Brazilian Panorama

"If Brazil is to be the garden of the world, Anglo-Saxons will be the gardeners." -- C. B. Mansfield

Under Pedro II ( 1831-89) the Brazilian Empire enjoyed a reputation for stability, a truly unique distinction in nineteenth-century Latin America. While neighboring states stumbled along the rocky and unfamiliar path of republicanism, the monarchy of Pedro stood firm for almost sixty years. This is all the more amazing when one recalls that the economy of Brazil was essentially agricultural and heavily dependent upon world markets; it was not always easy to make both ends meet when it came to preserving a nice balance between imports and exports. In any given year coffee, sugar, and cotton were likely to constitute from two thirds to three fourths of the Brazilian exports; the production of the mines was insignificant in comparison to what it had been in the eighteenth century, and the rubber boom was yet to come. The primitive state of the country as late as 1850 is shown by the fact that its imports consisted almost entirely of (a) cottons and woolens, and (b) iron, steel, and hardware. Long after the departure of the Portuguese court in 1821, Brazil had to struggle along with a currency of copper coins and paper money because all its gold and silver was being drawn off to pay for imports. If it had not been for the three-cornered trade between Brazil, the United States, and Great Britain in which the Brazilians sold coffee to the United States to pay for imports from the British Isles, a financial collapse might have terminated Pedro's rule at an early date. With all due respect to that great Brazilian, it may be said that he retained his throne by the grace of God, the North American coffee drinker, and the British bankers.

Regardless of the reasons for political stability in Brazil, stability was a fact, and it produced abroad great confidence in the country as one in which to invest money. As a result Pedro was able to foster the construction of railroads, the establishment of coastal steam navigation, the improvement of port facilities, and the rise of banks in Rio and the larger cities. Then, too, internal peace was a great talking point in the encouragement of immigration; not only were the less affluent Europeans attracted to the country, but also some foreigners with a little capital were willing to come to Brazil and gamble on setting up small mills and factories.

The picture one gets from the travelers' accounts in the period between 1810 and 1870 is very incomplete. Most people went to Rio, Bahia, Pernambuco, or Santos and São Paulo; some ventured into Minas Geraes and the other mining areas, but, with the exception of travelers on the Amazon, the descriptions of the Brazilian hinterland are meager. In this chapter we shall examine the country around Rio, glance briefly at Minas, then tour the coast north of Rio, and end our journey in southern Brazil.

Visitors to Rio in the time of John VI and the first Pedro often made a point of inspecting the royal plantation at Santa Cruz, about fifty miles southwest of Rio. There John VI had established a colony of two hundred Chinese for the purpose of cultivating tea, but the experiment was not a success. Many of the Chinese died and others soon drifted to Rio where they made a precarious living by selling imported Chinese cottons and fireworks. Around 1817 Prince Maximilian ran across nine of these Chinese far to the north in the Rio Doce country. Yet tea could be grown in Brazil: both Kidder and Codman recalled drinking locally grown tea in São Paulo. Tea drinking was a habit that increased in the urban areas; the day had passed when tea was sold in the apothecary shops like a drug.

The Swiss immigrants brought over by John VI came very near suffering the same fate as his Chinese. In 1819 over one thousand Swiss were transported to Brazil and settled at Novo Friburgo, about seventy miles north of Rio. By 1821 Mathison found only three hundred left in the colony; the survivors had set up a sawmill, built houses, and were burning off the timber to clear the land. The colony managed to get on its feet after a time; farming and dairying provided a means of livelihood, and the Swiss sold their coffee, sugar, potatoes, and butter in Rio. When Agassiz came to Brazil in 1865, the Swiss in Rio itself appear to have been numerous, for they staged an elaborate birthday party for their famous countryman.

In the vicinity of Rio there were numerous sugar plantations, coffee fazendas, and small enterprises of various kinds. Some early experiments in the introduction of European technology were made in this area. Mathison found an English steam engine running the grinding machinery at a sugar engenho near Rio in 1821; Prince Maximilian reported a plan to install a similar engine at Parahyba at an earlier date, and Koster noted the use of an engine at Bahia in 1815. On the other hand, water wheels were used both in the sugar industry and in flour milling even in the middle of the nineteenth century. One of the most novel devices was that seen by Kidder in the late thirties:

"Descending from Tejuco, my attention has more than once been arrested by heavy thumping sounds, occurring at intervals of one or two minutes. On examination, I ascertained that these sounds came from the operation of a mill of very singular construction. The reader will imagine a stick of timber, ten feet long, poised upon a fulcrum, with six feet of one extremity reaching to a quantity of corn in a cavity, and upon the other end a box, constructed and placed so as to receive a small stream of water from a brook running down the ravine. When the box is nearly filled with water, the equilibrium passes to the shorter extremity of the timber, and the long end is thrown up in the air; as the short end goes down the water is spilled out, and the long end falls back upon the corn. Thus, by the process of filling and spilling, the timber is kept in a regular motion, and the corn is at length pounded into meal."

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