Facundo in the United States: An Unknown Reading

David T. Haberly

University of Virginia


It has always been assumed that readers in the United States were unaware of the existence of Domingo Faustino Sarmiento's foundational Facundo until the appearance of Mary Peabody Mann's translation, Life in the Argentine Republic in the Days of the Tyrants, or Civilization and Barbarism, in 1868. In fact, however, a considerable number of North American readers were exposed to many of the basic elements of Sarmiento's text ten years earlier, in July of 1858, when an anonymous article entitled "The Gaucho" appeared in the Atlantic Monthly. "The Gaucho" provides a clear and vivid summary of major portions of Facundo, but has never been reprinted or cited.

In 1845, when Sarmiento's Civilización y Barbarie: Vida de Juan Facundo Quiroga was published in Chile, the author clearly hoped that his text would achieve world-wide fame, but things did not progress as smoothly nor as rapidly as he had hoped. The copies of the book he had shipped from Valparaíso to Paris never arrived there (Viajes 130). After some delay and considerable pressure, Charles de Mazade did agree to write a review of Facundo for the Revue des Deux Mondes, using Sarmiento's personal copy of the text; that review was considerably less than enthusiastic, but Sarmiento proudly included a Spanish translation of it in the second edition of 1851 (Facundo 311-48).(1) Facundo appears to have been even less successful in Britain, where it was apparently not reviewed by any major periodical at the time of its publication.(2)

Increasingly disillusioned with Europe after his visit there, Sarmiento began to shift his cultural and political allegiance to the United States. He made contact with Horace and Mary Peabody Mann during his first visit to North America in 1847, but does not seem to have met other American intellectuals or writers at that time (Viajes 450-51). Mary Mann did not begin work on her English version of Facundo until almost twenty years later (Sarmiento's Travels 41-42), and there is some evidence that Sarmiento was not entirely pleased with her complex text, in which his personal history tends to overshadow both Juan Facundo Quiroga and Juan Manuel de Rosas (Goodrich 89-96). The American reviews of Mann's translation were generally positive, and many either referred to or quoted Sarmiento's well-known descriptions of the gaucho malo, the rastreador, the baqueano, and the cantor in the second chapter of Facundo.

It is striking that neither Mann nor any of her reviewers in 1868, including the reviewer for the Atlantic itself, appear to have realized that much of that material—including those same descriptions—had appeared ten years earlier in "The Gaucho." The Atlantic, founded by James Russell Lowell in 1857, had almost immediately become one of the most prestigious magazines in North America, regularly selling out its print-run of about twenty thousand copies. The Atlantic's readers included virtually the whole intellectual elite in New England and New York (Sedgwick 40-41). "The Gaucho" is not a review of Sarmiento's book, but rather an effort to summarize the text and place it in context for North American readers; it cites as its source a copy of the first, 1845 edition of Facundo, "a tattered duodecimo, which has come to us across the Andes and around Cape Horn, from the most secluded corner of the Argentine Confederation" (Mayers, "The Gaucho" 182).

The author of "The Gaucho" can be firmly identified as William S. Frederick Mayers, who published two other articles in the Atlantic: "El Llanero," in February of 1859, and "In the Pines" in May of that year. The first is a biography of José Antonio Páez, the hero of Venezuelan Independence, while the second—an account of the author's visit to the New Jersey Pine Barrens—is frequently cited as the first appearance in print of the "Jersey Devil," the legendary monster who is said to haunt the area. Mayers was born in Tasmania in January of 1831, the son of a colonial chaplain, and was educated in Marseilles (Pollard); he may have spent time in Spain. There are a few spelling errors in his summary of Facundo, but it is obvious that Mayers read Spanish accurately and easily. Both "The Gaucho" and "El Llanero" make it clear that Mayer was eager to show off his Spanish.

