H. M. (Henry Marie) Brackenridge.

Voyage to South America, performed by order of the American Government in the years 1817 and 1818, in the frigate Congress (Volume v.1) online

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Online LibraryH. M. (Henry Marie) BrackenridgeVoyage to South America, performed by order of the American Government in the years 1817 and 1818, in the frigate Congress (Volume v.1) → online text (page 19 of 29)
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The owner, a worthy young man, apprehensive that
we might feel some uneasiness, lest we should be over-
taken by a pampero, gave us the cheering information,
that she had been twice overset without any material
injury ; he was lavish in her praise, as a swift sailor,
a sea boat, and as good a piece of stuff as ever breasted
the briny surge. She was built in Paraguay, he
knew not how many years ago, of the best wood that
province could afford, and which is even superior to
the wood of Brazil. This young man had spent some
years in the United States, spoke very good English,
was a native of Monte Video, but his family, whom I
afterwards found highly respectable, had removed to


Buenos Ayres.* He was a great patriot, and took de-
light in giving information on a thousand matters ne-
cessary to be learned, in order to understand other
things of more intrinsic importance. The particulars
I drew from him, gave me a more favourable opinion of
his countrymen than I had before entertained, for
having heard little else than the most unfavourable
accounts, my mind was not entirely free from prejudice;
slander may soil the purest character, even when it
cannot destroy ; much greater is the injury that it can
do, where there happens to be real defects, susceptible
of exaggeration. I collected from him, what I consi-
dered the popular opinions of the day. I was pleased
with the warmth and zeal with which he spoke; it
was precisely as a young American of the northf
would speak of his own country. He professed to be
acquainted with state measures, state affairs, and to
give, unreservedly, the character of the leading men of
the country. San Martin was pre-eminent ; Pueyrredon
was now very popular, although not so at first, but
his energy had established order, without infringing the
liberty of the state ; I could not but remark the constant
recurrence of this expression, whereas, on the opposite
side, it is never used ; it is the country of Artigas, his
people, his war with the Portuguese, his enmity to Buenos
Ayres, &c., the substance and language of despotism,
wanting nothing but the form.

There were several passengers on board, besides our-

* The population of this province has much increased, ami is still
increasing, by emigrations from nearly all the other provinces, from
Banda Oriental, as well as from Peru.

t They call us Americans of the north — Amerieanos d/?l npH^i,
*nd themselves, Americanos del Sud, - , t -^


selres, inhabitants of Buenos Ayres. As we expected
not to remain out more than one night, we made up our
minds to be reconciled to our miserable accommoda-
tions. We wrapped ourselves in our great coats, for
the evening was extremely cool, and slept as well as we
could. Next morning we came in sight of the southern
shore, at the distance of some miles ; it appeared to be
a mere line along the surface of the water, and some
solitary trees at a distance, looked as if they grew in
this element. Towards the middle of the day, we suf-
fered considerably from the heat, being without any
shelter. In the mean while, in order to make the best
of my situation, I resolved to strike up an acquaintance
with mes compagnons de voyage, which was not difficult.
Finding that I spoke their language, they soon became
communicative, but, with the exception of one amongst
them, who appeared to be a merchant's clerk, returning
from Monte Video, where he had been on some business,
their information was limited; they seemed to listen
to the clerk, a sprightly fellow, with some attention, and
when appealed to now and then, they confirmed what he
said. It was important to know the sentiments of these
people, as the presumption was, that these were not so
much individual and peculiar, as common to the class,
or portion of society to which they belonged. Politics,
and national events, appeared to be the favourite topics »
they were highly elated with the mission from the United
States, from which, they presaged some great good to
their country. They considered the day approaching
when they were to be ranked with other nations, but I
could discover at the same time, that there was among
them already, no inconsiderable share of national pride ;
they recounted the achievements of their republic, their
defeat of the British, their capture of Monte Video
their long and persevering war in Peru, and the late vie-



