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Title: History of the Conquest of Mexico; vol. 2/4
Author: Prescott, William Hickling
Language: English
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                           Montezuma Edition


                          TWENTY-TWO VOLUMES

                                VOL. II

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

                                No. 345

 [Illustration: _Copyright 1904, by J.B. Lippincott Company_ _Goupil &
                             Cº., Paris_]


                               Page 254]

                          _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. II

                        PHILADELPHIA AND LONDON
                       J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY

                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.







Montezuma then upon the Throne                                         3
Inaugural Address                                                      4
The Wars of Montezuma                                                  5
His civil Policy                                                       6
Oppression of his Subjects                                             7
Foes of his Empire                                                     8
Superstition of Montezuma                                              9
Mysterious Prophecy                                                   10
Portentous Omens                                                      11
Dismay of the Emperor                                                 12
Embassy and presents to the Spaniards                                 14
Life in the Spanish Camp                                              15
Rich Present from Montezuma                                           16
Large gold Wheels                                                     17
Message from Montezuma                                                18
Effects of the Treasure on the Spaniards                              20
Return of the Aztec Envoys                                            21
Prohibition of Montezuma                                              22
Preaching of Father Olmedo                                            23
Desertion of the Natives                                              23



Discontent of the Soldiery                                            24
Envoys from the Totonacs                                              25
Dissensions in the Aztec Empire                                       26
Proceedings in the Camp                                               26
Cortés prepares to return to Cuba                                     27
Army remonstrate                                                      28
Cortés yields                                                         29
Foundation of Villa Rica                                              30
Resignation and Reappointment of Cortés                               31
Divisions in the Camp                                                 32
General Reconciliation                                                33
March to Cempoalla                                                    34
Picturesque Scenery                                                   35
Remains of Victims                                                    35
Terrestrial Paradise                                                  36
Love of Flowers by the Natives                                        37
Their splendid Edifices                                               38
Hospitable Entertainment at Cempoalla                                 39
Conference with the Cacique                                           40
Proposals of Alliance                                                 41
Advance of the Spaniards                                              43
Arrival of Aztec Nobles                                               44
Artful Policy of Cortés                                               45
Allegiance of the Natives                                             46
City of Villa Rica built                                              47
Infatuation of the Indians                                            48



Embassy from Montezuma                                                49
Its Results                                                           50
Severe Discipline in the Army                                         51
Gratitude of the Cempoallan Cacique                                   52
Attempt at Conversion                                                 53
Sensation among the Natives                                           54
The Idols burned                                                      55
Consecration of the Sanctuary                                         56
News from Cuba                                                        57
Presents for Charles the Fifth                                        58
First Letter of Cortés                                                59
Despatches to Spain                                                   61
Agents for the Mission                                                62
Departure of the Ship                                                 63
It touches at Cuba                                                    64
Rage of Velasquez                                                     64
Ship arrives in Spain                                                 65
Conspiracy in the Camp                                                66
Destruction of the Fleet                                              67
Oration of Cortés                                                     69
Enthusiasm of the Army                                                70
Notice of Las Casas                                                   72
His Life and Character                                                73
Criticism on his Works                                                79





Squadron off the Coast                                                83
Stratagem of Cortés                                                   85
Arrangement at Villa Rica                                             86
Spaniards begin their March                                           87
Climb the Cordilleras                                                 88
Wild Mountain Scenery                                                 89
Immense Heaps of human Skulls                                         93
Transactions with the Natives                                         94
Accounts of Montezuma’s Power                                         95
Moderation of Father Olmedo                                           97
Indian Dwellings                                                      99
Cortés determines his Route                                          100
Embassy to Tlascala                                                  101
Remarkable Fortification                                             102
Arrival in Tlascala                                                  103



The Tlascalans                                                       104
Their Migrations                                                     105
Their Government                                                     106
Public Games                                                         107
Order of Knighthood                                                  108
Internal Resources                                                   108
Their Civilization                                                   109
Struggles with the Aztecs                                            110
Means of Defence                                                     111
Sufferings of the Tlascalans                                         112
Their hardy Character                                                113
Debates in the Senate                                                114
Spaniards advance                                                    115
Desperate Onslaught                                                  116
Retreat of the Indians                                               117
Bivouac of the Spaniards                                             118
The Army resumes its March                                           119
Immense Host of Barbarians                                           120
Bloody Conflict in the Pass                                          121
Enemy give Ground                                                    122
Spaniards clear the Pass                                             123
Cessation of Hostilities                                             124
Results of the Conflict                                              125
Troops encamp for the Night                                          126



Envoys to Tlascala                                                   127
Foraging Party                                                       128
Bold Defiance by the Tlascalans                                      129
Preparations for Battle                                              130
Appearance of the Tlascalans                                         131
Showy Costume of the Warriors                                        132
Their Weapons                                                        134
Desperate Engagement                                                 136
The Combat thickens                                                  137
Divisions among the Enemy                                            138
Decisive Victory                                                     139
Triumph of Science over Numbers                                      140
Dread of the Cavalry                                                 140
Indian Council                                                       142
Night Attack                                                         143
Spaniards victorious                                                 144
Embassy to Tlascala                                                  145
Peace with the Enemy                                                 145
Patriotic Spirit of their Chief                                      146



Spaniards scour the Country                                          147
Success of the Foray                                                 148
Discontent in the Camp                                               149
Representations of the Malecontents                                  150
Reply of Cortés                                                      151
Difficulties of the Enterprise                                       153
Mutilation of the Spies                                              154
Interview with the Tlascalan Chief                                   156
Peace with the Republic                                              158
Embassy from Montezuma                                               159
Declines to receive the Spaniards                                    160
They advance towards the City                                        161



Spaniards enter Tlascala                                             164
Rejoicings on their Arrival                                          165
Description of Tlascala                                              166
Its Houses and Streets                                               166
Its Fairs and Police                                                 167
Divisions of the City                                                167
Wild Scenery round Tlascala                                          168
Character of the Tlascalans                                          169
Vigilance of Cortés                                                  169
Attempted Conversion                                                 170
Resistance of the Natives                                            170
Zeal of Cortés                                                       171
Prudence of the Friar                                                171
Character of Olmedo                                                  172
Mass celebrated in Tlascala                                          173
The Indian Maidens                                                   174
Aztec Embassy                                                        175
Power of Montezuma                                                   176
Embassy from Ixtlilxochitl                                           177
Deputies from Cholula                                                178
Invitation to Cholula                                                178
Prepare to leave Tlascala                                            179



City of Cholula                                                      180
Its History                                                          181
Religious Traditions                                                 182
Its ancient Pyramid                                                  183
Temple of Quetzalcoatl                                               184
Holy City                                                            185
Magnificent Scenery                                                  187
Spaniards leave Tlascala                                             188
Indian Volunteers                                                    189
Army enters Cholula                                                  190
Brilliant Reception                                                  191
Envoys from Montezuma                                                192
Suspicions of Conspiracy                                             193
Fidelity of Marina                                                   194
Alarming Situation of Cortés                                         195
Intrigues with the Priests                                           196
Interview with the Caciques                                          197
Night-watch of the Spaniards                                         198



Preparations for a secret Assault                                    200
Natives collect in the Square                                        200
The Signal given                                                     201
Terrible Massacre                                                    202
Onset of the Tlascalans                                              203
Defence of the Pyramid                                               204
Division of the Spoil                                                205
Restoration of Order                                                 206
Reflections on the Massacre                                          207
Right of Conquest                                                    208
Missionary Spirit                                                    209
Policy of Cortés                                                     211
His perilous Situation                                               212
Cruelty to be charged on him                                         212
Terror of “the White Gods”                                           215
The Cross raised in Cholula                                          217
Victims liberated from the Cages                                     217
Christian Temple reared on the Pyramid                               217
Embassy from Montezuma                                               218
Departure of the Cempoallans                                         219



Spaniards leave Cholula                                              221
Signs of Treachery                                                   222
The Army reaches the Mountains                                       223
Wild Traditions                                                      223
The great Volcano                                                    224
Spaniards ascend its Sides                                           225
Perils of the Enterprise                                             226
Subsequent Ascent                                                    227
Descent into the Crater                                              228
The Troops suffer from the Tempest                                   229
First View of the Valley                                             230
Its Magnificence and Beauty                                          230
Impression on the Spaniards                                          232
Disaffection of the Natives to Montezuma                             233
Embassy from the Emperor                                             234
His gloomy Apprehensions                                             234
Silence of the Oracles                                               235
Spaniards advance                                                    236
Death of the Spies                                                   237
Arrival of the Tezcucan Lord                                         238
Floating Gardens                                                     240
Crowds assembled on the Roads                                        241
Army reaches Iztapalapan                                             242
Its celebrated Gardens                                               243
Striking View of Mexico                                              245



Preparations to enter the Capital                                    246
Army enters on the great Causeway                                    247
Beautiful Environs                                                   248
Brilliant Procession of Chiefs                                       249
Splendid Retinue of Montezuma                                        250
Dress of the Emperor                                                 252
His Person                                                           252
His Reception of Cortés                                              253
Spaniards enter the Capital                                          254
Feelings of the Aztecs                                               256
Hospitable Reception                                                 258
The Spanish Quarters                                                 259
Precaution of the General                                            259
Visited by the Emperor                                               260
His rich Presents                                                    261
Superstitious Terrors                                                262
Royal Palace                                                         263
Description of its Interior                                          264
Cortés visits Montezuma                                              265
Attempts to convert the Monarch                                      265
Entire Failure                                                       266
His religious Views                                                  267
Montezuma’s Eloquence                                                268
His courteous Bearing                                                269
Reflections of Cortés                                                270
Notice of Herrera                                                    272
Criticism on his History                                             274
Life of Toribio                                                      274
Peter Martyr                                                         277
His Works                                                            278





Lake of Tezcuco                                                      281
Its Diminution                                                       282
Floating Islands                                                     283
The ancient Dikes                                                    284
Houses of ancient Mexico                                             285
Its Streets                                                          286
Its Population                                                       288
Its Aqueducts and Fountains                                          292
The imperial Palace                                                  293
Adjoining Edifices                                                   294
Magnificent Aviary                                                   294
Extensive Menagerie                                                  295
Collection of Dwarfs                                                 296
Gardens                                                              297
Royal Hill of Chapoltepec                                            298
Wives of Montezuma                                                   299
His Meals                                                            300
Luxurious Dessert                                                    303
Custom of Smoking                                                    304
Ceremonies at Court                                                  305
Economy of the Palace                                                306
Oriental Civilization                                                308
Reserve of Montezuma                                                 309
Symptoms of Decline of Power                                         309



Mexican Costume                                                      311
Great Market of Mexico                                               312
Quarter of the Goldsmiths                                            313
Booths of the Armorers                                               314
Provisions for the Capital                                           315
Throngs in the Market                                                317
Aztec Money                                                          318
The great Temple                                                     319
Its Structure                                                        320
Dimensions                                                           321
Instruments of Worship                                               322
Grand View from the Temple                                           323
Shrines of the Idols                                                 325
Imprudence of Cortés                                                 327
Interior Sanctuaries                                                 328
Mound of Skulls                                                      329
Aztec Seminaries                                                     330
Impression on the Spaniards                                          332
Hidden Treasures                                                     333
Mass performed in Mexico                                             334



Anxiety of Cortés                                                    335
Council of War                                                       336
Opinions of the Officers                                             337
Bold Project of Cortés                                               337
Plausible Pretext                                                    338
Interview with Montezuma                                             341
Accusation of Montezuma                                              342
His Seizure                                                          345
He is carried to the Spanish Quarters                                346
Tumult among the Aztecs                                              346
Montezuma’s Treatment                                                347
Vigilant Patrol                                                      348
Trial of the Aztec Chiefs                                            350
Montezuma in Irons                                                   351
Chiefs burnt at the Stake                                            351
Emperor allowed to return                                            352
Declines this Permission                                             353
Reflections on these Proceedings                                     354
Views of the Conquerors                                              356



Troubles at Vera Cruz                                                358
Vessels built on the Lake                                            359
Montezuma’s Life in the Spanish Quarters                             360
His Munificence                                                      361
Sensitive to Insult                                                  362
The Emperor’s Favorites                                              363
Spaniards attempt his Conversion                                     364
Brigantines on the Lake                                              365
The Royal Chase                                                      365
Lord of Tezcuco                                                      366
Meditated Insurrection                                               368
Policy of Cortés                                                     369
Tezcucan Lord in Chains                                              370
Further Measures of Cortés                                           371
Surveys the Coast                                                    372



THE MEETING OF CORTÉS AND MONTEZUMA                        _Frontispiece_

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

CORTÉS RECEIVING THE EMBASSY OF MONTEZUMA                             14

After the painting in the National Museum at Mexico.

CORTÉS SINKING HIS SHIPS                                              70

After the painting by F. Sans.

AUDIENCE OF CORTÉS WITH MONTEZUMA                                    260

After the painting in the National Museum at Mexico.


MONTEZUMA                                                            304

After the portrait published by Fray Prudentio Sandoval in
his “History of Charles V.,” edition of 1614.








We must now take leave of the Spanish camp in the _tierra caliente_, and
transport ourselves to the distant capital of Mexico, where no little
sensation was excited by the arrival of the wonderful strangers on the
coast. The Aztec throne was filled at that time by Montezuma the Second,
nephew of the last, and grandson of a preceding monarch. He had been
elected to the regal dignity{*} in 1502, in preference to his brothers,
for his superior qualifications both as a soldier and a priest,--a
combination of offices sometimes found in the Mexican candidates, as it
was more frequently in the Egyptian. In early youth he had taken an
active part in the wars of the empire, though of late he had devoted
himself more exclusively to the services of the temple; and he was
scrupulous in his attentions to all the burdensome ceremonial of the
Aztec worship. He maintained a grave and reserved demeanor, speaking
little and with prudent deliberation. His deportment was well calculated
to inspire ideas of superior sanctity.[1]

{*} [“Chief of men.”--M.]

When his election was announced to him, he was found sweeping down the
stairs in the great temple of the national war-god. He received the
messengers with a becoming humility, professing his unfitness for so
responsible a station. The address delivered as usual on the occasion
was made by his relative Nezahualpilli, the wise king of Tezcuco.[2] It
has, fortunately, been preserved, and presents a favorable specimen of
Indian eloquence. Towards the conclusion, the orator exclaims, “Who can
doubt that the Aztec empire has reached the zenith of its greatness,
since the Almighty has placed over it one whose very presence fills
every beholder with reverence? Rejoice, happy people, that you have now
a sovereign who will be to you a steady column of support; a father in
distress, a more than brother in tenderness and sympathy; one whose
aspiring soul will disdain all the profligate pleasures of the senses
and the wasting indulgence of sloth. And thou, illustrious youth, doubt
not that the Creator, who has laid on thee so weighty a charge, will
also give strength to sustain it; that He, who has been so liberal in
times past, will shower yet more abundant blessings on thy head, and
keep thee firm in thy royal seat through many long and glorious years.”
These golden prognostics, which melted the royal auditor into tears,
were not destined to be realized.[3]

Montezuma displayed all the energy and enterprise in the commencement of
his reign which had been anticipated from him. His first expedition
against a rebel province in the neighborhood was crowned with success,
and he led back in triumph a throng of captives for the bloody sacrifice
that was to grace his coronation. This was celebrated with uncommon
pomp. Games and religious ceremonies continued for several days, and
among the spectators who flocked from distant quarters were some noble
Tlascalans, the hereditary enemies of Mexico. They were in disguise,
hoping thus to elude detection. They were recognized, however, and
reported to the monarch. But he only availed himself of the information
to provide them with honorable entertainment and a good place for
witnessing the games. This was a magnanimous act, considering the
long-cherished hostility between the nations.

In his first years, Montezuma was constantly engaged in war, and
frequently led his armies in person. The Aztec banners were seen in the
farthest provinces on the Gulf of Mexico, and the distant regions of
Nicaragua and Honduras. The expeditions were generally successful; and
the limits of the empire were more widely extended than at any preceding

Meanwhile the monarch was not inattentive to the interior concerns of
the kingdom. He made some important changes in the courts of justice,
and carefully watched over the execution of the laws, which he enforced
with stern severity. He was in the habit of patrolling the streets of
his capital in disguise, to make himself personally acquainted with the
abuses in it. And with more questionable policy, it is said, he would
sometimes try the integrity of his judges by tempting them with large
bribes to swerve from their duty, and then call the delinquent to strict
account for yielding to the temptation.

He liberally recompensed all who served him. He showed a similar
munificent spirit in his public works, constructing and embellishing the
temples, bringing water into the capital by a new channel, and
establishing a hospital, or retreat for invalid soldiers, in the city of

These acts, so worthy of a great prince, were counterbalanced by others
of an opposite complexion. The humility, displayed so ostentatiously
before his elevation, gave way to an intolerable arrogance. In his
pleasure-houses, domestic establishment, and way of living, he assumed a
pomp unknown to his predecessors. He secluded himself from public
observation, or, when he went abroad, exacted the most slavish homage;
while in the palace he would be served only, even in the most menial
offices, by persons of rank. He, further, dismissed several plebeians,
chiefly poor soldiers of merit, from the places they had occupied near
the person of his predecessor, considering their attendance a dishonor
to royalty. It was in vain that his oldest and sagest counsellors
remonstrated on a conduct so impolitic.

While he thus disgusted his subjects by his haughty deportment, he
alienated their affections by the imposition of grievous taxes. These
were demanded by the lavish expenditure of his court. They fell with
peculiar heaviness on the conquered cities. This oppression led to
frequent insurrection and resistance; and the latter years of his reign
present a scene of unintermitting hostility, in which the forces of one
half of the empire were employed in suppressing the commotions of the
other. Unfortunately, there was no principle of amalgamation by which
the new acquisitions could be incorporated into the ancient monarchy as
parts of one whole.{*} Their interests, as well as sympathies, were
different. Thus the more widely the Aztec empire was extended, the
weaker it became; resembling some vast and ill-proportioned edifice,
whose disjointed materials, having no principle of cohesion, and
tottering under their own weight, seem ready to fall before the first
blast of the tempest.

{*} [They were held as subject pueblos. See note, p. 23, vol. i.--M.]

In 1516 died the Tezcucan king, Nezahualpilli; in whom Montezuma lost
his most sagacious counsellor. The succession was contested by his two
sons, Cacama and Ixtlilxochitl. The former was supported by Montezuma.
The latter, the younger of the princes, a bold, aspiring youth,
appealing to the patriotic sentiment of his nation, would have persuaded
them that his brother was too much in the Mexican interests to be true
to his own country. A civil war ensued, and ended by a compromise, by
which one half of the kingdom, with the capital, remained to Cacama, and
the northern portion to his ambitious rival. Ixtlilxochitl became from
that time the mortal foe of Montezuma.[5]

A more formidable enemy still was the little republic of Tlascala,{*}
lying midway between the Mexican Valley and the coast. It had maintained
its independence for more than two centuries against the allied forces
of the empire. Its resources were unimpaired, its civilization scarcely
below that of its great rival states, and for courage and military
prowess it had established a name inferior to none other of the nations
of Anahuac.

{*} [Tlascala was not a republic but a pueblo. It was divided into four
phratries. Clavigero says (Storia Ant. del Messico, tom. i. p. 155) that
it was divided into four parts, each division having its lord.--M.]

Such was the condition of the Aztec monarchy on the arrival of
Cortés;--the people disgusted with the arrogance of the sovereign; the
provinces and distant cities outraged by fiscal exactions; while potent
enemies in the neighborhood lay watching the hour when they might assail
their formidable rival with advantage. Still the kingdom was strong in
its internal resources, in the will of its monarch, in the long habitual
deference to his authority,--in short, in the terror of his name, and in
the valor and discipline of his armies, grown gray in active service,
and well drilled in all the tactics of Indian warfare. The time had now
come when these imperfect tactics and rude weapons of the barbarian were
to be brought into collision with the science and enginery of the most
civilized nations of the globe.

During the latter years of his reign, Montezuma had rarely taken part in
his military expeditions, which he left to his captains, occupying
himself chiefly with his sacerdotal functions. Under no prince had the
priesthood enjoyed greater consideration and immunities. The religious
festivals and rites were celebrated with unprecedented pomp. The oracles
were consulted on the most trivial occasions; and the sanguinary deities
were propitiated by hecatombs of victims dragged in triumph to the
capital from the conquered or rebellious provinces. The religion, or, to
speak correctly, the superstition of Montezuma proved a principal cause
of his calamities.

In a preceding chapter I have noticed the popular traditions respecting
Quetzalcoatl, that deity with a fair complexion and flowing beard, so
unlike the Indian physiognomy, who, after fulfilling his mission of
benevolence among the Aztecs, embarked on the Atlantic Sea for the
mysterious shores of Tlapallan.[6] He promised, on his departure, to
return at some future day with his posterity, and resume the possession
of his empire. That day was looked forward to with hope or with
apprehension, according to the interest of the believer, but with
general confidence, throughout the wide borders of Anahuac. Even after
the Conquest it still lingered among the Indian races, by whom it was as
fondly cherished as the advent of their king Sebastian continued to be
by the Portuguese, or that of the Messiah by the Jews.[7]

A general feeling seems to have prevailed in the time of Montezuma that
the period for the return of the deity and the full accomplishment of
his promise was near at hand. This conviction is said to have gained
ground from various preternatural occurrences, reported with more or
less detail by all the most ancient historians.[8] In 1510 the great
lake of Tezcuco, without the occurrence of a tempest, or earthquake, or
any other visible cause, became violently agitated, overflowed its
banks, and, pouring into the streets of Mexico, swept off many of the
buildings by the fury of the waters. In 1511 one of the turrets of the
great temple took fire, equally without any apparent cause, and
continued to burn in defiance of all attempts to extinguish it. In the
following years, three comets were seen; and not long before the coming
of the Spaniards a strange light broke forth in the east. It spread
broad at its base on the horizon, and rising in a pyramidal form tapered
off as it approached the zenith. It resembled a vast sheet or flood of
fire, emitting sparkles, or, as an old writer expresses it, “seemed
thickly powdered with stars.”[9] At the same time, low voices were heard
in the air, and doleful wailings, as if to announce some strange,
mysterious calamity! The Aztec monarch, terrified at the apparitions in
the heavens, took counsel of Nezahualpilli, who was a great proficient
in the subtle science of astrology. But the royal sage cast a deeper
cloud over his spirit by reading in these prodigies the speedy downfall
of the empire.[10]

Such are the strange stories reported by the chroniclers, in which it is
not impossible to detect the glimmerings of truth.[11] Nearly thirty
years had elapsed since the discovery of the Islands by Columbus, and
more than twenty since his visit to the American continent. Rumors, more
or less distinct, of this wonderful appearance of the white men, bearing
in their hands the thunder and the lightning, so like in many respects
to the traditions of Quetzalcoatl, would naturally spread far and wide
among the Indian nations. Such rumors, doubtless, long before the
landing of the Spaniards in Mexico, found their way up the grand
plateau, filling the minds of men with anticipations of the near coming
of the period when the great deity was to return and receive his own

In the excited state of their imaginations, prodigies became a familiar
occurrence. Or rather, events not very uncommon in themselves, seen
through the discolored medium of fear, were easily magnified into
prodigies; and the accidental swell of the lake, the appearance of a
comet, and the conflagration of a building were all interpreted as the
special annunciations of Heaven.[12] Thus it happens in those great
political convulsions which shake the foundations of society,--the
mighty events that cast their shadows before them in their coming. Then
it is that the atmosphere is agitated with the low, prophetic murmurs
with which Nature, in the moral as in the physical world, announces the
march of the hurricane:

                  “When from the shores
    And forest-rustling mountains comes a voice,
    That, solemn sounding, bids the world prepare!”

When tidings were brought to the capital of the landing of Grijalva on
the coast, in the preceding year, the heart of Montezuma was filled with
dismay. He felt as if the destinies which had so long brooded over the
royal line of Mexico were to be accomplished, and the sceptre was to
pass away from his house forever. Though somewhat relieved by the
departure of the Spaniards, he caused sentinels to be stationed on the
heights; and, when the Europeans returned under Cortés, he doubtless
received the earliest notice of the unwelcome event. It was by his
orders, however, that the provincial governor had prepared so hospitable
a reception for them. The hieroglyphical report of these strange
visitors, now forwarded to the capital, revived all his apprehensions.
He called, without delay, a meeting of his principal counsellors,
including the kings of Tezcuco and Tlacopan, and laid the matter before

There seems to have been much division of opinion in that body. Some
were for resisting the strangers at once, whether by fraud or by open
force. Others contended that, if they were supernatural beings, fraud
and force would be alike useless. If they were, as they pretended,
ambassadors from a foreign prince, such a policy would be cowardly and
unjust. That they were not of the family of Quetzalcoatl was argued from
the fact that they had shown themselves hostile to his religion; for
tidings of the proceedings of the Spaniards in Tabasco, it seems, had
already reached the capital. Among those in favor of giving them a
friendly and honorable reception was the Tezcucan king, Cacama.

But Montezuma, taking counsel of his own ill-defined apprehensions,
preferred a half-way course,--as usual, the most impolitic. He resolved
to send an embassy, with such a magnificent present to the strangers as
should impress them with high ideas of his grandeur and resources; while
at the same time he would forbid their approach to the capital. This was
to reveal at once both his wealth and his weakness.[14]

While the Aztec court was thus agitated by the arrival of the Spaniards,
they were passing their time in the _tierra caliente_, not a little
annoyed by the excessive heats and suffocating atmosphere of the sandy
waste on which they were encamped. They experienced every alleviation
that could be derived from the attentions of the friendly natives.
These, by the governor’s command, had constructed more than a thousand
huts or booths of branches and matting, which they occupied in the



neighborhood of the camp. Here they prepared various articles of food
for the table of Cortés and his officers, without any recompense; while
the common soldiers easily obtained a supply for themselves, in exchange
for such trifles as they brought with them for barter. Thus the camp was
liberally provided with meat and fish dressed in many savory ways, with
cakes of corn, bananas, pine-apples, and divers luscious vegetables of
the tropics, hitherto unknown to the Spaniards. The soldiers contrived,
moreover, to obtain many little bits of gold, of no great value, indeed,
from the natives; a traffic very displeasing to the partisans of
Velasquez, who considered it an invasion of his rights. Cortés, however,
did not think it prudent, in this matter, to balk the inclinations of
his followers.[15]

At the expiration of seven, or eight days at most, the Mexican embassy
presented itself before the camp. It may seem an incredibly short space
of time, considering the distance of the capital was nearly seventy
leagues. But it may be remembered that tidings were carried there by
means of posts, as already noticed, in the brief space of
four-and-twenty hours;[16] and four or five days would suffice for the
descent of the envoys to the coast, accustomed as the Mexicans were to
long and rapid travelling. At all events, no writer states the period
occupied by the Indian emissaries on this occasion as longer than that

The embassy, consisting of two Aztec nobles, was accompanied by the
governor, Teuhtlile, and by a hundred slaves, bearing the princely gifts
of Montezuma. One of the envoys had been selected on account of the
great resemblance which, as appeared from the painting representing the
camp, he bore to the Spanish commander. And it is a proof of the
fidelity of the painting, that the soldiers recognized the resemblance,
and always distinguished the chief by the name of the “Mexican Cortés.”

On entering the general’s pavilion, the ambassadors saluted him and his
officers with the usual signs of reverence to persons of great
consideration, touching the ground with their hands and then carrying
them to their heads, while the air was filled with clouds of incense,
which rose up from the censers borne by their attendants. Some
delicately wrought mats of the country (_petates_) were then unrolled,
and on them the slaves displayed the various articles they had brought.
They were of the most miscellaneous kind: shields, helmets, cuirasses,
embossed with plates and ornaments of pure gold; collars and bracelets
of the same metal, sandals, fans, _panaches_ and crests of variegated
feathers, intermingled with gold and silver thread, and sprinkled with
pearls and precious stones; imitations of birds and animals in wrought
and cast gold and silver, of exquisite workmanship; curtains, coverlets,
and robes of cotton, fine as silk, of rich and various dyes, interwoven
with feather-work that rivalled the delicacy of painting.[17] There
were more than thirty loads of cotton cloth in addition. Among the
articles was the Spanish helmet sent to the capital, and now returned
filled to the brim with grains of gold. But the things which excited the
most admiration were two circular plates of gold and silver, “as large
as carriage-wheels.” One, representing the sun, was richly carved with
plants and animals,--no doubt, denoting the Aztec century. It was thirty
palms in circumference, and was valued at twenty thousand _pesos de
oro_. The silver wheel, of the same size, weighed fifty marks.[18]

The Spaniards could not conceal their rapture at the exhibition of
treasures which so far surpassed all the dreams in which they had
indulged. For, rich as were the materials, they were exceeded--according
to the testimony of those who saw these articles afterwards in Seville,
where they could coolly examine them--by the beauty and richness of the

When Cortés and his officers had completed their survey, the ambassadors
courteously delivered the message of Montezuma. “It gave their master
great pleasure,” they said, “to hold this communication with so powerful
a monarch as the King of Spain, for whom he felt the most profound
respect. He regretted much that he could not enjoy a personal interview
with the Spaniards, but the distance of his capital was too great; since
the journey was beset with difficulties, and with too many dangers from
formidable enemies, to make it possible. All that could be done,
therefore, was for the strangers to return to their own land, with the
proofs thus afforded them of his friendly disposition.”

Cortés, though much chagrined at this decided refusal of Montezuma to
admit his visit, concealed his mortification as he best might, and
politely expressed his sense of the emperor’s munificence. “It made him
only the more desirous,” he said, “to have a personal interview with
him. He should feel it, indeed, impossible to present himself again
before his own sovereign, without having accomplished this great object
of his voyage; and one who had sailed over two thousand leagues of ocean
held lightly the perils and fatigues of so short a journey by land.” He
once more requested them to become the bearers of his message to their
master, together with a slight additional token of his respect.

This consisted of a few fine Holland shirts, a Florentine goblet, gilt
and somewhat curiously enamelled, with some toys of little value,--a
sorry return for the solid magnificence of the royal present. The
ambassadors may have thought as much. At least, they showed no alacrity
in charging themselves either with the present or the message, and, on
quitting the Castilian quarters, repeated their assurance that the
general’s application would be unavailing.[20]

The splendid treasure, which now lay dazzling the eyes of the Spaniards,
raised in their bosom very different emotions, according to the
difference of their characters. Some it stimulated with the ardent
desire to strike at once into the interior and possess themselves of a
country which teemed with such boundless stores of wealth. Others looked
on it as the evidence of a power altogether too formidable to be
encountered with their present insignificant force. They thought,
therefore, it would be most prudent to return and report their
proceedings to the governor of Cuba, where preparations could be made
commensurate with so vast an undertaking. There can be little doubt as
to the impression made on the bold spirit of Cortés, on which
difficulties ever operated as incentives, rather than discouragements,
to enterprise. But he prudently said nothing,--at least in
public,--preferring that so important a movement should flow from the
determination of his whole army, rather than from his own individual

Meanwhile the soldiers suffered greatly from the inconveniences of their
position amidst burning sands and the pestilent effluvia of the
neighboring marshes, while the venomous insects of these hot regions
left them no repose, day or night. Thirty of their number had already
sickened and died; a loss that could ill be afforded by the little band.
To add to their troubles, the coldness of the Mexican chiefs had
extended to their followers; and the supplies for the camp were not only
much diminished, but the prices set on them were exorbitant. The
position was equally unfavorable for the shipping, which lay in an open
roadstead, exposed to the fury of the first _norte_ which should sweep
the Mexican Gulf.

The general was induced by these circumstances to despatch two vessels,
under Francisco de Montejo, with the experienced Alaminos for his pilot,
to explore the coast in a northerly direction, and see if a safer port
and more commodious quarters for the army could not be found there.

After the lapse of ten days the Mexican envoys returned. They entered
the Spanish quarters with the same formality as on the former visit,
bearing with them an additional present of rich stuffs and metallic
ornaments, which, though inferior in value to those before brought, were
estimated at three thousand ounces of gold. Besides these, there were
four precious stones, of a considerable size, resembling emeralds,
called by the natives _chalchuites_, each of which, as they assured the
Spaniards, was worth more than a load of gold, and was designed as a
mark of particular respect for the Spanish monarch.[21] Unfortunately,
they were not worth as many loads of earth in Europe.

Montezuma’s answer was in substance the same as before. It contained a
positive prohibition for the strangers to advance nearer to the capital,
and expressed his confidence that, now they had obtained what they had
most desired, they would return to their own country without unnecessary
delay. Cortés received this unpalatable response courteously, though
somewhat coldly, and, turning to his officers, exclaimed, “This is a
rich and powerful prince indeed; yet it shall go hard but we will one
day pay him a visit in his capital!”

While they were conversing, the bell struck for vespers. At the sound,
the soldiers, throwing themselves on their knees, offered up their
orisons before the large wooden cross planted in the sands. As the Aztec
chiefs gazed with curious surprise, Cortés thought it a favorable
occasion to impress them with what he conceived to be a principal object
of his visit to the country. Father Olmedo accordingly expounded, as
briefly and clearly as he could, the great doctrines of Christianity,
touching on the atonement, the passion, and the resurrection, and
concluding with assuring his astonished audience that it was their
intention to extirpate the idolatrous practices of the nation and to
substitute the pure worship of the true God. He then put into their
hands a little image of the Virgin with the infant Redeemer, requesting
them to place it in their temples instead of their sanguinary deities.
How far the Aztec lords comprehended the mysteries of the faith, as
conveyed through the double version of Aguilar and Marina, or how well
they perceived the subtle distinctions between their own images and
those of the Roman Church, we are not informed. There is reason to fear,
however, that the seed fell on barren ground; for, when the homily of
the good father ended, they withdrew with an air of dubious reserve very
different from their friendly manners at the first interview. The same
night every hut was deserted by the natives, and the Spaniards saw
themselves suddenly cut off from supplies in the midst of a desolate
wilderness. The movement had so suspicious an appearance that Cortés
apprehended an attack would be made on his quarters, and took
precautions accordingly. But none was meditated.

The army was at length cheered by the return of Montejo from his
exploring expedition, after an absence of twelve days. He had run down
the Gulf as far as Panuco, where he experienced such heavy gales, in
attempting to double that headland, that he was driven back, and had
nearly foundered. In the whole course of the voyage he had found only
one place tolerably sheltered from the north winds. Fortunately, the
adjacent country, well watered by fresh, running streams, afforded a
favorable position for the camp; and thither, after some deliberation,
it was determined to repair.[22]




There is no situation which tries so severely the patience and
discipline of the soldier as a life of idleness in camp, where his
thoughts, instead of being bent on enterprise and action, are fastened
on himself and the inevitable privations and dangers of his condition.
This was particularly the case in the present instance, where, in
addition to the evils of a scanty subsistence, the troops suffered from
excessive heat, swarms of venomous insects, and the other annoyances of
a sultry climate. They were, moreover, far from possessing the character
of regular forces, trained to subordination under a commander whom they
had long been taught to reverence and obey. They were soldiers of
fortune, embarked with him in an adventure in which all seemed to have
an equal stake, and they regarded their captain--the captain of a
day--as little more than an equal.

There was a growing discontent among the men at their longer residence
in this strange land. They were still more dissatisfied on learning the
general’s intention to remove to the neighborhood of the port discovered
by Montejo. “It was time to return,” they said, “and report what had
been done to the governor of Cuba, and not linger on these barren shores
until they had brought the whole Mexican empire on their heads!” Cortés
evaded their importunities as well as he could, assuring them there was
no cause for despondency. “Everything so far had gone on prosperously,
and, when they had taken up a more favorable position, there was no
reason to doubt they might still continue the same profitable
intercourse with the natives.”

While this was passing, five Indians made their appearance in the camp
one morning, and were brought to the general’s tent. Their dress and
whole appearance were different from those of the Mexicans. They wore
rings of gold, and gems of bright blue stone in their ears and nostrils,
while a gold leaf delicately wrought was attached to the under lip.
Marina was unable to comprehend their language; but, on her addressing
them in Aztec, two of them, it was found, could converse in that tongue.
They said they were natives of Cempoalla, the chief town of the
Totonacs, a powerful nation who had come upon the great plateau many
centuries back, and, descending its eastern slope, settled along the
sierras and broad plains which skirt the Mexican Gulf towards the north.
Their country was one of the recent conquests of the Aztecs, and they
experienced such vexatious oppressions from their conquerors as made
them very impatient of the yoke. They informed Cortés of these and other
particulars. The fame of the Spaniards had reached their master, who
sent these messengers to request the presence of the wonderful strangers
in his capital.

This communication was eagerly listened to by the general, who, it will
be remembered, was possessed of none of those facts, laid before the
reader, respecting the internal condition of the kingdom, which he had
no reason to suppose other than strong and united. An important truth
now flashed on his mind, as his quick eye descried in this spirit of
discontent a potent lever, by the aid of which he might hope to overturn
this barbaric empire. He received the mission of the Totonacs most
graciously, and, after informing himself, as far as possible, of their
dispositions and resources, dismissed them with presents, promising soon
to pay a visit to their lord.[23]

Meanwhile, his personal friends, among whom may be particularly
mentioned Alonso Hernandez Puertocarrero, Cristóbal de Olid, Alonso de
Avila, Pedro de Alvarado and his brothers, were very busy in persuading
the troops to take such measures as should enable Cortés to go forward
in those ambitious plans for which he had no warrant from the powers of
Velasquez. “To return now,” they said, “was to abandon the enterprise on
the threshold, which, under such a leader, must conduct to glory and
incalculable riches. To return to Cuba would be to surrender to the
greedy governor the little gains they had already got. The only way was
to persuade the general to establish a permanent colony in the country,
the government of which would take the conduct of matters into its own
hands and provide for the interests of its members. It was true, Cortés
had no such authority from Velasquez. But the interests of the
sovereigns, which were paramount to every other, imperatively demanded

These conferences could not be conducted so secretly, though held by
night, as not to reach the ears of the friends of Velasquez.[24] They
remonstrated against the proceedings, as insidious and disloyal. They
accused the general of instigating them, and, calling on him to take
measures without delay for the return of the troops to Cuba, announced
their own intention to depart, with such followers as still remained
true to the governor.

Cortés, instead of taking umbrage at this high-handed proceeding, or
even answering in the same haughty tone, mildly replied “that nothing
was further from his desire than to exceed his instructions. He, indeed,
preferred to remain in the country, and continue his profitable
intercourse with the natives. But, since the army thought otherwise, he
should defer to their opinion, and give orders to return, as they
desired.” On the following morning, proclamation was made for the troops
to hold themselves in readiness to embark at once on board the fleet,
which was to sail for Cuba.[25]

Great was the sensation caused by their general’s order. Even many of
those before clamorous for it, with the usual caprice of men whose
wishes are too easily gratified, now regretted it. The partisans of
Cortés were loud in their remonstrances. “They were betrayed by the
general,” they cried, and, thronging round his tent, called on him to
countermand his orders. “We came here,” said they, “expecting to form a
settlement, if the state of the country authorized it. Now it seems you
have no warrant from the governor to make one. But there are interests,
higher than those of Velasquez, which demand it. These territories are
not his property, but were discovered for the sovereigns;[26] and it is
necessary to plant a colony to watch over their interests, instead of
wasting time in idle barter, or, still worse, of returning, in the
present state of affairs, to Cuba. If you refuse,” they concluded, “we
shall protest against your conduct as disloyal to their Highnesses.”

Cortés received this remonstrance with the embarrassed air of one by
whom it was altogether unexpected. He modestly requested time for
deliberation, and promised to give his answer on the following day. At
the time appointed, he called the troops together, and made them a brief
address. “There was no one,” he said, “if he knew his own heart, more
deeply devoted than himself to the welfare of his sovereigns and the
glory of the Spanish name. He had not only expended his all, but
incurred heavy debts, to meet the charges of this expedition, and had
hoped to reimburse himself by continuing his traffic with the Mexicans.
But, if the soldiers thought a different course advisable, he was ready
to postpone his own advantage to the good of the state.”[27] He
concluded by declaring his willingness to take measures for settling a
colony _in the name of the Spanish sovereigns_, and to nominate a
magistracy to preside over it.[28]

For the _alcaldes_ he selected Puertocarrero and Montejo, the former
cavalier his fast friend, and the latter the friend of Velasquez, and
chosen for that very reason; a stroke of policy which perfectly
succeeded. The _regidores_, _alguacil_, treasurer, and other
functionaries were then appointed, all of them his personal friends and
adherents. They were regularly sworn into office, and the new city
received the title of _Villa Rica de Vera Cruz_, “The Rich Town of the
True Cross;” a name which was considered as happily intimating that
union of spiritual and temporal interests to which the arms of the
Spanish adventurers in the New World were to be devoted.[29] Thus, by a
single stroke of the pen, as it were, the camp was transformed into a
civil community, and the whole frame-work and even title of the city
were arranged, before the site of it had been settled.

The new municipality were not slow in coming together; when Cortés
presented himself, cap in hand, before that august body, and, laying the
powers of Velasquez on the table, respectfully tendered the resignation
of his office of Captain-General, “which, indeed,” he said, “had
necessarily expired, since the authority of the governor was now
superseded by that of the magistracy of Villa Rica de Vera Cruz.” He
then, with a profound obeisance, left the apartment.[30]

The council, after a decent time spent in deliberation, again requested
his presence. “There was no one,” they said, “who, on mature reflection,
appeared to them so well qualified to take charge of the interests of
the community, both in peace and in war, as himself; and they
unanimously named him, in behalf of their Catholic Highnesses,
Captain-General and Chief Justice of the colony.” He was further
empowered to draw, on his own account, one-fifth of the gold and silver
which might hereafter be obtained by commerce or conquest from the
natives.[31] Thus clothed with supreme civil and military jurisdiction,
Cortés was not backward in asserting his authority. He found speedy
occasion for it.

The transactions above described had succeeded each other so rapidly
that the governor’s party seemed to be taken by surprise, and had formed
no plan of opposition. When the last measure was carried, however, they
broke forth into the most indignant and opprobrious invectives,
denouncing the whole as a systematic conspiracy against Velasquez.
These accusations led to recrimination from the soldiers of the other
side, until from words they nearly proceeded to blows. Some of the
principal cavaliers, among them Velasquez de Leon, a kinsman of the
governor, Escobar, his page, and Diego de Ordaz, were so active in
instigating these turbulent movements that Cortés took the bold measure
of putting them all in irons and sending them on board the vessels. He
then dispersed the common file by detaching many of them with a strong
party under Alvarado to forage the neighboring country and bring home
provisions for the destitute camp.

During their absence, every argument that cupidity or ambition could
suggest was used to win the refractory to his views. Promises, and even
gold, it is said, were liberally lavished; till, by degrees, their
understandings were opened to a clearer view of the merits of the case.
And when the foraging party reappeared with abundance of poultry and
vegetables, and the cravings of the stomach--that great laboratory of
disaffection, whether in camp or capital--were appeased, good humor
returned with good cheer, and the rival factions embraced one another as
companions in arms, pledged to a common cause. Even the high-mettled
hidalgos on board the vessels did not long withstand the general tide of
reconciliation, but one by one gave in their adhesion to the new
government. What is more remarkable is that this forced conversion was
not a hollow one, but from this time forward several of these very
cavaliers became the most steady and devoted partisans of Cortés.[32]

Such was the address of this extraordinary man, and such the ascendency
which in a few months he had acquired over these wild and turbulent
spirits! By this ingenious transformation of a military into a civil
community, he had secured a new and effectual basis for future
operations. He might now go forward without fear of check or control
from a superior,--at least from any other superior than the crown, under
which alone he held his commission. In accomplishing this, instead of
incurring the charge of usurpation or of transcending his legitimate
powers, he had transferred the responsibility, in a great measure, to
those who had imposed on him the necessity of action. By this step,
moreover, he had linked the fortunes of his followers indissolubly with
his own. They had taken their chance with him, and, whether for weal or
for woe, must abide the consequences. He was no longer limited to the
narrow concerns of a sordid traffic, but, sure of their co-operation,
might now boldly meditate, and gradually disclose, those lofty schemes
which he had formed in his own bosom for the conquest of an empire.[33]

Harmony being thus restored, Cortés sent his heavy guns on board the
fleet, and ordered it to coast along the shore to the north as far as
Chiahuitztla,{*} the town near which the destined port of the new city
was situated; proposing, himself, at the head of his troops, to visit
Cempoalla, on the march. The road lay for some miles across the dreary
plains in the neighborhood of the modern Vera Cruz. In this sandy waste
no signs of vegetation met their eyes, which, however, were occasionally
refreshed by glimpses of the blue Atlantic, and by the distant view of
the magnificent Orizaba, towering, with his spotless diadem of snow, far
above his colossal brethren of the Andes.[34] As they advanced, the
country gradually assumed a greener and richer aspect. They crossed a
river, probably a tributary of the _Rio de la Antigua_, with difficulty,
on rafts, and on some broken canoes that were lying on the banks. They
now came in view of very different scenery,--wide-rolling plains covered
with a rich carpet of verdure and overshadowed by groves of cocoas and
feathery palms, among whose tall, slender stems were seen deer, and
various wild animals with which the Spaniards were unacquainted. Some of
the horsemen gave chase to the deer, and wounded, but did not succeed in
killing them. They saw, also, pheasants and other birds; among them the
wild turkey, the pride of the American forest, which the Spaniards
described as a species of peacock.[35]

{*} [According to Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., 289, Quiahuiztlan,
_i.e._, Rainy Place.--M.]

On their route they passed through some deserted villages, in which were
Indian temples, where they found censers, and other sacred utensils, and
manuscripts of the _agave_ fibre, containing the picture-writing, in
which, probably, their religious ceremonies were recorded. They now
beheld, also, the hideous spectacle, with which they became afterwards
familiar, of the mutilated corpses of victims who had been sacrificed to
the accursed deities of the land. The Spaniards turned with loathing and
indignation from a display of butchery which formed so dismal a
contrast to the fair scenes of nature by which they were surrounded.

They held their course along the banks of the river, towards its source,
when they were met by twelve Indians, sent by the cacique of Cempoalla
to show them the way to his residence. At night they bivouacked in an
open meadow, where they were well supplied with provisions by their new
friends. They left the stream on the following morning, and, striking
northerly across the country, came upon a wide expanse of luxuriant
plains and woodland, glowing in all the splendor of tropical vegetation.
The branches of the stately trees were gayly festooned with clustering
vines of the dark-purple grape, variegated convolvuli, and other
flowering parasites of the most brilliant dyes. The undergrowth of
prickly aloe, matted with wild rose and honeysuckle, made in many places
an almost impervious thicket. Amid this wilderness of sweet-smelling
buds and blossoms fluttered numerous birds of the parrot tribe, and
clouds of butterflies, whose gaudy colors, nowhere so gorgeous as in the
_tierra caliente_, rivalled those of the vegetable creation; while birds
of exquisite song, the scarlet cardinal, and the marvellous
mocking-bird, that comprehends in his own notes the whole music of a
forest, filled the air with delicious melody. The hearts of the stern
Conquerors were not very sensible to the beauties of nature. But the
magical charms of the scenery drew forth unbounded expressions of
delight, and as they wandered through this “terrestrial paradise,” as
they called it, they fondly compared it to the fairest regions of their
own sunny land.[36]

As they approached the Indian city, they saw abundant signs of
cultivation, in the trim gardens and orchards that lined both sides of
the road. They were now met by parties of the natives, of either sex,
who increased in numbers with every step of their progress. The women,
as well as men, mingled fearlessly among the soldiers, bearing bunches
and wreaths of flowers, with which they decorated the neck of the
general’s charger, and hung a chaplet of roses about his helmet. Flowers
were the delight of this people. They bestowed much care in their
cultivation, in which they were well seconded by a climate of alternate
heat and moisture, stimulating the soil to the spontaneous production of
every form of vegetable life. The same refined taste, as we shall see,
prevailed among the warlike Aztecs, and has survived the degradation of
the nation in their descendants of the present day.[37]

Many of the women appeared, from their richer dress and numerous
attendants, to be persons of rank. They were clad in robes of fine
cotton, curiously colored, which reached from the neck--in the inferior
orders, from the waist--to the ankles. The men wore a sort of mantle of
the same material, _á la Morisca_, in the Moorish fashion, over their
shoulders, and belts or sashes about the loins. Both sexes had jewels
and ornaments of gold round their necks, while their ears and nostrils
were perforated with rings of the same metal.

Just before reaching the town, some horsemen who had ridden in advance
returned with the amazing intelligence “that they had been near enough
to look within the gates, and found the houses all plated with burnished
silver!” On entering the place, the silver was found to be nothing more
than a brilliant coating of stucco, with which the principal buildings
were covered; a circumstance which produced much merriment among the
soldiers at the expense of their credulous comrades. Such ready
credulity is a proof of the exalted state of their imaginations, which
were prepared to see gold and silver in every object around them.[38]
The edifices of the better kind were of stone and lime, or bricks dried
in the sun; the poorer were of clay and earth. All were thatched with
palm-leaves, which, though a flimsy roof, apparently, for such
structures, were so nicely interwoven as to form a very effectual
protection against the weather.

The city was said to contain from twenty to thirty thousand inhabitants.
This is the most moderate computation, and not improbable.[39] Slowly
and silently the little army paced the narrow and now crowded streets of
Cempoalla, inspiring the natives with no greater wonder than they
themselves experienced at the display of a policy and refinement so far
superior to anything they had witnessed in the New World.[40] The
cacique came out in front of his residence to receive them. He was a
tall and very corpulent man, and advanced leaning on two of his
attendants. He received Cortés and his followers with great courtesy,
and, after a brief interchange of civilities, assigned the army its
quarters in a neighboring temple, into the spacious court-yard of which
a number of apartments opened, affording excellent accommodation for
the soldiery.

Here the Spaniards were well supplied with provisions, meat cooked after
the fashion of the country, and maize made into bread-cakes. The general
received, also, a present of considerable value from the cacique,
consisting of ornaments of gold and fine cottons. Notwithstanding these
friendly demonstrations, Cortés did not relax his habitual vigilance,
nor neglect any of the precautions of a good soldier. On his route,
indeed, he had always marched in order of battle, well prepared against
surprise. In his present quarters, he stationed his sentinels with like
care, posted his small artillery so as to command the entrance, and
forbade any soldier to leave the camp without orders, under pain of

The following morning, Cortés, accompanied by fifty of his men, paid a
visit to the lord of Cempoalla in his own residence. It was a building
of stone and lime, standing on a steep terrace of earth, and was reached
by a flight of stone steps. It may have borne resemblance in its
structure to some of the ancient buildings found in Central America.
Cortés, leaving his soldiers in the courtyard, entered the mansion with
one of his officers, and his fair interpreter, Doña Marina.[42] A long
conference ensued, from which the Spanish general gathered much light
respecting the state of the country. He first announced to the chief
that he was the subject of a great monarch who dwelt beyond the waters;
that he had come to the Aztec shores to abolish the inhuman worship
which prevailed there, and to introduce the knowledge of the true God.
The cacique replied that their gods, who sent them the sunshine and the
rain, were good enough for them; that he was the tributary of a powerful
monarch also, whose capital stood on a lake far off among the
mountains,--a stern prince, merciless in his exactions, and, in case of
resistance, or any offence, sure to wreak his vengeance by carrying off
their young men and maidens to be sacrificed to his deities. Cortés
assured him that he would never consent to such enormities; he had been
sent by his sovereign to redress abuses and to punish the oppressor;[43]
and, if the Totonacs would be true to him, he would enable them to throw
off the detested yoke of the Aztecs.

The cacique added that the Totonac territory contained about thirty
towns and villages, which could muster a hundred thousand warriors,--a
number much exaggerated.[44] There were other provinces of the empire,
he said, where the Aztec rule was equally odious; and between him and
the capital lay the warlike republic of Tlascala, which had always
maintained its independence of Mexico. The fame of the Spaniards had
gone before them, and he was well acquainted with their terrible
victory at Tabasco. But still he looked with doubt and alarm to a
rupture with “the great Montezuma,” as he always styled him; whose
armies, on the least provocation, would pour down from the mountain
regions of the West, and, rushing over the plains like a whirlwind,
sweep off the wretched people to slavery and sacrifice!

Cortés endeavored to reassure him, by declaring that a single Spaniard
was stronger than a host of Aztecs. At the same time, it was desirable
to know what nations would co-operate with him, not so much on his
account as theirs, that he might distinguish friend from foe and know
whom he was to spare in this war of extermination. Having raised the
confidence of the admiring chief by this comfortable and politic vaunt,
he took an affectionate leave, with the assurance that he would shortly
return and concert measures for their future operations, when he had
visited his ships in the adjoining port and secured a permanent
settlement there.[45]

The intelligence gained by Cortés gave great satisfaction to his mind.
It confirmed his former views, and showed, indeed, the interior of the
monarchy to be in a state far more distracted than he had supposed. If
he had before scarcely shrunk from attacking the Aztec empire, in the
true spirit of a knight-errant, with his single arm, as it were, what
had he now to fear, when one half of the nation could be thus
marshalled against the other? In the excitement of the moment, his
sanguine spirit kindled with an enthusiasm which overleaped every
obstacle. He communicated his own feelings to the officers about him,
and, before a blow was struck, they already felt as if the banners of
Spain were waving in triumph from the towers of Montezuma! But many a
bloody field was to be fought, many a peril and privation to be
encountered, before that consummation could be attained.

Taking leave of the hospitable Indian, on the following day the
Spaniards took the road to Chiahuitztla,[46] about four leagues distant,
near which was the port discovered by Montejo, where their ships were
now riding at anchor. They were provided by the cacique with four
hundred Indian porters, _tamanes_, as they were called, to transport the
baggage. These men easily carried fifty pounds’ weight five or six
leagues in a day. They were in use all over the Mexican empire, and the
Spaniards found them of great service, henceforth, in relieving the
troops from this part of their duty. They passed through a country of
the same rich, voluptuous character as that which they had lately
traversed, and arrived early next morning at the Indian town, perched
like a fortress on a bold, rocky eminence that commanded the Gulf. Most
of the inhabitants had fled, but fifteen of the principal men remained,
who received them in a friendly manner, offering the usual compliments
of flowers and incense. The people of the place, losing their fears,
gradually returned. While conversing with the chiefs, the Spaniards were
joined by the worthy cacique of Cempoalla, borne by his men on a litter.
He eagerly took part in their deliberations. The intelligence gained
here by Cortés confirmed the accounts already gathered of the feelings
and resources of the Totonac nation.

In the midst of their conference, they were interrupted by a movement
among the people, and soon afterwards five men entered the great square
or market-place, where they were standing. By their lofty port, their
peculiar and much richer dress, they seemed not to be of the same race
as these Indians. Their dark, glossy hair was tied in a knot on the top
of the head. They had bunches of flowers in their hands, and were
followed by several attendants, some bearing wands with cords, others
fans, with which they brushed away the flies and insects from their
lordly masters. As these persons passed through the place, they cast a
haughty look on the Spaniards, scarcely deigning to return their
salutations. They were immediately joined, in great confusion, by the
Totonac chiefs, who seemed anxious to conciliate them by every kind of

The general, much astonished, inquired of Marina what it meant. She
informed him they were Aztec nobles, empowered to receive the tribute
for Montezuma. Soon after, the chiefs returned with dismay painted on
their faces. They confirmed Marina’s statement, adding that the Aztecs
greatly resented the entertainment afforded the Spaniards without the
Emperor’s permission, and demanded in expiation twenty young men and
women for sacrifice to the gods. Cortés showed the strongest indignation
at this insolence. He required the Totonacs not only to refuse the
demand, but to arrest the persons of the collectors and throw them into
prison. The chiefs hesitated, but he insisted on it so peremptorily that
they at length complied, and the Aztecs were seized, bound hand and
foot, and placed under a guard.

