Letter (WCP351.351)


San Carlos del Rio Negro.

2. July, 1853.

My dear friend,

Your two letters,1 the last being of Jan. 11 of the present year, reached me nearly together a very short time ago. That pattern of forgetfulness Henrique2 wrote me a good while since that he was sending me a lot of letters and amongst them one from you, from which I should probably learn the terrible "catastrophe" which had happened to you; and after all contrived to leave [?] out the letters from his parcel, so that I had to write to the Barra3 to remind him of the omission. At this date I was still in S. Jeronymo4, and all through the voyage to S. Carlos5 was I schismando [Portuguese: worried] about what c[oul]d have happened [to] you — in S. Joaquim6 & Marabitanas,7 too, Lima8 and Felisberto9 laid their wise heads to mine, but we could not satisfy ourselves as to whether you had been shipwrecked, or got married, or burst yourself with eating plum pudding. When the news at length came, I had to write long letters to your friends here giving them an account of your disaster, and every one who knew you expresses his sympathy in the most glowing terms the Portuguese language affords. By the bye Lima is hurt that you do not write to him — I enclose a note just received from him which will shew the kindly feelings he still entertains towards you, and how he remains "bastante pinalizado" [Portuguese: very penalized] (which I don’t quite understand though it evidently indicates a dreadful state of mind) because of your "infeliz sorte" [Portuguese: unfortunate luck]. With all his faults, Lima is about the best fellow on the Rio Negro.

I will not waste words in pressing the sympathy which I myself feel for you, in your sufferings and irreparable losses. The reading of your letter affected me much, for I fancied myself in your place, and I am pretty sure I could not have equalled your calmness & resignation. It seemed to me a conclusive proof off the elasticity of your temperament when you could so enjoy an English dinner on your landing. As to your cravings now for roast pirarucú10 and pacovas [Portuguese: bananas] they seem to me signs of a most depraved appetite. I wish to the Lord you had a cartload of them, so that I might have every day fresh bread and butter and potatoes. It is true pacovas w[oul]d often be acceptable enough at San Carlos, where like all other eatables they are precious scarce. Of all the hungry places I have been in this is the hungriest, and since I arrived (on April 11.) nearly all my time [1 word struck through, illeg.] has been taken up in procuring the necessaries of life. However I keep up my heart, for summer is at hand, and then for the Casiquiarê,11 plenty of fresh fish and mosquitos.

I have written these few days looked death in the face almost as closely as you did on the ocean. The Indians rose up at the feast of S[t]. John12 and threatened to murder all the whites; or at least all the estrangeiros [Portuguese: foreigners] who are only myself and two Portuguese, Gomez13 and Eirado,14 whom you perhaps know. Some days before, the Comisario15 [sic] & his Supplente [Portuguese: deputy] took themselves off, as it now appears to be out of the way should any novidade [Portuguese: new development] occur; nay we have reason to believe that the Indians were secretly incited by them. I have not time to enter into any detailed account. We found it necessary to keep constant watch with arms by our sides for two days and nights, in the house of Eirado, where also were collected his family & that of Gomez. We mustered among us 7 fire-arms, 2 swords, and cutlasses quant. suff.,16 and we had all so placed as to be used at a moments’ warning. On the 23rd, there was plenty of drinking, dancing of carizo17 and firing of salvos,18 but as far as we were concerned, they confined themselves to insults and menaces, threatening to treat the Portuguese as their countrymen had been treated by the Cabanos of Pará19 (capar e cortar las lingrias [Portuguese: castrate and cut their tongues]). There were rumours that an attack w[oul]d be made on us by night, and when it became dark we closed the doors and set ourselves to await our assailants should they dare an attack. But though bodies of drunken men from time to time paraded the streets, the night passed over without their molesting us. In the [2] afternoon of the following day, though there still remained a great quantity of burreche [Portuguese: rum], every one left off drinking. After sunset not a person was to be seen in the streets and all was still as death. My companions who had lived in S. Carlos several years had never seen the night of St. John’s-day passed except in bebedeira [Portuguese: binge] and barulha [Portuguese: noise], and were filled with apprehension that it was the prelude to an attack, and that the Indians were merely keeping themselves sober for the purpose of making it with more effect. We have reasons to conclude that such was really their intention, one of the principal [1 word struck through, illeg.] being that in the morning the drinking &c. were resumed and kept up for several days afterwards. When night closed in we remarked that 2 men were walking up and down the street in front of the house — these were a sort of patrol and were changed at short intervals throughout the night. The Indians however never screwed up their courage so far as to venture to attack us — they knew of our warlike preparations and as it would seem calculated that a good many of the foremost in the assault w[oul]d necessarily forfeit their lives. Of their ultimate success against us there can be little doubt for they were 150 against 3.

