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This webpage reproduces an article in
Political Science Quarterly
Vol. 20 No. 2 (June 1905), pp329‑333

The text is in the public domain.

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[Book Review]

Spain in America, 1450‑1580. By Edward Gaylord Bourne. (The American Nation: A History. Volume III.) New York and London, Harper and Brothers, 1904. — xx, 350pp.

The South American Republics. By Thomas C. Dawson. (The Story of the Nations.) New York and London, G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1903, 1904. — Part I, xvi, 525pp.; Part II, xiv, 513pp.

No one is better aware than Professor Bourne of the immense difficulty of telling the true story of Spain in America. The printed materials are fragmentary, and those in manuscript become accessible only after years of patient research in the archives of Spain and her former colonies. That the author of Spain in America has prepared from the printed sources an outline containing so many of the essential facts and conclusions, bears high testimony to his scholarship. The story is told in a sober and impressive fashion, and everywhere the construction is buttressed by lucid comment and able criticism. The result is a work that easily surpasses in value anything hitherto offered in the field.

The first twelve chapters of the book are given over to a survey, refreshingly novel in form and concept, of the progress of discovery and exploration from 867 to 1580. Intimately acquainted with the best literature of his subject, Professor Bourne traces the fortunes of Columbus and the other early discoverers, shows how a knowledge of the coast line was obtained, explains the connection of Vespucci with the naming of America, and properly bestows the laurels of sea-daring upon Magellan. Then follows a brief account of the way in which the Spaniards explored the interior of North America and destroyed the French settlements in Florida. The second part of the work consists of a series of chapters on the leading features of the colonial policy and administration of Spain in America. Here stress is laid upon the fact that the prevalent notions about Spanish misrule and colonial backwardness p330need extensive correction in the interests of historical truth. The actual degree of intellectual culture and material prosperity which the author shows to have existed in the Spanish-American colonies ought to dissipate some of the clouds of ignorance and prejudice which have enveloped so long the tale of Spanish colonization in the new world. The work terminates with a critical essay on the authorities. A number of useful maps, including a portion of the recently discovered mappemonde of Waldseemueller, serve to embellish the text, though one must regret the absence of any map outlining the political divisions of South America.

Conspicuous as the merits of the book are, there is room for a candid statement of what the reviewer considers to be its chief defects. It contains much that is extraneous, not only to the main theme — Spain in America, 1450‑1580 — but also to the history of the origin of the United States. What relation Spain had to America prior to 1492, or what connection the Cabots, the Corte-Reals, Verrazano and Cartier had with Spain, is not clear. By far the most of the criticism, however, applies to the second part of the book. It would be difficult to show that the subject-matter in this portion has any special bearing upon the history of the United States, particularly since the Spanish settlements in this country are not used as a setting for any of the colonial institutions described. The account of the colonial policy and administration of Spain between 1493 and 1821, furthermore, wanders far from the field supposed to be covered, while it carries the reader along a rather incomplete outline of the colonial system, and that mainly on its formal, legal side. Nearly all the statements and opinions advanced are correct as far as they go, but one gets no real and vivid idea of how the colonial institutions worked in practice. The actual course of development through the four great stages of foundation, decline, reform and revolution is not indicated.

Occasionally the text is obscure, and a knowledge is presupposed on the part of the reader which can hardly be expected. No explanation is given of why only three of Magellan's vessels reached the Philippines, and the account of the viceroys in New Spain and Peru (pp229, 230) is confused. The allusions to Navidad and Veragua (pp35, 107) are made without earlier reference by name, and the repartimientos are mentioned on page 150 although they are not defined till page 206. The spirit of the old Spanish texts, cited from time to time in illustration, would have been reproduced more faithfully if Professor Bourne had translated them himself, and had not inserted the archaic English versions from Hakluyt.

p331 An alcalde was not a "chief-justice" (p49); a corregidor had many duties other than those of a collector of taxes and a superintendent of Indians (pp234, 263); and "tax on exchanges" (p217) does not adequately define the alcabala. Corregidores with jurisdiction over the Indians were appointed before the encomiendas were abolished (p234, n3). The quotation from Oviedo (p82) should read "Chripstóbalº Colom," and not "Christoval Colom." Spanish accents are often omitted, and the words in Spanish are sometimes misspelled: e.g., "Valde," instead of Valdés (p328); "Bimine," instead of Bimini (p134); "Villa-Segnor," instead of Villa-Señor (p240, n2); "Terra Firma," instead of Tierra Firme (p285); and "barragan," instead of barragana (p307, n1). The asiento and the capitulación, or the contracts for discovery and colonization, so prominent in the early colonial policy of Spain, are nowhere described as such. Contrary to the statement on page 87, Gómara's work was printed in 1552, and Oviedo's in 1532. The correct citation of Waldseemueller's Cosmographiæ Introductio (p99, n1) is fol. 13a, not fol. 3b. The comments of Columbus on a certain passage in D'Ailly's Imago Mundi are translated in different ways on pages 10 and 94; and the reference on the latter page should be to Lollis, pt. I, II, and not to Hugues, pt. II, II. Magellan's vessel, the "San Antonio," was of 120, not of 150, tons burden (p120), and the entire number of men who embarked in the expedition is given as 270 on page 121, and 289º on page 129. Not dec. I, lib. VII, chap. IV, but dec. I, lib. IX, chap. X, is the proper reference in Herrera (p134). That historian's account (dec. I, lib. IX, chap. XII) does afford a "hint" as to the incidental purpose of Ponce de Leon in going to Florida. Professor Bourne's usual success in negative disprovals, furthermore, has not been realized in the case of Dominique de Gourgues (p188). Some of the arguments he offers in support of his intimation that the well-known story is a myth are not very strong, and none is valid in the face of the evidence presented by the correspondence of Menéndez de Avilés published in the second volume of Ruidíaz y Carravia's La Florida, by the statements of Barrientos in his Vida y Hechos de Pero Menendez de Auiles, and by other original authorities recently discovered.

