Tom Raikes, The Bibliophilist. In The gentleman’s magazine of June 1838. Source: GBS
This needs annotation and will receive it in due course. There are a number of errors that one would not expect of a public schoolboy like Raikes, as well as various interesting links to other work.
Barcelona is a handsome and rich city of Catalonia. The capital of that province, it contains many splendid buildings; among which the superb hotel of the Viceroys, (now named Captains general,) the Exchange, and the Custom-house near the port, are remarkable for the beauty of their structure. It is a place of considerable trade, and the industrious zeal of its inhabitants has long been cited as a contrast to the generally indolent habits of their countrymen. Bred to the occupations of active life, this indefatigable population is not less distinguished by its attention to the laws, than by its moral good conduct. Crime is of rare occurrence. A noble emulation to provide for their families, constant employment, and a contented spirit, render them little accessible to temptation, and subdue those baneful passions which originate in avarice, poverty, and idleness. There is, however, no rule without exceptions. With all these claims to general esteem and admiration for the morality of its inhabitants, the town of Barcelona became lately the state on which a continuation of the most atrocious crimes were perpetrated, without any clue being afforded to detect the source from whence they sprung. Individuals suddenly disappeared, and no tidings were heard of them again by their afflicted relations; bodies were found murdered, and secreted in various places, while the finger of suspicion was unable to point at any individual who could have been influenced, by motives of interest or resentment, to commit such sanguinary deeds. These awful transgressions of the law succeeded each other, too, with such alarming frequency, that the whole population of Barcelona was struck with a panic; and what was the most surprising feature in the case,—what baffled all conjecture, and misled every one as to the motives of these crimes, was, that in no one instance had the unhappy victims been despoiled of their personal property. The people saw with dismay a mysterious conspiracy organised in the midst of them, to which every man felt that his own life might at any time fall a sacrifice, while the sense of danger was daily increased by the continued impunity of the delinquents.
The legal authorities were indignant at this open violation of all laws, both human and divine; the corregidor received the strictest orders to redouble his vigilance, and, though hitherto foiled in all his attempts to discover the criminals, he increased the patrols in every direction, and used the most vigorous efforts in his department to detect a source of iniquity, the continuance of which reflected so much disgrace on the efficiency of the police.
We must now go back in our recital to a short period previous to this interesting crisis. It may be as well to give a more succinct account of the events which created so much sensation in the town of Barcelona.
The Arcades, which line the north-west side of the great square, and which go by the name of the pillars de los Encantes, are entirely occupied by the shops of brokers and hucksters, who deal in second-hand articles of every description. There are to be found the principal dealers in old books and prints, who attend all the public sales, and live by the spoils of those libraries which the necessities of the owners bring to the hammer. Augustin Patxot had resided for many years in this quarter, carrying on the trade of a bookseller, which, though far from a lucrative profession, enabled him to gain an honest livelihood. He was a good scholar himself, and intimately acquainted with the value of all publications, both ancient and modern; his opinion was considered of great weight by the amateurs in literature, but their number is become very confined in the present day, when a sword or a carbine is considered of more value than the cleverest book or the most precious manuscript. The professors of the university were his constant customers; but, alas! they had little money to spare, and the book trade appeared to be in a falling state.
As the old proverb says, “There is no ill without producing some good,” [http://www.google.com/search?hl=fr&lr=&rls=GGLG%2CGGLG%3A2005-33%2CGGLG%3Aen&q=%22Il+n%27y+a+pas+de+mal+sans+bien French proverb found in various forms, eg “Il n’y a pas de mal sans bien”] the pillage of the convents, and the abolition of numerous orders of monks [when in Spain], driven from their pious avocations, much against their will, to mix with the world, brought to light a most valuable collection of ancient manuscripts, illuminated missals, and curious records, which had long lain hid in their dusty coverings on the shelves of the wealthy brethren. These treasures of literature were sold publicly in the most expeditious manner; and, as their value at the first [sic] was little appreciated by the multitude, men like Patxot, who were on the alert to make a good bargain [sic], availed themselves of their knowledge and experience to fill their stalls at a low price with the spoils of the monkish libraries. This influx of valuable books into the market revived the taste and spirit of speculation among the bibliophilists; and, as it increased the number of purchasers, its natural effect was to bring more rival dealers into the general competition [sic]. Among those who came to establish themselves with this intention in the neighbourhood of Patxot, was a man who, though he wore the secular dress [sic], and conformed to the usual customs of the world, was easily recognized as having formerly belonged to one of the late religious orders. His stern features, his dictatorial air, and his ungainly manner, proclaimed a life passed in seclusion, and little accustomed to the easy habits of modern society. He was in fact the Father Don Vincente, from the convent of Poblet. Bitterly had the poor monk deplored the disasters which caused the ruin and fall of his monastery. It was not that he regretted the ease and indolence of his past life, the wealth and influence of his order, or the thirty livres of Catalonia which the good peasants of Poblet paid as a yearly tax to the holy fathers for permission to dispose of their daughters in marriage to whom they pleased. None of these objects presented such galling recollections to the mind of Don Vincente as the loss of that magnificent library, which one of the last kings of Arragon, in times gone by, had presented to his convent.