It is unclear when Mayers arrived in New York, but by 1858, when he was twenty-seven years old, he had formed ties to important members of the North American establishment. Over the next months, he placed his three articles in the Atlantic—no mean feat for an unknown young writer. Another of Mayers's interests was numismatics, and in 1858 he was one of the founders and the first treasurer of the American Numismatic Society (Adelson 25-30, 314; Orosz). Mayers resigned as treasurer in February of 1859, sailing shortly thereafter for China; the British Foreign Office had contracted him as an interpreter of Chinese—yet another of his languages. Mayers rose quickly in the British diplomatic service in China, and eventually became Secretary of Legation in Peking and one of the most distinguished British sinologists of his time. In 1878, when Mayers died of typhoid fever in Shanghai, he was only forty-seven years old (Pollard, Smith).

Mayers's article on José Antonio Páez suggests that he had met the elderly hero during Páez's New York exile between 1850 and December of 1858; "El Llanero" describes the general's quiet and unpretentious life on "a pleasant street, far up-town among the Twenties" and his strolls down Broadway ("El Llanero" 188). It seems possible that much of the biographical information included in Mayers's account of Páez's early life and military career came directly from his subject. "In the Pines" mentions another acquaintance, referred to only as "Friend B.," "a right-down Yankee" who was developing a cranberry farm near the ruins of the eighteenth-century Hanover Iron Works (563-65). The details Mayers provide strongly suggest that "B." was Nathaniel Holmes Bishop, a well-connected young adventurer and amateur scientist from Massachusetts who was one the first cranberry-growers in the Barrens before 1860 (Guthorn 139-44).

In 1854, at the age of seventeen, Nathaniel Bishop had walked across Argentina and the Andes; he returned to Boston early in 1856, sailing around the Horn from Valparaíso. Bishop kept a detailed journal of his experiences and observations, but did not publish it until 1869, when he had made a considerable fortune in the cranberry business. The Pampas and Andes: A Thousand Miles' Walk Across South America, which appeared only a few months after Mann's translation of Facundo, is both informative and highly entertaining; it sold extremely well, marketed both as a travel narrative and as an adventure book for boys, and was in its eleventh edition by 1883. (3)

Bishop spent the period from July to November of 1855 in Sarmiento's native city of San Juan. He spoke only a few words of Spanish, and his host there was a mysterious North American who called himself "Guillermo Bonaparte." Bonaparte idolized Sarmiento, whom he had first met ten years earlier, in November of 1845, on Más Afuera Island; he was, in fact, the castaway Sarmiento called "Williams" in his Viajes (10-16). Bonaparte told Bishop all about his hero, whom Bishop described in his journal as "one of the most enlightened patriots and philosophers of South America" (45), and dictated English translations from Facundo to his guest. Sarmiento eventually heard of Bishop, whom he described in 1881 as "Un joven norte-americano [que] cruzó la pampa á pie al abrigo de una tropa de carretas cazando gamas, perdices y quirquinchos, y llegado á San Juan, le leyeron ó leyó con trabajo el Génesis de la Pampa: el Facundo" (Facundo 454). An advertisement for The Pampas and Andes printed in one of Bishop's later adventure books includes positive comments from Sarmiento himself: "As I have written about the same region, your book of travels becomes a valuable reminder of those scenes, and I shall have to consult your work in the future when I again write about those countries" (Voyage of the Paper Canoe 352).

I would suggest that it was Bishop who first told Mayers about Sarmiento, and that he loaned Mayers his personal copy of Facundo's first edition, probably a gift from Bonaparte. Mayers' account of the origins of the text he consulted, "which has come to us across the Andes and around Cape Horn, from the most secluded corner of the Argentine Confederation," retraces Bishop's return journey from San Juan—a "secluded corner" indeed. "The Gaucho" refers to Sarmiento as "the poet-patriot-philosopher" of Argentina, a phrase which echoes Bishop's "one of the most enlightened patriots and philosophers of South America," and the article's description of the Pampas appears to owe a great deal to Bishop's journal. Mayers also refers to the black algarroba bush as the "mata-gusano" (190), a term which does not appear in Facundo but is used by Bishop (174).

