Andrés Bello

The Venezuelan humanist Andrés Bello y López (1781-1865) is generally considered to be the most complete intellectual of 19th-century Latin America.

Andrés Bello was born on Nov. 29, 1781, in Caracas into a middle-class Creole family. His early education was entrusted to Cristobal de Quesada, a Mercedarian friar, then reputedly the greatest Latinist in Venezuela, who instilled in him a great love for the Latin and Spanish classics and the Spanish-Italian school of the 19th century. They were to exercise a lifelong literary influence on him.

In 1797 he entered the University of Caracas, receiving a bachelor of arts degree in 1800. He then studied law and medicine there. To augment his income, he tutored his friends, the most outstanding of whom was Simón Bolívar, the future liberator of South America. Bello's financial situation, always precarious, apparently worsened, and he abandoned his studies in 1802 to enter government service.

In addition to his administrative responsibilities, Bello wrote numerous poems, several in imitation of Virgil and Horace, all mediocre. He also edited the first newspaper published in Venezuela, the Gazeta de Caracas (1808), and wrote the first book published in the captaincy general, Calendario manual y guía universal (1810). At the same time he was involved in the revolutionary movement which was sweeping the country. When a provisional government was established in 1810, he was sent to London as part of a diplomatic mission headed by Bolívar. Bello remained in the British capital until 1829, serving as secretary to the Venezuelan, Chilean, and Colombian legations in turn.

Life in London was not pleasant, and Bello was frequently unemployed. Nevertheless, he collaborated with José María Blanco White in the publication of a magazine (El Español, 1810-1814) and with Antonio José de Irisarri in a similar enterprise (EI Censor americano). Finally, he edited the Biblioteca americana (1823) and Repertorio americano (1826-1827). When he was offered a position in the Chilean government, he accepted, and with his second English wife and five children he departed England in 1829, to live the rest of his life in his adopted country.

In Chile, Bello was involved in nearly all aspects of the life. He was editor of the official government newspaper (EI Araucano, 1830-1853); a senator (1837-1864); chief administrative officer of the Ministry of Foreign Relations (1829-1852); and the founder and rector of the University of Chile (1842-1865). He also helped write the Constitution of 1833 and wrote all the major presidential speeches from 1831 to 1833. His position as confidential adviser to presidents and government ministers gave him tremendous influence in Chilean politics.

Bello's influence was also great in Chilean cultural and social life. His Spanish grammar is perhaps the greatest ever produced. His civil law code is still in effect in Chile, with modifications, and it was adopted by many other Latin American countries. His works on philosophy are esteemed, and his book on international law was acclaimed a classic. He died in Santiago, Chile on Oct. 15, 1865.

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Further Reading on Andrés Bello y López

There is no biography of Bello in English. Works which discuss him include Alva Curtis Wilgus, ed., Argentina, Brazil and Chile since Independence (1935); Robert N. Burr, By Reason or Force: Chile and the Balancing of Power in South America, 1830-1905 (1967); and Simon Collier, Ideas and Politics of Chilean Independence, 1808-1833 (1967).