As a doctor he studied and was a poet, his short life was full of long illusions and the news of his soon death was repeated many times. It will be because in the existence of Manuel Acuña -the subject of a thousand chronicles and gossip- the elegies were confused with sonnets, the good grades with full theaters and the long nights of learning Anatomy in evenings sprinkled with absinthe, of which it is said that, while signing skulls with his name, he prepared the medicine of his death.
Considered one of the most significant representatives of Mexican romanticism, Manuel Acuña was born in 1849 in Santiago de Saltillo, Coahuila and took his life on December 6, 1873. He arrived in Mexico City at age 16 and enrolled at the Colegio de San Ildefonso, about to become a National Preparatory School. In it, Acuña decided to study what was necessary to enroll in Medicine but also other disciplines so he studied mathematics, Latin, French and philosophy, all with good marks and better mentions for “his constant dedication to study.” Everything turned out very well: in 1866 he was accepted and began studying to become a medical doctor. He found accommodation in the corridor under the second courtyard of the School of Medicine, in room number 13 -the same one occupied by Juan Díaz Covarrubias and from which he left to be shot in Tacubaya- and for some time he was able to withstand the onslaught of his meager budget. . He never dropped out of medicine, but very soon he gave up the bittersweet works of literature with the same passion. It was for this reason that his monograph on topographic anatomy (on the cerebrospinal cavity) and his essays published in the Nezahualcóyotl Literary Society stood out as much about that very young student.
Little by little, his fondness for letters led him to publish a fruitful series of collaborations in newspapers and magazines such as El Renacimiento, El Libre Pensador, El Federalista, El Domingo and El Eco de Ambos Mundos. He was also a Guest at the literary gatherings of Ignacio Manuel Altamirano, he made close friends such as Agustín F. Cuenca and Juan de Dios Peza. Very soon, Acuña began to be recognized as a great promise of national letters. The first of his poetic compositions was called “Before a Corpse”, a reflection on life and death from the point of view of matter itself, which astonished everyone. Later, in 1871, he premiered his play “El Pasado”, a drama that was well received by the public. The honey and the glory of the triumph crowned his head and the critics predicted other congratulations.
However – the tragic legend tells – his heart was already busy with something else: in Rosario de la Peña, muse of discouragement, unrequited love and inspiration for his “Nocturno”, the poet’s best known work.
Fate seemed bright and it was betting on a long and fruitful work. Readers wanted more and a thousand projects awaited the trades of his pen, however, for years it was said that when Rosario arrived – who had equally awakened the desire of Flores, the senile adoration of Ignacio Ramírez and the devout affection of Martí – he had The blackest hour also arrived and she was accused of having killed Manuel Acuña by ingesting a lethal amount of potassium cyanide.
“What have you done, Rosario? What have you done?”
Articles, elegies and funeral prayers ran for weeks. Justo Sierra dedicated a composition to him that, from the first stanza, expressed the feeling of painful loss that shocked everyone: “Palms, triumphs, laurels, sweet dawn / of a happy future, all in one hour / of loneliness and boredom / you changed for the sad / right to die, my brother. “
Juan de Dios Peza, his best friend and the last one to see him alive, wrote the account of that day:
“We left the Alameda at twilight, I left him at the door of a house on Calle de Santa Isabel and he told me when we said goodbye:
“Tomorrow at one o’clock I’ll be waiting for you without fail.”
“If you take another minute …”
-What will happen?
“That I’ll leave without seeing you.”
“Will you go where?”
“I’m on a trip … yes … on a trip … you’ll find out later.”
These last words fell on my soul like drops of fire. I wanted to ask you more; but he went into that house and I left sad and moody as if I had received unfortunate news. “
Truths and lies a thousand but there is evidence that, during the funeral, young and old, stupid and wise, could not hold back their tears when they heard a verse from Manuel Acuña himself:
“Death is not nothing / but for the transitory spark /
whose ignored light / It passes without reaching a glance / of the august pupil of history “
Another truth that is a lie. Today, almost 200 years after his death, the gaze stops at the memory of Manuel Acuña.