Alexandro Malaspina to Paolo Greppi  [1]

Lima, August 23, 1790

         Your four letters reached me here in good time, albeit three by the same mail: the two of December 22, one of January 27 and another of February 2. You can imagine how grateful I am for them, not only for what they contain in themselves but also because their repetition and likewise their expansiveness leave me in no doubt that you still have me in your thoughts amid the noise and serious business that surround you at every turn. I have read them all to our most kind Viceroy,[2] who still has the character already familiar to you and is now putting it to brilliant use, manifesting all the principles of a philosopher and of a good man. He sends his sincere greetings and perhaps will forward this to you by his own hands, if it seems to me a more secure route than by way of the house in Cádiz. I am keeping everyone so busy, and am so to such an extent myself, that it is impossible for me to write in duplicate.

         Most of the objects that detained us here have already been carried to their end, and we are preparing with the greatest alacrity to continue on our way, so that, within a year, we for our part will be able to have done with the whole of America. It is tedious to speak of myself, but you are interested so much in that [topic], and furthermore I ought to have so much zeal for deserving your appreciation and for demonstrating this zeal, that I will merit forgiveness for letting you hear from my own mouth a summary of all I have to report.

         The accuracy of our charts, which already cover the entire coast from Buenos Aires, by way of the Falkland Islands and Cape Horn, as far as Lima, is based on landmarks so prominent that I expect the nation to adopt them with the natural satisfaction of seeing its navigation become more open, its coasts more useful and its defence more obviously secure. The work that I remit now is the following. It is divided into four books, and these into six parts. The 1st book covers the leg of the voyage from the departure from Cádiz to that from Montevideo; the 2nd from the departure from Montevideo to that from Chiloé, including Puerto Deseado on the Patagonian coast and Port Egmont in the Falkland Islands; the 3rd from Chiloé to Coquimbo, including the Juan Fernández Islands and the 4th from Coquimbo to Lima, including the desert islands of San Félix. The six parts of each book are the following: navigation; 2nd, events in the ports; 3rd, data on the construction of the charts; 4th, [recommended] course for well-known parts of the coast; 5th, physical description of the land, resources and inhabitants; 6th, political memorial pertaining to the lands adjacent to the coast itself. It complements in this respect the marine atlas of the charts and maps of the ports, so that the greatest benefits to navigation can be achieved immediately. Views have been drawn of the landmarks at crucial points. Time has not allowed us to make clean copies of a considerable amount of other material, but the rough drafts are there, so the effort will not be wasted. The astronomical observations, the description of all the instruments, our method of using them, the readings of the marine chronometers, and finally all the fluctuations of these instruments with respect to the thermometer, for the information of their builders, form another interesting attachment to this part, in which it is incredible with what felicity the astronomy and our cartographical work go hand in hand.

