Obrázky na stránke

works is anything but the title given by the learned Bibliographer, whom we just have named. Of the four poems,' which have been written to commemorate the wars between the Spaniards and the native inhabitants of Chili, the Araucana' of Ercilla is the only one, which has obtained celebrity. To this poem, Bouterwek, in his history of Spanish literature, concedes the melancholy praise of 'bearing the palm among the epics of Spain, all of which are failures.'*

The very circumstances, in which its peculiar recommendation is placed, by Lampillas, Andres, and the mass of readers, its historical fidelity, and the personal agency of the poet in the scenes he describes, are by the unrelenting German pronounced the fatal defects of the plan. Whatever may be the critic's decision on this point, these are doubtless the circumstances, which have contributed to give the Araucana much of its notoriety abroad. The romantic adventures of Ercilla unavoidably inspire the sympathy of the reader. A page of Philip before his accession to the throne, he accompanied him to Italy and the low countries, and afterwards to England; and in the twenty second year of his age, embarked for South America with a new viceroy of Peru. It was at this period, that the war raged between the Spaniards and the Araucanians, the native inhabitants of Chili, who opposed a more valorous resistance to the European invaders, than any other people of either American continent. Ercilla engaged with youthful ardor in the struggle ; and soon conceived the plan of recording the events of the hard fought war in a poetical form, but with historical fidelity. This plan was pursued by him amidst all the discouragements and obstacles of a warfare with a barbarous foe. In the wild passes of the Chilian Cordilleras, with no canopy but the heavens, and in the neighborhood of a powerful savage enemy, the heroic bard recorded in verse by night the transactions of the day, and often on fragments of paper, and when that failed him, of leather. In this


he completed the first fifteen cantos of his work. The rest was finished after his return to Spain.

A very honorable testimony to the merit of Ercilla was early pronounced by the most famous writer among his coun

Geschichte der Poesie und Beredsamkeit. III. 408.

trymen. On that memorable occasion, when the library of the Knight of la Mancha was reviewed, The Araucana of Don Alonso de Ercilla, the Austriada of John Rufo, and the Monserrato of Christoval de Nirves' are pronounced by the Curate the best books, that have been written in heroic verse in the Castilian tongue, capable of standing in competition with the most celebrated productions of Italy, and worthy of preservation as the performances, which do the most honor to the Spanish Muse. With such a character from the pen of Cervantes, we need not be surprised that some of the countrymen of Ercilla have called him a Homer, and others a Virgil.* Even Voltaire pronounces the speech of the Cacique, in the second canto, superior to that of Nestor to the Grecian chieftains in the Iliad, adding, however, (a good deal to the annoyance of the Abbé Lampillas,) that it is the only good thing in the poem. The Araucana enjoys certainly the distinction of being the most famous poetical composition, of which America has furnished the subject, and will be prized by the Chilians, no doubt, beyond any other portion of their literary inheritance from Spain.

Such are the chief works, which relate to the ancient kingdom, now the republic of Chili, a country, which bids fair to equal the most favored regions of our continents in commercial and political importance. In latitude, it nearly corresponds with the United States of America on the opposite side of the equator, and accordingly possesses seasons the reverse of ours. It lies between the 25th and 43d degrees of south latitude. Its length is calculated at thirteen hundred miles, and its breadth, between the sea and the Andes, varies from a hundred and twenty to three hundred miles. It is bounded on the north by the desert of Atacama, which divides it from Peru, on the east by the Andes, or the regions of Tucuman, Cujo, and Patagonia, south by the independent Indian nations, which occupy the Magellanic regions of the ancient geographers, and west by the ocean. Its superficies is computed to contain 378,000 square miles, being about twice the extent of France. The present population of Chili, exclusive of the independent tribes of Indians, is estimated at 1,200,000.

* Soe the Authors cited in the prologo to the Araucana, p. 17. Ed. of 1776.

The natural limits of Chili are strongly marked. The almost impassable desert of Atacama has formed a political barrier between Chili and Peru, from the earliest periods to which our traditions of these two countries go back. The native Chilians were an entirely distinct race from the Peruvians; and the conquests of the Incas, like those of the Spaniards after them, found a limit in the domains of the Araucanians. This same desert will doubtless form a permanent barrier between the free republics of Chili and Peru. To the eastward the ridge of the Andes forms a still more complete boundary. According to Molina, there are eight or nine roads across the mountains, but in a condition at present to be travelled only by mules, and wholly obstructed in the winter season. The distance of Santiago, the capital of Chili, from Buenos Ayres, by the most direct road across the Cordilleras, is 1200 miles.