San Carlos is the worst of all these pueblos for 'drink' — that is for the abuse of it. Not a log can be landed from a raft or mounted for sawing, or a canoe launched, without burreche, these and other operations having their stated price in gallons of that liquor. As you are aware the Indians in the Canton del Rio Negro20may be said to be almost self-governed, and the system seems at first sight to work well in many respects; but the Indians know their power and are likely enough to assert it (by putting down the blancos [Spanish: whites] one of these days.

I have not much to tell you about the Uaupés,21 save that up to the time of my leaving S. Jeronymo I had constant work. I did not ascend higher than the Jaguaraté-Cachoeira [Jauareté-cachoeira]22, and a day up the Paapurís23, which there enters the Uaupés. I found (as I had anticipated) that it w[oul]d be impracticable getting a large stock of paper &c. far up the river except in two canoes, and the lack of a person in whom I c[oul]d trust & who knew how to manage the Indians, prevented my making the attempt. San Jeronymo however was an excellent station, as far as plants were concerned, and I would gladly have staid the year round, for the sake of getting many things in fruit, but it could not be done. You know that in these Indian villages locks to doors are rarely seen — Agostinho’s24 house, to be sure, could be locked up, but another door opened into the same quarto [Portuguese: bedroom], and this door was merely of straw which of course c[oul]d be easily broken through. Had it not been for the whites I do not see how I c[oul]d have staid there at all, for I could not have left my house through the day, and especially for a night. Besides myself there were three brancos [Portuguese: white men] in the place, Agostinho, Chagas25 and Amansió,26 all three building large canoes. We generally all supped together, and passed the evening very agreeably "á vir e á nos divertirmos" [Portuguese: laughing and amusing ourselves]. You who go of nights to Geographical Societies’ meetings and other long-faced reunions, will perhaps despise our mode of passing the time, and yet I dare say you w[oul]d have liked now & then to listen to tales of frades [Portuguese: friars] and moças [Portuguese: girls] and of men who c[oul]d turn themselves into bútas27 [indigenous language: dolphins] & cobras grandes [Portuguese: big snakes]. We all left S. Jeronymo together. After our departure the cunha-mucús [indigenous language: Macú women] w[oul]d throw off their sayas [Portuguese: dresses or skirts] and exhibit [1 word struck through, illeg.] the Tamatiá [Portuguese: clitoris] without dread of the caruia’s [indigenous language: white man’s] lascivious eyes.

You know Chagas — a "Homem muito serviçal" [Portuguese: very helpful man], and a great scoundrel, with a face exactly like the back of a Surinam toad. He rendered me great assistance in my passeios [Portuguese: excursions] &c., and also took a special delight in cheating me in our little negocios [Spanish: business dealings]. He sent another expedition up to Paapurís to steal curumims [Tupi: boys] and cunhã-tãs [Tupi: girls], your friend Bernardo28 being at the head of it. Even I was in some sort an accomplice, having lent a gun to Tuchaua Joaô29 though without knowing for what purpose it was intended. For this and for other of his good deeds, our friend Chagas is now in prison at the Barra, but I know not yet what is likely to be made of him.

You are aware by this time that there is a line of steamers on the Amazon. How much they w[oul]d have helped us had they been established sooner. Marenz30 comes up from Pará31now in 10 days. [3] The company obliges themselves to send 4 steamers a year as far as Nauta,32 but I have yet heard of the first of them reaching the Barra and I fear one voyage will be all it will make.

