Introduction [Excerpt from: America and Her Women] [Translation]

Bibliographic Information

Wilson, Emilia Serrano, baronesa de, 1843-1922, América y sus mujeres (Barcelona (Espana): Fidel Giro, [1890])

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Title: Introduction [Excerpt from: America and Her Women] [Translation]
Author: Wilson, Emilia Serrano, baronesa de, 1843-1922
Statements of responsibility:
  • Creation of digital images: Instituto de Investigaciones Jose Maria Luis Mora
  • Creation of translation: Lorena Gauthereau-Bryson, Americas Studies Researcher, Humanities Research Center
  • Conversion to TEI-conformant markup: Lorena Villarreal, Student Researcher, Humanities Research Center
  • Parsing and proofing: Humanities Research Center, Rice University
  • Subject analysis and assignment of taxonomy terms: Robert Estep, Cataloger
Publisher: Fondo Antiguo Biblioteca Ernesto de la Torre Villar, Houston, Texas
Publication date: 2010-06-07
Identifier: m004introtr
Availability: This digital text is publicly available via the Americas Digital Archive through the following Creative Commons attribution license: “You are free: to copy, distribute, display, and perform the work; to make derivative works; to make commercial use of the work. Under the following conditions: By Attribution. You must give the original author credit. For any reuse or distribution, you must make clear to others the license terms of this work. Any of these conditions can be waived if you get permission from the copyright holder. Your fair use and other rights are in no way affected by the above.”
Digitization: Page images of the original document are included. Images exist as archived TIFF files, JPEG versions for general use, and thumbnail GIFs.
Translation: This document is an English translation of the Introduction from "América y sus mujeres." Translated by Lorena Gauthereau-Bryson. The language of the original document is Spanish.
Description: 466 p., illustrated, 30 cm.
Abstract: Emilia Serrano, the Baroness of Wilson (1834?-1922) was a Spanish writer who produced historical and sociological works, as well as novels, literary translations, and guides to conduct for young women. The book this excerpt was taken from is considered her most ambitious work. In it she displays an encyclopedic range of interests, including history, ethnology, climatology, and botany, and it clearly reflects her three overriding passions: literature, traveling, and a fascination with the Americas. In this Introduction, she provides autobiographical information about her personal life, how she became fascinated with the Americas, and her controversial decision to travel to the Americas alone.
Source(s): Wilson, Emilia Serrano, baronesa de, 1843-1922, América y sus mujeres (Barcelona (Espana): Fidel Giro, [1890])
Source Identifier: Instituto de Investigaciones Jose Maria Luis Mora
Description of the project: This digitized text is part of the Our Americas Archive Partnership (OAAP) project.
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This text has been encoded based on recommendations from Level 4 of the TEI in Libraries Guidelines. Any comments on editorial decisions for this document are included in footnotes within the document with the author of the note indicated. All digitized texts have been verified against the original document. Quotation marks have been retained. For printed documents: Original grammar, punctuation, and spelling have been preserved. No corrections or normalizations have been made, except that hyphenated, non-compound words that appear at the end of lines have been closed up to facilitate searching and retrieval. For manuscript documents: Original grammar, punctuation, and spelling have been preserved. We have recorded normalizations using the reg element to facilitate searchability, but these normalizations may not be visible in the reading version of this electronic text
Languages used in the text: English
Text classification
Keywords: Getty Art & Architecture Thesaurus
  • Books
  • Travel literature
  • Memoirs
Keywords: Library of Congress Subject Headings
  • Wilson, Emilia Serrano, baronesa de, 1843-1922
  • Women--Latin America
  • Women--United States
  • Women--Latin America--History
  • Women--United States--History
  • Latin America--History
  • United States--Biography
  • Women--Biography
  • Latin America--Description and travel
  • United States--Description and travel
  • Sex role--Latin America
  • Stereotypes (Social psychology)--Europe
  • Railroads--Latin America
  • Railroad travel--Latin America
  • Railroad travel--United States
  • Steamboats--Latin America
  • Women--Brazil
  • Brazil--History--19th century
  • Brazil--Social life and customs--19th century
  • Brazil--Population density
  • Brazil--Natural resources
  • Brazil--Agricultural resources
  • Brazil--Discovery and exploration--Portuguese
  • Brazil--Description and travel
  • Rio de Janeiro (Brazil)--Description and travel
  • Haciendas--Brazil
  • Brazil--History--16th century
  • Brazil--History--17th century
  • Brazil--History--18th century
  • Slavery--Brazil--History--19th century
  • Brazil--Civilization--African influences
  • Brazil--Race relations--Blacks--Brazil--Social conditions--19th century
  • Monarchy--Brazil--History--19th century
  • Women--Uruguay
  • Uruguay--History--19th century
  • Uruguay--Social life and customs--19th century
  • Uruguay--Population density
  • Uruguay--Discovery and exploration--Spanish
  • Uruguay--Description and travel
  • Montevideo (Uruguay)--Description and travel
  • Uruguayan poetry--19th century
  • Uruguay--Politics and government--1830-1875
  • Rio de la Plata (Argentina and Uruguay)--Description and travel
  • Women--Argentina
  • Argentina--History--19th century
  • Argentina--Social life and customs--19th century
  • Argentina--Discovery and exploration--Spanish
  • Argentina--Description and travel
  • Buenos Aires (Argentina)--Description and travel
  • Pampas (Argentina)
  • Gauchos--Argentina
  • Parana (Argentina)
  • Miranda, Lucia, d. ca. 1530
  • Hurtado de Mendoza, Sebastian
