(Prólogo escrito por Horacio C. Reggini para el libro “My Dear Sir”, Mary Mann’s Letters to Sarmiento (1865-1881), Barry L. Velleman, I.C.A.N.A., 2001.)
Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, President of Argentina from 1868 to 1874 and a great literary presence of the nineteenth century, is renowned for his unique voice as politician, educator and critic. His Travels in the United States in 1847 is still one of the best portrayals of the joy of living and progressive spirit of that North American country, and reaffirms his genius. The letters that he wrote and received -as has happened with many great personalities- are impressive in quantity and quality. The rich correspondence between Sarmiento and Mary Peabody Mann reveals two outstanding characters of the period. Barry L. Velleman has compiled in this book virtually all the letters that Mary Mann wrote to Sarmiento, as held in the Mary Mann files of the Museo Histórico Sarmiento, Buenos Aires. In a brilliant introduction, Velleman describes the circumstances of the close intellectual relationship that lies beneath the words of the two parties. Mary Mann, an extraordinary woman of her time, admired Sarmiento’s intelligence and will. In her letters, she respectfully addresses him with the heading “My Dear Sir”, which Velleman has fortunately enough chosen as the title of the book. From Mrs. Mann’s correspondence, richly expressive of her strong beliefs in democracy, education and equal opportunities, there emerges a memorable view of the social and political contemporary milieu.
In 1888, Sarmiento died in Asunción, Paraguay. The same year, T. S. Eliot, a Nobel laureate poet and a prolific letter-writer himself, was born in St. Louis, Missouri. Eliot once said: “The desire to write a letter, to put down what you don’t want anybody else to see but the person you are writing to, but which you do not want to be destroyed, but perhaps hope may be preserved for complete strangers to read, is ineradicable. We want to confess ourselves in writing to a few friends, and we do not always want to feel that no one but those friends will ever read what we have written”. 1 We wonder what Mary Mann or Sarmiento would think of Eliot’s thoughts in relation to their letters.
With this book, Barry L. Velleman (Marquette University), a Professor of Spanish language, linguistics, and the history of ideas in Latin America, has made an important contribution to the study of the cultural products and practices of the United States of America that Sarmiento brought to Argentina during his administration. Velleman’s detailed annotations to and commentaries on Mary Mann’s letters give us an exceptional portrait of her and also of the Sarmiento’s goals and actions, which she understood, shared, and even intuited.
In 1927, Charles Lindbergh crossed the North Atlantic Ocean in the Spirit of Saint Louis, a solo flight that took thirty-three hours and started the successful air bridge between America and Europe. The same year, ICANA -Instituto Cultural Argentino Norte Americano- was founded as a private non-profit organization with the purpose of establishing educational and cultural links between Argentina and the United States. Since then, ICANA, through its extensive involvement in language teaching and social, artistic and scientific activities, has helped each society to better understand the other, to create indestructible ties of mutual friendship and respect, and to build a more harmonious relationship between the peoples of both nations.
Jorge Luis Borges was an active supporter of ICANA’s purposes, and in a dialogue with Rita Guibert, he expressed this powerful and original opinion: “It would be extremely useful if in our [South American] countries, English were taught in all primary schools, as well as Spanish in the United States and Canada. Thus, we would have a bilingual continent (…) I believe it would be very important for the history of the world, for every man born in America to have access to two cultures, the English and the Spanish (…) It is important to learn in two different ways and to have access to two literatures. If a man grows up within a single culture, if he makes a habit of considering other languages as hostile or arbitrary dialects, then his spirit will shrink. If instead he becomes accustomed to thinking in two different languages and to believing that his mind has in its past two great literatures, that has to be beneficial to him”. 2
Since in its judgment this book is consistent with ICANA’s cultural and social program, the Institute has sponsored with great interest the publication of My Dear Sir. ICANA’s Board of Directors -under its president Alberto Mondet- and this writer wish to congratulate and thank Professor Velleman for his enthusiasm and dedication in producing this book, thus assisting us in fulfilling the objectives of ICANA in order to strengthen the permanent and necessary cooperation between our two beloved countries.
Horacio C. Reggini
Miembro de ICANA, del Instituto Sarmiento de Sociología e Historia, de la Academia Nacional de Ciencias Exactas, Físicas y Naturales, de la Academia Nacional de Educación y de la Academia Argentina de Artes y Ciencias de la Comunicación.
1. From English Poets as Letter Writers, a lecture given by Thomas S. Eliot at Sprague Memorial Hall, Yale University, 23 November 1933.
2. From Borges habla con Borges. Diálogo con Borges, by Rita Guibert. In Spanish: “Sería utilísimo que en nuestras repúblicas se enseñara el inglés en la escuela primaria y que en los Estados Unidos y en Canadá se enseñara español. Entonces tendríamos un continente bilingüe (…) Creo que sería muy importante para la historia del mundo el hecho de que todo hombre nacido en América tuviera acceso a dos culturas, a la inglesa y a la hispánica (…) Lo importante es que uno aprenda a pensar en dos modos distintos, y tenga acceso a dos literaturas. Si un hombre crece dentro de una sola cultura, si se habitúa a ver en los otros idiomas esa especie de dialectos hostiles o arbitrarios, todo esto tiene que estrechar su espíritu. Pero si un hombre se acostumbra a pensar en dos idiomas, y se acostumbra a pensar que el pasado de su mente son dos grandes literaturas, eso tiene que ser benéfico para él”.