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Title: History of the Conquest of Mexico; vol. 1/4
Author: Prescott, William Hickling
Language: English
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                           Montezuma Edition


                          TWENTY-TWO VOLUMES

                                VOL. I

_The Montezuma Edition of William H. Prescott’s Works is limited to one
                  thousand copies, of which this is_

                                No. 345


             _Copyright 1904, by J. B. Lippincott Company_

                         _Goupil & Cº., Paris_

                          _Montezuma Edition_

                            HISTORY OF THE

                          Conquest of Mexico

                          WILLIAM H. PRESCOTT

                               EDITED BY

                         WILFRED HAROLD MUNRO

                           JOHN FOSTER KIRK

              “Victrices aquilas alium laturus in orbem”
                          LUCAN, Pharsalia, lib. v., v. 238

                                VOL. I

                        PHILADELPHIA AND LONDON
                       J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY

           [Illustration: THE LANDING OF CORTÉS AT VERA CRUZ

                               Page 365]

                Copyright, 1843, by WILLIAM H. PRESCOTT
                Copyright, 1871, by WILLIAM G. PRESCOTT
              Copyright, 1873, by J. B. LIPPINCOTT & CO.
             Copyright, 1904, by J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY

                      Electrotyped and Printed by
            J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia U. S. A.


William Hickling Prescott was born in Salem, Massachusetts, May 4, 1796.
He died in Boston, January 28, 1859. William Prescott, his father, a
lawyer of great ability and of sterling worth, was at one time a judge,
and was frequently elected to public positions of trust and
responsibility. His mother was a daughter of Thomas Hickling, for many
years United States Consul at the Azores. His grandfather, William
Prescott, was in command of the American forces at the battle of Bunker
Hill, June 17, 1775. On both sides, therefore, the future historian was
descended from what Oliver Wendell Holmes aptly termed the “New England
Brahman Stock.” He was prepared for college by an unusually accomplished
scholar, John Sylvester John Gardiner, for many years the rector of
Trinity Church, Boston, and entered Harvard College as a sophomore in
1811. Three years later he graduated with the Class of 1814.

During his junior year came the accident which was to change the whole
course of his life. As he was leaving the dining-hall, in which the
students sat at “Commons,” a biscuit, thrown by a careless
fellow-student, struck him squarely in the left eye and stretched him
senseless upon the floor. Paralysis of the retina was the result; the
injury was beyond the reach of the healing art, and the sight of one eye
was utterly destroyed. After a period of intense suffering, spent in a
darkened room, he recovered sufficiently to resume his college work and
to be graduated with his class. For a year and a half the uninjured eye
served him fairly well. Then, suddenly, acute rheumatism attacked it,
causing, except in occasional periods of intermission, excruciating pain
during the rest of his life. Total darkness, for weeks at a time, was
not infrequently Prescott’s lot, and work, except under a most careful
adjustment of every ray of light, was almost out of the question. Under
these circumstances the career at the bar which his father had planned
for him, and to which he had looked forward with so much pleasure was no
longer to be thought of. Business offered no attractions, even if a
business life had been possible to him in his semi-blindness. He turned
his attention to literature, and found there his vocation.

But for this work he felt that the most careful preparation was
necessary. In a letter, written eighteen months before his death, he
says, “I proposed to devote ten years of my life to the study of ancient
and modern literature, chiefly the latter, and to give ten years more to
some historical work. I have had the good fortune to accomplish this
design pretty nearly within the limits assigned. In the Christmas of
1837 my first work was given to the public.”

During the first ten years of preparation he was a frequent contributor
to the Reviews, writing some of the papers which are printed in the
volume of “Miscellanies” which has always formed part of his “works.”
His historical work was accomplished with the utmost difficulty.
American scholarship was not then advanced, and it was almost impossible
to secure readers who possessed a knowledge of foreign languages.
Pathetically Mr. Prescott tells of the difficulties surmounted. The
secretary he employed at first knew no language but his own. “I taught
him to pronounce the Castilian in a manner suited, I suspect, much more
to my ear than to that of a Spaniard; and we began our wearisome journey
through Mariana’s noble history. I cannot even now recall to mind
without a smile the tedious hours in which, seated under some old trees
in my country residence, we pursued our slow and melancholy way over
pages which afforded no glimmering of light to him, and from which the
light came dimly struggling to me through a half intelligible
vocabulary. But in a few weeks the light became stronger, and I was
cheered by the consciousness of my own improvement; and when we had
toiled our way through seven quartos I found I could understand the book
when read about two-thirds as fast as ordinary English.” Having thus
gathered the ideas of his many authorities from the mechanical lips of
his secretary, Mr. Prescott would ponder them for a time, and would then
dictate the notes for a chapter of from forty to fifty pages. These
notes were read and reread to him while the subject was still fresh in
his memory. He ran them over many times in his mind before he began to
dictate the final copy, and was thus able to escape errors into which
men with full command of their sight frequently fall. For the last
thirty years of his life he made use of a writing instrument for the
blind, the noctograph, by which he was able to write his own pages and
partially to dispense with dictation. With the noctograph he wrote with
great rapidity, but in an almost illegible hand which only the author
and his secretary could read.

When, after twenty years of labor, the “History of the Reign of
Ferdinand and Isabella” was finished, its author was so doubtful
respecting its value that he proposed simply to put it upon his library
shelf “for the benefit of those who should come after.” His father
wisely combated this morbid judgment and insisted upon its publication.
“The man who writes a book which he is afraid to publish is a coward,”
he said to his son. The work was given to the world in 1837 and was
immediately and immensely successful. Its author, who had hitherto been
only an obscure writer of reviews, took his place at once in the first
rank of contemporary historians,--to use the words of Daniel
Webster,--“like a comet that had blazed out upon the world in full
splendor.” In a very short space of time translations appeared in
Spanish, German, French, and Italian. Critics of many nationalities
joined in concurrent praise.

In a way Mr. Prescott’s achievement was a national triumph. British
reviewers were even more laudatory than were the American. One of the
most striking testimonials came from Richard Ford, the author of the
famous “Handbook for Spain,”--an English scholar whose knowledge of
things Spanish was phenomenal. Mr. Ford wrote, “Mr. Prescott’s is by far
the first historical work which British America has yet produced, and
one that need hardly fear a comparison with any that has issued from the
European press since this century began.” Mr. Ford was not enthusiastic
over American institutions and was by no means prepared to believe that
the American experiment in democratic government was likely to result in
a permanent State. It was with an eye to posterity, therefore, that he
cautiously and vaguely assigned Mr. Prescott not to the United States,
but to British America. The commendatory notices that appeared in
British publications showed that many men besides Mr. Ford were
astounded that “British America” could produce such an excellent
specimen of historical workmanship. Sydney Smith’s praise was most
enthusiastic. He even went so far as to promise the American author a
“Caspian Sea of Soup” if he would visit England.

The new historian was not spoiled by the adulation showered upon him.
Rejoicing in the unexpected praise, he devoted himself with renewed
zeal, and with even greater care, to the composition of another work.
This, “The History of the Conquest of Mexico,” appeared in 1843, and in
less than twelve months seven thousand copies of it had been sold in the
United States. The art of advertising, in which the publishers of
to-day are so proficient, had not then been developed; the “Conquest of
Mexico” made its own way among the reading public. For the English
copyright Bentley, the London publisher, paid £650. Ten editions were
published in England in sixteen years, and twenty-three were issued in
the United States. Popular approval was even more pronounced than in the
case of the “Ferdinand and Isabella,” and the applause of the reviewers
was also much more loud. The pure and sound English appealed especially
to scholars like Milman. That famous historian placed Prescott “in the
midst of the small community of really good English writers of history
in modern times.” Coming from the editor of the best edition of Gibbon’s
“Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” this was praise indeed. The
_Edinburgh Review_ said, “Every reader of intelligence forgets the
beauty of his coloring in the grandeur of his outline.... Nothing but a
connected sketch of the latter can do justice to the highest charm of
the work.” Stirling, author of the “Cloister Life of the Emperor Charles
the Fifth,” wrote, “The account of the Triste Noche, the woeful night in
which, after the death of Montezuma, Cortés and his band retreated
across the lake and over the broken causeway, cutting their way through
a nation in arms, is one of the finest pictures of modern historical
painting.” The Spanish Royal Academy of History had elected Prescott to
membership in that august body soon after his “History of the Reign of
Ferdinand and Isabella” appeared; other historical societies and
learned bodies now heaped honors upon him.

The historian kept steadily at work. The task to which he had devoted
himself was to tell the tale of Spanish greatness when the fortunes of
Spain were at their highest point. The “History of the Conquest of Peru”
was published in 1847, four years after the appearance of the “Mexico.”
It reads like a romance and has always been the most popular of
Prescott’s works. To-day it is the only history of the early Spanish
achievements in Peru which is regarded as an “authority” on the South
American republic, and is always kept in stock in Peruvian bookstores.
For the English copyright of this work Bentley paid £800. Seventeen
thousand copies were sold in thirteen years. The demand for it is

The author’s fame was now fully established. He was everywhere regarded
as one of the greatest of living historians, and honors and wealth
flowed steadily towards him. His income from his books was very large.
Stirling estimates it at from £4000 to £5000 per annum. This, in
addition to the fortune he had inherited, made Mr. Prescott a very
wealthy man in the years when the enormous incomes of to-day were hardly
dreamed of. He was as methodical and careful in pecuniary affairs as in
his literary work. A most accurate account was kept of his receipts and
expenditures, and one-tenth of his income was always devoted to charity.

In 1850 he made a short visit to Europe, spending some time upon the
Continent but more in England and Scotland. Everywhere he was lionized
in a way that would have turned the heads of most men. The University of
Oxford made him a D.C.L. The doors of the houses where learning was
honored opened at his approach. His own charming personality was,
however, one of the greatest factors in his social success. As a man he
was most lovable.

Upon his return to America he devoted himself to writing the “History of
the Reign of Philip the Second,” for which task he had accumulated an
extensive collection of documentary “authorities.” This work was to
appear in six volumes, and for it the author was offered £1000 a volume
by two publishers. Two volumes were published in 1855 and a third
appeared three years later. Macaulay pronounced “Philip the Second” Mr.
Prescott’s best work. Its style is more finished, its use of authorities
more masterly than in the previous volumes. For dramatic interest the
chapters describing the defence of Malta by the Knights of the Hospital
of St. John of Jerusalem are quite equal to the account of the “Triste
Noche,” of Cortés and his companions in Mexico, which so excited the
admiration of Stirling. But the work was never to be completed. After
two volumes had appeared, there was published “Prescott’s Edition of
Robertson’s Charles the Fifth.” This was simply a new edition of the
Scottish historian’s work, with additions dealing with the later years
of the Emperor’s life which Robertson had not treated. In it is given
the true story of the emperor’s retirement and death. Mr. Prescott had
for Robertson a very great admiration. He always acknowledged his deep
obligation to him, and he felt that it would be most unnecessary, and in
fact almost presumptuous, for him to attempt to re-write a history which
the Scottsman had written so well. In these three works, “Ferdinand and
Isabella,” “Charles the Fifth,” and “Philip the Second,” a century and a
half of the most important part of Spanish history is presented. That
Prescott did not live to complete the third must always be regarded as a
great calamity by the literary world.

Besides the volumes already specified, another, of “Miscellaneous
Essays” (a selection from his earlier contributions to reviews and other
periodicals) has always been included in Prescott’s published works. To
the historical student this volume is even more interesting than to the
general reader. It illustrates the change, which, since its publication,
has taken place in the methods of the reviewer and of the writer of
history as well.

On February 4, 1858, Mr. Prescott was stricken with paralysis. The shock
was a slight one. He soon recovered from its effects and continued with
undaunted perseverance his literary work. In less than a year, January
28, 1859, while at work in his library with his secretary, he fell back
speechless from a second attack and died an hour or so afterwards.

It is quite within bounds to say that no historian’s death ever affected
more profoundly the community in which he dwelt. Other authors have been
respected and admired by those with whom they came in contact, Prescott
was universally loved. No American writer was perhaps more sincerely and
more widely mourned. Affable, generous, courtly, thoughtful for others,
singularly winning in his personal appearance, he had drawn the hearts
of all his associates to himself, while the gracious, kindly humanity
manifested in every page of his writings had endeared him to thousands
of readers in all parts of the world.

Mr. Prescott’s distinguishing characteristic was his intense love for
truth. As an author he had no thesis to establish. He never wasted time
in arguments wherewith to demonstrate the soundness of his views. His
single desire was to set forth with scrupulous accuracy all the facts
which belonged to his subject. Some critics will have it that his
tendency towards hero-worship occasionally leads him into extravagance
of statement and that his gorgeous descriptions sometimes blind us to
most unpleasant facts. This is possibly partly true in the case of
“Ferdinand and Isabella,” his first work, but even in those volumes the
reader will almost always find footnotes to establish the author’s
statements or to indicate the possibility of a doubt which he himself
felt. In clear grasp of facts, in vivid powers of narration, combined
with artistic control of details, no historical writer has exceeded him.
The power of philosophical analysis he did not possess in so high a
degree, but no philosophical historian of the first rank was ever so
widely read as William Hickling Prescott has been and still is.

For the additional knowledge concerning the historian, which will
unquestionably be desired after a perusal of his writings, the reader is
referred to the charming biography, published by George Ticknor in 1864,
and reissued with this edition of Prescott’s works.

More than thirty years have elapsed since the last revised edition was
presented to the public. Its editor, Mr. John Foster Kirk, was
pre-eminently fitted for his work. He had been Mr. Prescott’s private
secretary for eleven years, and was perhaps more familiar than was any
other man with the period of Spanish history of which Prescott wrote. He
had, moreover, himself achieved a most enviable international reputation
by his “Life of Charles the Bold.” In his notes he condensed the
additional information which a generation of scholars had contributed to
the subjects treated of in Prescott’s pages. Those notes are all
incorporated in the present edition.

But since Kirk’s notes were penned another generation of students has
been investigating the history of Spain--a generation which has enjoyed
more abundant opportunities for research than any scholars before had
known. Numberless manuscripts have been rescued from monastic limbo, the
caked dust of centuries has been scraped away from scores of volumes in
the public archives, and the searchlights of modern scientific
investigation have been turned upon places that once seemed hopelessly
dark. As if this were not enough, explorers from many lands have plunged
into the depths of the Mexican forests, and penetrated the quebradas of
the Andes, in attempts to wrest from them the secrets of their ancient

The result is an immense number of volumes filled with statements
startlingly diverse and with conclusions widely conflicting. Many of
these volumes, especially those that emanated from the explorers, were
written by men unskilled in historical writing,--special pleaders, and
not historians,--men who were more anxious to demonstrate the soundness
of their own theories than to arrive at absolute knowledge concerning
the institutions of Peru and of Mexico.

It has been the task of the editor of this edition to separate from this
mass of material the conclusions in which scholars for the most part
agree, and to embody those conclusions in additional footnotes. He has
not ordinarily deemed it necessary to specify the authors read. Because
he knows that the average reader abhors quotations hurled at him in
unfamiliar tongues, he has, in quoting, always used the best known
authority in English.

In preparing these new volumes for the press the texts of editions
previously issued have been carefully compared in order to insure
perfect accuracy. In all such matters the publishers have aimed to put
forth Prescott’s writings in the form that must be regarded for many
years to come as the standard edition of America’s most popular

                                             WILFRED H. MUNRO.


   December 20, 1904.


The publication of Prescott’s second work, “The History of the Conquest
of Mexico,” was justly regarded as the greatest achievement in American
historical writing. The theme was not a new one. Other writers had
essayed to tell the story of Hernando Cortés and of the marvellous
empire which that daring and resourceful captain had converted into a
province of Spain, but never before had one attempted the task in whom
patient research, careful reflection, and brilliant historical
imagination were so happily blended. The result of Prescott’s labors was
hailed with delight throughout the English-speaking world. His work was
speedily translated into many languages and his subject acquired an
interest which it has never since lost. To use the words of another
American scholar,[1] who did not agree with Prescott in many of the
conclusions he reached respecting the so-called Aztec civilization, “It
called into existence a larger number of works than was ever before
written upon any people of the same number and of the same importance.”

In order to appreciate the sensation the book created we must go
backward almost two generations and place ourselves in a country which
numbered hardly more than eighteen millions of inhabitants--less people
than now dwell in the New England States and in the four neighboring
Middle States,--New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. These
people were for the most part scattered throughout the regions bordering
upon the Atlantic Ocean and the Great Lakes. Comparatively few were to
be found west of the Mississippi River. Texas was an independent
republic. California and the lands adjacent belonged to Mexico. The
ownership of the vast region then vaguely known as Oregon had not been
settled. Alaska was Russian territory. Between the Mississippi and the
Sierras of California stretched great wastes of prairie and desert, of
mountain and table-land, which now support millions of people, but which
even so far-seeing a statesman as Daniel Webster then supposed would
never become fit for human habitation. Communication between even the
most thickly-settled States was exasperatingly infrequent. The first
public telegraph line had not been constructed; the railway system of
the country was still in feeble infancy; letters were carried at so much
per mile and at a very heavy charge; the postage upon books was
exceedingly costly. Only three years had elapsed since the first
transatlantic steamship line (the Cunard) had started its pioneer vessel
across the ocean. Newspapers for a long time afterwards headed their
columns with announcements of news so many “days later from Europe.”

Yet within a year seven thousand copies of the “Conquest of Mexico” were
sold in this sparsely-settled country, notwithstanding its slow methods
of communication. Boston was acknowledged to be the literary centre of
the nation, and Prescott, with the modesty which was his marked
characteristic, had supposed that the unlooked-for success which had
attended his first literary venture was due to the interest of his
personal friends in that city of culture. Such a supposition was no
longer tenable. Nor was it possible to ascribe its great popularity to
the influence of opinions expressed in Great Britain. The unprecedented
success of the book was due not to personal interest in its author, not
to the favorable judgment of literary Boston, not to the commendation of
the English reviews, but to the merits of the work itself. A wonderful
story was told wonderfully well. Men read it and commented upon it as
they do not comment upon books at the present time. They discussed it
not only on those rare occasions when they met friends from far away,
but in the long epistles they sent to those friends,--those letters from
which we to-day get so many glimpses of the life of the first half of
the nineteenth century. It was passed from hand to hand in the
communities where only the envied few were able to buy books, but where
all men, in those far less strenuous days, were anxious to read
them,--in those days also when the average critical judgment concerning
good literature was more highly developed than it now is, and men were
much more given to reflection and discussion than they now are.

As has been stated elsewhere, Mr. Prescott was a man of considerable
wealth. He was therefore able to place upon his library tables a much
larger amount of material with which to work than is ordinarily
possible. Not only did he purchase most of the books published upon his
subject, but he also secured copies of more valuable documentary
material from the libraries and public archives both of Spain and of
Mexico,--in this way gradually accumulating that library which was at
his death the finest private collection of books in America.

His method of composition has already been described. First, his hours
of work with his secretary were scrupulously observed each day; then
came the hours of reflection and of careful sifting of authorities
before pen was placed upon paper, followed by still more careful
reflection before the final copy was written. The tendency to
hero-worship which he shared with most American, and indeed with most
British, writers became much less marked as his chapters
increased,--though surely he may well be pardoned for rejoicing as he
does in the exploits of one of the greatest generals in European
history. It was perhaps admiration for that great captain which led him
to write the history of his conquests.

In reading the “Mexico” we must always remember that the task to which
Prescott devoted his energies was to give an accurate account of the
stupendous campaigns through which Cortés made himself master of the
lands of the Aztecs, and not to describe minutely the institutions
Cortés encountered in the Valley of Mexico. An account of the habits,
customs, and laws of the people of that valley was essential to a
proper comprehension of the magnitude of the Conquest. That account
Prescott constructed with material gathered from all available sources,
realizing all the while how very unsatisfactory those sources were. It
fills about half a volume, but, as he says in his first preface, it cost
him as much labor, and nearly as much time, as all the rest of his
history. This part of the work has been subjected to much severe
criticism, of which mention is made in the notes of this edition. Not a
few of the conclusions therein set forth have been shown to be
erroneous. For example, Mr. Prescott did not understand the institutions
of the Aztecs. It would have been most marvellous if he had. And yet it
must be said that, notwithstanding the time spent in research since
Prescott’s introductory chapters were penned, surprisingly little more
is really _known_ to-day concerning the ancient Aztec nation than was
known at that time. Writers who rejected his conclusions put forth
conjectures without number to supplant them, but most of those
conjectures were not founded upon facts. Their authors were for the most
part theorists, and not simply searchers for truth, as Prescott was.
Until a larger number of the so-called “Codices” shall have been brought
to light, and men shall have learned to read them as scholars have
learned to read the hieroglyphics of the East, little more absolute
_knowledge_ is likely to be secured. It is hardly possible, however,
that many more “Codices” will ever be found. If they exist, they are
probably lying unnoticed in some obscure monastery in Spain, or under a
mass of material, as yet unclassified, in the public archives of that
country. Of the many agencies that have worked for their destruction
three especially may be noted. First, the climate of the Mexican land,
with the innumerable insects that a tropical climate breeds; second, the
stern determination of the Mexicans themselves to destroy the memorials
of their ancient state; and, lastly, the holocausts of Zumárraga, first
archbishop of Mexico, whose hand, as Prescott says, “fell more heavily
than that of time itself upon the Aztec monuments.” This prelate,
emulating in his achievement the auto da fe of Arabic manuscripts which
Archbishop Ximenes had celebrated in Granada twenty years before, burned
all the manuscripts and other idolatrous material he could collect in
one great “mountain-heap” in the market-place of Tlatelolco.[2]

But when that additional knowledge shall have been attained, it is
hardly likely that any man will attempt to write anew the history of the
Spanish Conquest. The information secured from the rude pictorial
descriptions of the Aztec scribes and from the chiselled inscriptions of
the Aztec sculptors will be incorporated as footnotes in subsequent
editions of Prescott’s volumes. For even the critics who arraign
Prescott most severely for his misconception of Aztec institutions admit
that in everything which he wrote concerning the Conquest and the men
who took part in it he adhered most carefully to facts and followed
conscientiously the narratives of the participants. Those narratives,
as Prescott’s most prominent critic (Mr. Lewis H. Morgan) admits, “may
be trusted in whatever relates to the acts of the Spaniards and to the
acts and the personal characteristics of the Indians; in whatever
relates to their weapons, implements, and utensils, fabrics, food, and
raiment, and things of a similar character.”

Because he followed those contemporary writers so carefully, because
with his vivid historical imagination he was able to transport himself
into the remote past, to live with the conquering Spaniards the life of
toil and privation that was sometimes almost beyond their iron
endurance, to share with them their ever-present danger, to rejoice with
them in their final victories, because so living, sharing, and rejoicing
he was able to translate their dull stories into pages that sparkle with
the fulness of life, men will still turn to those pages for the most
graphic account of the exploits of Cortés and his associates,--for
generations yet to come his work will continue to be read as one of the
greatest masterpieces of descriptive literature.

W. H. M.


As the Conquest of Mexico has occupied the pens of Solís and of
Robertson, two of the ablest historians of their respective nations, it
might seem that little could remain at the present day to be gleaned by
the historical inquirer. But Robertson’s narrative is necessarily brief,
forming only part of a more extended work; and neither the British nor
the Castilian author was provided with the important materials for
relating this event which have been since assembled by the industry of
Spanish scholars. The scholar who led the way in these researches was
Don Juan Baptista Muñoz, the celebrated historiographer of the Indies,
who, by a royal edict, was allowed free access to the national archives,
and to all libraries, public, private, and monastic, in the kingdom and
its colonies. The result of his long labors was a vast body of
materials, of which unhappily he did not live to reap the benefit
himself. His manuscripts were deposited, after his death, in the
archives of the Royal Academy of History at Madrid; and that collection
was subsequently augmented by the manuscripts of Don Vargas Ponçe,
President of the Academy, obtained, like those of Muñoz, from different
quarters, but especially from the archives of the Indies at Seville.

On my application to the Academy, in 1838, for permission to copy that
part of this inestimable collection relating to Mexico and Peru, it was
freely acceded to, and an eminent German scholar, one of their own
number, was appointed to superintend the collation and transcription of
the manuscripts; and this, it may be added, before I had any claim on
the courtesy of that respectable body, as one of its associates. This
conduct shows the advance of a liberal spirit in the Peninsula since the
time of Dr. Robertson, who complains that he was denied admission to the
most important public repositories. The favor with which my own
application was regarded, however, must chiefly be attributed to the
kind offices of the venerable President of the Academy, Don Martin
Fernandez de Navarrete; a scholar whose personal character has secured
to him the same high consideration at home which his literary labors
have obtained abroad. To this eminent person I am under still further
obligations, for the free use which he has allowed me to make of his own
manuscripts,--the fruits of a life of accumulation, and the basis of
those valuable publications with which he has at different times
illustrated the Spanish colonial history.

From these three magnificent collections, the result of half a century’s
careful researches, I have obtained a mass of unpublished documents,
relating to the Conquest and Settlement of Mexico and of Peru,
comprising altogether about eight thousand folio pages. They consist of
instructions of the Court, military and private journals,
correspondence of the great actors in the scenes, legal instruments,
contemporary chronicles, and the like, drawn from all the principal
places in the extensive colonial empire of Spain, as well as from the
public archives in the Peninsula.

I have still further fortified the collection by gleaning such materials
from Mexico itself as had been overlooked by my illustrious predecessors
in these researches. For these I am indebted to the courtesy of Count
Cortina, and, yet more, to that of Don Lúcas Alaman, Minister of Foreign
Affairs in Mexico; but, above all, to my excellent friend, Don Angel
Calderon de la Barca, late Minister Plenipotentiary to that country from
the court of Madrid,--a gentleman whose high and estimable qualities,
even more than his station, secured him the public confidence, and
gained him free access to every place of interest and importance in

I have also to acknowledge the very kind offices rendered to me by the
Count Camaldoli at Naples; by the Duke of Serradifalco in Sicily, a
nobleman whose science gives additional lustre to his rank; and by the
Duke of Monteleone, the present representative of Cortés, who has
courteously opened the archives of his family to my inspection. To these
names must also be added that of Sir Thomas Phillips, Bart., whose
precious collection of manuscripts probably surpasses in extent that of
any private gentleman in Great Britain, if not in Europe; that of M.
Ternaux-Compans, the proprietor of the valuable literary collection of
Don Antonio Uguina, including the papers of Muñoz, the fruits of which
he is giving to the world in his excellent translations; and, lastly,
that of my friend and countryman, Arthur Middleton, Esq., late
Chargé-d’Affaires from the United States at the court of Madrid, for the
efficient aid he has afforded me in prosecuting my inquiries in that

In addition to this stock of original documents obtained through these
various sources, I have diligently provided myself with such printed
works as have reference to the subject, including the magnificent
publications, which have appeared both in France and England, on the
Antiquities of Mexico, which, from their cost and colossal dimensions,
would seem better suited to a public than to a private library.

Having thus stated the nature of my materials, and the sources whence
they are derived, it remains for me to add a few observations on the
general plan and composition of the work. Among the remarkable
achievements of the Spaniards in the sixteenth century, there is no one
more striking to the imagination than the conquest of Mexico. The
subversion of a great empire by a handful of adventurers, taken with all
its strange and picturesque accompaniments, has the air of romance
rather than of sober history; and it is not easy to treat such a theme
according to the severe rules prescribed by historical criticism. But,
notwithstanding the seductions of the subject, I have conscientiously
endeavored to distinguish fact from fiction, and to establish the
narrative on as broad a basis as possible of contemporary evidence; and
I have taken occasion to corroborate the text by ample citations from
authorities, usually in the original, since few of them can be very
accessible to the reader. In these extracts I have scrupulously
conformed to the ancient orthography, however obsolete and even
barbarous, rather than impair in any degree the integrity of the
original document.

Although the subject of the work is, properly, only the Conquest of
Mexico, I have prepared the way for it by such a view of the
civilization of the ancient Mexicans as might acquaint the reader with
the character of this extraordinary race, and enable him to understand
the difficulties which the Spaniards had to encounter in their
subjugation. This Introductory part of the work, with the essay in the
Appendix which properly belongs to the Introduction,[3] although both
together making only half a volume, has cost me as much labor, and
nearly as much time, as the remainder of the history. If I shall have
succeeded in giving the reader a just idea of the true nature and extent
of the civilization to which the Mexicans had attained, it will not be
labor lost.

The story of the Conquest terminates with the fall of the capital. Yet I
have preferred to continue the narrative to the death of Cortés, relying
on the interest which the development of his character in his military
career may have excited in the reader. I am not insensible to the hazard
I incur by such a course. The mind, previously occupied with one great
idea, that of the subversion of the capital, may feel the prolongation
of the story beyond that point superfluous, if not tedious, and may find
it difficult, after the excitement caused by witnessing a great national
catastrophe, to take an interest in the adventures of a private
individual. Solís took the more politic course of concluding his
narrative with the fall of Mexico, and thus leaves his readers with the
full impression of that memorable event, undisturbed, on their minds. To
prolong the narrative is to expose the historian to the error so much
censured by the French critics in some of their most celebrated dramas,
where the author by a premature _dénouement_ has impaired the interest
of his piece. It is the defect that necessarily attaches, though in a
greater degree, to the history of Columbus, in which petty adventures
among a group of islands make up the sequel of a life that opened with
the magnificent discovery of a World,--a defect, in short, which it has
required all the genius of Irving and the magical charm of his style
perfectly to overcome.

Notwithstanding these objections, I have been induced to continue the
narrative, partly from deference to the opinion of several Spanish
scholars, who considered that the biography of Cortés had not been fully
exhibited, and partly from the circumstance of my having such a body of
original materials for this biography at my command. And I cannot regret
that I have adopted this course; since, whatever lustre the Conquest may
reflect on Cortés as a military achievement, it gives but an imperfect
idea of his enlightened spirit and of his comprehensive and versatile

To the eye of the critic there may seem some incongruity in a plan which
combines objects so dissimilar as those embraced by the present history,
where the Introduction, occupied by the antiquities and origin of a
nation, has somewhat the character of a _philosophic_ theme, while the
conclusion is strictly _biographical_, and the two may be supposed to
match indifferently with the main body, or _historical_ portion of the
work. But I may hope that such objections will be found to have less
weight in practice than in theory; and, if properly managed, that the
general views of the Introduction will prepare the reader for the
particulars of the Conquest, and that the great public events narrated
in this will, without violence, open the way to the remaining personal
history of the hero who is the soul of it. Whatever incongruity may
exist in other respects, I may hope that the _unity of interest_, the
only unity held of much importance by modern critics, will be found
still to be preserved.

The distance of the present age from the period of the narrative might
be presumed to secure the historian from undue prejudice or partiality.
Yet by the American and the English reader, acknowledging so different a
moral standard from that of the sixteenth century, I may possibly be
thought too indulgent to the errors of the Conquerors; while by a
Spaniard, accustomed to the undiluted panegyric of Solís, I may be
deemed to have dealt too hardly with them. To such I can only say that,
while, on the one hand, I have not hesitated to expose in their
strongest colors the excesses of the Conquerors, on the other, I have
given them the benefit of such mitigating reflections as might be
suggested by the circumstances and the period in which they lived. I
have endeavored not only to present a picture true in itself, but to
place it in its proper light, and to put the spectator in a proper point
of view for seeing it to the best advantage. I have endeavored, at the
expense of some repetition, to surround him with the spirit of the
times, and, in a word, to make him, if I may so express myself, a
contemporary of the sixteenth century. Whether, and how far, I have
succeeded in this, he must determine.

For one thing, before I conclude, I may reasonably ask the reader’s
indulgence. Owing to the state of my eyes, I have been obliged to use a
writing-case made for the blind, which does not permit the writer to see
his own manuscript. Nor have I ever corrected, or even read, my own
original draft. As the chirography, under these disadvantages, has been
too often careless and obscure, occasional errors, even with the utmost
care of my secretary, must have necessarily occurred in the
transcription, somewhat increased by the barbarous phraseology imported
from my Mexican authorities. I cannot expect that these errors have
always been detected even by the vigilant eye of the perspicacious
critic to whom the proof-sheets have been subjected.

In the Preface to the “History of Ferdinand and Isabella,” I lamented
that, while occupied with that subject, two of its most attractive
parts had engaged the attention of the most popular of American authors,
Washington Irving. By a singular chance, something like the reverse of
this has taken place in the composition of the present history, and I
have found myself unconsciously taking up ground which he was preparing
to occupy. It was not till I had become master of my rich collection of
materials that I was acquainted with this circumstance; and, had he
persevered in his design, I should unhesitatingly have abandoned my own,
if not from courtesy, at least from policy; for, though armed with the
weapons of Achilles, this could give me no hope of success in a
competition with Achilles himself. But no sooner was that distinguished
writer informed of the preparations I had made, than, with the
gentlemanly spirit which will surprise no one who has the pleasure of
his acquaintance, he instantly announced to me his intention of leaving
the subject open to me. While I do but justice to Mr. Irving by this
statement, I feel the prejudice it does to myself in the unavailing
regret I am exciting in the bosom of the reader.

I must not conclude this Preface, too long protracted as it is already,
without a word of acknowledgment to my friend George Ticknor, Esq., the
friend of many years,--for his patient revision of my manuscript; a
labor of love, the worth of which those only can estimate who are
acquainted with his extraordinary erudition and his nice critical taste.
If I have reserved his name for the last in the list of those to whose
good offices I am indebted, it is most assuredly not because I value
his services least.


     BOSTON, October 1, 1843.

     NOTE.--The author’s emendations of this history include many
     additional notes, which, being often contradictory to the text,
     have been printed between brackets. They were chiefly derived from
     the copious annotations of Don José F. Ramirez and Don Lúcas Alaman
     to the two Spanish translations published in Mexico. There could be
     no stronger guarantee of the value and general accuracy of the work
     than the minute labor bestowed upon it by these distinguished























Extent of the Aztec Territory                                          4
The Hot Region                                                         5
Volcanic Scenery                                                       7
Cordillera of the Andes                                                8
Table-land in the Days of the Aztecs                                   9
Valley of Mexico                                                      10
The Toltecs                                                           12
Their mysterious Disappearance                                        16
Races from the Northwest                                              17
Their Hostilities                                                     19
Foundation of Mexico                                                  21
Domestic Feuds                                                        22
League of the kindred Tribes                                          23
Rapid Rise of Mexico                                                  25
Prosperity of the Empire                                              26
Criticism on Veytia’s History                                         27



Election of the Sovereign                                             34
His Coronation                                                        37
Aztec Nobles                                                          38
Their barbaric Pomp                                                   39
Tenure of their Estates                                               40
Legislative Power                                                     41
Judicial System                                                       42

Independent Judges                                                    43
Their Mode of Procedure                                               44
Showy Tribunal                                                        45
Hieroglyphical Paintings                                              46
Marriage Rites                                                        49
Slavery in Mexico                                                     49
Royal Revenues                                                        51
Burdensome Imposts                                                    54
Public Couriers                                                       55
Military Enthusiasm                                                   56
Aztec Ambassadors                                                     57
Orders of Knighthood                                                  57
Gorgeous Armor                                                        58
National Standard                                                     59
Military Code                                                         60
Hospitals for the Wounded                                             61
Influence of Conquest on a Nation                                     63
Criticism on Torquemada’s History                                     64
Abbé Clavigero                                                        65



Systems of Mythology                                                  67
Mythology of the Aztecs                                               68
Ideas of a God                                                        69
Sanguinary War-god                                                    70
God of the Air                                                        71
Mystic Legends                                                        72
Division of Time                                                      75
Future State                                                          76
Funeral Ceremonies                                                    77
Baptismal Rites                                                       78
Monastic Orders                                                       80
Feasts and Flagellation                                               82
Aztec Confessional                                                    82
Education of the Youth                                                83
Revenue of the Priests                                                85
Mexican Temples                                                       86
Religious Festivals                                                   88
Human Sacrifices                                                      89
The Captive’s Doom                                                    90
Ceremonies of Sacrifice                                               91
Torturing of the Victim                                               92
Sacrifice of Infants                                                  92

Cannibal Banquets                                                     93
Number of Victims                                                     94
Houses of Skulls                                                      95
Cannibalism of the Aztecs                                             99
Criticism on Sahagun’s History                                       101



Dawning of Science                                                   105
Picture-writing                                                      106
Aztec Hieroglyphics                                                  108
Manuscripts of the Mexicans                                          109
Emblematic Symbols                                                   110
Phonetic Signs                                                       111
Materials of the Aztec Manuscripts                                   114
Form of their Volumes                                                115
Destruction of most of them                                          116
Remaining Manuscripts                                                117
Difficulty of deciphering them                                       120
Minstrelsy of the Aztecs                                             123
Theatrical Entertainments                                            124
System of Notation                                                   124
Their Chronology                                                     126
The Aztec Era                                                        129
Calendar of the Priests                                              132
Science of Astrology                                                 135
Astrology of the Aztecs                                              136
Their Astronomy                                                      137
Wonderful Attainments in this Science                                138
Remarkable Festival                                                  140
Carnival of the Aztecs                                               142
Lord Kingsborough’s Work                                             143
Criticism on Gama                                                    144



Mechanical Genius                                                    146
Agriculture                                                          147
Mexican Husbandry                                                    148
Vegetable Products                                                   150
Mineral Treasures                                                    153

Skill of the Aztec Jewellers                                         155
Sculpture                                                            156
Huge Calendar-stone                                                  157
Aztec Dyes                                                           159
Beautiful Feather-work                                               160
Fairs of Mexico                                                      161
National Currency                                                    161
Trades                                                               162
Aztec Merchants                                                      163
Militant Traders                                                     163
Domestic Life                                                        165
Kindness to Children                                                 166
Polygamy                                                             166
Condition of the Sex                                                 167
Social Entertainments                                                167
Use of Tobacco                                                       168
Culinary Art                                                         169
Agreeable Drinks                                                     170
Dancing                                                              171
Intoxication                                                         172
Criticism on Boturini’s Work                                         173



The Alcolhuans or Tezcucans                                          176
Prince Nezahualcoyotl                                                177
His Persecution                                                      178
His Hair-breadth Escapes                                             179
His wandering Life                                                   180
Fidelity of his Subjects                                             181
Triumphs over his Enemies                                            182
Remarkable League                                                    183
General Amnesty                                                      183
The Tezcucan Code                                                    184
Departments of Government                                            184
Council of Music                                                     185
Its Censorial Office                                                 185
Literary Taste                                                       186
Tezcucan Bards                                                       188
Royal Ode                                                            188
Resources of Nezahualcoyotl                                          191
His magnificent Palace                                               192
His Gardens and Villas                                               193
Address of the Priest                                                195

His Baths                                                            197
Luxurious Residence                                                  198
Existing Remains of it                                               199
Royal Amours                                                         200
Marriage of the King                                                 202
Forest Laws                                                          203
Strolling Adventures                                                 204
Munificence of the Monarch                                           205
His Religion                                                         206
Temple to the _Unknown God_                                          208
Philosophic Retirement                                               209
His plaintive Verses                                                 209
Last Hours of Nezahualcoyotl                                         211
His Character                                                        213
Succeeded by Nezahualpilli                                           214
The Lady of Tula                                                     215
Executes his Son                                                     216
Effeminacy of the King                                               217
His consequent Misfortunes                                           217
Death of Nezahualpilli                                               218
Tezcucan Civilization                                                219
Criticism on Ixtlilxochitl’s Writings                                220



Speculations on the New World                                        225
Manner of its Population                                             225
Plato’s Atlantis                                                     226
Modern Theory                                                        227
Communication with the Old World                                     228
Origin of American Civilization                                      230
Plan of the Essay                                                    231
Analogies suggested by the Mexicans to the Old World                 232
Their Traditions of the Deluge                                       233
Resemble the Hebrew Accounts                                         234
Temple of Cholula                                                    234
Analogy to the Tower of Babel                                        235
The Mexican Eve                                                      236
The God Quetzalcoatl                                                 236
Natural Errors of the Missionaries                                   237

The Cross in Anahuac                                                 238
Eucharist and Baptism                                                239
Chroniclers strive for Coincidences                                  241
Argument drawn from these                                            242
Resemblance of social Usages                                         245
Analogies from Science                                               246
Chronological System                                                 247
Hieroglyphics and Symbols                                            247
Adjustment of Time                                                   248
Affinities of Language                                               248
Difficulties of Comparison                                           251
Traditions of Migration                                              252
Tests of their Truth                                                 253
Physical Analogies                                                   254
Architectural Remains                                                256
Destructive Spirit of the Spaniards                                  257
Ruins in Chiapa and Yucatan                                          258
Works of Art                                                         259
Tools for Building                                                   260
Little Resemblance to Egyptian Art                                   261
Sculpture                                                            262
Hieroglyphics                                                        263
Probable Age of these Monuments                                      265
Their probable Architects                                            267
Difficulties in forming a Conclusion                                 269
Ignorance of Iron and of Milk                                        270
Unsatisfactory Explanations                                          271
General Conclusions                                                  272





Condition of Spain                                                   277
Increase of Empire                                                   278
Cardinal Ximénes                                                     279
Arrival of Charles the Fifth                                         279

Swarm of Flemings                                                    280
Opposition of the Cortes                                             281
Colonial Administration                                              282
Spirit of Chivalry                                                   283
Progress of Discovery                                                284
Advancement of Colonization                                          285
System of _Repartimientos_                                           285
Colonial Policy                                                      286
Discovery of Cuba                                                    287
Its Conquest by Velasquez                                            288
Cordova’s Expedition to Yucatan                                      289
His Reception by the Natives                                         291
Grijalva’s Expedition                                                292
Civilization in Yucatan                                              292
Traffic with the Indians                                             293
His Return to Cuba                                                   294
His cool Reception                                                   294
Ambitious Schemes of the Governor                                    295
Preparations for an Expedition                                       296



Hernando Cortés                                                      297
His Education                                                        298
Choice of a Profession                                               299
Departure for America                                                300
Arrival at Hispaniola                                                301
His Mode of Life                                                     302
Enlists under Velasquez                                              303
Habits of Gallantry                                                  304
Disaffected towards Velasquez                                        304
Cortés in Confinement                                                305
Flies into a Sanctuary                                               306
Again put in Irons                                                   307
His perilous Escape                                                  307
His Marriage                                                         308
Reconciled with the Governor                                         308
Retires to his Plantation                                            309
Armada intrusted to Cortés                                           311
Preparations for the Voyage                                          313
Instructions to Cortés                                               314



Jealousy of Velasquez                                                317
Intrigues against Cortés                                             318
His clandestine Embarkation                                          319
Arrives at Macaca                                                    320
Accession of Volunteers                                              321
Stores and Ammunition                                                322
Orders from Velasquez to arrest Cortés                               323
He raises the Standard at Havana                                     324
Person of Cortés                                                     325
His Character                                                        326
Strength of Armament                                                 327
Stirring Address to his Troops                                       329
Fleet weighs Anchor                                                  330
Remarks on Estrella’s Manuscript                                     331



Disastrous Voyage to Cozumel                                         332
Humane Policy of Cortés                                              333
Cross found in the Island                                            334
Religious Zeal of the Spaniards                                      335
Attempts at Conversion                                               336
Overthrow of the Idols                                               338
Jerónimo de Aguilar                                                  339
His Adventures                                                       340
Employed as an Interpreter                                           342
Fleet arrives at Tabasco                                             342
Hostile Reception                                                    343
Fierce Defiance of the Natives                                       344
Desperate Conflict                                                   345
Effect of the Fire-arms                                              345
Cortés takes Tabasco                                                 346
Ambush of the Indians                                                348
The Country in Arms                                                  348
Preparations for Battle                                              349
March on the Enemy                                                   350

Joins Battle with the Indians                                        351
Doubtful Struggle                                                    352
Terror at the War-horse                                              352
Victory of the Spaniards                                             354
Number of Slain                                                      355
Treaty with the Natives                                              356
Conversion of the Heathen                                            357
Catholic Communion                                                   357
Spaniards embark for Mexico                                          358



Voyage along the Coast                                               359
Natives come on Board                                                360
Doña Marina                                                          361
Her History                                                          361
Her Beauty and Character                                             362
First Tidings of Montezuma                                           364
Spaniards land in Mexico                                             365
First Interview with the Aztecs                                      366
Their magnificent Presents                                           368
Cupidity of the Spaniards                                            369
Cortés displays his Cavalry                                          370
Aztec Paintings                                                      370



THE LANDING OF CORTÉS AT VERA CRUZ                         _Frontispiece_

From a painting especially made for this edition by L. Kowalsky.

MARCH TO MEXICO                                                        1

FRA BARTOLOMÉ DE LAS CASAS                                            94

After an engraving in “Ritratos de los Espagnoles illustres,

OUR LADY OF GUADALOUPE                                               172

From a photograph by Waite, of Mexico.

PORTRAIT OF CHARLES V.                                               276

After the painting by Titian at Munich.

PORTRAIT OF HERNANDO CORTÉS                                          296

From an engraving by Masson, after the painting by Ant. Moro.











Of all that extensive empire which once acknowledged the authority of
Spain in the New World, no portion, for interest and importance, can be
compared with Mexico;--and this equally, whether we consider the variety
of its soil and climate; the inexhaustible stores of its mineral wealth;
its scenery, grand and picturesque beyond example; the character of its
ancient inhabitants, not only far surpassing in intelligence that of the
other North American races, but reminding us, by their monuments, of the
primitive civilization of Egypt and Hindostan; or, lastly, the peculiar
circumstances of its Conquest, adventurous and romantic as any legend
devised by Norman or Italian bard of chivalry. It is the purpose of the
present narrative to exhibit the history of this Conquest, and that of
the remarkable man by whom it was achieved.

But, in order that the reader may have a better understanding of the
subject, it will be well, before entering on it, to take a general
survey of the political and social institutions of the races who
occupied the land at the time of its discovery.

The country of the ancient Mexicans, or Aztecs as they were called,
formed but a very small part of the extensive territories comprehended
in the modern republic of Mexico.[4] Its boundaries cannot be defined
with certainty. They were much enlarged in the latter days of the
empire, when they may be considered as reaching from about the
eighteenth degree north, to the twenty-first, on the Atlantic; and from
the fourteenth to the nineteenth, including a very narrow strip, on the
Pacific.[5] In its greatest breadth, it could not exceed five degrees
and a half, dwindling, as it approached its southeastern limits, to less
than two. It covered, probably, less than sixteen thousand square
leagues.[6] Yet such is the remarkable formation of this country, that,
though not more than twice as large as New England, it presented every
variety of climate, and was capable of yielding nearly every fruit,
found between the equator and the Arctic circle.

All along the Atlantic, the country is bordered by a broad tract, called
the _tierra caliente_, or hot region, which has the usual high
temperature of equinoctial lands. Parched and sandy plains are
intermingled with others, of exuberant fertility, almost impervious from
thickets of aromatic shrubs and wild flowers, in the midst of which
tower up trees of that magnificent growth which is found only within
the tropics. In this wilderness of sweets lurks the fatal _malaria_,
engendered, probably, by the decomposition of rank vegetable substances
in a hot and humid soil.[7] The season of the bilious fever,--_vómito_,
as it is called,--which scourges these coasts, continues from the spring
to the autumnal equinox, when it is checked by the cold winds that
descend from Hudson’s Bay. These winds in the winter season frequently
freshen into tempests, and sweeping down the Atlantic coast and the
winding Gulf of Mexico, burst with the fury of a hurricane on its
unprotected shores, and on the neighboring West India islands. Such are
the mighty spells with which Nature has surrounded this land of
enchantment, as if to guard the golden treasures locked up within its
bosom. The genius and enterprise of man have proved more potent than her

After passing some twenty leagues across this burning region, the
traveller finds himself rising into a purer atmosphere. His limbs
recover their elasticity. He breathes more freely, for his senses are
not now oppressed by the sultry heats and intoxicating perfumes of the
valley. The aspect of nature, too, has changed, and his eye no longer
revels among the gay variety of colors with which the landscape was
painted there. The vanilla, the indigo, and the flowering cacao-groves
disappear as he advances. The sugar-cane and the glossy-leaved banana
still accompany him; and, when he has ascended about four thousand
feet, he sees in the unchanging verdure, and the rich foliage of the
liquid-amber tree, that he has reached the height where clouds and mists
settle, in their passage from the Mexican Gulf. This is the region of
perpetual humidity; but he welcomes it with pleasure, as announcing his
escape from the influence of the deadly _vómito_.[8] He has entered the
_tierra templada_, or temperate region, whose character resembles that
of the temperate zone of the globe. The features of the scenery become
grand, and even terrible. His road sweeps along the base of mighty
mountains, once gleaming with volcanic fires, and still resplendent in
their mantles of snow, which serve as beacons to the mariner, for many a
league at sea. All around he beholds traces of their ancient combustion,
as his road passes along vast tracts of lava, bristling in the
innumerable fantastic forms into which the fiery torrent has been thrown
by the obstacles in its career. Perhaps, at the same moment, as he casts
his eye down some steep slope, or almost unfathomable ravine, on the
margin of the road, he sees their depths glowing with the rich blooms
and enamelled vegetation of the tropics. Such are the singular contrasts
presented, at the same time, to the senses, in this picturesque region!

Still pressing upwards, the traveller mounts into other climates,
favorable to other kinds of cultivation. The yellow maize, or Indian
corn, as we usually call it, has continued to follow him up from the
lowest level; but he now first sees fields of wheat, and the other
European grains brought into the country by the Conquerors. Mingled with
them, he views the plantations of the aloe or maguey (_agave
Americana_), applied to such various and important uses by the Aztecs.
The oaks now acquire a sturdier growth, and the dark forests of pine
announce that he has entered the _tierra fria_, or cold region,--the
third and last of the great natural terraces into which the country is
divided. When he has climbed to the height of between seven and eight
thousand feet, the weary traveller sets his foot on the summit of the
Cordillera of the Andes,--the colossal range that, after traversing
South America and the Isthmus of Darien, spreads out, as it enters
Mexico, into that vast sheet of table-land which maintains an elevation
of more than six thousand feet, for the distance of nearly two hundred
leagues, until it gradually declines in the higher latitudes of the

Across this mountain rampart a chain of volcanic hills stretches, in a
westerly direction, of still more stupendous dimensions, forming,
indeed, some of the highest land on the globe. Their peaks, entering the
limits of perpetual snow, diffuse a grateful coolness over the elevated
plateaus below; for these last, though termed “cold,” enjoy a climate
the mean temperature of which is not lower than that of the central
parts of Italy.[10] The air is exceedingly dry; the soil, though
naturally good, is rarely clothed with the luxuriant vegetation of the
lower regions. It frequently, indeed, has a parched and barren aspect,
owing partly to the greater evaporation which takes place on these lofty
plains, through the diminished pressure of the atmosphere, and partly,
no doubt, to the want of trees to shelter the soil from the fierce
influence of the summer sun. In the time of the Aztecs, the table-land
was thickly covered with larch, oak, cypress, and other forest trees,
the extraordinary dimensions of some of which, remaining to the present
day, show that the curse of barrenness in later times is chargeable more
on man than on nature. Indeed, the early Spaniards made as
indiscriminate war on the forest as did our Puritan ancestors, though
with much less reason. After once conquering the country, they had no
lurking ambush to fear from the submissive, semi-civilized Indian, and
were not, like our forefathers, obliged to keep watch and ward for a
century. This spoliation of the ground, however, is said to have been
pleasing to their imaginations, as it reminded them of the plains of
their own Castile,--the table-land of Europe;[11] where the nakedness of
the landscape forms the burden of every traveller’s lament who visits
that country.

Midway across the continent, somewhat nearer the Pacific than the
Atlantic Ocean, at an elevation of nearly seven thousand five hundred
feet, is the celebrated Valley of Mexico. It is of an oval form, about
sixty-seven leagues in circumference,[12] and is encompassed by a
towering rampart of porphyritic rock, which nature seems to have
provided, though ineffectually, to protect it from invasion.

The soil, once carpeted with a beautiful verdure and thickly sprinkled
with stately trees, is often bare, and, in many places, white with the
incrustation of salts caused by the draining of the waters. Five lakes
are spread over the Valley, occupying one-tenth of its surface.[13] On
the opposite borders of the largest of these basins, much shrunk in its
dimensions[14] since the days of the Aztecs, stood the cities of Mexico
and Tezcuco, the capitals of the two most potent and flourishing states
of Anahuac, whose history, with that of the mysterious races that
preceded them in the country,[15] exhibits some of the nearest
approaches to civilization to be met with anciently on the North
American continent.

Of these races the most conspicuous were the Toltecs. Advancing from a
northerly direction, but from what region is uncertain,[16] they entered
the territory of Anahuac,[17] probably before the close of the seventh
century. Of course, little can be gleaned with certainty respecting a
people whose written records have perished, and who are known to us only
through the traditionary legends of the nations that succeeded them.[18]
By the general agreement of these, however, the Toltecs were well
instructed in agriculture and many of the most useful mechanic arts;
were nice workers of metals; invented the complex arrangement of time
adopted by the Aztecs; and, in short, were the true fountains of the
civilization which distinguished this part of the continent in later
times.[19] They established their capital at Tula, north of the Mexican
Valley, and the remains of extensive buildings were to be discerned
there at the time of the Conquest.[20] The noble ruins of religious and
other edifices, still to be seen in various parts of New Spain, are
referred to this people, whose name, _Toltec_, has passed into a synonym
for _architect_.[21] Their shadowy history reminds us of those primitive
races who preceded the ancient Egyptians in the march of civilization;
fragments of whose monuments, as they are seen at this day, incorporated
with the buildings of the Egyptians themselves, give to these latter the
appearance of almost modern constructions.[22]

After a period of four centuries, the Toltecs, who had extended their
sway over the remotest borders of Anahuac,[23] having been greatly
reduced, it is said, by famine, pestilence, and unsuccessful wars,
disappeared from the land as silently and mysteriously as they had
entered it. A few of them still lingered behind, but much the greater
number, probably, spread over the region of Central America and the
neighboring isles; and the traveller now speculates on the majestic
ruins of Mitla and Palenque, as possibly the work of this extraordinary

After the lapse of another hundred years, a numerous and rude tribe,
called the Chichimecs, entered the deserted country from the regions of
the far Northwest. They were speedily followed by other races, of higher
civilization, perhaps of the same family with the Toltecs, whose
language they appear to have spoken. The most noted of these were the
Aztecs or Mexicans, and the Acolhuans. The latter, better known in later
times by the name of Tezcucans, from their capital, Tezcuco,[26] on the
eastern border of the Mexican lake, were peculiarly fitted, by their
comparatively mild religion and manners, for receiving the tincture of
civilization which could be derived from the few Toltecs that still
remained in the country.[27] This, in their turn, they communicated to
the barbarous Chichimecs, a large portion of whom became amalgamated
with the new settlers as one nation.[28]

Availing themselves of the strength derived, not only from this
increase of numbers, but from their own superior refinement, the
Acolhuans gradually stretched their empire over the ruder tribes in the
north; while their capital was filled with a numerous population, busily
employed in many of the more useful and even elegant arts of a civilized
community. In this palmy state, they were suddenly assaulted by a
warlike neighbor, the Tepanecs, their own kindred, and inhabitants of
the same valley as themselves. Their provinces were overrun, their
armies beaten, their king assassinated, and the flourishing city of
Tezcuco became the prize of the victor. From this abject condition the
uncommon abilities of the young prince, Nezahualcoyotl, the rightful
heir to the crown, backed by the efficient aid of his Mexican allies, at
length redeemed the state, and opened to it a new career of prosperity,
even more brilliant than the former.[29]

The Mexicans, with whom our history is principally concerned, came also,
as we have seen, from the remote regions of the North,--the populous
hive of nations in the New World, as it has been in the Old.[30] They
arrived on the borders of Anahuac towards the beginning of the
thirteenth century, some time after the occupation of the land by the
kindred races. For a long time they did not establish themselves in any
permanent residence, but continued shifting their quarters to different
parts of the Mexican Valley, enduring all the casualties and hardships
of a migratory life. On one occasion they were enslaved by a more
powerful tribe; but their ferocity soon made them formidable to their
masters.[31] After a series of wanderings and adventures which need not
shrink from comparison with the most extravagant legends of the heroic
ages of antiquity, they at length halted on the southwestern borders of
the principal lake, in the year 1325. They there beheld, perched on the
stem of a prickly pear, which shot out from the crevice of a rock that
was washed by the waves, a royal eagle of extraordinary size and beauty,
with a serpent in his talons, and his broad wings opened to the rising
sun. They hailed the auspicious omen, announced by an oracle as
indicating the site of their future city, and laid its foundations by
sinking piles into the shallows; for the low marshes were half buried
under water. On these they erected their light fabrics of reeds and
rushes, and sought a precarious subsistence from fishing, and from the
wild fowl which frequented the waters, as well as from the cultivation
of such simple vegetables as they could raise on their floating gardens.
The place was called Tenochtitlan, in token of its miraculous origin,
though only known to Europeans by its other name of Mexico,[32] derived
from their war-god, Mexitli.[33] The legend of its foundation is still
further commemorated by the device of the eagle and the cactus, which
form the arms of the modern Mexican republic. Such were the humble
beginnings of the Venice of the Western World.[34][35]

The forlorn condition of the new settlers was made still worse by
domestic feuds. A part of the citizens seceded from the main body, and
formed a separate community on the neighboring marshes. Thus divided, it
was long before they could aspire to the acquisition of territory on the
main land. They gradually increased, however, in numbers, and
strengthened themselves yet more by various improvements in their polity
and military discipline, while they established a reputation for courage
as well as cruelty in war which made their name terrible throughout the
Valley. In the early part of the fifteenth century, nearly a hundred
years from the foundation of the city, an event took place which created
an entire revolution in the circumstances and, to some extent, in the
character of the Aztecs. This was the subversion of the Tezcucan
monarchy by the Tepanecs, already noticed. When the oppressive conduct
of the victors had at length aroused a spirit of resistance, its prince,
Nezahualcoyotl, succeeded, after incredible perils and escapes, in
mustering such a force as, with the aid of the Mexicans, placed him on a
level with his enemies. In two successive battles, these were defeated
with great slaughter, their chief slain, and their territory, by one of
those sudden reverses which characterize the wars of petty states,
passed into the hands of the conquerors. It was awarded to Mexico, in
return for its important services.[36]

Then was formed that remarkable league, which, indeed, has no parallel
in history. It was agreed between the states of Mexico, Tezcuco, and the
neighboring little kingdom of Tlacopan, that they should mutually
support each other in their wars, offensive and defensive, and that in
the distribution of the spoil one-fifth should be assigned to Tlacopan,
and the remainder be divided, in what proportions is uncertain, between
the other powers. The Tezcucan writers claim an equal share for their
nation with the Aztecs. But this does not seem to be warranted by the
immense increase of territory subsequently appropriated by the latter.
And we may account for any advantage conceded to them by the treaty, on
the supposition that, however inferior they may have been originally,
they were, at the time of making it, in a more prosperous condition than
their allies, broken and dispirited by long oppression. What is more
extraordinary than the treaty itself, however, is the fidelity with
which it was maintained. During a century of uninterrupted warfare that
ensued, no instance occurred where the parties quarrelled over the
division of the spoil, which so often makes shipwreck of similar
confederacies among civilized states.[37]

The allies for some time found sufficient occupation for their arms in
their own valley; but they soon overleaped its rocky ramparts, and by
the middle of the fifteenth century, under the first Montezuma, had
spread down the sides of the table-land to the borders of the Gulf of
Mexico. Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital, gave evidence of the public
prosperity. Its frail tenements were supplanted by solid structures of
stone and lime. Its population rapidly increased. Its old feuds were
healed. The citizens who had seceded were again brought under a common
government with the main body, and the quarter they occupied was
permanently connected with the parent city; the dimensions of which,
covering the same ground, were much larger than those of the modern
capital of Mexico.[38][39]

Fortunately, the throne was filled by a succession of able princes, who
knew how to profit by their enlarged resources and by the martial
enthusiasm of the nation. Year after year saw them return, loaded with
the spoils of conquered cities, and with throngs of devoted captives, to
their capital. No state was able long to resist the accumulated strength
of the confederates. At the beginning of the sixteenth century, just
before the arrival of the Spaniards, the Aztec dominion reached across
the continent, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and, under the bold and
bloody Ahuitzotl, its arms had been carried far over the limits already
noticed as defining its permanent territory, into the farthest corners
of Guatemala and Nicaragua. This extent of empire, however limited in
comparison with that of many other states, is truly wonderful,
considering it as the acquisition of a people whose whole population and
resources had so recently been comprised within the walls of their own
petty city, and considering, moreover, that the conquered territory was
thickly settled by various races, bred to arms like the Mexicans, and
little inferior to them in social organization. The history of the
Aztecs suggests some strong points of resemblance to that of the ancient
Romans, not only in their military successes, but in the policy which
led to them.[40]

     The most important contribution, of late years, to the early
     history of Mexico is the _Historia antigua_ of the Lic. Don.
     Mariano Veytia, published in the city of Mexico, in 1836. This
     scholar was born of an ancient and highly respectable family at
     Puebla, 1718. After finishing his academic education, he went to
     Spain, where he was kindly received at court. He afterwards visited
     several other countries of Europe, made himself acquainted with
     their languages, and returned home well stored with the fruits of a
     discriminating observation and diligent study. The rest of his life
     he devoted to letters; especially to the illustration of the
     national history and antiquities. As the executor of the
     unfortunate Boturini, with whom he had contracted an intimacy in
     Madrid, he obtained access to his valuable collection of
     manuscripts in Mexico, and from them, and every other source which
     his position in society and his eminent character opened to him, he
     composed various works, none of which, however, except the one
     before us, has been admitted to the honors of the press. The time
     of his death is not given by his editor, but it was probably not
     later than 1780.

     Veytia’s history covers the whole period from the first occupation
     of Anahuac to the middle of the fifteenth century, at which point
     his labors were unfortunately terminated by his death. In the early
     portion he has endeavored to trace the migratory movements and
     historical annals of the principal races who entered the country.
     Every page bears testimony to the extent and fidelity of his
     researches; and, if we feel but moderate confidence in the results,
     the fault is not imputable to him, so much as to the dark and
     doubtful nature of the subject. As he descends to later ages, he is
     more occupied with the fortunes of the Tezcucan than with those of
     the Aztec dynasty, which have been amply discussed by others of his
     countrymen. The premature close of his labors prevented him,
     probably, from giving that attention to the domestic institutions
     of the people he describes, to which they are entitled as the most
     important subject of inquiry to the historian. The deficiency has
     been supplied by his judicious editor, Orteaga, from other sources.
     In the early part of his work, Veytia has explained the
     chronological system of the Aztecs, but, like most writers
     preceding the accurate Gama, with indifferent success. As a critic,
     he certainly ranks much higher than the annalists who preceded him,
     and, when his own religion is not involved, shows a discriminating
     judgment. When it is, he betrays a full measure of the credulity
     which still maintains its hold on too many even of the
     well-informed of his countrymen. The editor of the work has given a
     very interesting letter from the Abbé Clavigero to Veytia, written
     when the former was a poor and humble exile, and in the tone of one
     addressing a person of high standing and literary eminence. Both
     were employed on the same subject. The writings of the poor abbé,
     published again and again, and translated into various languages,
     have spread his fame throughout Europe; while the name of Veytia,
     whose works have been locked up in their primitive manuscript, is
     scarcely known beyond the boundaries of Mexico.

     [The opinions set forth by Mr. Prescott respecting the Mexican
     empire were attacked with much vigor by Lewis H. Morgan. Mr. Morgan
     demonstrated conclusively that many of those opinions were
     erroneous. But, as Payne says in his History of the New World
     called America, vol i. p. 306, “his results cannot be regarded as
     satisfactory, much less as final.” The Spanish chroniclers Prescott
     consulted were correct ordinarily in their statement of facts, but
     were misleading in their conclusions because of their inability to
     comprehend the Aztec institutions.

     On the pueblo as the unit of aboriginal history, see Payne, vol. i.
     pp. 36-47.

     In his Ancient Society, p. 186, Mr. Morgan says: “The histories of
     Spanish America may be trusted in whatever relates to the acts of
     the Spaniards, and to the acts and personal characteristics of the
     Indians; in whatever relates to their weapons, implements and
     utensils, fabrics, food and raiment, and things of a similar
     character. But in whatever relates to Indian society and
     government, their social relations and plan of life, they are
     nearly worthless, because they learned nothing and knew nothing of
     either. We are at full liberty to reject them in these respects and
     commence anew, using any facts they may contain which harmonize
     with what is known of Indian society.” He does not, however, always
     observe his own rules if those rules seem to militate against the
     thesis he is endeavoring to establish. Moreover, he is so dogmatic
     in his statements and so confident in the infallibility of his own
     judgment, that the reader who is seeking simply to ascertain the
     truth about the whole matter is oftentimes intensely exasperated
     with him. This is especially true with respect to the famous essay
     on “Montezuma’s Dinner,” where he writes almost as though he had
     been a guest at the banquet and had partaken of the viands which
     were there consumed. As Mr. Morgan may justly be regarded as the
     founder of a school, it is well to state his views at length.

     According to him, then, there was no kingdom or empire of Mexico.
     There was simply a confederacy of three tribes, and this
     confederacy was a military democracy. The governmental powers were
     vested in a council of chiefs with a general commander. The council
     exercised all civil power, the military power being left in the
     hands of the war chief. There were no feudal castles inhabited by
     lawless lords. There were only great communal houses tenanted by

     In his brilliant work on Ancient Society, Mr. Morgan places below
     civilization two stages of development--savagery and barbarism. The
     invention of pottery marks the difference between these two stages.
     The savage makes no pottery. When the women of the savage tribes
     used vessels of fire-hardened clay for boiling their food they had
     passed into the first stage of barbarism. Elsewhere there were
     pastoral stages of development. In North America there were none.
     The only domesticated animal its inhabitants possessed when the
     Europeans landed on the continent was the dog. The first stage of
     barbarism in North America was marked by the cultivation of maize
     or Indian corn. This grain can be cultivated more easily than any
     other cereal. No other yields such enormous returns. In virgin soil
     it is only necessary to drop the seed into the earth. Nature cares
     for its complete development. But virgin soil becomes exhausted in
     a few years. As population becomes denser and migrations cease to
     be practicable, the land must be more carefully tilled, and, where
     rains are comparatively infrequent, must be irrigated. Irrigation
     and the use of adobe (sun-dried brick) and stone in building mark
     the beginning of the second period of barbarism. In this period
     also tools of stone give place to those of metal, the metal used in
     America being copper. The Aztecs, the Mayas, and, in South America,
     the Peruvians were in the second period. But to the third period,
     when the smelting of iron ore was invented, these people never

     The invention of a phonetic alphabet and the use of written
     records, Mr. Morgan thinks, mark the beginning of civilization.
     But, as John Fiske points out, it will not do to insist too
     narrowly upon the phonetic alphabet. Hieroglyphics have perpetuated
     much historic record in Egypt and China. Although the Mexicans and
     Central Americans did not smelt iron ore, they yet possessed
     historic records in their hieroglyphics (hieroglyphics which may
     still be read). They were then enjoying civilization of an
     extremely rude type, combined with a marvellously developed
     barbarism. For though their barbarism was marked by human
     sacrifices and by cannibalism, yet, according to testimony which
     Mr. Morgan says may be taken at its face value, these barbarians
     had pleasure-gardens and fountains, baths, menageries, feather-work
     that was marvellously beautiful, pottery that showed admirable
     taste, vessels of gold and silver, and many other accessories of an
     advanced civilization.

     Mr. Morgan was adopted into the Seneca tribe of North American
     Indians, and he was able to study Indian institutions from an
     inside point of view. Unquestionably he had a more profound
     knowledge of those institutions than any other scholar of his time.
     But he went too far when he confined the Aztecs to the narrow
     limits in development to which the Senecas had attained. Moreover,
     he does not make due allowance for the changes in development which
     the more favorable climate of the Mexican table-lands brought
     about. The “long house” of the Iroquois may have been constructed
     on the same general plan, but it could hardly have been mistaken
     for the building in which Montezuma quartered Cortés and his
     allies. The one meal, freshly cooked and eaten about midday, bore
     but little resemblance to the banquets in Mexico described with
     such watery appreciation by the Spanish chroniclers. (Morgan admits
     that these same chroniclers may be trusted when they write of food
     and other such palpable matters.)

     But Mr. Morgan is unquestionably right in saying that Montezuma’s
     so-called “empire” was really a confederacy of tribes--living in
     pueblos, governed by a council of chiefs, and levying tribute upon
     other pueblos. The Aztec confederacy dominated the Mexican land as
     the Iroquois confederacy dominated the region between the
     Connecticut and the Mississippi. To assert that otherwise the two
     nations were alike both in their institutions and in their
     development is as unwarranted as to say that the governmental
     institutions and the political development of the United States and
     Venezuela are identical.

     How did this confederacy come to be formed?

     The earliest family group was the clan. As Sir Henry Maine points
     out in his Ancient Law, the individual was nothing in ancient
     society, the state was nothing, the family was everything. This
     statement holds good everywhere, for America as well as for India.
     A group of clans made up a phratry or brotherhood; a group of
     phratries made a tribe. This threefold grouping was universal. The
     Greek phratry, the Roman curia, the Teutonic hundred were analogous
     institutions. In the clans kinship was always derived through the
     female line. The _Mutterrecht_ everywhere prevailed.{*}

     {*} [This subject Mr. Morgan treats with a master’s hand in his
     Houses and House Life of the American Aborigines.]

       μήτηρ μεύ τʹ ἐμέ ψησι Του ἑμμεναι ᾶυτὰρ ἐγωγε
       οὐκ ὀιδ, ὀυ γαρ πώ τις ἐον γόνον ἀυτὸς ἀνέγνω
                       Odyssey, I, 215-6.

     In that middle stage of barbarism when men began to acquire
     property, when warriors of valor converted to their uses what had
     once been common property,--herds of cattle, wives, etc.,--when
     polygamy became a custom, kinship came to be reckoned through the
     male line. In this way relationship was mightily changed. But in
     aboriginal America where domesticated animals were unknown this
     change did not take place as early as it did elsewhere. In Mexico
     the change did not probably come much before the century of the
     Conquest. Kinship was through females only. The exogamous clan (the
     system which required that the spouse should be taken from another
     clan) was the unit of the social structure, not the family.

     House life found expression in architecture. One underlying
     principle was everywhere apparent--namely, adaptation to communal
     living. Gradations in culture were evident from the buildings.{*}
     Thus, the “long house” of the Iroquois, from fifty to one hundred
     feet long, divided into compartments every six or eight feet, and
     roughly constructed from timber and bark, betokened very different
     conditions from those which prevailed among the pueblos of the Zuñi
     Indians, with their immense structures of adobe and of stone.

     {*} [This subject Mr. Morgan treats with a master’s hand in his
     Houses and House Life of the American Aborigines.]

     In the communal house woman ruled. To her belonged the personal
     property. Because it was derived through her, this property
     remained always with the exogamous clan. Thus, marriage made very
     little difference to woman’s maintenance. If the husband who had
     come into the house proved to be lazy and otherwise worthless,
     divorce was easy, and he was sent back to his own.

     From its own members the clan elected a sachem to attend to civil
     matters, and a chief to direct its military affairs.

     The son could not succeed his father in these offices, but a
     brother might succeed a brother. (This was true of the Indian tribe
     to which Powhatan belonged. Had James I of England been aware of
     this fact, he would not have looked with such jealous eyes upon his
     subject Rolfe who had married the Indian princess Pocahontas.) The
     clan was always known by some distinctive name, usually that of
     some animal--beaver, fox, wolf, etc.

     When the clan became so large as to be unwieldy, it split up into
     phratries. The “phratry” was at first a religious and social
     organization; and one of its chief duties was the prosecution of
     criminals. (The Teutonic hundred was ever ready to exact
     “wehrgeld.”) “The tribe” was usually the highest attainment in
     organization of which the aborigines of America were capable. The
     Mexican confederacy was the most interesting and important of their
     permanent organizations. The Spaniards did not understand the
     principles on which this confederacy was founded, because it was
     entirely unlike anything with which they were familiar.--M.]



The form of government differed in the different states of Anahuac. With
the Aztecs and Tezcucans it was monarchical and nearly absolute. The two
nations resembled each other so much in their political institutions
that one of their historians has remarked, in too unqualified a manner
indeed, that what is told of one may be always understood as applying to
the other.[41] I shall direct my inquiries to the Mexican polity,
borrowing an illustration occasionally from that of the rival

The government was an elective monarchy. Four of the principal nobles,
who had been chosen by their own body in the preceding reign, filled
the office of electors, to whom were added, with merely an honorary
rank, however, the two royal allies of Tezcuco and Tlacopan. The
sovereign was selected from the brothers of the deceased prince, or, in
default of them, from his nephews. Thus the election was always
restricted to the same family. The candidate preferred must have
distinguished himself in war, though, as in the case of the last
Montezuma, he were a member of the priesthood.[43] This singular mode of
supplying the throne had some advantages. The candidates received an
education which fitted them for the royal dignity, while the age at
which they were chosen not only secured the nation against the evils of
minority, but afforded ample means for estimating their qualifications
for the office. The result, at all events, was favorable; since the
throne, as already noticed, was filled by a succession of able princes,
well qualified to rule over a warlike and ambitious people. The scheme
of election, however defective, argues a more refined and calculating
policy than was to have been expected from a barbarous nation.[44]

The new monarch[45] was installed in his regal dignity with much parade
of religious ceremony, but not until, by a victorious campaign, he had
obtained a sufficient number of captives to grace his triumphal entry
into the capital and to furnish victims for the dark and bloody rites
which stained the Aztec superstition. Amidst this pomp of human
sacrifice he was crowned. The crown, resembling a mitre in its form, and
curiously ornamented with gold, gems, and feathers, was placed on his
head by the lord of Tezcuco, the most powerful of his royal allies. The
title of _King_, by which the earlier Aztec princes are distinguished by
Spanish writers, is supplanted by that of _Emperor_ in the later reigns,
intimating, perhaps, his superiority over the confederated monarchies of
Tlacopan and Tezcuco.[46]

The Aztec princes, especially towards the close of the dynasty, lived in
a barbaric pomp, truly Oriental. Their spacious palaces[47] were
provided with halls for the different councils who aided the monarch in
the transaction of business. The chief of these was a sort of privy
council, composed in part, probably, of the four electors chosen by the
nobles after the accession, whose places, when made vacant by death,
were immediately supplied as before. It was the business of this body,
so far as can be gathered from the very loose accounts given of it, to
advise the king, in respect to the government of the provinces, the
administration of the revenues, and, indeed, on all great matters of
public interest.[48]

In the royal buildings were accommodations, also, for a numerous
body-guard[49] of the sovereign, made up of the chief nobility. It is
not easy to determine with precision, in these barbarian governments,
the limits of the several orders. It is certain there was a distinct
class of nobles, with large landed possessions, who held the most
important offices near the person of the prince, and engrossed the
administration of the provinces and cities.[50] Many of these could
trace their descent from the founders of the Aztec monarchy. According
to some writers of authority, there were thirty great _caciques_, who
had their residence, at least a part of the year, in the capital, and
who could muster a hundred thousand vassals each on their estates.[51]
Without relying on such wild statements, it is clear, from the testimony
of the Conquerors, that the country was occupied by numerous powerful
chieftains, who lived like independent princes on their domains. If it
be true that the kings encouraged, or, indeed, exacted, the residence of
these nobles in the capital, and required hostages in their absence, it
is evident that their power must have been very formidable.[52]

Their estates appear to have been held by various tenures, and to have
been subject to different restrictions. Some of them, earned by their
own good swords or received as the recompense of public services, were
held without any limitation, except that the possessors could not
dispose of them to a plebeian.[53] Others were entailed on the eldest
male issue, and, in default of such, reverted to the crown. Most of them
seem to have been burdened with the obligation of military service. The
principal chiefs of Tezcuco, according to its chronicler, were expressly
obliged to support their prince with their armed vassals, to attend his
court, and aid him in the council. Some, instead of these services, were
to provide for the repairs of his buildings, and to keep the royal
demesnes in order, with an annual offering, by way of homage, of fruits
and flowers. It was usual, if we are to believe historians, for a new
king, on his accession, to confirm the investiture of estates derived
from the crown.[54]

It cannot be denied that we recognize, in all this, several features of
the feudal system,[55] which, no doubt, lose nothing of their effect
under the hands of the Spanish writers, who are fond of tracing
analogies to European institutions. But such analogies lead sometimes to
very erroneous conclusions. The obligation of military service, for
instance, the most essential principle of a fief, seems to be naturally
demanded by every government from its subjects. As to minor points of
resemblance, they fall far short of that harmonious system of reciprocal
service and protection which embraced, in nice gradation, every order of
a feudal monarchy. The kingdoms of Anahuac were in their nature
despotic, attended, indeed, with many mitigating circumstances unknown
to the despotisms of the East; but it is chimerical to look for much in
common--beyond a few accidental forms and ceremonies--with those
aristocratic institutions of the Middle Ages which made the court of
every petty baron the precise image in miniature of that of his

The legislative power, both in Mexico and Tezcuco, resided wholly with
the monarch.[56] This feature of despotism, however, was in some measure
counteracted by the constitution of the judicial tribunals,--of more
importance, among a rude people, than the legislative, since it is
easier to make good laws for such a community than to enforce them, and
the best laws, badly administered, are but a mockery. Over each of the
principal cities, with its dependent territories, was placed a supreme
judge, appointed by the crown, with original and final jurisdiction in
both civil and criminal cases. There was no appeal from his sentence to
any other tribunal, nor even to the king. He held his office during
life; and any one who usurped his ensigns was punished with death.[57]

Below this magistrate was a court, established in each province, and
consisting of three members. It held concurrent jurisdiction with the
supreme judge in civil suits, but in criminal an appeal lay to his
tribunal. Besides these courts, there was a body of inferior
magistrates, distributed through the country, chosen by the people
themselves in their several districts. Their authority was limited to
smaller causes, while the more important were carried up to the higher
courts. There was still another class of subordinate officers, appointed
also by the people, each of whom was to watch over the conduct of a
certain number of families and report any disorder or breach of the laws
to the higher authorities.[58]

In Tezcuco the judicial arrangements were of a more refined
character;[59] and a gradation of tribunals finally terminated in a
general meeting or parliament, consisting of all the judges, great and
petty, throughout the kingdom, held every eighty days in the capital,
over which the king presided in person. This body determined all suits
which, from their importance or difficulty, had been reserved for its
consideration by the lower tribunals. It served, moreover, as a council
of state, to assist the monarch in the transaction of public

Such are the vague and imperfect notices that can be gleaned, respecting
the Aztec tribunals, from the hieroglyphical paintings still preserved,
and from the most accredited Spanish writers. These, being usually
ecclesiastics, have taken much less interest in this subject than in
matters connected with religion. They find some apology, certainly, in
the early destruction of most of the Indian paintings, from which their
information was, in part, to be gathered.

On the whole, however, it must be inferred that the Aztecs were
sufficiently civilized to evince a solicitude for the rights both of
property and of persons. The law, authorizing an appeal to the highest
judicature in criminal matters only, shows an attention to personal
security, rendered the more obligatory by the extreme severity of their
penal code, which would naturally have made them more cautious of a
wrong conviction. The existence of a number of co-ordinate tribunals,
without a central one of supreme authority to control the whole, must
have given rise to very discordant interpretations of the law in
different districts. But this is an evil which they shared in common
with most of the nations of Europe.

The provision for making the superior judges wholly independent of the
crown was worthy of an enlightened people. It presented the strongest
barrier that a mere constitution could afford against tyranny. It is
not, indeed, to be supposed that, in a government otherwise so despotic,
means could not be found for influencing the magistrate. But it was a
great step to fence round his authority with the sanction of the law;
and no one of the Aztec monarchs, so far as I know, is accused of an
attempt to violate it.