I have described "The Gaucho" as a summary of Facundo, but that is only partially accurate. More precisely, it is a summary of the text Mayers believed Sarmiento should have written. As he thought about how "to condense into a few pages the story of [Facundo's] life and death" (182), Mayers recognized that Sarmiento's text is above all an "impassioned narrative," a point emphasized more recently by Carlos Alonso, but appears to have been uncomfortable with certain aspects of that text. Mayers thus endeavored to restructure Facundo, retaining its passion and vivid language—elements largely lost in Mann's version—while translating or paraphrasing selected sections of the original. Mayers clearly read Facundo as above all a dramatic biography, and his model for that biography seems to me essentially Shakespearean—Juan Facundo Quiroga as an Argentine Macbeth, a deeply-flawed but ultimately tragic figure. Mayers' Facundo is also less the product of a specific geographical, historical, and cultural environment than of personal impulses and choices and of the working-out of "the wonderful designs of Providence" (186).

Mayers completely eliminates the last two chapters of Sarmiento's 1845 text. Juan Manuel de Rosas is mentioned only seventeen times, generally in passing as one of Facundo's rivals. Mayers also largely avoids Sarmiento's breathtakingly broad generalizations and comparisons. Thus "The Gaucho" briefly describes the Gaucho cantor, but excises Sarmiento's insistence that "el pueblo arjentino es poeta por carácter, por naturaleza" (Facundo 43). Also excluded is Sarmiento's long discussion of color symbolism (131-35). Mayers describes the Pampas, but omits Sarmiento's insistence that "El mal que aqueja a la República Arjentina es la estension"(Facundo 25-26)—an idea which would have been inconceivable in 1858 to both expansionist North Americans and British colonialists.

In principle Mayers accepts Sarmiento's vision of Facundo as an emblem of Spanish American backwardness and violence, describing him "as a representative of a class of rulers unfortunately too common in the republics that descend from Spain, and as a remarkable instance of brutal force and barbaric stubbornness triumphing over reason, science, education, and, in a word, civilization […]" (182), but he omits most of Sarmiento's philosophic framework. "The Gaucho" also notes that in La Rioja "The character of the people is Oriental; their appearance actually recalls, as we are told, that of the ancient dwellers about Jerusalem; their very customs have rather an Arabic than a Spanish tinge" (182-83), but the phrase "we are told" suggests that Mayers did not fully accept Sarmiento's Orientalism. Mayers also may have had some problems with the most overtly novelistic sections of Facundo; he does not include the famous incident of Facundo's encounter with the tigre (Facundo 79-81) or the story of Severa Villafañe (Facundo 162-63).

"The Gaucho" begins with several striking paragraphs worth quoting in their entirety:

WHAT is a Gaucho?

That is precisely what I am going to tell you.

Take my hand, if you please. Shod with the shoes of swiftness, we have annihilated space and time. We are standing in the centre of a boundless plain. Look north and south and east and west: for five hundred miles beyond the limit of your vision, the scarcely undulating level stretches on either hand. Miles, leagues, away from us, the green of the torrid grass is melting into a misty dun; still further miles, and the misty dun has faded to a shadowy blue; more miles, it rounds at last away into the sky. A hundred miles behind us lies the nearest village; two hundred in another direction will bring you to the nearest town. The swiftest horse may gallop for a day and night unswervingly, and still not reach a dwelling-place of man. We are placed in the midst of a vast, unpeopled circle, whose radii measure a thousand miles.

But see! a cloud arises in the South. Swiftly it rolls towards us; behind it there is tumult and alarm. The ground trembles at its approach; the air is shaken by the bellowing that it covers. Quick! let us stand aside! for, as the haze is lifted, we can see the hurrying forms of a thousand cattle, speeding with lowered horns and fiery eyes across the plain. Fortunately, they do not observe our presence; were it otherwise, we should be trampled or gored to death in the twinkling of an eye. Onward they rush; at last the hindmost animals have passed and see, behind them all there scours a man!

