Come, Señor Darwin, sit here by my hearth and let us talk. We are both old men now, and can understand each other.
You see the life I have made for myself here in the English wilderness—a poor life, without the honor I should have had. I have been sorely mistreated by the country I served: exiled, forced to labor like a peon or slave.
Yet there have been compensations, too: the nearby port, so like and unlike Buenos Aires; the country air; and hard work, the only certain balm for melancholia. Yes, I have labored to create my estancia, my estate. Every apple, pear, peach and plum tree was planted by my own hand. Every neglected acre—every scrubby bush and weed and dead tree—was cleared by my own sweat and toil. I, I alone, have tamed this desert, brought it into subjection, and made it fruitful.
And so it was when I, Juan Manuel de Rosas, was elected governor of Buenos Aires. Nature itself had turned against the land, and inflicted upon it a drought of biblical proportions. Cattle and crops, rivers and lakes were decimated, dry as the dust that obliterated the boundaries between the estancias.
The political situation was little better. I inherited a province damaged by war and civil war, buffeted by chaos and anarchy and near-bankruptcy.
A strong, stable government, a government of laws and order: that was the only cure for such ills. What use would have been a velvet glove and a soft voice at such a time? My enemies, those who loathe my name—they still complain of the mazorca, the organization that enforced order during those troublous days. Ah, how easy it is to tally the cut throats! How easy to forget the order I brought to government and business and agriculture! How easy to forget I drew together all Argentina, and cultivated national pride!
Do you remember when we first met, on the plains of the Río Colorado? You were young then, as I was; you, too, were in the first stage of an illustrious career. You borrowed my horses, rode out with us on the hunt...
Ah, you grimace! Yes, your peculiar English sensibilities still trouble you, do they not? But I know what is in your heart. You know that in those days, you watched placidly while we meted out just punishment upon those savages who had ravaged the estates of the Argentine Pampas.
You protest! You blush! Yes, perhaps it is true that some of the women and children we speared were not the perpetrators of those acts. But you understood the utility of the action, nevertheless. You admired my character, my force of will. You called me “a perfect gaucho,” did you not? Ah, ha! You cannot deny that. And neither can you deny the justice of my actions.
I will tell you something, my friend... something I have admitted to no other living man. There have been hours during my exile—deep, black hours after midnight—when strange ghosts have troubled me. I have heard voices calling to me, and some seemed to accuse me of the slaughter of the innocent. Evil, evil voices! In vain did I rebuke them. I cried out, even to God, in my despair. It was a sort of insanity.
But then I recalled the immortal words you have written. We are animals, are we not? Do not turn pale and deny it! We are animals, and the weaker animal will always serve the stronger. So with peoples and with races: the inferior must always be conquered by the superior. So it was in Argentina—and history will vindicate me as well as you!
Ah, those nightly ghosts! And yet, dear Señor Darwin, when they came to me, I had only to think of you. Then the ghosts evaporated, and I came to myself and knew that my cause was just.
HISTORICAL NOTE: Juan Manuel de Rosas ruled Argentina from 1829 to 1852, and brutally suppressed all those who opposed him. He was forced into exile in 1852, and spent his last years on a farm near Southampton. Charles Darwin met Rosas in 1833, and witnessed his army’s slaughter of the Amerindians. Though he expressed horror at this “war of extermination,” Darwin also commented that it would have the good effect of opening up land for cattle. Darwin visited Rosas in Southampton—probably in 1870—but no record remains of their conversation.
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