The story of Kingsborough's fateful attraction to Mexican manuscripts is well known. During his studies at Oxford he became fascinated by one of the Bodleian's manuscripts—in fact, the very one described by Samuel Purchas in 1626 (in Purchas his Pilgrimes, vol. III)—and decided to devote himself to the study of Central American manuscripts and artifacts. With the support of Sir Thomas Phillipps, many of whose manuscripts are described in the Antiquities, he employed the Italian painter Agustine Aglio to scour Europe's greatest libraries and private collections for Mexican manuscripts, which Aglio sketched and later lithographed for publication. Besides Aglio's reproductions of manuscripts in the Bodleian, the Vatican Library, the Borgian Museum, the Imperial Library of Vienna, the Library of the Institute at Bologna, and the royal libraries of Berlin, Dresden, and Budapest, the work includes Dupaix's Monuments of New Spain, taken from Castaneda's original drawings, and descriptions of sculptures and artifacts from several private collections. The text, with sections in Spanish, English, French and Italian, includes Sahagun's Historia General de la Nueva Espana and the chronicles of Tezozomoc and Ixtlilxochitl.
The immense project cost Kingsborough £32,000 and, arguably, his life. In 1837 he died of typhus contracted in prison in Dublin, a few days after being arrested for a debt to a paper manufacturer. His father the Earl of Kingston died only months later. Upon his death, Kingsborough would have stood to inherit an annual estate of £40,000.
The set took 18 years to produce, and the cost of £40,000 was a truly enormous sum in terms of the currency of the time, when a family could live quite well on £500 a year (BAS Library).
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