- Andrés González de Barcia and the Creation of the Colonial Spanish American Library
Andrés González de Barcia is something of a mystery. He was one of the most important "Americanists" of the eighteenth century who single-handedly created a canon of sixteenth-century Spanish chronicles, publishing annotated editions of dozens of authors whose works are today considered classics (e.g., Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, Antonio de Herrera, Gregorio García, Juan de Torquemada, Antonio de León Pinelo, Alonso de Ercilla, Hernán Cortés, Fernando Colón, Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo, Francisco López de Gómara, and Agustín de Zarate). A powerful courtier and a member of several royal councils, Barcia put together a formidable editorial and collecting operation in the early eighteenth century while choosing to remain anonymous. To do so, Barcia deployed several strategies, including using pen names, attributing agency to printers, and, more important, presenting his own work as marginalia to the works of others. More often than not, the prefaces, footnotes, and indexes that Barcia appended to his editions amounted to separate works altogether. Barcia should perhaps be considered the antithesis of Montaigne, namely, an early modern intellectual who strove not to be an "author." Barcia was so successful at concealing his identity that he has attracted almost no scholarly attention. Paradoxically, one of the most prolific eighteenth-century editors and collectors of Americana has remained virtually unknown until now.
Jonathan Carlyon has written a learned, meticulous study of Barcia, revealing the vast editorial efforts of the latter. This focus on Barcia allows Carlyon to contribute to the literature on the histories of the book and authorship. Carlyon demonstrates the large amount of additional material (often the product of meticulous archival research) Barcia inserted in his numerous editions, usually in the form of prefaces, footnotes, thematic indexes, and parenthetical notes embedded in the original text. In some cases, particularly in Barcia's editions of Gregorio García's Origen de los Indios and Antonio de León Pinelo's Epítome the additions overwhelmed and dwarfed the originals.
But why would anyone seek to pass brand-new work simply as marginalia of previous published works? Carlyon unfortunately does not offer a clear answer to this puzzle. He insists that Barcia's public role as a member of several royal councils partially helps explains Barcia's reluctance to claim the books as his own. Barcia, Carlyon argues, was a patriot who embarked in a vast editorial operation in order to set the record of Spanish deeds in the Indies straight against foreign innuendo (the "black legend"). Being a public figure and seeking not to attract attention to his polemical intent, Barcia concealed his identity at every turn.
This might well be right, but Barcia's puzzling behavior seems to be part of a much larger cultural pattern that requires elucidation. Anyone who has done work on the early modern Spanish empire has surely noticed that works often circulated in manuscript, not print. As the historian of the book Fernando Bouza has recently argued in Corre manuscrito (2001), early modern Spain was characterized by a lively scribal culture, a pattern not unusual in the rest of Europe. From Adrian Johns's The Nature of the Book (1998) we know that it took some time for the English elites to own up to the virtues of the printing press, originally preferring to circulate their wares in manuscripts, for print was thought to be a medium of [End Page 90] charlatans, hackers, poseurs, and struggling lower-class "authors." The circulation of manuscripts using pen names, for example, remained typical of the elite public sphere in eighteenth-century British America, as David Shields has masterfully demonstrated in Civil Tongues (1997). Barcia seems to have partaken of this elite ancien régime suspicion of authorship yet paradoxically realized the importance of print culture to the propaganda...