  • Gorriti, Juana Manuela, 1816-1892
  • Women--Paraguay
  • Paraguay--History--19th century
  • Paraguay--Discovery and exploration--Spanish
  • Paraguay--Description and travel
  • Asuncion (Paraguay)--Description and travel
  • Paraguay River--Description and travel
  • Paraguayan War, 1865-1870
  • Women--Chile
  • Chile--History--19th century
  • Chile--Social life and customs--19th century
  • Chile--Discovery and exploration--Spanish
  • Chile--Description and travel
  • Santiago (Chile)--Description and travel
  • Punto Arenas (Chile)
  • Patagonia (Argentina and Chile)
  • Tierra del Fuego (Argentina and Chile)
  • Valparaiso (Chile)
  • Chilean literature--19th century
  • War of the Pacific, 1879-1884
  • Grau, Miguel, 1834-1879
  • Prat Chacon, Arturo, 1848-1879
  • Andes
  • Mapuche Indians
  • Marin de Solar, Mercedes, 1804-1866
  • Del Carmen, Maria
  • Women--Peru
  • Peru--History--19th century
  • Peru--Social life and customs--19th century
  • Peru--Discovery and exploration--Spanish
  • Peru--Description and travel
  • Lima (Peru)--Description and travel
  • Callao Bay (Peru)
  • Incas
  • Quena
  • Antiquities--Peru
  • Arequipa (Peru)
  • Humans--Effect of altitude on--Peru
  • Puno (Peru)
  • Earthquakes--Peru
  • Lake Titicaca (Peru and Bolivia)
  • Cabello de Carbonera, Mercedes, 1845-1909
  • Rose, of Lima, Saint Isabel Florez
  • Larriva de Llona, Lastenia
  • Women--Bolivia
  • Bolivia--History--19th century
  • Bolivia--Social life and customs--19th century
  • Bolivia--Discovery and exploration--Spanish
  • Bolivia--Description and travel
  • La Paz (Bolivia)--Description and travel
  • Bolivian poetry--19th century
  • Women--Ecuador
  • Ecuador--History--19th century
  • Ecuador--Social life and customs--19th century
  • Ecuador--Discovery and exploration--Spanish
  • Ecuador--Description and travel
  • Quito (Ecuador)--Description and travel
  • Guayaquil (Ecuador)
  • Ecuadorian literature--19th century
  • Women--Colombia
  • Colombia--History--19th century
  • Colombia--Social life and customs--19th century
  • Colombia--Discovery and exploration--Spanish
  • Colombia--Description and travel
  • Bogota (Colombia)--Description and travel
  • Magdalena (Colombia : Dept.)
  • Colombian poetry--19th century
  • Colombia--Intellectual life--19th century
  • Tequendama (Colombia : Province)
  • Acosta de Samper, Soledad, 1833-1913
  • Women--Venezuela
  • Venezuela--History--19th century
  • Venezuela--Social life and customs--19th century
  • Venezuela--Discovery and exploration--Spanish
  • Venezuela--Description and travel
  • Caracas (Venezuela)--Description and travel
  • Bolivar, Simon, 1783-1830--Homes and haunts
  • Venezuelan literature--19th century
  • Crespo, Jacinta
  • Women--Central America
  • Central America--History--19th century
  • Mora, Adela
  • Panama--Description and travel
  • Guatemala--History--19th century
  • Guatemala--Politics and government--19th century
  • Guatemala--Natural resources
  • Guatemala--Population density
  • Guatemala--Discovery and exploration--Spanish
  • Guatemala--Description and travel
  • El Salvador--History--19th century
  • El Salvador--Natural resources
  • El Salvador--Population density
  • El Salvador--Discovery and exploration--Spanish
  • El Salvador--Description and travel
  • San Salvador (El Salvador)--Description and travel
  • Honduras--History--19th century
  • Honduras--Natural resources
  • Honduras--Population density
  • Honduras--Discovery and exploration--Spanish
  • Honduras--Description and travel
  • Tegucigalpa (Honduras)--Description and travel
  • Nicaragua--History--19th century
  • Nicaragua--Natural resources
  • Nicaragua--Population density
  • Nicaragua--Discovery and exploration--Spanish
  • Nicaragua--Description and travel
  • Managua (Nicaragua)--Description and travel
  • Costa Rica--History--19th century
  • Costa Rica--Natural resources
  • Costa Rica--Population density
  • Costa Rica--Discovery and exploration--Spanish
  • Costa Rica--Description and travel
  • San Jose (Costa Rica)--Description and travel
  • Barrios, Rufino
  • Palenque Site (Mexico)
  • Antiquities--Central America
  • Canas, Juan J. (Juan Jose), 1826-1918
  • Central American poetry--19th century
  • Indians of Central America--History
  • Santo Tomas de Castilla (Guatemala)
  • Women--Mexico
  • Mexico--History--16th century
  • Mexico--History--17th century
  • Mexico--History--18th century
  • Mexico--History--19th century
  • Mexico--Discovery and exploration--Spanish
  • Mexico--Description and travel
  • Mexico City (Mexico)--Description and travel
  • Mexico--Social life and customs--19th century
  • Mexico City (Mexico)--Social life and customs--19th century
  • Mexican literature--19th century
  • Cypress pines--Mexico--Mexico City
  • Aztecs--History
  • Juana Ines de la Cruz, Sister, 1651-1695
  • Hornero Rubio de Diaz, Carmen
  • Ortiz de Dominguez, Maria Josefa, 1768-1829
  • Peralta, Angel, 1845-1883
  • Chicago (Ill.)--Description and travel
  • Great Lakes (North America)--Description and travel
  • Niagara Falls (N.Y. and Ont.)--Description and travel
  • New York (N.Y.)--Description and travel
  • New York (N.Y.)--Social life and customs--19th century
  • Manhattan (New York, N.Y.)--Description and travel
  • Brooklyn Bridge (New York, N.Y.)
  • St. Patrick’s Cathedral (New York, N.Y.)
  • Green-Wood Cemetery (New York, N.Y.)
  • Harpers Ferry (W. Va.)--Description and travel
  • Washington (D.C.)--Description and travel
  • Washington (D.C.)--Social life and customs--19th century
  • Women--United States
  • Washington, Martha, 1731-1802
  • Hispaniola--Description and travel
  • Dominican Republic--Description and travel
  • Haiti--Description and travel
  • Antilles, Greater
  • Women--Cuba
  • Cuba--History--19th century
  • Cuba--Description and travel
  • Havana (Cuba)--Description and travel
  • Colon (Matanzas, Cuba)--Description and travel
  • Puerto Rico
Keywords: Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Names
  • Latin America (general region)
  • New York (inhabited place)
  • Washington, D.C. (inhabited place)