         A large collection of minerals investigated at the place, many dissected birds and quadrupeds. The botanist Née's herbarium, composed of about two thousand plants; and that of Mr. Tadeás Haenke of some four thousand, the greater part Andean or from the cordillera; investigated in Chile and here, they constitute by themselves a work of great value, to which the lithological portion investigated diligently by Pineda.adds further interest. The botanical artist sends paintings, all of which deserve the most meticulous attention. [3] The other painter, skilled but rather lazy,[4] sends portraits of Patagonian men and women and of a chief and his son Huiliche, all executed with the greatest propriety, a large painting of our meeting with all the Patagonians, several birds and quadrupeds painted life-size and some perspective views of the most interesting landmarks. All that has been described up to now is the work of 9 months; in the remaining 3, fair copies were made of the above, not forgetting at the same time the careful repairs to the corvettes, the storing of provisions for two years and the medicinal research that Haenke conducted along the Guánuco, which debouches into the Marañón.[5] I myself could not have guessed that the political records would lead me to the conclusions that I later formed; nor that they would clearly demonstrate that our America could indeed augment the treasury, both increasing its size and reducing the expenses of its defence. I took it upon myself to determine the number of inhabitants of the southern continent from 36° to Cape Horn; I analyzed their customs, their origin, their dispositions towards us, their strength in the event of their embracing other interests and ways of guarding ourselves against them. I grasped intuitively that the provinces of River Plate and of Chile could, through the least exertion on the part of the government, prosper just like the English colonies, increasing their population through agriculture, and exchanging, in order to acquire other necessities, their surplus crops, some with Havana and Spain, some with Perú. The last, on the other hand, is entirely a country of mines, and sets itself implacably against any attempt to convert it to agriculture or to navigation, which entail a comfortable subsistence, regular seasons and a developed population. It is hard for me to believe that an invader could attack us; rather, I believe that the difficulties of so doing would soon discourage him. He would be able to disembark, and to find water and firewood, but for a thousand reasons he could get no further: and so would surely not be able to recover the expenses of an expedition exposed to a thousand risks. In the end, what would really please me is that my conjectures, based on the investigation of the coast, accord in every way with those, originating in Europe, of the Viceroy on the investigation of the Kingdom of Santa Fé. It is impossible, my dear Greppi, to explain to you in great detail the connections I have made and the clear ideas about revenue and national power that emanate from them. I discern that in large monarchies the harmony of nature, normally so well balanced, is instead perturbed; and that, despite the crooked way of living which has tried for so many years to drown her groans, she is heard nevertheless to cry out to those who do not exploit her and who look only to cooperate with her, which is to follow in her usual way. The mining countries are arid and thinly populated; the agricultural ones generally lack mines, but have plenty of people. Water is abundant in the latter; it is generally scarce in the former. In the one customs tend to vice, in the other to virtue; in short, everything convinces me that a harmony exists, particularly among neighbouring countries, and that Spain ought to consider reforming its system of trade and revenue-generation. Our fisheries on the Patagonian coast led me, as was natural, to detail the system by which they have organised themselves. Economy and security have been the first objects; the crossing by the King's ships of one or the other ocean has been the second. Recently, I have come to the realisation that it is freedom that will allow navigation, and especially these fisheries, to prosper. If I have succeeded in demonstrating that our system in America is in error, and that it requires reform on the basis of sound principles, I believe I have rendered a considerable service, the more so because [my recommendations] will not involve any great hardship, nor does my own wellbeing depend on them.

         In truth, my head is fit to burst with these ideas, which [I trust] you will treat as confidential in relation to all those who have some relationship with the government, so that this fatal mistrust of foreigners does not become widespread, as if the man of virtue was not the same everywhere and in all nations.

         I do not have much to say to you about the French and the Flemish, nor on the consequences of the death of Josef II. Among the former, judging by what I have read on the newspapers here, I find today an excessive love of perfection; meantime, in pursuit of  the idea of a perfect Republic of Plato, the nobility and the clergy are sacrificing themselves to the lower classes; a nation until now military will in future become agricultural, and a peaceful constitution will lead it to resemble Holland, where freedom has led to opulence and opulence to enfeeblement, of a sort that has allowed a mere stathouder [6] to do whatever he wished. For how can France imagine that its fate will not be the same, when a great increase in the number of its domains, their too-great extent, which produces a great opposition of interests, and finally the preservation of the royal family, all conspire to accelerate this decline? There is no civil war there that has either destroyed or depleted the military. At least three hundred thousand men, who had no other occupation than to minister either to the army, or to the administration, or to the king's weaknesses - are they all to become farmers, then? Another million, at least, whose education was directed towards the same career, perhaps with the hope of making a mark in it - can they change all their habits just like that? Whoever listens to those legislators may think he sees so many new Lycurguses, whose incorrupt customs ensure that they do not for a moment forget the public good. But not one woman has yet left Paris, and surely they are not kept there today by either the profusion of servants of the realm or the liveliness of trade. Why has it not yet been grasped that so populous and corrupt a city as Paris is in its very essence incompatible with good order and public tranquility? Why is it now the eloquence of Mirabeau that bends the twelve hundred representatives to its will? By all means say I am demented, or that I speak nonsense in proportion to my distance [from the events], but suffer me to remain persuaded that the national character and the excessive size of this confederation will bring it about that in very little time the king will recover both his authority, the better by relying on the more virtuous of his ministers, and, through a more consistent application of law, a nation to be reckoned with.

         All these points, in fact, militate in favour of the Flemish, and thus I believe their confederation more solid and more durable. In these two revolutions all the Flemish stand to gain, but half of the French stand to lose.

         In any case, may this letter lead you to the hearth of our most beloved Carmichael,[7] and make you both laugh and spend a couple of hours in conversation about the paradoxas of a barbarous sailor!