To receive presents or a bribe, to be guilty of collusion in any way
with a suitor, was punished, in a judge, with death. Who, or what
tribunal, decided as to his guilt, does not appear. In Tezcuco this was
done by the rest of the court. But the king presided over that body. The
Tezcucan prince Nezahualpilli, who rarely tempered justice with mercy,
put one judge to death for taking a bribe, and another for determining
suits in his own house,--a capital offence, also, by law.[61]

The judges of the higher tribunals were maintained from the produce of a
part of the crown lands, reserved for this purpose. They, as well as the
supreme judge, held their offices for life. The proceedings in the
courts were conducted with decency and order. The judges wore an
appropriate dress, and attended to business both parts of the day,
dining always, for the sake of despatch, in an apartment of the same
building where they held their session; a method of proceeding much
commended by the Spanish chroniclers, to whom despatch was not very
familiar in their own tribunals. Officers attended to preserve order,
and others summoned the parties and produced them in court. No counsel
was employed; the parties stated their own case and supported it by
their witnesses. The oath of the accused was also admitted in
evidence.[62] The statement of the case, the testimony, and the
proceedings of the trial were all set forth by a clerk, in
hieroglyphical paintings, and handed over to the court. The paintings
were executed with so much accuracy that in all suits respecting real
property they were allowed to be produced as good authority in the
Spanish tribunals, very long after the Conquest; and a chair for their
study and interpretation was established at Mexico in 1553, which has
long since shared the fate of most other provisions for learning in that
unfortunate country.[63]

A capital sentence was indicated by a line traced with an arrow across
the portrait of the accused. In Tezcuco, where the king presided in the
court, this, according to the national chronicler, was done with
extraordinary parade. His description, which is of rather a poetical
cast, I give in his own words. “In the royal palace of Tezcuco was a
court-yard, on the opposite sides of which were two halls of justice. In
the principal one, called the ‘tribunal of God,’ was a throne of pure
gold, inlaid with turquoises and other precious stones. On a stool in
front was placed a human skull, crowned with an immense emerald of a
pyramidal form, and surmounted by an aigrette of brilliant plumes and
precious stones. The skull was laid on a heap of military weapons,
shields, quivers, bows, and arrows. The walls were hung with tapestry,
made of the hair of different wild animals, of rich and various colors,
festooned by gold rings and embroidered with figures of birds and
flowers. Above the throne was a canopy of variegated plumage, from the
centre of which shot forth resplendent rays of gold and jewels. The
other tribunal, called ‘the King’s,’ was also surmounted by a gorgeous
canopy of feathers, on which were emblazoned the royal arms. Here the
sovereign gave public audience and communicated his despatches. But when
he decided important causes, or confirmed a capital sentence, he passed
to the ‘tribunal of God,’ attended by the fourteen great lords of the
realm, marshalled according to their rank. Then, putting on his mitred
crown, incrusted with precious stones, and holding a golden arrow, by
way of sceptre, in his left hand, he laid his right upon the skull, and
pronounced judgment.”[64] All this looks rather fine for a court of
justice, it must be owned. But it is certain that the Tezcucans, as we
shall see hereafter, possessed both the materials and the skill
requisite to work them up in this manner. Had they been a little further
advanced in refinement, one might well doubt their having the bad taste
to do so.

The laws of the Aztecs were registered, and exhibited to the people, in
their hieroglyphical paintings. Much the larger part of them, as in
every nation imperfectly civilized, relates rather to the security of
persons than of property.[65] The great crimes against society were all
made capital. Even the murder of a slave was punished with death.
Adulterers, as among the Jews, were stoned to death. Thieving, according
to the degree of the offence, was punished by slavery or death. Yet the
Mexicans could have been under no great apprehension of this crime,
since the entrances to their dwellings were not secured by bolts or
fastenings of any kind. It was a capital offence to remove the
boundaries of another’s lands; to alter the established measures; and
for a guardian not to be able to give a good account of his ward’s
property. These regulations evince a regard for equity in dealings, and
for private rights, which argues a considerable progress in
civilization. Prodigals, who squandered their patrimony, were punished
in like manner; a severe sentence, since the crime brought its adequate
punishment along with it. Intemperance, which was the burden, moreover,
of their religious homilies, was visited with the severest penalties; as
if they had foreseen in it the consuming canker of their own as well as
of the other Indian races in later times. It was punished in the young
with death, and in older persons with loss of rank and confiscation of
property. Yet a decent conviviality was not meant to be proscribed at
their festivals, and they possessed the means of indulging it, in a mild
fermented liquor, called _pulque_, which is still popular, not only with
the Indian, but the European population of the country.[66]

The rites of marriage were celebrated with as much formality as in any
Christian country; and the institution was held in such reverence that a
tribunal was instituted for the sole purpose of determining questions
relating to it. Divorces could not be obtained until authorized by a
sentence of this court, after a patient hearing of the parties.

But the most remarkable part of the Aztec code was that relating to
slavery. There were several descriptions of slaves: prisoners taken in
war, who were almost always reserved for the dreadful doom of sacrifice;
criminals, public debtors, persons who, from extreme poverty,
voluntarily resigned their freedom, and children who were sold by their
own parents. In the last instance, usually occasioned also by poverty,
it was common for the parents, with the master’s consent, to substitute
others of their children successively, as they grew up; thus
distributing the burden as equally as possible among the different
members of the family. The willingness of freemen to incur the penalties
of this condition is explained by the mild form in which it existed. The
contract of sale was executed in the presence of at least four
witnesses. The services to be exacted were limited with great
precision. The slave was allowed to have his own family, to hold
property, and even other slaves. His children were free. No one could be
born to slavery in Mexico;[67] an honorable distinction, not known, I
believe, in any civilized community where slavery has been
sanctioned.[68] Slaves were not sold by their masters, unless when these
were driven to it by poverty. They were often liberated by them at their
death, and sometimes, as there was no natural repugnance founded on
difference of blood and race, were married to them. Yet a refractory or
vicious slave might be led into the market, with a collar round his
neck,[69] which intimated his bad character, and there be publicly sold,
and, on a second sale, reserved for sacrifice.[70]

Such are some of the most striking features of the Aztec code, to which
the Tezcucan bore great resemblance.[71] With some exceptions, it is
stamped with the severity, the ferocity indeed, of a rude people,
hardened by familiarity with scenes of blood, and relying on physical
instead of moral means for the correction of evil.[72] Still, it evinces
a profound respect for the great principles of morality, and as clear a
perception of these principles as is to be found in the most cultivated

The royal revenues were derived from various sources. The crown
lands,[73] which appear to have been extensive, made their returns in
kind. The places in the neighborhood of the capital were bound to supply
workmen and materials for building the king’s palaces and keeping them
in repair. They were also to furnish fuel, provisions, and whatever was
necessary for his ordinary domestic expenditure, which was certainly on
no stinted scale.[74] The principal cities, which had numerous villages
and a large territory dependent on them, were distributed into
districts, with each a share of the lands allotted to it, for its
support. The inhabitants paid a stipulated part of the produce to the
crown. The vassals of the great chiefs, also, paid a portion of their
earnings into the public treasury; an arrangement not at all in the
spirit of the feudal institutions.[75]

In addition to this tax on all the agricultural produce of the kingdom,
there was another on its manufactures. The nature and the variety of the
tributes will be best shown by an enumeration of some of the principal
articles. These were cotton dresses, and mantles of feather-work
exquisitely made; ornamented armor; vases and plates of gold; gold dust,
bands and bracelets; crystal, gilt, and varnished jars and goblets;
bells, arms, and utensils of copper; reams of paper; grain, fruits,
copal, amber, cochineal, cacao, wild animals and birds, timber, lime,
mats, etc.[76] In this curious medley of the most homely commodities
and the elegant superfluities of luxury, it is singular that no mention
should be made of silver, the great staple of the country in later
times, and the use of which was certainly known to the Aztecs.[77]

Garrisons were established in the larger cities,--probably those at a
distance and recently conquered,--to keep down revolt, and to enforce
the payment of the tribute.[78][79] Tax-gatherers were also distributed
throughout the kingdom, who were recognized by their official badges,
and dreaded from the merciless rigor of their exactions. By a stern law,
every defaulter was liable to be taken and sold as a slave. In the
capital were spacious granaries and warehouses for the reception of the
tributes. A receiver-general was quartered in the palace, who rendered
in an exact account of the various contributions, and watched over the
conduct of the inferior agents, in whom the least malversation was
summarily punished. This functionary was furnished with a map of the
whole empire, with a minute specification of the imposts assessed on
every part of it. These imposts, moderate under the reigns of the early
princes, became so burdensome under those at the close of the dynasty,
being rendered still more oppressive by the manner of collection, that
they bred disaffection throughout the land, and prepared the way for its
conquest by the Spaniards.[80]

Communication was maintained with the remotest parts of the country by
means of couriers. Post-houses were established on the great roads,
about two leagues distant from each other. The courier, bearing his
despatches in the form of a hieroglyphical painting, ran with them to
the first station, where they were taken by another messenger and
carried forward to the next, and so on till they reached the capital.
These couriers, trained from childhood, travelled with incredible
swiftness,--not four or five leagues an hour, as an old chronicler would
make us believe, but with such speed that despatches were carried from
one to two hundred miles a day.[81] Fresh fish was frequently served at
Montezuma’s table in twenty-four hours from the time it had been taken
in the Gulf of Mexico, two hundred miles from the capital. In this way
intelligence of the movements of the royal armies was rapidly brought
to court; and the dress of the courier, denoting by its color the
nature of his tidings, spread joy or consternation in the towns through
which he passed.[82]

But the great aim of the Aztec institutions, to which private discipline
and public honors were alike directed, was the profession of arms. In
Mexico, as in Egypt, the soldier shared with the priest the highest
consideration. The king, as we have seen, must be an experienced
warrior. The tutelary deity of the Aztecs was the god of war. A great
object of their military expeditions was to gather hecatombs of captives
for his altars. The soldier who fell in battle was transported at once
to the region of ineffable bliss in the bright mansions of the Sun.[83]
Every war, therefore, became a crusade; and the warrior, animated by a
religious enthusiasm like that of the early Saracen or the Christian
crusader, was not only raised to a contempt of danger, but courted it,
for the imperishable crown of martyrdom. Thus we find the same impulse
acting in the most opposite quarters of the globe, and the Asiatic, the
European, and the American, each earnestly invoking the holy name of
religion in the perpetration of human butchery.

The question of war was discussed in a council of the king and his chief
nobles.[84] Ambassadors were sent, previously to its declaration, to
require the hostile state to receive the Mexican gods and to pay the
customary tribute. The persons of ambassadors were held sacred
throughout Anahuac. They were lodged and entertained in the great towns
at the public charge, and were everywhere received with courtesy, so
long as they did not deviate from the high-roads on their route. When
they did, they forfeited their privileges. If the embassy proved
unsuccessful, a defiance, or open declaration of war, was sent; quotas
were drawn from the conquered provinces, which were always subjected to
military service, as well as the payment of taxes; and the royal army,
usually with the monarch at its head, began its march.[85]

The Aztec princes made use of the incentives employed by European
monarchs to excite the ambition of their followers. They established
various military orders, each having its privileges and peculiar
insignia. There seems, also, to have existed a sort of knighthood of
inferior degree.[86] It was the cheapest reward of martial prowess, and
whoever had not reached it was excluded from using ornaments on his arms
or his person, and obliged to wear a coarse white stuff, made from the
threads of the aloe, called _nequen_. Even the members of the royal
family were not excepted from this law, which reminds one of the
occasional practice of Christian knights, to wear plain armor, or
shields without device, till they had achieved some doughty feat of
chivalry. Although the military orders were thrown open to all, it is
probable that they were chiefly filled with persons of rank, who, by
their previous training and connections, were able to come into the
field under peculiar advantages.[87]

The dress of the higher warriors was picturesque and often magnificent.
Their bodies were covered with a close vest of quilted cotton, so thick
as to be impenetrable to the light missiles of Indian warfare. This
garment was so light and serviceable that it was adopted by the
Spaniards. The wealthier chiefs sometimes wore, instead of this cotton
mail, a cuirass made of thin plates of gold or silver. Over it was
thrown a surcoat of the gorgeous feather-work in which they
excelled.[88] Their helmets were sometimes of wood, fashioned like the
heads of wild animals, and sometimes of silver, on the top of which
waved a _panache_ of variegated plumes, sprinkled with precious stones
and ornaments of gold. They wore also collars, bracelets, and ear-rings
of the same rich materials.[89]

Their armies were divided into bodies of eight thousand men; and these,
again, into companies of three or four hundred, each with its own
commander. The national standard, which has been compared to the ancient
Roman, displayed, in its embroidery of gold and feather-work, the
armorial ensigns of the state. These were significant of its name,
which, as the names of both persons and places were borrowed from some
material object, was easily expressed by hieroglyphical symbols. The
companies and the great chiefs had also their appropriate banners and
devices, and the gaudy hues of their many-colored plumes gave a dazzling
splendor to the spectacle.

Their tactics were such as belong to a nation with whom war, though a
trade, is not elevated to the rank of a science. They advanced singing,
and shouting their war-cries, briskly charging the enemy, as rapidly
retreating, and making use of ambuscades, sudden surprises, and the
light skirmish of guerilla warfare. Yet their discipline was such as to
draw forth the encomiums of the Spanish conquerors. “A beautiful sight
it was,” says one of them, “to see them set out on their march, all
moving forward so gayly, and in so admirable order!”[90] In battle they
did not seek to kill their enemies, so much as to take them
prisoners;[91] and they never scalped, like other North American tribes.
The valor of a warrior was estimated by the number of his prisoners; and
no ransom was large enough to save the devoted captive.[92]

Their military code bore the same stern features as their other laws.
Disobedience of orders was punished with death. It was death, also, for
a soldier to leave his colors, to attack the enemy before the signal was
given, or to plunder another’s booty or prisoners. One of the last
Tezcucan princes, in the spirit of an ancient Roman, put two sons to
death--after having cured their wounds--for violating the last-mentioned

I must not omit to notice here an institution the introduction of which
in the Old World is ranked among the beneficent fruits of Christianity.
Hospitals were established in the principal cities, for the cure of the
sick and the permanent refuge of the disabled soldier;[94] and surgeons
were placed over them, “who were so far better than those in Europe,”
says an old chronicler, “that they did not protract the cure in order to
increase the pay.”[95]

Such is the brief outline of the civil and military polity of the
ancient Mexicans; less perfect than could be desired in regard to the
former, from the imperfection of the sources whence it is drawn. Whoever
has had occasion to explore the early history of modern Europe has found
how vague and unsatisfactory is the political information which can be
gleaned from the gossip of monkish annalists. How much is the difficulty
increased in the present instance, where this information, first
recorded in the dubious language of hieroglyphics, was interpreted in
another language, with which the Spanish chroniclers were imperfectly
acquainted, while it related to institutions of which their past
experience enabled them to form no adequate conception! Amidst such
uncertain lights, it is in vain to expect nice accuracy of detail. All
that can be done is to attempt an outline of the more prominent
features, that a correct impression, so far as it goes, may be produced
on the mind of the reader.

Enough has been said, however, to show that the Aztec and Tezcucan races
were advanced in civilization very far beyond the wandering tribes of
North America.[96] The degree of civilization which they had reached, as
inferred by their political institutions, may be considered, perhaps,
not much short of that enjoyed by our Saxon ancestors under Alfred. In
respect to the nature of it, they may be better compared with the
Egyptians; and the examination of their social relations and culture may
suggest still stronger points of resemblance to that ancient people.

Those familiar with the modern Mexicans will find it difficult to
conceive that the nation should ever have been capable of devising the
enlightened polity which we have been considering. But they should
remember that in the Mexicans of our day they see only a conquered
race; as different from their ancestors as are the modern Egyptians from
those who built,--I will not say, the tasteless pyramids,--but the
temples and palaces whose magnificent wrecks strew the borders of the
Nile, at Luxor and Karnac. The difference is not so great as between the
ancient Greek, and his degenerate descendant, lounging among the
masterpieces of art which he has scarcely taste enough to
admire,--speaking the language of those still more imperishable
monuments of literature which he has hardly capacity to comprehend. Yet
he breathes the same atmosphere, is warmed by the same sun, nourished by
the same scenes, as those who fell at Marathon and won the trophies of
Olympic Pisa. The same blood flows in his veins that flowed in theirs.
But ages of tyranny have passed over him; he belongs to a conquered

The American Indian has something peculiarly sensitive in his nature. He
shrinks instinctively from the rude touch of a foreign hand. Even when
this foreign influence comes in the form of civilization, he seems to
sink and pine away beneath it. It has been so with the Mexicans. Under
the Spanish domination, their numbers have silently melted away. Their
energies are broken. They no longer tread their mountain plains with the
conscious independence of their ancestors. In their faltering step and
meek and melancholy aspect we read the sad characters of the conquered
race. The cause of humanity, indeed, has gained. They live under a
better system of laws, a more assured tranquillity, a purer faith. But
all does not avail. Their civilization was of the hardy character which
belongs to the wilderness. The fierce virtues of the Aztec were all his
own. They refused to submit to European culture,--to be engrafted on a
foreign stock. His outward form, his complexion, his lineaments, are
substantially the same; but the moral characteristics of the nation, all
that constituted its individuality as a race, are effaced forever.

     Two of the principal authorities for this chapter are Torquemada
     and Clavigero. The former, a Provincial of the Franciscan order,
     came to the New World about the middle of the sixteenth century. As
     the generation of the Conquerors had not then passed away, he had
     ample opportunities of gathering the particulars of their
     enterprise from their own lips. Fifty years, during which he
     continued in the country, put him in possession of the traditions
     and usages of the natives, and enabled him to collect their history
     from the earliest missionaries, as well as from such monuments as
     the fanaticism of his own countrymen had not then destroyed. From
     these ample sources he compiled his bulky tomes, beginning, after
     the approved fashion of the ancient Castilian chroniclers, with the
     creation of the world, and embracing the whole circle of the
     Mexican institutions, political, religious, and social, from the
     earliest period to his own time. In handling these fruitful themes,
     the worthy father has shown a full measure of the bigotry which
     belonged to his order at that period. Every page, too, is loaded
     with illustrations from Scripture or profane history, which form a
     whimsical contrast to the barbaric staple of his story; and he has
     sometimes fallen into serious errors, from his misconception of the
     chronological system of the Aztecs. But, notwithstanding these
     glaring defects in the composition of the work, the student, aware
     of his author’s infirmities, will find few better guides than
     Torquemada in tracing the stream of historic truth up to the
     fountain-head; such is his manifest integrity, and so great were
     his facilities for information on the most curious points of
     Mexican antiquity. No work, accordingly, has been more largely
     consulted and copied, even by some who, like Herrera, have affected
     to set little value on the sources whence its information was
     drawn. (Hist. general, dec. 6, lib. 6, cap. 19.) The _Monarchía
     Indiana_ was first published at Seville, 1615 (Nic. Antonio,
     Bibliotheca Nova (Matriti, 1783), tom. ii. p. 787), and since, in a
     better style, in three volumes folio, at Madrid, in 1723.

     The other authority, frequently cited in the preceding pages, is
     the Abbé Clavigero’s _Storia antica del Messico_. It was originally
     printed towards the close of the last century, in the Italian
     language, and in Italy, whither the author, a native of Vera Cruz,
     and a member of the order of the Jesuits, had retired, on the
     expulsion of that body from Spanish America, in 1767. During a
     residence of thirty-five years in his own country, Clavigero had
     made himself intimately acquainted with its antiquities, by the
     careful examination of paintings, manuscripts, and such other
     remains as were to be found in his day. The plan of his work is
     nearly as comprehensive as that of his predecessor, Torquemada; but
     the later and more cultivated period in which he wrote is visible
     in the superior address with which he has managed his complicated
     subject. In the elaborate disquisitions in his concluding volume,
     he has done much to rectify the chronology and the various
     inaccuracies of preceding writers. Indeed, an avowed object of his
     work was to vindicate his countrymen from what he conceived to be
     the misrepresentations of Robertson, Raynal, and De Pau. In regard
     to the last two he was perfectly successful. Such an ostensible
     design might naturally suggest unfavorable ideas of his
     impartiality. But, on the whole, he seems to have conducted the
     discussion with good faith; and, if he has been led by national
     zeal to overcharge the picture with brilliant colors, he will be
     found much more temperate, in this respect, than those who preceded
     him, while he has applied sound principles of criticism, of which
     they were incapable. In a word, the diligence of his researches has
     gathered into one focus the scattered lights of tradition and
     antiquarian lore, purified in a great measure from the mists of
     superstition which obscure the best productions of an earlier
     period. From these causes, the work, notwithstanding its occasional
     prolixity, and the disagreeable aspect given to it by the profusion
     of uncouth names in the Mexican orthography, which bristle over
     every page, has found merited favor with the public, and created
     something like a popular interest in the subject. Soon after its
     publication at Cesena, in 1780, it was translated into English, and
     more lately into Spanish and German.



The civil polity of the Aztecs is so closely blended with their religion
that without understanding the latter it is impossible to form correct
ideas of their government or their social institutions. I shall pass
over, for the present, some remarkable traditions, bearing a singular
resemblance to those found in the Scriptures, and endeavor to give a
brief sketch of their mythology and their careful provisions for
maintaining a national worship.

Mythology may be regarded as the poetry of religion, or rather as the
poetic development of the religious principle in a primitive age. It is
the effort of untutored man to explain the mysteries of existence, and
the secret agencies by which the operations of nature are conducted.
Although the growth of similar conditions of society, its character must
vary with that of the rude tribes in which it originates; and the
ferocious Goth, quaffing mead from the skulls of his slaughtered
enemies, must have a very different mythology from that of the
effeminate native of Hispaniola, loitering away his hours in idle
pastimes, under the shadow of his bananas.

At a later and more refined period, we sometimes find these primitive
legends combined into a regular system under the hands of the poet, and
the rude outline moulded into forms of ideal beauty, which are the
objects of adoration in a credulous age, and the delight of all
succeeding ones. Such were the beautiful inventions of Hesiod and Homer,
“who,” says the Father of History, “created the theogony of the Greeks;”
an assertion not to be taken too literally, since it is hardly possible
that any man should create a religious system for his nation.[97] They
only filled up the shadowy outlines of tradition with the bright touches
of their own imaginations, until they had clothed them in beauty which
kindled the imaginations of others. The power of the poet, indeed, may
be felt in a similar way in a much riper period of society. To say
nothing of the “Divina Commedia,” who is there that rises from the
perusal of “Paradise Lost” without feeling his own conceptions of the
angelic hierarchy quickened by those of the inspired artist, and a new
and sensible form, as it were, given to images which had before floated
dim and undefined before him?

The last-mentioned period is succeeded by that of philosophy; which,
disclaiming alike the legends of the primitive age and the poetical
embellishments of the succeeding one, seeks to shelter itself from the
charge of impiety by giving an allegorical interpretation to the popular
mythology, and thus to reconcile the latter with the genuine deductions
of science.

The Mexican religion had emerged from the first of the schools we have
been considering, and, although little affected by poetical influences,
had received a peculiar complexion from the priests, who had digested as
thorough and burdensome a ceremonial as ever existed in any nation. They
had, moreover, thrown the veil of allegory over early tradition, and
invested their deities with attributes savoring much more of the
grotesque conceptions of the Eastern nations in the Old World, than of
the lighter fictions of Greek mythology, in which the features of
humanity, however exaggerated, were never wholly abandoned.[98]

In contemplating the religious system of the Aztecs, one is struck with
its apparent incongruity, as if some portion of it had emanated from a
comparatively refined people, open to gentle influences, while the rest
breathes a spirit of unmitigated ferocity. It naturally suggests the
idea of two distinct sources, and authorizes the belief that the Aztecs
had inherited from their predecessors a milder faith, on which was
afterwards engrafted their own mythology. The latter soon became
dominant, and gave its dark coloring to the creeds of the conquered
nations,--which the Mexicans, like the ancient Romans, seem willingly to
have incorporated into their own,--until the same funereal superstition
settled over the farthest borders of Anahuac.

The Aztecs recognized the existence of a supreme Creator and Lord of the
universe. They addressed him, in their prayers, as “the God by whom we
live,” “omnipresent, that knoweth all thoughts, and giveth all gifts,”
“without whom man is as nothing,” “invisible, incorporeal, one God, of
_perfect perfection_ and purity,” “under whose wings we find repose and
a sure defence.” These sublime attributes infer no inadequate conception
of the true God. But the idea of unity--of a being with whom volition is
action, who has no need of inferior ministers to execute his
purposes--was too simple, or too vast, for their understandings; and
they sought relief, as usual, in a plurality of deities, who presided
over the elements, the changes of the seasons, and the various
occupations of man.[99] Of these, there were thirteen principal deities,
and more than two hundred inferior; to each of whom some special day or
appropriate festival was consecrated.[100]

At the head of all stood the terrible Huitzilopochtli, the Mexican Mars;
although it is doing injustice to the heroic war-god of antiquity to
identify him with this sanguinary monster. This was the patron deity of
the nation. His fantastic image was loaded with costly ornaments. His
temples were the most stately and august of the public edifices; and his
altars reeked with the blood of human hecatombs in every city of the
empire. Disastrous indeed must have been the influence of such a
superstition on the character of the people.[101]

A far more interesting personage in their mythology was Quetzalcoatl,
god of the air, a divinity who, during his residence on earth,
instructed the natives in the use of metals, in agriculture, and in the
arts of government. He was one of those benefactors of their species,
doubtless, who have been deified by the gratitude of posterity. Under
him, the earth teemed with fruits and flowers, without the pains of
culture. An ear of Indian corn was as much as a single man could carry.
The cotton, as it grew, took, of its own accord, the rich dyes of human
art. The air was filled with intoxicating perfumes and the sweet melody
of birds. In short, these were the halcyon days, which find a place in
the mythic systems of so many nations in the Old World. It was the
_golden age_ of Anahuac.[102]

From some cause, not explained, Quetzalcoatl incurred the wrath of one
of the principal gods, and was compelled to abandon the country. On his
way he stopped at the city of Cholula, where a temple was dedicated to
his worship, the massy ruins of which still form one of the interesting
relics of antiquity in Mexico. When he reached the shores of the Mexican
Gulf, he took leave of his followers, promising that he and his
descendants would revisit them hereafter, and then, entering his wizard
skiff, made of serpents’ skins, embarked on the great ocean for the
fabled land of Tlapallan. He was said to have been tall in stature, with
a white skin, long, dark hair, and a flowing beard. The Mexicans looked
confidently to the return of the benevolent deity; and this remarkable
tradition, deeply cherished in their hearts, prepared the way, as we
shall see hereafter, for the future success of the Spaniards.[103]

We have not space for further details respecting the Mexican divinities,
the attributes of many of whom were carefully defined, as they
descended, in regular gradation, to the _penates_ or household gods,
whose little images were to be found in the humblest dwelling.

The Aztecs felt the curiosity, common to man in almost every stage of
civilization, to lift the veil which covers the mysterious past and the
more awful future. They sought relief, like the nations of the Old
Continent, from the oppressive idea of eternity, by breaking it up into
distinct cycles, or periods of time, each of several thousand years’
duration. There were four of these cycles, and at the end of each, by
the agency of one of the elements, the human family was swept from the
earth, and the sun blotted out from the heavens, to be again

They imagined three separate states of existence in the future life. The
wicked, comprehending the greater part of mankind, were to expiate their
sins in a place of everlasting darkness. Another class, with no other
merit than that of having died of certain diseases, capriciously
selected, were to enjoy a negative existence of indolent contentment.
The highest place was reserved, as in most warlike nations, for the
heroes who fell in battle, or in sacrifice. They passed at once into the
presence of the Sun, whom they accompanied with songs and choral dances
in his bright progress through the heavens; and, after some years, their
spirits went to animate the clouds and singing-birds of beautiful
plumage, and to revel amidst the rich blossoms and odors of the gardens
of paradise.[105] Such was the heaven of the Aztecs; more refined in its
character than that of the more polished pagan, whose elysium reflected
only the martial sports or sensual gratifications of this life.[106] In
the destiny they assigned to the wicked, we discern similar traces of
refinement; since the absence of all physical torture forms a striking
contrast to the schemes of suffering so ingeniously devised by the
fancies of the most enlightened nations.[107] In all this, so contrary
to the natural suggestions of the ferocious Aztec, we see the evidences
of a higher civilization,[108] inherited from their predecessors in the

Our limits will allow only a brief allusion to one or two of their most
interesting ceremonies. On the death of a person, his corpse was dressed
in the peculiar habiliments of his tutelar deity. It was strewed with
pieces of paper, which operated as charms against the dangers of the
dark road he was to travel. A throng of slaves, if he were rich, was
sacrificed at his obsequies. His body was burned, and the ashes,
collected in a vase, were preserved in one of the apartments of his
house. Here we have successively the usages of the Roman Catholic, the
Mussulman, the Tartar, and the ancient Greek and Roman; curious
coincidences, which may show how cautious we should be in adopting
conclusions founded on analogy.[109]

A more extraordinary coincidence may be traced with Christian rites, in
the ceremony of naming their children. The lips and bosom of the infant
were sprinkled with water, and “the Lord was implored to permit the holy
drops to wash away the sin that was given to it before the foundation of
the world; so that the child might be born anew.”[110] We are reminded
of Christian morals, in more than one of their prayers, in which they
used regular forms. “Wilt thou blot us out, O Lord, forever? Is this
punishment intended, not for our reformation, but for our destruction?”
Again, “Impart to us, out of thy great mercy, thy gifts, which we are
not worthy to receive through our own merits.” “Keep peace with all,”
says another petition; “bear injuries with humility; God, who sees, will
avenge you.” But the most striking parallel with Scripture is in the
remarkable declaration that “he who looks too curiously on a woman
commits adultery with his eyes.”[111] These pure and elevated maxims, it
is true, are mixed up with others of a puerile, and even brutal,
character, arguing that confusion of the moral perceptions which is
natural in the twilight of civilization. One would not expect, however,
to meet, in such a state of society, with doctrines as sublime as any
inculcated by the enlightened codes of ancient philosophy.[112]

But although the Aztec mythology gathered nothing from the beautiful
inventions of the poet or from the refinements of philosophy, it was
much indebted, as I have noticed, to the priests, who endeavored to
dazzle the imagination of the people by the most formal and pompous
ceremonial. The influence of the priesthood must be greatest in an
imperfect state of civilization, where it engrosses all the scanty
science of the time in its own body. This is particularly the case when
the science is of that spurious kind which is less occupied with the
real phenomena of nature than with the fanciful chimeras of human
superstition. Such are the sciences of astrology and divination, in
which the Aztec priests were well initiated; and, while they seemed to
hold the keys of the future in their own hands, they impressed the
ignorant people with sentiments of superstitious awe, beyond that which
has probably existed in any other country,--even in ancient Egypt.

The sacerdotal order was very numerous; as may be inferred from the
statement that five thousand priests were, in some way or other,
attached to the principal temple in the capital. The various ranks and
functions of this multitudinous body were discriminated with great
exactness. Those best instructed in music took the management of the
choirs. Others arranged the festivals conformably to the calendar. Some
superintended the education of youth, and others had charge of the
hieroglyphical paintings and oral traditions; while the dismal rites of
sacrifice were reserved for the chief dignitaries of the order. At the
head of the whole establishment were two high-priests, elected from the
order, as it would seem, by the king and principal nobles, without
reference to birth, but solely for their qualifications, as shown by
their previous conduct in a subordinate station. They were equal in
dignity, and inferior only to the sovereign, who rarely acted without
their advice in weighty matters of public concern.[113]

The priests were each devoted to the service of some particular deity,
and had quarters provided within the spacious precincts of their temple;
at least, while engaged in immediate attendance there,--for they were
allowed to marry, and have families of their own. In this monastic
residence they lived in all the stern severity of conventual
discipline. Thrice during the day, and once at night, they were called
to prayers. They were frequent in their ablutions and vigils, and
mortified the flesh by fasting and cruel penance,--drawing blood from
their bodies by flagellation, or by piercing them with the thorns of the
aloe; in short, by practising all those austerities to which fanaticism
(to borrow the strong language of the poet) has resorted, in every age
of the world,

    “In hopes to merit heaven by making earth a hell.”[114]

The great cities were divided into districts, placed under the charge of
a sort of parochial clergy, who regulated every act of religion within
their precincts. It is remarkable that they administered the rites of
confession and absolution. The secrets of the confessional were held
inviolable, and penances were imposed of much the same kind as those
enjoined in the Roman Catholic Church. There were two remarkable
peculiarities in the Aztec ceremony. The first was, that, as the
repetition of an offence once atoned for was deemed inexpiable,
confession was made but once in a man’s life, and was usually deferred
to a late period of it, when the penitent unburdened his conscience and
settled at once the long arrears of iniquity.[115] Another peculiarity
was, that priestly absolution was received in place of the legal
punishment of offences, and authorized an acquittal in case of arrest.
Long after the Conquest, the simple natives, when they came under the
arm of the law, sought to escape by producing the certificate of their

One of the most important duties of the priesthood was that of
education, to which certain buildings were appropriated within the
enclosure of the principal temple. Here the youth of both sexes, of the
higher and middling orders, were placed at a very tender age. The girls
were intrusted to the care of priestesses; for women were allowed to
exercise sacerdotal functions, except those of sacrifice.[117] In these
institutions the boys were drilled in the routine of monastic
discipline; they decorated the shrines of the gods with flowers, fed the
sacred fires, and took part in the religious chants and festivals. Those
in the higher school--the _Calmecac_, as it was called--were initiated
in their traditionary lore, the mysteries of hieroglyphics, the
principles of government, and such branches of astronomical and natural
science as were within the compass of the priesthood. The girls learned
various feminine employments, especially to weave and embroider rich
coverings for the altars of the gods. Great attention was paid to the
moral discipline of both sexes. The most perfect decorum prevailed; and
offences were punished with extreme rigor, in some instances with death
itself. Terror, not love, was the spring of education with the

At a suitable age for marrying, or for entering into the world, the
pupils were dismissed, with much ceremony, from the convent, and the
recommendation of the principal often introduced those most competent to
responsible situations in public life. Such was the crafty policy of
the Mexican priests, who, by reserving to themselves the business of
instruction, were enabled to mould the young and plastic mind according
to their own wills, and to train it early to implicit reverence for
religion and its ministers; a reverence which still maintained its hold
on the iron nature of the warrior, long after every other vestige of
education had been effaced by the rough trade to which he was devoted.

To each of the principal temples, lands were annexed for the maintenance
of the priests. These estates were augmented by the policy or devotion
of successive princes, until, under the last Montezuma, they had swollen
to an enormous extent, and covered every district of the empire. The
priests took the management of their property into their own hands; and
they seem to have treated their tenants with the liberality and
indulgence characteristic of monastic corporations. Besides the large
supplies drawn from this source, the religious order was enriched with
the first-fruits, and such other offerings as piety or superstition
dictated. The surplus beyond what was required for the support of the
national worship was distributed in alms among the poor; a duty
strenuously prescribed by their moral code. Thus we find the same
religion inculcating lessons of pure philanthropy, on the one hand, and
of merciless extermination, as we shall soon see, on the other. The
inconsistency will not appear incredible to those who are familiar with
the history of the Roman Catholic Church, in the early ages of the

The Mexican temples--_teocallis_, “houses of God,” as they were
called[120]--were very numerous. There were several hundreds in each of
the principal cities, many of them, doubtless, very humble edifices.
They were solid masses of earth, cased with brick or stone, and in their
form somewhat resembled the pyramidal structures of ancient Egypt. The
bases of many of them were more than a hundred feet square, and they
towered to a still greater height. They were distributed into four or
five stories, each of smaller dimensions than that below. The ascent was
by a flight of steps, at an angle of the pyramid, on the outside. This
led to a sort of terrace, or gallery, at the base of the second story,
which passed quite round the building to another flight of stairs,
commencing also at the same angle as the preceding and directly over it,
and leading to a similar terrace; so that one had to make the circuit
of the temple several times, before reaching the summit. In some
instances the stairway led directly up the centre of the western face of
the building. The top was a broad area, on which were erected one or two
towers, forty or fifty feet high, the sanctuaries in which stood the
sacred images of the presiding deities. Before these towers stood the
dreadful stone of sacrifice, and two lofty altars, on which fires were
kept, as inextinguishable as those in the temple of Vesta. There were
said to be six hundred of these altars, on smaller buildings within the
enclosure of the great temple of Mexico, which, with those on the sacred
edifices in other parts of the city, shed a brilliant illumination over
its streets, through the darkest night.[121][122]

From the construction of their temples, all religious services were
public. The long processions of priests, winding round their massive
sides, as they rose higher and higher towards the summit, and the dismal
rites of sacrifice performed there, were all visible from the remotest
corners of the capital, impressing on the spectator’s mind a
superstitious veneration for the mysteries of his religion, and for the
dread ministers by whom they were interpreted.

This impression was kept in full force by their numerous festivals.
Every month was consecrated to some protecting deity; and every week,
nay, almost every day, was set down in their calendar for some
appropriate celebration; so that it is difficult to understand how the
ordinary business of life could have been compatible with the exactions
of religion. Many of their ceremonies were of a light and cheerful
complexion, consisting of the national songs and dances, in which both
sexes joined. Processions were made of women and children crowned with
garlands and bearing offerings of fruits, the ripened maize, or the
sweet incense of copal and other odoriferous gums, while the altars of
the deity were stained with no blood save that of animals.[123] These
were the peaceful rites derived from their Toltec predecessors, on which
the fierce Aztecs engrafted a superstition too loathsome to be exhibited
in all its nakedness, and one over which I would gladly draw a veil
altogether, but that it would leave the reader in ignorance of their
most striking institution, and one that had the greatest influence in
forming the national character.

Human sacrifices were adopted by the Aztecs early in the fourteenth
century, about two hundred years before the Conquest.[124] Rare at
first, they became more frequent with the wider extent of their empire;
till, at length, almost every festival was closed with this cruel
abomination. These religious ceremonials were generally arranged in such
a manner as to afford a type of the most prominent circumstances in the
character or history of the deity who was the object of them. A single
example will suffice.

One of their most important festivals was that in honor of the god
Tezcatlipoca,[125] whose rank was inferior only to that of the Supreme
Being. He was called “the soul of the world,” and supposed to have been
its creator. He was depicted as a handsome man, endowed with perpetual
youth. A year before the intended sacrifice, a captive, distinguished
for his personal beauty, and without a blemish on his body, was selected
to represent this deity. Certain tutors took charge of him, and
instructed him how to perform his new part with becoming grace and
dignity. He was arrayed in a splendid dress, regaled with incense and
with a profusion of sweet-scented flowers, of which the ancient Mexicans
were as fond as their descendants at the present day. When he went
abroad, he was attended by a train of the royal pages, and, as he halted
in the streets to play some favorite melody, the crowd prostrated
themselves before him, and did him homage as the representative of their
good deity. In this way he led an easy, luxurious life, till within a
month of his sacrifice. Four beautiful girls, bearing the names of the
principal goddesses, were then selected to share the honors of his bed;
and with them he continued to live in idle dalliance, feasted at the
banquets of the principal nobles, who paid him all the honors of a

At length the fatal day of sacrifice arrived. The term of his
short-lived glories was at an end. He was stripped of his gaudy apparel,
and bade adieu to the fair partners of his revelries. One of the royal
barges transported him across the lake to a temple which rose on its
margin, about a league from the city. Hither the inhabitants of the
capital flocked, to witness the consummation of the ceremony. As the sad
procession wound up the sides of the pyramid, the unhappy victim threw
away his gay chaplets of flowers, and broke in pieces the musical
instruments with which he had solaced the hours of captivity. On the
summit he was received by six priests, whose long and matted locks
flowed disorderly over their sable robes, covered with hieroglyphic
scrolls of mystic import. They led him to the sacrificial stone, a huge
block of jasper, with its upper surface somewhat convex. On this the
prisoner was stretched. Five priests secured his head and his limbs;
while the sixth, clad in a scarlet mantle, emblematic of his bloody
office, dexterously opened the breast of the wretched victim with a
sharp razor of _itztli_,--a volcanic substance, hard as flint,--and,
inserting his hand in the wound, tore out the palpitating heart. The
minister of death, first holding this up towards the sun, an object of
worship throughout Anahuac, cast it at the feet of the deity to whom the
temple was devoted, while the multitudes below prostrated themselves in
humble adoration. The tragic story of this prisoner was expounded by the
priests as the type of human destiny, which, brilliant in its
commencement, too often closes in sorrow and disaster.[126]

Such was the form of human sacrifice usually practised by the Aztecs. It
was the same that often met the indignant eyes of the Europeans in their
progress through the country, and from the dreadful doom of which they
themselves were not exempted. There were, indeed, some occasions when
preliminary tortures, of the most exquisite kind,--with which it is
unnecessary to shock the reader,--were inflicted, but they always
terminated with the bloody ceremony above described. It should be
remarked, however, that such tortures were not the spontaneous
suggestions of cruelty, as with the North American Indians, but were all
rigorously prescribed in the Aztec ritual, and doubtless were often
inflicted with the same compunctious visitings which a devout familiar
of the Holy Office might at times experience in executing its stern
decrees.[127] Women, as well as the other sex, were sometimes reserved
for sacrifice. On some occasions, particularly in seasons of drought, at
the festival of the insatiable Tlaloc, the god of rain, children, for
the most part infants, were offered up. As they were borne along in open
litters, dressed in their festal robes, and decked with the fresh
blossoms of spring, they moved the hardest heart to pity, though their
cries were drowned in the wild chant of the priests, who read in their
tears a favorable augury for their petition. These innocent victims were
generally bought by the priests of parents who were poor, but who
stifled the voice of nature, probably less at the suggestions of poverty
than of a wretched superstition.[128]

The most loathsome part of the story--the manner in which the body of
the sacrificed captive was disposed of--remains yet to be told. It was
delivered to the warrior who had taken him in battle, and by him, after
being dressed, was served up in an entertainment to his friends. This
was not the coarse repast of famished cannibals, but a banquet teeming
with delicious beverages and delicate viands, prepared with art, and
attended by both sexes, who, as we shall see hereafter, conducted
themselves with all the decorum of civilized life. Surely, never were
refinement and the extreme of barbarism brought so closely in contact
with each other.[129]

Human sacrifices have been practised by many nations, not excepting the
most polished nations of antiquity;[130] but never by any, on a scale to
be compared with those in Anahuac. The amount of victims immolated on
its accursed altars would stagger the faith of the least scrupulous
believer. Scarcely any author pretends to estimate the yearly sacrifices
throughout the empire at less than twenty thousand, and some carry the
number as high as fifty thousand![131]

On great occasions, as the coronation of a king or the consecration of a
temple, the number becomes still more appalling. At the dedication of
the great temple of Huitzilopochtli, in 1486, the prisoners, who for
some years had been reserved for the purpose, were drawn from all
quarters to the capital. They were ranged in files, forming a procession
nearly two miles long. The ceremony consumed several days, and seventy
thousand captives are said to have perished at the shrine of this
terrible deity! But who can believe that so numerous a body would have
suffered themselves to be led unresistingly like sheep to the slaughter?
Or how could their remains, too great for consumption in


[Illustration: Goupil & Cº. Paris]

the ordinary way, be disposed of, without breeding a pestilence in the
capital? Yet the event was of recent date, and is unequivocally attested
by the best-informed historians.[132] One fact may be considered
certain. It was customary to preserve the skulls of the sacrificed, in
buildings appropriated to the purpose. The companions of Cortés counted
one hundred and thirty-six thousand in one of these edifices![133]
Without attempting a precise calculation, therefore, it is safe to
conclude that thousands were yearly offered up, in the different cities
of Anahuac, on the bloody altars of the Mexican divinities.[134]

Indeed, the great object of war, with the Aztecs, was quite as much to
gather victims for their sacrifices as to extend their empire. Hence it
was that an enemy was never slain in battle, if there were a chance of
taking him alive. To this circumstance the Spaniards repeatedly owed
their preservation. When Montezuma was asked “why he had suffered the
republic of Tlascala to maintain her independence on his borders,” he
replied, “that she might furnish him with victims for his gods”! As the
supply began to fail, the priests, the Dominicans of the New World,
bellowed aloud for more, and urged on their superstitious sovereign by
the denunciations of celestial wrath. Like the militant churchmen of
Christendom in the Middle Ages, they mingled themselves in the ranks,
and were conspicuous in the thickest of the fight, by their hideous
aspect and frantic gestures. Strange, that, in every country, the most
fiendish passions of the human heart have been those kindled in the name
of religion![135]

The influence of these practices on the Aztec character was as
disastrous as might have been expected. Familiarity with the bloody
rites of sacrifice steeled the heart against human sympathy, and begat a
thirst for carnage, like that excited in the Romans by the exhibitions
of the circus. The perpetual recurrence of ceremonies, in which the
people took part, associated religion with their most intimate concerns,
and spread the gloom of superstition over the domestic hearth, until the
character of the nation wore a grave and even melancholy aspect, which
belongs to their descendants at the present day. The influence of the
priesthood, of course, became unbounded. The sovereign thought himself
honored by being permitted to assist in the services of the temple. Far
from limiting the authority of the priests to spiritual matters, he
often surrendered his opinion to theirs, where they were least competent
to give it. It was their opposition that prevented the final
capitulation which would have saved the capital. The whole nation, from
the peasant to the prince, bowed their necks to the worst kind of
tyranny, that of a blind fanaticism.

In reflecting on the revolting usages recorded in the preceding pages,
one finds it difficult to reconcile their existence with anything like a
regular form of government, or an advance in civilization.[136] Yet the
Mexicans had many claims to the character of a civilized community. One
may, perhaps, better understand the anomaly, by reflecting on the
condition of some of the most polished countries in Europe in the
sixteenth century, after the establishment of the modern
Inquisition,--an institution which yearly destroyed its thousands, by a
death more painful than the Aztec sacrifices; which armed the hand of
brother against brother, and, setting its burning seal upon the lip, did
more to stay the march of improvement than any other scheme ever devised
by human cunning.

Human sacrifice, however cruel, has nothing in it degrading to its
victim. It may be rather said to ennoble him by devoting him to the
gods. Although so terrible with the Aztecs, it was sometimes voluntarily
embraced by them, as the most glorious death and one that opened a sure
passage into paradise.[137] The Inquisition, on the other hand, branded
its victims with infamy in this world, and consigned them to everlasting
perdition in the next.

One detestable feature of the Aztec superstition, however, sunk it far
below the Christian. This was its cannibalism,[138] though, in truth,
the Mexicans were not cannibals in the coarsest acceptation of the term.
They did not feed on human flesh merely to gratify a brutish appetite,
but in obedience to their religion. Their repasts were made of the
victims whose blood had been poured out on the altar of sacrifice. This
is a distinction worthy of notice.[139] Still, cannibalism, under any
form or whatever sanction, cannot but have a fatal influence on the
nation addicted to it. It suggests ideas so loathsome, so degrading to
man, to his spiritual and immortal nature, that it is impossible the
people who practise it should make any great progress in moral or
intellectual culture. The Mexicans furnish no exception to this remark.
The civilization which they possessed descended from the Toltecs, a race
who never stained their altars, still less their banquets, with the
blood of man.[140] All that deserved the name of science in Mexico came
from this source; and the crumbling ruins of edifices attributed to
them, still extant in various parts of New Spain, show a decided
superiority in their architecture over that of the later races of
Anahuac. It is true, the Mexicans made great proficiency in many of the
social and mechanic arts, in that material culture,--if I may so call
it,--the natural growth of increasing opulence, which ministers to the
gratification of the senses. In purely intellectual progress they were
behind the Tezcucans, whose wise sovereigns came into the abominable
rites of their neighbors with reluctance and practised them on a much
more moderate scale.[141]

In this state of things, it was beneficently ordered by Providence that
the land should be delivered over to another race, who would rescue it
from the brutish superstitions that daily extended wider and wider with
extent of empire.[142] The debasing institutions of the Aztecs furnish
the best apology for their conquest. It is true, the conquerors brought
along with them the Inquisition. But they also brought Christianity,
whose benign radiance would still survive when the fierce flames of
fanaticism should be extinguished; dispelling those dark forms of horror
which had so long brooded over the fair region of Anahuac.

     The most important authority in the preceding chapter, and, indeed,
     wherever the Aztec religion is concerned, is Bernardino de Sahagun,
     a Franciscan friar, contemporary with the Conquest. His great work,
     _Historia universal de Nueva-España_, has been recently printed for
     the first time. The circumstances attending its compilation and
     subsequent fate form one of the most remarkable passages in
     literary history.

     Sahagun was born in a place of the same name, in old Spain. He was
     educated at Salamanca, and, having taken the vows of St. Francis,
     came over as a missionary to Mexico in the year 1529. Here he
     distinguished himself by his zeal, the purity of his life, and his
     unwearied exertions to spread the great truths of religion among
     the natives. He was the guardian of several conventual houses,
     successively, until he relinquished these cares, that he might
     devote himself more unreservedly to the business of preaching, and
     of compiling various works designed to illustrate the antiquities
     of the Aztecs. For these literary labors he found some facilities
     in the situation which he continued to occupy, of reader, or
     lecturer, in the College of Santa Cruz, in the capital.

     The “Universal History” was concocted in a singular manner. In
     order to secure to it the greatest possible authority, he passed
     some years in a Tezcucan town, where he conferred daily with a
     number of respectable natives unacquainted with Castilian. He
     propounded to them queries, which they, after deliberation,
     answered in their usual method of writing, by hieroglyphical
     paintings. These he submitted to other natives, who had been
     educated under his own eye in the College of Santa Cruz; and the
     latter, after a consultation among themselves, gave a written
     version, in the Mexican tongue, of the hieroglyphics. This process
     he repeated in another place, in some part of Mexico, and subjected
     the whole to a still further revision by a third body in another
     quarter. He finally arranged the combined results into a regular
     history, in the form it now bears; composing it in the Mexican
     language, which he could both write and speak with great accuracy
     and elegance,--greater, indeed, than any Spaniard of the time.

     The work presented a mass of curious information, that attracted
     much attention among his brethren. But they feared its influence in
     keeping alive in the natives a too vivid reminiscence of the very
     superstitions which it was the great object of the Christian clergy
     to eradicate. Sahagun had views more liberal than those of his
     order, whose blind zeal would willingly have annihilated every
     monument of art and human ingenuity which had not been produced
     under the influence of Christianity. They refused to allow him the
     necessary aid to transcribe his papers, which he had been so many
     years in preparing, under the pretext that the expense was too
     great for their order to incur. This occasioned a further delay of
     several years. What was worse, his provincial got possession of his
     manuscripts, which were soon scattered among the different
     religious houses in the country.

     In this forlorn state of his affairs, Sahagun drew up a brief
     statement of the nature and contents of his work, and forwarded it
     to Madrid. It fell into the hands of Don Juan de Ovando, president
     of the Council for the Indies, who was so much interested in it
     that he ordered the manuscripts to be restored to their author,
     with the request that he would at once set about translating them
     into Castilian. This was accordingly done. His papers were
     recovered, though not without the menace of ecclesiastical
     censures; and the octogenarian author began the work of translation
     from the Mexican, in which they had been originally written by him
     thirty years before. He had the satisfaction to complete the task,
     arranging the Spanish version in a parallel column with the
     original, and adding a vocabulary, explaining the difficult Aztec
     terms and phrases; while the text was supported by the numerous
     paintings on which it was founded. In this form, making two bulky
     volumes in folio, it was sent to Madrid. There seemed now to be no
     further reason for postponing its publication, the importance of
     which could not be doubted. But from this moment it disappears; and
     we hear nothing further of it, for more than two centuries, except
     only as a valuable work, which had once existed and was probably
     buried in some one of the numerous cemeteries of learning in which
     Spain abounds.

     At length, towards the close of the last century, the indefatigable
     Muñoz succeeded in disinterring the long-lost manuscript from the
     place tradition had assigned to it,--the library of a convent at
     Tolosa, in Navarre, the northern extremity of Spain. With his usual
     ardor, he transcribed the whole work with his own hands, and added
     it to the inestimable collection, of which, alas! he was destined
     not to reap the full benefit himself. From this transcript Lord
     Kingsborough was enabled to procure the copy which was published in
     1830, in the sixth volume of his magnificent compilation. In it he
     expresses an honest satisfaction at being the first to give
     Sahagun’s works to the world. But in this supposition he was
     mistaken. The very year preceding, an edition of it, with
     annotations, appeared in Mexico, in three volumes octavo. It was
     prepared by Bustamante,--a scholar to whose editorial activity his
     country is largely indebted,--from a copy of the Muñoz manuscript
     which came into his possession. Thus this remarkable work, which
     was denied the honors of the press during the author’s lifetime,
     after passing into oblivion, reappeared, at the distance of nearly
     three centuries, not in his own country, but in foreign lands
     widely remote from each other, and that almost simultaneously. The
     story is extraordinary, though unhappily not so extraordinary in
     Spain as it would be elsewhere.

     Sahagun divided his history into twelve books. The first eleven are
     occupied with the social institutions of Mexico, and the last with
     the Conquest. On the religion of the country he is particularly
     full. His great object evidently was, to give a clear view of its
     mythology, and of the burdensome ritual which belonged to it.
     Religion entered so intimately into the most private concerns and
     usages of the Aztecs, that Sahagun’s work must be a text-book for
     every student of their antiquities. Torquemada availed himself of a
     manuscript copy, which fell into his hands before it was sent to
     Spain, to enrich his own pages,--a circumstance more fortunate for
     his readers than for Sahagun’s reputation, whose work, now that it
     is published, loses much of the originality and interest which
     would otherwise attach to it. In one respect it is invaluable; as
     presenting a complete collection of the various forms of prayer,
     accommodated to every possible emergency, in use by the Mexicans.
     They are often clothed in dignified and beautiful language, showing
     that sublime speculative tenets are quite compatible with the most
     degrading practices of superstition. It is much to be regretted
     that we have not the eighteen hymns inserted by the author in his
     book, which would have particular interest, as the only specimen of
     devotional poetry preserved of the Aztecs. The hieroglyphical
     paintings, which accompanied the text, are also missing. If they
     have escaped the hands of fanaticism, both may reappear at some
     future day.

     Sahagun produced several other works, of a religious or
     philological character. Some of these were voluminous, but none
     have been printed. He lived to a very advanced age, closing a life
     of activity and usefulness, in 1590, in the capital of Mexico. His
     remains were followed to the tomb by a numerous concourse of his
     own countrymen, and of the natives, who lamented in him the loss of
     unaffected piety, benevolence, and learning.



It is a relief to turn from the gloomy pages of the preceding chapter to
a brighter side of the picture, and to contemplate the same nation in
its generous struggle to raise itself from a state of barbarism and to
take a positive rank in the scale of civilization. It is not the less
interesting, that these efforts were made on an entirely new theatre of
action, apart from those influences that operate in the Old World; the
inhabitants of which, forming one great brotherhood of nations, are knit
together by sympathies that make the faintest spark of knowledge, struck
out in one quarter, spread gradually wider and wider, until it has
diffused a cheering light over the remotest. It is curious to observe
the human mind, in this new position, conforming to the same laws as on
the ancient continent, and taking a similar direction in its first
inquiries after truth,--so similar, indeed, as, although not warranting,
perhaps, the idea of imitation, to suggest at least that of a common

In the Eastern hemisphere we find some nations, as the Greeks, for
instance, early smitten with such a love of the beautiful as to be
unwilling to dispense with it even in the graver productions of
science; and other nations, again, proposing a severer end to
themselves, to which even imagination and elegant art were made
subservient. The productions of such a people must be criticised, not by
the ordinary rules of taste, but by their adaptation to the peculiar end
for which they were designed. Such were the Egyptians in the Old
World,[143] and the Mexicans in the New. We have already had occasion to
notice the resemblance borne by the latter nation to the former in their
religious economy. We shall be more struck with it in their scientific
culture, especially their hieroglyphical writing and their astronomy.

To describe actions and events by delineating visible objects seems to
be a natural suggestion, and is practised, after a certain fashion, by
the rudest savages. The North American Indian carves an arrow on the
bark of trees to show his followers the direction of his march, and some
other sign to show the success of his expeditions. But to paint
intelligibly a consecutive series of these actions--forming what
Warburton has happily called _picture-writing_[144]--requires a
combination of ideas that amounts to a positively intellectual effort.
Yet further, when the object of the painter, instead of being limited to
the present, is to penetrate the past, and to gather from its dark
recesses lessons of instruction for coming generations, we see the
dawnings of a literary culture, and recognize the proof of a decided
civilization in the attempt itself, however imperfectly it may be
executed. The literal imitation of objects will not answer for this more
complex and extended plan. It would occupy too much space, as well as
time in the execution. It then becomes necessary to abridge the
pictures, to confine the drawing to outlines, or to such prominent parts
of the bodies delineated as may readily suggest the whole. This is the
_representative_ or _figurative_ writing, which forms the lowest stage
of hieroglyphics.

But there are things which have no type in the material world; abstract
ideas, which can only be represented by visible objects supposed to have
some quality analogous to the idea intended. This constitutes
_symbolical_ writing, the most difficult of all to the interpreter,
since the analogy between the material and immaterial object is often
purely fanciful, or local in its application. Who, for instance, could
suspect the association which made a beetle represent the universe, as
with the Egyptians, or a serpent typify time, as with the Aztecs?

The third and last division is the _phonetic_, in which signs are made
to represent sounds, either entire words, or parts of them. This is the
nearest approach of the hieroglyphical series to that beautiful
invention, the alphabet, by which language is resolved into its
elementary sounds, and an apparatus supplied for easily and accurately
expressing the most delicate shades of thought.

The Egyptians were well skilled in all three kinds of hieroglyphics.
But, although their public monuments display the first class, in their
ordinary intercourse and written records it is now certain that they
almost wholly relied on the phonetic character. Strange that, having
thus broken down the thin partition which divided them from an alphabet,
their latest monuments should exhibit no nearer approach to it than
their earliest.[145] The Aztecs, also, were acquainted with the several
varieties of hieroglyphics. But they relied on the figurative infinitely
more than on the others. The Egyptians were at the top of the scale, the
Aztecs at the bottom.

In casting the eye over a Mexican manuscript, or map, as it is called,
one is struck with the grotesque caricatures it exhibits of the human
figure; monstrous, overgrown heads, on puny, misshapen bodies, which are
themselves hard and angular in their outlines, and without the least
skill in composition. On closer inspection, however, it is obvious that
it is not so much a rude attempt to delineate nature, as a conventional
symbol, to express the idea in the most clear and forcible manner; in
the same way as the pieces of similar value on a chess-board, while they
correspond with one another in form, bear little resemblance, usually,
to the objects they represent. Those parts of the figure are most
distinctly traced which are the most important. So, also, the coloring,
instead of the delicate gradations of nature, exhibits only gaudy and
violent contrasts, such as may produce the most vivid impression. “For
even colors,” as Gama observes, “speak in the Aztec hieroglyphics.”[146]

But in the execution of all this the Mexicans were much inferior to the
Egyptians. The drawings of the latter, indeed, are exceedingly
defective, when criticised by the rules of art; for they were as
ignorant of perspective as the Chinese, and only exhibited the head in
profile, with the eye in the centre, and with total absence of
expression. But they handled the pencil more gracefully than the Aztecs,
were more true to the natural forms of objects, and, above all, showed
great superiority in abridging the original figure by giving only the
outline, or some characteristic or essential feature. This simplified
the process, and facilitated the communication of thought. An Egyptian
text has almost the appearance of alphabetical writing in its regular
lines of minute figures. A Mexican text looks usually like a collection
of pictures, each one forming the subject of a separate study. This is
particularly the case with the delineations of mythology; in which the
story is told by a conglomeration of symbols, that may remind one more
of the mysterious anaglyphs sculptured on the temples of the Egyptians,
than of their written records.

The Aztecs had various emblems for expressing such things as, from their
nature, could not be directly represented by the painter; as, for
example, the years, months, days, the seasons, the elements, the
heavens, and the like. A “tongue” denoted speaking; a “footprint,”
travelling; a “man sitting on the ground,” an earthquake. These symbols
were often very arbitrary, varying with the caprice of the writer; and
it requires a nice discrimination to interpret them, as a slight change
in the form or position of the figure intimated a very different
meaning.[147] An ingenious writer asserts that the priests devised
secret symbolic characters for the record of their religious mysteries.
It is possible. But the researches of Champollion lead to the conclusion
that the similar opinion formerly entertained respecting the Egyptian
hieroglyphics is without foundation.[148]

Lastly, they employed, as above stated, phonetic signs, though these
were chiefly confined to the names of persons and places; which, being
derived from some circumstance or characteristic quality, were
accommodated to the hieroglyphical system. Thus, the town _Cimatlan_ was
compounded of _cimatl_, a “root,” which grew near it, and _tlan_,
signifying “near;” _Tlaxcallan_ meant “the place of bread,” from its
rich fields of corn; _Huexotzinco_, “a place surrounded by willows.” The
names of persons were often significant of their adventures and
achievements. That of the great Tezcucan prince Nezahualcoyotl signified
“hungry fox,” intimating his sagacity, and his distresses in early
life.[149] The emblems of such names were no sooner seen, than they
suggested to every Mexican the person and place intended, and, when
painted on their shields or embroidered on their banners, became the
armorial bearings by which city and chieftain were distinguished, as in
Europe in the age of chivalry.[150]

But, although the Aztecs were instructed in all the varieties of
hieroglyphical painting, they chiefly resorted to the clumsy method of
direct representation. Had their empire lasted, like the Egyptian,
several thousand years, instead of the brief space of two hundred, they
would doubtless, like them, have advanced to the more frequent use of
the phonetic writing. But, before they could be made acquainted with the
capabilities of their own system, the Spanish Conquest, by introducing
the European alphabet, supplied their scholars with a more perfect
contrivance for expressing thought, which soon supplanted the ancient
pictorial character.[151]

Clumsy as it was, however, the Aztec picture-writing seems to have been
adequate to the demands of the nation, in their imperfect state of
civilization. By means of it were recorded all their laws, and even
their regulations for domestic economy; their tribute-rolls, specifying
the imposts of the various towns; their mythology, calendars, and
rituals; their political annals, carried back to a period long before
the foundation of the city. They digested a complete system of
chronology, and could specify with accuracy the dates of the most
important events in their history; the year being inscribed on the
margin, against the particular circumstance recorded. It is true,
history, thus executed, must necessarily be vague and fragmentary. Only
a few leading incidents could be presented. But in this it did not
differ much from the monkish chronicles of the dark ages, which often
dispose of years in a few brief sentences,--quite long enough for the
annals of barbarians.[152]

In order to estimate aright the picture-writing of the Aztecs, one must
regard it in connection with oral tradition, to which it was auxiliary.
In the colleges of the priests the youth were instructed in astronomy,
history, mythology, etc.; and those who were to follow the profession of
hieroglyphical painting were taught the application of the characters
appropriated to each of these branches. In an historical work, one had
charge of the chronology, another of the events. Every part of the labor
was thus mechanically distributed.[153] The pupils, instructed in all
that was before known in their several departments, were prepared to
extend still further the boundaries of their imperfect science. The
hieroglyphics served as a sort of stenography, a collection of notes,
suggesting to the initiated much more than could be conveyed by a
literal interpretation. This combination of the written and the oral
comprehended what may be called the literature of the Aztecs.[154]

Their manuscripts were made of different materials,--of cotton cloth, or
skins nicely prepared; of a composition of silk and gum; but, for the
most part, of a fine fabric from the leaves of the aloe, _agave
Americana_, called by the natives _maguey_, which grows luxuriantly over
the table-lands of Mexico. A sort of paper was made from it, resembling
somewhat the Egyptian _papyrus_,[155] which, when properly dressed and
polished, is said to have been more soft and beautiful than parchment.
Some of the specimens, still existing, exhibit their original freshness,
and the paintings on them retain their brilliancy of colors. They were
sometimes done up into rolls, but more frequently into volumes, of
moderate size, in which the paper was shut up, like a folding screen,
with a leaf or tablet of wood at each extremity, that gave the whole,
when closed, the appearance of a book. The length of the strips was
determined only by convenience. As the pages might be read and referred
to separately, this form had obvious advantages over the rolls of the

At the time of the arrival of the Spaniards, great quantities of these
manuscripts were treasured up in the country. Numerous persons were
employed in painting, and the dexterity of their operations excited the
astonishment of the Conquerors. Unfortunately, this was mingled with
other and unworthy feelings. The strange, unknown characters inscribed
on them excited suspicion. They were looked on as magic scrolls, and
were regarded in the same light with the idols and temples, as the
symbols of a pestilent superstition, that must be extirpated. The first
archbishop of Mexico, Don Juan de Zumárraga,--a name that should be as
immortal as that of Omar,--collected these paintings from every quarter,
especially from Tezcuco, the most cultivated capital in Anahuac, and
the great depository of the national archives. He then caused them to
be piled up in a “mountain-heap”--as it is called by the Spanish writers
themselves--in the market-place of Tlatelolco, and reduced them all to
ashes![157] His greater countryman, Archbishop Ximenes, had celebrated a
similar _auto-da-fé_ of Arabic manuscripts, in Granada, some twenty
years before. Never did fanaticism achieve two more signal triumphs than
by the annihilation of so many curious monuments of human ingenuity and

The unlettered soldiers were not slow in imitating the example of their
prelate. Every chart and volume which fell into their hands was wantonly
destroyed; so that, when the scholars of a later and more enlightened
age anxiously sought to recover some of these memorials of civilization,
nearly all had perished, and the few surviving were jealously hidden by
the natives.[159] Through the indefatigable labors of a private
individual, however, a considerable collection was eventually deposited
in the archives of Mexico,[160] but was so little heeded there that some
were plundered, others decayed piecemeal from the damps and mildews, and
others, again, were used up as waste paper![161] We contemplate with
indignation the cruelties inflicted by the early conquerors. But
indignation is qualified with contempt when we see them thus ruthlessly
trampling out the spark of knowledge, the common boon and property of
all mankind. We may well doubt which has the stronger claim to
civilization, the victor or the vanquished.

A few of the Mexican manuscripts have found their way, from time to
time, to Europe, and are carefully preserved in the public libraries of
its capitals. They are brought together in the magnificent work of Lord
Kingsborough; but not one is there from Spain. The most important of
them, for the light it throws on the Aztec institutions, is the Mendoza
Codex; which, after its mysterious disappearance for more than a
century, has at length reappeared in the Bodleian Library at Oxford. It
has been several times engraved.[162] The most brilliant in coloring,
probably, is the Borgian collection, in Rome.[163] The most curious,
however, is the Dresden Codex, which has excited less attention than it
deserves. Although usually classed among Mexican manuscripts, it bears
little resemblance to them in its execution; the figures of objects are
more delicately drawn, and the characters, unlike the Mexican, appear to
be purely arbitrary, and are possibly phonetic.[164] Their regular
arrangement is quite equal to the Egyptian. The whole infers a much
higher civilization than the Aztec, and offers abundant food for curious

Some few of these maps have interpretations annexed to them, which were
obtained from the natives after the Conquest.[166] The greater part are
without any, and cannot now be unriddled. Had the Mexicans made free use
of a phonetic alphabet, it might have been originally easy, by mastering
the comparatively few signs employed in this kind of communication, to
have got a permanent key to the whole.[167] A brief inscription has
furnished a clue to the vast labyrinth of Egyptian hieroglyphics. But
the Aztec characters, representing individuals, or, at most, species,
require to be made out separately; a hopeless task, for which little aid
is to be expected from the vague and general tenor of the few
interpretations now existing. There was, as already mentioned, until
late in the last century, a professor in the University of Mexico,
especially devoted to the study of the national picture-writing. But, as
this was with a view to legal proceedings, his information, probably,
was limited to deciphering titles. In less than a hundred years after
the Conquest, the knowledge of the hieroglyphics had so far declined
that a diligent Tezcucan writer complains he could find in the country
only two persons, both very aged, at all competent to interpret

It is not probable, therefore, that the art of reading these
picture-writings will ever be recovered; a circumstance certainly to be
regretted. Not that the records of a semi-civilized people would be
likely to contain any new truth or discovery important to human comfort
or progress; but they could scarcely fail to throw some additional light
on the previous history of the nation, and that of the more polished
people who before occupied the country.[169] This would be still more
probable, if any literary relics of their Toltec predecessors were
preserved; and, if report be true, an important compilation from this
source was extant at the time of the invasion, and may have perhaps
contributed to swell the holocaust of Zumárraga.[170] It is no great
stretch of fancy to suppose that such records might reveal the
successive links in the mighty chain of migration of the primitive
races, and, by carrying us back to the seat of their possessions in the
Old World, have solved the mystery which has so long perplexed the
learned, in regard to the settlement and civilization of the New.[171]

Besides the hieroglyphical maps, the traditions of the country were
embodied in the songs and hymns, which, as already mentioned, were
carefully taught in the public schools. These were various, embracing
the mythic legends of a heroic age, the warlike achievements of their
own, or the softer tales of love and pleasure.[172] Many of them were
composed by scholars and persons of rank, and are cited as affording the
most authentic record of events.[173] The Mexican dialect was rich and
expressive, though inferior to the Tezcucan, the most polished of the
idioms of Anahuac. None of the Aztec compositions have survived, but we
can form some estimate of the general state of poetic culture from the
odes which have come down to us from the royal house of Tezcuco.[174]
Sahagun has furnished us with translations of their more elaborate
prose, consisting of prayers and public discourses, which give a
favorable idea of their eloquence, and show that they paid much
attention to rhetorical effect. They are said to have had, also,
something like theatrical exhibitions, of a pantomimic sort, in which
the faces of the performers were covered with masks, and the figures of
birds or animals were frequently represented; an imitation to which they
may have been led by the familiar delineation of such objects in their
hieroglyphics.[175] In all this we see the dawning of a literary
culture, surpassed, however, by their attainments in the severer walks
of mathematical science.

They devised a system of notation in their arithmetic sufficiently
simple. The first twenty numbers were expressed by a corresponding
number of dots. The first five had specific names; after which they were
represented by combining the fifth with one of the four preceding; as
five and one for six, five and two for seven, and so on. Ten and fifteen
had each a separate name, which was also combined with the first four,
to express a higher quantity. These four, therefore, were the radical
characters of their oral arithmetic, in the same manner as they were of
the written with the ancient Romans; a more simple arrangement,
probably, than any existing among Europeans.[176] Twenty was expressed
by a separate hieroglyphic,--a flag. Larger sums were reckoned by
twenties, and, in writing, by repeating the number of flags. The square
of twenty, four hundred, had a separate sign, that of a plume, and so
had the cube of twenty, or eight thousand, which was denoted by a purse,
or sack. This was the whole arithmetical apparatus of the Mexicans, by
the combination of which they were enabled to indicate any quantity. For
greater expedition, they used to denote fractions of the larger sums by
drawing only a part of the object. Thus, half or three-fourths of a
plume, or of a purse, represented that proportion of their respective
sums, and so on.[177] With all this, the machinery will appear very
awkward to us, who perform our operations with so much ease by means of
the Arabic or, rather, Indian ciphers. It is not much more awkward,
however, than the system pursued by the great mathematicians of
antiquity, unacquainted with the brilliant invention, which has given a
new aspect to mathematical science, of determining the value, in a great
measure, by the relative position of the figures.

In the measurement of time, the Aztecs adjusted their civil year by the
solar. They divided it into eighteen months of twenty days each. Both
months and days were expressed by peculiar hieroglyphics,--those of the
former often intimating the season of the year, like the French months
at the period of the Revolution. Five complementary days, as in
Egypt,[178] were added, to make up the full number of three hundred and
sixty-five. They belonged to no month, and were regarded as peculiarly
unlucky. A month was divided into four weeks, of five days each, on the
last of which was the public fair, or market-day.[179] This arrangement,
differing from that of the nations of the Old Continent, whether of
Europe or Asia,[180] has the advantage of giving an equal number of days
to each month, and of comprehending entire weeks, without a fraction,
both in the months and in the year.[181]

As the year is composed of nearly six hours more than three hundred and
sixty-five days, there still remained an excess, which, like other
nations who have framed a calendar, they provided for by intercalation;
not, indeed, every fourth year, as the Europeans,[182] but at longer
intervals, like some of the Asiatics.[183] They waited till the
expiration of fifty-two vague years, when they interposed thirteen days,
or rather twelve and a half, this being the number which had fallen in
arrear. Had they inserted thirteen, it would have been too much, since
the annual excess over three hundred and sixty-five is about eleven
minutes less than six hours. But, as their calendar at the time of the
Conquest was found to correspond with the European (making allowance for
the subsequent Gregorian reform), they would seem to have adopted the
shorter period of twelve days and a half,[184] which brought them,
within an almost inappreciable fraction, to the exact length of the
tropical year, as established by the most accurate observations.[185]
Indeed, the intercalation of twenty-five days in every hundred and four
years shows a nicer adjustment of civil to solar time than is presented
by any European calendar; since more than five centuries must elapse
before the loss of an entire day.[186] Such was the astonishing
precision displayed by the Aztecs, or, perhaps, by their more polished
Toltec predecessors, in these computations, so difficult as to have
baffled, till a comparatively recent period, the most enlightened
nations of Christendom![187]

The chronological system of the Mexicans, by which they determined the
date of any particular event, was also very remarkable. The epoch from
which they reckoned corresponded with the year 1091 of the Christian
era. It was the period of the reform of their calendar, soon after their
migration from Aztlan. They threw the years, as already noticed, into
great cycles, of fifty-two each, which they called “sheafs,” or
“bundles,” and represented by a quantity of reeds bound together by a
string. As often as this hieroglyphic occurs in their maps, it shows the
number of half-centuries. To enable them to specify any particular year,
they divided the great cycle into four smaller cycles, or indictions,
of thirteen years each. They then adopted two periodical series of
signs, one consisting of their numerical dots, up to thirteen, the
other, of four hieroglyphics of the years.[188] These latter they
repeated in regular succession, setting against each one a number of the
corresponding series of dots, continued also in regular succession up to
thirteen. The same system was pursued through the four indictions, which
thus, it will be observed, began always with a different hieroglyphic of
the year from the preceding; and in this way each of the hieroglyphics
was made to combine successively with each of the numerical signs, but
never twice with the same; since four, and thirteen, the factors of
fifty-two,--the number of years in the cycle,--must admit of just as
many combinations as are equal to their product. Thus every year had its
appropriate symbol, by which it was at once recognized. And this symbol,
preceded by the proper number of “bundles” indicating the
half-centuries, showed the precise time which had elapsed since the
national epoch of 1091.[189] The ingenious contrivance of a periodical
series, in place of the cumbrous system of hieroglyphical notation, is
not peculiar to the Aztecs, and is to be found among various nations on
the Asiatic continent,--the same in principle, though varying
materially in arrangement.[190]

The solar calendar above described might have answered all the purposes
of the people; but the priests chose to construct another for
themselves. This was called a “lunar reckoning,” though nowise
accommodated to the revolutions of the moon.[191] It was formed, also,
of two periodical series, one of them consisting of thirteen numerical
signs, or dots, the other, of the twenty hieroglyphics of the days.
But, as the product of these combinations would be only 260, and as some
confusion might arise from the repetition of the same terms for the
remaining 105 days of the year, they invented a third series, consisting
of nine additional hieroglyphics, which, alternating with the two
preceding series, rendered it impossible that the three should coincide
twice in the same year, or indeed in less than 2340 days; since 20 × 13
× 9 = 2340.[192] Thirteen was a mystic number, of frequent use in their
tables.[193] Why they resorted to that of nine, on this occasion, is not
so clear.[194]

This second calendar rouses a holy indignation in the early Spanish
missionaries, and Father Sahagun loudly condemns it, as “most
unhallowed, since it is founded neither on natural reason, nor on the
influence of the planets, nor on the true course of the year; but is
plainly the work of necromancy, and the fruit of a compact with the
Devil!”[195] One may doubt whether the superstition of those who
invented the scheme was greater than that of those who thus impugned it.
At all events, we may, without having recourse to supernatural agency,
find in the human heart a sufficient explanation of its origin; in that
love of power, that has led the priesthood of many a faith to affect a
mystery the key to which was in their own keeping.

By means of this calendar, the Aztec priests kept their own records,
regulated the festivals and seasons of sacrifice, and made all their
astrological calculations.[196] The false science of astrology is
natural to a state of society partially civilized, where the mind,
impatient of the slow and cautious examination by which alone it can
arrive at truth, launches at once into the regions of speculation, and
rashly attempts to lift the veil--the impenetrable veil--which is drawn
around the mysteries of nature. It is the characteristic of true science
to discern the impassable, but not very obvious, limits which divide the
province of reason from that of speculation. Such knowledge comes
tardily. How many ages have rolled away, in which powers that, rightly
directed, might have revealed the great laws of nature, have been wasted
in brilliant but barren reveries on alchemy and astrology!

The latter is more particularly the study of a primitive age; when the
mind, incapable of arriving at the stupendous fact that the myriads of
minute lights glowing in the firmament are the centres of systems as
glorious as our own, is naturally led to speculate on their probable
uses, and to connect them in some way or other with man, for whose
convenience every other object in the universe seems to have been
created. As the eye of the simple child of nature watches, through the
long nights, the stately march of the heavenly bodies, and sees the
bright hosts coming up, one after another, and changing with the
changing seasons of the year, he naturally associates them with those
seasons, as the periods over which they hold a mysterious influence. In
the same manner, he connects their appearance with any interesting
event of the time, and explores, in their flaming characters, the
destinies of the new-born infant.[197] Such is the origin of astrology,
the false lights of which have continued from the earliest ages to
dazzle and bewilder mankind, till they have faded away in the superior
illumination of a comparatively recent period.

The astrological scheme of the Aztecs was founded less on the planetary
influences than on those of the arbitrary signs they had adopted for the
months and days. The character of the leading sign in each lunar cycle
of thirteen days gave a complexion to the whole; though this was
qualified in some degree by the signs of the succeeding days, as well as
by those of the hours. It was in adjusting these conflicting forces that
the great art of the diviner was shown. In no country, not even in
ancient Egypt, were the dreams of the astrologer more implicitly
deferred to. On the birth of a child, he was instantly summoned. The
time of the event was accurately ascertained; and the family hung in
trembling suspense, as the minister of Heaven cast the horoscope of the
infant and unrolled the dark volume of destiny. The influence of the
priest was confessed by the Mexican in the very first breath which he

We know little further of the astronomical attainments of the Aztecs.
That they were acquainted with the cause of eclipses is evident from the
representation, on their maps, of the disk of the moon projected on that
of the sun.[199] Whether they had arranged a system of constellations is
uncertain; though that they recognized some of the most obvious, as the
Pleiades, for example, is evident from the fact that they regulated
their festivals by them. We know of no astronomical instruments used by
them, except the dial.[200] An immense circular block of carved stone,
disinterred in 1790, in the great square of Mexico, has supplied an
acute and learned scholar with the means of establishing some
interesting facts in regard to Mexican science.[201] This colossal
fragment, on which the calendar[202] is engraved, shows that they had
the means of settling the hours of the day with precision, the periods
of the solstices and of the equinoxes, and that of the transit of the
sun across the zenith of Mexico.[203]

We cannot contemplate the astronomical science of the Mexicans, so
disproportioned to their progress in other walks of civilization,
without astonishment. An acquaintance with some of the more obvious
principles of astronomy is within the reach of the rudest people. With a
little care, they may learn to connect the regular changes of the
seasons with those of the place of the sun at his rising and setting.
They may follow the march of the great luminary through the heavens, by
watching the stars that first brighten on his evening track or fade in
his morning beams. They may measure a revolution of the moon, by marking
her phases, and may even form a general idea of the number of such
revolutions in a solar year. But that they should be capable of
accurately adjusting their festivals by the movements of the heavenly
bodies, and should fix the true length of the tropical year, with a
precision unknown to the great philosophers of antiquity, could be the
result only of a long series of nice and patient observations, evincing
no slight progress in civilization.[204] But whence could the rude
inhabitants of these mountain-regions have derived this curious
erudition? Not from the barbarous hordes who roamed over the higher
latitudes of the North; nor from the more polished races on the Southern
continent, with whom, it is apparent, they had no intercourse. If we are
driven, in our embarrassment, like the greatest astronomer of our age,
to seek the solution among the civilized communities of Asia, we shall
still be perplexed by finding, amidst general resemblance of outline,
sufficient discrepancy in the details to vindicate, in the judgments of
many, the Aztec claim to originality.[205]

I shall conclude the account of Mexican science with that of a
remarkable festival, celebrated by the natives at the termination of the
great cycle of fifty-two years. We have seen, in the preceding chapter,
their tradition of the destruction of the world at four successive
epochs. They looked forward confidently to another such catastrophe, to
take place, like the preceding, at the close of a cycle, when the sun
was to be effaced from the heavens, the human race from the earth, and
when the darkness of chaos was to settle on the habitable globe. The
cycle would end in the latter part of December, and as the dreary season
of the winter solstice approached, and the diminished light of day gave
melancholy presage of its speedy extinction, their apprehensions
increased; and on the arrival of the five “unlucky” days which closed
the year they abandoned themselves to despair.[206] They broke in pieces
the little images of their household gods, in whom they no longer
trusted. The holy fires were suffered to go out in the temples, and none
were lighted in their own dwellings. Their furniture and domestic
utensils were destroyed; their garments torn in pieces; and every thing
was thrown into disorder, for the coming of the evil genii who were to
descend on the desolate earth.