tory of their arms in Chili, and seemed to think, that
the world was already beginning to regard with admira-
tion, the greatness of their deeds. They seemed to
hold in equal detestation the Spaniards and Portuguese.
When I informed them I had heard that some among
them were for having a king ; they seemed to express
some surprise, and said, that they had got rid of one
king, and it would be singular if they should already
think of another ; their object was to establish a free
government, and to be like the United States. They
expressed their opinions freely, on most subjects, blam-
ing or approving without reserve. The clerk, who
seemed to be something of a book-man, told me he had
read the history of the United States, the constitutions,
and general Washington's farewell address. He thought
Rousseau's Social Compact a visionary thing, but
Paine's Common Sense, and Rights of Man, sober and
rational productions. He had brought with him, to
amuse himself on the way, a copy of Demoustier's
Mythology, in French; which language, he told me,
had been much studied of late, in consequence of there
being very extensive importations of French books.
Contrary to our expectations, we were compelled to
remain another night on the water. In the evening,
our companions, after taking a glass of something sti-
mulating, struck up one of their national songs, which
they sung with as much enthusiasm as we should our
Hail Columbia ! I joined them in my heart, though inca-
pable of partaking in the concert with my voice. Tiie
air was somewhat slow, yet bold and expressive ; the
words of the first stanza and chorus, were as follows :

" Oid, ruortales el grito sagrado,
Libertad, Libcrtad, Libertad,
Oid, el ruido de rotas cadenas
Ved en trono, a la noble igualdad ;


Se levaiita en la faz de la tierra,
Una nueva gloriosa nacion,
Coronada de su sieiide laureles,
Y a sus plantas, rendido un lion.


Sean elernos los laureles.
Que supimas conseguir,
Coronados de gloria vivamos,
Ojuremos, con gloria morir."

The following is a literal translation :

Hear, O mortals ! the sacred shouts,
Of liberty, liberty, liberty ;
Hear the sound of broken chains,
'^ Behold equality enthroned ;

Behold in the face of day arising,
A new and glorious nation.
Her brows are crown'd with laurel,
A vanquished lion at her feet.


Be eternal the laurel
We have dared to win ;
Crowned with glory let us live.
Or with glory, swear to die.

This hymn, I was told, had been composed by a
lawyer of the name of Lopes, now a member of con-
gress, and that it is universally sung throughout all
the provinces of La Plata, in the encampments of Ar-
tigas, as well as in the streets of Buenos Ayres ; and
that it is taught in schools as an essential part of the
education of youth. There are four or five additional
verses, which breathe the same strong sentiments of
liberty and equality, so peculiarly suited to the Ameri-


can soil ; should any attempt be made to establish arbi-
trary power, it must be 'through the aid of their coun-
terfeit resemblance. It is unnecessary to speak of the
powerful influence of national music and national songs ;
it may almost be said that there cannot be a nation
without them ; at least, when sentiments and thoughts
are thus inculcated, they become interwoven with all the
fibres of the heart. They, at the same time, furnish the
best evidence of what is the prevailing wish or inclina-
tion of the people ; they are proofs a thousand times
more convincing than general observations. A people
who are enthusiastic in such sentiments, can never
voluntarily submit their necks to the yoke of despotism ;
and none of their chiefs can deceive any longer than
their acts conform to them, especially where their power
does not depend on standing armies, but on these very
people. Their songs breathe the sublime strains of
American liberty ; any others would be oflfensive ; if, in
addition to this, they only possessed the intelligence at
once to discern and understand the true principles of
free government, they would have nothing to apprehend.
The principles of freedom are, indeed, few and simple ;
but they are greatly deceived who think that free govern-
ment is equally simple, that

" All states can reach it, and all heads conceive ;"

its component parts are, imfortunately, numerous and
complicated ; it is a science, and of all sciences, the
most sublime ; political rights must be secured by walls
of adamant from the daring assaults of the ambitious ;
they must be protected from the fury of the mob, and
the mirror must be held up to the venomous demagogue,
" that he may see his own image in it, and be turned


into stone." I speak of a civilized society, with its
complicated wants and interests, with all the vices,
jealousies, and wayward passions of this iron age. In
such a state of things, simplicity and freedom in the
system of government, are almost incompatible; the
governments of the despot and of the savage can alone
be simple. ^

