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 20 of 29)
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enter, are in general occupied as places of business, or
merchants' counting rooms ; the rear building is usually
the dining-room, while that on the left, or the right,
(as it may happen,) is the sitting room or parlour. The
patio is usually paved with brick, and sometimes with
marble, and is a cool and delightful place. Grape-
vines are planted round the walls, and at this season,
are loaded with their fruit. The houses have as little
wood as possible about them ; both the first and se-
cond floor having brick pavements ; fire engines are
therefore unknown, together with that uneasiness from
this angry element when once master, so much felt in
our cities. There are no chimnies, but those of kitchens.
At all the windows, there is a light iron grating, which
projects about one foot ; probably a remnant of Spanish
jealousy. 'The compactness of the town, the flatness of
the roofs, the incombustibility of the houses, (he apeh
court yards, which resemble the area of forts, and /th6
iron gratings, compose a complete fortification, and


I do not know a worse situation in which an enemy
could be, than in one of these streets. It is not sur-
prising, that a city so well fortified, should have so
efiectually resisted the army of twelve thousand men,
under general Whitlock. The only mode by which
it could be assailed, would be by first obtaining a com-
plete command of the country around it, and of the
river in front. This would require a greater effort than
Spain can make, even if she were to abandon all her
other colonies, and unite for the special purpose, all
the forces she is able to spare out of her Spanish domi-

But little attention is paid to the cleanliness of the
streets ; in one of the front streets, where there was no
pavement, I observed several deep mud holes ; into
these, dead cats and dogs are sometimes thrown, from
too much indolence to carry them out of the way. The
side walks are very narrow, and in bad repair ; this is
better than at Rio Janeiro, where there are none at all.
I observed, however,'^as I went along, a number of
convicts, as I took them to be, engaged in mending the
bad places already mentioned. In these particulars,
I was very much reminded of New Orleans; in fact,
in many other points, I observed a striking resem-
blance between the tv\^o cities. I can say but little for
the police, when compared to our towns ; but this place
manifests a still greater superiority over Rio Janeiro ;
and many important improvements, that have been in-
troduced within a few years past, were pointed out to
me. It would be well, however, to bestow some trou-
ble in cleaning those streets that are paved, and in
paving the rest ; as well as in freeing the fronts of their
houses from the quantity of dust collected, wherever it
can find a resting place.

But it is time to speak of the inhabitants of the city.

243 *^ VOYAGE TO

and of the people who frequent it. And here, whether
illusion or reality, I had not walked far, before I felt
myself in a land of freedom. There was an indepen-
dence, an ingenuousness in the carriage, and an expres-
sion in the countenances of those I met, which reminded
me of my own country ; an air of freedom breathed
about them, which I shall not attempt to describe.
1 felt the force of that beautiful thought of Moore, in
his Lalla Rookh ;

" who with heart and eyes

Could walk where liberty has been, nor see
The shining foot prints of her deity ;
Nor feel those god-like breathings in the air,
Which mutely told her spirit had been there V*

I saw nothing but the plainness and simplicity of
republicanism ; in the streets, there were none but plain
citizens, and citizen soldiers; some of the latter, per-
haps, shewing a little of the coxcomb, and others ex-
hibiting rather a militia appearance, not the less agree-
able to me on that account. In fact, I could almost
have fancied myself in one of our own towns, judging
by the dress and appearance of the people whom I met.
Nothing can be more different than the population of
this place, from that of Rio. I saw no one bearing the
insignia of nobility, except an old crazy man, followed
by a train of roguish boys. There were no palanquins,
or rattling equipages ; in these matters, there was much
less luxury and splendour than with us. The females,
instead of being immured by jealousy, are permitted to
walk abroad and breatlie the common air. The supreme
director has no grooms, gentlemen of the bed chamber,
nor any of the train which appertains to royalty, nor
has his wife any maids of honor ; his household is more
plain than that of most of the private gentlemen of


fortune in our ovnti country ; it is true, when he rides out
to his country seat, thirty miles off, he his accompanied
by half a dozen horsemen, perhaps a necessary precau-
tion, considering the times, and which may be dispensed
mth on the return of peace ; or perhaps, a remnant of
anti-republican barbarity, which will be purged away
by the sun of a more enlightened age; indeed, I am
informed, that the present director lives in a style of
much greater simplicity than any of his predecessors.