In the night, the Spanish general procured the escape of two of them,
and had them brought secretly before him. He expressed his regret at the
indignity they had experienced from the Totonacs; told them he would
provide means for their flight, and to-morrow would endeavor to obtain
the release of their companions. He desired them to report this to their
master, with assurances of the great regard the Spaniards entertained
for him, notwithstanding his ungenerous behavior in leaving them to
perish from want on his barren shores. He then sent the Mexican nobles
down to the port, whence they were carried to another part of the coast
by water, for fear of the violence of the Totonacs. These were greatly
incensed at the escape of the prisoners, and would have sacrificed the
remainder at once, but for the Spanish commander, who evinced the utmost
horror at the proposal, and ordered them to be sent for safe custody on
board the fleet. Soon after, they were permitted to join their
companions. This artful proceeding, so characteristic of the policy of
Cortés, had, as we shall see hereafter, all the effect intended on
Montezuma. It cannot be commended, certainly, as in the true spirit of
chivalry. Yet it has not wanted its panegyrist among the national

By order of Cortés, messengers were despatched to the Totonac towns to
report what had been done, calling on them to refuse the payment of
further tribute to Montezuma. But there was no need of messengers. The
affrighted attendants of the Aztec lords had fled in every direction,
bearing the tidings, which spread like wildfire through the country, of
the daring insult offered to the majesty of Mexico. The astonished
Indians, cheered with the sweet hope of regaining their ancient liberty,
came in numbers to Chiahuitztla, to see and confer with the formidable
strangers. The more timid, dismayed at the thought of encountering the
power of Montezuma, recommended an embassy to avert his displeasure by
timely concessions. But the dexterous management of Cortés had committed
them too far to allow any reasonable expectation of indulgence from this
quarter. After some hesitation, therefore, it was determined to embrace
the protection of the Spaniards, and to make one bold effort for the
recovery of freedom. Oaths of allegiance were taken by the chiefs to the
Spanish sovereigns, and duly recorded by Godoy, the royal notary.
Cortés, satisfied with the important acquisition of so many vassals to
the crown, set out soon after for the destined port, having first
promised to revisit Cempoalla, where his business was but partially

The spot selected for the new city was only half a league distant, in a
wide and fruitful plain, affording a tolerable haven for the shipping.
Cortés was not long in determining the circuit of the walls, and the
sites of the fort, granary, townhouse, temple, and other public
buildings. The friendly Indians eagerly assisted, by bringing materials,
stone, lime, wood, and bricks dried in the sun. Every man put his hand
to the work. The general labored with the meanest of the soldiers,
stimulating their exertions by his example as well as voice. In a few
weeks the task was accomplished, and a town rose up, which, if not quite
worthy of the aspiring name it bore, answered most of the purposes for
which it was intended. It served as a good _point d’appui_ for future
operations; a place of retreat for the disabled, as well as for the army
in case of reverses; a magazine for stores, and for such articles as
might be received from or sent to the mother-country; a port for the
shipping; a position of sufficient strength to over-awe the adjacent

It was the first colony--the fruitful parent of so many others--in New
Spain. It was hailed with satisfaction by the simple natives, who hoped
to repose in safety under its protecting shadow. Alas! they could not
read the future, or they would have found no cause to rejoice in this
harbinger of a revolution more tremendous than any predicted by their
bards and prophets. It was not the good Quetzalcoatl who had returned to
claim his own again, bringing peace, freedom, and civilization in his
train. Their fetters, indeed, would be broken, and their wrongs be amply
avenged on the proud head of the Aztec. But it was to be by that strong
arm which should bow down equally the oppressor and the oppressed. The
light of civilization would be poured on their land. But it would be the
light of a consuming fire, before which their barbaric glory, their
institutions, their very existence and name as a nation, would wither
and become extinct! Their doom was sealed when the white man had set his
foot on their soil.




While the Spaniards were occupied with their new settlement, they were
surprised by the presence of an embassy from Mexico. The account of the
imprisonment of the royal collectors had spread rapidly through the
country. When it reached the capital, all were filled with amazement at
the unprecedented daring of the strangers. In Montezuma every other
feeling, even that of fear, was swallowed up in indignation; and he
showed his wonted energy in the vigorous preparations which he instantly
made to punish his rebellious vassals and to avenge the insult offered
to the majesty of the empire. But when the Aztec officers liberated by
Cortés reached the capital and reported the courteous treatment they had
received from the Spanish commander, Montezuma’s anger was mitigated,
and his superstitious fears, getting the ascendency again, induced him
to resume his former timid and conciliatory policy. He accordingly sent
an embassy, consisting of two youths, his nephews, and four of the
ancient nobles of his court, to the Spanish quarters. He provided them,
in his usual munificent spirit, with a princely donation of gold, rich
cotton stuffs, and beautiful mantles of the _plumaje_, or feather
embroidery. The envoys, on coming before Cortés, presented him with the
articles, at the same time offering the acknowledgments of their master
for the courtesy he had shown in liberating his captive nobles. He was
surprised and afflicted, however, that the Spaniards should have
countenanced his faithless vassals in their rebellion. He had no doubt
they were the strangers whose arrival had been so long announced by the
oracles, and of the same lineage with himself.[50] From deference to
them he would spare the Totonacs, while they were present. But the time
for vengeance would come.

Cortés entertained the Indian chieftains with frank hospitality. At the
same time, he took care to make such a display of his resources as,
while it amused their minds, should leave a deep impression of his
power. He then, after a few trifling gifts, dismissed them with a
conciliatory message to their master, and the assurance that he should
soon pay his respects to him in his capital, where all misunderstanding
between them would be readily adjusted.

The Totonac allies could scarcely credit their senses, when they
gathered the nature of this interview. Notwithstanding the presence of
the Spaniards, they had looked with apprehension to the consequences of
their rash act; and their feelings of admiration were heightened into
awe for the strangers who, at this distance, could exercise so
mysterious an influence over the terrible Montezuma.[51]

Not long after, the Spaniards received an application from the cacique
of Cempoalla to aid him in a dispute in which he was engaged with a
neighboring city. Cortés marched with a part of his forces to his
support. On the route, one Morla, a common soldier, robbed a native of a
couple of fowls. Cortés, indignant at this violation of his orders
before his face, and aware of the importance of maintaining a reputation
for good faith with his allies, commanded the man to be hung up, at
once, by the roadside, in face of the whole army. Fortunately for the
poor wretch, Pedro de Alvarado, the future conqueror of Quiché, was
present, and ventured to cut down the body while there was yet life in
it. He, probably, thought enough had been done for example, and the loss
of a single life, unnecessarily, was more than the little band could
afford. The anecdote is characteristic, as showing the strict discipline
maintained by Cortés over his men, and the freedom assumed by his
captains, who regarded him on terms nearly of equality,--as a
fellow-adventurer with themselves. This feeling of companionship led to
a spirit of insubordination among them, which made his own post as
commander the more delicate and difficult.

On reaching the hostile city, but a few leagues from the coast, they
were received in an amicable manner; and Cortés, who was accompanied by
his allies, had the satisfaction of reconciling these different branches
of the Totonac family with each other, without bloodshed. He then
returned to Cempoalla, where he was welcomed with joy by the people, who
were now impressed with as favorable an opinion of his moderation and
justice as they had before been of his valor. In token of his gratitude,
the Indian cacique delivered to the general eight Indian maidens, richly
dressed, wearing collars and ornaments of gold, with a number of female
slaves to wait on them. They were daughters of the principal chiefs, and
the cacique requested that the Spanish captains might take them as their
wives. Cortés received the damsels courteously, but told the cacique
they must first be baptized, as the sons of the Church could have no
commerce with idolaters.[52] He then declared that it was a great object
of his mission to wean the natives from their heathenish abominations,
and besought the Totonac lord to allow his idols to be cast down, and
the symbols of the true faith to be erected in their place.

To this the other answered, as before, that his gods were good enough
for him; nor could all the persuasion of the general, nor the preaching
of Father Olmedo, induce him to acquiesce. Mingled with his polytheism,
he had conceptions of a Supreme and Infinite Being, Creator of the
Universe, and his darkened understanding could not comprehend how such a
Being could condescend to take the form of humanity, with its
infirmities and ills, and wander about on earth, the voluntary victim of
persecution from the hands of those whom his breath had called into
existence.[53] He plainly told the Spaniards that he would resist any
violence offered to his gods, who would, indeed, avenge the act
themselves, by the instant destruction of their enemies.

But the zeal of the Christians had mounted too high to be cooled by
remonstrance or menace. During their residence in the land, they had
witnessed more than once the barbarous rites of the natives, their cruel
sacrifices of human victims, and their disgusting cannibal repasts.[54]
Their souls sickened at these abominations, and they agreed with one
voice to stand by their general, when he told them that “Heaven would
never smile on their enterprise if they countenanced such atrocities,
and that, for his own part, he was resolved the Indian idols should be
demolished that very hour, if it cost him his life.” To postpone the
work of conversion was a sin. In the enthusiasm of the moment, the
dictates of policy and ordinary prudence were alike unheeded.

Scarcely waiting for his commands, the Spaniards moved towards one of
the principal _teocallis_, or temples, which rose high on a pyramidal
foundation, with a steep ascent of stone steps in the middle. The
cacique, divining their purpose, instantly called his men to arms. The
Indian warriors gathered from all quarters, with shrill cries and
clashing of weapons; while the priests, in their dark cotton robes, with
dishevelled tresses, matted with blood, flowing wildly over their
shoulders, rushed frantic among the natives, calling on them to protect
their gods from violation! All was now confusion, tumult, and warlike
menace, where so lately had been peace and the sweet brotherhood of

Cortés took his usual prompt and decided measures. He caused the cacique
and some of the principal inhabitants and priests to be arrested by his
soldiers. He then commanded them to quiet the people, for, if an arrow
was shot against a Spaniard, it should cost every one of them his life.
Marina, at the same time, represented the madness of resistance, and
reminded the cacique that if he now alienated the affections of the
Spaniards he would be left without a protector against the terrible
vengeance of Montezuma. These temporal considerations seem to have had
more weight with the Totonac chieftain than those of a more spiritual
nature. He covered his face with his hands, exclaiming that the gods
would avenge their own wrongs.

The Christians were not slow in availing themselves of his tacit
acquiescence. Fifty soldiers, at a signal from their general, sprang up
the great stairway of the temple, entered the building on the summit,
the walls of which were black with human gore, tore the huge wooden
idols from their foundations, and dragged them to the edge of the
terrace. Their fantastic forms and features, conveying a symbolic
meaning, which was lost on the Spaniards, seemed in their eyes only the
hideous lineaments of Satan. With great alacrity they rolled the
colossal monsters down the steps of the pyramid, amidst the triumphant
shouts of their own companions, and the groans and lamentations of the
natives. They then consummated the whole by burning them in the presence
of the assembled multitude.

The same effect followed as in Cozumel. The Totonacs, finding their
deities incapable of preventing or even punishing this profanation of
their shrines, conceived a mean opinion of their power, compared with
that of the mysterious and formidable strangers. The floor and walls of
the _teocalli_ were then cleansed, by command of Cortés, from their foul
impurities; a fresh coating of stucco was laid on them by the Indian
masons; and an altar was raised, surmounted by a lofty cross, and hung
with garlands of roses. A procession was next formed, in which some of
the principal Totonac priests, exchanging their dark mantles for robes
of white, carried lighted candles in their hands; while an image of the
Virgin, half smothered under the weight of flowers, was borne aloft,
and, as the procession climbed the steps of the temple, was deposited
above the altar. Mass was performed by Father Olmedo, and the impressive
character of the ceremony and the passionate eloquence of the good
priest touched the feelings of the motley audience, until Indians as
well as Spaniards, if we may trust the chronicler, were melted into
tears and audible sobs. The Protestant missionary seeks to enlighten the
understanding of his convert by the pale light of reason. But the bolder
Catholic, kindling the spirit by the splendor of the spectacle and by
the glowing portrait of an agonized Redeemer, sweeps along his hearers
in a tempest of passion, that drowns everything like reflection. He has
secured his convert, however, by the hold on his affections,--an easier
and more powerful hold, with the untutored savage, than reason.

An old soldier named Juan de Torres, disabled by bodily infirmity,
consented to remain and watch over the sanctuary and instruct the
natives in its services. Cortés then, embracing his Totonac allies, now
brothers in religion as in arms, set out once more for the Villa Rica,
where he had some arrangements to complete previous to his departure for
the capital.[55]

He was surprised to find that a Spanish vessel had arrived there in his
absence, having on board twelve soldiers and two horses. It was under
the command of a captain named Saucedo, a cavalier of the ocean, who had
followed in the track of Cortés in quest of adventure. Though a small,
they afforded a very seasonable body of recruits for the little army. By
these men, the Spaniards were informed that Velasquez, the governor of
Cuba, had lately received a warrant from the Spanish government to
establish a colony in the newly-discovered countries.

Cortés now resolved to put a plan in execution which he had been some
time meditating. He knew that all the late acts of the colony, as well
as his own authority, would fall to the ground without the royal
sanction. He knew, too, that the interest of Velasquez, which was great
at court, would, so soon as he was acquainted with his secession, be
wholly employed to circumvent and crush him. He resolved to anticipate
his movements, and to send a vessel to Spain with despatches addressed
to the emperor himself, announcing the nature and extent of his
discoveries, and to obtain, if possible, the confirmation of his
proceedings. In order to conciliate his master’s good will, he further
proposed to send him such a present as should suggest lofty ideas of the
importance of his own services to the crown. To effect this, the royal
fifth he considered inadequate. He conferred with his officers, and
persuaded them to relinquish their share of the treasure. At his
instance, they made a similar application to the soldiers; representing
that it was the earnest wish of the general, who set the example by
resigning his own fifth, equal to the share of the crown. It was but
little that each man was asked to surrender, but the whole would make a
present worthy of the monarch for whom it was intended. By this
sacrifice they might hope to secure his indulgence for the past and his
favor for the future; a temporary sacrifice, that would be well repaid
by the security of the rich possessions which awaited them in Mexico. A
paper was then circulated among the soldiers, which all who were
disposed to relinquish their shares were requested to sign. Those who
declined should have their claims respected, and receive the amount due
to them. No one refused to sign; thus furnishing another example of the
extraordinary power obtained by Cortés over these rapacious spirits,
who, at his call, surrendered up the very treasures which had been the
great object of their hazardous enterprise![56]

He accompanied this present with a letter to the emperor, in which he
gave a full account of all that had befallen him since his departure
from Cuba; of his various discoveries, battles, and traffic with the
natives; their conversion to Christianity; his strange perils and
sufferings; many particulars respecting the lands he had visited, and
such as he could collect in regard to the great Mexican monarchy and its
sovereign. He stated his difficulties with the governor of Cuba, the
proceedings of the army in reference to colonization, and besought the
emperor to confirm their acts, as well as his own authority, expressing
his entire confidence that he should be able, with the aid of his brave
followers, to place the Castilian crown in possession of this great
Indian empire.[57]

This was the celebrated _First Letter_, as it is called, of Cortés,
which has hitherto eluded every search that has been made for it in the
libraries of Europe.[58] Its existence is fully established by
references to it, both in his own subsequent letters, and in the
writings of contemporaries.[59] Its general purport is given by his
chaplain Gomara. The importance of the document has doubtless been much
overrated; and, should it ever come to light, it will probably be found
to add little of interest to the matter contained in the letter from
Vera Cruz, which has formed the basis of the preceding portion of our
narrative. Cortés had no sources of information beyond those open to the
authors of the latter document. He was even less full and frank in his
communications, if it be true that he suppressed all notice of the
discoveries of his two immediate predecessors.[60]

The magistrates of the Villa Rica, in their epistle, went over the same
ground with Cortés; concluding with an emphatic representation of the
misconduct of Velasquez, whose venality, extortion, and selfish devotion
to his personal interests, to the exclusion of those of his sovereigns
as well as of his own followers, they placed in a most clear and
unenviable light.[61] They implored the government not to sanction his
interference with the new colony, which would be fatal to its welfare,
but to commit the undertaking to Hernando Cortés, as the man most
capable, by his experience and conduct, of bringing it to a glorious

With this letter went also another in the name of the citizen-soldiers
of Villa Rica, tendering their dutiful submission to the sovereigns, and
requesting the confirmation of their proceedings, above all, that of
Cortés as their general.

The selection of the agents for the mission was a delicate matter, as on
the result might depend the future fortunes of the colony and its
commander. Cortés intrusted the affair to two cavaliers on whom he could
rely; Francisco de Montejo, the ancient partisan of Velasquez, and
Alonso Hernandez de Puertocarrero. The latter officer was a near
kinsman of the count of Medellin, and it was hoped his high connections
might secure a favorable influence at court.

Together with the treasure, which seemed to verify the assertion that
“the land teemed with gold as abundantly as that whence Solomon drew the
same precious metal for his temple,”[63] several Indian manuscripts were
sent. Some were of cotton, others of the Mexican _agave_. Their
unintelligible characters, says a chronicler, excited little interest in
the Conquerors. As evidence of intellectual culture, however, they
formed higher objects of interest to a philosophic mind than those
costly fabrics which attested only the mechanical ingenuity of the
nation.[64] Four Indian slaves were added as specimens of the natives.
They had been rescued from the cages in which they were confined for
sacrifice. One of the best vessels of the fleet was selected for the
voyage, manned by fifteen seamen, and placed under the direction of the
pilot Alaminos. He was directed to hold his course through the Bahama
channel, north of Cuba, or Fernandina, as it was then called, and on no
account to touch at that island, or any other in the Indian Ocean. With
these instructions, the good ship took its departure on the 26th of
July, freighted with the treasures and the good wishes of the community
of the Villa Rica de Vera Cruz.

After a quick run the emissaries made the island of Cuba, and, in direct
disregard of orders, anchored before Marien, on the northern side of the
island. This was done to accommodate Montejo, who wished to visit a
plantation owned by him in the neighborhood. While off the port, a
sailor got on shore, and, crossing the island to St. Jago, the capital,
spread everywhere tidings of the expedition, until they reached the ears
of Velasquez. It was the first intelligence which had been received of
the armament since its departure; and, as the governor listened to the
recital, it would not be easy to paint the mingled emotions of
curiosity, astonishment, and wrath which agitated his bosom. In the
first sally of passion, he poured a storm of invective on the heads of
his secretary and treasurer, the friends of Cortés, who had recommended
him as the leader of the expedition. After somewhat relieving himself in
this way, he despatched two fast-sailing vessels to Marien with orders
to seize the rebel ship, and, in case of her departure, to follow and
overtake her.

But before the ships could reach that port the bird had flown, and was
far on her way across the broad Atlantic. Stung with mortification at
this fresh disappointment, Velasquez wrote letters of indignant
complaint to the government at home, and to the Hieronymite fathers in
Hispaniola, demanding redress. He obtained little satisfaction from the
latter. He resolved, however, to take the matter into his own hands, and
set about making formidable preparations for another squadron, which
should be more than a match for that under his rebellious officer. He
was indefatigable in his exertions, visiting every part of the island,
and straining all his resources to effect his purpose. The preparations
were on a scale that necessarily consumed many months.

Meanwhile the little vessel was speeding her prosperous way across the
waters, and, after touching at one of the Azores, came safely into the
harbor of St. Lucar, in the month of October. However long it may appear
in the more perfect nautical science of our day, it was reckoned a fair
voyage for that. Of what befell the commissioners on their arrival,
their reception at court, and the sensation caused by their
intelligence, I defer the account to a future chapter.[65]

Shortly after the departure of the commissioners, an affair occurred of
a most unpleasant nature. A number of persons, with the priest Juan Diaz
at their head, ill-affected, from some cause or other, towards the
administration of Cortés, or not relishing the hazardous expedition
before them, laid a plan to seize one of the vessels, make the best of
their way to Cuba, and report to the governor the fate of the armament.
It was conducted with so much secrecy that the party had got their
provisions, water, and everything necessary for the voyage, on board,
without detection; when the conspiracy was betrayed, on the very night
they were to sail, by one of their own number, who repented the part he
had taken in it. The general caused the persons implicated to be
instantly apprehended. An examination was instituted. The guilt of the
parties was placed beyond a doubt. Sentence of death was passed on two
of the ringleaders; another, the pilot, was condemned to lose his feet,
and several others to be whipped. The priest, probably the most guilty
of the whole, claiming the usual benefit of clergy, was permitted to
escape. One of those condemned to the gallows was named Escudero, the
very alguacil who, the reader may remember, so stealthily apprehended
Cortés before the sanctuary in Cuba.[66] The general, on signing the
death-warrants, was heard to exclaim, “Would that I had never learned to
write!” It was not the first time, it was remarked, that the exclamation
had been uttered in similar circumstances.[67]

The arrangements being now finally settled at the Villa Rica, Cortés
sent forward Alvarado, with a large part of the army, to Cempoalla,
where he soon after joined them with the remainder. The late affair of
the conspiracy seems to have made a deep impression on his mind. It
showed him that there were timid spirits in the camp on whom he could
not rely, and who, he feared, might spread the seeds of disaffection
among their companions. Even the more resolute, on any occasion of
disgust or disappointment hereafter, might falter in purpose, and,
getting possession of the vessels, abandon the enterprise. This was
already too vast, and the odds were too formidable, to authorize
expectation of success with diminution of numbers. Experience showed
that this was always to be apprehended while means of escape were at
hand.[68] The best chance for success was to cut off these means. He
came to the daring resolution to destroy the fleet, without the
knowledge of his army.

When arrived at Cempoalla, he communicated his design to a few of his
devoted adherents, who entered warmly into his views. Through them he
readily persuaded the pilots, by means of those golden arguments which
weigh more than any other with ordinary minds, to make such a report of
the condition of the fleet as suited his purpose. The ships, they said,
were grievously racked by the heavy gales they had encountered, and,
what was worse, the worms had eaten into their sides and bottoms until
most of them were not seaworthy, and some, indeed, could scarcely now be
kept afloat.

Cortés received the communication with surprise; “for he could well
dissemble,” observes Las Casas, with his usual friendly comment, “when
it suited his interests.” “If it be so,” he exclaimed, “we must make the
best of it! Heaven’s will be done!”[69] He then ordered five of the
worst conditioned to be dismantled, their cordage, sails, iron, and
whatever was movable, to be brought on shore, and the ships to be sunk.
A survey was made of the others, and, on a similar report, four more
were condemned in the same manner. Only one small vessel remained!

When the intelligence reached the troops in Cempoalla, it caused the
deepest consternation. They saw themselves cut off by a single blow from
friends, family, country! The stoutest hearts quailed before the
prospect of being thus abandoned on a hostile shore, a handful of men
arrayed against a formidable empire. When the news arrived of the
destruction of the five vessels first condemned, they had acquiesced in
it as a necessary measure, knowing the mischievous activity of the
insects in these tropical seas. But, when this was followed by the loss
of the remaining four, suspicions of the truth flashed on their minds.
They felt they were betrayed. Murmurs, at first deep, swelled louder and
louder, menacing open mutiny. “Their general,” they said, “had led them
like cattle to be butchered in the shambles!”[70] The affair wore a
most alarming aspect. In no situation was Cortés ever exposed to greater
danger from his soldiers.[71]

His presence of mind did not desert him at this crisis. He called his
men together, and, employing the tones of persuasion rather than
authority, assured them that a survey of the ships showed they were not
fit for service. If he had ordered them to be destroyed, they should
consider, also, that his was the greatest sacrifice, for they were his
property,--all, indeed, he possessed in the world. The troops, on the
other hand, would derive one great advantage from it, by the addition of
a hundred able-bodied recruits, before required to man the vessels. But,
even if the fleet had been saved, it could have been of little service
in their present expedition; since they would not need it if they
succeeded, while they would be too far in the interior to profit by it
if they failed. He besought them to turn their thoughts in another
direction. To be thus calculating chances and means of escape was
unworthy of brave souls. They had set their hands to the work; to look
back, as they advanced, would be their ruin. They had only to resume
their former confidence in themselves and their general, and success was
certain. “As for me,” he concluded, “I have chosen my part. I will
remain here, while there is one to bear me company. If there be any so
craven as to shrink from sharing the dangers of our glorious enterprise,
let them go home, in God’s name. There is still one vessel left. Let
them take that and return to Cuba. They can tell there how they deserted
their commander and their comrades, and patiently wait till we return
loaded with the spoils of the Aztecs.”[72]

The politic orator had touched the right chord in the bosoms of the
soldiers. As he spoke, their resentment gradually died away. The faded
visions of future riches and glory, rekindled by his eloquence, again
floated before their imaginations. The first shock over, they felt
ashamed of their temporary distrust. The enthusiasm for their leader
revived, for they felt that under his banner only they could hope for
victory; and, as he concluded, they testified the revulsion of their
feelings by making the air ring with their shouts, “To Mexico! to

The destruction of his fleet by Cortés is, perhaps, the most remarkable
passage in the life of this remarkable man. History, indeed, affords
examples of a similar expedient in emergencies somewhat similar; but
none where the chances of success were so precarious and defeat would be
so disastrous.[73] Had he failed, it might well seem

[Illustration: Goupil & Cº. Paris


[Illustration: Goupil & Cº. Paris]

an act of madness. Yet it was the fruit of deliberate calculation. He
had set fortune, fame, life itself, all upon the cast, and must abide
the issue. There was no alternative in his mind but to succeed or
perish. The measure he adopted greatly increased the chance of success.
But to carry it into execution, in the face of an incensed and desperate
soldiery, was an act of resolution that has few parallels in

     Fray Bartolomé de las Casas, Bishop of Chiapa, whose “History of
     the Indies” forms an important authority for the preceding pages,
     was one of the most remarkable men of the sixteenth century. He was
     born at Seville in 1474. His father accompanied Columbus, as a
     common soldier, in his first voyage to the New World; and he
     acquired wealth enough by his vocation to place his son at the
     University of Salamanca. During his residence there, he was
     attended by an Indian page, whom his father had brought with him
     from Hispaniola. Thus the uncompromising advocate for freedom
     began his career as the owner of a slave himself. But he did not
     long remain so, for his slave was one of those subsequently
     liberated by the generous commands of Isabella.

     In 1498 he completed his studies in law and divinity, took his
     degree of licentiate, and in 1502 accompanied Oviedo, in the most
     brilliant armada which had been equipped for the Western World.
     Eight years after, he was admitted to priest’s orders in St.
     Domingo, an event somewhat memorable, since he was the first person
     consecrated in that holy office in the colonies. On the occupation
     of Cuba by the Spaniards, Las Casas passed over to that island,
     where he obtained a curacy in a small settlement. He soon, however,
     made himself known to the governor, Velasquez, by the fidelity with
     which he discharged his duties, and especially by the influence
     which his mild and benevolent teaching obtained for him over the
     Indians. Through his intimacy with the governor, Las Casas had the
     means of ameliorating the condition of the conquered race, and from
     this time he may be said to have consecrated all his energies to
     this one great object. At this period, the scheme of
     _repartimientos_, introduced soon after the discoveries of
     Columbus, was in full operation, and the aboriginal population of
     the islands was rapidly melting away under a system of oppression
     which has been seldom paralleled in the annals of mankind. Las
     Casas, outraged at the daily exhibition of crime and misery,
     returned to Spain to obtain some redress from government. Ferdinand
     died soon after his arrival. Charles was absent, but the reins were
     held by Cardinal Ximenes, who listened to the complaints of the
     benevolent missionary, and, with his characteristic vigor,
     instituted a commission of three Hieronymite friars, with full
     authority, as already noticed in the text, to reform abuses. Las
     Casas was honored, for his exertions, with the title of
     “Protector-General of the Indians.”

     The new commissioners behaved with great discretion. But their
     office was one of consummate difficulty, as it required time to
     introduce important changes in established institutions. The ardent
     and impetuous temper of Las Casas, disdaining every consideration
     of prudence, overleaped till these obstacles, and chafed under what
     he considered the lukewarm and temporizing policy of the
     commissioners. As he was at no pains to conceal his disgust, the
     parties soon came to a misunderstanding with each other; and Las
     Casas again returned to the mother-country, to stimulate the
     government, if possible, to more effectual measures for the
     protection of the natives.

     He found the country under the administration of the Flemings, who
     discovered from the first a wholesome abhorrence of the abuses
     practised in the colonies, and who, in short, seemed inclined to
     tolerate no peculation or extortion but their own. They acquiesced,
     without much difficulty, in the recommendations of Las Casas, who
     proposed to relieve the natives by sending out Castilian laborers
     and by importing negro slaves into the islands. This last
     proposition has brought heavy obloquy on the head of its author,
     who has been freely accused of having thus introduced negro slavery
     into the New World. Others, with equal groundlessness, have
     attempted to vindicate his memory from the reproach of having
     recommended the measure at all. Unfortunately for the latter
     assertion, Las Casas, in his “History of the Indies,” confesses,
     with deep regret and humiliation, his advice on this occasion,
     founded on the most erroneous views, as he frankly states; since,
     to use his own words, “the same law applies equally to the negro as
     to the Indian.” But, so far from having introduced slavery by this
     measure into the islands, the importation of blacks there dates
     from the beginning of the century. It was recommended by some of
     the wisest and most benevolent persons in the colony, as the means
     of diminishing the amount of human suffering; since the African was
     more fitted by his constitution to endure the climate and the
     severe toil imposed on the slave, than the feeble and effeminate
     islander. It was a suggestion of humanity, however mistaken, and,
     considering the circumstances under which it occurred, and the age,
     it may well be forgiven in Las Casas, especially taking into view
     that, as he became more enlightened himself, he was so ready to
     testify his regret at having unadvisedly countenanced the measure.

     The experiment recommended by Las Casas was made, but, through the
     apathy of Fonseca, president of the Indian Council, not
     heartily,--and it failed. The good missionary now proposed another
     and much bolder scheme. He requested that a large tract of country
     in Tierra Firme, in the neighborhood of the famous pearl-fisheries,
     might be ceded to him for the purpose of planting a colony there,
     and of converting the natives to Christianity. He required that
     none of the authorities of the islands, and no military force,
     especially, should be allowed to interfere with his movements. He
     pledged himself by peaceful means alone to accomplish all that had
     been done by violence in other quarters. He asked only that a
     certain number of laborers should attend him, invited by a bounty
     from government, and that he might further be accompanied by fifty
     Dominicans, who were to be distinguished like himself by a peculiar
     dress, that should lead the natives to suppose them a different
     race of men from the Spaniards. This proposition was denounced as
     chimerical and fantastic by some, whose own opportunities of
     observation entitled their judgment to respect. These men declared
     the Indian, from his nature, incapable of civilization. The
     question was one of such moment that Charles the Fifth ordered the
     discussion to be conducted before him. The opponent of Las Casas
     was first heard, when the good missionary, in answer, warmed by the
     noble cause he was to maintain, and nothing daunted by the august
     presence in which he stood, delivered himself with a fervent
     eloquence that went directly to the hearts of his auditors. “The
     Christian religion,” he concluded, “is equal in its operation, and
     is accommodated to every nation on the globe. It robs no one of his
     freedom, violates none of his inherent rights, on the ground that
     he is a slave by nature, as pretended; and it well becomes your
     Majesty to banish so monstrous an oppression from your kingdom in
     the beginning of your reign, that the Almighty may make it long and

     In the end Las Casas prevailed. He was furnished with the men and
     means for establishing his colony, and in 1520 embarked for
     America. But the result was a lamentable failure. The country
     assigned to him lay in the neighborhood of a Spanish settlement,
     which had already committed some acts of violence on the natives.
     To quell the latter, now thrown into commotion, an armed force was
     sent by the young “Admiral” from Hispaniola. The very people, among
     whom Las Casas was to appear as the messenger of peace, were thus
     involved in deadly strife with his countrymen. The enemy had been
     before him in his own harvest. While waiting for the close of these
     turbulent scenes, the laborers, whom he had taken out with him,
     dispersed, in despair of effecting their object. And after an
     attempt to pursue, with his faithful Dominican brethren, the work
     of colonization further, other untoward circumstances compelled
     them to abandon the project altogether. Its unfortunate author,
     overwhelmed with chagrin, took refuge in the Dominican monastery in
     the island of Hispaniola. The failure of the enterprise should, no
     doubt, be partly ascribed to circumstances beyond the control of
     its projector. Yet it is impossible not to recognize in the whole
     scheme, and in the conduct of it, the hand of one much more
     familiar with books than men, who, in the seclusion of the
     cloister, had meditated and matured his benevolent plans, without
     fully estimating the obstacles that lay in their way, and who
     counted too confidently on meeting the same generous enthusiasm in
     others which glowed in his own bosom.

     He found, in his disgrace, the greatest consolation and sympathy
     from the brethren of St. Dominic, who stood forth as the avowed
     champions of the Indians on all occasions, and showed themselves as
     devoted to the cause of freedom in the New World as they had been
     hostile to it in the Old. Las Casas soon became a member of their
     order, and, in his monastic retirement, applied himself for many
     years to the performance of his spiritual duties, and the
     composition of various works, all directed, more or less, to
     vindicate the rights of the Indians. Here, too, he commenced his
     great work the “Historia general de las Indias,” which he pursued,
     at intervals of leisure, from 1527 till a few years before his
     death. His time, however, was not wholly absorbed by these labors;
     and he found means to engage in several laborious missions. He
     preached the gospel among the natives of Nicaragua and Guatemala,
     and succeeded in converting and reducing to obedience some wild
     tribes in the latter province, who had defied the arms of his
     countrymen. In all these pious labors he was sustained by his
     Dominican brethren. At length, in 1539, he crossed the waters
     again, to seek further assistance and recruits among the members of
     his order.

     A great change had taken place in the board that now presided over
     the colonial department. The cold and narrow-minded Fonseca, who,
     during his long administration, had, it may be truly said, shown
     himself the enemy of every great name and good measure connected
     with the Indians, had died. His place, as president of the Indian
     Council, was filled by Loaysa, Charles’s confessor. This
     functionary, general of the Dominicans, gave ready audience to Las
     Casas, and showed a good will to his proposed plans of reform.
     Charles, too, now grown older, seemed to feel more deeply the
     responsibility of his station, and the necessity of redressing the
     wrongs, too long tolerated, of his American subjects. The state of
     the colonies became a common topic of discussion, not only in the
     council, but in the court; and the representations of Las Casas
     made an impression that manifested itself in the change of
     sentiment more clearly every day. He promoted this by the
     publication of some of his writings at this time, and especially of
     his “Brevísima Relacion,” or Short Account of the Destruction of
     the Indies, in which he sets before the reader the manifold
     atrocities committed by his countrymen in different parts of the
     New World in the prosecution of their conquests. It is a tale of
     woe. Every line of the work may be said to be written in blood.
     However good the motives of its author, we may regret that the book
     was ever written. He would have been certainly right not to spare
     his countrymen; to exhibit their misdeeds in their true colors, and
     by this appalling picture--for such it would have been--to have
     recalled the nation, and those who governed it, to a proper sense
     of the iniquitous career it was pursuing on the other side of the
     water. But, to produce a more striking effect, he has lent a
     willing ear to every tale of violence and rapine, and magnified the
     amount to a degree which borders on the ridiculous. The wild
     extravagance of his numerical estimates is of itself sufficient to
     shake confidence in the accuracy of his statements generally. Yet
     the naked truth was too startling in itself to demand the aid of
     exaggeration. The book found great favor with foreigners; was
     rapidly translated into various languages, and ornamented with
     characteristic designs, which seemed to put into action all the
     recorded atrocities of the text. It excited somewhat different
     feelings in his own countrymen, particularly the people of the
     colonies, who considered themselves the subjects of a gross,
     however undesigned, misrepresentation; and in his future
     intercourse with them it contributed, no doubt, to diminish his
     influence and consequent usefulness, by the spirit of alienation,
     and even resentment, which it engendered.

     Las Casas’ honest intentions, his enlightened views and long
     experience, gained him deserved credit at home. This was visible in
     the important regulations made at this time for the better
     government of the colonies, and particularly in respect to the
     aborigines. A code of laws, _Las Nuevas Leyes_, was passed, having
     for their avowed object the enfranchisement of this unfortunate
     race; and in the wisdom and humanity of its provisions it is easy
     to recognize the hand of the Protector of the Indians. The history
     of Spanish colonial legislation is the history of the impotent
     struggles of the government in behalf of the natives, against the
     avarice and cruelty of its subjects. It proves that an empire
     powerful at home--and Spain then was so--may be so widely extended
     that its authority shall scarcely be felt in its extremities.

     The government testified their sense of the signal services of Las
     Casas by promoting him to the bishopric of Cuzco, one of the
     richest sees in the colonies. But the disinterested soul of the
     missionary did not covet riches or preferment. He rejected the
     proffered dignity without hesitation. Yet he could not refuse the
     bishopric of Chiapa, a country which, from the poverty and
     ignorance of its inhabitants, offered a good field for his
     spiritual labors. In 1544, though at the advanced age of seventy,
     he took upon himself these new duties, and embarked, for the fifth
     and last time, for the shores of America. His fame had preceded
     him. The colonists looked on his coming with apprehension,
     regarding him as the real author of the new code, which struck at
     their ancient immunities, and which he would be likely to enforce
     to the letter. Everywhere he was received with coldness. In some
     places his person was menaced with violence. But the venerable
     presence of the prelate, his earnest expostulations, which flowed
     so obviously from conviction, and his generous self-devotion, so
     regardless of personal considerations, preserved him from this
     outrage. Yet he showed no disposition to conciliate his opponents
     by what he deemed an unworthy concession; and he even stretched the
     arm of authority so far as to refuse the sacraments to any who
     still held an Indian in bondage. This high-handed measure not only
     outraged the planters, but incurred the disapprobation of his own
     brethren in the Church. Three years were spent in disagreeable
     altercation without coming to any decision. The Spaniards, to
     borrow their accustomed phraseology on these occasions, “obeying
     the law, but not fulfilling it,” applied to the court for further
     instructions; and the bishop, no longer supported by his own
     brethren, thwarted by the colonial magistrates, and outraged by the
     people, relinquished a post where his presence could be no longer
     useful, and returned to spend the remainder of his days in
     tranquillity at home.

     Yet, though withdrawn to his Dominican convent, he did not pass his
     hours in slothful seclusion. He again appeared as the champion of
     Indian freedom in the famous controversy with Sepulveda, one of the
     most acute scholars of the time, and far surpassing Las Casas in
     elegance and correctness of composition. But the Bishop of Chiapa
     was his superior in argument, at least in this discussion, where he
     had right and reason on his side. In his “Thirty Propositions,” as
     they are called, in which he sums up the several points of his
     case, he maintains that the circumstance of infidelity in religion
     cannot deprive a nation of its political rights; that the Holy
     See, in its grant of the New World to the Catholic sovereigns,
     designed only to confer the right of converting its inhabitants to
     Christianity, and of thus winning a peaceful authority over them,
     and that no authority could be valid which rested on other
     foundations. This was striking at the root of the colonial empire
     as assumed by Castile. But the disinterested views of Las Casas,
     the respect entertained for his principles, and the general
     conviction, it may be, of the force of his arguments, prevented the
     court from taking umbrage at their import, or from pressing them to
     their legitimate conclusion. While the writings of his adversary
     were interdicted from publication, he had the satisfaction to see
     his own printed and circulated in every quarter.

     From this period his time was distributed among his religious
     duties, his studies, and the composition of his works, especially
     his History. His constitution, naturally excellent, had been
     strengthened by a life of temperance and toil; and he retained his
     faculties unimpaired to the last. He died after a short illness,
     July, 1566, at the great age of ninety-two, in his monastery of
     Atocha, at Madrid.

     The character of Las Casas may be inferred from his career. He was
     one of those to whose gifted minds are revealed those glorious
     moral truths which, like the lights of heaven, are fixed and the
     same forever, but which, though now familiar, were hidden from all
     but a few penetrating intellects by the general darkness of the
     time in which he lived. He was a reformer, and had the virtues and
     errors of a reformer. He was inspired by one great and glorious
     idea. This was the key to all his thoughts, to all that he said and
     wrote, to every act of his long life. It was this which urged him
     to lift the voice of rebuke in the presence of princes, to brave
     the menaces of an infuriated populace, to cross seas, to traverse
     mountains and deserts, to incur the alienation of friends, the
     hostility of enemies, to endure obloquy, insult, and persecution.
     It was this, too, which made him reckless of obstacles, led him to
     count too confidently on the co-operation of others, animated his
     discussion, sharpened his invective, too often steeped his pen in
     the gall of personal vituperation, led him into gross exaggeration
     and over-coloring in his statements and a blind credulity of evil
     that rendered him unsafe as a counsellor and unsuccessful in the
     practical concerns of life. His views were pure and elevated. But
     his manner of enforcing them was not always so commendable. This
     may be gathered not only from the testimony of the colonists
     generally, who, as parties interested, may be supposed to have been
     prejudiced, but from that of the members of his own profession,
     persons high in office, and of integrity beyond suspicion, not to
     add that of missionaries engaged in the same good work with
     himself. These, in their letters and reported conversations,
     charged the Bishop of Chiapa with an arrogant, uncharitable temper,
     which deluded his judgment, and vented itself in unwarrantable
     crimination against such as resisted his projects or differed from
     him in opinion. Las Casas, in short, was a man. But, if he had the
     errors of humanity, he had virtues that rarely belong to it. The
     best commentary on his character is the estimation which he
     obtained in the court of his sovereign. A liberal pension was
     settled on him after his last return from America, which he chiefly
     expended on charitable objects. No measure of importance relating
     to the Indians was taken without his advice. He lived to see the
     fruits of his efforts in the positive amelioration of their
     condition, and in the popular admission of those great truths which
     it had been the object of his life to unfold. And who shall say how
     much of the successful efforts and arguments since made in behalf
     of persecuted humanity may be traced to the example and the
     writings of this illustrious philanthropist?

     His compositions were numerous, most of them of no great length.
     Some were printed in his time; others have since appeared,
     especially in the French translation of Llorente. His great work,
     which occupied him at intervals for more than thirty years, the
     _Historia general de las Indias_, still remains in manuscript. It
     is in three volumes, divided into as many parts, and embraces the
     colonial history from the discovery of the country by Columbus to
     the year 1520. The style of the work, like that of all his
     writings, is awkward, disjointed, and excessively diffuse,
     abounding in repetitions, irrelevant digressions, and pedantic
     citations. But it is sprinkled over with passages of a different
     kind; and, when he is roused by the desire to exhibit some gross
     wrong to the natives, his simple language kindles into eloquence,
     and he expounds those great and immutable principles of natural
     justice which in his own day were so little understood. His defect
     as a historian is that he wrote history, like everything else,
     under the influence of one dominant idea. He is always pleading the
     cause of the persecuted native. This gives a coloring to events
     which passed under his own eyes, and filled him with a too easy
     confidence in those which he gathered from the reports of others.
     Much of the preceding portion of our narrative which relates to
     affairs in Cuba must have come under his personal observation. But
     he seems incapable of shaking off his early deference to Velasquez,
     who, as we have noticed, treated him, while a poor curate in the
     island, with peculiar confidence. For Cortés, on the other hand, he
     appears to have felt a profound contempt. He witnessed the
     commencement of his career, when he was standing, cap in hand, as
     it were, at the proud governor’s door, thankful even for a smile of
     recognition. Las Casas remembered all this, and, when he saw the
     Conqueror of Mexico rise into a glory and renown that threw his
     former patron into the shade,--and most unfairly, as Las Casas
     deemed, at the expense of that patron,--the good bishop could not
     withhold his indignation, nor speak of him otherwise than with a
     sneer, as a mere upstart adventurer.

     It is the existence of defects like these, and the fear of the
     misconception likely to be produced by them, that have so long
     prevented the publication of his history. At his death, he left it
     to the convent of San Gregorio, at Valladolid, with directions that
     it should not be printed for forty years, nor be seen during that
     time by any layman or member of the fraternity. Herrera, however,
     was permitted to consult it, and he liberally transferred its
     contents to his own volumes, which appeared in 1601. The royal
     Academy of History revised the first volume of Las Casas some years
     since, with a view to the publication of the whole work. But the
     indiscreet and imaginative style of the composition, according to
     Navarrete, and the consideration that its most important facts were
     already known through other channels, induced that body to abandon
     the design. With deference to their judgment, this seems to me a
     mistake. Las Casas, with every deduction, is one of the great
     writers of the nation; great from the important truths which he
     discerned when none else could see them, and from the courage with
     which he proclaimed them to the world. They are scattered over his
     History as well as his other writings. They are not, however, the
     passages transcribed by Herrera. In the statement of fact, too,
     however partial and prejudiced, no one will impeach his integrity;
     and, as an enlightened contemporary, his evidence is of undeniable
     value. It is due to the memory of Las Casas that, if his work be
     given to the public at all, it should not be through the garbled
     extracts of one who was no fair interpreter of his opinions. Las
     Casas does not speak for himself in the courtly pages of Herrera.
     Yet the History should not be published without a suitable
     commentary to enlighten the student and guard him against any undue
     prejudices in the writer. We may hope that the entire manuscript
     will one day be given to the world under the auspices of that
     distinguished body which has already done so much in this way for
     the illustration of the national annals.{*}

     {*}: [The Historia de las Indias was published in five volumes, in
     1875-76, by the Royal Academy of History in Madrid. Prescott’s
     manuscript copy of the work was probably burned in Boston in

     The life of Las Casas has been several times written. The two
     memoirs most worthy of notice are that by Llorente, late Secretary
     of the Inquisition, prefixed to his French translation of the
     bishop’s controversial writings, and that by Quintana, in the third
     volume of his “Españoles célebres,” where it presents a truly noble
     specimen of biographical composition, enriched by a literary
     criticism as acute as it is candid. I have gone to the greater
     length in this notice, from the interesting character of the man,
     and the little that is known of him to the English reader. I have
     also transferred a passage from his work in the original to the
     Appendix, that the Spanish scholar may form an idea of his style of
     composition. He ceases to be an authority for us henceforth, as his
     account of the expedition of Cortés terminates with the destruction
     of the navy.






While at Cempoalla, Cortés received a message from Escalante, his
commander at Villa Rica, informing him there were four strange ships
hovering off the coast, and that they took no notice of his repeated
signals. This intelligence greatly alarmed the general, who feared they
might be a squadron sent by the governor of Cuba to interfere with his
movements. In much haste, he set out at the head of a few horsemen, and,
ordering a party of light infantry to follow, posted back to Villa Rica.
The rest of the army he left in charge of Alvarado and of Gonzalo de
Sandoval, a young officer who had begun to give evidence of the uncommon
qualities which have secured to him so distinguished a rank among the
conquerors of Mexico.

Escalante would have persuaded the general, on his reaching the town, to
take some rest, and allow him to go in search of the strangers. But
Cortés replied with the homely proverb, “A wounded hare takes no
nap,”[75] and, without stopping to refresh himself or his men, pushed on
three or four leagues to the north, where he understood the ships were
at anchor. On the way, he fell in with three Spaniards, just landed from
them. To his eager inquiries whence they came, they replied that they
belonged to a squadron fitted out by Francisco de Garay, governor of
Jamaica. This person, the year previous, had visited the Florida coast,
and obtained from Spain--where he had some interest at court--authority
over the countries he might discover in that vicinity. The three men,
consisting of a notary and two witnesses, had been sent on shore to warn
their countrymen under Cortés to desist from what was considered an
encroachment on the territories of Garay. Probably neither the governor
of Jamaica nor his officers had any precise notion of the geography and
limits of these territories.

Cortés saw at once there was nothing to apprehend from this quarter. He
would have been glad, however, if he could by any means have induced the
crews of the ships to join his expedition. He found no difficulty in
persuading the notary and his companions. But when he came in sight of
the vessels, the people on board, distrusting the good terms on which
their comrades appeared to be with the Spaniards, refused to send their
boat ashore. In this dilemma, Cortés had recourse to a stratagem.

He ordered three of his own men to exchange dresses with the new-comers.
He then drew off his little band in sight of the vessels, affecting to
return to the city. In the night, however, he came back to the same
place, and lay in ambush, directing the disguised Spaniards, when the
morning broke, and they could be discerned, to make signals to those on
board. The artifice succeeded. A boat put off, filled with armed men,
and three or four leaped on shore. But they soon detected the deceit,
and Cortés, springing from his ambush, made them prisoners. Their
comrades in the boat, alarmed, pushed off, at once, for the vessels,
which soon got under way, leaving those on shore to their fate. Thus
ended the affair. Cortés returned to Cempoalla, with the addition of
half a dozen able-bodied recruits, and, what was of more importance,
relieved in his own mind from the apprehension of interference with his

He now made arrangements for his speedy departure from the Totonac
capital. The forces reserved for the expedition amounted to about four
hundred foot and fifteen horse, with seven pieces of artillery. He
obtained, also, from the cacique of Cempoalla, thirteen hundred
warriors, and a thousand _tamanes_, or porters, to drag the guns and
transport the baggage. He took forty more of their principal men as
hostages, as well as to guide him on the way and serve him by their
counsels among the strange tribes he was to visit. They were, in fact,
of essential service to him throughout the march.[77]

The remainder of his Spanish force he left in garrison at Villa Rica de
Vera Cruz, the command of which he had intrusted to the alguacil, Juan
de Escalante, an officer devoted to his interests. The selection was
judicious. It was important to place there a man who would resist any
hostile interference from his European rivals, on the one hand, and
maintain the present friendly relations with the natives, on the other.
Cortés recommended the Totonac chiefs to apply to this officer in case
of any difficulty, assuring them that so long as they remained faithful
to their new sovereign and religion they should find a sure protection
in the Spaniards.

Before marching, the general spoke a few words of encouragement to his
own men. He told them they were now to embark in earnest on an
enterprise which had been the great object of their desires, and that
the blessed Saviour would carry them victorious through every battle
with their enemies. “Indeed,” he added, “this assurance must be our
stay, for every other refuge is now cut off but that afforded by the
providence of God and your own stout hearts.”[78] He ended by comparing
their achievements to those of the ancient Romans, “in phrases of
honeyed eloquence far beyond anything I can repeat,” says the brave and
simple-hearted chronicler who heard them. Cortés was, indeed, master of
that eloquence which went to the soldiers’ hearts. For their sympathies
were his, and he shared in that romantic spirit of adventure which
belonged to them. “We are ready to obey you,” they cried as with one
voice. “Our fortunes, for better or worse, are cast with yours.”[79]
Taking leave, therefore, of their hospitable Indian friends, the little
army, buoyant with high hopes and lofty plans of conquest, set forward
on their march to Mexico.

It was the sixteenth of August, 1519. During the first day, their road
lay through the _tierra caliente_, the beautiful land where they had
been so long lingering; the land of the vanilla, cochineal, cacao (not
till later days of the orange and the sugar-cane), products which,
indigenous to Mexico, have now become the luxuries of Europe; the land
where the fruits and the flowers chase one another in unbroken circle
through the year; where the gales are loaded with perfumes till the
sense aches at their sweetness, and the groves are filled with
many-colored birds, and insects whose enamelled wings glisten like
diamonds in the bright sun of the tropics. Such are the magical
splendors of this paradise of the senses. Yet Nature, who generally
works in a spirit of compensation, has provided one here; since the same
burning sun which quickens into life these glories of the vegetable and
animal kingdoms calls forth the pestilent _malaria_, with its train of
bilious disorders, unknown to the cold skies of the North. The season in
which the Spaniards were there, the rainy months of summer, was
precisely that in which the _vómito_ rages with greatest fury; when the
European stranger hardly ventures to set his foot on shore, still less
to linger there a day. We find no mention made of it in the records of
the Conquerors, nor any notice, indeed, of an uncommon mortality. The
fact doubtless corroborates the theory of those who postpone the
appearance of the yellow fever till long after the occupation of the
country by the whites. It proves, at least, that, if existing before, it
must have been in a very much mitigated form.

After some leagues of travel over roads made nearly impassable by the
summer rains, the troops began the gradual ascent--more gradual on the
eastern than the western declivities of the Cordilleras--which leads up
to the table-land of Mexico. At the close of the second day they reached
Xalapa, a place still retaining the same Aztec name that it has
communicated to the drug raised in its environs, the medicinal virtues
of which are now known throughout the world.[80] This town stands
midway up the long ascent, at an elevation where the vapors from the
ocean, touching in their westerly progress, maintain a rich verdure
throughout the year. Though somewhat infected by these marine fogs, the
air is usually bland and salubrious. The wealthy resident of the lower
regions retires here for safety in the heats of summer, and the
traveller hails its groves of oak with delight, as announcing that he is
above the deadly influence of the _vómito_.[81] From this delicious
spot, the Spaniards enjoyed one of the grandest prospects in nature.
Before them was the steep ascent--much steeper after this point--which
they were to climb. On the right rose the Sierra Madre, girt with its
dark belt of pines, and its long lines of shadowy hills stretching away
in the distance. To the south, in brilliant contrast, stood the mighty
Orizaba, with his white robe of snow descending far down his sides,
towering in solitary grandeur, the giant spectre of the Andes. Behind
them, they beheld, unrolled at their feet, the magnificent _tierra
caliente_, with its gay confusion of meadows, streams, and flowering
forests, sprinkled over with shining Indian villages, while a faint line
of light on the edge of the horizon told them that there was the ocean,
beyond which were the kindred and country they were many of them never
more to see.

Still winding their way upward, amidst scenery as different as was the
temperature from that of the regions below, the army passed through
settlements containing some hundreds of inhabitants each, and on the
fourth day reached a “strong town,” as Cortés terms it, standing on a
rocky eminence, supposed to be that now known by the Mexican name of
Naulinco. Here they were hospitably entertained by the inhabitants, who
were friends of the Totonacs. Cortés endeavored, through Father Olmedo,
to impart to them some knowledge of Christian truths, which were kindly
received, and the Spaniards were allowed to erect a cross in the place,
for the future adoration of the natives. Indeed, the route of the army
might be tracked by these emblems of man’s salvation, raised wherever a
willing population of Indians invited it, suggesting a very different
idea from what the same memorials intimate to the traveller in these
mountain solitudes in our day.[82]

The troops now entered a rugged defile, the Bishop’s Pass,[83] as it is
called, capable of easy defence against an army. Very soon they
experienced a most unwelcome change of climate. Cold winds from the
mountains, mingled with rain, and, as they rose still higher, with
driving sleet and hail, drenched their garments, and seemed to penetrate
to their very bones. The Spaniards, indeed, partially covered by their
armor and thick jackets of quilted cotton, were better able to resist
the weather, though their long residence in the sultry regions of the
valley made them still keenly sensible to the annoyance. But the poor
Indians, natives of the _tierra caliente_, with little protection in the
way of covering, sank under the rude assault of the elements, and
several of them perished on the road.

The aspect of the country was as wild and dreary as the climate. Their
route wound along the spur of the huge Cofre de Perote, which borrows
its name, both in Mexican and Castilian, from the coffer-like rock on
its summit.[84] It is one of the great volcanoes of New Spain. It
exhibits now, indeed, no vestige of a crater on its top, but abundant
traces of volcanic action at its base, where acres of lava, blackened
scoriæ, and cinders proclaim the convulsions of nature, while numerous
shrubs and mouldering trunks of enormous trees, among the crevices,
attest the antiquity of these events. Working their toilsome way across
this scene of desolation, the path often led them along the borders of
precipices, down whose sheer depths of two or three thousand feet the
shrinking eye might behold another climate, and see all the glowing
vegetation of the tropics choking up the bottom of the ravines.

After three days of this fatiguing travel, the wayworn army emerged
through another defile, the _Sierra del Agua_.[85] They soon came upon
an open reach of country, with a genial climate, such as belongs to the
temperate latitudes of southern Europe. They had reached the level of
more than seven thousand feet above the ocean, where the great sheet of
table-land spreads out for hundreds of miles along the crests of the
Cordilleras. The country showed signs of careful cultivation, but the
products were, for the most part, not familiar to the eyes of the
Spaniards. Fields and hedges of the various tribes of the cactus, the
towering organum, and plantations of aloes with rich yellow clusters of
flowers on their tall stems, affording drink and clothing to the Aztec,
were everywhere seen. The plants of the torrid and temperate zones had
disappeared, one after another, with the ascent into these elevated
regions. The glossy and dark-leaved banana, the chief, as it is the
cheapest, aliment of the countries below, had long since faded from the
landscape. The hardy maize, however, still shone with its golden harvest
in all the pride of cultivation, the great staple of the higher equally
with the lower terraces of the plateau.

