Vázquez de Espinosa, Antonio

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Spanish Discalced Carmelite writer; b. Jérez de la Frontera, c. 1570; d. Seville, 1630. Little is known of his life except details he inadvertently included in his writings. Wishing to save the souls of the American natives, Vázquez asked for and received permission to go to Spanish America; it is not known when he landed there. He was in Mexico in 1612 but must have arrived some time before, since by then he had already seen Puerto Rico, Cuba, Florida, and other Spanish areas. It is generally thought that he remained until 1622 and got as far south as Chiloé in Chile. The great flood at Potosí in 1626 is the latest event in his work that can be dated. Before leaving for America, he read the literature dealing with Spanish America. He visited almost all of the area. This, with his gift of great curiosity, his scientific and practical bent, and his objectivity of observation, made him well qualified to write one of the most important works on the Spanish-American empire at perhaps the height of its prosperity: Compendio y descripción de las Indias Occidentales. On his return to Spain, Vázquez began the printing of his work, but he died after completing only the first 80 pages. The manuscript was found in the Vatican Library in 1931 by Charles Upson Clark.

Botanists prize his descriptions of numerous plants. Among these is perhaps the first description of the quinaquina tree and the curative properties of quinine derived from it. His account of the mines is the fullest survey of early mining methods in Spanish America, and he gives an accurate eyewitness account of an auto-da-fé of the Inquisition. All the cities that he visited are fully described with exact details of the plans of the city, public buildings, and service institutions, such as hospitals, schools, and asylums. However, to quote Charles Upson Clark, "perhaps the greatest contribution lies neither in geography, botany, nor anthropology but in the field of Spanish colonial civil and ecclesiastical administration. Here his picture is so complete that the book will be required reading for any investigator into Spanish American history."

Bibliography: a. vÁzquez de espinosa, Compendium and Description of the West Indies, tr. c. u. clark (Washington 1942).

[a. tibesar]