During the evening I had an opportunity, for the
first time, of seeing and tasting the herb of Paraguay,
or matte y as prepared by these people. It is calkd
matte, from the name of the vessel ; usually a small
gourd, by the poorer sort, or silver, and even wood
(nearly of the same shape) cased with copper for the
rich. About a handful of the bruised leaves of the
yerba, intermingled with small twigs, for it is not
prepared with the cleanliness and care of the East
India tea, is put into three half gills of warm water ; the
matte, itself, holding about a pint. As it is used, the
water is occasionally renewed, and in taking it, they
use a tube a few inches in length, v/ith a perforated
bulb at the end, as a strainer. Sugar is sometimes
added to it. The taste is an agreeable bitter, and
bears some resemblance to the Chinese tea. It does
not form a part of a social meal, nor is any thing eaten
with it; it is taken just as inclination prompts, at
all times of the day, though more generally, in the
morning and evening, or after having undergone some
bodily fatigue. The decoction possesses, according
to them, exhilirating and restorative qualities. As
there were not mattes enough for each, I saw them
without repugnance, using the same after each other;
but I afterwards observed, that this was not the case
in the more refined portions of society. The quantities
of this herb consumed in the viceroyalty of La Plata,


and exported to Chili and Peru, was, at one time,
very great ; but the interruption of their trade, occa-
sioned by the revolution, and the restrictive system
adopted by the government of Paraguay, has occa-
sioned it to diminish. Its use is said to have been
borrowed from the Indians, with whom it had been
known time immemorial. It is a large shrub, which
grows wild throughout Paraguay, and on the east side
of the Parana. Azara gives a description of the man-
ner in which it is prepared for exportation. It is stated
never to have been cultivated, and has not been accu-
rately described by botanists.*

In speaking of the matte, I cannot refrain from
noticing a character, whom I observed with some at-
tention: to wit, Paraguayo, the cook, who derives his
name, as is not unusual here, from the country of his
birth. He was a fair specimen of the civilized Indians
of that country, of the poorer class. His dress was like
that of the other seamen, except that he had a hand-
kerchief tied round the crown of his head, his hair queued
behind, and his coarse, thick, black locks projected to
an enonnous size on each side. His complexion, though
not quite so dark, and his features, were not unlike the
North American Indian. His visage was rather longer,
and cheek bones not so high. But what was most re-
markable in him, was his immoveable gravity of coun-
tenance, and invincible silence. He seemed to have no
more animation than the figure of Red Poll in Peale's
Museum, and his eye had not even the fire and ex-

* Dr. ]la!d\vin and Mr. Bonpland, were both of opinion, that it
is a non-dcsciipt, and that it is erroneously desi*;natcd psoralia
gUindidosa. They judge only from description, as the phant is not to
be seen even in the gardens as aeuriosilv.


pression of the dead image of the North American.
Every thing he did was with a slow mechanical
movement, as if produced by machinery, and not by
intellect ; so that if the same thing had been re-
peated fifty times, it appeared to me that there would
scarcely have been a difierence of a single instant in
point of time, or the slightest variation of gesture.
The owner of our vessel told me, that he had had him
in his employment for two years, that although slow,
he was exceedingly faithful and trusty. He told me
that every person in business made a point, if possible,
to procure a Paraguayo ; that they could all read
and write, were sober in their habits, and very humble
and submissive ; of late years, in consequence of the
state of things, they had almost disappeared from
the lower part of the river. In fact, it is chiefly by
the commerce with Paraguay, that the sailors of the
river are formed; as it was there, also, that the only
vessels used in its navigation were constructed. The
greater part of the villages on the Parana, below the
Paraguay, are composed of the civilized Guaranys ;
naturally a spiritless race, but rendered, if possible,
still more tame and submissive by this change of life.
The storms of the revolution have, probably, occa-
sioned them but little uneasiness; they are, therefore,
very indifierent materials for revolutionary purposes.
I obtained, with difficulty, some answers to a few
questions which I put to Paraguayo, respecting the
navigation of the river. He said, that as the wind
blew a great part of the year up the Parana and Para-
guay, sloops used in its navigation, ascended with
sails, that the voyage was long and tedious ; it took
^ve or six weeks to go to Assumption, the capital of
Paraguay, about twelve hundred miles up ; that there
were many islands in the river, covered with wood.


near which they sometimes stopped and anchored for
the night, as they only navigated in the day time.
That the borders of the river from Buenos Ayres to
Corrientes, seven or eight hundred miles, are very thinly
inhabited, but that the soil is fertile, and banks not
subject to inundation.

