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José Hernández

José Hernández (November 10, 1834 - October 21, 1886) was an Argentine journalist and poet, best known as the author of the epic poem Martín Fierro.

Hernández, whose ancestry was a mix of Spanish, Irish, and French, was born on a farm near San Martín. His father was a mayordomo or foreman of a series of cattle ranches and Hernández grew up living the a somewhat privileged version of the life of a young gaucho. His career was to be an alternation between stints on the "federal" side in the civil wars of Argentina and Uruguay and life as a newspaperman, a short stint as an employee of a commercial firm, and a period as stenographer to the legislature of the Confederation.

Hernández founded the newspaper El Río de la Plata, which advocated local autonomy, abolition of the conscripted "frontier contingents", and election of justices of the peace, military commanders, and school boards. He opposed immigration, because he believed it undermined the pastoral foundation of the region's wealth. He envisioned a federal republic based in pastoralism, but also featuring a strong system of education and a literate population.

Although a federalist opposed to the centralizing, modernizing, and Europeanizing tendencies of Argentine president Domingo Sarmiento, Hernández was no apologist for General Juan Manuel de Rosas, whom he characterized as a tyrant and a despot.

Hernández is known today almost entirely for his masterpiece, Martín Fierro, the epic poem that stands as the pinnacle of gauchesque literature. The poem was apparently begun during a period of exile in Brazil following the defeat at Ńaembé (1870) and was published in two parts (in 1872 and 1879).

Hernández died of heart disease October 21, 1886, in Belgrano, which was at that time a separate suburb, but is now a neighborhood of Buenos Aires.


Jorge Luis Borges, "José Hernández", in El Martín Fierro (ISBN 8420619337)