He glances at us, as he rushes by, and determines to give us a specimen of his only art. Shaking his long, wild locks, as he rises in the stirrup and presses his horse to its maddest gallop, he snatches from his saddle-bow the loop of a coil of rope, whirls it in his right hand for an instant, then hurls it, singing through the air, a distance of fifty paces. A jerk and a strain,—a bellow and a convulsive leap,—his lasso is fast around the horns of a bull in the galloping herd. The horseman flashes a murderous knife from his belt, winds himself up to the plunging beast, severs at one swoop the tendon of its hind leg, and buries the point of his weapon in the victim’s spinal marrow. It falls dead. The man, my friend, is a Gaucho; and we are standing on the Pampas of the Argentine Republic. (178)

Mayers, apparently relying primarily on Bishop's journal, goes on to describe the upbringing, appearance, and dress of this typical "Centaur of the boundless cattle-plains," whom he names "Juan de Dios" (178. Mayers's summary of Sarmiento's text begins when Juan sits in a pulpería and listens "open-mouthed to the cantor, or Gaucho troubadour, as he […] chants the frightful end of the Gaucho Attila, Quiroga, and the punishment that overtook his murderer, the daring Santos Perez" (180; Facundo 53-55). A fight breaks out (Facundo 59-60), a man dies, and a Gaucho malo is created and described (180; Facundo 55). The article then introduces Sarmiento's other Gaucho types, "the guide, or vaqueano" and "the Gaucho rastreador" (180-82; Facundo 47-51). This whole section is very close to the original, paraphrasing or directly translating from the text; the translations are Mayers' own, and do not repeat Bonaparte's versions from Bishop's journal.

It is not until the close of the rastreador section that Mayers identifies his source: "He who would learn more of Calébar [sic] and his brother-trailers, let him procure a copy of the little work that now lies before us." He then introduces the author of that text and summarizes the first pages of Facundo:

the poet-patriot-philosopher, Don Domingo F. Sarmiento, may be called the Lamartine of South America, whose eventful career may some day invite us to an examination. Suffice it now to say, that he was expelled by Rosas in 1840 from Buenos Ayres, and that he took his way to Chile, with the intention in that hospitable republic of devoting his pen to the service of his oppressed country. At the baths of Zonda he wrote with charcoal, under a delineation of the national arms: On ne tue point les idées! which inscription, having been reported to the Gaucho chieftain, a committee was appointed to decipher and translate it. When the wording of the significant hint was conveyed to Rosas, he exclaimed, —"Well, what does it mean?" The answer was conveyed to him in 1852; and the sentence serves as epigraph to the present life of his associate and victim, Facundo Quiroga. (182; Facundo 6) (4)

Mayers' account of Facundo presents him as a thoroughly bad apple, rotten from birth. When "the future general was scarcely, distinguishable from a common baby," he was already "fierce and cruel in his tiny way; were his mother still alive, the good woman could doubtless tell us of many a bitter moment spent in lamenting her infant’s waywardness […]" (183); Sarmiento does not include anything similar. Mayers places somewhat more emphasis than Sarmiento on Facundo's later mistreatment of his parents, and does not include Sarmiento's account of a tearful father-son reconciliation (Facundo 86). Mayers does recount the well-known episode of the boy's rebellion against the schoolmaster (183).

Mayers also makes small but significant changes, in Facundo's family background and adolescence. While in Sarmiento Facundo's father is "un sanjuanino de humilde condición" who later "había adquirido en el pastoreo una regular fortuna" (82), Mayers makes Don Prudencio "a well-to-do estanciero or grazier" (183). Thus while Sarmiento's text suggests that Facundo's downward spiral into vagabondage and violence is symptomatic of the societal de-evolution of the Argentine interior as a whole, Mayers portrays a wealthy and well-bred young man who makes a choice to de-evolve, who "voluntarily placed himself in the lowest ranks of society" (185), becoming "a shaggy, swarthy savage" who hangs out in pulperías: "the son of wealthy Don Prudencio has become—not a common laborer—but a comrade of common laborers. He chooses the most toilsome, the most unintellectual, but, at the same time, the most remunerative handicraft,—that of the tapiador, or builder of mud walls" (183).

