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FOR MAY, 1813.
History of Brasil. By Robert Southey. Part the First. 4to. pp. 659.
[From the Monthly Review, for December, 1812.]
WE regret that the multiplied demands on our time have prevented us from bestowing earlier attention on this historical work by Mr. Southey, of which the continuation has lately been announced to be in forwardness. Whether that gentleman will consider it as a compliment or not, we have no hesitation in saying that we like him much better as an historian than as a poet; and though we do not altogether agree with him respecting the mode of writing history, we are well aware of the value which ought to be attached to his extensive erudition and indefatigable spirit of research: qualities which, however unpopular may be the form of a book, enable an author to render a lasting service to the cause of truth, and to lay the basis of at least an eventual reputation. A history of Brazil is not, indeed, the subject to which we should have wished the labour of a trust-worthy historian to have been, by preference, directed, since much that it more nearly concerns us to know remains unexplored: but we were, on second thoughts, reconciled to this application of Mr. Southey's time, by a consideration of the aptitude for the task. which he had acquired by a residence in Portugal, and a predilection for the history of that country.
The plan of this narrative is not strictly confined to Brazil, but Mr. S. relates also the foundation and progress of the adjacent Spanish provinces, so that the country described may be said to reach all the way from the river Amazons to that of la Plata; and hence arises the introduction of the navigaVOL. I. New Series. 3 A
tion of the former river by the Spanish adventurers, which forms one of the most interesting topics in the book. The period comprehended in this first volume completely extends from the early part of the 16th century to the year 1640, the epoch of the reinstatement of the house of Braganza on the throne of Portugal. The successive and gradually increasing establishments of the Portuguese in Brazil owed their origin chiefly to the exertion of individuals; and, stimulated as the latter were by avarice and ambition, their conduct had perhaps less mischievous influence than that of their government, who seemed to interfere only to sow the seeds of disunion between the settlers and the natives: which was effected in two ways; first, by sending abroad convicted delinquents as colonists; and afterward, when the country appeared more important, by giving encouragement, on an impolitic plan, to adventurers of rank. This plan consisted in forming the unoccupied territory into provinces, under the name of captaincies; each of which was committed to the hereditary government of the nobleman who undertook to conquer and settle it but the scheme proved in several instances unsuccessful, and in others a source of oppression, so that it became necessary to recall the authority of these provincial rulers, and to subject the whole of Brazil to the control of one governor. With regard to interference from the side of Europe with the Portuguese possession of Brazil, the first intruders were French Huguenots: but their attempts were of little moment when compared with the direct hostility of the Dutch, who considered themselves as justified in assailing Brazil, after the mother country had passed, in 1580, under the dominion of their mortal enemy Philip II. The attacks of the Dutch on Brazil were of very long duration; and here the materials for a history of that country are to be found in greater number than either before or since. It was not till the recovery of Portuguese independence, in 1640, that the warfare with the Dutch was definitively closed.
From this outline, it appears that the present publication comprehends somewhat less than half of the time during which Brazil has been a colony; so that ample matter remains for an additional volume. Of its nature as an historical subject, our readers may form their opinion from Mr. Southey's preamble.
"The history of Brazil is less beautiful than that of the mother country, and less splendid than that of the Portuguese in Asia; but it is not less important than either. Its materials differ from those of other histories: here are no tangles of crooked policy to unravel, no mysteries of state iniquity to elucidate, no revolutions
to record, nor victories to celebrate, the fame of which remains among us long after their effects have past away. Discovered by chance, and long left to chance, it is by individual industry and enterprise, and by the operation of the common laws of nature and society, that this empire has risen and flourished, extensive as it now is, and mighty as it must one day become. In the course of its annals, disgust and anger will oftener be felt than those exalted feelings which it is more grateful for the historian to excite. I have to speak of savages so barbarous that little sympathy can be felt for any sufferings which they endured, and of colonists in whose triumphs no joy will be taken, because they added avarice to barbarity; ignoble men, carrying on an obscure warfare, the consequences of which have been greater than were produced by the conquests of Alexander or Charlemagne, and will be far more lasting. Even the few higher characters which appear have obtained no fame beyond the limits of their own religion, scarcely beyond those of their language. Yet has the subject its advantages: the discovery of extensive regions; the manners and superstitions of uncivilized tribes; the efforts of the missionaries, in whom zeal the most fanatical was directed by the coolest policy; the rise and the overthrow of the extraordinary dominion which they established; and the progress of Brazil, from its feeble beginnings to the importance which it now possesses-these are topics of no ordinary interest."
We select the expedition down the river Amazons, as illustrative equally of Mr. Southey's mode of composition, and of the perils which were encountered by the adventurers of those days, in quest of golden regions. Though lately settled in Peru, the Spaniards were far from being satisfied; and those who had newly arrived were impatient to rival the fortune of their predecessors.