Suddenly the troops came upon what seemed the environs of a populous
city, which, as they entered it, appeared to surpass even that of
Cempoalla in the size and solidity of its structures.[86] These were of
stone and lime, many of them spacious and tolerably high. There were
thirteen _teocallis_ in the place; and in the suburbs they had seen a
receptacle, in which, according to Bernal Diaz, were stored a hundred
thousand skulls of human victims, all piled and ranged in order! He
reports the number as one he had ascertained by counting them
himself.[87] Whatever faith we may attach to the precise accuracy of his
figures, the result is almost equally startling. The Spaniards were
destined to become familiar with this appalling spectacle as they
approached nearer to the Aztec capital.

The lord of the town ruled over twenty thousand vassals. He was
tributary to Montezuma, and a strong Mexican garrison was quartered in
the place. He had probably been advised of the approach of the
Spaniards, and doubted how far it would be welcome to his sovereign. At
all events, he gave them a cold reception, the more unpalatable after
the extraordinary sufferings of the last few days. To the inquiry of
Cortés, whether he were subject to Montezuma, he answered, with real or
affected surprise, “Who is there that is not a vassal of Montezuma?”[88]
The general told him, with some emphasis, that _he_ was not. He then
explained whence and why he came, assuring him that he served a monarch
who had princes for his vassals as powerful as the Aztec monarch

The cacique, in turn, fell nothing short of the Spaniard in the pompous
display of the grandeur and resources of the Indian emperor. He told his
guest that Montezuma could muster thirty great vassals, each master of a
hundred thousand men![89] His revenues were immense, as every subject,
however poor, paid something. They were all expended on his magnificent
state and in support of his armies. These were continually in the
field, while garrisons were maintained in most of the large cities of
the empire. More than twenty thousand victims, the fruit of his wars,
were annually sacrificed on the altars of his gods! His capital, the
cacique said, stood in a lake, in the centre of a spacious valley. The
lake was commanded by the emperor’s vessels, and the approach to the
city was by means of causeways, several miles long, connected in parts
by wooden bridges, which, when raised, cut off all communication with
the country. Some other things he added, in answer to queries of his
guest, in which, as the reader may imagine, the crafty or credulous
cacique varnished over the truth with a lively coloring of romance.
Whether romance, or reality, the Spaniards could not determine. The
particulars they gleaned were not of a kind to tranquillize their minds,
and might well have made bolder hearts than theirs pause, ere they
advanced. But far from it. “The words which we heard,” says the stout
old cavalier so often quoted, “however they may have filled us with
wonder, made us--such is the temper of the Spaniard--only the more
earnest to prove the adventure, desperate as it might appear.”[90]

In a further conversation Cortés inquired of the chief whether his
country abounded in gold, and intimated a desire to take home some, as
specimens, to his sovereign. But the Indian lord declined to give him
any, saying it might displease Montezuma. “Should he command it,” he
added, “my gold, my person, and all I possess, shall be at your
disposal.” The general did not press the matter further.

The curiosity of the natives was naturally excited by the strange
dresses, weapons, horses, and dogs of the Spaniards. Marina, in
satisfying their inquiries, took occasion to magnify the prowess of her
adopted countrymen, expatiating on their exploits and victories, and
stating the extraordinary marks of respect they had received from
Montezuma. This intelligence seems to have had its effect; for soon
after the cacique gave the general some curious trinkets of gold, of no
great value, indeed, but as a testimony of his good will. He sent him,
also, some female slaves to prepare bread for the troops, and supplied
the means of refreshment and repose, more important to them, in the
present juncture, than all the gold of Mexico.[91]

The Spanish general, as usual, did not neglect the occasion to inculcate
the great truths of revelation on his host, and to display the atrocity
of the Indian superstitions. The cacique listened with civil but cold
indifference. Cortés, finding him unmoved, turned briskly round to his
soldiers, exclaiming that now was the time to plant the Cross! They
eagerly seconded his pious purpose, and the same scenes might have been
enacted as at Cempoalla, with perhaps very different results, had not
Father Olmedo, with better judgment, interposed. He represented that to
introduce the Cross among the natives, in their present state of
ignorance and incredulity, would be to expose the sacred symbol to
desecration so soon as the backs of the Spaniards were turned. The only
way was to wait patiently the season when more leisure should be
afforded to instil into their minds a knowledge of the truth. The sober
reasoning of the good father prevailed over the passions of the martial

It was fortunate for Cortés that Olmedo was not one of those frantic
friars who would have fanned his fiery temper on such occasions into a
blaze. It might have had a most disastrous influence on his fortunes;
for he held all temporal consequences light in comparison with the great
work of conversion, to effect which the unscrupulous mind of the
soldier, trained to the stern discipline of the camp, would have
employed force whenever fair means were ineffectual.[92] But Olmedo
belonged to that class of benevolent missionaries--of whom the Roman
Catholic church, to its credit, has furnished many examples--who rely on
spiritual weapons for the great work, inculcating those doctrines of
love and mercy which can best touch the sensibilities and win the
affections of their rude audience. These, indeed, are the true weapons
of the Church, the weapons employed in the primitive ages, by which it
has spread its peaceful banners over the farthest regions of the globe.
Such were not the means used by the conquerors of America, who, rather
adopting the policy of the victorious Moslems in their early career,
carried with them the sword in one hand and the Bible in the other. They
imposed obedience in matters of faith, no less than of government, on
the vanquished, little heeding whether the conversion were genuine, so
that it conformed to the outward observances of the Church. Yet the
seeds thus recklessly scattered must have perished but for the
missionaries of their own nation, who, in later times, worked over the
same ground, living among the Indians as brethren, and, by long and
patient culture, enabling the germs of truth to take root and fructify
in their hearts.

The Spanish commander remained in the city four or five days, to recruit
his fatigued and famished forces; and the modern Indians still point
out, or did, at the close of the last century, a venerable
cypress, under the branches of which was tied the horse of the
_Conquistador_,--the Conqueror, as Cortés was styled, _par
excellence_.[93] Their route now opened on a broad and verdant valley,
watered by a noble stream,--a circumstance of not too frequent
occurrence on the parched table-land of New Spain. The soil was well
protected by woods,--a thing still rarer at the present day; since the
invaders, soon after the Conquest, swept away the magnificent growth of
timber, rivalling that of our Southern and Western States in variety and
beauty, which covered the plateau under the Aztecs.[94]{*}

{*} [The amount of timber in Mexico at the time of the Conquest has been
greatly overestimated. Humboldt complains of the Spaniards for cutting
down trees. Yet Bernal Diaz says (cap. ccix.): “y han plantado sus
tierras y heredades de todos los árboles y frutas que hemos traido de
España, y venden el fruto que procede dello: y han puesto tantos
árboles, que porque los duraznos no son buenos para la salud y los
platanales les hacen mucha sombra, han cortado y cortan muchos, y lo
ponen de membrilleros y manzanas, y perales, que los tienen en mas

All along the river, on both sides of it, an unbroken line of Indian
dwellings, “so near as almost to touch one another,” extended for three
or four leagues; arguing a population much denser than at present.[95]
On a rough and rising ground stood a town that might contain five or six
thousand inhabitants, commanded by a fortress, which, with its walls and
trenches, seemed to the Spaniards quite “on a level with similar works
in Europe.” Here the troops again halted, and met with friendly

Cortés now determined his future line of march. At the last place he had
been counselled by the natives to take the route of the ancient city of
Cholula, the inhabitants of which, subjects of Montezuma, were a mild
race, devoted to mechanical and other peaceful arts, and would be likely
to entertain him kindly. Their Cempoallan allies, however, advised the
Spaniards not to trust the Cholulans, “a false and perfidious people,”
but to take the road to Tlascala, that valiant little republic which had
so long maintained its independence against the arms of Mexico. The
people were frank as they were fearless, and fair in their dealings.
They had always been on terms of amity with the Totonacs, which afforded
a strong guarantee for their amicable disposition on the present

The arguments of his Indian allies prevailed with the Spanish commander,
who resolved to propitiate the good will of the Tlascalans by an
embassy. He selected four of the principal Cempoallans for this, and
sent by them a martial gift,--a cap of crimson cloth, together with a
sword and a cross-bow, weapons which, it was observed, excited general
admiration among the natives. He added a letter, in which he asked
permission to pass through their country. He expressed his admiration
of the valor of the Tlascalans, and of their long resistance to the
Aztecs, whose proud empire he designed to humble.[97] It was not to be
expected that this epistle, indited in good Castilian, would be very
intelligible to the Tlascalans. But Cortés communicated its import to
the ambassadors. Its mysterious characters might impress the natives
with an idea of superior intelligence, and the letter serve instead of
those hieroglyphical missives which formed the usual credentials of an
Indian ambassador.[98]

The Spaniards remained three days in this hospitable place, after the
departure of the envoys, when they resumed their progress. Although in a
friendly country, they marched always as if in a land of enemies, the
horse and light troops in the van, with the heavy-armed and baggage in
the rear, all in battle-array. They were never without their armor,
waking or sleeping, lying down with their weapons by their sides. This
unintermitting and restless vigilance was, perhaps, more oppressive to
the spirits than even bodily fatigue. But they were confident in their
superiority in a fair field, and felt that the most serious danger they
had to fear from Indian warfare was surprise. “We are few against many,
brave companions,” Cortés would say to them; “be prepared, then, not as
if you were going to battle, but as if actually in the midst of

The road taken by the Spaniards was the same which at present leads to
Tlascala; not that, however, usually followed in passing from Vera Cruz
to the capital, which makes a circuit considerably to the south, towards
Puebla, in the neighborhood of the ancient Cholula. They more than once
forded the stream that rolls through this beautiful plain, lingering
several days on the way, in hopes of receiving an answer from the Indian
republic. The unexpected delay of the messengers could not be explained,
and occasioned some uneasiness.

As they advanced into a country of rougher and bolder features, their
progress was suddenly arrested by a remarkable fortification. It was a
stone wall nine feet in height, and twenty in thickness, with a parapet,
a foot and a half broad, raised on the summit for the protection of
those who defended it. It had only one opening, in the centre, made by
two semicircular lines of wall overlapping each other for the space of
forty paces, and affording a passage-way between, ten paces wide, so
contrived, therefore, as to be perfectly commanded by the inner wall.
This fortification, which extended more than two leagues, rested at
either end on the bold natural buttresses formed by the sierra. The work
was built of immense blocks of stones nicely laid together without
cement;[100] and the remains still existing, among which are rocks of
the whole breadth of the rampart, fully attest its solidity and

This singular structure marked the limits of Tlascala, and was intended,
as the natives told the Spaniards, as a barrier against the Mexican
invasions. The army paused, filled with amazement at the contemplation
of this Cyclopean monument, which naturally suggested reflections on the
strength and resources of the people who had raised it. It caused them,
too, some painful solicitude as to the probable result of their mission
to Tlascala, and their own consequent reception there. But they were too
sanguine to allow such uncomfortable surmises long to dwell in their
minds. Cortés put himself at the head of his cavalry, and, calling out,
“Forward, soldiers, the Holy Cross is our banner, and under that we
shall conquer,” led his little army through the undefended passage, and
in a few moments they trod the soil of the free republic of




Before advancing further with the Spaniards into the territory of
Tlascala, it will be well to notice some traits in the character and
institutions of the nation, in many respects the most remarkable in
Anahuac. The Tlascalans belonged to the same great family with the
Aztecs.[103]{*} They came on the grand plateau about the same time with
the kindred races, at the close of the twelfth century, and planted
themselves on the western borders of the lake of Tezcuco. Here they
remained many years, engaged in the usual pursuits of a bold and
partially civilized people.

{*} [The Tlascalans, “belonging to the same great family with the
Aztecs,” of course had governmental institutions similar to those of the
Aztecs. The clan dwelt in a pueblo and was divided into four phratries.
For the system of government, see note, pp. 33-36, vol. i.--M.] From
some cause or other, perhaps their turbulent temper, they incurred the
enmity of surrounding tribes. A coalition was formed against them; and a
bloody battle was fought on the plains of Poyauhtlan, in which the
Tlascalans were completely victorious.

Disgusted, however, with their residence among nations with whom they
found so little favor, the conquering people resolved to migrate. They
separated into three divisions, the largest of which, taking a southern
course by the great _volcan_ of Mexico, wound round the ancient city of
Cholula, and finally settled in the district of country overshadowed by
the sierra of Tlascala. The warm and fruitful valleys, locked up in the
embraces of this rugged brotherhood of mountains, afforded means of
subsistence for an agricultural people, while the bold eminences of the
sierra presented secure positions for their towns.

After the lapse of years, the institutions of the nation underwent an
important change. The monarchy was divided first into two, afterwards
into four separate states, bound together by a sort of federal compact,
probably not very nicely defined. Each state, however, had its lord or
supreme chief, independent in his own territories, and possessed of
co-ordinate authority with the others in all matters concerning the
whole republic. The affairs of government, especially all those relating
to peace and war, were settled in a senate or council, consisting of the
four lords with their inferior nobles.

The lower dignitaries held of the superior, each in his own district,
by a kind of feudal tenure, being bound to supply his table and enable
him to maintain his state in peace, as well as to serve him in war.[104]
In return, he experienced the aid and protection of his suzerain. The
same mutual obligations existed between him and the followers among whom
his own territories were distributed.[105] Thus a chain of feudal
dependencies was established, which, if not contrived with all the art
and legal refinements of analogous institutions in the Old World,
displayed their most prominent characteristics in its personal
relations, the obligations of military service on the one hand, and
protection on the other. This form of government, so different from that
of the surrounding nations, subsisted till the arrival of the Spaniards.
And it is certainly evidence of considerable civilization that so
complex a polity should have so long continued, undisturbed by violence
or faction in the confederate states, and should have been found
competent to protect the people in their rights, and the country from
foreign invasion.

The lowest order of the people, however, do not seem to have enjoyed
higher immunities than under the monarchical governments; and their rank
was carefully defined by an appropriate dress, and by their exclusion
from the insignia of the aristocratic orders.[106]

The nation, agricultural in its habits, reserved its highest honors,
like most other rude--unhappily, also, civilized--nations, for military
prowess. Public games were instituted, and prizes decreed to those who
excelled in such manly and athletic exercises as might train them for
the fatigues of war. Triumphs were granted to the victorious general,
who entered the city leading his spoils and captives in long procession,
while his achievements were commemorated in national songs, and his
effigy, whether in wood or stone, was erected in the temples. It was
truly in the martial spirit of republican Rome.[107]

An institution not unlike knighthood was introduced, very similar to one
existing also among the Aztecs. The aspirant to the honors of this
barbaric chivalry watched his arms and fasted fifty or sixty days in
the temple, then listened to a grave discourse on the duties of his new
profession. Various whimsical ceremonies followed, when his arms were
restored to him; he was led in solemn procession through the public
streets, and the inauguration was concluded by banquets and public
rejoicings. The new knight was distinguished henceforth by certain
peculiar privileges, as well as by a badge intimating his rank. It is
worthy of remark that this honor was not reserved exclusively for
military merit, but was the recompense, also, of public services of
other kinds, as wisdom in council, or sagacity and success in trade. For
trade was held in as high estimation by the Tlascalans as by the other
people of Anahuac.[108]

The temperate climate of the table-land furnished the ready means for
distant traffic. The fruitfulness of the soil was indicated by the name
of the country,--_Tlascala_ signifying the “land of bread.” Its wide
plains, to the slopes of its rocky hills, waved with yellow harvests of
maize, and with the bountiful maguey, a plant which, as we have seen,
supplied the materials for some important fabrics. With these, as well
as the products of agricultural industry, the merchant found his way
down the sides of the Cordilleras, wandered over the sunny regions at
their base, and brought back the luxuries which nature had denied to his

The various arts of civilization kept pace with increasing wealth and
public prosperity; at least, these arts were cultivated to the same
limited extent, apparently, as among the other people of Anahuac. The
Tlascalan tongue, says the national historian, simple as beseemed that
of a mountain region, was rough compared with the polished Tezcucan or
the popular Aztec dialect, and, therefore, not so well fitted for
composition. But the Tlascalans made like proficiency with the kindred
nations in the rudiments of science. Their calendar was formed on the
same plan. Their religion, their architecture, many of their laws and
social usages, were the same, arguing a common origin for all. Their
tutelary deity was the same ferocious war-god as that of the Aztecs,
though with a different name; their temples, in like manner, were
drenched with the blood of human victims, and their boards groaned with
the same cannibal repasts.[110]

Though not ambitious of foreign conquest, the prosperity of the
Tlascalans, in time, excited the jealousy of their neighbors, and
especially of the opulent state of Cholula. Frequent hostilities rose
between them, in which the advantage was almost always on the side of
the former. A still more formidable foe appeared in later days in the
Aztecs, who could ill brook the independence of Tlascala when the
surrounding nations had acknowledged, one after another, their influence
or their empire. Under the ambitious Axayacatl, they demanded of the
Tlascalans the same tribute and obedience rendered by other people of
the country. If it were refused, the Aztecs would raze their cities to
their foundations, and deliver the land to their enemies.

To this imperious summons, the little republic proudly replied, “Neither
they nor their ancestors had ever paid tribute or homage to a foreign
power, and never would pay it. If their country was invaded, they knew
how to defend it, and would pour out their blood as freely in defence of
their freedom now as their fathers did of yore, when they routed the
Aztecs on the plains of Poyauhtlan!”[111]

This resolute answer brought on them the forces of the monarchy. A
pitched battle followed, and the sturdy republicans were victorious.
From this period, hostilities between the two nations continued with
more or less activity, but with unsparing ferocity. Every captive was
mercilessly sacrificed. The children were trained from the cradle to
deadly hatred against the Mexicans; and, even in the brief intervals of
war, none of those intermarriages took place between the people of the
respective countries, which knit together in social bonds most of the
other kindred races of Anahuac.

In this struggle the Tlascalans received an important support in the
accession of the Othomis, or Otomies,--as usually spelt by Castilian
writers,--a wild and warlike race originally spread over the table-land
north of the Mexican Valley. A portion of them obtained a settlement in
the republic, and were speedily incorporated in its armies. Their
courage and fidelity to the nation of their adoption showed them worthy
of trust, and the frontier places were consigned to their keeping. The
mountain barriers by which Tlascala is encompassed afforded many strong
natural positions for defence against invasion. The country was open
towards the east, where a valley, of some six miles in breadth, invited
the approach of an enemy. But here it was that the jealous Tlascalans
erected the formidable rampart which had excited the admiration of the
Spaniards, and which they manned with a garrison of Otomies.

Efforts for their subjugation were renewed on a greater scale after the
accession of Montezuma. His victorious arms had spread down the
declivities of the Andes to the distant provinces of Vera Paz and
Nicaragua,[112] and his haughty spirit was chafed by the opposition of a
petty state whose territorial extent did not exceed ten leagues in
breadth by fifteen in length.[113] He sent an army against them under
the command of a favorite son. His troops were beaten, and his son was
slain. The enraged and mortified monarch was roused to still greater
preparations. He enlisted the forces of the cities bordering on his
enemy, together with those of the empire, and with this formidable army
swept over the devoted valleys of Tlascala. But the bold mountaineers
withdrew into the recesses of their hills, and, coolly awaiting their
opportunity, rushed like a torrent on the invaders, and drove them back,
with dreadful slaughter, from their territories.

Still, notwithstanding the advantages gained over the enemy in the
field, the Tlascalans were sorely pressed by their long hostilities with
a foe so far superior to themselves in numbers and resources. The Aztec
armies lay between them and the coast, cutting off all communication
with that prolific region, and thus limited their supplies to the
products of their own soil and manufacture. For more than half a century
they had neither cotton, nor cacao, nor salt. Indeed, their taste had
been so far affected by long abstinence from these articles that it
required the lapse of several generations after the Conquest to
reconcile them to the use of salt at their meals.[114] During the short
intervals of war, it is said, the Aztec nobles, in the true spirit of
chivalry, sent supplies of these commodities as presents, with many
courteous expressions of respect, to the Tlascalan chiefs. This
intercourse, we are assured by the Indian chronicler, was unsuspected by
the people. Nor did it lead to any further correspondence, he adds,
between the parties, prejudicial to the liberties of the republic,
“which maintained its customs and good government inviolate, and the
worship of its gods.”[115]

Such was the condition of Tlascala at the coming of the Spaniards;
holding, it might seem, a precarious existence under the shadow of the
formidable power which seemed suspended like an avalanche over her head,
but still strong in her own resources, stronger in the indomitable
temper of her people; with a reputation established throughout the land
for good faith and moderation in peace, for valor in war, while her
uncompromising spirit of independence secured the respect even of her
enemies. With such qualities of character, and with an animosity
sharpened by long, deadly hostility with Mexico, her alliance was
obviously of the last importance to the Spaniards, in their present
enterprise. It was not easy to secure it.[116]

The Tlascalans had been made acquainted with the advance and victorious
career of the Christians, the intelligence of which had spread far and
wide over the plateau. But they do not seem to have anticipated the
approach of the strangers to their own borders. They were now much
embarrassed by the embassy demanding a passage through their
territories. The great council was convened, and a considerable
difference of opinion prevailed in its members. Some, adopting the
popular superstition, supposed the Spaniards might be the white and
bearded men foretold by the oracles.[117] At all events, they were the
enemies of Mexico, and as such might co-operate with them in their
struggle with the empire. Others argued that the strangers could have
nothing in common with them. Their march throughout the land might be
tracked by the broken images of the Indian gods and desecrated temples.
How did the Tlascalans even know that they were foes to Montezuma? They
had received his embassies, accepted his presents, and were now in the
company of his vassals on the way to his capital.

These last were the reflections of an aged chief, one of the four who
presided over the republic. His name was Xicotencatl. He was nearly
blind, having lived, as is said, far beyond the limits of a
century.[118] His son, an impetuous young man of the same name with
himself, commanded a powerful army of Tlascalan and Otomi warriors, near
the eastern frontier. It would be best, the old man said, to fall with
this force at once on the Spaniards. If victorious, the latter would
then be in their power. If defeated, the senate could disown the act as
that of the general, not of the republic.[119] The cunning counsel of
the chief found favor with his hearers, though assuredly not in the
spirit of chivalry, nor of the good faith for which his countrymen were
celebrated. But with an Indian, force and stratagem, courage and deceit,
were equally admissible in war, as they were among the barbarians of
ancient Rome.[120] The Cempoallan envoys were to be detained under
pretence of assisting at a religious sacrifice.

Meanwhile, Cortés and his gallant band, as stated in the preceding
chapter, had arrived before the rocky rampart on the eastern confines of
Tlascala. From some cause or other, it was not manned by its Otomi
garrison, and the Spaniards passed in, as we have seen, without
resistance. Cortés rode at the head of his body of horse, and, ordering
the infantry to come on at a quick pace, went forward to reconnoitre.
After advancing three or four leagues, he descried a small party of
Indians, armed with sword and buckler, in the fashion of the country.
They fled at his approach. He made signs for them to halt, but, seeing
that they only fled the faster, he and his companions put spurs to their
horses, and soon came up with them. The Indians, finding escape
impossible, faced round, and instead of showing the accustomed terror of
the natives at the strange and appalling aspect of a mounted trooper,
they commenced a furious assault on the cavaliers. The latter, however,
were too strong for them, and would have cut their enemy to pieces
without much difficulty, when a body of several thousand Indians
appeared in sight, coming briskly on to the support of their countrymen.

Cortés, seeing them, despatched one of his party in all haste, to
accelerate the march of his infantry. The Indians, after discharging
their missiles, fell furiously on the little band of Spaniards. They
strove to tear the lances from their grasp, and to drag the riders from
the horses. They brought one cavalier to the ground, who afterwards died
of his wounds, and they killed two of the horses, cutting through their
necks with their stout broadswords--if we may believe the chronicler--at
a blow![121] In the narrative of these campaigns there is sometimes but
one step--and that a short one--from history to romance. The loss of the
horses, so important and so few in number, was seriously felt by Cortés,
who could have better spared the life of the best rider in the troop.

The struggle was a hard one. But the odds were as overwhelming as any
recorded by the Spaniards in their own romances, where a handful of
knights is arrayed against legions of enemies. The lances of the
Christians did terrible execution here also; but they had need of the
magic lance of Astolpho, that overturned myriads with a touch, to carry
them safe through so unequal a contest. It was with no little
satisfaction, therefore, that they beheld their comrades rapidly
advancing to their support.

No sooner had the main body reached the field of battle, than, hastily
forming, they poured such a volley from their muskets and cross-bows as
staggered the enemy. Astounded, rather than intimidated, by the terrible
report of the fire-arms, now heard for the first time in these regions,
the Indians made no further effort to continue the fight, but drew off
in good order, leaving the road open to the Spaniards. The latter, too
well satisfied to be rid of the annoyance to care to follow the
retreating foe, again held on their way.

Their route took them through a country sprinkled over with Indian
cottages, amidst flourishing fields of maize and maguey, indicating an
industrious and thriving peasantry. They were met here by two Tlascalan
envoys, accompanied by two of the Cempoallans. The former, presenting
themselves before the general, disavowed the assault on his troops, as
an unauthorized act, and assured him of a friendly reception at their
capital. Cortés received the communication in a courteous manner,
affecting to place more confidence in its good faith than he probably

It was now growing late, and the Spaniards quickened their march,
anxious to reach a favorable ground for encampment before nightfall.
They found such a spot on the borders of a stream that rolled sluggishly
across the plain. A few deserted cottages stood along the banks, and the
fatigued and famished soldiers ransacked them in quest of food. All they
could find was some tame animals resembling dogs. These they killed and
dressed without ceremony, and, garnishing their unsavory repast with the
fruit of the _tuna_, the Indian fig, which grew wild in the
neighborhood, they contrived to satisfy the cravings of appetite. A
careful watch was maintained by Cortés, and companies of a hundred men
each relieved each other in mounting guard through the night. But no
attack was made. Hostilities by night were contrary to the system of
Indian tactics.[122]

By break of day on the following morning, it being the second of
September, the troops were under arms. Besides the Spaniards, the whole
number of Indian auxiliaries might now amount to three thousand; for
Cortés had gathered recruits from the friendly places on his
route,--three hundred from the last. After hearing mass, they resumed
their march. They moved in close array; the general had previously
admonished the men not to lag behind, or wander from the ranks a moment,
as stragglers would be sure to be cut off by their stealthy and vigilant
enemy. The horsemen rode three abreast, the better to give one another
support; and Cortés instructed them in the heat of fight to keep
together, and never to charge singly. He taught them how to carry their
lances that they might not be wrested from their hands by the Indians,
who constantly attempted it. For the same reason, they should avoid
giving thrusts, but aim their weapons steadily at the faces of their

They had not proceeded far, when they were met by the two remaining
Cempoallan envoys, who with looks of terror informed the general that
they had been treacherously seized and confined, in order to be
sacrificed at an approaching festival of the Tlascalans, but in the
night had succeeded in making their escape. They gave the unwelcome
tidings, also, that a large force of the natives was already assembled
to oppose the progress of the Spaniards.

Soon after, they came in sight of a body of Indians, about a thousand,
apparently, all armed, and brandishing their weapons, as the Christians
approached, in token of defiance. Cortés, when he had come within
hearing, ordered the interpreters to proclaim that he had no hostile
intentions, but wished only to be allowed a passage through their
country, which he had entered as a friend. This declaration he commanded
the royal notary, Godoy, to record on the spot, that, if blood were
shed, it might not be charged on the Spaniards. This pacific
proclamation was met, as usual on such occasions, by a shower of darts,
stones, and arrows, which fell like rain on the Spaniards, rattling on
their stout harness, and in some instances penetrating to the skin.
Galled by the smart of their wounds, they called on the general to lead
them on, till he sounded the well-known battle-cry, “St. Jago, and at

The Indians maintained their ground for a while with spirit, when they
retreated with precipitation, but not in disorder.[125] The Spaniards,
whose blood was heated by the encounter, followed up their advantage
with more zeal than prudence, suffering the wily enemy to draw them into
a narrow glen or defile intersected by a little stream of water, where
the broken ground was impracticable for artillery, as well as for the
movements of cavalry. Pressing forward with eagerness, to extricate
themselves from their perilous position, to their great dismay, on
turning an abrupt angle of the pass, they came in presence of a numerous
army, choking up the gorge of the valley, and stretching far over the
plains beyond. To the astonished eyes of Cortés, they appeared a hundred
thousand men, while no account estimates them at less than thirty

They presented a confused assemblage of helmets, weapons, and
many-colored plumes, glancing bright in the morning sun, and mingling
with banners, above which proudly floated one that bore as a device the
heron on a rock. It was the well-known ensign of the house of Titcala,
and, as well as the white and yellow stripes on the bodies and the like
colors on the feather-mail of the Indians, showed that they were the
warriors of Xicotencatl.[127]

As the Spaniards came in sight, the Tlascalans set up a hideous war-cry,
or rather whistle, piercing the ear with its shrillness, and which, with
the beat of their melancholy drums, that could be heard for half a
league or more,[128] might well have filled the stoutest heart with
dismay. This formidable host came rolling on towards the Christians, as
if to overwhelm them by their very numbers. But the courageous band of
warriors, closely serried together and sheltered under their strong
panoplies, received the shock unshaken, while the broken masses of the
enemy, chafing and heaving tumultuously around them, seemed to recede
only to return with new and accumulated force.

Cortés, as usual, in the front of danger, in vain endeavored, at the
head of the horse, to open a passage for the infantry. Still his men,
both cavalry and foot, kept their array unbroken, offering no assailable
point to their foe. A body of the Tlascalans, however, acting in
concert, assaulted a soldier named Moran, one of the best riders in the
troop. They succeeded in dragging him from his horse, which they
despatched with a thousand blows. The Spaniards, on foot, made a
desperate effort to rescue their comrade from the hands of the
enemy,--and from the horrible doom of the captive. A fierce struggle now
began over the body of the prostrate horse. Ten of the Spaniards were
wounded, when they succeeded in retrieving the unfortunate cavalier from
his assailants, but in so disastrous a plight that he died on the
following day. The horse was borne off in triumph by the Indians, and
his mangled remains were sent, a strange trophy, to the different towns
of Tlascala. The circumstance troubled the Spanish commander, as it
divested the animal of the supernatural terrors with which the
superstition of the natives had usually surrounded it. To prevent such a
consequence, he had caused the two horses, killed on the preceding day,
to be secretly buried on the spot.

The enemy now began to give ground gradually, borne down by the riders,
and trampled under the hoofs of their horses. Through the whole of this
sharp encounter the Indian allies were of great service to the
Spaniards. They rushed into the water, and grappled their enemies, with
the desperation of men who felt that “their only safety was in the
despair of safety.”[129] “I see nothing but death for us,” exclaimed a
Cempoallan chief to Marina; “we shall never get through the pass alive.”
“The God of the Christians is with us,” answered the intrepid woman;
“and He will carry us safely through.”[130]

Amidst the din of battle, the voice of Cortés was heard, cheering on his
soldiers. “If we fail now,” he cried, “the Cross of Christ can never be
planted in the land. Forward, comrades! When was it ever known that a
Castilian turned his back on a foe?”[131] Animated by the words and
heroic bearing of their general, the soldiers, with desperate efforts,
at length succeeded in forcing a passage through the dark columns of the
enemy, and emerged from the defile on the open plains beyond.

Here they quickly recovered their confidence with their superiority. The
horse soon opened a space for the manœuvres of the artillery. The close
files of their antagonists presented a sure mark; and the thunders of
the ordnance vomiting forth torrents of fire and sulphurous smoke, the
wide desolation caused in their ranks, and the strangely mangled
carcasses of the slain, filled the barbarians with consternation and
horror. They had no weapons to cope with these terrible engines, and
their clumsy missiles, discharged from uncertain hands, seemed to fall
ineffectual on the charmed heads of the Christians. What added to their
embarrassment was the desire to carry off the dead and wounded from the
field, a general practice among the people of Anahuac, but one which
necessarily exposed them, while thus employed, to still greater loss.

Eight of their principal chiefs had now fallen, and Xicotencatl, finding
himself wholly unable to make head against the Spaniards in the open
field, ordered a retreat. Far from the confusion of a panic-struck mob,
so common among barbarians, the Tlascalan force moved off the ground
with all the order of a well-disciplined army. Cortés, as on the
preceding day, was too well satisfied with his present advantage to
desire to follow it up. It was within an hour of sunset, and he was
anxious before nightfall to secure a good position, where he might
refresh his wounded troops and bivouac for the night.[132]

Gathering up his wounded, he held on his way, without loss of time, and
before dusk reached a rocky eminence, called _Tzompachtepetl_, or “the
hill of Tzompach.” It was crowned by a sort of tower or temple, the
remains of which are still visible.[133] His first care was given to the
wounded, both men and horses. Fortunately, an abundance of provisions
was found in some neighboring cottages; and the soldiers, at least all
who were not disabled by their injuries, celebrated the victory of the
day with feasting and rejoicing.

As to the number of killed or wounded on either side, it is matter of
loosest conjecture. The Indians must have suffered severely, but the
practice of carrying off the dead from the field made it impossible to
know to what extent. The injury sustained by the Spaniards appears to
have been principally in the number of their wounded. The great object
of the natives of Anahuac in their battles was to make prisoners, who
might grace their triumphs and supply victims for sacrifice. To this
brutal superstition the Christians were indebted, in no slight degree,
for their personal preservation. To take the reports of the Conquerors,
their own losses in action were always inconsiderable. But whoever has
had occasion to consult the ancient chroniclers of Spain in relation to
its wars with the infidel, whether Arab or American, will place little
confidence in numbers.[134]

The events of the day had suggested many topics for painful reflection
to Cortés. He had nowhere met with so determined a resistance within the
borders of Anahuac; nowhere had he encountered native troops so
formidable for their weapons, their discipline, and their valor. Far
from manifesting the superstitious terrors felt by the other Indians at
the strange arms and aspect of the Spaniards, the Tlascalans had boldly
grappled with their enemy, and only yielded to the inevitable
superiority of his military science. How important would the alliance of
such a nation be in a struggle with those of their own race,--for
example, with the Aztecs! But how was he to secure this alliance?
Hitherto, all overtures had been rejected with disdain; and it seemed
probable that every step of his progress in this populous land was to be
fiercely contested. His army, especially the Indians, celebrated the
events of the day with feasting and dancing, songs of merriment, and
shouts of triumph. Cortés encouraged it, well knowing how important it
was to keep up the spirits of his soldiers. But the sounds of revelry at
length died away; and, in the still watches of the night, many an
anxious thought must have crowded on the mind of the general, while his
little army lay buried in slumber in its encampment around the Indian




The Spaniards were allowed to repose undisturbed the following day, and
to recruit their strength after the fatigue and hard fighting of the
preceding. They found sufficient employment, however, in repairing and
cleaning their weapons, replenishing their diminished stock of arrows,
and getting everything in order for further hostilities, should the
severe lesson they had inflicted on the enemy prove insufficient to
discourage him. On the second day, as Cortés received no overtures from
the Tlascalans, he determined to send an embassy to their camp,
proposing a cessation of hostilities, and expressing his intention to
visit their capital as a friend. He selected two of the principal chiefs
taken in the late engagement, as the bearers of the message.

Meanwhile, averse to leaving his men longer in a dangerous state of
inaction, which the enemy might interpret as the result of timidity or
exhaustion, he put himself at the head of the cavalry and such light
troops as were most fit for service, and made a foray into the
neighboring country. It was a mountainous region, formed by a
ramification of the great sierra of Tlascala, with verdant slopes and
valleys teeming with maize and plantations of maguey, while the
eminences were crowned with populous towns and villages. In one of
these, he tells us, he found three thousand dwellings.[135] In some
places he met with a resolute resistance, and on these occasions took
ample vengeance by laying the country waste with fire and sword. After a
successful inroad he returned laden with forage and provisions and
driving before him several hundred Indian captives. He treated them
kindly, however, when arrived in camp, endeavoring to make them
understand that these acts of violence were not dictated by his own
wishes, but by the unfriendly policy of their countrymen. In this way he
hoped to impress the nation with the conviction of his power on the one
hand, and of his amicable intentions, if met by them in the like spirit,
on the other.

On reaching his quarters, he found the two envoys returned from the
Tlascalan camp. They had fallen in with Xicotencatl at about two
leagues’ distance, where he lay encamped with a powerful force. The
cacique gave them audience at the head of his troops. He told them to
return with the answer, “that the Spaniards might pass on as soon as
they chose to Tlascala; and, when they reached it, their flesh would be
hewn from their bodies, for sacrifice to the gods! If they preferred to
remain in their own quarters, he would pay them a visit there the next
day.”[136] The ambassadors added that the chief had an immense force
with him, consisting of five battalions of ten thousand men each. They
were the flower of the Tlascalan and Otomi warriors, assembled under the
banners of their respective leaders, by command of the senate, who were
resolved to try the fortunes of the state in a pitched battle and strike
one decisive blow for the extermination of the invaders.[137]

This bold defiance fell heavily on the ears of the Spaniards, not
prepared for so pertinacious a spirit in their enemy. They had had ample
proof of his courage and formidable prowess. They were now, in their
crippled condition, to encounter him with a still more terrible array of
numbers. The war, too, from the horrible fate with which it menaced the
vanquished, wore a peculiarly gloomy aspect, that pressed heavily on
their spirits. “We feared death,” says the lion-hearted Diaz, with his
usual simplicity, “for we were men.” There was scarcely one in the army
that did not confess himself that night to the reverend Father Olmedo,
who was occupied nearly the whole of it with administering absolution,
and with the other solemn offices of the Church. Armed with the blessed
sacraments, the Catholic soldier lay tranquilly down to rest, prepared
for any fate that might betide him under the banner of the Cross.[138]

As a battle was now inevitable, Cortés resolved to march out and meet
the enemy in the field. This would have a show of confidence that might
serve the double purpose of intimidating the Tlascalans and inspiriting
his own men, whose enthusiasm might lose somewhat of its heat if
compelled to await the assault of their antagonists, inactive in their
own intrenchments. The sun rose bright on the following morning, the
fifth of September, 1519, an eventful day in the history of the Spanish
Conquest. The general reviewed his army, and gave them, preparatory to
marching, a few words of encouragement and advice. The infantry he
instructed to rely on the point rather than the edge of their swords,
and to endeavor to thrust their opponents through the body. The horsemen
were to charge at half speed, with their lances aimed at the eyes of the
Indians. The artillery, the arquebusiers, and crossbowmen were to
support one another, some loading while others discharged their pieces,
that there should be an unintermitted firing kept up through the
action. Above all, they were to maintain their ranks close and unbroken,
as on this depended their preservation.

They had not advanced a quarter of a league, when they came in sight of
the Tlascalan army. Its dense array stretched far and wide over a vast
plain or meadow-ground about six miles square. Its appearance justified
the report which had been given of its numbers.[139] Nothing could be
more picturesque than the aspect of these Indian battalions, with the
naked bodies of the common soldiers gaudily painted, the fantastic
helmets of the chiefs glittering with gold and precious stones, and the
glowing panoplies of feather-work which decorated their persons.[140]
Innumerable spears and darts, tipped with points of transparent _itztli_
or fiery copper, sparkled bright in the morning sun, like the phosphoric
gleams playing on the surface of a troubled sea, while the rear of the
mighty host was dark with the shadows of banners, on which were
emblazoned the armorial bearings of the great Tlascalan and Otomi
chieftains.[141] Among these, the white heron on the rock, the
cognizance of the house of Xicotencatl, was conspicuous, and, still
more, the golden eagle with outspread wings, in the fashion of a Roman
_signum_, richly ornamented with emeralds and silver-work, the great
standard of the republic of Tlascala.[142]{*}

{*} The accounts of the Tlascalan chronicler are confirmed by the
Anonymous Conqueror and by Bernal Diaz, both eyewitnesses; though the
latter frankly declares that had he not seen them with his own eyes he
should never have credited the existence of orders and badges among the
barbarians, like those found among the civilized nations of Europe.
Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 64, et alibi.--Camargo, Hist. de Tlascala,
MS.--Rel. d’un gentil’ huomo, ap. Ramusio, tom. iii. fol. 305.

{*} [_I.e._, the standard of the tribe. The tribe was divided into
phratries. Each phratry had its peculiar cognizance, as had also each of
the clans into which the phratry was divided. It was the color of the
clan, and not of its war chief, by which the warriors were

The common file wore no covering except a girdle round the loins. Their
bodies were painted with the appropriate colors of the chieftain whose
banner they followed. The feather-mail of the higher class of warriors
exhibited, also, a similar selection of colors for the like object, in
the same manner as the color of the tartan indicates the peculiar clan
of the Highlander.[9]

The caciques and principal warriors were clothed in quilted cotton
tunics, two inches thick, which, fitting close to the body, protected
also the thighs and the shoulders. Over these the wealthier Indians wore
cuirasses of thin gold plate, or silver. Their legs were defended by
leathern boots or sandals, trimmed with gold. But the most brilliant
part of their costume was a rich mantle of the _plumaje_ or
feather-work, embroidered with curious art, and furnishing some
resemblance to the gorgeous surcoat worn by the European knight over his
armor in the Middle Ages. This graceful and picturesque dress was
surmounted by a fantastic head-piece made of wood or leather,
representing the head of some wild animal, and frequently displaying a
formidable array of teeth. With this covering the warrior’s head was
enveloped, producing a most grotesque and hideous effect.[143] From the
crown floated a splendid panache of the richly variegated plumage of the
tropics, indicating, by its form and colors, the rank and family of the
wearer. To complete their defensive armor, they carried shields or
targets, made sometimes of wood covered with leather, but more usually
of a light frame of reeds quilted with cotton, which were preferred, as
tougher and less liable to fracture than the former. They had other
bucklers, in which the cotton was covered with an elastic substance,
enabling them to be shut up in a more compact form, like a fan or
umbrella. These shields were decorated with showy ornaments, according
to the taste or wealth of the wearer, and fringed with a beautiful
pendant of feather-work.

Their weapons were slings, bows and arrows, javelins, and darts. They
were accomplished archers, and would discharge two or even three arrows
at a time. But they most excelled in throwing the javelin. One species
of this, with a thong attached to it, which remained in the slinger’s
hand, that he might recall the weapon, was especially dreaded by the
Spaniards. These various weapons were pointed with bone, or the mineral
_itztli_ (obsidian), the hard vitreous substance already noticed as
capable of taking an edge like a razor, though easily blunted. Their
spears and arrows were also frequently headed with copper. Instead of a
sword, they bore a two-handed staff, about three feet and a half long,
in which, at regular distances, were inserted, transversely, sharp
blades of _itztli_,--a formidable weapon, which, an eyewitness assures
us, he had seen fell a horse at a blow.[144]

Such was the costume of the Tlascalan warrior, and, indeed, of that
great family of nations generally who occupied the plateau of Anahuac.
Some parts of it, as the targets and the cotton mail, or _escaupil_, as
it was called in Castilian, were so excellent that they were
subsequently adopted by the Spaniards, as equally effectual in the way
of protection, and superior on the score of lightness and convenience to
their own. They were of sufficient strength to turn an arrow or the
stroke of a javelin, although impotent as a defence against fire-rms.
But what armor is not? Yet it is probably no exaggeration to say that,
in convenience, gracefulness, and strength, the arms of the Indian
warrior were not very inferior to those of the polished nations of

As soon as the Castilians came in sight, the Tlascalans set up their
yell of defiance, rising high above the wild barbaric minstrelsy of
shell, atabal, and trumpet, with which they proclaimed their triumphant
anticipations of victory over the paltry forces of the invaders. When
the latter had come within bowshot, the Indians hurled a tempest of
missiles, that darkened the sun for a moment as with a passing cloud,
strewing the earth around with heaps of stones and arrows.[146] Slowly
and steadily the little band of Spaniards held on its way amidst this
arrowy shower, until it had reached what appeared the proper distance
for delivering its fire with full effect. Cortés then halted, and,
hastily forming his troops, opened a general well-directed fire along
the whole line. Every shot bore its errand of death; and the ranks of
the Indians were mowed down faster than their comrades in the rear could
carry off their bodies, according to custom, from the field. The balls
in their passage through the crowded files, bearing splinters of the
broken harness and mangled limbs of the warriors, scattered havoc and
desolation in their path. The mob of barbarians stood petrified with
dismay, till at length, galled to desperation by their intolerable
suffering, they poured forth simultaneously their hideous war-shriek and
rushed impetuously on the Christians.

On they came like an avalanche, or mountain torrent, shaking the solid
earth and sweeping away every obstacle in its path. The little army of
Spaniards opposed a bold front to the overwhelming mass. But no strength
could withstand it. They faltered, gave way, were borne along before it,
and their ranks were broken and thrown into disorder. It was in vain the
general called on them to close again and rally. His voice was drowned
by the din of fight and the fierce cries of the assailants. For a
moment, it seemed that all was lost. The tide of battle had turned
against them, and the fate of the Christians was sealed.

But every man had that within his bosom which spoke louder than the
voice of the general. Despair gave unnatural energy to his arm. The
naked body of the Indian afforded no resistance to the sharp Toledo
steel; and with their good swords the Spanish infantry at length
succeeded in staying the human torrent. The heavy guns from a distance
thundered on the flank of the assailants, which, shaken by the iron
tempest, was thrown into disorder. Their very numbers increased the
confusion, as they were precipitated on the masses in front. The horse
at the same moment, charging gallantly under Cortés, followed up the
advantage, and at length compelled the tumultuous throng to fall back
with greater precipitation and disorder than that with which they had

More than once in the course of the action a similar assault was
attempted by the Tlascalans, but each time with less spirit and greater
loss. They were too deficient in military science to profit by their
vast superiority in numbers. They were distributed into companies, it is
true, each serving under its own chieftain and banner. But they were not
arranged by rank and file, and moved in a confused mass, promiscuously
heaped together. They knew not how to concentrate numbers on a given
point, or even how to sustain an assault, by employing successive
detachments to support and relieve one another. A very small part only
of their array could be brought into contact with an enemy inferior to
them in amount of forces. The remainder of the army, inactive and worse
than useless, in the rear, served only to press tumultuously on the
advance and embarrass its movements by mere weight of numbers, while on
the least alarm they were seized with a panic and threw the whole body
into inextricable confusion. It was, in short, the combat of the
ancient Greeks and Persians over again.

Still, the great numerical superiority of the Indians might have enabled
them, at a severe cost of their own lives, indeed, to wear out, in time,
the constancy of the Spaniards, disabled by wounds and incessant
fatigue. But, fortunately for the latter, dissensions arose among their
enemies. A Tlascalan chieftain, commanding one of the great divisions,
had taken umbrage at the haughty demeanor of Xicotencatl, who had
charged him with misconduct or cowardice in the late action. The injured
cacique challenged his rival to single combat. This did not take place.
But, burning with resentment, he chose the present occasion to indulge
it, by drawing off his forces, amounting to ten thousand men, from the
field. He also persuaded another of the commanders to follow his

Thus reduced to about half his original strength, and that greatly
crippled by the losses of the day, Xicotencatl could no longer maintain
his ground against the Spaniards. After disputing the field with
admirable courage for four hours, he retreated and resigned it to the
enemy. The Spaniards were too much jaded, and too many were disabled by
wounds, to allow them to pursue; and Cortés, satisfied with the decisive
victory he had gained, returned in triumph to his position on the hill
of Tzompach.

The number of killed in his own ranks had been very small,
notwithstanding the severe loss inflicted on the enemy. These few he was
careful to bury where they could not be discovered, anxious to conceal
not only the amount of the slain, but the fact that the whites were
mortal.[147] But very many of the men were wounded, and all the horses.
The trouble of the Spaniards was much enhanced by the want of many
articles important to them in their present exigency. They had neither
oil nor salt, which, as before noticed, was not to be obtained in
Tlascala. Their clothing, accommodated to a softer climate, was ill
adapted to the rude air of the mountains; and bows and arrows, as Bernal
Diaz sarcastically remarks, formed an indifferent protection against the
inclemency of the weather.[148]

Still, they had much to cheer them in the events of the day; and they
might draw from them a reasonable ground for confidence in their own
resources, such as no other experience could have supplied. Not that the
results could authorize anything like contempt for their Indian foe.
Singly and with the same weapons, he might have stood his ground against
the Spaniard.[149] But the success of the day established the
superiority of science and discipline over mere physical courage and
numbers. It was fighting over again, as we have said, the old battle of
the European and the Asiatic. But the handful of Greeks who routed the
hosts of Xerxes and Darius, it must be remembered, had not so obvious an
advantage on the score of weapons as was enjoyed by the Spaniards in
these wars. The use of fire-arms gave an ascendency which cannot easily
be estimated; one so great, that a contest between nations equally
civilized, which should be similar in all other respects to that between
the Spaniards and the Tlascalans, would probably be attended with a
similar issue. To all this must be added the effect produced by the
cavalry. The nations of Anahuac had no large domesticated animals, and
were unacquainted with any beast of burden. Their imaginations were
bewildered when they beheld the strange apparition of the horse and his
rider moving in unison and obedient to one impulse, as if possessed of a
common nature; and as they saw the terrible animal, with his “neck
clothed in thunder,” bearing down their squadrons and trampling them in
the dust, no wonder they should have regarded him with the mysterious
terror felt for a supernatural being. A very little reflection on the
manifold grounds of superiority, both moral and physical, possessed by
the Spaniards in this contest, will surely explain the issue, without
any disparagement to the courage or capacity of their opponents.[150]

Cortés, thinking the occasion favorable, followed up the important blow
he had struck by a new mission to the capital, bearing a message of
similar import with that recently sent to the camp. But the senate was
not yet sufficiently humbled. The late defeat caused, indeed, general
consternation. Maxixcatzin, one of the four great lords who presided
over the republic, reiterated with greater force the arguments before
urged by him for embracing the proffered alliance of the strangers. The
armies of the state had been beaten too often to allow any reasonable
hope of successful resistance; and he enlarged on the generosity shown
by the politic Conqueror to his prisoners--so unusual in Anahuac--as an
additional motive for an alliance with men who knew how to be friends as
well as foes.

But in these views he was overruled by the war-party, whose animosity
was sharpened, rather than subdued, by the late discomfiture. Their
hostile feelings were further exasperated by the younger Xicotencatl,
who burned for an opportunity to retrieve his disgrace, and to wipe away
the stain which had fallen for the first time on the arms of the

In their perplexity they called in the assistance of the priests, whose
authority was frequently invoked in the deliberations of the American
chiefs. The latter inquired, with some simplicity, of these interpreters
of fate, whether the strangers were supernatural beings, or men of flesh
and blood like themselves. The priests, after some consultation, are
said to have made the strange answer that the Spaniards, though not
gods, were children of the Sun, that they derived their strength from
that luminary, and when his beams were withdrawn their powers would also
fail. They recommended a night-attack, therefore, as one which afforded
the best chance of success. This apparently childish response may have
had in it more of cunning than credulity. It was not improbably
suggested by Xicotencatl himself, or by the caciques in his interest, to
reconcile the people to a measure which was contrary to the military
usages--indeed, it may be said, to the public law--of Anahuac. Whether
the fruit of artifice or superstition, it prevailed; and the Tlascalan
general was empowered, at the head of a detachment of ten thousand
warriors, to try the effect of an assault by night on the Christian

The affair was conducted with such secrecy that it did not reach the
ears of the Spaniards. But their general was not one who allowed
himself, sleeping or waking, to be surprised on his post. Fortunately,
the night appointed was illumined by the full beams of an autumnal moon;
and one of the vedettes perceived by its light, at a considerable
distance, a large body of Indians moving towards the Christian lines. He
was not slow in giving the alarm to the garrison.

The Spaniards slept, as has been said, with their arms by their side;
while their horses, picketed near them, stood ready saddled, with the
bridle hanging at the bow. In five minutes the whole camp was under
arms; when they beheld the dusky columns of the Indians cautiously
advancing over the plain, their heads just peering above the tall maize
with which the land was partially covered. Cortés determined not to
abide the assault in his intrenchments, but to sally out and pounce on
the enemy when he had reached the bottom of the hill.

Slowly and stealthily the Indians advanced, while the Christian camp,
hushed in profound silence, seemed to them buried in slumber. But no
sooner had they reached the slope of the rising ground than they were
astounded by the deep battle-cry of the Spaniards, followed by the
instantaneous apparition of the whole army, as they sallied forth from
the works and poured down the sides of the hill. Brandishing aloft their
weapons, they seemed to the troubled fancies of the Tlascalans like so
many spectres or demons hurrying to and fro in mid air, while the
uncertain light magnified their numbers and expanded the horse and his
rider into gigantic and unearthly dimensions.

Scarcely awaiting the shock of their enemy, the panic-struck barbarians
let off a feeble volley of arrows, and, offering no other resistance,
fled rapidly and tumultuously across the plain. The horse easily
overtook the fugitives, riding them down and cutting them to pieces
without mercy, until Cortés, weary with slaughter, called off his men,
leaving the field loaded with the bloody trophies of victory.[151]

The next day, the Spanish commander, with his usual policy after a
decisive blow had been struck, sent a new embassy to the Tlascalan
capital. The envoys received their instructions through the interpreter,
Marina. That remarkable woman had attracted general admiration by the
constancy and cheerfulness with which she endured all the privations of
the camp. Far from betraying the natural weakness and timidity of her
sex, she had shrunk from no hardship herself, and had done much to
fortify the drooping spirits of the soldiers; while her sympathies,
whenever occasion offered, had been actively exerted in mitigating the
calamities of her Indian countrymen.[152]

Through his faithful interpreter, Cortés communicated the terms of his
message to the Tlascalan envoys. He made the same professions of amity
as before, promising oblivion of all past injuries; but, if this proffer
were rejected, he would visit their capital as a conqueror, raze every
house in it to the ground, and put every inhabitant to the sword! He
then dismissed the ambassadors with the symbolical presents of a letter
in one hand and an arrow in the other.

