A figure of many contrasts, José Joaquín Mora was born both a neoclassicist and an admirer of Lord Byron. Initially a liberal and implacable foe of Ferdinand VII’s absolutism, Mora nonetheless was hostile to the French culture and centralism in which many Spanish liberals delighted. Bom in Cádiz, 1783, he accepted service in the administration of Bernardino Rivadavia in La Plata during 1827 and later served the liberal cause in Chile (1828-1831), suffering exile as a result. Yet shortly after his arrival in Peru, Mora became a partisan of President Agustín Gamarra (symbol of the strong executive and detested by his country’s liberals) and an intimate associate of such conservative ideologists as José María Pando and Felipe Pardo y Aliaga.
By the mid-1830s, regarding strong and enlightened presidents as the best instrument for achieving progress, Mora saw in Andrés Santa Cruz the real hope for Bolivia and Peru. Between 1834 and 1838 he faithfully served this controversial leader in La Paz, taking a major role in the complex political intrigues which marked Santa Cruz’ briefly successful attempts to establish a confederation with Peru. Undertaking a special mission for Santa Cruz in England, Mora failed to gain that country’s protection against Chile’s military campaign to crush the confederation.
Leaving London in 1843, Mora returned to Spain where he was soon involved in the plots of Juan José Flores and Santa Cruz to establish kings, or at least temporary regencies in Ecuador, Pern, and Bolivia. As the author observes, Mora possessed a genius for associating himself with lost causes and doomed leaders.
Luis Monguió, eminent professor of Spanish at the University of California, Berkeley, has accomplished a formidable investigation in bringing to light the various activities of a little-known Spanish intellectual, poet, dramatist, politician, diplomat, journalist, and conspirator. Previously published works mention these activities only in passing, but they are important enough to merit the meticulous research which Monguió has devoted to them.
Mora was at least as important a literary as a political figure. Therefore a substantial portion of Monguió’s book deals with his poetry and other literary works, widely read at one time in Spain and Spanish America. Probably Monguió’s contribution in the field of literary criticism is as important as the one which he has made to political history, although this reviewer will leave the matter to more competent critics.
The book awakens in the reader considerable curiosity to know something about Mora’s personality. Probably the copious sources which Monguió utilized reveal little on this topic so that he was merely following the dictates of cautious scholarship in refusing to deal with what could at best be speculative. Finally, although the book provides far more information than the title promises, it tells us very little about el Perú del ochocientos.