Disinterested indeed was this feeling, as he had seldom or never studied himself these sacred reliques; but his eye had been accustomed from day to day in his retreat to gaze with inexpressible delight on these numerous manuscripts, ranged in symmetrical order on their polished ebony shelves [sic], and he knew, at least by hearsay, that they contained treasures of science and literature which were of inestimable value. “Alas!” would he exclaim to himself, “ever since the last fatal war, when the archives of Saragossa and the sanctuary of San Juan de la Pena were burnt by the enemy, it was in our convent alone that authentic documents for the compilation of our early history could really have been found. Who knows but among those venerable manuscripts might have been discovered the writings of that Arnaldo de Brescia who founded the heresies of the Albigenses? There, without a doubt, were cautiously preserved all the details of that interesting war, in which our king, Don Pedro, performed such wonderful exploits, till he was at last slain by Montfort, his brother-in-law, under the walls of the Castle of Murat. There the future historian might have found the long-lost memoirs of Don Pelagio, or of the interminable struggle between Don Sanchez and his Moorish enemies. Holy Virgin!” repeated the desponding friar, “what a heart-rending idea to think that such invaluable papers should eventually have served to make cartridges! that not a prince should have been found in all Christendom sufficiently enlightened to rescue from destruction those precious relics of former ages. All, all have perished in one common fate!”
It is not quite clear whether these irreparable losses had slightly deranged the intellect of Don Vincente, or whether the painful shock which he had undergone in witnessing the pillage and sacking of his convent had exasperated a passion, or rather a mania, which had always previously existed; but such is the fact, that he now absolutely raved of nothing but books. He never read as a matter of study, but his life was spent in turning over leaves, examining title-pages, collating dates, and scrutinizing editions, till at last he arrived at a wonderful degree of knowledge and experience in the art of estimating the works of ancient writers. He had an inconceivable talent for appreciating the value of an old manuscript at first sight; and, being seldom mistaken in his judgement, it was always received with great deference by his brethren in the trade. In order to indulge this extraordinary mania, he adopted the profession of a bookseller, and his shop was certainly stored with an unrivalled collection of the best authors. Ill-natured people asserted, that while the plunder of his monastery was going on, Don Vincente himself was not idle; but that, seeing every man occupied in seizing that which came first to his hand, he had readily followed the example, and had not been unfortunate in the selections which he made. This, however, was mere suspicion, and had never been circumstantially proved; one fact alone was beyond denial, that his trade flourished, and that he was very successful in attracting customers to his shop. He even pretended to study their tastes and political opinions, offering to their notice as they passed his door those publications which he conceived most likely to suit the one or flatter the other. For example, if he observed among the strollers in the Arcade one of the malcontents of the present day, one of those who are ill-affected towards the government of our innocent and gracious queen, he would address him with, “Por dios! mi señor,”—walk in, I pray you, — “I have something here which you will read with great interest: buy this chronicle of the reign of Johanna the First, of Naples, with this motto from a poet of that period, â€˜Interitus regni est a muliere regi.’ Or, if you prefer it, here is an imitation of Casti, in the shape of a pamphlet, headed by a quotation from that author, —
“Che Martin si piglio la genetrice
Per non restar le mani in mano.
E che da i contrattanti furon fatti
Della quadruplice allianza i patti.”
If, on the other hand, it was a partisan of the present government, then he changed his note: to such he would say, “Deign to look at this copy of the brilliant speech made by the divine Arguellas to the Cortes of Cadiz; or here are the Relaciones of Antonio Perez, a new edition, with a passage from Blancas. Apud nos prius leges conditæ quam reges creati. It is to be sold for a mere nothing—only twenty reals de Arditez; you never bought such a bargain.”