The envoys obtained respectful audience from the council of Tlascala,
whom they found plunged in deep dejection by their recent reverses. The
failure of the night-attack had extinguished every spark of hope in
their bosoms. Their armies had been beaten again and again, in the open
field and in secret ambush. Stratagem and courage, all their resources,
had alike proved ineffectual against a foe whose hand was never weary
and whose eye was never closed. Nothing remained but to submit. They
selected four principal caciques, whom they intrusted with a mission to
the Christian camp. They were to assure the strangers of a free passage
through the country, and a friendly reception in the capital. The
proffered friendship of the Spaniards was cordially embraced, with many
awkward excuses for the past. The envoys were to touch at the Tlascalan
camp on their way, and inform Xicotencatl of their proceedings. They
were to require him, at the same time, to abstain from all further
hostilities and to furnish the white men with an ample supply of

But the Tlascalan deputies, on arriving at the quarters of that chief,
did not find him in the humor to comply with these instructions. His
repeated collisions with the Spaniards, or, it may be, his
constitutional courage, left him inaccessible to the vulgar terrors of
his countrymen. He regarded the strangers not as supernatural beings,
but as men like himself. The animosity of a warrior had rankled into a
deadly hatred from the mortifications he had endured at their hands, and
his head teemed with plans for recovering his fallen honors and for
taking vengeance on the invaders of his country. He refused to disband
any of the force, still formidable, under his command, or to send
supplies to the enemy’s camp. He further induced the ambassadors to
remain in his quarters and relinquish their visit to the Spaniards. The
latter, in consequence, were kept in ignorance of the movements in their
favor which had taken place in the Tlascalan capital.[153]

The conduct of Xicotencatl is condemned by Castilian writers as that of
a ferocious and sanguinary barbarian. It is natural they should so
regard it. But those who have no national prejudice to warp their
judgments may come to a different conclusion. They may find much to
admire in that high, unconquerable spirit, like some proud column
standing alone in its majesty amidst the fragments and ruins around it.
They may see evidences of a clear-sighted sagacity, which, piercing the
thin veil of insidious friendship proffered by the Spaniards, and
penetrating the future, discerned the coming miseries of his country;
the noble patriotism of one who would rescue that country at any cost,
and, amidst the gathering darkness, would infuse his own intrepid spirit
into the hearts of his nation, to animate them to a last struggle for




Desirous to keep up the terror of the Castilian name by leaving the
enemy no respite, Cortés, on the same day that he despatched the embassy
to Tlascala, put himself at the head of a small corps of cavalry and
light troops to scour the neighboring country. He was at that time so
ill from fever, aided by medical treatment,[154] that he could hardly
keep his seat in the saddle. It was a rough country, and the sharp winds
from the frosty summits of the mountains pierced the scanty covering of
the troops and chilled both men and horses. Four or five of the animals
gave out, and the general, alarmed for their safety, sent them back to
the camp. The soldiers, discouraged by this ill omen, would have
persuaded him to return. But he made answer, “We fight under the banner
of the Cross; God is stronger than nature,”[155] and continued his

It led through the same kind of checkered scenery of rugged hill and
cultivated plain as that already described, well covered with towns and
villages, some of them the frontier posts occupied by the Otomies.
Practising the Roman maxim of lenity to the submissive foe, he took full
vengeance on those who resisted, and, as resistance too often occurred,
marked his path with fire and desolation. After a short absence, he
returned in safety, laden with the plunder of a successful foray. It
would have been more honorable to him had it been conducted with less
rigor. The excesses are imputed by Bernal Diaz to the Indian allies,
whom in the heat of victory it was found impossible to restrain.[156] On
whose head soever they fall, they seem to have given little uneasiness
to the general, who declares in his letter to the emperor Charles the
Fifth, “As we fought under the standard of the Cross,[157] for the true
Faith, and the service of your Highness, Heaven crowned our arms with
such success that, while multitudes of the infidel were slain, little
loss was suffered by the Castilians.”[158] The Spanish Conquerors, to
judge from their writings, unconscious of any worldly motive lurking in
the bottom of their hearts, regarded themselves as soldiers of the
Church, fighting the great battle of Christianity, and in the same
edifying and comfortable light are regarded by most of the national
historians of a later day.[159]

On his return to the camp, Cortés found a new cause of disquietude, in
discontents which had broken out among the soldiery. Their patience was
exhausted by a life of fatigue and peril to which there seemed to be no
end. The battles they had won against such tremendous odds had not
advanced them a jot. The idea of their reaching Mexico, says the old
soldier so often quoted, “was treated as a jest by the whole army;”[160]
and the indefinite prospect of hostilities with the ferocious people
among whom they were now cast threw a deep gloom over their spirits.

Among the malecontents were a number of noisy, vaporing persons, such as
are found in every camp, who, like empty bubbles, are sure to rise to
the surface and make themselves seen in seasons of agitation. They were,
for the most part, of the old faction of Velasquez, and had estates in
Cuba, to which they turned many a wistful glance as they receded more
and more from the coast. They now waited on the general, not in a
mutinous spirit of resistance (for they remembered the lesson in Villa
Rica), but with the design of frank expostulation, as with a brother
adventurer in a common cause.[161] The tone of familiarity thus assumed
was eminently characteristic of the footing of equality on which the
parties in the expedition stood with one another.

Their sufferings, they told him, were too great to be endured. All the
men had received one, most of them two or three wounds. More than fifty
had perished, in one way or another, since leaving Vera Cruz. There was
no beast of burden but led a life preferable to theirs. For, when the
night came, the former could rest from his labors; but they, fighting or
watching, had no rest, day nor night. As to conquering Mexico, the very
thought of it was madness. If they had encountered such opposition from
the petty republic of Tlascala, what might they not expect from the
great Mexican empire? There was now a temporary suspension of
hostilities. They should avail themselves of it to retrace their steps
to Vera Cruz. It is true, the fleet there was destroyed; and by this
act, unparalleled for rashness even in Roman annals, the general had
become responsible for the fate of the whole army. Still there was one
vessel left. That might be despatched to Cuba for reinforcements and
supplies; and, when these arrived, they would be enabled to resume
operations with some prospect of success.

Cortés listened to this singular expostulation with perfect composure.
He knew his men, and, instead of rebuke or harsher measures, replied in
the same frank and soldier-like vein which they had affected.

There was much truth, he allowed, in what they said. The sufferings of
the Spaniards had been great; greater than those recorded of any heroes
in Greek or Roman story. So much the greater would be their glory. He
had often been filled with admiration as he had seen his little host
encircled by myriads of barbarians, and felt that no people but
Spaniards could have triumphed over such formidable odds. Nor could
they, unless the arm of the Almighty had been over them. And they might
reasonably look for his protection hereafter; for was it not in his
cause they were fighting? They had encountered dangers and difficulties,
it was true. But they had not come here expecting a life of idle
dalliance and pleasure. Glory, as he had told them at the outset, was to
be won only by toil and danger. They would do him the justice to
acknowledge that he had never shrunk from his share of both. This was a
truth, adds the honest chronicler who heard and reports the dialogue,
which no one could deny. But, if they had met with hardships, he
continued, they had been everywhere victorious. Even now they were
enjoying the fruits of this, in the plenty which reigned in the camp.
And they would soon see the Tlascalans, humbled by their late reverses,
suing for peace on any terms. To go back now was impossible. The very
stones would rise up against them. The Tlascalans would hunt them in
triumph down to the water’s edge. And how would the Mexicans exult at
this miserable issue of their vain-glorious vaunts! Their former friends
would become their enemies; and the Totonacs, to avert the vengeance of
the Aztecs, from which the Spaniards could no longer shield them, would
join in the general cry. There was no alternative, then, but to go
forward in their career. And he besought them to silence their
pusillanimous scruples, and, instead of turning their eyes towards Cuba,
to fix them on Mexico, the great object of their enterprise.

While this singular conference was going on, many other soldiers had
gathered round the spot; and the discontented party, emboldened by the
presence of their comrades, as well as by the general’s forbearance,
replied that they were far from being convinced. Another such victory as
the last would be their ruin. They were going to Mexico only to be
slaughtered. Until, at length, the general’s patience being exhausted,
he cut the argument short, by quoting a verse from an old song, implying
that it was better to die with honor than to live disgraced,--a
sentiment which was loudly echoed by the greater part of his audience,
who, notwithstanding their occasional murmurs, had no design to abandon
the expedition, still less the commander to whom they were passionately
devoted. The malecontents, disconcerted by this rebuke, slunk back to
their own quarters, muttering half-smothered execrations on the leader
who had projected the enterprise, the Indians who had guided him, and
their own countrymen who supported him in it.[162]

Such were the difficulties that lay in the path of Cortés: a wily and
ferocious enemy; a climate uncertain, often unhealthy; illness in his
own person, much aggravated by anxiety as to the manner in which his
conduct would be received by his sovereign; last, not least,
disaffection among his soldiers, on whose constancy and union he rested
for the success of his operations,--the great lever by which he was to
overturn the empire of Montezuma.

On the morning following this event, the camp was surprised by the
appearance of a small body of Tlascalans, decorated with badges, the
white color of which intimated peace. They brought a quantity of
provisions, and some trifling ornaments, which, they said, were sent by
the Tlascalan general, who was weary of the war and desired an
accommodation with the Spaniards. He would soon present himself to
arrange this in person. The intelligence diffused general joy, and the
emissaries received a friendly welcome.

A day or two elapsed, and, while a few of the party left the Spanish
quarters, the others, about fifty in number, who remained, excited some
distrust in the bosom of Marina. She communicated her suspicions to
Cortés that they were spies. He caused several of them, in consequence,
to be arrested, examined them separately, and ascertained that they were
employed by Xicotencatl to inform him of the state of the Christian
camp, preparatory to a meditated assault, for which he was mustering his
forces. Cortés, satisfied of the truth of this, determined to make such
an example of the delinquents as should intimidate his enemy from
repeating the attempt. He ordered their hands to be cut off, and in that
condition sent them back to their countrymen, with the message “that the
Tlascalans might come by day or night; they would find the Spaniards
ready for them.”[163]

The doleful spectacle of their comrades returning in this mutilated
state filled the Indian camp with horror and consternation. The haughty
crest of their chief was humbled. From that moment he lost his wonted
buoyancy and confidence. His soldiers, filled with superstitious fear,
refused to serve longer against a foe who could read their very thoughts
and divine their plans before they were ripe for execution.[164]

The punishment inflicted by Cortés may well shock the reader by its
brutality. But it should be considered, in mitigation, that the victims
of it were spies, and, as such, by the laws of war, whether among
civilized or savage nations, had incurred the penalty of death. The
amputation of the limbs was a milder punishment, and reserved for
inferior offences. If we revolt at the barbarous nature of the sentence,
we should reflect that it was no uncommon one at that day; not more
uncommon, indeed, than whipping and branding with a hot iron were in our
own country at the beginning of the present century, or than cropping
the ears was in the preceding one. A higher civilization, indeed,
rejects such punishments, as pernicious in themselves, and degrading to
humanity. But in the sixteenth century they were openly recognized by
the laws of the most polished nations in Europe. And it is too much to
ask of any man, still less one bred to the iron trade of war, to be in
advance of the refinement of his age. We may be content if, in
circumstances so unfavorable to humanity he does not fall below it.

All thoughts of further resistance being abandoned, the four delegates
of the Tlascalan republic were now allowed to proceed on their mission.
They were speedily followed by Xicotencatl himself, attended by a
numerous train of military retainers. As they drew near the Spanish
lines, they were easily recognized by the white and yellow colors of
their uniforms, the livery of the house of Titcala. The joy of the army
was great at this sure intimation of the close of hostilities; and it
was with difficulty that Cortés was enabled to restore the men to
tranquillity and the assumed indifference which it was proper to
maintain in presence of an enemy.

The Spaniards gazed with curious eye on the valiant chief who had so
long kept his enemies at bay, and who now advanced with the firm and
fearless step of one who was coming rather to bid defiance than to sue
for peace. He was rather above the middle size, with broad shoulders,
and a muscular frame intimating great activity and strength. His head
was large, and his countenance marked with the lines of hard service
rather than of age, for he was but thirty-five. When he entered the
presence of Cortés, he made the usual salutation by touching the ground
with his hand and carrying it to his head; while the sweet incense of
aromatic gums rolled up in clouds from the censers carried by his

Far from a pusillanimous attempt to throw the blame on the senate, he
assumed the whole responsibility of the war. He had considered the
white men, he said, as enemies, for they came with the allies and
vassals of Montezuma. He loved his country, and wished to preserve the
independence which she had maintained through her long wars with the
Aztecs. He had been beaten. They might be the strangers who, it had been
so long predicted, would come from the east, to take possession of the
country. He hoped they would use their victory with moderation, and not
trample on the liberties of the republic. He came now in the name of his
nation, to tender their obedience to the Spaniards, assuring them they
would find his countrymen as faithful in peace as they had been firm in

Cortés, far from taking umbrage, was filled with admiration at the lofty
spirit which thus disdained to stoop beneath misfortunes. The brave man
knows how to respect bravery in another. He assumed, however, a severe
aspect, as he rebuked the chief for having so long persisted in
hostilities. Had Xicotencatl believed the word of the Spaniards, and
accepted their proffered friendship sooner, he would have spared his
people much suffering, which they well merited by their obstinacy. But
it was impossible, continued the general, to retrieve the past. He was
willing to bury it in oblivion, and to receive the Tlascalans as vassals
to the emperor, his master. If they proved true, they should find him a
sure column of support; if false, he would take such vengeance on them
as he had intended to take on their capital had they not speedily given
in their submission. It proved an ominous menace for the chief to whom
it was addressed.

The cacique then ordered his slaves to bring forward some trifling
ornaments of gold and feather-embroidery, designed as presents. They
were of little value, he said, with a smile, for the Tlascalans were
poor. They had little gold, not even cotton, nor salt. The Aztec emperor
had left them nothing but their freedom and their arms. He offered this
gift only as a token of his good will. “As such I receive it,” answered
Cortés, “and, coming from the Tlascalans, set more value on it than I
should from any other source, though it were a house full of gold;”--a
politic as well as magnanimous reply, for it was by the aid of this good
will that he was to win the gold of Mexico.[165]

Thus ended the bloody war with the fierce republic of Tlascala, during
the course of which the fortunes of the Spaniards more than once had
trembled in the balance. Had it been persevered in but a little longer,
it must have ended in their confusion and ruin, exhausted as they were
by wounds, watching, and fatigues, with the seeds of disaffection
rankling among themselves. As it was, they came out of the fearful
contest with untarnished glory. To the enemy they seemed invulnerable,
bearing charmed lives, proof alike against the accidents of fortune and
the assaults of man. No wonder that they indulged a similar conceit in
their own bosoms, and that the humblest Spaniard should have fancied
himself the subject of a special interposition of Providence, which
shielded him in the hour of battle and reserved him for a higher

While the Tlascalans were still in the camp, an embassy was announced
from Montezuma. Tidings of the exploits of the Spaniards had spread far
and wide over the plateau. The emperor, in particular, had watched every
step of their progress, as they climbed the steeps of the Cordilleras
and advanced over the broad table-land on their summit. He had seen
them, with great satisfaction, take the road to Tlascala, trusting that,
if they were mortal men, they would find their graves there. Great was
his dismay when courier after courier brought him intelligence of their
successes, and that the most redoubtable warriors on the plateau had
been scattered like chaff by the swords of this handful of strangers.

His superstitious fears returned in full force. He saw in the Spaniards
“the men of destiny,” who were to take possession of his sceptre. In his
alarm and uncertainty, he sent a new embassy to the Christian camp. It
consisted of five great nobles of his court, attended by a train of two
hundred slaves. They brought with them a present, as usual, dictated
partly by fear and in part by the natural munificence of his
disposition. It consisted of three thousand ounces of gold, in grains,
or in various manufactured articles, with several hundred mantles and
dresses of embroidered cotton and the picturesque feather-work. As they
laid these at the feet of Cortés, they told him they had come to offer
the congratulations of their master on the late victories of the white
men. The emperor only regretted that it would not be in his power to
receive them in his capital, where the numerous population was so unruly
that their safety would be placed in jeopardy. The mere intimation of
the Aztec emperor’s wishes, in the most distant way, would have sufficed
with the Indian nations. It had very little weight with the Spaniards;
and the envoys, finding this puerile expression of them ineffectual,
resorted to another argument, offering a tribute in their master’s name
to the Castilian sovereign, provided the Spaniards would relinquish
their visit to his capital. This was a greater error: it was displaying
the rich casket with one hand which he was unable to defend with the
other. Yet the author of this pusillanimous policy, the unhappy victim
of superstition, was a monarch renowned among the Indian nations for his
intrepidity and enterprise,--the terror of Anahuac!

Cortés, while he urged his own sovereign’s commands as a reason for
disregarding the wishes of Montezuma, uttered expressions of the most
profound respect for the Aztec prince, and declared that if he had not
the means of requiting his munificence, as he could wish, at present, he
trusted _to repay him, at some future day, with good works_![166]

The Mexican ambassadors were not much gratified with finding the war at
an end, and a reconciliation established between their mortal enemies
and the Spaniards. The mutual disgust of the two parties with each other
was too strong to be repressed even in the presence of the general, who
saw with satisfaction the evidences of a jealousy which, undermining the
strength of the Indian emperor, was to prove the surest source of his
own success.[167]

Two of the Aztec envoys returned to Mexico, to acquaint their sovereign
with the state of affairs in the Spanish camp. The others remained with
the army, Cortés being willing that they should be personal spectators
of the deference shown him by the Tlascalans. Still he did not hasten
his departure for their capital. Not that he placed reliance on the
injurious intimations of the Mexicans respecting their good faith. Yet
he was willing to put this to some longer trial, and at the same time to
re-establish his own health more thoroughly before his visit. Meanwhile,
messengers daily arrived from the city, pressing his journey, and were
finally followed by some of the aged rulers of the republic, attended by
a numerous retinue, impatient of his long delay. They brought with them
a body of five hundred _tamanes_, or _men of burden_, to drag his cannon
and relieve his own forces from this fatiguing part of their duty. It
was impossible to defer his departure longer; and after mass, and a
solemn thanksgiving to the great Being who had crowned their arms with
triumph, the Spaniards bade adieu to the quarters which they had
occupied for nearly three weeks on the hill of Tzompach. The strong
tower, or _teocalli_, which commanded it, was called, in commemoration
of their residence, “the tower of victory;” and the few stones which
still survive of its ruins point out to the eye of the traveller a spot
ever memorable in history for the courage and constancy of the early




The city of Tlascala, the capital of the republic of the same name, lay
at the distance of about six leagues from the Spanish camp. The road led
into a hilly region, exhibiting in every arable patch of ground the
evidence of laborious cultivation. Over a deep _barranca_, or ravine,
they crossed on a bridge of stone, which, according to tradition,--a
slippery authority,--is the same still standing, and was constructed
originally for the passage of the army.[169] They passed some
considerable towns on their route, where they experienced a full measure
of Indian hospitality. As they advanced, the approach to a populous city
was intimated by the crowds who flocked out to see and welcome the
strangers; men and women in their picturesque dresses, with bunches and
wreaths of roses, which they gave to the Spaniards, or fastened to the
necks and caparisons of their horses, in the same manner as at
Cempoalla. Priests, with their white robes, and long matted tresses
floating over them, mingled in the crowd, scattering volumes of incense
from their burning censers. In this way, the multitudinous and motley
procession defiled through the gates of the ancient capital of Tlascala.
It was the twenty-third of September, 1519, the anniversary of which is
still celebrated by the inhabitants as a day of jubilee.[170]

The press was now so great that it was with difficulty the police of the
city could clear a passage for the army; while the _azoteas_, or flat
terraced roofs of the buildings, were covered with spectators, eager to
catch a glimpse of the wonderful strangers. The houses were hung with
festoons of flowers, and arches of verdant boughs, intertwined with
roses and honeysuckle, were thrown across the streets. The whole
population abandoned itself to rejoicing; and the air was rent with
songs and shouts of triumph, mingled with the wild music of the national
instruments, that might have excited apprehensions in the breasts of the
soldiery had they not gathered their peaceful import from the assurance
of Marina and the joyous countenances of the natives.

With these accompaniments, the procession moved along the principal
streets to the mansion of Xicotencatl, the aged father of the Tlascalan
general, and one of the four rulers of the republic. Cortés dismounted
from his horse to receive the old chieftain’s embrace. He was nearly
blind, and satisfied, as far as he could, a natural curiosity respecting
the person of the Spanish general, by passing his hand over his
features. He then led the way to a spacious hall in his palace, where a
banquet was served to the army. In the evening they were shown to their
quarters, in the buildings and open ground surrounding one of the
principal _teocallis_; while the Mexican ambassadors, at the desire of
Cortés, had apartments assigned them next to his own, that he might the
better watch over their safety in this city of their enemies.[171]

Tlascala was one of the most important and populous towns on the
table-land. Cortés, in his letter to the emperor, compares it to
Granada,{*} affirming that it was larger, stronger, and more populous
than the Moorish capital at the time of the conquest, and quite as well
built.[172] But, notwithstanding we are assured by a most respectable
writer at the close of the last century that its remains justify the
assertion,[173] we shall be slow to believe that its edifices could have
rivalled those monuments of Oriental magnificence, whose light, aerial
forms still survive after the lapse of ages, the admiration of every
traveller of sensibility and taste. The truth is, that Cortés, like
Columbus, saw objects through the warm medium of his own fond
imagination, giving them a higher tone of coloring and larger dimensions
than were strictly warranted by the fact. It was natural that the man
who had made such rare discoveries should unconsciously magnify their
merits to his own eyes and to those of others.

{*} [So Coronado compared Zuñi and Granada. What both meant was probably
that the cities, if properly defended, would be as hard to capture as

The houses were built, for the most part, of mud or earth; the better
sort of stone and lime, or bricks dried in the sun. They were unprovided
with doors or windows, but in the apertures for the former hung mats
fringed with pieces of copper or something which, by its tinkling sound,
would give notice of any one’s entrance. The streets were narrow and
dark. The population must have been considerable,{*} if, as Cortés
asserts, thirty thousand souls were often gathered in the market on a
public day. These meetings were a sort of fairs, held, as usual in all
the great towns, every fifth day, and attended by the inhabitants of the
adjacent country, who brought there for sale every description of
domestic produce and manufacture with which they were acquainted. They
peculiarly excelled in pottery, which was considered as equal to the
best in Europe.[174] It is a further proof of civilized habits that the
Spaniards found barbers’ shops, and baths both of vapor and hot water,
familiarly used by the inhabitants. A still higher proof of refinement
may be discerned in a vigilant police which repressed everything like
disorder among the people.[175]

{*} [About the same as that of Cholula, which Bandelier estimated at

The city was divided into four quarters, which might rather be called so
many separate towns, since they were built at different times, and
separated from each other by high stone walls, defining their respective
limits. Over each of these districts ruled one of the four great chiefs
of the republic, occupying his own spacious mansion{*} and surrounded by
his own immediate vassals. Strange arrangement,--and more strange that
it should have been compatible with social order and tranquillity! The
ancient capital, through one quarter of which flowed the rapid current
of the Zahuatl, stretched along the summits and sides of hills, at
whose base are now gathered the miserable remains of its once
flourishing population.[176] Far beyond, to the southeast, extended the
bold sierra of Tlascala, and the huge Malinche, crowned with the usual
silver diadem of the highest Andes, having its shaggy sides clothed with
dark-green forests of firs, gigantic sycamores, and oaks whose towering
stems rose to the height of forty or fifty feet, unencumbered by a
branch. The clouds, which sailed over from the distant Atlantic,
gathered round the lofty peaks of the sierra, and, settling into
torrents, poured over the plains in the neighborhood of the city,
converting them, at such seasons, into swamps. Thunder-storms, more
frequent and terrible here than in other parts of the table-land, swept
down the sides of the mountains and shook the frail tenements of the
capital to their foundations. But, although the bleak winds of the
sierra gave an austerity to the climate, unlike the sunny skies and
genial temperature of the lower regions, it was far more favorable to
the development of both the physical and moral energies. A bold and
hardy peasantry was nurtured among the recesses of the hills, fit
equally to cultivate the land in peace and to defend it in war. Unlike
the spoiled child of Nature, who derives such facilities of subsistence
from her too prodigal hand as supersede the necessity of exertion on his
own part, the Tlascalan earned his bread--from a soil not ungrateful,
it is true--by the sweat of his brow. He led a life of temperance and
toil. Cut off by his long wars with the Aztecs from commercial
intercourse, he was driven chiefly to agricultural labor, the occupation
most propitious to purity of morals and sinewy strength of constitution.
His honest breast glowed with the patriotism, or local attachment to the
soil, which is the fruit of its diligent culture; while he was elevated
by a proud consciousness of independence, the natural birthright of the
child of the mountains. Such was the race with whom Cortés was now
associated for the achievement of his great work.

{*} [One of the great communal houses.--M.]

Some days were given by the Spaniards to festivity, in which they were
successively entertained at the hospitable boards of the four great
nobles, in their several quarters of the city. Amidst these friendly
demonstrations, however, the general never relaxed for a moment his
habitual vigilance, or the strict discipline of the camp; and he was
careful to provide for the security of the citizens by prohibiting,
under severe penalties, any soldier from leaving his quarters without
express permission. Indeed, the severity of his discipline provoked the
remonstrance of more than one of his officers, as a superfluous caution;
and the Tlascalan chiefs took some exception at it, as inferring an
unreasonable distrust of them. But, when Cortés explained it, as in
obedience to an established military system, they testified their
admiration, and the ambitious young general of the republic proposed to
introduce it, if possible, into his own ranks.[177]

The Spanish commander, having assured himself of the loyalty of his new
allies, next proposed to accomplish one of the great objects of his
mission, their conversion to Christianity. By the advice of Father
Olmedo, always opposed to precipitate measures, he had deferred this
till a suitable opportunity presented itself for opening the subject.
Such a one occurred when the chiefs of the state proposed to strengthen
the alliance with the Spaniards by the intermarriage of their daughters
with Cortés and his officers. He told them this could not be while they
continued in the darkness of infidelity. Then, with the aid of the good
friar, he expounded as well as he could the doctrines of the Faith, and,
exhibiting the image of the Virgin with the infant Redeemer, told them
that there was the God in whose worship alone they would find salvation,
while that of their own false idols would sink them in eternal

It is unnecessary to burden the reader with a recapitulation of his
homily, which contained, probably, dogmas quite as incomprehensible to
the untutored Indian as any to be found in his own rude mythology. But,
though it failed to convince his audience, they listened with a
deferential awe. When he had finished, they replied they had no doubt
that the God of the Christians must be a good and a great God, and as
such they were willing to give him a place among the divinities of
Tlascala. The polytheistic system of the Indians, like that of the
ancient Greeks, was of that accommodating kind which could admit within
its elastic folds the deities of any other religion, without violence to
itself.[178] But every nation, they continued, must have its own
appropriate and tutelary deities. Nor could they, in their old age,
abjure the service of those who had watched over them from youth. It
would bring down the vengeance of their gods, and of their own nation,
who were as warmly attached to their religion as their liberties, and
would defend both with the last drop of their blood!

It was clearly inexpedient to press the matter further at present. But
the zeal of Cortés, as usual, waxing warm by opposition, had now mounted
too high for him to calculate obstacles; nor would he have shrunk,
probably, from the crown of martyrdom in so good a cause. But,
fortunately, at least for the success of his temporal cause, this crown
was not reserved for him.

The good monk, his ghostly adviser, seeing the course things were likely
to take, with better judgment interposed to prevent it. He had no
desire, he said, to see the same scenes acted over again as at
Cempoalla. He had no relish for forced conversions. They could hardly
be lasting. The growth of an hour might well die with the hour. Of what
use was it to overturn the altar, if the idol remained enthroned in the
heart? or to destroy the idol itself, if it were only to make room for
another? Better to wait patiently the effect of time and teaching to
soften the heart and open the understanding, without which there could
be no assurance of a sound and permanent conviction. These rational
views were enforced by the remonstrances of Alvarado, Velasquez de Leon,
and those in whom Cortés placed most confidence; till, driven from his
original purpose, the military polemic consented to relinquish the
attempt at conversion for the present, and to refrain from a repetition
of scenes which, considering the different mettle of the population,
might have been attended with very different results from those at
Cozumel and Cempoalla.[179]

In the course of our narrative we have had occasion to witness more than
once the good effects of the interposition of Father Olmedo. Indeed, it
is scarcely too much to say that his discretion in spiritual matters
contributed as essentially to the success of the expedition as did the
sagacity and courage of Cortés in temporal. He was a true disciple in
the school of Las Casas. His heart was unscathed by that fiery
fanaticism which sears and hardens whatever it touches. It melted with
the warm glow of Christian charity. He had come out to the New World as
a missionary among the heathen, and he shrank from no sacrifice but that
of the welfare of the poor benighted flock to whom he had consecrated
his days. If he followed the banners of the warrior, it was to mitigate
the ferocity of war, and to turn the triumphs of the Cross to a good
account for the natives themselves, by the spiritual labors of
conversion. He afforded the uncommon example--not to have been looked
for, certainly, in a Spanish monk of the sixteenth century--of
enthusiasm controlled by reason, a quickening zeal tempered by the mild
spirit of toleration.

But, though Cortés abandoned the ground of conversion for the present,
he compelled the Tlascalans to break the fetters of the unfortunate
victims reserved for sacrifice; an act of humanity unhappily only
transient in its effects, since the prisons were filled with fresh
victims on his departure.

He also obtained permission for the Spaniards to perform the services of
their own religion unmolested. A large cross was erected in one of the
great courts or squares. Mass was celebrated every day in the presence
of the army and of crowds of natives, who, if they did not comprehend
its full import, were so far edified that they learned to reverence the
religion of their conquerors. The direct interposition of Heaven,
however, wrought more for their conversion than the best homily of
priest or soldier. Scarcely had the Spaniards left the city--the tale is
told on very respectable authority--when a thin, transparent cloud
descended and settled like a column on the cross, and, wrapping it round
in its luminous folds, continued to emit a soft, celestial radiance
through the night, thus proclaiming the sacred character of the symbol,
on which was shed the halo of divinity![180]

The principle of toleration in religious matters being established, the
Spanish general consented to receive the daughters of the caciques. Five
or six of the most beautiful of the Indian maidens were assigned to as
many of his principal officers, after they had been cleansed from the
stains of infidelity by the waters of baptism. They received, as usual,
on this occasion, good Castilian names, in exchange for the barbarous
nomenclature of their own vernacular.[181] Among them, Xicotencatl’s
daughter, Doña Luisa, as she was called after her baptism, was a
princess of the highest estimation and authority in Tlascala. She was
given by her father to Alvarado, and their posterity intermarried with
the noblest families of Castile. The frank and joyous manners of this
cavalier made him a great favorite with the Tlascalans; and his bright,
open countenance, fair complexion, and golden locks gave him the name of
_Tonatiuh_, the “Sun.” The Indians often pleased their fancies by
fastening a _sobriquet_, or some characteristic epithet, on the
Spaniards. As Cortés was always attended, on public occasions, by Doña
Marina, or Malinche, as she was called by the natives, they
distinguished him by the same name. By these epithets, originally
bestowed in Tlascala, the two Spanish captains were popularly designated
among the Indian nations.[182]

While these events were passing, another embassy arrived from the court
of Mexico. It was charged, as usual, with a costly donative of embossed
gold plate, and rich embroidered stuffs of cotton and feather-work. The
terms of the message might well argue a vacillating and timid temper in
the monarch, did they not mask a deeper policy. He now invited the
Spaniards to his capital, with the assurance of a cordial welcome. He
besought them to enter into no alliance with the base and barbarous
Tlascalans; and he invited them to take the route of the friendly city
of Cholula, where arrangements, according to his orders, were made for
their reception.[183]

The Tlascalans viewed with deep regret the general’s proposed visit to
Mexico. Their reports fully confirmed all he had before heard of the
power and ambition of Montezuma. His armies, they said, were spread over
every part of the continent. His capital was a place of great strength,
and as, from its insular position, all communication could be easily cut
off with the adjacent country, the Spaniards, once entrapped there,
would be at his mercy. His policy, they represented, was as insidious as
his ambition was boundless. “Trust not his fair words,” they said, “his
courtesies, and his gifts. His professions are hollow, and his
friendships false.” When Cortés remarked that he hoped to bring about a
better understanding between the emperor and them, they replied it would
be impossible; however smooth his words, he would hate them at heart.

They warmly protested, also, against the general’s taking the route of
Cholula. The inhabitants, not brave in the open field, were more
dangerous from their perfidy and craft. They were Montezuma’s tools, and
would do his bidding. The Tlascalans seemed to combine with this
distrust a superstitious dread of the ancient city, the headquarters of
the religion of Anahuac. It was here that the god Quetzalcoatl held the
pristine seat of his empire. His temple was celebrated throughout the
land, and the priests were confidently believed to have the power, as
they themselves boasted, of opening an inundation from the foundations
of his shrine, which should bury their enemies in the deluge. The
Tlascalans further reminded Cortés that, while so many other and distant
places had sent to him at Tlascala to testify their good will and offer
their allegiance to his sovereigns, Cholula, only six leagues distant,
had done neither. The last suggestion struck the general more forcibly
than any of the preceding. He instantly despatched a summons to the
city, requiring a formal tender of its submission.

Among the embassies from different quarters which had waited on the
Spanish commander, while at Tlascala, was one from Ixtlilxochitl, son of
the great Nezahualpilli, and an unsuccessful competitor with his elder
brother--as noticed in a former part of our narrative--for the crown of
Tezcuco.[184] Though defeated in his pretensions, he had obtained a part
of the kingdom, over which he ruled with a deadly feeling of animosity
towards his rival, and to Montezuma, who had sustained him. He now
offered his services to Cortés, asking his aid, in return, to place him
on the throne of his ancestors. The politic general returned such an
answer to the aspiring young prince as might encourage his expectations
and attach him to his interests. It was his aim to strengthen his cause
by attracting to himself every particle of disaffection that was
floating through the land.

It was not long before deputies arrived from Cholula, profuse in their
expressions of good will, and inviting the presence of the Spaniards in
their capital. The messengers were of low degree, far beneath the usual
rank of ambassadors. This was pointed out by the Tlascalans; and Cortés
regarded it as a fresh indignity. He sent in consequence a new summons,
declaring if they did not instantly send him a deputation of their
principal men he would deal with them as _rebels_ to his own sovereign,
the rightful lord of these realms![185] The menace had the desired
effect. The Cholulans were not inclined to contest, at least for the
present, his magnificent pretensions. Another embassy appeared in the
camp, consisting of some of the highest nobles; who repeated the
invitation for the Spaniards to visit their city, and excused their own
tardy appearance by apprehensions for their personal safety in the
capital of their enemies. The explanation was plausible, and was
admitted by Cortés.

The Tlascalans were now more than ever opposed to his projected visit. A
strong Aztec force, they had ascertained, lay in the neighborhood of
Cholula, and the people were actively placing their city in a posture of
defence. They suspected some insidious scheme concerted by Montezuma to
destroy the Spaniards.

These suggestions disturbed the mind of Cortés, but did not turn him
from his purpose. He felt a natural curiosity to see the venerable city
so celebrated in the history of the Indian nations. He had, besides,
gone too far to recede,--too far, at least, to do so without a show of
apprehension implying a distrust in his own resources which could not
fail to have a bad effect on his enemies, his allies, and his own men.
After a brief consultation with his officers, he decided on the route to

It was now three weeks since the Spaniards had taken up their residence
within the hospitable walls of Tlascala, and nearly six since they
entered her territory. They had been met on the threshold as enemies,
with the most determined hostility. They were now to part with the same
people as friends and allies; fast friends, who were to stand by them,
side by side, through the whole of their arduous struggle. The result of
their visit, therefore, was of the last importance; since on the
co-operation of these brave and warlike republicans greatly depended the
ultimate success of the expedition.




The ancient city of Cholula, capital of the republic of that name, lay
nearly six leagues south of Tlascala, and about twenty east, or rather
southeast, of Mexico. It was said by Cortés to contain twenty thousand
houses within the walls, and as many more in the environs;[187] though
now dwindled to a population of less than sixteen thousand souls.[188]
Whatever was its real number of inhabitants, it was unquestionably, at
the time of the Conquest, one of the most populous and flourishing
cities in New Spain.

It was of great antiquity, and was founded by the primitive races who
overspread the land before the Aztecs.[189] We have few particulars of
its form of government, which seems to have been cast on a republican
model similar to that of Tlascala.{*} This answered so well that the
state maintained its independence down to a very late period, when, if
not reduced to vassalage by the Aztecs, it was so far under their
control as to enjoy few of the benefits of a separate political
existence. Their connection with Mexico brought the Cholulans into
frequent collision with their neighbors and kindred the Tlascalans. But,
although far superior to them in refinement and the various arts of
civilization, they were no match in war for the bold mountaineers, the
Swiss of Anahuac. The Cholulan capital was the great commercial emporium
of the plateau. The inhabitants excelled in various mechanical arts,
especially that of working in metals, the manufacture of cotton and
agave cloths, and of a delicate kind of pottery, rivalling, it was said,
that of Florence in beauty.[190] But such attention to the arts of a
polished and peaceful community naturally indisposed them to war, and
disqualified them for coping with those who made war the great business
of life. The Cholulans were accused of effeminacy, and were less
distinguished--it is the charge of their rivals--by their courage than
their cunning.[191]

{*} [The older authorities agree in stating that Cholula was
democratically governed. Bandelier (Studies about Cholula and its
Vicinity, in his Report of an Archæological Tour in Mexico in 1881)
concludes that there were in the community six kins. Torquemada says the
tribal council consisted of six speakers. The tribe was governed by two
chief executives (called Aquiach and Tlalquiach). Their functions were
partly warlike, as is evidenced by their appellations “eagle” and
“tiger,” and partly religious. The tribe occupied one large pueblo, with
a few smaller groups, possibly twenty, scattered about it, of which
perhaps two deserved the title of villages. The population of the pueblo
may have been 30,000 in 1519. The estimate of houses which Cortés gives
is too large. Moreover, a large number of houses in each pueblo was
always unoccupied.--M.]

But the capital, so conspicuous for its refinement and its great
antiquity, was even more venerable for the religious traditions which
invested it. It was here that the god Quetzalcoatl paused in his passage
to the coast, and passed twenty years in teaching the Toltec inhabitants
the arts of civilization. He made them acquainted with better forms of
government, and a more spiritualized religion, in which the only
sacrifices were the fruits and flowers of the season.[192] It is not
easy to determine what he taught, since his lessons have been so mingled
with the licentious dogmas of his own priests and the mystic
commentaries of the Christian missionary.[193] It is probable that he
was one of those rare and gifted beings who, dissipating the darkness
of the age by the illumination of their own genius, are deified by a
grateful posterity and placed among the lights of heaven.

It was in honor of this benevolent deity that the stupendous mound{*}
was erected on which the traveller still gazes with admiration as the
most colossal fabric in New Spain, rivalling in dimensions, and somewhat
resembling in form, the pyramidal structures of ancient Egypt. The date
of its erection is unknown; for it was found there when the Aztecs
entered on the plateau. It had the form common to the Mexican
_teocallis_, that of a truncated pyramid, facing with its four sides the
cardinal points, and divided into the same number of terraces. Its
original outlines, however, have been effaced by the action of time and
of the elements, while the exuberant growth of shrubs and wild flowers,
which have mantled over its surface, give it the appearance of one of
those symmetrical elevations thrown up by the caprice of nature rather
than by the industry of man. It is doubtful indeed, whether the interior
be not a natural hill; though it seems not improbable that it is an
artificial composition of stone and earth, deeply incrusted, as is
certain, in every part, with alternate strata of brick and clay.[194]

     In the teacher himself they recognize no less a person than St.
     Thomas the Apostle! See the Dissertation of the irrefragable Dr.
     Mier, with an edifying commentary by Señor Bustamante, ap. Sahagun.
     (Hist. de Nueva-España, tom. i., Suplemento.) The reader will find
     further particulars of this matter in the essay on the Origin of
     the Mexican Civilization, at the end of the first book of this

{*} [The most careful measurements of the great mound, or “pyramid,”
were those made by Bandelier in 1881. He found the base to be a trapeze.
North line, 1000 feet; east line, 1026 feet; south line, 833 feet; west
line, 1000 feet; total, 3859 feet. This would give an approximate area
of over twenty acres for the base. Measuring the height of the mound
from each of its four sides, he found the average altitude to be 169
feet. There is not a trace of aboriginal work upon the summit. The
structure was built long before the Nahuatl period. It was not erected
at one time, but grew as necessity ordered. It was a place of refuge and
its top was used as a place of worship.--M.]

The perpendicular height of the pyramid is one hundred and seventy-seven
feet. Its base is one thousand four hundred and twenty-three feet long,
twice as long as that of the great pyramid of Cheops. It may give some
idea of its dimensions to state that its base, which is square, covers
about forty-four acres, and the platform on its truncated summit
embraces more than one. It reminds us of those colossal monuments of
brickwork which are still seen in ruins on the banks of the Euphrates,
and, in much higher preservation, on those of the Nile.[195]

On the summit stood a sumptuous temple, in which was the image of the
mystic deity, “god of the air,” with ebon features, unlike the fair
complexion which he bore upon earth, wearing a mitre on his head waving
with _plumes of fire_, with a resplendent collar of gold round his neck,
pendants of mosaic turquoise in his ears, a jewelled sceptre in one
hand, and a shield curiously painted, the emblem of his rule over the
winds, in the other.[196] The sanctity of the place, hallowed by hoary
tradition, and the magnificence of the temple and its services, made it
an object of veneration throughout the land, and pilgrims from the
farthest corners of Anahuac came to offer up their devotions at the
shrine of Quetzalcoatl.[197] The number of these was so great as to give
an air of mendicity to the motley population of the city; and Cortés,
struck with the novelty, tells us that he saw multitudes of beggars,
such as are to be found in the enlightened capitals of Europe;[198]--a
whimsical criterion of civilization, which must place our own prosperous
land somewhat low in the scale.

Cholula was not the resort only of the indigent devotee. Many of the
kindred races had temples of their own in the city, in the same manner
as some Christian nations have in Rome, and each temple was provided
with its own peculiar ministers for the service of the deity to whom it
was consecrated. In no city was there seen such a concourse of priests,
so many processions, such pomp of ceremonial, sacrifice, and religious
festivals. Cholula was, in short, what Mecca is among Mahometans, or
Jerusalem among Christians; it was the Holy City of Anahuac.[199]{*}

{*} [Cholula was not a “Holy City” or pilgrim resort for other tribes.
“It suffices to recall the state of intertribal warfare which prevailed
in aboriginal Mexico to establish the utter fallacy of this
pretension.... Even the preëminence which Quetzalcohuatl, the chief idol
of Cholula, is said to have enjoyed over the whole of Central Mexico is
vigorously denied by the Indians of Tlascala and of the Mexican valley
itself.” Cholula was a great mart of trade and crowds flocked to it
because of that fact. Outside Indians were accustomed to bring presents
to its chief idol. See Bandelier, Arch. Tour, pp. 168, 169.--M.]

The religious rites were not performed, however, in the pure spirit
originally prescribed by its tutelary deity. His altars, as well as
those of the numerous Aztec gods, were stained with human blood; and six
thousand victims _are said_ to have been annually offered up at their
sanguinary shrines![200] The great number of these may be estimated from
the declaration of Cortés that he counted four hundred towers in the
city;[201] yet no temple had more than two, many only one. High above
the rest rose the great “pyramid of Cholula,” with its undying fires
flinging their radiance far and wide over the capital, and proclaiming
to the nations that there was the mystic worship--alas! how corrupted by
cruelty and superstition!--of the good deity who was one day to return
and resume his empire over the land.

Nothing could be more grand than the view which met the eye from the
area on the truncated summit of the pyramid. Towards the west stretched
that bold barrier of porphyritic rock which nature has reared around the
Valley of Mexico, with the huge Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl standing
like two colossal sentinels to guard the entrance to the enchanted
region. Far away to the east was seen the conical head of Orizaba
soaring high into the clouds and nearer, the barren though
beautifully-shaped Sierra de la Malinche, throwing its broad shadows
over the plains of Tlascala. Three of these are volcanoes higher than
the highest mountain-peak in Europe, and shrouded in snows which never
melt under the fierce sun of the tropics. At the foot of the
spectator{*} lay the sacred city of Cholula, with its bright towers and
pinnacles sparkling in the sun, reposing amidst gardens and verdant
groves, which then thickly studded the cultivated environs of the
capital. Such was the magnificent prospect which met the gaze of the
Conquerors, and may still, with slight change, meet that of the modern
traveller, as from the platform of the great pyramid his eye wanders
over the fairest portion of the beautiful plateau of Puebla.[202]

{*} [Bandelier (Gilded Man, p. 259) shows that the spectator who stood
on the “truncated summit of the pyramid” was standing upon a structure
which had long been in ruins, and which was covered with bushes when
Cortés passed through the country. On the summit was a “little ancient
temple.” There was no trace of a large building, and the pyramid looked
so much like a wooded hill that the Conquerors regarded it as a natural
elevation. No pinnacles sparkled in the sun, because the architecture of
the natives did not include those features. The houses were for the most
part only one story high, and were whitewashed.--M.]

But it is time to return to Tlascala. On the appointed morning the
Spanish army took up its march to Mexico by the way of Cholula. It was
followed by crowds of the citizens, filled with admiration at the
intrepidity of men who, so few in number, would venture to brave the
great Montezuma in his capital. Yet an immense body of warriors offered
to share the dangers of the expedition; but Cortés, while he showed his
gratitude for their good will, selected only six thousand of the
volunteers to bear him company.[203] He was unwilling to encumber
himself with an unwieldy force that might impede his movements, and
probably did not care to put himself so far in the power of allies whose
attachment was too recent to afford sufficient guarantee for their

After crossing some rough and hilly ground, the army entered on the wide
plain which spreads out for miles around Cholula. At the elevation of
more than six thousand feet above the sea, they beheld the rich products
of various climes growing side by side, fields of towering maize, the
juicy aloe, the _chilli_ or Aztec pepper, and large plantations of the
cactus, on which the brilliant cochineal is nourished. Not a rood of
land but was under cultivation;[204] and the soil--an uncommon thing on
the table-land--was irrigated by numerous streams and canals, and well
shaded by woods, that have disappeared before the rude axe of the
Spaniards. Towards evening they reached a small stream, on the banks of
which Cortés determined to take up his quarters for the night, being
unwilling to disturb the tranquillity of the city by introducing so
large a force into it at an unseasonable hour.

Here he was soon joined by a number of Cholulan caciques and their
attendants, who came to view and welcome the strangers. When they saw
their Tlascalan enemies in the camp, however, they exhibited signs of
displeasure, and intimated an apprehension that their presence in the
town might occasion disorder. The remonstrance seemed reasonable to
Cortés, and he accordingly commanded his allies to remain in their
present quarters, and to join him as he left the city on the way to

On the following morning he made his entrance at the head of his army
into Cholula, attended by no other Indians than those from Cempoalla,
and a handful of Tlascalans, to take charge of the baggage. His allies,
at parting, gave him many cautions respecting the people he was to
visit, who, while they affected to despise them as a nation of traders,
employed the dangerous arms of perfidy and cunning. As the troops drew
near the city, the road was lined with swarms of people of both sexes
and every age, old men tottering with infirmity, women with children in
their arms, all eager to catch a glimpse of the strangers, whose
persons, weapons, and horses were objects of intense curiosity to eyes
which had not hitherto ever encountered them in battle. The Spaniards,
in turn, were filled with admiration at the aspect of the Cholulans,
much superior in dress and general appearance to the nations they had
hitherto seen. They were particularly struck with the costume of the
higher classes, who wore fine embroidered mantles, resembling the
graceful _albornoz_, or Moorish cloak, in their texture and
fashion.[205] They showed the same delicate taste for flowers as the
other tribes of the plateau, decorating their persons with them, and
tossing garlands and bunches among the soldiers. An immense number of
priests mingled with the crowd, swinging their aromatic censers, while
music from various kinds of instruments gave a lively welcome to the
visitors, and made the whole scene one of gay, bewildering enchantment.
If it did not have the air of a triumphal procession so much as at
Tlascala, where the melody of instruments was drowned by the shouts of
the multitude, it gave a quiet assurance of hospitality and friendly
feeling not less grateful.

The Spaniards were also struck with the cleanliness of the city, the
width and great regularity of the streets, which seemed to have been
laid out on a settled plan, with the solidity of the houses, and the
number and size of the pyramidal temples.{*} In the court of one of
these, and its surrounding buildings, they were quartered.[206]

{*} [“According to tradition Cortés was lodged in the present
southwestern quarter of the city, which is now called Santa Maria
Tecpan, the Tecpan being the communal house where strange visitors were
received. In the middle of the quarter there still stands, in the
Calle-de-Herreros, an ancient portal, with the inscription in the
Nahuatl language and Latin letters, ‘Here stood the Tecpan, where now is
the house of Antonio de la Cruz.’” Bandelier, Gilded Man, p. 272.--M.]

They were soon visited by the principal lords of the place, who seemed
solicitous to provide them with accommodations. Their table was
plentifully supplied, and, in short, they experienced such attentions as
were calculated to dissipate their suspicions, and made them impute
those of their Tlascalan friends to prejudice and old national

In a few days the scene changed. Messengers arrived from Montezuma, who,
after a short and unpleasant intimation to Cortés that his approach
occasioned much disquietude to their master, conferred separately with
the Mexican ambassadors still in the Castilian camp, and then departed,
taking one of the latter along with them. From this time the deportment
of their Cholulan hosts underwent a visible alteration. They did not
visit the quarters as before, and, when invited to do so, excused
themselves on pretence of illness. The supply of provisions was stinted,
on the ground that they were short of maize. These symptoms of
alienation, independently of temporary embarrassment, caused serious
alarm in the breast of Cortés, for the future. His apprehensions were
not allayed by the reports of the Cempoallans, who told him that in
wandering round the city they had seen several streets barricadoed, the
_azoteas_, or flat roofs of the houses, loaded with huge stones and
other missiles,{*} as if preparatory to an assault, and in some places
they had found holes covered over with branches, and upright stakes
planted within, as if to embarrass the movements of the cavalry.[207]
Some Tlascalans coming in, also, from their camp, informed the general
that a great sacrifice, mostly of children, had been offered up in a
distant quarter of the town, to propitiate the favor of the gods,
apparently for some intended enterprise. They added that they had seen
numbers of the citizens leaving the city with their women and children,
as if to remove them to a place of safety. These tidings confirmed the
worst suspicions of Cortés, who had no doubt that some hostile scheme
was in agitation. If he had felt any, a discovery by Marina, the good
angel of the expedition, would have turned these doubts into certainty.

{*} [But there were always heaps of stones and other missiles kept for
defence on the flat roofs of the houses in the unwalled cities.--M.]

The amiable manners of the Indian girl had won her the regard of the
wife of one of the caciques, who repeatedly urged Marina to visit her
house, darkly intimating that in this way she would escape the fate that
awaited the Spaniards. The interpreter, seeing the importance of
obtaining further intelligence at once, pretended to be pleased with
the proposal, and affected, at the same time, great discontent with the
white men, by whom she was detained in captivity. Thus throwing the
credulous Cholulan off her guard, Marina gradually insinuated herself
into her confidence, so far as to draw from her a full account of the

It originated, she said, with the Aztec emperor, who had sent rich
bribes to the great caciques, and to her husband among others, to secure
them in his views. The Spaniards were to be assaulted as they marched
out of the capital, when entangled in its streets, in which numerous
impediments had been placed to throw the cavalry into disorder. A force
of twenty thousand Mexicans was already quartered at no great distance
from the city, to support the Cholulans in the assault. It was
confidently expected that the Spaniards, thus embarrassed in their
movements, would fall an easy prey to the superior strength of their
enemy. A sufficient number of prisoners was to be reserved to grace the
sacrifices of Cholula; the rest were to be led in fetters to the capital
of Montezuma.

While this conversation was going on, Marina occupied herself with
putting up such articles of value and wearing apparel as she proposed to
take with her in the evening, when she could escape unnoticed from the
Spanish quarters to the house of her Cholulan friend, who assisted her
in the operation. Leaving her visitor thus employed, Marina found an
opportunity to steal away for a few moments, and, going to the general’s
apartment, disclosed to him her discoveries. He immediately caused the
cacique’s wife to be seized, and, on examination, she fully confirmed
the statement of his Indian mistress.

The intelligence thus gathered by Cortés filled him with the deepest
alarm. He was fairly taken in the snare. To fight or to fly seemed
equally difficult. He was in a city of enemies, where every house might
be converted into a fortress, and where such embarrassments were thrown
in the way as might render the manœuvres of his artillery and horse
nearly impracticable. In addition to the wily Cholulans, he must cope,
under all these disadvantages, with the redoubtable warriors of Mexico.
He was like a traveller who has lost his way in the darkness among
precipices, where any step may dash him to pieces, and where to retreat
or to advance is equally perilous.

He was desirous to obtain still further confirmation and particulars of
the conspiracy. He accordingly induced two of the priests in the
neighborhood, one of them a person of much influence in the place, to
visit his quarters. By courteous treatment, and liberal largesses of the
rich presents he had received from Montezuma,--thus turning his own
gifts against the giver,--he drew from them a full confirmation of the
previous report. The emperor had been in a state of pitiable vacillation
since the arrival of the Spaniards. His first orders to the Cholulans
were to receive the strangers kindly. He had recently consulted his
oracles anew, and obtained for answer that Cholula would be the grave of
his enemies; for the gods would be sure to support him in avenging the
sacrilege offered to the Holy City. So confident were the Aztecs of
success, that numerous manacles, or poles with thongs which served as
such, were already in the place to secure the prisoners.

Cortés, now feeling himself fully possessed of the facts, dismissed the
priests, with injunctions of secrecy, scarcely necessary. He told them
it was his purpose to leave the city on the following morning, and
requested that they would induce some of the principal caciques to grant
him an interview in his quarters. He then summoned a council of his
officers, though, as it seems, already determined as to the course he
was to take.

The members of the council were differently affected by the startling
intelligence, according to their different characters. The more timid,
disheartened by the prospect of obstacles which seemed to multiply as
they drew nearer the Mexican capital, were for retracing their steps and
seeking shelter in the friendly city of Tlascala. Others, more
persevering, but prudent, were for taking the more northerly route,
originally recommended by their allies. The greater part supported the
general, who was ever of opinion that they had no alternative but to
advance. Retreat would be ruin. Half-way measures were scarcely better,
and would infer a timidity which must discredit them with both friend
and foe. Their true policy was to rely on themselves,--to strike such a
blow as should intimidate their enemies and show them that the Spaniards
were as incapable of being circumvented by artifice as of being crushed
by weight of numbers and courage in the open field.

When the caciques, persuaded by the priests, appeared before Cortés, he
contented himself with gently rebuking their want of hospitality, and
assured them the Spaniards would be no longer a burden to their city, as
he proposed to leave it early on the following morning. He requested,
moreover, that they would furnish a reinforcement of two thousand men to
transport his artillery and baggage. The chiefs, after some
consultation, acquiesced in a demand which might in some measure favor
their own designs.

On their departure, the general summoned the Aztec ambassadors before
him. He briefly acquainted them with his detection of the treacherous
plot to destroy his army, the contrivance of which, he said, was imputed
to their master, Montezuma. It grieved him much, he added, to find the
emperor implicated in so nefarious a scheme, and that the Spaniards must
now march as enemies against the prince whom they had hoped to visit as
a friend.

The ambassadors, with earnest protestations, asserted their entire
ignorance of the conspiracy, and their belief that Montezuma was equally
innocent of a crime which they charged wholly on the Cholulans. It was
clearly the policy of Cortés to keep on good terms with the Indian
monarch, to profit as long as possible by his good offices, and to avail
himself of his fancied security--such feelings of security as the
general could inspire him with--to cover his own future operations. He
affected to give credit, therefore, to the assertion of the envoys, and
declared his unwillingness to believe that a monarch who had rendered
the Spaniards so many friendly offices would now consummate the whole by
a deed of such unparalleled baseness. The discovery of their twofold
duplicity, he added, sharpened his resentment against the Cholulans, on
whom he would take such vengeance as should amply requite the injuries
done both to Montezuma and the Spaniards. He then dismissed the
ambassadors, taking care, notwithstanding this show of confidence, to
place a strong guard over them, to prevent communication with the

That night was one of deep anxiety to the army. The ground they stood on
seemed loosening beneath their feet, and any moment might be the one
marked for their destruction. Their vigilant general took all possible
precautions for their safety, increasing the number of the sentinels,
and posting his guns in such a manner as to protect the approaches to
the camp. His eyes, it may well be believed, did not close during the
night. Indeed, every Spaniard lay down in his arms, and every horse
stood saddled and bridled, ready for instant service. But no assault was
meditated by the Indians, and the stillness of the hour was undisturbed
except by the occasional sounds, heard in a populous city, even when
buried in slumber, and by the hoarse cries of the priests from the
turrets of the _teocallis_, proclaiming through their trumpets the
watches of the night.[209]




With the first streak of morning light, Cortés was seen on horseback,
directing the movements of his little band. The strength of his forces
he drew up in the great square or court, surrounded partly by buildings,
as before noticed, and in part by a high wall. There were three gates of
entrance, at each of which he placed a strong guard. The rest of his
troops, with his great guns, he posted without the enclosure, in such a
manner as to command the avenues and secure those within from
interruption in their bloody work. Orders had been sent the night before
to the Tlascalan chiefs to hold themselves ready, at a concerted signal,
to march into the city and join the Spaniards.