While writing the first pages of this book– the interpreter of my impressions and reflection of my perdurable memories– I must return to my infancy to provide some details related to this work, which will explain my predilection for American soil and the reasons that drove me there.

I was very young when a fondness for literature awoke in me, or better yet, it was born of the amazement inspired in me by two distinguished men, whom I saw frequently in my house and who were friends of my wise uncle (my mother’s brother). I can almost see them. One of them had a benevolent, expressive, and frank countenance; an oval face; and a wide forehead surrounded by abundant and disheveled hair. In addition to this, he had a very obvious intelligence, which, just as his pleasant behavior and funny character, won everyone’s affection.

The other commanded respect with his severe and classic beauty, with his arrogant and


haughty demeanor, and his name, which I overheard pronounced among admirations and respectful consideration.

The first was Martínez de la Rosa [1]; the second was Alphonse de Lamartine [2].

I remember my devotion upon hearing their political or literary conversations and the impression they made on me. I also remember that I wouldn’t blink or move or speak a single word, afraid of missing one of theirs, which slowly operated in my strange transformation, observed by my school friends. It so happened that some mischievous and mocking girls nicknamed me Mademoiselle Minerva, the only name that occurred to them upon seeing me more inclined to spend the recess hours reading, rather than dedicated to the boisterous joys of another time.

I awaited vacations with febrile impatience because that was the only time I could see those whom I can call my indulgent teachers; during this time, I could also dedicate myself to delightful readings by Spanish and foreign authors, without encountering any obstacles: I really liked the illustrious Balmes [3], which was strange for a young girl; I was delighted by Padre Goriot [4] and Eugéne Grandet [5], as well as other works by Balzac [6], the admirable dissector of the human heart. Walter Scott was also among my favorites; he was the creator of the historical novel, which provided my infantile imagination with irresistible appeal. Keep in mind that I enjoyed those books in their original language, since, having lived in Paris from a tender age, I found French to be as familiar to me as my rich native tongue; and by traveling through Italy and England during the summer, I was able to learn the sweet language of Alfieri [7] and Shakespeare with that peculiar ease that children have and because of the special fondness I had for reading.

It was during some vacations, while summering at the foot of the Alps and on the shores of the picturesque Lake Como, that I met an elderly neighbor of ours who, among other manias pardoned by his advanced age (he was 12 years away from a century), believed in metempsychosis or the transmigration of souls; he told, with astonishing and formal conviction, of how man, through the evolution of the animal kingdom, before pertaining to the perfect or Caucasian race, was first Ethiopian and then Indian, in other words, of a colored race, a happy medium between the first and the second.

The wise octogenarian added, with imperturbable seriousness, that his soul, upon shedding its African wrapping, had possessed a Mongolian body and then became one of the caciques who accompanied Columbus in all his voyages, beginning with his discovery of the island he named Hispaniola,


until the day in which man’s injustices and ingratitude caused him to die poor and desperate.

And lastly, he said that, upon entering in the third phase of his existence, the heralded spirits of the past had related his story and placed him in direct communication with Christopher Columbus once again.

The good Máximo would become greatly troubled if his story was questioned, and since he was profoundly educated and his conversations were entertaining and curious, no one went as far as to contradict him. I would listen to his stories, amazed and attentive. Perhaps it was because of this and because I was the most credulous of his listeners that he was attached to me to such an the extreme that I was his favorite, and he liked for me to accompany him on his walks, a thing which I truly enjoyed because during this hour or more, I received picturesque and varied History, Botanical, Literary, and even Philosophical lessons– all of which the old man was well-versed in; his knowledge of the subjects remained undamaged by his digressions through the world of spirits that, on the contrary, lent an attractive singularity to his words.

The strange ideas that he harbored since childhood had made him spend the majority of his wealth on collections of ancient and modern books related to the history of the Indies. They were carefully stored, like a treasure, in a part of his house where no one was ever allowed to enter– not even the maid who served him, although her forty years of service to Máximo should have given her that right. One morning, after a long stroll, during which I served as his support as accustomed, he wished to show me his sanctuary for the first time, the place where he spent hours upon hours sitting in an extremely old armchair, which matched the large, book-filled tables and dusty shelves literally covered in cobwebs.

While my strange friend rested, enjoying the beautiful view of the lake, mountains, the fresh, green countryside, and the pleasant country houses shaded by orange and lime trees, I devoured the piles of books with my eyes. Little by little I lost my fear and approached one of the tables, leafing through the first volume I found beneath my hand. It was The Last of the Mohicans, by Fenimore Cooper.

I eagerly read the first pages and later asked for permission to return the next day to continue reading. Since then, I had carte blanche to wander through the immense archive as I pleased and was allowed to imagine new horizons discovered by my dreamy fantasy. Christopher Columbus’ Voyages,


History of the Indies, by F. Las Casas [8] The Araucaniad, by Ercilla [9], and other works, were the source of my enthusiasm for America. The graphically-described scenes of Indian life, the discoveries and conquest, the battles, the heroism of the Spaniards and the Indians, the tenacious and just light of the New World’s children against the invaders, enraptured me to the point of forgetting everything that was not reading, causing me to renounce strolls and other distractions in order to completely surrender myself to my favorite passion.

Neither paternal reflections nor my mother’s soft words influenced its moderation. They supported me, celebrating my eagerness and decided love for books; the old man became a closer friend each day and, showing off the excellence of my good memory, we sustained conversations in which I was not afraid to venture to ask him questions. He generously answered them, looking at me with his lively and penetrating eyes, smiling at me, content with the special nature of my studies, which made my parents fear that I would abandon others that I should follow, which they believed were more advantageous.

I was deeply saddened when the moment of our parting arrived, since I had taken a liking to the wise monomaniac, who had a heart of gold, as good and as simple as that of a child. Crying, I bid him farewell and my sorrow grew when I saw him trembling, with eyes damp from emotion. I still have an old Venetian poniard that he gave me, which he used to cut paper.

We were already back in Paris when I turned 14; the day on which my education would conclude was fast approaching, and since my father was resolved to return to Spain, I would have to bid an eternal farewell to school life. Yet, before that could happen, my hand was asked for in matrimony; I exchanged my schoolgirl uniform for a wedding dress.

My ideas and aspirations took on a new route; my reserve and exclusiveness for reading ceased completely. My husband was delirious for trips, a natural fondness in those who are born under London’s opaque sky and fog. He had been educated in Germany, his mother’s homeland. A part of his family lived there– they voluntarily expatriated during Cromwell’s rule after having seen Charles I (whom they loved and served) die on the scaffold– and made Austria their second home. Newly wed, these circumstances took us to the


Rhine riverbanks, carpeted with ruins and populated with memories and Medieval ghosts.

