detail from Labels for Hair Ribbons by Manuel Ocampo a delectable selection of oriental appetizers
Tuesday, March 23, 2004

: . One Man's Library, Manila, 1583

Sixteenth-Century Map of Manila Bay

From Books of the Brave: Being an Account of Books and of Men in the Spanish Conquest and Settlement of the Sixteenth-Century New World by Irving A. Leonard:
    About a quarter of the way through a volume of yellowed Inquisition papers preserved in the General Archive of the Nation at Mexico City are seven thin, brownish folios, possibly of Chinese rice paper.[1] In quality and appearance these sheets differ considerably from the other manuscript pages bound with them, of which practically all relate to matters in New Spain. Caught in the binding before the first of these folios of contrasting texture and color is a scrap of white paper with the brief legend:

    January 1583. Documents on various matters sent by the Commissioner of Manila to the Inquisitors at Mexico City.[2]

    On both sides of the first sheet are listed in rapid but legible hand some fifty-four short titles of books. All but one of the first eleven names are preceded by the Spanish articles un or unos; the rest, except for the plural "books for children" and "primers," appear without any indication of quantity. It seems likely, therefore, that this collection was a small, personal library, mainly of single copies, which fact soon moved the listing clerk to omit further numerical designations with the remaining items. Surmounting the first page of this document is the customary sign of the Cross, under which appears the cryptic caption:

    Memoria de los libros sigtes q traygo yo trebiña--1583.

    No other notation appears on either side of the sheet, and the documents following offer no clue to the identity of "trebiña" (or possibly treviño),[3] or to the circumstances attending the compilation of this interesting list of printed works. It seems safe to deduce, however, that this particular document relates to a collection of books brought half around the world to Spain's most distant possessions less than two decades after the effective occupation of the Philippine Islands by the Adelantado Legaspi, and barely a dozen years after the bold capture of Manila from Mohammedan hands by Spanish conquistadors.

One could easily recognize some of the titles on the list as the source material for the many metrical romances written during the Spanish colonial period in the Philippines:
    Taken as a whole this selection of literature is a valid reflection of contemporary tastes and, save for a few lapses, suggests that the unknown Trebiña was a gentleman of considerable discrimination. Particularly interesting is his choice of belles-lettres, the largest single group, in which he maintains a fairly even balance between prose and poetry. Some four or five titles include the now shopworn but still popular romances of chivalry, but they are hardly representative of this literary fashion at its prime. La historia de los nobles cavalleros Oliveros de Castilla y Artus d'Algarbe and the Historia del emperador Carlomagno y de los doze pares de Francia are mere novelettes or long short stories which, however, claimed readers to the end of the colonial period. The remaining works of this character on the Manila list of 1583 are in verse and hence less typical. The Caballero determinado is presumably the version of Olivier de la Marche's work Chevalier délibéré so often noted on contemporary lists. Another verse rendition of this French novel of chivalry was made by Jerónimo de Urrea, who prepared a translation of Ariosto's Orlando furioso, also present on the Trebiña list. Of similar metrical form was the Caballero de la clara Estrella composed in royal octaves by Andrés de Losa

The date on the document ("Enero, 1583") is most likely a mistake (see note 2). If the date had indeed been correct, it would have added a certain poignancy to the document's retrieval for the books listed in it would have certainly been destroyed one month after they were catalogued, turned to ashes in a fire that razed Spanish Manila. The date would have marked the find as confirmation of an irrecoverable loss. On February of 1583:
    Governor Ronquillo...died after serving less than three years in office...While the funeral services were in progress at the St. Augustine monastery, wax tapers placed on the huge catafalque, which reached nearly to the ceiling, ignited the timbered roof of the structure and the flames, fanned by a strong wind, quickly consumed the entire building, from which only the Holy Sacrament was rescued. The conflagration spread to the nearby bamboo huts thatched with the tinderlike nipa leaf, and in the space of two hours most of the city was reduced to a mass of charred and smoking ruins. All public buildings were destroyed, including the main church and its precious organ, the hospital, the bishop's residence, the warehouse stocked with goods for transport to Mexico, the fort, the armory and its magazines with all the powder and munitions on hand. So intense and voracious were the flames that they even melted most of the cannon and artillery that the Spaniards sorely needed for the defense of the city.

