Bello, Andrés (1781–1865)

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Bello, Andrés (1781–1865)

Andrés Bello (b. 29 November 1781; d. 15 October 1865), Venezuelan polymath and public servant, the most distinguished Latin American intellectual of his (and perhaps any other) century. Born and educated in Caracas, Bello accompanied Simón Bolívar (1783–1830), whom he had briefly taught, as a member of the first Venezuelan diplomatic mission to Britain (1810). The collapse of the Venezuelan Republic stranded him in London, where he lived, often penuriously, for more than eighteen years. In the 1820s he coedited the influential Spanish-American journals La Biblioteca Americana (1823) and El Repertorio Americano (1826–1827), and worked as an official of the Chilean and Colombian legations. At the invitation of the Chilean government, he moved to Santiago in 1829. He was employed thereafter as senior official in the foreign ministry, as editor of the government gazette El Araucano, and as first rector of the newly founded University of Chile (1843–1865)—still colloquially known in Chile as la casa de Bello (Bello's house). He was a senator from 1837 to his death.

The extraordinary range of Bello's genius was reflected in prolific writings on international and Roman law, philosophy, literature, drama, grammar, and science. His poems, especially the two great London poems, "Alocución a la poesía" (Allocution to Poetry, 1823), and "A la agricultura de la zona tórrida" (Agriculture in the Torrid Zone, 1826), have often been seen as the true starting point of all post-colonial Latin American literature. Bello's work as a jurist was crowned by his single-handed authorship of the classic Civil Code of the Republic of Chile (1855). His numerous writings on language culminated in the Gramática de la lengua castellana destinada al uso de los americanos (Grammar of the Spanish Language for the Use of Americans, 1847), which won him honorary membership in the Real Academia in Spain. He made radical proposals to modify the orthography of Spanish; several features of his scheme remained in use in Chile until around 1910. His guidance also shaped a school of Chilean historians.

Bello's influence on the intellectual life of nineteenth-century Chile is incalculable. At the heart of all Bello's work lay the belief that Latin America, now politically free, needed to create its own cultural and intellectual traditions, traditions that would be authentically Latin American, without repudiating the achievements of European civilization. At his funeral in 1865 the scientist Ignacio Domeyko (1801–1889) doubted "that one man, in one lifetime, could know so much, could do so much, could love so much." Bello's bicentennial in 1981 was extensively commemorated throughout Spanish America.

See alsoChile: The Nineteenth Century; Literature: Spanish America.


Rafael Caldera, Andrés Bello, translated by John Street (1977).

John Lynch, ed., Andrés Bello: The London Years (1982).

Additional Bibliography

Jaksic, Ivan. Andrés Bello: Scholarship and Nation-Building in Nineteenth-Century Latin America. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

                                           Simon Collier