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FOR NOVEMBER, 1810.
FROM The MONTHLY REVIEW.
Woyages dans l’Amérique JMéridionale, &c. i. e. Travels in South America, by Don Felix de Azara, Commissioner and Superintendant of the Lines of the Spanish Frontiers in Paraguay, from 1781 to 1801; containing a geographical, political, and civil Description of Paraguay, and the River Plata; an Account of the Discovery and Conquest of those Countries; various Details relative to their Natural History, and the Savage Tribes which inhabit them; a Statement of the M-thods employed by the Jesuits to subject and civilize the Natives, &c. Published from the Author's Manuscripts, with a Sketch of his Life and Writings. By C. A. Walckenaer; and enriched with Notes by G. Cuvier, Perpetual Secretary to the Class of Physical Sciences in the Institute, &c. To which is added the Natural History of the Birds of Paraguay and La Plata. By the same Author, translated from the original Spanish, and augmented by a great Number of Notes. By M. Sonnini. Accompanied with an Atlas,
containing Twenty-five plates. 4 Wols. 8vo. and 4to. Atlas. Paris. 1809. Price Four
THE favourable notice which Don Felix de Azara's communications have obtained on the other side of the water, and the signal opportunities which he enjoyed for directing his extended observation to tracts of country which have been very imperfectly explored, and which are destined, perhaps, to undergo new and important political revolutions, induced us to open these volumes with no ordinary degree of eagerness and expectation. After a candid perusal of the whole, it behoves us to state that our gratification has not been unmingled with disappointment. Yet the work, with all its defects, bespeaks a vigorous, independent, and active mind, comprises a rich diversity of materials, and has powerful claims on our deliberate attention. The whole of vo
Vol. IV. 2 O
lume I. and nearly two thirds of the second, are occupied by the travels; the remaining part of the second is allotted to an introductory view of the natural history of Cochabamba and a description of its productions, by Don Tadeo Haenke, member of the academies of sciences at Vienna and Prague; and the third and fourth contain the ornithology of Paraguay and la Plata. The French editor would probably have performed a more acceptable service to the publick, if he had either printed the travels separately, or had incorporated, in the present work, the author's account of the quadrupeds of Paraguay, with the requisite corrections and annotations: or, assuming the writings of the Spaniard as the basis of his plan, he might have worked them into a more seemly fabrick. As the publication now stands, the natural history department is very incomplete, allusions being frequently made to another book, which is not within our reach; and the notices of the quadrupeds are scanty and unsatisfactory, because they were avowedly penned with a reference to prior and more ample details Part of the information contained in the biographical sketch is repeated in the letters prefixed to the work; and several vague and crude statements have been retained in the text, without comment or apology. The author may, nevertheless, regard with self complacency the association of his name with those of Walckenaer, Cuvier, and Sonnini; and the diffusion of his volumes through the medium of a language which is familiar to the scholars and the philosophers of Europe. His editor informs us that Don Felix was born at Barbunales, near Baibastro, in Arragon, on the 18th of May, 1746. A few days previously to this event, his parents, who lived in happy retirement on their estate, had sent their eldest son, Don Nicholas, to the university of Salamanca. Don Felix commenced his literary career in that of Huesca; and, when he had completed his course in philosophy, he entered the military academy of Barcelona. In the latter city, these two brothers, who had never seen each other, enjoyed an affectionate but transient interview; and they did not meet again till the expiration of thirty-five years. In 1764, Don Felix was appointed a cadet in the Galician regiment of infantry; in 1767, ensign in the corps of engineers, and in 1775, he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant. In this capacity he signalized his courage in an expedition against Algiers, and received a dangerous wound from a large copper ball, which shattered one of his ribs, and, to all appearance, deprived him of life. Owing, however, to the kind attention of a friend, and the bold
bread has given me a higher relish for "
other kinds of aliment, than I felt when I blended them with that general article of human food. I am not in the habit of using any substitute for bread: but I am sensiblé that I am somewhat more partial to vegetables and fish than to butcher's meat. For the rest, it is not extraordinary that I should abstain from bread, since the inhabitants of the countries which I have traversed are alike strangers to it, though they live as long as we do, and even longer.” From this, and various instances which have come within our own knowledge, we have reason to believe that esculent roots are generally more light and nourishing than the most elaborate preparations of farinaceous plants.