About day-break we found ourselves in the outer
roads, about six miles from shore, where vessels of a
larger size are obliged to moor, as the water is too
shoal for them to approach nearer. A light fog rising
soon after, prevented us from having a clear view of the
city until after we had cast anchor among the smaller
vessels, about half a mile from land. Phoebus at last
lifted the curtain, and our impatient eyes beheld the
celebrated seat of liberty and independence of the south.
How different the thoughts which rushed across my
mind from those which suggested themselves on my
approach to Rio Janeiro ! There is no king here — no
hereditary nobility — the poiver of the state is acknow-
ledged to be in the people, and in no other. If tliis be
their guiding star, it must in the end bring them safely
through, provided this be their motto. I care not for the
present defects in the state of society, or the errors of
government; the cause is a glorious one, and heaven
will smile upon it. The public functionaries have been
made, and can be unmade by them ; of how many
countries of the world can this be said ? 1 own myself
one of those who prefer the whirlwinds of democracy, to
the stagnant pool of despotism. Never shall I again
behold a scene more sublime ; a people not only strug-
gling against oppressive power, but against the errors
and prejudices of centuries, and for the happiness of
myriads yet unborn ; a people who have followed our
example, who admire our institutions, and who may
settle down in rational and free government ; for I view

Vol. I. R


exenthe possibility of such a consiimmation, as something
great. Yes, they are destined to break the chains of
slavery, ignorance, and superstition in the south, as we
have in the north.

I shall endeavour to give the reader a rude sketch of
the city, as it appeared to us, a task much easier than
to convey the moral impressions left on the mind. It
stretches along a high bank about two miles ; its domes
and steeples, and heavy masses of building, give it
an imposing, but somewhat gloomy aspect. Immense
piles of dingy brown coloured brick, with little variety,
heavy and dull, showed that it did not take its rise
under the patronage of liberty. Compared to Phila-
delphia or New York, it is a vast mass of bricks piled
up without taste, elegance, or variety. The houses
in some places, appear to ascend in stages ; one story
rising from the bottom of the bank, the second story
leaving part of it as a terrace, and, in like maimer,
where the building rose to three stories, a second ter-
race was left, besides the roof of the house, which is
invariably flat. The whole has the appearance of a
V2ist fortification. The streets at regular intervals,
open at right angles mth the river, and their ascent is
steep. Between the bank and the water's edge, there
is a space of considerable width, rarely covered by
the tides ; a number of people were seen here present-
ing some appearance of the bustle of trade, while the
border of the river, for more than a mile, was oc-
cupied by washerwomen, and the green sward covered
with clothes spread out in the sun. Between the sward
and the bank, the earth is bare, but some poplar ti-ees
are planted with seats underneath,* and this appears

' * I have often inihe evenings seen groups of the old Spaniards,
(the word old is used to distinguish the European from the


to be a kind of mall or promenade. There projects out
into the water, a long narrow pier or wharf, composed
bf a mass of stone and earth, and which is said to have
cost the king of Spain half a million of dollars, the
stone used in its construction having been brought
from the island of Martin Garcia, at the mouth of the
Uruguay ; excepting at high tides, it by no means
answers the purpose for which it was intended. To the
left of iMsy looking towards the city, at the distance
of a few hundred yards, stands the fort or castle, its
walls extending down to the water's edge, and mounted
mth cannon. But, as it is not likely that an enemy
would attempt a landing in front of the city, and
as no shipping can approach within gun-shot, it can be
of little importance in a militaiy point of view ; it is,
in fact, without a garrison, and the buildings within
feave been occupied for public offices, and the resi-
dence of the viceroys under the old regime, and of the
directors since the revolution ; while the cannon are
used only in firing salutes. Centinels, however, are
seen pacing the walls, and the blue and white flag
waving over their heads. About a mile below this,
the high bank suddenly tends inward, leaving a vast
level plain, which seems to be partly in cultivation,
and partly in pasture grounds, inclosed in the manner
of the country, and through which a stream, as large
as the Christiana, at Wilmington, enters the river,
affording a good harbour for the smaller craft, as also at
its mouth, where there is a kind of circular basin. In

Ainerican) collected here, or wandering about like Stygian ghosts,
wi-fti a settled something in their looks which language cannot



looking up the river to our right, the city terminates in
detached seats and gardens.

