The words “first” and “unique” are commonplace in describing the Hispanic Society’s extraordinary collection of rare books. The library’s earliest printed book, Speculum vitae humanae (Rome, 1468) by Rodrigo Sánchez Arévalo, bishop of Zamora, embodies several firsts, being the product of Italy’s first printers and the first book printed during an author’s lifetime. Lambert Palmart, one of Spain’s first printers, and Alfonso Fernández de Córdoba, the first native Spanish printer, issued the first Bible in any vernacular in 1478, the Valencian Bible, of which the sole surviving leaf is in the library. More familiar titles found among the incunabula are the first edition of Johanot Martorell’s classic Catalan chivalric novel, Tirant lo Blanch (Valencia, 1490), of which the library also holds a unique copy of the second edition of 1497; the first Spanish grammar and dictionary, Antonio de Nebrija’s Gramatica castellana (Salamanca, 1492) and Dictionarium (Salamanca, 1495); and the unique copy of the first edition of one of the most celebrated works of Spanish literature, Comedia de Calisto y Melibea ([Burgos, 1499?]), better known as La Celestina.
Virtually all of Spain’s literary masterworks are present in early, if not first, editions. The Hispanic Society possesses one of the finest collections of early poetry anthologies, romanceros and cancioneros, which combine works by both Spanish and Portuguese authors. The most celebrated poets of the Spanish language, such as Íñigo López de Mendoza, Juan de Mena, Juan Boscán, Garcilaso de la Vega, Luis de Góngora, Lope de Vega, Francisco de Quevedo, and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, appear in numerous original editions. Portuguese poets also are well represented, with particular emphasis on the first and later editions of the great epic by Luis de Camões, Os Lusiadas (Lisbon, 1572). The library’s collection of comedias, dramatic works composed in verse, is exceptional, including first editions by the masters of the Spanish stage: Lope de Vega, Tirso de Molina, and Calderón de la Barca.
The library is perhaps best known for its early works of prose fiction, especially the novel in its varied forms—sentimental, chivalric, pastoral, and picaresque. The anonymous Lazarillo de Tormes, the original picaresque novel and one of Spain’s greatest contributions to world literature, is present in numerous early editions and translations. Other classics of the picaresque genre are found in their first editions, such as Mateo Alemán’s Guzmán de Alfarache (Barcelona and Madrid, 1599) and Francisco de Quevedo’s Historia de la vida del Buscón (Zaragoza, 1626). Generally considered to be the first modern novel and the most celebrated work of Spanish literature, Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, figures prominently in the collection. The Hispanic Society is fortunate to have not only the first edition of both parts of Don Quixote (Madrid, 1605; 1615) but most of the early editions and translations.