British Romanticism and Spanish America, 1777-1825: Rewriting Conquest

British Romanticism and Spanish America, 1777-1825: Rewriting Conquest

British Romanticism and Spanish America, 1777-1825: Rewriting Conquest

British Romanticism and Spanish America, 1777-1825: Rewriting Conquest

Synopsis

Robert Southey did not exaggerate when he described the England of his day as "South American mad." As Spain's hold on its colonies progressively weakened during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, thousands of British scientists, soldiers, entrepreneurs, and settlers rushed to take advantage of the enticing opportunities Spanish America offered. Britain's fascination with the region displayed itself in poems, plays, operas, political tracts, news reportage, travel narratives, and stock market quotations. Creole patriots such as Francisco de Miranda and Andrés Bello gathered in London to solicit aid for their revolutions while ministers debated tactics for liberating both the peoples and the untapped wealth of Spain's colonies. Through critical reconsiderations of both canonical and lesser-known Romantic texts, from Helen Maria Williams's Peru to Samuel Rogers's The Voyage of Columbus and Byron's The Age of Bronze, Heinowitz reveals the untold story of Romantic-era Britain's Spanish American obsession. Although historians have traditionally characterized Britain's relationship with Spanish America as commercial rather than colonial, this book explores the significant rhetorical overlap between formal and informal strategies of rule. In the absence of a coherent imperial policy regarding Spain's colonies, Britain struggled to justify its actions by means of the problematic assertion that British primacy was authorized by a political, cultural, ethical, and even historical identification with the peoples of Spanish America. By examining the ways in which this discourse of British-Spanish American similitude was deployed and increasingly strained throughout the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Heinowitz demonstrates that British writing about Spanish America redefines the anxieties, ambivalences, and contradictions that characterize Romantic Imperialism.

Excerpt

I. Redefining Empire

Robert Southey did not exaggerate when he described the England of his day as ‘South American mad.’ From the loss of Britain's North American colonies to the first Spanish American debt crisis and the ensuing London stock market crash of 1825–6, a deep fascination with Spanish America pervaded all aspects of British society. As Spain's hold on its colonies weakened under the weight of domestic pressures and ultramarine revolts, British merchants, miners, scientists, and traders rushed to exploit the mineral wealth and raw materials of Spanish America. Thousands of British soldiers enlisted to aid the colonial independence movements. Travelers flooded the British press with vivid accounts of everything from the famed silver mines of Potosí to the medicinal ‘Jesuits Bark’ of Peru, the social customs of Chile, the fatal earthquakes of Caracas, and the cultivation of logwood on the Mosquito Coast and cochineal in New Spain. the figure of Spanish America displayed itself in poems, plays, operas, cabinets of curiosity, political tracts, news reportage, reviews, stock market quotations, and even in the fashionable ladies’ magazines that announced the arrival in London of the ‘Bolivar hat.’ Creole patriots gathered in England to solicit aid for their revolutions, and ministers debated tactics for liberating both the peoples and the untapped wealth of Spain's colonies. the cause of Spanish American independence bridged political gaps, galvanizing ‘intellectual alliances between revolutionaries and reactionaries, mercantilists and proponents of free trade, and champions of colonial expansion . . .

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