In this manner, suiting his offers to the different characters of those whom he addressed, he seldom met with a refusal; but he carefully abstained from producing the really valuable publications of his library, which were very numerous and well selected. He must have been very much pressed for money before he could have recourse to such an alternative, and never could be induced to sell one of them without the greatest reluctance. Anxious as he was to effect sales of the books which had little intrinsic value, in the same degree was he difficult and scrupulous in parting with anything like a scarce or precious edition. In such cases, if a customer was pressing in his demand, he would make a thousand difficulties and evasions; he would ask a most exorbitant price, and, if taken at his word, would show a wish to retract, and only at last receive the money with evident pain and vexation. He seemed to do himself a secret violence when he delivered the book out of his hands; he changed colour, became alternately pale and flushed, the muscles of his face were contracted with pain, and he showed every sign of inward mortification.
Notwithstanding these occasional sources of annoyance, he did more business than all the rest of the trade put together: a circumstance which could not fail to excite their envy; and his neighbour Patxot proposed to them in consequence that they should form a league to ruin him. After much caballing together, they came to a resolution to subscribe a general fund, and with it to outbid Vincente at all the public sales of books which were held in the town. By these means they prevented him from making any valuable acquisitions to supply the place of those works which were sold in the common course of his business. He was thus daily decreasing his stock, without being able to renew it.
This conspiracy was too well organized and followed up by the principals not to affect the interests of Vincente in a very serious manner: it did more; it violently exasperated his temper, inasmuch as it thwarted his darling passion, as well as ruined his trade. He daily saw the works which he most eagerly coveted snatched from his grasp by this greedy combination: he felt himself in the same position as the luckless Sancho Panza, in his government of Barataria, when the redoubtable wand of Doctor Don Pedro Recio de Aguera del Lugar de Tirte afuera made all the dishes, one after the other, vanish from his splendid table. His rage and disappointment became intolerable. It is the custom in Barcelona at all sales by auction to award a premium to the last bidder but one, calculated on the value of the lot which he was disappointed in obtaining: this remuneration is called los reales de consolacion; and as Vincente was always left in this predicament, no words can express his fury at the constant repetition of this disgusting present. From this period may be dated the unqualified hatred which he bore to all the other dealers, as they were no longer guided by a spirit of fair emulation, but attempted by such unworthy practices to foil all his exertions; and Patxot, being at the head of the junta, was of course the object of his more particular indignation.
It is about four months ago that the library of an old lawyer, who had been a great amateur and collector of curious books, was after his death put up to public sale. There was a numerous attendance of all the trade, and great expectations were formed of the result. The object which most peculiarly attracted the attention of Don Vincente was a very scarce edition of an old work, called “Furs e ordinacion, fetes per los gloriosos Reys de Arago als regnicolo del regne de Valentia.” It was the first edition, published in 1482 by Lambert Palmart, who introduced the art of printing into Spain. The literary world supposed that no other copy of this edition was now extant.
The emulation among the bidders was very strong and animated. Don Vincente seemed determined this time to defy all opposition; he increased his offers every instant; no sooner was one sum named than he instantly surpassed it; the buyers began to waver, as the lot appeared to have gone beyond its real value; and when Vincente, in an agitated voice, named the considerable sum of four thousand five hundred and fifty-five reales de Arditez,[footnote: About fifty-three pounds English.] there was a dead pause in the room: he looked anxiously at the auctioneer, and saw the uplifted hammer ready to seal the contract; one minute more, and the treasure was his own. “Will no one advance on the last bidding?” said the man. “Going—going, for the last time,” when the well-known voice of Augustin Patxot was heard, pronouncing deliberately the sum of five hundred and fifty-seven livres of Catalonia.[footnote: About fifty-three pounds twelve shillings English.] Vincente gave a deep groan as the lot was knocked down to his enemy. Muttering threats and curses to himself, he rushed out of the sale-room; some of the bystanders even asserted that they overheard him predict that Patxot should not long retain his new acquisition.
Vincente, after this disappointment, shut himself up in his house, and became invisible to his neighbours for two or three days; he then reappeared in his shop, and attended to his business, apparently restored to his usual composure. He was even more than usually cheerful in his address to the passing strangers whose custom he wished to solicit; he attacked them with old Latin quotations to put them in good humour, some of which were not quite in character with the serious profession of his former life. He made no allusion to the transactions in the auction room, no repetition of his menaces, and seemed to have quite forgotten his late eagerness to possess the edition of Lambert Palmart.