If I were to stop here, however, I should not give a
faithful picture of the appearance to a stranger, of the
population of Buenos Ayres ; the mixture of negroes
and mulattoes, is by no means remarkable, not as great,
perhaps, as in Baltimore, and the proportion of the
military, such as we might have seen in one of our
towns, during the last war, with the exception of the
black troops, which, in this city constitute a principal
part of the regular force. But there are other figures
which enter into the picture, and give a difierent cast
to the whole from any thing I have seen. The modem
European and North American civilization, and I will
add South American, which difiiers but little from the
others, was set off by a strange mixture of antiquity
and aboriginal rudeness. Buenos Ayres may very justly
be compared to the bust of a very beautiful female,
placed upon a pedestal of rude unshapen stone. Great
numbers of gauchos,* and other country people, are

* The gaiichos of this province difler from those of the Banda
Oriental. The degree of civilization they possess, may be esti-
mated by the distance at which they live from the metropolis, and
the frequency of their intercourse with the people of the town.
The wUd gaucho is almost a curiosity even here — " The peace and
commerce of Buenos Ayres, have a happy and continually im-
proving effect upon the neighbouring inhabitants of the pampas.*^
Mr. Beand's report. • juiiu. ,[L^j.-j^ i^: ._ ^lli^l, ..^„.„

250 -^ VOYAGE TO

seen in the streets, and always on horseback; and as
there prevails a universal passion for riding, the number
of horses is very great. The European mode of capari-
soning is occasionally seen, but most usually, the bridle
and saddle, would be regarded as curiosities by us. The
stirrups of the gaucJios are so small, as to admit little
more than the big toe of the rider, who makes a very
grotesque figure with his long flowing poncho. This is
a kind of striped cotton, or woollen rug, of the manu-
facture of the country, fine or coarse, according to the
purse of the wearer, with nothing but a slit in the
middle, through which the head is thrust, and hangs
4iown perfectly loose, resembling somewhat a waggoner's
frock. In rsdn, it answers the purposes of a big coat,
and in hot weather, is placed on the saddle. It is also
used for sleeping on, as the Indians use their blanket.
It is possible after all, that this singularity of dress,
may not make any great difierence in the man. There
is nothing remarkable in the complexion or features,
excepting where there happens to be a little dash of the
Indian. There is more of indolence, and vacancy, (if
I may use the word,) in the expression in their coun-
tenances, and an uncouth wildness of their appear-
ance ; but it must be remembered, that we also of the
north are reproached by Europeans for our careless-
ness of time, and our lazy habits. These gutichos, I
generally observed, clustered about the pulperias, or
grog shops ; of which there are great numbers in the
city and suburbs ; they frequently dyink and carouse
on horseback, while the horses of those that are dis^
mounted, continue to stand still without being fastened,
as they ai;^ all taught to do, and champing the bit.
These carousing groups would affprd excellent subjects
for Flemish painters. The horses, though not of a
large size, are all finely formed; I do nqt iqcQllect a


single instance in which I did not remark good limbs,
and well formed head and neck. The gauchos are
often bare footed and bare legged ; or^, instead of boots,
make use of the skin of the hind legs of the horse ; the
joint answering the purpose of a heel, and furnishing a
very cheap kind of suwarrow.