"When Pizarro had secured, as he imagined, the authority of his family in Peru, by the execution of his old friend and comrade and benefactor, Almagro, he gave the government of Quito to his brother Gonzalo, a man even more bloody and more infamous in history than himself. Eastward of that city there was said to be a rich country, which abounded with cinnamon; and Gonzalo, as soon as he reached his government, prepared to take possession of this land of spice, and then proceed and conquer El Dorado. There He set out was no lack of adventurers for such an enterprise. with about two hundred foot-soldiers, one hundred horse, four thousand Indians, to be used as beasts of burden for the army, and about four thousand swine and Indian sheep."
"After many sufferings, he found the spice trees ;* their produce resembled the cinnamon of the East in taste, but was of inferior quality; in shape it is described as like an acorn cup, but
"A missionary is at this time endeavouring to introduce the culture of the cinnamon among the Indians of Manoa. Mercurio Peruano." N. 153.
deeper, thicker, and of darker colour, approaching to black; they were in abundance, and those which were cultivated produced better spice than such as grew wild. The natives carried on a considerable trade in it with all the adjoining country, exchanging it for provisions, and the few articles of clothing which they used. They were a poor, unoffending people, contented with little. Their poverty at once disappointed and provoked Gonzalo; he inquired of them if these trees grew in any other country except their own. They replied that they did not, and this they knew because other tribes came to them for the produce. But when he asked what countries lay beyond them, and they could give no intelligence of El Dorado, the golden kingdom which he coveted, with the true spirit of a Pizarro-a name never to be uttered without abhorrence he tortured them to extort a confession of what they did not know, and could have no motive to conceal, burnt some alive, and threw others alive to his dogs-blood-hounds, which were trained in this manner to feed upon human flesh!
"Gonzalo soon found the evil effects of his accursed cruelty. The tidings had spread from tribe to tribe, and when he inquired for the rich countries of which he was in search, the poor natives, not daring to contradict his hope, deluded him and sent him on."
The march of the Spaniards was now one continued scene of suffering. It extended along the banks of the great river Coca, flowing to the eastward; and by way of lessening the labour of carrying the sick, they built, with great difficulty, a bark, to follow the course of the stream. This proved a considerable resource, but their hardships continued to be severe, They were told by the natives that, at the junction of this river with the Napo, between 200 and 300 miles farther on, they would come into a country of provisions: but this prospect of relief was remote, and famine already prevailed among them. They had been reduced to eat their war-dogs, and a thousand of the attendant Peruvians had already perished. Under this embarrassment, Gonzalo sent forwards Orellana, the second in command, in the bark, with 50 men, to the promised land of fertility at the point of junction, for the purpose of collecting provisions, and returning to meet the army. The river, being joined by many others, continued rapid in its course, and carried them to the point of conflux in three days: but here the country, like that which they had passed, was uncultivated, and even uninhabited. What, then, were they to do? to return against a strong current was scarcely possible; and, if they waited for the main body, they had no prospect but that of perishing through Orellana urged this powerful plea to his men, and had by that time conceived the adventurous hope of following this great river throughout the extent of the continent to the sea,
in the view of becoming the authorized conqueror of the countries which he should discover.
With this idea he formally renounced the commission which he had received from Gonzalo Pizarro, and obtained the command anew from the election of his men. From the point at which they now were, they had, as it afterwards proved, to perform a navigation of between 4,000 and 5,000 miles to the ocean.
"It was upon the last day of December, 1541, that this voyage was begun, one of the most adventurous that has ever been enterprised. The little stock of provisions with which they had parted from the army was already exhausted, and they boiled their leathern girdles and the soles of their shoes with such herbs as seemed most eatable. On the eighth of January, when they had almost given up all hope of life, they heard, before day-light, an Indian drum-a joyful sound, for be the natives what they would, this they knew, that it must be their own fault now if they should die of hunger. At day-break, being eagerly upon the look-out, they perceived four canoes, which put back on seeing the brigantine; and presently they saw a village where a great body of the natives were assembled, and ready to defend it. The Spaniards were too hungry to negotiate. Orellana bade them land in good order and stand by each other; they attacked the Indians like men who were famishing and fought for food, put them presently to the rout, and found an immediate supply. While they were enjoying the fruits of their victory, the Indians took to their canoes, and came near them, more to gratify curiosity than resentment.Orellana spake to them in some Indian language, which they partly understood; some of them took courage, and approached him; he gave them a few European trifles, and asked for their chief, who came without hesitation, was well pleased with the presents which were given him, and offered them any thing that it was in his power to supply. Provisions were requested, and presently peacocks, partridges, fish, and other things were brought in great abundance. The next day thirteen chiefs came to see the strangers; they were gayly adorned with feathers and gold, and had plates of gold upon the breast. Orellana received them courteously, required them to acknowledge obedience to the crown of Castile; took advantage, as usual, of their ignorance to affirm that they consented, and amused them with the ceremony of taking posses. sion of their country in the Emperor's name.
Orellana availed himself of the friendly disposition of the natives, to make preparations for building an additional bark; the construction of which was completed at another friendly station several hundred miles down the river. As he proceeded, several accounts were given him of the Amazons, or female warriors, occupying the more advanced country. The banks of the river were alternately cultivated and neglected.