There, my love for literature was reborn as I identified myself with Goëthe [10] and Schiller [11]. My husband was a passionate admirer of both geniuses, who have completely contrasting views and have no common points except that of their superior intellect. They were two stars who, mutually attracting one another, became greater, confusing themselves with one another and completing each other in such a close friendship that the author of Werther [12] and that of William Tell [13] created a singular, grandiose and immortal individuality for many years.

Oh, what a beautiful life Goëthe had! Laborious, but full of light, glory accompanied him from an early age; he was lavished with honors and was the object of general admiration, which is even more logical when considering that in addition to his gigantic ingenuity, was the most perfect handsomeness.

We saw beautiful portraits of the poet in Frankfurt and Weimar; and his handsome head reminded me of Lord Byron and Espronceda [14] They are similar: they are three famous, colossal minds, who undoubtedly have had many similar talents and aptitudes.

I will skip the varied details of that unforgettable trip; but I will mention that, wanting to navigate through the Danube to the mouth of the Black Sea, we traveled toward Ulma to embark and sail down the great river, an artery of commerce for Levante, the crossing for crusaders into Serbia, and the battle field for the Turks after the conquest of Constantinople.

After three months, we returned to France and in a few days we were in Italy. Venice, Florence, Turin, Napoles, and Milan were the objects of our admiration and encountering surprise after surprise, we arrived at the Caesarian court, in the Eternal City [15]. Here, I must admit that our first visit was to the Coliseum, where we remained for two long hours, absorbed and powerfully impressed. We were speechless and the silence was a thousand times more eloquent. The sun was setting when we entered the wide amphitheater, in a short while we were enveloped by twilight’s shadows. In all my life, I will never forget the sublime majesty that surrounded us.

The following day, it was time for our visit to the unparalleled basilica of Saint Peter, wonder of the Renaissance. What a dome, what a building, what luxurious, admirable statues, what sepulchers, what a temple, where the biggest atheist or most materialistic person must feel and believe!

Our stay in Rome was limited, because


we were to be in London on a fixed date. One unseen circumstance stopped us from arriving in Paris. Two weeks later, my daughter, Margarita Aurora was born, spreading hope and joy. The trip to London was canceled indefinitely, because winter was approaching and we did not want to expose my black-eyed, blond angel to harsh changes in temperature. All those cold and unpleasant months were the happiest days of my life. I didn’t frequent theaters or salons; I neither visited nor entertained formal visitors because all the time I dedicated to my daughter and my family life seemed too short.

Upon reaching this point, my memories become somber and very sad, even though the memorable events of that time were the source of a complete change in my character and manner of thinking, marking another path for my future. I do not wish to cast a shadow over these pages with a detailed account that would be painful for both the reader and me, since, despite the passage of time, the wounds inflicted on my heart by the inexorable hand of death have not yet healed; it is enough to say that two years after being married, upon turning 17, I was a widow.

My parents feared that such a terrible pain would upset my judgment, because for a few months I was not aware of what was going on around me; nothing was strong enough to distract me from my thoughts, which always focused on the catastrophe that had instantaneously turned the happy and lush fields of my dreams into a wasteland, like a burning and volcanic flood that parches and destroys everything in its path.

My Margarita was not yet nine months old; but, despite this, she consoled me infinitely, even though sometimes the remembrance of lost happiness awoke more vividly, making the present seem darker and more bitter.

I traveled, searching for that which was more in accordance with my state of mind. I accepted my godfather, the Count of Diesbach’s requests that I visit the Brou cathedral in Bresse province. Its magnificence amazed me; that church– a superb remainder of gothic architecture, decorated as if for a wedding, like a sumptuously embroidered mantle, dressed with all the polish and splendor of the Middle Ages– stood out in a country of rugged beauty, within a denseness where the rays of the sun were barely able to penetrate due to the corpulence and height of ancient trees.

After the first visit, I felt a vehement desire to be alone


and to study all the beauties that I had expeditiously seen one by one; and early the next day I returned to the Cathedral. The first rays of sunlight illuminated the rose windows’ openwork, the extremely high vaults, the marble tracery, the daring columns, and the marvelous choir of granite that glistens because of its delicate and beautiful labor. The impressions of that trip had a beneficial influence on my heart and alleviated the profound sorrows of my widowhood, inspiring my article La Edad Media [16], which, published in French, was first published in Parisian newspapers and reproduced in Spanish by my very good friend, Francisco Javier de Moya, who was, at that time, director of La Iberia. After that day, I returned to my literary studies and my close connection with books in both French and Spanish; I distracted myself by putting together some articles, for which I earned severe critics as well as the approval and congratulations of many distinguished geniuses either because they agreed with the thesis or because of their indulgence and friendship for the author, which is more probable.

It would be necessary to study women’s history starting in a more distant time and in more remote societies, the influence she has exerted on all peoples and on all civilizations, and the strange vicissitudes that have oppressed her in order to understand and value her merits and intellectual faculties; but this is not the place, nor is it my purpose, to explain the pro-woman ideas that quickly turn to imagination: there will be enough time and space to express them, and if this does not occur, the events that have transpired since the publication of and fulfilled in honor and glory of my article, La mujer de hoy [17], will speak for me and with more eloquence.

My love of literature continued to translate itself, not only in prose, but also in verse, and without explaining how or through what merits, I suddenly found myself among a number of editors from El Eco Hispano-americano [18]. They were all very serious and profound people, like D.don Ramon de Lasagra, an older scientist, who, unlike the rest, was devoted to the progress of women. Without a doubt, it was because I was a strong supporter of the issue that he took a great liking to me. The elements that surrounded me were designed to stimulate my writings related to America, renewing my fondness for Lake Como. Lasagra and one of his friends, the Baron of Guilmaud, the former minister of France in Uruguay, sustained many conversations and in them, like in a pleasant panorama, the New World appeared before me, with all its pomp and splendors. It was from those intimate and delightful descriptions that my newspaper, Revista del Nuevo Mundo [19] was born;


the Baron of Guilmaud managed its political report, and the idea it initiated would become a complete success: the unification of all the Hispanic American countries with the motherland, whose generosity would give them moral and intellectual development, a rich, energetic, and beautiful language, new customs, and the consolatory Catholic religion.