-i Besides the clumsy carts of which I have before
spoken, and the class of people that 1 have just de-
scribed, my attention was attracted by the appearance
of the great ox waggons, used in the trade with the
interior. They are of an enormous size, and are the
most clumsy contrivances imaginable. Five or six of
these in a line, are sometimes seen groaning along the
street, the wheels making a noise like the gates on their
hinges of Milton's Pandemonium. The waggoners use
no tar to prevent them from making this harsh noise,
as they say it is music to the oxen, which are, in
general, uncommonly large, and the finest that I ever
saw. Their yokes, in proportion, are as ponderous as
the waggon, and in drawing, nothing is used but the
raw hide strongly twisted. In fact, this is the only kind
of gears, or traces, used for all descriptions of car-
riages. To each of these enormous waggons there are,
generally, at least three drivers. One sits in the waggon,
with a long rod or goad in his hand, and above his head,
suspended in slings, there is a bamboo or cane, at least
thirty feet in length, as supple as a fishing rod, so that
it can, occasiongdly, be used to quicken the pace of the
foremost pair of oxen, which are fastened to the first
by a long trace of twisted hide. The interval between
the different pairs cf oxen, is rendered necessary by
the difficulty of crossing small rivers, whose bottoms
are bad, and which are subject to sudden rises. Anqther
driver takes his seat on the yoke, between the heads
of the second -pair of oxen, being also armed with


a goad^ with its point turned backwards ; there was
something extremely ludicrous to me, in the appear-
ance of this last ; his bare, brawny legs dangling in the
air, and nothing but a folded sheep skin to sit upon;
yet content or rather inanity, was pictured in his counte-
nance. Besides these two, there is a third on horse-
back, armed in the same manner. If such an exhibi-
tion were to pass through one of our streets, wdth its
slow and solemn movement and musical groanings, I
doubt not, but it would attract as much attention as
half a dozen elephants.

As this is the fruit season, a number of people
were crying peaches up and down the street, but on
horseback, with large panniers, made of the raw hides
of oxen, on each side. Milk, in large tin cannisters,
was cried about in the same way, and as they passed
in a tolerable trot, I expected every moment to hear
the cry changed to that of butter. As I moved along
towards the great square, a part of which is the
principal market place, (immediately in front of the
castle, or government house,) there appeared to be a
great throng of people. I met some priests and friars,
but by no means as many as I expected, and nothing
like the number I met at R,io Janeiro. There are, per^
haps, fewer monasteries and convents in Buenos Ayres,
than in any Spanish town in the world. But, as things
are very much judged of by comparison, it is highly
probable, that if I had not touched at the place before
mentioned, and had come directly here from one of our
cities, I should have considered the number of regular
and secular clergy very considerable. It must be
constantly kept in view, that, in order to judge of these
people fairly, we are to compare them with Spanish
or Portuguese, and look at what they have been, not to
the state of things in the United States. The dress


of the seculars when in their canonicals, is like that
of the episcopal clergy, except that they wear a broad
quaker hat. The monks and friars are easily dis-
tinguished by their habit of coarse cloth or flannel,
girt round the waist, and with a cowl or hood behind.
In speaking of the Catholic clergy, we, who know
little about them, are very much in the habit of con-
founding these two classes. They are very different,
both in character and appearance. The seculars are,
necessarily, men of education, and living and mingling
in society, participate in the feelings of the people,
and cannot avoid taking part in temporal affairs.
The monks, on the contrary, are gregarious, not dis-
persed through the society, but shut up in their con-
vents and monasteries, and not permitted to mingle in
the affairs of the world. From the first, it is natural to
expect liberality and intelligence, as well as from other
christian clergy, but, in the latter, it would not be sur-
prising to find superstition and ignorance.

On approaching the market place, as it was still
early in the day, I found that the crowd had not en-
tirely dispersed. There is no market house or stalls,
except in the meat market, situated on one corner of
the square which fronts on the plaza. Every thing
offered for sale was spread on the ground. I can say
but little in favour of the appearance of cleanliness;
dirt and filth appeared to have a prescriptive right
here. One who had never seen any other than a Phi-
ladelphia market, can form no idea of the condition
of this place. To make amends, it is admirably sup-
plied with all the necessaries and delicacies, that an.
abundant and fruitful country can afford. Beef, mutton,
fowls, game, &c., with a variety of excellent fish,
were here in great plenty, and for prices, which, in
our markets, would be considered very low. Beef,


particularly, is exceedingly cheap, and of a superior
quality* it is the universal dish, chiefly roasted. Abso-
lute want is scarcely known in this country, any more
than with us. As 1 passed by the hucksters stalls, they
presented a much richer display than any I had been
accustomed to see. Here, apples, grapes, oranges,
pomegranates, peaches, figs, pine-apples, water-melons,
were mingled in fair profusion. «:

