At first sight this text seemed promising, for a great need in Latin American studies is more analysis of the colonial period. However Henríquez Ureña’s lectures at Harvard almost twenty years ago are more perceptive (though this pioneering is not mentioned along with Bolton’s). We need new names for the total criticism of Latin American literature, and Hamilton’s work neither reflects research nor is well enough written to be read for that.
The Spanish-American republics differ because of the underlay (or absence) of previous nations, yet none of this is demonstrated as it could be by comparing the complex yet serene philosophy of the Mayas with the tense theology and history of the Aztecs or the Incan and Chibcha legends. In colonial Central America, we meet only Las Casas and Bernal Díaz, plus Landívar later on; yet the latter wrote in Latin, which by the same token would admit Gage, another observant exile who wrote in Hispanized English. Fuentes y Guzmán’s ideas prove much of what Professor Hamilton tries to say about colonial thought, but are overlooked.
What strange stuff we are served in the continuers of the epic, and with the printing press! Spanish America was cruelly out of touch with the Renaissance spirit (though there was more contact during the Enlightenment), so while we may talk of colonial slumber, more important would be to show how Sor Juana, despite her genius, never transcended Mexico: if Indians could attend the university, women, Negros, mestizos, and non-Catholics faced strict means tests in all their studies. Why make the Jesuits into backers of independence when Miranda is dismissed in one paragraph and Bolívar enjoys little more? Bello and Lizardi, however, are better treated, although the omission of Irisarri by a Chilean is hard to understand. Batres is still excluded from the romantic poets, and neither García Granados nor Milla are mentioned among the prose writers; these omissions are from Central America only, with which I am familiar.
On the positive side, the comments on realism and the essay are valid, and the part on the Romancero is more original. The Caribbean includes Hostos, while the viewpoint from Chile brings a freshness which contrasts with the usual approach from Mexico.