At that time, satisfying a desire in my maternal heart, I wrote a book for my daughter, El Almacén de la Señoritas [20], which ended up in my editors’ hands, Rosa and Bouret, accompanied by other small volumes for the Biblioteca de la Juventud [21], while I was actively kept busy by way of some translations from English to French and from the latter to Spanish. I forgot to say that I loved Alexandre Dumas and that, as a young girl, the author of The Three Musketeers used to lift me up in his strong arms, holding me up in the air for long periods of time and finally placing me on a small taboret at his feet and telling me stories– something I truly enjoyed and which I asked for with the particular tenacity of a greedy person.

I tenderly recall the century’s most delightful dialogist, the man with the most amazing creativity, who pleasantly entertained the reader; the many historic licenses and improbabilities of numerous episodes were pardoned thanks to such talents. What has been previously stated is enough to understand that among my translations were some of Dumas’ works, including The Companions of Jehu, Creation and Redemption, one of his most original and strange novels, and various literary articles. I also translated Lamartine’s artistic lectures, which had a delightful aesthetic taste, admirable critical assessments, and well-defined brushstrokes, into Spanish.

During that time period, I wrote a short religious poem in verse, El Camino de la Cruz [22], which the Rosa and Bouret house published as a luxurious edition in beautiful vignettes and due to both that work as well as my canto, La Guerra de Africa[23], I savored my first literary satisfactions, which have a high price for a new writer and feign simplicity, elegance, and happiness on the literary road. My compositions for Castillejos and Tetuan were published in Madrid and were inspired by Pedro Antonio de Alarcón’s beautiful pages, written in Morocco during the memorable campaign, and love for native soil, which is for me, my love of loves.

I traveled expressly from Paris to Madrid in order to recreate the route taken by the army that found glory in Africa, desirous to also cordially congratulate


O’Donnell and Prim, old family friends. This time marked everlasting memories, some full of light, harmonies, and aromas, and others soaked in tears and veiled by black storm clouds. I will speak of the latter afterward and regarding the former, I will cite the most important: a reading, the first I did in public; although it was for friends and, I can say, companions, this event still worried me for many days beforehand.

In the second evening gathering, held in a temple dedicated to the arts by the distinguished sculptor, Piquer [24], who was, as many who read this will remember, an artist in every sense of the word. He has dedicated this celebration to me as an exquisite and gallant gift, the motive through which commitment would reach great proportions; because although dramatic and musical sections took part in it, the literary segment was reserved strictly for me. I can assure you that when my turn arrived, as noted in the program, I felt that the lights centuplicated and that the literary salon grew infinitely larger.

Later, I learned that during the first composition (Al Genio [25]), my normally full and almost strong voice barely reached the first row, drowned by emotion; but, in the second reading, upon reciting the ode, A las Artes [26], it reached its normal diapason. I owe these details to the Press, especially La Epoca [27], which demonstrated itself to be extremely benevolent and flattering for a young reader. And here it is necessary to mention that two or three years before going to Mexico, José Zorrilla had contented himself in Paris by making me recite the robust verses of the poem Granada and not a few of Cantos del Trovador [28], and I, in turn listening to him, attempted to imitate the inimitable– his style and the inflections of his voice.

I have not forgotten that a Mexican newspaper, upon discovering one of the many brilliant festivities that celebrated Zorrilla, said, “What does the Spanish poet do better– versify or read?” If by chance this book falls in his hands, perhaps some memory, blurred by the passage of time, will awake in his imagination and bring to mind names and things that his lively muse consigned in simple, beautiful stanzas and Moorish serenades.

Throughout my life, there has always been an amazingly regular and continuous oscillation between joy and the deepest sorrows, happiness and bitter pain. Even as I enjoyed the sweetness of my first campaign in the Piquer literary salon, reaping my illusions,


the Baron of Guilmaud’s death and my Margarita’s delicate health hastily took me to France.

The battle was long and painful and the days followed one another, anguished and full of mortal worries. Only a mother’s heart can understand the anxieties of such terrible moments and the tortures that rip apart the soul and leave her forever wounded. My angel returned to heaven and I remained on earth, resigned to cruel despair and dead to joy and hope. Gone was activity, thirst for glory, poetic enthusiasm, and instead of the harmonious choir of muses, the only sound heard in my home were sobs and moans.

My mother pulled me out of that state, which was alarming due to its duration: her warm love inspired her with ingenious methods so that little by little a healthy change would take place in me; but since the suffering was always great, it needed to overflow and it did overflow. I awoke feverish one dawn; dominated by the weight of a persistent idea, I wrote Mi dolor and Tus versos [29]; the latter composition was a response to another poem by the sweet poet, Luisa Pérez Zambrana, the daughter of Cuba. The ending is a cry from my soul, an echo of my agonies. It obtained an unexpected acceptance, perhaps because its verses overflowed with emotion; it was republished by the majority of South American presses.

Paris held such extremely painful memories for my mother and me that we resolved to move to Spain, something my father also wanted. We traveled for a long period of time. I enjoyed the picturesque views offered by Galicia, Spanish Switzerland; I loved Las Mariñas and the Padrón valleys; I spent hours and days contemplating the tempestuous Orzán in La Coruña and traveling through the fertile properties of the Counts of Priegue; I conserve a vivid and pleasant memory of the Anceis– there, with the warmth of friendship, I saw many peaceful and pleasant days.

From the Galician coasts, I went to Cadiz; from there I went on excursions and walked my sorrows through the exuberant gardens in Puerto Real and the delightful Jerez countryside. I visited Moorish Granada, my birthplace, which I left when I was only a few months old. My mother generally accompanied me, enduring with admirable patience the caprices of a sick heart that could not be satisfied or gladdened by anything. Many of my lyrical poems belong to this period: all of them reveal my eternal melancholy.

I also read a great deal, especially everything regarding the New World, because


I was so overwhelmed by the idea of crossing the immense Ocean in order to acquire an exact knowledge of regions that I had forged in my mind with all the magnificence of the ancient Orient. That is to say, [I was overwhelmed] by its curious history, its strange, prehistoric legends, the elegance of its Nature– made eternal and unrivaled by a fiery sun– and the ancient ruins that attracted me with an irresistible charm. The ecstasies of my restless imagination, as it wandered through American forests and thickets, could be called golden dreams.