. By the treaty of Idelfonso, the courts of Spain and Portugal had mutually stipulated to name commissioners for the final definition and adjustment of their respective lines of demarcation in South America. Don Felix de Azara, with the rank of lieutenant colonel of engineers, was one of those who were deputed by the Spanish government to direct the execution of these arrangements, and he set sail accordingly in 1781. By the chicanery of the Portuguese commissioners, however, the business was studiously protracted; till Don Felix, perceiving that his official services were unavailing, boldly projected a geographical survey of that vast country, of which he had been instructed to ascertain only the boundaries. Undismayed by the certain expense, trouble, fatigue, and danger, which were attendant on an operation of such magnitude and detail, and regardless of the secret or the avowed opposition which he might expect to encounter from the Spanish viceroys, he steadily persevered, during thirteen years, in the prosecution of his scheme; and, owing to the resources of his own unshaken mind, and the zeal of the officers who acted under him, he finally triumphed over every obstacle.
“He provided himself with brandy, glass beads, ribands, knives, and other trinkets, in order to gain the good will of the savages. The whole of his personal o consisted of a few clothes, a little coffee, and salt, with tobacco and the Paraguay herb for his attendants. The latter carried with them only the clothes which they wore But they took with them a great many horses, regulating the number by the length of the journey, and fixing the proportion sometimes at twelve for each individual. These were by no means requisite for conveying the baggage, which was very trifling; but horses, it should be observed, are extremely common in these countries, occasion no trouble, because they receive only such food as they pick up themselves during the night, and are very easily fatigued. The travellers were also accompanied by large dogs.
“They rose an hour before daybreak to prepare breakfast. After this repast, individuals were detached from the troop to collect the horses which were dispersed in the neighbourhood, and sometimes even at a league's distance, because, except those which each person retained close by him, during the night, they roamed and fed quite at large. As soon as the horses were reassembled, each person let loose the animal which had served him for twenty-four hours; when the whole troop formed a circle round the relay-horses, to prevent their escape, while a man advanced into the circle, and, by means of a noose, laid hold of such as were necessary for the journey. Finally, all put themselves in motion two hours after sunrise As there are no open roads in these deserts, a guide, well acquainted with the country, marched three hundred paces ahead, and quite alone, that his attention might not be diverted by conversation of any kind. After him came the relay-horses, which, in turn, were followed by the main body of the travellers; and thus the party continued its progress, without stopping, till two hours before sunset.
“They then selected, for a halting station, the neighbourhood of some marsh or rivulet; and men were despatched, in different directions, to procure wood for fuel, and to catch cows for food, either from among the wild cattle in the plains, or from those which belonged to some habitation, if any such occurred within the distance of two or three leagues. In case these wild cows should fail, others followed in the rear of the troop In some districts, a sufficient number of armadillos were procured for the subsistence of the whole company. To provide against the eventual failure of all these resources in a projected line of route, they previously laid in a stock of cows' flesh, which they cut into very long shreds, of the thickness of a man’s finger, dried them in the sun, and conveyed them in packages on their horses, being the only sort of food which they carried along with them. They ate it when roasted on wooden skewers, the only mode of preparing meat in these countries, which forms the sole food of the inhabitants.
“Previously to encamping on any spot, they were obliged to take precautions against the vipers, which are often very numerous. With this view, they led out all the horses on the space which they intended to occupy, so as either to crush these reptiles, or to induce such of them as lurked under the grass to come out; an expedicnt to which the lives of a few horses were occasionally sacrificed. On retiring to rest, every individual spread a piece of cowskin on the ground. M. de Azara was the only person who had a hammock suspended to stakes, or trees. During the night, every body kept his horse near to his person, that, in case of need, he might effect his escape from wild beasts. The approach of the latter was always announced by the dogs, which scented them at a great distance, because they exhale a very strong odour. In spite of every attention, it often happened that several vipers glided into the camp, but they usually lay concealed and quiet under the cows' hides on which the people slept. They sometimes passed near to or even over the men, without doing the smallest harm; for they never bite but when disturbed. “This order of march was observed only in those tracts in which no apprehensions were entertained from the savage Indians. Where he had reason to dread their encounter, M. de Azara had recourse to other precautions; he moved only in the night time; he despatched scouts in every direction to explore the proper line of march; two patroles proceeded on each side of the troop; and each kept his rank, and had his arms in readiness. In spite of all this prudence and discretion, he was frequently attacked, and had the misfortune to lose some of his men.”