It was rather more than a week after these circumstances had occurred, that one night, about eleven o’clock, the peaceful inhabitants of Barcelona were aroused from their sleep by the cry of fire. A crowd speedily assembled in the great square, were volumes of smoke and flame issued from a house in the north-western Arcade, which seemed to burn with such fury that it threatened to spread in every direction. The drums beat an alarm, the guards from the harbour and from the custom-house, both of which posts were near adjoining to the spot, soon made their appearance, and united their efforts to those of the firemen in attempts to extinguish the flames, which it was ascertained had broken out in the warehouse and dwelling of the bookseller Patxot. It was long before they could succeed in arresting the progress of the devouring element, or force an entrance into the burning ruins, without considerable personal danger; but they at last made their way into the private apartment of Patxot, where, amidst the embers of his half-consumed property, they discovered the lifeless body of the unfortunate tradesman, but so disfigured and mutilated by the action of the fire, that no possibility existed of certifying whether he had been the victim of any previous violence. The idea of a crime did not, however, in this instance suggest itself to the mind of any one, as a considerable sum of money which Patxot had received on the preceding evening was found untouched on a marble table near to his bedside. The fire had evidently originated in this room, and it was concluded that the ill-fated man had fallen asleep while he was smoking; that a spark from his cigar had dropped on the cotton counterpane, which from thence had communicated with the Indian straw, of which his mattresses were made, and then it became easy to account for the rest of the misfortune. There remained only a general feeling of pity for his desolate family, who had thus been deprived by one fatal accident, not only of an affectionate parent, but almost of the means of subsistence.
Nearly about this time some fishermen employed in the harbour found their nets entangled with some heavy substance, which they had great difficulty in drawing to the land: their surprise may well be conceived when it proved to be a human body, stabbed in various places by some pointed instrument, probably a dagger. The officers of justice interfered, and it soon came to light that the corpse was that of a young German student residing in the town, who was well known for his love of the arts, and for his literary acquirements.
These two concurrent circumstances produced an alarming sensation in a town where the tranquil habits of the people were seldom or never disturbed by such exciting incidents; they were the subject of general conversation in all circles, and, being bandied about from one to another, were retailed with all the exaggerated conjectures which fear, and a love of the marvellous, could invent to heighten the description.
This state of public anxiety soon assumed a much more serious character, when a third event occurred of the same distressing nature, and attended with the same unfathomable mystery.
Some peasants loitering one morning early, near the Atarasanas, which is the great cannon foundry in that province, stumbled upon a murdered body which had been thrown carelessly into a ditch, and barely covered by some dead leaves raked together in a heap. It proved to be the curate of a neighbouring village, whose avocations frequently called him to the town, where he had several friends and relations. He was a man universally respected for his piety, and it seemed quite incredible that such a peaceful inoffensive character could have incurred the wrath of a secret and so unrelenting an enemy.
The mischief did not stop even there: week after week some new victim was discovered, who had been doomed to death by these insatiable assassins; and their perseverance in these cold-blooded atrocities did not appear less astonishing than the mystery in which they were shrouded, and the impunity which they enjoyed. At one time a body was found in the harbour; at another it was concealed under a heap of rubbish; in one or two instances the ill-fated individuals had been left exposed in some unfrequented lane or alley, as if their murderers had either not had time, or recklessly disdained, to take any precautions for masking their crimes. All seemed to have perished in the same manner, and probably by the same hands.
The public consternation increased to a degree beyond all human tolerance. There was on extraordinary feature in these deeds of horror (to which we have already alluded in the commencement,) which entirely separated them from all ordinary cases of the same delinquency, and proved beyond a doubt that the authors were guided by other motives than those which in general stimulate to such crimes. In every instance, without exception, the victims, whatever might have been their situation in life, were neither plundered nor robbed; their clothes, however valuable, were untouched; their money, watches, and ornaments, however costly, were always left to share the fate of the miserable body to which they appertained. This of itself tended more and more to embarrass public opinion, and render all conjectures as to the origin of this scourge more vague and more nugatory.
There were no grounds to suppose it was the result of vengeance, or jealousy, or any private ill-will, as, in the first place, so many individuals had been doomed to suffer; and, in the second, all were men of such quiet inoffensive characters, that they could never have rendered themselves obnoxious to feelings of that nature. Not one was known to have had a personal enemy; not one could have had the opportunity, much less the inclination, to vitally injure another. Again, it was impossible that these men could have fallen a prey to political rancour. Among the numerous victims might be reckoned Carlists, Christinos, and Exaltados:–one sole distinction seemed to have characterised these unfortunate individuals,–a love of literature. Men only of laborious habits, and generally known by their application to scientific pursuits, seemed to fall under the ban of this formidable proscription. And what could men of science have done to draw upon themselves such unextinguishable hatred? The more this horrid enigma was discussed, the more difficult appeared to be the solution.