The arrangements were hardly completed, before the Cholulan caciques
appeared, leading a body of levies, _tamanes_, even more numerous than
had been demanded. They were marched at once into the square, commanded,
as we have seen, by the Spanish infantry, which was drawn up under the
walls. Cortés then took some of the caciques aside. With a stern air,
he bluntly charged them with the conspiracy, showing that he was well
acquainted with all the particulars. He had visited their city, he said,
at the invitation of their emperor; had come as a friend; had respected
the inhabitants and their property; and, to avoid all cause of umbrage,
had left a great part of his forces without the walls. They had received
him with a show of kindness and hospitality, and, reposing on this, he
had been decoyed into the snare, and found this kindness only a mask to
cover the blackest perfidy.

The Cholulans were thunderstruck at the accusation. An undefined awe
crept over them as they gazed on the mysterious strangers and felt
themselves in the presence of beings who seemed to have the power of
reading the thoughts scarcely formed in their bosoms. There was no use
in prevarication or denial before such judges. They confessed the whole,
and endeavored to excuse themselves by throwing the blame on Montezuma.
Cortés, assuming an air of higher indignation at this, assured them that
the pretence should not serve, since, even if well founded, it would be
no justification; and he would now make such an example of them for
their treachery that the report of it should ring throughout the wide
borders of Anahuac!

The fatal signal, the discharge of an arquebuse, was then given. In an
instant every musket and cross-bow was levelled at the unfortunate
Cholulans in the courtyard, and a frightful volley poured into them as
they stood crowded together like a herd of deer in the centre. They
were taken by surprise, for they had not heard the preceding dialogue
with the chiefs. They made scarcely any resistance to the Spaniards, who
followed up the discharge of their pieces by rushing on them with their
swords; and, as the half-naked bodies of the natives afforded no
protection, they hewed them down with as much ease as the reaper mows
down the ripe corn in harvest-time. Some endeavored to scale the walls,
but only afforded a surer mark to the arquebusiers and archers. Others
threw themselves into the gateways, but were received on the long pikes
of the soldiers who guarded them. Some few had better luck in hiding
themselves under the heaps of slain with which the ground was soon

While this work of death was going on, the countrymen of the slaughtered
Indians, drawn together by the noise of the massacre, had commenced a
furious assault on the Spaniards from without. But Cortés had placed his
battery of heavy guns in a position that commanded the avenues, and
swept off the files of the assailants as they rushed on. In the
intervals between the discharges, which, in the imperfect state of the
science in that day, were much longer than in ours, he forced back the
press by charging with the horse into the midst. The steeds, the guns,
the weapons of the Spaniards were all new to the Cholulans.
Notwithstanding the novelty of the terrific spectacle, the flash of
fire-arms mingling with the deafening roar of the artillery as its
thunders reverberated among the buildings, the despairing Indians
pushed on to take the places of their fallen comrades.

While this fierce struggle was going forward, the Tlascalans, hearing
the concerted signal, had advanced with quick pace into the city. They
had bound, by order of Cortés, wreaths of sedge round their heads, that
they might the more surely be distinguished from the Cholulans.[210]
Coming up in the very heat of the engagement, they fell on the
defenceless rear of the townsmen, who, trampled down under the heels of
the Castilian cavalry on one side, and galled by their vindictive
enemies on the other, could no longer maintain their ground. They gave
way, some taking refuge in the nearest buildings, which, being partly of
wood, were speedily set on fire. Others fled to the temples. One strong
party, with a number of priests at its head, got possession of the great
_teocalli_. There was a vulgar tradition, already alluded to, that on
removal of part of the walls the god would send forth an inundation to
overwhelm his enemies. The superstitious Cholulans with great difficulty
succeeded in wrenching away some of the stones in the walls of the
edifice. But dust, not water, followed. Their false god deserted them in
the hour of need. In despair they flung themselves into the wooden
turrets that crowned the temple, and poured down stones, javelins, and
burning arrows on the Spaniards, as they climbed the great staircase
which, by a flight of one hundred and twenty steps, sealed the face of
the pyramid. But the fiery shower fell harmless on the steel bonnets of
the Christians, while they availed themselves of the burning shafts to
set fire to the wooden citadel, which was speedily wrapt in flames.
Still the garrison held out, and though quarter, _it is said_, was
offered, only one Cholulan availed himself of it. The rest threw
themselves headlong from the parapet, or perished miserably in the

All was now confusion and uproar in the fair city which had so lately
reposed in security and peace. The groans of the dying, the frantic
supplications of the vanquished for mercy, were mingled with the loud
battle-cries of the Spaniards as they rode down their enemy, and with
the shrill whistle of the Tlascalans, who gave full scope to the
long-cherished rancor of ancient rivalry. The tumult was still further
swelled by the incessant rattle of musketry, and the crash of falling
timbers, which sent up a volume of flame that outshone the ruddy light
of morning, making altogether a hideous confusion of sights and sounds
that converted the Holy City into a Pandemonium. As resistance
slackened, the victors broke into the houses and sacred places,
plundering them of whatever valuables they contained, plate, jewels,
which were found in some quantity, wearing-apparel and provisions, the
two last coveted even more than the former by the simple Tlascalans,
thus facilitating a division of the spoil much to the satisfaction of
their Christian confederates. Amidst this universal license, it is
worthy of remark, the commands of Cortés were so far respected that no
violence was offered to women or children, though these, as well as
numbers of the men, were made prisoners to be swept into slavery by the
Tlascalans.[212] These scenes of violence had lasted some hours, when
Cortés, moved by the entreaties of some Cholulan chiefs who had been
reserved from the massacre, backed by the prayers of the Mexican envoys,
consented out of regard, as he said, to the latter, the representatives
of Montezuma, to call off the soldiers, and put a stop, as well as he
could, to further outrage.{*} Two of the caciques were, also, permitted
to go to their countrymen with assurances of pardon and protection to
all who would return to their obedience.

{*} [Andrés de Tápia, who participated in the massacre, says that the
work of destroying the city (“el trabajar por destruir la cibdad”) went
on for two days, before Cortés gave orders for it to cease, and that it
was not till two or three days later that the inhabitants, many of whom
had fled to the mountains and neighboring territory, obtained pardon and
leave to return. Col. de Doc. para la Hist. de México, publicada por
Joaquin García Icazbalceta, tom. ii.--K.]

These measures had their effect. By the joint efforts of Cortés and the
caciques, the tumult was with much difficulty appeased. The assailants,
Spaniards and Indians, gathered under their respective banners, and the
Cholulans, relying on the assurance of their chiefs, gradually returned
to their homes.

The first act of Cortés was to prevail on the Tlascalan chiefs to
liberate their captives.[213] Such was their deference to the Spanish
commander that they acquiesced, though not without murmurs, contenting
themselves, as best they could, with the rich spoil rifled from the
Cholulans, consisting of various luxuries long since unknown in
Tlascala. His next care was to cleanse the city from its loathsome
impurities, particularly from the dead bodies which lay festering in
heaps in the streets and great square. The general, in his letter to
Charles the Fifth, admits three thousand slain, most accounts say six,
and some swell the amount yet higher. As the eldest and principal
cacique was among the number, Cortés assisted the Cholulans in
installing a successor in his place.[214] By these pacific measures
confidence was gradually restored. The people in the environs,
reassured, flocked into the capital to supply the place of the
diminished population. The markets were again opened; and the usual
avocations of an orderly, industrious community were resumed. Still, the
long piles of black and smouldering ruins proclaimed the hurricane which
had so lately swept over the city, and the walls surrounding the scene
of slaughter in the great square, which were standing more than fifty
years after the event, told the sad tale of the Massacre of

This passage in their history is one of those that have left a dark
stain on the memory of the Conquerors. Nor can we contemplate at this
day, without a shudder, the condition of this fair and flourishing
capital thus invaded in its privacy and delivered over to the excesses
of a rude and ruthless soldiery. But, to judge the action fairly, we
must transport ourselves to the age when it happened. The difficulty
that meets us in the outset is, to find a justification of the right of
conquest, at all. But it should be remembered that religious infidelity,
at this period, and till a much later, was regarded--no matter whether
founded on ignorance or education, whether hereditary or acquired,
heretical or pagan--as a sin to be punished with fire and fagot in this
world, and eternal suffering in the next. This doctrine, monstrous as it
is, was the creed of the Romish, in other words, of the Christian
Church,--the basis of the Inquisition, and of those other species of
religious persecutions which have stained the annals, at some time or
other, of nearly every nation in Christendom.[216] Under this code, the
territory of the heathen, wherever found, was regarded as a sort of
religious waif, which, in default of a legal proprietor, was claimed
and taken possession of by the Holy See, and as such was freely given
away by the head of the Church, to any temporal potentate whom he
pleased, that would assume the burden of conquest.[217] Thus, Alexander
the Sixth generously granted a large portion of the Western hemisphere
to the Spaniards, and of the Eastern to the Portuguese. These lofty
pretensions of the successors of the humble fisherman of Galilee, far
from being nominal, were acknowledged and appealed to as conclusive in
controversies between nations.[218]

With the right of conquest, thus conferred, came also the obligation, on
which it may be said to have been founded, to retrieve the nations
sitting in darkness from eternal perdition. This obligation was
acknowledged by the best and the bravest, the gownsman in his closet,
the missionary, and the warrior in the crusade. However much it may
have been debased by temporal motives and mixed up with worldly
considerations of ambition and avarice, it was still active in the mind
of the Christian conqueror. We have seen how far paramount it was to
every calculation of personal interest in the breast of Cortés. The
concession of the Pope, then, founded on, and enforcing, the imperative
duty of conversion,[219] was the assumed basis--and, in the apprehension
of that age, a sound one--of the right of conquest.[220]

This right could not, indeed, be construed to authorize any unnecessary
act of violence to the natives. The present expedition, up to the period
of its history at which we are now arrived, had probably been stained
with fewer of such acts than almost any similar enterprise of the
Spanish discoverers in the New World. Throughout the campaigns, Cortés
had prohibited all wanton injuries to the natives in person or property,
and had punished the perpetrators of them with exemplary severity. He
had been faithful to his friends, and, with perhaps a single exception,
not unmerciful to his foes. Whether from policy or principle, it should
be recorded to his credit; though, like every sagacious mind, he may
have felt that principle and policy go together.

He had entered Cholula as a friend, at the invitation of the Indian
emperor, who had a real, if not avowed, control over the state. He had
been received as a friend, with every demonstration of good will; when,
without any offence of his own or his followers, he found they were to
be the victims of an insidious plot,--that they were standing on a mine
which might be sprung at any moment and bury them all in its ruins. His
safety, as he truly considered, left no alternative but to anticipate
the blow of his enemies. Yet who can doubt that the punishment thus
inflicted was excessive,--that the same end might have been attained by
directing the blow against the guilty chiefs, instead of letting it fall
on the ignorant rabble who but obeyed the commands of their masters? But
when was it ever seen that fear, armed with power, was scrupulous in the
exercise of it? or that the passions of a fierce soldiery, inflamed by
conscious injuries, could be regulated in the moment of explosion?

We shall, perhaps, pronounce more impartially on the conduct of the
Conquerors if we compare it with that of our own contemporaries under
somewhat similar circumstances. The atrocities at Cholula were not so
bad as those inflicted on the descendants of these very Spaniards, in
the late war of the Peninsula, by the most polished nations of our time;
by the British at Badajoz, for example,--at Tarragona, and a hundred
other places, by the French. The wanton butchery, the ruin of property,
and, above all, those outrages worse than death, from which the female
part of the population were protected at Cholula, show a catalogue of
enormities quite as black as those imputed to the Spaniards, and without
the same apology for resentment,--with no apology, indeed, but that
afforded by a brave and patriotic resistance. The consideration of these
events, which, from their familiarity, make little impression on our
senses, should render us more lenient in our judgments of the past,
showing, as they do, that man in a state of excitement, savage or
civilized, is much the same in every age. It may teach us--it is one of
the best lessons of history--that, since such are the _inevitable_ evils
of war, even among the most polished people, those who hold the
destinies of nations in their hands, whether rulers or legislators,
should submit to every sacrifice, save that of honor, before authorizing
an appeal to arms. The extreme solicitude to avoid these calamities, by
the aid of peaceful congresses and impartial mediation, is, on the
whole, the strongest evidence, stronger than that afforded by the
progress of science and art, of our boasted advance in civilization.

It is far from my intention to vindicate the cruel deeds of the old
Conquerors. Let them lie heavy on their heads. They were an iron race,
who perilled life and fortune in the cause; and, as they made little
account of danger and suffering for themselves, they had little sympathy
to spare for their unfortunate enemies. But, to judge them fairly, we
must not do it by the lights of our own age. We must carry ourselves
back to theirs, and take the point of view afforded by the civilization
of their time. Thus only can we arrive at impartial criticism in
reviewing the generations that are past. We must extend to them the same
justice which we shall have occasion to ask from posterity, when, by the
light of a higher civilization, it surveys the dark or doubtful passages
in our own history, which hardly arrest the eye of the contemporary.{*}

{*} [The “massacre” at Cholula _was_ a military necessity to one warring
as Cortés was. Having discovered the existence of a plot to exterminate
his forces, he simply struck first. The Cholulans had taken measures to
annihilate the invaders, which must have proved successful against
ordinary foes. Not only the Spanish historians but the native
chroniclers testify to this fact. The Mexican story is told in the
Indian paintings still preserved at San Juan Cuauhtlautzinco. The
Cholulans did not regard the Spaniards as gods. They went to work to
trap them and starve them like ordinary human beings. They cut off their
supplies. They shut them up in the great Tecpan. The Tlascalans knew all
the while that treachery was planned. They knew also (what the Spaniards
did not know, because of their ignorance of Indian governmental
institutions) that any oaths the Cholulan chiefs might take would be
binding upon the tribe only if the tribe had commissioned its
representatives to take them. The embassy was only a decoy. The
Spaniards thought that the perfuming with incense indicated submission
to themselves. They did not know that prisoners of war, destined for
sacrifice, were perfumed in the same way. But the slaughter could not
have been by any means as great as is ordinarily supposed. In the first
place, there were not as many inhabitants in the city as Cortés
imagined; and, in the second place, three of the wards of the city were
not involved either in the plot or the killing. The great crowd which
attended the Spaniards as they passed through the streets was always the
same crowd. It made a prodigious noise, and the invaders naturally
imagined it to betoken an immense population. But Bandelier’s estimate
of 30,000 inhabitants is probably correct. Cortés, in his first report,
writes, with apparent complacency, that “3000 muriéron en dos horas.”
This would imply a most astounding killing capacity on the part of the
less than 500 Spaniards and their allies. The fire-arms of course made
awful havoc, yet we must remember that it was a matter of time to load
and fire the muskets and cannons of that age. No women and children were
killed, not only because the soldiers were ordered to spare all women
and children, but also because all non-combatants had been sent away
some time before. Armed men fought and killed armed men. Moreover, the
Tlascalan allies were more eager to plunder and to capture prisoners
than to kill. Bandelier, recalling the fact that the battle was fought
on a space not a quarter of a mile in length, questions whether more
than five hundred men fell. His estimate is probably too small. The
killing was stopped by Cortés five hours after the first shot was fired.
Andrés de Tápia, who wrote some time after the affair, says the
pillaging, etc., went on for two days. Bernal Diaz, writing fifty years
afterward, says it ended the second «lay. But Cortés, writing the next
year, says the place was full of women and children the next day. The
“smoking ruins” must be dismissed as a creation of the imagination.
Adobe and stone walls, and roof timbers covered with a thick coating of
earth, do not afford good material for a conflagration. The 20,000
warriors from Mexico mentioned on p. 194 could not have been present. It
would have been impossible for so large a body to have been sent from
that city, and Cortés would have learned of its approach, through his
Tlascalan allies, long before. Bandelier treats the massacre very
lucidly in his “Gilded Man,” pp. 258-282.--M.]

But, whatever be thought of this transaction in a moral view, as a
stroke of policy it was unquestionable. The nations of Anahuac had
beheld, with admiration mingled with awe, the little band of Christian
warriors steadily advancing along the plateau in face of every obstacle,
overturning army after army with as much ease, apparently, as the good
ship throws off the angry billows from her bows, or rather like the
lava, which, rolling from their own volcanoes, holds on its course
unchecked by obstacles, rock, tree, or building, bearing them along, or
crushing and consuming them in its fiery path. The prowess of the
Spaniards--“the white gods,” as they were often called[221]--made them
to be thought invincible. But it was not till their arrival at Cholula
that the natives learned how terrible was their vengeance; and they

None trembled more than the Aztec emperor on his throne among the
mountains. He read in these events the dark characters traced by the
finger of Destiny.[222] He felt his empire melting away like a morning
mist. He might well feel so. Some of the most important cities in the
neighborhood of Cholula, intimidated by the fate of that capital, new
sent their envoys to the Castilian camp, tendering their allegiance, and
propitiating the favor of the strangers by rich presents of gold and
slaves.[223] Montezuma, alarmed at these signs of defection, took
counsel again of his impotent deities; but, although the altars smoked
with fresh hecatombs of human victims, he obtained no cheering response.
He determined, therefore, to send another embassy to the Spaniards,
disavowing any participation in the conspiracy of Cholula.

Meanwhile Cortés was passing his time in that capital. He thought that
the impression produced by the late scenes, and by the present
restoration of tranquillity, offered a fair opportunity for the good
work of conversion. He accordingly urged the citizens to embrace the
Cross and abandon the false guardians who had abandoned them in their
extremity. But the traditions of centuries rested on the Holy City,
shedding a halo of glory around it as “the sanctuary of the gods,” the
religious capital of Anahuac. It was too much to expect that the people
would willingly resign this pre-eminence and descend to the level of an
ordinary community. Still Cortés might have pressed the matter, however
unpalatable, but for the renewed interposition of the wise Olmedo, who
persuaded him to postpone it till after the reduction of the whole

The Spanish general, however, had the satisfaction to break open the
cages in which the victims for sacrifice were confined, and to dismiss
the trembling inmates to liberty and life. He also seized upon the great
_teocalli_, and devoted that portion of the building which, being of
stone, had escaped the fury of the flames, to the purposes of a
Christian church; while a crucifix of stone and lime, of gigantic
dimensions, spreading out its arms above the city, proclaimed that the
population below was under the protection of the Cross. On the same spot
now stands a temple overshadowed by dark cypresses of unknown antiquity,
and dedicated to Our Lady _de los Remedios_. An image of the Virgin
presides over it, _said_ to have been left by the Conqueror
himself;[225] and an Indian ecclesiastic, a descendant of the ancient
Cholulans, performs the peaceful services of the Roman Catholic
communion on the spot where his ancestors celebrated the sanguinary
rites of the mystic Quetzalcoatl.[226]

During the occurrence of these events, envoys arrived from Mexico. They
were charged, as usual, with a rich present of plate and ornaments of
gold, among others, artificial birds in imitation of turkeys, with
plumes of the same precious metal. To these were added fifteen hundred
cotton dresses of delicate fabric. The emperor even expressed his
regret at the catastrophe of Cholula, vindicated himself from any share
in the conspiracy which he said had brought deserved retribution on the
heads of its authors, and explained the existence of an Aztec force in
the neighborhood by the necessity of repressing some disorders

One cannot contemplate this pusillanimous conduct of Montezuma without
mingled feelings of pity and contempt. It is not easy to reconcile his
assumed innocence of the plot with many circumstances connected with it.
But it must be remembered here, and always, that his history is to be
collected solely from Spanish writers and such of the natives as
flourished after the Conquest, when the country had become a colony of
Spain. Not an Aztec record of the primitive age survives, in a form
capable of interpretation.[228] It is the hard fate of this unfortunate
monarch to be wholly indebted for his portraiture to the pencil of his

More than a fortnight had elapsed since the entrance of the Spaniards
into Cholula, and Cortés now resolved without loss of time to resume his
march towards the capital. His rigorous reprisals had so far intimidated
the Cholulans that he felt assured he should no longer leave an active
enemy in his rear, to annoy him in case of retreat. He had the
satisfaction, before his departure, to heal the feud--in outward
appearance, at least--that had so long subsisted between the Holy City
and Tlascala, and which, under the revolution which so soon changed the
destinies of the country, never revived.

It was with some disquietude that he now received an application from
his Cempoallan allies to be allowed to withdraw from the expedition and
return to their own homes. They had incurred too deeply the resentment
of the Aztec emperor, by their insults to his collectors, and by their
co-operation with the Spaniards, to care to trust themselves in his
capital. It was in vain Cortés endeavored to reassure them by promised
of his protection. Their habitual distrust and dread of “the great
Montezuma” were not to be overcome. The general learned their
determination with regret, for they had been of infinite service to the
cause by their stanch fidelity and courage. All this made it the more
difficult for him to resist their reasonable demand. Liberally
recompensing their services, therefore, from the rich wardrobe and
treasures of the emperor, he took leave of his faithful followers,
before his own departure from Cholula. He availed himself of their
return to send letters to Juan de Escalante, his lieutenant at Vera
Cruz, acquainting him with the successful progress of the expedition. He
enjoined on that officer to strengthen the fortifications of the place,
so as the better to resist any hostile interference from Cuba,--an event
for which Cortés was ever on the watch,--and to keep down revolt among
the natives. He especially commended the Totonacs to his protection, as
allies whose fidelity to the Spaniards exposed them, in no slight
degree, to the vengeance of the Aztecs.[229]




Everything being now restored to quiet in Cholula, the allied army of
Spaniards and Tlascalans set forward in high spirits, and resumed the
march on Mexico. The road lay through the beautiful savannas and
luxuriant plantations that spread out for several leagues in every
direction. On the march, they were met occasionally by embassies from
the neighboring places, anxious to claim the protection of the white
men, and to propitiate them by gifts, especially of gold, their appetite
for which was generally known throughout the country.

Some of these places were allies of the Tlascalans, and all showed much
discontent with the oppressive rule of Montezuma. The natives cautioned
the Spaniards against putting themselves in his power by entering his
capital; and they stated, as evidence of his hostile disposition, that
he had caused the direct road to it to be blocked up, that the
strangers might be compelled to choose another, which, from its narrow
passes and strong positions, would enable him to take them at great

The information was not lost on Cortés, who kept a strict eye on the
movements of the Mexican envoys, and redoubled his own precautions
against surprise.[230] Cheerful and active, he was ever where his
presence was needed, sometimes in the van, at others in the rear,
encouraging the weak, stimulating the sluggish, and striving to kindle
in the breasts of others the same courageous spirit which glowed in his
own. At night he never omitted to go the rounds, to see that every man
was at his post. On one occasion his vigilance had wellnigh proved fatal
to him. He approached so near a sentinel that the man, unable to
distinguish his person in the dark, levelled his cross-bow at him, when
fortunately an exclamation of the general, who gave the watchword of the
night, arrested a movement which might else have brought the campaign to
a close and given a respite for some time longer to the empire of

The army came at length to the place mentioned by the friendly Indians,
where the road forked, and one arm of it was found, as they had
foretold, obstructed with large trunks of trees, and huge stones which
had been strewn across it. Cortés inquired the meaning of this from the
Mexican ambassadors. They said it was done by the emperor’s orders, to
prevent their taking a route which, after some distance, they would find
nearly impracticable for the cavalry. They acknowledged, however, that
it was the most direct road; and Cortés, declaring that this was enough
to decide him in favor of it, as the Spaniards made no account of
obstacles, commanded the rubbish to be cleared away. Some of the timber
might still be seen by the roadside, as Bernal Diaz tells us, many years
after. The event left little doubt in the general’s mind of the
meditated treachery of the Mexicans. But he was too politic to betray
his suspicions.[231]

They were now leaving the pleasant champaign country, as the road wound
up the bold sierra which separates the great plateaus of Mexico and
Puebla. The air, as they ascended, became keen and piercing; and the
blasts, sweeping down the frozen sides of the mountains, made the
soldiers shiver in their thick harness of cotton, and benumbed the limbs
of both men and horses.

They were passing between two of the highest mountains on the North
American continent; Popocatepetl, “the hill that smokes,” and
Iztaccihuatl, or “white woman,”[232]--a name suggested, doubtless, by
the bright robe of snow spread over its broad and broken surface. A
puerile superstition of the Indians regarded these celebrated mountains
as gods, and Iztaccihuatl as the wife of her more formidable
neighbor.[233] A tradition of a higher character described the northern
volcano as the abode of the departed spirits of wicked rulers, whose
fiery agonies in their prison-house caused the fearful bellowings and
convulsions in times of eruption. It was the classic fable of
antiquity.[234] These superstitious legends had invested the mountain
with a mysterious horror, that made the natives shrink from attempting
its ascent, which, indeed, was from natural causes a work of incredible

The great _volcan_,[235] as Popocatepetl was called, rose to the
enormous height of 17,852 feet above the level of the sea; more than
2000 feet above the “monarch of mountains,”--the highest elevation in
Europe.[236] During the present century it has rarely given evidence of
its volcanic origin, and “the hill that smokes” has almost forfeited its
claim to the appellation. But at the time of the Conquest it was
frequently in a state of activity, and raged with uncommon fury while
the Spaniards were at Tlascala; an evil omen, it was thought, for the
natives of Anahuac. Its head, gathered into a regular cone by the
deposit of successive eruptions, wore the usual form of volcanic
mountains when not disturbed by the falling in of the crater. Soaring
towards the skies, with its silver sheet of everlasting snow, it was
seen far and wide over the broad plains of Mexico and Puebla, the first
object which the morning sun greeted in his rising, the last where his
evening rays were seen to linger, shedding a glorious effulgence over
its head, that contrasted strikingly with the ruinous waste of sand and
lava immediately below, and the deep fringe of funereal pines that
shrouded its base.

The mysterious terrors which hung over the spot, and the wild love of
adventure, made some of the Spanish cavaliers desirous to attempt the
ascent, which the natives declared no man could accomplish and live.
Cortés encouraged them in the enterprise, willing to show the Indians
that no achievement was above the dauntless daring of his followers. One
of his captains, accordingly, Diego Ordaz, with nine Spaniards, and
several Tlascalans, encouraged by their example, undertook the ascent.
It was attended with more difficulty than had been anticipated.

The lower region was clothed with a dense forest, so thickly matted that
in some places it was scarcely possible to penetrate it. It grew
thinner, however, as they advanced, dwindling by degrees into a
straggling, stunted vegetation, till, at the height of somewhat more
than thirteen thousand feet, ¡t faded away altogether. The Indians who
had held on thus far, intimidated by the strange subterraneous sounds of
the volcano, even then in a state of combustion, now left them. The
track opened on a black surface of glazed volcanic sand and of lava, the
broken fragments of which, arrested in its boiling progress in a
thousand fantastic forms, opposed continual impediments to their
advance. Amidst these, one huge rock, the _Pico del Fraile_, a
conspicuous object from below, rose to the perpendicular height of a
hundred and fifty feet, compelling them to take a wide circuit. They
soon came to the limits of perpetual snow, where new difficulties
presented themselves, as the treacherous ice gave an imperfect footing,
and a false step might precipitate them into the frozen chasms that
yawned around. To increase their distress, respiration in these aerial
regions became so difficult that every effort was attended with sharp
pains in the head and limbs. Still they pressed on, till, drawing nearer
the crater, such volumes of smoke, sparks, and cinders were belched
forth from its burning entrails, and driven down the sides of the
mountain, as nearly suffocated and blinded them. It was too much even
for their hardy frames to endure, and, however reluctantly, they were
compelled to abandon the attempt on the eve of its completion. They
brought back some huge icicles,--a curious sight in these tropical
regions,--as a trophy of their achievement, which, however imperfect,
was sufficient to strike the minds of the natives with wonder, by
showing that with the Spaniards the most appalling and mysterious
perils were only as pastimes. The undertaking was eminently
characteristic of the bold spirit of the cavalier of that day, who, not
content with the dangers that lay in his path, seemed to court them from
the mere Quixotic love of adventure. A report of the affair was
transmitted to the emperor Charles the Fifth, and the family of Ordaz
was allowed to commemorate the exploit by assuming a burning mountain on
their escutcheon.[237]

The general was not satisfied with the result. Two years after, he sent
up another party, under Francisco Montaño, a cavalier of determined
resolution. The object was to obtain sulphur to assist in making
gunpowder for the army. The mountain was quiet at this time, and the
expedition was attended with better success. The Spaniards, five in
number, climbed to the very edge of the crater, which presented an
irregular ellipse at its mouth, more than a league in circumference. Its
depth might be from eight hundred to a thousand feet. A lurid flame
burned gloomily at the bottom, sending up a sulphurous steam, which,
cooling as it rose, was precipitated on the sides of the cavity. The
party cast lots, and it fell on Montaño himself, to descend in a basket
into this hideous abyss, into which he was lowered by his companions to
the depth of four hundred feet! This was repeated several times, till
the adventurous cavalier had collected a sufficient quantity of sulphur
for the wants of the army.[238] This doughty enterprise excited general
admiration at the time. Cortés concludes his report of it to the emperor
with the judicious reflection that it would be less inconvenient, on the
whole, to import their powder from Spain.[239]

But it is time to return from our digression, which may perhaps be
excused, as illustrating, in a remarkable manner, the chimerical spirit
of enterprise--not inferior to that in his own romances of
chivalry--which glowed in the breast of the Spanish cavalier in the
sixteenth century.

The army held on its march through the intricate gorges of the sierra.
The route was nearly the same as that pursued at the present day by the
courier from the capital to Puebla, by the way of Mecameca.[240] It was
not that usually taken by travellers from Vera Cruz, who follow the more
circuitous road round the northern base of Iztaccihuatl, as less
fatiguing than the other, though inferior in picturesque scenery and
romantic points of view. The icy winds, that now swept down the sides of
the mountains, brought with them a tempest of arrowy sleet and snow,
from which the Christians suffered even more than the Tlascalans, reared
from infancy among the wild solitudes of their own native hills. As
night came on, their sufferings would have been intolerable, but they
luckily found a shelter in the commodious stone buildings which the
Mexican government had placed at stated intervals along the roads for
the accommodation of the traveller and their own couriers. It little
dreamed it was providing a protection for its enemies.

The troops, refreshed by a night’s rest, succeeded, early on the
following day, in gaining the crest of the sierra of Ahualco, which
stretches like a curtain between the two great mountains on the north
and south. Their progress was now comparatively easy, and they marched
forward with a buoyant step, as they felt they were treading the soil of

They had not advanced far, when, turning an angle of the sierra, they
suddenly came on a view which more than compensated the toils of the
preceding day. It was that of the Valley of Mexico, or Tenochtitlan, as
more commonly called by the natives; which, with its picturesque
assemblage of water, woodland, and cultivated plains, its shining cities
and shadowy hills, was spread out like some gay and gorgeous panorama
before them. In the highly rarefied atmosphere of these upper regions,
even remote objects have a brilliancy of coloring and a distinctness of
outline which seem to annihilate distance.[241] Stretching far away at
their feet, were seen noble forests of oak, sycamore, and cedar, and
beyond, yellow fields of maize and the towering maguey, intermingled
with orchards and blooming gardens; for flowers, in such demand for
their religious festivals, were even more abundant in this populous
valley than in other parts of Anahuac. In the centre of the great basin
were beheld the lakes, occupying then a much larger portion of its
surface than at present; their borders thickly studded with towns and
hamlets, and, in the midst,--like some Indian empress with her coronal
of pearls,--the fair city of Mexico, with her white towers and pyramidal
temples, reposing, as it were, on the bosom of the waters,--the
far-famed “Venice of the Aztecs.” High over all rose the royal hill of
Chapoltepec, the residence of the Mexican monarchs, crowned with the
same grove of gigantic cypresses which at this day fling their broad
shadows over the land. In the distance beyond the blue waters of the
lake, and nearly screened by intervening foliage, was seen a shining
speck, the rival capital of Tezcuco, and, still farther on, the dark
belt of porphyry, girdling the Valley around, like a rich setting which
Nature had devised for the fairest of her jewels.

Such was the beautiful vision which broke on the eyes of the Conquerors.
And even now, when so sad a change has come over the scene; when the
stately forests have been laid low, and the soil, unsheltered from the
fierce radiance of a tropical sun, is in many places abandoned to
sterility; when the waters have retired, leaving a broad and ghastly
margin white with the incrustation of salts, while the cities and
hamlets on their borders have mouldered into ruins;--even now that
desolation broods over the landscape, so indestructible are the lines of
beauty which Nature has traced on its features, that no traveller,
however cold, can gaze on them with any other emotions than those of
astonishment and rapture.[242]

What, then, must have been the emotions of the Spaniards, when, after
working their toilsome way into the upper air, the cloudy tabernacle
parted before their eyes, and they beheld these fair scenes in all
their pristine magnificence and beauty! It was like the spectacle which
greeted the eyes of Moses from the summit of Pisgah, and, in the warm
glow of their feelings, they cried out, “It is the promised land!”[243]

But these feelings of admiration were soon followed by others of a very
different complexion, as they saw in all this the evidences of a
civilization and power far superior to anything they had yet
encountered. The more timid, disheartened by the prospect, shrank from a
contest so unequal, and demanded, as they had done on some former
occasions, to be led back again to Vera Cruz. Such was not the effect
produced on the sanguine spirit of the general. His avarice was
sharpened by the display of the dazzling spoil at his feet; and, if he
felt a natural anxiety at the formidable odds, his confidence was
renewed, as he gazed on the lines of his veterans, whose weather-beaten
visages and battered armor told of battles won and difficulties
surmounted, while his bold barbarians, with appetites whetted by the
view of their enemies’ country, seemed like eagles on the mountains,
ready to pounce upon their prey. By argument, entreaty, and menace, he
endeavored to restore the faltering courage of the soldiers, urging them
not to think of retreat, now that they had reached the goal for which
they had panted, and the golden gates were opened to receive them. In
these efforts he was well seconded by the brave cavaliers, who held
honor as dear to them as fortune; until the dullest spirits caught
somewhat of the enthusiasm of their leaders, and the general had the
satisfaction to see his hesitating columns, with their usual buoyant
step, once more on their march down the slopes of the sierra.[244]

With every step of their progress, the woods became thinner; patches of
cultivated land more frequent; and hamlets were seen in the green and
sheltered nooks, the inhabitants of which, coming out to meet them, gave
the troops a kind reception. Everywhere they heard complaints of
Montezuma, especially of the unfeeling manner in which he carried off
their young men to recruit his armies, and their maidens for his harem.
These symptoms of discontent were noticed with satisfaction by Cortés,
who saw that Montezuma’s “mountain-throne,” as it was called, was indeed
seated on a volcano, with the elements of combustion so active within
that it seemed as if any hour might witness an explosion. He encouraged
the disaffected natives to rely on his protection, as he had come to
redress their wrongs. He took advantage, moreover, of their favorable
dispositions, to scatter among them such gleams of spiritual light as
time and the preaching of Father Olmedo could afford.

He advanced by easy stages, somewhat retarded by the crowd of curious
inhabitants gathered on the highways to see the strangers, and halting
at every spot of interest or importance. On the road, he was met by
another embassy from the capital. It consisted of several Aztec lords,
freighted, as usual, with a rich largess of gold, and robes of delicate
furs and feathers. The message of the emperor was couched in the same
deprecatory terms as before. He even condescended to bribe the return of
the Spaniards, by promising, in that event, four loads of gold to the
general, and one to each of the captains,[245] with a yearly tribute to
their sovereign. So effectually had the lofty and naturally courageous
spirit of the barbarian monarch been subdued by the influence of

But the man whom the hostile array of armies could not daunt was not to
be turned from his purpose by a woman’s prayers. He received the embassy
with his usual courtesy, declaring, as before, that he could not answer
it to his own sovereign if he were now to return without visiting the
emperor in his capital. It would be much easier to arrange matters by a
personal interview than by distant negotiation. The Spaniards came in
the spirit of peace. Montezuma would so find it; but, should their
presence prove burdensome to him, it would be easy for them to relieve
him of it.[246]

The Aztec monarch, meanwhile, was a prey to the most dismal
apprehensions. It was intended that the embassy above noticed should
reach the Spaniards before they crossed the mountains. When he learned
that this was accomplished, and that the dread strangers were on their
march across the Valley, the very threshold of his capital, the last
spark of hope died away in his bosom. Like one who suddenly finds
himself on the brink of some dark and yawning gulf, he was too much
bewildered to be able to rally his thoughts, or even to comprehend his
situation. He was the victim of an absolute destiny, against which no
foresight or precautions could have availed. It was as if the strange
beings who had thus invaded his shores had dropped from some distant
planet, so different were they from all he had ever seen, in appearance
and manners; so superior--though a mere handful in numbers--to the
banded nations of Anahuac in strength and science and all the fearful
accompaniments of war! They were now in the Valley. The huge mountain
screen, which nature had so kindly drawn around it for its defence, had
been overleaped. The golden visions of security and repose in which he
had so long indulged, the lordly sway descended from his ancestors, his
broad imperial domain, were all to pass away. It seemed like some
terrible dream,--from which he was now, alas! to awake to a still more
terrible reality.

In a paroxysm of despair, he shut himself up in his palace, refused
food, and sought relief in prayer and in sacrifice. But the oracles were
dumb. He then adopted the more sensible expedient of calling a council
of his principal and oldest nobles. Here was the same division of
opinion which had before prevailed. Cacama, the young king of Tezcuco,
his nephew, counselled him to receive the Spaniards courteously, as
ambassadors, so styled by themselves, of a foreign prince. Cuitlahua,
Montezuma’s more warlike brother, urged him to muster his forces on the
instant, and drive back the invaders from his capital or die in its
defence. But the monarch found it difficult to rally his spirits for
this final struggle. With downcast eye and dejected mien, he exclaimed,
“Of what avail is resistance, when the gods have declared themselves
against us?[247] Yet I mourn most for the old and infirm, the women and
children, too feeble to fight or to fly. For myself and the brave men
around me, we must bare our breasts to the storm, and meet it as we
may!” Such are the sorrowful and sympathetic tones in which the Aztec
emperor is said to have uttered the bitterness of his grief. He would
have acted a more glorious part had he put his capital in a posture of
defence, and prepared, like the last of the Palæologi, to bury himself
under its ruins.[248]

He straightway prepared to send a last embassy to the Spaniards, with
his nephew, the lord of Tezcuco, at its head, to welcome them to Mexico.

The Christian army, meanwhile, had advanced as far as Amaquemecan, a
well-built town of several thousand inhabitants. They were kindly
received by the cacique, lodged in large, commodious, stone buildings,
and at their departure presented, among other things, with gold to the
amount of three thousand _castellanos_.[249] Having halted there a
couple of days, they descended among flourishing plantations of maize
and of maguey, the latter of which might be called the Aztec vineyards,
towards the lake of Chalco. Their first resting-place was Ajotzinco, a
town of considerable size, with a great part of it then standing on
piles in the water. It was the first specimen which the Spaniards had
seen of this maritime architecture. The canals which intersected the
city, instead of streets, presented an animated scene, from the number
of barks which glided up and down freighted with provisions and other
articles for the inhabitants. The Spaniards were particularly struck
with the style and commodious structure of the houses, built chiefly of
stone, and with the general aspect of wealth and even elegance which
prevailed there.

Though received with the greatest show of hospitality, Cortés found some
occasion for distrust in the eagerness manifested by the people to see
and approach the Spaniards.[250] Not content with gazing at them in the
roads, some even made their way stealthily into their quarters, and
fifteen or twenty unhappy Indians were shot down by the sentinels as
spies. Yet there appears, as well as we can judge, at this distance of
time, to have been no real ground for such suspicion. The undisguised
jealousy of the court, and the cautions he had received from his allies,
while they very properly put the general on his guard, seem to have
given an unnatural acuteness, at least in the present instance, to his
perceptions of danger.[251]

Early on the following morning, as the army was preparing to leave the
place, a courier came, requesting the general to postpone his departure
till after the arrival of the king of Tezcuco, who was advancing to meet
him. It was not long before he appeared, borne in a palanquin or litter,
richly decorated with plates of gold and precious stones, having pillars
curiously wrought, supporting a canopy of green plumes, a favorite color
with the Aztec princes. He was accompanied by a numerous suite of nobles
and inferior attendants. As he came into the presence of Cortés, the
lord of Tezcuco descended from his palanquin, and the obsequious
officers swept the ground before him as he advanced. He appeared to be a
young man of about twenty-five years of age, with a comely presence,
erect and stately in his deportment. He made the Mexican salutation
usually addressed to persons of high rank, touching the earth with his
right hand, and raising it to his head. Cortés embraced him as he rose,
when the young prince informed him that he came as the representative of
Montezuma, to bid the Spaniards welcome to his capital. He then
presented the general with three pearls of uncommon size and lustre.
Cortés, in return, threw over Cacama’s neck a chain of cut glass, which,
where glass was as rare as diamonds, might be admitted to have a value
as real as the latter. After this interchange of courtesies, and the
most friendly and respectful assurances on the part of Cortés, the
Indian prince withdrew, leaving the Spaniards strongly impressed with
the superiority of his state and bearing over anything they had hitherto
seen in the country.[252]

Resuming its march, the army kept along the southern borders of the lake
of Chalco, overshadowed, at that time, by noble woods, and by orchards
glowing with autumnal fruits, of unknown names, but rich and tempting
hues. More it passed through cultivated fields waving with the yellow
harvest, and irrigated by canals introduced from the neighboring lake;
the whole showing a careful and economical husbandry, essential to the
maintenance of a crowded population.

Leaving the main land, the Spaniards came on the great dike or causeway,
which stretches some four or five miles in length and divides lake
Chalco from Xochicalco on the west. It was a lance in breadth in the
narrowest part, and in some places wide enough for eight horsemen to
ride abreast. It was a solid structure of stone and lime running
directly through the lake, and struck the Spaniards as one of the most
remarkable works which they had seen in the country.

As they passed along, they beheld the gay spectacle of multitudes of
Indians darting up and down in their light pirogues, eager to catch a
glimpse of the strangers, or bearing the products of the country to the
neighboring cities. They were amazed, also, by the sight of the
_chinampas_, or floating gardens,--those wandering islands of verdure,
to which we shall have occasion to return hereafter,--teeming with
flowers and vegetables, and moving like rafts over the waters. All round
the margin, and occasionally far in the lake, they beheld little towns
and villages, which, half concealed by the foliage, and gathered in
white clusters round the shore, looked in the distance like companies of
wild swans riding quietly on the waves. A scene so new and wonderful
filled their rude hearts with amazement. It seemed like enchantment; and
they could find nothing to compare it with but the magical pictures in
the “Amadis de Gaula.”[253] Few pictures, indeed, in that or any other
legend of chivalry, could surpass the realities of their own experience.
The life of the adventurer in the New World was romance put into action.
What wonder, then, if the Spaniard of that day, feeding his imagination
with dreams of enchantment at home and with its realities abroad, should
have displayed a Quixotic enthusiasm,--a romantic exaltation of
character, not to be comprehended by the colder spirits of other lands!

Midway across the lake the army halted at the town of Cuitlahuac, a
place of moderate size, but distinguished by the beauty of the
buildings,--the most beautiful, according to Cortés, that he had yet
seen in the country.[254] After taking some refreshment at this place,
they continued their march along the dike. Though broader in this
northern section, the troops found themselves much embarrassed by the
throng of Indians, who, not content with gazing on them from the boats,
climbed up the causeway and lined the sides of the road. The general,
afraid that his ranks might be disordered, and that too great
familiarity might diminish a salutary awe in the natives, was obliged to
resort not merely to command, but menace, to clear a passage. He now
found, as he advanced, a considerable change in the feelings shown
towards the government. He heard only of the pomp and magnificence,
nothing of the oppressions, of Montezuma. Contrary to the usual fact, it
seemed that the respect for the court was greatest in its immediate

From the causeway, the army descended on that narrow point of land which
divides the waters of the Chalco from the Tezcucan lake, but which in
those days was overflowed for many a mile now laid bare.[255] Traversing
this peninsula, they entered the royal residence of Iztapalapan, a place
containing twelve or fifteen thousand houses, according to Cortés.[256]
It was governed by Cuitlahua, the emperor’s brother, who, to do greater
honor to the general, had invited the lords of some neighboring cities,
of the royal house of Mexico, like himself, to be present at the
interview. This was conducted with much ceremony, and, after the usual
present of gold and delicate stuffs,[257] a collation was served to the
Spaniards in one of the great halls of the palace. The excellence of the
architecture here, also, excited the admiration of the general, who does
not hesitate, in the glow of his enthusiasm, to pronounce some of the
buildings equal to the best in Spain.[258] They were of stone, and the
spacious apartments had roofs of odorous cedar-wood, while the walls
were tapestried with fine cotton stained with brilliant colors.

But the pride of Iztapalapan, on which its lord had freely lavished his
care and his revenues, was its celebrated gardens. They covered an
immense tract of land; were laid out in regular squares, and the paths
intersecting them were bordered with trellises, supporting creepers and
aromatic shrubs that loaded the air with their perfumes. The gardens
were stocked with fruit-trees, imported from distant places, and with
the gaudy family of flowers which belonged to the Mexican flora,
scientifically arranged, and growing luxuriant in the equable
temperature of the table-land. The natural dryness of the atmosphere was
counteracted by means of aqueducts and canals that carried water into
all parts of the grounds.

In one quarter was an aviary, filled with numerous kinds of birds,
remarkable in this region both for brilliancy of plumage and of song.
The gardens were intersected by a canal communicating with the lake of
Tezcuco, and of sufficient size for barges to enter from the latter. But
the most elaborate piece of work was a huge reservoir of stone, filled
to a considerable height with water well supplied with different sorts
of fish. The basin was sixteen hundred paces in circumference, and was
surrounded by a walk, made also of stone, wide enough for four persons
to go abreast. The sides were curiously sculptured, and a flight of
steps led to the water below, which fed the aqueducts above noticed, or,
collected into fountains, diffused a perpetual moisture.

Such are the accounts transmitted of these celebrated gardens, at a
period when similar horticultural establishments were unknown in
Europe;[259] and we might well doubt their existence in this
semi-civilized land, were it not a matter of such notoriety at the time
and so explicitly attested by the invaders. But a generation had
scarcely passed after the Conquest, before a sad change came over these
scenes so beautiful. The town itself was deserted, and the shore of the
lake was strewed with the wreck of buildings which once were its
ornament and its glory. The garden shared the fate of the city. The
retreating waters withdrew the means of nourishment, converting the
flourishing plains into a foul and unsightly morass, the haunt of
loathsome reptiles; and the water-fowl built her nest in what had once
been the palaces of princes![260]

In the city of Iztapalapan, Cortés took up his quarters for the night.
We may imagine what a crowd of ideas must have pressed on the mind of
the Conqueror, as, surrounded by these evidences of civilization, he
prepared with his handful of followers to enter the capital of a monarch
who, as he had abundant reason to know, regarded him with distrust and
aversion. This capital was now but a few miles distant, distinctly
visible from Iztapalapan. And as its long lines of glittering edifices,
struck by the rays of the evening sun, trembled on the dark-blue waters
of the lake, it looked like a thing of fairy creation, rather than the
work of mortal hands. Into this city of enchantment Cortés prepared to
make his entry on the following morning.[32]




With the first faint streak of dawn, the Spanish general was up,
mustering his followers. They gathered, with beating hearts, under their
respective banners, as the trumpet sent forth its spirit-stirring sounds
across water and woodland, till they died away in distant echoes among
the mountains. The sacred flames on the altars of numberless
_teocallis_, dimly seen through the gray mists of morning,[261]
indicated the site of the capital, till temple, tower, and palace were
fully revealed in the glorious illumination which the sun, as he rose
above the eastern barrier, poured over the beautiful Valley. It was the
eighth of November, 1519, a conspicuous day in history, as that on
which the Europeans first set foot in the capital of the Western World.

Cortés with his little body of horse formed a sort of advanced guard to
the army. Then came the Spanish infantry, who in a summer’s campaign had
acquired the discipline and the weather-beaten aspect of veterans. The
baggage occupied the centre; and the rear was closed by the dark
files[262] of Tlascalan warriors. The whole number must have fallen
short of seven thousand; of which less than four hundred were

For a short distance, the army kept along the narrow tongue of land that
divides the Tezcucan from the Chalcan waters, when it entered on the
great dike, which, with the exception of an angle near the commencement,
stretches in a perfectly straight line across the salt floods of Tezcuco
to the gates of the capital. It was the same causeway, or rather the
basis of that, which still forms the great southern avenue of
Mexico.[264] The Spaniards had occasion more than ever to admire the
mechanical science of the Aztecs, in the geometrical precision with
which the work was executed, as well as the solidity of its
construction. It was composed of huge stones well laid in cement, and
wide enough, throughout its whole extent, for ten horsemen to ride

They saw, as they passed along, several large towns, resting on piles,
and reaching far into the water,--a kind of architecture which found
great favor with the Aztecs, being in imitation of that of their
metropolis.[265] The busy population obtained a good subsistence from
the manufacture of salt, which they extracted from the waters of the
great lake. The duties on the traffic in this article were a
considerable source of revenue to the crown.

Everywhere the Conquerors beheld the evidence of a crowded and thriving
population, exceeding all they had yet seen. The temples and principal
buildings of the cities were covered with a hard white stucco, which
glistened like enamel in the level beams of the morning. The margin of
the great basin was more thickly gemmed than that of Chalco with towns
and hamlets.[266] The water was darkened by swarms of canoes filled
with Indians,[267] who clambered up the sides of the causeway and gazed
with curious astonishment on the strangers. And here, also, they beheld
those fairy islands of flowers, overshadowed occasionally by trees of
considerable size, rising and falling with the gentle undulation of the
billows. At the distance of half a league from the capital, they
encountered a solid work or curtain of stone, which traversed the dike.
It was twelve feet high, was strengthened by towers at the extremities,
and in the centre was a battlemented gateway, which opened a passage to
the troops. It was called the Fort of Xoloc, and became memorable in
after-times as the position occupied by Cortés in the famous siege of

Here they were met by several hundred Aztec chiefs, who came out to
announce the approach of Montezuma and to welcome the Spaniards to his
capital. They were dressed in the fanciful gala costume of the country,
with the _maxtlatl_, or cotton sash, around their loins, and a broad
mantle of the same material, or of the brilliant feather-embroidery,
flowing gracefully down their shoulders. On their necks and arms they
displayed collars and bracelets of turquoise mosaic, with which
delicate plumage was furiously mingled,[268] while their ears,
under-lips, and occasionally their noses, were garnished with pendants
formed of precious stones, or crescents of fine gold. As each cacique
made the usual formal salutation of the country separately to the
general, the tedious ceremony delayed the march more than an hour. After
this, the army experienced no further interruption till it reached a
bridge near the gates of the city. It was built of wood, since replaced
by one of stone, and was thrown across an opening of the dike, which
furnished an outlet to the waters when agitated by the winds or swollen
by a sudden influx in the rainy season. It was a drawbridge; and the
Spaniards, as they crossed it, felt how truly they were committing
themselves to the mercy of Montezuma, who, by thus cutting off their
communications with the country, might hold them prisoners in his

In the midst of these unpleasant reflections, they beheld the glittering
retinue of the emperor emerging from the great street which led then, as
it still does, through the heart of the city.[270] Amidst a crowd of
Indian nobles, preceded by three officers of state bearing golden
wands,[271] they saw the royal palanquin blazing with burnished gold. It
was borne on the shoulders of nobles, and over it a canopy of gaudy
feather-work, powdered with jewels and fringed with silver, was
supported by four attendants of the same rank. They were bare-ooted, and
walked with a slow, measured pace, and with eyes bent on the ground.
When the train had come within a convenient distance, it halted, and
Montezuma, descending from his litter, came forward, leaning on the arms
of the lords of Tezcuco and Iztapalapan, his nephew and brother, both of
whom, as we have seen, had already been made known to the Spaniards. As
the monarch advanced under the canopy, the obsequious attendants strewed
the ground with cotton tapestry, that his imperial feet might not be
contaminated by the rude soil. His subjects of high and low degree, who
lined the sides of the causeway, bent forward with their eyes fastened
on the ground as he passed, and some of the humbler class prostrated
themselves before him.[272] Such was the homage paid to the Indian
despot, showing that the slavish forms of Oriental adulation were to be
found among the rude inhabitants of the Western World.

Montezuma wore the girdle and ample square cloak, _tilmatli_, of his
nation. It was made of the finest cotton, with the embroidered ends
gathered in a knot round his neck. His feet were defended by sandals
having soles of gold, and the leathern thongs which bound them to his
ankles were embossed with the same metal. Both the cloak and sandals
were sprinkled with pearls and precious stones, among which the emerald
and the _chalchivitl_--a green stone of higher estimation than any other
among the Aztecs--were conspicuous. On his head he wore no other
ornament than a _panache_ of plumes of the royal green, which floated
down his back, the badge of military, rather than of regal, rank.

He was at this time about forty years of age. His person was tall and
thin, but not ill made. His hair, which was black and straight, was not
very long; to wear it short was considered unbecoming persons of rank.
His beard was thin; his complexion somewhat paler than is often found in
his dusky, or rather copper-colored, race. His features, though serious
in their expression, did not wear the look of melancholy, indeed, of
dejection, which characterizes his portrait, and which may well have
settled on them at a later period. He moved with dignity, and his whole
demeanor, tempered by an expression of benignity not to have been
anticipated from the reports circulated of his character, was worthy of
a great prince. Such is the portrait left to us of the celebrated Indian
emperor in this his first interview with the white men.[273]

The army halted as he drew near. Cortés, dismounting, threw his reins to
a page, and, supported by a few of the principal cavaliers, advanced to
meet him. The interview must have been one of uncommon interest to both.
In Montezuma, Cortés beheld the lord of the broad realms he had
traversed, whose magnificence and power had been the burden of every
tongue. In the Spaniard, on the other hand, the Aztec prince saw the
strange being whose history seemed to be so mysteriously connected with
his own; the predicted one of his oracles; whose achievements proclaimed
him something more than human. But, whatever may have been the
monarch’s feelings, he so far suppressed them as to receive his guest
with princely courtesy, and to express his satisfaction at personally
seeing him in his capital.[274] Cortés responded by the most profound
expression of respect, while he made ample acknowledgments for the
substantial proofs which the emperor had given the Spaniards of his
munificence. He then hung round Montezuma’s neck a sparkling chain of
colored crystal, accompanying this with a movement as if to embrace him,
when he was restrained by the two Aztec lords, shocked at the menaced
profanation of the sacred person of their master.[275] After the
interchange of these civilities, Montezuma appointed his brother to
conduct the Spaniards to their residence in the capital, and, again
entering his litter, was borne off amidst prostrate crowds in the same
state in which he had come. The Spaniards quickly followed, and, with
colors flying and music playing, soon made their entrance into the
southern quarter of Tenochtitlan.[276]

Here, again, they found fresh cause for admiration in the grandeur of
the city and the superior style of its architecture. The dwellings of
the poorer class were, indeed, chiefly of reeds and mud. But the great
avenue through which they were now marching was lined with the houses of
the nobles, who were encouraged by the emperor to make the capital
their residence. They were built of a red porous stone drawn from
quarries in the neighborhood, and, though they rarely rose to a second
story, often covered a large space of ground. The flat roofs, _azoteas_,
were protected by stone parapets, so that every house was a fortress.
Sometimes these roofs resembled parterres of flowers, so thickly were
they covered with them, but more frequently these were cultivated in
broad terraced gardens, laid out between the edifices.[277] Occasionally
a great square or market-place intervened, surrounded by its porticoes
of stone and stucco; or a pyramidal temple reared its colossal bulk,
crowned with its tapering sanctuaries, and altars blazing with
inextinguishable fires. The great street facing the southern causeway,
unlike most others in the place, was wide, and extended some miles in
nearly a straight line, as before noticed, through the centre of the
city. A spectator standing at one end of it, as his eye ranged along the
deep vista of temples, terraces, and gardens, might clearly discern the
other, with the blue mountains in the distance, which, in the
transparent atmosphere of the table-land, seemed almost in contact with
the buildings.