The plaza, or great square, is at least twice as large!
as the state house yard in Philadelphia, and is un-
equally divided into two parts, by an edifice long and
low, which serves as a kind of bazaar, or place of
shops, witti a corridor on each side the whole length,
which is used as a shelter for the market people.
At these shops or stores, which are pretty well sup-
plied, they can make their purchases without the
trouble of wandering through the town. The space
between this and the fort, is that appropriated for the
market. The opposite side, which is much larger, is
a kind of place d'armes ; and fronting the building just
spoken of, and which intercepts the view of the fort,
there is a very fine edifice, called the cabildo, or town
house, somewhat resembling that of New Orleans, but
much larger. In this building the courts hold their
sessions, and the offices are kept. The city council.
Or cabildo, also sits here, and business of all kinds,
relating to the police, is here transacted. Near the
centre of the square, a neat pyramid has been erected,
commemorative of the revolution, with four emble-
matic figures, one at each comer, representing justice,
science, liberty, and America, the whole enclosed witlx
a light railing.

' The shops, or stores, as far «.s I observed, in my
perambulation through the city, are all on a very small
scale, and make no shew as in our towiis. Tbeipe are


but few signs, and those belong chiefly to foreigners;
such as sastre, botero, sapatero, de Londres ; taylor,
bootmaker, shoemaker, from London. The greater
part of the trades which are now flourishing here,
particularly hatters, blacksmiths, and many others
that I might enumerate, have been established since
the revolution; the journeymen mechanics are chiefly
half Indians and mulattoes. The wages of an Ame-
rican or English journeyman, are higher than in any
part of the world : fifteen hundred, or two thousand
dollars per annum, I am told are very commonly
given. There are other squares through the town,
besides the one already mentioned, in which markets
are held.

There are also large yards, or corrals, which belong
to the city, and are hired to individuals, for the pur-
pose of confining droves of cattle. I observed several
large wood yards, in which there were immense piles
of peach limbs, tied into bundles or faggots, together
with timber and firewood brought from Paraguay, or the

In receding from the fiver towards the country, the
streets wear a much more mean appearance, being
v^iy dirty, and apparently much neglescted, while the
houses seldom exceed one story in height, and are built
of brick scarcely half burnt. In walking from the front
streets, we seemed to be transfeiTed, at once, to some
half civilized village, a thousand miles in the interior.
Every where in the skirts of the town, much of the
Indian race is visible, generally a very poor, harm-
less, and indolent people. They commonly speak
notliing but Spanish, and but for their complexion,
and inanimate countenances, they could not be dis-
tinguished from the lower orders of the Spanish Ame-
ricans, such as the labourers, carters, countrymea, and


gauchos. It would be worth inquiring into the cause,
why none of the aborigines are found, in this manner,
near any of our towns, which possess the population
and opulence of Buenos Ayres. It surely does not
arise from their having been treated with more kind-
ness here, or more pains having been taken in their
civilization, or, because the nations in the vicinity were
more numerous ? I am inclined to attribute it to two
causes ; the first is, that the early settlers on this river
were soldiers, and having few Spanish women with
them, they were compelled, like the Romans, to pro-
cure wives from their neighbours, which laid the ground-
work for a more friendly intercourse between them and
the natives, and this continued even after the flourish-
ing state of the colony enticed emigrants of both sexes
from Old Spain. Or, it may be, that these Indians
are of a less wild and untameable character than those
of North America. But the principal reason is, the
number of Indians that have found their way hither
from the missions of Paraguay, since the expulsion
of the Jesuits, and also from the provinces of Peru,
where they were a civilized people on the first disco-
very and conquest. In forming our ideas of the abori-
gines of South America, only by what we know of
those of the north, we may be led astray. Against
Indians and Spaniards, we have strong prejudices in
the United States ; the man of sense should endeavour
to rise above them.

On my way back to the hotel, I met a party of
twenty or thirty pampas Indians on horseback, who
had come to town, for the purpose of bartering skins
for such things as they wanted. They excited no
curiosity as they rode along the street, although
tricked out with their nosebobs and earbobs, and
except the poncho, which they wore, entirely naked.


