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The Cervantes Collection

This consists of works by and about Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, the Spanish novelist and creator of Don Quixote.

It contains a good selection of early and illustrated editions and now numbers about 1,300 volumes. It includes books and periodicals, translations in a number of languages and bibliographies and catalogues in Spanish. The collection is available for reference only.

The Cervantes collection is the second oldest special collection held by Birmingham Central Library. The original collection was donated by William Bragge, a highly successful, much travelled, cultured businessman, who, prompted by the setting up of the Shakespeare Library here, gave his Cervantes books, the most important part of his extensive collections, to the city of his birth.

Although born in Birmingham, the son of a well known jeweller, William Bragge spent much of his life in South America, where he built gas, railway and waterworks for Buenos Aires, and had the Order of the Rose conferred on him by the Emperor of Brazil. He also visited Spain frequently, and it was probably these connections that led to his particular interest in Spanish literature and Cervantes.

Tragically, very few of his books survived the disastrous fire which destroyed the Reference Library in 1879, but his collection, recorded in the old library catalogues, was undoubtedly very choice. An attempt was made to rebuild the collection, and although those books that were destroyed have not been replaced, many interesting editions have been acquired.


Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra was born in 1547 in Alcalde Henares, Spain. He had a very varied, not particularly successful, career; he enlisted as a soldier and fought bravely at the battle of Lepanto, where his left hand was maimed; was enslaved by the Turks and ransomed after four escape attempts; married, unhappily, a girl seventeen years his junior, and also had an illegitimate daughter, who grew up to be much given to litigation in which he became embroiled.

After his ransom from the Turks, he wrote the pastoral romance, La Galatea, and turned for a time to writing plays, but these were unsuccessful, and he sought official employment. He worked as a tax collector, and, as commissary to the Navy, commandeered provisions for the Armada, a thankless task that he performed with such zeal that he was excommunicated for requisitioning grain belonging to the Dean and Chapter of Seville. He got into trouble over his accounts, and into debt, losing his official employment, and was imprisoned at least twice, although there is no proof of the story that he wrote Don Quixote in prison. This picaresque novel appeared in 1605 when Cervantes was fifty-eight, and marks the beginning of his serious literary activity.

Don Quixote was an immediate success, but brought Cervantes very little money. It was followed by the twelve Novelas ejemplares, which appeared in 1613, and by the poem Viaje de Parnaso, a burlesque poem about contemporary poets. He then returned to the writing of plays, and Ocho comedias y ocho entremesas nuevos was published in 1615. Cervantes was working on part II of Don Quixote when he learned of the publication of the spurious Segundo tomo del ingenioso hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha by Alonso Fernandez de Avellaneda, published at Tarragona in 1614, which included a preface ridiculing Cervantes. Cervantes replied bitterly in the latter part of his own sequel, which appeared in 1615. Cervantes last work, Los trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda, was published posthumously in 1617, the year after his death.

Don Quixote

The initial aim of Don Quixote was to parody the romances of chivalry, but within the picaresque framework provided by the knight and his squire travelling the roads of 17th century Spain, universal philosophical themes are examined. Don Quixote, the idealist, and Sancho Panza, the realist, discuss the nature of reality and truth, the relativity of judgement and the purpose of existence, and the reader interprets their adventures in the light of these discussions. The interplay of these two characters and the constant concern with the deeper reality beneath the apparent surface are what make Don Quixote one of the worlds most enduringly popular and most often translated books.

The collection includes facsimiles of the first editions of parts 1 and 11 of Don Quixote. The earliest original editions in the department are dated 1611 and 1616, both in Spanish but printed in Brussels. Part 1 of Don Quixote was translated into English in 1616, but the library does not possess a copy, although it does have the first English edition of both parts, 1620, one of the books which survived the fire.

We also have editions in Bengali, Croatian, Czech, Dutch, including an important early illustrated edition of 1673 with plates by Bouttats; Estonian, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Latin, Portuguese, Russian, Swedish and Turkish. Also worth a mention is the 1738 edition in four volumes, in Spanish, but printed in England by Tonson, generally considered the best early edition, with excellent text, clear type and numerous illustrations. This was the first large format edition.

The first edition printed in Spain to bear comparison with it was the 1780 one in four volumes, edited by the Real Academia Espanola. In 1742 Tonson also brought out Charles Jarvis English translation in another excellent edition, and in 1755 appeared the first edition of a translation by Tobias Smollett, author of several picaresque novels that show the influence of Cervantes. The 1781 edition in six volumes, annotated by Dr. Bowle, is important for its quotations that were extensively used by later editors. All these editions are in the collection.

Novelas Ejemplares (Exemplary Novels)

Five of these, the earliest, are simple, exciting Italianate stories of intrigue; the remaining seven consider the human condition in the light of Cervantes experience and are steadily becoming more profoundly appreciated. The collection includes a facsimile of the first edition, 1613, the first Brussels edition, 1614, another very early edition printed at Barcelona in 1631, and translations into Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, Latvian and Russian.

Galatee. J. P.C. de Florian, 1793

La Galatea

Cervantes first romance, published in 1585, was a not wholly satisfactory pastoral novel in which the characters, courtiers imitating shepherds, discuss the nature of true love in prose and verse. The work never comes to grips with life, and it is perhaps a sign of Cervantes dissatisfaction with it that, although he continually promised a second part, it never materialised.

In the collection it is represented by the earliest edition printed in France (1611, in Spanish) by Spanish editions of 1618, 1738, and 1784, a rare Dutch translation of selections, 1643, and by translations into English, French and German. The collection also includes editions of Florians imitation of La Galatea, Galat, roman pastoral, including a very fine French edition of 1793 with early colour printed plates.

Los trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda

Unlike Don Quixote, Cervantes last work - The wanderings of Persiles and Sigismunda - was a serious romance of chivalry, but with a deep religious purpose; the knights and ladies are pilgrims in search not of platonic truth but of the religious truth of the Catholic faith. No other work of Cervantes enjoyed such immediate, if not lasting, popularity.

The collection includes an edition printed at Pamplona in the same year as the first, 1617, an early Brussels edition of 1618, the first English translation, 1619, and other translations into English, French and Italian. There is very comprehensive coverage of criticism in all languages, but particularly English. We also have the catalogues of Isidro Bonsom's collection at the Institut d Estudias Catalans, Barcelona; the catalogue of the Barcelona Biblioteca Central Cervantes Collection; Manuel Heinrichs bibliography, Iconografia de las ediciones del Quijote; exhibition catalogues from the Biblioteca Nacional, Madrid; and the periodicals Anales Cervantinos and Cervantes.

Suggested reading

You can check the availability of these items via the Library Catalogue

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra The ingenious hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha,translated with an introduction and notes by John Rutherford. Penguin Books 2000.

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra The history of that ingenious gentleman Don Quijote de la Mancha, translated from the Spanish by Burton Raffel. W.W.Norton & Company,1995.

Donald McCrory No ordinary man: the life and times of Miguel de Cervantes. Peter Owen, 2002

Access to the Collection

The collection is housed in the Library of Birmingham in Archives, Heritage and Photography

There is a card catalogue of the Cervantes Collection including accessions up to 1985. Entries for the complete collection can be found via the Library Catalogue. Please type Cervantes Saavedra, Miguel de.

Please note that it is necessary to make an appointment to see 17th century and some fine and illustrated editions.

Online Resources

Information about Cervantes in the Literature Resource Centre available on computers in Birmingham Libraries only.