Mayers then jumps forward and very briefly summarizes Facundo's desertion from Buenos Aires, the battle in which Facundo and his three companions defeat a far larger force, his escape and later arrest by Dupuis, and his bloody role in the prison rebellion (184; Facundo 85-87). He next moves to La Rioja and Facundo's appointment as "Comandante de Campaña, or District Commandant" by the Ocampo family (185; Facundo 96). Mayers suggests that this appointment represented a crucial shift in Facundo's career: after his voluntary social de-evolution as a young man, Facundo now willed himself to rise towards "the summit of the steep" of Argentina's chaotic and violent social order, and the first step is his alliance with Aldao. Mayers then pauses both to reflect upon the meaning of Facundo's career, and to foreshadow his future:

We cannot help pausing for an instant to reflect upon the singular manifestation of destiny in his life. History acquaints us with no similar character who displayed so little forethought with such astonishing results. He premeditated nothing, unless now and then a murder. […] Thrown upon the world with brutal passions scarcely controlled by a particle of reason, whirled hither and thither in a general and fearful cataclysm, he shows us preëminently the wonderful designs of Providence carried into effect, as it were, by a succession of blind and sudden impulses. In a community of established order the gallows would have put a speedy check upon his misdeeds; in the Argentine Confederation of 1820 he was gradually lifted, by an ever-rising tide of blood, to the eminence of lawless power.

Only for a while, however; for the stream did not cease to rise. The flood that had elevated him alone disregarded his commands. For a few moments he might maintain his footing upon the fearful peak; and then—— (186).

Mayers rapidly describes Facundo's ascent to total power in La Rioja and his violence, his gambling, and his greed (186-87; Facundo 97-108). He then again interrupts his narrative to point out some of the qualities that led to Facundo's success, "those instinctive and personal attributes with which almost every savage chieftain who has maintained so extraordinary an ascendency over his fellows has been endowed." While Sarmiento described Facundo as "de estatura baja" (81), Mayers says he "was tall, immensely powerful, a famous ginete or horseman, a more adroit wielder of the lasso and the bolas than even his rival, Rosas, capable of great endurance, and abstinent from intoxicating drinks" (187). He then jumps back to Sarmiento's fifth chapter to recount Facundo's native cleverness, citing the episode of the shortened stick (187-88; Facundo 90-91), and concludes that "in these instinctive qualities, so awful to untutored minds, lay the secret of the power of Quiroga,—and of how many others of the world’s most famous names!" (188).

After describing Quiroga's defeat of Lamadrid at Tala (Facundo 130), Mayers highlight's Facundo's triumphal entry into San Juan. He then declares that "We do not propose following the bloodstained career of Juan Facundo through all its windings and episodes of cruelty and blood," but does provide several brief examples of that cruelty taken from earlier sections of Facundo (85, 89-90). That list ends with a reference to the caudillo's violent sexuality that would have been extremely shocking to the Atlantic's readers. Sarmiento had written that Facundo "daba de bofetadas en Tucuman a una linda señorita a quien ni seducir ni forzar podia" (90). Mayers intensifies that account: "A young girl, who would not yield to his wishes, he threw down upon the floor, and kicked her with his heavy boots until she lay in a pool of blood. Truly, a ruler after the Russian sort!" (188).

The next section of Mayers's account does a remarkable job of compressing and dramatizing Facundo's defeats at La Tablada and Oncativo (189). After those disasters, Facundo struggles back to relative prominence, but there are few details. Sarmiento's eleventh and twelfth chapters are largely omitted as Mayers declares his eagerness to "draw to a close our hasty sketch" (190). Mayers then describes Facundo's move to Buenos Aires in 1835 and his efforts there to reinvent himself as "a profound admirer of Rivadavia, Lavalle, and Paz, his ancient Unitarian enemies; Buenos Ayres, the Confederation, he loudly proclaimed, must have a Constitution; conciliation must supplant the iron-heeled tyranny under which the people had groaned so long; […] The reign of blood, according to Quiroga, its chief evangelist, was approaching its termination" (190). Mayers clearly assumes Rosas' guilt in Facundo's assassination, a case which Sarmiento's first edition did not make explicit (Facundo 226), and imagines Rosas, "the gloomy tyrant," anxiously attempting to develop a "plan for disposing of his inconvenient friend" (190).

