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16: A Bolívar Letter

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I swear before you, I swear by the God of my forefathers, I swear by my native country, that I shall never give rest to my arm nor to my soul until I have broken the shackles which chain us to Spain.

All scholars of Latin American history are familiar with the oath which Bolívar took on "Monte Sacro" while visiting Rome with his teacher, Simón Rodríguez,(1) in the spring of 1805.

Although Rodríguez wrote of this event many years later, historians were seeking more concrete proof of the incident. Bolívar himself provides the required evidence in a letter to his tutor written from Perú nineteen years later, when the Liberator was nearing the height of his renown, in which he recalled his prophetic oath. The text of this letter, dated January 19, 1824, Pativilca, Perú, had been recorded in numerous publications, but the original was lost and it came to light only when a collection of documents on the liberation of Perú, from the estate of Jorge M. Corbacho, was sold at public auction in New York City in 1948.

At the time, perhaps because of problems resulting from World War II, the auction of the Corbacho collection, as well as its subsequent whereabouts, went unnoticed. It was not until nearly twenty years later that the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington began a systematic search to locate the letter in question, and enlisted my aid in this task.

Information was scarce, because there were no records as to the identity of the Corbacho heirs, nor of the date and location of the sale. Moreover, the various firms dealing in such documents were unable to furnish any details. The situation seemed hopeless.

It is not our purpose here to describe in detail the Sherlock Holmes methods used by the Embassy and myself to locate the missing document. It suffices to say that after nearly three months of concerted effort, during which many false leads were investigated, success finally crowned our endeavor, and the letter was found in the archives of the Library of the University of Indiana at Bloomington. The late Bernard Mendell, who at the time owned a controlling interest in the publishing firm of L. C. Harper & Co., had purchased a large part of the Corbacho collection and donated it to the University. The librarian, Dr. David A. Randall, was kind enough to furnish both the Embassy and myself with a photostatic copy of this historic document, and we quote here a portion of the text:

To Don Simón Rodríguez:

0, my teacher! my friend! my Robinson--you in Colombia! To think that you are in Bogotá and have neither written nor addressed me. You are without doubt the most extraordinary man in, all the world. You may deserve other descriptions which I will omit, for I would not be discourteous in greeting a guest who comes from the Old World to visit the New; yes, to visit his own country, which he no longer knows-forgotten not only in his heart, but also in his memory. No one knows better than I how you once loved our adored Colombia.

Do you recall how we went together to the "Monte Sacro" in Rome to pledge the freedom of our country upon that holy ground? Surely you have not forgotten that day of eternal glory for the two of us, a day when ... we swore a prophetic oath to a hope we could not expect to see fulfilled.

You, my teacher, how closely you must have followed my steps---steps planned long before by your very self. You molded my heart for liberty, justice, greatness and beauty. I have followed the path you laid out for me. You were my pilot, though you remained upon the shores of Europe. You cannot imagine how deeply engraved upon my heart are the lessons you taught me. Never could I delete so much as a comma from the great precepts that you set before me. They have been ever-present in my mind's eye. I have followed them as infallible guides. In short, you have seen what I have done.

You have seen my thoughts in print, my soul on paper, and you must have said to yourself: `All this is mine; I sowed this plant. I watered it. I strengthened it when it was weak. Now it is vigorous, strong and productive. Behold, here are its fruits. They are mine. I shall savor them in the garden that I have planted. I shall enjoy the shade of its friendly branches, for that is my inalienable right and mine alone ...'

On the envelope of the letter in Rodríguez' hand is written:

I do not preserve this letter for the honor it does me, but for the honor it does Bolívar. To confess that he owed to me some of the ideas which brought him such distinction would serve to prove that nothing is lost by the knowledge of it, because his vanity lay in his love of justice.

1. Simón Rodríguez, twelve years older than Bolívar, was his tutor in 1792 (when the future Liberator was nine) and, although somewhat eccentric, was an excellent teacher.

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