Nonfiction > Henry Craik, ed. > English Prose > Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
Henry Craik, ed.  English Prose.  1916.
Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
Dr. Francia
By Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881)
From Essays

BUT undoubtedly by far the notablest of all these South American phenomena is Dr. Francia and his Dictatorship in Paraguay; concerning whom, and which, we have now more particularly to speak. Francia and his reign of terror have excited some interest, much vague wonder in this country; and especially given a great shock to constitutional feeling. One would rather wish to know Dr. Francia;—but unhappily one cannot! Out of such a murk of distracted shadows and rumours, in the other hemisphere of the world, who would pretend at present to decipher the real portraiture of Dr. Francia and his Life? None of us can. A few credible features, wonderful enough, original enough in our constitutional time, will perhaps to the impartial eye disclose themselves; these, with some endeavour to interpret these, may lead certain readers into various reflections, constitutional and other, not entirely without benefit.
  Certainly, as we say, nothing could well shock the constitutional feeling of mankind, as Dr. Francia has done. Dionysius the tyrant of Syracuse, and indeed the whole breed of tyrants, one hoped, had gone away many hundred years ago, with their reward: and here, under our own nose, rises a new tyrant, claiming also his reward from us! Precisely when constitutional liberty was beginning to be understood a little, and we flattered ourselves that by due ballot-boxes, by due registration courts, and bursts of parliamentary eloquence, something like a real National Palaver would be got up in those countries,—arises this tawny-visaged, lean, inexorable Dr. Francia; claps you an embargo on all that; says to constitutional liberty, in the most tyrannous manner, Hitherto, and no farther! It is an undeniable, though an almost incredible fact, that Francia, a lean private individual, Practitioner of Law, and Doctor of Divinity, did, for twenty or near thirty years, stretch out his rod over the foreign commerce of Paraguay, saying to it Cease! The ships lay high and dry, their pitchless seams all yawning on the clay banks of the Parana; and no man could trade but by Francia’s license. If any person entered Paraguay, and the Doctor did not like his papers, his talk, conduct, or even the cut of his face,—it might be the worse for such person! Nobody could leave Paraguay on any pretext whatever. It mattered not that you were man of science, astronomer, geologer, astrologer, wizard of the north; Francia heeded none of these things. The whole world knows of M. Aimé Bonpland; how Francia seized him, descending on his tea-establishment in Entre Rios, like an obscene vulture, and carried him into the interior, contrary even to the law of nations; how the great Humboldt and other high persons expressly applied to Dr. Francia, calling on him in the name of human science, and as it were under penalty of reprobation, to liberate M. Bonpland; and how Dr. Francia made no answer, and M. Bonpland did not return to Europe, and indeed has never yet returned. It is also admitted that Dr. Francia had a gallows, had jailors, law-fiscals, officials; and executed, in his time, upwards of forty persons, some of them in a very summary manner. Liberty of private judgment, unless it kept its mouth shut, was at an end in Paraguay. Paraguay lay under interdict, cut off for above twenty years from the rest of the world, by a new Dionysius of Paraguay. All foreign commerce had ceased; how much more all domestic constitution building! These are strange facts. Dr. Francia, we may conclude at least, was not a common man but an uncommon.  2
  How unfortunate that there is almost no knowledge of him procurable at present! Next to none. The Paraguenos can in many cases spell and read, but they are not a literary people; and indeed this doctor was, perhaps, too awful a practical phenomenon to be calmly treated of in the literary way. Your Breughel paints his sea-storm, not while the ship is labouring and cracking, but after he has got to shore, and is safe under cover! Our Buenos Ayres friends, again, who are not without habits of printing, lay at a great distance from Francia, under great obscurations of quarrel and controversy with him; their constitutional feeling shocked to an extreme degree by the things he did. To them, there could little intelligence float down, on those long muddy waters, through those vast distracted countries, that was not more or less of a distracted nature; and then from Buenos Ayres to Europe, there is another long tract of distance, liable to new distractions. Francia, Dictator of Paraguay, is, at present, to the European mind, little other than a chimera; at best, the statement of a puzzle, to which the solution is still to seek. As the Paraguenos, though not a literary people, can many of them spell and write, and are not without a discriminating sense of true and untrue, why should not some real Life of Francia, from those parts, be still possible! If a writer of genius arise there, he is hereby invited to the enterprise. Surely in all places your writing genius ought to rejoice over an acting genius, when he falls in with such; and say to himself: “Here or nowhere is the thing for me to write of! Why do I keep pen and ink at all, if not to apprise men of this singular acting genius, and the like of him? My fine-arts and æsthetics, my epics, literatures, poetics, if I will think of it, do all at bottom mean either that or else nothing whatever!”  3

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