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A man named José de San Martín

Two paths crossed in the lives of heroes of the 19th century. Patriotic fervor and devotion to the loved one.
History
CRONICAS DE LA ARGENTINA
| 31 January, 2020 |

It is not possible to understand life exactly as it was two centuries ago. It would be useless to explain all the ways in which patriotism, loyalty, love were manifested… Nothing similar to what men and women felt at the time has truly come to us. Only literature transmits its words to us. Some details we intuit, art, documents, epistolary communication. However, our perception is nothing more than a reconstruction.

See how Don José de San Martín struggled to be a gentleman, it seems strange today. Beyond his manners and the education he had received, the social meaning of the term as it would be applied in the 1800s did not have the same meaning for him as it did for us.

It should be remembered that he had legally entered the Major Lodge of Rational Knights led by the Liberating Order of America, which had instituted “lautarism” in the United Provinces. Consequently, his vision would be to mutate into a nineteenth-century version of the medieval knights.

Apparently, the exceptionality of the keys proposed by Pope John X before his death in 928, gave the Order a behavior that accompanied the ancient European kings until the thirteenth century. John annexed human virtues, one that was imposed on others: fidelity. That is why it is said that love and heroism would constitute the dynamics of the heart of the knights. Brave, devotees of God, faithful to the notions of camaraderie. That was the kind of men that Lautaro forged, setting a sacred goal: “the liberation of the Holy Land.” Just as during three centuries in the Middle Ages they went to liberate the Christian territories from the Muslim domain, the “Latarians” of the 18th and 19th centuries thought to rid America of Spain. This part of the world was his own Jerusalem.

It follows that Don José’s attitude towards his wife followed the same behavior patterns. As evidenced by the gravestone of Remedios de Escalada in the Recoleta Cemetery, the General considered his wife according to the chivalrous laws written by Juan X. Saying that it was not only his wife, but his friend, he left the purest image for the future of remedies. That intimate woman who listened, thought, understood, contributed and admired her gentleman, would also be admired by him.

This figure is very close to the Gothic ideals that projected the stories of the eleventh and twelfth centuries.

For these complex issues that had the secret orders of romanticism, it would not be easy to realize the great love that united Don José and Remedios. The day that Antonio de Escalada and Tomasa de la Quintana invited the young José de San Martín to his house, must have been fascinating.

The encounter with Antonio and Tomasa’s daughter would be for Don José as seeing an angel. Despite the difference of 19 years between them, the young woman intuited with astonishing precision the details of her suitor’s personality.

Remedios de Escalada was 14 years old in 1812. However, it was not until he was 18 that he gave birth to the only daughter he had from Don José. While the wedding was held before the Lautaro Lodge was founded, San Martín’s wife lived with her parents in her house on Caseros Street, until he was able to advance in his career.

When these events took place, a certain obstacle made that intense courteous love a nightmare. Bernardino Rivadavia was in the residence of the Escalada family the same night of 1812, when Don José decided to ask for Remedios’ hand. Rivadavia and San Martín were different men. When they saw each other for the first time, they knew they would be enemies.

There are those who say that Bernardino also intended Remedies. We do not know. Speculating on this issue is difficult, but it must be said that reality provided its evidence. The letters of both men reflect conflicting ideas and that is what they demonstrated in the house of the Escalada. The night ended in an impure discussion that embarrassed all the guests.

As we said in Chronicle XX, the Lautaro Lodge invalidated the power of Rivadavia at the time of overthrowing the First Triumvirate. San Martín left for his South American Liberation Campaign and after fulfilling his mission, he arrived at the Government of Cuyo. Meanwhile a constant correspondence between Mendoza and Buenos Aires, increased the desire to share life between Remedios and Don José. Only then would she move with her husband to Mendoza, where Mercedes Tomasa San Martín y Escalada would be born.

Meanwhile, power would be increasingly centralized in Buenos Aires. The sectors that had been affected by the influence of Lautaro, conspired by taking advantage of the intense activity of its members. In parallel, they allied the forgotten Martín Rodríguez, tempting him to the position of Governor. The old port city, was constituted in “province” and grew in a bubble where power was distributed according to increasingly centralist internal rules. Then the new Governor turned to Bernardino Rivadavia, appointing him as Minister of Government in 1820.

