Monday, January 20, 2014




Manuel  Ricardo  Palma Soriano  1833 - 1919

Manuel Ricardo Palma Soriano (February 7, 1833 – October 6, 1919) was a  Peruvian author, scholar, librarian and politician. His magnum opus  is the Tradiciones peruanas .

Ricardo Palma was born into a family that was living in Lima after migrating from the province. His mother was a mestizo with African roots. His parents separated when he was still young. He was educated at a Jesuit school and attended the University of San Carlos on an irregular basis. He suspended his studies to perform voluntary service in the Peruvian navy for six years.

From a young age he dabbled in politics as a member of the liberal camp. In 1860 he was believed to have participated in a failed plot against president Ramón Castilla which resulted in an exile to Chile from which he returned in October 1862. He made a trip to Europe in 1864-1865 and when he returned to Lima in 1865 he became involved again in political affairs and public service until 1876. He held the positions of Consul of Peru in Para, Brazil,  Senator for the Loreto and official in the Ministry of War and Navy.

The War of the Pacific  (1879–1883) between Chile and Peru disrupted Palma's life and resulted in the virtually complete destruction of his own library as well as that housed in the National Library of  Peru. After the war Palma was named director of the National Library, a post he held until his retirement in 1912. Palma successfully took on the task of rebuilding the National Library that was ransacked by the occupation forces of the Chilean  army in 1881 following the battle of Lima during the War of the Pacific. Palma was able to bring the National Library back from the ashes so that it regained its previous stature and became recognized once again as one of the top libraries in South America. It was through his personal friendship with the then Chilean president Domingo Santa Maria  that Palma was able to recover an estimated 10,000 books from Chilean hands, as well as many other works which were recovered through his own personal efforts.

He married Cristina Román Olivier with whom he had several children. His son Clemente Palma became a prominent writer of fantastic tales, usually horror stories, that were influenced by Edgar Allan Poe .  His daughter Angelica Palma  was also a writer and a member of the early feminist movement in Peru.


Ricardo Palma published his first verses and became the editor of a political and satiric newssheet called El Diablo (The Devil) at 15.

During his early years, Ricardo Palma composed romantic dramas (which he later repudiated) and poetry. His first book of verse, Poesías (Poems), appeared in 1855. He gained an early reputation as a historian with his book on the activities of the Spanish Inquisition  during the period of the Viceroyalty of Peru  (Anales De La Inquisicion De Lima: Estudio Historico, 1863).

He also wrote for the satirical press of Peru where he distinguished himself as a prolific columnist and one of the bastions of Peruvian political satire in the nineteenth century. He collaborated with the satirical sheet El Burro (The Donkey) and became later one of the principal contributors to the satirical magazine La Campana (The Bell). Later he founded the magazine La Broma (The Joke). He was also a regular contributor to serious publications such as El Mercurio, El Correo, La Patria, El Liberal, Revista del Pacífico and Revista de Sud América. He was further active as a foreign newspaper correspondent during the War of the Pacific.
Palma's literary reputation rests upon his creation and development of the literary genre known as tradiciones, short stories that mix history and fiction, written both to amuse and educate, according to the author's declared intention. It was by creatively using poetic license and by deviating from "pure" history that Palma gained his large South American readership. His Tradiciones peruanas span several centuries, with an emphasis on earlier colonial and republican times in Peru.

The Tradiciones were published from 1872 to 1910 in a series of volumes, some of which are freely available on the internet (see the bottom of this page for links).There are also many different editions and selections of the Tradiciones commercially available. The Tradiciones peruanas do not meet formal historical standards of accuracy or reliability sufficiently to be considered "history," but Palma never intended them to be read as "pure" history. Since they are primarily historical fiction, they should be understood and enjoyed as such.

The author's opinion, the opinions of the other primary sources or oral narrators of the stories he collects and transmits, as well as hearsay play a large role in his stories. One of the best-known of the Tradiciones, especially within American Spanish literature classes, is "La camisa de Margarita".

