Andrés Bello Essay - Critical Essays

Bello, Andrés


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.

Biographical Information

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.

Major Works

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.

Critical Reception

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.

Principal Works

Análisis ideológico de los tiempos de la conjugación castellana (nonfiction) 1809

El Calendario manual y guía universal de forasteros en Venezuela para el año 1810 (history) 1810

Poem of the Cid [translator] (poetry) 1816

Biblioteca Americana [editor; with Juan García de Río] (journal) 1823

Repertorio Americano [editor; with Juan García de Río] (journal) 1826-27

Principios del derecho de gentes (nonfiction) 1832

Principios de ortología y méterica de la lengua castellana (nonfiction) 1835

El incendio de la Compañia. Canto elegiaco (poetry) 1841

Discurso pronunciado … en la instalación de la Universidad de Chile el día 17 de septiembre de 1843 (speech) 1843

Instituciones de derecho romano (philosophy) 1843

Proyecto de Código civil (1841-1845) (philosophy) 1846

Teresa [translator] (drama) 1846

Gramática de la lengua castellana destinada al uso de los americanos (nonfiction) 1847

Cosmografia, o descripción del universo conforme a los últimos descubrimientos (history) 1848

Compaendio de historia de la literatura (criticism) 1850

Colección de poesías originales por Andrés Bello (poetry) 1870

Filosofía del entendimiento (essays and criticism) 1881

Obras completas. 15 vols. (poetry, essays, criticism, philosophy, and nonfiction) 1881-93

Obras completas. 26 vols. (poetry, essays, criticism, philosophy, and nonfiction) 1981-86


Elijah Clarence Hills (essay date 1920)

SOURCE: Hills, Elijah Clarence. Introduction to The Odes of Bello, Olmedo, and Heredia, pp. 3-9. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1920.

[In the following excerpt, Hills briefly outlines Bello's life and major works, noting their general reception by critics.]

The three pre-eminent classic poets of Spanish America are Bello of Venezuela, Olmedo of Ecuador, and the Cuban Heredia.

Of these, Don Andrés Bello (1781-1865) was the most consummate master of poetic diction, although he lacked the brilliancy of Olmedo and the spontaneity of Heredia.

Born in Caracas and educated in the schools of his native city, Bello was sent to England in the...

(The entire section is 1150 words.)

O. Carlos Stoetzer (essay date December 1983)

SOURCE: Stoetzer, O. Carlos. “The Political Ideas of Andrés Bello.” International Philosophical Quarterly, 23, no. 4 (December 1983): 395-406.

[In the following essay, Stoetzer examines Bello's political views and how personal and environmental influences manifest themselves in his logic, opinions, and literature.]


Andrés Bello (1781-1865), the eminent Venezuelan philosopher and statesman who later chose Chile as his homeland and whose bicentennial was just celebrated in 1981, remains Spanish America's greatest humanist. The extraordinary work of this true scholar still echoes in our own times and radiates his beneficial influence....

(The entire section is 6592 words.)

Antonio Cussen (essay date 1992)

SOURCE: Cussen, Antonio. “Poetry Visits America.” In Bello and Bolívar: Poetry and Politics in the Spanish American Revolution, pp. 96-126. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

[In the following excerpt, Cussen examines Bello's short-lived but significant Spanish language journal Biblioteca Americana, and provides a close reading of his poems “Alocución” and “Agricultura”—two poems singing the praises of Spanish American history and its heroes.]

Besides, a fate attends on all I write,
That when I aim at praise, they say I bite.

Alexander Pope

The first issue of the Biblioteca Americana, published in...

(The entire section is 11915 words.)

Iván Jaksić (essay date 1997)

SOURCE: Jaksić, Iván. Introduction to Selected Writings of Andrés Bello, by Andres Bello, translated by Frances M. Lopez-Morillas, edited by Iván Jaksić, pp. xxvii-lv. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

[In the following essay, Jaksić examines Bello's life and works, arguing that Bello's primary concern in all his writing and political work was creating order.]

Andrés Bello was a central figure in the construction of a new political order in post-independence Latin America. A quiet, unassuming, self-effacing man, Andrés Bello was nevertheless a person of enormous influence, a mentor to generations, an advisor to powerful political figures, and a builder...

(The entire section is 11396 words.)

Iván Jaksić (essay date 2001)

SOURCE: Jaksić, Iván. “The Diplomacy of Independence.” In Andres Bello: Scholarship and Nation-Building in Nineteenth-Century Latin America, pp. 63-93. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

[In the following excerpt, Jaksić considers Bello's role as a political figure representing the interests of Latin America in England, examining his relationships with other notable Latin American political figures and authors, and his Spanish language journals, Biblioteca Americana and El Repertorio Americano.]

London in the 1820s became the hub of diplomatic, financial, and cultural transactions between Great Britain and the newly independent countries of...

(The entire section is 14501 words.)

Further Reading


Caldera, Rafael. “The Sage.” In Andrés Bello: Philosopher, Poet, Philologist, Educator, Legislator, Statesman, translated by John Street, pp. 47-52, 71-82. London: George Allen & Unwin LTD, 1977.

Considers Bello's accomplishments, with particular focus on his poetic, prose, and aesthetic theories.

Castronovo, Brian J. “The Concept of Mood: Bello's Influence on Ramsey.” Hispanic Linguistics 3, no 1-2 (fall 1989): 99-121.

Details the linguistic influence of Bello's Gramática on Marathon Montrose Ramsey's seminal English language grammar of Spanish, A Textbook of Modern Spanish....

(The entire section is 366 words.)