Ignacio Hernando de Larramendi, 'in memoriam'

Xavier Agenjo Bullón
Project Director of the Ignacio Larramendi Foundation
ORCID: http://orcid.org/0000-0001-8338-8087


Cubierta de Mecenazgo cultural de Ignacio Hernando de LarramendiI would not have dared to accept the Duke of Segorbe’s invitation, promoter of this tribute to the distinguished figure of Don Ignacio Hernando de Larramendi, if I did not know that my pages will be among those written by others who are more knowledgeable than me of the immense and proteic work of that man that was capable of creating, practically from nothing, immense intellectual constructions that would materialise in extremely realistic, effective and intuitive corporations.

Therefore, and as is logical, I am not going to speak either about MAPFRE or Carlism, or even of the first foundations to which Don Ignacio gave life to, and even of MAPFRE America, with which I started to collaborate, but mainly of the Tavera Historical Foundation and above all of the Hernando de Larramendi Foundation, perhaps the last of his initiatives according to a chronological criteria. Neither will I steer the story clear of some anecdotes, as these undoubtedly humanize the memory of the character, making him a person, and there were many that I was able to share with him over a dozen years or maybe more of friendship.

I remember that when Don Ignacio still occupied the highest executive responsibility in the gigantic MAPFRE Corporation he had an appointment with me one afternoon in the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory of the Department of Logic in the Faculty of Philosophy of the University Complutense of Madrid. On that occasion I arrived well before the scheduled time, which is not strange in those who are unpunctual, who usually arrive late most of the time, and at the agreed time Don Ignacio came into the offices occupied by that department. I had convinced him some days before to study the possibility of using artificial intelligence techniques to tackle a project that Don Ignacio was dealing with and for which he had requested my collaboration: making up a database in CD-ROMs that contained the records of the Handbook of Latin American Studies. This was indisputably a great achievement in my eyes and those of anyone that was more or less aware of the condition the retrospective conversion processes of bibliographic catalogues in Spain were in.

Ignacio, because by that time had requested that I address him informally, took an interest in that procedure that I suggested to him and, of course, wanted to know about it personally, in short, to have first-hand information. And there we were the two of us, chatting with those experts in an attempt to find a balanced solution in terms of cost and quality to resolve, no less, a problem for the all-powerful Library of Congress using modest Spanish means. We talked, discussed, informed and in the end the meeting came to a close. We went down in the lift together, chatting about what we had just seen and I noticed that he was little convinced about the feasibility of using those techniques for his conversion project. He already knew that it was going to be too expensive and poorly effective. But let me proceed with my anecdote: we crossed the large lobby of the faculty and went out to the street; I looked to the right and left looking for a large, dark coloured car and very probably with a bodyguard watching. At that moment, I heard: Hey, Xavier, where do you catch the bus here?

We met many times to discuss all kinds of issues, linked primarily with the Tavera Classics Collection and I had the opportunity to prepare, at his request, many reports which I hoped would be more successful than my recommendation of artificial intelligence to convert files. He must have considered some of them, because when the Tavera Historical Foundation was finally set up (which, as we all know, has had several names), he was kind enough to promote me to its Board of Trustees, in his personal capacity.

A few years later I took the decision to leave the National Library of Spain, as it was clear that despite the enormous efforts made in its automation, with the creation of the ARIADNA database, or in the digitization, from which products were created such as the Heraldry Digital System, the Interactive Videodisc, the Digital Self-Information Systems with touch screens, and as a summary and final effort an Interactive Book Museum, whose first draft I wrote, as well as a complete digitization project (all of which greatly interested Larramendi) that would bear the name of Hispanic Report, it was clear that the National Library was beginning to lose the pace and, to summarise in a single sentence, confused gymnastics with magnesia. All of this with the blessings of who knew that I was taking a wrong path.

As I say, I went to Santander to occupy, following the rigorous opposition established by Don Marcelino, the post of Director of the Menéndez Pelayo Library. I had to compose a digitization project that still had no name and in which I was helped by my good friend Francisca Hernández, who in turn was working on a similar project for the Student's Residence, where she had ended up for reasons perhaps that were not very different from those that had moved me.

The basic idea of that project, as I explained in one of those very pleasant lunches that Ignatius was kind enough to invite me to, was to follow Menéndez Pelayo’s thinking, who Ignacio unquestionably admired. Menendez Pelayo had embarked from a very young age in a controversy concerning Spanish science and came out triumphant from it due to his vast superiority in literature that allowed perfectly described authors and works to be specified, which in other polemicists these were just general statements, without any positive support. Don Marcelino continued his whole life working in this line, creating a truly masterful work and permanently correcting himself for the sake of intellectual honesty and truly admirable science. He never looked down on anyone and was always the most rigorous of his critics. Let’s say a Spanish intellectual type.