On the evening of the last day, a procession of priests, assuming the
dress and ornaments of their gods, moved from the capital towards a
lofty mountain, about two leagues distant. They carried with them a
noble victim, the flower of their captives, and an apparatus for
kindling the _new fire_, the success of which was an augury of the
renewal of the cycle. On reaching the summit of the mountain, the
procession paused till midnight; when, as the constellation of the
Pleiades approached the zenith,[207] the _new fire_ was kindled by the
friction of the sticks placed on the wounded breast of the victim.[208]
The flame was soon communicated to a funeral pile, on which the body of
the slaughtered captive was thrown. As the light streamed up towards
heaven, shouts of joy and triumph burst forth from the countless
multitudes who covered the hills, the terraces of the temples, and the
house-tops, with eyes anxiously bent on the mount of sacrifice.
Couriers, with torches lighted at the blazing beacon, rapidly bore them
over every part of the country; and the cheering element was seen
brightening on altar and hearthstone, for the circuit of many a league,
long before the sun, rising on his accustomed track, gave assurance that
a new cycle had commenced its march, and that the laws of nature were
not to be reversed for the Aztecs.

The following thirteen days were given up to festivity. The houses were
cleansed and whitened. The broken vessels were replaced by new ones. The
people, dressed in their gayest apparel, and crowned with garlands and
chaplets of flowers, thronged in joyous procession to offer up their
oblations and thanksgivings in the temples. Dances and games were
instituted, emblematical of the regeneration of the world. It was the
carnival of the Aztecs; or rather the national jubilee, the great
secular festival, like that of the Romans, or ancient Etruscans, which
few alive had witnessed before, or could expect to see again.[209]

     M. de Humboldt remarked, many years ago, “It were to be wished that
     some government would publish at its own expense the remains of the
     ancient American civilization; for it is only by the comparison of
     several monuments that we can succeed in discovering the meaning of
     these allegories, which are partly astronomical and partly mystic.”
     This enlightened wish has now been realized, not by any
     government, but by a private individual, Lord Kingsborough. The
     great work published under his auspices, and so often cited in this
     Introduction, appeared in London in 1830. When completed it will
     reach to nine volumes, seven of which are now before the public.
     Some idea of its magnificence may be formed by those who have not
     seen it, from the fact that copies of it, with colored plates, sold
     originally at £175, and, with uncolored, at £120. The price has
     been since much reduced. It is designed to exhibit a complete view
     of the ancient Aztec MSS., with such few interpretations as exist;
     the beautiful drawings of Castañeda relating to Central America,
     with the commentary of Dupaix; the unpublished history of Father
     Sahagun; and, last, not least, the copious annotations of his

     Too much cannot be said of the mechanical execution of the
     book,--its splendid typography, the apparent accuracy and the
     delicacy of the drawings, and the sumptuous quality of the
     materials. Yet the purchaser would have been saved some superfluous
     expense, and the reader much inconvenience, if the letter-press had
     been in volumes of an ordinary size. But it is not uncommon, in
     works on this magnificent plan, to find utility in some measure
     sacrificed to show.

     The collection of Aztec MSS., if not perfectly complete, is very
     extensive, and reflects great credit on the diligence and research
     of the compiler. It strikes one as strange, however, that not a
     single document should have been drawn from Spain. Peter Martyr
     speaks of a number having been brought thither in his time. (De
     Insulis nuper Inventis, p. 368.) The Marquis Spineto examined one
     in the Escorial, being the same with the Mendoza Codex, and perhaps
     the original, since that at Oxford is but a copy. (Lectures, Lect.
     7.) Mr. Waddilove, chaplain of the British embassy to Spain, gave a
     particular account of one to Dr. Robertson, which he saw in the
     same library and considered an Aztec calendar. Indeed, it is
     scarcely possible that the frequent voyagers to the New World
     should not have furnished the mother-country with abundant
     specimens of this most interesting feature of Aztec civilization.
     Nor should we fear that the present liberal government would
     seclude these treasures from the inspection of the scholar.

     Much cannot be said in favor of the arrangement of these codices.
     In some of them, as the Mendoza Codex, for example, the plates are
     not even numbered; and one who would study them by the
     corresponding interpretation must often bewilder himself in the
     maze of hieroglyphics, without a clue to guide him. Neither is
     there any attempt to enlighten us as to the positive value and
     authenticity of the respective documents, or even their previous
     history, beyond a barren reference to the particular library from
     which they have been borrowed. Little light, indeed, can be
     expected on these matters; but we have not that little. The defect
     of arrangement is chargeable on other parts of the work. Thus, for
     instance, the sixth book of Sahagun is transferred from the body of
     the history to which it belongs, to a preceding volume; while the
     grand hypothesis of his lordship, for which the work was
     concocted, is huddled into notes, hitched on random passages of the
     text, with a good deal less connection than the stories of Queen
     Scheherezade, in the “Arabian Nights,” and not quite so

     The drift of Lord Kingsborough’s speculations is, to establish the
     colonization of Mexico by the Israelites. To this the whole battery
     of his logic and learning is directed. For this, hieroglyphics are
     unriddled, manuscripts compared, monuments delineated. His theory,
     however, whatever be its merits, will scarcely become popular;
     since, instead of being exhibited in a clear and comprehensive
     form, readily embraced by the mind, it is spread over an infinite
     number of notes, thickly sprinkled with quotations from languages
     ancient and modern, till the weary reader, floundering about in the
     ocean of fragments, with no light to guide him, feels like Milton’s
     Devil, working his way through chaos,--

                              “neither sea,
    Nor good dry land; nigh foundered, on he fares.”

     It would be unjust, however, not to admit that the noble author, if
     his logic is not always convincing, shows much acuteness in
     detecting analogies; that he displays familiarity with his subject,
     and a fund of erudition, though it often runs to waste; that,
     whatever be the defects of arrangement, he has brought together a
     most rich collection of unpublished materials to illustrate the
     Aztec and, in a wider sense, American antiquities; and that by this
     munificent undertaking, which no government, probably, would have,
     and few individuals could have, executed, he has entitled himself
     to the lasting gratitude of every friend of science.

     Another writer whose works must be diligently consulted by every
     student of Mexican antiquities is Antonio Gama. His life contains
     as few incidents as those of most scholars. He was born at Mexico,
     in 1735, of a respectable family, and was bred to the law. He early
     showed a preference for mathematical studies, conscious that in
     this career lay his strength. In 1771 he communicated his
     observations on the eclipse of that year to the French astronomer
     M. de Lalande, who published them in Paris, with high commendations
     of the author. Gama’s increasing reputation attracted the attention
     of government; and he was employed by it in various scientific
     labors of importance. His great passion, however, was the study of
     Indian antiquities. He made himself acquainted with the history of
     the native races, their traditions, their languages, and, as far as
     possible, their hieroglyphics. He had an opportunity of showing the
     fruits of this preparatory training, and his skill as an antiquary,
     on the discovery of the great calendar stone, in 1790. He produced
     a masterly treatise on this, and another Aztec monument, explaining
     the objects to which they were devoted, and pouring a flood of
     light on the astronomical science of the aborigines, their
     mythology, and their astrological system. He afterwards continued
     his investigations in the same path, and wrote treatises on the
     dial, hieroglyphics, and arithmetic of the Indians. These, however,
     were not given to the world till a few years since, when they were
     published, together with a reprint of the former work, under the
     auspices of the industrious Bustamante. Gama died in 1802, leaving
     behind him a reputation for great worth in private life,--one in
     which the bigotry that seems to enter too frequently into the
     character of the Spanish-Mexican was tempered by the liberal
     feelings of a man of science. His reputation as a writer stands
     high for patient acquisition, accuracy, and acuteness. His
     conclusions are neither warped by the love of theory so common in
     the philosopher, nor by the easy credulity so natural to the
     antiquary. He feels his way with the caution of a mathematician,
     whose steps are demonstrations. M. de Humboldt was largely indebted
     to his first work, as he has emphatically acknowledged. But,
     notwithstanding the eulogiums of this popular writer, and his own
     merits, Gama’s treatises are rarely met with out of New Spain, and
     his name can hardly be said to have a transatlantic reputation.



It is hardly possible that a nation so far advanced as the Aztecs in
mathematical science should not have made considerable progress in the
mechanical arts, which are so nearly connected with it. Indeed,
intellectual progress of any kind implies a degree of refinement that
requires a certain cultivation of both useful and elegant art. The
savage wandering through the wide forest, without shelter for his head
or raiment for his back, knows no other wants than those of animal
appetites, and, when they are satisfied, seems to himself to have
answered the only ends of existence. But man, in society, feels numerous
desires, and artificial tastes spring up, accommodated to the various
relations in which he is placed, and perpetually stimulating his
invention to devise new expedients to gratify them.

There is a wide difference in the mechanical skill of different nations;
but the difference is still greater in the inventive power which directs
this skill and makes it available. Some nations seem to have no power
beyond that of imitation, or, if they possess invention, have it in so
low a degree that they are constantly repeating the same idea, without
a shadow of alteration or improvement; as the bird builds precisely the
same kind of nest which those of its own species built at the beginning
of the world. Such, for example, are the Chinese, who have probably been
familiar for ages with the germs of some discoveries,[210] of little
practical benefit to themselves, but which, under the influence of
European genius, have reached a degree of excellence that has wrought an
important change in the constitution of society.

Far from looking back and forming itself slavishly on the past, it is
characteristic of the European intellect to be ever on the advance. Old
discoveries become the basis of new ones. It passes onward from truth to
truth, connecting the whole by a succession of links, as it were, into
the great chain of science which is to encircle and bind together the
universe. The light of learning is shed over the labors of art. New
avenues are opened for the communication both of person and of thought.
New facilities are devised for subsistence. Personal comforts, of every
kind, are inconceivably multiplied, and brought within the reach of the
poorest. Secure of these, the thoughts travel into a nobler region than
that of the senses; and the appliances of art are made to minister to
the demands of an elegant taste and a higher moral culture.

The same enlightened spirit, applied to agriculture, raises it from a
mere mechanical drudgery, or the barren formula of traditional precepts,
to the dignity of a science. As the composition of the earth is
analyzed, man learns the capacity of the soil that he cultivates; and,
as his empire is gradually extended over the elements of nature, he
gains the power to stimulate her to her most bountiful and various
production. It is with satisfaction that we can turn to the land of our
fathers, as the one in which the experiment has been conducted on the
broadest scale and attended with results that the world has never before
witnessed. With equal truth, we may point to the Anglo-Saxon race in
both hemispheres, as that whose enterprising genius has contributed most
essentially to the great interests of humanity, by the application of
science to the useful arts.

Husbandry, to a very limited extent, indeed, was practised by most of
the rude tribes of North America. Wherever a natural opening in the
forest, or a rich strip of _interval_, met their eyes, or a green slope
was found along the rivers, they planted it with beans and Indian
corn.[211] The cultivation was slovenly in the extreme, and could not
secure the improvident natives from the frequent recurrence of
desolating famines. Still, that they tilled the soil at all was a
peculiarity which honorably distinguished them from other tribes of
hunters, and raised them one degree higher in the scale of

Agriculture in Mexico was in the same advanced state as the other arts
of social life. In few countries, indeed, has it been more respected. It
was closely interwoven with the civil and religious institutions of the
nation. There were peculiar deities to preside over it; the names of the
months and of the religious festivals had more or less reference to it.
The public taxes, as we have seen, were often paid in agricultural
produce. All except the soldiers and great nobles, even the inhabitants
of the cities, cultivated the soil. The work was chiefly done by the
men; the women scattering the seed, husking the corn, and taking part
only in the lighter labors of the field.[212] In this they presented an
honorable contrast to the other tribes of the continent, who imposed the
burden of agriculture, severe as it is in the North, on their
women.[213] Indeed, the sex was as tenderly regarded by the Aztecs in
this matter, as it is, in most parts of Europe, at the present day.

There was no want of judgment in the management of their ground. When
somewhat exhausted, it was permitted to recover by lying fallow. Its
extreme dryness was relieved by canals, with which the land was
partially irrigated; and the same end was promoted by severe penalties
against the destruction of the woods, with which the country, as already
noticed, was well covered before the Conquest. Lastly, they provided for
their harvests ample granaries, which were admitted by the Conquerors to
be of admirable construction. In this provision we see the forecast of
civilized man.[214]

Among the most important articles of husbandry, we may notice the
banana, whose facility of cultivation and exuberant returns are so fatal
to habits of systematic and hardy industry.[215] Another celebrated
plant was the cacao, the fruit of which furnished the chocolate,--from
the Mexican _chocolatl_,--now so common a beverage throughout
Europe.[216] The vanilla, confined to a small district of the sea-coast,
was used for the same purposes, of flavoring their food and drink, as
with us.[217] The great staple of the country, as, indeed, of the
American continent, was maize, or Indian corn,[218] which grew freely
along the valleys, and up the steep sides of the Cordilleras to the high
level of the table-land. The Aztecs were as curious in its preparation,
and as well instructed in its manifold uses, as the most expert New
England housewife. Its gigantic stalks, in these equinoctial regions,
afford a saccharine matter, not found to the same extent in northern
latitudes, and supplied the natives with sugar little inferior to that
of the cane itself, which was not introduced among them till after the
Conquest.[219] But the miracle of nature was the great Mexican aloe, or
_maguey_, whose clustering pyramids of flowers, towering above their
dark coronals of leaves, were seen sprinkled over many a broad acre of
the table-land. As we have already noticed, its bruised leaves afforded
a paste from which paper was manufactured;[220] its juice was fermented
into an intoxicating beverage, _pulque_, of which the natives, to this
day, are excessively fond;[221] its leaves further supplied an
impenetrable thatch for the more humble dwellings; thread, of which
coarse stuffs were made, and strong cords, were drawn from its tough and
twisted fibres; pins and needles were made of the thorns at the
extremity of its leaves; and the root, when properly cooked, was
converted into a palatable and nutritious food. The _agave_,[222] in
short, was meat, drink, clothing, and writing-materials, for the Aztec!
Surely, never did Nature enclose in so compact a form so many of the
elements of human comfort and civilization![223]

It would be obviously out of place to enumerate in these pages all the
varieties of plants, many of them of medicinal virtue, which have been
introduced from Mexico into Europe. Still less can I attempt a catalogue
of its flowers, which, with their variegated and gaudy colors, form the
greatest attraction of our greenhouses. The opposite climates embraced
within the narrow latitudes of New Spain have given to it, probably, the
richest and most diversified flora to be found in any country on the
globe. These different products were systematically arranged by the
Aztecs, who understood their properties, and collected them into
nurseries, more extensive than any then existing in the Old World. It is
not improbable that they suggested the idea of those “gardens of plants”
which were introduced into Europe not many years after the

The Mexicans were as well acquainted with the mineral as with the
vegetable treasures of their kingdom. Silver, lead, and tin they drew
from the mines of Tasco; copper from the mountains of Zacotollan. These
were taken not only from the crude masses on the surface, but from veins
wrought in the solid rock, into which they opened extensive galleries.
In fact, the traces of their labors furnished the best indications for
the early Spanish miners.[225] Gold, found on the surface, or gleaned
from the beds of rivers, was cast into bars, or, in the form of dust,
made part of the regular tribute of the southern provinces of the
empire. The use of iron, with which the soil was impregnated, was
unknown to them. Notwithstanding its abundance, it demands so many
processes to prepare it for use that it has commonly been one of the
last metals pressed into the service of man. The age of iron has
followed that of brass, in fact as well as in fiction.[226]

They found a substitute in an alloy of tin and copper, and, with tools
made of this bronze, could cut not only metals, but, with the aid of a
silicious dust, the hardest substances, as basalt, porphyry, amethysts,
and emeralds.[227] They fashioned these last, which were found very
large, into many curious and fantastic forms. They cast, also, vessels
of gold and silver, carving them with their metallic chisels in a very
delicate manner. Some of the silver vases were so large that a man could
not encircle them with his arms. They imitated very nicely the figures
of animals, and, what was extraordinary, could mix the metals in such a
manner that the feathers of a bird, or the scales of a fish, should be
alternately of gold and silver. The Spanish goldsmiths admitted their
superiority over themselves in these ingenious works.[228]

They employed another tool, made of _itztli_, or obsidian, a dark
transparent mineral, exceedingly hard, found in abundance in their
hills. They made it into knives, razors, and their serrated swords. It
took a keen edge, though soon blunted. With this they wrought the
various stones and alabasters employed in the construction of their
public works and principal dwellings. I shall defer a more particular
account of these to the body of the narrative, and will only add here
that the entrances and angles of the buildings were profusely ornamented
with images, sometimes of their fantastic deities, and frequently of
animals.[229] The latter were executed with great accuracy. “The
former,” according to Torquemada, “were the hideous reflection of their
own souls. And it was not till after they had been converted to
Christianity that they could model the true figure of a man.”[230] The
old chronicler’s facts are well founded, whatever we may think of his
reasons. The allegorical phantasms of his religion, no doubt, gave a
direction to the Aztec artist, in his delineation of the human figure;
supplying him with an imaginary beauty in the personification of
divinity itself. As these superstitions lost their hold on his mind, it
opened to the influences of a purer taste; and, after the Conquest, the
Mexicans furnished many examples of correct, and some of beautiful,

Sculptured images were so numerous that the foundations of the cathedral
in the _plaza mayor_, the great square of Mexico, are said to be
entirely composed of them.[231] This spot may, indeed, be regarded as
the Aztec forum,--the great depository of the treasures of ancient
sculpture, which now lie hid in its bosom. Such monuments are spread all
over the capital, however, and a new cellar can hardly be dug, or
foundation laid, without turning up some of the mouldering relics of
barbaric art. But they are little heeded, and, if not wantonly broken in
pieces at once, are usually worked into the rising wall or supports of
the new edifice.[232] Two celebrated bas-reliefs of the last Montezuma
and his father, cut in the solid rock, in the beautiful groves of
Chapoltepec, were deliberately destroyed, as late as the eighteenth
century, by order of the government![233] The monuments of the barbarian
meet with as little respect from civilized man as those of the civilized
man from the barbarian.[234]

The most remarkable piece of sculpture yet disinterred is the great
calendar stone, noticed in the preceding chapter. It consists of dark
porphyry, and in its original dimensions, as taken from the quarry, is
computed to have weighed nearly fifty tons. It was transported from the
mountains beyond Lake Chalco, a distance of many leagues, over a broken
country intersected by watercourses and canals. In crossing a bridge
which traversed one of these latter, in the capital, the supports gave
way, and the huge mass was precipitated into the water, whence it was
with difficulty recovered. The fact that so enormous a fragment of
porphyry could be thus safely carried for leagues, in the face of such
obstacles, and without the aid of cattle,--for the Aztecs, as already
mentioned, had no animals of draught,--suggests to us no mean ideas of
their mechanical skill, and of their machinery, and implies a degree of
cultivation little inferior to that demanded for the geometrical and
astronomical science displayed in the inscriptions on this very

The ancient Mexicans made utensils of earthenware for the ordinary
purposes of domestic life, numerous specimens of which still
exist.[237] They made cups and vases of a lackered or painted wood,
impervious to wet and gaudily colored. Their dyes were obtained from
both mineral and vegetable substances. Among them was the rich crimson
of the cochineal, the modern rival of the famed Tyrian purple. It was
introduced into Europe from Mexico, where the curious little insect was
nourished with great care on plantations of cactus, since fallen into
neglect.[238] The natives were thus enabled to give a brilliant coloring
to the webs which were manufactured, of every degree of fineness, from
the cotton raised in abundance throughout the warmer regions of the
country. They had the art, also, of interweaving with these the delicate
hair of rabbits and other animals, which made a cloth of great warmth as
well as beauty, of a kind altogether original; and on this they often
laid a rich embroidery, of birds, flowers, or some other fanciful

But the art in which they most delighted was their _plumaje_, or
feather-work. With this they could produce all the effect of a beautiful
mosaic. The gorgeous plumage of the tropical birds, especially of the
parrot tribe, afforded every variety of color; and the fine down of the
humming-bird, which revelled in swarms among the honeysuckle bowers of
Mexico, supplied them with soft aerial tints that gave an exquisite
finish to the picture. The feathers, pasted on a fine cotton web, were
wrought into dresses for the wealthy, hangings for apartments, and
ornaments for the temples. No one of the American fabrics excited such
admiration in Europe, whither numerous specimens were sent by the
Conquerors. It is to be regretted that so graceful an art should have
been suffered to fall into decay.[240]

There were no shops in Mexico, but the various manufactures and
agricultural products were brought together for sale in the great
marketplaces of the principal cities. Fairs were held there every fifth
day, and were thronged by a numerous concourse of persons, who came to
buy or sell from all the neighboring country. A particular quarter was
allotted to each kind of article. The numerous transactions were
conducted without confusion, and with entire regard to justice, under
the inspection of magistrates appointed for the purpose. The traffic was
carried on partly by barter, and partly by means of a regulated
currency, of different values. This consisted of transparent quills of
gold dust; of bits of tin, cut in the form of a [Illustration: bold
letter, sans-serif T]; and of bags of cacao, containing a specified
number of grains. “Blessed money,” exclaims Peter Martyr, “which exempts
its possessors from avarice, since it cannot be long hoarded, nor hidden
under ground!”[241]

There did not exist in Mexico that distinction of castes found among the
Egyptian and Asiatic nations. It was usual, however, for the son to
follow the occupation of his father. The different trades were arranged
into something like guilds; each having a particular district of the
city appropriated to it, with its own chief, its own tutelar deity, its
peculiar festivals, and the like. Trade was held in avowed estimation by
the Aztecs. “Apply thyself, my son,” was the advice of an aged chief,
“to agriculture, or to feather-work, or some other honorable calling.
Thus did your ancestors before you. Else how would they have provided
for themselves and their families? Never was it heard that nobility
alone was able to maintain its possessor.”[242] Shrewd maxims, that must
have sounded somewhat strange in the ear of a Spanish _hidalgo_![243]

But the occupation peculiarly respected was that of the merchant. It
formed so important and singular a feature of their social economy as to
merit a much more particular notice than it has received from
historians. The Aztec merchant was a sort of itinerant trader, who made
his journeys to the remotest borders of Anahuac, and to the countries
beyond, carrying with him merchandise of rich stuffs, jewelry, slaves,
and other valuable commodities. The slaves were obtained at the great
market of Azcapozalco, not many leagues from the capital, where fairs
were regularly held for the sale of these unfortunate beings. They were
brought thither by their masters, dressed in their gayest apparel, and
instructed to sing, dance, and display their little stock of personal
accomplishments, so as to recommend themselves to the purchaser.
Slave-dealing was an honorable calling among the Aztecs.[244]

With this rich freight, the merchant visited the different provinces,
always bearing some present of value from his own sovereign to their
chiefs, and usually receiving others in return, with a permission to
trade. Should this be denied him, or should he meet with indignity or
violence, he had the means of resistance in his power. He performed his
journeys with a number of companions of his own rank, and a large body
of inferior attendants who were employed to transport the goods. Fifty
or sixty pounds were the usual load for a man. The whole caravan went
armed, and so well provided against sudden hostilities that they could
make good their defence, if necessary, till reinforced from home. In one
instance, a body of these militant traders stood a siege of four years
in the town of Ayotlan, which they finally took from the enemy.[245]
Their own government, however, was always prompt to embark in a war on
this ground, finding it a very convenient pretext for extending the
Mexican empire. It was not unusual to allow the merchants to raise
levies themselves, which were placed under their command. It was,
moreover, very common for the prince to employ the merchants as a sort
of spies, to furnish him information of the state of the countries
through which they passed, and the dispositions of the inhabitants
towards himself.[246]

Thus their sphere of action was much enlarged beyond that of a humble
trader, and they acquired a high consideration in the body politic. They
were allowed to assume insignia and devices of their own. Some of their
number composed what is called by the Spanish writers a council of
finance; at least, this was the case in Tezcuco.[247] They were much
consulted by the monarch, who had some of them constantly near his
person, addressing them by the title of “uncle,” which may remind one of
that of _primo_, or “cousin,” by which a grandee of Spain is saluted by
his sovereign. They were allowed to have their own courts, in which
civil and criminal cases, not excepting capital, were determined; so
that they formed an independent community, as it were, of themselves.
And, as their various traffic supplied them with abundant stores of
wealth, they enjoyed many of the most essential advantages of an
hereditary aristocracy.[248]

That trade should prove the path to eminent political preferment in a
nation but partially civilized, where the names of soldier and priest
are usually the only titles to respect, is certainly an anomaly in
history. It forms some contrast to the standard of the more polished
monarchies of the Old World, in which rank is supposed to be less
dishonored by a life of idle ease or frivolous pleasure than by those
active pursuits which promote equally the prosperity of the state and of
the individual. If civilization corrects many prejudices, it must be
allowed that it creates others.

We shall be able to form a better idea of the actual refinement of the
natives by penetrating into their domestic life and observing the
intercourse between the sexes. We have, fortunately, the means of doing
this. We shall there find the ferocious Aztec frequently displaying all
the sensibility of a cultivated nature; consoling his friends under
affliction, or congratulating them on their good fortune, as on occasion
of a marriage, or of the birth or the baptism of a child, when he was
punctilious in his visits, bringing presents of costly dresses and
ornaments, or the more simple offering of flowers, equally indicative of
his sympathy. The visits at these times, though regulated with all the
precision of Oriental courtesy, were accompanied by expressions of the
most cordial and affectionate regard.[249]

The discipline of children, especially at the public schools, as stated
in a previous chapter, was exceedingly severe.[250] But after she had
come to a mature age the Aztec maiden was treated by her parents with a
tenderness from which all reserve seemed banished. In the counsels to a
daughter about to enter into life, they conjured her to preserve
simplicity in her manners and conversation, uniform neatness in her
attire, with strict attention to personal cleanliness. They inculcated
modesty, as the great ornament of a woman, and implicit reverence for
her husband; softening their admonitions by such endearing epithets as
showed the fulness of a parent’s love.[251]

Polygamy was permitted among the Mexicans, though chiefly confined,
probably, to the wealthiest classes.[252] And the obligations of the
marriage vow, which was made with all the formality of a religious
ceremony, were fully recognized, and impressed on both parties. The
women are described by the Spaniards as pretty, unlike their unfortunate
descendants of the present day, though with the same serious and rather
melancholy cast of countenance. Their long black hair, covered, in some
parts of the country, by a veil made of the fine web of the _pita_,
might generally be seen wreathed with flowers, or, among the richer
people, with strings of precious stones, and pearls from the Gulf of
California. They appear to have been treated with much consideration by
their husbands, and passed their time in indolent tranquillity, or in
such feminine occupations as spinning, embroidery, and the like, while
their maidens beguiled the hours by the rehearsal of traditionary tales
and ballads.[253]

The women partook equally with the men of social festivities and
entertainments. These were often conducted on a large scale, both as
regards the number of guests and the costliness of the preparations.
Numerous attendants, of both sexes, waited at the banquet. The halls
were scented with perfumes, and the courts strewed with odoriferous
herbs and flowers, which were distributed in profusion among the guests,
as they arrived. Cotton napkins and ewers of water were placed before
them, as they took their seats at the board; for the venerable ceremony
of ablution[254] before and after eating was punctiliously observed by
the Aztecs.[255] Tobacco was then offered to the company, in pipes,
mixed up with aromatic substances, or in the form of cigars, inserted in
tubes of tortoise-shell or silver. They compressed the nostrils with the
fingers, while they inhaled the smoke, which they frequently swallowed.
Whether the women, who sat apart from the men at table, were allowed the
indulgence of the fragrant weed, as in the most polished circles of
modern Mexico, is not told us. It is a curious fact that the Aztecs also
took the dried leaf in the pulverized form of snuff.[256]

The table was well provided with substantial meats, especially game;
among which the most conspicuous was the turkey, erroneously supposed,
as its name imports, to have come originally from the East.[257] These
more solid dishes were flanked by others of vegetables and fruits, of
every delicious variety found on the North American continent. The
different viands were prepared in various ways, with delicate sauces and
seasoning, of which the Mexicans were very fond. Their palate was still
further regaled by confections and pastry, for which their maize-flour
and sugar supplied ample materials. One other dish, of a disgusting
nature, was sometimes added to the feast, especially when the
celebration partook of a religious character. On such occasions a slave
was sacrificed, and his flesh, elaborately dressed, formed one of the
chief ornaments of the banquet. Cannibalism, in the guise of an
Epicurean science, becomes even the more revolting.[258]

The meats were kept warm by chafing-dishes. The table was ornamented
with vases of silver, and sometimes gold, of delicate workmanship. The
drinking-cups and spoons were of the same costly materials, and likewise
of tortoise-shell. The favorite beverage was the _chocolatl_, flavored
with vanilla and different spices. They had a way of preparing the froth
of it, so as to make it almost solid enough to be eaten, and took it
cold.[259] The fermented juice of the maguey, with a mixture of sweets
and acids, supplied, also, various agreeable drinks, of different
degrees of strength, and formed the chief beverage of the elder part of
the company.[260]

As soon as they had finished their repast, the young people rose from
the table, to close the festivities of the day with dancing. They danced
gracefully, to the sound of various instruments, accompanying their
movements with chants of a pleasing though somewhat plaintive
character.[261] The older guests continued at table, sipping _pulque_,
and gossiping about other times, till the virtues of the exhilarating
beverage put them in good humor with their own. Intoxication was not
rare in this part of the company, and, what is singular, was excused in
them, though severely punished in the younger. The entertainment was
concluded by a liberal distribution of rich dresses and ornaments among
the guests, when they withdrew, after midnight, “some commending the
feast, and others condemning the bad taste or extravagance of their
host; in the same manner,” says an old Spanish writer, “as with
us.”[262] Human nature is, indeed, much the same all the world over.

In this remarkable picture of manners, which I have copied faithfully
from the records of earliest date after the Conquest, we find no
resemblance to the other races of North American Indians. Some
resemblance we may trace to the general style of Asiatic pomp and
luxury. But in Asia, woman, far from being admitted to unreserved
intercourse with the other sex, is too often jealously immured within
the walls of the harem. European civilization, which accords to this
loveliest portion of creation her proper rank in the social scale, is
still more removed from some of the brutish usages of the Aztecs. That
such usages should have existed with the degree of refinement they
showed in other things is almost inconceivable. It can only be explained
as the result of religious superstition; superstition which clouds the
moral perception, and perverts even the natural senses, till man,


[Illustration: _Goupil & Cº. Paris_]

man, is reconciled to the very things which are most revolting to
humanity. Habits and opinions founded on religion must not be taken as
conclusive evidence of the actual refinement of a people.

The Aztec character was perfectly original and unique. It was made up of
incongruities apparently irreconcilable. It blended into one the marked
peculiarities of different nations, not only of the same phase of
civilization, but as far removed from each other as the extremes of
barbarism and refinement. It may find a fitting parallel in their own
wonderful climate, capable of producing, on a few square leagues of
surface, the boundless variety of vegetable forms which belong to the
frozen regions of the North, the temperate zone of Europe, and the
burning skies of Arabia and Hindostan.

     One of the works repeatedly consulted and referred to in this
     Introduction is Boturini’s _Idea de una nueva Historia general de
     la América Septentrional_. The singular persecutions sustained by
     its author, even more than the merits of his book, have associated
     his name inseparably with the literary history of Mexico. The
     Chevalier Lorenzo Boturini Benaduci was a Milanese by birth, of an
     ancient family, and possessed of much learning. From Madrid, where
     he was residing, he passed over to New Spain, in 1735, on some
     business of the Countess of Santibañez, a lineal descendant of
     Montezuma. While employed on this, he visited the celebrated shrine
     of Our Lady of Guadaloupe, and, being a person of devout and
     enthusiastic temper, was filled with the desire of collecting
     testimony to establish the marvellous fact of her apparition. In
     the course of his excursions, made with this view, he fell in with
     many relics of Aztec antiquity, and conceived--what to a
     Protestant, at least, would seem much more rational--the idea of
     gathering together all the memorials he could meet with of the
     primitive civilization of the land.

     In pursuit of this double object, he penetrated into the remotest
     parts of the country, living much with the natives, passing his
     nights sometimes in their huts, sometimes in caves and the depths
     of the lonely forests. Frequently months would elapse without his
     being able to add anything to his collection; for the Indians had
     suffered too much not to be very shy of Europeans. His long
     intercourse with them, however, gave him ample opportunity to learn
     their language and popular traditions, and, in the end, to amass a
     large stock of materials, consisting of hieroglyphical charts on
     cotton, skins, and the fibre of the maguey; besides a considerable
     body of Indian manuscripts, written after the Conquest. To all
     these must be added the precious documents for placing beyond
     controversy the miraculous apparition of the Virgin. With this
     treasure he returned, after a pilgrimage of eight years, to the

     His zeal, in the mean while, had induced him to procure from Rome a
     bull authorizing the coronation of the sacred image at Guadaloupe.
     The bull, however, though sanctioned by the Audience of New Spain,
     had never been approved by the Council of the Indies. In
     consequence of this informality, Boturini was arrested in the midst
     of his proceedings, his papers were taken from him, and, as he
     declined to give an inventory of them, he was thrown into prison,
     and confined in the same apartment with two criminals! Not long
     afterward he was sent to Spain. He there presented a memorial to
     the Council of the Indies, setting forth his manifold grievances,
     and soliciting redress. At the same time, he drew up his “Idea,”
     above noticed, in which he displayed the catalogue of his _museum_
     in New Spain, declaring, with affecting earnestness, that “he would
     not exchange these treasures for all the gold and silver, diamonds
     and pearls, in the New World.”

     After some delay, the Council gave an award in his favor;
     acquitting him of any intentional violation of the law, and
     pronouncing a high encomium on his deserts. His papers, however,
     were not restored. But his Majesty was graciously pleased to
     appoint him Historiographer-General of the Indies, with a salary of
     one thousand dollars per annum. The stipend was too small to allow
     him to return to Mexico. He remained in Madrid, and completed there
     the first volume of a “General History of North America,” in 1749.
     Not long after this event, and before the publication of the work,
     he died. The same injustice was continued to his heirs; and,
     notwithstanding repeated applications in their behalf, they were
     neither put in possession of their unfortunate kinsman’s
     collection, nor received a remuneration for it. What was worse,--as
     far as the public was concerned,--the collection itself was
     deposited in apartments of the vice-regal palace at Mexico, so damp
     that they gradually fell to pieces, and the few remaining were
     still further diminished by the pilfering of _the curious_. When
     Baron Humboldt visited Mexico, not one-eighth of this inestimable
     treasure was in existence!

     I have been thus particular in the account of the unfortunate
     Boturini, as affording, on the whole, the most remarkable example
     of the serious obstacles and persecutions which literary
     enterprise, directed in the path of the national antiquities, has,
     from some cause or other, been exposed to in New Spain.

     Boturini’s manuscript volume was never printed, and probably never
     will be, if indeed it is in existence. This will scarcely prove a
     great detriment to science or to his own reputation. He was a man
     of a zealous temper, strongly inclined to the marvellous, with
     little of that acuteness requisite for penetrating the tangled
     mazes of antiquity, or of the philosophic spirit fitted for calmly
     weighing its doubts and difficulties. His “Idea” affords a sample
     of his peculiar mind. With abundant learning, ill assorted and ill
     digested, it is a jumble of fact and puerile fiction, interesting
     details, crazy dreams, and fantastic theories. But it is hardly
     fair to judge by the strict rules of criticism a work which, put
     together hastily, as a catalogue of literary treasures, was
     designed by the author rather to show what might be done, than that
     he could do it himself. It is rare that talents for action and
     contemplation are united in the same individual. Boturini was
     eminently qualified, by his enthusiasm and perseverance, for
     collecting the materials necessary to illustrate the antiquities of
     the country. It requires a more highly gifted mind to avail itself
     of them.



The reader would gather but an imperfect notion of the civilization of
Anahuac, without some account of the Acolhuans, or Tezcucans, as they
are usually called; a nation of the same great family with the Aztecs,
whom they rivalled in power and surpassed in intellectual culture and
the arts of social refinement. Fortunately, we have ample materials for
this in the records left by Ixtlilxochitl, a lineal descendant of the
royal line of Tezcuco, who flourished in the century of the Conquest.
With every opportunity for information he combined much industry and
talent, and, if his narrative bears the high coloring of one who would
revive the faded glories of an ancient but dilapidated house, he has
been uniformly commended for his fairness and integrity, and has been
followed without misgiving by such Spanish writers as could have access
to his manuscripts.[264] I shall confine myself to the prominent
features of the two reigns which may be said to embrace the golden age
of Tezcuco, without attempting to weigh the probability of the details,
which I will leave to be settled by the reader, according to the measure
of his faith.

The Acolhuans came into the Valley, as we have seen, about the close of
the twelfth century, and built their capital of Tezcuco on the eastern
borders of the lake, opposite to Mexico. From this point they gradually
spread themselves over the northern portion of Anahuac, when their
career was checked by an invasion of a kindred race, the Tepanecs, who,
after a desperate struggle, succeeded in taking their city, slaying
their monarch, and entirely subjugating his kingdom.[265] This event
took place about 1418; and the young prince, Nezahualcoyotl, the heir to
the crown, then fifteen years old, saw his father butchered before his
eyes, while he himself lay concealed among the friendly branches of a
tree which overshadowed the spot.[266] His subsequent history is as full
of romantic daring and perilous escapes as that of the renowned
Scanderbeg or of the “young Chevalier.”[267]

Not long after his flight from the field of his father’s blood, the
Tezcucan prince fell into the hands of his enemy, was borne off in
triumph to his city, and was thrown into a dungeon. He effected his
escape, however, through the connivance of the governor of the fortress,
an old servant of his family, who took the place of the royal fugitive,
and paid for his loyalty with his life. He was at length permitted,
through the intercession of the reigning family in Mexico, which was
allied to him, to retire to that capital, and subsequently to his own,
where he found a shelter in his ancestral palace. Here he remained
unmolested for eight years, pursuing his studies under an old preceptor,
who had had the care of his early youth, and who instructed him in the
various duties befitting his princely station.[268]

At the end of this period the Tepanec usurper died, bequeathing his
empire to his son, Maxtla, a man of fierce and suspicious temper.
Nezahualcoyotl hastened to pay his obeisance to him, on his accession.
But the tyrant refused to receive the little present of flowers which he
laid at his feet, and turned his back on him in presence of his
chieftains. One of his attendants, friendly to the young prince,
admonished him to provide for his own safety, by withdrawing, as
speedily as possible, from the palace, where his life was in danger. He
lost no time, consequently, in retreating from the inhospitable court,
and returned to Tezcuco. Maxtla, however, was bent on his destruction.
He saw with jealous eye the opening talents and popular manners of his
rival, and the favor he was daily winning from his ancient

He accordingly laid a plan for making away with him at an evening
entertainment. It was defeated by the vigilance of the prince’s tutor,
who contrived to mislead the assassins and to substitute another victim
in the place of his pupil.[270] The baffled tyrant now threw off all
disguise, and sent a strong party of soldiers to Tezcuco, with orders to
enter the palace, seize the person of Nezahualcoyotl, and slay him on
the spot. The prince, who became acquainted with the plot through the
watchfulness of his preceptor, instead of flying, as he was counselled,
resolved to await his enemies. They found him playing at ball, when they
arrived, in the court of his palace. He received them courteously, and
invited them in, to take some refreshments after their journey. While
they were occupied in this way, he passed into an adjoining saloon,
which excited no suspicion, as he was still visible through the open
doors by which the apartments communicated with each other. A burning
censer stood in the passage, and, as it was fed by the attendants, threw
up such clouds of incense as obscured his movements from the soldiers.
Under this friendly veil he succeeded in making his escape by a secret
passage, which communicated with a large earthen pipe formerly used to
bring water to the palace.[271] Here he remained till nightfall, when,
taking advantage of the obscurity, he found his way into the suburbs,
and sought a shelter in the cottage of one of his father’s vassals.

The Tepanec monarch, enraged at this repeated disappointment, ordered
instant pursuit. A price was set on the head of the royal fugitive.
Whoever should take him, dead or alive, was promised, however humble his
degree, the hand of a noble lady, and an ample domain along with it.
Troops of armed men were ordered to scour the country in every
direction. In the course of the search, the cottage in which the prince
had taken refuge was entered. But he fortunately escaped detection by
being hid under a heap of maguey fibres used for manufacturing cloth. As
this was no longer a proper place of concealment, he sought a retreat in
the mountainous and woody district lying between the borders of his own
state and Tlascala.[272]

Here he led a wretched, wandering life, exposed to all the inclemencies
of the weather, hiding himself in deep thickets and caverns, and
stealing out, at night, to satisfy the cravings of appetite; while he
was kept in constant alarm by the activity of his pursuers, always
hovering on his track. On one occasion he sought refuge from them among
a small party of soldiers, who proved friendly to him and concealed him
in a large drum around which they were dancing. At another time he was
just able to turn the crest of a hill as his enemies were climbing it on
the other side, when he fell in with a girl who was reaping _chia_,--a
Mexican plant, the seed of which was much used in the drinks of the
country. He persuaded her to cover him up with the stalks she had been
cutting. When his pursuers came up, and inquired if she had seen the
fugitive, the girl coolly answered that she had, and pointed out a path
as the one he had taken. Notwithstanding the high rewards offered,
Nezahualcoyotl seems to have incurred no danger from treachery, such was
the general attachment felt to himself and his house. “Would you not
deliver up the prince, if he came in your way?” he inquired of a young
peasant who was unacquainted with his person. “Not I,” replied the
other. “What, not for a fair lady’s hand, and a rich dowry beside?”
rejoined the prince. At which the other only shook his head and
laughed.[273] On more than one occasion his faithful people submitted to
torture, and even to lose their lives, rather than disclose the place of
his retreat.[274]

However gratifying such proofs of loyalty might be to his feelings, the
situation of the prince in these mountain solitudes became every day
more distressing. It gave a still keener edge to his own sufferings to
witness those of the faithful followers who chose to accompany him in
his wanderings. “Leave me,” he would say to them, “to my fate! Why
should you throw away your own lives for one whom fortune is never weary
of persecuting?” Most of the great Tezcucan chiefs had consulted their
interests by a timely adhesion to the usurper. But some still clung to
their prince, preferring proscription, and death itself, rather than
desert him in his extremity.[275]

In the mean time, his friends at a distance were active in measures for
his relief. The oppressions of Maxtla, and his growing empire, had
caused general alarm in the surrounding states, who recalled the mild
rule of the Tezcucan princes. A coalition was formed, a plan of
operations concerted, and, on the day appointed for a general rising,
Nezahualcoyotl found himself at the head of a force sufficiently strong
to face his Tepanec adversaries. An engagement came on, in which the
latter were totally discomfited; and the victorious prince, receiving
everywhere on his route the homage of his joyful subjects, entered his
capital, not like a proscribed outcast, but as the rightful heir, and
saw himself once more enthroned in the halls of his fathers.

Soon after, he united his forces with the Mexicans, long disgusted with
the arbitrary conduct of Maxtla. The allied powers, after a series of
bloody engagements with the usurper, routed him under the walls of his
own capital. He fled to the baths, whence he was dragged out, and
sacrificed with the usual cruel ceremonies of the Aztecs; the royal city
of Azcapozalco was razed to the ground, and the wasted territory was
henceforth reserved as the great slave-market for the nations of

These events were succeeded by the remarkable league among the three
powers of Tezcuco, Mexico, and Tlacopan, of which some account has been
given in a previous chapter.[277] Historians are not agreed as to the
precise terms of it; the writers of the two former nations each
insisting on the paramount authority of his own in the coalition. All
agree in the subordinate position of Tlacopan, a state, like the others,
bordering on the lake. It is certain that in their subsequent
operations, whether of peace or war, the three states shared in each
other’s councils, embarked in each other’s enterprises, and moved in
perfect concert together, till just before the coming of the Spaniards.

The first measure of Nezahualcoyotl, on returning to his dominions, was
a general amnesty. It was his maxim “that a monarch might punish, but
revenge was unworthy of him.”[278] In the present instance he was averse
even to punish, and not only freely pardoned his rebel nobles, but
conferred on some, who had most deeply offended, posts of honor and
confidence. Such conduct was doubtless politic, especially as their
alienation was owing, probably, much more to fear of the usurper than to
any disaffection towards himself. But there are some acts of policy
which a magnanimous spirit only can execute.

The restored monarch next set about repairing the damages sustained
under the late misrule, and reviving, or rather remodelling, the various
departments of government. He framed a concise, but comprehensive, code
of laws, so well suited, it was thought, to the exigencies of the times,
that it was adopted as their own by the two other members of the triple
alliance. It was written in blood, and entitled the author to be called
the Draco rather than “the Solon of Anahuac,” as he is fondly styled by
his admirers.[279] Humanity is one of the best fruits of refinement. It
is only with increasing civilization that the legislator studies to
economize human suffering, even for the guilty; to devise penalties not
so much by way of punishment for the past as of reformation for the

He divided the burden of government among a number of departments, as
the council of war, the council of finance, the council of justice. This
last was a court of supreme authority, both in civil and criminal
matters, receiving appeals from the lower tribunals of the provinces,
which were obliged to make a full report, every four months, or eighty
days, of their own proceedings to this higher judicature. In all these
bodies, a certain number of citizens were allowed to have seats with the
nobles and professional dignitaries. There was, however, another body, a
council of state, for aiding the king in the despatch of business, and
advising him in matters of importance, which was drawn altogether from
the highest order of chiefs. It consisted of fourteen members; and they
had seats provided for them at the royal table.[281]

Lastly, there was an extraordinary tribunal, called the council of
music, but which, differing from the import of its name, was devoted to
the encouragement of science and art. Works on astronomy, chronology,
history, or any other science, were required to be submitted to its
judgment, before they could be made public. This censorial power was of
some moment, at least with regard to the historical department, where
the wilful perversion of truth was made a capital offence by the bloody
code of Nezahualcoyotl. Yet a Tezcucan author must have been a bungler,
who could not elude a conviction under the cloudy veil of hieroglyphics.
This body, which was drawn from the best-instructed persons in the
kingdom, with little regard to rank, had supervision of all the
productions of art, and of the nicer fabrics. It decided on the
qualifications of the professors in the various branches of science, on
the fidelity of their instructions to their pupils, the deficiency of
which was severely punished, and it instituted examinations of these
latter. In short, it was a general board of education for the country.
On stated days, historical compositions, and poems treating of moral or
traditional topics, were recited before it by their authors. Seats were
provided for the three crowned heads of the empire, who deliberated with
the other members on the respective merits of the pieces, and
distributed prizes of value to the successful competitors.[282]

Such are the marvellous accounts transmitted to us of this institution;
an institution certainly not to have been expected among the aborigines
of America. It is calculated to give us a higher idea of the refinement
of the people than even the noble architectural remains which still
cover some parts of the continent. Architecture is, to a certain extent,
a sensual gratification. It addresses itself to the eye, and affords the
best scope for the parade of barbaric pomp and splendor. It is the form
in which the revenues of a semi-civilized people are most likely to be
lavished. The most gaudy and ostentatious specimens of it, and sometimes
the most stupendous, have been reared by such hands. It is one of the
first steps in the great march of civilization. But the institution in
question was evidence of still higher refinement. It was a literary
luxury, and argued the existence of a taste in the nation which relied
for its gratification on pleasures of a purely intellectual character.

The influence of this academy must have been most propitious to the
capital, which became the nursery not only of such sciences as could be
compassed by the scholarship of the period, but of various useful and
ornamental arts. Its historians, orators, and poets were celebrated
throughout the country.[283] Its archives, for which accommodations were
provided in the royal palace, were stored with the records of primitive
ages.[284] Its idiom, more polished than the Mexican, was, indeed, the
purest of all the Nahuatlac dialects, and continued, long after the
Conquest, to be that in which the best productions of the native races
were composed. Tezcuco claimed the glory of being the Athens of the
Western world.[285]

Among the most illustrious of her bards was the emperor himself,--for
the Tezcucan writers claim this title for their chief, as head of the
imperial alliance. He doubtless appeared as a competitor before that
very academy where he so often sat as a critic. Many of his odes
descended to a late generation, and are still preserved, perhaps, in
some of the dusty repositories of Mexico or Spain.[286] The historian
Ixtlilxochitl has left a translation, in Castilian, of one of the poems
of his royal ancestor. It is not easy to render his version into
corresponding English rhyme, without the perfume of the original
escaping in this double filtration.[287] They remind one of the rich
breathings of Spanish-Arab poetry, in which an ardent imagination is
tempered by a not unpleasing and moral melancholy.[288] But, though
sufficiently florid in diction, they are generally free from the
meretricious ornaments and hyperbole with which the minstrelsy of the
East is usually tainted. They turn on the vanities and mutability of
human life,--a topic very natural for a monarch who had himself
experienced the strangest mutations of fortune. There is mingled in the
lament of the Tezcucan bard, however, an Epicurean philosophy, which
seeks relief from the fears of the future in the joys of the present.
“Banish care,” he says: “if there are bounds to pleasure, the saddest
life must also have an end. Then weave the chaplet of flowers, and sing
thy songs in praise of the all-powerful God, for the glory of this world
soon fadeth away. Rejoice in the green freshness of thy spring; for the
day will come when thou shalt sigh for these joys in vain; when the
sceptre shall pass from thy hands, thy servants shall wander desolate in
thy courts, thy sons, and the sons of thy nobles, shall drink the dregs
of distress, and all the pomp of thy victories and triumphs shall live
only in their recollection. Yet the remembrance of the just shall not
pass away from the nations, and the good thou hast done shall ever be
held in honor. The goods of this life, its glories and its riches, are
but lent to us, its substance is but an illusory shadow, and the things
of to-day shall change on the coming of the morrow. Then gather the
fairest flowers from thy gardens, to bind round thy brow, and seize the
joys of the present ere they perish.”[289]

But the hours of the Tezcucan monarch were not all passed in idle
dalliance with the Muse, nor in the sober contemplations of philosophy,
as at a later period. In the freshness of youth and early manhood he led
the allied armies in their annual expeditions, which were certain to
result in a wider extent of territory to the empire.[290] In the
intervals of peace he fostered those productive arts which are the
surest sources of public prosperity. He encouraged agriculture above
all; and there was scarcely a spot so rude, or a steep so inaccessible,
as not to confess the power of cultivation. The land was covered with a
busy population, and towns and cities sprang up in places since deserted
or dwindled into miserable villages.[291]

From resources thus enlarged by conquest and domestic industry, the
monarch drew the means for the large consumption of his own numerous
household,[292] and for the costly works which he executed for the
convenience and embellishment of the capital. He filled it with stately
edifices for his nobles, whose constant attendance he was anxious to
secure at his court.[293] He erected a magnificent pile of buildings
which might serve both for a royal residence and for the public
offices. It extended, from east to west, twelve hundred and thirty-four
yards, and from north to south, nine hundred and seventy-eight.[294] It
was encompassed by a wall of unburnt bricks and cement, six feet wide
and nine high for one half of the circumference, and fifteen feet high
for the other half. Within this enclosure were two courts. The outer one
was used as the great market-place of the city, and continued to be so
until long after the Conquest,--if, indeed, it is not now. The interior
court was surrounded by the council-chambers and halls of justice. There
were also accommodations there for the foreign ambassadors; and a
spacious saloon, with apartments opening into it, for men of science and
poets, who pursued their studies in this retreat or met together to hold
converse under its marble porticoes. In this quarter, also, were kept
the public archives, which fared better under the Indian dynasty than
they have since under their European successors.[295]

Adjoining this court were the apartments of the king, including those
for the royal harem, as liberally supplied with beauties as that of an
Eastern sultan. Their walls were incrusted with alabasters and
richly-tinted stucco, or hung with gorgeous tapestries of variegated
feather-work.[296] They led through long arcades, and through intricate
labyrinths of shrubbery, into gardens where baths and sparkling
fountains were overshadowed by tall groves of cedar and cypress. The
basins of water were well stocked with fish of various kinds, and the
aviaries with birds glowing in all the gaudy plumage of the tropics.
Many birds and animals which could not be obtained alive were
represented in gold and silver so skilfully as to have furnished the
great naturalist Hernandez with models for his work.[297]

Accommodations on a princely scale were provided for the sovereigns of
Mexico and Tlacopan when they visited the court. The whole of this
lordly pile contained three hundred apartments, some of them fifty yards
square.[298] The height of the building is not mentioned. It was
probably not great, but supplied the requisite room by the immense
extent of ground which it covered. The interior was doubtless
constructed of light materials, especially of the rich woods which, in
that country, are remarkable, when polished, for the brilliancy and
variety of their colors. That the more solid materials of stone and
stucco were also liberally employed is proved by the remains at the
present day; remains which have furnished an inexhaustible quarry for
the churches and other edifices since erected by the Spaniards on the
site of the ancient city.[299]

We are not informed of the time occupied in building this palace. But
two hundred thousand workmen, it is said, were employed on it.[300]
However this may be, it is certain that the Tezcucan monarchs, like
those of Asia and ancient Egypt, had the control of immense masses of
men, and would sometimes turn the whole population of a conquered city,
including the women, into the public works.[301] The most gigantic
monuments of architecture which the world has witnessed would never have
been reared by the hands of freemen.

Adjoining the palace were buildings for the king’s children, who, by his
various wives, amounted to no less than sixty sons and fifty
daughters.[302] Here they were instructed in all the exercises and
accomplishments suited to their station; comprehending, what would
scarcely find a place in a royal education on the other side of the
Atlantic, the arts of working in metals, jewelry, and feather-mosaic.
Once in every four months, the whole household, not excepting the
youngest, and including all the officers and attendants on the king’s
person, assembled in a grand saloon of the palace, to listen to a
discourse from an orator, probably one of the priesthood. The princes,
on this occasion, were all dressed in _nequen_, the coarsest manufacture
of the country. The preacher began by enlarging on the obligations of
morality and of respect for the gods, especially important in persons
whose rank gave such additional weight to example. He occasionally
seasoned his homily with a pertinent application to his audience, if any
member of it had been guilty of a notorious delinquency. From this
wholesome admonition the monarch himself was not exempted, and the
orator boldly reminded him of his paramount duty to show respect for his
own laws. The king, so far from taking umbrage, received the lesson with
humility; and the audience, we are assured, were often melted into tears
by the eloquence of the preacher.[303] This curious scene may remind one
of similar usages in the Asiatic and Egyptian despotisms, where the
sovereign occasionally condescended to stoop from his pride of place and
allow his memory to be refreshed with the conviction of his own
mortality.[304] It soothed the feelings of the subject to find himself
thus placed, though but for a moment, on a level with his king; while it
cost little to the latter, who was removed too far from his people to
suffer anything by this short-lived familiarity. It is probable that
such an act of public humiliation would have found less favor with a
prince less absolute.

Nezahualcoyotl’s fondness for magnificence was shown in his numerous
villas, which were embellished with all that could make a rural retreat
delightful. His favorite residence was at Tezcotzinco, a conical hill
about two leagues from the capital.[305] It was laid out in terraces, or
hanging gardens, having a flight of steps five hundred and twenty in
number, many of them hewn in the natural porphyry.[306] In the garden on
the summit was a reservoir of water, fed by an aqueduct that was carried
over hill and valley, for several miles, on huge buttresses of masonry.
A large rock stood in the midst of this basin, sculptured with the
hieroglyphics representing the years of Nezahualcoyotl’s reign and his
principal achievements in each.[307] On a lower level were three other
reservoirs, in each of which stood a marble statue of a woman,
emblematic of the three states of the empire.[308] Another tank
contained a winged lion, (?) cut out of the solid rock, bearing in its
mouth the portrait of the emperor.[309] His likeness had been executed
in gold, wood, feather-work, and stone; but this was the only one which
pleased him.

From these copious basins the water was distributed in numerous channels
through the gardens, or was made to tumble over the rocks in cascades,
shedding refreshing dews on the flowers and odoriferous shrubs below. In
the depths of this fragrant wilderness, marble porticoes and pavilions
were erected, and baths excavated in the solid porphyry, which are still
shown by the ignorant natives as the “Baths of Montezuma”![310] The
visitor descended by steps cut in the living stone and polished so
bright as to reflect like mirrors.[311] Towards the base of the hill, in
the midst of cedar groves, whose gigantic branches threw a refreshing
coolness over the verdure in the sultriest seasons of the year,[312]
rose the royal villa, with its light arcades and airy halls, drinking
in the sweet perfumes of the gardens. Here the monarch often retired, to
throw off the burden of state and refresh his wearied spirits in the
society of his favorite wives, reposing during the noontide heats in the
embowering shades of his paradise, or mingling, in the cool of the
evening, in their festive sports and dances. Here he entertained his
imperial brothers of Mexico and Tlacopan, and followed the hardier
pleasures of the chase in the noble woods that stretched for miles
around his villa, flourishing in all their primeval majesty. Here, too,
he often repaired in the latter days of his life, when age had tempered
ambition and cooled the ardor of his blood, to pursue in solitude the
studies of philosophy and gather wisdom from meditation.

The extraordinary accounts of the Tezcucan architecture are confirmed,
in the main, by the relics which still cover the hill of Tezcotzinco or
are half buried beneath its surface. They attract little attention,
indeed, in the country, where their true history has long since passed
into oblivion;[313] while the traveller whose curiosity leads him to the
spot speculates on their probable origin, and, as he stumbles over the
huge fragments of sculptured porphyry and granite, refers them to the
primitive races who spread their colossal architecture over the country
long before the coming of the Acolhuans and the Aztecs.[314]

The Tezcucan princes were used to entertain a great number of
concubines. They had but one lawful wife, to whose issue the crown
descended.[315] Nezahualcoyotl remained unmarried to a late period. He
was disappointed in an early attachment, as the princess who had been
educated in privacy to be the partner of his throne gave her hand to
another. The injured monarch submitted the affair to the proper
tribunal. The parties, however, were proved to have been ignorant of the
destination of the lady, and the court, with an independence which
reflects equal honor on the judges who could give and the monarch who
could receive the sentence, acquitted the young couple. This story is
sadly contrasted by the following.[316]

The king devoured his chagrin in the solitude of his beautiful villa of
Tezcotzinco, or sought to divert it by travelling. On one of his
journeys he was hospitably entertained by a potent vassal, the old lord
of Tepechpan, who, to do his sovereign more honor, caused him to be
attended at the banquet by a noble maiden, betrothed to himself, and
who, after the fashion of the country, had been educated under his own
roof. She was of the blood royal of Mexico, and nearly related,
moreover, to the Tezcucan monarch. The latter, who had all the amorous
temperament of the South, was captivated by the grace and personal
charms of the youthful Hebe, and conceived a violent passion for her. He
did not disclose it to any one, however, but, on his return home,
resolved to gratify it, though at the expense of his own honor, by
sweeping away the only obstacle which stood in his path.

He accordingly sent an order to the chief of Tepechpan to take command
of an expedition set on foot against the Tlascalans. At the same time he
instructed two Tezcucan chiefs to keep near the person of the old lord,
and bring him into the thickest of the fight, where he might lose his
life. He assured them this had been forfeited by a great crime, but
that, from regard for his vassal’s past services, he was willing to
cover up his disgrace by an honorable death.

The veteran, who had long lived in retirement on his estates, saw
himself with astonishment called so suddenly and needlessly into action,
for which so many younger men were better fitted. He suspected the
cause, and, in the farewell entertainment to his friends, uttered a
presentiment of his sad destiny. His predictions were too soon
verified; and a few weeks placed the hand of his virgin bride at her
own disposal.

Nezahualcoyotl did not think it prudent to break his passion publicly to
the princess so soon after the death of his victim. He opened a
correspondence with her through a female relative, and expressed his
deep sympathy for her loss. At the same time, he tendered the best
consolation in his power, by an offer of his heart and hand. Her former
lover had been too well stricken in years for the maiden to remain long
inconsolable. She was not aware of the perfidious plot against his life;
and, after a decent time, she was ready to comply with her duty, by
placing herself at the disposal of her royal kinsman.

It was arranged by the king, in order to give a more natural aspect to
the affair and prevent all suspicion of the unworthy part he had acted,
that the princess should present herself in his grounds at Tezcotzinco,
to witness some public ceremony there. Nezahualcoyotl was standing in a
balcony of the palace when she appeared, and inquired, as if struck with
her beauty for the first time, “who the lovely young creature was, in
his gardens.” When his courtiers had acquainted him with her name and
rank, he ordered her to be conducted to the palace, that she might
receive the attentions due to her station. The interview was soon
followed by a public declaration of his passion; and the marriage was
celebrated not long after, with great pomp, in the presence of his
court, and of his brother monarchs of Mexico and Tlacopan.[317]

This story, which furnishes so obvious a counterpart to that of David
and Uriah, is told with great circumstantiality, both by the king’s son
and grandson, from whose narratives Ixtlilxochitl derived it.[318] They
stigmatize the action as the basest in their great ancestor’s life. It
is indeed too base not to leave an indelible stain on any character,
however pure in other respects, and exalted.

The king was strict in the execution of his laws, though his natural
disposition led him to temper justice with mercy. Many anecdotes are
told of the benevolent interest he took in the concerns of his subjects,
and of his anxiety to detect and reward merit, even in the most humble.
It was common for him to ramble among them in disguise, like the
celebrated caliph in the “Arabian Nights,” mingling freely in
conversation, and ascertaining their actual condition with his own

On one such occasion, when attended only by a single lord, he met with a
boy who was gathering sticks in a field for fuel. He inquired of him
“why he did not go into the neighboring forest, where he would find a
plenty of them.” To which the lad answered, “It was the king’s wood, and
he would punish him with death if he trespassed there.” The royal
forests were very extensive in Tezcuco, and were guarded by laws full as
severe as those of the Norman tyrants in England. “What kind of man is
your king?” asked the monarch, willing to learn the effect of these
prohibitions on his own popularity. “A very hard man,” answered the boy,
“who denies his people what God has given them.”[320] Nezahualcoyotl
urged him not to mind such arbitrary laws, but to glean his sticks in
the forest, as there was no one present who would betray him. But the
boy sturdily refused, bluntly accusing the disguised king, at the same
time, of being a traitor, and of wishing to bring him into trouble.

Nezahualcoyotl, on returning to the palace, ordered the child and his
parents to be summoned before him. They received the orders with
astonishment, but, on entering the presence, the boy at once recognized
the person with whom he had discoursed so unceremoniously, and he was
filled with consternation. The good-natured monarch, however, relieved
his apprehensions, by thanking him for the lesson he had given him, and,
at the same time, commended his respect for the laws, and praised his
parents for the manner in which they had trained their son. He then
dismissed the parties with a liberal largess, and afterwards mitigated
the severity of the forest laws, so as to allow persons to gather any
wood they might find on the ground, if they did not meddle with the
standing timber.[321]

Another adventure is told of him, with a poor woodman and his wife, who
had brought their little load of billets for sale to the market-place of
Tezcuco. The man was bitterly lamenting his hard lot, and the
difficulty with which he earned a wretched subsistence, while the master
of the palace before which they were standing lived an idle life,
without toil, and with all the luxuries in the world at his command.

He was going on in his complaints, when the good woman stopped him, by
reminding him he might be overheard. He was so, by Nezahualcoyotl
himself who, standing screened from observation at a latticed window
which overlooked the market, was amusing himself, as he was wont, with
observing the common people chaffering in the square. He immediately
ordered the querulous couple into his presence. They appeared trembling
and conscience-struck before him. The king gravely inquired what they
had said. As they answered him truly, he told them they should reflect
that, if he had great treasures at his command, he had still greater
calls for them; that, far from leading an easy life, he was oppressed
with the whole burden of government; and concluded by admonishing them
“to be more cautious in future, as walls had ears.”[322] He then ordered
his officers to bring a quantity of cloth and a generous supply of cacao
(the coin of the country), and dismissed them. “Go,” said he; “with the
little you now have, you will be rich; while, with all my riches, I
shall still be poor.”[323]

It was not his passion to hoard. He dispensed his revenues
munificently, seeking out poor but meritorious objects on whom to bestow
them. He was particularly mindful of disabled soldiers, and those who
had in any way sustained loss in the public service, and, in case of
their death, extended assistance to their surviving families. Open
mendicity was a thing he would never tolerate, but chastised it with
exemplary rigor.[324]

It would be incredible that a man of the enlarged mind and endowments of
Nezahualcoyotl should acquiesce in the sordid superstitions of his
countrymen, and still more in the sanguinary rites borrowed by them from
the Aztecs. In truth, his humane temper shrunk from these cruel
ceremonies, and he strenuously endeavored to recall his people to the
more pure and simple worship of the ancient Toltecs. A circumstance
produced a temporary change in his conduct.

He had been married some years to the wife he had so unrighteously
obtained, but was not blessed with issue. The priests represented that
it was owing to his neglect of the gods of his country, and that his
only remedy was to propitiate them by human sacrifice. The king
reluctantly consented, and the altars once more smoked with the blood of
slaughtered captives. But it was all in vain; and he indignantly
exclaimed, “These idols of wood and stone can neither hear nor feel;
much less could they make the heavens, and the earth, and man, the lord
of it. These must be the work of the all-powerful, unknown God, Creator
of the universe, on whom alone I must rely for consolation and

He then withdrew to his rural palace of Tezcotzinco, where he remained
forty days, fasting and praying at stated hours, and offering up no
other sacrifice than the sweet incense of copal, and aromatic herbs and
gums. At the expiration of this time, he is said to have been comforted
by a vision assuring him of the success of his petition. At all events,
such proved to be the fact; and this was followed by the cheering
intelligence of the triumph of his arms in a quarter where he had lately
experienced some humiliating reverses.[326]

Greatly strengthened in his former religious convictions, he now openly
professed his faith, and was more earnest to wean his subjects from
their degrading superstitions and to substitute nobler and more
spiritual conceptions of the Deity. He built a temple in the usual
pyramidal form, and on the summit a tower nine stories high, to
represent the nine heavens; a tenth was surmounted by a roof painted
black, and profusely gilded with stars, on the outside, and incrusted
with metals and precious stones within. He dedicated this to “_the
unknown God, the Cause of causes_”[327] It seems probable, from the
emblem on the tower, as well as from the complexion of his verses, as we
shall see, that he mingled with his reverence for the Supreme the astral
worship which existed among the Toltecs.[328] Various musical
instruments were placed on the top of the tower, and the sound of them,
accompanied by the ringing of a sonorous metal struck by a mallet,
summoned the worshippers to prayers, at regular seasons.[329] No image
was allowed in the edifice, as unsuited to the “invisible God;” and the
people were expressly prohibited from profaning the altars with blood,
or any other sacrifices than that of the perfume of flowers and
sweet-scented gums.

The remainder of his days was chiefly spent in his delicious solitudes
of Tezcotzinco, where he devoted himself to astronomical and, probably,
astrological studies, and to meditation on his immortal destiny,--giving
utterance to his feelings in songs, or rather hymns, of much solemnity
and pathos. An extract from one of these will convey some idea of his
religious speculations. The pensive tenderness of the verses quoted in a
preceding page is deepened here into a mournful, and even gloomy,
coloring; while the wounded spirit, instead of seeking relief in the
convivial sallies of a young and buoyant temperament, turns for
consolation to the world beyond the grave:

“All things on earth have their term, and, in the most joyous career of
their vanity and splendor, their strength fails, and they sink into the
dust. All the round world is but a sepulchre; and there is nothing which
lives on its surface that shall not be hidden and entombed beneath it.
Rivers, torrents, and streams move onward to their destination. Not one
flows back to its pleasant source. They rush onward, hastening to bury
themselves in the deep bosom of the ocean. The things of yesterday are
no more to-day; and the things of to-day shall cease, perhaps, on the
morrow.[330] The cemetery is full of the loathsome dust of bodies, once
quickened by living souls, who occupied thrones, presided over
assemblies, marshalled armies, subdued provinces, arrogated to
themselves worship, were puffed up with vainglorious pomp, and power,
and empire.

“But these glories have all passed away, like the fearful smoke that
issues from the throat of Popocatepetl, with no other memorial of their
existence than the record on the page of the chronicler.

“The great, the wise, the valiant, the beautiful,--alas! where are they
now? They are all mingled with the clod; and that which has befallen
them shall happen to us, and to those that come after us. Yet let us
take courage, illustrious nobles and chieftains, true friends and loyal
subjects,--_let us aspire to that heaven where all is eternal and
corruption cannot come_.[331] The horrors of the tomb are but the cradle
of the Sun, and the dark shadows of death are brilliant lights for the
stars.”[332] The mystic import of the last sentence seems to point to
that superstition respecting the mansions of the Sun, which forms so
beautiful a contrast to the dark features of the Aztec mythology.

At length, about the year 1470,[333] Nezahualcoyotl, full of years and
honors, felt himself drawing near his end. Almost half a century had
elapsed since he mounted the throne of Tezcuco. He had found his kingdom
dismembered by faction and bowed to the dust beneath the yoke of a
foreign tyrant. He had broken that yoke; had breathed new life into the
nation, renewed its ancient institutions, extended wide its domain; had
seen it flourishing in all the activity of trade and agriculture,
gathering strength from its enlarged resources, and daily advancing
higher and higher in the great march of civilization. All this he had
seen, and might fairly attribute no small portion of it to his own wise
and beneficent rule. His long and glorious day was now drawing to its
close; and he contemplated the event with the same serenity which he had
shown under the clouds of its morning and in its meridian splendor.

A short time before his death, he gathered around him those of his
children in whom he most confided, his chief counsellors, the
ambassadors of Mexico and Tlacopan, and his little son, the heir to the
crown, his only offspring by the queen. He was then not eight years old,
but had already given, as far as so tender a blossom might, the rich
promise of future excellence.[334]

After tenderly embracing the child, the dying monarch threw over him the
robes of sovereignty. He then gave audience to the ambassadors, and,
when they had retired, made the boy repeat the substance of the
conversation. He followed this by such counsels as were suited to his
comprehension, and which, when remembered through the long vista of
after-years, would serve as lights to guide him in his government of the
kingdom. He besought him not to neglect the worship of “the unknown
God,” regretting that he himself had been unworthy to know him, and
intimating his conviction that the time would come when he should be
known and worshipped throughout the land.[335]

He next addressed himself to that one of his sons in whom he placed the
greatest trust, and whom he had selected as the guardian of the realm.
“From this hour,” said he to him, “you will fill the place that I have
filled, of father to this child; you will teach him to live as he ought;
and by your counsels he will rule over the empire. Stand in his place,
and be his guide, till he shall be of age to govern for himself.” Then,
turning to his other children, he admonished them to live united with
one another, and to show all loyalty to their prince, who, though a
child, already manifested a discretion far above his years. “Be true to
him,” he added, “and he will maintain you in your rights and

Feeling his end approaching, he exclaimed, “Do not bewail me with idle
lamentations. But sing the song of gladness, and show a courageous
spirit, that the nations I have subdued may not believe you
disheartened, but may feel that each one of you is strong enough to keep
them in obedience!” The undaunted spirit of the monarch shone forth even
in the agonies of death. That stout heart, however, melted, as he took
leave of his children and friends, weeping tenderly over them, while he
bade each a last adieu. When they had withdrawn, he ordered the officers
of the palace to allow no one to enter it again. Soon after, he expired,
in the seventy-second year of his age, and the forty-third of his

Thus died the greatest monarch, and, if one foul blot could be effaced,
perhaps the best, who ever sat upon an Indian throne. His character is
delineated with tolerable impartiality by his kinsman, the Tezcucan
chronicler: “He was wise, valiant, liberal; and, when we consider the
magnanimity of his soul, the grandeur and success of his enterprises,
his deep policy, as well as daring, we must admit him to have far
surpassed every other prince and captain of this New World. He had few
failings himself, and rigorously punished those of others. He preferred
the public to his private interest; was most charitable in his nature,
often buying articles, at double their worth, of poor and honest
persons, and giving them away again to the sick and infirm. In seasons
of scarcity he was particularly bountiful, remitting the taxes of his
vassals, and supplying their wants from the royal granaries. He put no
faith in the idolatrous worship of the country. He was well instructed
in moral science, and sought, above all things, to obtain light for
knowing the true God. He believed in one God only, the Creator of heaven
and earth, by whom we have our being, who never revealed himself to us
in human form, nor in any other; with whom the souls of the virtuous are
to dwell after death, while the wicked will suffer pains unspeakable. He
invoked the Most High, as ‘He by whom we live,’ and ‘Who has all things
in himself.’ He recognized the Sun for his father, and the Earth for his
mother. He taught his children not to confide in idols, and only to
conform to the outward worship of them from deference to public
opinion.[338] If he could not entirely abolish human sacrifices, derived
from the Aztecs, he at least restricted them to slaves and

I have occupied so much space with this illustrious prince that but
little remains for his son and successor, Nezahualpilli. I have thought
it better, in our narrow limits, to present a complete view of a single
epoch, the most interesting in the Tezcucan annals, than to spread the
inquiries over a broader but comparatively barren field. Yet
Nezahualpilli, the heir to the crown, was a remarkable person, and his
reign contains many incidents which I regret to be obliged to pass over
in silence.[340]

He had, in many respects, a taste similar to his father’s, and, like
him, displayed a profuse magnificence in his way of living and in his
public edifices. He was more severe in his morals, and, in the execution
of justice, stern even to the sacrifice of natural affection. Several
remarkable instances of this are told; one, among others, in relation to
his eldest son, the heir to the crown, a prince of great promise. The
young man entered into a poetical correspondence with one of his
father’s concubines, the lady of Tula, as she was called, a woman of
humble origin, but of uncommon endowments. She wrote verses with ease,
and could discuss graver matters with the king and his ministers. She
maintained a separate establishment, where she lived in state, and
acquired, by her beauty and accomplishments, great ascendency over her
royal lover.[341] With this favorite the prince carried on a
correspondence in verse,--whether of an amorous nature does not appear.
At all events, the offence was capital. It was submitted to the regular
tribunal, who pronounced sentence of death on the unfortunate youth; and
the king, steeling his heart against all entreaties and the voice of
nature, suffered the cruel judgment to be carried into execution. We
might, in this case, suspect the influence of baser passions on his
mind, but it was not a solitary instance of his inexorable justice
towards those most near to him. He had the stern virtue of an ancient
Roman, destitute of the softer graces which make virtue attractive. When
the sentence was carried into effect, he shut himself up in his palace
for many weeks, and commanded the doors and windows of his son’s
residence to be walled up, that it might never again be occupied.[342]

Nezahualpilli resembled his father in his passion for astronomical
studies, and is said to have had an observatory on one of his
palaces.[343] He was devoted to war in his youth, but, as he advanced in
years, resigned himself to a more indolent way of life, and sought his
chief amusement in the pursuit of his favorite science, or in the soft
pleasures of the sequestered gardens of Tezcotzinco. This quiet life was
ill suited to the turbulent temper of the times, and of his Mexican
rival, Montezuma. The distant provinces fell off from their allegiance;
the army relaxed its discipline; disaffection crept into its ranks; and
the wily Montezuma, partly by violence, and partly by stratagems
unworthy of a king, succeeded in plundering his brother monarch of some
of his most valuable domains. Then it was that he arrogated to himself
the title and supremacy of emperor, hitherto borne by the Tezcucan
princes as head of the alliance. Such is the account given by the
historians of that nation, who in this way explain the acknowledged
superiority of the Aztec sovereign, both in territory and consideration,
on the landing of the Spaniards.[344]

These misfortunes pressed heavily on the spirits of Nezahualpilli. Their
effect was increased by certain gloomy prognostics of a near calamity
which was to overwhelm the country.[345] He withdrew to his retreat, to
brood in secret over his sorrows. His health rapidly declined; and in
the year 1515, at the age of fifty-two, he sank into the grave;[346]
happy, at least, that by this timely death he escaped witnessing the
fulfilment of his own predictions, in the ruin of his country, and the
extinction of the Indian dynasties forever.[347]

In reviewing the brief sketch here presented of the Tezcucan monarchy,
we are strongly impressed with the conviction of its superiority, in all
the great features of civilization, over the rest of Anahuac. The
Mexicans showed a similar proficiency, no doubt, in the mechanic arts,
and even in mathematical science. But in the science of government, in
legislation, in speculative doctrines of a religious nature, in the more
elegant pursuits of poetry, eloquence, and whatever depended on
refinement of taste and a polished idiom, they confessed themselves
inferior, by resorting to their rivals for instruction and citing their
works as the masterpieces of their tongue. The best histories, the best
poems, the best code of laws, the purest dialect, were all allowed to be
Tezcucan. The Aztecs rivalled their neighbors in splendor of living, and
even in the magnificence of their structures. They displayed a pomp and
ostentatious pageantry truly Asiatic. But this was the development of
the material rather than the intellectual principle. They wanted the
refinement of manners essential to a continued advance in civilization.
An insurmountable limit was put to theirs by that bloody mythology which
threw its withering taint over the very air that they breathed.

The superiority of the Tezcucans was owing, doubtless, in a great
measure to that of the two sovereigns whose reigns we have been
depicting. There is no position which affords such scope for
ameliorating the condition of man as that occupied by an absolute ruler
over a nation imperfectly civilized. From his elevated place, commanding
all the resources of his age, it is in his power to diffuse them far and
wide among his people. He may be the copious reservoir on the
mountain-top, drinking in the dews of heaven, to send them in
fertilizing streams along the lower slopes and valleys, clothing even
the wilderness in beauty. Such were Nezahualcoyotl and his illustrious
successor, whose enlightened policy, extending through nearly a century,
wrought a most salutary revolution in the condition of their country. It
is remarkable that we, the inhabitants of the same continent, should be
more familiar with the history of many a barbarian chief, both in the
Old and New World, than with that of these truly great men, whose names
are identified with the most glorious period in the annals of the Indian

What was the actual amount of the Tezcucan civilization it is not easy
to determine, with the imperfect light afforded us. It was certainly far
below anything which the word conveys, measured by a European standard.
In some of the arts, and in any walk of science, they could only have
made, as it were, a beginning. But they had begun in the right way, and
already showed a refinement in sentiment and manners, a capacity for
receiving instruction, which, under good auspices, might have led them
on to indefinite improvement. Unhappily, they were fast falling under
the dominion of the warlike Aztecs. And that people repaid the benefits
received from their more polished neighbors by imparting to them their
own ferocious superstition, which, falling like a mildew on the land,
would soon have blighted its rich blossoms of promise and turned even
its fruits to dust and ashes.

     Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl, who flourished in the beginning of
     the sixteenth century,[348] was a native of Tezcuco, and descended
     in a direct line from the sovereigns of that kingdom. The royal
     posterity became so numerous in a few generations that it was
     common to see them reduced to great poverty and earning a painful
     subsistence by the most humble occupations. Ixtlilxochitl, who was
     descended from the principal wife or queen of Nezahualpilli,
     maintained a very respectable position. He filled the office of
     interpreter to the viceroy, to which he was recommended by his
     acquaintance with the ancient hieroglyphics and his knowledge of
     the Mexican and Spanish languages. His birth gave him access to
     persons of the highest rank in his own nation, some of whom
     occupied important civil posts under the new government, and were
     thus enabled to make large collections of Indian manuscripts, which
     were liberally opened to him. He had an extensive library of his
     own, also, and with these means diligently pursued the study of the
     Tezcucan antiquities. He deciphered the hieroglyphics, made himself
     master of the songs and traditions, and fortified his narrative by
     the oral testimony of some very aged persons, who had themselves
     been acquainted with the Conquerors. From such authentic sources he
     composed various works in the Castilian, on the primitive history
     of the Toltec and the Tezcucan races, continuing it down to the
     subversion of the empire by Cortés. These various accounts,
     compiled under the title of _Relaciones_, are, more or less,
     repetitions and abridgments of each other; nor is it easy to
     understand why they were thus composed. The _Historia Chichimeca_
     is the best digested and most complete of the whole series, and as
     such has been the most frequently consulted for the preceding

     Ixtlilxochitl’s writings have many of the defects belonging to his
     age. He often crowds the page with incidents of a trivial, and
     sometimes improbable, character. The improbability increases with
     the distance of the period; for distance, which diminishes objects
     to the natural eye, exaggerates them to the mental. His chronology,
     as I have more than once noticed, is inextricably entangled. He has
     often lent a too willing ear to traditions and reports which would
     startle the more skeptical criticism of the present time. Yet there
     is an appearance of good faith and simplicity in his writings,
     which may convince the reader that when he errs it is from no worse
     cause than national partiality. And surely such partiality is
     excusable in the descendant of a proud line, shorn of its ancient
     splendors, which it was soothing to his own feelings to revive
     again--though with something more than their legitimate lustre--on
     the canvas of history. It should also be considered that, if his
     narrative is sometimes startling, his researches penetrate into the
     mysterious depths of antiquity, where light and darkness meet and
     melt into each other, and where everything is still further liable
     to distortion, as seen through the misty medium of

     With these allowances, it will be found that the Tezcucan historian
     has just claims to our admiration for the compass of his inquiries
     and the sagacity with which they have been conducted. He has
     introduced us to the knowledge of the most polished people of
     Anahuac, whose records, if preserved, could not, at a much later
     period, have been comprehended; and he has thus afforded a standard
     of comparison which much raises our ideas of American civilization.
     His language is simple, and, occasionally, eloquent and touching.
     His descriptions are highly picturesque. He abounds in familiar
     anecdote; and the natural graces of his manner, in detailing the
     more striking events of history and the personal adventures of his
     heroes, entitle him to the name of the Livy of Anahuac.

     I shall be obliged to enter hereafter into his literary merits, in
     connection with the narrative of the Conquest; for which he is a
     prominent authority. His earlier annals--though no one of his
     manuscripts has been printed--have been diligently studied by the
     Spanish writers in Mexico, and liberally transferred to their
     pages; and his reputation, like Sahagun’s, has doubtless suffered
     by the process. His _Historia Chichimeca_ is now turned into French
     by M. Ternaux-Compans, forming part of that inestimable series of
     translations from unpublished documents which have so much enlarged
     our acquaintance with the early American history. I have had ample
     opportunity of proving the merits of his version of Ixtlilxochitl,
     and am happy to bear my testimony to the fidelity and elegance with
     which it is executed.

            *       *       *       *       *

     NOTE.--In a note which has heretofore appeared at the end of this
     first book Mr. Prescott states that it had been his intention to
     conclude the introductory portion of the work with an inquiry into
     the origin of the Mexican civilization. But because he agreed with
     Humboldt, that “the general question of the origin of the
     inhabitants of a continent is beyond the limits prescribed to
     history,” and with Livy, that “for the majority of readers the
     origin and remote antiquities of a nation can have comparatively
     little interest,” he had decided, on further consideration, to
     throw his observations on this topic into the Appendix. A man of
     extraordinary modesty, he feared lest the reader should become so
     wearied with his presentation of the story of the earlier
     civilization, in the first book, that he would not have energy
     enough left for the proper consideration of the tale of the
     Conquest, set forth with such conscientious care in the succeeding
     chapters. The essay has now been taken from the Appendix and placed
     in its proper position.--M.



The following Essay was originally designed to close the Introductory
Book, to which it properly belongs. It was written three years since, at
the same time with that part of the work. I know of no work of
importance, having reference to the general subject of discussion, which
has appeared since that period, except Mr. Bradford’s valuable treatise
on _American Antiquities_. But in respect to that part of the discussion
which treats of American Architecture a most important contribution has
been made by Mr. Stephens’s two works, containing the account of his
visits to Central America and Yucatan, and especially by the last of
these publications. Indeed, the ground, before so imperfectly known, has
now been so diligently explored that we have all the light which we can
reasonably expect to aid us in making up our opinion in regard to the
mysterious monuments of Yucatan. It only remains that the exquisite
illustrations of Mr. Catherwood should be published on a larger scale,
like the great works on the subject in France and England, in order to
exhibit to the eye a more adequate representation of these magnificent
ruins than can be given in the limited compass of an octavo page.

But, notwithstanding the importance of Mr. Stephens’s researches, I have
not availed myself of them to make any additions to the original draft
of this Essay, nor have I rested my conclusions in any instance on his
authority. These conclusions had been formed from a careful study of the
narratives of Dupaix and Waldeck, together with that of their splendid
illustrations of the remains of Palenque and Uxmal, two of the principal
places explored by Mr. Stephens; and the additional facts collected by
him from the vast field which he has surveyed, so far from shaking my
previous deductions, have only served to confirm them. The only object
of my own speculations on these remains was to ascertain their probable
origin, or rather to see what light, if any, they could throw on the
origin of Aztec Civilization. The reader, on comparing my reflections
with those of Mr. Stephens in the closing chapters of his two works,
will see that I have arrived at inferences, as to the origin and
probable antiquity of these structures, precisely the same as his.
Conclusions formed under such different circumstances serve to
corroborate each other; and, although the reader will find here some
things which would have been different had I been guided by the light
now thrown on the path, yet I prefer not to disturb the foundations on
which the argument stands, nor to impair its value--if it has any--as a
distinct and independent testimony.


When the Europeans first touched the shores of America, it was as if
they had alighted on another planet,--every thing there was so different
from what they had before seen. They were introduced to new varieties of
plants, and to unknown races of animals; while man, the lord of all, was
equally strange, in complexion, language, and institutions.[350] It was
what they emphatically styled it,--a New World. Taught by their faith to
derive all created beings from one source, they felt a natural
perplexity as to the manner in which these distant and insulated regions
could have obtained their inhabitants. The same curiosity was felt by
their countrymen at home, and the European scholars bewildered their
brains with speculations on the best way of solving this interesting

In accounting for the presence of animals there, some imagined that the
two hemispheres might once have been joined in the extreme north, so as
to have afforded an easy communication.[351] Others, embarrassed by the
difficulty of transporting inhabitants of the tropics across the Arctic
regions, revived the old story of Plato’s Atlantis, that huge island,
now submerged, which might have stretched from the shores of Africa to
the eastern borders of the new continent;[352] while they saw vestiges
of a similar convulsion of nature in the green islands sprinkled over
the Pacific, once the mountain summits of a vast continent, now buried
beneath the waters.[353] Some, distrusting the existence of revolutions
of which no record was preserved, supposed that animals might have found
their way across the ocean by various means; the birds of stronger wing
by flight over the narrowest spaces; while the tamer kinds of quadrupeds
might easily have been transported by men in boats, and even the more
ferocious, as tigers, bears, and the like, have been brought over, in
the same manner, when young, “for amusement and the pleasure of the
chase”![354] Others, again, maintained the equally probable opinion that
angels, who had, doubtless, taken charge of them in the ark, had also
superintended their distribution afterwards over the different parts of
the globe.[355] Such were the extremities to which even thinking minds
were reduced, in their eagerness to reconcile the literal interpretation
of Scripture with the phenomena of nature! The philosophy of a later day
conceives that it is no departure from this sacred authority to follow
the suggestions of science, by referring the new tribes of animals to a
creation, since the deluge, in those places for which they were clearly
intended by constitution and habits.[356]

Man would not seem to present the same embarrassments, in the
discussion, as the inferior orders. He is fitted by nature for every
climate, the burning sun of the tropics and the icy atmosphere of the
North. He wanders indifferently over the sands of the desert, the waste
of polar snows, and the pathless ocean. Neither mountains nor seas
intimidate him, and, by the aid of mechanical contrivances, he
accomplishes journeys which birds of boldest wing would perish in
attempting. Without ascending to the high northern latitudes, where the
continents of Asia and America approach within fifty miles of each
other, it would be easy for the inhabitant of Eastern Tartary or Japan
to steer his canoe from islet to islet, quite across to the American
shore, without ever being on the ocean more than two days at a
time.[357] The communication is somewhat more difficult on the Atlantic
side. But even there, Iceland was occupied by colonies of Europeans many
hundred years before the discovery by Columbus; and the transit from
Iceland to America is comparatively easy.[358] Independently of these
channels, others were opened in the Southern hemisphere, by means of
the numerous islands in the Pacific. The population of America is not
nearly so difficult a problem as that of these little spots. But
experience shows how practicable the communication may have been, even
with such sequestered places.[359] The savage has been picked up in his
canoe, after drifting hundreds of leagues on the open ocean, and
sustaining life, for months, by the rain from heaven, and such fish as
he could catch.[360] The instances are not very rare; and it would be
strange if these wandering barks should not sometimes have been
intercepted by the great continent which stretches across the globe, in
unbroken continuity, almost from pole to pole. No doubt, history could
reveal to us more than one example of men who, thus driven upon the
American shores, have mingled their blood with that of the primitive
races who occupied them.

The real difficulty is not, as with the animals, to explain how man
could have reached America, but from what quarter he actually has
reached it. In surveying the whole extent of the New World, it was found
to contain two great families, one in the lowest stage of civilization,
composed of hunters, and another nearly as far advanced in refinement as
the semi-civilized empires of Asia. The more polished races were
probably unacquainted with the existence of each other on the different
continents of America, and had as little intercourse with the barbarian
tribes by whom they were surrounded. Yet they had some things in common
both with these last and with one another, which remarkably
distinguished them from the inhabitants of the Old World. They had a
common complexion and physical organization,--at least, bearing a more
uniform character than is found among the nations of any other quarter
of the globe. They had some usages and institutions in common, and spoke
languages of similar construction, curiously distinguished from those in
the Eastern hemisphere.

Whence did the refinement of these more polished races come? Was it only
a higher development of the same Indian character which we see, in the
more northern latitudes, defying every attempt at permanent
civilization? Was it engrafted on a race of higher order in the scale
originally, but self-instructed, working its way upward by its own
powers? Was it, in short, an indigenous civilization? or was it borrowed
in some degree from the nations in the Eastern World? If indigenous,
how are we to explain the singular coincidence with the East in
institutions and opinions? If Oriental, how shall we account for the
great dissimilarity in language, and for the ignorance of some of the
most simple and useful arts, which, once known, it would seem scarcely
possible should have been forgotten? This is the riddle of the Sphinx,
which no Œdipus has yet had the ingenuity to solve. It is, however, a
question of deep interest to every curious and intelligent observer of
his species. And it has accordingly occupied the thoughts of men, from
the first discovery of the country to the present time; when the
extraordinary monuments brought to light in Central America have given a
new impulse to inquiry, by suggesting the probability--the possibility,
rather--that surer evidences than any hitherto known might be afforded
for establishing the fact of a positive communication with the other

It is not my intention to add many pages to the volumes already written
on this inexhaustible topic. The subject--as remarked by a writer of a
philosophical mind himself, and who has done more than any other for the
solution of the mystery--is of too speculative a nature for history,
almost for philosophy.[361] But this work would be incomplete without
affording the reader the means of judging for himself as to the true
sources of the peculiar civilization already described, by exhibiting
to him the alleged points of resemblance with the ancient continent. In
doing this, I shall confine myself to my proper subject, the Mexicans,
or to what, in some way or other, may have a bearing on this subject;
proposing to state only real points of resemblance, as they are
supported by evidence, and stripped, as far as possible, of the
illusions with which they have been invested by the pious credulity of
one party, and the visionary system-building of another.

An obvious analogy is found in _cosmogonal traditions_ and _religious
usages_. The reader has already been made acquainted with the Aztec
system of four great cycles, at the end of each of which the world was
destroyed, to be again regenerated.[362] The belief in these periodical
convulsions of nature, through the agency of some one or other of the
elements, was familiar to many countries in the Eastern hemisphere; and,
though varying in detail, the general resemblance of outline furnishes
an argument in favor of a common origin.[363]

No tradition has been more widely spread among nations than that of a
Deluge. Independently of tradition, indeed, it would seem to be
naturally suggested by the interior structure of the earth, and by the
elevated places on which marine substances are found to be deposited. It
was the received notion, under some form or other, of the most civilized
people in the Old World, and of the barbarians of the New.[364] The
Aztecs combined with this some particular circumstances of a more
arbitrary character, resembling the accounts of the East. They believed
that two persons survived the Deluge,--a man, named Coxcox, and his
wife. Their heads are represented in ancient paintings, together with a
boat floating on the waters, at the foot of a mountain. A dove is also
depicted, with the hieroglyphical emblem of languages in his mouth,
which he is distributing to the children of Coxcox, who were born
dumb.[365] The neighboring people of Michoacán, inhabiting the same high
plains of the Andes, had a still further tradition, that the boat in
which Tezpi, their Noah, escaped, was filled with various kinds of
animals and birds. After some time, a vulture was sent out from it, but
remained feeding on the dead bodies of the giants, which had been left
on the earth, as the waters subsided. The little humming-bird,
_huitzitzilin_, was then sent forth, and returned with a twig in its
mouth. The coincidence of both these accounts with the Hebrew and
Chaldean narratives is obvious. It were to be wished that the authority
for the Michoacán version were more satisfactory.[366]

On the way between Vera Cruz and the capital, not far from the modern
city of Puebla, stands the venerable relic--with which the reader will
become familiar in the course of the narrative--called the temple of
Cholula. It is a pyramidal mound, built, or rather cased, with unburnt
brick, rising to the height of nearly one hundred and eighty feet. The
popular tradition of the natives is that it was erected by a family of
giants, who had escaped the great inundation and designed to raise the
building to the clouds; but the gods, offended with their presumption,
sent fires from heaven on the pyramid, and compelled them to abandon the
attempt.[367] The partial coincidence of this legend with the Hebrew
account of the tower of Babel, received also by other nations of the
East, cannot be denied.[368] But one who has not examined the subject
will scarcely credit what bold hypotheses have been reared on this
slender basis.

Another point of coincidence is found in the goddess Cioacoatl, “our
lady and mother;” “the first goddess who brought forth;” “who bequeathed
the sufferings of childbirth to women, as the tribute of death;” “by
whom sin came into the world.” Such was the remarkable language applied
by the Aztecs to this venerated deity. She was usually represented with
a serpent near her; and her name signified the “serpent-woman.” In all
this we see much to remind us of the mother of the human family, the Eve
of the Hebrew and Syrian nations.[369]

But none of the deities of the country suggested such astonishing
analogies with Scripture as Quetzalcoatl, with whom the reader has
already been made acquainted.[370] He was the white man, wearing a long
beard, who came from the East, and who, after presiding over the golden
age of Anahuac, disappeared as mysteriously as he had come, on the great
Atlantic Ocean. As he promised to return at some future day, his
reappearance was looked for with confidence by each succeeding
generation. There is little in these circumstances to remind one of
Christianity. But the curious antiquaries of Mexico found out that to
this god were to be referred the institution of ecclesiastical
communities, reminding one of the monastic societies of the Old World;
that of the rites of confession and penance; and the knowledge even of
the great doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation![371] One party,
with pious industry, accumulated proofs to establish his identity with
the Apostle St. Thomas;[372][373] while another, with less scrupulous
faith, saw, in his anticipated advent to regenerate the nation, the
type, dimly veiled, of the Messiah![374]

Yet we should have charity for the missionaries who first landed in this
world of wonders, where, while man and nature wore so strange an
aspect, they were astonished by occasional glimpses of rites and
ceremonies which reminded them of a purer faith. In their amazement,
they did not reflect whether these things were not the natural
expression of the religious feeling common to all nations who have
reached even a moderate civilization. They did not inquire whether the
same things were not practised by other idolatrous people. They could
not suppress their wonder, as they beheld the Cross,[375] the sacred
emblem of their own faith, raised as an object of worship in the temples
of Anahuac. They met with it in various places; and the image of a cross
may be seen at this day, sculptured in bas-relief, on the walls of one
of the buildings of Palenque, while a figure bearing some resemblance to
that of a child is held up to it, as if in adoration.[376]

Their surprise was heightened when they witnessed a religious rite which
reminded them of the Christian communion. On these occasions an image of
the tutelary deity of the Aztecs was made of the flour of maize, mixed
with blood, and, after consecration by the priests, was distributed
among the people, who, as they ate it, “showed signs of humiliation and
sorrow, declaring it was the flesh of the deity!”[377] How could the
Roman Catholic fail to recognize the awful ceremony of the Eucharist?

With the same feelings they witnessed another ceremony, that of the
Aztec baptism; in which, after a solemn invocation, the head and lips of
the infant were touched with water, and a name was given to it; while
the goddess Cioacoatl, who presided over childbirth, was implored “that
the sin which was given to us before the beginning of the world might
not visit the child, but that, cleansed by these waters, it might live
and be born anew!”[378]

It is true, these several rites were attended with many peculiarities,
very unlike those in any Christian church. But the fathers fastened
their eyes exclusively on the points of resemblance. They were not aware
that the Cross was a symbol of worship, of the highest antiquity, in
Egypt and Syria,[379] and that rites resembling those of communion[380]
and baptism were practised by pagan nations on whom the light of
Christianity had never shone.[381] In their amazement, they not only
magnified what they saw, but were perpetually cheated by the illusions
of their own heated imaginations. In this they were admirably assisted
by their Mexican converts, proud to establish--and half believing it
themselves--a correspondence between their own faith and that of their

The ingenuity of the chronicler was taxed to find out analogies between
the Aztec and Scripture histories, both old and new. The migration from
Aztlan to Anahuac was typical of the Jewish exodus.[383] The places
where the Mexicans halted on the march were identified with those in the
journey of the Israelites;[384] and the name of Mexico itself was found
to be nearly identical with the Hebrew name for the Messiah.[385] The
Mexican hieroglyphics afforded a boundless field for the display of this
critical acuteness. The most remarkable passages in the Old and New
Testaments were read in their mysterious characters; and the eye of
faith could trace there the whole story of the Passion, the Saviour
suspended from the cross, and the Virgin Mary with her attendant

The Jewish and Christian schemes were strangely mingled together, and
the brains of the good fathers were still further bewildered by the
mixture of heathenish abominations which were so closely intertwined
with the most orthodox observances. In their perplexity, they looked on
the whole as the delusion of the devil, who counterfeited the rites of
Christianity and the traditions of the chosen people, that he might
allure his wretched victims to their own destruction.[387]

But, although it is not necessary to resort to this startling
supposition, nor even to call up an apostle from the dead, or any later
missionary, to explain the coincidences with Christianity, yet these
coincidences must be allowed to furnish an argument in favor of some
primitive communication with that great brotherhood of nations on the
old continent, among whom similar ideas have been so widely
diffused.[388] The probability of such a communication, especially with
Eastern Asia, is much strengthened by the resemblance of sacerdotal
institutions, and of some religious rites, as those of marriage,[389]
and the burial of the dead;[390] by the practice of human sacrifices,
and even of cannibalism, traces of which are discernible in the Mongol
races;[391] and, lastly, by a conformity of social usages and manners,
so striking that the description of Montezuma’s court may well pass for
that of the Grand Khan’s, as depicted by Maundeville and Marco
Polo.[392] It would occupy too much room to go into details in this
matter, without which, however, the strength of the argument cannot be
felt, nor fully established. It has been done by others; and an
occasional coincidence has been adverted to in the preceding chapters.

It is true, we should be very slow to infer identity, or even
correspondence, between nations, from a partial resemblance of habits
and institutions. Where this relates to manners, and is founded on
caprice, it is not more conclusive than when it flows from the
spontaneous suggestions of nature, common to all. The resemblance, in
the one case, may be referred to accident; in the other, to the
constitution of man. But there are certain arbitrary peculiarities,
which, when found in different nations, reasonably suggest the idea of
some previous communication between them. Who can doubt the existence of
an affinity, or, at least, intercourse, between tribes who had the same
strange habit of burying the dead in a sitting posture, as was practised
to some extent by most, if not all, of the aborigines, from Canada to
Patagonia?[393] The habit of burning the dead, familiar to both Mongols
and Aztecs, is in itself but slender proof of a common origin. The body
must be disposed of in some way; and this, perhaps, is as natural as any
other. But when to this is added the circumstance of collecting the
ashes in a vase and depositing the single article of a precious stone
along with them, the coincidence is remarkable.[394] Such minute
coincidences are not unfrequent; while the accumulation of those of a
more general character, though individually of little account, greatly
strengthens the probability of a communication with the East.

A proof of a higher kind is found in the analogies of _science_. We have
seen the peculiar chronological system of the Aztecs; their method of
distributing the years into cycles, and of reckoning by means of
periodical series, instead of numbers. A similar process was used by the
various Asiatic nations of the Mongol family, from India to Japan. Their
cycles, indeed, consisted of sixty, instead of fifty-two years; and for
the terms of their periodical series they employed the names of the
elements and the signs of the zodiac, of which latter the Mexicans,
probably, had no knowledge. But the principle was precisely the

A correspondence quite as extraordinary is found between the
hieroglyphics used by the Aztecs for the signs of the days, and those
zodiacal signs which the Eastern Asiatics employed as one of the terms
of their series. The symbols in the Mongolian calendar are borrowed from
animals. Four of the twelve are the same as the Aztec. Three others are
as nearly the same as the different species of animals in the two
hemispheres would allow. The remaining five refer to no creature then
found in Anahuac.[396] The resemblance went as far as it could.[397] The
similarity of these conventional symbols among the several nations of
the East can hardly fail to carry conviction of a common origin for the
system as regards them. Why should not a similar conclusion be applied
to the Aztec calendar, which, although relating to days instead of
years, was, like the Asiatic, equally appropriated to chronological
uses and to those of divination?[398]

I shall pass over the further resemblance to the Persians, shown in the
adjustment of time by a similar system of intercalation;[399] and to the
Egyptians, in the celebration of the remarkable festival of the winter
solstice;[400] since, although sufficiently curious, the coincidences
might be accidental, and add little to the weight of evidence offered by
an agreement in combinations of so complex and artificial a character as
those before stated.

Amid these intellectual analogies, one would expect to meet with that of
_language_,[401] the vehicle of intellectual communication, which
usually exhibits traces of its origin even when the science and
literature that are embodied in it have widely diverged. No inquiry,
however, has led to satisfactory results. The languages spread over the
Western continent far exceed in number those found in any equal
population in the Eastern.[402] They exhibit the remarkable anomaly of
differing as widely in etymology as they agree in organization; and, on
the other hand, while they bear some slight affinity to the languages of
the Old World in the former particular, they have no resemblance to them
whatever in the latter.[403] The Mexican was spoken for an extent of
three hundred leagues. But within the boundaries of New Spain more than
twenty languages were found; not simply dialects, but, in many
instances, radically different.[404] All these idioms, however, with one
exception, conformed to that peculiar synthetic structure by which every
Indian dialect appears to have been fashioned, from the land of the
Esquimaux to Terra del Fuego;[405] a system which, bringing the
greatest number of ideas within the smallest possible compass, condenses
whole sentences into a single word,[406] displaying a curious mechanism,
in which some discern the hand of the philosopher, and others only the
spontaneous efforts of the savage.[407]

The etymological affinities detected with the ancient continent are not
very numerous, and they are drawn indiscriminately from all the tribes
scattered over America. On the whole, more analogies have been found
with the idioms of Asia than of any other quarter. But their amount is
too inconsiderable to balance the opposite conclusion inferred by a
total dissimilarity of structure.[408] A remarkable exception is found
in the Othomi or Otomi language, which covers a wider territory than any
other but the Mexican in New Spain,[409] and which, both in its
monosyllabic composition, so different from those around it, and in its
vocabulary, shows a very singular affinity to the Chinese.[410] The
existence of this insulated idiom in the heart of this vast continent
offers a curious theme for speculation, entirely beyond the province of

The American languages, so numerous and widely diversified, present an
immense field of inquiry, which, notwithstanding the labors of several
distinguished philologists, remains yet to be explored. It is only after
a wide comparison of examples that conclusions founded on analogy can be
trusted. The difficulty of making such comparisons increases with time,
from the facility which the peculiar structure of the Indian languages
affords for new combinations; while the insensible influence of contact
with civilized man, in producing these, must lead to a still further
distrust of our conclusions.

The theory of an Asiatic origin for Aztec civilization derives stronger
confirmation from the light of _tradition_, which, shining steadily from
the far Northwest, pierces through the dark shadows that history and
mythology have alike thrown around the traditions of the country.
Traditions of a Western or Northwestern origin were found among the
more barbarous tribes,[411] and by the Mexicans were preserved both
orally and in their hieroglyphical maps, where the different stages of
their migration are carefully noted. But who, at this day, shall read
them?[412] They are admitted to agree, however, in representing the
populous North as the prolific hive of the American races.[413] In this
quarter were placed their Aztlan and their Huehuetlapallan,--the bright
abodes of their ancestors, whose warlike exploits rivalled those which
the Teutonic nations have recorded of Odin and the mythic heroes of
Scandinavia. From this quarter the Toltecs, the Chichimecs, and the
kindred races of the Nahuatlacs came successively up the great plateau
of the Andes, spreading over its hills and valleys, down to the Gulf of

Antiquaries have industriously sought to detect some still surviving
traces of these migrations. In the northwestern districts of New Spain,
at the distance of a thousand miles from the capital, dialects have been
discovered showing intimate affinity with the Mexican.[415] Along the
Rio Gila, remains of populous towns are to be seen, quite worthy of the
Aztecs in their style of architecture.[416] The country north of the
great Rio Colorado has been imperfectly explored; but in the higher
latitudes, in the neighborhood of Nootka, tribes still exist whose
dialects, both in the termination and general sound of the words, bear
considerable resemblance to the Mexican.[417] Such are the vestiges,
few, indeed, and feeble, that still exist to attest the truth of
traditions which themselves have remained steady and consistent through
the lapse of centuries and the migrations of successive races.

The conclusions suggested by the intellectual and moral analogies with
Eastern Asia derive considerable support from those of a _physical
nature_. The aborigines of the Western World were distinguished by
certain peculiarities of organization, which have led physiologists to
regard them as a separate race. These peculiarities are shown in their
reddish complexion, approaching a cinnamon color; their straight, black,
and exceedingly glossy hair; their beard thin, and usually
eradicated;[418] their high cheek-bones, eyes obliquely directed towards
the temples, prominent noses, and narrow foreheads falling backwards
with a greater inclination than those of any other race except the
African.[419] From this general standard, however, there are deviations,
in the same manner, if not to the same extent, as in other quarters of
the globe, though these deviations do not seem to be influenced by the
same laws of local position.[420] Anatomists, also, have discerned in
crania disinterred from the mounds, and in those of the inhabitants of
the high plains of the Cordilleras, an obvious difference from those of
the more barbarous tribes. This is seen especially in the ampler
forehead, intimating a decided intellectual superiority.[421] These
characteristics are found to bear a close resemblance to those of the
Mongolian family, and especially to the people of Eastern Tartary;[422]
so that, notwithstanding certain differences recognized by
physiologists, the skulls of the two races could not be readily
distinguished from one another by a common observer. No inference can be
surely drawn, however, without a wide range of comparison. That hitherto
made has been chiefly founded on specimens from the barbarous
tribes.[423] Perhaps a closer comparison with the more civilized may
supply still stronger evidences of affinity.[424]

In seeking for analogies with the Old World, we should not pass by in
silence the _architectural remains_ of the country, which, indeed, from
their resemblance to the pyramidal structures of the East, have
suggested to more than one antiquary the idea of a common origin.[425]
The Spanish invaders, it is true, assailed the Indian buildings,
especially those of a religious character, with all the fury of
fanaticism. The same spirit survived in the generations which succeeded.
The war has never ceased against the monuments of the country; and the
few that fanaticism has spared have been nearly all demolished to serve
the purposes of utility. Of all the stately edifices, so much extolled
by the Spaniards who first visited the country, there are scarcely more
vestiges at the present day than are to be found in some of those
regions of Europe and Asia which once swarmed with populous cities, the
great marts of luxury and commerce.[426] Yet some of these remains, like
the temple of Xochicalco,[427] the palaces of Tezcotzinco,[428] the
colossal calendar-stone in the capital, are of sufficient magnitude, and
wrought with sufficient skill, to attest mechanical powers in the Aztecs
not unworthy to be compared with those of the ancient Egyptians.

But, if the remains on the Mexican soil are so scanty, they multiply as
we descend the southeastern slope of the Cordilleras, traverse the rich
Valley of Oaxaca, and penetrate the forests of Chiapa and Yucatan. In
the midst of these lonely regions we meet with the ruins, recently
discovered, of several ancient cities, Mitla, Palenque, and Itzalana or
Uxmal,[429] which argue a higher civilization than anything yet found
on the American continent; and, although it was not the Mexicans who
built these cities, yet, as they are probably the work of cognate races,
the present inquiry would be incomplete without some attempt to
ascertain what light they can throw on the origin of the Indian, and
consequently of the Aztec civilization.[430]

Few works of art have been found in the neighborhood of any of the
ruins.[431] Some of them, consisting of earthen or marble vases,
fragments of statues, and the like, are fantastic, and even hideous;
others show much grace and beauty of design, and are apparently well
executed.[432] It may seem extraordinary that no iron in the buildings
themselves, nor iron tools, should have been discovered, considering
that the materials used are chiefly granite, very hard, and carefully
hewn and polished. Red copper chisels and axes have been picked up in
the midst of large blocks of granite imperfectly cut, with fragments of
pillars and architraves, in the quarries near Mitla.[433] Tools of a
similar kind have been discovered, also, in the quarries near Thebes;
and the difficulty, nay, impossibility, of cutting such masses from the
living rock with any tools which we possess, except iron, has confirmed
an ingenious writer in the supposition that this metal must have been
employed by the Egyptians, but that its tendency to decomposition,
especially in a nitrous soil, has prevented any specimens of it from
being preserved.[434] Yet iron has been found, after the lapse of some
thousands of years, in the remains of antiquity; and it is certain that
the Mexicans, down to the time of the Conquest, used only copper
instruments, with an alloy of tin, and a silicious powder, to cut the
hardest stones, some of them of enormous dimensions.[435] This fact,
with the additional circumstance that only similar tools have been
found in Central America, strengthens the conclusion that iron was
neither known there nor in ancient Egypt.

But what are the nations of the Old Continent whose style of
architecture bears most resemblance to that of the remarkable monuments
of Chiapa and Yucatan? The points of resemblance will probably be found
neither numerous nor decisive. There is, indeed, some analogy both to
the Egyptian and Asiatic style of architecture in the pyramidal,
terrace-formed bases on which the buildings repose, resembling also the
Toltec and Mexican _teocalli_. A similar care, also, is observed in the
people of both hemispheres to adjust the position of their buildings by
the cardinal points. The walls in both are covered with figures and
hieroglyphics, which, on the American as on the Egyptian, may be
designed, perhaps, to record the laws and historical annals of the
nation. These figures, as well as the buildings themselves, are found to
have been stained with various dyes, principally vermilion;[436] a
favorite color with the Egyptians also, who painted their colossal
statues and temples of granite.[437] Notwithstanding these points of
similarity, the Palenque architecture has little to remind us of the
Egyptian or of the Oriental. It is, indeed, more conformable, in the
perpendicular elevation of the walls, the moderate size of the stones,
and the general arrangement of the parts, to the European. It must be
admitted, however, to have a character of originality peculiar to

More positive proofs of communication with the East might be looked for
in their sculpture and in the conventional forms of their hieroglyphics.
But the sculptures on the Palenque buildings are in relief, unlike the
Egyptian, which are usually in _intaglio_. The Egyptians were not very
successful in their representations of the human figure, which are on
the same invariable model, always in profile, from the greater facility
of execution this presents over the front view; the full eye is placed
on the side of the head, while the countenance is similar in all, and
perfectly destitute of expression.[438] The Palenque artists were
equally awkward in representing the various attitudes of the body, which
they delineated also in profile. But the parts are executed with much
correctness, and sometimes gracefully; the costume is rich and various;
and the ornamented head-dress, typical, perhaps, like the Aztec, of the
name and condition of the person represented, conforms in its
magnificence to the Oriental taste. The countenance is various, and
often expressive. The contour of the head is, indeed, most
extraordinary, describing almost a semi-circle from the forehead to the
tip of the nose, and contracted towards the crown, whether from the
artificial pressure practised by many of the aborigines, or from some
preposterous notion of ideal beauty.[439] But, while superior in the
execution of the details, the Palenque artist was far inferior to the
Egyptian in the number and variety of the objects displayed by him,
which on the Theban temples comprehend animals as well as men, and
almost every conceivable object of use or elegant art.

The hieroglyphics are too few on the American buildings to authorize any
decisive inference. On comparing them, however, with those of the
Dresden Codex, probably from this same quarter of the country,[440] with
those on the monument of Xochicalco, and with the ruder picture-writing
of the Aztecs, it is not easy to discern anything which indicates a
common system. Still less obvious is the resemblance to the Egyptian
characters, whose refined and delicate abbreviations approach almost to
the simplicity of an alphabet. Yet the Palenque writing shows an
advanced stage of the art, and, though somewhat clumsy, intimates, by
the conventional and arbitrary forms of the hieroglyphics, that it was
symbolical, and perhaps phonetic, in its character.[441] That its
mysterious import will ever be deciphered is scarcely to be expected.
The language of the race who employed it, the race itself, is unknown.
And it is not likely that another Rosetta stone will be found, with its
trilingual inscription, to supply the means of comparison, and to guide
the American Champollion in the path of discovery.

It is impossible to contemplate these mysterious monuments of a lost
civilization without a strong feeling of curiosity as to who were their
architects and what is their probable age. The data on which to rest our
conjectures of their age are not very substantial; although some find in
them a warrant for an antiquity of thousands of years, coeval with the
architecture of Egypt and Hindostan.[442] But the interpretation of
hieroglyphics, and the apparent duration of trees, are vague and
unsatisfactory.[443] And how far can we derive an argument from the
discoloration and dilapidated condition of the ruins, when we find so
many structures of the Middle Ages dark and mouldering with decay, while
the marbles of the Acropolis and the gray stone of Pæstum still shine in
their primitive splendor?

There are, however, undoubted proofs of considerable age to be found
there. Trees have shot up in the midst of the buildings, which measure,
it is said, more than nine feet in diameter.[444] A still more striking
fact is the accumulation of vegetable mould in one of the courts, to the
depth of nine feet above the pavement.[445] This in our latitude would
be decisive of a very great antiquity. But in the rich soil of Yucatan,
and under the ardent sun of the tropics, vegetation bursts forth with
irrepressible exuberance, and generations of plants succeed each other
without intermission, leaving an accumulation of deposits that would
have perished under a northern winter. Another evidence of their age is
afforded by the circumstance that in one of the courts of Uxmal the
granite pavement,[446] on which the figures of tortoises were raised in
relief, is worn nearly smooth by the feet of the crowds who have passed
over it;[447] a curious fact, suggesting inferences both in regard to
the age and population of the place. Lastly, we have authority for
carrying back the date of many of these ruins to a certain period, since
they were found in a deserted, and probably dilapidated, state by the
first Spaniards who entered the country. Their notices, indeed, are
brief and casual, for the old Conquerors had little respect for works of
art;[448] and it is fortunate for these structures that they had ceased
to be the living temples of the gods, since no merit of architecture,
probably, would have availed to save them from the general doom of the
monuments of Mexico.

If we find it so difficult to settle the age of these buildings, what
can we hope to know of their architects? Little can be gleaned from the
rude people by whom they are surrounded. The old Tezcucan chronicler so
often quoted by me, the best authority for the traditions of his
country, reports that the Toltecs, on the breaking up of their
empire,--which he places earlier than most authorities, in the middle of
the tenth century,--migrating from Anahuac, spread themselves over
Guatemala, Tehuantepec, Campeachy, and the coasts and neighboring isles
on both sides of the Isthmus.[449] This assertion, important,
considering its source, is confirmed by the fact that several of the
nations in that quarter adopted systems of astronomy and chronology, as
well as sacerdotal institutions, very similar to the Aztec,[450] which,
as we have seen, were also probably derived from the Toltecs, their more
polished predecessors in the land.

If so recent a date for the construction of the American buildings be
thought incompatible with this oblivion of their origin, it should be
remembered how treacherous a thing is tradition, and how easily the
links of the chain are severed. The builders of the pyramids had been
forgotten before the time of the earliest Greek historians.[451] The
antiquary still disputes whether the frightful inclination of that
architectural miracle, the tower of Pisa, standing, as it does, in the
heart of a populous city, was the work of accident or design. And we
have seen how soon the Tezcucans, dwelling amidst the ruins of their
royal palaces, built just before the Conquest, had forgotten their
history, while the more inquisitive traveller refers their construction
to some remote period before the Aztecs.[452]

The reader has now seen the principal points of coincidence insisted on
between the civilization of ancient Mexico and the Eastern hemisphere.
In presenting them to him, I have endeavored to confine myself to such
as rest on sure historic grounds, and not so much to offer my own
opinion as to enable him to form one for himself. There are some
material embarrassments in the way to this, however, which must not be
passed over in silence. These consist, not in explaining the fact that,
while the mythic system and the science of the Aztecs afford some
striking points of analogy with the Asiatic, they should differ in so
many more; for the same phenomenon is found among the nations of the Old
World, who seem to have borrowed from one another those ideas, only,
best suited to their peculiar genius and institutions. Nor does the
difficulty lie in accounting for the great dissimilarity of the American
languages to those in the other hemisphere; for the difference with
these is not greater than what exists among themselves; and no one will
contend for a separate origin for each of the aboriginal tribes.[453]
But it is scarcely possible to reconcile the knowledge of Oriental
science with the total ignorance of some of the most serviceable and
familiar arts, as the use of milk and iron, for example; arts so
simple, yet so important to domestic comfort, that when once acquired
they could hardly be lost.

The Aztecs had no useful domesticated animals. And we have seen that
they employed bronze, as a substitute for iron, for all mechanical
purposes. The bison, or wild cow of America, however, which ranges in
countless herds over the magnificent prairies of the west, yields milk
like the tame animal of the same species in Asia and Europe;[454] and
iron was scattered in large masses over the surface of the table-land.
Yet there have been people considerably civilized in Eastern Asia who
were almost equally strangers to the use of milk.[455] The buffalo range
was not so much on the western coast as on the eastern slopes of the
Rocky Mountains;[456] and the migratory Aztec might well doubt whether
the wild, uncouth monsters whom he occasionally saw bounding with such
fury over the distant plains were capable of domestication, like the
meek animals which he had left grazing in the green pastures of Asia.
Iron, too, though met with on the surface of the ground, was more
tenacious, and harder to work, than copper, which he also found in much
greater quantities on his route. It is possible, moreover, that his
migration may have been previous to the time when iron was used by his
nation; for we have seen more than one people in the Old World employing
bronze and copper with entire ignorance, apparently, of any more
serviceable metal.[457]--Such is the explanation, unsatisfactory,
indeed, but the best that suggests itself, of this curious anomaly.

The consideration of these and similar difficulties has led some writers
to regard the antique American civilization as purely indigenous.
Whichever way we turn, the subject is full of embarrassment. It is easy,
indeed, by fastening the attention on one portion of it, to come to a
conclusion. In this way, while some feel little hesitation in
pronouncing the American civilization original, others, no less
certainly, discern in it a Hebrew, or an Egyptian, or a Chinese, or a
Tartar origin, as their eyes are attracted by the light of analogy too
exclusively to this or the other quarter. The number of contradictory
lights, of itself, perplexes the judgment and prevents us from arriving
at a precise and positive inference. Indeed, the affectation of this, in
so doubtful a matter, argues a most unphilosophical mind. Yet where
there is most doubt there is often the most dogmatism.

The reader of the preceding pages may perhaps acquiesce in the general
conclusions,--not startling by their novelty,--

First, that the coincidences are sufficiently strong to authorize a
belief that the civilization of Anahuac was in some degree influenced by
that of Eastern Asia.

And, secondly, that the discrepancies are such as to carry back the
communication to a very remote period; so remote that this foreign
influence has been too feeble to interfere materially with the growth
of what may be regarded in its essential features as a peculiar and
indigenous civilization.[458]



[Illustration: PORTRAIT OF CHARLES V.]

[Illustration: _Goupil & Cº. Paris_]






In the beginning of the sixteenth century, Spain occupied perhaps the
most prominent position on the theatre of Europe. The numerous states
into which she had been so long divided were consolidated into one
monarchy. The Moslem crescent, after reigning there for eight centuries,
was no longer seen on her borders. The authority of the crown did not,
as in later times, overshadow the inferior orders of the state. The
people enjoyed the inestimable privilege of political representation,
and exercised it with manly independence. The nation at large could
boast as great a degree of constitutional freedom as any other, at that
time, in Christendom. Under a system of salutary laws and an equitable
administration, domestic tranquillity was secured, public credit
established, trade, manufactures, and even the more elegant arts, began
to flourish; while a higher education called forth the first blossoms of
that literature which was to ripen into so rich a harvest before the
close of the century. Arms abroad kept pace with arts at home. Spain
found her empire suddenly enlarged by important acquisitions both in
Europe and Africa, while a New World beyond the waters poured into her
lap treasures of countless wealth and opened an unbounded field for
honorable enterprise.

Such was the condition of the kingdom at the close of the long and
glorious reign of Ferdinand and Isabella, when, on the 23d of January,
1516, the sceptre passed into the hands of their daughter Joanna, or
rather their grandson,[459] Charles the Fifth, who alone ruled the
monarchy during the long and imbecile existence of his unfortunate
mother. During the two years following Ferdinand’s death, the regency,
in the absence of Charles, was held by Cardinal Ximenes, a man whose
intrepidity, extraordinary talents, and capacity for great enterprises
were accompanied by a haughty spirit, which made him too indifferent as
to the means of their execution. His administration, therefore,
notwithstanding the uprightness of his intentions, was, from his total
disregard of forms, unfavorable to constitutional liberty; for respect
for forms is an essential element of freedom. With all his faults,
however, Ximenes was a Spaniard; and the object he had at heart was the
good of his country.

It was otherwise on the arrival of Charles, who, after a long absence,
came as a foreigner into the land of his fathers. (November, 1517.) His
manners, sympathies, even his language, were foreign, for he spoke the
Castilian with difficulty. He knew little of his native country, of the
character of the people or their institutions. He seemed to care still
less for them; while his natural reserve precluded that freedom of
communication which might have counteracted, to some extent, at least,
the errors of education. In everything, in short, he was a foreigner,
and resigned himself to the direction of his Flemish counsellors with a
docility that gave little augury of his future greatness.

On his entrance into Castile, the young monarch was accompanied by a
swarm of courtly sycophants, who settled, like locusts, on every place
of profit and honor throughout the kingdom. A Fleming was made grand
chancellor of Castile; another Fleming was placed in the archiepiscopal
see of Toledo. They even ventured to profane the sanctity of the Cortes,
by intruding themselves on its deliberations. Yet that body did not
tamely submit to these usurpations, but gave vent to its indignation in
tones becoming the representatives of a free people.[460]

The deportment of Charles, so different from that to which the Spaniards
had been accustomed under the benign administration of Ferdinand and
Isabella, closed all hearts against him; and, as his character came to
be understood, instead of the spontaneous outpourings of loyalty which
usually greet the accession of a new and youthful sovereign, he was
everywhere encountered by opposition and disgust. In Castile, and
afterwards in Aragon, Catalonia, and Valencia, the commons hesitated to
confer on him the title of _King_ during the lifetime of his mother;
and, though they eventually yielded this point, and associated his name
with hers in the sovereignty, yet they reluctantly granted the supplies
he demanded, and, when they did so, watched over their appropriation
with a vigilance which left little to gratify the cupidity of the
Flemings. The language of the legislature on these occasions, though
temperate and respectful, breathes a spirit of resolute independence not
to be found, probably, on the parliamentary records of any other nation
at that period. No wonder that Charles should have early imbibed a
disgust for these popular assemblies,--the only bodies whence truths so
unpalatable could find their way to the ears of the sovereign![461]
Unfortunately, they had no influence on his conduct; till the
discontent, long allowed to fester in secret, broke out in that sad war
of the _comunidades_, which shook the state to its foundations and ended
in the subversion of its liberties.[462]

The same pestilent foreign influence was felt, though much less
sensibly, in the colonial administration. This had been placed, in the
preceding reign, under the immediate charge of the two great tribunals,
the Council of the Indies, and the _Casa de Contratacion_, or India
House, at Seville. It was their business to further the progress of
discovery, watch over the infant settlements, and adjust the disputes
which grew up in them. But the licenses granted to private adventurers
did more for the cause of discovery than the patronage of the crown or
its officers. The long peace, enjoyed with slight interruption by Spain
in the early part of the sixteenth century, was most auspicious for
this; and the restless cavalier, who could no longer win laurels on the
fields of Africa or Europe, turned with eagerness to the brilliant
career opened to him beyond the ocean.

It is difficult for those of our time, as familiar from childhood with
the most remote places on the globe as with those in their own
neighborhood, to picture to themselves the feelings of the men who lived
in the sixteenth century. The dread mystery which had so long hung over
the great deep had, indeed, been removed. It was no longer beset with
the same undefined horrors as when Columbus launched his bold bark on
its dark and unknown waters. A new and glorious world had been thrown
open. But as to the precise spot where that world lay, its extent, its
history, whether it were island or continent,--of all this they had very
vague and confused conceptions. Many, in their ignorance, blindly
adopted the erroneous conclusion into which the great Admiral had been
led by his superior science,--that the new countries were a part of
Asia; and, as the mariner wandered among the Bahamas, or steered his
caravel across the Caribbean Seas, he fancied he was inhaling the rich
odors of the spice-islands in the Indian Ocean. Thus every fresh
discovery, interpreted by this previous delusion, served to confirm him
in his error, or, at least, to fill his mind with new perplexities.

The career thus thrown open had all the fascinations of a desperate
hazard, on which the adventurer staked all his hopes of fortune, fame,
and life itself. It was not often, indeed, that he won the rich prize
which he most coveted; but then he was sure to win the meed of glory,
scarcely less dear to his chivalrous spirit; and, if he survived to
return to his home, he had wonderful stories to recount, of perilous
chances among the strange people he had visited, and the burning climes
whose rank fertility and magnificence of vegetation so far surpassed
anything he had witnessed in his own. These reports added fresh fuel to
imaginations already warmed by the study of those tales of chivalry
which formed the favorite reading of the Spaniards at that period. Thus
romance and reality acted on each other, and the soul of the Spaniard
was exalted to that pitch of enthusiasm which enabled him to encounter
the terrible trials that lay in the path of the discoverer. Indeed, the
life of the cavalier of that day was romance put into action. The story
of his adventures in the New World forms one of the most remarkable
pages in the history of man.

Under this chivalrous spirit of enterprise, the progress of discovery
had extended, by the beginning of Charles the Fifth’s reign, from the
Bay of Honduras, along the winding shores of Darien, and the South
American continent, to the Rio de la Plata. The mighty barrier of the
Isthmus had been climbed, and the Pacific descried, by Nuñez de Balboa,
second only to Columbus in this valiant band of “ocean chivalry.” The
Bahamas and Caribbee Islands had been explored, as well as the Peninsula
of Florida on the northern continent. This latter point had been reached
by Sebastian Cabot in his descent along the coast from Labrador, in
1497. So that before 1518, the period when our narrative begins, the
eastern borders of both the great continents had been surveyed through
nearly their whole extent. The shores of the great Mexican Gulf,
however, sweeping with a wide circuit far into the interior, remained
still concealed, with the rich realms that lay beyond, from the eye of
the navigator. The time had now come for their discovery.

The business of colonization had kept pace with that of discovery. In
several of the islands, and in various parts of Terra Firma, and in
Darien, settlements had been established, under the control of governors
who affected the state and authority of viceroys. Grants of land were
assigned to the colonists, on which they raised the natural products of
the soil, but gave still more attention to the sugar-cane, imported from
the Canaries. Sugar, indeed, together with the beautiful dye-woods of
the country and the precious metals, formed almost the only articles of
export in the infancy of the colonies, which had not yet introduced
those other staples of the West Indian commerce which in our day
constitute its principal wealth. Yet the precious metals, painfully
gleaned from a few scanty sources, would have made poor returns, but for
the gratuitous labor of the Indians.

The cruel system of _repartimientos_, or distribution of the Indians as
slaves among the conquerors, had been suppressed by Isabella. Although
subsequently countenanced by the government, it was under the most
careful limitations. But it is impossible to license crime by
halves,--to authorize injustice at all, and hope to regulate the measure
of it. The eloquent remonstrances of the Dominicans,--who devoted
themselves to the good work of conversion in the New World with the same
zeal that they showed for persecution in the Old,--but, above all, those
of Las Casas, induced the regent, Ximenes, to send out a commission with
full powers to inquire into the alleged grievances and to redress them.
It had authority, moreover, to investigate the conduct of the civil
officers, and to reform any abuses in their administration. This
extraordinary commission consisted of three Hieronymite friars and an
eminent jurist, all men of learning and unblemished piety.

They conducted the inquiry in a very dispassionate manner, but, after
long deliberation, came to a conclusion most unfavorable to the demands
of Las Casas, who insisted on the entire freedom of the natives. This
conclusion they justified on the grounds that the Indians would not
labor without compulsion, and that, unless they labored, they could not
be brought into communication with the whites, nor be converted to
Christianity. Whatever we may think of this argument, it was doubtless
urged with sincerity by its advocates, whose conduct through their whole
administration places their motives above suspicion. They accompanied it
with many careful provisions for the protection of the natives. But in
vain. The simple people, accustomed all their days to a life of
indolence and ease, sank under the oppressions of their masters, and the
population wasted away with even more frightful rapidity than did the
aborigines in our own country under the operation of other causes. It is
not necessary to pursue these details further, into which I have been
led by the desire to put the reader in possession of the general policy
and state of affairs in the New World at the period when the present
narrative begins.[463]

Of the islands, Cuba was the second discovered; but no attempt had been
made to plant a colony there during the lifetime of Columbus, who,
indeed, after skirting the whole extent of its southern coast, died in
the conviction that it was part of the continent.[464] At length, in
1511, Diego, the son and successor of the “Admiral,” who still
maintained the seat of government in Hispaniola,[465] finding the mines
much exhausted there, proposed to occupy the neighboring island of Cuba,
or Fernandina, as it was called in compliment to the Spanish
monarch.[466] He prepared a small force for the conquest, which he
placed under the command of Don Diego Velasquez; a man described by a
contemporary as “possessed of considerable experience in military
affairs, having served seventeen years in the European wars; as honest,
illustrious by his lineage and reputation, covetous of glory, and
somewhat more covetous of wealth.”[467] The portrait was sketched by no
unfriendly hand.

Velasquez, or rather his lieutenant, Narvaez, who took the office on
himself of scouring the country, met with no serious opposition from the
inhabitants, who were of the same family with the effeminate natives of
Hispaniola. The conquest, through the merciful interposition of Las
Casas, “the protector of the Indians,” who accompanied the army in its
march, was effected without much bloodshed. One chief, indeed, named
Hatuey, having fled originally from St. Domingo to escape the oppression
of its invaders, made a desperate resistance, for which he was condemned
by Velasquez to be burned alive. It was he who made that memorable
reply, more eloquent than a volume of invective. When urged at the stake
to embrace Christianity, that his soul might find admission into heaven,
he inquired if the white men would go there. On being answered in the
affirmative, he exclaimed, “Then I will not be a Christian; for I would
not go again to a place where I must find men so cruel!”[468]

After the conquest, Velasquez, now appointed governor, diligently
occupied himself with measures for promoting the prosperity of the
island. He formed a number of settlements, bearing the same names with
the modern towns, and made St. Jago,[469] on the southeast corner, the
seat of government.[470] He invited settlers by liberal grants of land
and slaves. He encouraged them to cultivate the soil, and gave
particular attention to the sugar-cane, so profitable an article of
commerce in later times. He was, above all, intent on working the
gold-mines, which promised better returns than those in Hispaniola. The
affairs of his government did not prevent him, meanwhile, from casting
many a wistful glance at the discoveries going forward on the continent,
and he longed for an opportunity to embark in these golden adventures
himself. Fortune gave him the occasion he desired.

An _hidalgo_ of Cuba, named Hernandez de Cordova, sailed with three
vessels on an expedition to one of the neighboring Bahama Islands, in
quest of Indian slaves.[471] (February 8, 1517.) He encountered a
succession of heavy gales which drove him far out of his course, and at
the end of three weeks he found himself on a strange and unknown coast.
On landing and asking the name of the country, he was answered by the
natives, “_Tectetan_,” meaning, “I do not understand you,”--but which
the Spaniards, misinterpreting into the name of the place, easily
corrupted into Yucatan. Some writers give a different etymology.[472]
Such mistakes, however, were not uncommon with the early discoverers,
and have been the origin of many a name on the American continent.[473]

Cordova had landed on the northeastern end of the peninsula, at Cape
Catoche. He was astonished at the size and solid materials of the
buildings, constructed of stone and lime, so different from the frail
tenements of reeds and rushes which formed the habitations of the
islanders. He was struck, also, with the higher cultivation of the soil,
and with the delicate texture of the cotton garments and gold ornaments
of the natives. Everything indicated a civilization far superior to
anything he had before witnessed in the New World. He saw the evidence
of a different race, moreover, in the warlike spirit of the people.
Rumors of the Spaniards had, perhaps, preceded them, as they were
repeatedly asked if they came from the east; and wherever they landed
they were met with the most deadly hostility. Cordova himself, in one of
his skirmishes with the Indians, received more than a dozen wounds, and
one only of his party escaped unhurt. At length, when he had coasted the
peninsula as far as Campeachy, he returned to Cuba, which he reached
after an absence of several months, having suffered all the extremities
of ill which these pioneers of the ocean were sometimes called to
endure, and which none but the most courageous spirit could have
survived. As it was, half the original number, consisting of one hundred
and ten men, perished, including their brave commander, who died soon
after his return. The reports he had brought back of the country, and,
still more, the specimens of curiously wrought gold, convinced Velasquez
of the importance of this discovery, and he prepared with all despatch
to avail himself of it.[474]

He accordingly fitted out a little squadron of four vessels for the
newly-discovered lands, and placed it under the command of his nephew,
Juan de Grijalva, a man on whose probity, prudence, and attachment to
himself he knew he could rely. The fleet left the port of St. Jago de
Cuba, May 1, 1518.[475][476] It took the course pursued by Cordova, but
was driven somewhat to the south, the first land that it made being the
island of Cozumel. From this quarter Grijaiva soon passed over to the
continent, and coasted the peninsula, touching at the same place as his
predecessor. Everywhere he was struck, like him, with the evidences of a
higher civilization, especially in the architecture; as he well might
be, since this was the region of those extraordinary remains which have
become recently the subject of so much speculation. He was astonished,
also, at the sight of large stone crosses, evidently objects of worship,
which he met with in various places. Reminded by these circumstances of
his own country, he gave the peninsula the name of “New Spain,” a name
since appropriated to a much wider extent of territory.[477]

Wherever Grijalva landed, he experienced the same unfriendly reception
as Cordova; though he suffered less, being better prepared to meet it.
In the _Rio de Tabasco_, or _Grijalva_, as it is often called, after
him, he held an amicable conference with a chief who gave him a number
of gold plates fashioned into a sort of armor. As he wound round the
Mexican coast, one of his captains, Pedro de Alvarado, afterwards famous
in the Conquest, entered a river, to which he, also, left his own name.
In a neighboring stream, called the _Rio de Vanderas_, or “River of
Banners,” from the ensigns displayed by the natives on its borders,
Grijaiva had the first communication with the Mexicans themselves.

The cacique who ruled over this province had received notice of the
approach of the Europeans, and of their extraordinary appearance. He was
anxious to collect all the information he could respecting them and the
motives of their visit, that he might transmit them to his master, the
Aztec emperor.[478] A friendly conference took place between the parties
on shore, where Grijalva landed with all his force, so as to make a
suitable impression on the mind of the barbaric chief. The interview
lasted some hours, though, as there was no one on either side to
interpret the language of the other, they could communicate only by
signs. They, however, interchanged presents, and the Spaniards had the
satisfaction of receiving, for a few worthless toys and trinkets, a rich
treasure of jewels, gold ornaments and vessels, of the most fantastic
forms and workmanship.[479]

Grijalva now thought that in this successful traffic--successful beyond
his most sanguine expectations--he had accomplished the chief object of
his mission. He steadily refused the solicitations of his followers to
plant a colony on the spot,--a work of no little difficulty in so
populous and powerful a country as this appeared to be. To this, indeed,
he was inclined, but deemed it contrary to his instructions, which
limited him to barter with the natives. He therefore despatched Alvarado
in one of the caravels back to Cuba, with the treasure and such
intelligence as he had gleaned of the great empire in the interior, and
then pursued his voyage along the coast.

He touched at San Juan de Ulua, and at the _Isla de los Sacrificios_, so
called by him from the bloody remains of human victims found in one of
the temples. He then held on his course as far as the province of
Panuco, where, finding some difficulty in doubling a boisterous
headland, he returned on his track, and, after an absence of nearly six
months, reached Cuba in safety. Grijalva has the glory of being the
first navigator who set foot on the Mexican soil and opened an
intercourse with the Aztecs.[480]

On reaching the island, he was surprised to learn that another and more
formidable armament had been fitted out to follow up his own
discoveries, and to find orders, at the same time, from the governor,
couched in no very courteous language, to repair at once to St. Jago. He
was received by that personage not merely with coldness, but with
reproaches for having neglected so fair an opportunity of establishing a
colony in the country he had visited. Velasquez was one of those
captious spirits who, when things do not go exactly to their minds, are
sure to shift the responsibility of the failure from their own
shoulders, where it should lie, to those of others. He had an ungenerous
nature, says an old writer, credulous, and easily moved to
suspicion.[481] In the present instance it was most unmerited. Grijalva,
naturally a modest, unassuming person, had acted in obedience to the
instructions of his commander, given before sailing, and had done this
in opposition to his own judgment and the importunities of his
followers. His conduct merited anything but censure from his

When Alvarado had returned to Cuba with his golden freight, and the
accounts of the rich empire of Mexico which he had gathered from the
natives, the heart of the governor swelled with rapture as he saw his
dreams of avarice and ambition so likely to be realized. Impatient of
the long absence of Grijalva, he despatched a vessel in search of him
under the command of Olid, a cavalier who took an important part
afterwards in the Conquest. Finally he resolved to fit out another
armament on a sufficient scale to insure the subjugation of the country.

He previously solicited authority for this from the Hieronymite
commission in St. Domingo. He then despatched his chaplain to Spain with
the royal share of the gold brought from Mexico, and a full account of
the intelligence gleaned there. He set forth his own manifold services,
and solicited from the court full powers to go on with the conquest and
colonization of the newly-discovered regions.[483] Before receiving an
answer, he began his preparations for the armament, and, first of all,
endeavored to find a suitable person to share the expense of it and to
take the command. Such a person he found, after some difficulty and
delay, in Hernando Cortés; the man of all others best calculated to
achieve this great enterprise,--the last man to whom Velasquez, could he
have foreseen the results, would have confided it.


[Illustration: _Goupil & Cº Paris_]




Hernando Cortés was born at Medellin, a town in the southeast corner of
Estremadura,[484] in 1485.[485] He came of an ancient and respectable
family; and historians have gratified the national vanity by tracing it
up to the Lombard kings, whose descendants crossed the Pyrenees and
established themselves in Aragon under the Gothic monarchy.[486] This
royal genealogy was not found out till Cortés had acquired a name which
would confer distinction on any descent, however noble. His father,
Martin Cortés de Monroy, was a captain of infantry, in moderate
circumstances, but a man of unblemished honor; and both he and his wife,
Doña Catalina Pizarro Altamirano, appear to have been much regarded for
their excellent qualities.[487]

In his infancy Cortés is said to have had a feeble constitution, which
strengthened as he grew older.[488] At fourteen, he was sent to
Salamanca, as his father, who conceived great hopes from his quick and
showy parts, proposed to educate him for the law, a profession which
held out better inducements to the young aspirant than any other. The
son, however, did not conform to these views. He showed little fondness
for books, and, after loitering away two years at college, returned
home, to the great chagrin of his parents. Yet his time had not been
wholly misspent, since he had laid up a little store of Latin, and
learned to write good prose, and even verses “of some estimation,
considering”--as an old writer quaintly remarks--“Cortés as the
author.”[489] He now passed his days in the idle, unprofitable manner of
one who, too wilful to be guided by others, proposes no object to
himself. His buoyant spirits were continually breaking out in
troublesome frolics and capricious humors, quite at variance with the
orderly habits of his father’s household. He showed a particular
inclination for the military profession, or rather for the life of
adventure to which in those days it was sure to lead. And when, at the
age of seventeen, he proposed to enroll himself under the banners of the
Great Captain, his parents, probably thinking a life of hardship and
hazard abroad preferable to one of idleness at home, made no objection.

The youthful cavalier, however, hesitated whether to seek his fortunes
under that victorious chief, or in the New World, where gold as well as
glory was to be won, and where the very dangers had a mystery and
romance in them inexpressibly fascinating to a youthful fancy. It was in
this direction, accordingly, that the hot spirits of that day found a
vent, especially from that part of the country where Cortés lived, the
neighborhood of Seville and Cadiz, the focus of nautical enterprise. He
decided on this latter course, and an opportunity offered in the
splendid armament fitted out under Don Nicolas de Ovando, successor to
Columbus. An unlucky accident defeated the purpose of Cortés.[490]

As he was scaling a high wall, one night, which gave him access to the
apartment of a lady with whom he was engaged in an intrigue, the stones
gave way, and he was thrown down with much violence and buried under the
ruins. A severe contusion, though attended with no other serious
consequences, confined him to his bed till after the departure of the

Two years longer he remained at home, profiting little, as it would
seem, from the lesson he had received. At length he availed himself of
another opportunity presented by the departure of a small squadron of
vessels bound to the Indian islands. He was nineteen years of age when
he bade adieu to his native shores in 1504,--the same year in which
Spain lost the best and greatest in her long line of princes, Isabella
the Catholic.

The vessel in which Cortés sailed was commanded by one Alonso Quintero.
The fleet touched at the Canaries, as was common in the outward passage.
While the other vessels were detained there taking in supplies, Quintero
secretly stole out by night from the islands, with the design of
reaching Hispaniola and securing the market before the arrival of his
companions. A furious storm which he encountered, however, dismasted
his ship, and he was obliged to return to port and refit. The convoy
consented to wait for their unworthy partner, and after a short
detention they all sailed in company again. But the faithless Quintero,
as they drew near the islands, availed himself once more of the darkness
of the night, to leave the squadron with the same purpose as before.
Unluckily for him, he met with a succession of heavy gales and
head-winds, which drove him from his course, and he wholly lost his
reckoning. For many days the vessel was tossed about, and all on board
were filled with apprehensions, and no little indignation against the
author of their calamities. At length they were cheered one morning with
the sight of a white dove, which, wearied by its flight, lighted on the
topmast. The biographers of Cortés speak of it as a miracle.[492]
Fortunately it was no miracle, but a very natural occurrence, showing
incontestably that they were near land. In a short time, by taking the
direction of the bird’s flight, they reached the island of Hispaniola;
and, on coming into port, the worthy master had the satisfaction to find
his companions arrived before him, and their cargoes already sold.[493]

Immediately on landing, Cortés repaired to the house of the governor, to
whom he had been personally known in Spain. Ovando was absent on an
expedition into the interior, but the young man was kindly received by
the secretary, who assured him there would be no doubt of his obtaining
a liberal grant of land to settle on. “But I came to get gold,” replied
Cortés, “not to till the soil, like a peasant.”

On the governor’s return, Cortés consented to give up his roving
thoughts, at least for a time, as the other labored to convince him that
he would be more likely to realize his wishes from the slow, indeed, but
sure, returns of husbandry, where the soil and the laborers were a free
gift to the planter, than by taking his chance in the lottery of
adventure, in which there were so many blanks to a prize. He accordingly
received a grant of land, with a _repartimiento_ of Indians, and was
appointed notary of the town or settlement of Açua. His graver pursuits,
however, did not prevent his indulgence of the amorous propensities
which belong to the sunny clime where he was born; and this frequently
involved him in affairs of honor, from which, though an expert
swordsman, he carried away scars that accompanied him to his grave.[494]
He occasionally, moreover, found the means of breaking up the monotony
of his way of life by engaging in the military expeditions which, under
the command of Ovando’s lieutenant, Diego Velasquez, were employed to
suppress the insurrections of the natives. In this school the young
adventurer first studied the wild tactics of Indian warfare; he became
familiar with toil and danger, and with those deeds of cruelty which
have too often, alas! stained the bright scutcheons of the Castilian
chivalry in the New World. He was only prevented by illness--a most
fortunate one, on this occasion--from embarking in Nicuessa’s
expedition, which furnished a tale of woe not often matched in the
annals of Spanish discovery. Providence reserved him for higher ends.

At length, in 1511, when Velasquez undertook the conquest of Cuba,
Cortés willingly abandoned his quiet life for the stirring scenes there
opened, and took part in the expedition. He displayed, throughout the
invasion, an activity and courage that won him the approbation of the
commander; while his free and cordial manners, his good humor and lively
sallies of wit, made him the favorite of the soldiers. “He gave little
evidence,” says a contemporary, “of the great qualities which he
afterwards showed.” It is probable these qualities were not known to
himself; while to a common observer his careless manners and jocund
repartees might well seem incompatible with anything serious or
profound; as the real depth of the current is not suspected under the
light play and sunny sparkling of the surface.[495]

After the reduction of the island, Cortés seems to have been held in
great favor by Velasquez, now appointed its governor. According to Las
Casas, he was made one of his secretaries.[496] He still retained the
same fondness for gallantry, for which his handsome person afforded
obvious advantages, but which had more than once brought him into
trouble in earlier life. Among the families who had taken up their
residence in Cuba was one of the name of Xuarez, from Granada in Old
Spain. It consisted of a brother, and four sisters remarkable for their
beauty. With one of them, named Catalina, the susceptible heart of the
young soldier became enamored.[497] How far the intimacy was carried is
not quite certain. But it appears he gave his promise to marry her,--a
promise which, when the time came, and reason, it may be, had got the
better of passion, he showed no alacrity in keeping. He resisted,
indeed, all remonstrances to this effect, from the lady’s family, backed
by the governor, and somewhat sharpened, no doubt, in the latter by the
particular interest he took in one of the fair sisters, who is said not
to have repaid it with ingratitude.

Whether the rebuke of Velasquez or some other cause of disgust rankled
in the breast of Cortés, he now became cold towards his patron, and
connected himself with a disaffected party tolerably numerous in the
island. They were in the habit of meeting at his house and brooding over
their causes of discontent, chiefly founded, it would appear, on what
they conceived an ill requital of their services in the distribution of
lands and offices. It may well be imagined that it could have been no
easy task for the ruler of one of these colonies, however discreet and
well intentioned, to satisfy the indefinite cravings of speculators and
adventurers, who swarmed, like so many famished harpies, in the track of
discovery in the New World.[498]

The malecontents determined to lay their grievances before the higher
authorities in Hispaniola, from whom Velasquez had received his
commission. The voyage was one of some hazard, as it was to be made in
an open boat, across an arm of the sea eighteen leagues wide; and they
fixed on Cortés, with whose fearless spirit they were well acquainted,
as the fittest man to undertake it. The conspiracy got wind, and came to
the governor’s ears before the departure of the envoy, whom he instantly
caused to be seized, loaded with fetters, and placed in strict
confinement. It is even said he would have hung him, but for the
interposition of his friends.[499] The fact is not incredible. The
governors of these little territories, having entire control over the
fortunes of their subjects, enjoyed an authority far more despotic than
that of the sovereign himself. They were generally men of rank and
personal consideration; their distance from the mother-country withdrew
their conduct from searching scrutiny, and, when that did occur, they
usually had interest and means of corruption at command sufficient to
shield them from punishment. The Spanish colonial history, in its
earlier stages, affords striking instances of the extraordinary
assumption and abuse of powers by these petty potentates; and the sad
fate of Vasquez Nuñez de Balboa, the illustrious discoverer of the
Pacific, though the most signal, is by no means a solitary example, that
the greatest services could be requited by persecution and an
ignominious death.

The governor of Cuba, however, although irascible and suspicious in his
nature, does not seem to have been vindictive, nor particularly cruel.
In the present instance, indeed, it may well be doubted whether the
blame would not be more reasonably charged on the unfounded expectations
of his followers than on himself.

Cortés did not long remain in durance. He contrived to throw back one of
the bolts of his fetters, and, after extricating his limbs, succeeded in
forcing open a window with the irons so as to admit of his escape. He
was lodged on the second floor of the building, and was able to let
himself down to the pavement without injury, and unobserved. He then
made the best of his way to a neighboring church, where he claimed the
privilege of sanctuary.

Velasquez, though incensed at his escape, was afraid to violate the
sanctity of the place by employing force. But he stationed a guard in
the neighborhood, with orders to seize the fugitive if he should forget
himself so far as to leave the sanctuary. In a few days this happened.
As Cortés was carelessly standing without the walls in front of the
building, an _alguacil_ suddenly sprang on him from behind and pinioned
his arms, while others rushed in and secured him. This man, whose name
was Juan Escudero, was afterwards hung by Cortés for some offence in New

The unlucky prisoner was again put in irons, and carried on board a
vessel to sail the next morning for Hispaniola, there to undergo his
trial. Fortune favored him once more. He succeeded, after much
difficulty and no little pain, in passing his feet through the rings
which shackled them. He then came cautiously on deck, and, covered by
the darkness of the night, stole quietly down the side of the ship into
a boat that lay floating below. He pushed off from the vessel with as
little noise as possible. As he drew near the shore, the stream became
rapid and turbulent. He hesitated to trust his boat to it, and, as he
was an excellent swimmer, prepared to breast it himself, and boldly
plunged into the water. The current was strong, but the arm of a man
struggling for life was stronger; and, after buffeting the waves till he
was nearly exhausted, he succeeded in gaining a landing; when he sought
refuge in the same sanctuary which had protected him before. The
facility with which Cortés a second time effected his escape may lead
one to doubt the fidelity of his guards; who perhaps looked on him as
the victim of persecution, and felt the influence of those popular
manners which seem to have gained him friends in every society into
which he was thrown.[501]

For some reason not explained,--perhaps from policy,--he now
relinquished his objections to the marriage with Catalina Xuarez. He
thus secured the good offices of her family. Soon afterwards the
governor himself relented, and became reconciled to his unfortunate
enemy. A strange story is told in connection with this event. It is said
his proud spirit refused to accept the proffers of reconciliation made
him by Velasquez; and that one evening, leaving the sanctuary, he
presented himself unexpectedly before the latter in his own quarters,
when on a military excursion at some distance from the capital. The
governor, startled by the sudden apparition of his enemy completely
armed before him, with some dismay inquired the meaning of it. Cortés
answered by insisting on a full explanation of his previous conduct.
After some hot discussion the interview terminated amicably; the parties
embraced, and, when a messenger arrived to announce the escape of
Cortés, he found him in the apartments of his Excellency, where, having
retired to rest, both were actually sleeping in the same bed! The
anecdote is repeated without distrust by more than one biographer of
Cortés.[502] It is not very probable, however, that a haughty,
irascible man like Velasquez should have given such uncommon proofs of
condescension and familiarity to one, so far beneath him in station,
with whom he had been so recently in deadly feud; nor, on the other
hand, that Cortés should have had the silly temerity to brave the lion
in his den, where a single nod would have sent him to the gibbet,--and
that, too, with as little compunction or fear of consequences as would
have attended the execution of an Indian slave.[503]

The reconciliation with the governor, however brought about, was
permanent. Cortés, though not re-established in the office of secretary,
received a liberal _repartimiento_ of Indians, and an ample territory in
the neighborhood of St. Jago, of which he was soon after made _alcalde_.
He now lived almost wholly on his estate, devoting himself to
agriculture with more zeal than formerly. He stocked his plantation with
different kinds of cattle, some of which were first introduced by him
into Cuba.[504] He wrought, also, the gold-mines which fell to his
share, and which in this island promised better returns than those in
Hispaniola. By this course of industry he found himself, in a few years,
master of some two or three thousand _castellanos_, a large sum for one
in his situation. “God, who alone knows at what cost of Indian lives it
was obtained,” exclaims Las Casas, “will take account of it!”[505] His
days glided smoothly away in these tranquil pursuits, and in the society
of his beautiful wife, who, however ineligible as a connection, from the
inferiority of her condition, appears to have fulfilled all the
relations of a faithful and affectionate partner. Indeed, he was often
heard to say at this time, as the good bishop above quoted remarks,
“that he lived as happily with her as if she had been the daughter of a
duchess.” Fortune gave him the means in after-life of verifying the
truth of his assertion.[506]

Such was the state of things, when Alvarado returned with the tidings of
Grijalva’s discoveries and the rich fruits of his traffic with the
natives. The news spread like wildfire throughout the island; for all
saw in it the promise of more important results than any hitherto
obtained. The governor, as already noticed, resolved to follow up the
track of discovery with a more considerable armament; and he looked
around for a proper person to share the expense of it and to take the

Several hidalgos presented themselves, whom, from want of proper
qualifications, or from his distrust of their assuming an independence
of their employer, he, one after another, rejected. There were two
persons in St. Jago in whom he placed great confidence,--Amador de
Lares, the _contador_, or royal treasurer,[507] and his own secretary,
Andres de Duero. Cortés was also in close intimacy with both these
persons; and he availed himself of it to prevail on them to recommend
him as a suitable person to be intrusted with the expedition. It is said
he reinforced the proposal by promising a liberal share of the proceeds
of it. However this may be, the parties urged his selection by the
governor with all the eloquence of which they were capable. That officer
had had ample experience of the capacity and courage of the candidate.
He knew, too, that he had acquired a fortune which would enable him to
co-operate materially in fitting out the armament. His popularity in the
island would speedily attract followers to his standard.[508] All past
animosities had long since been buried in oblivion, and the confidence
he was now to repose in him would insure his fidelity and gratitude. He
lent a willing ear, therefore, to the recommendation of his counsellors,
and, sending for Cortés, announced his purpose of making him
Captain-General of the Armada.[509]

Cortés had now attained the object of his wishes,--the object for which
his soul had panted ever since he had set foot in the New World. He was
no longer to be condemned to a life of mercenary drudgery, nor to be
cooped up within the precincts of a petty island; but he was to be
placed on a new and independent theatre of action, and a boundless
prospective was opened to his view, which might satisfy not merely the
wildest cravings of avarice, but, to a bold, aspiring spirit like his,
the far more importunate cravings of ambition. He fully appreciated the
importance of the late discoveries, and read in them the existence of
the great empire in the far West, dark hints of which had floated, from
time to time, to the Islands, and of which more certain glimpses had
been caught by those who had reached the continent. This was the country
intimated to the “Great Admiral” in his visit to Honduras in 1502, and
which he might have reached had he held on a northern course, instead of
striking to the south in quest of an imaginary strait. As it was, “he
had but opened the gate,” to use his own bitter expression, “for others
to enter.” The time had at length come when they were to enter it; and
the young adventurer, whose magic lance was to dissolve the spell which
had so long hung over these mysterious regions, now stood ready to
assume the enterprise.

From this hour the deportment of Cortés seemed to undergo a change. His
thoughts, instead of evaporating in empty levities or idle flashes of
merriment, were wholly concentrated on the great object to which he was
devoted. His elastic spirits were shown in cheering and stimulating the
companions of his toilsome duties, and he was roused to a generous
enthusiasm, of which even those who knew him best had not conceived him
capable. He applied at once all the money in his possession to fitting
out the armament. He raised more by the mortgage of his estates, and by
giving his obligations to some wealthy merchants of the place, who
relied for their reimbursement on the success of the expedition; and,
when his own credit was exhausted, he availed himself of that of his

The funds thus acquired he expended in the purchase of vessels,
provisions, and military stores, while he invited recruits by offers of
assistance to such as were too poor to provide for themselves, and by
the additional promise of a liberal share of the anticipated

All was now bustle and excitement in the little town of St. Jago. Some
were busy in refitting the vessels and getting them ready for the
voyage; some in providing naval stores; others in converting their own
estates into money in order to equip themselves; every one seemed
anxious to contribute in some way or other to the success of the
expedition. Six ships, some of them of a large size, had already been
procured; and three hundred recruits enrolled themselves in the course
of a few days, eager to seek their fortunes under the banner of this
daring and popular chieftain.

How far the governor contributed towards the expenses of the outfit is
not very clear. If the friends of Cortés are to be believed, nearly the
whole burden fell on him; since, while he supplied the squadron without
remuneration, the governor sold many of his own stores at an exorbitant
profit.[511] Yet it does not seem probable that Velasquez, with such
ample means at his command, should have thrown on his deputy the burden
of the expedition, nor that the latter--had he done so--could have been
in a condition to meet these expenses, amounting, as we are told, to
more than twenty thousand gold ducats. Still it cannot be denied that an
ambitious man like Cortés, who was to reap all the glory of the
enterprise, would very naturally be less solicitous to count the gains
of it, than his employer, who, inactive at home, and having no laurels
to win, must look on the pecuniary profits as his only recompense. The
question gave rise, some years later, to a furious litigation between
the parties, with which it is not necessary at present to embarrass the

It is due to Velasquez to state that the instructions delivered by him
for the conduct of the expedition cannot be charged with a narrow or
mercenary spirit. The first object of the voyage was to find Grijaiva,
after which the two commanders were to proceed in company together.
Reports had been brought back by Cordova, on his return from the first
visit to Yucatan, that six Christians were said to be lingering in
captivity in the interior of the country. It was supposed they might
belong to the party of the unfortunate Nicuessa, and orders were given
to find them out, if possible, and restore them to liberty. But the
great object of the expedition was barter with the natives. In pursuing
this, special care was to be taken that they should receive no wrong,
but be treated with kindness and humanity. Cortés was to bear in mind,
above all things, that the object which the Spanish monarch had most at
heart was the conversion of the Indians. He was to impress on them the
grandeur and goodness of his royal master, to invite them “to give in
their allegiance to him, and to manifest it by regaling him with such
comfortable presents of gold, pearls, and precious stones as, by showing
their own good will, would secure his favor and protection.” He was to
make an accurate survey of the coast, sounding its bays and inlets for
the benefit of future navigators. He was to acquaint himself with the
natural products of the country, with the character of its different
races, their institutions and progress in civilization; and he was to
send home minute accounts of all these, together with such articles as
he should obtain in his intercourse with them. Finally, he was to take
_the most careful care_ to omit nothing that might redound to the
service of God or his sovereign.[512]

Such was the general tenor of the instructions given to Cortés; and they
must be admitted to provide for the interests of science and humanity,
as well as for those which had reference only to a commercial
speculation. It may seem strange, considering the discontent shown by
Velasquez with his former captain, Grijalva, for not colonizing, that no
directions should have been given to that effect here. But he had not
yet received from Spain the warrant for investing his agents with such
powers; and that which had been obtained from the Hieronymite fathers in
Hispaniola conceded only the right to traffic with the natives. The
commission at the same time recognized the authority of Cortés as
Captain-General of the expedition.[513]




The importance given to Cortés by his new position, and, perhaps, a
somewhat more lofty bearing, gradually gave uneasiness to the naturally
suspicious temper of Velasquez, who became apprehensive that his
officer, when away where he would have the power, might also have the
inclination, to throw off his dependence on him altogether. An
accidental circumstance at this time heightened these suspicions. A mad
fellow, his jester, one of those crack-brained wits--half wit, half
fool--who formed in those days a common appendage to every great man’s
establishment, called out to the governor, as he was taking his usual
walk one morning with Cortés towards the port, “Have a care, master
Velasquez, or we shall have to go a-hunting, some day or other, after
this same captain of ours!” “Do you hear what the rogue says?” exclaimed
the governor to his companion. “Do not heed him,” said Cortés: “he is a
saucy knave, and deserves a good whipping.” The words sank deep,
however, in the mind of Velasquez,--as, indeed, true jests are apt to

There were not wanting persons about his Excellency who fanned the
latent embers of jealousy into a blaze. These worthy gentlemen, some of
them kinsmen of Velasquez, who probably felt their own deserts somewhat
thrown into the shade by the rising fortunes of Cortés, reminded the
governor of his ancient quarrel with that officer, and of the little
probability that affronts so keenly felt at the time could ever be
forgotten. By these and similar suggestions, and by misconstructions of
the present conduct of Cortés, they wrought on the passions of Velasquez
to such a degree that he resolved to intrust the expedition to other

He communicated his design to his confidential advisers, Lares and
Duero, and these trusty personages reported it without delay to Cortés,
although, “to a man of half his penetration,” says Las Casas, “the thing
would have been readily divined from the governor’s altered
demeanor.”[515] The two functionaries advised their friend to expedite
matters as much as possible, and to lose no time in getting his fleet
ready for sea, if he would retain the command of it. Cortés showed the
same prompt decision on this occasion which more than once afterwards
in a similar crisis gave the direction to his destiny.

