Cobo, BERNABE, b. at Lopera in Spain, 1582; d. at Lima, Peru, October 9, 1657. He went to America in 1596, visiting the Antilles and Venezuela and landing at Lima in 1599. Entering the Society of Jesus, October 14, 1601, he was sent by his superiors in 1615 to the mission of Juli, where, and at Potosi, Cochabamba, Oruro, and La Paz, he labored until 1618. He was rector of the college of Arequipa from 1618 until 1621, afterwards at Pisco, and finally at Callao in the same capacity, as late as 1630. He was then sent to Mexico, and remained there until 1650, when he returned to Peru. Such in brief was the life of a man whom the past centuries have treated with unparalleled, and certainly most ungrateful, neglect. Father Cobo was beyond all doubt the ablest and most thorough student of nature and man in Spanish America during the seventeenth century. Yet, the first, and almost only, acknowledgment of his worth dates from the fourth year of the nineteenth century. The distinguished Spanish botanist Cavanilles not only paid a handsome tribute of respect to the memory of Father Cobo in an address delivered at the Royal Botanical Gardens of Madrid, in 1804, but he gave the name of Cobaa to a genus of plants belonging to the Bignoniaceme of Mexico, Cobcea scandens being its most striking representative.
Cobo’s long residence in both Americas (sixty-one years), his position as priest and, several times, as missionary, and the consequently close relations in which he stood to the Indians, as well as to Creoles and half-breeds, gave him unusual opportunities for obtaining reliable information, and he made the fullest use of these. We have from his pen, two works, one of which (and the most important) is, unfortunately, incomplete. It is also stated that he wrote a work on botany in ten volumes, which, it seems, is lost, or at least its whereabouts is unknown today. Of his main work, to which biographers give the title of “Historia general de las Indias”, and which he finished in 1653, only the first half is known and has appeared in print (in four volumes, at Seville, 1890 and years succeeding). The remainder, in which he treats, or claims to have treated, of every geographical and political subdivision in detail, has either never been finished or is lost. His other book appeared in print in 1882, and forms part of the “History of the New World” mentioned, but he made a separate manuscript of it in 1639, and so it came to be published as “Historia de la fundacion de Lima”, a few years before the publication of the principal manuscript. The “History of the New World” places Cobo, as a chronicler and didactic writer, on a plane higher than that occupied by his contemporaries not to speak of his predecessors. It is not a dry and dreary catalogue of events; man appears in it on a stage, and that stage is a conscientious picture of the nature in which man has moved and moves. The value of this work for several branches of science (not only for history) is much greater than is believed. The book, only recently published, is very little known and appreciated. The “History of the New World” may, in American literature, be compared with one work only, the “General and Natural History of the Indies”, by Oviedo. But Oviedo wrote a full century earlier than Cobo, hence the resemblance is limited to the fact that both authors seek to include all Spanish America—its natural features as well as its inhabitants. The same may be said of Gomara and Acosta. Cobo enjoyed superior advantages and made good use of them. A century more of knowledge and experience was at his command. Hence we find in his book a wealth of information which no other author of his time imparts or can impart. And that knowledge is systematized and in a measure coordinated. On the animals and plants of the new continent, neither Nieremberg, nor Hernandez, nor Monardes can compare in wealth of information with Cobo. In regard to man, his pre-Columbian past and vestiges, Cobo is, for the South American west coast, a source of primary importance. We are astonished at his many and close observations on customs and manners. His descriptions of some of the principal ruins in South America are usually very correct. In a word it is evident from these two works of Cobo that he was an investigator of great perspicacity and, for his time, a scientist of unusual merit.
AD. F. BANDELIER