The disaster to De Soto at Chicasa occurred in 1541, not in 1542 (p165); and Oviedo does not say that the adelantado and his men "saw the great river" on May 8, 1541, the day that they arrived at the "first village of Quizqui." The reference to Las Casas (p206, n4) should be to vol. II, p346 et seq., and not to vol. I, p373. The phrase natural de estos reinos, used by Herrera and other historians p332of the early period, does not necessarily mean a "native of Spain" (pp207, 218, 245). Whether in the technical sense the term included Spaniards other than natives of Castile and Leon, as regards the privilege of going to the Indies, was a matter of dispute till 1596 at least. All audiencias could communicate "independently to the king" (p233). Most of the dates assigned to the founding of the viceroyalties and captaincies general (p231) are erroneous. Charles III died before 1789 (p280). The trade with the Indies was not confined in 1503 to Seville exclusively, nor was that city the political capital of Castile at that time (p282). The casa de contratación at Corunna was created in 1522, not in 1525; and Herrera says simply that it was established for the "greater convenience of the commerce of the northern provinces" of Spain (pp282, 283). In connection with economic matters the absence of any direct allusion to the famous ordinance of October 12, 1778, is as strange as the inclusion of Humboldt's fantastic guesses about the yield of the mines in America (p301). Finally, not 59 but 48 heretics "suffered at the stake" in Peru (p313), and of these only 15 were burned alive.

The bibliography is well prepared, but one would like to see mentioned Barros Arana's Chile, Medina's works on the Inquisition in South America, Zabalburu and Sancho Rayon's collection of documents, and Stevens and Lucas's New Laws of the Indies. Bernaldez's Historia de los Reyes Católicos did not remain unprinted till 1878; it was printed at Granada in 1856, and at Seville in 1870. There is only one series of Documentos Inéditos de las Indias (p335), the reference being of course to the edition of Pacheco and Cárdenas. And it would have been well to call attention to the fact that the second series was published by the Royal Academy of History, and is greatly superior in accurate editing to the first series.

The two volumes by Minister Dawson, The South American Republics, cannot lay claim to the scholarship and original research visible in Professor Bourne's work. They contain the stories of each of the republics, including Panama, from the colonial period to the present day. So far as the states treated in the first part, namely Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and Brazil, are concerned, the account of their progress since the opening of the revolution against Spain is readable and instructive, although the occasional infusion of enthusiasm and hyperbole impairs the reader's reliance upon the strict truth of the narrative. The extensive acquaintance which Mr. Dawson has enjoyed with the public men of those countries, and the opportunities which he has had to familiarize himself with other sources of recent information, impart to p333his views and statements, particularly in reference to Brazil, a high degree of authority.

The absence of footnotes, and the rather meagre list of books given in the prefaces as having been consulted for the preparation of the text, prevent the reviewer from tracing the origin of the copious errors and misconceptions running through all that relates to the period preceding the establishment of independence. Most of the mistakes seem to have arisen from the faulty methods employed in the process of compilation. The arrangement, furthermore, whereby the history of each country is traced separately from the beginning of its political existence to the present time, may be fairly practicable, perhaps, for the treatment of the four states above mentioned, but when used in the connection with all the other republics, which have had so much in common since the outbreak of the War of Liberation, the result is confusion and repetition. Nor do the few wretched maps and frequently misplaced or inappropriate illustrations clarify the text.

Had Mr. Dawson confined himself to the field indicated by the title of his work, omitting the material that relates to the South American republics as colonies, these volumes would have been more useful. In view of the dearth of satisfactory accounts of South America in the nineteenth century, the portions of the work which deal with this period may be recommended to the student of the land of the pronunciamiento and the tea-pot tempest — both of which characteristics, happily, have begun their retreat into the realm of other days as the South Americans slowly evolve "among themselves the best form of government for their special needs and conditions."

William R. Shepherd.

Columbia University.

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