Daniel Heinsius’ solitary phoenix and the final words of the beastly bookseller of Barcelona

In 1927 the Catalan literary researcher and writer, Ramon Miquel i Planas (1874-1950; henceforth MiP) wrote a little book, published in a bibliophile edition, called La llegenda del llibreter assassí. In it he reflects on the origins and recycling of “Le bibliomane ou le nouveau Cardillac”, an anonymous tale published as if true in 1836 in a Parisian legal review, Gazette des tribunaux.

It tells the story of a friar called Don Vincente, exclaustrated from the monastery of El Poblet in 1835, who sets up in the book trade in Barcelona. By fair means but principally by foul he seeks to regain lost treasures, including one apparently unique item, a Valencian legal code published in 1482 by Lambert Palmart. To obtain this he kills a rival dealer, Augustin Patxot, burns down his house, and flees the flames book in Palmart in hand. In an extended trial scene his lawyer tries to absolve him by demonstrating the existence of other copies of Palmart which showed that, despite his having made a full confession, he was not necessarily the murderer of Patxot. But to no avail, and he goes to the garrotte lamenting, “Mine was not the only one!”

The story of the beastly bookseller of Barcelona is actually an elaborate literary spoof which unifies a great number of anecdotes of the antics, real and imaginary, past and present, of bibliophiles and other dusty souls. Coming in the wake of important events like the translation into French of Hoffmann, it also occupies a minor but interesting position at the beginning of the last golden age of Parisian writing. Its immediate influence can be seen in writing by Flaubert, Dumas, Poe and a host of others, while its most important debtor in recent times is Zafón in The shadow of the wind.

MiP’s 1927 edition demonstrates that the story is an invention, and goes some way to identifying the provenance of parts of the hoax. However, Google Book Search was not available to him and he doesn’t seem to have read Germanic languages; I suspect also that he was on rather a tight time budget. Subsequent editions have not corrected or enlarged on his work (the 1991 one simply rearranges and repaints the deckchairs), so over the next few months I want to post a dozen or so pieces investigating the tale’s sources. I will start today by examining the ending used in the standard version.

Early versions of the beastly bookseller of Barcelona

Many of you will not know the story, so you may find it useful to read one or both of several early English versions, coincidentally those missed by MiP. MiP’s early chronology starts with the Gazette (1836/10/23), proceeds with the simplified copy in Le voleur (1836/10/31), and ends with Flaubert’s Le bibliomanie, which he believes was published in 1910, but which in fact appeared in Le colibri in Rouen on 1837/02/12.

In fact, at least two other versions were published in 1836, and another appeared in 1838. Of the two versions available here, Tom Raikes’ is the most complete imitation of the Gazette plot and by far the most entertaining:

  • Author unknown (before 1836/12/01). Title unknown. The patriot

    This is almost certainly the Eastcheap publication of that name, which at that stage employed the truly great but sadly fallen William Hone as sub-editor and night watchman. I know it exists because the version in the County miscellany version credits it, unfortunately without giving a date. Hackwood’s biography of Hone and other light reading doesn’t give any clues, but, however unlikely that may seem, it might actually have preceded the Gazette. Any Victorianist fancy going into the British (or whichever) Library and looking it up?

  • Anon (1836/12/01). Criminal love of books. The County Miscellany, 1(8).

    The County Miscellany was a minor periodical edited in Luton and printed and published in London and various places in Hertfordshire. Henry Burgess was the editor and wrote most of the material, and I think he was responsable for this item.

  • Raikes, T. (1838/06). The Bibliophilist. The Gentleman’s Magazine.

    The T Raikes from whom Charles Dickens (ed) purchased this piece is none other than the vaguely nefarious Tom Raikes, rake (though not to blame for the etymology) and son of the conspicuously noble Thomas Raikes, who managed the Bank of England during the gold crisis that led to the issuing of paper banknotes.

    In The reminiscences of captain Gronow (not the abridged version available on Gutenberg, although there is a reference there too), Picton’s ADC during the Waterloo campaign says that Raikes Jnr was known as Tom “Apollo” because he rose in the east and set in the west. This was a reference to the hours Raikes was required to put in at his father’s merchant business in the City of London before, in the mid- to late-afternoon, taking his portly frame, “surtout closed to the extent of three buttons, plaid trousers, and black cravat” across town to Bond Street, Piccadilly, or St. James’s, where he was present “at all events within half a mile radius of Crockford’s and White’s” (Eclectic Magazine, 1856).

    Raikes wrote a colourful journal recounting his adventures in France (where seems to have spent months at a time playing cards), Russia and other parts, and his keen interest in suicides and bloody and sensational crimes. At this stage I agree with MiP that Charles Nodier is the likely author of the original, but Raikes might otherwise be as strong a candidate as Prosper Mérimée; more of that some other time.

    Sorry, that was all a bit off-topic.