Overnight, it occurred to me to embark on a trip to Cuba, making a stopover in Puerto Rico and Santo Domingo, which was recently annexed to Spain. My trip lasted a year and a half and I will wait to share my impressions until the following pages of this book; but I will recount what led to my ideal prospects of splendid reality, feeling as if only from sketching natural types, habits, real-life scenarios, and animating the image with some historic and picturesque touches, could I create a complete, interesting study of the peoples which we still lack much of to understand completely.

A short time after I returned from the Antilles, the revolution of 1868 struck in Spain. I was in El Puerto de Santa María, scribbling the pages of my novels, Magdalena [30] and El Misterio del alma [31], both imperfect essays on naturalism. The political evolution produced strange impressions on my mind and in my heart. My father had been one of the most determined defenders of doña Isabel II’s combated throne when she was very young and the first name that I babbled was that of the Queen and majestic lady, who suffered in foreign lands as a sovereign and a mother. The bloody episodes of the disastrous civil war were familiar to me from a very young age, and they were engrained more indelibly in my childhood memory because at times, and quite frequently, the mistaken news of a battle, the exaggerated narrations (always common in abnormal circumstances), and the dangers of military campaigns alarmed my mother and made her shed abundant tears that were mixed with joy and loving caresses for me whenever a letter or verbal message calmed her spousal heart.

Such a history, the crash of the throne as it fell in pieces, the ostracism of the Royal family, the grave political incidents that occurred, and the general state of the country caused a profound impression on me and made me abandon Andalucía. Upset and uneasy, I went on to Madrid


to reunite with my mother and ask my father to accompany me to Paris. One event could make the trip disastrous. I’ll get to the point: my mother and I traveled in a carriage reserved for ladies and we had, as our companion, a venerable old woman, worthy of respect through her class and character. Very near Biarritz, she revealed her desire to stop at the bathing beach, and with a friendly insistence and sweet persistence, she hoped to persuade us to stay with her that night and said that we could continue the trip the following day. My mother was indecisive because she had found an old childhood friend in the traveler; but I, obeying I know not what inexplicable feeling, fought our companion’s purpose. It was useless: fatigue made her delight in the idea of enjoying some hours of rest in a good bed. When we arrived in Biarritz, I felt my heart sink and by a natural impulse I hugged the old woman as she got off the train, I was greatly moved and followed her with my tear-filled eyes.

Even today I find it strange that I felt so much affection for the traveler I had only known for the few hours our trip lasted.

On the second morning, after our arrival in Paris, I went to greet a majestic exile and I found her profoundly saddened: there were tears in her sweet blue eyes. A horrible event was the cause. [It was] a crash between two trains near Orleans: the train carrying mail that was on its way from Bordeaux to Paris and another that was carrying merchandise and on its way to Angouleme.

What a catastrophe! What a cruel and sinister end of life! I trembled in fear! A memory overburdened me, a name left my lips! There was no doubt that noble elderly lady, my friend of a few hours, had perished. Anxious to know the details, I ran to the North station; with unparalleled anguish, I discovered that only a few passengers in second and third class had survived. According to what they told me, the half-burnt body of my unfortunate traveling companion had been identified by a ring that had either a coat of arms or a name. She was the mother of an erudite and well-known Spanish writer. Just four years ago, I saw him in Washington and we recalled that very sad memory.

My absence from Spain lasted a few months, and during that time I consigned myself to the American story with the utmost devotion; the thought of visiting the New Continent took root in my mind with singular persistence.

I returned to Sevilla and, fulfilling a promise made in advance with Asquerino [32], I wrote a series of articles for his newspaper, La America,


titled, El Danubio [33], which I read a few years later in the United States, translated into English.

Peter the cruel’s old court contained the sweet attractive of friendship for me. What days and hours I passed during this time with the ingenious writer of Andalusian customs, Fernán Caballero [34]; she delighted me on par with the kind treatment and delightful speech of the distinguished Avellaneda [35]! Both the authors of Alfonso Munio [36] and La Gaviota [37] have given luster and vigorous tones to this century’s Spanish literature.

A literary evolution was beginning to dawn– it was discovering ignored horizons, wide paths for the science of writing, and it achieved a life of its own in Spain, superimposing itself over French naturalism due to linguistic filigrees, its richness, and delicate coloring. This literary movement was being accented and thoroughly accepted when I, without paying attention to very serious obstacles or logical risks, guided only by the vehement desire that hadn’t allowed me a moment’s rest for a long time, resolved to leave Europe to undertake my investigations through the expansive New World and to penetrate virgin jungles, dressed in the incomparable sumptuousness that the Author of all creation limitlessly lavished on those regions. I dreamt of climbing mountains enveloped in an immaculate, snowy mantle, analyzing, from there, the perdurable beauty of the valleys, the picturesque all-embracing view, and finally, to study the very singular types and primitive customs conserved by the indigenous peoples in cities, villages, and huts.

I was truly in love with this idea; I could already see myself in the midst of that majestic solitude, crossed by the daring Spaniards of the 16th and 17th centuries, who were such enthusiasts because of their adventurous nature and boldness to become involved in risky undertakings complicated by difficulties. I could not deny the rashness of this subject, but my excellent health and the unconquerable strength of will guaranteed that I would not fear moral or physical fatigue.

Driven by my impatience, I spoke to my friends and family about it on the eve of putting my plan into action; there is no reason to hide the negative effect that it produced. Everyone thought that it was absurd and there was not a single person who failed to say these or similar words: “The undertaking would be grandiose if it were not impossible for a woman to carry it out; I think it is greater madness than Don Quixote’s. Do you think that crossing very extensive territories, riding a mule deep into forests plagued with


all types of vermin, overcoming journey after journey, climbing cliffs, crossing plains under the burning Tropical sun, running from extremely profound precipices at every instant with, as they say, your life hanging in the balance, is small potatoes? Why don’t we disabuse ourselves,” said my friend, “and not get any false ideas: in those Americas, which were ours, communication is very difficult, and, of course, I assure you that upon meeting those inconveniences, the traveler’s plans will not leave the plan form.”

This did not make me give up and the reflections made by friends and strangers affirmed my resolution instead of destroying it– a logical result in personalities like my own. The obstacles and difficulties gave my plan importance since, without them, its fulfillment would not have had any merit. I was resolved to leave from Lisbon because, according to my itinerary, my voyage began in what was then the Empire of Brazil.