San Martín says in one of his letters to Martiniano Chilavert:

“Upon returning from Peru, I established my headquarters in my farm in Mendoza and, to make my position more impregnable, I cut off all communication (except with my family), and I decided in my entrenchment to devote myself to the charms of a farming life and education of my daughter. But in the midst of these flattering plans, here is the awful Sentinel (newspaper published by Rivadavia in Buenos Aires) begins to harass me; its phalange carnivores stand out and block my peaceful retreat ”(National Centennial Commission, document IX of the archive dedicated to San Martín, volume III).

As was customary, the United Provinces were divided between the supporters of the Liberating Campaign and of Governor Rodriguez, interested in the fruitful press “Rivadavian“.

Then, during this war of male egos, an unexpected drama emerged. Remedies, exposed to the harsh winters of Mendoza, became ill with tuberculosis. San Martín knew that only by moving it to the Escalada family’s house in Buenos Aires, he could recover. That is why Remedios returned to her parents’ property on Caseros Street, exactly when her husband undertook the return of the Campaign of Chile.

Other “lautaristas” like Manuel Belgrano and José María Paz helped San Martín move his wife. In addition to being in campaign, since the beginning of 1819, he was banned from entering the regions surrounding the Río de la Plata. The General said about himself that he “had figured too much in the revolution” to be allowed to live as he wanted.

The persistent controversy with Rivadavia was so devastating that it ended up blocking the little epistolary communication that both spouses could maintain. Systematically the humanitarian requests that San Martín sent to the Minister of Government were revoked.

For these reasons Don José never saw his wife, his friend again. She cried for him for four years, from his deathbed, but Bernardino Rivadavia never granted General Libertador permission to enter Buenos Aires.

Desperate, after much battle, Don José arrived in the area of Caseros Street, not without dodging the fierce persecution of the men of Minister Rivadavia. Hidden in the shadows of weeping willows, like an outlaw, he crossed Monasterio Street and it almost seemed to him that the Buenos Aires wind brought him the voice of Remedies. But it was only an illusion. She, just 26 years old, had died four months earlier, when he was still fighting on Rosario’s path in order to contemplate the face of the only woman he loved.

Don José de San Martín. Facial reconstruction performed in 2018 by digital designer Ramiro Ghigliazza.
The set of passions that would guide the life of Don José de San Martín, completely escapes our current perception. The values that the incipient but powerful romantic movement had awakened in all areas of life, were raging in America and Europe at the same time.
Thanks to an author like Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who published “The Misadventures of Young Werther” in 1774, we interpret some of the frenzy then exalted by Victor Hugo and Alejandro Dumas, among other great writers. There is a clear documentary continuity within the novel and poetry, which describes with intensity the character of those times. Art, with its universality, brings us the strong incidence of the simplest actions in these people.
It is true that the brilliant pages generated by literature then idealized their own time looking back. Many of the arguments and epics of 1800 recreated the sagas of medieval heroes, sowing that same heroism in their lives. The great writers, musicians and even historians, took the legends of King Arthur and the romance of Lancelot and Queen Geneva as a source. The history of the Nibelungs and the romances of the Courts of Love. That passion, that absolute surrender and in turn the abandonment of one’s being, is exaggerated, dramatic and even neurotic. But its origin was not human. It must be understood that long ago, even before the days of the Crusades, the church, represented by Pope John X presented the knight’s rules, proposing exemplary behavior.
When such important issues were transcended into private actions, these men knew they had to make an effort in order to intelligently transfer a sense of this new morality into their lives. Something so high would lead them to understand the world in a way very different from what had existed until then. They should become noble, devout, subtle, deep, cordial and courageous beings not only in relation to sacred and public acts, but also in intimacy with their women.
“It is my duty to say to you,” Rivadavia would write in 1824 about San Martin, “that it is a great good for this country that this general is far away.” Norberto Galasso in “Let’s be free and the rest doesn’t matter” (Editorial Coligüe, Buenos Aires, 2000), transcribing a letter from Rivadavia to the administration of the government of the province of Buenos Aires.
Gravestone of the Recoleta Cemetery. “Here lies Remedios de Escalada, wife and friend of General San Martín” (1823).
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