Leisurely travel accounts like these are apt to raise a smile in this age of jetliners and intercontinental commuting, but a good deal of our information about conditions in the young Latin American nations comes from just such books—rambling, discursive, sometimes a little wide-eyed but often penetrating and shrewd. Modern photographic processes and the demands of new university libraries have led to many reprints, until we now have a wide selection from which to choose.
This is a good sampling of the genre. The original type and illustrations are beautifully reproduced on excellent paper with sturdy bindings—and at fantastic prices which virtually insure that only libraries will be able to purchase the books. Which should they choose, if money is short?
The answer depends in part on the areas in which librarians or professors are interested or the departments for which the books are ordered. Joel R. Poinsett, C. A. Rodney, and John Graham were envoys of the United States government reconnoitering to determine whether Washington should recognize Mexico and Argentina respectively; hence their volumes emphasize polities, markets, and statistics. Ephraim G. Squier, an aggressive American diplomat in Central America who had turned to railroading by the time he wrote his account, resembles them in his interests, but describes a later period, the 1850s. Louis Agassiz, one of America’s early biologists, offers detailed, accurate descriptions of flora and fauna, including the two-legged sort, and a colorful picture of Brazilian society in the 1860s.
The three other works were produced by pure travelers. Maria Graham, daughter and wife of British naval officers, spent much of the 1820s in and between Brazil and Chile. Her account of Chile, San Martín, and Cochrane is extremely detailed and vivid; that of Brazil is shorter and more cursory. Julia Ward Howe, despite her famous name, is simply not in the same league with the others. Her chatty, friendly travelogue takes a dim view of Cuban slavery, as one might expect, but it contains no vintage from the grapes of wrath.
My own choice would be Poinsett and Squier for their connection with public affairs and Agassiz and Maria Graham (on Chile) for the richness of their descriptions.