portrait of the author wearing glasses. PQ6422.P3 1650 Cage, Folger Shakespeare Library. Photographed by Caroline Duroselle-Melish

Also notable in the Folger’s collection are rare editions of Fernando de Rojas’ La Celestina, an immensely important work that marks the turning-point from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, and of picaresque novels like the Lazarillo de Tormes, which depict the adventures of an anti-hero living by their wits in a corrupt society. The influence of these books on both Spanish and European literature is profound and can be traced in the Folger’s collection in the volume of editions, translations, and adaptation of these books. Published anonymously, La vida de Lazarillo de Tormes enjoyed immense editorial success. The first known editions of La vida de Lazarillo de Tormes all appeared in 1554, published by Juan de Junta in Burgos, Martin Nucio in Antwerp, and Salcedo in Alcala. One of the jewels of the Spanish collection at the Folger is a copy of Martin Nucio’s Antwerp edition of 1554, which includes extensive manuscript notes in French and English (PQ6407.A3 1554 Cage).

PQ6407.A3 1554 Cage, Folger Shakespeare Library. Photographed by Caroline Duroselle-Melish

The collection of Spanish theater is of a relatively modest scope, especially when it comes to Lope de Vega, one of the most prolific and inventive writers of western literature, admired by Cervantes and Goethe. Though the Folger has important titles by Lope de Vega, they consist chiefly of his poetic works. Notable titles include Rimas divinas y humanas (Madrid 1634, PQ6455. R5 1634 Cage), considered one of Lope de Vega’s masterpieces. Of his dramatic works, there is an anthology of comedies arranged by Bernardo Grassa and printed in Antwerp by Martin Nucio in 1607 (PQ6438.A6 1607 Cage).

Apart from Lope de Vega, the Folger has a set of 22 comedies by Pedro Calderón de la Barca, the youngest of the great playwrights of the Golden Age, who polished the forms inherited from Lope. Whereas Lope de Vega is known for his prodigious inventiveness, Calderón de la Barca is known for his refinement, polished style, and philosophical depth. The set of 22 plays forms the core, as it were, of the Folger’s collection of Spanish plays (Bd. in. PQ6281.A5 Cage).

Popular genres fare extremely well. Among these, the Folger holds a respectable collection of romance novels of the kind satirized in Don Quixote, including a number of titles from the Amadis de Gaula cycle. Translations, adaptations, and polyglot editions, especially in French and Italian, reveal the wide-reaching popularity of the genre, which endured well into the seventeenth century. Apart from chivalric romances, the Folger holds a panoply of works by humanists Antonio de Guevara and Pedro Mexía, whose works were widely translated and read abroad during the 16th and 17th centuries.

First Stage of Globalization

Of particular relevance for those interested in doing cross-cultural work are titles relating to travel, navigation, exploration, and colonization in the Folger’s Spanish collection. The effects of burgeoning globalization on the body of knowledge and cultural practices of early modern Europe can be traced in these books, whose subjects range from history to law and medicine.

Not surprisingly, there are a number of histories relating to the conquest of the Americas. Perhaps a good place to start is José de Acosta’s Historia natural y moral de las Indias, one of the first comprehensive investigations of the New World. José de Acosta drew from his experiences as a missionary in Mexico and Peru, and from the accounts of missionaries, naturalists, and soldiers who traversed the region during the sixteenth century. The Folger has an English edition of his text from 1604 (STC 94). Moreover, among the books related to the conquest of Mexico there are four copies of Antonio de Solís y Rivadeneyra’s Historia de la conquista de México, población, y progressos de la América septentrional, conocida por el nombre de Nueva España, a book that enjoyed immediate editorial success, having been translated and printed abroad shortly after its first publication in 1684. During the Spanish Enlightenment, Solís’s Historia de la conquista de México was taken as a model for historiography of the Americas and as linguistic and literary model. The Folger holds the Spanish edition from 1684 printed in Madrid by Bernardo de Villa-Diego (F1230.S65 1684 Cage); the edition printed in Brussels, in Spanish, by Francisco Foppens in 1704 (F1230.S65 1704 Cage); and the first English translation by Townsend printed in London for T. Woolward in 1724 (F1230.S7 Cage), as well as a later edition printed in London in 1753 (F1230.S7 1753 Cage).