Destroyed also was "a very good library" in the living quarters of Domingo de Salazar, Bishop of Manila and the "Las Casas of the Philippines."

"One Man's Library, Manila, 1583" was the only article on the Philippines that Irving A. Leonard wrote during his distinguished career as a cultural historian of colonial Latin America. But Leonard had more than passing acquaintance with the Philippines. Born in 1896, his "interest in Hispanic and Hispanic American culture" was sparked when "as a child [he] heard people talk of the [Spanish American] war and [he] avidly read the adventure stories about the campaigns in Cuba and the Philippines." And after graduating from Yale, where he studied Spanish but received a degree in "pre-forestry," he honed his Spanish language skills in, all of all places, Iloilo:
    [In 1921,] I went to Wall Street to try to find a position with a company that would send me abroad. I hoped to go to Buenos Aires, but got a job instead with an import-export company, the Pacific Commercial Company, which sent me to the Philippines. It took me a month to get there, and I stopped off in both Japan and China. Ultimately. I spent three years in Manila, Cebu, and Iloilo; the last was an interesting place, with a largely triligual situation. The older generation still spoke Spanish. Business was conducted in English, domestic life with the servants in the local native language, and social life in Spanish. Also, during my last year in the Philippines, I taught mathematics, which I did not know very well, at the University of the Philippines in Los Baños. I read a great deal those three years and remember especially the novels of Vicente Blasco Ibáñez. I was anxious to learn Spanish thoroughly, but at the same time I came to the realization that language was only an instrument and that literature was a way to further knowledge of a culture. I also realized that while literature gives one a feeling for the people, a knowledge of history is equally important.

There, Leonard also met, and married, his wife.

Leonard eventually returned to the United States, furthered his studies, served as Professor of Spanish American Literature and History at the University of Michigan, and authored several influential books so finely written that they read less like scholarly works and more like the fantastic fictions of the Latin American literary "boom." He died in 1996. Deposited in the Bentley Historical Library is a 23 page journal that Leonard wrote while in the Philippines. The library's archivists describe it thus:
    In 1921-1922, while teaching in the Philippine Islands, Irving Leonard...toured the mountain region of northern Luzon and the island of Cebu. During his travels, Leonard maintained a diary which described the places he visited and his impressions of the peoples and culture of Cebu and northern Luzon. He divided his journal into three sections which he entitled, "The Santo Niño of Cebu," "Afoot in the Mountains of Northern Luzon," and "Ten days afoot in the Mountains of Northern Luzon, Philippine Islands." Leonard also included a few photographs of the Philippines which he pasted onto the pages of the journal.


1. "Archivo General de la Nación (Mexico City, Inquisición tomo 133); this document (Appendix, Document 4) is analyzed in Irving A. Leonard, 'One Man's Library, Manila, 1583,' Hispanic Review, vol. 15, issue 1 (Jan. 1947), pp. 84-100."
2. "Possibly a mistake was made in the date. The newly appointed Commissioner for Manila, Fray Francisco Manrique, received his instructions in Mexico City on March 1, 1583, and must, therefore, have reached the Philippines some months later. Since it was in January, the writer may have inadvertently set down the year just closed, the actual date being 1584."
3. "The terminal letter of the name is unlike any other o or a in the manuscript, but the distinguished Spanish paleographer, Dr. Agustín Millares Carlo, who kindly had a photographic copy of the document made for me, gives the reading 'trebiña.' This name is thus far unidentified. There was a book merchant in Mexico City about the time of this document by the name of Juan de Treviño. See Francisco Fernández del Castillo, Libros y libreros en el siglo XVI (Mexico City, 1914), index."
3. See John J. Tepaske, "An Interview with Irving A. Leonard," The Hispanic American Historical Review, vol. 63, no. 2 (May 1983), pp. 233-253.

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