They were rather taller, and more square shouldered
than ours, but their physiognomy was very nearly the

At this season of the year, many of the principal in-
habitants are still in the country, to which they retire
for a few months, until the approach of cool weather.
This is probably the most pleasant season of the year,
but the climate is seldom otherwise than pleasant ; the
range of the thermometer rarely exceeds fifty degrees,
and hardly ever rises within ten degrees as high as
with us. In the vast plains, or pampas, which stretch
from the margin of the river almost to the foot of the
Cordilleras, where there is no shade or shelter, or next
to none, the heat of the sun is said to be veiy oppres-
sive ; travellers therefore lie by in the middle of the
day. The habit of the siesta, which prevails so uni-
versally in this country, is perhaps an excuse for this
loss of time. It was now the hour here for this indul-
gence, and the change from the busy populous city, of
a sudden, to the silence and loneliness which takes
place on these occasions, was peculiarly striking.
The inhabitants generally dine between one and two
o'clock, and soon after, retire to take their evening's
nap, which usually lasts until five or six, at which
hour the devotees go to vespers, or evening prayers,
in the churches. I saw, however, a greater number of
persons in the streets than I had expected, and I am
told, that of late years, the habit has been sensibly de-
creasing. It was formerly . a saying, that during the
siesta, none but dogs and foreigners were to be seen
in the street. This is no longer true ; the increase of
business and active employments, having a good deal
broken in upon a custom, which could only owe its
origin to that indolence commonly proceeding from
a want of incentive to action. Such an incentive.

Vol. I. S


must certainly have been furnished by the animated
scenes of their revolution, and by the numerous and
important changes which it has produced. In very hot
climates, as in the West Indies, and the greater part
of South America, there may be some reason for
thus reposing in the middle of the day J the intense
heat of the sun rendering it unpleasant and dangerous,
to labour in the open fields, and the morning and
evening affording them sufficient time to do all their
work. Providence, perhaps, in equalizing the benefits
of nature, has decreed, that people here should be
circumscribed in their pursuits by the heat of the
day, as in other countries by the coldness of the
winter. Without such dispensations, the advantages
would be too great on the side of the warm climates.
The climate of Buenos Ayres, however, is not such
as to render it necessary to avoid the sun in the heat of
the day. It resembles very much that to the south of
the Mississippi, in our Louisiana district of Texas,
although not quite so warm in summer, nor yet so cold
in winter. The south-west winds of the winter, are
exceedingly piercing, although there is very seldom
sufficient cold to incrust the w^ater with ice, but the
frequent rains which fall at this season, renders it
damp and chilly, as at New Orleans. The climate of
the southern latitudes, although they do not accord
with the same degree, north of the equator, in the
eastern hemisphere, are yet several degrees warmer
than in North America. This place is situated in about
thirty-five degrees south, and ought therefore to cor-
respond with the climate of Norfolk. But less cold is
felt here, than in Charleston or New Orleans. This
is an important consideration, with respect to the ter-
ritory of the republic, to the southward of this place.
Molina, the historian of Chili, has taken pains to dis-


prove, in his work, to which I would refer the reader,
the prevalent idea of the excessive cold of Patagonia.
I think it highly probable, that as high south as latitude
fifty degrees, the climate is at least as mild as that of
Philadelphia. On some other occasion, when I come
to speak of the geography of this vast comitry, I will
say more on this subject.

The day after we arrived was Sunday, and the streets
were crowded wit people. I was very frequently re-
minded of my former place of residence, New Orleans,
with the exception that the proportion of coloured
people is comparatively very small, but amongst the
lower classes I remarked a great many of Indian extrac-
tion; this was discovered in the complexion and fea-
teres. The inhabitants generally are a shade browner
than those ot North America ; but I saw a great num-
ber with good complexions. They are a handsome
people. They have nothing in their appearance and
character, of that dark, jealous and revengeful dis-
position, we have been in the habit of attributing to
Spaniards. The men dress pretty much as we do, but
the women are fond of wearing black, when they go

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 20 of 29)