He had not yet got his complement of men, nor of vessels, and was very
inadequately provided with supplies of any kind. But he resolved to
weigh anchor that very night. He waited on his officers, informed them
of his purpose, and probably of the cause of it; and at midnight, when
the town was hushed in sleep, they all went quietly on board, and the
little squadron dropped down the bay. First, however, Cortés had visited
the person whose business it was to supply the place with meat, and
relieved him of all his stock on hand, notwithstanding his complaint
that the city must suffer for it on the morrow, leaving him, at the same
time, in payment, a massive gold chain of much value, which he wore
round his neck.[516]

Great was the amazement of the good citizens of St. Jago when, at dawn,
they saw that the fleet, which they knew was so ill prepared for the
voyage, had left its moorings and was busily getting under way. The
tidings soon came to the ears of his Excellency, who, springing from his
bed, hastily dressed himself, mounted his horse, and, followed by his
retinue, galloped down to the quay. Cortés, as soon as he descried their
approach, entered an armed boat, and came within speaking-distance of
the shore. “And is it thus you part from me?” exclaimed Velasquez; “a
courteous way of taking leave, truly!” “Pardon me,” answered Cortés;
“time presses, and there are some things that should be done before they
are even thought of. Has your Excellency any commands?” But the
mortified governor had no commands to give; and Cortés, politely waving
his hand, returned to his vessel, and the little fleet instantly made
sail for the port of Macaca, about fifteen leagues distant. (November
18, 1518.) Velasquez rode back to his house to digest his chagrin as he
best might; satisfied, probably, that he had made at least two
blunders,--one in appointing Cortés to the command, the other in
attempting to deprive him of it. For, if it be true that by giving our
confidence by halves we can scarcely hope to make a friend, it is
equally true that by withdrawing it when given we shall make an

This clandestine departure of Cortés has been severely criticised by
some writers, especially by Las Casas.[518] Yet much may be urged in
vindication of his conduct. He had been appointed to the command by the
voluntary act of the governor, and this had been fully ratified by the
authorities of Hispaniola. He had at once devoted all his resources to
the undertaking, incurring, indeed, a heavy debt in addition. He was now
to be deprived of his commission, without any misconduct having been
alleged or at least proved against him. Such an event must overwhelm him
in irretrievable ruin, to say nothing of the friends from whom he had so
largely borrowed, and the followers who had embarked their fortunes in
the expedition on the faith of his commanding it. There are few persons,
probably, who, under these circumstances, would have felt called tamely
to acquiesce in the sacrifice of their hopes to a groundless and
arbitrary whim. The most to have been expected from Cortés was that he
should feel obliged to provide faithfully for the interests of his
employer in the conduct of the enterprise. How far he felt the force of
this obligation will appear in the sequel.

From Macaca, where Cortés laid in such stores as he could obtain from
the royal farms, and which, he said, he considered as “a loan from the
king,” he proceeded to Trinidad; a more considerable town, on the
southern coast of Cuba. Here he landed, and, erecting his standard in
front of his quarters, made proclamation, with liberal offers to all who
would join the expedition. Volunteers came in daily, and among them more
than a hundred of Grijalva’s men, just returned from their voyage and
willing to follow up the discovery under an enterprising leader. The
fame of Cortés attracted, also, a number of cavaliers of family and
distinction, some of whom, having accompanied Grijalva, brought much
information valuable for the present expedition. Among these hidalgos
may be mentioned Pedro de Alvarado and his brothers, Cristóval de Olid,
Alonso de Avila, Juan Velasquez de Leon, a near relation of the
governor, Alonso Hernandez de Puertocarrero, and Gonzalo de
Sandoval,--all of them men who took a most important part in the
Conquest. Their presence was of great moment, as giving consideration to
the enterprise; and, when they entered the little camp of the
adventurers, the latter turned out to welcome them amidst lively strains
of music and joyous salvos of artillery.

Cortés meanwhile was active in purchasing military stores and
provisions. Learning that a trading-vessel laden with grain and other
commodities for the mines was off the coast, he ordered out one of his
caravels to seize her and bring her into port. He paid the master in
bills for both cargo and ship, and even persuaded this man, named
Sedeño,[519] who was wealthy, to join his fortunes to the expedition. He
also despatched one of his officers, Diego de Ordaz, in quest of another
ship,[520] of which he had tidings, with instructions to seize it in
like manner, and to meet him with it off Cape St. Antonio, the westerly
point of the island.[521] By this he effected another object, that of
getting rid of Ordaz, who was one of the governor’s household, and an
inconvenient spy on his own actions.

While thus occupied, letters from Velasquez were received by the
commander of Trinidad, requiring him to seize the person of Cortés and
to detain him, as he had been deposed from the command of the fleet,
which was given to another. This functionary communicated his
instructions to the principal officers in the expedition, who counselled
him not to make the attempt, as it would undoubtedly lead to a commotion
among the soldiers, that might end in laying the town in ashes. Verdugo
thought it prudent to conform to this advice.[522]

As Cortés was willing to strengthen himself by still further
reinforcements, he ordered Alvarado with a small body of men to march
across the country to the Havana,[523] while he himself would sail
round the westerly point of the island and meet him there with the
squadron. In this port he again displayed his standard, making the usual
proclamation. He caused all the large guns to be brought on shore, and,
with the small arms and cross-bows, to be put in order. As there was
abundance of cotton raised in this neighborhood, he had the jackets of
the soldiers thickly quilted with it, for a defence against the Indian
arrows, from which the troops in the former expeditions had grievously
suffered. He distributed his men into eleven companies, each under the
command of an experienced officer; and it was observed that, although
several of the cavaliers in the service were the personal friends and
even kinsmen of Velasquez, he appeared to treat them all with perfect

His principal standard was of black velvet, embroidered with gold, and
emblazoned with a red cross amidst flames of blue and white, with this
motto in Latin beneath: “Friends, let us follow the Cross; and under
this sign, if we have faith, we shall conquer.” He now assumed more
state in his own person and way of living, introducing a greater number
of domestics and officers into his household, and placing it on a
footing becoming a man of high station. This state he maintained through
the rest of his life.[524]

Cortés at this time was thirty-three, or perhaps thirty-four, years of
age. In stature he was rather above the middle size. His complexion was
pale; and his large dark eye gave an expression of gravity to his
countenance, not to have been expected in one of his cheerful
temperament. His figure was slender, at least until later life; but his
chest was deep, his shoulders broad, his frame muscular and well
proportioned. It presented the union of agility and vigor which
qualified him to excel in fencing, horsemanship, and the other generous
exercises of chivalry. In his diet he was temperate, careless of what he
ate, and drinking little; while to toil and privation he seemed
perfectly indifferent. His dress, for he did not disdain the impression
produced by such adventitious aids, was such as to set off his handsome
person to advantage; neither gaudy nor striking, but rich. He wore few
ornaments, and usually the same; but those were of great price. His
manners, frank and soldier-like, concealed a most cool and calculating
spirit. With his gayest humor there mingled a settled air of resolution,
which made those who approached him feel they must obey, and which
infused something like awe into the attachment of his most devoted
followers. Such a combination, in which love was tempered by authority,
was the one probably best calculated to inspire devotion in the rough
and turbulent spirits among whom his lot was to be cast.

The character of Cortés seems to have undergone some change with change
of circumstances; or, to speak more correctly, the new scenes in which
he was placed called forth qualities which before lay dormant in his
bosom. There are some hardy natures that require the heats of excited
action to unfold their energies; like the plants which, closed to the
mild influence of a temperate latitude, come to their full growth, and
give forth their fruits, only in the burning atmosphere of the tropics.
Such is the portrait left to us by his contemporaries of this remarkable
man; the instrument selected by Providence to scatter terror among the
barbarian monarchs of the Western World, and lay their empires in the

Before the preparations were fully completed at the Havana, the
commander of the place, Don Pedro Barba, received despatches from
Velasquez ordering him to apprehend Cortés and to prevent the departure
of his vessels; while another epistle from the same source was delivered
to Cortés himself, requesting him to postpone his voyage till the
governor could communicate with him, as he proposed, in person. “Never,”
exclaims Las Casas, “did I see so little knowledge of affairs shown, as
in this letter of Diego Velasquez,--that he should have imagined that a
man who had so recently put such an affront on him would defer his
departure at his bidding!”[526] It was, indeed, hoping to stay the
flight of the arrow by a word, after it had left the bow.

The Captain-General, however, during his short stay, had entirely
conciliated the good will of Barba. And, if that officer had had the
inclination, he knew he had not the power, to enforce his principal’s
orders, in the face of a resolute soldiery, incensed at this ungenerous
persecution of their commander, and “all of whom,” in the words of the
honest chronicler who bore part in the expedition, “officers and
privates, would have cheerfully laid down their lives for him.”[527]
Barba contented himself, therefore, with explaining to Velasquez the
impracticability of the attempt, and at the same time endeavored to
tranquillize his apprehensions by asserting his own confidence in the
fidelity of Cortés. To this the latter added a communication of his own,
couched “in the soft terms he knew so well how to use,”[528] in which he
implored his Excellency to rely on his devotion to his interests, and
concluded with the comfortable assurance that he and the whole fleet,
God willing, would sail on the following morning.

Accordingly, on the 10th of February, 1519, the little squadron got
under way, and directed its course towards Cape St. Antonio, the
appointed place of rendezvous. When all were brought together, the
vessels were found to be eleven in number; one of them, in which Cortés
himself went, was of a hundred tons’ burden, three others were from
seventy to eighty tons; the remainder were caravels and open
brigantines. The whole was put under the direction of Antonio de
Alaminos, as chief pilot; a veteran navigator, who had acted as pilot to
Columbus in his last voyage, and to Cordova and Grijalva in the former
expeditions to Yucatan.

Landing on the Cape and mustering his forces, Cortés found they amounted
to one hundred and ten mariners, five hundred and fifty-three soldiers,
including thirty-two crossbowmen, and thirteen arquebusiers, besides two
hundred Indians of the island, and a few Indian women for menial
offices. He was provided with ten heavy guns, four lighter pieces called
falconets, and with a good supply of ammunition.[529] He had besides
sixteen horses. They were not easily procured; for the difficulty of
transporting them across the ocean in the flimsy craft of that day made
them rare and incredibly dear in the Islands.[530] But Cortés rightfully
estimated the importance of cavalry, however small in number, both for
their actual service in the field, and for striking terror into the
savages. With so paltry a force did he enter on a conquest which even
his stout heart must have shrunk from attempting with such means, had he
but foreseen half its real difficulties!

Before embarking, Cortés addressed his soldiers in a short but animated
harangue. He told them they were about to enter on a noble enterprise,
one that would make their name famous to after-ages. He was leading them
to countries more vast and opulent than any yet visited by Europeans. “I
hold out to you a glorious prize,” continued the orator, “but it is to
be won by incessant toil. Great things are achieved only by great
exertions, and glory was never the reward of sloth.[531] If I have
labored hard and staked my all on this undertaking, it is for the love
of that renown which is the noblest recompense of man. But, if any among
you covet riches more, be but true to me, as I will be true to you and
to the occasion, and I will make you masters of such as our countrymen
have never dreamed of! You are few in number, but strong in resolution;
and, if this does not falter, doubt not but that the Almighty, who has
never deserted the Spaniard in his contest with the infidel, will
shield you, though encompassed by a cloud of enemies; for your cause is
a _just cause_, and you are to fight under the banner of the Cross. Go
forward, then,” he concluded, “with alacrity and confidence, and carry
to a glorious issue the work so auspiciously begun.”[532]

The rough eloquence of the general, touching the various chords of
ambition, avarice, and religious zeal, sent a thrill through the bosoms
of his martial audience; and, receiving it with acclamations, they
seemed eager to press forward under a chief who was to lead them not so
much to battle, as to triumph.

Cortés was well satisfied to find his own enthusiasm so largely shared
by his followers. Mass was then celebrated with the solemnities usual
with the Spanish navigators when entering on their voyages of discovery.
The fleet was placed under the immediate protection of St. Peter, the
patron saint of Cortés, and, weighing anchor, took its departure on the
eighteenth day of February, 1519, for the coast of Yucatan.[533]




Orders were given for the vessels to keep as near together as possible,
and to take the direction of the _capitanía_, or admiral’s ship, which
carried a beacon-light in the stern during the night. But the weather,
which had been favorable, changed soon after their departure, and one of
those tempests set in which at this season are often found in the
latitudes of the West Indies. It fell with terrible force on the little
navy, scattering it far asunder, dismantling some of the ships, and
driving them all considerably south of their proposed destination.

Cortés, who had lingered behind to convoy a disabled vessel, reached the
island of Cozumel last. On landing, he learned that one of his captains,
Pedro de Alvarado, had availed himself of the short time he had been
there, to enter the temples, rifle them of their few ornaments, and, by
his violent conduct, so far to terrify the simple natives that they had
fled for refuge into the interior of the island. Cortés, highly incensed
at these rash proceedings, so contrary to the policy he had proposed,
could not refrain from severely reprimanding his officer in the presence
of the army. He commanded two Indian captives, taken by Alvarado, to be
brought before him, and explained to them the pacific purpose of his
visit. This he did through the assistance of his interpreter,
Melchorejo, a native of Yucatan, who had been brought back by Grijalva,
and who during his residence in Cuba had picked up some acquaintance
with the Castilian. He then dismissed them loaded with presents, and
with an invitation to their countrymen to return to their homes without
fear of further annoyance. This humane policy succeeded. The fugitives,
reassured, were not slow in coming back; and an amicable intercourse was
established, in which Spanish cutlery and trinkets were exchanged for
the gold ornaments of the natives; a traffic in which each party
congratulated itself--a philosopher might think with equal reason--on
outwitting the other.

The first object of Cortés was to gather tidings of the unfortunate
Christians who were reported to be still lingering in captivity on the
neighboring continent. From some traders in the island he obtained such
a confirmation of the report that he sent Diego de Ordaz with two
brigantines to the opposite coast of Yucatan, with instructions to
remain there eight days. Some Indians went as messengers in the vessels,
who consented to bear a letter to the captives informing them of the
arrival of their countrymen in Cozumel with a liberal ransom for their
release. Meanwhile the general proposed to make an excursion to the
different parts of the island, that he might give employment to the
restless spirits of the soldiers, and ascertain the resources of the

It was poor and thinly peopled. But everywhere he recognized the
vestiges of a higher civilization than what he had before witnessed in
the Indian islands. The houses were some of them large, and often built
of stone and lime. He was particularly struck with the temples, in which
were towers constructed of the same solid materials, and rising several
stories in height. In the court of one of these he was amazed by the
sight of a cross, of stone and lime, about ten palms high. It was the
emblem of the god of rain. Its appearance suggested the wildest
conjectures, not merely to the unlettered soldiers, but subsequently to
the European scholar, who speculated on the character of the races that
had introduced there the sacred symbol of Christianity. But no such
inference, as we shall see hereafter, could be warranted.[534] Yet it
must be regarded as a curious fact that the Cross should have been
venerated as the object of religious worship both in the New World and
in regions of the Old where the light of Christianity had never

The next object of Cortés was to reclaim the natives from their gross
idolatry and to substitute a purer form of worship. In accomplishing
this he was prepared to use force, if milder measures should be
ineffectual. There was nothing which the Spanish government had more
earnestly at heart than the conversion of the Indians. It forms the
constant burden of their instructions, and gave to the military
expeditions in this Western hemisphere somewhat of the air of a crusade.
The cavalier who embarked in them entered fully into these chivalrous
and devotional feelings. No doubt was entertained of the efficacy of
conversion, however sudden might be the change or however violent the
means. The sword was a good argument, when the tongue failed; and the
spread of Mahometanism had shown that seeds sown by the hand of
violence, far from perishing in the ground, would spring up and bear
fruit to aftertime. If this were so in a bad cause, how much more would
it be true in a good one! The Spanish cavalier felt he had a high
mission to accomplish as a soldier of the Cross. However unauthorized or
unrighteous the war into which he had entered may seem to us, to him it
was a holy war. He was in arms against the infidel. Not to care for the
soul of his benighted enemy was to put his own in jeopardy. The
conversion of a single soul might cover a multitude of sins. It was not
for morals that he was concerned, but for _the faith_. This, though
understood in its most literal and limited sense, comprehended the whole
scheme of Christian morality. Whoever died in the faith, however immoral
had been his life, might be said to die in the Lord. Such was the creed
of the Castilian knight of that day, as imbibed from the preachings of
the pulpit, from cloisters and colleges at home, from monks and
missionaries abroad,--from all save one, whose devotion, kindled at a
purer source, was not, alas! permitted to send forth its radiance far
into the thick gloom by which he was encompassed.[536]

No one partook more fully of the feelings above described than Hernan
Cortés. He was, in truth, the very mirror of the time in which he lived,
reflecting its motley characteristics, its speculative devotion and
practical license, but with an intensity all his own. He was greatly
scandalized at the exhibition of the idolatrous practices of the people
of Cozumel, though untainted, as it would seem, with human sacrifices.
He endeavored to persuade them to embrace a better faith, through the
agency of two ecclesiastics who attended the expedition,--the licentiate
Juan Diaz and Father Bartolomé de Olmedo. The latter of these godly men
afforded the rare example--rare in any age--of the union of fervent zeal
with charity, while he beautifully illustrated in his own conduct the
precepts which he taught. He remained with the army through the whole
expedition, and by his wise and benevolent counsels was often enabled to
mitigate the cruelties of the Conquerors, and to turn aside the edge of
the sword from the unfortunate natives.

These two missionaries vainly labored to persuade the people of Cozumel
to renounce their abominations, and to allow the Indian idols, in which
the Christians recognized the true lineaments of Satan,[537] to be
thrown down and demolished. The simple natives, filled with horror at
the proposed profanation, exclaimed that these were the gods who sent
them the sunshine and the storm, and, should any violence be offered,
they would be sure to avenge it by sending their lightnings on the heads
of its perpetrators.

Cortés was probably not much of a polemic. At all events, he preferred
on the present occasion action to argument, and thought that the best
way to convince the Indians of their error was to prove the falsehood of
the prediction. He accordingly, without further ceremony, caused the
venerated images to be rolled down the stairs of the great temple,
amidst the groans and lamentations of the natives. An altar was hastily
constructed, an image of the Virgin and Child placed over it, and mass
was performed by Father Olmedo and his reverend companion for the first
time within the walls of a temple in New Spain. The patient ministers
tried once more to pour the light of the gospel into the benighted
understandings of the islanders, and to expound the mysteries of the
Catholic faith. The Indian interpreter must have afforded rather a
dubious channel for the transmission of such abstruse doctrines. But
they at length found favor with their auditors, who, whether overawed by
the bold bearing of the invaders, or convinced of the impotence of
deities that could not shield their own shrines from violation, now
consented to embrace Christianity.[538]

While Cortés was thus occupied with the triumphs of the Cross, he
received intelligence that Ordaz had returned from Yucatan without
tidings of the Spanish captives. Though much chagrined, the general did
not choose to postpone longer his departure from Cozumel. The fleet had
been well stored with provisions by the friendly inhabitants, and,
embarking his troops, Cortés, in the beginning of March, took leave of
its hospitable shores. The squadron had not proceeded far, however,
before a leak in one of the vessels compelled them to return to the same
port. The detention was attended with important consequences; so much
so, indeed, that a writer of the time discerns in it “a great mystery
and a miracle.”[539]

Soon after landing, a canoe with several Indians was seen making its way
from the neighboring shores of Yucatan. On reaching the island, one of
the men inquired, in broken Castilian, “if he were among Christians,”
and, being answered in the affirmative, threw himself on his knees and
returned thanks to Heaven for his delivery. He was one of the
unfortunate captives for whose fate so much interest had been felt. His
name was Gerónimo de Aguilar,[540] a native of Écija, in Old Spain,
where he had been regularly educated for the Church. He had been
established with the colony at Darien, and on a voyage from that place
to Hispaniola, eight years previous, was wrecked near the coast of
Yucatan. He escaped with several of his companions in the ship’s boat,
where some perished from hunger and exposure, while others were
sacrificed, on their reaching land, by the cannibal natives of the
peninsula. Aguilar was preserved from the same dismal fate by escaping
into the interior, where he fell into the hands of a powerful cacique,
who, though he spared his life, treated him at first with great rigor.
The patience of the captive, however, and his singular humility, touched
the better feelings of the chieftain, who would have persuaded Aguilar
to take a wife among his people, but the ecclesiastic steadily refused,
in obedience to his vows. This admirable constancy excited the distrust
of the cacique, who put his virtue to a severe test by various
temptations, and much of the same sort as those with which the devil is
said to have assailed St. Anthony.[541] From all these fiery trials,
however, like his ghostly predecessor, he came out unscorched.
Continence is too rare and difficult a virtue with barbarians, not to
challenge their veneration, and the practice of it has made the
reputation of more than one saint in the Old as well as the New World.
Aguilar was now intrusted with the care of his master’s household and
his numerous wives. He was a man of discretion, as well as virtue; and
his counsels were found so salutary that he was consulted on all
important matters. In short, Aguilar became a great man among the

It was with much regret, therefore, that his master received the
proposals for his return to his countrymen, to which nothing but the
rich treasure of glass beads, hawk-bells, and other jewels of like
value, sent for his ransom, would have induced him to consent. When
Aguilar reached the coast, there had been so much delay that the
brigantines had sailed; and it was owing to the fortunate return of the
fleet to Cozumel that he was enabled to join it.

On appearing before Cortés, the poor man saluted him in the Indian
style, by touching the earth with his hand and carrying it to his head.
The commander, raising him up, affectionately embraced him, covering him
at the same time with his own cloak, as Aguilar was simply clad in the
habiliments of the country, somewhat too scanty for a European eye. It
was long, indeed, before the tastes which he had acquired in the
freedom of the forest could be reconciled to the constraints either of
dress or manners imposed by the artificial forms of civilization.
Aguilar’s long residence in the country had familiarized him with the
Mayan dialects of Yucatan, and, as he gradually revived his Castilian,
he became of essential importance as an interpreter. Cortés saw the
advantage of this from the first, but he could not fully estimate all
the consequences that were to flow from it.[542]

The repairs of the vessels being at length completed, the Spanish
commander once more took leave of the friendly natives of Cozumel, and
set sail on the fourth of March. Keeping as near as possible to the
coast of Yucatan, he doubled Cape Catoche, and with flowing sheets swept
down the broad bay of Campeachy, fringed with the rich dye-woods which
have since furnished so important an article of commerce to Europe. He
passed Potonchan, where Cordova had experienced a rough reception from
the natives; and soon after reached the mouth of the _Rio de Tabasco_,
or _Grijalva_, in which that navigator had carried on so lucrative a
traffic. Though mindful of the great object of his voyage,--the visit to
the Aztec territories,--he was desirous of acquainting himself with the
resources of this country, and determined to ascend the river and visit
the great town on its borders.

The water was so shallow, from the accumulation of sand at the mouth of
the stream, that the general was obliged to leave the ships at anchor
and to embark in the boats with a part only of his forces. The banks
were thickly studded with mangrove-trees, that, with their roots
shooting up and interlacing one another, formed a kind of impervious
screen or net-work, behind which the dark forms of the natives were seen
glancing to and fro with the most menacing looks and gestures. Cortés,
much surprised at these unfriendly demonstrations, so unlike what he had
had reason to expect, moved cautiously up the stream. When he had
reached an open place, where a large number of Indians were assembled,
he asked, through his interpreter, leave to land, explaining at the same
time his amicable intentions. But the Indians, brandishing their
weapons, answered only with gestures of angry defiance. Though much
chagrined, Cortés thought it best not to urge the matter further that
evening, but withdrew to a neighboring island, where he disembarked his
troops, resolved to effect a landing on the following morning.

When day broke, the Spaniards saw the opposite banks lined with a much
more numerous array than on the preceding evening, while the canoes
along the shore were filled with bands of armed warriors. Cortés now
made his preparations for the attack. He first landed a detachment of a
hundred men under Alonso de Avila, at a point somewhat lower down the
stream, sheltered by a thick grove of palms, from which a road, as he
knew, led to the town of Tabasco, giving orders to his officer to march
at once on the place, while he himself advanced to assault it in

Then, embarking the remainder of his troops, Cortés crossed the river in
face of the enemy; but, before commencing hostilities, that he might
“act with entire regard to justice, and in obedience to the instructions
of the Royal Council,”[544] he first caused proclamation to be made,
through the interpreter, that he desired only a free passage for his
men, and that he proposed to revive the friendly relations which had
formerly subsisted between his countrymen and the natives. He assured
them that if blood were spilt the sin would lie on their heads, and that
resistance would be useless, since he was resolved at all hazards to
take up his quarters that night in the town of Tabasco. This
proclamation, delivered in lofty tone, and duly recorded by the notary,
was answered by the Indians--who might possibly have comprehended one
word in ten of it--with shouts of defiance and a shower of arrows.[545]

Cortés, having now complied with all the requisitions of a loyal
cavalier, and shifted the responsibility from his own shoulders to those
of the Royal Council, brought his boats alongside of the Indian canoes.
They grappled fiercely together, and both parties were soon in the
water, which rose above the girdle. The struggle was not long, though
desperate. The superior strength of the Europeans prevailed, and they
forced the enemy back to land. Here, however, they were supported by
their countrymen, who showered down darts, arrows, and blazing billets
of wood on the heads of the invaders. The banks were soft and slippery,
and it was with difficulty the soldiers made good their footing. Cortés
lost a sandal in the mud, but continued to fight barefoot, with great
exposure of his person, as the Indians, who soon singled out the leader,
called to one another, “Strike at the chief!”

At length the Spaniards gained the bank, and were able to come into
something like order, when they opened a brisk fire from their
arquebuses and cross-bows. The enemy, astounded by the roar and flash of
the fire-arms, of which they had had no experience, fell back, and
retreated behind a breast-work of timber thrown across the way. The
Spaniards, hot in the pursuit, soon carried these rude defences, and
drove the Tabascans before them towards the town, where they again took
shelter behind their palisades.

Meanwhile Avila had arrived from the opposite quarter, and the natives,
taken by surprise, made no further attempt at resistance, but abandoned
the place to the Christians. They had previously removed their families
and effects. Some provisions fell into the hands of the victors, but
little gold, “a circumstance,” says Las Casas, “which gave them no
particular satisfaction.”[546] It was a very populous place. The houses
were mostly of mud; the better sort of stone and lime; affording proofs
in the inhabitants of a superior refinement to that found in the
Islands, as their stout resistance had given evidence of superior

Cortés, having thus made himself master of the town, took formal
possession of it for the crown of Castile. He gave three cuts with his
sword on a large _ceiba_-tree which grew in the place, and proclaimed
aloud that he took possession of the city in the name and behalf of the
Catholic sovereigns, and would maintain and defend the same with sword
and buckler against all who should gainsay it. The same vaunting
declaration was also made by the soldiers, and the whole was duly
recorded and attested by the notary. This was the usual simple but
chivalric form with which the Spanish cavaliers asserted the royal title
to the conquered territories in the New World. It was a good title,
doubtless, against the claims of any other European potentate.

The general took up his quarters that night in the court-yard of the
principal temple. He posted his sentinels, and took all the precautions
practised in wars with a civilized foe. Indeed, there was reason for
them. A suspicious silence seemed to reign through the place and its
neighborhood; and tidings were brought that the interpreter, Melchorejo,
had fled, leaving his Spanish dress hanging on a tree. Cortés was
disquieted by the desertion of this man, who would not only inform his
countrymen of the small number of the Spaniards, but dissipate any
illusions that might be entertained of their superior natures.

On the following morning, as no traces of the enemy were visible, Cortés
ordered out a detachment under Alvarado, and another under Francisco de
Lujo, to reconnoitre. The latter officer had not advanced a league,
before he learned the position of the Indians, by their attacking him in
such force that he was fain to take shelter in a large stone building,
where he was closely besieged. Fortunately, the loud yells of the
assailants, like most barbarous nations seeking to strike terror by
their ferocious cries, reached the ears of Alvarado and his men, who,
speedily advancing to the relief of their comrades, enabled them to
force a passage through the enemy. Both parties retreated, closely
pursued, on the town, when Cortés, marching out to their support,
compelled the Tabascans to retire.

A few prisoners were taken in this skirmish. By them Cortés found his
worst apprehensions verified. The country was everywhere in arms. A
force consisting of many thousands had assembled from the neighboring
provinces, and a general assault was resolved on for the next day. To
the general’s inquiries why he had been received in so different a
manner from his predecessor, Grijalva, they answered that “the conduct
of the Tabascans then had given great offence to the other Indian
tribes, who taxed them with treachery and cowardice; so that they had
promised, on any return of the white men, to resist them in the same
manner as their neighbors had done.”[548]

Cortés might now well regret that he had allowed himself to deviate from
the direct object of his enterprise, and to become entangled in a
doubtful war which could lead to no profitable result. But it was too
late to repent. He had taken the step, and had no alternative but to go
forward. To retreat would dishearten his own men at the outset, impair
their confidence in him as their leader, and confirm the arrogance of
his foes, the tidings of whose success might precede him on his voyage
and prepare the way for greater mortifications and defeats. He did not
hesitate as to the course he was to pursue, but, calling his officers
together, announced his intention to give battle the following

He sent back to the vessels such as were disabled by their wounds, and
ordered the remainder of the forces to join the camp. Six of the heavy
guns were also taken from the ships, together with all the horses. The
animals were stiff and torpid from long confinement on board; but a few
hours’ exercise restored them to their strength and usual spirit. He
gave the command of the artillery--if it may be dignified with the
name--to a soldier named Mesa, who had acquired some experience as an
engineer in the Italian wars. The infantry he put under the orders of
Diego de Ordaz, and took charge of the cavalry himself. It consisted of
some of the most valiant gentlemen of his little band, among whom may be
mentioned Alvarado, Velasquez de Leon, Avila, Puertocarrero, Olid,
Montejo. Having thus made all the necessary arrangements, and settled
his plan of battle, he retired to rest,--but not to slumber. His
feverish mind, as may well be imagined, was filled with anxiety for the
morrow, which might decide the fate of his expedition; and, as was his
wont on such occasions, he was frequently observed, during the night,
going the rounds, and visiting the sentinels, to see that no one slept
upon his post.

At the first glimmering of light he mustered his army, and declared his
purpose not to abide, cooped up in the town, the assault of the enemy,
but to march at once against him. For he well knew that the spirits rise
with action, and that the attacking party gathers a confidence from the
very movement, which is not felt by the one who is passively, perhaps
anxiously, awaiting the assault. The Indians were understood to be
encamped on a level ground a few miles distant from the city, called the
plain of Ceutla. The general commanded that Ordaz should march with the
foot, including the artillery, directly across the country, and attack
them in front, while he himself would fetch a circuit with the horse,
and turn their flank when thus engaged, or fall upon their rear.

These dispositions being completed, the little army heard mass and then
sallied forth from the wooden walls of Tabasco. It was Lady-day, the
twenty-fifth of March,--long memorable in the annals of New Spain. The
district around the town was checkered with patches of maize, and, on
the lower level, with plantations of cacao,--supplying the beverage, and
perhaps the coin, of the country, as in Mexico. These plantations,
requiring constant irrigation, were fed by numerous canals and
reservoirs of water, so that the country could not be traversed without
great toil and difficulty. It was, however, intersected by a narrow path
or causeway over which the cannon could be dragged.

The troops advanced more than a league on their laborious march, without
descrying the enemy. The weather was sultry, but few of them were
embarrassed by the heavy mail worn by the European cavaliers at that
period. Their cotton jackets, thickly quilted, afforded a tolerable
protection against the arrows of the Indians, and allowed room for the
freedom and activity of movement essential to a life of rambling
adventure in the wilderness.

At length they came in sight of the broad plains of Ceutla, and beheld
the dusky lines of the enemy stretching, as far as the eye could reach,
along the edge of the horizon. The Indians had shown some sagacity in
the choice of their position; and, as the weary Spaniards came slowly
on, floundering through the morass, the Tabascans set up their hideous
battle-cries, and discharged volleys of arrows, stones, and other
missiles, which rattled like hail on the shields and helmets of the
assailants. Many were severely wounded before they could gain the firm
ground, where they soon cleared a space for themselves, and opened a
heavy fire of artillery and musketry on the dense columns of the enemy,
which presented a fatal mark for the balls. Numbers were swept down at
every discharge; but the bold barbarians, far from being dismayed, threw
up dust and leaves to hide their losses, and, sounding their
war-instruments, shot off fresh flights of arrows in return.

They even pressed closer on the Spaniards, and, when driven off by a
vigorous charge, soon turned again, and, rolling back like the waves of
the ocean, seemed ready to overwhelm the little band by weight of
numbers. Thus cramped, the latter had scarcely room to perform their
necessary evolutions, or even to work their guns with effect.[550]

The engagement had now lasted more than an hour, and the Spaniards,
sorely pressed, looked with great anxiety for the arrival of the
horse--which some unaccountable impediments must have detained--to
relieve them from their perilous position. At this crisis, the farthest
columns of the Indian army were seen to be agitated and thrown into a
disorder that rapidly spread through the whole mass. It was not long
before the ears of the Christians were saluted with the cheering warcry
of “San Jago and San Pedro!” and they beheld the bright helmets and
swords of the Castilian chivalry flashing back the rays of the morning
sun, as they dashed through the ranks of the enemy, striking to the
right and left, and scattering dismay around them. The eye of faith,
indeed, could discern the patron Saint of Spain, himself, mounted on his
gray war-horse, heading the rescue and trampling over the bodies of the
fallen infidels![551]

The approach of Cortés had been greatly retarded by the broken nature of
the ground. When he came up, the Indians were so hotly engaged that he
was upon them before they observed his approach. He ordered his men to
direct their lances at the faces of their opponents,[552] who,
terrified at the monstrous apparition,--for they supposed the rider and
the horse, which they had never before seen, to be one and the
same,[553]--were seized with a panic. Ordaz availed himself of it to
command a general charge along the line, and the Indians, many of them
throwing away their arms, fled without attempting further resistance.

Cortés was too content with the victory to care to follow it up by
dipping his sword in the blood of the fugitives. He drew off his men to
a copse of palms which skirted the place, and under their broad canopy
the soldiers offered up thanksgivings to the Almighty for the victory
vouchsafed them. The field of battle was made the site of a town,
called, in honor of the day on which the action took place, _Santa María
de la Victoria_, long afterwards the capital of the province.[554] The
number of those who fought or fell in the engagement is altogether
doubtful. Nothing, indeed, is more uncertain than numerical estimates of
barbarians. And they gain nothing in probability when they come, as in
the present instance, from the reports of their enemies. Most accounts,
however, agree that the Indian force consisted of five squadrons of
eight thousand men each. There is more discrepancy as to the number of
slain, varying from one to thirty thousand! In this monstrous
discordance the common disposition to exaggerate may lead us to look for
truth in the neighborhood of the smallest number. The loss of the
Christians was inconsiderable; not exceeding--if we receive their own
reports, probably, from the same causes, much diminishing the truth--two
killed and less than a hundred wounded! We may readily comprehend the
feelings of the Conquerors, when they declared that “Heaven must have
fought on their side, since their own strength could never have
prevailed against such a multitude of enemies!”[555]

Several prisoners were taken in the battle, among them two chiefs.
Cortés gave them their liberty, and sent a message by them to their
countrymen “that he would overlook the past, if they would come in at
once and tender their submission. Otherwise he would ride over the land,
and put every living thing in it, man, woman, and child, to the sword!”
With this formidable menace ringing in their ears, the envoys departed.

But the Tabascans had no relish for further hostilities. A body of
inferior chiefs appeared the next day, clad in dark dresses of cotton,
intimating their abject condition, and implored leave to bury their
dead. It was granted by the general, with many assurances of his
friendly disposition; but at the same time he told them he expected
their principal caciques, as he would treat with none other. These soon
presented themselves, attended by a numerous train of vassals, who
followed with timid curiosity to the Christian camp. Among their
propitiatory gifts were twenty female slaves, which, from the character
of one of them, proved of infinitely more consequence than was
anticipated by either Spaniards or Tabascans. Confidence was soon
restored, and was succeeded by a friendly intercourse, and the
interchange of Spanish toys for the rude commodities of the country,
articles of food, cotton, and a few gold ornaments of little value. When
asked where the precious metal was procured, they pointed to the west,
and answered, “Culhua,” “Mexico.” The Spaniards saw this was no place
for them to traffic, or to tarry in. Yet here, they were not many
leagues distant from a potent and opulent city, or what once had been
so, the ancient Palenque. But its glory may have even then passed away,
and its name have been forgotten by the surrounding nations.

Before his departure the Spanish commander did not omit to provide for
one great object of his expedition, the conversion of the Indians. He
first represented to the caciques that he had been sent thither by a
powerful monarch on the other side of the water, for whom he had now a
right to claim their allegiance. He then caused the reverend fathers
Olmedo and Diaz to enlighten their minds, as far as possible, in regard
to the great truths of revelation, urging them to receive these in
place of their own heathenish abominations. The Tabascans, whose
perceptions were no doubt materially quickened by the discipline they
had undergone, made but a faint resistance to either proposal. The next
day was Palm Sunday, and the general resolved to celebrate their
conversion by one of those pompous ceremonials of the Church, which
should make a lasting impression on their minds.

A solemn procession was formed of the whole army, with the ecclesiastics
at their head, each soldier bearing a palm-branch in his hand. The
concourse was swelled by thousands of Indians of both sexes, who
followed in curious astonishment at the spectacle. The long files bent
their way through the flowery savannas that bordered the settlement, to
the principal temple, where an altar was raised, and the image of the
presiding deity was deposed to make room for that of the Virgin with the
infant Saviour. Mass was celebrated by Father Olmedo, and the soldiers
who were capable joined in the solemn chant. The natives listened in
profound silence, and, if we may believe the chronicler of the event who
witnessed it, were melted into tears; while their hearts were penetrated
with reverential awe for the God of those terrible beings who seemed to
wield in their own hands the thunder and the lightning.[556]

The Roman Catholic communion has, it must be admitted, some decided
advantages over the Protestant, for the purposes of proselytism. The
dazzling pomp of its service and its touching appeal to the
sensibilities affect the imagination of the rude child of nature much
more powerfully than the cold abstractions of Protestantism, which,
addressed to the reason, demand a degree of refinement and mental
culture in the audience to comprehend them. The respect, moreover, shown
by the Catholic for the material representations of Divinity, greatly
facilitates the same object. It is true, such representations are used
by him only as incentives, not as the objects of worship. But this
distinction is lost on the savage, who finds such forms of adoration too
analogous to his own to impose any great violence on his feelings. It is
only required of him to transfer his homage from the image of
Quetzalcoatl, the benevolent deity who walked among men, to that of the
Virgin or the Redeemer; from the Cross, which he has worshipped as the
emblem of the god of rain, to the same Cross, the symbol of salvation.

These solemnities concluded, Cortés prepared to return to his ships,
well satisfied with the impression made on the new converts, and with
the conquests he had thus achieved for Castile and Christianity. The
soldiers, taking leave of their Indian friends, entered the boats with
the palm-branches in their hands, and, descending the river, re-embarked
on board their vessels, which rode at anchor at its mouth. A favorable
breeze was blowing, and the little navy, opening its sails to receive
it, was soon on its way again to the golden shores of Mexico.




The fleet held its course so near the shore that the inhabitants could
be seen on it; and, as it swept along the winding borders of the Gulf,
the soldiers, who had been on the former expedition with Grijalva,
pointed out to their companions the memorable places on the coast. Here
was the _Rio de Alvarado_, named after the gallant adventurer, who was
present also in this expedition; there the _Rio de Vanderas_, in which
Grijalva had carried on so lucrative a commerce with the Mexicans; and
there the _Isla de los Sacrificios_, where the Spaniards first saw the
vestiges of human sacrifice on the coast. Puertocarrero, as he listened
to these reminiscences of the sailors, repeated the words of the old
ballad of Montesinos, “Here is France, there is Paris, and there the
waters of the Duero,”[557] etc. “But I advise you,” he added, turning
to Cortés, “to look out only for the rich lands, and the best way to
govern them.” “Fear not,” replied his commander: “if Fortune but favors
me as she did Orlando, and I have such gallant gentlemen as you for my
companions, I shall understand myself very well.”[558]

The fleet had now arrived off San Juan de Ulua, the island so named by
Grijalva. The weather was temperate and serene, and crowds of natives
were gathered on the shore of the main land, gazing at the strange
phenomenon, as the vessels glided along under easy sail on the smooth
bosom of the waters. It was the evening of Thursday in Passion Week. The
air came pleasantly off the shore, and Cortés, liking the spot, thought
he might safely anchor under the lee of the island, which would shelter
him from the _nortes_ that sweep over these seas with fatal violence in
the winter, sometimes even late in the spring.

The ships had not been long at anchor, when a light pirogue, filled with
natives, shot off from the neighboring continent, and steered for the
general’s vessel, distinguished by the royal ensign of Castile floating
from the mast. The Indians came on board with a frank confidence,
inspired by the accounts of the Spaniards spread by their countrymen who
had traded with Grijalva. They brought presents of fruits and flowers
and little ornaments of gold, which they gladly exchanged for the usual
trinkets. Cortés was baffled in his attempts to hold a conversation with
his visitors by means of the interpreter, Aguilar, who was ignorant of
the language; the Mayan dialects, with which he was conversant, bearing
too little resemblance to the Aztec. The natives supplied the
deficiency, as far as possible, by the uncommon vivacity and
significance of their gestures,--the hieroglyphics of speech; but the
Spanish commander saw with chagrin the embarrassments he must encounter
in future for want of a more perfect medium of communication.[559] In
this dilemma, he was informed that one of the female slaves given to him
by the Tabascan chiefs was a native Mexican, and understood the
language. Her name--that given to her by the Spaniards--was Marina; and,
as she was to exercise a most important influence on their fortunes, it
is necessary to acquaint the reader with something of her character and

She was born at Painalla, in the province of Coatzacualco, on the
southeastern borders of the Mexican empire. Her father, a rich and
powerful cacique, died when she was very young. Her mother married
again, and, having a son, she conceived the infamous idea of securing to
this offspring of her second union Marina’s rightful inheritance. She
accordingly feigned that the latter was dead, but secretly delivered her
into the hands of some itinerant traders of Xicallanco. She availed
herself, at the same time, of the death of a child of one of her slaves,
to substitute the corpse for that of her own daughter, and celebrated
the obsequies with mock solemnity. These particulars are related by the
honest old soldier Bernal Diaz, who knew the mother, and witnessed the
generous treatment of her afterwards by Marina. By the merchants the
Indian maiden was again sold to the cacique of Tabasco, who delivered
her, as we have seen, to the Spaniards.

From the place of her birth, she was well acquainted with the Mexican
tongue, which, indeed, she is said to have spoken with great elegance.
Her residence in Tabasco familiarized her with the dialects of that
country, so that she could carry on a conversation with Aguilar, which
he in turn rendered into the Castilian. Thus a certain though somewhat
circuitous channel was opened to Cortés for communicating with the
Aztecs; a circumstance of the last importance to the success of his
enterprise. It was not very long, however, before Marina, who had a
lively genius, made herself so far mistress of the Castilian as to
supersede the necessity of any other linguist. She learned it the more
readily, as it was to her the language of love.

Cortés, who appreciated the value of her services from the first, made
her his interpreter, then his secretary, and, won by her charms, his
mistress. She had a son by him, Don Martin Cortés, _comendador_ of the
Military Order of St. James, less distinguished by his birth than his
unmerited persecutions.

Marina was at this time in the morning of life. She is said to have
possessed uncommon personal attractions,[560] and her open, expressive
features indicated her generous temper. She always remained faithful to
the countrymen of her adoption; and her knowledge of the language and
customs of the Mexicans, and often of their designs, enabled her to
extricate the Spaniards, more than once, from the most embarrassing and
perilous situations. She had her errors, as we have seen. But they
should be rather charged to the defects of early education, and to the
evil influence of him to whom in the darkness of her spirit she looked
with simple confidence for the light to guide her. All agree that she
was full of excellent qualities, and the important services which she
rendered the Spaniards have made her memory deservedly dear to them;
while the name of Malinche[561]--the name by which she is still known in
Mexico--was pronounced with kindness by the conquered races, with whose
misfortunes she showed an invariable sympathy.[562]

With the aid of his two intelligent interpreters, Cortés entered into
conversation with his Indian visitors. He learned that they were
Mexicans, or rather subjects of the great Mexican empire, of which their
own province formed one of the comparatively recent conquests. The
country was ruled by a powerful monarch, called Moctheuzoma, or by
Europeans more commonly Montezuma,[563] who dwelt on the mountain plains
of the interior, nearly seventy leagues from the coast; their own
province was governed by one of his nobles, named Teuhtlile, whose
residence was eight leagues distant. Cortés acquainted them in turn with
his own friendly views in visiting their country, and with his desire of
an interview with the Aztec governor. He then dismissed them loaded with
presents, having first ascertained that there was abundance of gold in
the interior, like the specimens they had brought.

Cortés, pleased with the manners of the people and the goodly reports of
the land, resolved to take up his quarters here for the present. The
next morning, April twenty-first, being Good Friday, he landed, with all
his force, on the very spot where now stands the modern city of Vera
Cruz. Little did the Conqueror imagine that the desolate beach on which
he first planted his foot was one day to be covered by a flourishing
city, the great mart of European and Oriental trade, the commercial
capital of New Spain.[564]

It was a wide and level plain, except where the sand had been drifted
into hillocks by the perpetual blowing of the _norte_. On these
sand-hills he mounted his little battery of guns, so as to give him the
command of the country. He then employed the troops in cutting down
small trees and bushes which grew near, in order to provide a shelter
from the weather. In this he was aided by the people of the country,
sent, as it appeared, by the governor of the district to assist the
Spaniards. With their help stakes were firmly set in the earth, and
covered with boughs, and with mats and cotton carpets, which the
friendly natives brought with them. In this way they secured, in a
couple of days, a good defence against the scorching rays of the sun,
which beat with intolerable fierceness on the sands. The place was
surrounded by stagnant marshes, the exhalations from which, quickened
by the heat into the pestilent malaria, have occasioned in later times
wider mortality to Europeans than all the hurricanes on the coast. The
bilious disorders, now the terrible scourge of the _tierra caliente_,
were little known before the Conquest. The seeds of the poison seem to
have been scattered by the hand of civilization; for it is only
necessary to settle a town, and draw together a busy European
population, in order to call out the malignity of the venom which had
before lurked innoxious in the atmosphere.[565]

While these arrangements were in progress, the natives flocked in from
the adjacent district, which was tolerably populous in the interior,
drawn by a natural curiosity to see the wonderful strangers. They
brought with them fruits, vegetables, flowers in abundance, game, and
many dishes cooked after the fashion of the country, with little
articles of gold and other ornaments. They gave away some as presents,
and bartered others for the wares of the Spaniards; so that the camp,
crowded with a motley throng of every age and sex, wore the appearance
of a fair. From some of the visitors Cortés learned the intention of the
governor to wait on him the following day.

This was Easter. Teuhtlile arrived, as he had announced, before noon. He
was attended by a numerous train, and was met by Cortés, who conducted
him with much ceremony to his tent, where his principal officers were
assembled. The Aztec chief returned their salutations with polite though
formal courtesy. Mass was first said by Father Olmedo, and the service
was listened to by Teuhtlile and his attendants with decent reverence. A
collation was afterwards served, at which the general entertained his
guest with Spanish wines and confections. The interpreters were then
introduced, and a conversation commenced between the parties.

The first inquiries of Teuhtlile were respecting the country of the
strangers and the purport of their visit. Cortés told him that “he was
the subject of a potent monarch beyond the seas, who ruled over an
immense empire, and had kings and princes for his vassals; that,
acquainted with the greatness of the Mexican emperor, his master had
desired to enter into a communication with him, and had sent him as his
envoy to wait on Montezuma with a present in token of his good will, and
a message which he must deliver in person.” He concluded by inquiring of
Teuhtlile when he could be admitted to his sovereign’s presence.

To this the Aztec noble somewhat haughtily replied, “How is it that you
have been here only two days, and demand to see the emperor?” He then
added, with more courtesy, that “he was surprised to learn there was
another monarch as powerful as Montezuma, but that, if it were so, he
had no doubt his master would be happy to communicate with him. He would
send his couriers with the royal gift brought by the Spanish commander,
and, so soon as he had learned Montezuma’s will, would communicate it.”

Teuhtlile then commanded his slaves to bring forward the present
intended for the Spanish general. It consisted of ten loads of fine
cottons, several mantles of that curious feather-work whose rich and
delicate dyes might vie with the most beautiful painting, and a wicker
basket filled with ornaments of wrought gold, all calculated to inspire
the Spaniards with high ideas of the wealth and mechanical ingenuity of
the Mexicans.

Cortés received these presents with suitable acknowledgments, and
ordered his own attendants to lay before the chief the articles designed
for Montezuma. These were an arm-chair richly carved and painted, a
crimson cap of cloth, having a gold medal emblazoned with St. George and
the dragon, and a quantity of collars, bracelets, and other ornaments of
cut glass, which, in a country where glass was not to be had, might
claim to have the value of real gems, and no doubt passed for such with
the inexperienced Mexican. Teuhtlile observed a soldier in the camp with
a shining gilt helmet on his head, which he said reminded him of one
worn by the god Quetzalcoatl in Mexico; and he showed a desire that
Montezuma should see it. The coming of the Spaniards, as the reader
will soon see, was associated with some traditions of this same deity.
Cortés expressed his willingness that the casque should be sent to the
emperor, intimating a hope that it would be returned filled with the
gold dust of the country, that he might be able to compare its quality
with that in his own! He further told the governor, as we are informed
by his chaplain, “that the Spaniards were troubled with a disease of the
heart, for which gold was a specific remedy”![566] “In short,” says Las
Casas, “he contrived to make his want of gold very clear to the

While these things were passing, Cortés observed one of Teuhtlile’s
attendants busy with a pencil, apparently delineating some object. On
looking at his work, he found that it was a sketch on canvas of the
Spaniards, their costumes, arms, and, in short, different objects of
interest, giving to each its appropriate form and color. This was the
celebrated picture-writing of the Aztecs, and, as Teuhtlile informed
him, this man was employed in portraying the various objects for the eye
of Montezuma, who would thus gather a more vivid notion of their
appearance than from any description by words. Cortés was pleased with
the idea; and, as he knew how much the effect would be heightened by
converting still life into action, he ordered out the cavalry on the
beach, the wet sands of which afforded a firm footing for the horses.
The bold and rapid movements of the troops, as they went through their
military exercises; the apparent ease with which they managed the fiery
animals on which they were mounted; the glancing of their weapons, and
the shrill cry of the trumpet, all filled the spectators with
astonishment; but when they heard the thunders of the cannon, which
Cortés ordered to be fired at the same time, and witnessed the volumes
of smoke and flame issuing from these terrible engines, and the rushing
sound of the balls, as they dashed through the trees of the neighboring
forest, shivering their branches into fragments, they were filled with
consternation, from which the Aztec chief himself was not wholly free.

Nothing of all this was lost on the painters, who faithfully recorded,
after their fashion, every particular; not omitting the ships,--“the
water-houses,” as they called them, of the strangers,--which, with their
dark hulls and snow-white sails reflected from the water, were swinging
lazily at anchor on the calm bosom of the bay. All was depicted with a
fidelity that excited in their turn the admiration of the Spaniards,
who, doubtless, unprepared for this exhibition of skill, greatly
overestimated the merits of the execution.[568]

These various matters completed, Teuhtlile with his attendants withdrew
from the Spanish quarters, with the same ceremony with which he had
entered them; leaving orders that his people should supply the troops
with provisions and other articles requisite for their accommodation,
till further instructions from the capital.[569]


[1] Lewis H. Morgan, Houses and House-Life of the American Aborigines,
p. 222.

[2] See vol. i. chap, iv., and, for Ximenes, Prescott’s
“Ferdinand and Isabella,” part ii. chap. vi.

[3] In this edition placed immediately after the Introduction.

[4] Extensive indeed, if we may trust Archbishop Lorenzana, who tells
us, “It is doubtful if the country of new Spain does not border on
Tartary and Greenland;--by the way of California, on the former, and by
New Mexico, on the latter”! Historia de Nueva-España (México, 1770), p.
38, nota.{*}

{*}[The limits fixed by historical writers to the territories of the
Aztec Confederacy vary startlingly. Prescott’s estimate is too large.
Lewis H. Morgan (Houses and House Life of the American Aborigines,
p. 223) considers its land area to have been about that of Rhode
Island--the smallest State in the American Union--_i.e._, about 1250
square miles. Medio tutissimus ibis. The term Empire is misleading.
The states of Querétaro, Guanajuato, Michoacán, Guerrero, and much of
La Puebla, in modern Mexico, almost surround the so-called Empire of
Montezuma. Possibly the tributary pueblos may have covered an area
equal to that of the State of Massachusetts.--M.]

[5] I have conformed to the limits fixed by Clavigero. He has,
probably, examined the subject with more thoroughness and fidelity
than most of his countrymen, who differ from him, and who assign
a more liberal extent to the monarchy. (See his Storia antica del
Messico (Cesena, 1780), dissert. 7.) The abbé, however, has not
informed his readers on what frail foundations his conclusions rest.
The extent of the Aztec empire is to be gathered from the writings
of historians since the arrival of the Spaniards, and from the
picture-rolls of tribute paid by the conquered cities; both sources
extremely vague and defective. See the MSS. of the Mendoza collection,
in Lord Kingsborough’s magnificent publication (Antiquities of Mexico,
comprising Facsimiles of Ancient Paintings and Hieroglyphics, together
with the Monuments of New Spain. London, 1830). The difficulty of the
inquiry is much increased by the fact of the conquests having been
made, as will be seen hereafter, by the united arms of three powers,
so that it is not always easy to tell to which party they eventually
belonged. The affair is involved in so much uncertainty that Clavigero,
notwithstanding the positive assertions in his text, has not ventured,
in his map, to define the precise limits of the empire, either towards
the north, where it mingles with the Tezcucan empire, or towards the
south, where, indeed, he has fallen into the egregious blunder of
asserting that, while the Mexican territory reached to the fourteenth
degree, it did not include any portion of Guatemala. (See tom. i. p.
29, and tom. iv. dissert. 7.) The Tezcucan chronicler Ixtlilxochitl
puts in a sturdy claim for the paramount empire of his own nation.
Historia Chichimeca, MS., cap. 39, 53, et alibi.

[6] Eighteen to twenty thousand, according to Humboldt, who considers
the Mexican territory to have been the same with that occupied by
the modern intendancies of Mexico, Puebla, Vera Cruz, Oaxaca, and
Valladolid. (Essai politique sur le Royaume de Nouvelle-Espagne
(Paris, 1825), tom. i. p. 196.) This last, however, was all, or nearly
all, included in the rival kingdom of Michoacán, as he himself more
correctly states in another part of his work. Comp. tom. ii. p. 164.

[7] [Immediate decay follows death. All traces of a buried corpse
vanish in three or four years.--M.]

[8] The traveller who enters the country across the dreary sand-hills
of Vera Cruz will hardly recognize the truth of the above description.
He must look for it in other parts of the _tierra caliente_. Of recent
tourists, no one has given a more gorgeous picture of the impressions
made on his senses by these sunny regions than Latrobe, who came on
shore at Tampico (Rambler in Mexico (New York, 1836), chap. 1),--a
traveller, it may be added, whose descriptions of man and nature in our
own country, where we can judge, are distinguished by a sobriety and
fairness that entitle him to confidence in his delineation of other

[9] This long extent of country varies in elevation from 5570 to 8856
feet,--equal to the height of the passes of Mount Cenis or the Great
St. Bernard. The table-land stretches still three hundred leagues
farther, before it declines to a level of 2624 feet. Humboldt, Essai
politique, tom. i. pp. 157, 255.{*}

{*}[“The Continental range of Humboldt does not exist. The Andean
system ends in northern Colombia. The Rocky Mountain system ends in the
plateau south of the City of Mexico. The system between lies across
the trend of the other two systems and differs from them in origin. It
belongs to the same chain which crops up in the Antilles, i.e., to the
system appearing in Martinique and Santa Lucia.”--Robert T. Hill, of U.
S. Geological Survey, in Century Magazine, July, 1902.--M.]

[10] About 62° Fahrenheit, or 17° Réaumur. (Humboldt, Essai politique,
tom. i. p. 273.) The more elevated plateaus of the table-land, as the
Valley of Toluca, about 8500 feet above the sea, have a stern climate,
in which the thermometer, during a great part of the day, rarely rises
beyond 45° F. Idem (loc. cit.), and Malte-Brun (Universal Geography,
Eng. trans., book 83), who is, indeed, in this part of his work, but an
echo of the former writer.

[11] The elevation of the Castiles, according to the authority
repeatedly cited, is about 350 toises, or 2100 feet above the ocean.
(Humboldt’s Dissertation, apud Laborde, Itinéraire descriptif de
l’Espagne (Paris, 1827), tom. i. p. 5.) It is rare to find plains in
Europe of so great a height.

[12] Archbishop Lorenzana estimates the circuit of the Valley at ninety
leagues, correcting at the same time the statement of Cortés, which
puts it at seventy, very near the truth, as appears from the result of
M. de Humboldt’s measurement, cited in the text. Its length is about
eighteen leagues, by twelve and a half in breadth. (Humboldt, Essai
politique, tom. ii. p. 29.--Lorenzana, Hist. de Nueva-España, p. 101.)
Humboldt’s map of the Valley of Mexico forms the third in his “Atlas
géographique et physique,” and, like all the others in the collection,
will be found of inestimable value to the traveller, the geologist, and
the historian.

[13] Humboldt, Essai politique, tom. ii. pp. 29, 44-49.--Malte-Brun,
book 85. This latter geographer assigns only 6700 feet for the level of
the Valley, contradicting himself (comp. book 83), or rather Humboldt,
to whose pages he helps himself _plenis manibus_, somewhat too
liberally, indeed, for the scanty references at the bottom of his page.

[14] Torquemada accounts in part for this diminution by supposing
that, as God permitted the waters, which once covered the whole earth,
to subside after mankind had been nearly exterminated for their
iniquities, so he allowed the waters of the Mexican lake to subside,
in token of good will and reconciliation, after the idolatrous races
of the land had been destroyed by the Spaniards! (Monarchía Indiana
(Madrid, 1723), tom. i. p. 309.) Quite as probable, if not as orthodox,
an explanation, may be found in the active evaporation of these upper
regions, and in the fact of an immense drain having been constructed,
during the lifetime of the good father, to reduce the waters of the
principal lake and protect the capital from inundation.

[15] [It is perhaps to be regretted that, instead of a meagre notice
of the Toltecs with a passing allusion to earlier races, the author
did not give a separate chapter to the history of the country during
the ages preceding the Conquest. That history, it is true, resting
on tradition or on questionable records mingled with legendary and
mythological relations, is full of obscurity and doubt. But whatever
its uncertainty in regard to details, it presents a mass of general
facts supported by analogy and by the stronger evidence of language
and of the existing relics of the past. The number and diversity of
the architectural and other remains found on the soil of Mexico and
the adjacent regions, and the immense variety of the spoken languages,
with the vestiges of others that have passed out of use,--all perhaps
derived originally from a common stock, but exhibiting different stages
of development or decay, and capable of being classified into several
distinct families,--point to conclusions that render the subject
one of the most attractive fields for critical investigation. These
concurrent testimonies leave no doubt that, like portions of the Old
World similarly favored in regard to climate, soil, and situation, the
central regions of America were occupied from a very remote period
by nations which made distinct advances in civilization, and passed
through a cycle of revolutions comparable to that of which the Valley
of the Euphrates and other parts of Asia were anciently the scene. The
useful arts were known and practised, wealth was accumulated, social
systems exhibiting a certain refinement and a peculiar complexity were
organized, states were established which flourished, decayed,--either
from the effects of isolation or an inherent incapacity for
continuance,--and were finally overthrown by invaders, by whom the
experiment was repeated, though not always with equal success. Some of
these nations passed away, leaving no trace but their names; others,
whose very names are unknown, left mysterious monuments imbedded in
the soil or records that are undecipherable. Of those that still
remain, comprising about a dozen distinct races speaking a hundred
and twenty different dialects, we have the traditions preserved
either in their own records or in those of the Spanish discoverers.
The task of constructing out of these materials a history shorn of
the adornments of mythology and fable has been attempted by the Abbé
Brasseur de Bourbourg (Histoire des Nations civilisées du Mexique et de
l’Amérique-Centrale, durant les Siècles antérieurs à Christophe Colomb,
4 vols., Paris, 1857-59), and, whatever may be thought of the method
he has pursued, his research is unquestionable, and his views--very
different from those which he has since put forth--merit attention. A
more practical effort has been made by Don Manuel Orozco y Berra to
trace the order, diffusion, and relations of the various races by the
differences, the intermixtures, and the geographical limits of their
languages. (Geografía de las Lenguas y Carta etnográfica de México,
precedidas de un Ensayo de Clasificacion de las mismas Lenguas y de
Apuntes para las Inmigraciones de las Tribus, México, 1864.)--K.]

[16] [The uncertainty is not diminished by our being told that Tollan,
Tullan, Tulan, or Tula (called also Tlapallan and Huehuetlapallan)
was the original seat of this people, since we are still left in
doubt whether the country so designated--like Aztlan, the supposed
point of departure of the Aztecs--is to be located in New Mexico,
California, the northwestern extremity of America, or in Asia. M.
Brasseur de Bourbourg (whose later speculations, in which the name
plays a conspicuous part, will be noticed more appropriately in the
Appendix) found in the Quiché manuscripts mention of four Tollans, one
of them “in the east, on the other side of the sea.” “But,” he adds,
“in what part of the world is it to be placed? _C’est là encore une
question bien difficile à résoudre._” (Hist. des Nations civilisées
du Mexique, tom. i. pp. 167, 168.) Nor will the etymology much help
us. According to Buschmann, _Tollan_ is derived from _tolin_, reed,
and signifies “place of reeds,”--“Ort der Binsen, Platz mit Binsen
gewachsen, _juncetum_.” (Über die aztekischen Ortsnamen, S. 682.) He
refers, however, to a different derivation, suggested by a writer who
has made it the basis of one of those extraordinary theories which
are propounded from time to time, to account for the first diffusion
of the human race, and more particularly for the original settlement
of America. According to this theory, the cradle of mankind was the
Himalayan Mountains. “But the collective name of these lofty regions
was very anciently designated by appellations the roots of which
were _Tal_, _Tol_, _Tul_, meaning tall, high, ... as it does yet in
many languages, the English, Chinese, and Arabic for instance. Such
were _Tolo_, _Thala_, _Talaha_, _Tulan_, etc., in the old Sanscrit
and primitive languages of Asia. Whence came the Asiatic _Atlas_ and
also the _Atlantes_ of the Greeks, who, spreading through the world
westerly, gave these names to many other places and notions.... The
Talas or Atlantes occupied or conquered Europe and Africa, nay, went
to America in very early times.... In Greece they became _Atalantes_,
_Talautians_ of Epirus, _Aetolians_.... They gave name to Italy,
_Aitala_ meaning land eminent, ... to the Atlantic Ocean, and to
the great Atlantis, or America, called in the Hindu books _Atala_
or _Tala-tolo_, the fourth world, where dwelt giants or powerful
men.... America is also filled with their names and deeds from Mexico
and Carolina to Peru: the _Tol-tecas_, people of Tol, and Aztlan,
_Otolum_ near Palenque, many towns of _Tula_ and _Tolu_; the _Talas_
of Michuacan, the _Matalans_, _Atalans_, _Tulukis_, etc., of North
America.” (C. S. Rafinesque, Atlantic Journal, Philadelphia, 1832-33.)
It need hardly be added that Tula has also been identified with
the equally unknown and long-sought-for _ultima_ _Thule_, with the
simplifying effect of bringing two streams of inquiry into one channel.
Meanwhile, by a different kind of criticism, the whole question
is dissipated into thin air, _Tollan_ and _Aztlan_ being resolved
into names of mere mythical import, and the regions thus designated
transferred from the earth to the bright domain of the sky, from which
the descriptions in the legends appear to have been borrowed. See
Brinton, Myths of the New World, pp. 88, 89.--K.]

[17] Anahuac, according to Humboldt, comprehended only the country
between the fourteenth and twenty-first degrees of north latiude.
(Essai politique, tom. i. p. 197.) According to Clavigero, it included
nearly all since known as New Spain. (Stor. del Messico, tom. i. p.
27.) Veytia uses it, also, as synonymous with New Spain. (Historia
antigua de Méjico (Méjico, 1836), tom. i. cap. 12.) The first of these
writers probably allows too little, as the latter do too much, for
its boundaries. Ixtlilxochitl says it extended four hundred leagues
south of the Otomi country. (Hist. Chichimeca, MS., cap. 73.) The word
Anahuac signifies _near the water_. It was, probably, first applied
to the country around the lakes in the Mexican Valley, and gradually
extended to the remoter regions occupied by the Aztecs and the other
semi-civilized races. Or possibly the name may have been intended, as
Veytia suggests (Hist. antig., lib. 1, cap. 1), to denote the land
between the waters of the Atlantic and Pacific.{*}

{*} [This suggestion of Veytia is unworthy of attention,--refuted by
the actual application and appropriateness of the name, and by the
state of geographical knowledge and ideas at the period when it must
have originated. A modern traveller, describing the appearance of the
great plains as seen from the summit of Popocatepetl, remarks, “Even
now that the lakes have shrunk to a fraction of their former size, we
could see the fitness of the name given in old times to the Valley of
Mexico, _Anahuac_, that is, By the water-side.” Tylor, Anahuac; or
Mexico and the Mexicans, Ancient and Modern (London, 1861), p. 270.--K.]

[18] Clavigero talks of Boturini’s having written “on the faith of
the Toltec historians.” (Stor. del Messico, tom. i. p. 128.) But that
scholar does not pretend to have ever met with a Toltec manuscript
himself, and had heard of only one in the possession of Ixtlilxochitl.
(See his Idea de una nueva Historia general de la América Septentrional
(Madrid, 1746), p. 110.) The latter writer tells us that his account
of the Toltec and Chichimec races was “derived from interpretation”
(probably of the Tezcucan paintings), “and from the traditions of old
men;” poor authority for events which had passed centuries before.
Indeed, he acknowledges that their narratives were so full of absurdity
and falsehood that he was obliged to reject nine-tenths of them. (See
his Relaciones, MS., no. 5.) The cause of truth would not have suffered
much, probably, if he had rejected nine-tenths of the remainder.{*}

{*} [Ixtlilxochitl’s language does not necessarily imply that he
considered any of the relations he had received as false or absurd,
nor does he say that he had rejected nine-tenths of them. What he has
written is, he asserts, “the true history of the Toltecs,” though it
does not amount to nine-tenths of the whole (“de lo que ello fué”),
_i.e._, of what had been contained in the original records; these
records having perished, and he himself having abridged the accounts
he had been able to obtain of their contents, as well for the sake of
brevity as because of the marvellous character of the relations (“son
tan estrañas las cosas y tan peregrinas y nunca oidas”). The sources of
his information are also incorrectly described; but a further mention
of them will be found in a note at the end of this Book.--K.]

[19] Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 2.--Idem, Relaciones, MS.,
no. 2.--Sahagun, Historia general de las Cosas de Nueva-España (México,
1829), lib. 10, cap. 29.--Veytia, Hist. antig., lib. 1, cap. 27.

[20] Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva-España, lib. 10, cap. 29.

[21] Sahagun, ubi supra.--Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 1, cap. 14.

[22] Description de l’Égypte (Paris, 1890), Antiquités, tom. i. cap.
1. Veytia has traced the migrations of the Toltecs with sufficient
industry, scarcely rewarded by the necessarily doubtful credit of the
results. Hist. antig., lib. 2, cap. 21-33.

[23] Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 73.

[24] Veytia, Hist. antig., lib. 1, cap. 33.--Ixtlilxochitl, Hist.
Chich., MS., cap 3.--Idem, Relaciones, MS., nos. 4, 5.--Father
Torquemada--perhaps misinterpreting the Tezcucan hieroglyphics--has
accounted for this mysterious disappearance of the Toltecs by such
_fee-faw-fum_ stories of giants and demons as show his appetite for
the marvellous was fully equal to that of any of his calling. See his
Monarch. Ind., lib. 1, cap. 14.

[25] [This supposition, neither adopted nor rejected in the text,
was, as Mr. Tylor remarks, “quite tenable at the time that Prescott
wrote,” being founded on the statements of early writers and partially
supported by the conclusions of Mr. Stephens, who believed that the
ruined cities of Oaxaca, Chiapas, Yucatan, and Guatemala dated from a
comparatively recent period, and were still flourishing at the time
of the Spanish Conquest; and that their inhabitants, the ancestors,
as he contends, of the degenerate race that now occupies the soil,
were of the same stock and spoke the same language as the Mexicans.
(Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan.) But
these opinions have been refuted by later investigators. Orozco y
Berra, in an elaborate and satisfactory examination of the question,
discusses all the evidence relating to it, compares the remains in the
southern provinces with those of the Valley of Mexico, points out the
essential differences in the architecture, sculpture, and inscriptions,
and arrives at the conclusion that there was “no point of contact or
resemblance” between the two civilizations. He considers that of the
southern provinces, though of a far higher grade, as long anterior
in time to the Toltec domination,--the work of a people which had
passed away, under the assaults of barbarism, at a period prior to all
traditions, leaving no name and no trace of their existence save those
monuments which, neglected and forgotten by their successors, have
become the riddle of later generations.{*} Geografía de las Lenguas de
México, pp. 122-131. See also Tylor, Anahuac, p. 189, et seq.--K.

{*} [Charnay (Ancient Cities of the New World) holds that both
Mitla and Palenque are of Toltec origin. He has no doubt whatsoever
concerning Palenque. This he thinks was a Holy City whose inhabitants
dispersed at the first alarm of the Conquest (p. 245). (See, further,
p. 246.) Dr. Brinton holds that Father Duran, Historia de las Indias
de Nueva España, Tezozomoc, Croníca Mexicana, and the Codex Ramirez
identify the Toltecs with the Aztecs. As John Fiske puts it, “it is
well to beware, however, about meddling much with these Toltecs.”
Mr. Fiske urges like caution concerning the Chichimecs. Bandelier
(Archæological Tour, p. 192) points out that Ixtlilxochitl, the
historian of the Chichimecs, “wrote for an interested object, and
with a view of sustaining tribal claims in the eyes of the Spanish

[26] _Tezcuco_ signifies “place of detention;” as several of the tribes
who successively occupied Anahuac were said to have halted some time at
the spot. Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 10.{*}

{*} [“Über die Etymologie lässt sich nichts sicheres sagen,” says
Buschmann, “so zuversichtlich auch Prescott, wohl nach Ixtlilxochitl,
den Namen durch _place of detention_ übersetzt.” Uber die aztekischen
Ortsnamen, S. 697.--K.]

[27] [It is difficult to reconcile the two statements that the Toltecs
“were the true fountains of the civilization which distinguished this
part of the continent in later times,” and that they “disappeared
from the land as silently and mysteriously as they had entered it,”
leaving an interval of more than a century before the appearance of the
Aztecs and the Acolhuans. If the latter received from the former the
knowledge of those arts in which they speedily rivalled them, it must
have been by more direct communication and transmission than can be
inferred from the mention of a small fraction of the Toltec population
as remaining in the country,--a fact which has itself the appearance of
having been invented to meet the difficulty. Orozco y Berra compares
this transitional period with that which followed the overthrow of the
Roman Empire; but if in the former case there was, in his own words,
“no conquest, but only an occupation, no war because no one to contend
with,” the analogy altogether fails. Brasseur de Bourbourg reduces the
interval between the departure of the Toltecs and the arrival of the
Chichimecs to a few years, and supposes that a considerable number
of the former inhabitants remained scattered through the Valley. If,
however, it be allowable to substitute probabilities for doubtful
relations, it is an easier solution to believe that no interval
occurred and that no emigration took place.--K.]

[28] The historian speaks, in one page, of the Chichimecs burrowing in
caves, or, at best, in cabins of straw, and, in the next, talks gravely
of their _señoras_, _infantas_, and _caballeros_!{*} Ibid., cap. 9, et
seq.--Veytia, Hist. antig., lib. 2, cap. 1-10.--Camargo, Historia de
Tlascala, MS.

[29] Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 9-20.--Veytia, Hist.
antig., lib. 2, cap. 29-54.

[30] [Some recent writers have contended that Mexico must have been
peopled originally by migrations from the South. Aztec names and
communities, and traces of Toltec settlements long anterior to the
occupation of Anahuac by the same people, are found in several parts
of Central America. The most primitive traditions, as well as the
remains of the earliest civilization, belong also to the same quarter.
This latter fact, however, is considered by Orozco y Berra as itself
an evidence of the migrations having been from the North, the first
comers having been naturally attracted southward by a warmer climate
and more fertile soil, or pushed onward in this direction by successive
invasions from behind. Contradictory inferences have in like manner
been drawn from the existence of Aztec remains and settlements in
New Mexico and Arizona. All that can be said with confidence is that
neither of the opposing theories rests on a secure and sufficient

[31] These were the Colhuans, not Acolhuans, with whom Humboldt, and
most writers since, have confounded them.{*} See his Essai politique,
tom. i. p. 414; ii. p. 37.

{*} [Humboldt, strictly speaking, has not confounded the Colhuans
with the Acolhuans, but has written, in the places cited, the latter
name for the former. “Letzterer Name,” says Buschmann, “ist der
erstere mit dem Zusatz von _atl_ Wasser,--Wasser Colhuer.” (Uber die
aztekischen Ortsnamen, S. 690.) Yet the two tribes, according to the
same authority, were entirely distinct, one alone--though which, he
is unable to determine--being of the Nahuatlac race. Orozco y Berra,
however, makes them both of this stock, the Acolhuans being one of
the main branches, the Colhuans merely the descendants of the Toltec
remnant in Anahuac.--K.]

[32] [This is not quite correct, since the form used in the letters of
Cortés and other early documents is _Temixtitan_, which is explained as
a corruption of Tenochtitlan. The letters _x_ and _ch_ are convertible,
and have the same sound,--that of the English _sh_. _Mexico_ is
_Mexitl_ with the place-designation _co_, _tl_ final being dropped
before an affix.--K.]

[33] Clavigero gives good reasons for preferring the etymology of
Mexico above noticed, to various others. (See his Stor. del Messico,
tom. i. p. 168, nota.) The name _Tenochtitlan_ signifies _tunal_ (a
cactus) _on a stone_. Esplicacion de la Col. de Mendoza, apud Antiq. of
Mexico, vol. iv.

[34] “Datur hæc venia antiquitati,” says Livy, “ut, miscendo humana
divinis, primordia urbium augustiora faciat.” Hist. Præf.--See, for the
above paragraph, Col. de Mendoza, plate 1, apud Antiq. of Mexico, vol.
i.,--Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 10,--Toribio, Historia de
los Indios, MS., Parte 3, cap. 8,--Veytia, Hist. antig., lib. 2, cap.
15.--Clavigero, after a laborious examination, assigns the following
dates to some of the prominent events noticed in the text. No two
authorities agree on them; and this is not strange, considering that
Clavigero--the most inquisitive of all--does not always agree with
himself. (Compare his dates for the coming of the Acolhuans, tom. i. p.
147, and tom. iv., dissert. 2:)--

                                        A. D.

The Toltecs arrived in Anahuac           648
They abandoned the country              1051
The Chichimecs arrived                  1170
The Acolhuans arrived about             1200
The Mexicans reached Tula               1196
They founded Mexico                     1325

See his dissert. 2, sec. 12. In the last date, the one of most
importance, he is confirmed by the learned Veytia, who differs from him
in all the others. Hist. antig., lib. 2, cap. 15.

[35] [In a somewhat similar way was founded the Italian Venice. It was
the fear of death at the hands of Attila and his Huns that caused the
peopling of the islands among the lagoons of the Adriatic. It was the
easy subsistence the lagoons afforded that caused the steady growth of
the Italian village.--M.]

[36] [This confederacy occupied one of the strongest defensive
positions ever held by Indians. It gradually extended its sway over a
large part of the Mexican territory. This “sway,” however, as Fiske
points out, was not a military occupation of the country. It was a
“system of plunder enforced by terror.”--M.]

[37] The loyal Tezcucan chronicler claims the supreme dignity for his
own sovereign, if not the greatest share of the spoil, by this imperial
compact. (Hist. Chich., cap. 32.) Torquemada, on the other hand, claims
one-half of all the conquered lands for Mexico. (Monarch. Ind., lib.
2, cap. 40.) All agree in assigning only one-fifth to Tlacopan; and
Veytia (Hist. antig., lib. 3, cap. 3) and Zurita (Rapport sur les
différentes Classes de Chefs de la Nouvelle-Espagne, trad. de Ternaux
(Paris, 1840), p. 11), both very competent critics, acquiesce in an
equal division between the two principal states in the confederacy. An
ode, still extant, of Nezahualcoyotl, in its Castilian version, bears
testimony to the singular union of the three powers:

    “solo se acordarán en las Naciones
     lo bien que gobernáron
     las _tres Cabezas_ que el Imperio honráron.”
               Cantares del Emperador

[38] See the plans of the ancient and modern capital, in Bullock’s
“Mexico,” first edition. The original of the ancient map was obtained
by that traveller from the collection of the unfortunate Boturini; if,
as seems probable, it is the one indicated on page 13 of his Catalogue,
I find no warrant for Mr. Bullock’s statement that it was the one
prepared for Cortés by the order of Montezuma.

[39] [The first man chosen to be the chief of men (tlacatecuhtli), or
superior officer of the confederacy, was Acamapichtli. His election
took place in 1375, and he is sometimes called by European writers the
“founder of the confederacy.” His name, translated, was “Handful of
Reeds.” The succession of “chiefs of men” was as follows:

1. Acamapichtli (Handful of Reeds)         1375
2. Huitzilihuitl (Humming Bird)            1403
3. Chimalpopoca (Smoking Shield)           1414
4. Izcoatzin (Obsidian Snake)              1427
5. Montezuma I (Angry Chief)               1436
6. Axayacatl (Face in the Water)           1464
7. Tizoc (Wounded Leg)                     1477
8. Ahuitzotl (Water Rat)                   1486
9. Montezuma II                            1502
10. Cuitlahuatzin                          1520
11. Guatemotzin                            1520


[40] Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, tom. i. lib. 2.--Torquemada,
Monarch. Ind., tom. i. lib. 2.--Boturini, Idea, p. 146.--Col. of
Mendoza, Part 1, and Codex Telleriano-Remensis, apud Antiq. of Mexico,
vols. i., vi.--Machiavelli has noticed it as one great cause of the
military successes of the Romans, “that they associated themselves, in
their wars, with other states, as the principal,” and expresses his
astonishment that a similar policy should not have been adopted by
ambitious republics in later times. (See his Discorsi sopra T. Livio,
lib. 2, cap. 4, apud Opere (Geneva, 1798).) This, as we have seen
above, was the very course pursued by the Mexicans.

[41] Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 36.