         Let us return to the future fortunes of us explorers. I shall leave here before the fifteenth or twentieth of September, traversing the entire coast of Guayaquil, Realejo, Panamá, and Acapulco as far as San Blas, so that before February ends, regardless, we shall be in San Blas, where we shall undertake the campaign to the N. that will last until October even if we find nothing; on the way thence to the Sandwich Islands, the Marianas and the Carolinas we shall visit Canton and Manila (at which point our essential objects will be completed), then put in at New Holland and New Zealand, and perhaps at the Society Islands, before setting our final course back to Europe. However happy it would make me, we shall not arrive there until the year of 93.

         You will have then a complete collection of seeds and, in the meantime, I send you a collection of the minerals of Chile and Perú, several examples of Peruvian pottery, some Wiliche weapons and utensils (and some Bezoare), and a guanaco skin prepared in the manner of the Patagonians themselves. You will receive another consignment from Mexico and another from Canton or Manila, this being the last to be sent by my own hand. Have no doubts about the great desire I hold (as far as I am concerned above all others, unless one of the very few ladies that were born to make me happy by ruling me like a tyrant should cross my path) to be in your company. I want to have the commission[8] at my disposal so that hunger does not lead me either to confuse love with interest, or to continue in the service beyond what my plans require. In this philosophical crisis, which will not last for more than two or three years, my people will cry out, my friends will cry out, on my return; you alone will know my inner thoughts and forgive me. I give you a thousand and again a thousand thanks for the effectiveness with which you have proceeded in this matter, and I beg you to guide my brother so that he operates in a way consistent with the protection that I see the Bailío has granted me.

         I have still not been able to settle my accounts with the King nor consequently to pay our bills, among which I see one from Trotti for 384 pounds, in respect of the box of books. As I am responsible for all the weapons expenses, which amount already to 70 thousand pesos, and the urgency [of the situation] does not permit me to act in accordance with the payment-lag normally expected for such bills, I should proceed cautiously, so that I can never be accused of misappropriation. The accursed board forces me to a thousand superfluous expenditures; for, as I make people work a lot and at all hours, it is essential that food is plentiful. I wished to include for you two letters of the same date (yet entirely contradictory) from Potosí, on the new methods of Baron von Nordenflicht.[9] You will not find it strange after this that here the truth is ever beyond reach. There is also a short note analyzing the composition of arrangements of flowers, which will give you an idea of the customs here,[10] on the subject of which I will add that very recently a Franciscan prior abducted a girl from a convent; that a p...[rostitute?] has presented to the Viceroy a petition complaining about a friar who stole 200 pesos from her and, what's more, got her pregnant [?]. I will see if I can include for you an inventory of everything sent, especially of the minerals.

         I am very happy about the progress of my namesake [11] and of the deserved end of your antagonist. [12] For your own benefit, remember that the quicksilver mine in Huancavélica [13] will never amount to much, that it is unnecessary to exploit the one in Punitaqui, which we reconnoitred near Coquimbo, and finally that the profits of the mines must increase without relying on the system of Born to obtain a considerable quantity of quicksilver.[14]

         Our Rossi, [15] whose conduct and application have been truly praiseworthy, is on the verge of acquiring a good position; I see that you have recommended him to the viceroy. I myself have not neglected him. I hope that before he leaves he is taken care of satisfactorily. I have suggested to him, and he will certainly do it, that he write to you with an account of the minerals of Pasco, for which office he was commissioned. You will find news and extremely interesting details.

         You tell me nothing about the R... [16] ; it suggests that she is letting you be: pray God it continue this way. I enclose letters for Buchetti and my brother. Good-bye Good-bye. Do not forget that he [I?] will be your eternal friend.


P.S.  This climate has proved very bad for Bustamante, who, however, is now better and sends you his sincere greetings.

        We both ask to be remembered again to our friends. Viana also asks to be remembered to you. Galiano has still not been able to pay his previous arrears. Good-bye. Neither Bustamante nor I was surprised by what you tell us about Mendoza.[17] .

         Replies to Mexico and letters to the Philippines with the English [voyages] in 1791, at first, and with ours of November and December of the same year.
         I will indeed need an artist and to this end please be so kind as to tell Valdés everything relating to Martini and Ravenet. [18] My brother highly recommends the second to me for his enthusiasm and robustness. Indeed they are singular merits. In any case,  approach Valdés, to whom I am writing with a proposal that he [Ravenet?] join us in Acapulco in October of next year, in this way having more than sufficient time for the journey, which will then be quite comfortable. I replied to the Count of Hageneck and to Granieri[19] on their recommendations for the excellent Haenke. Pineda [is] well, and displaying character worthy of a philosopher. [I feel] that I cannot copy you what I wrote to my brother about my disposition and future plans, because I said much about my family etc.. You will know that I will always try to live up to the conception that you have formed of me and that the hope of one day being in your company has multiplied to an infinite extent my philosophical composure.