Everything that could be done or attempted was done and attempted by my friends to dissuade me from the memorable voyage, completely disapproving of anything that had to do with it; but, convinced of the uselessness of their efforts, they trusted that time would bring about my disabuse. There was never any hesitation in me, and without stopping, I occupied myself in making the preparations for my departure. A month later, I left for Lisbon and after 15 more days, I embarked on the English steamship, Tholemy [38]

This is how I began my voyage to the other world, not without having to overcome serious difficulties, and I did it without having to alter any of my plans. During the voyage, that continent floated before my eyes, full of splendors, amid capricious curtains and canopies of innumerable ferns and climbing vines that intertwined, snaking up the ancient trunks of age-old trees; before my eyes, I could see the plumes of smoke, emitted by their Cyclopean volcanoes, and the foot of the snowy slopes, surrounded and covered by green moss and the lush branches of crowded, strange bushes. Taking in the unequalled view, my eyes rested on the valleys of indescribable variety, on the small forests of coconut palms and banana plantations that lovingly shaded the ranches, where the Indians live happily, without aspirations or worries, with only the bare necessities. The vegetation is so pompous and Nature is so prodigal that it provides the quotidian nourishment in overflowing quantities, which require short and simple work; it is fruitful because of the sun’s burning caresses, the strong dew, or the abundant rain.

The peasant’s pressing necessities, caused by the rigor of Europe’s climate, are unknown by the farm worker in a great part of those extensive


American territories, and you can be assured that they enjoy relative abundance and wellbeing in their humble huts. No, no; there were few times that we found misery covered in rags, that misery that translates into that matt, colored semblance and the nervous tremors provoked by hunger. There are never any cases such as those in London, in which, without bread or shelter, men, women, and children wander through the streets, half naked, starving ,and stiff with cold; no, no, we repeat. Great and patriarchal virtues and sublime and divine words exist in the heart of those societies: feed the hungry and clothe the naked– they are learned through their practice.

Today, as in primitive times, hospitality is considered a duty and the European is astonished by the manner in which it is practiced between the rich and the poor, in cities and in the country. Luckily, egoism, the gangrene that feeds on generous sentiments, has been slow to invade the New World and has very few supporters.

And therefore, we are amazed to see that in the great political labor, in the inevitable choices of young, newly constructed communities, neither the holy laws of hospitality nor the respect of the most beautiful of virtues have been altered.

The Indians were also hospitable in the time before the discovery and conquest to such a high degree that the guest was considered sacred while he remained among the family, even when they unexpectedly discovered that he was an enemy.

Just as in remote, patriarchal times, the position of honor in the house was ceded to the guest, and attention was lavished on him according to the hierarchy. These or similar ideas crowded my imagination and, on wings of desire, they covered the distance left before setting foot on American beaches.

The Tholemy continued its course, making beautiful time; the sea was so gentle and calm that its waters hardly rippled, like an immense lake. What soft and incomparable auroras! What a sky, so rich in cloudscapes and constantly pure and blue! What intoxicating afternoons and what indescribable sunsets!

Luckily for me, I was also able to enjoy the poetic brilliancy of the moon during my long voyage and that alabaster body, suspended in the clearest sky, produced a melancholic rapture and ecstasy that I had never known before.


Complete silence, uninterrupted, except for the murmur of water that parted and crashed as the steamship passed; the vast ocean’s mystery and solitude; and the moon’s reflection on the tranquil and phosphorescent waves, caused indescribable impressions on my spirit. Keep in mind that the moon is clearer, more radiant, and more luminous in the American regions, and that its strength is such that, just as the hot sun can produce sunstroke, the moon also produces its own effects in the tropical latitudes.

The night’s sovereign was, for me, benevolent. Despite my continuous contemplation and the homage and vassalage I paid to its beauty for long hours, it did not cause any indisposition in me whatsoever, as it is notorious for doing.

A young Brazilian woman always accompanied me and enjoyed those marvels and grandeurs while the rest of the passengers entertained themselves by playing on the poop deck or shortened the time by sleeping like logs.

The majority of them were French merchants based in Rio de Janeiro and there were two Basque families on their way to the banks of the River Plate in search of a better future.

On deck, at the bow, some Portuguese men (pertaining to that class that lives somewhat less in misery and earns miserable wages that barely cover their more pressing necessities) were battling seasickness. The desperation and hope of another laborious life, yes, but not as full of sorrow and poverty, had made them search for a second home in Brazil.

Those wretches, nibbling at some cookies hardened by the heat, inspired infinite pity in me, reminding me of so many Spaniards who, like them, emigrate continuously, abandoning house and home, leaving European soil, worn out and impoverished more each day due precisely to a lack of working hands.

Without warning, the climate changed very near the Brazilian coasts; black storm clouds veiled the sky’s limpidity and quickly took on a threatening and imposing appearance. The heat was suffocating and close, continuous thunder and lightening announced one of those fearsome tempests of those latitudes. The clouds accumulated more and more to unleash a torrential rain, so hard that it completely obscured the horizon.


The steamship suddenly fell on its side, due to a late or clumsily executed maneuver; the situation was critical, and the fear that gripped all the passengers was not unfounded. The captain’s serenity and skilled direction saved us, and the Tholemy, straightening itself out once again and continued its course through the choppy waves that furiously crashed against the gunwales and rose up like snowy cliffs or colossal waterfalls that threateningly challenged our passage. Yet, another strange and entertaining spectacle distracted us. A veil of various shades and brilliant colors had interposed itself between the ocean and the sky, and, in rapid undulations, it descended over us, extending itself over the deck, splitting into pieces, and invading the stairs, chambers, and cabin.

It was thick rabble of butterflies fleeing from the rain, which sought refuge in the steamship. There, scared and spreading their multicolored wings with capricious images, they remained unmoving through the duration of the storm, which lasted two hours, and when it ended, they took flight and after a brief moment, we lost sight of them.

We could not see land yet; but the air swept in perfumes of neighboring forests, which we delightfully inhaled, lifting our spirits and restoring our tranquility and hope.

The atmosphere’s heat had cooled down with the rain and not a single cloud tarnished the sky, which had been somber and sad not too long ago.

The ocean, although still agitated, forming white, fleece-like foam, began to calm down little by little, and the last rays of sunlight made way from the center of that giant ball of fire for unmatched skies– pink, opalescent, red, and blue. The temperature that we enjoyed at that moment was delightful, the type that submerges the senses in delectable ecstasy

Slowly, the hot gleams of the beautiful star, with its incomparable suite, disappeared, replaced by the vague and mysterious crepuscular clarity that predisposes the spirit to sweet melancholies and evokes treasured memories.

