Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - April - 2009 Issue

Latin American Works from Plaza Books

List 27 from Plaza Books.


By Michael Stillman

Plaza Books has issued its List 27 of items primarily relating to Latin America. The majority relate to Mexico and Central America, but a few wind their way across the equator to South America. While naturally many titles are in Spanish, there are plenty of works for those who collect Latin America in English, and even an occasional book in French. These are a few of the works presented in this latest list from Plaza Books.

Item 17 is Thomas Gage's A New Survey of the West Indies... a fourth edition from 1699. Gage was an Englishman who became a priest in Spain before sneaking into Mexico. Spanish authorities jealously guarded their American possessions from visitations by foreigners, fearful they would provide information that would enable their rivals to take over their land. Gage's connection to Spain undoubtedly made it possible for him to travel around Mexico and Central America for 16 years without being evicted. However, his natural loyalties never died, and in 1641, Gage returned to England, switched sides from Catholic to Anglican priest, and encouraged the English to seek colonies in the area. He may have been instrumental in encouraging the English to seize Jamaica, where he settled in 1656. Priced at $2,750.

Another non-Spaniard to reach Mexico, though a century later, was Italian Lorenzo Boturini Benaducci. Boturini became very interested in native culture. He put together a large collection of Indian artifacts, which led to suspicions of his loyalties by local Spanish officials. They sent him back to the Inquisition in Spain and his collection was seized. Fortunately, he was able to explain his activities to the authorities in Spain, who exonerated him and gave him the official post of Historian of the Indies. However, he never got his collection back. Boturini wrote about his discoveries in Idea de una nueva Historia General de la America Septentrional... which was published in 1746. Item 4. $3,750.

If we fast forward another century, we find another European traveler to Central America. John Boddam-Whethem was an Englishman, one of those 19th century adventurers who traveled around Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador. He visited many of the newly discovered Mayan temples, and traveled around the countryside on horseback. Of course, there weren't many alternatives to the horse then as this is before automobiles, and railroads were just starting to be built in the area. His account is Across Central America, published in 1877. Item 3. $750.

Here is an American who visited Central America, Nicaragua in particular, but with far less savory intentions. William Walker was not interested in learning about Nicaragua; he wanted to rule it. He came quite close to achieving his goal. Walker had attempted to seize northern Mexico and create a new nation in 1853 from his base in California. He expected local support, but Mexico, fresh from having vast amounts of territory taken by America during the Mexican War, was in no mood to see their northern neighbors grab any more. Walker was forced to retreat, but not defeated in his goals. In 1856, he instead led a small band of men to Nicaragua, where amongst the local infighting he was actually able to take control, and proclaim himself president. However, by the following year he was forced to flee Nicaragua as well. He was undaunted. In 1860, with southern support, he attempted another landing in Nicaragua, hoping to set up a slave nation. He never made it. Walker was captured in Honduras without ever crossing into Nicaragua, and Honduran authorities promptly executed him. Walker wrote about his adventures, not including, obviously, this last one, and they were published in 1860, the year he was executed, in The War in Nicaragua. Item 47. $950.

Item 6 is an 1828 decree from Mexican President Guadalupe Victoria and the Congress prohibiting "toda reunion clandestine" (clandestine meetings) and avoidance of military service. The punishment for this is inhuman - four years of exile in California. Maybe in the days before Hollywood and Disneyland, this was considered something awful. $850.

Plaza Books may be reached at 707-546-3544 or plazabks@sonic.net. Their website is www.plazabooks.com.

Rare Book Monthly

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    Toronto Book Auctions, Mar. 6: WILBUR SMITH: THE DARK OF THE SUN. Heinemann, UK, 1965. Signed First edition. CA$800 – 1,200
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