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Biography of Ignacio Manuel Altamirano

Module by: Lorena Gauthereau-Bryson. E-mail the author

Summary: This module provides a brief biography of the Mexican author, poet, journalist, and politician, Ignacio Manuel Altamirano (1834-1893).

Early life

Ignacio Manuel Altamirano was born near Tixtla, Guerrero on Novemeber 13, 1834 to pure Indian parents, Francisco Altamirano (mayor of Tixtla) and Gertrudis Basilio. While Altamirano is considered to be one of Mexico most respected authors and teachers, at the age of 14 he was still illiterate and did not speak Spanish, the nation’s official language. His father, however, soon insisted that he attend school with white children, and he quickly learned how to speak, read, and write Spanish.

In 1849, he received a scholarship for Indian youths to attend the Instituto Literario de Toluca (Literary Institute of Toluca), where he studied under Ignacio Ramirez (1818-1879), a Mexican author, poet, journalist, lawyer, and politician and who wrote under the name “El Nigromante,” or, “The Necromancer.” Ramirez, interested in helping Indian youths, became Altamirano’s mentor.

Figure 1: Portrait of Ignacio Manuel Altamirano (1834-1893)
Ignacio Manuel Altamirano
Altamirano

Political, military, and writing careers

In 1854, Altamirano went to Mexico City's Colegio de San Juan de Letrán (San Juan de Letrán College) to study law. Soon afterward, however, he left the school briefly to participate alongside Ayutla revolutionaries, who sought to remove Santa Anna from office after the loss of Mexican territory via the 1853 Gadsen Purchase. He returned to Mexico City the following year to continue his studies and received his law degree in 1857. The beginning of Mexico's War of Reform (1857-1861) prompted him to put his legal career on hold in order to actively support the liberal cause. In 1861, he was elected as a deputy of Mexico’s Congress, where he famously denounced the offering of amnesty to enemies of the Reform (July 10, 1861).

The Franco-Mexican War (also known as the French Intervention or la Intervención Francesa in Mexico) took hold of Mexico from 1861-1867. Altamirano then served his nation in the military, and was promoted in 1865 to colonel for his participation in the Battles of Tierra Blanca, Cuernavaca, and Querétaro. He was recognized as a hero in this last battle.

After the Franco-Mexican War, he turned his life to writing and teaching, as well as public service. He worked as a magistrate, president of the Supreme Court, and a high official in the Ministerio de Fomento (Ministry of Public Works and Transport). Together with his mentor, Ignacio Ramirez, and Guillermo Prieto, he founded the Correo de Mexico (“The Mexican Post”) in 1867, a newspaper dedicated to their romantic and liberal ideals. In 1869, he published the journal El Renacimiento (“The Renaissance” or “Rebirth”), which promoted a national literature.

Figure 2: Translation: "Barcelona: Saturday 26- We arrived at eight in the evening." from Diary of Ignacio Manuel Altamirano: October-December, 1889 and January-April, 1890
Page from Altamirano's diary
Diary page

On June 13, 1889, he was named General Consul in Barcelona, Spain and on February 18, 1890, the General Consul in Paris, France.1 He fell ill while visiting Italy and Switzerland and died on February 13, 1893 in San Remo, Italy. In 1934, during the centennial celebration of his death, the Mexican Congress had his ashes brought back from France and laid to rest in Mexico’s Rotonda de las Personas Ilustres, the Rotunda of Illusterous Persons (formerly the Rotunda de los Hombres Ilustres) in Mexico City’s largest cemetery, Panteón Civil de Dolores.

Figure 3: Altamirano's tomb site in the Rotunda de las Personas Ilustres in Mexico City
Altamirano's tomb
grave

Literary works

  • Clemencia (Clemency) (1869)
  • Crónicas de la semana (Chronicles of the Week) (1969)
  • Cuentos de invierno, Las tres flores (Winter Stories, The Three Flowers) (1880)
  • La literatura nacional (National Literature) (1949)
  • La Navidad en las montañas (Christmas in the Mountains) (1871)
  • Obras (Works) (1899)
  • Obras literarias completas (Complete Literary Works) (1959)
  • Obras completas (Complete Works) (1986)
  • Paisajes y leyendas, tradiciones y costumbres de México (Landscapes and Legends, Traditions and Customs of Mexico) (1884)
  • Rimas (Rhymes) (1880)
  • El Zarco (The Blue-Eyed Bandit) (1901)

Bibliography

Altamirano, Ignacio Manuel. Diario de Ignacio Manuel Altamirano: octubre-diciembre de 1889 y enero-abril de 1890. Diaries and Manuscripts. Barcelona, Spain. 1889. From Instituto Mora. http://hdl.handle.net/1911/21864. English translation available at: http://hdl.handle.net/1911/36242.

"Altamirano, Ignacio Manuel." Escritores.org. Web. 26 Apr. 2011. http://escritores.org/index.php/biografias/426-ignacio-manuel-altamirano.

"Biografía de Ignacio Manuel Altamirano." Biografías y Vidas. Web. 26 Apr. 2011. http://www.biografiasyvidas.com/biografia/a/altamirano.htm.

de la Cabada, Nuri. "Biografía de Ignacio M. Altamirano." Los Poetas. Web. 26 Apr. 2011. http://www.los-poetas.com/alta/altabio.htm.

Duncan, Cynthia K. "Altamirano, Ignacio Manuel." Dictionary of Mexican Literature. Ed. Eladio Cortés. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1992. 23-27.

Footnotes

  1. Altamirano recorded the details of his day to day life while in Barcelona and Paris in Diario de Ignacio Manuel Altamirano: octubre-diciembre de 1889 y enero-abril de 1890. (Diary of Ignacio Manuel Altamirano: October-December, 1889 and January-April, 1890).

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