That last night aboard the Tholemy, I didn’t get a wink of sleep all night and I counted on the febrile impatience of the hours remaining until I could jump on the American beaches. I felt as if my heart was expanding and there were moments in which I experienced extreme joy and indefinable emotions.

The young Brazilian identified with my impatience and impressions because loving maternal arms and the


embraces of her two brothers awaited her arrival; she was returning with her father from a long trip, begun four years ago, which was suggested by doctors after a long and painful illness.

At four in the morning we could distinguish a far off, whitish strand that almost confused itself between the ocean and the horizon.

“Brazil!” my trip companion cheerfully exclaimed.

“Brazil!” repeated the passengers crowded on the poop deck in chorus.

As for me, I didn’t utter a single word; my eyes were fixed on the coast that emerged from beneath the waves and became larger every second. The mountains were now visible, although they were half hidden by the morning fog; the green and lush leafiness stood out now, and the sumptuous vegetation could be admired. Like a fantastic panorama, the precipitous Organ peaks and the imposing rugged mountains, which looked like sentries defending the entrance of the breathtaking bay, rose up.

And the steamship majestically advanced amid the bustle and movement that can be observed in the moments before landing.

I will never forget the view before my eyes or the dazzling, portentous scenery reflected in the gentle waters that were as clear as crystal.

It was nine o’clock on the beautiful morning of December 1873, when the English steamship, Tholemy, entered the Rio de Janeiro bay through the narrow opening formed by rocks, passing as it entered and almost scraping against the singular and famous crag called “El Pan de Azúcar,” [39] because of its formation.

Not long afterward, we anchored near the elevated wall that isolates the prodigious bay from the ocean, and then my eyes took in a breathtaking view, perhaps unique in the universe, which I will vainly attempt to describe with exact reality.

Before me rose the rugged cuts of the Brazilian Andes range, crowning the forests– a marvel of vegetation– the coves, and graceful meadows carpeted with tropical flowers of various colors. The bright and burning sun bathed the still surface of the vast and incomparable lake that reproduced all the splendors of Nature and the rugged Corcovado and Tijuca peaks.

In the distant wooded plateau, among gigantic trees and pleasant forests, rose the church of Our Lady of Glory; further off, and


among the clouds, stood an old Benedictine convent.

The strangest plants were within my view, entwined on ancient trunks and stretched out across them like capricious canopies and artistic curtains.

Delighting in the tropical nature and endless marvels, I forgot that it was time to disembark. Upon hearing my name, I was surprised and felt as if I had been awakened from a profound dream.

“The Port Commander’s boat is waiting for you and two ladies are waiting for you in the hall,” said William, an officer on the Tholemy, with the seriousness particular to the English.

I ran to my cabin and quickly put on my hat and gloves; shortly afterward, I was in the music hall, there I found the young Brazilian, conversing and laughing with two Portuguese ladies, daughters of a landowner whom some of my sweet friends had written to from Lisbon.

The two young ladies offered me their frank American hospitality in his name and together we boarded the Port Commander’s felucca.

Upon touching land, I felt one of those sensations that mark a milestone in life.

I was in America.

I had carried out the first part of my plan and satisfied the vehement desire that had developed at the shores of Lake Como as a result of old Máximo’s fantastic narrations and by reading descriptions of discoveries and conquests.

This long-cherished ideal was a surprising reality that made my heart beat with enthusiasm and joy. America! Happy land, where wise Providence spread all the treasures it held in its creating hand, now imposing with the majesty of danger, now grandiose because of its elegance and poetry.

It seemed to me impossible that atheists could exist in the New World: upon admiring Nature’s splendor, the most impious man would elevate a hymn to the Omnipotent Being, creator of so many marvels, and humble himself under the influence of his power.

Regarding myself, I affirm that in American lands I felt my religious faith more entrenched; my veneration for the Supreme Being was more intense;


it mixed with an immense thankfulness as my eyes scanned the torrents, the waterfalls, the extreme heights, the volcanoes and their awful beauty, the marvelous forests, the incomparable sky, the infinitely-varied birds, and the strange insects and animals that live in the forest and nest in the dense, green tree bowers.

Many times I have thought that life is too short to understand and pay just homage of admiration to the universal masterpiece and its divine Author. Our understanding is too limited to sing its wonders: the pen is impotent to describe them: colors are too pale for the paintbrush to reproduce them.

And in America it takes on gigantic and solemn proportions. It is something superior to what the mind elaborated: reality surpasses the most implausible ideals. This is incomprehensible for anyone who has not traveled through this world, which was hidden for long centuries and foretold by Columbus.

Translator's Notes

Francisco de Paula Martinez de la Rosa, Spanish politician.
French author, poet, and politician.
Father Jaime Blames, a Spanish Catholic priest, philosopher, and political author.
“Father Goriot,” (1835).
Honoré de Balzac, French author and playwright.
Vittorio Alfieri, Italian dramatist.
Father Bartolomé de las Casas.
Alsonso de Ercilla y Zúñiga.
Johann Wolfgang von Goëthe, German author.
Friedrich von Schiller, German poet, historian, philosopher, and playwright.
Goëthe, The Sorrows of the Young Werther, (1774).
Schiller, Wilhelm Tell, (1804).
José de Espronceda, Spanish poet.
“The Middle Ages.”
“Today’s Woman.”
The “Hispanic American Echo.”
“New World Journal.”
“Young Women’s Department Store,” (1860).
“Youth Library Collection.”
“The Road to the Cross,” (1859)
“Africa’s War.”
José Piquer y Duart.
“To the Genius.”
To the Arts.
“The Epoch.”
“The Troubadour’s Cantos.”
“My Pain” and “Your Verses.”
“The Soul’s Mystery.”
Eduardo Asquerino.
“The Danube.”
Pseudonym used by the Spanish writer, Cecilia Francisca Josefa Böhl de Faber.
Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, Cuban writer.
Avellaneda, (1844)
Caballero, “The Seagull” (1849).
Sic. The author may have meant Ptolemy.
“the sugar loaf.”

Fondo Antiguo Biblioteca Ernesto de la Torre Villar
Date: 2010-06-07
Available through the Creative Commons Attribution license