But at the same time that he produced this monumental work and was able to maintain an extraordinary correspondence, directing historical research methods in the since then very prestigious Revista de Archivos, Bibliotecas y Museos or establish substantial changes in the Spanish library since 1901, although these are very little known or recognised, Don Marcelino undertook an extraordinary parallel action; to gather at a library, in his library, all those forgotten classics of the Spanish thought he could obtain. And at the end of his life he bequeathed to the Town Council of Santander, as he considered that it was there where Spanish science was largely gathered, that is to say, one of the roots of Spain’s personality. From his library he said that it was the only one of his works of which he did not declare he was completely unsatisfied. However, and thinking about the environment of the 21st century, it was necessary to take a third step in Don Marcelino’s methodology, the first had been writing a bibliography, the second to bring together the works cited in the bibliography and the third...

There Ignacio interrupted me, who had understood it instantly: (He said), you need to digitize all those collections to make them accessible internationally and in a very special way in Latin America and in addition, he continued, include an extensive bibliography on each of the topics, and finally add the digitization of modern books to clarify those classic authors. I think that after that we ordered a glass of anise.

And immediately set to work Anyone who has worked together with Don Ignacio Hernando de Larramendi knows that it is impossible to follow his pace; I certainly was not able to do so on many occasions, which made him angry and disgusted and he told me clearly and sometimes, what was worse, with some notes of irony. Even so we were able to design the project, which following the logic of the concept expressed above, would be called the Menéndez Pelayo Spanish Polymath Virtual Library. We chose the word polygraphs because Don Marcelino had used it at some point and it was ambiguous enough to include philosophers and scientists, doctors and theologians, essayists and explorers. Soon we started to make extensive lists of what that Menéndez Pelayo Virtual Library was going to be: there were up to 14 different drafts. In the meantime, from DIGIBIS and with the support of the Tavera Historic Foundation and the financing of the Caja de Ahorros de Cantabria and the Hernando de Larramendi Foundation itself, we began to prepare Menéndez Pelayo Digital (1999), which was not only an issue in the mode of the Complete Works, the Collection of Letters and an extensive bibliography on Don Marcelino, but as soon as it was suggested he accepted the structuring in HTML, in a coup d'état of intuition. One day, when we were going through list 8 or 9, maybe 10, he said to me that we were not visionary enough with everything and that he had conceived another three virtual libraries, the "Fernando de Melo" of Portuguese Polygraphs, the "Andrés Bello" of Hispanic American Polygraphs and the "Jose Anchieta" of Brazilian Polygraphs, and that I could start writing introductions and drawing up the lists, since he was already getting going, visiting the University of Coimbra, the National Library of Lisbon, The College of Mexico..., and the truth is that it is impossible to say how many institutions and with how many specialists he was able to get in touch with in a couple of years.

He visited all of the Autonomous Communities and established collaboration agreements with institutions of all kinds. I have seen him convince Manuel C. Diaz y Diaz in less than half an hour, with whom he had previously just written little more than a letter, to join the project, and I can say the same of the most eminent scholars of the history of Spain: Antonio Mestre, Antonio Pérez Martín, Martín de Riquer, Father Batllori, López Piñero, with whom in a year he established a close friendship, until holding meeting in July 2001 with the Basque Society of Friends of the Country, headed up by Tellechea Idígoras, who enthusiastically joined the project.

In the last weeks of his life, he received all kinds of specialists at his home. I remember two or three weeks before his death a meeting with Francisco Asin to review the status that the project on Rafael Altamira was in. At the same time that this (it seems impossible to only write it), he dealt with other gigantic projects such as the "Cathedrals", directed by my good friend José Andres-Gallego, or the "Commentators of Aristotle" by Professor Rus or of course “Traditionalist Thinkers” under the leadership of Miguel Ayúso. At the same time, with astonishing tenacity, he published impressive books like Así se hizo MAPFRE or Irreflexiones provocadora, which were always so shrewd. In his last book, he spoke of the mother of all crises. What would he have thought of 11 September? would he have identified with that? He, who agreed with me so much, because in the end we did nothing more than to follow Don Marcelino in striving to include the Andalusian polygraphs and Sephardic polygraphs, because it is not in vain in Al-Andalus and in Sepharad, - as the reader knows both terms refer to Spain in Arabic and Jewish, more rational Muslim and Hebrew thinkers had flourished, who were more tolerant, in short wiser. And, perhaps, not as well known in their cultures of origin, to which they belong, as well as in ours.

After Ignacio’s death, the Hernando de Larramendi Foundation and surely Tavera or MAPFRE, and, above all, the legion of his many friends, will collaborate to successfully implement the project that had been set out and that with the name of Hernando de Larramendi Virtual Library will become increasingly known. However, I can only confess that I feel certain despondency at the magnitude of the task and I feel a huge absence of the good and wise man that had fun working, always successfully.

Text written by Xavier Agenjo in the book:

Mecenazgo cultural de Ignacio Hernando de Larramendi y Montiano : crónica y testimonios
Madrid: Mapfre Tavera Foundation, [2002]
11 November 2002

Madrid, 15 March 2017