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October 26, 2007

The Voltaire of Mexico
Satiric Copper Engravings in Bistre

49. FERNÁNDEZ DE LIZARDI, José Joaquín. Fabulas del Pensador Mexicano [engraved title]. Mexico: Imprenta de Altamirano, 1831. Engraved illustrated upper wrapper, [2], 103, [3] pp., 39 (of 40; lacking plate 27) unattributed copper-engraved plates illustrating the fables printed in bistre (including engraved wrapper) by José Mariano Torreblanca. 12mo (15 x 10 cm), later plain papers wrappers with contemporary endleaves preserved. Upper wrapper and first few leaves slightly darkened, lower right blank corner of second plate supplied, a few leaves at center of book with small ink stain in right blank margin, light scattered foxing.

            Second edition (the first edition was published in 1817, but the engravings were printed in black rather than in bistre). González Obregon, Lizardi, p. 61. Mathes, La Ilustración en México colonial, p. 139: “Fine, delicate line exemplified the work of José Mariano Torreblanca.” Palau 89081. Romero de Terreros, Grabados y grabadores in la Nueva España, pp. 543-544 (Torreblanca). For the first edition, see: Gonzalez Obregón, Fernandez de Lizardi, p. 61. Medina, México 11287. Porrúa 6793. The first edition is legendarily rare, as is this one. No copy of the first or second edition has appeared in the auction records for the past thirty years.

            In a publisher’s statement at the end of Vol. II of their 1831 edition of Quijotica, it is stated:

Las Fabulas del mismo autor; es tal el consumo que ha tenido esta obrita entre los niños, que se ha echo necesaria en algunas escuelas de Méjico, pues con motivo al estimulo de las estampas, y estar escritas al estilo del pais, los niños aprenden á leer con facilidad.

El total consumo de los ejemplares que se imprimieron; ha hecho, que los editores hayan reimpreso mas cantidad en el mismo volumen de octavo, con cuarenta y una estampas, y por haber ya desde un principio erogado los crecidos gastos de la láminas y demas, se han propuesto darlas con mas comodidad, lo que facilitará á el público, y á los niños, no carecer de la utilidad de su lectura. Se espenden en esta imprenta, y en la alacena de libros que esta en la esquina de los portales de Mercaderes y Agustinos, á un peso á la rustica y doce reales en pasta.

            The text of this work, according to Obregón, was still in print as late as 1886. The text was made required reading in some Mexican schools. The author, a talented polymath sometimes referred to as the Voltaire of Mexico, here presents a very early Mexican experiment in the fable genre. He states that his intent in writing this work is to gently reform manners and morals by means of instructive tales.

            Fernández de Lizardi (1776-1827) was probably the most prolific and important writer of his time in Mexico and Latin America. Although he excelled as a publisher and writer of controversial periodicals, for which he is best remembered, he is also known as the first Latin American novelist and an important poet and playwright. He was a significant translator as well. Basically a liberal at heart, he was by turns persecuted and rewarded for his views. Above all, he was one of the Mexican champions of freedom of the press. He died of tuberculosis at the age of fifty, and due to extreme poverty was buried in an anonymous grave without the epitaph he had chosen for his tombstone : “Aquí yace el pensador mexicana, quién hizo lo que pudo por su patria” (in translation: “Here lie the ashes of the Mexican Thinker, who did the best he could for his country”). ($1,000-2,000)

Sold. Hammer: $800.00; Price Realized: $940.00

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