Juan Montalvo: Biography, Thoughts, Themes And Works

Juan María Montalvo Fiallos  (1832-1889) was an Ecuadorian essayist and journalistconsidered one of the most fruitful writers that Ecuador had in the 19th century. His pen was never subservient to rulers or powerful minorities; Rather, it responded to a liberal thought, defended individual freedom and economic growth with the participation of private companies.

The current of his thought and the multiple documents that he wrote based on them earned him a life full of ups and downs, joys and troubles. The risk that many times he ran because of his written word and because of his misanthropy did not allow him to lead a calm, homey and stable life.

He was an avid reader from an early age, so he had no problem assimilating the knowledge contained in ancient texts on Greek and Roman history, philosophy, and literature. Over the years, works from different continents came into his hands, texts that formed the thought that he proclaimed loudly.

Its demise left the conservative rulers of the time, and even the incumbent clergy, with one less strong opponent. His proclamation for liberal ideas applied them at a time when ancient ways and traditions alongside religious ideas dominated the landscape. Her mortal remains today rest in her hometown.


Early years

In the first decade of the 19th century, Mr. Marcos Montalvo, an immigrant of Andalusian descent and a merchant by profession, met Mrs. Josefa Fiallos Villacres, whom he married on January 20, 1811.

From that union eight children were born. Juan Montalvo saw the light for the first time in one of the cities in the center of the inter-Andean region of Ecuador, Ambato, on April 13, 1832.

His childhood passed quietly between his home and school, a run-down and poorly maintained one-story property.

Over the years and due to the death of some of his seven siblings, he became the youngest of the boys, which earned him extra care and pampering from his relatives when he contracted smallpox at a young age. 4 years.

In 1843 he had to suffer the exile of his older brother Francisco because he faced the government of the day in the political arena.

This ordeal aroused in him an inexhaustible hatred for social injustice and abuse of power. From there was born the thought and the way of acting of this writer, elements that he maintained until his last breath.


Juan Montalvo was 13 years old when his brother returned from exile. From this fraternal reunion was born the invitation to travel to Quito and continue the studies started in Ambato.

The rest of his brothers acted as guides in the world of letters, where he entered with pleasure. In addition to this, the weight of his surname – achieved by the work of his brothers – provided him with a very favorable study environment.

At age 14, in 1846, he studied Latin grammar at the Colegio Convictorio de San Fernando, in Quito. Then, in 1848, he went to the Seminario San Luis de los Jesuitas, where at the age of 19 he took an exam to become a teacher in Philosophy (equivalent to receiving a high school education today), a position that he successfully achieved.

He continued his studies and entered the University of Quito with the intention of studying law. At this time he met many characters who were later highlighted in different areas of Ecuador.

Future famous poets, philosophers and writers paraded through his house in intense sessions of knowledge exchange or discussion of themes common to them.


At the age of 21, he had to drop out of law school after failing to pass the third year. As a result of this, CA decided to return to Ambato.

Returning to his hometown and dealing with some absent siblings and parents, made him grow in the misanthropy that he already felt and prompted him to dedicate himself to cultivating his training in letters and philosophy in a self-taught way.

At that time, Quito already had the publication of weekly and occasional newspapers that were the perfect setting for many of his essays. Among these were The Reason, 1848; The veteran , 1849; The evangelical morality , of 1854; and The Spectator , 1855.

Your travels

His first trip to the European continent occurred in 1857, within the framework of his appointment as a civil adjunct to the Ecuadorian delegation in Rome, Italy.

Prior to his arrival in Italy, he obtained his appointment as secretary to the plenipotentiary minister of Ecuador in Paris. This made him surround himself with the brightest minds in literature and philosophy in his environment, increasing his knowledge.

After his first trip to the Old World, he returned to his homeland in 1860. Among the reasons for his return, the unstable political situation in the region and health reasons that afflicted him stood out.

Upon his arrival, he addressed a letter to the acting governor, Gabriel García Moreno, in which he haughtily expressed his opinions about the government of this character, and even gave advice to recover his nation from the terrible situation it was going through.

These lines of disapproval were the starting point of a constant struggle between Montalvo and Moreno that did not disappear over the years.

In 1866 his most memorable work appeared, El cosmopolita , a magazine of which only 4 copies circulated, and which had a literary tone of political rejection of the system that prevailed in his country.

Of his love life

During the time he was in Ecuador, after his return from Italy, he met María Guzmán Suárez, mother of 2 of his children.

His reputation for being easy with women was not unfounded: years later he met Mrs. Hernández, with whom he had another pair of children. Some time later he met Agustine Contoux, mother of a fifth child and it is known that he even had an affair with Clotildina Cerda, a young Spanish woman, although in this case without children.

Literary struggle

As a result of his multiple publications and literary attacks on the government, Montalvo decided to expatriate to Colombia, as he feared for his life. From there I connect to Panama to later reach France.

This entire period was characterized by a dire economic situation in which he had to depend on loans and aid from his relatives.

Although his literary production saw growth, it did not pay his bills, so he dedicated a good time to establish contact with those people like-minded in thought and in the possibility and willingness to help him financially.