If the minds of the citizens were alarmingly engrossed and perplexed by the repetition of such fearful crimes, it may be supposed that the vigilance and exasperation of the police were not less excited at this open defiance of their power. The magistrates were indignant, and issued the strictest orders to the subaltern officers of justice to parade the streets at all hours of the night with an armed force; but, in spite of their exertions, not a clue could be found to trace out the offenders. Nine individuals had been successively discovered barbarously murdered; amongst these was Don Pablo Rafael de N____, an honorary alcalde of the first sala, or criminal court, in the province of Catalonia; he was a learned man, and known in the literary world as the author of some very curious researches, which he had published, on the empire of the Phœnicians in Spain before the Roman Conquest: his body was found in a cistern near the great square, which so much excited the horror of the neighbours that they never could again be induced to draw water from it. Another victim was an alcalde mayor in the town, whose death the regidores had bound themselves secretly by a solemn oath to avenge, in case they should succeed in discovering the author. So great was the general irritation, that every one threatened to inflict summary vengeance on the unknown criminals whenever they might be found.
When all surmises had proved fruitless, the public mind began to speculate in another direction; hints were thrown out of secret tribunals, whose affiliated members, bound by tremendous vows of unqualified obedience, executed the sentence of their superiors, even on their own and dearest friends. All the mysteries of German freemasonry, with the daggers of the Frey Herren, were recited over again to account for the desolation which reigned within the walls of Barcelona. Others ventured to assert that clandestine attempts had been made to re-establish the Holy Office, in defiance of all the laws which had passed in the Cortes for its expulsion; that the Jesuits, emboldened by the success of Don Carlos, had re-assembled the familiars of the Inquisition; and that these nocturnal murders were the first fruits of that abominable system which they were about to revive in Spain.
When everything is doubt and uncertainty, men cling with eagerness to any conjecture which may seem to throw a light on their darkness; and, improbable as it was, this idea of the Inquisition was taken up with much more credulity than good sense. Reports were spread through the town that the emissaries of the Holy Office were at work; and the priests, but more particularly those who had formerly belonged to the monkish orders, were watched with a jealous and suspicious eye. If any of these men were seen communing together in the streets, or meeting in a private house for the most common purposes, they were immediately arrested; and, though nothing could be elicited by their examination, which could confirm the prejudice, it still seemed rooted in the breasts, not only of the people, but of the government.
Among those who stood in this predicament, though his solitary mode of life did not often bring him before the public, was Don Vincente. His former profession of monk in the convent of Poblet was generally known; and the ascetic habits which he still retained amid his dusty records and black-letter editions, pointed him out as a man well inclined to the old system of absolutism, and ready to concur in any plot for bringing back his old superiors to their former position.
If, then, the suspicions were correct that the Jesuits were labouring to introduce the Holy Office once more into Spain, and had already begun to effect their object secretly in Barcelona, it was beyond a doubt that Vincente must be in communication with the members of the order, and in possession of documents which might be exceedingly useful in detecting the conspiracy. No other complaint was made against him, but the public became clamorous in denouncing him as a secret agent of the hated Inquisition. Vincente heard these accusations whispered about with great indifference; satisfied of their futility, he took little trouble in denying them; and, when he was apprized that the government, yielding to the clamour, had ordered domiciliary visits to be made by the officers of justice to all the persons who were considered as accessaries to the plot, he received the corregidor at his house with the utmost tranquillity and composure.
When this officer had signified the object of his mission, he requested that the keys, not only of the ware-rooms, but of the dwelling-house, should be delivered up. Accompanied by his archers, he strictly examined every corner, and scrutinized the library below as well as the apartment above. Their investigations proved, as might be supposed, entirely fruitless; not a trace was found of any connexion with the partisans of the Holy Inquisition. There were many books of mysterious import, which were unintelligible to the comprehension of the corregidor and his satellites; but, as their titles furnished no clue to the object of their search, they were passed over without comment. Vincente, who was anxious to give them every facility, occasionally stepped forward to translate the Latin title of some ancient manuscript, or explain the cabalistic meaning of certain works which became objects of suspicion to their ignorant inspectors.
The premises of Vincente were not spacious; the ground floor, which was entered by a door from the arcade, was lined with shelves, and filled with books for the purposes of trade. A small staircase led from thence to an entresol above, which comprised the chamber of the owner, and a small closet adapted to the purposes of his toilette.
