Simon Bolivar: His Life and His Work - Guillermo Sherwell
Simon Bolivar is the South American patriot most often compared to George Washington, and he was certainly driven by some of the same political ideals. The circumstances he faced in attempting to unite the disparate colonies however, where entirely different and he ultimately failed in his attempt to create a 'United States' of South America, but not before helping to free five countries from Spanish rule.
In the history of peoples, the veneration of national heroes has been one of the most powerful forces behind great deeds. National consciousness, rather than a matter of frontiers, racial strain or community of customs, is a feeling of attachment to one of those men who symbolize best the higher thoughts and aspirations of the country and most deeply impress the hearts of their fellow citizens. Despite efforts to write the history of peoples exclusively from the social point of view, history has been, and will continue to be, mainly a record of great names and great deeds of national heroes.
The Greeks, for us and for themselves, are not so much the people who lived in the various city-states of Hellas, nor the people dominated and more or less influenced by the Romans and later the Mohammedan conquerors, nor even the present population in which the old pure Hellenic element is in a proportion much smaller than is generally thought. Greece is what she is, lives in the life of men and shapes the minds and souls of peoples, through her great heroes, through her various gods, which were nothing but divinized heroes. Greece is for us Apollo, as a symbol of whatever is filled with light, high, beautiful and noble; Heracles for what is strength, energy, organization, life as it should be lived by human beings. Leonidas stands for us as a symbol of heroic deeds; Demosthenes as a symbol of the convincing powers of oratory and Pericles as the crystallization of Grecian life in its totality of beauty, learning and social and civic life. Greece is a type, is an attitude, is a protest against oppression, is an aspiration towards beauty, is an inspiration and a guide for men who live in the higher planes of feeling and thought. But Greece is not all that as a people; Greece is all that through men convened into symbols.
So it is with other peoples.
Rome still signifies for us the defense of the bridge against the powerful enemy; a man taking absolute power over the State and then surrendering it to the people from whom it came. Rome is republican virtue, and imperial power,—and also, alas! imperial degradation. Imperial Rome represents persecution of religion which does not recognize Caesar as a god and the assimilation of religions which do not hesitate to add a god to those they adore. Rome, too, symbolizes the tendency to unity which survives and inspires the life of the nations of Europe, if not of the world,—a tendency altogether manifest in the last gigantic struggle through which mankind has just passed. Rome, finally, stands for Law, for the most marvelous social machine ever devised by human brains. But Rome is all that, and more than that, through Horace, Sulla, Cato, Caesar, Cicero, Nero, Caracalla and Justinian.
The confusion of the Middle Ages has some points of light, always around a man. The great Frederic Barbarossa stands for Germany, as does William Tell for Switzerland, as Ivan the Great for Russia, as the Cid for Spain, as King Arthur for England and Charlemagne for France.
The modern peoples, those who only lately have begun to live as nations, have their heroes, who perhaps do not seem so great to us as the old heroes, be-cause they have not been magnified by time; but, if compared with men of the past, many of them are as great, if not, in some cases, greater. The countries of America are at present forming this tradition about their illustrious ancestors. And, if they want to live the strong life of the nations destined to last and to be powerful and respected, they must persevere in the work of building up around their fathers the frame-work of their national consciousness. Washington every day appears nobler to us, because every day we understand better what is the meaning of his sacrifice and his work; every day we learn to appreciate more the value of the inheritance he left to us when he gave us a free country where we can think and speak and work, untrammeled by the whims and caprices of foreign masters. And the nations to the south of us are also building their national consciousness around their great heroes, among them the greatest of all, Bolivar, one of those men who appear in the world at long intervals, selected by God to be the leaders of multitudes, to be performers of miracles, achieving what is impossible for the common man. They live a life of constant inspiration, as if they were not guided by their own frail judgment, but, like Moses, by the smoke and the flame of God through a desert, through suffering and success, through happiness and misfortune, until they might see before them the Promised Land of Victory, some destined to enjoy the full possession of it, and others to die with no other happiness than that of leaving an inheritance to their successors.
These few pages, devoted to the life and work of Simon Bolivar, the great South American Liberator, will attain their object if the reader understands and appreciates how unusual a man Bolivar was. Every citizen of the United States of America must respect and venerate his sacred memory, as the Liberator and Father of five countries, the man who assured the independence of the rest of the South American peoples of Spanish speech; the man who conceived the plans of Pan-American unity which those who came after him have elaborated, and the man who, having conquered all his enemies and seen at his feet peoples and laws, effected the greatest conquest, that of himself, sacrificing all his aspirations and resigning his power, to go and die, rewarded by the ingratitude of those who owed him their existence as free men. The more the life of this man is studied, the greater he appears, and the nearer he seems to the superhuman.
