Andrés Bello 1781-1865
(Full name Andrés Bartolomé Bello) Venezuelan poet, translator, essayist, and editor.
One of the foremost intellectual figures during the Spanish-American wars of independence and the subsequent formation of Latin American nations, Bello produced works in a variety of genres, including literature, philosophy, political writings, and civil law. An editor, teacher, politician, and formulator of a Latin American grammar, Bello is credited with giving life to the “americanismo” movement and inspiring Latin Americans to celebrate their independence and freedom in the wake of Spanish colonialism. A leading advocate of Spanish language and culture, Bello helped to empower Latin Americans both intellectually and politically and played an important role in the development of post-colonial Latin America.
Bello was born November 29, 1781, in Caracas, Venezuela, which only four years earlier had been declared the capital of Venezuela. The eldest of eight children, he descended from a prestigious line of artists, painters, and musicians. Bello's mother, Ana Antonia López, was the daughter of Venezuela's leading sculptor, painter, and artist of the eighteenth century, Juan Pedro López. Bello's father, Bartolomé Bello y Bello, was a notable musician with a degree in civil law. As a youth Bello studied Latin and immersed himself in classicism, translating into Castilian the fifth book of Virgil's Aeneid at the age of 15. He went on to pursue a bachelor's degree in the arts, graduating from the Real y Pontificia Universidad de Caracas in 1800. While at the university, Bello taught Simón Bolívar, the future revolutionary leader and statesman. After graduation Bello studied literature, French, and English, which helped prepare him for his many years in London. He also wrote literary works which brought him recognition and prestige. In 1802 Bello was awarded the political position of second official of the Captaincy General of Venezuela, and from this time forward Bello was an active civic, diplomatic, and cultural figure. When in 1808 the first printing press was brought to Caracas, the Captaincy General selected Bello as the editor of the first official newspaper, La Gaceta de Caracas. During this time Bello continued to produce poetry based on the classical traditions he studied and enjoyed as a boy.
In 1810 Bello travelled to England with Bolívar, who was sent as a political envoy from Venezuela. While the stay was a brief one for Bolívar, who soon returned to Venezuela to continue the fight for independence, Bello remained in London. Political instability in Venezuela made the next ten years difficult for Bello, who was left without the financial support of his country and had to provide for himself. While in London he married Mary Ann Boyland in 1814, who died seven years later. In 1824 he married Isabel Antonia Dunn. During this time he served in various capacities as a political representative for South American countries, including Venezuela, Colombia, and Chile. He also continued his literary pursuits, editing and contributing to several Spanish language literary journals. Along with Juan Garcia del Rio, Bello published Biblioteca Americana in 1823 and El Repertorio Americano in 1826, two influential journals that also featured Bello's work, which included poetry, scientific investigations, philosophy, translations, and literary criticism. Throughout his time in London, which was characterized by his study, writing, and diplomatic duties, Bello longed to return to South America. In 1829, he and his family left London for Chile, where he was named the undersecretary of the Ministry of the Interior. His skill and experience as an editor was again put to work in the publication of the newspaper El Araucano for which he was principal editor from 1830 to 1853. He continued to be very active in government, serving as a senator of the Republic from 1837 to 1855. He was instrumental in founding the University of Chile in 1842. Two of his most significant works during this time were his 1847 Gramática de la lengua castellana destinada al uso de los americanos, a formal grammar of Castilian for use by Latin Americans, and his 1852 Código civil chileno, or The Chilean Civil Code, which was ratified by the Chilean Congress in 1855. His diplomatic skills were again called upon in 1865, when he served as an arbiter between Ecuador and the United States. His long and esteemed political and literary career came to a close October 15, 1865, when he died at the age of 84 in Santiago, Chile, after a prolonged illness.
Bello's work has been compiled into two large collections and between his poetry, essays, philosophy, grammar, legislation, and criticism, there is much for Bello scholars to consider. Among the unifying themes in all of his work are his philosophy of americanismo, or celebrating and enlightening Latin American peoples, his concern for a unified grammar, his belief in the regulation of social life to ward against the dissolution of city life amid unchecked vice, and his literary interest in combining both Classic and Romantic schools of thought. His poem “Alocución a la Poesía, en que se introducen las albanzas de los pueblos é individuos americanos, que más se han distinguido en la Guerra de la independencia. (Fragmento de un poema inédito, titulado ‘América’)” (“Discourse to Poetry, which presents the glories of the peoples and individuals of America who have most distinguished themselves in the war of independence. [Fragment of an unpublished poem entitled ‘America’]”) is a strong example of his concern with validating and celebrating the Latin American, or americanismo experience. He published the first 447 lines of the poem in the first issue of the journal Biblioteca Americana in July 1823, and the remaining 387 lines in the second (and final) volume of that same journal. This poem can be considered in two sections divided by style; a Georgic section and an Epic section. In the Georgic lines, the poet invites the Goddess of Poetry to the new world, enticing her with descriptions of its lush natural beauty and vast potential. The Goddess is then asked if she would rather hear of the heroics of those who valiantly died in the wars for independence from Colonial Spain. The Epic section remains focused on the experience of war and those who fought for an end to colonial tyranny. The poem, often called simply “América,” has been considered a declaration of the spiritual and intellectual independence of Latin America, while at the same time relying upon the classical and European conventions of poetry.
Another of Bello's most significant poetic works is his “Agricultura,” which again uses Georgic conventions in both theme and tone to represent the transformations in Latin America brought on by the wars for independence. Following the natural and political history of Latin America, it first portrays rich images of the fertility of the torrid zone's climate. The abundance and easy way of life are celebrated, and the land is represented as providing everything the indigenous people need to live healthy lives. Then the Spaniards arrive, and place the indigenous people into servitude, which while restrictive was nevertheless idyllic, because the land still provided for simple and easy living. The poem then demonstrates how European consumption soon overtaxed both the land and the people, and the relationship became one of master and slave. The Church's role in this increasingly oppressive colonial rule is strongly criticized, and the Church is portrayed as instigating tensions between the peasants and the Spanish for its own financial gain. Bello blames the Church for fanning the flames of civil war, and for driving the peasants from their land into vice-ridden cities. The poem exhibits how revolution has destroyed the simple way of life that was presented in the early sections, and shows that Latin Americans can regain control over their lands and their self-determination through agriculture. Although agriculture is a harder life than what existed before the Spanish colonization, the poem argues, it is the only way for Latin Americans to claim freedom for themselves.
The body of critical inquiry in English into Bello's life and work remains scarce, primarily due to a lack of translations; however, his literary, philosophical, and political accomplishments are thoroughly studied in Spanish-language criticism. There exists several trends in the available English-language scholarship. In separate studies, critics Iván Jaksić and O. Carlos Stoetzer focus on the correlation between Bello's political and social experiences and his literary work. The importance of revolutionary figures and his central part in the definition of independent Latin American culture, especially his influence on the formal grammar of Latin America, are also of great interest to critics. Antonio Cussen discusses the significance of Bioblioteca Americana as a Spanish-language journal and explains its importance to Bello's philosophy of americanismo. Jaksić examines Bello's experience in London, which is characterized by his personal study, diplomatic appointments, and editorial endeavors. The critic finds Bello's commitment to the championing of Latin American culture in all facets of his life abroad.