There are also two English editions of Francisco López de Gomara’s Historia de México, translated as The pleasant historie of the conquest of the Weast India (STC 16807 and STC 16808); one of these is the first English edition translated, in abridged form, by Thomas Nicholas in 1578 (STC 16807). Gomara served as a chaplain to Cortés, and his history glorifying Cortés’ conquest was an immediate hit. It’s also worth mentioning that the Folger has three copies, in English, of La vida del siervo de Dios Gregorio López, the account of the life of a hermit living in Mexico written by the Spanish priest Francisco de Losa, who gave up his worldly possessions to live in isolation with the hermit.

It seems there are more or less as many titles relating to Peru as to Mexico. These include two copies of Agustín de Zárate’s Historia del descubrimiento y conquista del Peru. Zárate was in Lima for Gonzalo Pizarro’s rebellion and ends his book with Pizarro’s execution and the subsequent integration of Peru into the Spanish Empire in 1548. The first edition in Spanish was published in Antwerp, 1555. The Folger library owns the first English translation, printed in London by Richard Jones in 1581 (STC 26123), and an Italian edition from 1563 printed in Vinegia by Giolito de Ferrari (F3442.Z4 I8 1563 Cage).

STC 26123, Folger Shakespeare Library. Photographed by Caroline Duroselle-Melish.

Also of interest is the first English translation by Paul Rycaut of Inca Garcilaso de la Vega’s Comentarios Reales de los Inca, published in 1688 (G214). An invaluable record based on eyewitness testimony and firsthand accounts, the book is divided in two parts: the first describes the origins, religion, and laws of the Inca before the invasion by the Spanish; the second describes the Spanish conquest itself. The engravings provide a vivid picture of the brutal conquest. Also noteworthy is the English translation of Cristobal de Acuña’s Nuevo Descubrimiento del Gran Río de las Amazonas, from 1698 (V746).

Lastly, when it comes to conquest—albeit in the Pacific—there is Bartolomé Leonardo de Argensola’s Conquista de las islas Malucas del Rey Felipe III printed in Madrid by Alonzo Martin in 1609 (DS646.6 L56 cage). Admired by Lope de Vega and a friend of Cervantes, the well-connected poet and priest Bartolomé Leonardo de Argensola was known for his polished style and purity of language. Leonardo was commissioned by his powerful patron, the Count of Lemos, president of the Council of Indies, to write a history glorifying the conquest of Ternate in present-day Indonesia by the Spanish governor of the Philippines Don Pedro de Acuña. The book enjoyed immediate editorial success in Spain and was translated into various languages.

The colonization of the Americas also presented an immense technical and administrative challenge to the Spanish empire: how to establish efficient and reliable communication between Spain and the newly-discovered lands across the Atlantic. In this context, Seville saw an efflorescence of technical treatises on navigation. Although the Spanish crown limited the spread of crucial geographic, cartographic, and technical information in order to preserve its monopolies, some of the treatises on navigation published in Spain circulated widely across Europe. Among these, Martin Fernandez de Enciso’s Suma de Geographia (1519), Pedro de Medina’s Arte de navegar (1545), and Martin Cortes’ Breve compendio de la Sphera y del arte de navegar (1551) were the most widely circulated. The English seem to have preferred Cortes, while the French preferred Medina. The Folger has a rare first Spanish edition of Cortes, printed in Seville by Anton Álvarez in 1551 (VK551.C69 1551 Cage), as well as two English editions, one from 1584 (STC 5801) and the other from 1596 (STC 5803).

