Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - January - 2017 Issue

Latin American Works from Plaza Books

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Books from Latin America.

Plaza Books recently issued their List 39. Though located in Port Townsend, Washington, closer to America's northern border, Plaza Books specializes in books from the south side, Mexico and Latin America. Much territory is covered, from the early days of Spanish conquest to the Latin American independence revolutions to the days that began after the Spanish were gone. Much material, particularly pre-independence, comes from the Jesuits, whose missionaries were enormously influential in the development of the region. Eventually, they were expelled as political authority gained the upper hand. Here are a few items from this latest Plaza list.

 

Lorenzo Boturini Benaducci was an Italian nobleman who traveled to Spain and then to Mexico in 1736. He stayed for eight years, during which time he collected what was then the largest collection of Mexican antiquities in existence. He gathered much early Indian material in anticipation of writing a history of pre-conquest Mexico. He also became enamored of the story of the apparition of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Unfortunately, the depth of his interest raised suspicions with the Viceroy, who had him imprisoned for eight months and finally shipped back to Spain so the Inquisition could deal with him. Meanwhile, his great collection was seized, Boturini never seeing it again. As if he hadn't suffered enough, on the trip back he was captured by pirates, who eventually dropped him off on Gibraltar. He made his way back to Spain and in time was absolved of all charges, the King named him Historian of the Indies, and offered him the opportunity to return to Mexico (he declined). Boturini wrote this account of what he found, published in 1746 (he never published his history of the Indians though he wrote a manuscript): Idea de una nueva Historia General de la America Septentrional. Item 4. Priced at $2,500.

 

Item 18 is A New Survey of the West Indies, by Thomas Gage, a fourth edition published in 1699. Gage was born to an English Catholic family, shipped off to Europe to become a Jesuit priest when he came of age. He was unhappy, so he transitioned to the Dominicans and went to Spain. He wished to become a missionary, but the Spanish did not trust foreigners in their colonies, even if a priest. So he stowed away, made his way to Mexico, and later to Guatemala. He returned to Spain a dozen years later, and then to England. Along the way he became disillusioned with the Catholic Church, converting to Protestantism, becoming an Anglican priest, and very anti-Catholic. He participated in trials against a few priests who were executed in part from his testimony. Meanwhile, he published this book, which provided the first look at the Spanish American colonies for many outside of Spain. The Spanish jealously guarded all information about their colonies, for fear it would be used by their enemies to seize their riches and colonies. That is precisely what Gage had in mind, recommending an attack on Spain's American colonies and participating in the raid. An attempt to take Hispaniola failed, but the British moved on to Jamaica which they did capture. However, Gage died during the operation. $2,250.

 

In 1846, America went to war with Mexico. The war was not universally popular in the U.S. It's necessity dubious, the primary stated issue being a boundary dispute involving Texas. Mexico, never really consigned to Texas' independence and later absorption by the U.S., put the boundary at the Nueces River, the U.S. farther south at the Rio Grande. However, the greater cause was President Polk's belief in America's "Manifest Destiny," a destiny which required land that happened to belong to Mexico. America was far stronger, the outcome unsurprising. Naturally, the two nations saw the conflict differently. To Americans, it was the Mexican War, a just defense of their boundary. To Mexicans, it was the North American Invasion, aggression designed to steal their land (the U.S. ended up seizing half of Mexico's territory). Here is an account from the Mexican point of view: Recuerdos de la Invasion Norte-Americana 1846-1848 por un Jovan de Entonces. The author was Jose Maria Roa Barcena, this first edition published in 1883. Item 38. $750.

 

William Walker wanted to lead a country in the worst way, and for awhile, succeeded. Walker was an American, but not one who would have had much appeal in his home country. His remedy was to try to seize another. In 1853, he put together a small group of men and invaded Mexico. His plan was to create a new nation out of its northern provinces. Mexico, having lost its northern half to America just a few years before in the Mexican War/North American Invasion, was not about to fool around. Walker was quickly repulsed, fleeing back across the border. He was undaunted. In 1856, he picked a smaller nation – Nicaragua. This time, he was able to insert himself within one side of an internal struggle and was successful. He had himself proclaimed President and ruled a nation... for a while. However, he made the mistake of incurring the wrath of a powerful American family, the Vanderbilts. He closed the internal transit line that was the best Atlantic-Pacific passage before the building of the Panama Canal. It interfered with the Vanderbilts' shipping empire. Walker was forced out by a coalition of Central American forces. The next year, he attempted a return, but was intercepted by the American Navy. Walker had powerful friends in America, particularly the South, as he had attempted to introduce slavery in Nicaragua. He was freed to try again, which he did in 1860. This time, he attempted to enter the country thorough Honduras, but was caught by the British Navy, which turned him over to the Honduran government, which executed him. Before embarking on his final attempt, Walker published a book in the year he died, 1860. Item 46 is a copy of that book, The War in Nicaragua. $650.

 

We conclude with a photograph. It was taken in 1914 and it shows Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa with his wife, Maria Luz de Corral. The notation indicates it was take in El Paso on January 1, 1914. Villa was a revolutionary in a time of revolts following the overthrow of long-time leader Porfirio Diaz. Villa split with his successful allies, finding himself in battles where his forces were weaker. While success eluded him, he was a talented self-promoter, even appearing in films. In America, he would come to be seen as a villain after he led his forces across the border to attack Columbus, New Mexico, in 1916. Why he did so is unclear. Theories include payback to the Americans for supporting his rival, a desire to seize munitions from the U.S. Army, or a hope of encouraging Germany to join an attack on his enemies. Whatever the reason, it led to American troops entering Mexico in an unsuccessful attempt to track him down. Villa retired from politics, but someone still considered him a danger and he was assassinated in 1923. As for the other person in this photo, Luz de Corral, or Mrs. Villa, she lived until 1981 at her mansion in Chihuahua. It became a museum to Villa and she entertained visitors for a small fee and personally told them stories of the old days almost up to her death. Item 31. $175.

 

Plaza Books may be reached at 707-217-9229 or plazabks@sonic.net. Their website is www.plazabooks.com.

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