The corregidor, then, having strictly examined these apartments, was on the point of taking his departure, with those feelings of disappointment and vexation which men in office generally experience when they have trenched upon the liberty of the subject without gaining any information on the object which they have in view. He was going to descend the staircase when the idea struck him that this closet had never been opened. It contained nothing, on examination, calculated to awaken suspicion; there were no caskets to harbour secret papers, no bureau or writing-desk which might betray a treasonable correspondence; a washing-stand and pitcher were its sole ornaments, save and except a hanging shelf, on which were carelessly arrayed a few old musty books according to all appearance the refuse of the owner’s collection. The corregidor cast an unconcerned glance at these relics, when it happened by chance that his eye lighted upon the title of an odd volume, which at once called to his mind the object of his visit. It was a small octavo edition of “Directorium Inquisitorium,” [turns up in Fall of the house of Usher as Usher’s favorite reading] by the Dominican Eymeric de Gironne.
He thought he had obtained a great prize, a sure key to found and accusation. He eagerly commanded his clerk to take possession of this important document, who, following the impulse of his chief, seized it so roughly that he pulled down with it the book which was placed next to it on the shelf. To the astonishment of the corregidor and his suite, this book proved to be the identical work published by Palmast in 1482, which had created so much noise in the town by the singular competition excited at the sale, and the unusually high price at which it had been purchased.
Their first impulse was to question Vincente as to the manner in which he had become possessed of this valuable book; it was fresh in every one’s memory how strenuously he had wished to make the acquisition, and not less, how publicly before the world those wishes had been thwarted by the pertinacity of his opponents. Vincente resolutely pretended that the work had been re-sold to him after the auction. This was deemed not only improbable, but impossible. The determined hostility with which the booksellers generally were leagued against him put it out of the question that they should afterwards have ceded to him that which they had previously purchased at such an exorbitant rate in order to deprive him of it.
The corregidor was divided between two opinions; but, seeing ample scope for accusation against Don Vincente from both sources, thought it most advisable to arrest him on the first count as an adherent of the Jesuits; satisfied that if any room for indictment could be deduced from the book found in his possession, it would be very easy afterwards to follow up the matter. Notwithstanding all his remonstrances, and unavailing protestations of innocence, immediate orders were given to convey Vincente to prison. He humbly implored for a few hours’ respite, to make some arrangement of his private affairs; but the request being deemed inadmissible, the seals were put upon his premises, and the regidores escorted him to the public gaol.
On the following day an alcalde mayor proceeded to Vincente’s warehouse, and drew up a formal inventory of all his books. When this catalogue was made public it gave rise to the most horrible inferences, and furnished at once a clue to the mysterious crimes which had so lately filled the city with terror and alarm. The first proof of the nefarious system which had been carried on by the culprit was the discovery in his possession of a work on the Antiquities of Spain and Africa [Bernardo Aldrete. Varias Antiguedades de Espana Africa y Otras Provincias. Amberes: Iuan Hasrey, 1614, “Bernard Aldrete” is mentioned eg in Wilhelm Gesenius, Essays and Dissertations in Biblical Literatura 1829], with marginal notes in the autograph writing of Bernardo Aldrete. It was attested that this valuable book had been purchased of Vincente by Don Pablo Rafael N_____ only a few days before his death. Several other works, equally precious, were detected as forming part of his library, which it was known, or rather now recollected, had been disposed of by him to various persons, who had afterwards been assassinated.
The convictions were now so strong that denial was in vain. Don Vincente, after repeated attempts to controvert the evidence, and resting his case solely on flat contradiction, was at last forced to yield, and acknowledge the crimes imputed to him. He was further induced to enter into more ample confessions by the promise that his library, which seemed to be the sole object of his idolatry, should be preserved entire, and kept as a monument of literature for future ages.
The rest of this extraordinary drama will be best explained by a narrative of the trial, which took place in 1836, at the Sala de los ministros del crimen, held at Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia.
Don Vincente was a man of short stature, stoutly built, but of a sallow complexion; his air was unembarrassed, and he replied to all the questions put to him by the authorities in a firm tone, without any hesitation.
The court was crowded to excess, as the thrilling interest excited by the late murders had wound up the public mind to an extraordinary ferment: every one was eager to behold the author, and hear the details of events which for the last few months had filled his mind with constant terror and apprehension. As soon as the alcalde governador , or chief judge, had taken his seat on the bench, silence was proclaimed, and the prisoner, escorted by a party of regidores, was brought into court, and placed at the bar. The numerous witnesses on this trial consisted, first, of those who had been present at the discovery of the murdered bodies; secondly, those who could identify their persons; and, lastly, those who could identify the books which the unfortunate men had purchased of Vincente previous to their death: these latter were principally men in the trade, or friends of the deceased. They formed together a train of conclusive evidence, sufficient to satisfy the most sceptical hearer; but, had it not been so, every doubt vanished when the prisoner, being called on for his defence, addressed the court without emotion in the following terms, having first made the sign of the cross on his lips and on his breast, in token of his veracity.
