Posted by: Rob Viens | October 26, 2013

The “Magic” of Friends in High Places

When we last left our hero, he had just arrived in Buenos Aires to find a city in turmoil.  On his arrival on October 20th Darwin wrote:

“Upon leaving the canoe, I found to my utter astonishment I was a sort of prisoner. — About a week before, a violent revolution had broken out; all the ports were under an embargo. — I could not return to my vessel, & as for going by land to the city it was out of the question. — After a long conversation with the Commandante I obtained permission to go the next day to General Rolor, who commanded a division of the rebels on this side of the Capital.” (Oct 20)

What could Darwin do?  There was only one thing he could do if he wanted to enter the city – pull some strings:

“Arrived early in the morning at Rolors encampment, the general, officers, & soldiers all appeared, & I believe really were, great villains. — The General told me, that the city was in a state of close blockade; that he could only give me a passport to the General in chief (of the rebels) at Quilmes. — I had therefore to take a great sweep round the city; & it was with very much difficulty that I procured horses. — When I arrived at the encampment, they were civil, but told me I could not be allowed to enter. This was General Rosases party; & his brother was there. — I soon began to talk about the Generals civility to me at the R. Colorado. — Magic could not have altered circumstances quicker than this conversation did. At last they offered me the choice to enter the city on foot without my Peon horses &c &c & without a passport: I was too glad to accept it, & an officer was sent to give directions not to stop meat the bridge. The road, about a league in length, was quite deserted; I met one party of soldiers; but I satisfied them with an old passport. — I was exceedingly glad when I found myself safe on the stones of B. Ayres.” (Oct 21)

Governor Rosas’ home in Buenos Aires (by Carlos Sívori, 1850)

Manuel de Rosas home

This was one of those moments when Darwin found himself a part of history.  Granted, every breath he took has become an important part of history in its own right.  But here he was part of larger history – the formation of the country of Argentina.  So let me share Darwin’s impression of the revolution through which he was passing:

“This revolution is nothing more or less than a downright rebellion. — A party of men who are attached to General Rosas, were disgusted with the Governor; they left the city to the number of 70, & with the cry of Rosas, the whole country took arms. — The city was then closely blockaded: no provisions, cattle, or horses are allowed to enter; excepting this, there is only a little skirmishing, a few men daily killed. — The outside party well know that by stopping the supply of meat they will certainly be victorious.

General Rosas could not have known of this rising; but I think it is quite consonant with his schemes. — A year ago he was elected Governor; he refused it, without the Sala would also give him extraordinary powers. — This they refused, & now Rosas means to show them that no other Governor can keep his place. — The warfare on both sides was avowedly protracted till it was possible to hear from Rosas. — A note arrived, a few days after my leaving B. Ayres, which stated that the General disapproved of peace being broken, but that he thought the outside party had justice on their side. — Instantly, on the reception of this, the Governor & ministers resigned, & they with the military to the amount of some hundreds flew from the city. — The rebels entered, elected a new Governor, & were paid for their services to the number of 5500 men. — It is clear to me that Rosas ultimately must be absolute Dictator, (they object to the term king) of this country.” (Oct 21)

Always good at observing his “environment”, Darwin was spot on.  Rosas went on to serve as dictator for almost 20 years (see “The Most Prominent Character in South America”).

In an interesting aside, although Darwin was able to get himself into the city fairly easily, his assistant Syms Covington could was still trapped outside. On November 1st (Darwin’s next entry) he noted that the only way to get him in was to resort to a bribe:

“These disturbances caused me much inconvenience; my servant was outside, I was obliged to bribe a man to smuggle him in through the belligerents. His clothese, my riding gear, collections from St Fe, were outside with no possibility of obtaining them. — I was, however, lucky in having them all sent to me at M: Video. — The residence in the town was disagreeable, it was difficult to transact any business, the shops being closed; & there were constant apprehensions of the town being ransacked. — The real danger lay with the lawless soldiery within; they robbed many people in the day time, & at night the very sentinels stopped people to demand money from them.” (Oct 22-Nov 1)

Darwin would find himself confined by the revolution for 10 days, during which time he seems to have written virtually nothing. Needless to say, there would be no operas or geologizing until he could “get away” from all the politics… (RJV)


  1. Interesting bit of history…

  2. Great line: This was one of those moments when Darwin found himself a part of history. Granted, every breath he took has become an important part of history in its own right.

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