Less than a year ago, the University of Texas Libraries signed an agreement with Google to digitize a million books, most from the Benson Latin American Collection, over a period of six years. The digitization process continues at a slightly faster pace than anticipated.
As of this week, several thousand books have been digitized and about two hundred titles in the public domain are free for your use through Google Book Search
This first sample of full-view texts revealed the bookplate of an important component collection purchased for the Benson in 1963, the Simon Lucuix Rio de la Plata Library. The simple 3 x 5 inch black and white sticker is unexceptional except for the image of an ombu tree at the center. The ombu, symbol of the pampas and gaucho culture, grows to 120 feet and can live over 500 years, providing comfort and shelter under its broad canopy.
The Lucuix purchase added 21,000 books to the Benson Latin American Collection, a phenomenal acquisition for the Benson, which at the time consisted of fewer than 200,000 volumes, but an incomprehensible feat for a collector in Uruguay. Catalog records of the Lucuix books show titles published between 1698 and 1957 in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, France, Italy, Peru, Portugal, Spain, Uruguay as well as in the United Kingdom and the United States covering subjects from art and architecture to history, chemistry and medicine. Few libraries in Uruguay of equal scope and size existed in Montevideo in the 1960s.
Who was Simon Lucuix (Loo-Kwee(sh)) and how did he amass such an outstanding collection?
We learn from tidbits gathered through the authority files of the Library of Congress and OCLC Identities that Simon S. Lucuix was a professor and editor of Revista Nacional, the journal of the Instituto Historico y Geografico del Uruguay in Montevideo. None of the biographical dictionaries on hand show an entry for Lucuix, but from information about his works we learn that between 1952 and 1959 he edited several publications or provided forewords for them. As late as 1962, an issue of the Revista Nacional was published under Lucuix’s name.
A colleague in Montevideo, Julio Cesar Cotelo, wrote to share what he remembered of Don Simon. Cotelo, author of Influencia del Pensamiento de Artigas en el Congreso de abril de 1813, knew Lucuix and visited his home as a young man. Lucuix’s home presently houses the Lebanese Embassy on Avenida General Rivera, perhaps a sign that Lucuix had amassed some wealth. Lucuix counted historian Felipe Ferreiro (1892-1963) and entrepreneur Octavio Assuncao among his friends. Assuncao, also a collector, bequeathed various significant works to museums and libraries in Uruguay. His son, Fernando O. Assuncao (1931-2006) wrote many books about gaucho folklore, for which Lucuix wrote the prologues.
According to Cotelo, Lucuix frequented the Barreiro y Ramos bookstore and the Café Sorocabana next to the Plaza Libertad, for decades the meeting place of poets, painters, dramatists, politicians and academics. The intellectual life of Uruguay flowed out to the rest of the world past Montevideo, its epicenter, where ideas were tried-out, debated, filtered, edited and finally made public by the editorial and publishing establishments there. The bookstore and the unforgettable café have closed. Many political, economic and urban design changes conspired to close the spaces that cuddled and provoked thought.
Where did the public intellectual life of Montevideo go when the Sorocabana and other cafes closed? What new spaces attract and bring together artists, writers, journalists, politicians with those that support them or hate them?
I will be writing on these topics and adding more details about Don Simon’s collection as I gather them over the next two or three weeks.