I scarcely thought the Editor of the Atheneum33 w[oul]d think my letter worth publishing. When I thought over it afterwards it seemed to me that I had in some respects run into the contrary extreme to that which I was declaiming against. It is difficult to write without bias in such cases, and I felt indignant that Englishmen could not praise up the scenery of the tropics without running down that of England. In this feeling I believe you quite participate. You are quite right in your explanation of Mr. Darwin’s34 prejudices — "impressions du voyage" are rarely correct, and certainly in most cases different from those left by a long residence in a country [1 word struck through, illeg.], in whatever zone it may be placed.

So Mr. Plant35 has found it easier to plant himself down than to skim over the surface of the land like a swallow. A person who, like Mr. Plant, has travelled little except on the map, writes to recommend me to "cross over" to the Magdalena36 — very easy no doubt on paper, but let him come here and make the experiment, with all my arranjos [Portuguese: arrangements], and he will find out the difference.

Your roving propensities seem still so strong that I am doubtful of this letter finding you in England — very likely you may be on the Panama railroad, when it reaches England.

I will try to execute your commission about the skins; no one here however is in the habit of procuring them. We are daily expecting Antonio Diaz37 on his way to the Barra, and I will ask him about them.

As you suppose, I am still pursuing the solitary caños [Portuguese: a small river that runs between islands, navigable only by canoe] (we talk not here of igarapés [Portuguese with the same meaning as caños]) through this weary wilderness. The moças of S. Carlos are the most safadas [Portuguese: naughty] of any I have met with. For a good while I was literally besieged by them, as you may understand when I say that I have a large stock of muslins, prints and gay handkerchiefs. I was actually seized on one day by two guarichas [Spanish: prostitutes] who sought (like Potiphar’s wife)38 to put me into the hammock by force. My chastity was sorely assailed, and you no doubt tremble at the narrowness of my escape (if indeed I escaped at all, which I leave entirely to your judgment to decide). I was almost at my wits’ end, as you may suppose. So one day says I to myself "acabemos com esta musica" [Portuguese: let’s end this music]. Opposite my house resided a buxom widow — a mamaluca [Portuguese: person born of a white father and indigenous mother] — "fair, fat & forty" — and without children. I invited her to cozinhar [Portuguese: cook] and lavar minha roupa [Portuguese: wash my clothes] — she consented & was forthwith installed in her office. I invited her also to sleep with me — and do not judge me harshly — it was not a matter of taste — but you know that in this world such things are necessary as self-denial & "obras de misericordia" [Portuguese: works of mercy], and that without the latter, especially, it is scarcely possible to get along with the fair sex here. Will you credit that in reply she thanked me but said she could sleep in her own house — that she was old and therefore not "propria para dormir com blanco" [Spanish: suitable to sleep with a white man], and further that she would arrange for me any muchacha que me fazia gusto [Spanish: girl that I liked], not doubting (she said) that there was not one in S. Carlos who w[oul]d not be proud to submit to my embraces! Did you think that such a model of continency existed in the Rio Negro? — This is above a month back. We get on now very cosily — my caseira [Portuguese: housekeeper] has the merit of being cleanly & careful and apparently honest. She has two younger sisters who live a good deal at my expense, but this expense is really very trifling and I wish there was 3 times as much to be bought in the way of entablas [untranslated]; besides I have always my beijú fresco39 and other "delicacies" which a bachelor can with difficulty obtain, and the muchachas [Portuguese: girls] make themselves useful in various ways. — I know not whether you remarked that in the Canton del Rio Negro there is no male Indian in the houses of the whites, and a man cannot get on at all without, like me, he has a convent — or a seraglio,40 like Antonio Diaz. — I tell you all this frankly, knowing that you won’t go and print it. I have been annoyed at finding that among my letters published in the Hooker’s Journal41 are some which were never intended for the press. The Editor must have been ill at the time, or he w[oul]d surely have quashed their publication, or at least have drawn his pen through all that related to matters purely private & personal.

