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Rusticatio Mexicana

A Mexican Epic by the National Poet of Guatemala

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248.     LANDÍVAR Y BUSTAMANTE, Rafael. Rusticatio Mexicana. Editio altera auctior, et emendatior. Boniniae: Ex Typographia S. Thomae Aquinatis, MDCCLXXXII. [Bologna, 1782]. [i-ii] iii-xxviii, 1-209 pp., 3 copper-engraved plates. 8vo (20.3 x 13 cm), contemporary mottled calf, spine gilt decorated and with gilt-lettered morocco label. Lightly rubbed and slightly shelf worn, label chipped, front hinge open but holding; light foxing throughout, including plates, upper gutter margins with slight waterstaining, light abrasion on title, otherwise very good. With old ink signature of P. el S. Dn. Palacios on front free endpaper, marca de fuego of V. Raga on upper text block edge, and one ink manuscript word on p. 25.

Plates (neat line to neat line), all signed L.C. s.:

Trapetum commune (8 x 12.6 cm) [animal powered mill].

Trapetum aquarium (8 x 12.8 cm) [water powered mill].

Volantum ludus (12.7 x 8 cm) [flying acrobats, i.e., voladores, as still practiced in Papantla near El Tajín].

     Second edition, considerably expanded over the first of 1781 published at Modena. Because of the expansions made in this 1782 edition, the first of 1781 is almost forgotten. Both editions are very rare. No copy of either is recorded in auction records for the past thirty years. Backer II, p. 342. Beristáin II, p. 129. Leclerc, Bibliotheca Americana (1867) 830 & Leclerc, Bibliotheca Americana…Deux Amériques (1878-1881) 1173. Medina, Hispano-Americana 5004. Palau 131046. Porrúa 7316. Ramírez 429. Sabin 38839. See also: Eladio Cortés, Dictionary of Mexican Literature (Greenwood Press, 1992), p. 359: “Stands as one of Spanish America’s greatest descriptive poems…. Rusticatio Mexicana is a grandiose hymn to America.” Andrew Laird, The Epic of America: An Introduction to Rafael Landívar and the Rusticatio Mexicana (London: Duckworth, 2006): “Exceptional because it offers a unique perspective on a crucial transitional period in the history of New Spain…. Rafael Landívar anticipated the modern quintessentially Latin American genre of magic realism” (pp. 4-8). Alvaro Félix Bolaños & Gustavo Verdesio (editors), Colonialism Past and Present: Reading and Writing about Colonial Latin America Today (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002).

     This famous American quasi-epic poem, influenced heavily by Virgil’s Georgics, asserts in a way previously unprecedented in European poetry the beauty, sublimity, and grandeur of American landscapes, folkways, and natural phenomena, in part as a defense of them and in part an apologia against authors such as De Pauw, who asserted that all things American were inferior and degenerate. (Landívar’s first edition of 1781 coincided, ironically, with the year Thomas Jefferson composed his Notes on the State of Virginia, also intended to refute the same theory, which was published in 1785.) In so doing, it asserts and describes a country that is at once spectacularly wild but at the same time reflective of both natural and man-made order. Despite his enthusiasm for the wilds of American nature, the author is restrained by Classical influences and never wanders too far into what might be properly called Romanticism, with its own peculiar sense of a world untamed, unknowable, and better left as found. That he chose to write in Latin rather than Spanish indicates the direction and audience to which he tends.

     Despite the far-ranging nature of his work, he closes with a description of the miracle of the Prodigious Grass Cross of Tepic, into which he leads by declaring: “Thus far I have been telling of the flower gardens which grow in the middle of the lakes, of Vulcan’s wrath, of waters streaming from the hills, of cloth steeped in various dyes, of the deep haunts of the beaver, and of metals tore from the mountain. I have explained how to refine sugar, how to learn the ways of herds and flocks, and after telling of the fountains, I have described the birds and beasts and shown how to relieve the worries of the mind with merriment and sport.” At this point, his religious fervor clearly asserts itself, and he bids the Muses be silent: “But in order that no corruption may defile my mind or worldly song be able to profane that which is sacred, begone, O Aonian sisters, and let the Delphian bard be constrained to hold his silence and to put aside his Castalian waters, eithara, and songs. Do thou alone, Almighty Wisdom of the Supreme Father….be gracious unto me as with trembling hand I play the lyre in celebration of the unfailing memorial of thy glorious triumph” (Regenos’ translation).

     And thus it is in the final analysis. Although Landívar is both a poet and a scholar, at heart he is a Jesuit, and everything he describes and interprets must be seen through the prism of God’s greatness, goodness, mercy, and power. Without that foundation, nothing in Landívar’s world would make sense or even be explicable. Although Classical forms may well serve to describe the world, in the end it is the religious motif that must triumph, and all other voices must be silent before its power. His predecessor Ercilla struggled with, in the late sixteenth century, some of the same contradictions and concepts in his powerful poem, La Araucana, wherein nature almost seemed to betray the Spanish in their righteous conquest, and their foes were ennobled in many of the same ways found in descriptions of Classical heroes. In the end, however, only religion unites and explains the world and man’s place in it.

     Landívar (1731-1793) was a highly educated Guatemalan who emigrated to Mexico after his parents died. Once in Mexico, he formally entered the Jesuit order and later held numerous positions in the church. He left America with the expulsion of his order and wrote this famous poem in Europe, never returning to America. Known as the national poet of Guatemala, his remains were returned there from Italy in 1950. Guatemala’s first private university is named after him. He is best known for this work, which was not completely translated into Spanish until 1924.


Sold. Hammer: $2,000.00; Price Realized: $2,400.00

Auction 22 Abstracts

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