European studies blog

Exploring Europe at the British Library

29 January 2014

A hedgehog writes

Little did I think when I purchased this collection of model funeral sermons for the Library that I was also acquiring a precious gem of baroque prose:

Francisco de Rojas, O.F.M, Teatro funeral de la Yglesia Catholica por su humilde hijo Fr. Fr[ancis]co de Rojas califf[ica]dor del Santo Officio de la suprema Ynquisicion hijo de la S[an]ta Prou[inci]a de Castilla.  (En Madrid : en la Imprenta del Reyno, año 1637) Shelfmark RB.23.a.34198

Father Rojas had obviously suffered dreadfully in bringing his book to completion.  (As the contents are all from his pen he had only himself to blame.  He was not an editor waiting on his precious contributors to hand in their copy.)  

No teme el Herico cuitado el doloroso parto de sus hijuelos, por las puas que le traspassan las entrañas maternales, como yo el sacar a luz este quinto tomo, funebre Teatro de mi vida, parto de mi ingenio, y hijo de mi entendimiento, titulo con que bautizò los libros san Clemente Alexandrino.
[The hapless hedgehog does not fear the painful birth of her offspring, on account of the spikes which pierce her maternal vitals, as much as I [fear] to bring to light this fifth volume, the funereal Theatre of my life, offspring of my wit and child of my understanding; a title with which St Clement of Alexandria baptised books.]

The last reference here is to Stromata, ch. 1:

It is a good thing, I reckon, to leave to posterity good children. This is the case with children of our bodies. But words are the progeny of the soul. Hence we call those who have instructed us fathers.

16th-century woodcut of a  hedgehogThe hedgehog, from Conrad Gesner, Historiae animalium (Zurich, 1551-1557). 460.c.1-3.

17th-century writers loved an animal simile, and they didn’t let a fact get in the way of a good fable.  The Philobiblon website explains that baby hedgehogs, ‘are born swollen with fluid, so the prickles are beneath the surface of the skin. After birth, the fluid is absorbed and the prickles … emerge.’ The author credits for this information A Prickly Affair: My Life with Hedgehogs (London, 2008; YK.2009.a.33503) by Hugh Warwick, ‘a man who clearly doesn’t only live and breathe hedgehogs, but has certainly spent a lot of wet, cold English nights tracking them around the countryside.’

Rojas continues in the animalist vein when expressing gratitude to his patron:

No dessea tanto la temerosa liebreçuela, acosada de los perros, o açorada del milano, la espaciosa falda del monte, donde halla la guarida, y aluergue, como yo he desseado el amparo de vuestra Reuerendissima, monte el mas leuantado, y crecido que ojos regulares miran, para amparo de los pobrecillos: piedra de refugio para que salgan a luz los partos de los ingenios Religiosos.
[The timid little hare, harried by dogs or hectored by the hawk, does not desire the spacious mountainside, where she finds her burrow and refuge, as much as I have desired the protection of your Reverence, the most elevated and lofty mountain that common eyes behold, for the relief of the poor; a rock of refuge so that the offspring of religious wits may see the light of day.]

It seems to me that metaphors for reading are more common than metaphors for writing.  Reading as eating has a long history, from Revelation 10:10 to Bacon’s ‘Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested’. And we know some authors can make a real fuss about writing: Joseph Conrad used to talk about going into the ‘torture chamber’. Father Rojas lived at a time when striking imagery, the more far-fetched the better, was at a premium, and thus was born the writer as hedgehog.

Barry Taylor, Curator Hispanic Studies


Barry Taylor, ‘El hígado de don Juan Manuel: una imagen de placer y provecho en El conde Lucanor’, Actes del VII Congrés de l’Associació Hispànica de Literatura Medieval, Castelló de la Plana, 1997 (Castelló, 1999), III, 447-58. YA.2000.a.6519


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