I rescued it from the flames thinking it was unique! Woe is me!

By far the most likely parent of this, one of the dominant motifs in the story, is a humorous anecdote popular amongst eighteenth century Parisian bibliophiles, which recalls the ecclesiastical biblioclasts of sixteenth century Rome and begins as follows in the late version by Isaac Disraeli in the article dealing with Pasquin and Marforio in his 1791 Curiosities of literature:

There is a very rare work, with this title:—“Pasquillorum, Tomi Duo.” … The rarity of this collection of satirical pieces is entirely owing to the arts of suppression practised by the papal government. Sallengre, in his Literary Memoirs, has given an account of this work; his own copy had formerly belonged to Daniel Heinsins, who, in two verses written in his hand, describes its rarity and the price it cost:

Roma meos fratres igni dedit, unica Phœnix,
Vivo, aureisque venio [sic] centum Heinsio.

“Rome gave my brothers to the flames, but I survive a solitary Phœnix. Heinsius bought me for a hundred golden ducats.”

I don’t have Albert Henri de Sallengré’s Mémoires de littérature (1715), but Guillaume-François de Bure cites the conclusion to the tale in his Bibliographie instructive: ou, Traité de la connoissance des livres rares et singuliers (1765), locating Daniel Heinsius’ note to Venice, 1614/03/12:

After Heinsius’ death this copy came into the library of the Baron de Hohendorf, Governor of Ath, and is currently to be found in that of the Emperor at Vienna in Austria, who made the acquisition of this fine library in 1720.

There is no room for doubt that at the time of Heinsius this was regarded as an extremely rare book; but careful research conducted by the curious since, having made it a little more common, has diminished the excessive price it once had.

Other C18th books in which this appears include Karl Friedrich Flögel’s Geschichte der komischen Litteratur (1785), Theophili Sinceri (aka Georg Jakob Schwindel, but you’re not going to get far in the booktrade with a name like that)’s Neue Sammlung von lauter alten und raren Büchern (1733), David Clément’s Bibliothèque curieuse historique et critique, ou Catalogue raisonné de livres difficles à trouver (1762) and Johann Vogt’s Catalogus historico-criticus librorum rariorum (1753). The auto de fe scene in the first part of Quixote in which the priest, the barber and the housekeeper burn most of the chivalry books that have driven him mad is different.

In the next instalment of this investigation into the murky past of the beastly bookseller of Barcelona I will reveal the inner workings of Flaubert’s end, with apologies for my French.

Given a reasonable level of interest, a decent bibliography, properly presented text and a snazzy motif-finder will be introduced at some stage. I’ll also link to all sources properly as I catch up with them. You’ll have guessed that most are GBS, without which the sun does not rise nor the sparrows fart. This is part of the beastly bookseller of Barcelona series.

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    1. Anon
      February 21st 2008 12:00

      I found your blog the other day through the Sweeney Todd story. Since I’m in the NPL frequently, I thought I’d clear up the William Hone connection for you.

      The story appears in The Patriot on Thursday 10th November 1836 (Vol. V No. 262 p. 471) under the same title as in the Miscellany (“CRIMINAL LOVE OF BOOKS”) and the text also appears to be absolutely identical (“BIBLIOMANIA, or “Book Madness” has been exemplified to its utmost extent by remarkable etc. etc. Vincente coveted.”). So the Gazette version still looks like being the original version, and Hone its first plagiarist.

      I don’t know how well (if at all) you know The patriot (there were lots of Patriots, this being the Eastcheap one, as you correctly identify). This dissenting journal was at that stage published Mondays and Thursdays. It included parliamentary and crime reports, theological controversy, and a rag-bag of other news, including the occasional celebration of the difficulties faced by the Jews in the German states.

      Material was lifted from a number of other sources, as was contemporary practice, and substantial quantities appears to have come from French publications such as the Gazette. 1836’s crop includes a report of the opening on 31st January of the Infernal Machine Plot trial, which concerned the famous attempt on the life of Louis Philippe.

      You may be amused by the report on 31st October into the conversion into cash on the account of Don Carlos, the pretender to the Spanish throne, of bills of exchange paid by Andalusian towns to Gomez in return for not “entering and levying a personal contribution on them.” This may confirm your apparent belief that politics in Spain has always been an excuse for theft.

      Good luck, and let me know when this all gets published. The Sweeney Todd find is a genuine revelation!

    2. Trevor ap Simon
      February 21st 2008 18:09

      Mein Gott, that’s wonderful! Thankyou! (I’m always slightly disappointed when it is established beyond reasonable doubt that we’ve got to the bottom of something.)

    3. kalebeul » Blog Archive » The invention of Barcelona carnival
      March 2nd 2009 19:09

      […] Charles Nodier’s Le bibliomane ou le nouveau Cardillac and in a host of other pre-railway tales, Barcelona and its hinterland serve as an obscure and […]

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