[4] I am preparing a large shallow galiota [galeota]42 for a voyage up the Casiquiare, and with the intention of entering the Rio Cunucunuma,43 which l[e]aves the western foot slopes of the Duida44 of Esmeralda45 and of its continuation northward (marked Maraguaca46 on the maps). This river is a sort of Uaupés to the Orinoco;47 it is peopled by friendly Indians with whom there is now considerable trade.

We have lately had here Gregorio Diaz, the Comissário-Geral, from San Fernando,48 and I have arranged with him an expedition to the sources of the Orinoco for next year. But I say no more of this at present as it is great presumption in this country saying what one will do 6 months hence.

Many thanks for all the news you send me — it was eagerly read. In whatever part of the world your lot may be cast — whether "where the sun shines for ever unchangeably bright,"* or where, as in gloomy England, he never shews his face distinctly at all — I trust you will continue to write me long letters when you can — and short ones when you can write no others; and I will promise to do the same.

I shall anxiously await some intelligence of your movements, and so farewell till we meet — perhaps in Moyobamba.49

Your faithful friend | Rich[ar]d. Spruce. [signature]

* "Where the sun shines for ever changeably bright, Not only by day but also by night,"50 is half the year at the North, and the other half at the South Pole. For accounts of the brilliancy of the vegetation in those regions consult — those who have been there to see.

Antonio Diaz has just come in, & I have asked him about the hummingbirds. He says the only place where "se consiga bustanté [sic]" [Portuguese: you can get a lot] is in Javita.51 I will ask him to get some from thence, but it cannot be before towards the end of the year.

[cross referencing to these letters in the volume?]
Antony, Henrique ( — ). Italian merchant based in Barra do Rio Negro (Manaus), Brazil. Known for his hospitality to travellers, including Spruce and ARW.
Barra do Rio Negro (Manuas), capital city of the Brazilian state of Amazonas.
São Jeronymo (Ipanoré), a village on the Rio Uaupés, a tributary of the Rio Negro.
San Carlos de Rio Negro, a city on the Rio Negro in Venezuela.
São Joaquim (or Saõ Joaquin), a village at the mouth of the Rio Uaupés.
The Fort of São José de Marabitanas, on the upper Rio Negro, a tributary Amazon River in the Brazilian state of Amazonas.
de Lima, João Antonio ( — ). Portuguese trader resident on the upper Rio Negro and referred to in Wallace, A. R. 1853. Narrative of Travels on the Amazon and Rio Negro, With an Account of the Native Tribes, and Observations on the Climate, Geology, and Natural History of the Amazon Valley. London: Reeve & Co. as "Senhor L.".
Felisberto ( — ). Commandante of Marabitanas.
A species of freshwater fish in the genus Arapaima, native to the Amazon, and referred to by ARW as Sudis gigas. See Wallace, A. R. 1853. Narrative of Travels on the Amazon and Rio Negro, With an Account of the Native Tribes, and Observations on the Climate, Geology, and Natural History of the Amazon Valley. London: Reeve & Co. [pp. 98, 144].
Rio Casiquiare, a canal (or bifurcation) connecting the Rio Orinoco and the Rio Negro.
A Christian celebration of the birth of John the Baptist occurring on 24th June.
Senhor Gomez ( — ). Portuguese resident of San Carlos (Wallace, A. R. 1853. Narrative of Travels on the Amazon and Rio Negro, With an Account of the Native Tribes, and Observations on the Climate, Geology, and Natural History of the Amazon Valley. London: Reeve & Co. [pp. 54-55]).
Senhor José do Eirado ( — ). Portuguese resident of San Carlos.
Diaz, Gregorio ( — ). Comissário-Geral of the Canton of the Rio Negro (Wallace, A. R. [Ed.]. 1908. Richard Spruce. Notes of a Botanist on the Amazon and Andes, Vol. 1. London: Macmillan & Co. [p. 353]).
Quantum sufficit; a sufficient amount (OED).
According to ARW, "musical instruments made of bamboos and used in a peculiar dance which also bears the same name". See Wallace, A. R. (Ed.). 1908. Richard Spruce. Notes of a Botanist on the Amazon and Andes, Vol. 1. London: Macmillan & Co. [p. 349]).
A salute with a simultaneous discharge of firearms (OED).
A reference to the 1835-1840 rebellion by Paraense Cabanos (small landowners, rural workers, Indians, and slaves), seeking independence from the Portuguese government.
A territorial division in Venezuela.
The Rio Uaupés is a tributary of the Rio Negro.
A waterfall on the Rio Uaupés.
A tributary of the Rio Uaupés.
Agostinho ( — ). Brazilian trader of European descent, referred to in Wallace, A. R. (Ed.). 1908. Richard Spruce. Notes of a Botanist on the Amazon and Andes, Vol. 1. London: Macmillan & Co.
Chagas ( — ). ). Brazilian trader, referred to in Wallace, A. R. 1853. Narrative of Travels on the Amazon and Rio Negro, With an Account of the Native Tribes, and Observations on the Climate, Geology, and Natural History of the Amazon Valley. London: Reeve & Co. on multiple occasions as "Senhor Chagas".
Amansió [more commonly written "Amâncio"] ( — ). Brazilian trader, referred to in Wallace, A. R. (Ed.). 1908. Richard Spruce. Notes of a Botanist on the Amazon and Andes, Vol. 1. London: Macmillan & Co.
Spruce referred to this in Wallace, A. R. (Ed.). 1908. Richard Spruce. Notes of a Botanist on the Amazon and Andes, Vol. 2. London: Macmillan & Co. [pp. 483-484].
João ("Bernardo") ( — ). Brazilian from São Jeronymo, referred to by ARW as "Tushaua [chief] Joãn (Bernardo)" in Wallace, A. R. (Ed.). 1908. Richard Spruce. Notes of a Botanist on the Amazon and Andes, Vol. 1. London: Macmillan & Co. [p. 330].
See n. 28.
A steamer.
A Brazilian state through which the lower Amazon River passes.
A town in the Peruvian Amazon, on the north bank of the Rio Marañón.
Hervey, Thomas Kibble (1799-1859). British poet, critic and editor of the literary magazine The Athenaeum, 1846-1853.
Darwin, Charles Robert (1809-1882). British naturalist, geologist and author, notably of On the Origin of Species (1859). The "impressions du voyage" referred to is Darwin’s account of his time on the voyage of HMS Beagle, the Journal of Researches (1839, revised 1845, later The Voyage of the Beagle).

