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The Private Library of Antonio de Solís y Rivadeneyra (1610-1686)

August 1, 2012

A guest blog by Victoria Pineda

My contribution to the Writers and their Libraries conference deals with the library of Antonio de Solís y Rivadeneyra (1610-1686). Solís was a high official of Philip IV’s Secretary of State, and a well known poet and a playwright. When he was appointed as royal chronicler of the Indies in 1661 he gave up the writing of poetry and drama to undertake research for the Historia de la conquista de México(History of the Conquest of Mexico), which would not be published until 23 years later, and was to be received great success in Europe and the Americas. The wages he received as royal chronicler were added to his other two salaries as secretary tothe King and second official of the Secretary of State, which secured him a stable position and allowed him to enhance his home with books, paintings, jewels and tapestries.

His nineteen-door bookcases kept about 1,500 volumes, and the collection is considered to be among the richest private libraries in Golden Age Spain. The volumes have not been located, and may not survive, but the “post-mortem” inventory of the books in the library offers a unique insight into what was there.  After Solis’ death, a bookseller named Anisson made a detailed survey (one of several inventories made of all of Solís possessions according to class of object — paintings, clocks, chasubles, etc. — prepared by several specialists) of Solis’ books.  As he usually recorded the name of the autor, (part of) the title, the language, format and price, and also whether the book contained illustrations or not, it is posible to reconstruct what Solis was Reading, though the exact edition may not be known.

Anisson’s appraisal of the library suggests that while Solís did not particularly care for fiction (although he did own the standards of the time), he had a keen interest in history, politics, history-writing handbooks, dictionaries, military treatises, geography, religion, and quite a few other disciplines. Several significant conclusions may be drawn from the analysis of the inventory of this multi-lingual, multi-disciplinary library. Firstly, an examination of the general household inventory, which contains the library appraisal, allows us to imagine some of Solís’s “protocols of Reading”. (I borrow Robert Scholes’s term to refer to the material setting of the act of reading and writing.) Secondly, it allows us to argue that Solís collected books as an affirmation of his own self and of his professional status (one of the three categories of private libraries in the early modern period, according to Valentino Romani). Thirdly, the catalog also suggests that Solís conceived the writing of history as an art where erudition and rhetoric played equally important roles at a time when the foundations of a new kind of history, more “scientific” or “critical”, were being laid. Lastly, a consideration of the books Solís owned readdresses an issue that has been almost completely neglected by historians and critics, namely, the interpretation of Solís’s History of the Conquest of Mexico as a work with a high political content, where the figure of Hernán Cortés is presented to the King, to whom the book is dedicated, as a sort of Machiavellian hero, at a time of such great political, social and economic distress as were in Spain the two last decades of the seventeenth century.

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