Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
Grant Wilson, John Fiske and Stanley L. Klos. Six volumes, New York: D. Appleton
and Company, 1887-1889 and 1999. Virtualology.com warns that these 19th Century
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CASTRO Juan, the assumed name of a Cuban poet, born near Matanzas in 1799. His parents were Negro house-servants, and he was born in slavery. While still a boy he exhibited skill in needle-work and drawing, and produced some portraits. He became the body-servant of a young gentleman of scholarly habits, from whom he learned to read, and then taught himself to write. "I bought ink, pens, and penknife, and some very fine paper; then, taking some of the bits of written paper thrown away by my master, I put a piece of them under one of my fine sheets and traced the characters, in order to accustom my hand to make letters. In vain I was forbidden to write; for, when everybody went to bed, I used to light a piece of candle, and then at my leisure I copied the best verses, thinking that, if I could imitate these, I would become a poet." Some of his original sonnets fell into the hands of Dr. Coronado, who called attention to their merit. Juan was thirty-eight years old when several gentlemen, who had become aware of his talents, made up a purse of $800, purchased his freedom, and enabled him to publish his poems. After that he supported himself in Havana as a tailor, as a house-painter, and finally as a head cook. He produced an autobiography, which gives a vivid picture of slave-life in Cuba. The second half of the manuscript was stolen and probably destroyed; but the first half was published by Dr. R. R. Madden (London, 1840), together with English translations of some of his poems, the originals of which are in Spanish. The finest of them is "The Clock that Gains."
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