The last two pages of Mayers's article provide a generally accurate summary of the end of Sarmiento's "Barranca-Yaco" chapter. The emotional ending of "The Gaucho" vividly recasts Sarmiento's text as a Shakespearean tragedy, including a quotation from Macbeth, and as a Biblical parable of human frailty.

Who that has been on the Pampas but can picture to himself [Facundo's] party as it left the little mud-hut on the plain? The cumbrous, oscillating galera, with its shaggy, straggling four-in-hand,—the caracoling Gaucho couriers,—the negro pricking on behind,—the tall grass rolling out on every side,—the muddy pool that forms the watering-place for beasts and men scattered over a hundred miles of brookless plain,—the great sun streaming up from the herbage just in front, awakening the voices of a million insects and the carols of unnumbered birds in the thickets here and there! Look long, Quiroga, on that rising sun! listen to the well-known melody that welcomes his approach! gaze once more upon the rolling Pampa! look again upon those flying hills! Thou who hast said, "There is no life but this life," who didst "believe in nothing," shalt know these things no more! five minutes hence thy statecraft will be over, thy long apprenticeship will have expired! thou shalt be standing—where thou mayst learn the secret that the wisest man of all the bookworms thou despisest will never know alive!

Barranca Yaco is reached. The warning was well founded. A crack is heard, —there is a puff of smoke,—and two musket-balls pass each other in the carriage, yet without inflicting injury on its occupants. From either side the road, however, the partida dashes forth. In a moment the horses are disabled, the postilions, the negro, and the couriers cut down. Ortiz trembles more violently than ever; Quiroga rises above himself. Looking from the carriage while the butchery is going on, he addresses the murderers with a few unfaltering words. There is glamour in his speech; the ensanguined assassins hesitate,—another instant, only one moment more, and they will be on their knees before him; but Santos Perez, who was at one side, comes up, raises his piece,—and the body of Juan Facundo Quiroga falls in a soulless heap with a bullet in the brain! Ortiz was immediately hacked to pieces; and the tragedy of Córdova is at an end.

Such were the life, misdeeds, and death of the Terror of the Pampas. Having in the most rapid and imperfect manner sketched the career of this extraordinary Fortune’s-child, his rise from the most abject condition to unbridled power, his ferocious rule, and his almost heroic end, we may surely exclaim, that "nothing in his life became him like the leaving of it," and, presenting this bare résumé of facts as a mere outline, a mere pen-and-ink sketch of the terrible chieftain, refer the curious student to the impassioned narrative whence our facts are mainly derived.

It may be well to add, that Santos Perez, who was actively pursued by the government of Buenos Ayres, which itself had instigated him to the commission of the crime, was finally, after many hair-breadth escapes, betrayed by his mistress to the agents of Rosas, and suffered death at Buenos Ayres with savage fortitude. The Lord have mercy on his soul!

Despite Mayers' enthusiasm for his topic and the passion of his style, there is no evidence of any subsequent published references to Facundo or to its author until after Sarmiento's arrival in New York in May of 1865. It might be argued that the impact of "The Gaucho" was limited by Mayers' decision to exclude central elements in Facundo, particularly its theoretical framework and its portrayal of Facundo Quiroga as a precursor of and model for Juan Manuel de Rosas. That argument, however, flies in the face of the majority of reviews of the Mann translation in North American periodicals, which similarly missed or downplayed both the connection between Facundo and Rosas and the philosophical historiography that lies at the heart of Sarmiento's vision.