No strongly marked frontier divides Chili on the south from the independent Indian nations. The Spanish conquests were never permanently extended beyond the river Biobio, and the history of their wars with the Araucanians, from the time of Almagro to the year 1771, has sufficiently shown that a political necessity exists for the extension of a civilized state down to the straits of Magellan. The strange caprice of the present revolution, which has placed the Indians on the royal side, and thereby given the Patriots good reason to regard them and treat them as enemies, will no doubt hasten their subjugation and final extinction. On the west, Chili is open to the sea, and possesses some of the finest harbors on the western coast of South America. A few islands, most of them of no great note, lie along its coast; that of Juan Fernandez must contribute to give Robinson Crusoe a peculiar interest in the Chilian nursery.

The Spanish possessions under the old regime were divided into nine governments, under the name of viceroyalties and captain generalships. Chili was one of the five capitanias. The captain general had his residence at Santiago, the metropolis of the province, which at various periods was divided into districts, from fourteen to twenty in number. South of the Biobio the Spanish possessions at present do not extend, with the exception of the town and district of Valdivia, which the Spaniards were able to retain when expelled from the rest of the territory of the Araucanians. This valiant people, with their allies the Puelches, occupy a very fertile region, abounding not only in the productions of the soil, but in mineral riches, and extending for about two hundred miles on the coast, and more than four hundred in depth towards the mountains. This remarkable race has a political organization, as regular as that of their civilized neighbors; and since the peace between them and the Spaniards in 1771, it has been recognized in a sort of independence, and was permitted by that treaty to have a resident minister in the city of Santiago. villages, between the 34th and 40th degrees of latitude, levelled with the ground. The climate of Chili is remarkably healthy, fevers and other disorders are nearly unknown; no instance of hydrophobia, according to the testimony of M. de la Condamine, had ever occurred in it, and but one small species of venomous serpents exists in it.

For a general idea of Chili, the splendid encomium of Robertson will suffice.

“The climate of Chili,' says he, “is the most delicious of the new world, and is hardly equalled by that of any other region, on the face of the earth. Though bordering on the torrid zone, it never feels the extremity of heat, being screened on the east by the Andes, and refreshed from the west by cooling sea breezes. "The temperature of the air is so mild and equable, that the Spaniards give it the preference to that of the southern provinces in their native country. The fertility of the soil corresponds with the benignity of the climate, and is wonderfully accommodated to European productions. The most valuable of these, corn, wine, and oil, abound in Chili, as if they had been native to the country. All the fruits imported from Europe attain to full maturity there. The animals of our hemisphere not only multiply, but improve in this delightful region. The horned cattle are of larger size than those of Spain. Its breed of horses surpasses, both in beauty and in spirit, the famous Andalusian race, from which they sprang. Nor has nature exhausted her bounty on the surface of the earth; she has stored its bowels with riches. Valuable mines of gold, of silver, of copper, and of lead, have been discovered in various parts of it.

Not less emphatic is the summary account, which the Abbé Raynal has given of this region.

Numerous volcanic mountains exist within the limits of Chili, of which twelve or fourteen are said to be constantly in a state of eruption. Earthquakes are said to happen three or four times every year, but five only are recorded, since the conquest by the Spaniards, of alarming violence. In 1751, the city of Concepcion was wholly destroyed by an inundation, incident to an earthquake, and all the fortresses and

[ocr errors]

In mineral wealth, Chili is surpassed, if at all, by Mexico alone. Besides several of the precious stones, which are found in abundance, as amethysts and turquoises, the mines of copper, silver, and gold, are very rich. When Molina wrote, a half a century ago, there were computed to be one thousand copper mines, between the cities of Coquimbo and Copiapo, which were a part only of those in the kingdom of Chili. Frezier, the traveller mentioned above, avers that he saw at Concepcion a mass of copper ore, which weighed forty quintals, from which six field pieces of six pound calibre were cast; a mass with which that so well known near lake Superior cannot enter into competition. We know not whether the mineralogical authority of Molina be good enough to secure belief to the following account of a mine of native brass.

In the hills of the province of Huilquilemu, is found a copper combined with zinc, or a native brass. It occurs in masses of various sizes, adhering to an earthy stone, easily broken, and of a color sometimes yellowish, and sometimes of a greenish brown. This production is to be attributed to the subterraneous fires, whick meeting the pure copper and the lapis calaminaris, sublime the latter, and fix it by a natural combination with the copper, and thus produce this singular compound. It is of a fine yellow, and not less malleable than the best artificial brass. The river Laxa, which washes the hills where it is found, gives it the name of Laxa Copper.'

The silver and gold mines in Chili are very abundant, and those of quicksilver will furnish the means of working them to advantage. The Essay of the Abbé Molina contains interesting accounts relative to both these metals, but we have no space to repeat them. The annual registered produce of the mines of gold and silver of Chili, according to the statement of M. de Humboldt,* is one million seven hundred thousand

* Essai sur la Nouvelle Espagne. IV. 170.

« PredošláPokračovať »