[1] Original in ASMi / Greppi (cart. 187, n. 61); Caselli, pp. 155-164;Viaje, pp. 553-557;  Manfredi 1999, pp. 225-235. Reproduced partially in: Expedición , pp. 21-22; Spedizione, pp. 80-81.  [Editing Criteria]

[2] Francisco Gil de Taboada y Lemus (1737-1810) was Viceroy of Perú from 1790 to 1796.

[3] José Guio, as well as a botanical draughtsman, was also expert at dissection. Malaspina was satisfied with how he performed the tasks entrusted to him; nevertheless, since he knew how to draw only plants, the Commander will resolve to have him disembark at Acapulco. Subsequently Guio will participate in the Guantánamo Commission, commanded by the Count of Mompox; see C. Sotos Serrano, op. cit., vol. I, pp. 77-83.

[4] José del Pozo, because of his lack of industry, will be left ashore at Lima. The two portraits here mentioned, of Chief Catiguala and his son, are in the Museo Naval di Madrid.

[5] "Guánuco" is the name given to the upper reaches of the River Huallaga; the Marañón, in turn, runs into the River Amazon.

[6] A corruption of the Dutch word stadhoulder (lieutenant). The first lieutenant was William I of Oranje-Nassau, who was appointed by Phillip II and remained in power after the separation of the Low Countries from Spain.

[7] William Carmichael was the chargé d'affaires of the United States of America in Spain.

[8] Malaspina had initiated a long time before a process to have himself granted a commission of the Order of Malta. He pursued the matter for years and begged various friends to occupy themselves on his behalf, but without result. It's clear that he wanted this commission not in order to be able to display a further title, but for what the commission entailed in terms of the payment of a pension, which would have guaranteed him a decent level of life without the need to lower himself - as he will write - to enter "into the ranks of the courtesans."

[9] Fürchtegott Leberecht Nordenflicht (1738-1815) was commissioned by the Viceroy of Perú to study the situation of the mines of that country and to introduce new technologies - already applied in Sassonia - suitable for improving its productivity. At the head of a mineralogical expedition, composed primarily of Germans, Nordenflicht departed for America in 1789 and, after a stop at Potosí, reached Lima in January 1791. The work of the expedition produced no concrete results because of obstacles interposed by officials of the colony, who felt their own affairs threatened by the improvements proposed by the German; see E. Núñez, Viajes y viajeros extranjeros por el Perú, Lima, 1989, pp. 132-135. Malaspina will write at length on these experiences in his memorandum Ideas generales de las minas del Perú (ms. in AMNM).

[10] The short note must have contained a copy of the description of the puchero de flores that, the following year, would be published by the Mercurio Peruano. No doubt Malaspina got it from Giuseppe Rossi Rubí (on this see note 15). The puchero de flores ([literally] "saucepan" of flowers) was a floral composition, particularly appreciated by ladies, that was sold in Lima in the cathedral square; see "Carta escrita a la Sociedad y respuesta de ella," Mercurio Peruano, III (1791), pp. 46-48.

[11] Presumably Malaspina is referring to the child, who was named Alessandro (1782-1830), of Greppi and Rita María Díaz y Vivas. But it is not clear that Paolo gave his child that name as an expression of affection for his friend Malaspina: indeed, Paolo had a brother, a missionary, also called Alessandro. We note here a very curious thing: perhaps because of the type of marriage (morganatic) contracted by the Greppi, the young Alessandro did not bear the surname of his father, but was called Schulze; and this is also how he signed letters to his father, whom he addressed as "dear friend " (see for example his letter from Paris, of the 14th of Fructidor [September 1], 1798, ASMi / Greppi, file 233, in which a scholastic report card is also enclosed). The use of this pseudonym also brought about an international "incident" in which the young man was somewhat a victim: after he entered France under his pseudonym, the French authorities would not allow him to go to Italy. Paolo Greppi therefore requested from Cádiz a baptismal certificate, which was not accepted the first time, not having been authenticated by three signatories. Subsequently Jacobo Gahn and Juan Piña, friends of Greppi, offered to send to Paris a declaration authenticated by them and certifying that the Schulze living in Paris was indeed the person - named Alessandro - that Paolo Greppi claimed he was; see the letters of Piña and Greppi Gahn, respectively of March 14 and 17, 1795, ASMi / Greppi, file 213.

