José Antonio Saco is known to the historical world in general for his monumental Historia de la esclavitud in six volumes (see HAHR, August, 1944), but students of Cuba’s past value almost as much the four volumes of his collected shorter works. These papers deal with almost every problem that concerned the island in the first two-thirds of the nineteenth century, and throw much light on its history before that time.
Born in Bayamo in 1797, Saco went to Habana for his higher education and there at the age of 24 became a substitute for the famous professor, Padre Félix Varela, in the Seminario de San Carlos when the latter was elected to represent Cuba in the Spanish Cortes during the second period of the Constitution of 1812. Soon thereafter Saco came to be recognized as a leading thinker amid the brilliant group that was rapidly developing the “Golden Age” of colonial Cuban culture. His prize-winning Memoria on Cuban roads and communications, and that on the causes of vagrancy in Cuba focused attention on his ability and understanding of the island’s problems and led to his appointment as director of the Revista Bimestre Cubana which became one of the best scholarly magazines in the hemisphere. In it were printed some of his best shorter works.
Saco’s fearless thinking and writing brought upon him the wrath of Captain General Tacón, and in 1834 the Cuban leader found himself in exile from which he returned for only two short intervals; in fact, he spent less than twenty-nine years in his native island before his death in 1879. He never lost interest in Cuba, however, or contact with its problems. Cubans looked to him for leadership and in exile he was often accused of being the mastermind behind the conspiracies that rocked the island as the rift between Cubans and the Peninsular government widened. So significant were his ideas considered that in 1853 a “pirated” two-volume collection of his writings was published in New York by Francisco Javier Vinagut and his daughter. In the interest of accuracy, and to give support to the Reformista movement that seemed in the late 1850’s and early 1860’s to offer a better day for Cuba within the Spanish empire, Saco himself edited a Colección de papeles científicos, históricos, políticos, y de otros ramos sobre la Isla de Cuba (3 vols., Paris: D’Aubisson y Kuglemann, 1858-59).
After Saco’s death his heirs turned his papers over to the Cuban biographer-historian-critic, Vidal Morales, who edited another volume (Habana, Miguel de Villa, 1881). Many other papers remain unpublished, the largest group being preserved in the library of the Sociedad Económica de Amigos del País in Havana.
The four published volumes have long since become collectors’ items and hence difficult of access to investigators. It is a definite contribution to scholarship for the Dirección de Cultura to bring out this reprint of volume I of those edited by Saco himself. It is to be hoped that circumstances will permit the resumption of this worthwhile project, and that the best of the unedited manuscripts will be added.