But what most impressed the Spaniards was the throngs of people who
swarmed through the streets and on the canals, filling every door-way
and window and clustering on the roofs of the buildings. “I well
remember the spectacle,” exclaims Bernal Diaz: “it seems now, after so
many years, as present to my mind as if it were but yesterday.”[278] But
what must have been the sensation of the Aztecs themselves, as they
looked on the portentous pageant! as they heard, now for the first time,
the well-cemented pavement ring under the iron tramp of the horses,--the
strange animals which fear had clothed in such supernatural terrors; as
they gazed on the children of the East, revealing their celestial origin
in their fair complexions; saw the bright falchions and bonnets of
steel, a metal to them unknown, glancing like meteors in the sun, while
sounds of unearthly music--at least, such as their rude instruments had
never wakened--floated in the air! But every other emotion was lost in
that of deadly hatred, when they beheld their detested enemy the
Tlascalan stalking, in defiance, as it were, through their streets, and
staring around with looks of ferocity and wonder, like some wild animal
of the forest who had strayed by chance from his native fastnesses into
the haunts of civilization.[279]

As they passed down the spacious street, the troops repeatedly traversed
bridges suspended above canals, along which they saw the Indian barks
gliding swiftly with their little cargoes of fruits and vegetables for
the markets of Tenochtitlan.[280] At length they halted before a broad
area near the centre of the city, where rose the huge pyramidal pile
dedicated to the patron war-god of the Aztecs, second only, in size as
well as sanctity, to the temple of Cholula, and covering the same ground
now in part occupied by the great cathedral of Mexico.[281]

Facing the western gate of the enclosure of the temple, stood a low
range of stone buildings, spreading over a wide extent of ground, the
palace of Axayacatl, Montezuma’s father, built by that monarch about
fifty years before.[282] It was appropriated as the barracks of the
Spaniards. The emperor himself was in the court-yard, waiting to receive
them. Approaching Cortés, he took from a vase of flowers, borne by one
of his slaves, a massy collar, in which the shell of a species of
crawfish, much prized by the Indians, was set in gold and connected by
heavy links of the same metal. From this chain depended eight ornaments,
also of gold, made in resemblance of the same shell-fish, a span in
length each, and of delicate workmanship;[283] for the Aztec goldsmiths
were confessed to have shown skill in their craft not inferior to their
brethren of Europe.[284] Montezuma, as he hung the gorgeous collar round
the general’s neck, said, “This palace belongs to you, Malinche”[285]
(the epithet by which he always addressed him), “and your brethren. Rest
after your fatigues, for you have much need to do so, and in a little
while I will visit you again.” So saying, he withdrew with his
attendants, evincing in this act a delicate consideration not to have
been expected in a barbarian.

Cortés’ first care was to inspect his new quarters. The building, though
spacious, was low, consisting of one floor, except, indeed, in the
centre, where it rose to an additional story. The apartments were of
great size, and afforded accommodations, according to the testimony of
the Conquerors themselves, for the whole army![286] The hardy
mountaineers of Tlascala were, probably, not very fastidious, and might
easily find a shelter in the out-buildings, or under temporary awnings
in the ample court-yards. The best apartments were hung with gay cotton
draperies, the floors covered with mats or rushes. There were, also, low
stools made of single pieces of wood elaborately carved, and in most of
the apartments beds made of the palm-leaf, woven into a thick mat, with
coverlets, and sometimes canopies, of cotton. These mats were the only
beds used by the natives, whether of high or low degree.[287]

After a rapid survey of this gigantic pile, the general assigned his
troops their respective quarters, and took as vigilant precautions for
security as if he had anticipated a siege instead of a friendly
entertainment. The place was encompassed by a stone wall of considerable
thickness, with towers or heavy buttresses at intervals, affording a
good means of defence. He planted his cannon so as to command the
approaches, stationed his sentinels along the works, and, in short,
enforced in every respect as strict military discipline as had been
observed in any part of the march. He well knew the importance to his
little band, at least for the present, of conciliating the good will of
the citizens; and, to avoid all possibility of collision, he prohibited
any soldier from leaving his quarters without orders, under pain of
death. Having taken these precautions, he allowed his men to partake of
the bountiful collation which had been prepared for them.

They had been long enough in the country to become reconciled to, if not
to relish, the peculiar cooking of the Aztecs. The appetite of the
soldier is not often dainty, and on the present occasion it cannot be
doubted that the Spaniards did full justice to the savory productions of
the royal kitchen. During the meal they were served by numerous Mexican
slaves, who were, indeed, distributed through the palace, anxious to do
the bidding of the strangers. After the repast was concluded, and they
had taken their _siesta_, not less important to a Spaniard than food
itself, the presence of the emperor was again announced.

Montezuma was attended by a few of his principal nobles. He was received
with much deference by Cortés; and, after the parties had taken their
seats, a conversation commenced between them, through the aid of Doña
Marina, while the cavaliers and Aztec chieftains stood around in
respectful silence.

Montezuma made many inquiries concerning the country of the Spaniards,
their sovereign, the nature of his government, and especially their own
motives in visiting Anahuac. Cortés explained these motives by the
desire to see so distinguished a monarch and to declare to him the true
Faith professed by the Christians. With


[Illustration: _Goupil & Cº., Paris._]

rare discretion, he contented himself with dropping this hint, for the
present, allowing it to ripen in the mind of the emperor, till a future
conference. The latter asked whether those white men who in the
preceding year had landed on the eastern shores of his empire were their
countrymen. He showed himself well informed of the proceedings of the
Spaniards from their arrival in Tabasco to the present time, information
of which had been regularly transmitted in the hieroglyphical paintings.
He was curious, also, in regard to the rank of his visitors in their own
country; inquiring if they were the kinsmen of the sovereign. Cortés
replied, they were kinsmen of one another, and subjects of their great
monarch, who held them all in peculiar estimation. Before his departure,
Montezuma made himself acquainted with the names of the principal
cavaliers, and the position they occupied in the army.

At the conclusion of the interview, the Aztec prince commanded his
attendants to bring forward the presents prepared for his guests. They
consisted of cotton dresses, enough to supply every man, it is said,
including the allies, with a suit![288] And he did not fail to add the
usual accompaniment of gold chains and other ornaments, which he
distributed in profusion among the Spaniards. He then withdrew with the
same ceremony with which he had entered, leaving every one deeply
impressed with his munificence and his affability, so unlike what they
had been taught to expect by what they now considered an invention of
the enemy.[289]

That evening the Spaniards celebrated their arrival in the Mexican
capital by a general discharge of artillery. The thunders of the
ordnance, reverberating among the buildings and shaking them to their
foundations, the stench of the sulphureous vapor that rolled in volumes
above the walls of the encampment, reminding the inhabitants of the
explosions of the great _volcan_, filled the hearts of the superstitious
Aztecs with dismay. It proclaimed to them that their city held in its
bosom those dread beings whose path had been marked with desolation, and
who could call down the thunderbolts to consume their enemies! It was
doubtless the policy of Cortés to strengthen this superstitious feeling
as far as possible, and to impress the natives, at the outset, with a
salutary awe of the supernatural powers of the Spaniards.[290]

On the following morning, the general requested permission to return the
emperor’s visit, by waiting on him in his palace. This was readily
granted, and Montezuma sent his officers to conduct the Spaniards to his
presence. Cortés dressed himself in his richest habit, and left the
quarters attended by Alvarado, Sandoval, Velasquez, and Ordaz, together
with five or six of the common file.

The royal habitation was at no great distance. It stood on the ground,
to the southwest of the cathedral, since covered in part by the _Casa
del Estado_, the palace of the dukes of Monteleone, the descendants of
Cortés.[291] It was a vast, irregular pile of low stone buildings, like
that garrisoned by the Spaniards.[292] So spacious was it, indeed, that,
as one of the Conquerors assures us, although he had visited it more
than once, for the express purpose, he had been too much fatigued each
time by wandering through the apartments ever to see the whole of
it.[293] It was built of the red porous stone of the country,
_tetzontli_, was ornamented with marble, and on the façade over the
principal entrance were sculptured the arms or device of Montezuma,{*}
an eagle bearing an ocelot in his talons.[294]

{*} [The totem or “beast symbol” of the clan to which it belonged.--M.]

In the courts through which the Spaniards passed, fountains of crystal
water were playing, fed from the copious reservoir on the distant hill
of Chapoltepec, and supplying in their turn more than a hundred baths in
the interior of the palace. Crowds of Aztec nobles were sauntering up
and down in these squares, and in the outer halls, loitering away their
hours in attendance on the court. The apartments were of immense size,
though not lofty. The ceilings were of various sorts of odoriferous wood
ingeniously carved; the floors covered with mats of the palm-leaf. The
walls were hung with cotton richly stained, with the skins of wild
animals, or gorgeous draperies of feather-work wrought in imitation of
birds, insects, and flowers, with the nice art and glowing radiance of
colors that might compare with the tapestries of Flanders. Clouds of
incense rolled up from censers and diffused intoxicating odors through
the apartments. The Spaniards might well have fancied themselves in the
voluptuous precincts of an Eastern harem, instead of treading the halls
of a wild barbaric chief in the Western World.[295]

On reaching the hall of audience, the Mexican officers took off their
sandals, and covered their gay attire with a mantle of _nequen_, a
coarse stuff made of the fibres of the maguey, worn only by the poorest
classes. This act of humiliation was imposed on all, except the members
of his own family, who approached the sovereign.[296] Thus bare-footed,
with downcast eyes and formal obeisance, they ushered the Spaniards into
the royal presence.

They found Montezuma seated at the further end of a spacious saloon and
surrounded by a few of his favorite chiefs. He received them kindly, and
very soon Cortés, without much ceremony, entered on the subject which
was uppermost in his thoughts. He was fully aware of the importance of
gaining the royal convert, whose example would have such an influence on
the conversion of his people. The general, therefore, prepared to
display the whole store of his theological science, with the most
winning arts of rhetoric he could command, while the interpretation was
conveyed through the silver tones of Marina, as inseparable from him, on
these occasions, as his shadow.

He set forth, as clearly as he could, the ideas entertained by the
Church in regard to the holy mysteries of the Trinity, the Incarnation,
and the Atonement. From this he ascended to the origin of things, the
creation of the world, the first pair, paradise, and the fall of man. He
assured Montezuma that the idols he worshipped were Satan under
different forms. A sufficient proof of it was the bloody sacrifices they
imposed, which he contrasted with the pure and simple rite of the mass.
Their worship would sink him in perdition. It was to snatch his soul,
and the souls of his people, from the flames of eternal fire by opening
to them a purer faith, that the Christians had come to his land. And he
earnestly besought him not to neglect the occasion, but to secure his
salvation by embracing the Cross, the great sign of human redemption.

The eloquence of the preacher was wasted on the insensible heart of his
royal auditor. It doubtless lost somewhat of its efficacy, strained
through the imperfect interpretation of so recent a neophyte as the
Indian damsel. But the doctrines were too abstruse in themselves to be
comprehended at a glance by the rude intellect of a barbarian. And
Montezuma may have, perhaps, thought it was not more monstrous to feed
on the flesh of a fellow-creature than on that of the Creator
himself.[297] He was, besides, steeped in the superstitions of his
country from his cradle. He had been educated in the straitest sect of
her religion, had been himself a priest before his election to the
throne, and was now the head both of the religion and the state. Little
probability was there that such a man would be open to argument or
persuasion, even from the lips of a more practised polemic than the
Spanish commander. How could he abjure the faith that was intertwined
with the dearest affections of his heart and the very elements of his
being? How could he be false to the gods who had raised him to such
prosperity and honors, and whose shrines were intrusted to his especial

He listened, however, with silent attention, until the general had
concluded his homily. He then replied that he knew the Spaniards had
held this discourse wherever they had been. He doubted not their God
was, as they said, a good being. His gods, also, were good to him. Yet
what his visitor said of the creation of the world was like what he had
been taught to believe.[298] It was not worth while to discourse further
of the matter. His ancestors, he said, were not the original
proprietors of the land. They had occupied it but a few ages, and had
been led there by a great Being, who, after giving them laws and ruling
over the nation for a time, had withdrawn to the regions where the sun
rises. He had declared, on his departure, that he or his descendants
would again visit them and resume his empire.[299] The wonderful deeds
of the Spaniards, their fair complexions, and the quarter whence they
came, all showed they were his descendants. If Montezuma had resisted
their visit to his capital, it was because he had heard such accounts of
their cruelties,--that they sent the lightning to consume his people, or
crushed them to pieces under the hard feet of the ferocious animals on
which they rode. He was now convinced that these were idle tales; that
the Spaniards were kind and generous in their natures; they were
mortals, of a different race, indeed, from the Aztecs, wiser, and more
valiant,--and for this he honored them.

“You, too,” he added, with a smile, “have been told, perhaps, that I am
a god, and dwell in palaces of gold and silver.[300] But you see it is
false. My houses, though large, are of stone and wood like those of
others; and as to my body,” he said, baring his tawny arm, “you see it
is flesh and bone like yours. It is true, I have a great empire
inherited from my ancestors; lands, and gold, and silver. But your
sovereign beyond the waters is, I know, the rightful lord of all. I rule
in his name. You, Malinche, are his ambassador; you and your brethren
shall share these things with me. Rest now from your labors. You are
here in your own dwellings, and everything shall be provided for your
subsistence. I will see that your wishes shall be obeyed in the same way
as my own.”[301] As the monarch concluded these words, a few natural
tears suffused his eyes, while the image of ancient independence,
perhaps, flitted across his mind.[302]

Cortés, while he encouraged the idea that his own sovereign was the
great Being indicated by Montezuma, endeavored to comfort the monarch by
the assurance that his master had no desire to interfere with his
authority, otherwise than, out of pure concern for his welfare, to
effect his conversion and that of his people to Christianity. Before the
emperor dismissed his visitors he consulted his munificent spirit, as
usual, by distributing rich stuffs and trinkets of gold among them, so
that the poorest soldier, says Bernal Diaz, one of the party, received
at least two heavy collars of the precious metal for his share. The iron
hearts of the Spaniards were touched with the emotion displayed by
Montezuma, as well as by his princely spirit of liberality. As they
passed him, the cavaliers, with bonnet in hand, made him the most
profound obeisance, and “on the way home,” continues the same
chronicler, “we could discourse of nothing but the gentle breeding and
courtesy of the Indian monarch, and of the respect we entertained for

Speculations of a graver complexion must have pressed on the mind of the
general, as he saw around him the evidences of a civilization, and
consequently power, for which even the exaggerated reports of the
natives--discredited from their apparent exaggeration--had not prepared
him. In the pomp and burdensome ceremonial of the court he saw that nice
system of subordination and profound reverence for the monarch which
characterize the semi-civilized empires of Asia. In the appearance of
the capital, its massy yet elegant architecture, its luxurious social
accommodations, its activity in trade, he recognized the proofs of the
intellectual progress, mechanical skill, and enlarged resources of an
old and opulent community; while the swarms in the streets attested the
existence of a population capable of turning these resources to the
best account.

In the Aztec he beheld a being unlike either the rude republican
Tlascalan or the effeminate Cholulan, but combining the courage of the
one with the cultivation of the other. He was in the heart of a great
capital, which seemed like an extensive fortification, with its dikes
and its draw-bridges, where every house might be easily converted into a
castle. Its insular position removed it from the continent, from which,
at the mere nod of the sovereign, all communication might be cut off,
and the whole warlike population be at once precipitated on him and his
handful of followers. What could superior science avail against such

As to the subversion of Montezuma’s empire, now that he had seen him in
his capital, it must have seemed a more doubtful enterprise than ever.
The recognition which the Aztec prince had made of the feudal supremacy,
if I may so say, of the Spanish sovereign, was not to be taken too
literally. Whatever show of deference he might be disposed to pay the
latter under the influence of his present--perhaps temporary--delusion,
it was not to be supposed that he would so easily relinquish his actual
power and possessions, or that his people would consent to it. Indeed,
his sensitive apprehensions in regard to this very subject, on the
coming of the Spaniards, were sufficient proof of the tenacity with
which he clung to his authority. It is true that Cortés had a strong
lever for future operations in the superstitious reverence felt for
himself both by prince and people. It was undoubtedly his policy to
maintain this sentiment unimpaired in both, as far as possible.[305]
But, before settling any plan of operations, it was necessary to make
himself personally acquainted with the topography and local advantages
of the capital, the character of its population, and the real nature and
amount of its resources. With this view, he asked the emperor’s
permission to visit the principal public edifices.

     Antonio de Herrera, the celebrated chronicler of the Indies, was
     born of a respectable family at Cuella, in Old Spain, in 1549.
     After passing through the usual course of academic discipline in
     his own country, he went to Italy, to which land of art and letters
     the Spanish youth of that time frequently resorted to complete
     their education. He there became acquainted with Vespasian Gonzaga,
     brother of the duke of Mantua, and entered into his service. He
     continued with this prince after he was made Viceroy of Navarre,
     and was so highly regarded by him, that, on his death-bed, Gonzaga
     earnestly commended him to the protection of Philip the Second.
     This penetrating monarch soon discerned the excellent qualities of
     Herrera, and raised him to the post of Historiographer of the
     Indies,--an office for which Spain is indebted to Philip. Thus
     provided with a liberal salary, and with every facility for
     pursuing the historical researches to which his inclination led
     him, Herrera’s days glided peacefully away in the steady, but
     silent, occupations of a man of letters. He continued to hold the
     office of historian of the colonies through Philip the Second’s
     reign, and under his successors, Philip the Third and the Fourth;
     till in 1625 he died at the advanced age of seventy-six, leaving
     behind him a high character for intellectual and moral worth.

     Herrera wrote several works, chiefly historical. The most
     important, that on which his reputation rests, is his _Historia
     general de las Indias occidentales_. It extends from the year 1492,
     the time of the discovery of America, to 1554, and is divided into
     eight decades. Four of them were published in 1601, and the
     remaining four in 1615, making in all five volumes in folio. The
     work was subsequently republished in 1730, and has been translated
     into most of the languages of Europe. The English translator,
     Stevens, has taken great liberties with his original, in the way of
     abridgment and omission, but the execution of his work is, on the
     whole, superior to that of most of the old English versions of the
     Castilian chroniclers.

     Herrera’s vast subject embraces the whole colonial empire of Spain
     in the New World. The work is thrown into the form of annals, and
     the multifarious occurrences in the distant regions of which he
     treats are all marshalled with exclusive reference to their
     chronology, and made to move together _pari passu_. By means of
     this tasteless arrangement the thread of interest is perpetually
     snapped, the reader is hurried from one scene to another, without
     the opportunity of completing his survey of any. His patience is
     exhausted and his mind perplexed with partial and scattered
     glimpses, instead of gathering new light as he advances from the
     skilful development of a continuous and well-digested narrative.
     This is the great defect of a plan founded on a slavish adherence
     to chronology. The defect becomes more serious when the work, as in
     the present instance, is of vast compass and embraces a great
     variety of details having little relation to each other. In such a
     work we feel the superiority of a plan like that which Robertson
     has pursued in his “History of America,” where every subject is
     allowed to occupy its own independent place, proportioned to its
     importance, and thus to make a distinct and individual impression
     on the reader.

     Herrera’s position gave him access to the official returns from the
     colonies, state papers, and whatever documents existed in the
     public offices for the illustration of the colonial history. Among
     these sources of information were some manuscripts, with which it
     is not now easy to meet; as, for example, the memorial of Alonso de
     Ojeda, one of the followers of Cortés, which has eluded my
     researches both in Spain and Mexico. Other writings, as those of
     Father Sahagun, of much importance in the history of Indian
     civilization, were unknown to the historian. Of such manuscripts as
     fell into his hands, Herrera made the freest use. From the writings
     of Las Casas, in particular, he borrowed without ceremony. The
     bishop had left orders that his “History of the Indies” should not
     be published till at least forty years after his death. Before that
     period had elapsed Herrera had entered on his labors, and, as he
     had access to the papers of Las Casas, he availed himself of it to
     transfer whole pages, nay, chapters, of his narrative in the most
     unscrupulous manner to his own work. In doing this, he made a
     decided improvement on the manner of his original, reduced his
     cumbrous and entangled sentences to pure Castilian, omitted his
     turgid declamation and his unreasonable invectives. But, at the
     same time, he also excluded the passages that bore hardest on the
     conduct of his countrymen, and those bursts of indignant eloquence
     which showed a moral sensibility in the Bishop of Chiapa that
     raised him so far above his age. By this sort of metempsychosis, if
     one may so speak, by which the letter and not the spirit of the
     good missionary was transferred to Herrera’s pages, he rendered the
     publication of Las Casas’ history, in some measure, superfluous;
     and this circumstance has, no doubt, been one reason for its having
     been so long detained in manuscript.

     Yet, with every allowance for the errors incident to rapid
     composition, and to the pedantic chronological system pursued by
     Herrera, his work must be admitted to have extraordinary merit. It
     displays to the reader the whole progress of Spanish conquest and
     colonization in the New World for the first sixty years after the
     discovery. The individual actions of his complicated story, though
     unskilfully grouped together, are unfolded in a pure and simple
     style, well suited to the gravity of his subject. If at first sight
     he may seem rather too willing to magnify the merits of the early
     discoverers and to throw a veil over their excesses, it may be
     pardoned, as flowing, not from moral insensibility, but from the
     patriotic sentiment which made him desirous, as far as might be, to
     wipe away every stain from the escutcheon of his nation, in the
     proud period of her renown. It is natural that the Spaniard who
     dwells on this period should be too much dazzled by the display of
     her gigantic efforts, scrupulously to weigh their moral character,
     or the merits of the cause in which they were made. Yet Herrera’s
     national partiality never makes him the apologist of crime; and,
     with the allowances fairly to be conceded, he may be entitled to
     the praise so often given him of integrity and candor.

     It must not be forgotten that, in addition to the narrative of the
     early discoveries of the Spaniards, Herrera has brought together a
     vast quantity of information in respect to the institutions and
     usages of the Indian nations, collected from the most authentic
     sources. This gives his work a completeness beyond what is to be
     found in any other on the same subject. It is, indeed, a noble
     monument of sagacity and erudition; and the student of history, and
     still more the historical compiler, will find himself unable to
     advance a single step among the early colonial settlements of the
     New World without reference to the pages of Herrera.

     Another writer on Mexico, frequently consulted in the course of the
     present narrative, is Toribio de Benavente, or _Motolinia_, as he
     is still more frequently called, from his Indian cognomen. He was
     one of the twelve Franciscan missionaries who, at the request of
     Cortés, were sent out to New Spain immediately after the Conquest,
     in 1523. Toribio’s humble attire, naked feet, and, in short, the
     poverty-stricken aspect which belongs to his order, frequently drew
     from the natives the exclamation of _Motolinia_, or “poor man.” It
     was the first Aztec word the signification of which the missionary
     learned, and he was so much pleased with it, as intimating his own
     condition, that he henceforth assumed it as his name. Toribio
     employed himself zealously with his brethren in the great object of
     their mission. He travelled on foot over various parts of Mexico,
     Guatemala, and Nicaragua. Wherever he went, he spared no pains to
     wean the natives from their dark idolatry, and to pour into their
     minds the light of revelation. He showed even a tender regard for
     their temporal as well as spiritual wants, and Bernal Diaz
     testifies that he has known him to give away his own robe to clothe
     a destitute and suffering Indian. Yet this charitable friar, so
     meek and conscientious in the discharge of his Christian duties,
     was one of the fiercest opponents of Las Casas, and sent home a
     remonstrance against the Bishop of Chiapa, couched in terms the
     most opprobrious and sarcastic. It has led the bishop’s biographer,
     Quintana, to suggest that the friar’s threadbare robe may have
     covered somewhat of worldly pride and envy. It may be so. Yet it
     may also lead us to distrust the discretion of Las Casas himself,
     who could carry measures with so rude a hand as to provoke such
     unsparing animadversions from his fellow-laborers in the vineyard.

     Toribio was made guardian of a Franciscan convent at Tezcuco. In
     this situation he continued active in good works, and at this
     place, and in his different pilgrimages, is stated to have baptized
     more than four hundred thousand natives. His efficacious piety was
     attested by various miracles. One of the most remarkable was when
     the Indians were suffering from great drought, which threatened to
     annihilate the approaching harvests. The good father recommended a
     solemn procession of the natives to the church of Santa Cruz, with
     prayers and a vigorous flagellation. The effect was soon visible in
     such copious rains as entirely relieved the people from their
     apprehensions, and in the end made the season uncommonly fruitful.
     The counterpart to this prodigy was afforded a few years later,
     while the country was laboring under excessive rains; when, by a
     similar remedy, the evil was checked, and a like propitious
     influence exerted on the season as before. The exhibition of such
     miracles greatly edified the people, says his biographer, and
     established them firmly in the Faith. Probably Toribio’s exemplary
     life and conversation, so beautifully illustrating the principles
     which he taught, did quite as much for the good cause as his

     Thus passing his days in the peaceful and pious avocations of the
     Christian missionary, the worthy ecclesiastic was at length called
     from the scene of his earthly pilgrimage, in what year is
     uncertain, but at an advanced age, for he survived all the little
     band of missionaries who had accompanied him to New Spain. He died
     in the convent of San Francisco at Mexico, and his panegyric is
     thus emphatically pronounced by Torquemada, a brother of his own
     order: “He was a truly apostolic man, a great teacher of
     Christianity, beautiful in the ornament of every virtue, jealous of
     the glory of God, a friend of evangelical poverty, most true to the
     observance of his monastic rule, and jealous in the conversion of
     the heathen.”

     Father Toribio’s long personal intercourse with the Mexicans, and
     the knowledge of their language, which he was at much pains to
     acquire, opened to him all the sources of information respecting
     them and their institutions, which existed at the time of the
     Conquest. The results he carefully digested in the work so often
     cited in these pages, the _Historia de los Indios de Nueva-España_,
     making a volume of manuscript in folio. It is divided into three
     parts. 1. The religion, rites, and sacrifices of the Aztecs. 2.
     Their conversion to Christianity, and their manner of celebrating
     the festivals of the Church. 3. The genius and character of the
     nation, their chronology and astrology, together with notices of
     the principal cities and the staple productions of the country.
     Notwithstanding the methodical arrangement of the work, it is
     written in the rambling, unconnected manner of a commonplace-book,
     into which the author has thrown at random his notices of such
     matters as most interested him in his survey of the country. His
     own mission is ever before his eyes, and the immediate topic of
     discussion, of whatever nature it may be, is at once abandoned to
     exhibit an event or an anecdote that can illustrate his
     ecclesiastical labors. The most startling occurrences are recorded
     with all the credulous gravity which is so likely to win credit
     from the vulgar; and a stock of miracles is duly attested by the
     historian, of more than sufficient magnitude to supply the wants of
     the infant religious communities of New Spain.

     Yet amidst this mass of pious _incredibilia_ the inquirer into the
     Aztec antiquities will find much curious and substantial
     information. Toribio’s long and intimate relations with the natives
     put him in possession of their whole stock of theology and science;
     and as his manner, though somewhat discursive, is plain and
     unaffected, there is no obscurity in the communication of his
     ideas. His inferences, colored by the superstitions of the age and
     the peculiar nature of his profession, may be often received with
     distrust. But, as his integrity and his means of information were
     unquestionable, his work becomes of the first authority in relation
     to the antiquities of the country, and its condition at the period
     of the Conquest. As an educated man, he was enabled to penetrate
     deeper than the illiterate soldiers of Cortés, men given to action
     rather than to speculation. Yet Toribio’s manuscript, valuable as
     it is to the historian, has never been printed, and has too little
     in it of popular interest, probably, ever to be printed. Much that
     it contains has found its way, in various forms, into subsequent
     compilations. The work itself is very rarely to be found. Dr.
     Robertson had a copy, as it seems from the catalogue of MSS.
     published with his “History of America;” though the author’s name
     is not prefixed to it. There is no copy, I believe, in the library
     of the Academy of History at Madrid; and for that in my possession
     I am indebted to the kindness of that curious bibliographer, Mr. O.
     Rich, now consul for the United States at Minorca.

     Pietro Martire de Angleria, or Peter Martyr, as he is called by
     English writers, belonged to an ancient and highly respectable
     family of Arona in the north of Italy. In 1487 he was induced by
     the count of Tendilla, the Spanish ambassador at Rome, to return
     with him to Castile. He was graciously received by Queen Isabella,
     always desirous to draw around her enlightened foreigners, who
     might exercise a salutary influence on the rough and warlike
     nobility of Castile. Martyr, who had been educated for the Church,
     was persuaded by the queen to undertake the instruction of the
     young nobles at the court. In this way he formed an intimacy with
     some of the most illustrious men of the nation, who seem to have
     cherished a warm personal regard for him through the remainder of
     his life. He was employed by the Catholic sovereigns in various
     concerns of public interest, was sent on a mission to Egypt, and
     was subsequently raised to a distinguished post in the cathedral of
     Granada. But he continued to pass much of his time at court, where
     he enjoyed the confidence of Ferdinand and Isabella, and of their
     successor, Charles the Fifth, till in 1525 he died, at the age of

     Martyr’s character combined qualities not often found in the same
     individual,--an ardent love of letters, with a practical sagacity
     that can only result from familiarity with men and affairs. Though
     passing his days in the gay and dazzling society of the capital, he
     preserved the simple tastes and dignified temper of a philosopher.
     His correspondence, as well as his more elaborate writings, if the
     term elaborate can be applied to any of his writings, manifests an
     enlightened and oftentimes independent spirit; though one would
     have been better pleased had he been sufficiently independent to
     condemn the religious intolerance of the government. But Martyr,
     though a philosopher, was enough of a courtier to look with a
     lenient eye on the errors of princes. Though deeply imbued with the
     learning of antiquity, and a scholar at heart, he had none of the
     feelings of the recluse, but took the most lively interest in the
     events that were passing around him. His various writings,
     including his copious correspondence, are for this reason the very
     best mirror of the age in which he lived.

     His inquisitive mind was particularly interested by the discoveries
     that were going on in the New World. He was allowed to be present
     at the sittings of the Council of the Indies when any communication
     of importance was made to it; and he was subsequently appointed a
     member of that body. All that related to the colonies passed
     through his hands. The correspondence of Columbus, Cortés, and the
     other discoverers with the court of Castile was submitted to his
     perusal. He became personally acquainted with these illustrious
     persons on their return home, and frequently, as we find from his
     letters, entertained them at his own table. With these advantages,
     his testimony becomes but one degree removed from that of the
     actors themselves in the great drama. In one respect it is of a
     higher kind, since it is free from the prejudice and passion which
     a personal interest in events is apt to beget. The testimony of
     Martyr is that of a philosopher, taking a clear and comprehensive
     survey of the ground, with such lights of previous knowledge to
     guide him as none of the actual discoverers and conquerors could
     pretend to. It is true, this does not prevent his occasionally
     falling into errors; the errors of credulity,--not, however, of the
     credulity founded on superstition, but that which arises from the
     uncertain nature of the subject, where phenomena so unlike anything
     with which he had been familiar were now first disclosed by the
     revelation of an unknown world.

     He may be more fairly charged with inaccuracies of another
     description, growing out of haste and inadvertence of composition.
     But even here we should be charitable. For he confesses his sins
     with a candor that disarms criticism. In truth, he wrote rapidly,
     and on the spur of the moment, as occasion served. He shrunk from
     the publication of his writings, when it was urged on him, and his
     Decades _De Orbe Novo_, in which he embodied the results of his
     researches in respect to the American discoveries, were not
     published entire till after his death. The most valuable and
     complete edition of this work--the one referred to in the present
     pages--is the edition of Hakluyt, published at Paris in 1587.

     Martyr’s works are all in Latin, and that not of the purest; a
     circumstance rather singular, considering his familiarity with the
     classic models of antiquity. Yet he evidently handled the dead
     languages with the same facility as the living. Whatever defects
     may be charged on his manner, in the selection and management of
     his topics he shows the superiority of his genius. He passes over
     the trivial details which so often encumber the literal narratives
     of the Spanish voyagers, and fixes his attention on the great
     results of their discoveries,--the products of the country, the
     history and institutions of the races, their character and advance
     in civilization. In one respect his writings are of peculiar value.
     They show the state of feeling which existed at the Castilian court
     during the progress of discovery. They furnish, in short, the
     reverse side of the picture; and, when we have followed the Spanish
     conquerors in their wonderful career of adventure in the New World,
     we have only to turn to the pages of Martyr to find the impression
     produced by them on the enlightened minds of the Old. Such a view
     is necessary to the completeness of the historical picture.

     If the reader is curious to learn more of this estimable scholar,
     he will find the particulars given in “The History of Ferdinand and
     Isabella” (Part I. chap. 14, Postscript, and chap. 19), for the
     illustration of whose reign his voluminous correspondence furnishes
     the most authentic materials.





Valley of Mexico,

_at the period of the_






The ancient city of Mexico covered the same spot occupied by the modern
capital. The great causeways touched it in the same points; the streets
ran in much the same direction, nearly from north to south and from east
to west; the cathedral in the _plaza mayor_ stands on the same ground
that was covered by the temple of the Aztec war-god; and the four
principal quarters of the town are still known among the Indians by
their ancient names. Yet an Aztec of the days of Montezuma, could he
behold the modern metropolis, which has risen with such phœnix-like
splendor from the ashes of the old, would not recognize its site as that
of his own Tenochtitlan. For the latter was encompassed by the salt
floods of Tezcuco, which flowed in ample canals through every part of
the city: while the Mexico of our day stands high and dry on the main
land, nearly a league distant, at its centre, from the water. The cause
of this apparent change in its position is the diminution of the lake,
which, from the rapidity of evaporation in these elevated regions, had
become perceptible before the Conquest, but which has since been greatly
accelerated by artificial causes.[306]

The average level of the Tezcucan lake, at the present day, is but four
feet lower than the great square of Mexico.[307] It is considerably
lower than the other great basins of water which are found in the
Valley. In the heavy swell sometimes caused by long and excessive rains,
these latter reservoirs anciently overflowed into the Tezcuco, which,
rising with the accumulated volume of waters, burst through the dikes,
and, pouring into the streets of the capital, buried the lower part of
the buildings under a deluge. This was comparatively a light evil when
the houses stood on piles so elevated that boats might pass under them;
when the streets were canals, and the ordinary mode of communication was
by water. But it became more disastrous as these canals, filled up with
the rubbish of the ruined Indian city, were supplanted by streets of
solid earth, and the foundations of the capital were gradually
reclaimed from the watery element. To obviate this alarming evil, the
famous drain of Huehuetoca was opened, at an enormous cost, in the
beginning of the seventeenth century, and Mexico, after repeated
inundations, has been at length placed above the reach of the
flood.[308] But what was gained to the useful, in this case, as in some
others, has been purchased at the expense of the beautiful. By this
shrinking of the waters, the bright towns and hamlets once washed by
them have been removed some miles into the interior, while a barren
strip of land, ghastly from the incrustation of salts formed on the
surface, has taken the place of the glowing vegetation which once
enamelled the borders of the lake, and of the dark groves of oak, cedar,
and sycamore which threw their broad shadows over its bosom.

The _chinampas_, that archipelago of wandering islands, to which our
attention was drawn in the last chapter, have, also, nearly disappeared.
These had their origin in the detached masses of earth, which, loosening
from the shores, were still held together by the fibrous roots with
which they were penetrated. The primitive Aztecs, in their poverty of
land, availed themselves of the hint thus afforded by nature. They
constructed rafts of reeds, rushes, and other fibrous materials, which,
tightly knit together, formed a sufficient basis for the sediment that
they drew up from the bottom of the lake. Gradually islands were formed,
two or three hundred feet in length, and three or four feet in depth,
with a rich stimulated soil, on which the economical Indian raised his
vegetables and flowers for the markets of Tenochtitlan. Some of these
_chinampas_ were even firm enough to allow the growth of small trees,
and to sustain a hut for the residence of the person that had charge of
it, who with a long pole, resting on the sides or the bottom of the
shallow basin, could change the position of his little territory at
pleasure, which with its rich freight of vegetable stores was seen
moving like some enchanted island over the water.[309]

The ancient dikes were three in number. That of Iztapalapan, by which
the Spaniards entered, approaching the city from the south. That of
Tepejacac, on the north, which, continuing the principal street, might
be regarded, also, as a continuation of the first causeway. Lastly, the
dike of Tlacopan, connecting the island-city with the continent on the
west. This last causeway, memorable for the disastrous retreat of the
Spaniards, was about two miles in length. They were all built in the
same substantial manner, of lime and stone, were defended by
draw-bridges, and were wide enough for ten or twelve horsemen to ride

The rude founders of Tenochtitlan built their frail tenements of reeds
and rushes on the group of small islands in the western part of the
lake. In process of time, these were supplanted by more substantial
buildings. A quarry in the neighborhood, of a red porous amygdaloid,
_tetzontli_, was opened, and a light, brittle stone drawn from it and
wrought with little difficulty. Of this their edifices were constructed,
with some reference to architectural solidity, if not elegance. Mexico,
as already noticed, was the residence of the great chiefs, whom the
sovereign encouraged, or rather compelled, from obvious motives of
policy, to spend part of the year in the capital. It was also the
temporary abode of the great lords of Tezcuco and Tlacopan, who shared,
nominally at least, the sovereignty of the empire.[311] The mansions of
these dignitaries, and of the principal nobles, were on a scale of rude
magnificence corresponding with their state. They were low,
indeed,--seldom of more than one floor, never exceeding two. But they
spread over a wide extent of ground, were arranged in a quadrangular
form, with a court in the centre, and were surrounded by porticoes
embellished with porphyry and jasper, easily found in the neighborhood,
while not unfrequently a fountain of crystal water in the centre shed a
grateful coolness through the air. The dwellings of the common people
were also placed on foundations of stone, which rose to the height of a
few feet and were then succeeded by courses of unbaked bricks, crossed
occasionally by wooden rafters.[312] Most of the streets were mean and
narrow. Some few, however, were wide and of great length. The principal
street, conducting from the great southern causeway, penetrated in a
straight line the whole length of the city, and afforded a noble vista,
in which the long lines of low stone edifices were broken occasionally
by intervening gardens, rising on terraces and displaying all the pomp
of Aztec horticulture.

The great streets, which were coated with a hard cement, were
intersected by numerous canals. Some of these were flanked by a solid
way, which served as a foot-walk for passengers, and as a landing-place
where boats might discharge their cargoes. Small buildings were erected
at intervals, as stations for the revenue officers who collected the
duties on different articles of merchandise. The canals were traversed
by numerous bridges, many of which could be raised, affording the means
of cutting off communication between different parts of the city.[313]

From the accounts of the ancient capital, one is reminded of those
aquatic cities in the Old World, the positions of which have been
selected from similar motives of economy and defence; above all, of
Venice,[314]--if it be not rash to compare the rude architecture of the
American Indian with the marble palaces and temples--alas, how shorn of
their splendor!--which crowned the once proud mistress of the
Adriatic.[315] The example of the metropolis was soon followed by the
other towns in the vicinity. Instead of resting their foundations on
_terra firma_, they were seen advancing far into the lake, the shallow
waters of which in some parts do not exceed four feet in depth.[316]
Thus an easy means of intercommunication was opened, and the surface of
this inland “sea,” as Cortés styles it, was darkened by thousands of
canoes[317]--an Indian term--industriously engaged in the traffic
between these little communities. How gay and picturesque must have been
the aspect of the lake in those days, with its shining cities, and
flowering islets rocking, as it were, at anchor on the fair bosom of its

The population of Tenochtitlan at the time of the Conquest is variously
stated. No contemporary writer estimates it at less than sixty thousand
houses, which, by the ordinary rules of reckoning,{*} would give three
hundred thousand souls.[318] If a dwelling often contained, as is
asserted, several families, it would swell the amount considerably
higher.[319] Nothing is more uncertain than estimates of numbers among
barbarous communities, who necessarily live in a more confused and
promiscuous manner than civilized, and among whom no regular system is
adopted for ascertaining the population. The concurrent testimony of the
Conquerors; the extent of the city, which was said to be nearly three
leagues in circumference;[320] the immense size of its great
market-place; the long lines of edifices, vestiges of whose ruins may
still be found in the suburbs, miles from the modern city;[321] the
fame of the metropolis throughout Anahuac, which, however, could boast
many large and populous places; lastly, the economical husbandry and the
ingenious contrivances to extract aliment from the most unpromising
sources,[322]--all attest a numerous population, far beyond that of the
present capital.[323]

{*} [This estimate is of course erroneous. “The ordinary rules of
reckoning” cannot be applied to people living as did the Mexicans. The
word _vecinos_ means not only householders, as pointed out in the
author’s note, but also inhabitants. The translator who rendered the
“Anonymous Conqueror” into Italian made no blunder when he used the word
_habitatori_. Morgan (Ancient Society, p. 195) thinks the population was
not more than 30,000, and asks “how a barbarous people without flocks
and herds, and without field agriculture, could have sustained in equal
areas a larger number of inhabitants than a civilized people can now
maintain armed with these advantages.” (London at that time may have
contained 145,000 inhabitants.) But Morgan’s estimate is without
question too low. Zuazo and the Anonymous Conqueror were more nearly
right in fixing, the population of the city at 60,000. There could not
possibly have been room enough for sixty thousand Aztec houses in a city
of which the circumference was less than three leagues. (No one makes it
at any time to have been more than four leagues in circumference.) The
houses in which the higher officials dwelt were spread over a wide
extent of ground, were low, “seldom of more than one floor, never
exceeding two.” (_Ante_, p. 285.) Public buildings and pleasure grounds
took up much space. The great market-place, _tianguez_, was “thrice as
large as the celebrated square of Salamanca” (p. 312). No one states the
number of visitors at less than 40,000 (p. 317). (According to Ford,
Handbook of Spain, the Plaza at Salamanca was the largest square in
Spain. From 16,000 to 20,000 spectators could be accommodated at the
bull-fights which took place there.) The temple area also was enormous.
On a map of the city of Mexico, in the edition of the Letters of Cortés
published at Nuremberg, 1524, the temple space is twenty times as great
as that given to the market-place. The large number of visitors to the
Plaza on market days is easily accounted for if we compare the thronged
afternoon streets in the shopping districts of any large city with those
same streets deserted at night when the visitors have returned to their
homes. There were no shops in the Aztec capital and all the buying was
done in the _tianguez_.--M.]

A careful police provided for the health and cleanliness of the city. A
thousand persons are said to have been daily employed in watering and
sweeping the streets,[324] so that a man--to borrow the language of an
old Spaniard--“could walk through them with as little danger of soiling
his feet as his hands.”[325] The water, in a city washed on all sides
by the salt floods, was extremely brackish. A liberal supply of the pure
element, however, was brought from Chapoltepec, “the grasshopper’s
hill,” less than a league distant. It was brought through an earthen
pipe, along a dike constructed for the purpose. That there might be no
failure in so essential an article when repairs were going on, a double
course of pipes was laid. In this way a column of water of the size of a
man’s body was conducted into the heart of the capital, where it fed the
fountains and reservoirs of the principal mansions. Openings were made
in the aqueduct as it crossed the bridges, and thus a supply was
furnished to the canoes below, by means of which it was transported to
all parts of the city.[326]

While Montezuma encouraged a taste for architectural magnificence in his
nobles, he contributed his own share towards the embellishment of the
city. It was in his reign that the famous calendar stone, weighing,
probably, in its primitive state, nearly fifty tons, was transported
from its native quarry, many leagues distant, to the capital, where it
still forms one of the most curious monuments of Aztec science. Indeed,
when we reflect on the difficulty of hewing such a stupendous mass from
its hard basaltic bed without the aid of iron tools, and that of
transporting it such a distance across land and water without the help
of animals, we may well feel admiration at the mechanical ingenuity and
enterprise of the people who accomplished it.[327]

Not content with the spacious residence of his father, Montezuma erected
another on a yet more magnificent scale. It occupied, as before
mentioned, the ground partly covered by the private dwellings on one
side of the _plaza mayor_ of the modern city. This building, or, as it
might more correctly be styled, pile of buildings, spread over an extent
of ground so vast that, as one of the Conquerors assures us, its
terraced roof might have afforded ample room for thirty knights to run
their courses in a regular tourney.[328] I have already noticed its
interior decorations, its fanciful draperies, its roofs inlaid with
cedar and other odoriferous woods, held together without a nail, and,
probably, without a knowledge of the arch,[329] its numerous and
spacious apartments, which Cortés, with enthusiastic hyperbole, does not
hesitate to declare superior to anything of the kind in Spain.[330]

Adjoining the principal edifice were others, devoted to various
objects. One was an armory, filled with the weapons and military dresses
worn by the Aztecs, all kept in the most perfect order, ready for
instant use. The emperor was himself very expert in the management of
the _maquahuitl_, or Indian sword, and took great delight in witnessing
athletic exercises and the mimic representation of war by his young
nobility. Another building was used as a granary, and others as
warehouses for the different articles of food and apparel contributed by
the districts charged with the maintenance of the royal household.

There were, also, edifices appropriated to objects of quite another
kind. One of these was an immense aviary, in which birds of splendid
plumage were assembled from all parts of the empire. Here was the
scarlet cardinal, the golden pheasant, the endless parrot-tribe with
their rainbow hues (the royal green predominant), and that miniature
miracle of nature, the humming-bird, which delights to revel among the
honeysuckle bowers of Mexico.[331] Three hundred attendants had charge
of this aviary, who made themselves acquainted with the appropriate food
of its inmates, oftentimes procured at great cost, and in the moulting
season were careful to collect the beautiful plumage, which, with its
many-colored tints, furnished the materials for the Aztec painter.

A separate building was reserved for the fierce birds of prey; the
voracious vulture-tribes and eagles of enormous size, whose home was in
the snowy solitudes of the Andes. No less than five hundred turkeys,{*}
the cheapest meat in Mexico, were allowed for the daily consumption of
these tyrants of the feathered race.

{*} [The turkey was introduced to Europe from Mexico, as has before been

Adjoining this aviary was a menagerie of wild animals, gathered from the
mountain forests, and even from the remote swamps of the _tierra
caliente_. The resemblance of the different species to those in the Old
World, with which no one of them, however, was identical, led to a
perpetual confusion in the nomenclature of the Spaniards, as it has
since done in that of better-instructed naturalists. The collection was
still further swelled by a great number of reptiles and serpents
remarkable for their size and venomous qualities, among which the
Spaniards beheld the fiery little animal “with the castanets in his
tail,” the terror of the American wilderness.[332] The serpents were
confined in long cages lined with down or feathers, or in troughs of mud
and water. The beasts and birds of prey were provided with apartments
large enough to allow of their moving about, and secured by a strong
latticework, through which light and air were freely admitted. The whole
was placed under the charge of numerous keepers, who acquainted
themselves with the habits of their prisoners and provided for their
comfort and cleanliness. With what deep interest would the enlightened
naturalist of that day--an Oviedo, or a Martyr, for example--have
surveyed this magnificent collection, in which the various tribes which
roamed over the Western wilderness, the unknown races of an unknown
world, were brought into one view! How would they have delighted to
study the peculiarities of these new species, compared with those of
their own hemisphere, and thus have risen to some comprehension of the
general laws by which Nature acts in all her works! The rude followers
of Cortés did not trouble themselves with such refined speculations.
They gazed on the spectacle with a vague curiosity not unmixed with awe;
and, as they listened to the wild cries of the ferocious animals and the
hissings of the serpents, they almost fancied themselves in the infernal

I must not omit to notice a strange collection of human monsters,
dwarfs, and other unfortunate persons in whose organization Nature had
capriciously deviated from her regular laws. Such hideous anomalies were
regarded by the Aztecs as a suitable appendage of state. It is even
said they were in some cases the result of artificial means, employed
by unnatural parents desirous to secure a provision for their offspring
by thus qualifying them for a place in the royal museum![334]

Extensive gardens were spread out around these buildings, filled with
fragrant shrubs and flowers, and especially with medicinal plants.[335]
No country has afforded more numerous species of these last than New
Spain; and their virtues were perfectly understood by the Aztecs, with
whom medical botany may be said to have been studied as a science.
Amidst this labyrinth of sweet-scented groves and shrubberies, fountains
of pure water might be seen throwing up their sparkling jets and
scattering refreshing dews over the blossoms. Ten large tanks, well
stocked with fish, afforded a retreat on their margins to various tribes
of water-fowl, whose habits were so carefully consulted that some of
these ponds were of salt water, as that which they most loved to
frequent. A tessellated pavement of marble enclosed the ample basins,
which were overhung by light and fanciful pavilions, that admitted the
perfumed breezes of the gardens, and offered a grateful shelter to the
monarch and his mistresses in the sultry heats of summer.[336]

But the most luxurious residence of the Aztec monarch, at that season,
was the royal hill of Chapoltepec,--a spot consecrated, moreover, by the
ashes of his ancestors. It stood in a westerly direction from the
capital, and its base was, in his day, washed by the waters of the
Tezcuco. On its lofty crest of porphyritic rock there now stands the
magnificent, though desolate, castle erected by the young viceroy Galvez
at the close of the seventeenth century.[337] The view from its windows
is one of the finest in the environs of Mexico. The landscape is not
disfigured here, as in many other quarters, by the white and barren
patches, so offensive to the sight; but the eye wanders over an unbroken
expanse of meadows and cultivated fields, waving with rich harvests of
European grain. Montezuma’s gardens stretched for miles around the base
of the hill. Two statues of that monarch and his father, cut in
bas-relief in the porphyry, were spared till the middle of the last
century;[338] and the grounds are still shaded by gigantic cypresses,
more than fifty feet in circumference, which were centuries old at the
time of the Conquest.[339] The place is now a tangled wilderness of
wild shrubs, where the myrtle mingles its dark, glossy leaves with the
red berries and delicate foliage of the pepper-tree. Surely there is no
spot better suited to awaken meditation on the past; none where the
traveller, as he sits under those stately cypresses gray with the moss
of ages, can so fitly ponder on the sad destinies of the Indian races
and the monarch who once held his courtly revels under the shadow of
their branches.

The domestic establishment of Montezuma was on the same scale of
barbaric splendor as everything else about him. He could boast as many
wives as are found in the harem of an Eastern sultan.[340] They were
lodged in their own apartments, and provided with every accommodation,
according to their ideas, for personal comfort and cleanliness. They
passed their hours in the usual feminine employments of weaving and
embroidery, especially in the graceful feather-work, for which such rich
materials were furnished by the royal aviaries. They conducted
themselves with strict decorum, under the supervision of certain aged
females, who acted in the respectable capacity of duennas, in the same
manner as in the religious houses attached to the _teocallis_. The
palace was supplied with numerous baths, and Montezuma set the example,
in his own person, of frequent ablutions. He bathed at least once, and
changed his dress four times, it is said, every day.[341] He never put
on the same apparel a second time, but gave it away to his attendants.
Queen Elizabeth, with a similar taste for costume, showed a less
princely spirit in hoarding her discarded suits. Her wardrobe was,
probably, somewhat more costly than that of the Indian emperor.

Besides his numerous female retinue, the halls and antechambers were
filled with nobles in constant attendance on his person, who served also
as a sort of body-guard. It had been usual for plebeians of merit to
fill certain offices in the palace. But the haughty Montezuma refused to
be waited upon by any but men of noble birth. They were not unfrequently
the sons of the great chiefs, and remained as hostages in the absence of
their fathers; thus serving the double purpose of security and

His meals the emperor took alone. The well-matted floor of a large
saloon was covered with hundreds of dishes.[343] Sometimes Montezuma
himself, but more frequently his steward, indicated those which he
preferred, and which were kept hot by means of chafing-dishes.[344] The
royal bill of fare comprehended, besides domestic animals, game from the
distant forests, and fish which, the day before, were swimming in the
Gulf of Mexico! They were dressed in manifold ways, for the Aztec
_artistes_, as we have already had occasion to notice, had penetrated
deep into the mysteries of culinary science.[345]

The meats were served by the attendant nobles, who then resigned the
office of waiting on the monarch to maidens selected for their personal
grace and beauty. A screen of richly gilt and carved wood was drawn
around him, so as to conceal him from vulgar eyes during the repast. He
was seated on a cushion, and the dinner was served on a low table
covered with a delicate cotton cloth. The dishes were of the finest ware
of Cholula. He had a service of gold, which was reserved for religious
celebrations. Indeed, it would scarcely have comported with even his
princely revenues to have used it on ordinary occasions, when his
table-equipage was not allowed to appear a second time, but was given
away to his attendants. The saloon was lighted by torches made of a
resinous wood, which sent forth a sweet odor and, probably, not a little
smoke, as they burned. At his meal, he was attended by five or six of
his ancient counsellors, who stood at a respectful distance, answering
his questions, and occasionally rejoiced by some of the viands with
which he complimented them from his table.

This course of solid dishes was succeeded by another of sweetmeats and
pastry, for which the Aztec cooks, provided with the important
requisites of maize-flour, eggs, and the rich sugar of the aloe, were
famous. Two girls were occupied at the farther end of the apartment,
during dinner, in preparing fine rolls and wafers, with which they
garnished the board from time to time. The emperor took no other
beverage than the _chocolatl_, a potation of chocolate, flavored with
vanilla and other spices, and so prepared as to be reduced to a froth of
the consistency of honey, which gradually dissolved in the mouth. This
beverage, if so it could be called, was served in golden goblets, with
spoons of the same metal or of tortoise-shell finely wrought. The
emperor was exceedingly fond of it, to judge from the quantity--no less
than fifty jars or pitchers--prepared for his own daily
consumption.[346] Two thousand more were allowed for that of his

The general arrangement of the meal seems to have been not very unlike
that of Europeans. But no prince in Europe could boast a dessert which
could compare with that of the Aztec emperor. For it was gathered fresh
from the most opposite climes; and his board displayed the products of
his own temperate region, and the luscious fruits of the tropics,
plucked, the day previous, from the green groves of the _tierra
caliente_, and transmitted with the speed of steam, by means of
couriers, to the capital. It was as if some kind fairy should crown our
banquets with the spicy products that but yesterday were growing in a
sunny isle of the far-off Indian seas!{*}

{*} [This description, as Señor Alaman observes, seems to have a
tincture of romance, since many of the fruits now produced in such
abundance in Mexico were unknown there previous to the Conquest.
Conquista de Méjico, trad. de Vega, tom. i. p. 373.--K.]

After the emperor’s appetite was appeased, water was handed to him by
the female attendants in a silver basin, in the same manner as had been
done before commencing his meal; for the Aztecs were as constant in
their ablutions, at these times, as any nation of the East. Pipes were
then brought, made of a varnished and richly-gilt wood, from which he
inhaled, sometimes through the nose, at others through the mouth, the
fumes of an intoxicating weed, “called _tobacco_,”[348] mingled with
liquid amber. While this soothing process of fumigation was going on,
the emperor enjoyed the exhibitions of his mountebanks and jugglers, of
whom a regular corps was attached to the palace. No people, not even
those of China or Hindostan, surpassed the Aztecs in feats of agility
and legerdemain.[349]

Sometimes he amused himself with his jester; for the Indian monarch had
his jesters, as well as his more refined brethren of Europe, at that
day. Indeed, he used to say that more instruction was to be gathered
from them than from wiser men, for they dared to tell the truth. At
other times he witnessed the graceful dances of his women, or took
delight in listening to music,--if the rude minstrelsy of the Mexicans
deserve that name,--accompanied by a chant, in slow and solemn cadence,
celebrating the heroic deeds of great Aztec warriors, or of his own
princely line.

When he had sufficiently refreshed his spirits with these diversions, he
composed himself to sleep, for in his _siesta_ he was as regular as a
Spaniard. On awaking, he gave audience to ambassadors from foreign
states or his own tributary cities, or to such caciques as had suits to
prefer to him.

