Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - November - 2012 Issue

Rare Latin Americana from the William Reese Company

Reese296

Rare Latin Americana.

The 296th catalogue from the William Reese Company features Rare Latin Americana. It ranges from the early days of European contact to the end of the 19th century. Through the first three centuries of this period, most of this land was under Spanish control. Then, Spain had some problems with Napoleon and their grip on the far-flung empire began to loosen. Soon enough, the nations of South and Central America would be independent, though challenges would remain, as they do even now. Here are some of the items, many newly acquired, in this latest Reese catalogue.

Item 18 is one of the “foundation works” on the New World, La Historia del Mundo Nuovo... by Girolamo Benzoni. Published in 1565, it is the first work based on personal observation of the New World by a non-Spaniard. Not much is known about Benzoni. He came from Milan and spent 14 years in Spanish America. Why he chose to go there or what he did is unclear, though he clearly was involved in mercantile activities. The Spanish, who didn't much appreciate foreigners in their midst, probably made it hard for Benzoni to conduct business, and it led to his strong dislike for them. His work is highly critical of the Spanish, and if some of it may have been motivated by revenge, his criticism was well-founded. He denounces their brutal treatment of the Indians and the importation of African slaves. He provides much information about the natives at a time before they were totally changed by European influences. He also provides early accounts of native plants, including the use of tobacco, chocolate, and banana trees. Priced at $28,000.

Melchor Calderon provides a discussion of slavery of native Indians, its pros and cons, in his book Tratado de la importancia y utilidad que ay en dar por esclavos a los indios rebelados de Chile. Today, we wouldn't have much trouble identifying the winner of this debate, but this tract was written around 1601. It was addressed by Calderon to the Viceroy of Peru. On the pro side, he says that traditionally military victors are compensated by the the award of slaves, and some of these Indians were particularly violent. On the other side, he notes that it is hard to distinguish which Indians were fighting the Spanish and which were not, and that many have displayed their obedience to church and crown. Item 31. $22,500.

It would take 300 years, but early in the 19th century, events rapidly began to cause the Spanish rule of America to crumble. The primary cause was a Frenchman named Napoleon. In 1808, he invaded Spain and took control of the government. It left a power vacuum in America, which, as we know from the Louisiana Purchase, was not Napoleon's prime concern. In 1810, a revolution took place in Caracas, and the French/Spanish viceroy was overthrown. Item 174 is a broadside proclamation by Francisco Rivas y Galindo from April 20, 1810. He announces the revolution and calls on the other provinces of Venezuela to join them. Interestingly, these early days weren't quite so independence-minded as one might think. The call for revolution was made in the name of the exiled Spanish Cortes and the captive king Ferdinand VII as the legitimate ruler of Spain (Napoleon had placed his brother Joseph in charge of Spain). However, it would not be long before many of the revolutionaries would seek total independence, and even after Spain was freed of Napoleon, it never regained full control over Latin America. Independence would come throughout the land by the 1820s. $20,000.

Item 21 is a broadside of Simon Bolivar's resignation as President of Gran Columbia, the predecessor of what is today Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Panama, and part of Peru. It is dated February 6, 1827, and is headed El Presidente de la Honorable Camara del Seando. There was much in the way of instability in the government at the time, and to relieve these pressures, Bolivar offered to resign. Bolivar notes that there are suspicions that he plans to become a dictator, so to alleviate these concerns, he, like George Washington, will voluntarily leave office. The Congress declined to accept Bolivar's resignation, and Bolivar would later proclaim himself dictator for life, though this would be from beneficent motives, not a lust for power, as we shall see with the next item. $17,500.

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