“I have promised to speak the truth, and I stand here determined to make a full confession. I only beg to premise, that if I am guilty, I have been solely influenced by motives which are in themselves creditable and praiseworthy. The convulsions which agitate Spain at this moment, the devastation of the convents, and the dispersion of the valuable libraries contained within their walls, have given a death-blow to the cultivation of literature. It has been my sole object to promote the neglected interests of science, and preserve for posterity those inestimable treasures which the Vandalism of the present age is daily seeking to destroy,–treasures which, once lost, can never be replace. If I have acted ill, if I have committed crimes with a view to this laudable end, let me then pay the penalty of the law. I ask no favour for myself, but spare my books; they indeed are guiltless. With what justice can you punish the saddle for the faults which the mule may have committed?
“It was sorely against my inclination that I consented to sell that valuable work to the importunate curate; I was hardly pressed for money, and my poverty prevailed; but I call the holy St. John (that patron of authors) to witness all the efforts which I afterwards made to disgust the reverend father with his purchase. I told him that the type was faulty, that a page was missing, but he paid no attention to my remarks; he counted down the price that was asked, and left my shop. No sooner had he got to the end of the arcade than I found myself beset with an irresistible desire to recover the book which he had carried away. The purchaser has proceeded down the Calle mayor. I ran after him with all speed, and overtook him near to the Atarasanas; there again I renewed my entreaties to cancel our bargain. ‘Here,’ said I, ‘here is your money; restore to me the book; I have a particular wish not to part with it!’ All was in vain; he obstinately persisted in his refusal. I followed him still, as he walked, urging him by every argument in my power to grant my request, without producing the slightest effect. We had arrived at an unfrequented spot, and were quite alone. I saw that no hope was left of bringing him to hear reason; he even seemed to exult in his obstinacy. This made me angry; I drew out my knife, and stabbed him in the throat: he fell to the ground, vomiting blood at his mouth. I then took out my breviary, and have him the absolution in extremis; after that another stab, and he was dead.
“I managed to throw the body into a ditch, and covered it over with dead leaves,–a precaution which I have not always been in the habit of taking. I brought away my book; here it is; (and the prisoner pointed it out among those which were ranged on a table in the court as evidence for the prosecution.) It is an exceedingly curious work,” said he, “’Vigiliæ mortuorum secundum chorum ecclesiæ Maguntinæ,’ in quarto gothic, in red and black character, without cypher, but with the catchword.
[Turns up in Poe, Fall of the house of Usher (1852) http://books.google.com/books?vid=ISBN0631206523&id=Ew-7k8-tOt4C&pg=PA93&lpg=PA93&dq=Vigili%C3%A6+mortuorum+secundum+chorum+ecclesi%C3%A6+Maguntin%C3%A6&hl=es&sig=Mky8W2lOkItOr05qt7pO5xtIbA8]
JUDGE. —“But it would appear that this is not the only murder that you have committed with a similar object?”
VINCENTE. —“Certainly not. You may have observed that my library was well stocked as well as select. As the proverb says–‘Non se gano zamora en una ora.’ Zamora was not gained in an hour.”
[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.]
JUDGE. —“Explain then to the court in what manner you assassinated the other victims.”
VINCENTE.—”By the Holy Virgin, and all the saints in Paradise ! nothing could be more simple than the means which I employed. In the first place, when I remarked that a customer was intent upon having any particular book which I had no inclination to part with, and the price he offered was such as I could not refuse without injury to my trade, I took care, previous to the delivery, to cut out one or two pages, which I laid by carefully in a private drawer. Little time would elapse before the buyer would return to complain of the faulty edition I had sold him; and, when I had got the book in my hand as if to examine it, I could easily draw an unsuspecting man into my closet, where the never-failing knife, and a stout arm, soon solved all difficulties, and left me again in possession of the coveted prize. When the night came I waited till all were asleep, and then, taking the corpse on my shoulders, I carried it out wherever my fancy suggested, sometimes in one direction, sometimes in another; but seldom, as you may have remarked, taking any trouble to secrete it.”
JUDGE. —“Shocked as every one must be at your recital, let me ask you a question. Did your conscience never smite you at the idea of lifting your murderous hand against your fellow-creatures, made after the image of your God?”