Our boat having been prepared, I embarked with
Lieutenant Clack, Mr. Breeze, the purser. Dr. Bald-
win, and the owner of the malacabada. It was neces-
sary to make some arrangements at the custom-house,
with respect to our baggage, to prevent unpleasant de-
tention : Mr. Rodney and Conmiodore Sinclair de-
clined going on shore. As it was low water, it was
so shallow, that our boat, though small, could not ap-
proach, we were therefore compelled to get into a cart,
according to custom, and to be thus ferried to shore,
at least a hmidred yards. These carts would appear
in our country of a most awkward and clumsy struc-
ture. They are drawn by two horses ; the wheels are
of an enormous size, and the quantity of wood employed
in the structure of the vehicle, one might suppose, would
be a load of itself. I am told that within a few years
past, an English carriage or waggon-maker has esta-
blished himself in the city, and has already made a
fortune by constructing carts and waggons on a more
modem plan ; that his price, at first, for a common two-
horse waggon, was five hundred dollars, but since
they have become in more general use, it has fallen
one half; but it will be a considerable time before the
present clumsy, and inconvenient machines, will be
superseded. It will happen here, as in every
thing else, that the progress of improvement mil be

On our landing, we found very few persons on the
wharf, attracted, as might have been expected, by
curiosity. The fact is, we had taken them by surprise ;
and, as I afterwards learned, it was a source of some
chagrin, that they had not had an opportunity of making
some display on the occasion. It was natural to expect.


that personages to whom the people attached so much
importance, should make their appearance with some-
thing more of parade. But I hope this disappointment
was more than compensated, by giving them a practical
example of the simplicity and humility of true repub-
licanism, which places little or no importance in that
outward show or ceremony, which is more properly a
cloak for emptiness and conceit, than any part of native
worth and dignity.

Our friend was taken by the hand by a young
officer, in a neat uniform, and his manner gave me a
very favourable idea of the relation in this place be-
tween the citizen and the soldier. These two young
men were probably educated together, and were play-
mates in the same town ; they had only embraced
different occupations, one entering the counting-house,
and the other the army, but without placing themselves
in different ranks or orders of society. There was
something of militia in the manner of the officer, which
I cannot describe, which strongly associated itself with
recollections of my own country, and very different
from what I had witnessed in Brazil, where the mili-
tary constitute an order as distinct, as if of a different
race of men. There was no difficulty in making the
arrangements before mentioned. While the boat re-
turned to the vessel, I went in company with the
gentlemen before mentioned in quest of lodgings. There
are several tolerable public houses, chiefly kept by
foreigners. We succeeded in obtaining comfortable
quarters, at about the same price as in the cities of the
United States.

I had no sooner been comfortably settled in my lodg-
ings, than I felt impatient to take a stroll through the
town. The streets are straight and regular, like those
of Monte Video ; a few of them are paved, but hollow


246 ' ^ VOYAGE TO

in the middle. The houses are pretty generally two
stories high, with flat roofs, and, for the most part,
plastered on the outside ; which, without doubt, at
first, improved their appearance, but by time and
neglect, they have become somewhat shabby. There
are no elegant rows of buildings as in Philadelphia, or
New York, but many are spacious, and all take up
much more ground than with us. The reason of this
is, that they have large open courts, or varandas, both
in front and rear, which are called patios. These pa-
tios are not like our yards, enclosed by a wall or railing;
their dwellings, for the most part, properly compose
three connected buildings, forming as many sides of a
square; the wall of the adjoining house making up
the fourth. In the centre of the front building there
is a gate-way, and the rooms on either hand, as we

Online LibraryH. M. (Henry Marie) BrackenridgeVoyage to South America, performed by order of the American Government in the years 1817 and 1818, in the frigate Congress (Volume v.1) → online text (page 19 of 29)