Brazil, the largest state in South America, extending from lat. 5° N. to 33° S., and from long. 35° to 74° W., with a length of 2,660 miles, and a breadth of 2,500 to 2,600, an area of close on 3-1/4- millions of square miles, and a coast-line of nearly 4,000 miles. For a comparison of size it may be remarked that Brazil is very little smaller than Europe. It is in great part both unsettled and unexplored, and lying almost entirely within the tropics, presents the ordinary features of tropical climate, scenery, and productions, both animal and vegetable, varied somewhat by the formation of the land. Brazil consists of a table-land in the east and centre, with low-lying plains and river valleys to the north and north-west and the south and south-west. There are three great river systems, that of the Amazon, which with its tributaries occupies the northern and north-western portion of the country, that of the Parana and the Paraguay to the south and south-west, and that of the San Francisco, which has its source and follows its course among the table-lands of the east, and forces its way through the mountains into the Atlantic. The great northern plain is so level that the Amazon at a distance of 1,500 miles from the sea is only 250 feet above sea level, and the feeders of the Amazon and Orinoco not only join, but direct navigation from the ocean to the ocean by means of these two rivers is possible. The interior of the country is a series of lofty plateaux, broken and intersected by river valleys. The upper coast consists of low lands and sandy plains, and the southern extremity of rolling land ending in low sandy coast. The plateau land begins from the parallel of San Roque (lat. 5° S.) and extends southward and westward till it is lost in the great plain of the Amazons, which extends to the foot of the Andes in the west, and to the rising land towards Venezuela in the north.
The mass of the table-land is not central. The two principal ranges of heights, from which many others radiate, are the Serra da Mantaqueira, and the Serra do Espinhaco, extending from lat. 18° to 23° S., and situated from the east coast at distances varying from 100 to 200 miles. The highest point in this range is the Pico do Itatiaiossu, the height of which is variously estimated at from six to ten thousand feet. One effect of this range is to turn the course of the rivers inwards in the direction of the Amazon and the Plata, and so to render intercourse between the coast and the interior difficult. One range of high plateaux, with different names in different parts, forms a watershed between the north and south rivers. The highest part of this is the Monte Pyreneos in Goyaz, between the basins of the Tocantins and the Paramhyba, and it rises to a height of 9,000 feet.
The climate varies from an unhealthy humidity in some of the lower parts of the coasts, and in the great river valleys which are rank with vegetation, and are kept almost perpetually moist by the east winds which come laden with vapour from the Atlantic, to a healthy dryness upon the breezy uplands; and while the northern parts have the alternate and regularly recurring wet and dry seasons of the tropics, the table-lands have four distinctly marked seasons, although they are not exactly similar to those of Europe.
The vegetation of the vast forests in the Amazon and other river valleys is of great variety and luxuriance. Most people are acquainted from books of travel with the extensive virgin forests, with their variety of trees, festooned and bound together by lianas in such a way as to make progress through them a matter of difficulty and well nigh impossibility. Of the trees used in commerce the chief are, perhaps, the rosewood, the Brazil-wood, and other dye-woods, and the rubber tree.
The fauna of Brazil is no less varied than its flora. The jaguar, puma, tiger-cat, ocelot, monkey, tapir, capybara, peccary, ant-eater, and sloth abound; the woods are full of boa-constrictors and other snakes; the air is bright with parrots, humming birds, butterflies, and wild bees, and other insects - among them the cactus-loving cochineal insect - while the Amazons and other rivers teem with alligators, turtles, porpoises, manatees, and many other fish, among them the pira.
The population of Brazil was, according to the 1890 census, over 16 millions, exclusive of about one million wild Indians. A gradual emancipation of slaves was begun in 1871, and various measures were introduced in the same direction down to 1888, when final and full emancipation was decreed, and thus far this act does not seem to have been followed by the same disastrous effects that followed sudden emancipation in the West Indies.
The general religion of the country is Catholicism, though other religions were tolerated, and since the last revolution there is no State religion. Till lately the country was governed by an emperor, aided by a cabinet, and a legislature, consisting of a senate and a chamber of deputies; but in November, 1889, in a quiet business-like way, a republic was decreed, and on June 22, 1890, a new constitution was inaugurated, based upon that of the United States, the president's term of office, however, being fixed at six years. There was little excitement about the revolution, things went on as usual, most imperial officials simply changed their names, and the only important changes were that Church and State were separated, civil marriages were made the rule, and education was secularised.
At present the public debt of Brazil is about 120 millions, and there is 25-1/2 millions of revenue as against 29 millions of expenditure.
The commerce of Brazil is not very considerable owing to a variety of causes, one of which is an excessive system of protection. Her chief exports, beyond the produce of the forest in the shape of dye- and other woods, are coffee, sugar, cotton (which is of fine quality and grows well on the dry table-lands, but is not well worked), tobacco, cocoa, rice, and tapioca, which is prepared from the manioc or cassava.
But Brazil is an altogether undeveloped country. It produces diamonds, and other precious stones in great varieties, coal, sulphur, gold, silver, copper, and iron, and doubtless has a great future before it.