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by Rose Maramba


Born in Valencia, Spain in 1888, Vicente Clavel was passionate about books for their own intrinsic value, and as a great instrument for the global dissemination of culture. His academic education didn’t quite reach university level but he self-taught indefatigably.

Felix Azzati: he made a very young Clavel editor of El Pueblo

Publisher, editor, writer, journalist and translator (not necessarily in the order of importance), Clavel was appointed editor of the popular Valencian newspaper, El Pueblo, by Felix Azzati, a republican deputy in Congress, and Director of the said newspaper, when he was just 14.

Prodigious, Clavel founded the Editorial Cervantes (Cervantes Publishing House) before he reached 30. The name he gave his company is a dead giveaway of his love for Miguel de Cervantes, the greatest writer in the Spanish language, and one of the world’s pre-eminent novelists, the author of Don Quixote (El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quixote de La Mancha/The Ingenious Knight Don Quixote of La Mancha).

Two years later, in 1918, Clavel took a most crucial step in his life; he moved to Barcelona, bringing along with him his Editorial Cervantes.  In the Catalan capital, he was Vice President and member of the board (consejero) of the Official Book Chamber from the time of its inception in 1922.

The Book Chamber of Barcelona, a professional association of publishers in Catalonia that was highly active until the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, would play a significant role in the establishment of World Book Day; it was to the Chamber that Clavel proposed the designation of a specific day as Book Day in Spain. And not in vain either. On the 6th of February 1926, King Alfonso XIII signed the Royal Decree designating the 7th of October, Cervantes’ birth anniversary, as Book Day.

Clavel wasn’t content just coming up with a brilliant idea; he redacted the decree!

The Royal Decree

Alfonso XIII decreed Spain’s Book Day to honor Cervantes, based on Vicente Clavel’s proposal

On the motion of the Minister of Labor, Commerce and Industry, and in accordance with my Council of Ministers, I hereby decree the following:

Article 1. Every year, on the 7th of October, the birthdate of the Prince of Spanish Letters, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, shall be commemorated with a festival dedicated to Spanish books. . .

Article 15. The first festival of books will be celebrated on the 7th day of October 1926. . .

Decreed at the Palace this sixth day of February 1926.

( )


UNESCO wades in

Fast forward to 1995. At the General Conference held in Paris, UNESCO moved the date of the World Book Day (that which was first established in Spain) from Cervantes’ birth anniversary to the date of his death (23 April), given that other Greats in World Literature, notably Shakespeare but also others like Garcilaso de la Vega (“El Inca”),  died on the same date. El Inca — 12 April 1539–23 April 1616 – was a chronicler and writer born in the Viceroyalty of Peru. He was the natural son of a Spanish conquistador and an Inca noblewoman. After his father’s death in 1559, Vega moved to Spain where he lived to the end of his days. He is best known for his chronicles of Inca history,  culture, and society which were widely read in Europe, being the first literature written by an author born in the Americas to enter the western canon.

Surely, Vicente Clavel wouldn’t roll over in his grave about the change of dates! (Incidentally, Clavel died in Barcelona in 1967.)

Note, however, that while Shakespeare and Cervantes died on the same date — 23 April 1616 — they did not die on the exact same day, Cervantes being reckoned to have died on that date by the Georgian calendar while Shakespeare’s death was noted on the Julian calendar so that the latter actually died 10 days after, i.e., on 3 May of the Georgian.

World Book Day continues to be celebrated on the 23rd of April.


>Featured image/I am R. via Flickr, CC BY2.0
>Felix Azzati/Christian Franzen via Wikipedia, cropped, PD
>Alfonso XIII/Kaulak – Museo Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, PD via Wikipedia, cropped
>Shakespeare/Élisée Reclus, PD via Wikimedia Commons. Cervantes/Cornelis van Haartem, PD via Wikimedia Commons. Text supplied.