[Illustration: MONTEZUMA]

[Illustration: Goupil & Cº., Paris]

They were introduced by the young nobles in attendance, and, whatever
might be their rank, unless of the blood royal, they were obliged to
submit to the humiliation of shrouding their rich dresses under the
coarse mantle of nequen, and entering bare-footed, with downcast eyes,
into the presence. The emperor addressed few and brief remarks to the
suitors, answering them generally by his secretaries; and the parties
retired with the same reverential obeisance, taking care to keep their
faces turned towards the monarch. Well might Cortés exclaim that no
court, whether of the Grand Seignior or any other infidel, ever
displayed so pompous and elaborate a ceremonial![350]

Besides the crowd of retainers already noticed, the royal household was
not complete without a host of artisans constantly employed in the
erection or repair of buildings, besides a great number of jewellers and
persons skilled in working metals, who found abundant demand for their
trinkets among the dark-eyed beauties of the harem. The imperial mummers
and jugglers were also very numerous, and the dancers belonging to the
palace occupied a particular district of the city, appropriated
exclusively to them.

The maintenance of this little host, amounting to some thousands of
individuals, involved a heavy expenditure, requiring accounts of a
complicated and, to a simple people, it might well be, embarrassing
nature. Everything, however, was conducted with perfect order; and all
the various receipts and disbursements were set down in the
picture-writing of the country. The arithmetical characters were of a
more refined and conventional sort than those for narrative purposes;
and a separate apartment was filled with hieroglyphical legers,
exhibiting a complete view of the economy of the palace. The care of all
this was intrusted to a treasurer, who acted as a sort of major-domo in
the household, having a general superintendence over all its concerns.
This responsible office, on the arrival of the Spaniards, was in the
hands of a trusty cacique named Tápia.[351]{*}

{*} [The name, which is Spanish, not Aztec, was that given to him by the
Conquerors, perhaps with some reference to one of their own number,
Andrés de Tápia.--K.]

Such is the picture of Montezuma’s domestic establishment{**} and way of
living, as delineated by the Conquerors and their immediate followers,
who had the best means of information;[352] too highly colored, it may
be, by the proneness to exaggerate, which was natural to those who first
witnessed a spectacle so striking to the imagination, so new and
unexpected. I have thought it best to present the full details, trivial
though they may seem to the reader, as affording a curious picture of
manners so superior in point of refinement to those of the other
aboriginal tribes on the North American continent. Nor are they, in
fact, so trivial, when we reflect that in these details of private life
we possess a surer measure of civilization than in those of a public

{**} [Prescott’s picture of Montezuma’s domestic establishment and way
of living is drawn, without enlargement, from sketches supplied by
Cortés and Bernal Diaz--two men who _saw_ the state in which the Aztec
chief lived. Their observations extended over a period of only five
days, as Cortés made Montezuma his prisoner at the end of that time.
Subsequent historians, amplifying details only hinted at by the two
eye-witnesses, have given free rein to the imagination. The last
important contribution to the subject came from the pen of H. H.
Bancroft, Native Races, vol. ii. chap. iv (Palaces and Households of the
Nahua Kings). It was his glowing account, in which were incorporated the
details specified by the later Spanish historians, which so roused the
indignation of Lewis H. Morgan as to move that scholar to put forth his
famous essay, “Montezuma’s Dinner.” This essay created an immense
impression when it first appeared, but a careful examination will
demonstrate the fact that it contains almost as many misstatements as do
the pages of Bancroft. Mr. Morgan begins by saying that the histories of
Spanish America may be trusted in whatever relates “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,” and then entirely ignores the fact that
Cortés and Bernal Diaz actually _saw_ what they afterward described. He
points out, what most men will at once admit, that the dinners the
Conquerors described were not repasts provided for a king alone, but
that they represented the daily fare of a great communal household.
Meals prepared on almost as large a scale were served in other great
communal houses in Mexico. In fact, all the dinners served in the city
were communal dinners, for all the authorities agree that even the
smallest houses were inhabited by several families. But when, with fine
scorn, he takes exception to the expression “wine cellars,” and claims,
first, that cellars were impossible in a city where the level of the
streets and courts was but four feet above the level of the water of the
surrounding lake, and, second, that the Aztecs had no knowledge of wine,
we feel that he is hypercritical. When he goes on to say that “though an
acid beer, pulque, was a common beverage of the Aztecs, yet _it is
hardly supposable that even this was used at dinner_,” one is inevitably
led to the conclusion that Mr. Morgan had but little knowledge of the
dinner habits of some of his contemporaries in the cities of western New
York. It is not inconceivable that even in his own city of Rochester
families can be found who take beer with their principal meal.--M.]

In surveying them we are strongly reminded of the civilization of the
East; not of that higher, intellectual kind which belonged to the more
polished Arabs and the Persians, but that semi-civilization which has
distinguished, for example, the Tartar races, among whom art, and even
science, have made, indeed, some progress in the adaptation to material
wants and sensual gratification, but little in reference to the higher
and more ennobling interests of humanity. It is characteristic of such a
people to find a puerile pleasure in a dazzling and ostentatious
pageantry; to mistake show for substance, vain pomp for power; to hedge
round the throne itself with a barren and burdensome ceremonial, the
counterfeit of real majesty.

Even this, however, was an advance in refinement, compared with the rude
manners of the earlier Aztecs. The change may, doubtless, be referred in
some degree to the personal influence of Montezuma. In his younger days
he had tempered the fierce habits of the soldier with the milder
profession of religion. In later life he had withdrawn himself still
more from the brutalizing occupations of war, and his manners acquired a
refinement, tinctured, it may be added, with an effeminacy, unknown to
his martial predecessors.

The condition of the empire, too, under his reign, was favorable to this
change. The dismemberment of the Tezcucan kingdom on the death of the
great Nezahualpilli had left the Aztec monarchy without a rival; and it
soon spread its colossal arms over the farthest limits of Anahuac. The
aspiring mind of Montezuma rose with the acquisition of wealth and
power; and he displayed the consciousness of new importance by the
assumption of unprecedented state. He affected a reserve unknown to his
predecessors, withdrew his person from the vulgar eye, and fenced
himself round with an elaborate and courtly etiquette. When he went
abroad, it was in state, on some public occasion, usually to the great
temple, to take part in the religious services; and as he passed along
he exacted from his people, as we have seen, the homage of an adulation
worthy of an Oriental despot.[353] His haughty demeanor touched the
pride of his more potent vassals, particularly those who, at a distance,
felt themselves nearly independent of his authority. His exactions,
demanded by the profuse expenditure of his palace, scattered broadcast
the seeds of discontent; and, while the empire seemed towering in its
most palmy and prosperous state, the canker had eaten deepest into its




Four days had elapsed since the Spaniards made their entry into Mexico.
Whatever schemes their commander may have revolved in his mind, he felt
that he could determine on no plan of operations till he had seen more
of the capital and ascertained by his own inspection the nature of its
resources. He accordingly, as was observed at the close of the last
Book, sent to Montezuma, asking permission to visit the great
_teocalli_, and some other places in the city.

The friendly monarch consented without difficulty. He even prepared to
go in person to the great temple to receive his guests there,--it may
be, to shield the shrine of his tutelar deity from any attempted
profanation. He was acquainted, as we have already seen, with the
proceedings of the Spaniards on similar occasions in the course of their
march. Cortés put himself at the head of his little corps of cavalry,
and nearly all the Spanish foot, as usual, and followed the caciques
sent by Montezuma to guide him. They proposed first to conduct him to
the great market of Tlatelolco, in the western part of the city.

On the way, the Spaniards were struck, in the same manner as they had
been on entering the capital, with the appearance of the inhabitants,
and their great superiority in the style and quality of their dress over
the people of the lower countries.[354] The _tilmatli_, or cloak thrown
over the shoulders and tied round the neck, made of cotton of different
degrees of fineness, according to the condition of the wearer, and the
ample sash around the loins, were often wrought in rich and elegant
figures and edged with a deep fringe or tassel. As the weather was now
growing cool, mantles of fur or of the gorgeous feather-work were
sometimes substituted. The latter combined the advantage of great warmth
with beauty.[355] The Mexicans had also the art of spinning a fine
thread of the hair of the rabbit and other animals, which they wove into
a delicate web that took a permanent dye.

The women, as in other parts of the country, seemed to go about as
freely as the men. They wore several skirts or petticoats of different
lengths, with highly-ornamented borders, and sometimes over them loose
flowing robes, which reached to the ankles. These, also, were made of
cotton, for the wealthier classes, of a fine texture, prettily
embroidered.[356] No veils were worn here, as in some other parts of
Anahuac, where they were made of the aloe thread, or of the light web of
hair, above noticed. The Aztec women had their faces exposed; and their
dark, raven tresses floated luxuriantly over their shoulders, revealing
features which, although of a dusky or rather cinnamon hue, were not
unfrequently pleasing, while touched with the serious, even sad
expression characteristic of the national physiognomy.[357]

On drawing near to the _tianguez_, or great market, the Spaniards were
astonished at the throng of people pressing towards it, and on entering
the place their surprise was still further heightened by the sight of
the multitudes assembled there, and the dimensions of the enclosure,{*}
thrice as large as the celebrated square of Salamanca.[358] Here were
met together traders from all parts, with the products and manufactures
peculiar to their countries; the goldsmiths of Azcapozalco, the potters
and jewellers of Cholula, the painters of Tezcuco, the stone-cutters of
Tenajocan, the hunters of Xilotepec, the fishermen of Cuitlahuac, the
fruiterers of the warm countries, the mat-and chair-makers of
Quauhtitlan, and the florists of Xochimilco,--all busily engaged in
recommending their respective wares and in chaffering with

{*} [_Ante_, p. 288, note.--M.]

The market-place was surrounded by deep porticoes, and the several
articles had each its own quarter allotted to it. Here might be seen
cotton piled up in bales, or manufactured into dresses and articles of
domestic use, as tapestry, curtains, coverlets, and the like. The richly
stained and nice fabrics reminded Cortés of the _alcayceria_, or
silk-market, of Granada. There was the quarter assigned to the
goldsmiths, where the purchaser might find various articles of ornament
or use formed of the precious metals, or curious toys, such as we have
already had occasion to notice, made in imitation of birds and fishes,
with scales and feathers alternately of gold and silver, and with
movable heads and bodies. These fantastic little trinkets were often
garnished with precious stones, and showed a patient, puerile ingenuity
in the manufacture, like that of the Chinese.[360]

In an adjoining quarter were collected specimens of pottery coarse and
fine, vases of wood elaborately carved, varnished or gilt, of curious
and sometimes graceful forms. There were also hatchets made of copper
alloyed with tin, the substitute, and, as it proved, not a bad one, for
iron. The soldier found here all the implements of his trade: the casque
fashioned into the head of some wild animal, with its grinning defences
of teeth, and bristling crest dyed with the rich tint of the
cochineal;[361] the _escaupil_, or quilted doublet of cotton, the rich
surcoat of feather-mail, and weapons of all sorts, copper-headed lances
and arrows, and the broad _maquahuitl_, the Mexican sword, with its
sharp blades of _itztli_. Here were razors and mirrors of this same hard
and polished mineral, which served so many of the purposes of steel with
the Aztecs.[362] In the square were also to be found booths occupied by
barbers, who used these same razors in their vocation. For the Mexicans,
contrary to the popular and erroneous notions respecting the aborigines
of the New World, had beards, though scanty ones. Other shops or booths
were tenanted by apothecaries, well provided with drugs, roots, and
different medicinal preparations. In other places, again, blank books or
maps for the hieroglyphical picture-writing were to be seen, folded
together like fans, and made of cotton, skins, or more commonly the
fibres of the agave, the Aztec papyrus.

Under some of the porticoes they saw hides raw and dressed, and various
articles for domestic or personal use made of the leather. Animals, both
wild and tame, were offered for sale, and near them, perhaps, a gang of
slaves, with collars round their necks, intimating they were likewise on
sale,--a spectacle unhappily not confined to the barbarian markets of
Mexico, though the evils of their condition were aggravated there by the
consciousness that a life of degradation might be consummated at any
moment by the dreadful doom of sacrifice.

The heavier materials for building, as stone, lime, timber, were
considered too bulky to be allowed a place in the square, and were
deposited in the adjacent streets on the borders of the canals. It would
be tedious to enumerate all the various articles, whether for luxury or
daily use, which were collected from all quarters in this vast bazaar. I
must not omit to mention, however, the display of provisions, one of the
most attractive features of the _tianguez_; meats of all kinds, domestic
poultry, game from the neighboring mountains, fish from the lakes and
streams, fruits in all the delicious abundance of these temperate
regions, green vegetables, and the unfailing maize. There was many a
viand, too, ready dressed, which sent up its savory steams provoking the
appetite of the idle passenger; pastry, bread of the Indian corn, cakes,
and confectionery.[363] Along with these were to be seen cooling or
stimulating beverages, the spicy foaming _chocolatl_, with its delicate
aroma of vanilla, and the inebriating _pulque_, the fermented juice of
the aloe. All these commodities, and every stall and portico, were set
out, or rather smothered, with flowers, showing--on a much greater
scale, indeed--a taste similar to that displayed in the markets of
modern Mexico. Flowers seem to be the spontaneous growth of this
luxuriant soil; which, instead of noxious weeds, as in other regions, is
ever ready, without the aid of man, to cover up its nakedness with this
rich and variegated livery of Nature.[364]

I will spare the reader the repetition of all the particulars enumerated
by the bewildered Spaniards, which are of some interest as evincing the
various mechanical skill and the polished wants, resembling those of a
refined community rather than of a nation of savages. It was the
_material_ civilization, which belongs neither to the one nor the other.
The Aztec had plainly reached that middle station, as far above the rude
races of the New World as it was below the cultivated communities of the

As to the numbers assembled in the market, the estimates differ, as
usual. The Spaniards often visited the place, and no one states the
amount at less than forty thousand! Some carry it much higher.[365]
Without relying too much on the arithmetic of the Conquerors, it is
certain that on this occasion, which occurred every fifth day, the city
swarmed with a motley crowd of strangers, not only from the vicinity,
but from many leagues around; the causeways were thronged, and the lake
was darkened by canoes filled with traders flocking to the great
_tianguez_. It resembled, indeed, the periodical fairs in Europe, not as
they exist now, but as they existed in the Middle Ages, when, from the
difficulties of intercommunication, they served as the great central
marts for commercial intercourse, exercising a most important and
salutary influence on the community.

The exchanges were conducted partly by barter, but more usually in the
currency of the country. This consisted of bits of tin stamped with a
character like a [Illustration: sans-serif T], bags of cacao, the value
of which was regulated by their size, and, lastly, quills filled with
gold dust.[366] Gold was part of the regular currency, it seems, in both
hemispheres. In their dealings it is singular that they should have had
no knowledge of scales and weights. The quantity was determined by
measure and number.[367]

The most perfect order reigned throughout this vast assembly. Officers
patrolled the square, whose business it was to keep the peace, to
collect the duties imposed on the different articles of merchandise, to
see that no false measures or fraud of any kind were used, and to bring
offenders at once to justice. A court of twelve judges sat in one part
of the _tianguez_, clothed with those ample and summary powers which in
despotic countries are often delegated even to petty tribunals. The
extreme severity with which they exercised these powers, in more than
one instance, proves that they were not a dead letter.[368]

The _tianguez_ of Mexico was naturally an object of great interest, as
well as wonder, to the Spaniards. For in it they saw converged into one
focus, as it were, all the rays of civilization scattered throughout the
land. Here they beheld the various evidences of mechanical skill, of
domestic industry, the multiplied resources, of whatever kind, within
the compass of the natives. It could not fail to impress them with high
ideas of the magnitude of these resources, as well as of the commercial
activity and social subordination by which the whole community was knit
together; and their admiration is fully evinced by the minuteness and
energy of their descriptions.[369]

From this bustling scene the Spaniards took their way to the great
_teocalli_, in the neighborhood of their own quarters. It covered, with
the subordinate edifices, as the reader has already seen, the large
tract of ground now occupied by the cathedral, part of the market-place,
and some of the adjoining streets.[370] It was the spot which had been
consecrated to the same object, probably, ever since the foundation of
the city. The present building, however, was of no great antiquity,
having been constructed by Ahuitzotl, who celebrated its dedication, in
1486, by that hecatomb of victims of which such incredible reports are
to be found in the chronicles.[371]

It stood in the midst of a vast area, encompassed by a wall of stone and
lime, about eight feet high, ornamented on the outer side by figures of
serpents, raised in relief, which gave it the name of the _coatepantli_,
or “wall of serpents.” This emblem was a common one in the sacred
sculpture of Anahuac, as well as of Egypt. The wall, which was
quadrangular, was pierced by huge battlemented gateways, opening on the
four principal streets of the capital. Over each of the gates was a kind
of arsenal, filled with arms and warlike gear; and, if we may credit the
report of the Conquerors, there were barracks adjoining, garrisoned by
ten thousand soldiers, who served as a sort of military police for the
capital, supplying the emperor with a strong arm in case of tumult or

The _teocalli_ itself was a solid pyramidal structure of earth and
pebbles, coated on the outside with hewn stones, probably of the light,
porous kind employed in the buildings of the city.[373] It was probably
square, with its sides facing the cardinal points.[374] It was divided
into five bodies or stories, each one receding so as to be of smaller
dimensions than that immediately below it,--the usual form of the Aztec
_teocallis_, as already described, and bearing obvious resemblance to
some of the primitive pyramidal structures in the Old World.[375] The
ascent was by a flight of steps on the outside, which reached to the
narrow terrace or platform at the base of the second story, passing
quite round the building, when a second stairway conducted to a similar
landing at the base of the third. The breadth of this walk was just so
much space as was left by the retreating story next above it. From this
construction the visitor was obliged to pass round the whole edifice
four times in order to reach the top. This had a most imposing effect in
the religious ceremonials, when the pompous procession of priests with
their wild minstrelsy came sweeping round the huge sides of the pyramid,
as they rose higher and higher, in the presence of gazing multitudes,
towards the summit.

The dimensions of the temple cannot be given with any certainty. The
Conquerors judged by the eye, rarely troubling themselves with anything
like an accurate measurement. It was, probably, not much less than three
hundred feet square at the base:[376] and, as the Spaniards counted a
hundred and fourteen steps, was, probably, less than one hundred feet in

When Cortés arrived before the _teocalli_, he found two priests and
several caciques commissioned by Montezuma to save him the fatigue of
the ascent by bearing him on their shoulders, in the same manner as had
been done to the emperor. But the general declined the compliment,
preferring to march up at the head of his men. On reaching the summit,
they found it a vast area, paved with broad flat stones. The first
object that met their view was a large block of jasper, the peculiar
shape of which showed it was the stone on which the bodies of the
unhappy victims were stretched for sacrifice. Its convex surface, by
raising the breast, enabled the priest to perform his diabolical task
more easily, of removing the heart. At the other end of the area were
two towers or sanctuaries, consisting of three stories, the lower one of
stone and stucco, the two upper of wood elaborately carved. In the lower
division stood the images of their gods; the apartments above were
filled with utensils for their religious services, and with the ashes of
some of their Aztec princes, who had fancied this airy sepulchre. Before
each sanctuary stood an altar, with that undying fire upon it, the
extinction of which boded as much evil to the empire as that of the
Vestal flame would have done in ancient Rome. Here, also, was the huge
cylindrical drum made of serpents’ skins, and struck only on
extraordinary occasions, when it sent forth a melancholy sound that
might be heard for miles,--a sound of woe in aftertimes to the

Montezuma, attended by the high-priest, came forward to receive Cortés
as he mounted the area. “You are weary, Malinche,” said he to him, “with
climbing up our great temple.” But Cortés, with a politic vaunt, assured
him “the Spaniards were never weary”! Then, taking him by the hand, the
emperor pointed out the localities of the neighborhood. The temple on
which they stood, rising high above all other edifices in the capital,
afforded the most elevated as well as central point of view. Below them,
the city lay spread out like a map, with its streets and canals
intersecting each other at right angles, its terraced roofs blooming
like so many parterres of flowers. Every place seemed alive with
business and bustle; canoes were glancing up and down the canals, the
streets were crowded with people in their gay, picturesque costume,
while from the market-place they had so lately left a confused hum of
many sounds and voices rose upon the air.[378] They could distinctly
trace the symmetrical plan of the city, with its principal avenues
issuing, as it were, from the four gates of the _coatepantli_ and
connecting themselves with the causeways, which formed the grand
entrances to the capital. This regular and beautiful arrangement was
imitated in many of the inferior towns, where the great roads converged
towards the chief _teocalli_, or cathedral, as to a common focus.[379]
They could discern the insular position of the metropolis, bathed on all
sides by the salt floods of the Tezcuco, and in the distance the clear
fresh waters of the Chalco; far beyond stretched a wide prospect of
fields and waving woods, with the burnished walls of many a lofty temple
rising high above the trees and crowning the distant hilltops.[380] The
view reached in an unbroken line to the very base of the circular range
of mountains, whose frosty peaks glittered as if touched with fire in
the morning ray; while long, dark wreaths of vapor, rolling up from the
hoary head of Popocatepetl, told that the destroying element was,
indeed, at work in the bosom of the beautiful Valley.

Cortés was filled with admiration at this grand and glorious spectacle,
and gave utterance to his feelings in animated language to the emperor,
the lord of these flourishing domains. His thoughts, however, soon took
another direction; and, turning to Father Olmedo, who stood by his side,
he suggested that the area would afford a most conspicuous position for
the Christian Cross, if Montezuma would but allow it to be planted
there. But the discreet ecclesiastic, with the good sense which on these
occasions seems to have been so lamentably deficient in his commander,
reminded him that such a request, at present, would be exceedingly ill
timed, as the Indian monarch had shown no dispositions as yet favorable
to Christianity.[381]

Cortés then requested Montezuma to allow him to enter the sanctuaries
and behold the shrines of his gods. To this the latter, after a short
conference with the priests, assented, and conducted the Spaniards into
the building. They found themselves in a spacious apartment incrusted
on the sides with stucco, on which various figures were sculptured,
representing the Mexican calendar, perhaps, or the priestly ritual. At
one end of the saloon was a recess with a roof of timber richly carved
and gilt. Before the altar in this sanctuary stood the colossal image of
Huitzilopochtli, the tutelary deity and war-god of the Aztecs. His
countenance was distorted into hideous lineaments of symbolical import.
In his right hand he wielded a bow, and in his left a bunch of golden
arrows, which a mystic legend had connected with the victories of his
people. The huge folds of a serpent, consisting of pearls and precious
stones, were coiled round his waist, and the same rich materials were
profusely sprinkled over his person. On his left foot were the delicate
feathers of the humming-bird, which, singularly enough, gave its name to
the dread deity.[382] The most conspicuous ornament was a chain of gold
and silver hearts alternate, suspended round his neck, emblematical of
the sacrifice in which he most delighted. A more unequivocal evidence of
this was afforded by three human hearts smoking and almost palpitating,
as if recently torn from the victims, and now lying on the altar before

The adjoining sanctuary was dedicated to a milder deity. This was
Tezcatlipoca, next in honor to that invisible Being, the Supreme God,
who was represented by no image and confined by no temple. It was
Tezcatlipoca who created the world and watched over it with a
providential care. He was represented as a young man, and his image, of
polished black stone, was richly garnished with gold plates and
ornaments, among which a shield burnished like a mirror was the most
characteristic emblem, as in it he saw reflected all the doings of the
world. But the homage to this god was not always of a more refined or
merciful character than that paid to his carnivorous brother; for five
bleeding hearts were also seen in a golden platter on his altar.

The walls of both these chapels were stained with human gore. “The
stench was more intolerable,” exclaims Diaz, “than that of the
slaughterhouses in Castile!” And the frantic forms of the priests, with
their dark robes clotted with blood, as they flitted to and fro, seemed
to the Spaniards to be those of the very ministers of Satan![383]

From this foul abode they gladly escaped into the open air; when Cortés,
turning to Montezuma, said, with a smile, “I do not comprehend how a
great and wise prince, like you, can put faith in such evil spirits as
these idols, the representatives of the Devil! If you will but permit us
to erect here the true Cross, and place the images of the blessed Virgin
and her Son in your sanctuaries, you will soon see how your false gods
will shrink before them!”

Montezuma was greatly shocked at this sacrilegious address. “These are
the gods,” he answered, “who have led the Aztecs on to victory since
they were a nation, and who send the seed-time and harvest in their
seasons. Had I thought you would have offered them this outrage, I would
not have admitted you into their presence.”

Cortés, after some expressions of concern at having wounded the feelings
of the emperor, took his leave. Montezuma remained, saying that he must
expiate, if possible, the crime of exposing the shrines of the
divinities to such profanation by the strangers.[384]

On descending to the court, the Spanish took a leisurely survey of the
other edifices in the enclosure. The area was protected by a smooth
stone pavement, so polished, indeed, that it was with difficulty the
horses could keep their legs. There were several other _teocallis_,
built generally on the model of the great one, though of much inferior
size, dedicated to the different Aztec deities.[385] On their summits
were the altars crowned with perpetual flames, which, with those on the
numerous temples in other quarters of the capital, shed a brilliant
illumination over its streets through the long nights.[386]

Among the _teocallis_ in the enclosure was one consecrated to
Quetzalcoatl, circular in its form, and having an entrance in imitation
of a dragon’s mouth, bristling with sharp fangs and dropping with blood.
As the Spaniards cast a furtive glance into the throat of this horrible
monster, they saw collected there implements of sacrifice and other
abominations of fearful import. Their bold hearts shuddered at the
spectacle, and they designated the place not inaptly as the “Hell.”[387]

One other structure may be noticed as characteristic of the brutish
nature of their religion. This was a pyramidal mound or tumulus, having
a complicated frame-work of timber on its broad summit. On this was
strung an immense number of human skulls, which belonged to the victims,
mostly prisoners of war, who had perished on the accursed stone of
sacrifice. Two of the soldiers had the patience to count the number of
these ghastly trophies, and reported it to be one hundred and thirty-six
thousand![388] Belief might well be staggered, did not the Old World
present a worthy counterpart in the pyramidal Golgothas which
commemorated the triumphs of Tamerlane.[389]

There were long ranges of buildings in the enclosure, appropriated as
the residence of the priests and others engaged in the offices of
religion. The whole number of them was said to amount to several
thousand. Here were, also, the principal seminaries for the instruction
of youth of both sexes, drawn chiefly from the higher and wealthier
classes. The girls were taught by elderly women who officiated as
priestesses in the temples, a custom familiar, also, to Egypt. The
Spaniards admit that the greatest care for morals, and the most
blameless deportment, were maintained in these institutions. The time of
the pupils was chiefly occupied, as in most monastic establishments,
with the minute and burdensome ceremonial of their religion. The boys
were likewise taught such elements of science as were known to their
teachers, and the girls initiated in the mysteries of embroidery and
weaving, which they employed in decorating the temples. At a suitable
age they generally went forth into the world to assume the occupations
fitted to their condition, though some remained permanently devoted to
the services of religion.[390]

The spot was also covered by edifices of a still different character.
There were granaries filled with the rich produce of the church-lands
and with the first-fruits and other offerings of the faithful. One large
mansion was reserved for strangers of eminence who were on a pilgrimage
to the great _teocalli_. The enclosure was ornamented with gardens,
shaded by ancient trees and watered by fountains and reservoirs from the
copious streams of Chapoltepec. The little community was thus provided
with almost everything requisite for its own maintenance and the
services of the temple.[391]

It was a microcosm of itself, a city within a city, and, according to
the assertion of Cortés, embraced a tract of ground large enough for
five hundred houses.[392] It presented in their brief compass the
extremes of barbarism, blended with a certain civilization, altogether
characteristic of the Aztecs. The rude Conquerors saw only the evidence
of the former. In the fantastic and symbolical features of the deities
they beheld the literal lineaments of Satan; in the rites and frivolous
ceremonial, his own especial code of damnation; and in the modest
deportment and careful nurture of the inmates of the seminaries, the
snares by which he was to beguile his deluded victims![393] Before a
century had elapsed, the descendants of these same Spaniards discerned
in the mysteries of the Aztec religion the features, obscured and
defaced, indeed, of the Jewish and Christian revelations![394] Such were
the opposite conclusions of the unlettered soldier and of the scholar. A
philosopher, untouched by superstition, might well doubt which of the
two was the more extraordinary.

The sight of the Indian abomination seems to have kindled in the
Spaniards a livelier feeling for their own religion; since on the
following day they asked leave of Montezuma to convert one of the halls
in their residence into a chapel, that they might celebrate the services
of the Church there. The monarch, in whose bosom the feelings of
resentment seem to have soon subsided, easily granted their request, and
sent some of his own artisans to aid them in the work.

While it was in progress, some of the Spaniards observed what appeared
to be a door recently plastered over. It was a common rumor that
Montezuma still kept the treasures of his father, King Axayacatl, in
this ancient palace. The Spaniards, acquainted with this fact, felt no
scruple in gratifying their curiosity by removing the plaster. As was
anticipated, it concealed a door. On forcing this, they found the rumor
was no exaggeration. They beheld a large hall filled with rich and
beautiful stuffs, articles of curious workmanship of various kinds, gold
and silver in bars and in the ore, and many jewels of value. It was the
private hoard of Montezuma, the contributions, it may be, of tributary
cities, and once the property of his father. “I was a young man,” says
Diaz, who was one of those that obtained a sight of it, “and it seemed
to me as if all the riches of the world were in that room!”[395] The
Spaniards, notwithstanding their elation at the discovery of this
precious deposit, seem to have felt some commendable scruples as to
appropriating it to their own use,--at least for the present. And
Cortés, after closing up the wall as it was before, gave strict
injunctions that nothing should be said of the matter, unwilling that
the knowledge of its existence by his guests should reach the ears of

Three days sufficed to complete the chapel; and the Christians had the
satisfaction to see themselves in possession of a temple where they
might worship God in their own way, under the protection of the Cross
and the blessed Virgin. Mass was regularly performed by the fathers
Olmedo and Diaz, in the presence of the assembled army, who were most
earnest and exemplary in their devotions, partly, says the chronicler
above quoted, from the propriety of the thing, and partly for its
edifying influence on the benighted heathen.[396]




The Spaniards had been now a week in Mexico. During this time they had
experienced the most friendly treatment from the emperor. But the mind
of Cortés was far from easy. He felt that it was quite uncertain how
long this amiable temper would last. A hundred circumstances might occur
to change it. Montezuma might very naturally feel the maintenance of so
large a body too burdensome on his treasury. The people of the capital
might become dissatisfied at the presence of so numerous an armed force
within their walls. Many causes of disgust might arise betwixt the
soldiers and the citizens. Indeed, it was scarcely possible that a rude,
licentious soldiery, like the Spaniards, could be long kept in
subjection without active employment.[397] The danger was even greater
with the Tlascalans, a fierce race now brought into daily contact with
the nation who held them in loathing and detestation. Rumors were
already rife among the allies, whether well founded or not, of murmurs
among the Mexicans, accompanied by menaces of raising the bridges.[398]

Even should the Spaniards be allowed to occupy their present quarters
unmolested, it was not advancing the great object of the expedition.
Cortés was not a whit nearer gaining the capital, so essential to his
meditated subjugation of the country; and any day he might receive
tidings that the crown, or, what he most feared, the governor of Cuba,
had sent a force of superior strength to wrest from him a conquest but
half achieved. Disturbed by these anxious reflections, he resolved to
extricate himself from his embarrassment by one bold stroke. But he
first submitted the affair to a council of the officers in whom he most
confided, desirous to divide with them the responsibility of the act,
and, no doubt, to interest them more heartily in its execution by making
it in some measure the result of their combined judgments.

When the general had briefly stated the embarrassments of their
position, the council was divided in opinion. All admitted the necessity
of some instant action. One party were for retiring secretly from the
city, and getting beyond the causeways before their march could be
intercepted. Another advised that it should be done openly, with the
knowledge of the emperor, of whose good will they had had so many
proofs. But both these measures seemed alike impolitic. A retreat under
these circumstances, and so abruptly made, would have the air of a
flight. It would be construed into distrust of themselves; and anything
like timidity on their part would be sure not only to bring on them the
Mexicans, but the contempt of their allies, who would, doubtless, join
in the general cry.

As to Montezuma, what reliance could they place on the protection of a
prince so recently their enemy, and who, in his altered bearing, must
have taken counsel of his fears rather than his inclinations?

Even should they succeed in reaching the coast, their situation would be
little better. It would be proclaiming to the world that, after all
their lofty vaunts, they were unequal to the enterprise. Their only
hopes of their sovereign’s favor, and of pardon for their irregular
proceedings, were founded on success. Hitherto, they had only made the
discovery of Mexico; to retreat would be to leave conquest and the
fruits of it to another. In short, to stay and to retreat seemed equally

In his perplexity, Cortés proposed an expedient which none but the most
daring spirit, in the most desperate extremity, would have conceived.
This was to march to the royal palace and bring Montezuma to the Spanish
quarters, by fair means if they could persuade him, by force if
necessary,--at all events, to get possession of his person.{*} With
such a pledge, the Spaniards would be secure from the assault of the
Mexicans, afraid by acts of violence to compromise the safety of their
prince. If he came by his own consent, they would be deprived of all
apology for doing so. As long as the emperor remained among the
Spaniards, it would be easy, by allowing him a show of sovereignty, to
rule in his name, until they had taken measures for securing their
safety and the success of their enterprise. The idea of employing a
sovereign as a tool for the government of his own kingdom, if a new one
in the age of Cortés, is certainly not so in ours.[399]

{*} [“An unparalleled transaction. There is nothing like it, I believe,
in the annals of the world.” Helps’ Spanish Conquest, ii. 351.--M.]

A plausible pretext for the seizure of the hospitable monarch--for the
most barefaced action seeks to veil itself under some show of
decency--was afforded by a circumstance of which Cortés had received
intelligence at Cholula.[400] He had left, as we have seen, a faithful
officer, Juan de Escalante, with a hundred and fifty men, in garrison at
Vera Cruz, on his departure for the capital. He had not been long absent
when his lieutenant received a message from an Aztec chief named
Quauhpopoca, governor of a district to the north of the Spanish
settlement, declaring his desire to come in person and tender his
allegiance to the Spanish authorities at Vera Cruz. He requested that
four of the white men might be sent to protect him against certain
unfriendly tribes through which his road lay. This was not an uncommon
request, and excited no suspicion in Escalante. The four soldiers were
sent; and on their arrival two of them were murdered by the false Aztec.
The other two made their way back to the garrison.[401]

The commander marched at once, with fifty of his men, and several
thousand Indian allies, to take vengeance on the cacique. A pitched
battle followed. The allies fled from the redoubted Mexicans. The few
Spaniards stood firm, and with the aid of their fire-arms and the
blessed Virgin, who was distinctly seen hovering over their ranks in the
van, they made good the field against the enemy. It cost them dear,
however; since seven or eight Christians were slain, and among them the
gallant Escalante himself, who died of his injuries soon after his
return to the fort. The Indian prisoners captured in the battle spoke of
the whole proceeding as having taken place at the instigation of

One of the Spaniards fell into the hands of the natives, but soon after
perished of his wounds. His head was cut off and sent to the Aztec
emperor. It was uncommonly large and covered with hair; and, as
Montezuma gazed on the ferocious features, rendered more horrible by
death, he seemed to read in them the dark lineaments of the destined
destroyers of his house. He turned from it with a shudder, and commanded
that it should be taken from the city, and not offered at the shrine of
any of his gods.

Although Cortés had received intelligence of this disaster at Cholula,
he had concealed it within his own breast, or communicated it to very
few only of his most trusty officers, from apprehension of the ill
effect it might have on the spirits of the common soldiers.

The cavaliers whom Cortés now summoned to the council were men of the
same mettle with their leader. Their bold, chivalrous spirits seemed to
court danger for its own sake. If one or two, less adventurous, were
startled by the proposal he made, they were soon overruled by the
others, who, no doubt, considered that a desperate disease required as
desperate a remedy.

That night Cortés was heard pacing his apartment to and fro, like a man
oppressed by thought or agitated by strong emotion. He may have been
ripening in his mind the daring scheme for the morrow.[403] In the
morning the soldiers heard mass as usual, and Father Olmedo invoked the
blessing of Heaven on their hazardous enterprise. Whatever might be the
cause in which he was embarked, the heart of the Spaniard was cheered
with the conviction that the saints were on his side![404]

Having asked an audience from Montezuma, which was readily granted, the
general made the necessary arrangements for his enterprise. The
principal part of his force was drawn up in the court-yard, and he
stationed a considerable detachment in the avenues leading to the
palace, to check any attempt at rescue by the populace. He ordered
twenty-five or thirty of the soldiers to drop in at the palace, as if
by accident, in groups of three or four at a time, while the conference
was going on with Montezuma. He selected five cavaliers, in whose
courage and coolness he placed most trust, to bear him company; Pedro de
Alvarado, Gonzalo de Sandoval, Francisco de Lujo, Velasquez de Leon, and
Alonso de Avila,--brilliant names in the annals of the Conquest. All
were clad, as well as the common soldiers, in complete armor, a
circumstance of too familiar occurrence to excite suspicion.

The little party were graciously received by the emperor, who soon, with
the aid of the interpreters, became interested in a sportive
conversation with the Spaniards, while he indulged his natural
munificence by giving them presents of gold and jewels. He paid the
Spanish general the particular compliment of offering him one of his
daughters as his wife; an honor which the latter respectfully declined,
on the ground that he was already accommodated with one in Cuba, and
that his religion forbade a plurality.

When Cortés perceived that a sufficient number of his soldiers were
assembled, he changed his playful manner, and in a serious tone briefly
acquainted Montezuma with the treacherous proceedings in the _tierra
caliente_, and the accusation of him as their author. The emperor
listened to the charge with surprise, and disavowed the act, which he
said could only have been imputed to him by his enemies. Cortés
expressed his belief in his declaration, but added that, to prove it
true, it would be necessary to send for Quauhpopoca and his
accomplices, that they might be examined and dealt with according to
their deserts. To this Montezuma made no objection. Taking from his
wrist, to which it was attached, a precious stone, the royal signet, on
which was cut the figure of the Wargod,[405] he gave it to one of his
nobles, with orders to show it to the Aztec governor, and require his
instant presence in the capital, together with all those who had been
accessory to the murder of the Spaniards. If he resisted, the officer
was empowered to call in the aid of the neighboring towns to enforce the

When the messenger had gone, Cortés assured the monarch that this prompt
compliance with his request convinced him of his innocence. But it was
important that his own sovereign should be equally convinced of it.
Nothing would promote this so much as for Montezuma to transfer his
residence to the palace occupied by the Spaniards, till on the arrival
of Quauhpopoca the affair could be fully investigated. Such an act of
condescension would, of itself, show a personal regard for the
Spaniards, incompatible with the base conduct alleged against him, and
would fully absolve him from all suspicion![406]

Montezuma listened to this proposal, and the flimsy reasoning with which
it was covered, with looks of profound amazement. He became pale as
death; but in a moment his face flushed with resentment, as, with the
pride of offended dignity, he exclaimed, “When was it ever heard that a
great prince, like myself, voluntarily left his own palace to become a
prisoner in the hands of strangers!”

Cortés assured him he would not go as a prisoner. He would experience
nothing but respectful treatment from the Spaniards, would be surrounded
by his own household, and hold intercourse with his people as usual. In
short, it would be but a change of residence, from one of his palaces to
another, a circumstance of frequent occurrence with him. It was in vain.
“If I should consent to such a degradation,” he answered, “my subjects
never would.”[407] When further pressed, he offered to give up one of
his sons and two of his daughters to remain as hostages with the
Spaniards, so that he might be spared this disgrace.

Two hours passed in this fruitless discussion, till a high-mettled
cavalier, Velasquez de Leon, impatient of the long delay, and seeing
that the attempt, if not the deed, must ruin them, cried out, “Why do we
waste words on this barbarian? We have gone too far to recede now. Let
us seize him, and, if he resists, plunge our swords into his body!”[408]
The fierce tone and menacing gestures with which this was uttered
alarmed the monarch, who inquired of Marina what the angry Spaniard
said. The interpreter explained it in as gentle a manner as she could,
beseeching him “to accompany the white men to their quarters, where he
would be treated with all respect and kindness, while to refuse them
would but expose himself to violence, perhaps to death.” Marina,
doubtless, spoke to her sovereign as she thought, and no one had better
opportunity of knowing the truth than herself.

This last appeal shook the resolution of Montezuma. It was in vain that
the unhappy prince looked around for sympathy or support. As his eyes
wandered over the stern visages and iron forms of the Spaniards, he felt
that his hour was indeed come; and, with a voice scarcely audible from
emotion, he consented to accompany the strangers,--to quit the palace
whither he was never more to return. Had he possessed the spirit of the
first Montezuma, he would have called his guards around him, and left
his life-blood on the threshold, sooner than have been dragged a
dishonored captive across it. But his courage sank under circumstances.
He felt he was the instrument of an irresistible Fate![409]

No sooner had the Spaniards got his consent than orders were given for
the royal litter. The nobles who bore and attended it could scarcely
believe their senses when they learned their master’s purpose. But pride
now came to Montezuma’s aid, and, since he must go, he preferred that it
should appear to be with his own free will. As the royal retinue,
escorted by the Spaniards, marched through the street with downcast eyes
and dejected mien, the people assembled in crowds, and a rumor rang
among them that the emperor was carried off by force to the quarters of
the white men. A tumult would have soon arisen but for the intervention
of Montezuma himself, who called out to the people to disperse, as he
was visiting his friends of his own accord; thus sealing his ignominy by
a declaration which deprived his subjects of the only excuse for
resistance.{*} On reaching the quarters, he sent out his nobles with
similar assurances to the mob, and renewed orders to return to their

{*} [Writers of the school of Morgan and Bandelier rightly lay great
stress upon the circumstances connected with the capture of Montezuma as
tending to prove that the so-called “emperor” had no real power, but was
only the agent of the tribe. The Aztec system of government showed
startling variations from the ordinary communal type, and in another
century might have developed into a monarchical system, but it was
nevertheless still a military democracy. Cortés was quartered in the
Tecpan of the tribe, which Tecpan Montezuma had vacated to provide
accommodations for his guests. It was not very remarkable, therefore,
that the chief should return to his old quarters. There were no royal
guards to defend his person. When he fell into the power of the
Spaniards his influence was lost. But the people, whose chief officer he
was, were in a quandary. The Spaniards had learned in their dealings
with other tribes that Indians were demoralized and unable to fight when
their caciques were taken. (_Cicique_ was the title usually given to
Montezuma in the first despatches of Cortés.) According to aboriginal
customs, prisoners of war were killed, and their offices reverted to the
tribe. Cortés, when he took Montezuma prisoner, captured both the man
and his office. Under ordinary circumstances there could be no vacancy
in the office until its holder died. We shall note later the enormous
blunder Cortés made because of his ignorance of Aztec institutions.--M.]

He was received with ostentatious respect by the Spaniards, and selected
the suite of apartments which best pleased him. They were soon furnished
with fine cotton tapestries, feather-work, and all the elegancies of
Indian upholstery. He was attended by such of his household as he chose,
his wives and his pages, and was served with his usual pomp and luxury
at his meals.{*} He gave audience, as in his own palace, to his
subjects, who were admitted to his presence, few, indeed, at a time,
under the pretext of greater order and decorum. From the Spaniards
themselves he met with a formal deference. No one, not even the general
himself, approached him without doffing his casque and rendering the
obeisance due to his rank. Nor did they ever sit in his presence,
without being invited by him to do so.[411]

{*} [According to Tápia, his servants brought him at each meal more than
four hundred dishes of meat, game, and fish, intermingled with
vegetables and fruits: “é debajo de cada plato de los que á sus
servidores les parecie que él comerie, venia un braserico con lumbre;
... siempre le traian platos nuevos en que comie, é jamas comie en cada
plato mas du una vez, ni se vistie ropa mas de una vez; é lavábase el
cuerpo cada dia dos veces.” Icazbalceta, Col. de Doc. para la Hist. de
México, tom. ii.--K.]

With all this studied ceremony and show of homage, there was one
circumstance which too clearly proclaimed to his people that their
sovereign was a prisoner. In the front of the palace a patrol of sixty
men was established, and the same number in the rear. Twenty of each
corps mounted guard at once, maintaining a careful watch, day and
night.[412] Another body, under command of Velasquez de Leon, was
stationed in the royal antechamber. Cortés punished any departure from
duty, or relaxation of vigilance, in these sentinels, with the utmost
severity.[413] He felt, as indeed every Spaniard must have felt, that
the escape of the emperor now would be their ruin. Yet the task of this
unintermitting watch sorely added to their fatigues. “Better this dog of
a king should die,” cried a soldier one day, “than that we should wear
out our lives in this manner.” The words were uttered in the hearing of
Montezuma, who gathered something of their import, and the offender was
severely chastised by order of the general.[414] Such instances of
disrespect, however, were very rare. Indeed, the amiable deportment of
the monarch, who seemed to take pleasure in the society of his jailers,
and who never allowed a favor or attention from the meanest soldier to
go unrequited, inspired the Spaniards with as much attachment as they
were capable of feeling--for a barbarian.[415]

Things were in this posture, when the arrival of Quauhpopoca from the
coast was announced. He was accompanied by his son and fifteen Aztec
chiefs. He had travelled all the way, borne, as became his high rank, in
a litter. On entering Montezuma’s presence, he threw over his dress the
coarse robe of _nequen_, and made the usual humiliating acts of
obeisance. The poor parade of courtly ceremony was the more striking
when placed in contrast with the actual condition of the parties.

The Aztec governor was coldly received by his master, who referred the
affair (had he the power to do otherwise?) to the examination of Cortés.
It was, doubtless, conducted in a sufficiently summary manner. To the
general’s query, whether the cacique was the subject of Montezuma, he
replied, “And what other sovereign could I serve?” implying that his
sway was universal.[416] He did not deny his share in the transaction,
nor did he seek to shelter himself under the royal authority till
sentence of death was passed on him and his followers, when they all
laid the blame of their proceedings on Montezuma.[417] They were
condemned to be burnt alive in the area before the palace. The funeral
piles were made of heaps of arrows, javelins, and other weapons, drawn
by the emperor’s permission from the arsenals round the great
_teocalli_, where they had been stored to supply means of defence in
times of civic tumult or insurrection. By this politic precaution Cortés
proposed to remove a ready means of annoyance in case of hostilities
with the citizens.

To crown the whole of these extraordinary proceedings, Cortés, while
preparations for the execution were going on, entered the emperor’s
apartment, attended by a soldier bearing fetters in his hands. With a
severe aspect, he charged the monarch with being the original contriver
of the violence offered to the Spaniards, as was now proved by the
declaration of his own instruments. Such a crime, which merited death in
a subject, could not be atoned for, even by a sovereign, without some
punishment. So saying, he ordered the soldier to fasten the fetters on
Montezuma’s ankles. He coolly waited till it was done, then, turning his
back on the monarch, quitted the room.

Montezuma was speechless under the infliction of this last insult. He
was like one struck down by a heavy blow, that deprives him of all his
faculties. He offered no resistance. But, though he spoke not a word,
low, ill-suppressed moans, from time to time, intimated the anguish of
his spirit. His attendants, bathed in tears, offered him their
consolations. They tenderly held his feet in their arms, and endeavored,
by inserting their shawls and mantles, to relieve them from the pressure
of the iron. But they could not reach the iron which had penetrated into
his soul. He felt that he was no more a king.

Meanwhile, the execution of the dreadful doom was going forward. The
whole Spanish force was under arms, to check any interruption that might
be offered by the Mexicans. But none was attempted. The populace gazed
in silent wonder, regarding it as the sentence of the emperor. The
manner of the execution, too, excited less surprise, from their
familiarity with similar spectacles, aggravated, indeed, by additional
horrors, in their own diabolical sacrifices. The Aztec lord and his
companions, bound hand and foot to the blazing piles, submitted without
a cry or a complaint to their terrible fate. Passive fortitude is the
virtue of the Indian warrior; and it was the glory of the Aztec, as of
the other races on the North American continent, to show how the spirit
of the brave man may triumph over torture and the agonies of death.

When the dismal tragedy was ended, Cortés re-entered Montezuma’s
apartment. Kneeling down, he unclasped his shackles with his own hand,
expressing at the same time his regret that so disagreeable a duty as
that of subjecting him to such a punishment had been imposed on him.
This last indignity had entirely crushed the spirit of Montezuma; and
the monarch whose frown, but a week since, would have made the nations
of Anahuac tremble to their remotest borders, was now craven enough to
thank his deliverer for his freedom, as for a great and unmerited

Not long after, the Spanish general, conceiving that his royal captive
was sufficiently humbled, expressed his willingness that he should
return, if he inclined, to his own palace. Montezuma declined it;
alleging, it is said, that his nobles had more than once importuned him
to resent his injuries by taking arms against the Spaniards, and that,
were he in the midst of them, it would be difficult to avoid it, or to
save his capital from bloodshed and anarchy.[419] The reason did honor
to his heart, if it was the one which influenced him. It is probable
that he did not care to trust his safety to those haughty and ferocious
chieftains, who had witnessed the degradation of their master, and must
despise his pusillanimity, as a thing unprecedented in an Aztec monarch.
It is also said that, when Marina conveyed to him the permission of
Cortés, the other interpreter, Aguilar, gave him to understand the
Spanish officers never would consent that he should avail himself of

Whatever were his reasons, it is certain that he declined the offer; and
the general, in a well-feigned or real ecstasy, embraced him, declaring
“that he loved him as a brother, and that every Spaniard would be
zealously devoted to his interests, since he had shown himself so
mindful of theirs!” Honeyed words, “which,” says the shrewd old
chronicler who was present, “Montezuma was wise enough to know the worth

The events recorded in this chapter are certainly some of the most
extraordinary on the page of history. That a small body of men, like the
Spaniards, should have entered the palace of a mighty prince, have
seized his person in the midst of his vassals, have borne him off a
captive to their quarters,--that they should have put to an ignominious
death before his face his high officers, for executing, probably, his
own commands, and have crowned the whole by putting the monarch in irons
like a common malefactor,--that this should have been done, not to a
drivelling dotard in the decay of his fortunes, but to a proud monarch
in the plenitude of his power, in the very heart of his capital,
surrounded by thousands and tens of thousands, who trembled at his nod
and would have poured out their blood like water in his defence,--that
all this should have been done by a mere handful of adventurers, is a
thing too extravagant, altogether too improbable, for the pages of
romance! It is, nevertheless, literally true. Yet we shall not be
prepared to acquiesce in the judgments of contemporaries who regarded
these acts with admiration. We may well distrust any grounds on which it
is attempted to justify the kidnapping of a friendly sovereign,--by
those very persons, too, who were reaping the full benefit of his

To view the matter differently, we must take the position of the
Conquerors and assume with them the original right of conquest. Regarded
from this point of view, many difficulties vanish. If conquest were a
duty, whatever was necessary to effect it was right also. Right and
expedient become convertible terms. And it can hardly be denied that the
capture of the monarch was expedient, if the Spaniards would maintain
their hold on the empire.[421]

The execution of the Aztec governor suggests other considerations. If he
were really guilty of the perfidious act imputed to him by Cortés, and
if Montezuma disavowed it, the governor deserved death, and the general
was justified by the law of nations in inflicting it.[422] It is by no
means so clear, however, why he should have involved so many in this
sentence; most, perhaps all, of whom must have acted under his
authority. The cruel manner of the death will less startle those who are
familiar with the established penal codes in most civilized nations in
the sixteenth century.

But, if the governor deserved death, what pretence was there for the
outrage on the person of Montezuma? If the former was guilty, the latter
surely was not. But, if the cacique only acted in obedience to orders,
the responsibility was transferred to the sovereign who gave the orders.
They could not both stand in the same category.

It is vain, however, to reason on the matter on any abstract principles
of right and wrong, or to suppose that the Conquerors troubled
themselves with the refinements of casuistry. Their standard of right
and wrong, in reference to the natives, was a very simple one. Despising
them as an outlawed race, without God in the world, they, in common
with their age, held it to be their “mission” (to borrow the cant phrase
of our own day) to conquer and to convert. The measures they adopted
certainly facilitated the first great work of conquest. By the execution
of the caciques they struck terror not only into the capital, but
throughout the country. It proclaimed that not a hair of a Spaniard was
to be touched with impunity! By rendering Montezuma contemptible in his
own eyes and those of his subjects, Cortés deprived him of the support
of his people and forced him to lean on the arm of the stranger. It was
a politic proceeding,--to which few men could have been equal who had a
touch of humanity in their natures.

A good criterion of the moral sense of the actors in these events is
afforded by the reflections of Bernal Diaz, made some fifty years, it
will be remembered, after the events themselves, when the fire of youth
had become extinct, and the eye, glancing back through the vista of half
a century, might be supposed to be unclouded by the passions and
prejudices which throw their mist over the present. “Now that I am an
old man,” says the veteran, “I often entertain myself with calling to
mind the heroical deeds of early days, till they are as fresh as the
events of yesterday. I think of the seizure of the Indian monarch, his
confinement in irons, and the execution of his officers, till all these
things seem actually passing before me. And, as I ponder on our
exploits, I feel that it was not of ourselves that we performed them,
but that it was the providence of God which guided us. Much food is
there here for meditation!”[423] There is so, indeed, and for a
meditation not unpleasing, as we reflect on the advance, in speculative
morality at least, which the nineteenth century has made over the
sixteenth. But should not the consciousness of this teach us charity?
Should it not make us the more distrustful of applying the standard of
the present to measure the actions of the past?




The settlement of La Villa Rica de Vera Cruz was of the last importance
to the Spaniards. It was the port by which they were to communicate with
Spain; the strong post on which they were to retreat in case of
disaster, and which was to bridle their enemies and give security to
their allies; the _point d’appui_ for all their operations in the
country. It was of great moment, therefore, that the care of it should
be intrusted to proper hands.

A cavalier, named Alonso de Grado, had been sent by Cortés to take the
place made vacant by the death of Escalante. He was a person of greater
repute in civil than military matters, and would be more likely, it was
thought, to maintain peaceful relations with the natives than a person
of more belligerent spirit. Cortés made--what was rare with him--a bad
choice. He soon received such accounts of troubles in the settlement
from the exactions and negligence of the new governor, that he resolved
to supersede him.

He now gave the command to Gonzalo de Sandoval, a young cavalier, who
had displayed, through the whole campaign, singular intrepidity united
with sagacity and discretion; while the good humor with which he bore
every privation, and his affable manners, made him a favorite with all,
privates as well as officers. Sandoval accordingly left the camp for the
coast. Cortés did not mistake his man a second time.

Notwithstanding the actual control exercised by the Spaniards through
their royal captive, Cortés felt some uneasiness when he reflected that
it was in the power of the Indians at any time to cut off his
communications with the surrounding country and hold him a prisoner in
the capital. He proposed, therefore, to build two vessels of sufficient
size to transport his forces across the lake, and thus to render himself
independent of the causeways. Montezuma was pleased with the idea of
seeing those wonderful “water-houses,” of which he had heard so much,
and readily gave permission to have the timber in the royal forests
felled for the purpose. The work was placed under the direction of
Martin Lopez, an experienced ship-builder. Orders were also given to
Sandoval to send up from the coast a supply of cordage, sails, iron, and
other necessary materials, which had been judiciously saved on the
destruction of the fleet.[424]

The Aztec emperor, meanwhile, was passing his days in the Spanish
quarters in no very different manner from what he had been accustomed to
in his own palace. His keepers were too well aware of the value of
their prize, not to do everything which could make his captivity
comfortable and disguise it from himself. But the chain will gall,
though wreathed with roses. After Montezuma’s breakfast, which was a
light meal of fruits or vegetables, Cortés or some of his officers
usually waited on him, to learn if he had any commands for them. He then
devoted some time to business. He gave audience to those of his subjects
who had petitions to prefer or suits to settle. The statement of the
party was drawn up on the hieroglyphic scrolls, which were submitted to
a number of counsellors or judges, who assisted him with their advice on
these occasions. Envoys from foreign states or his own remote provinces
and cities were also admitted, and the Spaniards were careful that the
same precise and punctilious etiquette should be maintained towards the
royal puppet as when in the plenitude of his authority.