[12] He means the civilian trader Joaquín José Rubin de Coelis (or Celis). For a long time Greppi had been negotiating for a six-year renewal of the concession for exporting mercury (or quicksilver), extracted from the Slovenian mines, to America. In these negotiations he was hindered by de Coelis, who did not shrink from using the most dishonest means (e.g. the suppression and falsification of correspondence) to place the House of Greppi in a bad light, both in Madrid and in Vienna. However, in the second half 1789 de Coelis was expelled from Spain; see G. Liva, "L'Archivio Greppi e l'attività della filiale di Paolo Greppi a Cadice nella corrispondenza commerciale (1769-1799)," Archivio Storico Lombardo, CXXI (1995), Milano, Cisalpino, 1996, p. 466 ff.; J. B. Ruiz Rivera, El Consulado de Cádiz: Matrícula de comerciantes 1730-1823,  Cádiz, Diputación de Cádiz, 1988, p. 201.

[13] A province of Perú, very rich in minerals, which lies to the southwest of Lima.

[14] See preceding note; see also G. Liva, "Le 'aziende Greppi' in Europa: Amburgo ed Amsterdam," Archivio Storico Lombardo, CXXII (1996), Milan, Cisalpino, 1997, pp. 189-239; see p. 230.

[15] Presumably he is referring to the Milanese Giuseppe Rossi Rubí, a student of mineralogy and a cultured journalist. On Rossi - who was one of the principal moving forces behind the magazine Mercurio peruano - see G. BonfiglioDizionario storico-biografico degli italiani in Perù, Bologna, Il Mulino, 1998, sub voce. Among the writers for the Mercurio Peruano was Hipólito Unanue, who was among the first to deal, for this magazine, with the Malaspina Expedition: see H. Unanue, "Elogio histórico del señor don Antonio Pineda y Ramírez," Mercurio Peruano, IV (1793), pp. 20-29. The magazine, two years before, has already given notice of the naturalist work of the Malaspina Expedition in Perù: see "Introducción a la descripción científica de las plantas del Perú," Mercurio Peruano, II (1792), pp. 68-86.

[16] How are we to interpret this abbreviation? A few years later, already imprisoned in the castle of San Antón, Malaspina wrote "il R... la R... e tutta la famiglia," with obvious reference to the monarchs [in Italian, "il Re" and "la Regina"]. Ought we to think that Maria Luisa of Bourbon was romantically involved with Paolo Greppi? For the Italian - who lived in Madrid after 1787 - this would be no more than a precedent:: later, after he moved to France, it was said in fact that he became the lover of Giuseppina Beauharnais... ; see E. Greppi, "La famiglia del conte Antonio Greppi nell'Ottocento," Archivio Storico Lombardo, CXXII (1996), pp. 353-397; see p. 370.

[17] The astronomy officer of the Real Armada, José de Mendoza y Ríos (1762-1816), had been charged with travelling to various countries in Europe to acquire books and tools for the library of the astronomical observatory in Cádiz. Afterwards, he remained in England, where he ended his days a suicide. He was an enigmatic character and was perhaps never really at home in the Marina. The comments of Malaspina on Mendoza seem rather ambiguous; they might be explained by recalling the part played by Mendoza in transmitting to the French geographer Philippe Buache the account of the putative voyage of Lorenzo Ferrer Maldonado; see I. Luzzana Caraci - D. Manfredi, "Alessandro Malaspina, Philippe Buache e la questione dello Stretto di Maldonado," Atti del Convegno «Alessandro Malaspina nella cultura del suo tempo», Memorie della Accademia Lunigianese di Scienze Giovanni Capellini, Classe di Scienze Storiche e Morali, LIX (1989), pp. 149-158.

[18] We have already emphasised Malaspina's wish to have Italian artists. Biagio Martini would not accept and so, together with Ravenet, Fernando Branbilla was enlisted in his place.

[19] Both were ambassadors to Madrid: the Count of Kageneck for Austria and Count Granieri for the Kingdom of Sardinia, the latter had warmly recommended the naturalist Haenke to the Minister of the Marina.


Original Spanish Text courtesy of the Centro di Studi Malaspiniani, Mulazzo, Italy; notes by Dario Manfredi. Text and notes translated by John Black.


Updated: June 5, 2018