In the midst of these laborious and perilous wanderings, geometrical calculations, and the details that were inseparable from the pursuit of his primary object, the intrepid Spaniard contrived to bestow a considerable portion of his attention on the quadrupeds and birds which were peculiar to these regions. He at first made war on these animals, solely for the purpose of preserving their skins, and transmitting them to Europe: but, perceiving that they were soon injured by keeping, he adopted the plan of minutely describing each individual in its recent state. From the rapid accumulation of his descriptions, he was frequently at a loss to know whether he had not previously characterized certain specimens; and therefore, in order to obviate repetitions, he distributed his stores into groupes, each of which he distinguished by general characters; thus simplifying and reducing
his labour, relieving his recollection, acquiring more promptitude of discrimination, and exhibiting a pleasing example of an individual mind devising that mode of procedure which the science of ages has consecrated and improved. He had not long persevered in thus methodising the objects of his investigation, when chance threw in his way a Spanish translation of the works of Buffon. We need not say with what assiduity he perused or rather devoured the whole. But, should the strictures, which he had hazarded on the pages of that illustrious author, appear to some persons either needlessly multiplied, or expressed in terms rather pointedly severe, the peculiar circumstances in which he was unavoidably placed, his extreme solicitude for the discovery of truth, and his long seclusion from the resources of European literature, as well as from the urbanity of European manners, may be allowed to disarm the censure of the fastidious. We may add that his descriptions and remarks were originally destined for the perusal and revision of Buffon himself; and intended to be inserted, as supplementary matter, in his cele
brated work, instead of forming a
separate publication. M. de Azara's descriptions of the external forms of quadrupeds and birds evince much patient observation, while his account of their internal dispositions and habits cannot fail at once to excite and to fix the attention of the curious. It would be equally foreign to our purpose and disgusting to our readers, to recite the base and unworthy artifices by which the Spanish viceroys endeavoured to sully and obscure the fair reputation of the traveller. The injustice and ingratitude of his superiours (were they entitled to that appellation 3) diminished not the zeal with which he executed their commands. When specially charged with the survey of the dreary waste on the southern coast, he shrunk not from the task, though he was aware that the performance of it would expose him to the daily attacks of ferocious savages called Pampas. He was also intrusted with the command of the Brazilian frontier, which he was directed to explore, and to free from the Portuguese settlers. He was moreover enjoined to visit the harbours of the Plata, and to draw up a plan of defence, in the event of an attack on the part of the English. At the request of the viceroys, he composed various representations and memoirs relative to the administration of publick affairs; and, among other. schemes of salutary reform, he recommended the emancipation of the civilized Indians. Towards the close of his residence in America, he provided settlements for many families who had migrated from old Spain under the auspices of government, with the view of colonizing the shores of Patagonia, but whom the supineness or the incapacity of the viceroy of Buenos Ayres allowed to languish without occupation, and to subsist on the publick treasury. The long oblivion of the complicated and meritorious services of the subject of these notices, at length drew to a period; for, in 1789, he was promoted to the rank of captain in the navy;” and, in 1801, he obtained, what he had often solicited in vain, permission to revisit his native country. There he availed himself of an early opportunity of committing to the press his history of the quadrupeds and birds of South America; which, in affectionate and pathetick terms, he dedicated to his brother, Don Nicholas, then residing at Paris, in the character of ambassadour from the court of Madrid. When he arrived in the French capital, the author divided his time between his brother’s society and the study of Natural History.
“On the 5th of October,” says M. Walckenaer, “the king of Spain had ad
vanced him to the rank of brigadier general in the army. In proportion, however, as his brother cherished the intimacy of his friendship, the more powerfully he felt the force of an attachment with which disparity of years blended something like paternal fondness. In short, he was easily persuaded to resign his new dignity, and to live under the same roof with his elder brother. Alas! he did not long enjoy the happiness of this devotion of his existence to fraternal affection. On the 26th January 1803, he saw with the deepest affliction that beloved brother, to whom he had sacrificed all the hopes of ambition, and all the splendour of preferment, expire in his arms.” “The king of Spain recalled the surviver, and fixed him in his own capital, by appointing him a member of a military board, whose functions had a reference to the affairs of the two Indies. “No great length of time has elapsed since I could have concluded this sketch with the gratifying intelligence that Don Felix at last enjoyed, in the bosom of his country, that repose which he had so dearly earned; but I have, since that period, vainly employed all the means in my power to learn the history of his fortunes, and to present him with the joint tribute of his own labours. With painful emotions I must now consign to the press those pages, which it was my happiness to trace.”
This abrupt and mysterious termination of a friendly correspondence would almost tempt us to apprehend, that the romantick and high toned sentiments of the generous Spaniard may have involved his fate in the miseries of his much injured country.
In the course of his introduction, the author takes occasion to state that his investigations were not limited to geographical surveys:
“Finding myself,” says he, “in a vast country which I conceived to be unknown, almost wholly ignorant of European transactions, deprived of books, and of agreeable and instructive conversation, I could scarcely find any source of employment but in the objects which nature offered to my contemplation. Hence, I felt myself. in some measure, compelled to obey her call; and I perceived at every step beings which arrested my attention, because they
* This appointment of a colonel of engineers to be a captain in the navy, will appear
singular to the English reader,