I would suggest, rather, that Mayers's lack of impact in 1858 had a great deal more to do with American attitudes towards Latin America and with America's internal politics. Almost two generations earlier, many North American intellectuals had been excited by Spanish American independence, and in the 1820's the nation's most prestigious journal, the North American Review, espoused a strongly positive view of Argentina, finding evidence of cultural and political progress there and asserting that the United States was Argentina's natural model and tutor. An article of 1826 praised the high intellectual quality of El Nacional of Buenos Aires and, after asserting that "we can never be indifferent as to what a distant, friendly, growing, and confiding Republic may say of ourselves," translated that newspaper's description of the United States as "the Northern Luminary, which guides the rest of the Republics in the work of liberty" and which "stationed by Providence in the vanguard of the allied Republics, […] forms the rallying point for all those engaged in the great work of consolidating American liberty" ("Buenos Ayres" 483-84).

Twenty years later, North American dreams of a hemispheric brotherhood of similar republics had crumbled in the face of persistent political and military chaos in much of Spanish America, with Argentina often cited as a prime example of that chaos. Moreover, race had become the determining factor in American attitudes toward the rest of the hemisphere. In 1845, John L. O'Sullivan not only asserted that the United States had the right to fulfill "our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions," but stated that

the Spanish-Indian-American populations of Mexico, Central America and South America, afford the only receptacle capable of absorbing that [African] race whenever we shall be prepared to slough it off—to emancipate it from slavery and, simultaneously necessary, to remove it from the midst of our own. Themselves already of mixed and confused blood, […] the regions occupied by those populations must strongly attract the black race in that direction; and as soon as the destined hour of emancipation shall arrive, will relieve the question of one of its worst difficulties, if not absolutely the greatest. ("Annexation" 5, 7)

Nathaniel Bishop's journal is typical of North American attitudes towards Argentina at the middle of the century, admiring the beauty of its vast landscape, the promise of its untapped resources, and the quaintness of its customs, but nonetheless repulsed by the violence of its political life and by "the amalgamation of races," which Bishop declares "has introduced a great variety of shades of complexion, as well as of character, among the population" (73).

I would suggest that by 1858 negative views of Argentina among educated North Americans concealed a deep-seated nervousness about their own country—a shift from the conviction that United States represented the future of Argentina, an idea that had been so attractive in the 1820's, to the fear that the conflicts between Unitarios and Federales in Argentina might in fact represent the future of a United States torn apart by race and by civil strife. Sarmiento, in fact, has predicted in 1847 that "acaso los yankees están amenazados de sucumbir bajo el peso de una elaboración interna tan amenazante como la de la plebe romana. Todos tiemblan hoy de que aquel coloso de una civilización tan completa y tan vasta no vaya a morir en las convulsiones que le prepara la emancipación de la raza negra" (Viajes 474).

"The Gaucho," despite its emphasis upon Facundo's providential biography, did suggest that Argentina was divided over an issue of governance, the conflict between national and regional authority, and that Sarmiento had framed that conflict as a struggle between civilization and barbarism. The same issue of governance, of course, dominated political discourse in the United States by 1858, and Mayers' readers would have been unable to avoid confronting that issue after the Kansas and Nebraska Act of 1854 and the Dred Scott decision of 1857, both widely interpreted as leading almost inevitably to the sort of bloody civil conflict North Americans had come to view as a Spanish American phenomenon.

For a great many of the Atlantic's generally anti-slavery readers, the brutal beating of abolitionist Charles Sumner of Massachusetts on the floor of the United States Senate, in May of 1856, must have seemed to exemplify the barbarization of American politics, bringing the country ever closer to the violence and brutality epitomized, in "The Gaucho," by the figure of Facundo Quiroga. In October of 1858, only three months after Mayers's article appeared, William Henry Seward declared that the United States was on the brink of "an irrepressible conflict between opposing and enduring forces." The root of that conflict, Seward asserted in his enormously influential speech, was slavery, which he presented as something entirely alien to the Anglo-American tradition, introduced into the hemisphere only by Spaniards and Portuguese; "its legitimate fruits," he went on, "are seen in the poverty, imbecility, and anarchy which now pervade all Portuguese and Spanish America" (Seward 290).

