Doctrina Christiana Book

The first book printed in the Philippines has been the object of a hunt which has extended from Manila to Berlin, and from Italy to Chile, for four hundred and fifty years. The patient research of scholars, the scraps of evidence found in books and archives, the amazingly accurate hypotheses of bibliographers who have sifted the material so painstakingly gathered together, combine to make its history a bookish detective story par excellence.

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It is easy when a prisoner has been arrested and brought to the dock to give details of his complexion, height, characteristics and identifying marks, to fingerprint him and to photograph him, but how inadequate was the description before his capture, how frequently did false scents draw the pursuer off the right track! It is with this in mind that we examine the subject of this investigation, remembering that it has not been done before in detail. And, to complete the case, the book has been photographed in its entirety and its facsimile herewith published.

In studying the Doctrina Christiana book of 1593 there are four general problems which we shall discuss. First, we shall give a physical description of the book. Secondly, we shall trace chronologically the bibliographical history of the Doctrina, that is, we shall record the available evidence which shows that it was the first book printed in the Philippines, and weigh the testimonies which state or imply to the contrary. Thirdly, we shall try to establish the authorship of the text, and lastly, we shall discuss the actual printing.

It hardly needs be told why so few of the incunabula of the Philippines have survived. The paper on which they were printed was one of the most destructible papers ever used in book production. The native worms and insects thrived on it, and the heat and dampness took their slower but equally certain toll. Add to these enemies the acts of providence of which the Philippines have received more than their share—earthquake, fire and flood—and the man-made devastations of war, combined with the fact that there was no systematic attempt made in the Philippines to preserve in archives and libraries the records of the past, and it can well be understood why a scant handful of cradle-books have been preserved. The two fires of 1603 alone, which burned the Dominican convent in Manila to the ground and consumed the whole of Binondo just outside the walls, must have played untold havoc upon the records of the early missionaries. Perhaps the only copies of early Philippine books which exist today, unchronided and forgotten, are those which were sent to Europe in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, and may now be lying uncatalogued in some library there.

One copy of this Doctrina Christiana book was sent to Philip II by the Governor of the Philippines in 1593; and in 1785 a Jesuit philologist, Hervas y Panduro, printed Tagalog texts from a then extant copy. Yet, since that time no example is recorded as having been seen by bibliographer or historian. The provenance of the present one is but imperfectly known. In the spring of 1946 William H. Schab, a New York dealer, was in Paris, and heard through a friend of the existence of a 1593 Manila book. He expressed such incredulity at this information that his friend, feeling his integrity impugned, telephoned the owner then and there, and confirmed the unbelievable “1593.” Delighted and enthused, Schab arranged to meet him, found that he was a Paris bookseller and collector who specialized in Pacific imprints and was fully aware of the importance of the volume, and induced him to sell the precious Doctrina. He brought it back with him to the United States and offered it to Lessing J. Rosenwald, who promptly purchased it and presented it to the Library of Congress. Where the book had been before it reached Paris we do not know. Perhaps it is the very copy sent to Philip II, perhaps the copy from which Hervas got his text. Indeed, it may have been churned to the surface by the late Civil War in Spain, and sent from there to France. In the course of years from similar sources may come other books to throw more light upon the only too poorly documented history of the establishment of printing in the Philippine Islands.

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