A Journey in Brazil

By PROFESSOR and MRS. LOUIS AGASSIZ. Boston: Ticknor and Fields.
BRAZIL undoubtedly presents some difficulties of description and analysis to the student of its geography and civilization which do not trouble the imagination in dealing with it as a tropic full of the conventional tropical wonders, perils, and discomforts. Yet for an empire so vast and so immature its distinguishing features seem singularly capable of portraiture. Certain conditions prevail throughout the whole country, and in what the Portuguese have done, half done, and undone there is an expression which Professor Agassiz reflects with remarkable force in the last chapter of the present work. This chapter, indeed, is so necessary to a true appreciation and understanding of what has gone before, that we are disposed to counsel the reader to begin with it, and then to take up Mrs. Agassiz’s pleasant, unaffected story of the every-day life of the famous scientific expedition. Starting with Professor Agassiz’s idea that Portuguese polity and society in Brazil are in singular degree a perpetuation of the imperial Roman system, and that the free constitution of the country has only begun to modify Brazilian character, the anomalies are accounted for as fast as encountered, and the future of the country becomes at least matter of intelligent speculation. Professor Agassiz, while mindful of the charity due from an honored guest to a generous host, does not conceal his opinion that the work of reform to be accomplished in Brazil is commensurate with her territorial grandeur. The Brazilians have not only false religious and civil traditions to forget, and the native inertness of tropical character to contend with, but their progress is further embarrassed by the wrde-spread degeneracy resulting from amalgamation of whites and blacks and Indians, and in turn of their common offspring. At every opportunity throughout the work our great naturalist bears his testimony against the evils of mixing races, which can, in his opinion, be elevated only as they can be kept pure. In Brazil there is no prejudice against color : once freed, the black can rise as high in society anil politics as the white, and has indeed show n himself the equal of the white in natural ability and industry; but while all this simplifies the national problem in one respect, it makes it more difficult in another. Slavery will soon pass away ; but one of its worst effects must remain for a period of which none can fix the end at present. Meantime a state of affairs in which office-holding is the chief ambition of every educated layman, and in which the clergy are corrupt and immoral, is not one to inspire immediate hope ; but the admiration of better things, and the desire for them so general with the Brazilians, arc promises of their ultimate accomplishment, though the end must be largely effected by northern immigration.
With the exception of the chapter referred to, nearly all the notices of life in Brazil are from the pen of Mrs. Agassiz, to whom we are indebted for many glimpses of society in the capital and other cities, and far more interesting sketches of the sylvan people dwelling in those tropical forests, that tower so loftily in the fancy, and have presented such an impenetrable screen to less active inquiry. The aborigines of Brazil are gentle and amiable folks, with few vices and not many morals, as it seemed to the travellers who came to require their services in hunting and fishing. They are not sunken in such hopeless peonage as the Indians of the Spanish republics, but they are not much farther advanced in civilization. Some schools exist for them, and Mrs. Agassiz was struck by their aptness in learning from books, and acquiring divers little arts of beauty and use, but they keep to the woods as much as they can, and are “ invited ” thence less frequently by the schoolmaster than by the recruiting-sergeant and the press-gang. They are Christians as Brazilian Christianity goes, and are honest, cleanly, and hospitable. They frankly made the naturalist and all his party at home among them ; were a little surprised at his avidity in collecting all sorts of birds and fishes ; but were for the most part pleasantly indifferent to the aims of any existence but their own, —though Mrs. Agassiz does speak of one father among them who could read Portuguese, and desired to have his children educated in town. She tells us elsewhere of the indifference of these Indians to their offspring when once the children pass the first stage of helplessness, and of the difficulty of gaining any deep hold upon their gratitude or affection. In fact, the present work, though it treats them tenderly and compassionately, does not teach us to hope much more for the aboriginal Brazilians than we have learned to do for other Indians.
Of the towns we read here much that is already familiar through knowledge of other Latin countries. It is, in fact, the oft-told tale of intellectual life confined to a few men ; of women practically fettered and imprisoned; of both sexes largely content with the pleasures of luxurious, highly conventionalized, rather corrupt society. The shadow of Don Basilio’s square hat and well-rounded person is over all. Yet it is to be remembered that in Brazil Don Basiho is tolerant, and that all religions are free ; and it is in all respects favorable to the Brazilian future, that the people and government arc animated by liberal theories and aspirations.
The reader must turn to Mrs. Agassiz’s journal for that attractive story which the volume has to tell of journeys up and down the vast rivers in steamboats, or through the strait water-paths of the else impenetrable woods in canoes ; of sojourns in city and country amid architecture that reminds of the ancient Roman world, and scenery that remembers in forest and flood and mountain the mighty forms and vegetation of the world before man. The story, which deals with every element to bewitch the fancy, is also the record of scientific researches and triumphs of unique interest and importance ; and the double character of the. work enhances its interest. Except for the opening chapter, in which are reported the lectures Professor Agassiz delivered to his assistants and fellow-passengers on the voyage out, and the chapter on the Physical History of the Amazons, the scientific material is chiefly appended in the form of notes to Mrs. Agassiz’s narrative, or is embodied in letters written from time to time by the Professor to the Emperor of Brazil and others, acquainting them with the progress and results of his researches.
The book is dedicated to Mr. Nathaniel Thayer, whose relation to the expedition is as well known as the grand purposes and achievements of the expedition itself.