VINCENTE. —“Man is mortal: a little sooner, or a little later, God calls them to himself, and life is gone. But scientific books must be preserved above everything; their value is inappreciable. On that account I have always carefully replaced the pages which I had cut out for my own purposes, that no responsibility of that nature might rest with me.”
JUDGE. —“You committed, then, all these assassinations from no other motive than to secure the possession of these books?”
VINCENTE. —“Books! Books! What else could it be?
Es la gloria de Dios! It is the glory of God!”
[son la gloriaâ€¦]
JUDGE. —“There is evidence to prove that you were accessory to the death of Augustin Patxot: do you plead guilty to this charge?”
VINCENTE. —“It is quite true. I could not allow an object so valuable as the only edition in the world of Lambert Palmart to remain in his possession.”
JUDGE. —“But, how did you manage to gain admittance into his house at such an unusual hour of the night?”
VINCENTE. —“I entered by the window over his shop door; I watched my opportunity when he had left it open on account of the sultry heat which prevailed at that time. I made my way to his bedroom, where I found him fast asleep; I slipped a rope, which I had previously soaped for the purpose, round his neck, then twisted it with a stick, and he soon had ceased to exist. My next object was to secure the precious work, of which he had so unhandsomely deprived me at the auction. After all, he was a good sort of man, poor Patxot; and though he had used me scurvily, I bore him no malice or hatred for it. As soon as he was dead, I took off the rope, and set fire to his bed.”
JUDGE. —“But you, who profess such extreme veneration for books, how could you make up your mind thus to commit the whole stock-in-trade of a bookseller indiscriminately to the flames?”
VINCENTE. —“Oh! as for that, he had none that were of much value. I had taken away the only books which were of any importance; and, besides, it was necessary to my plot that the premises should be burnt, otherwise, if the loss of such a work had been remarked, suspicions might have arisen which would have defeated all the objects of my enterprise. It was absolutely requisite for my safety that everything which was missing should be supposed to have perished in the fire.”
JUDGE. —“Did you leave all the money on Patxot’s table untouched?”
VINCENTE. —“Me! I take money! Do you think then I am a robber?”
After these explicit confessions, the task of the counsel for the prosecution was attended with no difficulty; the crimes were so substantiated that he had no hesitation in requiring a verdict of guilty.
The counsel for the defence then rose, and in a very ingenious speech exhorted the magistrates on the bench not to be biased by the simple declarations of his client, who had no right in the eye of the law to criminate himself. There are instances, he remarked, where men of morbid feelings, nearly approaching to melancholy madness, languish for death, and, though unwilling to commit suicide, are ready to accuse themselves of any crimes, to which they are total strangers, for the sole purpose of meeting with that fate which every other being would try to avoid. The very circumstance of a man courting his own condemnation should render his judges very cautious of listening to such unnatural revelations, much less should they pretend to pronounce him guilty on such grounds. This maxim being once allowed, and this principle established, he maintained that no proof existed to criminate his client. The books which had been found in Vincente’s possession, might have been easily obtained through other channels than those detailed in the indictment.
In reply to this, the opposing counsel observed that it was matter of notoriety among all literary characters that only one copy of the edition published in 1482 by Lambert Palmart was now left in existence.
“So little are you justified in that assertion,” said Vincente’s counsel to his opponent, “that I can prove the contrary. Here is the catalogue of a bookseller in Paris, which contains another copy of that edition; and, if there already exist a second, we may argue on the probability of finding a third.”
This species of defence seemed to have very little weight with the alcaldes on the bench; they took a short time to consider the case, and unanimously condemned Vincente to the gallows. During the pleadings of his own counsel, Vincente had hitherto preserved the greatest firmness and composure; but, when this allusion was made to the copy in Paris, he was suddenly seen to exhibit signs of inward pain and vexation; in fact, he lost all command over himself, and burst into tears.
The alcalde governador, pleased with this late symptom of repentance, said to him in a soothing tone, “At length, then, Vincente, you begin to understand the full enormity of your crime.”
VINCENTE.—“Alas! Señor Alcalde, my error has indeed been unpardonable.”
ALCALDE.—“It is still within your power to implore the clemency of our gracious Queen Regent.”
VINCENTE.—“Ah! if you could but know how miserable I feel.”
ALCALDE.—“If the justice of men is inflexible, there is another justice which is tempered with mercy, to which the truly repentant sinner may always look for pardon.”
VINCENTE.—“Ah! Señor Alcalde, then, after all, mine is not the only copy?”
- Criminal love of books
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