Four Years Among Spanish Americans
By Hurd and Houghton., late U. S. Minister Resident to the Republic of Ecuador. New York:
OUR social and political system is not all that patriotism could desire, but it abounds in fortunate individual results if nothing else, and perhaps such a man as Mr. Hassaurek is one of the most striking of these. By birth German, and trained in the schools of German thought, and then thoroughly utilized in the stirring practical life of a Western city as a lawyer and a politician, — a bold leader of native and adoptive citizens alike in support of liberal and sincere republicanism, — a man at once of speculative culture and of popular influence, — he is worthy of note even in our civilization of contrasts and surprises. Few could be better qualified to write of another and utterly different state of things, and we took up this book with expectations which have not been disappointed. Mr. Hassaurek is not an enthusiast, but he is as generous as he is critical. His book abounds in entertaining detail concerning life in Spanish America, but it is all thoroughly digested, and it all leads naturally to the conclusions at which he arrives. If the union of local reporter and philosopher could be conceived of, perhaps that idea would best represent Mr. Hassaurek’s attitude toward Ecuador. Little is untold that we would like to know ; few topics are neglected that we would like to think upon. This dual character of the book is declared in its manner as well as its matter ; the narrative is sometimes marred by careless or local expressions, while the speculative parts are notable for their clear and admirable English.
We land with Mr. Hassaurek at the port of Guayaquil, and journey with him through the tropical coast-lands; we ascend the breezy, temperate heights that lead to Mount Chimborazo, we pass that famous mountain and arrive at Quito, where we settle down to study of the political, social, and religious character of Ecuador, thereafter making excursions to interesting places in the provinces of the North. Returning to the capital, we review the ground passed over in the light of history. This is the plan of the book, and there is an agreeable shapeliness in all its parts.
Of the general character of the Spanish Americans there was little to tell us that was absolutely novel. We had, before coming to Mr. Hassaurek’s book, a notion of their religious bigotry, their political restlessness, their commercial unthrift, their social degradation. Nevertheless, it is well to know upon his good authority that our preconceived notion was not unjust, and Mr. Hassaurek keeps our curiosity constantly pleased while he instructs us as to the cause of all this corruption, and vividly impresses us with its results. It is an amazing spectacle, certainly, that Republic of Ecuador (which only differs in degree from other South American Republics), with its despotic president irregularly elected and deposed by revolution, and often intrigued in and out of office by sharptongued, rebellious-minded ladies of the capital; with its barefooted armies of mulattoes and negroes recruited by pressgangs ; with its idle, amiable, aristocratic white population, having no ambition but to make or to unmake some new president, and to get into the public offices or be shot in the plaza; with its system of forced loans, and its habit of plundering the poor of their labor and the rich of their money ; with its fine state buildings and its territory without roads; with its free-born native population held in perpetual bondage for debt ; with its established religion, and its dissolute clergy without political power; with its untrammelled press, of which the only member ever mad enough to establish a journal opposed to an existing government precipitately retired to the fastnesses of the Cordillera after his “ first issue,”-—it is an amazing spectacle, but it is the inevitable result of the Spanish colonial system, which transported moribund feudalism bodily to the New World, and there, shutting out the light and air of heaven, and absolutely isolating it from all modern contact and influences, left it full of incurable sins and sores to the decay of time. Any one who has known Latin civilization in Europe feels at every moment, in reading Mr. Hassaurek’s book, that it is not democracy which is in ruin in miserable Ecuador, but Romish Spain ; and such a reader will be prompt to agree with our author, and with the thinking people of Ecuador, that Spain in religion and polity, if not in race, must wholly pass away, must succumb under North American progress, before there can be any hope of regeneration for those mock republics of the South.
Mr. Hassaurek describes the whites of Quito as very good-natured and hospitable, but without strength of character. They are in their ignorant way elegant and luxurious ; but they are incurably dirty and insincere. He notes the intellectual liveliness of the women, which strikes most travellers in Spanish America, and he defends the ladies of Quito against the common charge of immorality, declaring them too cautious and too indolent even for intrigue, though they do contrive to take an active part in political conspiracies. They are religious, as in all Latin countries ; and their literature is confined to such French novels as the Church has not forbidden. Our author does not despise the small affairs of household economy, but furnishes a great deal of novel and entertaining information about the everyday life, in doors and out doors, at Quito, which is a city not only without a hotel, but, with a population of forty thousand, with great wealth, and with abundant display, is without public cleanliness, and without the first means of private decency.
The portions of Mr. Hassaurek’s book which refer to the aboriginal population of Ecuador have a very melancholy interest, and form a picture of degradation and misery upon which he encourages us to look with scarcely more hope than upon the condition of the Spanish Americans. These wretched beings have not even the prospect of annihilation, as our own Indians have. They do not decrease, but, on the contrary, are very prolific, and multiply themselves for slavery and oppression of every kind. They are drunkards and gluttonous, ignorant and unspeakably filthy, without spirit, without aspiration of any kind, living only in the present wretched hour. Their sole virtue is their inalienable goodnature ; their sole blessing is the exemption from military service which their cowardice procures for them.
The historical notice of events in their subjugation with which Mr. Hassaurek closes his book is one of its most valuable chapters; and we can but express a cordial hope that he will complete the review of Spanish colonial civilization therein projected. What he has already done for the Spanish American present is guaranty for a critical and delightful study of the Spanish American past.