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Francisco Saverio Clavigero

Jesuit (1731-1787)

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Clavigero, FRANCISCO SAVERIO, b. at Vera Cruz, Mexico, September 9, 1731; d. at Bologna, Italy, April 2, 1787. At the age of seventeen he entered the Society of Jesus. Father Jose Rafael Campoi, S.J., at the College of St. Peter and St. Paul in Mexico, directed his attention to the valuable collection of documents on Mexican history and antiquities deposited there by Siguenza y Gongora, and he became an enthusiastic investigator in these fields. When the Jesuits were expelled from Mexico in 1767, Father Clavigero went to Bologna, where he founded a literary academy and pursued diligently his documentary studies in Mexican aboriginal history. He compiled there his “Historia antica del Messico” (Cesena, 1780), in opposition to the works of De Pauw, Raynal, and Robertson. While the “Historia antica” is the principal work of Clavigero, he had already published in Mexico several writings of minor importance. After his death there appeared “Storia della California“, less appreciated but still not to be neglected by students.

The “Ancient History of Mexico” made considerable impression and met with great favor. Following the book of the Cavaliere Boturini he included a list of sources, paying particular attention to the Indian pictographs, on tissue and other substances, forming part of the Boturini collection, and increasing the list by specimens then extant in various parts of Europe. The catalogue of Indian writers is also taken from Boturini, as Clavigero is careful to state. While materially enlarged since then and though much additional information has been gained, his catalogue always remains of value. Finally he added a history of the conquest of Mexico. While other Jesuit writers on America, who wrote after the expulsion of the order, like Molina for instance, maintained in their books an attitude of dignified impartiality, Clavigero has not been able to conceal his resentment against the Spaniards for that measure. He does not allude to it, but criticizes the conquerors harshly, extolling at the same time, beyond measure, the character and culture of the Indians. The writings of De Pauw, Adair, and Robertson are severely criticized. The two former have, in their hypercritical tendencies, gone entirely too far in denying to the Indians of Mexico a certain kind and degree of polity, but Robertson was much more moderate, hence nearer the truth, and more reliable than Clavigero himself. The latter is an unsafe guide in American ethnology, on account of his exaggeration of the aboriginal culture of the Mexican sedentary tribes. But the systematic arrangement of his work, his style, and the sentimental interest taken in the conquered peoples ensured to his book a popular sympathy that for a long time controlled the opinions of students as well as of general readers. The “Storia antica del Messico” was translated into English by Cullen (London, 1787); there is a German translation of the English version (Leipzig, 1789); Spanish editions (London, 1826; Mexico, 1844 and 1853).


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