The American people, made free by Washington, do not begrudge the legitimate glory of other illustrious men, and if they have not rendered up to this time the homage due to Simon Bolivar, it has been mainly through lack of accurate knowledge of his wonderful work. The city of New York, the greatest community in the world, is now honoring his memory by placing in a conspicuous section of its most beautiful park a statue which the Government of Venezuela has given it; the statue of the Man of the South, the brother in glory to our own Washington. No greater homage could be paid to him than to have American fathers and mothers pass by the noble monument, pointing out to their children the statue and telling them the marvelous story of Simon Bolivar.
In a book as brief as this it is impossible to present documents or to give long quotations. Nevertheless, we may fairly affirm that all statements herein made are substantiable by documentary evidence. We have consulted all the books and pamphlets which have been at hand and have studied both sides of debatable questions regarding Bolivar. To follow a chronological order we have been guided by the beautiful biography written by Larrazabal, the man called by F. Lorain Petre "the greatest flatterer of Bolivar." That this assertion is false is proved in the first volume cited below. Petre's monograph contains apparent earmarks of impartiality, but in reality it is nothing but a bitter attack on the reputation of Bolivar. Its translator, a distinguished Venezuelan writer, is to be thanked for the serenity with which he has destroyed his imputations. We find nothing to add in defense of the Liberator.
The following studies have been particularly consulted:
"Bolivar—por los mas grandes escritores americanos, precedido de un estudio por Miguel de Unamuno," Madrid and Buenos Aires, 1914, a book containing the following monographs:
"Simon Bolivar," by Juan Montalvo (Ecuadorian)
"Simon Bolivar," by F. Garcia Calderon (Peruvian)
"Simon Bolivar," by P. M. Arcaya (Venezuelan)
"Bolivar y su campaiia de 1821," by General L. Duarte Level (Mexican)'
"Bolivar en el Peru," by A. Galindo (Colombian)
"Simon Bolivar," by B. Vicuna Mackenna (Chilean)
"Simon Bolivar," by J. B. Alberdi (Argentinean)
"Simon Bolivar," by Jose Marti (Cuban)
"El ideal internacional de Bolivar," by Francisco Jose Urrutia (Colombian)
"La entrevista de Guayaquil," by Ernesto de la Cruz (Chilean)
"Bolivar, escritor," by Blanco-Fombona (Venezuelan)
"Bolivar," by F. Lorain Petre (North American)
"Bolivar," by J. E. Rodo (Uruguayan)
"Bolivar, intimo," by Cornelio Hispano (Colombian)
"Bolivar, profesor de energia," by Jose Verissimo (Brazilian)
"Bolivar, legislador," by Jorge Ricardo Vejarano (Colombian)
"Discursos y Proclamas—Simon Bolivar," R. Blanco-Fombona, Paris.
"Documentos para la Vida Publica del Libertador" por Blanco y Azpuriia, Caracas.
"El Libertador de la America del Sur," Guzman Blanco, London, 1885.
"Estudio Historico," Aristides Rojas, Caracas, 1884.
"La Creacion de un Continente," F. Garcia Calderon, Paris.
"La Entrevista de Bolivar y San Martin en Guayaquil," Camilo Destruge, Guayaquil, 1918.
"La ultima enfermedad, los ultimos momentos y los funerales de Simon Bolivar," Dr. A. P. Reverend, Paris, 1866.
"Leyendas Historicas," A. Rojas, Caracas, 1890. "Memorias de O'Leary," translated from English by Simon B. O'Leary, Caracas, 1883.
"Origenes del Gran Mariscal de Ayacucho," discursos del Senor D. Felipe Francia, Caracas, 1920.
"Papeles de Bolivar," Vicente Lecuna, Caracas, 1917.
"Pensamientos consagrados a la memoria del Libertador," Caracas, 1842.
"Recuerdos del Tiempo Heroico—Pajinas de la vida militar i politica del Gran Mariscal de Ayacucho," Jose Maria Rey de Castro, Guayaquil, 1883.
"Resumen de la Historia de Venezuela," Baralt y Diaz, Paris, 1841.
"Simon Bolivar," Arturo Juega Farrulla, Monte-video, 1915.
"Vida de Simon Bolivar," Larrazabal, Madrid, 1918; also sixth edition of same book, New York, Andres Cassard, 1883.
For the use of various documents, articles, and papers, we are also indebted to Dr. Manuel Segundo Sanchez, Director of the National Library of Caracas, Venezuela, as well as to Dr. Julius Goebel of the University of Virginia for his kindness in letting us examine his notes on certain papers existing in the files of the State Department in Washington.
We beg to express our sincere gratitude to Miss Edith H. Murphy of Bay Ridge. High School and St. Joseph College of Brooklyn, and to Dr. C. E. McGuire of the Inter American High Commission, for their revision of the original manuscript and their very valuable suggestions regarding the subject matter and the style.
For the appreciations and judgments appearing in this monograph, its author assumes full responsibility.