His stay in Europe was brief and he saw the need to return to Colombia, to the city of Ipiales, where he stayed for 5 years (between 1870 and 1875).

After the assassination of García Moreno in 1875, he returned to Quito in 1876. At this time his new target was the acting president, Antonio Borrero y Cortázar. At that time he held meetings with other liberals who planned to overthrow the president.

Second exile

After the fall of Borrero, General Ignacio de Veintemilla came to power, and Montalvo launched a campaign against what, in his opinion, were mistakes made by the government in power. These publications were not to the liking of the dictator and Montalvo was exiled from his land a second time.

From exile he continued his attacks against the Veintemilla government, unceasingly publishing texts and essays. In 1881 he decided to move to Paris to get as far away as possible from the influence and danger posed by the dictator. Montalvo did not return to his native country.

Last days and death

In 1888, in Paris, he contracted a serious lung disease that prostrated him for a whole month. After multiple examinations, the attending physician was able to diagnose a pleural effusion. According to historians, the punctures necessary to extract the infectious fluid were performed without the patient being anesthetized.

He even underwent an operation that is detailed in the reports that rest in the National Library of Ecuador. In this, cuts were made with a scalpel to reach the ribs and thus drain the liquid. The records indicate that Montalvo resisted all of this fully consciously.

This operation improved him for a short time, because the infection had advanced to other organs in his body and it was impossible to stop it.

Juan María Montalvo Fiallos died on January 17, 1889 in Paris, France. Currently his remains rest in a specially built mausoleum in his hometown, Ambato.


Born from the confluence of an infinity of authors, Juan María Montalvo’s thought pointed to the recognition of the freedom of the individual and the necessary respect for that state, as well as the contempt of everything that restricted the freedoms acquired in a legitimate way.

The bases of his work also include philosophical writings dating from the Roman or Greek Empire.

The works of Romanticism that also passed through his hands fed the need to break schemes, to give way to imagination, fantasy and the unknown forces that inhabit each person.

Another source of inspiration was literature from Europe, especially from French thinkers who managed to move the chord in Hispanic American writers before, during and after the wars of independence fought throughout the continent.

Frequent Topics

The literature produced by Montalvo throughout his life dealt with a variety of topics; However, those who stood out the most were those against the abuse of power, imperialist oppression, despotism exercised by the governments in the course of the time, and the fanaticism generated and promoted by the Church.

Montalvo’s liberal principles are in harmony with his idealism. He spoke of the foundations of any nation, which for him could not be other than the morality of those who were chosen to take the reins, highlighting the latter in all his publications knowing the serious failures in conservatives and liberals.

The political issue

He equally despised the rulers who accommodated the laws to their own benefit and the tyrannies that passed over all of these, considering that one of the necessary conditions for a dictatorship to exist is that the people be willing to endure it out of fear or apathy. .

He concluded by reflecting that, then, both the people and the tyrant are guilty of tyranny, in equal measure. Likewise, he also defended the rights of women and that of minorities in his land: indigenous, and Afro-American.


In this section we must clarify that the attack on the clergy by Juan Montalvo was not caused by religion or by the doctrines that they promoted.

It came from the fact that the clergy were a part with a great specific weight within the conservative party that controlled power in Ecuador and took advantage of it to further dominate the citizens.

Through his writings, Montalvo sought to raise awareness of the need to separate the religious from the political sphere. Such was the power of the clergy in 19th century Ecuador that any type of opposition to them could be considered heresy, and the government could act against the citizens under the order of the clergy.

Montalvo also harshly and openly criticized the diversion of clerical interest towards material goods over spiritual ones, even going so far as to negotiate earthly values ​​for heavenly benefits.


Montalvo produced an immense quantity of writings and essays. Among his most emblematic works are the following:

– The cosmopolitan (1866-1869)

– The precursor of the cosmopolitan (1867)

– Black Masonism (1868)

– Dancing on the Ruins (1868)

– The barbarian of America in the civilized peoples of Europe

– Diary of a madman

– The book of passions

– The perpetual dictatorship (1874)

– The Last of the Tyrants (1876)

– Of the virtues and vices

– The regenerator (1876-1878)

– The catilinareas (1880-1882)

– Seven treatises (1882-1883)

– Chapters that Cervantes forgot (1895)


  1. “Juan Montalvo” in Wikipedia. Retrieved on February 13, 2019 from Wikipedia: es.wikipedia.org
  2. “Juan Montalvo” in Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved on February 13, 2019 from Encyclopedia Britannica: britannica.com
  3. “Juan Montalvo” in Encyclopedia of Ecuador. Retrieved on February 13, 2019 from Enciclopedia del Ecuador: encyclopediadelecuador.com
  4. “Juan Montalvo” in Ecu Red. Retrieved on February 13, 2019 from Ecu Red: ecured.com
  5. “La Silla Vacía, the unknown life of Juan Montalvo” in El Comercio. Retrieved on February 13, 2019 from El Comercio: elcomercio.com
  6. Valdano, J. “Is there humor in Juan Montalvo?”. Retrieved on February 13, 2019 from Scielo: scielo.cl

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