Apart from the technical aspects of navigation are the norms and legal frameworks that governed navigation and commerce. Of particular interest is Consolat de Mar, a compendium of maritime law that governed Mediterranean trade well into the 18th century and provided the foundation for all modern laws relating to the sea. The Folger owns a copy of the second edition, in Catalan, published in 1540 by the Barcelona-based Provencal printer Carlos Amoros (223- 066q). Also noteworthy is an early work on maritime law, Rodrigo Juarez’s Consilia duo de usu maris et navibus transvehendis, bound together with Benvenuto Stracca’s Tractatus de mercatura, seu mercatore, published in Lyon by Sébastien Honorat in 1558 (201- 098q).

The Folger also holds a series of Spanish herbals that illustrate the wide-reaching exchange of plants resulting from the age of exploration. Among these is the Tractado de las drogas, y medicinas de las Indias Orientales (245- 268q), written by the Portuguese doctor Cristóbal de Acosta. There are also multiple editions, in translation, of the physician Nicolás Monardes’s treatise Historia medicinal de las cosas que se traen de nuestras Indias Occidentales, in which Monardes studies the properties of plants newly imported from America, describing some of these to European audiences for the first time.

In addition to books on the Americas, the Folger library also holds Spanish books on Asia and Africa. Of particular interest is Historia del gran Tamorlan e itinerario y enarracion del viage y relacion de la embaxada que Ruy Gonzalez de Clavijo le hizo, por mandado del rey Don Henrique el tercero de Castilla, a vivid account of Timur’s court at Samarkand, written by Spanish diplomat Ruy González de Clavijo between 1403 and 1406, about a hundred years after Marco Polo. This account was not printed until 1582 by Andrea Pescioni in Seville. The Folger has a copy of this first edition (DS23.G6 1582 Cage).

DS23.G6 1582 Cage

Additionally the Folger has a number of copies of Juan González de Mendoza’s Historia de las cosas más notables, ritos y costumbres del gran reyno de la China, one of the earliest Western histories of China. González de Mendoza never set foot in China and relied mainly on accounts made by missionaries. The book contributed to the ascendant interest in East Asia among Europeans at this time. The Folger holds this book in French, Italian, and English translations, all printed shortly after the first Spanish edition appeared in Rome in 1585.

An interesting figure in the Spanish collection is Don Juan de Persia, born Uruch Bech, the son of a Persian soldier and courtier, who settled in Spain and converted to Catholicism. In his Relaciones de Don Juan de Persia, printed in Valladolid in 1604 (DS272. J8 Cage), he describes his long and perilous voyage from Persia to Spain via Eastern Europe. More importantly, in this work Juan de Persia gives an account of the history of Persia, its people, and dynasties, especially the Safavids.

With respect to Africa, there is a curious book in French that brings together Diego de Torres’s La Relación del origen y suceso de los Xarifes y de los Reinos de Marruecos, Fez y Tarudante and Luis del Marmol y Carvajal’s Descripción General de Africa (DT7.M3 1667 Cage). The former is one of the most important works of Spanish historiography related to North Africa from the 16th century and constitutes an important primary source of life in Morocco and Portuguese settlements in Africa at that time. Marmol’s Descripción General de África combines his personal observations from his travels in Africa and information from works previously published about its history and geography. Luis del Marmol was taken prisoner during a campaign in Northern Africa, and remained hostage for over seven years, during which time he learned Arabic and traveled as far as Egypt.

Though the present discussion gives only a small taste of what the Folger’s Spanish collection can offer, hopefully it gives some inkling of its composition, as well as its major points of interest.

  1. On the need to consult the card catalog in the reading room for certain collections see the blog posts by Goran Proot and Abbie Weinberg


We are all in Andres’s debt. What a wonderful idea! It is a real service to make the Folger’s holdings better known remotely.

Richard M. Waugaman, M.D. — November 23, 2018


Leave a Reply

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