Some of the Tradiciones peruanas have been translated into English under the title The Knights of the Cape and Thirty-seven Other Selections from the Tradiciones Peruanas of Ricardo Palma (ed. by Harriet de Onís, 1945) and more recently under the title Peruvian Traditions (ed. by Christopher Conway and translated by Helen Lane, Oxford University Press, 2004).

The Tradiciones peruanas are recognised as a considerable contribution to Peruvian and South American literature. Some critics have classified the Tradiciones as part of nineteenth-century Romanticism.
Palma's Tradiciones en Salsa Verde were published posthumously. These stories are similar to the Tradiciones peruanas but, because of their bawdy nature, they were not published during Palma's lifetime for fear of shocking the sedate Lima establishment.

Throughout his life, Ricardo Palma published various articles and books on history, the results of his own historical research such as the Anales De La Inquisicion De Lima: Estudio Historico (1863) and Monteagudo y Sánchez Carrión (1877). He was a noted linguistic scholar and wrote a number of works on the subject including the Neologismos y americanismos and Papeletas lexográficas. He campaigned for recognition by the Real Academia Espanola  of the Latin-American and Peruvian contributions to the Spanish language.


In a swift whirlwind rises to the sky

A mighty cloud of dust, confused and dun;

It covers with its wings the glowing disk
Of the clear-shining sun.

It says with mockery, "Go upon your course !
I have made dim your beams of topaz bright.
King of the sphere, I have brought low your pride,
I have obscured your light !"

The sun makes answer, "Soon the wind will fall;
You will become base mire, despised and dumb,
While I light up the heavens and the earth—
Today, and days to come."

So stupid envy, insolent and false,
The laurel wreath of genius fain would blight,
It is foul dust, intelligence the sun—
Immortal is its light !


Levantase a los cielos en raudo torbellino
del polvo de la tierra confuso nubarrón,
y cubre con sus alas el disco diamantino
del refulgente sol.

Y dícele con burla:—­¡Prosigue tu carrera!
Tus rayos de topacio nublados por mí son:
tu orgullo he confundido, monarca de la esfera,
tu luz amenguo yo.—

Y el sol contesta:—En breve se ha de calmar el viento,
y ¡oh nube! en lodo infecto te habrás de convertir;
en tanto yo ilumino la tierra, el firmamento,
¿y el hoy y el porvenir ?

Así la envidia estúpida con pérfida insolencia,
los lauros del talento pretende mancillar...
¡Es ella polvo inmundo y es sol la inteligencia !
¡Su lumbre es inmortal !

El Alacrán de Fray Gómez by Ricardo Palma, Translated to English

When I was a boy I frequently heard the older people exclaiming, while pondering the value and price of a piece of jewelry ”This is as valuable as Brother Gomez's scorpion !” I propose to explain this adage of the old people with the fallowing story.

Brother Gomez was a lay brother, contemporaneous with Don Juan de la Pipirindica, the valiant lancer and of San Francisco Solano, redeemer in Lima at the convent of the Seraphic Fathers, whose monks were in charge of the infirmary or hospital for old and frail devotees. Brother Gomez created miracles galore in my country, like someone who is not even trying. He was a natural - born miracle-maker, like the person who spoke in prose, not knowing that he did.

It happened one day; the lay brother arrived at a bridge, when a runaway horse threw its rider on the paving stones. The unfortunate soul remained, lifeless, with his battered head spurting blood from nose and mouth.

” He fractured his skull, - he fractured his skull ! ” shouted the people, ” Will someone go to  San Lorenzo and fetch some anointing oil ?”

Everything was in an uproar and clamor.

Brother Gomez slowly approached the person lying on the ground and put the cord from his garment across the mouth of him, then said three blessings, and without neither doctor, nor medicine, he stood up, fresh, as if he never got hurt.

”Miracle, Miracle ! Long live brother Gomez !” shouted all the spectators.

Enthusiastically they tried to carry the lay brother in victory. In order to get away from his applauders, he ran down the road to the convent and cloistered himself in his cell.

The Franciscan history explains the latter in a different way. They say that brother Gomez, in order to escape his applauders, lifted himself into the air and flew the bridge to the tower of the convent. I neither confirm, nor deny this. Maybe he did, and maybe he didn't. When dealing with miracles, I don't waste my time nether defending or refuting them.