[42] [Robertson, in his History of America, was the first man to
question the correctness of the judgment passed by the Spanish
chroniclers upon the Aztec institutions. Subsequent American writers
gave louder expression to his doubts. As has been said in the notes
upon the preceding chapter, Mr. Morgan proved conclusively that the
so-called “empire” was no empire at all, but only a confederacy of
three tribes. Mr. Morgan, however, was sometimes led into inaccuracy
and extravagance of statement because of his desire to place all the
American aborigines on the same institutional plane.

Adolf Bandelier, pupil and disciple of Morgan, persevering and accurate
scholar, investigated the subject in an entirely unprejudiced way
and with a thoroughness which forces men to place almost implicit
confidence in his conclusions. It is well here to summarize those

The Mexican confederacy was made up of three tribes, the Aztecs, the
Tezcucans, and the Tlacopans, who dwelt in neighboring pueblos.

Of these tribes the Aztecs and Tezcucans were superior to the
Tlacopans. Spoils of war were always divided into five portions. The
Tlacopans took one, their allies shared equally the other four parts.
The Indian pueblos generally were designed to withstand a protracted
siege, but the Mexican pueblos were almost impregnable. It is not
likely that any other Indian tribes could have captured them. Dwelling
securely in these great communal houses, which were also fortresses,
the Aztec confederacy held many other tribes in subjection. It was
only necessary for it to send its agents to other pueblos to secure
at once the specified tribute. Failure to pay this tribute brought
summary punishment at the hands of the warriors of the confederacy. The
“empire” was “only a partnership formed for the purpose of carrying
on the business of warfare, and that intended, not for the extension
of territorial ownership, but only for an increase of the means of
subsistence.” The subject peoples were never incorporated into the
confederacy. The tribe remained intact. The houses the tribe occupied
were common property, and so was the land cultivated. Neither land
nor houses could be sold, and as the tribe increased in numbers new
communal houses were built to accommodate the increase. The great
fortress-dwellings in a, for savages, well-cultivated land prevented
the subdivision of tribes which was constantly taking place in wilder
North America.

Twenty clans, organized into four phratries, made up of the Aztec
tribe. The clans were called “calpullis.” They were governed by a
council of chiefs, “tecuhtli,” elected by the clan. There was an
official head, the “calpullac,” whose duties were mainly civil, and
also a military leader, the “ohcacautin” (“elder brother”). Painful
religious ordeals accompanied the initiation of these men into office.
Clan officers held their places during good behavior. Medicinemen, or
priests, were members of the clan council. To the four phratries into
which the clan was divided four quarters of the city of Mexico, each
under its own captain, were assigned. Their titles were “man of the
house of darts,” “chief of the eagle and cactus,” “blood-shedder,” and
“cutter of men.” Of these captains the “chief of the eagle and cactus”
was chief executioner. Their principal duty was to maintain order both
within and without the pueblo. In each of these four quarters was an
armory (“house of darts”), in which the weapons of the phratry were
kept when its warriors were not engaged in warfare. The phratry was in
Mexico primarily a military organization.

Twenty members, one from each clan, made up the tribal council which
exercised supreme control over the Aztec tribe. The member who was
chosen to represent the clan was called “tlatoani,” the “speaker,” and
the council was called “tlatocan,” the “place of speech.” Sessions of
the council were regularly held every ten days, and every eighty days
an extra session was convened, to which the twenty “ohcacautins,” the
four captains of the phratries, the two civil executives of the tribe,
and some others were summoned. Its decisions were final.

As the clan had its civil head, or calpullac, so the tribe had a
corresponding officer, the cihuacoatl, or “female snake.” The “snake
woman” was always a man. He was chief judge of the clan and was
elected for life by the tribal council. The “snake woman” was second
in command to the “chief of men,” or tlacatecuhtli, the head war
chief. While at first head war chief of the Aztecs, about the year
1430 the tlacatecuhtli was made head war chief and commander of the
confederacy. Montezuma was “chief of men,” and the Spaniards saw him
surrounded with such state that they not unnaturally supposed him to
be king of the Aztecs. Montezuma’s position, however, was not at all
that of a king, and most of the royal functions fell to the lot of the
“snake woman.” Bandelier thinks the “chief of men” was only the chief
military officer. He was elected by the “elder brothers” (ohcacautins)
of the clans, the tribal council, and the leading priests, sitting in
assembly. A principle of succession seems to have confined the election
to members of a special clan. Moreover, from four officers--namely,
a member of the priesthood called the “man of the dark house,”
and the phratry captains called respectively “man of the house of
darts,” “blood-shedder,” and “cutter of men”--the “chief of men” was
always chosen. He exercised certain priestly functions after his
election. His first official act was to offer incense to the war god
Huitzilopochtli.{*} Montezuma was “priest commander” as well as “chief
of men.”

{*} [Bancroft, Native Races of the Pacific States, vol. ii. p. 145.]

The “chief of men” held office during good behavior. He was, ex
officio, a member of the tribal council, but he had little to do within
the tribe limits. His functions were exercised outside the confederacy,
and his special duty was to superintend the collection of tribute. His
agents, called “crop-gatherers” (calpixqui), were appointed by the
tribal council. It was their duty to visit the subject pueblos and
to gather the tribute--maize, weapons, pottery, feather-work, female
slaves, victims for sacrifice, or anything else which suited the
victor’s fancy. The prisoners were forced to carry the other tribute to
the tecpan, or tribal house, and were accompanied by couriers who saw
that the tribute was duly delivered according to the directions given
in picture-writing by the “crop-gatherers.” The office of calpixqui was
most dangerous, being practically that of spy. All these institutions
the Spanish historians noted without understanding. They supposed
that there was a standing army; but every male was born a warrior,
and so the people were the army. There was no nobility of any kind in
Mexico. Merit alone determined the appointment to office. “No office
whatever, no kind of dignity, was among the Mexicans transmissible by

Above the common warriors of the clan were two higher classes,
the “distinguished braves” and the war chiefs proper. Among the
“distinguished braves” were three classes, arranged according to
attainments, none of the braves being elected, but all winning their
place by valor. The war chiefs were elected. The “snake woman,” or
“female snake,” acted as a check upon the head war chief, or “chief
of men.” The two alternately took charge of forays. The elaborate
decorations which adorned the “chief of men” in his official capacity
may be seen represented in the sculptures at Palenque, especially upon
the “tablet of the cross.”

The Aztecs conducted no long campaigns, and were not successful in
protracted sieges, while they were always able to make a successful
defence against enemies of their own class. Their pyramidal
temples--teocalli--were admirable fortresses. In Mexico itself the
causeways were essentially military constructions, and not simply
roads to connect the city with the mainland. Captives taken in forays
were “collared,” that is, they were secured by wooden collars fastened
upon their necks. If they were specially unruly, and were continually
striving to escape, the tendons of their feet were cut.

As the tribes increased new “calpullis” were formed and new communal
houses were built. The Spaniards took it for granted that the tribal
government which exercised authority over tribal soil could alienate
that soil, but this was not the case. It was not until communal soil
was done away with that private ownership was established.

Mr. Bandelier reaches the following conclusions:

1. Abstract ownership either by the state or the individual was unknown.

2. Right of possession was vested in the kin, or clan. The idea of
alienation was never entertained.

3. Individuals only held the right to use certain lots.

4. No rights of possession were attached to any office or chieftaincy.

5. For tribal business certain lands were set apart independent of

6. Conquest was followed not by annexation or apportionment, but by

7. Feudalism could not prevail under these conditions.

Of the kin, or clan, it should be noted that, first, the kin claimed
the right to name its members; second, it was the duty of the kin to
educate its members; third, it was accustomed to regulate marriage;
fourth, one attribute of the kin was the right of common burial; fifth,
the kin had to protect its members; sixth, it exercised the right of
electing its officers and of deposing them. (Montezuma, “chief of men,”
was deposed before he died.)--M.

[43] This was an exception.--In Egypt, also, the king was frequently
taken from the warrior caste, though obliged afterwards to be
instructed in the mysteries of the priesthood: ὁ δὲ ἐκ μαχίμων
ἀποδεδειγένος εὐθὺς ἐγίνετο τῶν ίέρων. Plutarch, de Isid. et Osir.,
sec. 9.

[44] Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 2, cap. 18; lib. 11, cap.
27.--Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, tom. ii. p. 112.--Acosta, Naturall
and Morall Historie of the East and West Indies, Eng. trans. (London,
1604).--According to Zurita, an election by the nobles took place
only in default of heirs of the deceased monarch. (Rapport, p. 15.)
The minute historical investigation of Clavigero may be permitted to
outweigh this general assertion.

[45] [“Chief of men.”--M.]

[46] Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva-España, lib. 6, cap. 9, 10, 14; lib. 8,
cap. 31, 34.--See, also, Zurita, Rapport, pp. 20-23.--Ixtlilxochitl
stoutly claims this supremacy for his own nation. (Hist. Chich., MS.,
cap. 34.) His assertions are at variance with facts stated by himself
elsewhere, and are not countenanced by any other writer whom I have

[47] [The spacious palace in which the “chief of men” lived was the
chief communal house of the clan. The “privy council” was made up of
the clan officers specified on page 33.--M.]

[48] Sahagun, who places the elective power in a much larger body,
speaks of four senators, who formed a state council. (Hist. de
Nueva-España, lib. 8, cap. 30.) Acosta enlarges the council beyond the
number of the electors. (Lib. 6, ch. 26.) No two writers agree.

[49] [There was, according to Bandelier, no such thing as a
“body-guard.” Guards were unknown. This was evidenced when Montezuma
was captured. No “body-guard” attempted his rescue. Bandelier’s
conclusions should be kept steadily in mind in reading this chapter.
The “distinct class of nobles, with large landed possessions,” were
only the principal officers of the tribe, who were of course of the
same “kin” as the so-called Aztec monarch. The great caciques, with
thousands of vassals, were tribal officers leading tribal warriors.
The “estates” were all held by the tribe, and were all subject to

[50] Zurita enumerates four orders of chiefs, all of whom were exempted
from imposts and enjoyed very considerable privileges. He does not
discriminate the several ranks with much precision. Rapport, p. 47, et

[51] See, in particular, Herrera, Historia general de los Hechos de los
Castellanos en las Islas y Tierra firme del Mar Océano (Madrid, 1730),
dec. 2, lib. 8, cap. 12.

[52] Carta de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, Hist. de Nueva-España, p.
110.--Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 2, cap. 89; lib. 14, cap.
6.--Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, tom. ii. p. 121.--Zurita, Rapport,
pp. 48, 65.--Ixtlilxochitl (Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 34) speaks of
thirty great feudal chiefs, some of them Tezcucan and Tlacopan, whom he
styles “grandees of the empire”! He says nothing of the great _tail_ of
100,000 vassals to each, mentioned by Torquemada and Herrera.

[53] _Macehual_,--a word equivalent to the French word _roturier_. Nor
could fiefs originally be held by plebeians in France. See Hallam’s
Middle Ages (London, 1819), vol. ii. p. 207.

[54] Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., ubi supra.--Zurita,
Rapport, ubi supra.--Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, tom. ii. pp.
122-124.--Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 14, cap. 7.--Gomara, Crónica
de Nueva-España, cap. 199, ap. Barcia, tom. ii.--Boturini (Idea, p.
165) carries back the origin of _fiefs_ in Anahuac to the twelfth
century. Carli says, “Le système politique y étoit féodal.” In the next
page he tells us, “Personal merit alone made the distinction of the
nobility”! (Lettres Américaines, trad. Fr. (Paris, 1788), tom. i. let.
11.) Carli was a writer of a lively imagination.

[55] [There was no such thing as feudalism among the Aztecs. There
could not be where the communism which the clan system implies
prevailed. Feudalism was a social-political system based upon land.
Under it there was a well-defined gradation of ranks, and each lower
was bound to the next higher order by protection given in return for
service rendered. Moreover, where feudalism prevailed the ownership
of the land was vested in one person while the occupancy belonged to
another. Feudalism exalted the individual and assured to each man his
_rights_. The clan knew nothing whatever of individual rights. When the
conception of personal ownership was developed, and kinship ceased to
be the bond which held men together, the clan system of communal living
of necessity passed away. But among the Aztecs the feudal conception
of personal property never was developed. The Spaniards, knowing
no civilization but their own, naturally supposed that the Aztec
institutions were similar to the Spanish, and historians generally
accepted that view.--M.]

[56] [See summary of Bandelier’s studies, p. 36.--M.]

[57] This magistrate, who was called _cihuacoatl_,{*} was also to
audit the accounts of the collectors of the taxes in his district.
(Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, tom. ii. p. 127.--Torquemada, Monarch.
Ind., lib. 11, cap. 25.) The Mendoza Collection contains a painting of
the courts of justice under Montezuma, who introduced great changes
in them. (Antiq. of Mexico, vol. i., Plate 70.) According to the
interpreter, an appeal lay from them, in certain cases, to the king’s
council. Ibid., vol. vi. p. 79.

{*} [This word, a compound of _cihuatl_, woman, and _coatl_, serpent,
was the name of a divinity, the mythical mother of the human species.
Its typical application may have had reference to justice, or law, as
the source of social order.--K.]

[58] Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, tom. ii. pp. 127, 128.--Torquemada,
Monarch. Ind., ubi supra.--In this arrangement of the more humble
magistrates we are reminded of the Anglo-Saxon hundreds and tithings,
especially the latter, the members of which were to watch over the
conduct of the families in their districts and bring the offenders to
justice. The hard penalty of mutual responsibility was not known to the

[59] Zurita, so temperate, usually, in his language, remarks that, in
the capital, “Tribunals were instituted which might compare in their
organization with the royal audiences of Castile.” (Rapport, p. 93.)
His observations are chiefly drawn from the Tezcucan courts, which in
their forms of procedure, he says, were like the Aztec. (Loc. cit.)

[60] Boturini, Idea, p. 87.--Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 11, cap.
26.--Zurita compares this body to the Castilian córtes. It would seem,
however, according to him, to have consisted only of twelve principal
judges, besides the king. His meaning is somewhat doubtful. (Rapport,
pp. 94, 101, 106.) M. de Humboldt, in his account of the Aztec courts,
has confounded them with the Tezcucan. Comp. Vues des Cordillères et
Monumens des Peuples indigènes de l’Amérique (Paris, 1810), p. 55, and
Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, tom. ii. pp. 128, 129.

[61] “If this should be done now, what an excellent thing it would be!”
exclaims Sahagun’s Mexican editor. Hist. de Nueva-España, tom. ii. p.
304, nota.--Zurita, Rapport, p. 102.--Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., ubi
supra.--Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 67.

[62] [There is a hint here of the “Compurgators” of the Germanic

[63] Zurita, Rapport, pp. 95, 100, 103.--Sahagun, Hist. de
Nueva-España, loc. cit.--Humboldt, Vues des Cordillères, pp. 55,
56.--Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 11, cap. 25.--Clavigero says
the accused might free himself by oath: “il reo poteva purgarsi col
giuramento.” (Stor. del Messico, tom. ii. p. 129.) What rogue, then,
could ever have been convicted?

[64] Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 36.--These various objects
had a symbolical meaning, according to Boturini, Idea, p. 84.

[65] [Compare the “codes” of the Germanic races.--M.]

[66] Paintings of the Mendoza Collection, Pl. 72, and Interpretation,
ap. Antiq. of Mexico, vol. vi. p. 87.--Torquemada, Monarch. Ind.,
lib. 12, cap. 7.--Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, tom. ii. pp.
130-134.--Camargo, Hist. de Tlascala, MS.--They could scarcely have
been an intemperate people, with these heavy penalties hanging over
them. Indeed, Zurita bears testimony that those Spaniards who thought
they were greatly erred. (Rapport, p. 112.) M. Ternaux’s translation of
a passage of the Anonymous Conqueror, “aucun peuple n’est aussi sobre”
(Recueil de Pièces relatives à la Conquête du Mexique, ap. Voyages,
etc. (Paris, 1838), p. 54), may give a more favorable impression,
however, than that intended by his original, whose remark is confined
to abstemiousness in eating. See the Relatione, ap. Ramusio, Raccolta
delle Navigationi et Viaggi (Venetia, 1554-1565).

[67] In ancient Egypt the child of a slave was born free, if the father
were free. (Diodorus, Bibl. Hist., lib. 1, sec. 80.) This, though more
liberal than the code of most countries, fell short of the Mexican.

[68] In Egypt the same penalty was attached to the murder of a slave
as to that of a freeman. (Ibid., lib. 1, sec. 77.) Robertson speaks of
a class of slaves held so cheap in the eye of the Mexican law that one
might kill them with impunity. (History of America (ed. London, 1776),
vol. iii. p. 164.) This, however, was not in Mexico, but in Nicaragua
(see his own authority, Herrera, Hist. general, dec. 3, lib. 4, cap.
2), a distant country, not incorporated in the Mexican empire, and with
laws and institutions very different from those of the latter.

[69] [A “collared” slave was fastened at night to a wall by his wooden

[70] Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 12, cap. 15; lib. 14, cap. 16,
17.--Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva-España, lib. 8, cap. 14.--Clavigero, Stor.
del Messico, tom. ii. pp. 134-136.

[71] Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 38, and Relaciones,
MS.--The Tezcucan code, indeed, as digested under the great
Nezahualcoyotl, formed the basis of the Mexican, in the latter days of
the empire. Zurita, Rapport, p. 95.

[72] In this, at least, they did not resemble the Romans; of whom
their countryman could boast, “Gloriari licet, nulli gentium mitiores
placuisse pœnas.” Livy, Hist., lib. 1, cap. 28.

[73] [For “crown lands” read “subject tribes”; for “king’s palaces,”
“communal houses.”--M.]

[74] The Tezcucan revenues were, in like manner, paid in the produce
of the country. The various branches of the royal expenditure were
defrayed by specified towns and districts; and the whole arrangements
here, and in Mexico, bore a remarkable resemblance to the financial
regulations of the Persian empire, as reported by the Greek writers
(see Herodotus, Clio, sec. 192); with this difference, however, that
the towns of Persia proper were not burdened with tributes, like the
conquered cities. Idem, Thalia, sec. 97.

[75] Lorenzana, Hist. de Nueva-España, p. 172.--Torquemada, Monarch.
Ind., lib. 2, cap. 89; lib. 14, cap. 7.--Boturini, Idea, p.
166.--Camargo, Hist. de Tlascala, MS.--Herrera, Hist. general, dec.
2, lib. 7, cap. 13.--The people of the provinces were distributed
into _calpulli_, or tribes, who held the lands of the neighborhood in
common. Officers of their own appointment parcelled out these lands
among the several families of the _calpulli_; and on the extinction
or removal of a family its lands reverted to the common stock, to be
again distributed. The individual proprietor had no power to alienate
them. The laws regulating these matters were very precise, and had
existed ever since the occupation of the country by the Aztecs. Zurita,
Rapport, pp. 51-62.

[76] The following items of the tribute furnished by different cities
will give a more precise idea of its nature:--20 chests of ground
chocolate; 40 pieces of armor, of a particular device; 2400 loads of
large mantles, of twisted cloth; 800 loads of small mantles, of rich
wearing-apparel; 5 pieces of armor, of rich feathers; 60 pieces of
armor, of common feathers; a chest of beans; a chest of chian; a chest
of maize; 8000 reams of paper; likewise 2000 loaves of very white
salt, refined in the shape of a mould, for the consumption only of
the lords of Mexico; 8000 lumps of unrefined copal; 400 small baskets
of white refined copal; 100 copper axes; 80 loads of red chocolate;
800 _xícaros_, out of which they drank chocolate; a little vessel of
small turquoise stones; 4 chests of timber, full of maize; 4000 loads
of lime; tiles of gold, of the size of an oyster, and as thick as the
finger; 40 bags of cochineal; 20 bags of gold dust, of the finest
quality; a diadem of gold, of a specified pattern; 20 lip-jewels of
clear amber, ornamented with gold; 200 loads of chocolate; 100 pots
or jars of liquid-amber; 8000 _handfuls_ of rich scarlet feathers; 40
tiger-skins; 1600 bundles of cotton, etc., etc. Col. de Mendoza, part
2, ap. Antiq. of Mexico, vols. i., vi.{*}

{*} [From those too poor to pay the regular taxes, snakes, scorpions,
centipedes, and vermin were exacted. “It is related that soon after
Cortés arrived in the city of Mexico certain cavaliers of his force
... were roaming through the royal palace, ... when they came across
some bags filled with some soft, fine, and weighty material.... They
hastened to untie one of the sacks and found its contents to consist
of nothing but lice, which had been paid as a tribute by the poor.”
Bancroft, Native Races, vol. ii. p. 235. Torquemada, Monarch. Ind.,
tom. i. p. 461.--M.]

[77] Mapa de Tributos, ap. Lorenzana, Hist. de
Nueva-España.--Tribute-roll, ap. Antiq. of Mexico, vol. i., and
Interpretation, vol. vi., pp. 17-44.--The Mendoza Collection, in the
Bodleian Library at Oxford, contains a roll of the cities of the
Mexican empire, with the specific tributes exacted from them. It is
a copy made after the Conquest, with a pen, on European paper. (See
Foreign Quarterly Review, No. XVII. Art. 4.) An original painting
of the same roll was in Boturini’s museum. Lorenzana has given us
engravings of it, in which the outlines of the Oxford copy are filled
up, though somewhat rudely. Clavigero considers the explanations
in Lorenzana’s edition very inaccurate (Stor. del Messico, tom.
i. p. 25), a judgment confirmed by Aglio, who has transcribed the
entire collection of the Mendoza papers, in the first volume of the
Antiquities of Mexico. It would have much facilitated reference to his
plates if they had been numbered;--a strange omission!

[78] The caciques who submitted to the allied arms were usually
confirmed in their authority, and the conquered places allowed to
retain their laws and usages. (Zurita, Rapport, p. 67.) The conquests
were not always partitioned, but sometimes, singularly enough, were
held in common by the three powers. Ibid., p. 11.

[79] [Very few garrisons were ever quartered in subject pueblos. The
warriors Cortés encountered in his second attack upon Mexico were not
the garrisons of the cities, but special bodies sent out to meet the
Spaniards. The “calpixqui,” or tax-gatherers, were spies as well as
officers, and were hated as were the “publicans” in all lands where
the taxes were “farmed.” The “chief of men” had many subordinates. His
couriers were not infrequently outcasts. Bearing in mind the class
of persons with whom he had to deal officially, and the fact that it
was his function to represent the majesty of the clan on all public
occasions, it is not remarkable that he should have conducted himself
with such haughtiness as to lead the Spaniards to suppose that he was
an absolute king. That he had really no kingly power was manifested
when Montezuma was a prisoner in the hands of the Spaniards. His
special duty was to execute the commands of the tribal council.--M.]

[80] Col. of Mendoza, ap. Antiq. of Mexico, vol. vi. p. 17.--Carta de
Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, Hist. de Nueva-España, p. 110.--Torquemada,
Monarch. Ind., lib. 14, cap. 6, 8.--Herrera, Hist. general, dec. 2,
lib. 7, cap. 13.--Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva-España, lib. 8, cap. 18, 19.

[81] The Hon. C. A. Murray, whose imperturbable good humor under real
troubles forms a contrast, rather striking, to the sensitiveness of
some of his predecessors to imaginary ones, tells us, among other
marvels, that an Indian of his party travelled a hundred miles in
four-and-twenty hours. (Travels in North America (New York, 1839),
vol. i. p. 193.) The Greek who, according to Plutarch, brought the
news of victory to Platæa, a hundred and twenty-five miles, in a day,
was a better traveller still. Some interesting facts on the pedestrian
capabilities of man in the savage state are collected by Buffon, who
concludes, truly enough, “L’homme civilisé ne connaît pas ses forces.”
(Histoire naturelle: De la Jeunesse.)

[82] Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 14, cap. 1.--The same wants led
to the same expedients in ancient Rome, and still more ancient Persia.
“Nothing in the world is borne so swiftly,” says Herodotus, “as
messages by the Persian couriers;” which his commentator Valckenaer
prudently qualifies by the exception of the carrier-pigeon. (Herodotus,
Hist., Urania, sec. 98, nec non Adnot. ed. Schweighäuser.) Couriers
are noticed, in the thirteenth century, in China, by Marco Polo. Their
stations were only three miles apart, and they accomplished five days’
journey in one. (Viaggi di Marco Polo, lib. 2, cap. 20, ap. Ramusio,
tom. ii.) A similar arrangement for posts subsists there at the present
day, and excites the admiration of a modern traveller. (Anderson,
British Embassy to China (London, 1796), p. 282.) In all these cases,
the posts were for the use of government only.

[83] Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva-España, lib. 3, Apend., cap. 3.

[84] [The general council of the tribe.--M.]

[85] Zurita, Rapport, pp. 68, 120.--Col. of Mendoza, ap. Antiq. of
Mexico, vol. i. Pl. 67; vol. vi. p. 74.--Torquemada, Monarch. Ind.,
lib. 14, cap. 1.--The reader will find a remarkable resemblance to
these military usages in those of the early Romans. Com. Liv., Hist.,
lib. 1, cap. 32; lib. 4, cap. 30, et alibi.

[86] [“Distinguished braves,” see note, p. 35.--M.]

[87] Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 14, cap. 4, 5.--Acosta, lib. 6,
ch. 26.--Col. of Mendoza, ap. Antiq. of Mexico, vol. i. Pl. 65; vol.
vi. p. 72.--Camargo, Hist. de Tlascala, MS.


    “Their mail, if mail it may be called, was woven
     Of vegetable down, like finest flax,
     Bleached to the whiteness of new-fallen snow.

           *       *       *       *       *

     Others, of higher office, were arrayed
     In feathery breastplates, of more gorgeous hue
     Than the gay plumage of the mountain-cock,
     Than the pheasant’s glittering pride. But what were these,
     Or what the thin gold hauberk, when opposed
     To arms like ours in battle?”
                 Madoc, Part 1, canto 7.

Beautiful painting! One may doubt, however, the propriety of the
Welshman’s vaunt, before the use of fire-arms.

[89] Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva-España, lib. 2, cap. 27; lib. 8,
cap. 12.--Relatione d’un gentil’ huomo, ap. Ramusio, tom. iii. p.
305.--Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., ubi supra.

[90] Relatione d’un gentil’ huomo, ubi supra.

[91] [That they might offer them as living sacrifices to their

[92] Col. of Mendoza, ap. Antiq. of Mexico, vol. i. Pl. 65, 66; vol.
vi. p. 73.--Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva-España, lib. 8, cap. 12.--Toribio,
Hist. de los Indios, MS., Parte I. cap. 7.--Torquemada, Monarch. Ind.,
lib. 14, cap. 3.--Relatione d’un gentil’ huomo, ap. Ramusio, loc.
cit.--Scalping may claim high authority, or, at least, antiquity. The
Father of History gives an account of it among the Scythians, showing
that they performed the operation, and wore the hideous trophy, in the
same manner as our North American Indians. (Herodot., Hist., Melpomene,
sec. 64.) Traces of the same savage custom are also found in the laws
of the Visigoths, among the Franks, and even the Anglo-Saxons. (See
Guizot, Cours d’Histoire moderne (Paris, 1829), tom. i. p. 283.)

[93] Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 67.

[94] [The sick and the disabled were quartered and cared for in some of
the great communal houses.--M.]

[95] Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 12, cap. 6; lib. 14, cap.
3.--Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 36.

[96] Zurita is indignant at the epithet of _barbarians_ bestowed
on the Aztecs; an epithet, he says, “which could come from no one
who had personal knowledge of the capacity of the people, or their
institutions, and which in some respects is quite as well merited
by the European nations.” (Rapport, p. 200, et seq.) This is strong
language. Yet no one had better means of knowing than this eminent
jurist, who for nineteen years held a post in the royal _audiences_
of New Spain. During his long residence in the country he had ample
opportunity of acquainting himself with its usages, both through his
own personal observation and intercourse with the natives, and through
the first missionaries who came over after the Conquest. On his return
to Spain, probably about 1560, he occupied himself with an answer to
queries which had been propounded by the government, on the character
of the Aztec laws and institutions, and on that of the modifications
introduced by the Spaniards. Much of his treatise is taken up with the
latter subject. In what relates to the former he is more brief than
could be wished, from the difficulty, perhaps, of obtaining full and
satisfactory information as to the details. As far as he goes, however,
he manifests a sound and discriminating judgment. He is very rarely
betrayed into the extravagance of expression so visible in the writers
of the time; and this temperance, combined with his uncommon sources
of information, makes his work one of highest authority on the limited
topics within its range. The original manuscript was consulted by
Clavigero, and, indeed, has been used by other writers. The work is now
accessible to all, as one of the series of translations from the pen of
the indefatigable Ternaux.

[97] ποιήσαντες θεογονίην Ἐλλησι. Herodotus, Euterpe, sec. 53.--Heeren
hazards a remark equally strong, respecting the epic poets of India,
“who,” says he, “have supplied the numerous gods that fill her
Pantheon.” Historical Researches, Eng. trans. (Oxford, 1833), vol. iii.
p. 139.

[98] The Hon. Mountstuart Elphinstone has fallen into a similar train
of thought, in a comparison of the Hindoo and Greek mythology, in his
History of India, published since the remarks in the text were written.
(See Book I. ch. 4.) The same chapter of this truly philosophic work
suggests some curious points of resemblance to the Aztec religious
institutions, that may furnish pertinent illustrations to the mind bent
on tracing the affinities of the Asiatic and American races.

[99] Ritter has well shown, by the example of the Hindoo system, how
the idea of unity suggests, of itself, that of plurality. History of
Ancient Philosophy, Eng. trans. (Oxford, 1838), Book II. ch. 1.

[100] Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva-España, lib. 6, passim.--Acosta, lib. 5,
ch. 9.--Boturini, Idea, p. 8, et seq.--Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich.,
MS., cap. 1.--Camargo, Hist. de Tlascala, MS.--The Mexicans, according
to Clavigero, believed in an evil Spirit, the enemy of the human race,
whose barbarous name signified “Rational Owl.” (Stor. del Messico, tom.
ii. p. 2.) The curate Bernaldez speaks of the Devil being embroidered
on the dresses of Columbus’s Indians, in the likeness of an owl.
(Historia de los Reyes Católicos, MS., cap. 131.) This must not be
confounded, however, with the evil Spirit in the mythology of the North
American Indians (see Heckewelder’s Account, ap. Transactions of the
American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, vol. i. p. 205), still
less with the evil Principle of the Oriental nations of the Old World.
It was only one among many deities, for evil was found too liberally
mingled in the natures of most of the Aztec gods--in the same manner as
with the Greeks--to admit of its personification by any one.

[101] Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva-España, lib. 3, cap. 1, et seq.--Acosta,
lib. 5. ch. 9.--Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 6, cap. 21.--Boturini,
Idea, pp. 27, 28.--Huitzilopochtli is compounded of two words,
signifying “humming-bird,” and “left,” from his image having the
feathers of this bird on its left foot (Clavigero, Stor. del Messico,
tom. ii. p. 17); an amiable etymology for so ruffian a deity.{*}--The
fantastic forms of the Mexican idols were in the highest degree
symbolical. See Gama’s learned exposition of the devices on the statue
of the goddess found in the great square of Mexico. (Descripcion de
las Dos Piedras (México, 1832), Parte 1, pp. 34-44.) The tradition
respecting the origin of this god, or, at least, his appearance on
earth, is curious. He was born of a woman. His mother, a devout person,
one day, in her attendance on the temple, saw a ball of bright-colored
feathers floating in the air. She took it, and deposited it in her
bosom. She soon after found herself pregnant, and the dread deity was
born, coming into the world, like Minerva, all armed,--with a spear
in the right hand, a shield in the left, and his head surmounted by a
crest of green plumes. (See Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, tom. ii. p.
19, et seq.) A similar notion in respect to the incarnation of their
principal deity existed among the people of India beyond the Ganges, of
China, and of Thibet. “Budh,” says Milman, in his learned and luminous
work on the history of Christianity, “according to a tradition known
in the West, was born of a virgin. So were the Fohi of China, and the
Schakaof of Thibet, no doubt the same, whether a mythic or a real
personage. The Jesuits in China, says Barrow, were appalled at finding
in the mythology of that country the counterpart of the Virgo Deipara.”
(Vol. i. p. 99, note.) The existence of similar religious ideas in
remote regions, inhabited by different races, is an interesting subject
of study, furnishing, as it does, one of the most important links in
the great chain of communication which binds together the distant
families of nations.

{*} [The name may possibly have referred to the whispered oracles
and intimations in dreams--such as “a little bird of the air” is
still fabled to convey--by which, according to the legend, the deity
had guided his people in their migrations and conquests. That it
had a symbolical meaning will hardly be doubted, and M. Brasseur
de Bourbourg, who had originally explained it as “Huitzil the
Left-handed,”--the proper name of a deified hero with the addition
of a descriptive epithet,--has since found one of too deep an import
to be briefly expounded or easily understood. (Quatre Lettres sur le
Mexique (Paris, 1868), p. 201, et al.) _Mexitl_, another name of the
same deity, is translated “the hare of the aloes.” In some accounts the
two are distinct personages. Mythological science rejects the legend,
and regards the Aztec war-god as a “nature-deity,” a personification of
the lightning, this being a natural type of warlike might, of which the
common symbol, the serpent, was represented among the decorations of
the idol. (Myths of the New World, p. 118.) More commonly he has been
identified with the sun, and Mr. Tylor, while declining “to attempt a
general solution of this inextricable compound parthenogenetic deity,”
notices the association of his principal festival with the winter’s
solstice, and the fact that his paste idol was then shot through with
an arrow, as tending to show that the life and death of the deity were
emblematic of the year’s, “while his functions of war-god may have been
of later addition.” Primitive Culture, tom. ii. 279.--K.]

[102] [For the Aztec myths our most valuable authority is the Historia
de los Méxicanos por sus Pinturas, by Ramirez de Fuen-leal. This is
taken directly from the sacred books of the Aztecs as explained by
survivors of the Conquest. Bandelier, Archæological Tour, calls it
the earliest statement of the Nahua myths. The other “sources” are
Motolinía, Mendieta, Sahagun, Ixtlilxochitl, and Torquemada. Bancroft,
Native Races, vol. iii. ch. 7, sums them up admirably.

Brinton, Myths of the New World, thinks Quetzalcoatl “a pure creature
of the fancy.” Bandelier, whose presentation of the subject is most
full and complete (Archæological Tour), agrees with Prescott that
Quetzalcoatl began his career as leader of a migration southward. His
principal sojourn was at Cholula. See also Payne, New World Called
America, vol. i. pp. 588-596. P. de Roo, History of America before
Columbus, vol. i. ch. xxii and xxiii, gives a very full presentation of
the legend. He writes from the point of view of a priest of the Roman
Catholic Church. His conclusion is that Quetzalcoatl was a Christian
prelate, and that Christian doctrines were introduced into aboriginal
America by European immigrants.--M.]

[103] Codex Vaticanus, Pl. 15, and Codex Telleriano-Remensis, Part
2, Pl. 2, ap. Antiq. of Mexico, vols. i., vi.--Sahagun, Hist. de
Nueva-España, lib. 3, cap. 3, 4, 13, 14.--Torquemada, Monarch. Ind.,
lib. 6, cap. 24.--Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 1.--Gomara,
Crónica de la Nueva-España, cap. 222, ap. Barcia, Historiadores
primitivos de las Indias Occidentales (Madrid, 1749), tom.
ii.--Quetzalcoatl signifies “feathered serpent.” The last syllable
means, likewise, a “twin;” which furnished an argument for Dr. Siguenza
to identify this god with the apostle Thomas (Didymus signifying
also a twin), who, he supposes, came over to America to preach the
gospel. In this rather startling conjecture he is supported by several
of his devout countrymen, who appear to have as little doubt of the
fact as of the advent of St. James, for a similar purpose, in the
mother-country. See the various authorities and arguments set forth
with becoming gravity in Dr. Mier’s dissertation in Bustamante’s
edition of Sahagun (lib. 3, Suplem.), and Veytia (tom. i. pp. 160-200).
Our ingenious countryman McCulloh carries the Aztec god up to a still
more respectable antiquity, by identifying him with the patriarch Noah.
Researches, Philosophical and Antiquarian, concerning the Aboriginal
History of America (Baltimore, 1829), p. 233.{*}

{*} [Under the modern system of mythical interpretation, which has
been applied by Dr. Brinton with singular force and ingenuity to
the traditions of the New World, Quetzalcoatl, “the central figure
of Toltec mythology,” with the corresponding figures found in the
legends of the Mayas, Quichés, Peruvians, and other races, loses all
personal existence, and becomes a creation of that primitive religious
sentiment which clothed the uncomprehending powers of nature with the
attributes of divinity. His name, “Bird-Serpent,” unites the emblems
of the wind and the lightning. “He is both lord of the eastern light
and the winds. As the former, he was born of a virgin in the land of
Tula or Tlapallan, in the distant Orient, and was high-priest of that
happy realm. The morning star was his symbol.... Like all the dawn
heroes, he too was represented as of white complexion, clothed in long
white robes, and, as most of the Aztec gods, with a full and flowing
beard. When his earthly work was done, he too returned to the east,
assigning as a reason that the sun, the ruler of Tlapallan, demanded
his presence. But the real motive was that he had been overcome by
Tezcatlipoca, otherwise called Yoalliehecatl, the wind or spirit of the
night, who had descended from heaven by a spider’s web and presented
his rival with a draught pretended to confer immortality, but, in fact,
producing uncontrollable longing for home. For the wind and the light
both depart when the gloaming draws near, or when the clouds spread
their dark and shadowy webs along the mountains and pour the vivifying
rain upon the fields.... Wherever he went, all manner of singing birds
bore him company, emblems of the whistling breezes. When he finally
disappeared in the far east, he sent back four trusty youths, who had
ever shared his fortunes, incomparably swift and light of foot, with
directions to divide the earth between them and rule it till he should
return and resume his power.” (The Myths of the New World, p. 180, et
seq.) So far as mere physical attributes are concerned, this analysis
may be accepted as a satisfactory elucidation of the class of figures
to which it relates. But the grand and distinguishing characteristic of
these figures is the moral and intellectual eminence ascribed to them.
They are invested with the highest qualities of humanity,--attributes
neither drawn from the external phenomena of nature nor born of any
rude sentiment of wonder and fear. Their lives and doctrines are in
strong contrast with those of the ordinary divinities of the same or
other lands, and they are objects not of a propitiatory worship, but
of a pious veneration. Can we, then, assent to the conclusion that
under this aspect also they were “wholly mythical,” “creations of the
religious fancy,” “ideals summing up in themselves the best traits,
the most approved virtues, of whole nations”? (Ibid., pp. 293, 294.)
This would seem to imply that nations may attain to lofty conceptions
of moral truth and excellence by a process of selection, without any
standard or point of view furnished by living embodiments of the ideal.
But this would be as impossible as to arrive at conceptions of the
highest forms and ideas of art independently of the special genius and
actual productions of the artist. In the one case, as in the other, the
ideal is derived originally from examples shaped by finer and deeper
intuitions than those of the masses. “Im Anfang war die That.” The mere
fact, therefore, that the Mexican people recognized an exalted ideal of
purity and wisdom is a sufficient proof that men had existed among them
who displayed these qualities in an eminent degree. The status of their
civilization, imperfect as it was, can be accounted for only in the
same way. Comparative mythology may resolve into its original elements
a personification of the forces of nature woven by the religious fancy
of primitive races, but it cannot sever that chain of discoverers and
civilizers by which mankind has been drawn from the abysses of savage
ignorance, and by which its progress, when uninterrupted, has been
always maintained.--K.]

[104] Cod. Vat., Pl. 7-10, Antiq. of Mexico, vols. i.,
vi.--Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 1.--M. de Humboldt has been
at some pains to trace the analogy between the Aztec cosmogony and
that of Eastern Asia. He has tried, though in vain, to find a multiple
which might serve as the key to the calculations of the former.
(Vues des Cordillères, pp. 202-212.) In truth, there seems to be a
material discordance in the Mexican statements, both in regard to the
number of revolutions and their duration. A manuscript before me, of
Ixtlilxochitl, reduces them to three, before the present state of the
world, and allows only 4394 years for them (Sumaria Relacion, MS., No.
1); Gama, on the faith of an ancient Indian MS. in Boturini’s Catalogue
(viii. 13), reduces the duration still lower (Descripcion de las Dos
Piedras, Parte 1, p. 49, et seq.); while the cycles of the Vatican
paintings take up near 18,000 years.--It is interesting to observe how
the wild _conjectures_ of an ignorant age have been confirmed by the
more recent _discoveries_ in geology, making it probable that the earth
has experienced a number of convulsions, possibly thousands of years
distant from each other, which have swept away the races then existing,
and given a new aspect to the globe.

[105] Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva-España, lib. 3, Apend.--Cod. Vat., ap.
Antiq. of Mexico, Pl. 1-5.--Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 13, cap.
48.--The last writer assures us “that, as to what the Aztecs said of
their going to hell, they were right; for, as they died in ignorance of
the true faith, they have, without question, all gone there to suffer
everlasting punishment”! Ubi supra.

[106] It conveys but a poor idea of these pleasures, that the shade
of Achilles can say “he had rather be the slave of the meanest man
on earth, than sovereign among the dead.” (Odyss., A. 488-490.) The
Mahometans believe that the souls of martyrs pass, after death,
into the bodies of birds, that haunt the sweet waters and bowers of
Paradise. (Sale’s Koran (London, 1825), vol. i. p. 106.)--The Mexican
heaven may remind one of Dante’s, in its _material_ enjoyments; which,
in both, are made up of light, music, and motion. The sun, it must also
be remembered, was a spiritual conception with the Aztec:

    “He sees with other eyes than theirs; where they
     Behold a sun, he spies a deity.”

[107] It is singular that the Tuscan bard, while exhausting his
invention in devising modes of bodily torture, in his “Inferno,” should
have made so little use of the _moral_ sources of misery. That he has
not done so might be reckoned a strong proof of the rudeness of time,
did we not meet with examples of it in a later day; in which a serious
and sublime writer, like Dr. Watts, does not disdain to employ the same
coarse machinery for moving the conscience of the reader.

[108] [It should perhaps be regarded rather as evidence of a low
civilization, since the absence of any strict ideas of retribution is a
characteristic of the notions in regard to a future life entertained by
savage races. See Tylor, Primitive Culture, vol. ii. p. 76, et seq.--K.]

[109] Carta del Lic. Zuazo (Nov. 1521), MS.--Acosta, lib. 5, cap.
8.--Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 13, cap. 45.--Sahagun, Hist. de
Nueva-España, lib. 3, Apend.--Sometimes the body was buried entire,
with valuable treasures, if the deceased was rich. The “Anonymous
Conqueror,” as he is called, saw gold to the value of 3000 castellanos
drawn from one of these tombs. Relatione d’un gentil’ huomo, ap.
Ramusio, tom. iii. p. 310.

[110] This interesting rite, usually solemnized with great formality,
in the presence of the assembled friends and relatives, is detailed
with minuteness by Sahagun (Hist. de Nueva-España, lib. 6, cap. 37),
and by Zuazo (Carta, MS.), both of them eye-witnesses. For a version of
part of Sahagun’s account, see Appendix, Part 1, note 26.{*}

{*} [A similar rite of baptism, founded on the natural symbolism of
the purifying power of water, was practised by other races in America,
and had existed in the East, as the reader need hardly be told, long
anterior to Christianity.--K.]

[111] “¿Es posible que este azote y este castigo no se nos dá
para nuestra correccion y enmienda, sino para total destruccion y
asolamiento?” (Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva-España, lib. 6, cap. 1.) “Y
esto por sola vuestra liberalidad y magnificencia lo habeis de hacer,
que ninguno es digno ni merecedor de recibir vuestra larguezas por su
dignidad y merecimiento, sino que por vuestra benignidad.” (Ibid.,
lib. 6, cap. 2.) “Sed sufridos y reportados, que Dios bien os vé y
responderá por vosotros, y él os vengará (á) sed humildes con todos,
y con esto os hará Dios merced y tambien honra.” (Ibid., lib. 6, cap.
17.) “Tampoco mires con curiosidad el gesto y disposicion de la gente
principal, mayormente de las mugeres, y sobre todo de las casadas,
porque dice el refran que él que curiosamente mira á la muger adultera
con la vista.” (Ibid., lib. 6, cap. 22.)

[112] [On reviewing the remarkable coincidences shown in the above
pages with the sentiments and even the phraseology of Scripture,
we cannot but admit there is plausible ground for Mr. Gallatin’s
conjecture that the Mexicans, after the Conquest, attributed to their
remote ancestors ideas which more properly belonged to a generation
coeval with the Conquest, and brought into contact with the Europeans.
“The substance,” he remarks, “may be true; but several of the prayers
convey elevated and correct notions of a Supreme Being, which appear
to me altogether inconsistent with that which we know to have been
their practical religion and worship.”{*} Transactions of the American
Ethnological Society, i. 210.]

{*} [It is evident that an inconsistency such as belongs to all
religions, and to human nature in general, affords no sufficient ground
for doubting the authenticity of the prayers reported by Sahagun.
Similar specimens of prayers used by the Peruvians have been preserved,
and, like those of the Aztecs, exhibit, in their recognition of
spiritual as distinct from material blessings, a contrast to the forms
of petition employed by the wholly uncivilized races of the north.
They are in harmony with the purer conceptions of morality which those
nations are admitted to have possessed, and which formed the real basis
of their civilization.--K.]

[113] Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva-España, lib. 2, Apend.; lib. 3, cap.
9.--Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 8, cap. 20; lib. 9, cap. 3,
56.--Gomara, Crón., cap. 215, ap. Barcia, tom. ii.--Toribio, Hist. de
los Indios, MS., Parte 1, cap. 4.--Clavigero says that the high-priest
was necessarily a person of rank. (Stor. del Messico, tom. ii. p. 37.)
I find no authority for this, not even in his oracle, Torquemada,
who expressly says, “There is no warrant for the assertion, however
probable the fact may be.” (Monarch. Ind., lib. 9, cap. 5.) It is
contradicted by Sahagun, whom I have followed as the highest authority
in these matters. Clavigero had no other knowledge of Sahagun’s work
than what was filtered through the writings of Torquemada and later

[114] Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva-España, ubi supra.--Torquemada, Monarch.
Ind., lib. 9, cap. 25.--Gomara, Crón., ap. Barcia, ubi supra.--Acosta,
lib. 5, cap. 14, 17.

[115] [So, in the fourth century, the Roman Emperor Constantine
deferred his baptism until he felt that his end was approaching.--M.]

[116] Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva-España, lib. 1, cap. 12; lib. 6, cap.
7.--The address of the confessor, on these occasions, contains some
things too remarkable to be omitted. “O merciful Lord,” he says, in
his prayer, “thou who knowest the secrets of all hearts, let thy
forgiveness and favor descend, like the pure waters of heaven, to wash
away the stains from the soul. Thou knowest that this poor man _has
sinned, not from his own free will_, but from the influence of the sign
under which he was born.” After a copious exhortation to the penitent,
enjoining a variety of mortifications and minute ceremonies by way of
penance, and particularly urging the necessity of instantly procuring
_a slave for sacrifice_ to the Deity, the priest concludes with
inculcating charity to the poor. “Clothe the naked and feed the hungry,
whatever privations it may cost thee; for remember, _their flesh is
like thine, and they are men like thee_.” Such is the strange medley of
truly Christian benevolence and heathenish abominations which pervades
the Aztec litany,--intimating sources widely different.

[117] The Egyptian gods were also served by priestesses. (See
Herodotus, Euterpe, sec. 54.) Tales of scandal similar to those which
the Greeks circulated respecting them, have been told of the Aztec
virgins. (See Le Noir’s dissertation, ap. Antiquités Mexicaines (Paris,
1834), tom. ii. p. 7, note.) The early missionaries, credulous enough
certainly, give no countenance to such reports; and Father Acosta, on
the contrary, exclaims, “In truth, it is very strange to see that this
false opinion of religion hath so great force among these young men and
maidens of Mexico, that they will serve the Divell with so great rigor
and austerity, which many of us doe not in the service of the most high
God; the which is a great shame and confusion.” Eng. trans., lib. 5,
cap. 16.

[118] Toribio, Hist. de los Indios, MS., Parte 1, cap. 9.--Sahagun,
Hist. de Nueva-España, lib. 2, Apend.; lib. 3, cap. 4-8.--Zurita,
Rapport, pp. 123-126.--Acosta, lib. 5, cap. 15, 16.--Torquemada,
Monarch. Ind., lib. 9, cap. 11-14, 30, 31.--“They were taught,”
says the good father last cited, “to eschew vice, and cleave to
virtue,--_according to their notions of them_; namely, to abstain from
wrath to offer violence and do wrong to no man,--in short, to perform
the duties plainly pointed out by natural religion.”

[119] Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 8, cap. 20, 21.--Camargo, Hist.
de Tlascala, MS.--It is impossible not to be struck with the great
resemblance, not merely in a few empty forms, but in the whole way
of life, of the Mexican and Egyptian priesthood. Compare Herodotus
(Euterpe, passim) and Diodorus (lib. 1, sec. 73, 81). The English
reader may consult, for the same purpose, Heeren (Hist. Res., vol.
v. chap. 2), Wilkinson (Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians
(London, 1837), vol. i. pp. 257-279), the last writer especially,--who
has contributed, more than all others, towards opening to us the
interior of the social life of this interesting people.

[120] [Humboldt has noticed the curious similarity of the word
_teocalli_ with the Greek compound--actual or possible--θεόκαλία; and
Buschmann observes, “Die Ubereinstimmung des mex. teotl und θεός,
arithmetisch sehr hoch anzuschlagen wegen des Doppelvocals, zeigt wie
weit es der Zufall in Wortähnlichkeiten zwischen ganz verschiedenen
Sprachen bringen kann.” Uber die aztekischen Ortsnamen, S. 627.--K.]

[121] Rel. d’un gentil’ huomo, ap. Ramusio, tom. iii. fol.
307.--Camargo, Hist. de Tlascala, MS.--Acosta, lib. 5, cap.
13.--Gomara, Crón., cap. 80, ap. Barcia, tom. ii.--Toribio, Hist. de
los Indios, MS., Parte 1, cap. 4.--Carta del Lic. Zuazo, MS.--This last
writer, who visited Mexico immediately after the Conquest, in 1521,
assures us that some of the smaller temples, or pyramids, were filled
with earth impregnated with odoriferous gums and gold dust; the latter
sometimes in such quantities as probably to be worth a million of
_castellanos_! (Ubi supra.) These were the temples of Mammon, indeed!
But I find no confirmation of such golden reports.

[122] [The _teocallis_ could be used as fortresses, as the Spaniards
ascertained to their sorrow.]

[123] Cod. Tel.-Rem., Pl. 1, and Cod. Vat., passim, ap. Antiq. of
Mexico, vols. i., vi.--Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 10, cap. 10,
et seq.--Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva-España, lib. 2, passim.--Among the
offerings, quails may be particularly noticed, for the incredible
quantities of them sacrificed and consumed at many of the festivals.

[124] The traditions of their origin have somewhat of a fabulous tinge.
But, whether true or false, they are equally indicative of unparalleled
ferocity in the people who could be the subject of them. Clavigero,
Stor. del Messico, tom. i. p. 167, et seq.; also Humboldt (who does not
appear to doubt them), Vues des Cordillères, p. 95.

[125] [According to Payne, New World Called America, i. p. 78,
Tezcatlipoca, or _Fiery Mirror_, was so called because of the shield
of polished metal which was almost always a conspicuous adjunct of
the idol which represented him. Probably the correct form of his name
is Tezcatlipopoca, or Fiery Smoking Mirror. He had many names: “Night
Wind,”--“whose servants we are,”--“The Impatient,”--“The Provident
Disposer,”--“who does what he will.” His best-known appellation was
Telpochtli, or “Youthful Warrior,” because his vital force was never
diminished. He was also called the “Enemy,” and the “Hungry Chief.”--He
always had a living representative; when one was sacrificed another
took his place, and this representative was invested with the dress,
functions, and attributes of the God himself.--M.]

[126] Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva-España, lib. 2, cap. 2, 5, 24, et
alibi.--Herrera, Hist. general, dec. 3, lib. 2, cap. 16.--Torquemada,
Monarch. Ind., lib. 7, cap. 19; lib. 10, cap. 14.--Rel. d’un gentil’
huomo, ap. Ramusio, tom. iii. fol. 307.--Acosta, lib. 5, cap.
9-21.--Carta del Lic. Zuazo, MS.--Relacion por el Regimiento de Vera
Cruz (Julio, 1519), MS.--Few readers, probably, will sympathize with
the sentence of Torquemada, who concludes his tale of woe by coolly
dismissing “the soul of the victim, to sleep with those of his false
gods, in hell!” Lib. 10, cap. 23.

[127] Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva-España, lib. 2, cap. 10, 29.--Gomara,
Crón., cap. 219, ap. Barcia, tom. ii.--Toribio, Hist. de los Indios,
MS., Parte 1, cap. 6-11.--The reader will find a tolerably exact
picture of the nature of these tortures in the twenty-first canto of
the “Inferno.” The fantastic creations of the Florentine poet were
nearly realized, at the very time he was writing, by the barbarians
of an unknown world. One sacrifice, of a less revolting character,
deserves to be mentioned. The Spaniards called it the “gladiatorial
sacrifice,” and it may remind one of the bloody games of antiquity. A
captive of distinction was sometimes furnished with arms, and brought
against a number of Mexicans in succession. If he defeated them all, as
did occasionally happen, he was allowed to escape. If vanquished, he
was dragged to the block and sacrificed in the usual manner. The combat
was fought on a huge circular stone, before the assembled capital.
Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva-España, lib. 2, cap. 21.--Rel. d’un gentil’
huomo, ap. Ramusio, tom. iii. fol. 305.

[128] Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva-España, lib. 2, cap. 1, 4, 21, et
alibi.--Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 10, cap. 10.--Clavigero, Stor.
del Messico, tom. ii. pp. 76, 82.

[129] Carta del Lic. Zuazo, MS.--Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 7,
cap. 19.--Herrera, Hist. general, dec. 3, lib. 2, cap. 17.--Sahagun,
Hist. de Nueva-España, lib. 2, cap. 21, et alibi.--Toribio, Hist. de
los Indios, MS., Parte 1, cap. 2.

[130] To say nothing of Egypt, where, notwithstanding the indications
on the monuments, there is strong reason for doubting it. (Comp.
Herodotus, Euterpe, sec. 45.) It was of frequent occurrence among the
Greeks, as every schoolboy knows. In Rome, it was so common as to
require to be interdicted by an express law, less than a hundred years
before the Christian era,--a law recorded in a very honest strain of
exultation by Pliny (Hist. Nat., lib. 30, sec. 3, 4); notwithstanding
which, traces of the existence of the practice may be discerned to a
much later period. See, among others, Horace, Epod., In Canidiam.

[131] See Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, tom. ii. p. 49.--Bishop
Zumárraga, in a letter written a few years after the Conquest, states
that 20,000 victims were yearly slaughtered in the capital. Torquemada
turns this into 20,000 _infants_. (Monarch. Ind., lib. 7, cap. 21.)
Herrera, following Acosta, says 20,000 victims on a specified day of
the year, throughout the kingdom. (Hist. general, dec. 2, lib. 2,
cap. 16.) Clavigero, more cautious, infers that this number may have
been sacrificed annually throughout Anahuac. (Ubi supra.) Las Casas,
however, in his reply to Sepulveda’s assertion, that no one who had
visited the New World put the number of yearly sacrifices at less than
20,000, declares that “this is the estimate of brigands, who wish to
find an apology for their own atrocities, and that the real number was
not above 50”! (Œuvres, ed. Llorente (Paris, 1822), tom. i. pp. 365,
386.) Probably the good Bishop’s arithmetic here, as in most other
instances, came more from his heart than his head. With such loose
and contradictory data, it is clear that any specific number is mere
conjecture, undeserving the name of calculation.

[132] I am within bounds. Torquemada states the number, most precisely,
at 72,344 (Monarch. Ind., lib. 2, cap. 63); Ixtlilxochitl, with equal
precision, at 80,400. (Hist. Chich., MS.) _¿Quien sabe?_ The latter
adds that the captives massacred in the capital, in the course of that
memorable year, exceeded 100,000! (Loc. cit.) One, however, has to read
but a little way, to find out that the science of numbers--at least
where the party was not an eyewitness--is anything but an exact science
with these ancient chroniclers. The Codex Telleriano-Remensis, written
some fifty years after the Conquest, reduces the amount to 20,000.
(Antiq. of Mexico, vol. i. Pl. 19; vol. vi. p. 141, Eng. note.) Even
this hardly warrants the Spanish interpreter in calling king Ahuitzotl
a man “of a mild and moderate disposition,” _templada y benigna
condicion_! Ibid., vol. v. p. 49.

[133] Gomara states the number on the authority of two soldiers, whose
names he gives, who took the trouble to count the grinning horrors in
one of these Golgothas, where they were so arranged as to produce the
most hideous effect. The existence of these conservatories is attested
by every writer of the time.

[134] The “Anonymous Conqueror” assures us, as a fact beyond dispute,
that the Devil introduced himself into the bodies of the idols, and
persuaded the silly priests that his only diet was human hearts! It
furnishes a very satisfactory solution, to his mind, of the frequency
of sacrifices in Mexico. Rel. d’un gentil’ huomo, ap. Ramusio, tom.
iii. fol. 307.

[135] The Tezcucan priests would fain have persuaded the good king
Nezahualcoyotl, on occasion of a pestilence, to appease the gods by
the sacrifice of some of his own subjects, instead of his enemies; on
the ground that they would not only be obtained more easily, but would
be fresher victims, and more acceptable. (Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich.,
MS., cap. 41.) This writer mentions a cool arrangement entered into by
the allied monarchs with the republic of Tlascala and her confederates.
A battle-field was marked out, on which the troops of the hostile
nations were to engage at stated seasons, and thus supply themselves
with subjects for sacrifice. The victorious party was not to pursue his
advantage by invading the other’s territory, and they were to continue,
in all other respects, on the most amicable footing. (Ubi supra.) The
historian, who follows in the track of the Tezcucan Chronicler, may
often find occasion to shelter himself, like Ariosto, with

    “Mettendolo Turpin, lo metto anch’ io.”

[136] [Don José F. Ramirez, the distinguished Mexican scholar, has
made this sentence the text for a disquisition of fifty pages or
more, one object of which is to show that the existence of human
sacrifices is not irreconcilable with an advance in civilization. This
leads him into an argument of much length, covering a broad range of
historical inquiry, and displaying much learning as well as a careful
consideration of the subject. In one respect, however, he has been led
into an important error by misunderstanding the drift of my remarks,
where, speaking of cannibalism, I say, “It is impossible the people who
practise it should make any great progress in moral or intellectual
culture” (p. 100). This observation, referring solely to cannibalism,
the critic cites as if applied by me to human sacrifices. Whatever
force, therefore, his reasoning may have in respect to the latter, it
cannot be admitted to apply to the former. The distance is wide between
human sacrifices and cannibalism; though Señor Ramirez diminishes
this distance by regarding both one and the other simply as religious
exercises, springing from the devotional principle in our nature.{*}
He enforces his views by a multitude of examples from history, which
show how extensively these revolting usages of the Aztecs--on a much
less gigantic scale indeed--have been practised by the primitive races
of the Old World, some of whom, at a later period, made high advances
in civilization. Ramirez, Notas y Esclarecimientos á la Historia del
Conquista de México del Señor W. Prescott, appended to Navarro’s

{*} [The practise of eating, or tasting, the victim has been generally
associated with sacrifice, from the idea either of the sacredness of
the offering or of the deity’s accepting the soul, the immaterial part,
or the blood as containing the principle of life and leaving the flesh
to his worshippers.--K.]

[137] Rel. d’un gentil’ huomo, ap. Ramusio, tom. iii. fol. 307.--Among
other instances is that of Chimalpopoca, third king of Mexico, who
doomed himself, with a number of his lords, to this death, to wipe off
an indignity offered him by a brother monarch. (Torquemada, Monarch.
Ind., lib. 2, cap. 28.) This was the law of honor with the Aztecs.

[138] [“The advancement of Mexico rested for support on ... a system of
perpetual war, remorselessly maintained against neighboring peoples,
ostensibly to procure victims for sacrifice, but really to provide
animal food for consumption by the privileged class engaged in it; and
the religious ritual had been so expanded as to ensure for them, by a
sacred and permanent sanction, an almost continuous cannibal carnival.”
Payne, New World Called America, vol. i. p. 300. Mr. Payne shows that
this continuous cannibalism prevailed because Anahuac possessed no
large animals capable of furnishing a regular food supply. “Organized
cannibalism, fortified by its religious sanction, was in fact a natural
if not a necessary outgrowth of circumstances.”--M.]

[139] Voltaire, doubtless, intends this, when he says, “Ils n’étaient
point anthropophages, comme un très-petit nombre de peuplades
Américaines.” (Essai sur les Mœurs, chap. 147.)

[140] [The remark in the text admits of some qualification. According
to an ancient Tezcucan chronicler, quoted by Señor Ramirez, the Toltecs
celebrated occasionally the worship of the god Tlaloc with human
sacrifices. The most important of these was the offering up once a
year of five or six maidens, who were immolated in the usual horrid
way of tearing out their hearts. It does not appear that the Toltecs
consummated the sacrifice by devouring the flesh of the victim. This
seems to have been the only exception to the blameless character of
the Toltec rites. Tlaloc was the oldest deity in the Aztec mythology,
in which he found a suitable place. Yet, as the knowledge of him was
originally derived from the Toltecs, it cannot be denied that this
people, as Ramirez says, possessed in their peculiar civilization the
germs of those sanguinary institutions which existed on so appalling a
scale in Mexico. See Ramirez, Notas y Esclarecimientos, ubi supra.]

[141] Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 45, et alibi.

[142] No doubt the ferocity of character engendered by their sanguinary
rites greatly facilitated their conquests. Machiavelli attributes to a
similar cause, in part, the military successes of the Romans. (Discorsi
sopra T. Livio, lib. 2, cap. 2.) The same chapter contains some
ingenious reflections--much more ingenious than candid--on the opposite
tendencies of Christianity.{*}

{*} [“It was high time that an end should be put to those hecatombs
of human victims, slashed, torn open, and devoured on all the little
occasions of life. It sounds quite pithy to say that the Inquisition,
as conducted in Mexico, was as great an evil as the human sacrifices
and the cannibalism; but it is not true.” Fiske, The Discovery of
America, vol. ii. p. 293.--M.]

[143] “An Egyptian temple,” says Denon, strikingly, “is an open volume,
in which the teachings of science, morality, and the arts are recorded.
Every thing seems to speak one and the same language, and breathes one
and the same spirit.” The passage is cited by Heeren, Hist. Res., vol.
v. p. 178.

[144] Divine Legation, ap. Works (London, 1811), vol. iv. b. 4,
sec. 4.--The Bishop of Gloucester, in his comparison of the various
hieroglyphical systems of the world, shows his characteristic sagacity
and boldness by announcing opinions little credited then, though since
established. He affirmed the existence of an Egyptian alphabet, but
was not aware of the phonetic property of hieroglyphics,--the great
literary discovery of our age.

[145] It appears that the hieroglyphics on the most recent monuments
of Egypt contain no larger infusion of phonetic characters than those
which existed eighteen centuries before Christ; showing no advance, in
this respect, for twenty-two hundred years! (See Champollion, Précis du
Système hiéroglyphique des anciens Égyptiens (Paris, 1824), pp. 242,
281.) It may seem more strange that the enchorial alphabet, so much
more commodious, should not have been substituted. But the Egyptians
were familiar with their hieroglyphics from infancy, which, moreover,
took the fancies of the most illiterate, probably in the same manner as
our children are attracted and taught by the picture-alphabets in an
ordinary spelling-book.

[146] Descripcion histórica y cronológica de las Dos Piedras (México,
1832), Parte 2, p. 39.

[147] Gama, Descripcion, Parte 2, pp. 32, 44.--Acosta, lib. 6, cap.
7.--The continuation of Gama’s work, recently edited by Bustamante, in
Mexico, contains, among other things, some interesting remarks on the
Aztec hieroglyphics. The editor has rendered a good service by this
further publication of the writings of this estimable scholar, who has
done more than any of his countrymen to explain the mysteries of Aztec

[148] Gama, Descripcion, Parte 2, p. 32.--Warburton, with his
usual penetration, rejects the idea of mystery in the figurative
hieroglyphics. (Divine Legation, b. 4, sec. 4.) If there was any
mystery reserved for the initiated, Champollion thinks it may have
been the system of the anaglyphs. (Précis, p. 360.) Why may not this
be true, likewise, of the monstrous symbolical combinations which
represented the Mexican deities?

[149] Boturini, Idea, pp. 77-83.--Gama, Descripcion, Parte 2, pp.
34-43.--Heeren is not aware, or does not allow, that the Mexicans
used phonetic characters of any kind. (Hist. Res., vol. v. p. 45.)
They, indeed, reversed the usual order of proceeding, and, instead of
adapting the hieroglyphic to the name of the object, accommodated the
name of the object to the hieroglyphic. This, of course, could not
admit of great extension. We find phonetic characters, however, applied
in some instances to common as well as proper names.

[150] Boturini, Idea, ubi supra.

[151] Clavigero has given a catalogue of the Mexican historians
of the sixteenth century,--some of whom are often cited in this
history,--which bears honorable testimony to the literary ardor
and intelligence of the native races. Stor. del Messico, tom. i.,
Pref.--Also, Gama, Descripcion, Parte 1, passim.

[152] M. de Humboldt’s remark, that the Aztec annals, from the close
of the eleventh century, “exhibit the greatest method and astonishing
minuteness” (Vues des Cordillères, p. 137), must be received with
some qualification. The reader would scarcely understand from it that
there are rarely more than one or two facts recorded in any year,
and sometimes not one in a dozen or more. The necessary looseness
and uncertainty of these historical records are made apparent by the
remarks of the Spanish interpreter of the Mendoza Codex, who tells us
that the natives, to whom it was submitted, were very long in coming to
an agreement about the proper signification of the paintings. Antiq. of
Mexico, vol. vi. p. 87.

[153] Gama, Descripcion, Parte 2, p. 30.--Acosta, lib. 6, cap.
7.--“Tenian para cada género,” says Ixtlilxochitl, “sus Escritores,
unos que trataban de los Anales, poniendo por su órden las cosas que
acaecian en cada un año, con dia, mes, y hora; otros tenian á su cargo
las Genealogías, y descendencia de los Reyes, Señores, y Personas de
linaje, asentando por cuenta y razon los que nacian, y borraban los que
morian con la misma cuenta. Unos tenian cuidado de las pinturas, de los
términos, límites, y mojoneras de las Ciudades, Provincias, Pueblos, y
Lugares, y de las suertes, y repartimiento de las tierras cuyas eran, y
á quien pertenecian; otros de los libros de Leyes, ritos, y ceremonias
que usaban.” Hist. Chich., MS., Prólogo.

[154] According to Boturini, the ancient Mexicans were acquainted
with the Peruvian method of recording events by means of the
_quippus_,--knotted strings of various colors,--which were afterwards
superseded by hieroglyphical painting. (Idea, p. 86.) He could
discover, however, but a single specimen, which he met with in
Tlascala, and that had nearly fallen to pieces with age. McCulloh
suggests that it may have been only a wampum belt, such as is
common among our North American Indians. (Researches, p. 201.)
The conjecture is plausible enough. Strings of wampum, of various
colors, were used by the latter people for the similar purpose of
registering events. The insulated fact, recorded by Boturini, is hardly
sufficient--unsupported, so far as I know, by any other testimony--to
establish the existence of _quippus_ among the Aztecs, who had but
little in common with the Peruvians.

[155] Pliny, who gives a minute account of the _papyrus_ reed of Egypt,
notices the various manufactures obtained from it, as ropes, cloth,
paper, etc. It also served as a thatch for the roofs of houses, and as
food and drink for the natives. (Hist. Nat., lib. 11, cap. 20-22.) It
is singular that the American _agave_, a plant so totally different,
should also have been applied to all these various uses.

[156] Lorenzana, Hist. de Nueva-España, p. 8.--Boturini, Idea, p.
96.--Humboldt, Vues des Cordillères, p. 52.--Peter Martyr Anglerius,
De Orbe Novo (Compluti, 1530), dec. 3, cap. 8; dec. 5, cap 10.--Martyr
has given a minute description of the Indian maps sent home soon after
the invasion of New Spain. His inquisitive mind was struck with the
evidence they afforded of a positive civilization. Ribera, the friend
of Cortés, brought back a story that the paintings were designed as
patterns for embroiderers and jewellers. But Martyr had been in Egypt,
and he felt little hesitation in placing the Indian drawings in the
same class with those he had seen on the obelisks and temples of that

[157] Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., Prólogo.--Idem, Sum. Relac.,
MS.--[“The name of Zumárraga,” says Señor Alaman, “has other and
very different titles to immortality from that mentioned by Mr.
Prescott,--titles founded on his virtues and apostolic labors,
especially on the fervid zeal with which he defended the natives
and the manifold benefits he secured to them. The loss that history
suffered by the destruction of the Indian manuscripts by the
missionaries has been in a great measure repaired by the writings of
the missionaries themselves.” Conquista de Méjico (trad. de Vega),
tom. i. p. 60.]--Writers are not agreed whether the conflagration took
place in the square of Tlatelolco or Tezcuco. Comp. Clavigero, Stor.
del Messico, tom. ii. p. 188, and Bustamante’s Pref. to Ixtlilxochitl,
Cruautés des Conquérans, trad. de Ternaux, p. xvii.

[158] It has been my lot to record both these displays of human
infirmity, so humbling to the pride of intellect. See the History of
Ferdinand and Isabella, Part 2, chap. 6.

[159] Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva-España, lib. 10, cap. 27.--Bustamante,
Mañanas de Alameda (México, 1836), tom. ii., Prólogo.

[160] [“After the zeal of the priests had somewhat abated, or rather
when the harmless nature of the paintings was better understood, the
natives were permitted to use their hieroglyphics again. Among other
things they wrote down in this way their sins when the priests were too
busy to hear their verbal confessions.” Bancroft, Native Races, vol.
ii. p. 526.--M.]

[161] Very many of the documents thus painfully amassed in the archives
of the Audience of Mexico were sold, according to Bustamante, as
wrapping-paper, to apothecaries, shopkeepers, and rocket-makers!
Boturini’s noble collection has not fared much better.

[162] The history of this famous collection is familiar to scholars. It
was sent to the Emperor Charles the Fifth, not long after the Conquest,
by the viceroy Mendoza, Marques de Mondejar. The vessel fell into the
hands of a French cruiser, and the manuscript was taken to Paris. It
was afterwards bought by the chaplain of the English embassy, and,
coming into the possession of the antiquary Purchas, was engraved,
_in extenso_, by him, in the third volume of his “Pilgrimage.” After
its publication, in 1625, the Aztec original lost its importance,
and fell into oblivion so completely that, when at length the public
curiosity was excited in regard to its fate, no trace of it could
be discovered. Many were the speculations of scholars, at home and
abroad, respecting it, and Dr. Robertson settled the question as to
its existence in England, by declaring that there was no Mexican relic
in that country, except a golden goblet of Montezuma. (History of
America (London, 1796), vol. iii. p. 370.) Nevertheless, the identical
Codex, and several other Mexican paintings, have been since discovered
in the Bodleian Library. The circumstance has brought some obloquy
on the historian, who, while prying into the collections of Vienna
and the Escorial, could be so blind to those under his own eyes.
The oversight will not appear so extraordinary to a thorough-bred
collector, whether of manuscripts, or medals, or any other rarity. The
Mendoza Codex is, after all, but a copy, coarsely done with a pen on
European paper. Another copy, from which Archbishop Lorenzana engraved
his tribute-rolls in Mexico, existed in Boturini’s collection. A third
is in the Escorial, according to the Marquis of Spineto. (Lectures on
the Elements of Hieroglyphics (London), Lect. 7.) This may possibly be
the original painting. The entire Codex, copied from the Bodleian maps,
with its Spanish and English interpretations, is included in the noble
compilation of Lord Kingsborough. (Vols. i., v., vi.) It is distributed
into three parts, embracing the civil history of the nation, the
tributes paid by the cities, and the domestic economy and discipline of
the Mexicans, and, from the fulness of the interpretation, is of much
importance in regard to these several topics.

[163] It formerly belonged to the Giustiniani family, but was so
little cared for that it was suffered to fall into the mischievous
hands of the domestics’ children, who made sundry attempts to burn it.
Fortunately, it was painted on deerskin, and, though somewhat singed,
was not destroyed. (Humboldt, Vues des Cordillères, p. 89, et seq.) It
is impossible to cast the eye over this brilliant assemblage of forms
and colors without feeling how hopeless must be the attempt to recover
a key to the Aztec mythological symbols; which are here distributed
with the symmetry, indeed, but in all the endless combinations, of the
kaleidoscope. It is in the third volume of Lord Kingsborough’s work.

[164] Humboldt, who has copied some pages of it in his “Atlas
pittoresque,” intimates no doubt of its Aztec origin. (Vues des
Cordillères, pp. 266, 267.) M. Le Noir even reads in it an exposition
of Mexican Mythology, with occasional analogies to that of Egypt and
of Hindostan. (Antiquités Mexicaines, tom, ii., Introd.) The fantastic
forms of hieroglyphic symbols may afford analogies for almost anything.

[165] The history of this Codex, engraved entire in the third volume
of the “Antiquities of Mexico,” goes no further back than 1739, when
it was purchased at Vienna for the Dresden Library. It is made of the
American _agave_. The figures painted on it bear little resemblance,
either in feature or form, to the Mexican. They are surmounted by a
sort of head-gear, which looks something like a modern peruke. On the
chin of one we may notice a beard, a sign often used after the Conquest
to denote a European. Many of the persons are sitting cross-legged. The
profiles of the faces, and the whole contour of the limbs, are sketched
with a spirit and freedom very unlike the hard, angular outlines of the
Aztecs. The characters, also, are delicately traced, generally in an
irregular but circular form, and are very minute. They are arranged,
like the Egyptian, both horizontally and perpendicularly, mostly in
the former manner, and, from the prevalent direction of the profiles,
would seem to have been read from right to left. Whether phonetic
or ideographic, they are of that compact and purely conventional
sort which belongs to a well-digested system for the communication
of thought. One cannot but regret that no trace should exist of the
quarter whence this MS. was obtained; perhaps some part of Central
America, from the region of the mysterious races who built the
monuments of Mitla and Palenque; though, in truth, there seems scarcely
more resemblance in the symbols to the Palenque _bas-reliefs_ than to
the Aztec paintings.{*}

{*} [Mr. Stephens, who, like Humboldt, considered the Dresden Codex
a Mexican manuscript, compared the characters of it with those on
the altar of Copan, and drew the conclusion that the inhabitants of
that place and of Palenque must have spoken the same language as the
Aztecs. Prescott’s opinion has, however, been confirmed by later
critics, who have shown that the hieroglyphics of the Dresden Codex are
quite different from those at Copan and Palenque, while the Mexican
writing bears not the least resemblance to either. See Orozco y Berra,
Geografia de las Lenguas de México, p. 101.-K.]

[166] There are three of these: the Mendoza Codex; the
Telleriano-Remensis,--formerly the property of Archbishop Teller,--in
the Royal Library of Paris; and the Vatican MS., No. 3738. The
interpretation of the last bears evident marks of its recent origin;
probably as late as the close of the sixteenth or the beginning of the
seventeenth century, when the ancient hieroglyphics were read with the
eye of faith rather than of reason. Whoever was the commentator (comp.
Vues des Cordillères, pp. 203, 204; and Antiq. of Mexico, vol. vi. pp.
155, 222), he has given such an exposition as shows the Aztecs to have
been as orthodox Christians as any subjects of the Pope.

[167] The total number of Egyptian hieroglyphics discovered by
Champollion amounts to 864; and of these 130 only are phonetic,
notwithstanding that this kind of character is used far more frequently
than both the others. Précis, p. 263;--also Spineto, Lectures, Lect. 3.

[168] Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., Dedic.--Boturini, who travelled
through every part of the country in the middle of the last century,
could not meet with an individual who could afford him the least clue
to the Aztec hieroglyphics. So completely had every vestige of their
ancient language been swept away from the memory of the natives. (Idea,
p. 116.) If we are to believe Bustamante, however, a complete key to
the whole system is, at this moment, _somewhere_ in Spain. It was
carried home, at the time of the process against Father Mier, in 1795.
The name of the Mexican Champollion who discovered it is Borunda. Gama,
Descripcion, tom. ii. p. 33, nota.

[169] [After the ancient picture-writings had been destroyed in
Yucatan, and their harmlessness had been recognized, attempts were
made to record once more the history they contained. These restored
chronicles are called the Chilan Balam. From them Professor Daniel G.
Brinton selected the stories he published as the “Maya Chronicles.” One
of them, the “Chronicle of Chicxulub,” was written in Roman characters
by a native Maya chief, Nakuk Pech, about the year 1562. It is a short
account of the Spanish conquest of Yucatan and refers to Izamal and
Chichen-Itza as inhabited towns in the first half of the sixteenth

[170] _Teoamoxtli_, “the divine book,” as it was called. According to
Ixtlilxochitl, it was composed by a Tezcucan doctor, named Huematzin,
towards the close of the seventeenth century. (Relaciones, MS.) It gave
an account of the migrations of his nation from Asia, of the various
stations on their journey, of their social and religious institutions,
their science, arts, etc., etc., a good deal too much for one book.
_Ignotum pro mirifico._ It has never been seen by a European.{*} A
copy is said to have been in possession of the Tezcucan chroniclers on
the taking of their capital. (Bustamante, Crónica Mexicana (México,
1822), carta 3.) Lord Kingsborough, who can scent out a Hebrew root be
it buried never so deep, has discovered that the _Teoamoxtli_ was the
Pentateuch. Thus, _teo_ means “divine,” _amotl_, “paper” or “book,”
and _moxtli_ “appears to be Moses;”--“Divine Book of Moses”! Antiq. of
Mexico, vol. vi. p. 204, nota.

{*} [It must have been seen by many Europeans, if we accept either
the statement of the Baron de Waldeck, in 1838 (Voyage pittoresque et
arçhéologique dans la Province d’Yucatan), that it was then in his
possession, or the theories of Brasseur de Bourbourg, who identifies it
with the Dresden Codex and certain other hieroglyphical manuscripts,
and who believes himself to have found the key to it, and consequently
to the origin of the Mexican history and civilization, in one of the
documents in Boturini’s collection, to which he has given the name
of the Codex Chimalpopoca. Quatre Lettres sur le Mexique (Paris,

[171] [Such a supposition would require a “stretch of fancy” greater
than any which the mind of the mere historical inquirer is capable of
taking. To admit the probability of the Asiatic origin of the American
races, and of the indefinite antiquity of Mexican civilization, is
something very different from believing that this civilization, already
developed in the degree required for the existence and preservation of
its own records during so long a period and so great a migration, can
have been transplanted from the one continent to the other. It would be
easier to accept the theory, now generally abandoned, that the original
settlers owed their civilization to a body of colonists from Phœnicia.
In view of so hazardous a conjecture, it is difficult to understand
why Buschmann has taken exception to the “sharp criticism” to which
Prescott has subjected the sources of Mexican history, and his “low
estimate of their value and credibility.”--K.]

[172] Boturini, Idea, pp. 90-97.--Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, tom.
ii. pp. 174-178.

[173] “Los cantos con que las observaban Autores muy graves en su modo
de ciencia y facultad, pues fuéron los mismos Reyes, y de la gente mas
ilustre y entendida, que siempre observáron y adquiriéron la verdad, y
esta con tanta razon, quanta pudiéron tener los mas graves y fidedignos
Autores.” Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., Prologo.

[174] See chap. 6 of this Introduction.

[175] See some account of these mummeries in Acosta (lib. 5, cap.
30),--also Clavigero (Stor. del Messico, ubi supra). Stone models
of masks are sometimes found among the Indian ruins, and engravings
of them are both in Lord Kingsborough’s work and in the Antiquités

[176] Gama, Descripcion, Parte 2, Apend. 2.--Gama, in comparing the
language of Mexican notation with the decimal system of the Europeans
and the ingenious binary system of Leibnitz, confounds oral with
written arithmetic.

