Brown University News Bureau

The Brown University News Bureau

1996-1997 index

Distributed November 19, 1996
Contact: Linda Mahdesian

Legacy of The Liberator

John Carter Brown Library to receive Simón Bolívar collection

Maury Bromsen, a Boston-based book collector, will give his collection of writings and iconographic materials related to Simón Bolívar to the John Carter Brown Library.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- The John Carter Brown Library at Brown University will soon have North America's largest and most historically significant collection of original writings by Simón Bolívar, "The Liberator" of South America. Most other significant Bolívar writings and iconographic materials are in Venezuela and Colombia, according to Norman Fiering, director of the library.

The Bolívar collection consists of more than 40 items, including books, 22 manuscripts, paintings, engravings and other materials. The collection is a gift from Maury A. Bromsen, a distinguished antiquarian book collector in Boston. The Library will refurbish a special room adjacent to its MacMillan Reading Room to house the collection. President Vartan Gregorian announced the Bromsen gift at the University Convocation Nov. 14, celebrating the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Library.

Bromsen's Bolívar collection was exhibited at the Boston Public Library in 1983, and a portion of it was exhibited at the John Carter Brown Library in 1995.

In addition to the gift of the Bolívar collection, Bromsen has announced a bequest to establish an endowment for Latin American studies at the Library, which will underwrite a new curator of Latin Americana and provide funds for acquisitions, publications, research and lectures in the field.

Bromsen, a bibliographer, historian and bookdealer as well as a collector, has specialized in the colonial Latin American field for more than 50 years. He has been honored by several countries for his contributions to bibliography, including a decoration in 1985 from the government of Venezuela - the Orden Francisco de Miranda, First Class, rarely given to Americans.

In recognition of Bromsen's generosity and achievements, Gregorian, on behalf of the Board of Governors of the John Carter Brown Library, appointed Bromsen as honorary curator and bibliographer of the Latin American collection at the John Carter Brown Library. Bromsen will be the first holder of the curatorship to be established by his gift.

At the Nov. 14 convocation, Gregorian awarded four honorary degrees to distinguished scholars representing particular interests of the John Carter Brown Library. The recipients included three people whose accomplishments relate particularly to colonial Latin America: Sir John Elliott, the Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford University, who is an authority on the Spanish empire in the New World; Miguel Leon-Portilla, professor emeritus from the National University of Mexico, an authority on Aztec culture and the Nahuatl language; and Jose Mindlin, of Sao Paulo, a renowned collector of Braziliana.

The awards were followed by an address by J. Carter Brown, director emeritus of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and a board member of the Library. Brown is a fourth-generation descendant of the Library's founder. His talk, "Voyaging," recalled his family's legacy of world travel, book collecting and ties to Brown University, dating back to the 1700s.

Simón Bolívar

[The following is an excerpt from Simón Bolívar and the Revolutions for Independence in the Americas, the exhibition catalog at the John Carter Brown Library, summer 1995.]

Like George Washington, Simón Bolívar (1783-1830) was a member of the slave-owning colonial aristocracy of his country. He came from a rich and powerful family, with investments in agriculture, ranching and sugar mills. Along with many other talented creoles (that is, American-born colonists) throughout the Western hemisphere, he resented the ceilings and limitations that European government from overseas placed on advancement by those who were not themselves European.

Profoundly influenced by the ideas of the French Enlightenment, Bolívar was a rare instance of the intellectual who was also a man of action. He was a firm believer in legal equality for all men, regardless of class or color. He was opposed to slavery and freed his own slaves in 1821. He saw that the freedom of America from Spanish control required the complete conquest of the royalists, lest a base remain on the continent from which a counter revolution could be launched.

Without question the greatest figure in the revolutions for independence in Spanish America, both in eloquence and in military leadership, he died in disillusionment with the results of his heroic efforts. Everywhere in America he saw chaos and political instability. Few of his plans for social, economic and political reform were realized. Only a month before he died he wrote to a friend: "America is ungovernable. Those who serve the revolution plow the sea."