The cursed book of Francesc Monsalvatje

Cover of a Monsalvatje family history
In 1889 a Catalan historian by the name of Francesc Monsalvatje y Fossas (if you’re spelling in Castilian, as was then still de rigueur) published a two-volume work about his local county of Besalú in Old Catalonia, in a tiny town there called Olot where his family is still important, subtitled Noticias Históricas. He was a keen medievalist, and this was an era when such enthusiasts more or less built their own fields. The works met with sufficient success in subscriptions that he turned to such things full-time and by its end, with four volumes published after his death in 1917 by his son Xavier, the series had run to twenty-eight volumes.

These are very hard books to get details on, at least in the UK. No library here has the full set; even the British Library only has twenty-three and nowhere else more than one or two. Citation tends not to help, as only the first few volumes actually name the series in which they’re numbered, so although historians using it tend to cite them as “NH [no.]” as if they were a single set, after the first two they don’t actually carry the words “Noticias Históricas” on them anywhere except sometimes the endpapers, so that tends not to be in their catalogue entries. The B. L., meanwhile, catalogues them all as a periodical under a title that none of them bear (have checked etc.) They’re really a credibly wide-ranging set of separate works. Most of them centre on Besalú, but not all, and for several monasteries and a large body of charters Monsalvatje’s volumes were all that existed until the twin projects Catalunya Romànica and Catalunya Carolíngia slowly supplanted them with new local studies and better editions of the charters. Monsalvatje’s editions, done in haste and with a habit of ellipsing out tedious details (like the names of witnesses – that’s me scuppered then), are often not exactly what one would wish but until the last three years, and beyond the year 1000 still, they have been all that there is and often include stuff whose location is now at best obscure. So it’s not a bad effort, even if it’s not quite the Pat. Lat.

For this reason I went through what the B. L. has quite carefully while I was working on Borrell II, and this means that as far as I know the only even-partway complete bibliography of the series online is buried in my notes files pages, where I mainly put it so as not to have to look them up again… But to err is human (though, as a friend of mine once put it, to really mess things up you need a computer). So it has been that I’ve been trying once more to get hold of Vol. XX, El Monasterio de San Pedro de Casseras, to check some stuff about that Catalan monastery, in which I’ve recently become quite interested, and also confirm one of Monsalvatje’s readings of a document that really says something quite different. It was easy enough to get the first time, when I didn’t take enough notes…

Monastery of Sant Pere de Casserres, Osona, Catalunya

The volume is technically in the B. L., and that’s where I first found it in 2005. But the first time I tried to order it up last month, the catalogue system threw a fit and ordered up the first six volumes of the series instead, and my corrected order didn’t come up before I had to leave. It does seem that the book was there then, though, because when I next went in a fortnight later and ordered it again I was told I couldn’t have it because it was still on its way back to the shelf from then. And the same four days later, despite my brandishing a piece of card that I’d been told meant they would check the shelf for me if it still wasn’t back. The day after next I went in again with time to spare to chase it down, and found that in the intervening time I’d lost my library pass. I’d ordered the book up by phone, but couldn’t get in to see if it was actually there, it was maddening. It was at this point that I became certain that the dratted volume was cursed, and toying with me. It’d been all right the first time I’d used it, because it had concealed from me the extra bits I needed to check, but now that I knew that, it was working extra time to keep me away, including causing awful wallet-handling errors that lost me two library passes.

When I subsequently got my pass replaced and went in, however, it was still on its way back to the shelf from the first time. Four tries over a month ought to be enough, didn’t it. I don’t suppose they have actually lost it, but wherever it is I feel that it’s laughing at me. Well, I’m now going into town to find out whether I can see it this time, or whether I have to start writing them notes in green biro and frothing until they go and look so as to quiet down the crazy man at the counter. I’ll let you know how I get on.

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3 responses to “The cursed book of Francesc Monsalvatje

  1. If the volume’s cursed you shouldn’t be trying to re-read it. In fact you should be very grateful you survived one encounter with the book. To try again would be foolhardy…but if you do ever get hold of it, be sure you wear gloves when you read, so the poison on the pages can’t seep into your skin…

  2. Lol, I’ve had a book like that, too. In the end I was lucky and found a used copy that didn’t cost a fortune. But I do suspect the dang buggers are sentinent and the saying of books talking about other books is closer to the truth than Eco and his predecessors imagined.

    At least, they multiply in some unexplainable way. :)

    Btw, I’ll get back to Heinrich IV and the role of the ministeriales as soon as I have that bunch of deadline stuff out of the way.

  3. I did in fact manage to order it successfully this time, at the cost of screwing up the order for the thing I wanted first and not getting that. No matter, that one was in the IHR. So far, in the words of the master, “I aten’t dead”. However, magistra, your comments remind me strongly that the first time I met you you were wearing a t-shirt from a Dorothy Sayers fan group… How much of those books did you soak up, hmm?

    Gabriele, my Henry IV and ministeriales comments were more intended for Prof. Muhlberger, the last thing I intend is to suck your time away from more profitable writing, but I’m sure whatever you might say would be very interesting…

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