Criminal love of books

The County Miscellany, 1,8, December 1 1836. Source: GBS

This is part of the beastly bookseller of Barcelona series and is referenced here.

BIBLIOMANIA, or “Book Madness,” has been exemplified to its utmost extent by remarkable and dreadful disclosures on the recent trial, at Barcelona, of an ex-monk, one Friar Vincente, a “lover and preserver” of old books. The trial is reported in the Spanish papers. It appears that a poor book-vender, named Patxot, kept his shop or stall under the pillars “de los Encantes,” at Barcelona, and that Friar or ex-friar Vincente, for he called himself Don Vincente, had, on expulsion from his convent, established himself under the same pillars, also for the purpose of vending books, and had contrived to secure a good share of the literary riches of his convent on his own shelves. Vincente, though a bookseller, was still more desirous of having and keeping books. He never parted with a rare or curious book without reluctance, and sometimes he flew into a passion amd abused the customers, who, in right of purchase, carried off his treasures.

About four months ago, at an auction of the library of an old lawyer, amongst the books put up was a fine copy of the “Furs e Ordinacions fetes per los gloriosos Reys de Arago als Regnicols del regne de Valencia,” printed in 1482 by Palmart, who introduced printing into Spain. Patxot desired much to have it. Vincente desired it as eagerly, and bid upwards of £50 sterling [Raikes translates this (or vice versa) into ardittis], but Patxot bid still higher for it, and carried it off in triumph. Vincente was heard to murmur vengeance. Before a week had elapsed, the shop of Patxot was consumed by fire, with the body of the unfortunate man himself, and with, as it was supposed, all his books.

The authorities did not think of inquiring into a circumstance that seemed accidental, but an unusual number of assassinations began to attract attention. A literary German who visisted Barcelona had been found murdered; and a curate of the neighbourhood. These were, at first, attributed to political causes, until, at length, it was remarked, that all the victims were men of studious habits. An alcalde, Don Pablo Rafael, author of many learned works, had disappeared; besides a judge, and other functionaries.

It was immediately rumoured that the Inquisition had been secretly re-established, and that a tribunal under its laws held mysterious sittings, and pronounced these fearful sentences, so fearfully executed. Search was made at the domiciles of all persons suspected of belonging to such a society; and among those, the shop of Don or Friar Vincente was searched. Nothing was found but books. The Corregidor took down some of these, the “Directorium Inquisitorum” of Gironne, as relating to his object; the removal of the volume caused another to fall, which had been secreted behind it, and which, on being picked up, and opened, proved to be the “Furs e Ordinacions,” the rare volume purchased so dearly by poor Patxot at the sale. It was now found in the possession of his rival bidder; the search was continued, and another book was found, which had belonged to Don Pablo N_____, another victim. Vincente was apprehended, confined, and threatened. He at length promised to confess, upon one condition, namely, that his collection of books should not be dispersed or sold to different persons. Assured of this, he made certain confessions, with full explanations on the day of his trial.

Vincente, when placed at the bar, appeared a little, stout, dark man, of a ruddy and open countenance. He made the sign of the cross and began:–

“I will tell the truth; I have promised it. If I have been guilty, it has been with good intentions. I wished to enrich science, and preserve its treasures. If I have done ill, punish me: but leave my books together–they have done no harm. It was most reluctantly I consented to sell my first precious book to a curate. St. John is witness I did my utmost to disgust him with it [this version doesn’t explain why, then he just didn’t remove this stuff from the shelves]. I told him it was a bad copy, and had a page in manuscript; all would not do; he paid the price and went away. I followed him along the Calle Ancho [sic], begged him to take back his money, and return the book. He refused; and while entreating him we reached a lone place. Wearied with his obstinacy, I took out my dagger, and stabbed him; rolled him into the ditch, and covered him with branches, and carried home my precious volume, which I see yonder on the table.”

The President then asked if this was the only time he had killed persons for their books. Vincente replied, “My library is too well stocked for that; no se gano Zamora en una hora–Rome was not built in a day.”

[Standard version is No se ganó Zamora en una hora. Older versions occasionally drop the h on the hora, and the non could be medieval Spanish or imagined Italian or other Romance by author or printer. Appears in Quijote]

The President desired him to explain how he had despatched the other victims. Vincente replied, “Nothing more simple! When I found a purchaser so obstinate that he would have the volume, I tore out some leaves, being well aware that he would come back for them. When he did, I drew him into an inner room, under pretence of replacing the pages, and then despatched him. My arm never failed me.”

“Did not your heart revolt at thus destroying the image of your Maker?”

“Men are mortal; they die sooner or later. But books are not so; they are immortal, and merit more interest.”

“And you committed murder merely for books?”

“And for what more would you? Books are the Gloria de Dios!–the glory of God!”

“And Patxot–how did you murder him?”

“I got in by the window, found him asleep, threw a soaped cord about his neck, and strangled him. When he was dead, I took off the cord, set fire to the bed, and withdrew.”

The prisoner’s advocated endeavoured to invalidate the evidence by proving that the copy of the work which Patxot had bought was not unique. This he succeeded in proving; which affected his client more than anything else–more than even his sentence.

Vincente was condemned to die by strangulation.

In the annals of crime there is not a more remarkable instance of perversion of mind than that which is just related. Vincente was a lover of books, a book collector. His desire was inordinate and uncontrollable. To possess one, he committed murder. To possess more, he murdered on. Reader, we will pause a moment–to both of us is the command–“Thou shalt not covet.” Can either of us say, “I did not covet?” Vincente coveted.*

*From the “Patriot.”

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