[177] Ibid., ubi supra.--This learned Mexican has given a very
satisfactory treatise on the arithmetic of the Aztecs, in his second

[178] Herodotus, Euterpe, sec. 4.{*}

{*} [And in France. In France the five extra days were called

[179] Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva-España, lib. 4, Apend.--According to
Clavigero, the fairs were held on the days bearing the sign of the
year. Stor. del Messico, tom. ii. p. 62.

[180] The people of Java, according to Sir Stamford Raffles, regulated
their markets, also, by a week of five days. They had, besides, our
week of seven (History of Java (London, 1830), vol. i. pp. 531, 532.)
The latter division of time, of general use throughout the East, is
the oldest monument existing of astronomical science. See La Place,
Exposition du Système du Monde (Paris, 1808), lib. 5, chap. 1.

[181] Veytia, Historia antigua de Méjico (Méjico, 1806), tom. i. cap.
6, 7.--Gama, Descripcion, Parte 1, pp. 33, 34, et alibi.--Boturini,
Idea, pp. 4, 44, et seq.--Cod. Tel.-Rem., ap. Antiq. of Mexico, vol.
vi. p. 104.--Camargo, Hist. de Tlascala, MS.--Toribio, Hist. de los
Indios, MS., Parte 1, cap. 5.

[182] Sahagun intimates doubts of this. “They celebrated another feast
every four years in honor of the elements of fire, and it is probable
and has been conjectured that it was on these occasions that they made
their intercalation, counting six days of _nemontemi_,” as the unlucky
complementary days were called. (Hist. de Nueva-España, lib. 4, Apend.)
But this author, however good an authority for the superstitions, is an
indifferent one for the science of the Mexicans.

[183] The Persians had a cycle of one hundred and twenty years, of
three hundred and sixty-five days each, at the end of which they
intercalated thirty days. (Humboldt, Vues des Cordillèras, p. 177.)
This was the same as thirteen after the cycle of fifty-two years of the
Mexicans, but was less accurate than their probable intercalation of
twelve days and a half. It is obviously indifferent, as far as accuracy
is concerned, which multiple of four is selected to form the cycle;
though, the shorter the interval of intercalation, the less, of course,
will be the temporary departure from the true time.

[184] This is the conclusion to which Gama arrives, after a very
careful investigation of the subject. He supposes that the “bundles,”
or cycles, of fifty-two years--by which, as we shall see, the Mexicans
computed time--ended alternately at midnight and midday. (Descripcion,
Parte 1, p. 52, et seq.) He finds some warrant for this in Acosta’s
account (lib. 6, cap. 2), though contradicted by Torquemada (Monarch.
Ind., lib. 5, cap. 33), and, as it appears, by Sahagun,--whose work,
however, Gama never saw (Hist. de Nueva-España, lib. 7, cap. 9),--both
of whom place the close of the year at midnight. Gama’s hypothesis
derives confirmation from a circumstance I have not seen noticed.
Besides the “bundle” of fifty-two years, the Mexicans had a larger
cycle of one hundred and four years, called “an old age.” As this was
not used in their reckonings, which were carried on by their “bundles,”
it seems highly probable that it was designed to express the period
which would bring round the commencement of the smaller cycles to the
same hour, and in which the intercalary days, amounting to twenty-five,
might be comprehended without a fraction.

[185] This length, as computed by Zach, at 365d. 5h. 48m. 48sec.,
is only 2m. 9sec. longer than the Mexican; which corresponds with
the celebrated calculation of the astronomers of the Caliph Almamon,
that fell short about two minutes of the true time. See La Place,
Exposition, p. 350.

[186] “El corto exceso de 4hor. 38min. 40seg., que hay de mas de los 25
dias en el período de 104 años, no puede componer un dia entero, hasta
que pasen mas de cinco de estos períodos máximos ó 538 años.” (Gama,
Descripcion, Parte 1, p. 23.) Gama estimates the solar year at 365d.
5h. 48m. 50sec.

[187] The ancient Etruscans arranged their calendar in cycles of 110
solar years, and reckoned the year at 365d. 5h. 40m.; at least this
seems probable, says Niebuhr. (History of Rome, Eng. trans. (Cambridge,
1828), vol. i. pp. 113, 238.) The early Romans had not wit enough
to avail themselves of this accurate measurement, which came within
nine minutes of the true time. The Julian reform, which assumed 365d.
5¼h. as the length of the year, erred as much, or rather more, on
the other side. And when the Europeans, who adopted this calendar,
landed in Mexico, their reckoning was nearly eleven days in advance of
the exact time,--or, in other words, of the reckoning of the barbarous
Aztecs;{*} a remarkable fact.--Gama’s researches led to the conclusion
that the year of the new cycle began with the Aztecs on the ninth of
January; a date considerably earlier than that usually assigned by
the Mexican writers. (Descripcion, Parte 2, pp. 49-52.) By postponing
the intercalation to the end of fifty-two years, the annual loss of
six hours made every fourth year begin a day earlier. Thus, the cycle
commencing on the ninth of January, the fifth year of it began on the
eighth, the ninth year on the seventh, and so on; so that the last day
of the series of fifty-two years fell on the twenty-sixth of December,
when the intercalation of thirteen days rectified the chronology and
carried the commencement of the new year to the ninth of January again.
Torquemada, puzzled by the irregularity of the new-year’s day, asserts
that the Mexicans were unacquainted with the annual excess of six
hours, and therefore never intercalated! (Monarch. Ind., lib. 10, cap.
36.) The interpreter of the Vatican Codex has fallen into a series of
blunders on the same subject, still more ludicrous. (Antiq. of Mexico,
vol. vi. Pl. 16.) So soon had Aztec science fallen into oblivion after
the Conquest!

{*} [See also Wilson, Prehistoric Man, i. p. 246.--M.]

[188] These hieroglyphics were a “rabbit,” a “reed,” a “flint,” a
“house.” They were taken as symbolical of the four elements, air,
water, fire, earth, according to Veytia. (Hist. antig., tom. i. cap.
5.) It is not easy to see the connection between the terms “rabbit” and
“air,” which lead the respective series.{*}

{*} [The fleet and noiseless motions of the animal seem to offer an
obvious explanation of the symbol.--K.]

[189] The following table of two of the four indictions of thirteen
years each will make the text more clear. The first column shows
the actual year of the great cycle, or “bundle.” The second, the
numerical dots used in their arithmetic. The third is composed of their
hieroglyphics for rabbit, reed, flint, house, in their regular order.


By pursuing the combinations through the two remaining indictions, it
will be found that the same number of dots will never coincide with
the same hieroglyphic. These tables are generally thrown into the
form of wheels, as are those also of their months and days, having a
very pretty effect. Several have been published, at different times,
from the collections of Siguenza and Boturini. The wheel of the great
cycle of fifty-two years is encompassed by a serpent, which was also
the symbol of “an age,” both with the Persians and Egyptians. Father
Toribio seems to misapprehend the nature of these chronological wheels:
“Tenian rodelas y escudos, y en ellas pintadas las figuras y armas de
sus Demonios con su blason.” Hist. de los Indios, MS., Parte 1, cap. 4.

[190] Among the Chinese, Japanese, Moghols, Mantchous, and other
families of the Tartar race. Their series are composed of symbols of
their five elements, and the twelve zodiacal signs, making a cycle
of sixty years’ duration. Their several systems are exhibited, in
connection with the Mexican, in the luminous pages of Humboldt (Vues
des Cordillères, p. 149), who draws important consequences from the
comparison, to which we shall have occasion to return hereafter.

[191] In this calendar, the months of the tropical year were
distributed into cycles of thirteen days, which, being repeated twenty
times,--the number of days in a solar month,--completed the lunar, or
astrological, year of 260 days; when the reckoning began again. “By
the contrivance of these _trecenas_ (terms of thirteen days) and the
cycle of fifty-two years,” says Gama, “they formed a luni-solar period,
most exact for astronomical purposes.” (Descripcion, Parte 1, p. 27.)
He adds that these _trecenas_ were suggested by the periods in which
the moon is visible before and after conjunction. (Loc. cit.) It seems
hardly possible that a people capable of constructing a calendar so
accurately on the true principles of solar time should so grossly err
as to suppose that in this reckoning they really “represented the daily
revolutions of the moon.” “The whole Eastern world,” says the learned
Niebuhr, “has followed the moon in its calendar; the free scientific
division of a vast portion of time is peculiar to the West. Connected
with the West is that primeval extinct world which we call the New.”
History of Rome, vol. i. p. 239.

[192] They were named “companions,” and “lords of the night,” and were
supposed to preside over the night, as the other signs did over the
day. Boturini, Idea, p. 57.

[193] Thus, their astrological year was divided into months of thirteen
days; there were thirteen years in their indictions, which contained
each three hundred and sixty-five periods of thirteen days, etc. It
is a curious fact that the number of lunar months of thirteen days
contained in a cycle of fifty-two years, with the intercalation,
should correspond precisely with the number of years in the great
Sothic period of the Egyptians, namely, 1491; a period in which the
seasons and festivals came round to the same place in the year again.
The coincidence may be accidental. But a people employing periodical
series and astrological calculations have generally some meaning in the
numbers they select and the combinations to which they lead.

[194] According to Gama (Descripcion, Parte 1, pp. 75, 76), because 369
can be divided by nine without a fraction; the nine “companions” not
being attached to the five complementary days. But 4, a mystic number
much used in their arithmetical combinations, would have answered the
same purpose equally well. In regard to this, McCulloh observes, with
much shrewdness, “It seems impossible that the Mexicans, so careful
in constructing their cycle, should abruptly terminate it with 360
revolutions, whose natural period of termination is 2340.” And he
supposes the nine “companions” were used in connection with the cycles
of 260 days, in order to throw them into the larger ones, of 2340;
eight of which, with a ninth of 260 days, he ascertains to be equal to
the great solar period of 52 years. (Researches, pp. 207, 208.) This is
very plausible. But in fact the combinations of the two first series,
forming the cycle of 260 days, were always interrupted at the end of
the year, since each new year began with the same hieroglyphic of the
days. The third series of the “companions” was intermitted, as above
stated, on the five unlucky days which closed the year, in order, if we
may believe Boturini, that the first day of the solar year might have
annexed to it the first of the nine “companions,” which signified “lord
of the year” (Idea, p. 57); a result which might have been equally
well secured, without any intermission at all, by taking 5, another
favorite number, instead of 9, as the divisor. As it was, however, the
cycle, as far as the third series was concerned, did terminate with 360
revolutions. The subject is a perplexing one, and I can hardly hope to
have presented it in such a manner as to make it perfectly clear to the

[195] Hist. de Nueva-España, lib. 4, Introd.

[196] “Dans les pays les plus différents,” says Benjamin Constant,
concluding some sensible reflections on the sources of the sacerdotal
power, “chez les peuples de mœurs les plus opposées, le sacerdoce a dû
au culte des éléments et des astres un pouvoir dont aujourd’hui nous
concevons à peine l’idée.” De la Religion (Paris, 1825), lib. 3, ch. 5.


    “It is a gentle and affectionate thought.
     That, in immeasurable heights above us,
     At our first birth the wreath of love was woven
     With sparkling stars for flowers.”
                  COLERIDGE: Translation of Wallenstein, act 2, sc. 4.

Schiller is more true to poetry than history, when he tells us, in the
beautiful passage of which this is part, that the worship of the stars
took the place of classic mythology. It existed long before it.

[198] Gama has given us a complete almanac of the astrological year,
with the appropriate signs and divisions, showing with what scientific
skill it was adapted to its various uses. (Descripcion, Parte 1,
pp. 25-31, 62-76.) Sahagun has devoted a whole book to explaining
the mystic import and value of these signs, with a minuteness that
may enable one to cast up a scheme of nativity for himself. (Hist.
de Nueva-España, lib. 4.) It is evident he fully believed the magic
wonders which he told. “It was a deceitful art,” he says, “pernicious
and idolatrous, and was never contrived by human reason.” The good
father was certainly no philosopher.

[199] See, among others, the Cod. Tel.-Rem., Part 4, Pl. 22, ap. Antiq.
of Mexico, vol. i.

[200] “It can hardly be doubted,” says Lord Kingsborough, “that the
Mexicans were acquainted with many scientific instruments of strange
invention, as compared with our own; whether the _telescope_ may not
have been of the number is uncertain; but the thirteenth plate of M.
Dupaix’s _Monuments_, Part Second, which represents a man holding
something of a similar nature to his eye, affords reason to suppose
that they knew how to improve the powers of vision.” (Antiq. of Mexico,
vol. vi. p. 15, note.) The instrument alluded to is rudely carved on
a conical rock. It is raised no higher than the neck of the person
who holds it, and looks--to my thinking--as much like a musket as a
telescope; though I shall not infer the use of fire-arms among the
Aztecs from this circumstance. (See vol. iv. Pl. 15.) Captain Dupaix,
however, in his commentary on the drawing, sees quite as much in it as
his lordship. Ibid., vol. v. p. 241.

[201] Gama, Descripcion, Parte 1, sec. 4; Parte 2, Apend.--Besides
this colossal fragment, Gama met with some others, designed, probably,
for similar scientific uses, at Chapoltepec. Before he had leisure
to examine them, however, they were broken up for materials to build
a furnace,--a fate not unlike that which has too often befallen the
monuments of ancient art in the Old World.

[202] [For additional light upon the Mexican astronomical and
calendar system and the “calendar stone,” easily accessible authors
are: Bandelier, Archæological Tour, Peabody Museum Reports, ii. 572;
Valentini, American Antiquarian Society Proceedings, April, 1878;
Squier, Some New Discoveries respecting Dates on the Great Calendar
Stone, etc.; American Journal of Science and Arts, Second Series,
March, 1849; Bancroft, Native Races, ii. chap. 16 and v. p. 192;
Short, North Americans of Antiquity, chap, ix.; Wilson, Prehistoric
Man, i; Brasseur, Chronologie historiques des Méxicaines, in Actes de
la Soc. d’Ethnographie, vol vi.; Payne, New World Called America, ii.
310 seq. Mrs. Nuttall claims that this calendar stone stood in the
great market-place in Mexico, and that its purpose was to regulate the

[203] In his second treatise on the cylindrical stone, Gama dwells
more at large on its scientific construction, as a vertical sun-dial,
in order to dispel the doubts of some sturdy skeptics on this point.
(Descripcion, Parte 2, Apend. 1.) The civil day was distributed by
the Mexicans into sixteen parts, and began, like that of most of the
Asiatic nations, with sunrise. M. de Humboldt, who probably never
saw Gama’s second treatise, allows only eight intervals. Vues des
Cordillères, p. 128.

[204] “Un calendrier,” exclaims the enthusiastic Carli, “qui est réglé
sur la révolution annuelle du soleil, non-seulement par l’addition de
cinq jours tous les ans, mais encore par la correction du bissextile,
doit sans doute être regardé comme une opération déduite d’une étude
réfléchie, et d’une grande combinaison. Il faut donc supposer chez ces
peuples une suite d’observations astronomiques, une idée distincte de
la sphère, de la déclinaison de l’écliptique, et l’usage d’un calcul
concernant les jours et les heures des apparitions solaires.” Lettres
Américaines, tom. i. let. 23.

[205] La Place, who suggests the analogy, frankly admits the
difficulty. Système du Monde, lib. 5, ch. 3.

[206] M. Jomard errs in placing the _new fire_, with which ceremony the
old cycle properly concluded, at the winter solstice. It was not till
the 26th of December, if Gama is right. The cause of M. Jomard’s error
is his fixing it before, instead of after, the complementary days. See
his sensible letter on the Aztec calendar, in the Vues des Cordillères,
p. 309.

[207] At the actual moment of their culmination, according to both
Sahagun (Hist. de Nueva-España, lib. 4, Apend.) and Torquemada
(Monarch. Ind., lib. 10, cap. 33, 36). But this could not be, as that
took place at midnight, in November, so late as the last secular
festival, which was early in Montezuma’s reign, in 1507. (Gama,
Descripcion, Parte 1, p. 50, nota.--Humboldt, Vues des Cordillères, pp.
181, 182.) The longer we postpone the beginning of the new cycle, the
greater must be the discrepancy.


    “On his bare breast the cedar boughs are laid;
     On his bare breast, dry sedge and odorous gums,
     Laid ready to receive the sacred spark,
     And blaze, to herald the ascending Sun,
     Upon his living altar.”
               SOUTHEY’S Madoc, part 2, canto 26.

[209] I borrow the words of the summons by which the people were called
to the _ludi seculares_, the secular games of ancient Rome, “_quos nec
spectâsset quisquam, nec spectaturus esset_.” (Suetonius, Vita Tib.
Claudii, lib. 5.) The old Mexican chroniclers warm into something like
eloquence in their descriptions of the Aztec festival. (Torquemada,
Monarch. Ind., lib. 10, cap. 33.--Toribio, Hist. de los Indios, MS.,
Parte 1, cap. 5.--Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva-España, lib. 7, cap. 9-12.
See, also, Gama, Descripcion, Parte 1, pp. 52-54,--Clavigero, Stor.
del Messico, tom. ii. pp. 84-86.) The English reader will find a more
brilliant coloring of the same scene in the canto of Madoc above
cited,--“On the Close of the Century.”

[210] _E.g._, gunpowder and the compass.--M.

[211] This latter grain, according to Humboldt, was found by the
Europeans in the New World, from the South of Chili to Pennsylvania
(Essai politique, tom. ii. p. 408); he might have added, to the St.
Lawrence. Our Puritan fathers found it in abundance on the New England
coast, wherever they landed. See Morton, New England’s Memorial
(Boston, 1826), p. 68.--Gookin, Massachusetts Historical Collections,
chap. 3.

[212] Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 13, cap. 31.--“Admirable example
for our times,” exclaims the good father, “when women are not only
unfit for the labors of the field, but have too much levity to attend
to their own household!”

[213] A striking contrast also to the Egyptians, with whom some
antiquaries are disposed to identify the ancient Mexicans. Sophocles
notices the effeminacy of the men in Egypt, who stayed at home tending
the loom, while their wives were employed in severe labors out of doors:

    “ΟΙ. ὦ πάντʹ ἐκείνω τοῖς ἐν Αἰγύπτῳ νόμοις
     φύσιν κατεικασθέντε καὶ βίου τροφάς·
     ἐκεῖ γὰρ οἱ μὲν ἄρσενες κατὰ στέγας
     θακοῦσιν ἱστουργοῦντες, αἱ δὲ σύννομοι
     τἄξω βίου τροφεῖα πορσύνουσʹ ἀεί.”
           SOPHOCL., Œdip. Col. v. 337-341.

[214] Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 13, cap. 32.--Clavigero, Stor.
del Messico, tom. ii. pp. 153-155.--“Jamas padeciéron hambre,” says
the former writer, “sino en pocas ocasiones.” If these famines were
rare, they were very distressing, however, and lasted very long. Comp.
Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 41, 71, et alibi.

[215] Oviedo considers the _musa_ an imported plant; and Hernandez, in
his copious catalogue, makes no mention of it at all. But Humboldt, who
has given much attention to it, concludes that, if some species were
brought into the country, others were indigenous. (Essai politique,
tom. ii. pp. 382-388.) If we may credit Clavigero, the banana was the
forbidden fruit that tempted our poor mother Eve! Stor. del Messico,
tom. i. p. 49, nota.

[216] Rel. d’un gentil’ huomo, ap. Ramusio, tom. iii. fol.
306.--Hernandez, De Historiâ Plantarum Novæ Hispaniæ (Matriti, 1790),
lib. 6, cap. 87.

[217] Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva-España, lib. 8, cap. 13, et alibi.

[218] The farmer’s preparation for his crop of Indian corn was of the
simplest. He simply cut away the dense growth from his corn-field and
burned it. The ashes thus secured were the only fertilizer used. Just
before the first rain in May or June he made holes with a sharpened
stick, and at regular intervals, in the prepared ground, and into them
dropped four or five grains of corn. In the later days of the Aztec
domination considerable care was taken of the growing crops. They were
kept free from weeds and in some cases irrigated. Boys stationed on
elevated platforms or trees frightened away the birds.--M.

[219] Carta del Lic. Zuazo, MS.--He extols the honey of the maize, as
equal to that of bees. (Also Oviedo, Hist. natural de las Indias, cap.
4, ap. Barcia, tom. i.) Hernandez, who celebrates the manifold ways in
which the maize was prepared, derives it from the Haytian word _mahiz_.
Hist. Plantarum, lib. 6, cap. 44, 45.

[220] And is still, in one spot at least, San Ángel,--three leagues
from the capital. Another mill was to have been established, a few
years since, in Puebla. Whether this has actually been done, I am
ignorant. See the Report of the Committee on Agriculture to the Senate
of the United States, March 12, 1838.

[221] Before the Revolution, the duties on the _pulque_ formed so
important a branch of revenue that the cities of Mexico, Puebla, and
Toluca alone paid $817,739 to government. (Humboldt, Essai politique,
tom. ii. p. 47.) It requires time to reconcile Europeans to the
peculiar flavor of this liquor, on the merits of which they are
consequently much divided. There is but one opinion among the natives.
The English reader will find a good account of its manufacture in
Ward’s Mexico, vol. ii. pp. 55-60.

[222] [Ober (Travels in Mexico) gives a very full account of the uses
to which the maguey is put. On the maguey plantations the plants have
an average value of five dollars. “A long train departs every day from
the stations on the plains of Apam, loaded exclusively with _pulque_,
from the carriage of which the railroad derives a revenue of above
$1000 a day,” p. 345. The _pulque_ “tastes like stale buttermilk and
has an odor at times like that of putrid meat.” It is wholesome and
refreshing. Mexicans ascribe to it the same beneficent properties which
Scotsmen assign to their whiskey.--M.]

[223] Hernandez enumerates the several species of the maguey, which are
turned to these manifold uses, in his learned work, De Hist. Plantarum.
(Lib. 7, cap. 71, et seq.) M. de Humboldt considers them all varieties
of the _agave Americana_, familiar in the southern parts both of
the United States and Europe. (Essai politique, tom. ii. p. 487, et
seq.) This opinion has brought on him a rather sour rebuke from our
countryman the late Dr. Perrine, who pronounces them a distinct species
from the American _agave_, and regards one of the kinds, the _pita_,
from which the fine thread is obtained, as a totally distinct genus.
(See the Report of the Committee on Agriculture.) Yet the Baron may
find authority for all the properties ascribed by him to the maguey,
in the most accredited writers who have resided more or less time in
Mexico. See, among others, Hernandez, ubi supra.--Sahagun, Hist, de
Nueva-España, lib. 9, cap. 2; lib. 11, cap. 7.--Toribio, Hist, de los
Indios, MS., Parte 3, cap. 19.--Carta del Lic. Zuazo, MS. The last,
speaking of the maguey, which produces the fermented drink, says
expressly, “With what remain of these leaves they manufacture excellent
and very fine cloth, resembling holland, or the finest linen.” It
cannot be denied, however, that Dr. Perrine shows himself intimately
acquainted with the structure and habits of the tropical plants, which,
with such patriotic spirit, he proposed to introduce into Florida.

[224] The first regular establishment of this kind, according to Carli,
was at Padua, in 1545. Lettres Américaines, tom. i. chap. 21.

[225] [Though I have conformed to the views of Humboldt in regard
to the knowledge of mining possessed by the ancient Mexicans, Señor
Ramirez thinks the conclusions to which I have been led are not
warranted by the ancient writers. From the language of Bernal Diaz and
of Sahagun, in particular, he infers that their only means of obtaining
the precious metals was by gathering such detached masses as were
found on the surface of the ground or in the beds of the rivers. The
small amount of silver in their possession he regards as an additional
proof of their ignorance of the proper method and their want of the
requisite tools for extracting it from the earth. See Ramirez, Notas y
Esclarecimientos, p. 73.]

[226] P. Martyr, De Orbe Novo, Decades (Compluti, 1530), dec. 5, p.
191.--Acosta, lib. 4, cap. 3.--Humboldt, Essai politique, tom. iii. pp.
114-125.--Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 13, cap. 34.

“Men wrought in brass,” says Hesiod, “when iron did not exist.”

    χαλκῴ δʹ ἐργάϛοντο μέλας δʹ οὐκ ἒσκε σίδηρο
                 HESIOD, Ἒργα καὶ Ἥμεραι.

The Abbé Raynal contends that the ignorance of iron must necessarily
have kept the Mexicans in a low state of civilization, since without
it “they could have produced no work in metal, worth looking at, no
masonry nor architecture, engraving nor sculpture.” (History of the
Indies, Eng. trans., vol. iii. b. 6.) Iron, however, if known, was
little used by the ancient Egyptians, whose mighty monuments were hewn
with bronze tools; while their weapons and domestic utensils were of
the same material, as appears from the green color given to them in
their paintings.

[227] Gama, Descripcion, Parte 2, pp. 25-29.--Torquemada, Monarch.
Ind., ubi supra.

[228] Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva-España, lib. 9, cap. 15-17.--Boturini,
Idea, p. 77.--Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., loc. cit.--Herrera, who says
they could also enamel, commends the skill of the Mexican goldsmiths
in making birds and animals with movable wings and limbs, in a most
curious fashion. (Hist. general, dec. 2, lib. 7, cap. 15.) Sir John
Maundeville, as usual,

            “with his hair on end
    At his own wonders,”

notices the “gret marvayle” of similar pieces of mechanism at the court
of the grand Chane of Cathay. See his Voiage and Travaile, chap. 20.

[229] Herrera, Hist. general, dec. 2, lib. 7, cap. 11.--Torquemada,
Monarch. Ind., lib. 13, cap. 34.--Gama, Descripcion, Parte 2, pp. 27,

[230] “Parece, que permitia Dios, que la figura de sus cuerpos se
asimilase á la que tenian sus almas por el pecado, en que siempre
permanecian.” Monarch. Ind., lib. 13, cap. 34.

[231] Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, tom. ii. p. 195.

[232] Gama, Descripcion, Parte 1, p. 1. Besides the _plaza mayor_, Gama
points out the Square of Tlatelolco, as a great cemetery of ancient
relics. It was the quarter to which the Mexicans retreated, on the
siege of the capital.

[233] Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 13, cap. 34.--Gama, Descripcion,
Parte 2, pp. 81-83.--These statues are repeatedly noticed by the old
writers. The last was destroyed in 1754, when it was seen by Gama, who
highly commends the execution of it. Ibid.

[234] This wantonness of destruction provokes the bitter animadversion
of Martyr, whose enlightened mind respected the vestiges of
civilization wherever found. “The conquerors,” he says, “seldom
repaired the buildings that were defaced. They would rather sack twenty
stately cities than erect one good edifice.” De Orbe Novo, dec. 5, cap.

[235] Gama, Descripcion, Parte 1, pp. 110-114.--Humboldt, Essai
politique, tom. ii. p. 40.--Ten thousand men were employed in the
transportation of this enormous mass, according to Tezozomoc,
whose narrative, with all the accompanying prodigies, is minutely
transcribed by Bustamante. The Licentiate shows an appetite for the
marvellous which might excite the envy of a monk of the Middle Ages.
(See Descripcion, nota, loc. cit.) The English traveller Latrobe
accommodates the wonders of nature and art very well to each other, by
suggesting that these great masses of stone were transported by means
of the mastodon, whose remains are occasionally disinterred in the
Mexican Valley. Rambler in Mexico, p. 145.

[236] [In 1875 Dr. Augustus Le Plongeon, having successfully
interpreted certain hieroglyphic inscriptions at Chichen Itza,
unearthed, at a distance of four hundred yards from the palace at that
place, a statue of Chaac Mol, or Balam (the tiger king), the greatest
of the Itza rulers. It was seized by the Mexican officials and sent to
the city of Mexico. There, in the courtyard of the National Museum,
it may be seen to-day, just opposite its exact duplicate, which was
found buried, either in the plaza of Mexico or somewhere in Tlaxcala,
some years ago. The story of the discovery seems marvellous in the
extreme, but photographs taken at many stages of the exhumation
dispel doubt as to its truth. For a very full report upon the whole
matter, see the paper by Stephen Salisbury, president of the American
Antiquarian Society, in the Proceedings of that society for 1877-78,
pp. 70-119.--M.]

[237] A great collection of ancient pottery, with various other
specimens of Aztec art, the gift of Messrs. Poinsett and Keating, is
deposited in the Cabinet of the American Philosophical Society, at
Philadelphia. See the Catalogue, ap. Transactions, vol. iii. p. 510.
Another admirable collection may be seen in the Museum of Natural
History in New York.--M.

[238] Hernandez, Hist. Plantarum, lib. 6, cap. 116.

[239] Carta del Lic. Zuazo, MS.--Herrera, Hist. general, dec. 2, lib.
7, cap. 15.--Boturini, Idea, p. 77.--It is doubtful how far they were
acquainted with the manufacture of silk. Carli supposes that what
Cortés calls silk was only the fine texture of hair, or down, mentioned
in the text. (Lettres Américaines, tom. i. let. 21.) But it is certain
they had a species of caterpillar, unlike our silkworm, indeed, which
spun a thread that was sold in the markets of ancient Mexico. See
the Essai politique (tom. iii. pp. 66-69), where M. de Humboldt has
collected some interesting facts in regard to the culture of silk by
the Aztecs. Still, that the fabric should be a matter of uncertainty at
all shows that it could not have reached any great excellence or extent.

[240] Carta del Lic. Zuazo, MS.--Acosta, lib. 4, cap. 37.--Sahagun,
Hist. de Nueva-España, lib. 9, cap. 18-21.--Toribio, Hist. de los
Indios, MS., Parte 1, cap. 15.--Rel. d’un gentil’ huomo, ap. Ramusio,
tom. iii. fol. 306.--Count Carli is in raptures with a specimen of
feather-painting which he saw in Strasbourg. “Never did I behold
anything so exquisite,” he says, “for brilliancy and nice gradation of
color, and for beauty of design. No European artist could have made
such a thing.” (Lettres Américaines, let. 21, note.) There is still one
place, Patzquaro, where, according to Bustamante, they preserve some
knowledge of this interesting art, though it is practised on a very
limited scale and at great cost. Sahagun, ubi supra, nota.

[241] “O felicem monetam, quæ suavem utilemque præbet humano generi
potum, et a tartareâ peste avaritiæ suos immunes servat possessores,
quod suffodi aut diu servari nequeat!” De Orbe Novo, dec. 5,
cap. 4.--(See, also, Carta de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, p. 100, et
seq.--Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva-España, lib. 8, cap. 36.--Toribio, Hist.
de los Indios, MS., Parte 3, cap. 8.--Carta del Lic. Zuazo, MS.) The
substitute for money throughout the Chinese empire was equally simple
in Marco Polo’s time, consisting of bits of stamped paper, made from
the inner bark of the mulberry-tree. See Viaggi di Messer Marco Polo,
gentil’ huomo Venetiano, lib. 2, cap. 18, ap. Ramusio, tom. ii.

[242] “Procurad de saber algun _oficio honroso_, como es el hacer obras
de pluma y otros oficios mecánicos.... Mirad que tengais cuidado de lo
tocante á la agricultura.... En ninguna parte he visto que alguno se
mantenga por su nobleza.” Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva-España, lib. 6, cap.

[243] Col. de Mendoza, ap. Antiq. of Mexico, vol. i. Pl. 71; vol. vi.
p. 86.--Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 2, cap. 41.

[244] Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva-España, lib. 9, cap. 4, 10-14.

[245] Ibid., lib. 9, cap. 2.

[246] Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva-España, lib. 9, cap. 2, 4.--In the
Mendoza Codex is a painting representing the execution of a cacique
and his family, with the destruction of his city, for maltreating the
persons of some Aztec merchants. Antiq. of Mexico, vol. i. Pl. 67.

[247] Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 2, cap. 41.--Ixtlilxochitl gives
a curious story of one of the royal family of Tezcuco, who offered,
with two _other_ merchants, _otros mercaderes_, to visit the court of
a hostile cacique and bring him dead or alive to the capital. They
availed themselves of a drunken revel, at which they were to have been
sacrificed, to effect their object. Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 62.

[248] Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva-España, lib. 9, cap. 2, 5.--The ninth
book is taken up with an account of the merchants, their pilgrimages,
the religious rites on their departure, and the sumptuous way of living
on their return. The whole presents a very remarkable picture, showing
they enjoyed a consideration, among the half-civilized nations of
Anahuac, to which there is no parallel, unless it be that possessed by
the merchant-princes of an Italian republic, or the princely merchants
of our own.

[249] Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva-España, lib. 6, cap. 23-37.--Camargo,
Hist. de Tlascala, MS.--These complimentary attentions were paid at
stated seasons, even during pregnancy. The details are given with
abundant gravity and minuteness by Sahagun, who descends to particulars
which his Mexican editor, Bustamante, has excluded, as somewhat too
unreserved for the public eye. If they were more so than some of the
editor’s own notes, they must have been very communicative indeed.

[250] Zurita, Rapport, pp. 112-134.--The Third Part of the Col. de
Mendoza (Antiq. of Mexico, vol. i.) exhibits the various ingenious
punishments devised for the refractory child. The flowery path of
knowledge was well strewed with thorns for the Mexican tyro.

[251] Zurita, Rapport, pp. 151-160.--Sahagun has given us the
admonitions of both father and mother to the Aztec maiden on her coming
to years of discretion. What can be more tender than the beginning of
the mother’s exhortation? “Hija mia muy amada, muy querida palomita: ya
has oido y notado las palabras que tu señor padre te ha dicho; ellas
son palabras preciosas, y que raramente se dicen ni se oyen, las quales
han procedido de las entrañas y corazon en que estaban atesoradas; y
tu muy amado padre bien sabe que eres su hija, engendrada de él, eres
su sangre y su carne, y sabe Dios nuestro señor que es así; aunque
eres muger, é imágen de tu padre ¿que mas te puedo decir, hija mia,
de lo que ya esta dicho? “ (Hist. de Nueva-España, lib. 6, cap. 19.)
The reader will find this interesting document, which enjoins so much
of what is deemed most essential among civilized nations, translated
entire in the Appendix, Part 2, No. 1.

[252] Yet we find the remarkable declaration, in the counsels of a
father to his son, that, for the multiplication of the species, God
ordained one man only for one woman. “Nota, hijo mio, lo que te digo,
mira que el mundo ya tiene este estilo de engendrar y multiplicar, y
para esta generacion y multiplicacion, ordenó Dios que una muger usase
de un varon, y un varon de una muger.” Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva-España,
lib. 6, cap. 21.

[253] Ibid., lib. 6, cap. 21-23; lib. 8, cap. 23.--Rel. d’un gentil’
huomo, ap. Ramusio, tom. iii. fol. 305.--Carta del Lic. Zuazo, MS.

[254] As old as the heroic age of Greece, at least. We may fancy
ourselves at the table of Penelope, where water in golden ewers was
poured into silver basins for the accommodation of her guests, before
beginning the repast:

    “Χέρνιβα δʹ ἀμφίπολος προχόῳ ἐπέχευε φέρουσα
     Καλῇ χρυσείῃ ὑπὲρ ἀργυρέοιο λέβητος,
     Νίψασθαι: παρὰ δὲ ξεστὴν ἐτάνυσσε τράπεζαν.”
                           ΟΔΥΣΣ. Α.

The feast affords many other points of analogy to the Aztec, inferring
a similar stage of civilization in the two nations. One may be
surprised, however, to find a greater profusion of the precious metals
in the barren isle of Ithaca than in Mexico. But the poet’s fancy was a
richer mine than either.

[255] Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva-España, lib. 6, cap. 22.--Amidst some
excellent advice of a parent to his son, on his general deportment,
we find the latter punctiliously enjoined not to take his seat at
the board till he has washed his face and hands, and not to leave
it till he has repeated the same thing, and _cleansed his teeth_.
The directions are given with a precision worthy of an Asiatic. “Al
principio de la comida labarte has las manos y la boca, y donde te
juntares con otros á comer, no te sientes luego; mas antes tomarás el
agua y la jícara para que se laben los otros, y echarles has agua á las
manos, y despues de esto, cojerás lo que se ha caido por el suelo y
barrerás el lugar de la comida, y también despues de comer lavarás te
las manos y la boca, y limpiarás los dientes.” Ibid., loc. cit.

[256] Rel. d’un gentil’ huomo, ap. Ramusio, tom. iii. fol.
306.--Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva-España, lib. 4, cap. 37.--Torquemada,
Monarch. Ind., lib. 13, cap. 23.--Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, tom.
ii. p. 227.--The Aztecs used to smoke after dinner, to prepare for
the _siesta_, in which they indulged themselves as regularly as an
old Castilian.--Tobacco, in Mexican _yetl_, is derived from a Haytian
word, _tabaco_. The natives of Hispaniola, being the first with whom
the Spaniards had much intercourse, have supplied Europe with the names
of several important plants.--Tobacco, in some form or other, was used
by almost all the tribes of the American continent, from the Northwest
Coast to Patagonia. (See McCulloh, Researches, pp. 91-94.) Its manifold
virtues, both social and medicinal, are profusely panegyrized by
Hernandez, in his Hist. Plantarum, lib. 2, cap. 109.

[257] This noble bird was introduced into Europe from Mexico. The
Spaniards called it _gallopavo_, from its resemblance to the peacock.
See Rel. d’un gentil’ huomo, ap. Ramusio (tom. iii. fol. 306); also
Oviedo (Rel. Sumaria, cap. 38), the earliest naturalist who gives an
account of the bird, which he saw soon after the Conquest, in the
West Indies, whither it had been brought, as he says, from New Spain.
The Europeans, however, soon lost sight of its origin, and the name
“turkey” intimated the popular belief of its Eastern origin. Several
eminent writers have maintained its Asiatic or African descent; but
they could not impose on the sagacious and better-instructed Buffon.
(See Histoire naturelle, art. _Dindon_.) The Spaniards saw immense
numbers of turkeys in the domesticated state, on their arrival in
Mexico, where they were more common than any other poultry. They were
found wild, not only in New Spain, but all along the continent, in
the less frequented places, from the Northwestern territory of the
United States to Panamá. The wild turkey is larger, more beautiful,
and every way an incomparably finer bird than the tame. Franklin, with
some point, as well as pleasantry, insists on its preference to the
bald eagle as the national emblem. (See his Works, vol. x. p. 63, in
Sparks’s excellent edition.) Interesting notices of the history and
habits of the wild turkey may be found in the Ornithology both of
Buonaparte and of that enthusiastic lover of nature, Audubon, _vox
Meleagris_, _Gallopavo_.

[258] Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva-España, lib. 4, cap. 37; lib. 8, cap. 13;
lib. 9, cap. 10-14.--Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 13, cap. 23.--Rel.
d’un gentil’ huomo, ap. Ramusio, tom. ii. fol. 306.--Father Sahagun
has gone into many particulars of the Aztec _cuisine_, and the mode of
preparing sundry savory messes, making, all together, no despicable
contribution to the noble science of gastronomy.

[259] The froth, delicately flavored with spices and some other
ingredients, was taken cold by itself. It had the consistency almost
of a solid; and the “Anonymous Conqueror” is very careful to inculcate
the importance of “opening the mouth wide, in order to facilitate
deglutition, that the foam may dissolve gradually, and descend
imperceptibly, as it were, into the stomach.” It was so nutritious that
a single cup of it was enough to sustain a man through the longest
day’s march. (Fol. 306.) The old soldier discusses the beverage _con

[260] Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva-España, lib. 4, cap. 37; lib. 8, cap.
13.--Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 13, cap. 23.--Rel. d’un gentil’
huomo, ap. Ramusio, tom. iii. fol. 306.

[261] Herrera, Hist. general, dec. 2, lib. 7, cap. 8.--Torquemada,
Monarch. Ind., lib. 14, cap. 11.--The Mexican nobles entertained
minstrels in their houses, who composed ballads suited to the times,
or the achievements of their lord, which they chanted, to the
accompaniment of instruments, at the festivals and dances. Indeed,
there was more or less dancing at most of the festivals, and it was
performed in the court-yards of the houses, or in the open squares of
the city. (Ibid., ubi supra.) The principal men had, also, buffoons and
jugglers in their service, who amused them and astonished the Spaniards
by their feats of dexterity and strength (Acosta, lib. 6, cap. 28; also
Clavigero (Stor. del Messico, tom. ii. pp. 179-186), who has designed
several representations of their exploits, truly surprising). It is
natural that a people of limited refinement should find their enjoyment
in material rather than intellectual pleasures, and, consequently,
should excel in them. The Asiatic nations, as the Hindoos and Chinese,
for example, surpass the more polished Europeans in displays of agility
and legerdemain.

[262] “Y de esta manera pasaban gran rato de la noche, y se despedian,
é iban á sus casas, unos alabando la fiesta, y otros murmurando de las
demasías y excesos, cosa mui ordinaria en los que á semejantes actos se
juntan.” Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 13, cap. 23.--Sahagun, Hist.
de Nueva-España, lib. 9, cap. 10-14.

[263] [In reading this chapter we must constantly bear in mind the
fact that it is founded almost entirely upon traditions. We must also
remember--first, that Ixtlilxochitl is the principal authority for the
legends therein chronicled; second, that Ixtlilxochitl possessed a very
fertile imagination; third, that Ixtlilxochitl’s “Historia Chichimeca”
was not written from an entirely unprejudiced point of view. To
use the words of Bandelier (Archæological Tour in Mexico, p. 192):
“Ixtlilxochitl is always a very suspicious authority, not because he is
more confused than any other Indian writer, but because he wrote for an
interested object, and with the view of sustaining tribal claims in the
eyes of the Spanish government.”--M.]

[264] For a criticism on this writer, see the Postscript to this

[265] See Chapter I. of this Introduction, p. 17.

[266] Ixtlilxochitl, Relaciones, MS., No. 9.--Idem, Hist. Chich., MS.,
cap. 19.

[267] The adventures of the former hero are told with his usual spirit
by Sismondi (Républiques Italiennes, chap. 79). It is hardly necessary,
for the latter, to refer the English reader to Chambers’s “History of
the Rebellion of 1745;” a work which proves how thin is the partition
in human life which divides romance from reality.

[268] Ixtlilxochitl, Relaciones, MS., No. 10.

[269] Ixtlilxochitl, Relaciones, MS., No. 10.--Hist. Chich., MS., cap.

[270] Idem, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 25. The contrivance was effected
by means of an extraordinary personal resemblance of the parties; a
fruitful source of comic--as every reader of the drama knows--though
rarely of tragic interest.

[271] It was customary, on entering the presence of a great lord, to
throw aromatics into the censer. “Hecho en el brasero incienso y copal,
que era uso y costumbre donde estaban los Reyes y Señores, cada vez
que los criados entraban con mucha reverencia y acatamiento echaban
sahumerio en el brasero; y así coneste perfume se obscurecia algo la
sala.” Ixtlilxochitl, Relaciones, MS., No. 11.

[272] Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 26.--Relaciones, MS., No.
11.--Veytia, Hist. antig., lib. 2, cap. 47.

[273] “Nezahualcoiotzin le dixo, que si viese á quien buscaban, si lo
iría á denunciar? respondió, que no; tornándole á replicar diciéndole,
que haria mui mal en perder una muger hermosa y lo demas que el rey
Maxtla prometia, el mancebo se rió de todo, no haciendo caso ni de lo
uno ni de lo otro.” Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 27.

[274] Ibid., MS., cap. 26, 27.--Relaciones, MS., No. 11.--Veytia, Hist.
antig., lib. 2, cap. 47, 48.

[275] Ixtlilxochitl, MSS., ubi supra.--Veytia, ubi supra.

[276] Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 28-31.--Relaciones, MS.,
No. 11.--Veytia, Hist. antig., lib. 2, cap. 51-54.

[277] See page 21 of this volume.

[278] “Que venganza no es justo la procuren los Reyes, sino castigar al
que lo mereciere.” MS. de Ixtlilxochitl.

[279] See Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, tom. i. p.
247.--Nezahualcoyotl’s code consisted of eighty laws, of which
thirty-four only have come down to us, according to Veytia. (Hist.
antig., tom. iii. p. 224, nota.) Ixtlilxochitl enumerates several of
them. Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 38, and Relaciones, MS., Ordenanzas.

[280] Nowhere are these principles kept more steadily in view than in
the various writings of our adopted countryman Dr. Lieber, having more
or less to do with the theory of legislation. Such works could not have
been produced before the nineteenth century.

[281] Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 36.--Veytia, Hist.
antig., lib. 3, cap. 7.--According to Zurita, the principal judges, at
their general meetings every four months, constituted also a sort of
parliament or córtes, for advising the king on matters of state. See
his Rapport, p. 106; also _ante_, p. 33.

[282] Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 36.--Clavigero, Stor.
del Messico, tom. ii. p. 137.--Veytia, Hist. antig., lib. 3, cap.
7.--“Concurrian á este consejo las tres cabezas del imperio, en
ciertos dias, á oir cantar las poesías históricas antiguas y modernas,
para instruirse de toda su historia, y tambien cuando habia algun
nuevo invento en cualquiera facultad, para examinarlo, aprobarlo,
ó reprobarlo. Delante de las sillas de los reyes habia una gran
mesa cargada de joyas de oro y plata, pedrería, plumas, y otras
cosas estimables, y en los rincones de la sala muchas de mantas de
todas calidades, para premios de las habilidades y estímulo de los
profesores, las cuales alhajas repartian los reyes, en los dias
que concurrian, á los que se aventajaban en el ejercicio ne sus
facultades.” Ibid.

[283] Veytia, Hist. antig., lib. 3, cap. 7.--Clavigero, Stor. del
Messico, tom. i. p. 247.--The latter author enumerates four historians,
some of much repute, of the royal house of Tezcuco, descendants of the
great Nezahualcoyotl. See his Account of Writers, tom. i. pp. 6-21.

[284] “En la ciudad de Tezcuco estaban los Archivos Reales de todas las
cosas referidas, por haver sido la Metrópoli de todas las ciencias,
usos, y buenas costumbres, porque los Reyes que fuéron de ella se
preciáron de esto.” (Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., Prólogo.) It was
from the poor wreck of these documents, once so carefully preserved by
his ancestors, that the historian gleaned the materials, as he informs
us, for his own works.

[285] “Aunque es tenida la lengua Mejicana por materna, y la
Tezcucana por mas cortesana y pulida.” (Camargo, Hist. de Tlascala,
MS.) “Tezcuco,” says Boturini, “where the noblemen sent their sons
to acquire the most polished dialect of the Nahuatlac language, and
to study poetry, moral philosophy, the heathen theology, astronomy,
medicine, and history.” Idea, p. 142.

[286] “He composed sixty songs,” says the author last quoted, “which
have probably perished by the incendiary hands of the ignorant.”
(Idea, p. 79.) Boturini had translations of two of these in his museum
(Catálogo, p. 8), and another has since come to light.

[287] Difficult as the task may be, it has been executed by the hand
of a fair friend, who, while she has adhered to the Castilian with
singular fidelity, has shown a grace and flexibility in her poetical
movements which the Castilian version, and probably the Mexican
original, cannot boast. See both translations in Appendix, 2, No. 2.

[288] Numerous specimens of this may be found in Condé’s “Dominacion
de los Árabes en España.” None of them are superior to the plaintive
strains of the royal Abderahman on the solitary palmtree which reminded
him of the pleasant land of his birth. See Parte 2, cap. 9.


    “Io tocaré cantando
     El músico instrumento sonoroso,
     Tú de flores gozando
     Danza, y festeja á Dios que es poderoso;
     O gozemos de esta gloria,
     Porque la humana vida es transitoria.”
                    MS. DE IXTLILXOCHITL.

The sentiment, which is common enough, is expressed with uncommon
beauty by the English poet Herrick:

    “Gather the rosebuds while you may;
      Old Time is still a-flying;
     The fairest flower that blooms to-day
      To-morrow may be dying.”

And with still greater beauty, perhaps, by Racine:

    “Rions, chantons, dit cette troupe impie,
     De fleurs en fleurs, de plaisirs en plaisirs,
                 Promenons nos désirs.
     Sur l’avenir insensé qui se fie.
     De nos ans passagers le nombre est incertain.
     Hâtons-nous aujourd’hui de jouir de la vie;
     Qui sait si nous serons demain?”
                 ATHALIE, Acte 2.

It is interesting to see under what different forms the same sentiment
is developed by different races and in different languages. It is an
Epicurean sentiment, indeed, but its universality proves its truth to

[290] Some of the provinces and places thus conquered were held by the
allied powers in common; Tlacopan, however, only receiving one-fifth
of the tribute. It was more usual to annex the vanquished territory
to that one of the two great states to which it lay nearest. See
Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 38.--Zurita, Rapport, p. 11.

[291] Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 41. The same writer, in
another work, calls the population of Tezcuco, at this period, double
of what it was at the Conquest; founding his estimate on the royal
registers, and on the numerous remains of edifices still visible in
his day, in places now depopulated. “Parece en las historias que en
este tiempo, antes que se destruyesen, havia doblado mas gente de la
que halló al tiempo que vino Cortés, y los demas Españoles: porque yo
hallo en los padrones reales, que el menor pueblo tenía 1100 vecinos,
y de allí para arriba, y ahora no tienen 200 vecinos, y aun en algunas
partes de todo punto se han acabado.... Como se hecha de ver en las
ruinas, hasta los mas altos montes y sierras tenian sus sementeras, y
casas principales para vivir y morar.” Relaciones, MS., No. 9.

[292] Torquemada has extracted the particulars of the yearly
expenditure of the palace from the royal account-book, which came
into the historian’s possession. The following are some of the items,
namely: 4,900,300 fanegas of maize (the _fanega_ is equal to about
one hundred pounds); 2,744,000 fanegas of cacao; 8000 turkeys; 1300
baskets of salt; besides an incredible quantity of game of every kind,
vegetables, condiments, etc. (Monarch. Ind., lib. 2, cap. 53.) See,
also, Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 35.

[293] There were more than four hundred of these lordly residences:
“Así mismo hizo edificar muchas casas y palacios para los señores y
cavalleros, que asistian en su corte, cada uno conforme á la calidad y
méritos de su persona, las quales llegáron á ser mas de quatrocientas
tasas de señores y cavalleros de solar conocido.” Ibid., cap. 38.

[294] Bancroft, Native Races, vol. ii. p. 162, points out a mistake in
translation here, Prescott having made the _estado_ the same measure as
the vara. The wall was _three times a man’s stature_ for one half its
circumference and _five times a man’s stature_ for the other half.--M.

[295] Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 36. “Esta plaza cercada
de portales, y tenia así mismo por la parte del poniente otra sala
grande, y muchos quartos á la redonda, que era la universidad, en
donde asistian todos los poetas, históricos, y philósophos del reyno,
divididos en sus claves, y academias, conforme era la facultad de cada
uno, y así mismo estaban aquí los archivos reales.”

[296] The reader who is familiar with the history of the Moors in Spain
must inevitably be reminded of the palace in Cordova when he peruses
these pages.--M.

[297] This celebrated naturalist was sent by Philip II to New Spain,
and he employed several years in compiling a voluminous work on its
various natural productions, with drawings illustrating them. Although
the government is said to have expended sixty thousand ducats in
effecting this great object, the volumes were not published till long
after the author’s death. In 1651 a mutilated edition of the part of
the work relating to medical botany appeared at Rome.--The original
MSS. were supposed to have been destroyed by the great fire in the
Escorial, not many years after. Fortunately, another copy, in the
author’s own hand, was detected by the indefatigable Muñoz, in the
library of the Jesuits’ College at Madrid, in the latter part of the
last century; and a beautiful edition, from the famous press of Ibarra,
was published in that capital, under the patronage of government, in
1790. (Hist. Plantarum, Præfatio.--Nic. Antonio, Bibliotheca Hispana
Nova (Matriti, 1790), tom. iii. p. 432.) The work of Hernandez is a
monument of industry and erudition, the more remarkable as being the
first on this difficult subject. And, after all the additional light
from the labors of later naturalists, it still holds its place as a
book of the highest authority, for the perspicuity, fidelity, and
thoroughness with which the multifarious topics in it are discussed.

[298] Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 36.

[299] “Some of the terraces on which it stood,” says Mr. Bullock,
speaking of this palace, “are still entire, and covered with cement,
very hard, and equal in beauty to that found in ancient Roman
buildings.... The great church, which stands close by, is almost
entirely built of the materials taken from the palace, many of the
sculptured stones from which may be seen in the walls, though most of
the ornaments are turned inwards. Indeed, our guide informed us that
whoever built a house at Tezcuco made the ruins of the palace serve as
his quarry.” (Six Months in Mexico, chap. 26.) Torquemada notices the
appropriation of the materials to the same purpose. Monarch. Ind., lib.
2, cap. 45.

[300] Ixtlilxochitl, MS., ubi supra.

[301] Thus, to punish the Chalcas for their rebellion, the whole
population were compelled, women as well as men, says the chronicler so
often quoted, to labor on the royal edifices for four years together;
and large granaries were provided with stores for their maintenance in
the mean time. Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 46.

[302] If the people in general were not much addicted to polygamy, the
sovereign, it must be confessed,--and it was the same, we shall see,
in Mexico,--made ample amends for any self-denial on the part of his

[303] Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 37.

[304] The Egyptian priests managed the affair in a more courtly style,
and, while they prayed that all sorts of kingly virtues might descend
on the prince, they threw the blame of actual delinquencies on his
ministers; thus, “not by the bitterness of reproof,” says Diodorus,
“but by the allurements of praise, enticing him to an honest way of
life.” Lib. 1, cap. 70.

[305] Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 42.--See Appendix, Part 2,
No. 3, for the original description of this royal residence.

[306] “Quinientos y veynte escalones.” Davilla Padilla, Historia de la
Provincia de Santiago (Madrid, 1596), lib. 2, cap. 81.--This writer,
who lived in the sixteenth century, counted the steps himself. Those
which were not cut in the rock were crumbling into ruins, as, indeed,
every part of the establishment was even then far gone to decay.

[307] On the summit of the mount, according to Padilla, stood an image
of a _coyotl_,--an animal resembling a fox,--which, according to
tradition, represented an Indian famous for his fasts. It was destroyed
by that stanch iconoclast, Bishop Zumárraga, as a relic of idolatry.
(Hist. de Santiago, lib. 2, cap. 81.) This figure was, no doubt, the
emblem of Nezahualcoyotl himself, whose name, as elsewhere noticed,
signified “hungry fox.”{*}

{*} [“Fasting coyote.” This animal, “resembling a fox,” is familiar
enough to those who dwell in our far Western States.--M.]

[308] [Bancroft, Native Races, ii. p. 171, says these figures were not
statues but were all cut on the face of the rock border.--M.]

[309] “Hecho de una peña un leon de mas de dos brazas de largo con
sus alas y plumas: estaba hechado y mirando á la parte del oriente,
en cuia boca asomaba un rostro, que era el mismo retrato del Rey.”
Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 42.

[310] Bullock speaks of a beautiful basin, twelve feet long by eight
wide, having a well five feet by four deep in the centre, etc., etc.
Whether truth lies in the bottom of this well is not so clear. Latrobe
describes the baths as “two singular basins, perhaps two feet and a
half in diameter, not large enough for any monarch bigger than Oberon
to take a duck in.” (Comp. Six Months in Mexico, chap. 26; and Rambler
in Mexico, Let. 7.) Ward speaks much to the same purpose (Mexico
in 1827 (London, 1828), vol. ii. p. 296), which agrees with verbal
accounts I have received of the same spot.{*}

{*} [Mayer, “Mexico as it Was and Is,” gives a picture of this “bath,”
p. 234.--M.]

[311] “Gradas hechas de la misma peña tan bien gravadas y lizas que
parecian espejos.” (Ixtlilxochitl, MS., ubi supra.) The travellers just
cited notice the beautiful polish still visible in the porphyry.

[312] Padilla saw entire pieces of cedar among the ruins, ninety feet
long and four in diameter. Some of the massive portals, he observed,
were made of a single stone. (Hist. de Santiago, lib. 11, cap. 81.)
Peter Martyr notices an enormous wooden beam, used in the construction
of the palaces of Tezcuco, which was one hundred and twenty feet long
by eight feet in diameter! The accounts of this and similar huge pieces
of timber were so astonishing, he adds, that he could not have received
them except on the most unexceptionable testimony. De Orbe Novo, dec.
5, cap. 10.{*}

{*} [Those who have seen the giant Sequoias of California can easily
believe in those “enormous wooden beams.” The “Grizzly Giant,” still
standing in the Mariposa grove, is two hundred and seventy-five
feet high and considerably more than thirty feet in diameter at the
ground. Eleven feet from the ground it is more than sixty-four feet in
circumference. The Sequoias were not discovered until almost ten years
after Prescott wrote this note.--M.]

[313] It is much to be regretted that the Mexican government should
not take a deeper interest in the Indian antiquities. What might not
be effected by a few hands drawn from the idle garrisons of some of
the neighboring towns and employed in excavating this ground, “the
Mount Palatine” of Mexico! But, unhappily, the age of violence has been
succeeded by one of apathy.

[314] “They are doubtless,” says Mr. Latrobe, speaking of what he calls
“these inexplicable ruins,” “rather of Toltec than Aztec origin, and,
perhaps, with still more probability, attributable to a people of an
age yet more remote.” (Rambler in Mexico, Let. 7.) “I am of opinion,”
says Mr. Bullock, “that these were antiquities prior to the discovery
of America, and erected by a people whose history was lost even before
the building of the city of Mexico.--Who can solve this difficulty?”
(Six Months in Mexico, ubi supra.) The reader who takes Ixtlilxochitl
for his guide will have no great trouble in solving it. He will find
here, as he might, probably, in some other instances, that one need go
little higher than the Conquest for the origin of antiquities which
claim to be coeval with Phœnicia and ancient Egypt.

[315] Zurita, Rapport, p. 12.

[316] Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 43.

[317] Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 43.

[318] Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 43.

[319] “En traje de cazador (que lo acostumbraba á hacer muy de
ordinario), saliendo á solas, y disfrazado para que no fuese conocido,
á reconocer las faltas y necesidad que havia en la república para
remediarlas.” Idem, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 46.

[320] “Un hombresillo miserable, pues quita á los hombres lo que Dios á
manos llenas les da.” Ixtlilxochitl, loc. cit.

[321] Ibid., cap. 46.

[322] “Porque las paredes oian.” (Ixtlilxochitl, loc. cit.) A European
proverb among the American aborigines looks too strange not to make one
suspect the hand of the chronicler.

[323] “Le dijo, que con aquello poco le bastaba, y viviria bien
aventurado; y él, con toda la máquina que le parecia que tenia arto, no
tenia nada; y así lo despidió.” Ixtlilxochitl, loc. cit.

[324] Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 46.

[325] “Verdaderamente los Dioses que io adoro, que son ídolos de piedra
que no hablan, ni sienten, no pudiéron hacer ni formar la hermosura
del cielo, el sol, luna, y estrellas que lo hermosean, y dan luz á la
tierra, rios, aguas y fuentes, árboles, y plantas que la hermosean,
las gentes que la poseen, y todo lo criado; algun Dios muy poderoso,
oculto, y no conocido es el Criador de todo el universo. El solo es
él que puede consolarme en mi afliccion, y socorrerme en tan grande
angustia como mi corazon siente.” MS. de Ixtlilxochitl.

[326] MS. de Ixtlilxochitl.--The manuscript here quoted is one of the
many left by the author on the antiquities of his country, and forms
part of a voluminous compilation made in Mexico by Father Vega, in
1792, by order of the Spanish government. See Appendix, Part 2, No. 2.

[327] “Al Dios no conocido, causa de las causas.” MS. de Ixtlilxochitl.

[328] Their earliest temples were dedicated to the sun. The moon they
worshipped as his wife, and the stars as his sisters. (Veytia, Hist.
antig., tom. i. cap. 25.) The ruins still existing at Teotihuacan,
about seven leagues from Mexico, are supposed to have been temples
raised by this ancient people in honor of the two great deities.
Boturini, Idea, p. 42.

[329] MS. de Ixtlilxochitl.--“This was evidently a _gong_,” says Mr.
Ranking, who treads with enviable confidence over the “suppositos
cineres” in the path of the antiquary. See his Historical Researches on
the Conquest of Peru, Mexico, etc., by the Mongols (London, 1827), p.

[330] “Toda la redondez de la tierra es un sepulcro: no hay cosa que
sustente que con título de piedad no la esconda y entierre. Corren los
rios, los arroyos, las fuentes, y las aguas, y ningunas retroceden para
sus alegres nacimientos: aceléranse con ansia para los vastos dominios
de Tlulóca [Neptuno], y cuanto mas se arriman á sus dilatadas márgenes,
tanto mas van labrando las melancólicas urnas para sepultarse. Lo que
fué ayer no es hoy, ni lo de hoy se afianza que será mañana.”

[331] “Aspiremos al cielo, que allí todo es eterno y nada se corrompe.”

[332] “El horror del sepulcro es lisongera cuna para él, y las funestas
sombras, brillantes luces para los astros.”--The original text and a
Spanish translation of this poem first appeared, I believe, in a work
of Grenados y Galvez. (Tardes Americanas (México, 1778), p. 90, et
seq.) The original is in the Otomi tongue, and both, together with
a French version, have been inserted by M. Ternaux-Compans in the
Appendix to his translation of Ixtlilxochitl’s Hist. des Chichimèques
(tom. i. pp. 359-367). Bustamante, who has, also, published the Spanish
version in his Galería de antiguos Príncipes Mejicanos (Puebla, 1821,
pp. 16, 17), calls it the “Ode of the Flower,” which was recited at
a banquet of the great Tezcucan nobles. If this last, however, be
the same mentioned by Torquemada (Monarch. Ind., lib. 2, cap. 45),
it must have been written in the Tezcucan tongue; and, indeed, it is
not probable that the Otomi, an Indian dialect, so distinct from the
languages of Anahuac, however well understood by the royal poet, could
have been comprehended by a miscellaneous audience of his countrymen.

[333] An approximation to a date is the most one can hope to arrive at
with Ixtlilxochitl, who has entangled his chronology in a manner beyond
my skill to unravel. Thus, after telling us that Nezahualcoyotl was
fifteen years old when his father was slain in 1418, he says he died at
the age of seventy-one, in 1462. _Instar omnium._ Comp. Hist. Chich.,
MS., cap. 18, 19, 49.

[334] MS. de Ixtlilxochitl,--also Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 49.

[335] “No consentiendo que haya sacrificios de gente humana, que Dios
se enoja de ello, castigando con rigor á los que lo hicieren; que el
dolor que llevo es no tener luz, ni conocimiento, ni ser merecedor
de conocer tan gran Dios, el qual tengo por cierto que ya que los
presentes no lo conozcan, _ha de venir tiempo en que sea conocido y
adorado en esta tierra_.” MS. de Ixtlilxochitl.

[336] Idem, ubi supra; also Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 49.

[337] Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 49.

[338] “Solia amonestar á sus hijos en secreto que no adorasen á
aquellas figuras de ídolos, y que aquello que hiciesen en público fuese
_solo por cumplimiento_.” Ixtlilxochitl.

[339] Idem, ubi supra.

[340] The name _Nezahualpilli_ signifies “the prince for whom one
has fasted,”--in allusion, no doubt, to the long fast of his father
previous to his birth. (See Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 45.)
I have explained the meaning of the equally euphonious name of his
parent, Nezahualcoyotl. (_Ante_, ch. 4.) If it be true that

                  “Cæsar or Epaminondas
    Could ne’er without names have been known to us,”

it is no less certain that such names as those of the two Tezcucan
princes, so difficult to be pronounced or remembered by a European, are
most unfavorable to immortality.

[341] “De las concubinas la que mas privó con el rey fué la que
llamaban la Señora de Tula, no por linage, sino porque era hija de un
mercader, y era tan sabia que competia con el rey y con los mas sabios
de su reyno, y era en la poesía muy aventajada, que con estas gracias
y dones naturales tenia al rey muy sugeto á su voluntad de tal manera
que lo que queria alcanzaba de él, y así vivia sola por si con grande
aparato y magestad en unos palacios que el rey le mandó edificar.”
Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 57.

[342] Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 67.--The Tezcucan
historian records several appalling examples of this severity,--one in
particular, in relation to his guilty wife. The story, reminding one of
the tales of an Oriental harem, has been translated for the Appendix,
Part 2, No. 4. See also Torquemada (Monarch. Ind., lib. 2, cap. 66),
and Zurita (Rapport, pp. 108, 109). He was the terror, in particular,
of all unjust magistrates. They had little favor to expect from the
man who could stifle the voice of nature in his own bosom in obedience
to the laws. As Suetonius said of a prince who had not his virtue,
“Vehemens et in coercendis quidem delictis immodicus.” Vita Galbæ, sec.

[343] Torquemada saw the remains of this, _or what passed for such_, in
his day. Monarch. Ind., lib. 2, cap. 64.

[344] Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 73, 74.--This sudden
transfer of empire from the Tezcucans, at the close of the reigns
of two of their ablest monarchs, is so improbable that one cannot
but doubt if they ever possessed it,--at least to the extent claimed
by the patriotic historian. See _ante_, chap. 1, note 25, and the
corresponding text.

[345] Ibid., cap. 72.--The reader will find a particular account of
these prodigies, better authenticated than most miracles, in a future
page of this history.

[346] Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 75.--Or, rather, at the
age of fifty, if the historian is right in placing his birth, as he
does in a preceding chapter, in 1465. (See cap. 46.) It is not easy to
decide what is true, when the writer does not take the trouble to be
true to himself.

[347] His obsequies were celebrated with sanguinary pomp. Two hundred
male and one hundred female slaves were sacrificed at his tomb. His
body was consumed, amidst a heap of jewels, precious stuffs, and
incense, on a funeral pile; and the ashes, deposited in a golden
urn, were placed in the great temple of Huitzilopochtli, for whose
worship the king, notwithstanding the lessons of his father, had some
partiality. Ixtlilxochitl.

[348] [Ixtlilxochitl (born about 1568) wrote in the early part of the
seventeenth century. A certificate which he presented to the viceroy
bears the date of November 18, 1608. The error is apparently a clerical
one; though a previous passage in the text seems to indicate some
confusion on the author’s part.]

[349] [Señor Ramirez objects to this remark, on the ground that,
however obscure the hieroglyphics may now seem, at the time of
Ixtlilxochitl they were, in his language, “as plain as our letters to
those who were acquainted with them.” Notas y Esclarecimientos, p.

[350] The names of many animals in the New World, indeed, have been
frequently borrowed from the Old; but the species are very different.
“When the Spaniards landed in America,” says an eminent naturalist,
“they did not find a single animal they were acquainted with; not one
of the quadrupeds of Europe, Asia, or Africa.” Lawrence, Lectures on
Physiology, Zoology, and the Natural History of Man (London, 1819), p.

[351] Acosta, lib. 1, cap. 16.

[352] [The existence at some former period of such an island, or rather
continent, seems to be regarded by geologists as a well-attested fact.
But few would admit that its subsidence can have taken place through
any sudden convulsion or within the period of human existence. Such,
however, is the theory maintained by M. Brasseur de Bourbourg, who
dates the event “six or seven thousand years ago,” and believes that
the traditions of it have been faithfully preserved. This is the great
cataclysm with which all mythology begins. It may be traced through
the myths of Greece, Egypt, India, and America, all being identical
and having a common origin. It is the subject of the _Teo-Amoxtli_,
of which several of the Mexican manuscripts, the Borgian and Dresden
Codices in particular, are the hieroglyphical transcriptions, and
of which “the actual letter,” “in the Nahuatlac language,” is found
in a manuscript in Boturini’s Collection. This manuscript is “in
appearance” a history of the Toltecs and of the kings of Colhuacan and
Mexico; but “under the ciphers of a fastidious chronology, under the
recital more or less animated of the Toltec history, are concealed the
profoundest mysteries concerning the geological origin of the world in
its existing form and the cradle of the religions of antiquity.” The
Toltecs are “telluric powers, agents of the subterranean fire;” they
are identical with the Cabiri, who reappear as the Cyclops, having
“hollowed an eye in their forehead; that is to say, raised themselves
with masses of earth above the surface and filled the craters of
the volcanoes with fire.” “The Chichimecs and the Aztecs are also
symbolical names, borrowed from the forces of nature.” Tollan, “the
marshy or reedy place,” was “the low, fertile region” now covered by
the Gulf of Mexico. Quetzalcoatl is “merely the personification of the
land swallowed up by the ocean.” Tlapallan, Aztlan, and other names
are similarly explained. Osiris, Pan, Hercules, and Bacchus have their
respective parts assigned to them; for “not only all the sources of
ancient mythology, but even the most mysterious details, even the
obscurest enigmas, with which that mythology is enveloped, are to be
sought in the two mediterraneans hollowed out by the cataclysm, and
in the islands, great and small, which separate them from the ocean.”
(Quatre Lettres sur le Mexique.) There can be no refutation of such a
theory, or of the assumptions on which it rests; but it may be proper
to remark that its author has not succeeded in deciphering a single
hierogiyphical character, and has published no translation of the real
or supposed _Teo-Amoxtli_,--a point on which some misapprehension seems
to exist.--K.]

[353] Count Carli shows much ingenuity and learning in support of the
famous Egyptian tradition, recorded by Plato in his “Timæus,”--of the
good faith of which the Italian philosopher nothing doubts. Lettres
Améric., tom. ii. let. 36-39.

[354] Garcia, Orígen de los Indios de el nuevo Mundo (Madrid, 1729),
cap. 4.

[355] Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 1, cap. 8.

[356] Prichard, Researches into the Physical History of Mankind
(London, 1826), vol. i. p. 81, et seq.--He may find an orthodox
authority of respectable antiquity, for a similar hypothesis, in St.
Augustine, who plainly intimates his belief that, “as by God’s command,
at the time of the creation, the earth brought forth the living
creature after his kind, so a similar process must have taken place
after the deluge, in islands too remote to be reached by animals from
the continent.” De Civitate Dei, ap. Opera (Parisiis, 1636), tom. v. p.

[357] Beechey, Voyage to the Pacific and Beering’s Strait (London,
1831), Part 2, Appendix.--Humboldt, Examen critique de l’Histoire de la
Géographie du Nouveau-Continent (Paris, 1837), tom. ii. p. 58.

[358] Whatever skepticism may have been entertained as to the visit
of the Northmen, in the eleventh century, to the coasts of the great
continent, it is probably set at rest in the minds of most scholars
since the publication of the original documents by the Royal Society at
Copenhagen. (See, in particular, Antiquitates Americanæ (Hafniæ, 1837),
pp. 79-200.) How far south they penetrated is not so easily settled.

[359] The most remarkable example, probably, of a direct intercourse
between remote points is furnished us by Captain Cook, who found
the inhabitants of New Zealand not only with the same religion, but
speaking the same language, as the people of Otaheite, distant more
than 2000 miles. The comparison of the two vocabularies establishes the
fact. Cook’s Voyages (Dublin, 1784), vol. i. book 1, chap. 8.

[360] The eloquent Lyell closes an enumeration of some extraordinary
and well-attested instances of this kind with remarking, “Were the
whole of mankind now cut off, with the exception of one family,
inhabiting the old or new continent, or Australia, or even some coral
islet of the Pacific, we should expect their descendants, though they
should never become more enlightened than the South Sea Islanders or
the Esquimaux, to spread, in the course of ages, over the whole earth,
diffused partly by the tendency of population to increase beyond
the means of subsistence in a limited district, and partly by the
accidental drifting of canoes by tides and currents to distant shores.”
Principles of Geology (London, 1832), vol. ii. p. 121.

[361] “La question générale de la première origine des habitans d’un
continent est au-delà des limites prescrites à l’histoire; peut-être
même n’est-elle pas une question philosophique.” Humboldt, Essai
politique, tom. i. p. 349.

[362] _Ante_, p. 75.

[363] The fanciful division of time into four or five cycles or ages
was found among the Hindoos (Asiatic Researches, vol. ii. mem. 7),
the Thibetians (Humboldt, Vues des Cordillères, p. 210), the Persians
(Bailly, Traité de l’Astronomie (Paris, 1787), tom. i. discours
préliminaire), the Greeks (Hesiod, Ἔργα καὶ Ἡμέραι, v. 108, et seq.),
and other people, doubtless. The five ages in the Grecian cosmogony had
reference to moral rather than physical phenomena,--a proof of higher

[364] The Chaldean and Hebrew accounts of the Deluge are nearly the
same. The parallel is pursued in Palfrey’s ingenious Lectures on the
Jewish Scriptures and Antiquities (Boston, 1840), vol. ii. lect. 21,
22. Among the pagan writers, none approach so near to the Scripture
narrative as Lucian, who, in his account of the Greek traditions,
speaks of the ark, and the pairs of different kinds of animals. (De
Deâ Syriâ, sec. 12.) The same thing is found in the Bhagawatn Purana,
a Hindoo poem of great antiquity. (Asiatic Researches, vol. ii. mem.
7.) The simple tradition of a universal inundation was preserved among
most of the aborigines, probably, of the Western World. See McCulloh,
Researches, p. 147.

[365] This tradition of the Aztecs is recorded in an ancient
hieroglyphical map, first published in Gemelli Carreri’s Giro del
Mondo. (See tom. vi. p. 38, ed. Napoli, 1700.) Its authenticity, as
well as the integrity of Carreri himself, on which some suspicions
have been thrown (see Robertson’s America (London, 1796), vol. iii.
note 26), has been successfully vindicated by Boturini, Clavigero,
and Humboldt, all of whom trod in the steps of the Italian traveller.
(Boturini, Idea, p. 54.--Humboldt, Vues des Cordillères, pp. 223,
224.--Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, tom. i. p. 24.) The map is a
copy from one in the curious collection of Siguenza. It has all the
character of a genuine Aztec picture, with the appearance of being
retouched, especially in the costumes, by some later artist. The
painting of the four ages, in the Vatican Codex, No. 3730, represents,
also, the two figures in the boat, escaping the great cataclysm. Antiq.
of Mexico, vol. i. Pl. 7.

[366] I have met with no other voucher for this remarkable tradition
than Clavigero (Stor. del Messico, dissert. 1), a good, though
certainly not the best, authority, when he gives us no reason for
our faith. Humboldt, however, does not distrust the tradition. (See
Vues des Cordillères, p. 226.) He is not so skeptical as Vater; who,
in allusion to the stories of the Flood, remarks, “I have purposely
omitted noticing the resemblance of religious notions, for I do not
see how it is possible to separate from such views every influence
of Christian ideas, if it be only from an imperceptible confusion in
the mind of the narrator.” Mithridates, oder allgemeine Sprachenkunde
(Berlin, 1812), Theil iii. Abtheil. 3, p. 82, note.

[367] This story, so irreconcilable with the vulgar Aztec tradition,
which admits only two survivors of the Deluge, was still lingering
among the natives of the place on M. de Humboldt’s visit there.
(Vues des Cordillères, pp. 31, 32.) It agrees with that given by the
interpreter of the Vatican Codex (Antiq. of Mexico, vol. vi. p. 192,
et seq.); a writer--probably a monk of the sixteenth century--in whom
ignorance and dogmatism contend for mastery. See a precious specimen of
both, in his account of the Aztec chronology, in the very pages above
referred to.

[368] A tradition, very similar to the Hebrew one, existed among the
Chaldeans and the Hindoos. (Asiatic Researches, vol. iii. mem. 16.)
The natives of Chiapa, also, according to the bishop Nuñez de la Vega,
had a story, cited as genuine by Humboldt (Vues des Cordillères, p.
148), which not only agrees with the Scripture account of the manner in
which Babel was built, but with that of the subsequent dispersion and
the confusion of tongues. A very marvellous coincidence! But who shall
vouch for the authenticity of the tradition? The bishop flourished
towards the close of the seventeenth century. He drew his information
from hieroglyphical maps, and an Indian MS., which Boturini in vain
endeavored to recover. In exploring these, he borrowed the aid of the
natives, who, as Boturini informs us, frequently led the good man into
errors and absurdities; of which he gives several specimens. (Idea, p.
116, et seq.)--Boturini himself has fallen into an error equally great,
in regard to a map of this same Cholulan pyramid, which Clavigero
shows, far from being a genuine antique, was the forgery of a later
day. (Stor. del Messico, tom. i. p. 130, nota.) It is impossible to
get a firm footing in the quicksands of tradition. The further we are
removed from the Conquest, the more difficult it becomes to decide what
belongs to the primitive Aztec and what to the Christian convert.

[369] Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva-España, lib. 1, cap. 6; lib. 6, cap. 28,
33.--Torquemada, not content with the honest record of his predecessor,
whose MS. lay before him, tells us that the Mexican Eve had two
sons, Cain and Abel. (Monarch, Ind., lib. 6, cap. 31.) The ancient
interpreters of the Vatican and Tellerian Codices add the further
tradition of her bringing sin and sorrow into the world by plucking the
forbidden _rose_ (Antiq. of Mexico, vol. vi., explan. of Pl. 7, 20);
and Veytia remembers to have seen a Toltec or Aztec map representing
a garden with a single tree in it, round which was coiled the serpent
with a human face! (Hist. antig., lib. 1, cap. 1.) After this we may be
prepared for Lord Kingsborough’s deliberate conviction that the “Aztecs
had a clear knowledge of the Old Testament, and, most probably, of the
New, though somewhat corrupted by time and hieroglyphics”! Antiq. of
Mexico, vol. vi. p. 409.

[370] _Ante_, pp. 71-73.

[371] Veytia, Hist. antig., lib. 1, cap. 15.

[372] Ibid., lib. 1, cap. 19.--A sorry argument, even for a casuist.
See, also, the elaborate dissertation of Dr. Mier (apud Sahagun, lib.
3, Suplem.), which settles the question entirely to the satisfaction of
his reporter, Bustamante.{*}

{*} [P. De Roo, in his History of America before Columbus
(Philadelphia, 1900), has set forth with great learning the St. Thomas
legend. Of the writers upon the subject he says, “They all establish
their opinion upon identical foundations,--to wit, upon the authority
of ancient and revered writers, who may have had a knowledge of
America’s existence and of its religious condition from human sources,
yet especially drew their conclusions from the statements of Holy Writ;
and again, upon the vestiges and traditions of the New World that are
adduced as evidences of St. Thomas’s mission in our hemisphere.”--M.]

[373] See, among others, Lord Kingsborough’s reading of the Borgian
Codex, and the interpreters of the Vatican (Antiq. of Mexico, vol. vi.,
explan. of Pl. 3, 10, 41), equally well skilled with his lordship--and
Sir Hudibras--in unravelling mysteries

    “Whose primitive tradition reaches
     As far as Adam’s first green breeches.”

[374] [See note, _ante_, p. 73.]

[375] [The Cross symbol has been the subject of endless controversy.
As usual, we find that Bancroft has given the subject careful
consideration. (Native Races, iii.) Brinton (Myths of the New World,
pp. 95, 96) quotes authorities to demonstrate in it the four cardinal
points, the rain-bringers, the symbol of life and health. He was the
first writer to connect the Palenque cross with the four cardinal
points. Charles Rau (Palenque Tablet in U. S. National Museum, in No.
331 Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge) concludes that it is a
Phallic symbol. Bandelier thinks it was the emblem of fire. Squier
calls it the tree of life of the Mexicans. Payne (America, ii. p.
86) thinks it was a representation of a human sacrifice to the sun.
The “cross” is simply the conventional representation of a tree. At
Palenque the bird which surmounts the tree is a turkey. The celebrant,
decorated with a necklace, makes an offering to the winged deity. The
living fetish was called Quetzalhuexolotl, and the tree was called “the
tree of the plumed turkey.” The sacrifice presented is a diminutive
human figure. The monstrous head which the roots of the tree surround
is human, but with serpentine details. It represents the “Female
Serpent,” the earth goddess to whom the tree owes its growth and

Father De Roo (America before Columbus, vol. i. ch. xvii, pp. 423-455)
concludes that “Christ and his cross were known in ancient America.” In
his subsequent chapters he describes remains of Christian ceremonies,
baptism, confirmation, a eucharist, confession, penance, etc.--M.]