Plant, Robert (1818-1858). British plant collector in South Africa, Mauritius

and the Seychelles. Worked for the London dealer Samuel Stevens.

Rio Magdalena, the principal river of Colombia.
Diaz, Antonio ( — ). Portuguese trader from Tomo (Wallace, A. R. [Ed.]. 1908. Richard Spruce. Notes of a Botanist on the Amazon and Andes, Vol. 1. London: Macmillan & Co. [p. 466]).
In Genesis 39, Potiphar, captain of the Pharoah’s guard in Egypt, made the slave Joseph head of his household. Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph, yet he refused and she accused him of rape.
A Brazilian tapioca dessert.
An enclosure or place of confinement (OED).
Hooker's Journal of Botany and Kew Garden Miscellany, published from 1849-1857.
A small, flat-bottomed river boat (Wallace, A. R. [Ed.]. 1908. Richard Spruce. Notes of a Botanist on the Amazon and Andes, Vol. 1. London: Macmillan & Co.).
A river in Venezuela.
Cerro Duida, a table-top mountain (or mesa) in the Venezuelan state of Amazonas.
A village on the Orinoco in the Venezuelan state of Amazonas, from which the Cerro Duida can be climbed.
Cerro Marahuaca, a table-top mountain (or mesa) in the Venezuelan state of Amazonas.
A large river in South America, flowing through mostly Venezuela to the Atlantic Ocean.
San Fernando de Atabapo, then the capital city of Venezuelan state of Amazonas.
A city in northern Peru.
Quotation not identified.
A Venezuelan village on the Rio Negro, north of San Carlos de Rio Negro.

Please cite as “WCP351,” in Beccaloni, G. W. (ed.), Ɛpsilon: The Alfred Russel Wallace Collection accessed on 29 February 2024, https://epsilon.ac.uk/view/wallace/letters/WCP351