As Goodrich has noted (95), the most overt insistence that the American South was essentially identical to the Argentine Pampas appeared after the Civil War, in the 1868 review of Mann's translation in the Nation. The reviewer praised Sarmiento's efforts to bring "into relief the 'irrepressible conflict' between the pampas and the cities, the gauchos and the citizens. Nor is Mr. Seward's famous phrase inapplicable to the dissensions on the La Plata." The review further asserted "the close resemblance of the gauchos, as a class, to Southern slaveholders as a class" and the similarity of Sarmiento's Argentine Pampas to "Mrs. Stowe's account of Legree's plantation […]" ("Life in the Argentine Republic"). The same sort of parallel is implicit in a number of other reviews as well. Virginia Vaughn, for example, referred to Gauchos as "guachos" and misspelled "Facundo" as "Tacundo" throughout her long review in Putnam's Magazine, but she was very clear that Sarmiento was like her hero, Ulysses S. Grant—and that Sarmiento's recent election as president of Argentina prefigured Grant's political success. Both Argentina and the United States, she suggested, "are passing through a fierce transitional epoch that is leading us to a higher state of development" (Vaughn 626, 624).

Mary Mann and Sarmiento's other friends in the United States set out, after 1865, to create his North American identity—to establish his quintessential North American rise from poverty, his leadership as an educator and as the heir to Horace Mann's legacy, his idealized New England values, his determination to replace nomadic Gauchos with Jeffersonian yeomen farmers, preferably of Northern European stock. It appears to have even been suggested that Sarmiento's belief in freedom of religion would lead to Protestant expansion in Argentina; the reviewer of Mann's translation in the Atlantic stated, however improbably, that as a result of Sarmiento's efforts "there are now as many Protestant as Catholic churches in Buenos Ayres" ("Reviews and Literary Notices" 376). In short, Sarmiento was presented as North America's best South American friend—a fitting candidate to replace the previous Latin American idol of politicians and intellectuals in the United States, Emperor Pedro II of Brazil, whose image was increasingly tarnished, after the Civil War, by the survival of slavery in his nation.

I would suggest, however, that a key component of Sarmiento's personal success in the United States—a success inextricably connected to his subsequent election to Argentina's presidency—was a conscious and highly intelligent campaign to convince Northern readers not only that he shared their values and beliefs, but that he had the ability to single-handedly transform Argentine barbarism into civilization; Sarmiento's potential success in that enterprise encouraged Unionist hopes that the politics and culture of the defeated South could similarly be reconstructed. Among the key elements in that campaign were Sarmiento's 1866 Vida de Abraham Lincoln, a hurried pastiche of English-language accounts which nonetheless linked him to the recently-martyred president, and Sarmiento's very public correspondence with Charles Sumner, which associated him with one of the great icons of Abolitionism (Life in the Argentine Republic 397-400).

But all of this came after the bloody chaos of the Civil War. For many of the Atlantic's readers in 1858, ten years earlier, Mayers's version of Facundo would have offered little that was hopeful about Argentina's future—or their own. Sarmiento's Argentina, as Mayers described and transcribed it, might have seemed less exotic and picturesque than threatening and depressing. It should not surprise us, then, if Mayers's readers moved on quickly and gratefully from "The Gaucho" to more pleasant pieces in the same issue, like "Mademoiselle's Campaigns" or and Oliver Wendell Holmes's always amusing "The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table."


(1). Reprinted in the edition of Facundo by Alberto Palcos, 311-48. Subsequent references to Facundo are to this edition, and Sarmiento's original orthography is maintained wherever possible. For a very useful study of Mazade's review and of Mary Mann's version of Facundo, see Goodrich (85-98).

(2). In fact, I have been able to find only one British review of Mann's 1868 translation, published in the London Athenæum ("Life in the Argentine Republic").

(3). Subsequent references to Bishop's The Pampas and Andes are to the eleventh edition. A reprint of the first, 1869 edition was published in 2004 by The Narrative Press of Santa Barbara, California; the text is also widely available on-line.

(4). Rosas is not mentioned at this point in Sarmiento's original.


Works Cited


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