[376] Antiquités Mexicaines, exped. 3, Pl. 36.--The figures are
surrounded by hieroglyphics of most arbitrary character, perhaps
phonetic. (See, also, Herrera, Hist. general, dec. 2, lib. 3, cap.
I.--Gomara, Crónica de la Nueva-España, cap. 15, ap. Barcia, tom. ii.)
Mr. Stephens considers that the celebrated “Cozumel Cross,” preserved
at Merida, which claims the credit of being the same originally
worshipped by the natives of Cozumel, is, after all, nothing but a
cross that was erected by the Spaniards in one of their own temples
in that island after the Conquest. The fact he regards as “completely
invalidating the strongest proof offered at this day that the Cross was
recognized by the Indians as a symbol of worship.” (Travels in Yucatan,
vol. ii. chap. 20.) But, admitting the truth of this statement, that
the Cozumel Cross is only a Christian relic, which the ingenious
traveller has made extremely probable, his inference is by no means
admissible. Nothing could be more natural than that the friars in
Merida should endeavor to give celebrity to their convent by making
it the possessor of so remarkable a monument as the very relic which
proved, in their eyes, that Christianity had been preached at some
earlier date among the natives. But the real proof of the existence of
the Cross, as an object of worship, in the New World, does not rest on
such spurious monuments as these, but on the unequivocal testimony of
the Spanish discoverers themselves.

[377] “Lo recibian con gran reverencia, humiliacion, y lágrimas,
diciendo que comian la carne de su Dios.” Veytia, Hist. antig. lib. 1,
cap. 18.--Also, Acosta, lib. 5, cap. 24.

[378] _Ante_, p. 78.--Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva-España, lib. 6, cap.
37.--That the reader may see for himself how like, yet how unlike, the
Aztec rite was to the Christian, I give the translation of Sahagun’s
account, at length: “When everything necessary for the baptism had been
made ready, all the relations of the child were assembled, and the
midwife, who was the person that performed the rite of baptism, was
summoned. At early dawn, they met together in the court-yard of the
house. When the sun had risen, the midwife, taking the child in her
arms, called for a little earthen vessel of water, while those about
her placed the ornaments which had been prepared for the baptism in the
midst of the court. To perform the rite of baptism, she placed herself
with her face towards the west, and immediately began to go through
certain ceremonies.... After this she sprinkled water on the head of
the infant, saying, ‘O my child! take and receive the water of the Lord
of the world, which is our life, and is given for the increasing and
renewing of our body. It is to wash and to purify. I pray that these
heavenly drops may enter into your body, and dwell there; that they may
destroy and remove from you all the evil and sin which was given to you
before the beginning of the world; since all of us are under its power,
being all the children of Chalchivitlycue’ [the goddess of water]. She
then washed the body of the child with water, and spoke in this manner:
‘Whencesoever thou comest, thou that art hurtful to this child, leave
him and depart from him, for he now liveth anew, and is born anew; now
is he purified and cleansed afresh, and our mother Chalchivitlycue
again bringeth him into the world.’ Having thus prayed, the midwife
took the child in both hands, and, lifting him towards heaven, said,
‘O Lord, thou seest here thy creature, whom thou hast sent into this
world, this place of sorrow, suffering, and penitence. Grant him, O
Lord, thy gifts and thine inspiration, for thou art the great God, and
with thee is the great goddess.’ Torches of pine were kept burning
during the performance of these ceremonies. When these things were
ended, they gave the child the name of some one of his ancestors, in
the hope that he might shed a new lustre over it. The name was given by
the same midwife, or priestess, who baptized him.”

[379] Among Egyptian symbols we meet with several specimens of the
Cross. One, according to Justus Lipsius, signified “life to come.” (See
his treatise, De Cruce (Lutetiæ Parisiorum, 1598), lib. 3, cap. 8.) We
find another in Champollion’s catalogue, which he interprets “support
or saviour.” (Précis, tom. ii., Tableau gén., Nos. 277, 348.) Some
curious examples of the reverence paid to this sign by the ancients
have been collected by McCulloh (Researches, p. 330, et seq.), and by
Humboldt, in his late work, Géographie du Nouveau-Continent, tom. ii.
p. 354, et seq.


    “Ante, Deos homini quod conciliare valeret
    _Far_ erat,”

says Ovid. (Fastorum, lib. 1, v. 337.) Count Carli has pointed out a
similar use of consecrated bread, and wine or water, in the Greek and
Egyptian mysteries. (Lettres Améric., tom. i. let. 27.) See, also,
McCulloh, Researches, p. 240, et seq.

[381] Water for purification and other religious rites is frequently
noticed by the classical writers. Thus, Euripides:

    “Ἀγνοἴς καθαρμοἴς πρῶτά νιν νίψαι θέλω.
     θάλασσα κλύϛει πάντα τἀνθρώπων κακά.”
           IPHIG. IN TAUR., vv. 1192, 1194.

The notes on this place, in the admirable Variorum edition of Glasgow,
1821, contain references to several passages of similar import in
different authors.

[382] The difficulty of obtaining anything like a faithful report from
the natives is the subject of complaint from more than one writer, and
explains the great care taken by Sahagun to compare their narratives
with each other. See Hist. de Nueva-España, Prólogo,--Ixtlilxochitl,
Hist. Chich., MS., Pról.,--Boturini, Idea, p. 116.

[383] The parallel was so closely pressed by Torquemada that he was
compelled to suppress the chapter containing it, on the publication of
his book. See the Proemio to the edition of 1723, sec. 2.

[384] “The devil,” says Herrera, “chose to imitate, in everything,
the departure of the Israelites from Egypt, and their subsequent
wanderings.” (Hist. general, dec. 3, lib. 3, cap. 10.) But all that has
been done by monkish annalist and missionary to establish the parallel
with the children of Israel falls far short of Lord Kingsborough’s
learned labors, spread over nearly two hundred folio pages. (See Antiq.
of Mexico, tom. vi. pp. 282-410.) _Quantum inane!_

[385] The word משיח from which is derived _Christ_, “the anointed,” is
still more nearly--not “precisely,” as Lord Kingsborough states (Antiq.
of Mexico, vol. vi. p. 186)--identical with that of Mexi, or Mesi, the
chief who was said to have led the Aztecs on the plains of Anahuac.

[386] Interp. of Cod. Tel.-Rem. et Vat., Antiq. of Mexico, vol.
vi.--Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva-España, lib. 3, Suplem.--Veytia, Hist.
antig., lib. 1, cap. 16.

[387] This opinion finds favor with the best Spanish and Mexican
writers, from the Conquest downwards. Solís sees nothing improbable in
the fact that “the malignant influence, so frequently noticed in sacred
history, should be found equally in profane.” Hist. de la Conquista,
lib. 2, cap. 4.

[388] D. G. Brinton, International Congress of Anthropology, 1893
(Harper’s Magazine, March, 1903, p. 534). “Up to the present time there
has not been shown a single dialect, not an art or an institution, not
a myth or religious rite, not a domesticated plant or animal, not a
tool, weapon, game, or symbol, in use in America at the time of the
discovery, which had been previously imported from Asia, or from any
other continent of the Old World.”--M.

[389] The bridal ceremony of the Hindoos, in particular, contains
curious points of analogy with the Mexican. (See Asiatic Researches,
vol. vii. mem. 9.) The institution of a numerous priesthood, with the
practices of confession and penance, was familiar to the Tartar people.
(Maundeville, Voiage, chap. 23.) And monastic establishments were
found in Thibet and Japan from the earliest ages. Humboldt, Vues des
Cordillères, p. 179.

[390] “Doubtless,” says the ingenious Carli, “the fashion of burning
the corpse, collecting the ashes in a vase, burying them under
pyramidal mounds, with the immolation of wives and servants at the
funeral, all remind one of the customs of Egypt and Hindostan.” Lettres
Améric., tom. ii. let. 10.

[391] Marco Polo notices a civilized people in Southeastern China,
and another in Japan, who drank the blood and ate the flesh of their
captives, esteeming it the most savory food in the world,--“la più
saporita et migliore, che si possa truovar al mondo.” (Viaggi, lib.
2, cap. 75; lib. 3, 13, 14.) The Mongols, according to Sir John
Maundeville, regarded the ears “sowced in vynegre” as a particular
dainty. Voiage, chap. 23.

[392] Marco Polo, Viaggi, lib. 2, cap. 10.--Maundeville, Voiage, cap.
20, et alibi.--See, also, a striking parallel between the Eastern
Asiatics and Americans, in the Supplement to Ranking’s “Historical
Researches;” a work embodying many curious details of Oriental history
and manners in support of a whimsical theory.

[393] Morton, Crania Americana (Philadelphia, 1839), pp. 224-246.--The
industrious author establishes this singular fact by examples drawn
from a great number of nations in North and South America.

[394] Gomara, Crónica de la Nueva-España, cap. 202, ap. Barcia, tom.
ii.--Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, tom. i. pp. 94, 95.--McCulloh
(Researches, p. 198), who cites the Asiatic Researches.--Dr. McCulloh,
in his single volume, has probably brought together a larger mass
of materials for the illustration of the aboriginal history of the
continent than any other writer in the language. In the selection
of his facts he has shown much sagacity, as well as industry; and,
if the formal and somewhat repulsive character of the style has
been unfavorable to a popular interest, the work must always have
an interest for those who are engaged in the study of the Indian
antiquities. His fanciful speculations on the subject of Mexican
mythology may amuse those whom they fail to convince.

[395] _Ante_, p. 126, et seq.

[396] This will be better shown by enumerating the zodiacal signs, used
as the _names of the years_ by the Eastern Asiatics. Among the Mongols,
these were--1, mouse; 2, ox; 3, leopard; 4, hare; 5, crocodile; 6,
serpent; 7, horse; 8, sheep; 9, monkey; 10, hen; 11, dog; 12, hog.
The Mantchou Tartars, Japanese, and Thibetians have nearly the same
terms, substituting, however, for No. 3, tiger; 5, dragon; 8, goat. In
the Mexican signs for the names of the days we also meet with _hare_,
_serpent_, _monkey_, _dog_. Instead of the “leopard,” “crocodile,”
and “hen,”--neither of which animals was known in Mexico at the
time of the Conquest,--we find the _ocelotl_, the _lizard_, and the
_eagle_.--The lunar calendar of the Hindoos exhibits a correspondence
equally extraordinary. Six of the terms agree with those of the Aztecs,
namely, _serpent_, _cane_, _razor_, _path of the sun_, _dog’s tail_,
_house_. (Humboldt, Vues des Cordillères, p. 152.) These terms, it will
be observed, are still more arbitrarily selected, not being confined
to animals; as, indeed, the hieroglyphics of the Aztec calendar were
derived indifferently from them, and other objects, like the signs
of our zodiac. These scientific analogies are set in the strongest
light by M. de Humboldt, and occupy a large and, to the philosophical
inquirer, the most interesting portion of his great work. (Vues des
Cordillères, pp. 125-194.) He has not embraced in his tables, however,
the Mongol calendar, which affords even a closer approximation to the
Mexican than that of the other Tartar races. Comp. Ranking, Researches,
pp. 370, 371, note.

[397] There is some inaccuracy in Humboldt’s definition of the
_ocelotl_ as “the tiger,” “the jaguar.” (Ibid., p. 159.) It is smaller
than the jaguar, though quite as ferocious, and is as graceful and
beautiful as the leopard, which it more nearly resembles. It is a
native of New Spain, where the tiger is not known. (See Buffon,
Histoire naturelle (Paris, An VIII), tom. ii., _vox Ocelotl_.) The
adoption of this latter name, therefore, in the Aztec calendar, leads
to an inference somewhat exaggerated.

[398] Both the Tartars and the Aztecs indicated the year by its
sign; as the “year of the hare” or “rabbit,” etc. The Asiatic signs,
likewise, far from being limited to the years and months, presided also
over days, and even hours. (Humboldt, Vues des Cordillères, p. 165.)
The Mexicans had also astrological symbols appropriated to the hours.
Gama, Descripcion, Parte 2, p. 117.

[399] _Ante_, p. 127, note.

[400] Achilles Tatius notices a custom of the Egyptians,--who, as the
sun descended towards Capricorn, put on mourning, but, as the days
lengthened, their fears subsided, they robed themselves in white, and,
crowned with flowers, gave themselves up to jubilee, like the Aztecs.
This account, transcribed by Carli’s French translator, and by M.
de Humboldt, is more fully criticized by M. Jomard in the Vues des
Cordillères, p. 309, et seq.

[401] [See note, _ante_, p. 373.]

[402] Jefferson (Notes on Virginia (London, 1787), p. 164), confirmed
by Humboldt (Essai politique, tom. i. p. 353). Mr. Gallatin comes to
a different conclusion. (Transactions of American Antiquarian Society
(Cambridge, 1836), vol. ii. p. 161.) The great number of American
dialects and languages is well explained by the unsocial nature of a
hunter’s life, requiring the country to be parcelled out into small and
separate territories for the means of subsistence.

[403] Philologists have, indeed, detected two curious exceptions,
in the Congo and primitive Basque; from which, however, the Indian
languages differ in many essential points. See Du Ponceau’s Report, ap.
Transactions of the Lit. and Hist. Committee of the Am. Phil. Society,
vol. i.

[404] Vater (Mithridates, Theil iii. Abtheil. 3, p. 70), who fixes
on the Rio Gila and the Isthmus of Darien as the boundaries within
which traces of the Mexican language were to be discerned. Clavigero
estimates the number of dialects at thirty-five. I have used the more
guarded statement of M. de Humboldt, who adds that fourteen of these
languages have been digested into dictionaries and grammars. Essai
politique, tom. i. p. 352.

[405] No one has done so much towards establishing this important fact
as that estimable scholar, Mr. Du Ponceau. And the frankness with which
he has admitted the exception that disturbed his favorite hypothesis
shows that he is far more wedded to science than to system. See an
interesting account of it, in his prize essay before the Institute,
Mémoire sur le Système grammaticale des Langues de quelques Nations
Indiennes de l’Amérique. (Paris, 1838.)

[406] The Mexican language, in particular, is most flexible; admitting
of combinations so easily that the most simple ideas are often
buried under a load of accessories. The forms of expression, though
picturesque, were thus made exceedingly cumbrous. A “priest,” for
example, was called _notlazomahuizteopixcatatzin_, meaning “venerable
minister of God, that I love as my father.” A still more comprehensive
word is _amatlacuilolitquitcatlaxtlahuitli_, signifying “the reward
given to a messenger who bears a hieroglyphical map conveying

[407] See, in particular, for the latter view of the subject, the
arguments of Mr. Gallatin, in his acute and masterly disquisition
on the Indian tribes; a disquisition that throws more light on the
intricate topics of which it treats than whole volumes that have
preceded it. Transactions of the American Antiquarian Society, vol. ii.
Introd., sec. 6.

[408] This comparative anatomy of the languages of the two hemispheres,
begun by Barton (Origin of the Tribes and Nations of America
(Philadelphia, 1797)), has been extended by Vater (Mithridates, Theil
iii. Abtheil. 1, p. 348, et seq.). A selection of the most striking
analogies may be found, also, in Malte Brun, book 75, table.

[409] _Othomi_, from _otho_, “stationary,” and _mi_, “nothing.”
(Najera, Dissert., _ut infra_.) The etymology intimates the condition
of this rude nation of warriors, who, imperfectly reduced by the Aztec
arms, roamed over the high lands north of the Valley of Mexico.

[410] See Najera’s Dissertatio de Lingua Othomitorum, ap. Transactions
of the American Philosophical Society, vol. v. New Series.--The
author, a learned Mexican, has given a most satisfactory analysis of
this remarkable language, which stands alone among the idioms of the
New World, as the Basque--the solitary wreck, perhaps, of a primitive
age--exists among those of the Old.

[411] Barton, p. 92.--Heckewelder, chap. 1, ap. Transactions of the
Hist. and Lit. Committee of the Am. Phil. Soc., vol. i.--The various
traditions have been assembled by M. Warden, in the Antiquités
Mexicaines, part 2, p. 185, et seq.

[412] The recent work of Mr. Delafield (Inquiry into the Origin of
the Antiquities of America (Cincinnati, 1839)) has an engraving of
one of these maps, said to have been obtained by Mr. Bullock from
Boturini’s collection. Two such are specified on page 10 of that
antiquary’s Catalogue. This map has all the appearance of a genuine
Aztec painting, of the rudest character. We may recognize, indeed,
the symbols of some dates and places, with others denoting the aspect
of the country, whether fertile or barren, a state of war or peace,
etc. But it is altogether too vague, and we know too little of the
allusions, to gather any knowledge from it of the course of the Aztec
migration.--Gemelli Carreri’s celebrated chart contains the names of
many places on the route, interpreted, perhaps, by Siguenza himself,
to whom it belonged (Giro del Mondo, tom. vi. 56); and Clavigero has
endeavored to ascertain the various localities with some precision.
(Stor. del Messico, tom. i. p. 160, et seq.) But, as they are all
within the boundaries of New Spain, and, indeed, south of the Rio
Gila, they throw little light, of course, on the vexed question of the
primitive abodes of the Aztecs.

[413] This may be fairly gathered from the agreement of the
_traditionary_ interpretations of the maps of the various people of
Anahuac, according to Veytia; who, however, admits that it is “next
to impossible,” with the lights of the present day, to determine the
precise route taken by the Mexicans. (Hist, antig., tom. i. cap. 2.)
Lorenzana is not so modest. “Los Mexicanos por tradicion viniéron por
el norte,” says he, “y se saben ciertamente sus mansiones.” (Hist. de
Nueva-España, p. 81, nota.) There are some antiquaries who see best in
the dark.

[414] Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 2, et seq.--Idem,
Relaciones, MS.--Veytia, Hist. antig., ubi supra.--Torquemada, Monarch.
Ind., tom. i. lib. 1.

[415] In the province of Sonora, especially along the California Gulf.
The Cora language, above all, of which a regular grammar has been
published, and which is spoken in New Biscay, about 30° north, so much
resembles the Mexican that Vater refers them both to a common stock.
Mithridates, Theil iii. Abtheil. 3, p. 143.

[416] On the southern bank of this river are ruins of large dimensions,
described by the missionary Pedro Font on his visit there in 1775.
(Antiq. of Mexico, vol. vi. p. 538.)--At a place of the same name,
Casas Grandes, about 33° north, and, like the former, a supposed
station of the Aztecs, still more extensive remains are to be found;
large enough, indeed, according to a late traveller, Lieut. Hardy, for
a population of 20,000 or 30,000 souls. The country for leagues is
covered with these remains, as well as with utensils of earthenware,
obsidian, and other relics. A drawing which the author has given of a
painted jar or vase may remind one of the Etruscan. “There were, also,
good specimens of earthen images in the Egyptian style,” he observes,
“which are, _to me at least, so perfectly uninteresting_ that I was at
no pains to procure any of them.” (Travels in the Interior of Mexico
(London, 1829), pp. 464-466.) The lieutenant was neither a Boturini nor
a Belzoni.

[417] Vater has examined the languages of three of these nations,
between 50° and 60° north, and collated their vocabularies with the
Mexican, showing the probability of a common origin of many of the
words in each. Mithridates, Theil iii. Abtheil. 3, p. 212.

[418] The Mexicans are noticed by M. de Humboldt as distinguished from
the other aborigines whom he had seen, by the quantity both of beard
and moustaches. (Essai politique, tom. i. p. 361.) The modern Mexican,
however, broken in spirit and fortunes, bears as little resemblance,
probably, in physical as in moral characteristics to his ancestors, the
fierce and independent Aztecs.

[419] Prichard, Physical History, vol. i. pp. 167-169, 182, et
seq.--Morton, Crania Americana, p. 66.--McCulloh, Researches, p.
18.--Lawrence, Lectures, pp. 317, 565.

[420] Thus we find, amidst the generally prevalent copper or cinnamon
tint, nearly all gradations of color, from the European white, to a
black, almost African; while the complexion capriciously varies among
different tribes in the neighborhood of each other. See examples
in Humboldt (Essai politique, tom. i. pp. 358, 359), also Prichard
(Physical History, vol. ii. pp. 452, 522, et alibi), a writer whose
various research and dispassionate judgment have made his work a
text-book in this department of science.

[421] Such is the conclusion of Dr. Warren, whose excellent collection
has afforded him ample means for study and comparison. (See his Remarks
before the British Association for the Advancement of Science, ap.
London Athenæum, Oct., 1837.) In the specimens collected by Dr. Morton,
however, the barbarous tribes would seem to have a somewhat larger
facial angle, and a greater quantity of brain, than the semi-civilized.
Crania Americana, p. 259.

[422] “On ne peut se refuser d’admettre que l’espèce humaine n’offre
pas de races plus voisines que le sont celles des Américaines, des
Mongols, des Mantchoux, et des Malais.” Humboldt, Essai politique, tom.
i. p. 367.--Also, Prichard, Physical History, vol. i. pp. 184-186; vol.
ii. pp. 365-367.--Lawrence, Lectures, p. 365.

[423] Dr. Morton’s splendid work on American crania has gone far to
supply the requisite information. Out of about one hundred and fifty
specimens of skulls, of which he has ascertained the dimensions
with admirable precision, one-third belong to the semi-civilized
races; and of them thirteen are Mexican. The number of these last
is too small to found any general conclusions upon, considering the
great diversity found in individuals of the same nation, not to say
kindred.--Blumenbach’s observations on American skulls were chiefly
made, according to Prichard (Physical History, vol. i. pp. 183, 184),
from specimens of the Carib tribes, as unfavorable, perhaps, as any on
the continent.

[424] Yet these specimens are not so easy to be obtained. With uncommon
advantages for procuring these myself in Mexico, I have not succeeded
in obtaining any specimens of the genuine Aztec skull. The difficulty
of this may be readily comprehended by any one who considers the length
of time that has elapsed since the Conquest, and that the burial-places
of the ancient Mexicans have continued to be used by their descendants.
Dr. Morton more than once refers to his specimens as those of the
“genuine Toltec skull, from cemeteries in Mexico, older than the
Conquest.” (Crania Americana, pp. 152, 155, 231, et alibi.) But how
does he know that the heads are Toltec? That nation is reported to
have left the country about the middle of the eleventh century, nearly
eight hundred years ago,--according to Ixtlilxochitl, indeed, a century
earlier; and it seems much more probable that the specimens now found
in these burial-places should belong to some of the races who have
since occupied the country, than to one so far removed. The presumption
is manifestly too feeble to authorize any positive inference.

[425] The tower of Belus, with its retreating stories, described by
Herodotus (Clio, sec. 181), has been selected as the model of the
_teocalli_; which leads Vater somewhat shrewdly to remark that it is
strange no evidence of this should appear in the erection of similar
structures by the Aztecs in the whole course of their journey to
Anahuac. (Mithridates, Theil. iii. Abtheil. 3, pp. 74, 75.) The learned
Niebuhr finds the elements of the Mexican temple in the mythic tomb of
Porsenna. (Roman History, Eng. trans. (London, 1827), vol. i. p. 88.)
The resemblance to the accumulated pyramids composing this monument is
not very obvious. Com. Pliny (Hist. Nat., lib. 36, sec. 19). Indeed,
the antiquarian may be thought to encroach on the poet’s province when
he finds in Etruscan _fable_--“cum omnia excedat fabulositas,” as Pliny
characterizes this--the origin of Aztec science.

[426] See the powerful description of Lucan, Pharsalia, lib. 9,
v. 966.--The Latin bard has been surpassed by the Italian, in the
beautiful stanza beginning _Giace l’ alta Cartago_ (Gerusalemme
Liberata, c. 15, s. 20), which may be said to have been expanded by
Lord Byron into a canto,--the fourth of Childe Harold.

[427] The most remarkable remains on the proper Mexican soil are the
temple or fortress of Xochicalco, not many miles from the capital. It
stands on a rocky eminence, nearly a league in circumference, cut into
terraces faced with stone. The building on the summit is seventy-five
feet long and sixty-six broad. It is of hewn granite, put together
without cement, but with great exactness. It was constructed in the
usual pyramidal, terraced form, rising by a succession of stories, each
smaller than that below it. The number of these is now uncertain; the
lower one alone remaining entire. This is sufficient, however, to show
the nice style of execution, from the sharp, salient cornices, and the
hieroglyphical emblems with which it is covered, all cut in the hard
stone. As the detached blocks found among the ruins are sculptured with
bas-reliefs in like manner, it is probable that the whole building
was covered with them. It seems probable, also, as the same pattern
extends over different stones, that the work was executed after the
walls were raised.--In the hill beneath, subterraneous galleries, six
feet wide and high, have been cut to the length of one hundred and
eighty feet, where they terminate in two halls, the vaulted ceilings
of which connect by a sort of tunnel with the buildings above. These
subterraneous works are also lined with hewn stone. The size of the
blocks, and the hard quality of the granite of which they consist, have
made the buildings of Xochicalco a choice quarry for the proprietors of
a neighboring sugar-refinery, who have appropriated the upper stories
of the temple to this ignoble purpose! The Barberini at least built
palaces, beautiful themselves, as works of art, with the plunder of the
Coliseum. See the full description of this remarkable building, both by
Dupaix and Alzate. (Antiquités Mexicaines, tom. i. Exp. 1, pp. 15-20;
tom. iii. Exp. 1, Pl. 33.) A recent investigation has been made by
order of the Mexican government, the report of which differs, in some
of its details, from the preceding. Revista Mexicana, tom. i. mem. 5.

[428] _Ante_, pp. 196-199.

[429] It is impossible to look at Waldeck’s finished drawings of
buildings, where Time seems scarcely to have set his mark on the
nicely chiselled stone, and the clear tints are hardly defaced by a
weather-stain, without regarding the artist’s work as a _restoration_;
a picture true, it may be, of those buildings in the day of their
glory, but not of their decay.--Cogolludo, who saw them in the middle
of the seventeenth century, speaks of them with admiration, as works of
“accomplished architects,” of whom history has preserved no tradition.
Historia de Yucatan (Madrid, 1688), lib. 4, cap. 2.{*}

{*} [The age of these ancient cities is still an unsolved problem, but
the conviction seems to be growing that many of them were inhabited at
the time of the Conquest. The sacred edifices at Uxmal did not cease
to be used until some time after the Spaniards had become lords of
the land. Charnay (Ancient Cities of the New World, p. 328) thinks
Chichen Itza was inhabited “scarcely sixty years before the Conquest.”
Bandelier (Peabody Museum Report, ii. 126) says of the Tablet of the
Cross at Palenque, “These tablets and figures show in dress such a
striking analogy of what we know of the military accoutrements of the
Mexicans, that it is a strong approach to identity.” Bancroft (Native
Races, vol. iv.) specifies the literature dealing with Palenque. For
a while scholars were mystified by Waldeck’s absurd elephants on the
walls of Palenque. But after a time these animal representations were
shown to have existed only in the artist’s brain.--M.]

[430] In the original text is a description of some of these ruins,
especially of those of Mitla and Palenque. It would have had novelty
at the time in which it was written, since the only accounts of these
buildings were in the colossal publications of Lord Kingsborough, and
in the Antiquités Mexicaines, not very accessible to most readers. But
it is unnecessary to repeat descriptions now familiar to every one, and
so much better executed than they can be by me, in the spirited pages
of Stephens.

[431] [Bandelier (Archæological Tour in Mexico) gives an account of the
statues, etc., found in Mexico up to the year 1881.--M.]

[432] See, in particular, two terra-cotta busts with helmets, found in
Oaxaca, which might well pass for Greek, both in the style of the heads
and the casques that cover them. Antiquités Mexicaines, tom. iii. Exp.
2, Pl. 36.

[433] Dupaix speaks of these tools as made of pure copper. But
doubtless there was some alloy mixed with it, as was practised by the
Aztecs and Egyptians; otherwise their edges must have been easily
turned by the hard substances on which they were employed.

[434] Wilkinson, Ancient Egyptians, vol. iii. pp. 246-254.

[435] _Ante_, p. 155

[436] Waldeck, Atlas pittoresque, p. 73.--The fortress of Xochicalco
was also colored with a red paint (Antiquités Mexicaines, tom. i. p.
20); and a cement of the same color covered the Toltec pyramid at
Teotihuacan, according to Mr. Bullock, Six Months in Mexico, vol. ii.
p. 143.

[437] Description de l’Egypte, Antiq., tom. ii. cap. 9, sec. 4.--The
huge image of the Sphinx was originally colored red. (Clarke’s Travels,
vol. v. p. 202.) Indeed, many of the edifices, as well as statues, of
ancient Greece, also, still exhibit traces of having been painted.

[438] The various causes of the stationary condition of art in Egypt,
for so many ages, are clearly exposed by the Duke di Serradifalco, in
his _Antichità della Sicilia_ (Palermo, 1834, tom. ii. pp. 33, 34);
a work in which the author, while illustrating the antiquities of a
little island, has thrown a flood of light on the arts and literary
culture of ancient Greece.

[439] “The ideal is not always the beautiful,” as Winckelmann truly
says, referring to the Egyptian figures. (Histoire de l’Art chez les
Anciens, liv. 4, chap. 2, trad. Fr.) It is not impossible, however,
that the portraits mentioned in the text may be copies from life. Some
of the rude tribes of America distorted their infants’ heads into
forms quite as fantastic; and Garcilaso de la Vega speaks of a nation
discovered by the Spaniards in Florida, with a formation apparently not
unlike the Palenque: “_Tienen cabezas increiblemente largas, y ahusadas
para arriba_, que las ponen así con artificio, atándoselas desde el
punto, que nascen las criaturas, hasta que son de nueve ó diez años.”
La Florida (Madrid, 1723), p. 190.

[440] For a notice of this remarkable codex, see _ante_, p. 119. There
is, indeed, a resemblance, in the use of straight lines and dots,
between the Palenque writing and the Dresden MS. Possibly these dots
denoted years, like the rounds in the Mexican system.

[441] The hieroglyphics are arranged in perpendicular lines. The heads
are uniformly turned towards the right, as in the Dresden MS.

[442] “Les ruines,” says the enthusiastic chevalier Le Noir, “sans
nom, à qui l’on a donné celui de _Palenque_, peuvent remonter comme
les plus anciennes ruines du monde à trois mille ans. Ceci n’est point
mon opinion seule; c’est celle de _tous_ les voyageurs qui ont vu les
ruines dont il s’agit, de _tous_ les archéologues qui en ont examiné
les dessins ou lu les descriptions, enfin des historiens qui ont fait
des recherches, et qui n’ont rien trouvé dans les annales du monde
qui fasse soupçonner l’époque de la fondation de tels monuments, dont
l’origine se perd dans la nuit des temps.” (Antiquités Mexicaines, tom.
ii., Examen, p. 73.) Colonel Galindo, fired with the contemplation
of the American ruins, pronounces this country the true cradle of
civilization, whence it passed over to China, and latterly to Europe,
which, whatever “its foolish vanity” may pretend, has but just started
in the march of improvement! See his Letter on Copan, ap. Trans, of Am.
Ant. Soc., vol. ii.

[443] From these sources of information, and especially from the
number of the concentric rings in some old trees, and the incrustation
of stalactites found on the ruins of Palenque, M. Waldeck computes
their age at between two and three thousand years. (Voyage en Yucatan,
p. 78.) The criterion, as far as the trees are concerned, cannot
be relied on in an advanced stage of their growth; and as to the
stalactite formations, they are obviously affected by too many casual
circumstances, to afford the basis of an accurate calculation.{*}

{*} [Charnay (Ancient Cities of the New World, p. 260) shows the
worthlessness of the argument from tree growth. He says, “In my
first expedition to Palenque in 1859, I had the eastern side of the
palace cleared of the dense vegetation to secure a good photograph.
Consequently, the trees that have grown since cannot be more than
twenty-two years old; now one of the cuttings, measuring some two feet
in diameter, had upwards of 230 concentric circles, that is, at the
rate of one in a month, or even less.” Reasoning on the idea that a
concentric circle upon a tree represents a growth of one year, Waldeck
had calculated the age of the structures at 2000 years.--M.]

[444] Waldeck, Voyage en Yucatan, ubi supra.

[445] Antiquités Mexicaines, Examen, p. 76.--Hardly deep enough,
however, to justify Captain Dupaix’s surmise of the antediluvian
existence of these buildings; especially considering that the
accumulation was in the sheltered position of an interior court.

[446] [Ober, Travels in Mexico, p. 76. This granite pavement with its
carven tortoises has never been seen by mortal man, although described
by the unreliable and wonder-seeking Waldeck. It is true that there
are many sculptures of this kind in Uxmal, but only on the doors and
cornices. Ancona in his history says, “Estes tortugas, expuestas a
las piedras de la muchedumbre, solo han existido en la imaginacion de
Waldeck.” Ancona was the native historian of Yucatan.--M.]

[447] Waldeck, Voyage en Yucatan, p. 97.

[448] The chaplain of Grijalva speaks with admiration of the “lofty
towers of stone and lime, some of them very ancient,” found in Yucatan.
(Itinerario, MS. (1518).) Bernal Diaz, with similar expressions of
wonder, refers the curious antique relics found there to the Jews.
(Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 2, 6.) Alvarado, in a letter to Cortés,
expatiates on the “maravillosos et grandes edificios” to be seen
in Guatemala. (Oviedo, Hist, de las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 42.)
According to Cogolludo, the Spaniards, who could get no tradition of
their origin, referred them to the Phœnicians or Carthaginians. (Hist,
de Yucatan, lib. 4, cap. 2.) He cites the following emphatic notice of
these remains from Las Casas: “Ciertamente la tierra de Yucathan da á
entender cosas mui especiales, y de mayor antiguedad, por las grandes,
admirables, y excessivas maneras de edificios, y letreros de ciertos
caracteres, que en otra ninguna parte se hallan.” (Loc. cit.) Even
the inquisitive Martyr has collected no particulars respecting them,
merely noticing the buildings of this region with general expressions
of admiration. (De Insulis nuper Inventis, pp. 334-340.) What is quite
as surprising is the silence of Cortés, who traversed the country
forming the base of Yucatan, in his famous expedition to Honduras, of
which he has given many details we would gladly have exchanged for a
word respecting these interesting memorials. Carta Quinta de Cortés,
MS.--I must add that some remarks in the above paragraph in the text
would have been omitted, had I enjoyed the benefit of Mr. Stephens’s
researches when it was originally written. This is especially the case
with the reflections on the probable condition of these structures at
the time of the Conquest; when some of them would appear to have been
still used for their original purposes.

[449] “Asimismo los Tultecas que escapáron se fuéron por las costas del
Mar del Sur y Norte, como son Huatimala, Tecuantepec, Cuauhzacualco,
Campechy, Tecolotlan, y los de las Islas y Costas de una mar y otra,
que despues se viniéron á multiplicar.” Ixtlilxochitl, Relaciones, MS.,
No. 5.

[450] Herrera, Hist, general, dec. 4, lib. 10, cap. 1-4.--Cogolludo,
Hist, de Yucatan, lib. 4, cap. 5.--Pet. Martyr, De Insulis, ubi
supra.--M. Waldeck comes to just the opposite inference, namely, that
the inhabitants of Yucatan were the true sources of the Toltec and
Aztec civilization. (Voyage en Yucatan, p. 72.) “Doubt must be our lot
in everything,” exclaims the honest Captain Dupaix,--“_the true faith
always excepted_.” Antiquités Mexicaines, tom. i. p. 21.

[451] “Inter omnes eos non constat a quibus factæ sint, justissimo
casu, obliteratis tantæ vanitatis auctoribus.” Pliny, Hist. Nat., lib.
36, cap. 17.

[452] _Ante_, p. 200.

[453] At least, this is true of the etymology of these languages, and,
as such, was adduced by Mr. Edward Everett, in his Lectures on the
Aboriginal Civilization of America, forming part of a course delivered
some years since by that acute and highly accomplished scholar.

[454] The mixed breed, from the buffalo and the European stock, was
known formerly in the northwestern counties of Virginia, says Mr.
Gallatin (Synopsis, sec. 5); who is, however, mistaken in asserting
that “the bison is not known to have ever been domesticated by the
Indians.” (Ubi supra.) Gomara speaks of a nation, dwelling about 40°
north latitude, on the northwestern borders of New Spain, whose chief
wealth was in droves of these cattle (_buyes con una giba sobre la
cruz_, “oxen with a hump on the shoulders”), from which they got their
clothing, food, and drink, which last, however, appears to have been
only the blood of the animal. Historia de las Indias, cap. 214, ap.
Barcia, tom. ii.

[455] The people of parts of China, for example, and, above all, of
Cochin China, who never milk their cows, according to Macartney, cited
by Humboldt, Essai politique, tom. iii. p. 58, note. See, also, p. 118.

[456] The native regions of the buffalo were the vast prairies of the
Missouri, and they wandered over the long reach of country east of
the Rocky Mountains, from 55° north, to the headwaters of the streams
between the Mississippi and the Rio del Norte. The Columbia plains,
says Gallatin, were as naked of game as of trees. (Synopsis, sec.
5.) That the bison was sometimes found also on the other side of the
mountains, is plain from Gomara’s statement. (Hist. de las Ind., loc.
cit.) See, also, Laet, who traces their southern wanderings to the
river Vaquimi (?), in the province of Cinaloa, on the California Gulf.
Novus Orbis (Lugd. Bat., 1633), p. 286.

[457] _Ante_, p. 155.

Thus Lucretius:

    “Et prior æris erat, quam ferri cognitus usus,
     Quo facilis magis est natura, et copia major.
     Ære solum terræ tractabant, æreque belli
     Miscebant fluctus.”
                    DE RERUM NATURA, lib. 5.

According to Carli, the Chinese were acquainted with iron 3000 years
before Christ. (Lettres Améric., tom. ii. p. 63.) Sir J. G. Wilkinson,
in an elaborate inquiry into its first appearance among the people
of Europe and Western Asia, finds no traces of it earlier than the
sixteenth century before the Christian era. (Ancient Egyptians, vol.
iii. pp. 241-246.) The origin of the most useful arts is lost in
darkness. Their very utility is one cause of this, from the rapidity
with which they are diffused among distant nations. Another cause is,
that in the first ages of the discovery men are more occupied with
availing themselves of it than with recording its history; until time
turns history into fiction. Instances are familiar to every school-boy.

[458] [And in this connection also the reader may do well to consider
these words of the distinguished Americanist, D. G. Brinton, uttered
in the International Congress of Anthropology in 1893: “Up to the
present time there has not been shown a single dialect, not an art or
an institution, not a myth or a religious rite, not a domesticated
plant or animal, not a tool, weapon, game, or symbol, in use in America
at the time of the discovery, which had been previously imported from
Asia, or from any other continent of the Old World.”--M.]

[459] [The grandson of Ferdinand and Isabella was not Charles the
Fifth when the sceptre of Spain was thrust into his hands because his
mother Joanna was unfit to rule. Charles called himself king when he
made his triumphal entry into Valladolid in 1517. But it was only with
the greatest difficulty that the Cortes of Castile was induced to
accept him as titular sovereign _in conjunction with his mother_. Her
name was to take precedence of his in all royal documents. Until her
death in 1555, the year before her son’s abdication, Joanna was the
rightful sovereign of Spain. Charles was elected emperor of the Holy
Roman Empire in 1519, only two years after he had assumed the control
of Spanish affairs. It is not remarkable, therefore, that he should be
known to most people only by the more important title. Charles was born
in Ghent, February 24, 1500. His father was Philip the Fair, the heir
of the German possessions of the house of Hapsburg, and the territories
of the house of Burgundy. When the marriage of Philip and Joanna was
arranged no one dreamed that their son would succeed to the crown of
Spain, for Joanna’s elder brother and elder sister were both alive.
Charles scarcely knew his parents. When Isabella of Castile died his
father and mother went to Spain to take possession of the kingdom she
had left to her daughter. This was in 1506, and from that time until
1517 Charles did not see his mother. His character was slow in forming.
Only in athletic sports did he early achieve success. In 1517 the Papal
legate Campeggi declared him more fit to be governed than to govern. He
was never a good scholar, and was a singularly bad linguist. French was
the language he first learned to speak. His native tongue, Flemish, he
did not begin to learn until he was thirteen. When he went to Spain he
knew so little Spanish that one of the first demands made by the Cortes
of Castile was that he should learn that language. He never thoroughly
mastered German.--M.]

[460] The following passage--one among many--from that faithful mirror
of the times, Peter Martyr’s correspondence, does ample justice to the
intemperance, avarice, and intolerable arrogance of the Flemings. The
testimony is worth the more, as coming from one who, though resident
in Spain, was not a Spaniard. “Crumenas auro fulcire inhiant; huic uni
studio invigilant. Nec detrectat juvenis Rex. Farcit quacunque posse
datur; non satiat tamen. Quæ qualisve sit gens hæc, depingere adhuc
nescio. Insufflat vulgus hic in omne genus hominum non arctoum. Minores
faciunt Hispanos, quam si nati essent inter eorum cloacas. Rugiunt jam
Hispani, labra mordent, submurmurant taciti, fatorum vices tales esse
conqueruntur, quod ipsi domitores regnorum ita floccifiant ab his,
quorum Deus unicus (sub rege temperato) Bacchus est cum Citherea.” Opus
Epistolarum (Amstelodami, 1610), ep. 608.

[461] Yet the nobles were not all backward in manifesting their
disgust. When Charles would have conferred the famous Burgundian order
of the Golden Fleece on the Count of Benavente, that lord refused it,
proudly telling him, “I am a Castilian. I desire no honors but those
of my own country, in my opinion quite as good as--indeed, better
than--those of any other.” Sandoval, Historia de la Vida y Hechos del
Emperador Cárlos V. (Ambéres, 1681), tom. i. p. 103.

[462] [The tone of the preceding paragraphs is that of the Spanish
chroniclers of the seventeenth century, and shows how the author,
despite his natural candor and impartiality of mind, had acquired
insensibly the habit of considering questions that affected Spain
from the national point of view of the class of writers with whom
his studies had made him most familiar. Spain is called the “native
country” of Charles V., and the “land of his fathers,” although,
as hardly any reader will need to be reminded, he was born in the
Netherlands and was of Spanish descent only on the maternal side. The
term “foreigner” is applied to him as if it indicated some vicious
trait in his nature; and the training which he had received as the heir
to the Austro-Burgundian dominions is spoken of as erroneous, merely
because it had not fitted him for a different position. His manners
are contrasted with those of native Spanish sovereigns, as if wanting
in graciousness and affability; yet the Spaniards, who alone ever made
this complaint, recognized their own ideal of royal demeanor in that
of the taciturn and phlegmatic Philip II. In like manner, Charles is
supposed to have made his first acquaintance with free institutions on
his arrival in Spain; whereas he had been brought up in a country where
the power of the sovereign was perhaps more closely restricted by the
chartered rights and immunities of the subject than was the case in any
other part of Europe. That the union of Spain and the Netherlands was
a most incongruous one, disastrous to the freedom, the independence,
and the development of both countries, is undeniable; but it was
not Charles’s early partiality for the one, but his successor’s far
stronger partiality for the other, which rendered the incompatibility
apparent and led to a rupture of the connection.--K.]

[463] I will take the liberty to refer the reader who is desirous of
being more minutely acquainted with the Spanish colonial administration
and the state of discovery previous to Charles V., to the “History of
the Reign of Ferdinand and Isabella” (Part 2, ch. 9, 26), where the
subject is treated _in extenso_.{*}

{*} [All the documents relative to the commission sent out by Ximenes,
including many reports from the commissioners, have been printed
in the Col. de Doc. inéd. relativos al Descubrimiento, Conquista y
Colonizacion de las Posesiones españolas en América y Oceanía, tom.

[464] See the curious document attesting this, and drawn up by order of
Columbus, ap. Navarrete, Coleccion de los Viages y de Descubrimientos
(Madrid, 1825), tom. ii. Col. Dip., No. 76.

[465] [Now Haiti and Santo Domingo.--M.]

[466] The island was originally called by Columbus Juana, in honor of
Prince John, heir to the Castilian crown. After his death it received
the name of Fernandina, at the king’s desire. The Indian name has
survived both. Herrera, Hist. general, Descrip., cap. 6.

[467] “Erat Didacus, ut hoc in loco de eo semel tantum dicamus,
veteranus miles, rei militaris gnarus, quippe qui septem et decem annos
in Hispania militiam exercitus fuerat, homo probus, opibus, genere et
fama clarus, honoris cupidus, pecuniæ aliquanto cupidior.” De Rebus
gestis Ferdinandi Cortesii, MS.

[468] The story is told by Las Casas in his appalling record of the
cruelties of his countrymen in the New World, which charity--and
common sense--may excuse us for believing the good father has greatly
overcharged. Brevíssima Relacion de la Destruycion de las Indias
(Venetia, 1643), p. 28.

[469] [Santiago de Cuba.--M.]

[470] Among the most ancient of these establishments we find the
Havana, Puerto del Príncipe, Trinidad, St. Salvador, and Matanzas, or
_the Slaughter_, so called from a massacre of the Spaniards there by
the Indians. Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 8.

[471] [This statement is erroneous. Prescott did not know that the
Havana, or San Cristobal, whence Cordova sailed, was on the south side
of Cuba. All authorities agree that the expedition sailed directly
westward, that the storm did not occur until Cape San Antonio had
been passed, and that the fleet sailed westward by the will of its
commander. See Bancroft’s Mexico, vol. i. p. 7.--M.]

[472] Gomara, Historia de las Indias, cap. 52, ap. Barcia, tom.
ii.--Bernal Diaz says the word came from the vegetable _yuca_, and
_tale_ the name for a hillock in which it is planted. (Hist. de la
Conquista, cap. 6.) M. Waldeck finds a much more plausible derivation
in the Indian word _Ouyouckatan_, “listen to what they say.” Voyage
pittoresque, p. 25.

[473] Two navigators, Solís and Pinzon, had descried the coast as
far back as 1506, according to Herrera, though they had not taken
possession of it. (Hist. general, dec. 1, lib. 6, cap. 17.) It is,
indeed, remarkable it should so long have eluded discovery, considering
that it is but two degrees distant from Cuba.

[474] Oviedo, General y natural Historia de las Indias, MS., lib.
33, cap. 1.--De Rebus gestis, MS.--Carta del Cabildo de Vera Cruz
(July 10, 1519), MS.--Bernal Diaz denies that the original object of
the expedition, in which he took part, was to procure slaves, though
Velasquez had proposed it. (Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 2.) But he is
contradicted in this by the other contemporary records above cited.

[475] Itinerario de la Isola de Iuchathan, novamente ritrovata per il
Signor Joan de Grijalva, per il suo Capellano, MS.--The chaplain’s word
may be taken for the date, which is usually put at the eighth of April.

[476] [The fleet left Santiago, April 8, 1518, and Cape San Antonio,
May 1.--M.]

[477] De Rebus gestis, MS.--Itinerario del Capellano, MS.

[478] According to the Spanish authorities, the cacique was sent with
these presents from the Mexican sovereign, who had received previous
tidings of the approach of the Spaniards. I have followed Sahagun, who
obtained his intelligence directly from the natives. Historia de la
Conquista, MS., cap. 2.

[479] Gomara has given the _per_ and _contra_ of this negotiation, in
which gold and jewels of the value of fifteen or twenty thousand _pesos
de oro_ were exchanged for glass beads, pins, scissors, and other
trinkets common in an assorted cargo for savages. Crónica, cap. 6.

[480] Itinerario del Capellano, MS.--Carta de Vera Cruz, MS.

[481] “Hombre de terrible condicion,” says Herrera, citing the
good Bishop of Chiapa, “para los que le servian, i aiudaban, i que
facilmente se indignaba contra aquellos.” Hist. general, dec. 2, lib.
3, cap. 10.

[482] At least, such is the testimony of Las Casas, who knew both the
parties well, and had often conversed with Grijalva upon his voyage.
Historia general de las Indias, MS., lib. 3, cap. 113.

[483] Itinerario del Capellano, MS.--Las Casas, Hist. de las Indias,
MS., lib. 3, cap. 113.--The most circumstantial account of Grijalva’s
expedition is to be found in the _Itinerary_ of his chaplain above
quoted. The original is lost, but an indifferent Italian version was
published at Venice in 1522. A copy, which belonged to Ferdinand
Columbus, is still extant in the library of the great church of
Seville. The book had become so exceedingly rare, however, that the
historiographer Muñoz made a transcript of it with his own hand; and
from his manuscript that in my possession was taken.{*}

{*} [Several editions of the Itinerario have been published. The most
easily accessible may be found in the _Coleccion de documentos para la
historia de Mexico, etc._, tom. i.--M.]

[484] [The house in which he was born, in the Calle de la Feria, was
preserved until the present century, and many a traveller has lodged
there, desirous, says Alaman, of sleeping in the mansion where the
hero was born. In the year 1809 the building was destroyed by the
French, and only a few fragments of wall now remain to commemorate the
birthplace of the Conqueror. Alaman, Disertaciones históricas, tom. ii.
p. 2.]

[485] Gomara, Crónica, cap. 1.--Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista,
cap. 203. I find no more precise notice of the date of his birth,
except, indeed, by Pizarro y Orellana, who tells us that “Cortés came
into the world the same day that that _infernal beast, the false
heretic Luther_, entered it,--by way of compensation, no doubt, since
the labors of the one to pull down the true faith were counterbalanced
by those of the other to maintain and extend it”! (Varones ilustres
del Nuevo-Mundo (Madrid, 1639), p. 66.) But this statement of the good
cavalier, which places the birth of our hero in 1483, looks rather more
like a zeal for “the true faith” than for historic.

[486] Argensola, in particular, has bestowed great pains on the
_prosapia_ of the house of Cortés; which he traces up, nothing
doubting, to Narnes Cortés, king of Lombardy and Tuscany. Anales de
Aragon (Zaragoza, 1630), pp. 621-625.--Also, Caro de Torres, Historia
de las Ordenes militares (Madrid, 1629), fol. 103.

[487] De Rebus gestis, MS.--Las Casas, who knew the father, bears
stronger testimony to his poverty than to his noble birth. “Un
escudero,” he says of him, “que yo conocí harto pobre y humilde, aunque
cristiano, viejo _y dizen que hidalgo_.” Hist. de las Indias, MS., lib.
3, cap. 27.

[488] [His parents had cast lots to decide which of the apostles should
be chosen as his patron saint. The lot fell upon Peter, which explains
the especial devotion which Cortés professed, through his whole life,
to that saint, to whose watchful care he attributed the improvement in
his health. Alaman, Disertaciones históricas, tom. ii. p. 4.]

[489] Argensola, Anales, p. 220.--Las Casas and Bernal Diaz both state
that he was Bachelor of Laws at Salamanca. (Hist. de las Indias, MS.,
ubi supra.--Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 203.) The degree was given
probably in later life, when the University might feel a pride in
claiming him among her sons.

[490] De Rebus gestis, MS.--Gomara, Crónica, cap. 1.

[491] De Rebus gestis, MS.--Gomara, Ibid.--Argensola states the cause
of his detention concisely enough: “Suspendió el viaje, _por enamorado
y por quartanario_.” Anales, p. 621.

[492] Some thought it was the Holy Ghost in the form of this dove.
“Sanctum esse Spiritum, qui, in illius alitis specie, ut mœstos et
afflictos solaretur, venire erat dignatus” (De Rebus gestis, MS.); a
conjecture which seems very reasonable to Pizarro y Orellana, since the
expedition was to “redound so much to the spread of the Catholic faith,
and the Castilian monarchy”! Varones ilustres, p. 70.

[493] Gomara, Crónica, cap. 2.

[494] Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 203.

[495] De Rebus gestis, MS.--Gomara, Crónica, cap. 3, 4.--Las Casas,
Hist. de las Indias, MS., lib. 3, cap. 27.

[496] Hist. de las Indias, MS., loc. cit.--“Res omnes arduas
difficilesque per Cortesium, quem in dies magis magisque amplectebatur,
Velasquius agit. Ex eo ducis favore et gratia magna Cortesio invidia
est orta.” De Rebus gestis, MS.

[497] Solís has found a patent of nobility for this lady
also,--“doncella noble y recatada.” (Historia de la Conquista de
Méjico (Paris, 1838), lib. 1, cap. 9.) Las Casas treats her with less
ceremony: “Una hermana de _un_ Juan Xuarez, _gente pobre_.” Hist. de
las Indias, MS., lib. 5, cap. 17.

[498] Gomara, Crónica, cap. 4.--Las Casas, Hist. de las Indias, MS.,
ubi supra.--De Rebus gestis, MS.--Memorial de Benito Martinez, Capellan
de D. Velasquez, contra H. Cortés, MS.

[499] Las Casas, Hist. de las Indias, MS., ubi supra.

[500] Las Casas, Hist. de las Indias, MS., loc. cit.--Memorial de
Martinez, MS.

[501] Gomara, Crónica, cap. 4.--Herrera tells a silly story of his
being unable to swim, and throwing himself on a plank, which, after
being carried out to sea, was washed ashore with him at flood tide.
Hist. general, dec. 1, lib. 9, cap. 8.

[502] Gomara, Crónica, cap. 4.--“Cœnat cubatque Cortesius cum Velasquio
eodem in lecto. Qui postero die fugæ Cortesii nuntius venerat,
Velasquium et Cortesium juxta accubantes intuitus, miratur.” De Rebus
gestis, MS.

[503] Las Casas, who remembered Cortés at this time “so poor and
lowly that he would have gladly received any favor from the least of
Velasquez’ attendants,” treats the story of the bravado with contempt.
“Por lo qual si él [Velasquez] sintiera de Cortés una puncta de alfiler
de cerviguillo ó presuncion, ó lo ahorcara ó á lo menos lo echara de la
tierra y lo sumiera en ella sin que alzara cabeza en su vida.” Hist. de
las Indias, MS., lib. 3, cap. 27.

[504] “Pecuariam primus quoque habuit, in insulamque induxit, omni
pecorum genere ex Hispania petito.” De Rebus gestis, MS.

[505] “Los que por sacarle el oro muriéron Dios abrá tenido mejor
cuenta que yo.” Hist. de las Indias, MS., lib. 3, cap. 27. The text is
a free translation.

[506] “Estando conmigo, me lo dixo que estava tan contento con ella
como si fuera hija de una Duquessa.” Hist. de las Indias, MS., ubi
supra.--Gomara, Crónica, cap. 4.

[507] The treasurer used to boast he had passed some two-and-twenty
years in the wars of Italy. He was a shrewd personage, and Las Casas,
thinking that country a slippery school for morals, warned the
governor, he says, more than once “to beware of the twenty-two years in
Italy.” Hist. de las Indias, MS., lib. 3, cap. 113.

[508] “Si él no fuera por Capitan, que no fuera la tercera parte de la
gente que con él fué.” Declaracion de Puertocarrero, MS. (Coruña, 30 de
Abril, 1520).

[509] Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 19.--De Rebus gestis,
MS.--Gomara, Crónica, cap. 7.--Las Casas, Hist. general de las Indias,
MS., lib. 3, cap. 113.

[510] Declaracion de Puertocarrero, MS.--Carta de Vera Cruz,
MS.--Probanza en la Villa Segura, MS. (4 de Oct., 1520).

[511] The letter from the Municipality of Vera Cruz, after stating that
Velasquez bore only one-third of the original expense, adds, “Y sepan
Vras. Magestades que la mayor parte de la dicha tercia parte que el
dicho Diego Velasquez gastó en hacer la dicha armada fué emplear sus
dineros en vinos y en ropas, y en otras cosas de poco valor para nos lo
vender acá en mucha mas cantidad de lo que á él le costó, por manera
que podemos decir que entre nosotros los Españoles vasallos de Vras.
Reales Altezas ha hecho Diego Velasquez su rescate y granosea de sus
dineros cobrandolos muy bien.” (Carta de Vera Cruz, MS.) Puertocarrero
and Montejo, also, in their depositions taken in Spain, both speak
of Cortés’ having furnished two-thirds of the cost of the flotilla.
(Declaracion de Puertocarrero, MS.--Declaracion de Montejo, MS. (29 de
Abril, 1520).) The letter from Vera Cruz, however, was prepared under
the eye of Cortés; and the last two were his confidential officers.

[512] The instrument, in the original Castilian, will be found in
Appendix, No. 5. It is often referred to by writers who never saw it,
as the Agreement between Cortés and Velasquez. It is, in fact, only the
instructions given by this latter to his officer, who was no party to

[513] Declaracion de Puertocarrero, MS.--Gomara, Crónica, cap.
7.--Velasquez soon after obtained from the crown authority to colonize
the new countries, with the title of _adelantado_ over them. The
instrument was dated at Barcelona, Nov. 13th, 1518. (Herrera, Hist.
general, dec. 2, lib. 3, cap. 8.) Empty privileges! Las Casas gives a
caustic etymology of the title of _adelantado_, so often granted to the
Spanish discoverers. “Adelantados porque se adelantaran en hazer males
y daños tan gravísimos á gentes pacíficas.” Hist. de las Indias, MS.,
lib. 3, cap. 117.

[514] “Deterrebat,” says the anonymous biographer, “eum Cortesii natura
imperii avida, fiducia sui ingens, et nimius sumptus in classe parandâ.
Timere itaque Velasquius cœpit, si Cortesius cum eâ classe iret, nihil
ad se vel honoris vel lucri rediturum.” De Rebus gestis, MS.--Bernal
Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 19.--Las Casas, Hist. de las Indias,
MS., cap. 114.

[515] “Cortés no avia menester mas para entendello de mirar el gesto á
Diego Velasquez segun su astuta viveza y mundana sabiduría.” Hist. de
las Indias, MS., cap. 114.

[516] Las Casas had the story from Cortés’ own mouth. Hist. de las
Indias, MS., cap. 114.--Gomara, Crónica, cap. 7.--De Rebus gestis, MS.

[517] Las Casas, Hist. de las Indias, MS., cap. 114.--Herrera, Hist.
general, dec. 2, lib. 3, cap. 12.--Solís, who follows Bernal Diaz in
saying that Cortés parted openly and amicably from Velasquez, seems
to consider it a great slander on the character of the former to
suppose that he wanted to break with the governor so soon, when he had
received so little provocation. (Conquista, lib. 1, cap. 10.) But it
is not necessary to suppose that Cortés intended a rupture with his
employer by this clandestine movement, but only to secure himself in
the command. At all events, the text conforms in every particular to
the statement of Las Casas, who, as he knew both the parties well, and
resided on the island at the time, had ample means of information.{*}

{*} [Las Casas was not residing in Cuba, as Prescott supposes, when
Cortés sailed. The weight of authority seems to indicate that the
departure of Cortés was hasty but not clandestine. Velasquez in his
report to the Emperor does not say the Conqueror of Mexico stole

[518] Hist. de las Indias, MS., cap. 114.

[519] [Juan Sedeño was the richest man in the fleet. His possessions
included a ship, a mare, a negro, and some cazabi bread and bacon.
Bernal Diaz very properly gives a list of the horses belonging to the
expedition, remarking that neither horses nor negroes could be had
without great expense. (See Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 23.) A horse
cost from four to five hundred _pesos de oro_.--M.]

[520] [Bancroft (Mexico, i. p. 66) thinks Prescott has made a slight
mistake as to these ships, and that Sedeño was the commander of the
second vessel. Bancroft also will have it that the standard of Cortés
was made of “taffeta,” not _velvet_.--M.]

[521] Las Casas had this, also, from the lips of Cortés in later life.
“Todo esto me dixo el mismo Cortés, con otras cosas cerca dello despues
de Marques; ... reindo y mofando é con estas formales palabras, _Á la
mi fée andube por allí como un gentil cosario_.” Hist. de las Indias,
MS., cap. 115.

[522] De Rebus gestis, MS.--Gomara, Crónica, cap. 8.--Las Casas, Hist.
de las Indias, MS., cap. 114, 115.

[523] [But not across the island. There was no need for Cortés to sail
round the westerly point of Cuba with his squadron. Havana, or San
Cristóbal de la Habana, was then upon the south side of the island. The
town where the Havana of to-day stands was not founded until 1519. Many
writers besides Prescott, knowing nothing of this fact, have fallen
into this same error. From Trinidad to the new Habana would have been
a long and difficult march for Alvarado and his party, and a long and
unnecessary voyage for the fleet of Cortés.--M.]

[524] Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 24.--De Rebus gestis,
MS.--Gomara, Crónica, cap. 8.--Las Casas, Hist. de las Indias, MS.,
cap. 115.--The legend on the standard was, doubtless, suggested by that
on the _labarum_,--the sacred banner of Constantine.

[525] The most minute notices of the person and habits of Cortés are
to be gathered from the narrative of the old cavalier Bernal Diaz, who
served so long under him, and from Gomara, the general’s chaplain. See
in particular the last chapter of Gomara’s Crónica, and cap. 203 of the
Hist. de la Conquista.

[526] Las Casas, Hist. de las Indias, MS., cap. 115.

[527] Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 24.

[528] Ibid., loc. cit.

[529] Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 26.--There is some
discrepancy among authorities in regard to the numbers of the army.
The Letter from Vera Cruz, which should have been exact, speaks in
round terms of only four hundred soldiers. (Carta de Vera Cruz, MS.)
Velasquez himself, in a communication to the Chief Judge of Hispaniola,
states the number at six hundred. (Carta de Diego Velasquez al Lic.
Figueroa, MS.) I have adopted the estimates of Bernal Diaz, who, in his
long service, seems to have become intimately acquainted with every one
of his comrades, their persons, and private history.

[530] Incredibly dear indeed, since, from the statements contained in
the depositions at Villa Segura, it appears that the cost of the horses
for the expedition was from four to five hundred _pesos de oro_ each!
“Si saben que de caballos que el dicho Señor Capitan General Hernando
Cortés ha comprado para servir en la dicha Conquista, que son diez é
ocho, que le han costado á quatrocientos cinquenta é á quinientos pesos
ha pagado, é que deve mas de ocho mil pesos de oro dellos.” (Probanza
en Villa Segura, MS.) The estimation of these horses is sufficiently
shown by the minute information Bernal Diaz has thought proper to
give of every one of them; minute enough for the pages of a sporting
calendar. See Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 23.

[531] “Io vos propongo grandes premios, mas embueltos en grandes
trabajos; pero la virtud no quiere ociosidad.” (Gomara, Crónica, cap.
9.) It is the thought so finely expressed by Thomson:

    “For sluggard’s brow the laurel never grows;
     Renown is not the child of indolent repose.”

[532] The text is a very condensed abridgment of the original speech
of Cortés,--or of his chaplain, as the case may be. See it, in Gomara,
Crónica, cap. 9.

[533] Las Casas, Hist. de las Indias, MS., cap. 115.--Gomara, Crónica,
cap. 10.--De ebus gestis, MS.--“Tantus fuit armorum apparatus,”
exclaims the author of the last work, “quo alterum terrarum orbem
bellis Cortesius concutit; ex tam parvis opibus tantum imperium
Carolo facit; aperitque omnium primus Hispanæ genti Hispaniam novam!”
The author of this work is unknown. It seems to have been part of a
great compilation “De Orbe Novo,” written, probably, on the plan of a
series of biographical sketches, as the introduction speaks of a life
of Columbus preceding this of Cortés. It was composed, as it states,
while many of the old Conquerors were still surviving, and is addressed
to the son of Cortés. The historian, therefore, had ample means of
verifying the truth of his own statements, although they too often
betray, in his partiality for his hero, the influence of the patronage
under which the work was produced. It runs into a prolixity of detail
which, however tedious, has its uses in a contemporary document.
Unluckily, only the first book was finished, or, at least, has
survived; terminating with the events of this chapter. It is written in
Latin, in a pure and perspicuous style, and is conjectured with some
plausibility to be the work of Calvet de Estrella, Chronicler of the
Indies. The original exists in the Archives of Simancas, where it was
discovered and transcribed by Muñoz, from whose copy that in my library
was taken.

[534] See _ante_, p. 241, note 27.

[535] Carta de Vera Cruz, MS.--Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista,
cap. 25, et seq.--Gomara, Crónica, cap. 10, 15.--Las Casas, Hist. de
las Indias, MS., lib. 3, cap. 115.--Herrera, Hist. general, dec. 2,
lib. 4, cap. 6.--Martyr, De Insulis nuper inventis (Coloniæ, 1574),
p. 344.--While these pages were passing through the press, but not
till two years after they were written, Mr. Stephens’s important
and interesting volumes appeared, containing the account of his
second expedition to Yucatan. In the latter part of the work he
describes his visit to Cozumel, now an uninhabited island covered with
impenetrable forests. Near the shore he saw the remains of ancient
Indian structures, which he conceives may possibly have been the same
that met the eyes of Grijalva and Cortés, and which suggest to him
some important inferences. He is led into further reflections on the
existence of the cross as a symbol of worship among the islanders.
(Incidents of Travel in Yucatan (New York, 1843), vol. ii. chap. 20.)
As the discussion of these matters would lead me too far from the track
of our narrative, I shall take occasion to return to them hereafter,
when I treat of the architectural remains of the country.{*}{**}

{*} [In the passages here referred to, the author has noticed various
proofs of the existence of the cross as a symbol of worship among pagan
nations both in the Old World and the New. The fact has been deemed a
very puzzling one; yet the explanation, as traced by Dr. Brinton, is
sufficiently simple: “The arms of the cross were designed to point to
the cardinal points and represent the four winds,--the rain-bringers.”
Hence the name given to it in the Mexican language, signifying “Tree of
our Life,”--a term well calculated to increase the wonderment of the
Spanish discoverers. Myths of the New World, p. 96, et al.--K.]

{**} _Ante_, p. 239.

[536] See the biographical sketch of the good bishop Las Casas, the
“Protector of the Indians,” in the Postscript at the close of the
present Book.

[537] “It may have been that the devil appeared to them as he is, and
left these forms stamped on their imagination, so that the imitative
power of the artist reveals itself in the ugliness of the image.”
Solís, Conquista, p. 39.

[538] Carta de Vera Cruz, MS.--Gomara, Crónica, cap. 13.--Herrera,
Hist. general, dec. 2, lib. 4, cap. 7.--Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich.,
MS., cap. 78.--Las Casas, whose enlightened views in religion would
have done honor to the present age, insists on the futility of these
forced conversions, by which it was proposed in a few days to wean men
from the idolatry which they had been taught to reverence from the
cradle. “The only way of doing this,” he says, “is by long, assiduous,
and faithful preaching, until the heathen shall gather some ideas of
the true nature of the Deity and of the doctrines they are to embrace.
Above all, the lives of the Christians should be such as to exemplify
the truth of these doctrines, that, seeing this, the poor Indian may
glorify the Father, and acknowledge him, who has such worshippers, for
the true and only God.” See the original remarks, which I quote _in
extenso_, as a good specimen of the bishop’s style when kindled by his
subject into eloquence, in Appendix, No. 6.

[539] “Muy gran misterio y milagro de Dios.” Carta de Vera Cruz, MS.

[540] [Not long ago, a history of the Spanish Conquest of Yucatan,
written in the Maya language, but in Roman letters, by a native
chief, Nakuk Pech, about the year 1562, was brought to light. This
account, the “Chronicle of Chicxulub,” was translated by Dr. Brinton,
and was published by him in the “Maya Chronicles,” Philadelphia,
1882, pp. 187-259. This chronicle, from the pen of one who was almost
contemporary with the Conquest, corroborates the accounts given by the
Spanish historians in most particulars. It refers to Chichen Itza and
Izamal as inhabited when the Spaniards descended upon the country. It
is sometimes inaccurate as to details, as in this reference to Aguilar:
“Thus the land was discovered by Aguilar, who was eaten by Ah Naum
Ah Pat at Cuzamil in the year 1517.” We know, of course, that it was
another Spaniard who was eaten by Ah Naum Ah Pat. The matter is of
small consequence to us, though undoubtedly important to Aguilar.--M.]

[541] They are enumerated by Herrera with a minuteness which may claim
at least the merit of giving a much higher notion of Aguilar’s virtue
than the barren generalities of the text. (Hist. general, dec. 2, lib.
4, cap. 6-8.) The story is prettily told by Washington Irving, Voyages
and Discoveries of the Companions of Columbus (London, 1833), p. 263,
et seq.

[542] Camargo, Historia de Tlascala, MS.--Oviedo, Hist. de las Indias,
MS., lib. 33, cap. 1.--Martyr, De Insulis, p. 347.--Bernal Diaz, Hist.
de la Conquista, cap. 29.--Carta de Vera Cruz, MS.--Las Casas, Hist. de
las Indias, MS., lib. 3, cap. 115, 116.

[543] Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 31.--Carta de Vera
Cruz, MS.--Gomara, Crónica, cap. 18.--Las Casas, Hist. de las Indias,
MS., lib. 3, cap. 118.--Martyr, De Insulis, p. 348.--There are some
discrepancies between the statements of Bernal Diaz and the Letter from
Vera Cruz; both by parties who were present.

[544] Carta de Vera Cruz, MS.--Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap.

[545] “See,” exclaims the Bishop of Chiapa, in his caustic vein, “the
reasonableness of this ‘requisition,’ or, to speak more correctly,
the folly and insensibility of the Royal Council, who could find, in
the refusal of the Indians to receive it, a good pretext for war.”
(Hist. de las Indias, MS., lib. 3, cap. 118.) In another place he
pronounces an animated invective against the iniquity of those who
covered up hostilities under this empty form of words, the import of
which was utterly incomprehensible to the barbarians. (Ibid., lib. 3,
cap. 57.) The famous formula, used by the Spanish Conquerors on this
occasion, was drawn up by Dr. Palacios Reubios, a man of letters, and
a member of the King’s council. “But I laugh at him and his letters,”
exclaims Oviedo, “if he thought a word of it could be comprehended by
the untutored Indians!” (Hist. de las Ind., MS., lib. 29, cap. 7.) The
regular Manifesto, _requirimiento_, may be found translated in the
concluding pages of Irving’s “Voyages of the Companions of Columbus.”

[546] “Halláronlas llenas de maiz é gallinas y otros vastimentos, oro
ninguno, de lo que ellos no resciviéron mucho plazer.” Hist. de las
Indias, MS., ubi supra.

[547] Peter Martyr gives a glowing picture of this Indian capital. “Ad
fluminis ripam protentum dicunt esse oppidum, quantum non ausim dicere:
mille quingentorum passuum, ait Alaminus nauclerus, et domorum quinque
ac viginti millium: stringunt alij, ingens tamen fatentur et celebre.
Hortis intersecantur domus, quæ sunt _egregiè lapidibus et calce
fabrefactæ, maximâ industriâ et architectorum arte_.” (De Insulis, p.
349.) With his usual inquisitive spirit, he gleaned all the particulars
from the old pilot Alaminos, and from two of the officers of Cortés
who revisited Spain in the course of that year. Tabasco was in the
neighborhood of those ruined cities of Yucatan which have lately been
the theme of so much speculation. The encomiums of Martyr are not so
remarkable as the apathy of other contemporary chroniclers.

[548] Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 31, 32.--Gomara,
Crónica, cap. 18.--Las Casas, Hist. de las Indias, MS., lib. 3, cap.
118, 119.--Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 78, 79.

[549] According to Solís, who quotes the address of Cortés on the
occasion, he summoned a council of his captains to advise him as to the
course he should pursue. (Conquista, cap. 19.) It is possible, but I
find no warrant for it anywhere.

[550] Las Casas, Hist. de las Ind., MS., lib. 3, cap. 119.--Gomara,
Crónica, cap. 19, 20.--Herrera, Hist. gen., dec. 2, lib. 4, cap.
11.--Martyr, De Insulis, p. 350.--Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS.,
cap. 79.--Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 33, 36.--Carta de
Vera Cruz, MS.

[551] Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 79.--“Cortés supposed it
was his own tutelar saint, St. Peter,” says Pizarro y Orellana; “but
the common and indubitable opinion is that it was our glorious apostle
St. James, the bulwark and safeguard of our nation.” (Varones ilustres,
p. 73.) “Sinner that I am,” exclaims honest Bernal Diaz, in a more
skeptical vein, “it was not permitted to me to see either the one or
the other of the Apostles on this occasion.” Hist. de la Conquista,
cap. 34.{*}

{*} [The remark of Bernal Diaz is not to be taken as ironical. His
faith in the same vision on subsequent occasions is expressed without
demur. In the present case he recognized the rider of the gray horse
as a Spanish cavalier, Francisco de Morla. It appears from the account
of Andrés de Tápia, another companion of Cortés, whose narrative has
been recently published, that owing to canals and other impediments,
the cavalry was unable to effect the intended détour, and it therefore
returned and joined the infantry. The latter, meanwhile, having seen a
cavalier on a gray horse charging the Indians in their rear, supposed
that the cavalry had penetrated to that quarter. Cortés, on hearing
this, exclaimed, “Adelante, compañeros, que Dios es con nosotros.”
(Icazbalceta, Col. de Doc. para la Hist. de México, tom. i.) Tápia
says nothing about St. James or St. Peter, and perhaps suspected that
the incident was a ruse contrived by Cortés. Generally, however, such
legends seem to be sufficiently explained by the religious belief and
excited imagination of the narrators. See the remarks, on this point,
of Macaulay, who notices the account of Diaz, in the introduction to
his lay of the Battle of the Lake Regillus.--K.{**}

{**} [The apparition of St. James is not infrequent in the history of
Spain. The apostle first appeared as a leader of the Spanish hosts
in the battle of Clavijo, 846. He rode upon a white charger, and
carried in his left hand a snow-white banner. In his right hand was
a flashing sword. Because of his wondrous aid sixty thousand Moslems
were vanquished that day by the soldiers of King Ramiro. Mariana, Book
vii, chap, xiii, tells the story, and many writers accepted the legend.
Unfortunately, however, careful investigation has shown that the battle
itself was apocryphal.

In the tenth century he appeared again when Ramiro II defeated the
great Abderahman, and as a result pilgrims innumerable flocked to the
shrine of Santiago de Compostella.

Again his white horse led the Spanish cavalry when Fernando was
besieging Coimbra in 1058, or thereabout, as one may read in Southey’s
Chronicle of the Cid.

At Xeres, in 1237, Alfonso of Castile, with fifteen hundred men,
defeated a force seven times larger than his own because all men saw
plainly the glorious vision. The Moors fled panic-stricken at the
sight. “They could not fight against God.” The instances might be

[552] It was the order--as the reader may remember--given by Cæsar to
his followers in his battle with Pompey:

    “Adversosque jubet ferro confundere vultus.”
                  LUCAN, Pharsalia, lib. 7, v. 575.

[553] “Equites,” says Paolo Giovio, “unum integrum Centaurorum specie
animal esse existimarent.” Elogia Virorum Illustrium (Basil, 1696),
lib. 6, p. 229.

[554] Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, tom. iii. p. 11.

[555] “Crean Vras. Reales Altezas por cierto, que esta batalla fué
vencida mas por voluntad de Dios que por nras. fuerzas, porque para
con quarenta mil hombres de guerra, poca defensa fuera quatrozientos
que nosotros eramos.” (Carta de Vera Cruz, MS.--Gomara, Crónica, cap.
20.--Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 35.) It is Las Casas who,
regulating his mathematics, as usual, by his feelings, rates the Indian
loss at the exorbitant amount cited in the text. “This,” he concludes,
dryly, “was the first preaching of the gospel by Cortés in New Spain!”
Hist. de las Indias, MS., lib. 3, cap. 119.

[556] Gomara, Crónica, cap. 21, 22.--Carta de Vera Cruz, MS.--Martyr,
De Insulis, p. 351.--Las Casas, Hist. de las Indias, MS., ubi supra.


    “Cata Francia, Montesinos,
     Cata Paris la ciudad,
     Cata las aguas de Duero
     Do an á dar en la mar.”

They are the words of the popular old ballad, first published, I
believe, in the Romancero de Ambéres, and lately by Duran, Romances
caballerescos é históricos, Parte I, p. 82.

[558] Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 37.

[559] Las Casas notices the significance of the Indian gestures as
implying a most active imagination: “Señas é meneos con que los Yndios
mucho mas que otras generaciones entienden y se dan á entender, por
tener muy bivos los sentidos exteriores y tambien los interiores,
mayormente que es admirable su imaginacion.” Hist. de las Indias, MS.,
lib. 3, cap. 120.

[560] “Hermosa como Diosa,” _beautiful as a goddess_, says Camargo
of her. (Hist. de Tlascala, MS.) A modern poet pays her charms the
following not inelegant tribute:

    “Admira tan lúcida cabalgada
     Y espectáculo tal Doña Marina,
     India noble al caudillo presentada,
     De fortuna y belleza peregrina.

     *       *       *       *       *

     Con despejado espíritu y viveza
     Gira la vista en el concurso mudo;
     Rico manto de extrema sutileza
     Con chapas de oro autorizarla pudo,
     Prendido con bizarra gentileza
     Sobre los pechos en ayroso nudo;
     Reyna parece de la Indiana Zona,
     Varonil y hermosísima Amazona.”
            MORATIN, Las Naves de Cortés destruidas.

[561] [“Malinche” is a corruption of the Aztec word “Malintzin,” which
is itself a corruption of the Spanish name “Marina.” The Aztecs, having
no _r_ in their alphabet, substituted _l_ for it, while the termination
_tzin_ was added in token of respect, so that the name was equivalent
to Doña or Lady Marina. Conquista de Méjico (trad. de Vega, anotada por
D. Lúcas Alaman), tom. ii. pp. 17, 269.]

[562] Las Casas, Hist. de las Indias, MS., lib. 3, cap. 120.--Gomara,
Crónica, cap. 25, 26.--Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, tom. iii.
pp. 12-14.--Oviedo, Hist. de las Indias, MS., lib. 33, cap.
1.--Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 79.--Camargo, Hist. de
Tlascala, MS.--Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 37, 38.--There
is some discordance in the notices of the early life of Marina. I
have followed Bernal Diaz,--from his means of observation, the best
authority. There is happily no difference in the estimate of her
singular merits and services.

[563] The name of the Aztec monarch, like those of most persons and
places in New Spain, has been twisted into all possible varieties of
orthography. Cortés, in his letters, calls him “Muteczuma.” Modern
Spanish historians usually spell his name “Motezuma.” I have preferred
to conform to the name by which he is usually known to English readers.
It is the one adopted by Bernal Diaz, and by most writers near the time
of the Conquest. Alaman, Disertaciones históricas, tom. i., apénd. 2.

[564] Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 79.--Clavigero, Stor.
del Messico, tom. iii. p. 16.--New Vera Cruz, as the present town is
called, is distinct, as we shall see hereafter, from that established
by Cortés, and was not founded till the close of the sixteenth century,
by the Conde de Monterey, Viceroy of Mexico. It received its privileges
as a city from Philip III. in 1615. Ibid., tom. iii. p. 30, nota.

[565] The epidemic of the _matlazahuatl_, so fatal to the Aztecs,
is shown by M. de Humboldt to have been essentially different from
the _vómito_, or bilious fever of our day. Indeed, this disease is
not noticed by the early conquerors and colonists, and, Clavigero
asserts, was not known in Mexico till 1725. (Stor. del Messico, tom.
i. p. 117, nota.) Humboldt, however, arguing that the same physical
causes must have produced similar results, carries the disease back
to a much higher antiquity, of which he discerns some traditional and
historic vestiges. “Il ne faut pas confondre l’epoque,” he remarks,
with his usual penetration, “à laquelle une maladie a été décrite
pour la première fois, parce qu’elle a fait de grands ravages dans un
court espace de temps, avec l’époque de sa première apparition.” Essai
politique, tom. iv. p. 161 et seq., and 179.

[566] Gomara, Crónica, cap. 26.

[567] Las Casas, Hist. de las Indias, MS., lib. 3, cap. 119.

[568] [According to a curious document published by Icazbalceta (Col.
de Doc. para la Hist. de México, tom. ii.), two of the principal
caciques present on this occasion communicated secretly with Cortés,
and, declaring themselves disaffected subjects of Montezuma, offered
to facilitate the advance of the Spaniards by furnishing the general
with paintings in which the various features of the country would
be correctly delineated. The offer was accepted, and on the next
visit the paintings were produced, and proved subsequently of great
service to Cortés, who rewarded the donors with certain grants. But
the genuineness of this paper, though supported by so distinguished a
scholar as Señor Ramirez, is more than questionable.--K.]

[569] Ixtlilxochitl, Relaciones, MS., No. 13.--Idem, Hist. Chich.,
MS., cap. 79.--Gomara, Crónica, cap. 25, 26.--Bernal Diaz, Hist. de
la Conquista, cap. 38.--Herrera, Hist. general, dec. 2, lib. 5, cap.
4.--Carta de Vera Cruz, MS.--Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 4, cap.
13-15.--Tezozomoc, Crón. Mexicana, MS., cap. 107.

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