Teacher, politician, soldier, journalist, poet, novelist, literary inspirer of the young, and restorer of centers of learning, Ignacio Manuel Altamirano (ahl-tah-MEE-rah-noh) fills an epoch in the cultural life of Mexico. The spiritual development of Altamirano, considered Mexico’s greatest writer in his age, is an example of determination and genius. Of pure Indian blood, he was born in an obscure village in the southwest of Mexico; at the age of fourteen he still knew no Spanish. He began his studies at the Scientific and Literary Institute of Toluca, then the capital city of the state that contained his native village. In this city he learned Spanish, Latin, French, and philosophy, and he had as a teacher of literature the celebrated reformer Ignacio Ramírez, better known under his pseudonym, El Nigromante (The Necromancer).
After teaching French at a private school in Toluca, he settled in Mexico City and studied at the College of Letrán. He interrupted his studies in order to ally himself with the Revolution of Ayutla, 1853-1855, against the dictator Santa Anna. Thereafter Altamirano returned to Mexico City to complete his courses in law. Again he took up arms during the War of Reform, and in 1861, after the triumph of the liberals, he was elected to the national Congress. During the French Intervention and the Second Empire he fought in the Republican ranks along with Benito Juárez. After the fall of Maximilian he devoted the rest of his life to teaching and to letters.
Altamirano founded the weekly literary...
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