That day, brother Gomez was in the mood for making miracles, for when he left his cell, he walked to the infirmary, where he encountered San Francisco Solano, resting on a bed, suffering from a severe headache. The lay brother took his pulse and said: "Father, your health is fragile; you would do well to eat some food."

"Brother, replied the saint, I have no appetite."

" Make an effort, reverent Father, have at least a mouthful".

So insistent was the monk in charge of the dining hall, that the sick, in order to get rid of the demands that already bordered on nonsense, I got the idea to ask him what even for the viceroy would have been impossibly to obtain, because the season wasn't right to satisfy his whim.

" Look, little brother, if only he would eat a pair of tasty mackerels"

Fray Gomez put his right hand into his left sleeve and pulled out two mackerels as fresh as if they had just come out of the sea.

Here they are Father, and may they bring your good health back. I am  going to cook them.

And with the blessed mackerels San Francisco was cured as if by magic.

There was another morning, brother Gomez was lost in meditation in his cell, when there was some small, discrete knocks on the door and a tetchy voice said:

" Thanks be to God, Praised be the Lord ".

"Forever and ever, Amen. Come in dear brother, answered brother Gomez."

And into the very humble cell came a ragged individual, but in  whose face one could perceive the proverbial honesty of an old Castilian.

The furniture in the cell consisted of four leather chairs, a greasy table, and a bunk without mattress, not even sheets, and with a stone for a pillow to rest his head.

Sit down, brother and tell mewithout detours what brings you here, said brother Gomez.

The fact is, Father that I am an honest man through and through.

That's apparent and I want to persevere, so that I will deserve peace of conscience in this earthly life, and in other one, the blessed place. The fact is that I'm a peddler with a family and my business does not grow for lack of means, or for idleness and shortage of industry in me.

"I'm glad, brother, for God takes care of those who work honestly.

But it is the problem, Father that till now Gos has turned a deaf ear on me, and is late in helping me.

"Don't despair, brother, don't despair !"

Well, the situation is that have knocked on many doors in solicitation of a loan for five hundred duros, and I found all of them locked up tight. And it happened that last night in my ponderings, I said to myself :" Hey, Jeromo, cheer up and go and ask for the money from brother Gomez, for if he wants to, beggar and poor as he is, he will find a way to extract me from my troubles." And this is the reason that I am here, because I have come to ask and request that you, reverend Father, lend me this trifle amount for six months."

"How could you have imagined, son, that you, in this cell, would find such wealth ?"

"Frankly, father I couldn't answer that; but I have faith that you will not let me leave distressed."

"Your faith will save you, brother. Wait a minute !"

Looking around the naked, withe washed walls in the cell, he saw a scorpion tranquilly walking over the window frame. Brother Gomez tore a page from an old book and went over to the window took it to the bug, wrapped it in the paper and turning towards the old Castilian he said:

"Take this, my good man and pawn this little precious ornament ;and don't forget to bring it back within six month".

The peddler was overcome with gratitude, and left brother Gomez with great haste and walked to the pawnshop.

The jewel was a splendid, real jewel worthy of a Moorish queen, to say the least. It was a brooch in the shape of a scorpion. A magnificent emerald mounted in gold, formed the body and a wide brilliant with two rubies for eyes, formed the head.

The pawnshop owner, who was a connoisseur, looked at the jewel with greed and offered  to begin with two thousand duros for it; but our Spaniard insisted on not accepting a loan for more than 500 duros for six month and with too much interest, he understood. The lender gave him the money and signed the papers or promissory notes, expecting that, in the end, the owner of the article would come back for more money, which, with the added interest charges, would turn him into the owner of such a priceless jewel, with its intrinsic and artistic value.

But with this little capital, he became quite prosperous in his business and at the end of the time could discharge the loan, and, wrapped in the same paper he had received it in, he returned it to brother Gomez.

He took the scorpion and put it in the window sill, gave a blessing and said:

" Little animal of God, go find your way."

And the scorpion walked freely on the walls of the cell.

Translated by Kenny Beechmount

File:Palma Ricardo e hijos.jpg

 Ricardo Palma and His children - before 1919


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