Text: Edward V. Sparhawk (ed. J. A. Harrison), “Review of The Conquest of Florida,” The Complete Works of Edgar Allan PoeVol. VIII: Literary Criticism - part 01 (1902), pp. 37-39


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[page 37, continued:]

THE CONQUEST OF FLORIDA, BY HERNANDO DE SOTO; BY THEODORE IRVING. PHILADELPHIA: CAREY, LEA & BLANCHARD.

[Southern Literary Messenger, July 1835.]

THERE is so much of romance in the details of Spanish conquests in America, that a history of any one of the numerous expeditions for discovery and conquest, possesses the charm of the most elaborate fiction, even while it bears the marks of general truth. These adventures occurred during the age of chivalry, when danger was courted for distinction, before the progress of science and literature had opened other avenues to renown, and when personal valor was looked upon as the pre-eminent quality — skill in arms as the highest accomplishment of an aspiring spirit. No nation was more celebrated during that chivalrous age than Spain, and in none did the genius of chivalry longer resist the influences under which it finally fell into decay. Upon the discovery of America, a wide field was opened for the warlike spirit of the age, and Spain sent forth her hosts of adventurers, filled with wild visions of boundless wealth, and the easy conquest of the barbarian [page 38:] nations of those golden regions. There are in the histories of their exploits, so many displays of dauntless courage — of skill in overcoming difficulties — of the power of a few disciplined warriors, to contend successfully with hosts of equally brave, but untutored savages — and so many exhibitions of the generous qualities of the soldier, that in the glare of brilliant achievements, and the excitement of thrilling incident, we are tempted to overlook the injustice and cruelty which marked the footsteps of the conquerors.

Mr. Irving’s work is one of great interest. The conquest of Florida by De Soto, while it is contrasted with the conquest of Mexico by Cortez, (which immediately preceded it) in regard to its results to those engaged in it, resembles it in the patient suffering and indomitable bravery of the adventurers, and in the numerous thrilling scenes through which they passed. While the conquest of Mexico enriched the followers of Cortez, and poured the wealth of the new world into the lap of Spain, that of Florida proved fatal to all who attempted it, and ended in disaster to the ultimate conquerors.

Ponce de Leon, the visionary, who sought in Florida the Fountain of Youth, Vasques de Ayllon, the ruthless kidnapper, and Pamphilo de Narvaez, the well known rival and opponent of Cortez, had made fruitless attempts to colonize this disastrous coast. But the last and most splendid effort of that day, was made by Hernando de Soto, a cavalier who had served with Cortez, and had returned to Spain in the possession of immense wealth derived from the spoil of Mexico. The enjoyment of the highest favor at the court of his sovereign, the charms of a young and lovely bride, and the allurements of his splendid position [page 39:] at home, were insufficient to repress the spirit of adventure which he had imbibed in the wars in Mexico, and the prevalent belief that Florida presented a scene for conquest still more magnificent than Mexico. De Soto was doomed to prove that the golden dreams of wealth with which the unexplored regions of Florida had been invested, were baseless illusions. But his adventures and achievements afford a rich mine of romantic incidents which Mr. Irving has presented in a most attractive form:

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Hernando de Soto was in every respect qualified for the task he undertook in this ill-starred expedition. But the Floridian savage was a more formidable foe than his Mexican brother — more hardy of frame, and more implacable in his revenge. Hence, although the imagination is not dazzled in the conquest of Florida, with descriptions of boundless wealth and regal magnificence — although the chiefs are not decked in “barbaric pearls and gold” — their sturdy resistance, and the varied vicissitudes created by the obstacles which nature presented to the conqueror’s march, afford numberless details of great interest. The book abounds with thrilling passages, from which, but for the crowded state of our pages, we should make a few extracts. Whether it is the merit of the writer or his subject, (probably it is a combination of both,) which gives to this work so much fascination, we will not decide; but it is scarcely possible to commence it, (at least we found it so) and lay it aside until its perusal is concluded.

 


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Notes:

None.


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[S:1 - JAHCW, 1902] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe (J. A. Harrison) (Review of The Conquest of Florida)