After business was despatched, Montezuma often amused himself with
seeing the Castilian troops go through their military exercises. He,
too, had been a soldier, and in his prouder days had led armies in the
field. It was very natural he should take an interest in the novel
display of European tactics and discipline. At other times he would
challenge Cortés or his officers to play at some of the national games.
A favorite one was called _totoloque_, played with golden balls aimed at
a target or mark of the same metal. Montezuma usually staked something
of value,--precious stones or ingots of gold. He lost with good humor;
indeed, it was of little consequence whether he won or lost, since he
generally gave away his winnings to his attendants.[425] He had, in
truth, a most munificent spirit. His enemies accused him of avarice.
But, if he were avaricious, it could have been only that he might have
the more to give away.

Each of the Spaniards had several Mexicans, male and female, who
attended to his cooking and various other personal offices. Cortés,
considering that the maintenance of this host of menials was a heavy tax
on the royal exchequer, ordered them to be dismissed, excepting one to
be retained for each soldier. Montezuma, on learning this, pleasantly
remonstrated with the general on his careful economy, as unbecoming a
royal establishment, and, countermanding the order, caused additional
accommodation to be provided for the attendants, and their pay to be

On another occasion, a soldier purloined some trinkets of gold from the
treasure kept in the chamber, which, since Montezuma’s arrival in the
Spanish quarters, had been reopened. Cortés would have punished the man
for the theft, but the emperor, interfering, said to him, “Your
countrymen are welcome to the gold and other articles, if you will but
spare those belonging to the gods.” Some of the soldiers, making the
most of his permission, carried off several hundred loads of fine cotton
to their quarters. When this was represented to Montezuma, he only
replied, “What I have once given I never take back again.”[426]

While thus indifferent to his treasures, he was keenly sensitive to
personal slight or insult. When a common soldier once spoke to him
angrily, the tears came into the monarch’s eyes, as it made him feel the
true character of his impotent condition. Cortés, on becoming acquainted
with it, was so much incensed that he ordered the soldier to be hanged,
but, on Montezuma’s intercession, commuted this severe sentence for a
flogging. The general was not willing that any one but himself should
treat his royal captive with indignity. Montezuma was desired to procure
a further mitigation of the punishment. But he refused, saying “that, if
a similar insult had been offered by any one of his subjects to
Malinche, he would have resented it in like manner.”[427]

Such instances of disrespect were very rare. Montezuma’s amiable and
inoffensive manners, together with his liberality, the most popular of
virtues with the vulgar, made him generally beloved by the
Spaniards.[428] The arrogance for which he had been so distinguished in
his prosperous days deserted him in his fallen fortunes. His character
in captivity seems to have undergone something of that change which
takes place in the wild animals of the forest when caged within the
walls of the menagerie.

The Indian monarch knew the name of every man in the army, and was
careful to discriminate his proper rank.[429] For some he showed a
strong partiality. He obtained from the general a favorite page, named
Orteguilla, who, being in constant attendance on his person, soon
learned enough of the Mexican language to be of use to his countrymen.
Montezuma took great pleasure, also, in the society of Velasquez de
Leon, the captain of his guard, and Pedro de Alvarado, _Tonatiuh_, or
“the Sun,” as he was called by the Aztecs, from his yellow hair and
sunny countenance. The sunshine, as events afterwards showed, could
sometimes be the prelude to a terrible tempest.

Notwithstanding the care taken to cheat him of the tedium of captivity,
the royal prisoner cast a wistful glance, now and then, beyond the walls
of his residence to the ancient haunts of business or pleasure. He
intimated a desire to offer up his devotions at the great temple, where
he was once so constant in his worship. The suggestion startled Cortés.
It was too reasonable, however, for him to object to it without wholly
discarding the appearances which he was desirous to maintain. But he
secured Montezuma’s return by sending an escort with him of a hundred
and fifty soldiers under the same resolute cavaliers who had aided in
his seizure. He told him, also, that in case of any attempt to escape
his life would instantly pay the forfeit. Thus guarded, the Indian
prince visited the _teocalli_, where he was received with the usual
state, and, after performing his devotions, he returned again to his

It may well be believed that the Spaniards did not neglect the
opportunity afforded by his residence with them, of instilling into him
some notions of the Christian doctrine. Fathers Diaz and Olmedo
exhausted all their battery of logic and persuasion, to shake his faith
in his idols, but in vain. He, indeed, paid a most edifying attention,
which gave promise of better things. But the conferences always closed
with the declaration that “the God of the Christians was good, but the
gods of his own country were the true gods for him.”[431] It is said,
however, they extorted a promise from him that he would take part in no
more human sacrifices. Yet such sacrifices were of daily occurrence in
the great temples of the capital; and the people were too blindly
attached to their bloody abominations for the Spaniards to deem it safe,
for the present at least, openly to interfere.

Montezuma showed, also, an inclination to engage in the pleasures of the
chase, of which he once was immoderately fond. He had large forests
reserved for the purpose on the other side of the lake. As the Spanish
brigantines were now completed, Cortés proposed to transport him and
his suite across the water in them. They were of a good size, strongly
built. The largest was mounted with four falconets, or small guns. It
was protected by a gayly-colored awning stretched over the deck, and the
royal ensign of Castile floated proudly from the mast. On board of this
vessel, Montezuma, delighted with the opportunity of witnessing the
nautical skill of the white men, embarked with a train of Aztec nobles
and a numerous guard of Spaniards. A fresh breeze played on the waters,
and the vessel soon left behind it the swarms of light pirogues which
darkened their surface. She seemed like a thing of life in the eyes of
the astonished natives, who saw her, as if disdaining human agency,
sweeping by with snowy pinions as if on the wings of the wind, while the
thunders from her sides, now for the first time breaking on the silence
of this “inland sea,” showed that the beautiful phantom was clothed in

The royal chase was well stocked with game; some of which the emperor
shot with arrows, and others were driven by the numerous attendants into
nets.[433] In these woodland exercises, while he ranged over his wild
domain, Montezuma seemed to enjoy again the sweets of liberty. It was
but the shadow of liberty, however; as in his quarters, at home, he
enjoyed but the shadow of royalty. At home or abroad, the eye of the
Spaniard was always upon him.

But, while resigned himself without a struggle to his inglorious fate,
there were others who looked on it with very different emotions. Among
them was his nephew Cacama, lord of Tezcuco, a young man not more than
twenty-five years of age, but who enjoyed great consideration from his
high personal qualities, especially his intrepidity of character. He was
the same prince who had been sent by Montezuma to welcome the Spaniards
on their entrance into the Valley; and, when the question of their
reception was first debated in the council, he had advised to admit them
honorably as ambassadors of a foreign prince, and, if they should prove
different from what they pretended, it would be time enough then to take
up arms against them. That time, he thought, had now come.

In a former part of this work, the reader has been made acquainted with
the ancient history of the Acolhuan or Tezcucan monarchy, once the proud
rival of the Aztec in power, and greatly its superior in
civilization.[434] Under its last sovereign, Nezahualpilli, its
territory is said to have been grievously clipped by the insidious
practices of Montezuma, who fomented dissensions and insubordination
among his subjects. On the death of the Tezcucan prince, the succession
was contested, and a bloody war ensued between his eldest son, Cacama,
and an ambitious younger brother, Ixtlilxochitl. This was followed by a
partition of the kingdom, in which the latter chieftain held the
mountain districts north of the capital, leaving the residue to Cacama.
Though shorn of a large part of his hereditary domain, the city was
itself so important that the lord of Tezcuco still held a high rank
among the petty princes of the Valley. His capital, at the time of the
Conquest, contained, according to Cortés, a hundred and fifty thousand
inhabitants.[435] It was embellished with noble buildings, rivalling
those of Mexico itself, and the ruins still to be met with on its
ancient site attest that it was once the abode of princes.[436]

The young Tezcucan chief beheld with indignation and no slight contempt
the abject condition of his uncle. He endeavored to rouse him to manly
exertion, but in vain. He then set about forming a league with several
of the neighboring caciques to rescue his kinsman and to break the
detested yoke of the strangers. He called on the lord of Iztapalapan,
Montezuma’s brother, the lord of Tlacopan, and some others of most
authority, all of whom entered heartily into his views. He then urged
the Aztec nobles to join them; but they expressed an unwillingness to
take any step not first sanctioned by the emperor.[437] They
entertained, undoubtedly, a profound reverence for their master; but it
seems probable that jealousy of the personal views of Cacama had its
influence on their determination. Whatever were their motives, it is
certain that by this refusal they relinquished the best opportunity ever
presented for retrieving their sovereign’s independence and their own.

These intrigues could not be conducted so secretly as not to reach the
ears of Cortés, who, with his characteristic promptness, would have
marched at once on Tezcuco and trodden out the spark of “rebellion”[438]
before it had time to burst into a flame. But from this he was
dissuaded by Montezuma, who represented that Cacama was a man of
resolution, backed by a powerful force, and not to be put down without a
desperate struggle. He consented, therefore, to negotiate, and sent a
message of amicable expostulation to the cacique. He received a haughty
answer in return. Cortés rejoined in a more menacing tone, asserting the
supremacy of his own sovereign, the emperor of Castile. To this Cacama
replied, “He acknowledged no such authority; he knew nothing of the
Spanish sovereign or his people, nor did he wish to know anything of
them.”[439] Montezuma was not more successful in his application to
Cacama to come to Mexico and allow him to mediate his differences with
the Spaniards, with whom he assured the prince he was residing as a
friend. But the young lord of Tezcuco was not to be so duped. He
understood the position of his uncle, and replied “that when he did
visit his capital it would be to rescue it, as well as the emperor
himself, and their common gods, from bondage. He should come, not with
his hand in his bosom, but on his sword,--to drive out the detested
strangers who had brought such dishonor on their country!”[440]

Cortés, incensed at this tone of defiance, would again have put himself
in motion to punish it, but Montezuma interposed with his more politic
arts. He had several of the Tezcucan nobles, he said, in his pay;[441]
and it would be easy, through their means, to secure Cacama’s person,
and thus break up the confederacy, at once, without bloodshed. The
maintaining of a corps of stipendiaries in the courts of neighboring
princes was a refinement which showed that the Western barbarian
understood the science of political intrigue as well as some of his
royal brethren on the other side of the water.

By the contrivance of these faithless nobles, Cacama was induced to hold
a conference, relative to the proposed invasion, in a villa which
overhung the Tezcucan lake, not far from his capital. Like most of the
principal edifices, it was raised so as to admit the entrance of boats
beneath it. In the midst of the conference, Cacama was seized by the
conspirators, hurried on board a bark in readiness for the purpose, and
transported to Mexico. When brought into Montezuma’s presence, the
high-spirited chief abated nothing of his proud and lofty bearing. He
taxed his uncle with his perfidy, and a pusillanimity so unworthy of his
former character and of the royal house from which he was descended. By
the emperor he was referred to Cortés, who, holding royalty but cheap
in an Indian prince, put him in fetters.[442]

There was at this time in Mexico a brother of Cacama, a stripling much
younger than himself. At the instigation of Cortés, Montezuma,
pretending that his nephew had forfeited the sovereignty by his late
_rebellion_, declared him to be deposed, and appointed Cuicuitzca in his
place. The Aztec sovereigns had always been allowed a paramount
authority in questions relating to the succession. But this was a most
unwarrantable exercise of it. The Tezcucans acquiesced, however, with a
ready ductility, which showed their allegiance hung but lightly on them,
or, what is more probable, that they were greatly in awe of the
Spaniards; and the new prince was welcomed with acclamations to his

Cortés still wanted to get into his hands the other chiefs who had
entered into the confederacy with Cacama. This was no difficult matter.
Montezuma’s authority was absolute, everywhere but in his own palace. By
his command, the caciques were seized, each in his own city, and
brought in chains to Mexico, where Cortés placed them in strict
confinement with their leader.[444]

He had now triumphed over all his enemies. He had set his foot on the
necks of princes; and the great chief of the Aztec empire was but a
convenient tool in his hands for accomplishing his purposes. His first
use of this power was to ascertain the actual resources of the monarchy.
He sent several parties of Spaniards, guided by the natives, to explore
the regions where gold was obtained. It was gleaned mostly from the beds
of rivers, several hundred miles from the capital.

His next object was to learn if there existed any good natural harbor
for shipping on the Atlantic coast, as the road of Vera Cruz left no
protection against the tempests that at certain seasons swept over these
seas. Montezuma showed him a chart on which the shores of the Mexican
Gulf were laid down with tolerable accuracy.[445] Cortés, after
carefully inspecting it, sent a commission, consisting of ten Spaniards,
several of them pilots, and some Aztecs, who descended to Vera Cruz and
made a careful survey of the coast for nearly sixty leagues south of
that settlement, as far as the great river Coatzacualco, which seemed to
offer the best--indeed, the only--accommodations for a safe and
suitable harbor. A spot was selected as the site of a fortified post,
and the general sent a detachment of a hundred and fifty men under
Velasquez de Leon to plant a colony there.

He also obtained a grant of an extensive tract of land in the fruitful
province of Oaxaca, where he proposed to lay out a plantation for the
crown. He stocked it with the different kinds of domesticated animals
peculiar to the country, and with such indigenous grains and plants as
would afford the best articles for export. He soon had the estate under
such cultivation that he assured his master, the emperor Charles the
Fifth, it was worth twenty thousand ounces of gold.[446]


[1] His name suited his nature; Montezuma, according to Las Casas,
signifying, in the Mexican, “sad or severe man.” Hist. de las Indias,
MS., lib. 3, cap. 120.--Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap.
70.--Acosta, lib. 7, cap. 20.--Col. de Mendoza, pp. 13-16; Codex
Tel.-Rem., p. 143, ap. Antiq. of Mexico, vol. vi.

[2] For a full account of this prince, see Book I, chap. 6.

[3] The address is fully reported by Torquemada (Monarch. Ind., lib.
3, cap. 68), who came into the country little more than half a century
after its delivery. It has been recently republished by Bustamante.
Tezcuco en los últimos Tiempos (México, 1826), pp. 256-258.

[4] Acosta, lib. 7, cap. 22.--Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva-España, lib. 8,
Prólogo, et cap. 1.--Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 3, cap. 73, 74,
81.--Col. de Mendoza, pp. 14, 85, ap. Antiq. of Mexico, vol. vi.

[5] Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, tom. i. pp. 267, 274,
275.--Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 70-76.--Acosta, lib. 7,
cap. 21.

[6] _Ante_, Book I, chap. 3, pp. 71, 72, and note 6.

[7] Tezozomoc, Crón. Mexicana, MS., cap. 107.--Ixtlilxochitl, Hist.
Chich., MS., cap. 1.--Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 4, cap. 14; lib.
6, cap. 24.--Codex Vaticanus, ap. Antiq. of Mexico, vol. vi.--Sahagun,
Hist. de Nueva-España, lib. 8, cap. 7.--Ibid., MS., lib. 12, cap. 3, 4.

[8] “Tenia por cierto,” says Las Casas of Montezuma, “segun sus
prophetas ó agoreros le avian certificado, que su estado é rriquezas
y prosperidad avia de perezer dentro de pocos años por çiertas gentes
que avian de venir en sus dias, que de su felicidad lo derrocase, y por
esto vivia siempre con temor y en tristeça y sobresaltado.” Hist. de
las Indias, MS., lib. 3, cap. 120.

[9] Camargo, Hist. de Tlascala, MS.--The Interpreter of the Codex
Tel.-Rem. intimates that this scintillating phenomenon was probably
nothing more than an eruption of one of the great volcanoes of Mexico.
Antiq. of Mexico, vol. vi. p. 144.

[10] Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva-España, MS., lib. 12, cap. 1.--Camargo,
Hist. de Tlascala, MS.--Acosta, lib. 7, cap. 23.--Herrera, Hist.
general, dec. 2, lib. 5, cap. 5.--Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS.,
cap. 74.

[11] I omit the most extraordinary miracle of all,--though legal
attestations of its truth were furnished the court of Rome (see
Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, tom. i. p. 289),--namely, the
resurrection of Montezuma’s sister, Papantzin, four days after her
burial, to warn the monarch of the approaching ruin of his empire. It
finds credit with one writer, at least, in the nineteenth century!
See the note of Sahagun’s Mexican editor, Bustamante, Hist. de
Nueva-España, tom. ii. p. 270.

[12] Lucan gives a fine enumeration of such prodigies witnessed in the
Roman capital in a similar excitement. (Pharsalia, lib. 1, v. 523, et
seq.) Poor human nature is much the same everywhere. Machiavelli has
thought the subject worthy of a separate chapter in his Discourses.
The philosopher even intimates a belief in the existence of beneficent
intelligences who send these portents as a sort of _premonitories_, to
warn mankind of the coming tempest. Discorsi sopra Tito Livio, lib. 1,
cap. 56.

[13] Las Casas, Hist. de las Indias, MS., lib. 3, cap.
120.--Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 80.--Idem, Relaciones,
MS.--Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva-España, MS., lib. 12, cap. 3,
4.--Tezozomoc, Crón. Mexicana, MS., cap. 108.

[14] Tezozomoc, Crón. Mexicana, MS., loc. cit.--Camargo, Hist. de
Tlascala, MS.--Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 80.

[15] Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 39.--Gomara, Crónica,
cap. 27, ap. Barcia, tom. ii.

[16] _Ante_, Book I, chap. 2, p. 44.

[17] From the checkered figure of some of these colored cottons,
Peter Martyr infers, the Indians were acquainted with chess! He
notices a curious fabric made of the hair of animals, feathers, and
cotton thread, interwoven together. “Plumas illas et concinnant inter
cuniculorum villos interque gosampij stamina ordiuntur, et intexunt
operose adeo, ut quo pacto id faciant non bene intellexerimus.” De Orbe
Novo (Parisiis, 1587), dec. 5, cap. 10.

[18] Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 39.--Oviedo, Hist. de
las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 1.--Las Casas, Hist. de las Indias,
MS., lib. 3, cap. 120.--Gomara, Crónica, cap. 27, ap. Barcia, tom.
ii.--Carta de Vera Cruz, MS.--Herrera, Hist. general, dec. 2, lib. 5,
cap. 5.--Robertson cites Bernal Diaz as reckoning the value of the
silver plate at 20,000 _pesos_, or about £5000. (History of America,
vol. ii. note 75.) But Bernal Diaz speaks only of the value of the gold
plate, which he estimates at 20,000 _pesos de oro_, different from
the _pesos_, dollars, or ounces of silver, with which the historian
confounds them. As the mention of the _peso de oro_ will often recur
in these pages, it will be well to make the reader acquainted with its
probable value. Nothing is more difficult than to ascertain the actual
value of the currency of a distant age; so many circumstances occur
to embarrass the calculation, besides the general depreciation of the
precious metals, such as the adulteration of specific coins, and the
like. Señor Clemencin, the Secretary of the Royal Academy of History,
in the sixth volume of its _Memorias_, has computed with great accuracy
the value of the different denominations of the Spanish currency at
the close of the fifteenth century, the period just preceding that of
the conquest of Mexico. He makes no mention of the _peso de oro_ in
his tables. But he ascertains the precise value of the gold ducat,
which will answer our purpose as well. (Memorias de la Real Academia de
Historia (Madrid, 1821), tom. vi. Ilust. 20.) Oviedo, a contemporary of
the Conquerors, informs us that the _peso de oro_ and the _castellano_
were of the same value, and that was precisely one-third greater than
the value of the ducat. (Hist. del Ind., lib. 6, cap. 8, ap. Ramusio,
Navigationi et Viaggi (Venetia, 1565), tom. iii.) Now, the ducat, as
appears from Clemencin, reduced to our currency, would be equal to
eight dollars and seventy-five cents. _The peso de oro, therefore, was
equal to eleven dollars and sixty-seven cents, or two pounds, twelve
shillings, and sixpence sterling._ Keeping this in mind, it will be
easy for the reader to determine the actual value, in _pesos de oro_,
of any sum that may be hereafter mentioned.{*}

{*} [But Ramirez, commenting upon this statement, estimates the
_castellano_ at $2.93.--M.]

[19] “¡Cierto cosas de ver!” exclaims Las Casas, who saw them with the
Emperor Charles V. in Seville, in 1520. “Quedáron todos los que viéron
aquestas cosas tan ricas y tan bien artifiçiadas y ermosísimas como de
cosas nunca vistas,” etc. (Hist. de las Indias, MS., lib. 3, cap. 120.)
“Muy hermosas,” says Oviedo, who saw them in Valladolid, and describes
the great wheels more minutely; “todo era mucho de ver!” (Hist. de
las Indias, MS., loc. cit.) The inquisitive Martyr, who examined them
carefully, remarks, yet more emphatically, “Si quid unquam honoris
humana ingenia in huiuscemodi artibus sunt adepta, principatum iure
merito ista consequentur. Aurum, gemmasque non admiror quidem, quâ
industriâ, quóve studio superet opus materiam, stupeo. Mille figuras
et facies mille prospexi quæ scribere nequeo. Quid oculos hominum suâ
pulchritudine æque possit allicere meo iudicio vidi nunquam.” De Orbe
Novo, dec. 4, cap. 9.

[20] Las Casas, Hist. de las Indias, MS., lib. 3, cap. 121.--Bernal
Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 39.--Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich.,
MS., cap. 80.--Gomara, Crónica, cap. 27, ap. Barcia, tom. ii.

[21] Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 40.--Father Sahagun thus
describes these stones, so precious in Mexico that the use of them was
interdicted to any but the nobles: “The _chalchuites_ are of a green
color mixed with white, and are not transparent. They are much worn by
persons of rank, and, attached to the wrist by a thread, are a token of
the nobility of the wearer.” Hist. de Nueva-España, lib. 11, cap. 8.

[22] Camargo, Hist. de Tlascala, MS.--Las Casas, Hist. de las Indias,
MS., lib. 3, cap. 121.--Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 40,
41.--Herrera, Hist. general, dec. 2, lib. 5, cap. 6.--Gomara, Crónica,
cap. 29, ap. Barcia, tom. ii.

[23] Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 41.--Las Casas, Hist. de
las Indias, MS., lib. 3, cap. 121.--Gomara, Crónica, cap. 28.

[24] The letter from the _cabildo_ of Vera Cruz says nothing of
these midnight conferences. Bernal Diaz, who was privy to them, is a
sufficient authority. See Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 42.

[25] Gomara, Crónica, cap. 30.--Las Casas, Hist. de las Indias, MS.,
lib. 3, cap. 121.--Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 80.--Bernal
Diaz, Ibid., loc. cit.--Declaracion de Puertocarrero, MS.--The
deposition of a respectable person like Puertocarrero, taken in the
spring of the following year, after his return to Spain, is a document
of such authority that I have transferred it entire, in the original,
to the Appendix, No. 7.

[26] Sometimes we find the Spanish writers referring to “the
sovereigns,” sometimes to “the emperor;” in the former case intending
Queen Joanna, the crazy mother of Charles V., as well as himself.
Indeed, all public acts and ordinances ran in the name of both.
The title of “Highness,” which until the reign of Charles V. had
usually--not uniformly, as Robertson imagines (History of Charles V.,
vol. ii. p. 59)--been applied to the sovereign, now gradually gave
way to that of “Majesty,” which Charles affected after his election
to the imperial throne. The same title is occasionally found in the
correspondence of the Great Captain, and other courtiers of the reign
of Ferdinand and Isabella.

[27] According to Robertson, Cortés told his men that he had proposed
to establish a colony on the coast, before marching into the country;
but he abandoned his design, at their entreaties to set out at once
on the expedition. In the very next page we find him organizing this
same colony. (History of America, vol. ii. pp. 241, 242.) The historian
would have been saved this inconsistency, if he had followed either
of the authorities whom he cites, Bernal Diaz and Herrera, or the
letter from Vera Cruz, of which he had a copy. They all concur in the
statement in the text.

[28] Las Casas, Hist. de las Indias, MS., lib. 3, cap. 122.--Carta
de Vera Cruz, MS.--Declaracion de Montejo, MS.--Declaracion de
Puertocarrero, MS.--“Our general, after some urging, acquiesced,” says
the blunt old soldier Bernal Diaz; “for, as the proverb says, ‘You ask
me to do what I have already made up my mind to.’” _Tu me lo ruegas, é
yo me lo quiero._ Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 42.

[29] According to Bernal Diaz, the title of “Vera Cruz” was intended to
commemorate their landing on Good Friday. Hist. de la Conquista, cap.

[30] Solís, whose taste for speech-making might have satisfied even the
Abbé Mably (see his Treatise, “De la Manière d’écrire l’Histoire”),
has put a very flourishing harangue on this occasion into the mouth of
his hero, of which there is not a vestige in any contemporary account.
(Conquista, lib. 2, cap. 7.) Dr. Robertson has transferred it to his
own eloquent pages, without citing his author, indeed, who, considering
he came a century and a half after the Conquest, must be allowed to be
not the best, especially when the only, voucher for a fact.

[31] “Lo peor de todo que le otorgámos,” says Bernal Diaz, somewhat
peevishly, was, “que le dariamos el quinto del oro de lo que se
huuiesse, despues de sacado el Real quinto.” (Hist. de la Conquista,
cap. 42.) The letter from Vera Cruz says nothing of this fifth. The
reader who would see the whole account of this remarkable transaction
in the original may find it in the Appendix, No. 8.

[32] Carta de Vera Cruz, MS.--Gomara, Crónica, cap. 30, 31.--Las
Casas, Hist. de las Indias, MS., lib. 3, cap. 122.--Ixtlilxochitl,
Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 80.--Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap.
42.--Declaraciones de Montejo y Puertocarrero, MSS.--In the process of
Narvaez against Cortés, the latter is accused of being possessed with
the Devil, as only Lucifer could have thus gained him the affections
of the soldiery. (Demanda de Narvaez, MS.) Solís, on the other hand,
sees nothing but good faith and loyalty in the conduct of the general,
who acted from a sense of duty! (Conquista, lib. 2, cap. 6, 7.) Solís
is even a more steady apologist for his hero than his own chaplain,
Gomara, or the worthy magistrates of Vera Cruz. A more impartial
testimony than either, probably, may be gathered from honest Bernal
Diaz, so often quoted. A hearty champion of the cause, he was by no
means blind to the defects or the merits of his leader.

[33] This may appear rather indifferent logic to those who consider
that Cortés appointed the very body who, in turn, appointed him to the
command. But the affectation of legal forms afforded him a thin varnish
for his proceedings, which served his purpose, for the present at
least, with the troops. For the future, he trusted to his good star--in
other words, to the success of his enterprise--to vindicate his conduct
to the Emperor. He did not miscalculate.

[34] The name of the mountain is not given, and probably was not known,
but the minute description in the MS. of Vera Cruz leaves no doubt that
it was the one mentioned in the text. “Entre las quales así una que
excede en mucha altura á todas las otras y de ella se vee y descubre
gran parte de la mar y de la tierra, y es tan alta, que si el dia no es
bien claro, no se puede divisar ni ver lo alto de ella, porque de la
mitad arriba está toda cubierta de nubes: y algunos veces, cuando hace
muy claro dia, se vee por cima de las dichas nubes lo alto de ella, y
está tan blanco que lo jusgamos por nieve.” (Carta de Vera Cruz, MS.)
This huge volcano was called _Citlaltepetl_, or “Star Mountain,” by the
Mexicans,--perhaps from the fire which once issued from its conical
summit, far above the clouds. It stands in the intendancy of Vera
Cruz, and rises, according to Humboldt’s measurement, to the enormous
height of 17,368 feet above the ocean. (Essai politique, tom. i. p.
265.) It is the highest peak but one in the whole range of the Mexican

[35] Carta de Vera Cruz, MS.--Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap.

[36] Gomara, Crónica, cap. 32, ap. Barcia, tom. ii.--Herrera, Hist.
general, dec. 2, lib. 5, cap. 1.--Oviedo, Hist. de las Ind., MS.,
lib. 33, cap. 1.--“Mui hermosas vegas y riberas tales y tan hermosas
que en toda España no pueden ser mejores ansí de apaçibles á la vista
como de fructíferas.” (Carta de Vera Cruz, MS.) The following poetical
apostrophe, by Lord Morpeth, to the scenery of Cuba, equally applicable
to that of the _tierra caliente_, will give the reader a more animated
picture of the glories of these sunny climes than my own prose can. The
verses, which have never been published, breathe the generous sentiment
characteristic of their noble author:

    “Ye tropic forests of unfading green,
       Where the palm tapers and the orange glows,
     Where the light bamboo waves her feathery screen,
       And her far shade the matchless _ceiba_ throws!

    “Ye cloudless ethers of unchanging blue,
       Save where the rosy streaks of eve give way
     To the clear sapphire of your midnight hue,
       The burnished azure of your perfect day!

    “Yet tell me not my native skies are bleak,
       That flushed with liquid wealth no cane-fields wave;
     For Virtue pines, and Manhood dares not speak,
       And Nature’s glories brighten round the Slave.”

[37] “The same love of flowers,” observes one of the most delightful
of modern travellers, “distinguishes the natives now, as in the times
of Cortés. And it presents a strange anomaly,” she adds, with her
usual acuteness; “this love of flowers having existed along with their
sanguinary worship and barbarous sacrifices.” Madame Calderon de la
Barca, Life in Mexico, vol. i. let. 12.

[38] “Con la imaginacion que llevaban, i buenos deseos, todo se les
antojaba plata i oro lo que relucia.” Gomara, Crónica, cap. 32, ap.
Barcia, tom. ii.

[39] This is Las Casas’ estimate (Hist. de las Ind., MS., lib. 3, cap.
121.) Torquemada hesitates between twenty, fifty, and one hundred and
fifty thousand, each of which he names at different times! (Clavigero,
Stor. del Messico, tom. iii. p. 26, nota.) The place was gradually
abandoned, after the Conquest, for others, in a more favorable
position, probably, for trade. Its ruins were visible at the close of
the last century. See Lorenzana, Hist. de Nueva-España, p. 39, nota.

[40] “Porque viven mas política y rasonablemente que ninguna de las
gentes que hasta oy en estas partes se ha visto.” Carta de Vera Cruz,

[41] Las Casas, Hist. de las Indias, MS., lib. 3, cap. 121.--Carta de
Vera Cruz, MS.--Gomara, Crónica, cap. 33, ap. Barcia, tom. ii.--Oviedo,
Hist. de las Indias, MS., lib. 33, cap. 1.

[42] The courteous title of _doña_ is usually given by the Spanish
chroniclers to this accomplished Indian.

[43] “He had come only to redress injuries, to protect the captive,
to succor the weak, and to overthrow tyranny.” (Gomara, Crónica, cap.
33, ap. Barcia, tom. ii.) Are we reading the adventures--it is the
language--of Don Quixote or Amadis de Gaula?

[44] Ibid., cap. 36.--Cortés, in his Second Letter to the Emperor
Charles V., estimates the number of fighting-men at 50,000. Relacion
segunda, ap. Lorenzana, p. 40.

[45] Las Casas, Hist. de las Indias, MS., lib. 3, cap.
121.--Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 81.--Oviedo, Hist. de las
Indias, MS., lib. 33, cap. 1.

[46] The historian, with the aid of Clavigero, himself a Mexican, may
rectify frequent blunders of former writers, in the orthography of
Aztec names. Both Robertson and Solís spell the name of this place
_Quiabislan_. Blunders in such a barbarous nomenclature must be
admitted to be very pardonable.

[47] “Grande artífice,” exclaims Solís, “de medir lo que disponia con
lo que recelaba; y prudente capitan él que sabe caminar en alcance de
las contingencias”! Conquista, lib. 2, cap. 9.

[48] Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 81.--Rel. Seg. de Cortés,
ap. Lorenzana, p. 40.--Gomara, Crónica, cap. 34-36, ap. Barcia, tom.
ii.--Bernal Diaz, Conquista, cap. 46, 47.--Herrera, Hist. general, dec.
2, lib. 5, cap. 10, 11.

[49] Carta de Vera Cruz, MS.--Bernal Diaz, Conquista, cap. 48.--Oviedo,
Hist. de las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 1.--Declaracion de Montejo,
MS.--Notwithstanding the advantages of its situation, La Villa Rica
was abandoned in a few years for a neighboring position to the south,
not far from the mouth of the Antigua. This second settlement was
known by the name of _Vera Cruz Vieja_, “Old Vera Cruz.” Early in
the seventeenth century this place, also, was abandoned for the
present city, _Nueva Vera Cruz_, or New Vera Cruz, as it is called.
(See _ante_, chap. 5, note 8.) Of the true cause of these successive
migrations we are ignorant. If, as is pretended, it was on account
of the _vómito_, the inhabitants, one would suppose, can have gained
little by the exchange. (See Humboldt, Essai politique, tom. ii. p.
210.) A want of attention to these changes has led to much confusion
and inaccuracy in the ancient maps. Lorenzana has not escaped them in
his chart and topographical account of the route of Cortés.

[50] “Teniendo respeto á que tiene por cierto, que somos los que sus
antepassados les auian dicho, que auian de venir á sus tierras, é que
deuemos de ser de sus linajes.” Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista,
cap. 48.

[51] Gomara, Crónica, cap. 37.--Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap.

[52] “De buena gana recibirian las Doncellas como fuesen Christianas;
porque de otra manera, no era permitido á hombres, hijos de la Iglesia
de Dios, tener comercio con idólatras.” Herrera, Hist. general, dec. 2,
lib. 5, cap. 13.

[53] Herrera, Hist. general, dec. 2, lib. 5, cap. 13.--Las Casas, Hist.
de las Indias, MS., lib. 3, cap. 122.--Herrera has put a very edifying
harangue, on this occasion, into the mouth of Cortés, which savors much
more of the priest than the soldier. Does he not confound him with
Father Olmedo?

[54] “Esto habemos visto,” says the Letter of Vera Cruz, “algunos de
nosotros, y los que lo han visto dizen que es la mas terrible y la mas
espantosa cosa de ver que jamas han visto.” Still more strongly speaks
Bernal Diaz. (Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 51.) The Letter computes
that there were fifty or sixty persons thus butchered in each of the
_teocallis_ every year; giving an annual consumption, in the countries
which the Spaniards had then visited, of three or four thousand
victims! (Carta de Vera Cruz, MS.) However loose this arithmetic may
be, the general fact is appalling.

[55] Las Casas, Hist. de las Indias, MS., lib. 3, cap. 122.--Bernal
Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 51, 52.--Gomara, Crónica,
cap. 43.--Herrera, Hist. general, dec. 2, lib. 5, cap. 13,
14.--Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 83.

[56] Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 53.--Ixtlilxochitl, Hist.
Chich., MS., cap. 82.--Carta de Vera Cruz, MS.

A complete inventory of the articles received from Montezuma is
contained in the _Carta de Vera Cruz_.--The following are a few of the

Two collars made of gold and precious stones.

A hundred ounces of gold ore, that their Highnesses might see in what
state the gold came from the mines.

Two birds made of green feathers, with feet, beaks, and eyes of
gold,--and, in the same piece with them, animals of gold resembling

A large alligator’s head of gold.

A bird of green feathers, with feet, beak, and eyes of gold.

Two birds made of thread and feather-work, having the quills of their
wings and tails, their feet, eyes, and the ends of their beaks of
gold,--standing upon two reeds covered with gold, which are raised on
balls of feather-work and gold embroidery, one white and the other
yellow, with seven tassels of feather-work hanging from each of them.

A large silver wheel weighing forty-eight marks, several bracelets and
leaves of the same metal, together with five smaller shields, the whole
weighing sixty-two marks of silver.

A box of feather-work embroidered on leather, with a large plate of
gold, weighing seventy ounces, in the midst.

Two pieces of cloth woven with feathers; another with variegated
colors; and another worked with black and white figures.

A large wheel of gold, with figures of strange animals on it, and
worked with tufts of leaves; weighing three thousand eight hundred

A fan of variegated feather-work, with thirty-seven rods plated with

Five fans of variegated feathers,--four of which have ten, and the
other thirteen, rods embossed with gold.

Sixteen shields of precious stones, with feathers of various colors
hanging from their rims.

Two pieces of cotton very richly wrought with black and white

Six shields, each covered with a plate of gold, with something
resembling a golden mitre in the centre.

[57] “Una muy larga Carta,” says Gomara, in his loose analysis of it.
Crónica, cap. 40.

[58] Dr. Robertson states that the Imperial Library at Vienna was
examined for this document, at his instance, but without success.
(History of America, vol. ii. note 70.) I have not been more fortunate
in the researches made for me in the British Museum, the Royal Library
of Paris, and that of the Academy of History at Madrid. The last
is a great depository for the colonial historical documents; but a
very thorough inspection of its papers makes it certain that this is
wanting to the collection. As the emperor received it on the eve of his
embarkation for Germany, and the Letter of Vera Cruz, forwarded at the
same time, is in the library of Vienna, this would seem, after all, to
be the most probable place of its retreat.

[59] “By a ship,” says Cortés, in the very first sentence of his
Second Letter to the Emperor, “which I despatched from this your
sacred majesty’s province of New Spain on the 16th of July of the year
1519, I sent your highness a very long and particular relation of what
had happened from my coming hither up to that time.” (Rel. Seg. de
Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, p. 38.) “Cortés wrote,” says Bernal Diaz, “as
he informed us, an accurate report, but we did not see his letter.”
(Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 53.) (Also, Oviedo, Hist. de las Ind.,
MS., lib. 33, cap. 1, and Gomara, ut supra.) Were it not for these
positive testimonies, one might suppose that the Carta de Vera Cruz
had suggested an _imaginary_ letter of Cortés. Indeed, the copy of
the former document belonging to the Spanish Academy of History--and
perhaps the original at Vienna--bears the erroneous title of “Primera
Relacion de Cortés.”{*}

{*} [There can be little doubt that the “Letter of Vera Cruz” is the
document referred to by Cortés, writing in October, 1520, as the
“muy larga y particular Relacion” which he had “despatched” to the
emperor in the summer of the preceding year. This language would not
necessarily imply that the letter so described bore his own signature,
while it was a natural mode of designating one of which he was the
real author. It is easy to understand why, holding as yet no direct
commission from the crown, he should have been less solicitous to
appear as the narrator of his own exploits than to give them an
appearance of official sanction and cover up his irregularity in not
addressing his report to Velasquez, the official superior from whose
control he was seeking to emancipate himself. Nor is it necessary,
in accepting this hypothesis, to reject the statement of Bernal Diaz
that Cortés sent to the emperor a relation under his own hand which
he did not show to his companions. It seems to have been his habit on
subsequent occasions, when sending a detailed report, to accompany it
with a briefer and more private letter, giving a summary of what was
contained in the longer document, sometimes with the addition of other
matter, to be read by the emperor himself. One such letter, cited
hereafter (vol. iii. p. 266, note), mentions “una relacion bien larga y
particular,” which he was sending under the same date. That letters of
this kind should not always have been preserved can excite no surprise;
but it is highly improbable that the same fate should have befallen
a full official report, the first of a series otherwise complete and
disseminated by means of copies.--K.]

[60] This is the imputation of Bernal Diaz, reported on hearsay, as he
admits he never saw the letter himself. Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 54.

[61] “Fingiendo mill cautelas,” says Las Casas, politely, of this part
of the letter, “y afirmando otras muchas falsedades é mentiras”! Hist.
de las Indias, MS., lib. 3, cap. 122.

[62] This document is of the greatest value and interest, coming as
it does from the best-instructed persons in the camp. It presents an
elaborate record of all then known of the countries they had visited,
and of the principal movements of the army, to the time of the
foundation of the Villa Rica. The writers conciliate our confidence
by the circumspect tone of their narration. “Querer dar,” they say,
“á Vuestra Magestad todas las particularidades de esta tierra y gente
de ella, podria ser que en algo se errase la relacion, porque muchas
de ellas no se han visto mas de por informaciones de los natureles
de ella, y por esto no nos entremetemos á dar mas de aquello que por
muy cierto y verdadero Vras. Reales Altezas podrán mandar tener.”
The account given of Velasquez, however, must be considered as an
_ex-parte_ testimony, and, as such, admitted with great reserve. It was
essential to their own vindication, to vindicate Cortés. The letter
has never been printed. The original exists, as above stated, in the
Imperial Library at Vienna. The copy in my possession, covering more
than sixty pages folio, is taken from that of the Academy of History at

{*} [The letter has since been printed, from the original at Vienna, in
the Col. de Doc. inéd. para la Hist. de España, tom. i.--K.]

[63] “A nuestra parecer se debe creer, que ai en esta tierra tanto
quanto en aquella de donde se dize aver llevado Salomon el oro para el
templo.” Carta de Vera Cruz, MS.

[64] Peter Martyr, pre-eminent above his contemporaries for the
enlightened views he took of the new discoveries, devotes half a
chapter to the Indian manuscripts, in which he recognized the evidence
of a civilization analogous to the Egyptian. De Orbe Novo, dec. 4, cap.

[65] Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 54-57.--Gomara, Crónica,
cap. 40.--Herrera, Hist. general, dec. 2, lib. 5, cap. 14.--Carta de
Vera Cruz, MS.--Martyr’s copious information was chiefly derived from
his conversations with Alaminos and the two envoys, on their arrival
at court. De Orbe Novo, dec. 4, cap. 6, et alibi; also Idem, Opus
Epistolarum (Amstelodami, 1670), ep. 650.

[66] See Vol. I, p. 306.

[67] Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 57.--Oviedo, Hist. de
las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 2.--Las Casas, Hist. de las Indias, MS.,
lib. 3, cap. 122.--Demanda de Narvaez, MS.--Rel. Seg. de Cortés, ap.
Lorenzana, p. 41.--It was the exclamation of Nero, as reported by
Suetonius. “Et cum de supplicio cujusdam capite damnati ut ex more
subscriberet, admoneretur, ‘Quam vellem,’ inquit, ‘nescire literas!’”
Lib. 6, cap. 10.

[68] “Y porque,” says Cortés, “demas de los que por ser criados y
amigos de Diego Velasquez tenian voluntad de salir de la Tierra, habia
otros, que por verla tan grande, y de tanta gente, y tal, y ver los
pocos Españoles que eramos, estaban del mismo propósito; creyendo, que
si allí los navíos dejasse, se me alzarian con ellos, y yéndose todos
los que de esta voluntad estavan, yo quedaria casi solo.”

[69] “Mostró quando se lo dixéron mucho sentimiento Cortés, porque
savia bien haçer fingimientos quando le era provechoso, y rrespondióles
que mirasen vien en ello, é que si no estavan para navegar que diesen
gracias á Dios por ello, pues no se podia hacer mas.” Las Casas, Hist.
de las Indias, MS., lib. 3, cap. 122.

[70] “Decian, que los queria meter en el matadero.” Gomara, Crónica,
cap. 42.

[71] “Al cavo lo ovieron de sentir la gente y ayna se le amotinaran
muchos, y esta fué uno de los peligros que pasaron por Cortés de muchos
que para matallo de los mismos Españoles estuvo.” Las Casas, Hist. de
las Indias, MS., lib. 3, cap. 122.

[72] “Que ninguno seria tan cobarde y tan pusilánime que queria
estimar su vida mas que la suya, ni de tan debil corazon que dudase
de ir con él á México, donde tanto bien le estaba aparejado, y que si
acaso se determinaba alguno de dejar de hacer este se podia ir bendito
de Dios á Cuba en el navío que habia dexado, de que antes de mucho
se arrepentiria, y pelaria las barbas, viendo la buena ventura que
esperaba le sucederia.” Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 82.

[73] Perhaps the most remarkable of these examples is that of Julian,
who, in his unfortunate Assyrian invasion, burnt the fleet which had
carried him up the Tigris. The story is told by Gibbon, who shows very
satisfactorily that the fleet would have proved a hinderance rather
than a help to the emperor in his further progress. See History of the
Decline and Fall, vol. ix. p. 177, of Milman’s excellent edition.

[74] The account given in the text of the destruction of the fleet
is not that of Bernal Diaz, who states it to have been accomplished
not only with the knowledge, but entire approbation of the army,
though at the suggestion of Cortés. (Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 58.)
This version is sanctioned by Dr. Robertson (History of America,
vol. ii. pp. 253, 254.) One should be very slow to depart from the
honest record of the old soldier, especially when confirmed by the
discriminating judgment of the Historian of America. But Cortés
expressly declares in his letter to the emperor that he ordered
the vessels to be sunk, without the knowledge of his men, from the
apprehension that, if the means of escape were open, the timid and
disaffected might at some future time avail themselves of them. (Rel.
Seg. de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, p. 41.) The cavaliers Montejo and
Puertocarrero, on their visit to Spain, stated, in their depositions,
that the general destroyed the fleet on information received from the
pilots. (Declaraciones, MSS.) Narvaez in his accusation of Cortés,
and Las Casas, speak of the act in terms of unqualified reprobation,
charging him, moreover, with bribing the pilots to bore holes in the
bottoms of the ships in order to disable them. (Demanda de Narvaez,
MS.--Hist. de las Indias, MS., lib. 3, cap. 122.) The same account of
the transaction, though with a very different commentary as to its
merits, is repeated by Oviedo (Hist. de las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap.
2), Gomara (Crónica, cap. 42), and Peter Martyr (De Orbe Novo, dec. 5,
cap. 1), all of whom had access to the best sources of information. The
affair, so remarkable as the act of one individual, becomes absolutely
incredible when considered as the result of so many independent wills.
It is not improbable that Bernal Diaz, from his known devotion to
the cause, may have been one of the few to whom Cortés confided his
purpose. The veteran, in writing his narrative, many years after, may
have mistaken a part for the whole, and in his zeal to secure to the
army a full share of the glory of the expedition, too exclusively
appropriated by the general (a great object, as he tells us, of his
history), may have distributed among his comrades the credit of an
exploit which, in this instance, at least, properly belonged to their
commander. Whatever be the cause of the discrepancy, his solitary
testimony can hardly be sustained against the weight of contemporary
evidence from such competent sources.{*}

{*} [Prescott’s account of the circumstances attending the destruction
of the fleet has been contested at great length by Señor Ramirez,
who insists on accepting the statements of Bernal Diaz without
qualification and ascribing to the army an equal share with the general
in the merit of the act. He remarks with truth that the language of
Cortés--“Tuve manera, como so color que los dichos navíos no estaban
para navegar, los eché á la costa”--contains no _express declaration_,
as stated by Prescott, that the order for the fleet to be sunk was
given without the knowledge of the army, but would, at the most, lead
to an inference to that effect. “Nor can even this,” he adds, “be
admitted, since, in order to persuade the soldiers that the ships
were unfit for sailing, he must have had an understanding with the
mariners who were to make the statement, and with his friends who
were to confirm it.” This is, however, very inefficient reasoning.
It is not pretended that Cortés had no confidants and agents in the
transaction. The question of real importance is, Was the resolution
taken, as Bernal Diaz asserts, _openly and by the advice_ of the whole
army,--“claramente, por consejo de todos los demas soldados”?--or
was it formed by Cortés, and were measures taken for giving effect
to it, without any communication with the mass of his followers? The
newly discovered relation of Tápia is cited by Señor Ramirez as “in
perfect accordance with the testimony of Diaz and destructive of every
supposition of mystery and secrecy.” Yet Tápia says, with Herrera, that
Cortés caused holes to be bored in the ships and their unserviceable
condition to be reported to him, and thereupon gave orders for their
destruction; no mention being made of the concurrence of the soldiers
at any stage of the proceedings.--K.]

[75] “Cabra coja no tenga siesta.”

[76] Oviedo, Hist. de las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 1.--Rel. Seg. de
Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, pp. 42-45.--Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista,
cap. 59, 60.

[77] Gomara, Crónica, cap. 44.--Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap.
83.--Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 61.--The number of the
Indian auxiliaries stated in the text is much larger than that allowed
by either Cortés or Diaz. But both these actors in the drama show too
obvious a desire to magnify their own prowess, by exaggerating the
numbers of their foes and diminishing their own, to be entitled to much
confidence in their estimates.

[78] “No teniamos otro socorro, ni ayuda sino el de Dios; porque ya no
teniamos nauíos para ir á Cuba, salvo nuestro buen pelear y coraçones
fuertes.” Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 59.

[79] “Y todos á vna le respondímos, que hariamos lo que ordenasse, que
echada estaua la suerte de la buena ó mala ventura.” Loc. cit.

[80] Jalap, _Convolvulus jalapa_. The _x_ and _j_ are convertible
consonants in the Castilian.{**}

{**} [Jalapa means “Spring in the Sand.”--M.]

[81] The heights of Xalapa are crowned with a convent dedicated to St.
Francis, erected in later days by Cortés, showing, in its solidity,
like others of the period built under the same auspices, says an
agreeable traveller, a military as well as religious design. Tudor’s
Travels in North America (London, 1834), vol. ii. p. 186.

[82] Oviedo, Hist. de las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 1.--Rel.
Seg. de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, p. 40.--Gomara, Crónica, cap.
44.--Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 83.--“Every hundred yards
of our route,” says the traveller last quoted, speaking of this very
region, “was marked by the melancholy erection of a wooden cross,
denoting, according to the custom of the country, the commission of
some horrible murder on the spot where it was planted.” (Travels in
North America, vol. ii. p. 188.)--[Señor Alaman stoutly defends his
countrymen from this gross exaggeration, as he pronounces it, of Mr.
Tudor. For although it is unhappily true, he says, that travellers
were formerly liable to be attacked in going from the city of Mexico
to Vera Cruz, and that the _diligence_ which passes over this road is
still frequently stopped, yet it is very seldom that personal violence
is offered. “Foreign tourists are prone to believe all the stories of
atrocities that are related to them, and generally, at inns, fall into
the society of persons who take delight in furnishing a large supply
of such materials. The crosses that are to be met with in the country
are not so numerous as is pretended; nor are all of them memorials of
assassinations committed in the places where they have been erected.
Many are merely objects of devotion, and others indicate the spot where
two roads diverge from each other. We must, nevertheless, confess that
this matter is one that demands all the attention of the government;
while the candid foreigner will doubtless admit that it is not easy to
exercise police supervision over roads on which the central points of
population lie far apart, as in countries like ours, instead of being
so near that a watch can be maintained from them over the intermediate
spaces, as is the case in most countries of Europe and in a great part
of the United States.” Conquista de Méjico (trad. de Vega), tom. i. p.

[83] _El Paso del Obispo._ Cortés named it _Puerto del Nombre de Dios_.
Viaje, ap. Lorenzana, p. ii.

[84] The Aztec name is Nauhcampatepetl, from _nauhcampa_, “anything
square,” and _tepetl_, “a mountain.”--Humboldt, who waded through
forests and snows to its summit, ascertained its height to be 4089
metres, = 13,414 feet, above the sea. See his Vues des Cordillères, p.
234, and Essai politique, vol. i. p. 266.

[85] The same mentioned in Cortés’ Letter as the _Puerto de la Leña_.
Viaje, ap. Lorenzana, p. iii.

[86] Now known by the euphonious Indian name of Tlatlanquitepec.
(Viaje, ap. Lorenzana, p. iv.) It is the _Cocotlan_ of Bernal Diaz.
(Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 61.) The old Conquerors made sorry work
with the Aztec names, both of places and persons, for which they must
be allowed to have had ample excuse.

[87] “Puestos tantos rimeros de calaueras de muertos, que se podian
bien contar, segun el concierto con que estauan puestas, que me parece
que eran mas de cien mil, y digo otra vez sobre cien mil.” Ibid., ubi

[88] “El qual casi admirado de lo que le preguntaba, me respondió,
diciendo; ¿que quién no era vasallo de Muctezuma? queriendo decir, que
allí era Señor del Mundo.” Rel. Seg. de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, p. 47.

[89] “Tiene mas de 30 Príncipes á sí subjectos, que cada uno dellos
tiene cient mill hombres é mas de pelea.” (Oviedo, Hist. de las Ind.,
MS., lib. 33, cap. 1.) This marvellous tale is gravely repeated by more
than one Spanish writer, in their accounts of the Aztec monarchy, not
as the assertion of this chief, but as a veritable piece of statistics.
See, among others, Herrera, Hist. general, dec. 2, lib. 7, cap.
12.--Solís, Conquista, lib. 3, cap. 16.

[90] Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 61.--There is a slight
ground-swell of glorification in the Captain’s narrative, which may
provoke a smile,--not a sneer, for it is mingled with too much real
courage and simplicity of character.

[91] For the preceding pages, besides authorities cited in course,
see Peter Martyr, De Orbe Novo, dec. 5, cap. 1,--Ixtlilxochitl, Hist.
Chich., MS., cap. 83.--Gomara, Crónica, cap. 44.--Torquemada, Monarch.
Ind., lib. 4, cap. 26.

[92] The general clearly belonged to the church militant, mentioned by

    “Such as do build their faith upon
     The holy text of pike and gun,
     And prove their doctrines orthodox
     By apostolic blows and knocks.”

[93] “Arbol grande, dicho _ahuehuete_.” (Viaje, ap. Lorenzana, p. iii.)
The _cupressus disticha_ of Linnæus. See Humboldt, Essai politique,
tom. ii. p. 54, note.

[94] It is the same taste which has made the Castiles, the table-land
of the Peninsula, so naked of wood. Prudential reasons, as well as
taste, however, seem to have operated in New Spain. A friend of mine
on a visit to a noble _hacienda_, but uncommonly barren of trees, was
informed by the proprietor that they were cut down to prevent the lazy
Indians on the plantation from wasting their time by loitering in their

[95] It confirms the observations of M. de Humboldt. “Sans doute
lors de la première arrivée des Espagnols, toute cette côte, depuis
la rivière de Papaloapan (Alvarado) jusqu’à Huaxtecapan, était plus
habitée et mieux cultivée qu’elle ne l’est aujourd’hui. Cependant
à mesure que les conquérans montèrent au plateau, ils trouvèrent
les villages plus rapprochés les uns des autres, les champs divisés
en portions plus petites, le peuple plus policé.” Humboldt, Essai
politique, tom. ii. p. 202.

[96] The correct Indian name of the town, _Yxtacamaxtitlan_,
_Yztacmastitan_ of Cortés, will hardly be recognized in the _Xalacingo_
of Diaz. The town was removed, in 1601, from the top of the hill to the
plain. On the original site are still visible remains of carved stones
of large dimensions, attesting the elegance of the ancient fortress or
palace of the cacique. Viaje, ap. Lorenzana, p. v.

[97] “Estas cosas y otras de gran persuasion contenia la carta, pero
como no sabian leer no pudieron entender lo que contenia.” Camargo,
Hist. de Tlascala, MS.

[98] For an account of the diplomatic usages of the people of Anahuac,
see _ante_, p. 57.

[99] “Mira, señores compañeros, ya veis que somos pocos, hemos de estar
siempre tan apercebidos, y aparejados, como si aora viessemos venir los
contrarios á pelear, y no solamente vellos venir, sino hazer cuenta
que estamos ya en la batalla con ellos.” Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la
Conquista, cap. 62.

[100] According to the writer last cited, the stones were held by a
cement so hard that the men could scarcely break it with their pikes.
(Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 62.) But the contrary statement, in the
general’s letter, is confirmed by the present appearance of the wall.
Viaje, ap. Lorenzana, p. vii.

[101] Viaje, ap. Lorenzana, p. vii.--The attempts of the Archbishop to
identify the route of Cortés have been very successful. It is a pity
that his map illustrating the itinerary should be so worthless.

[102] Camargo, Hist. de Tlascala, MS.--Gomara, Crónica, cap. 44,
45.--Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 83.--Herrera, Hist.
general, dec. 2, lib. 6, cap. 3.--Oviedo, Hist. de las Ind., MS., lib.
33, cap. 2.--Peter Martyr, De Orbe Novo, dec. 5, cap. 1.

[103] The Indian chronicler, Camargo, considers his nation a branch of
the Chichimec. (Hist. de Tlascala, MS.) So, also, Torquemada. (Monarch.
Ind., lib. 3, cap. 9.) Clavigero, who has carefully investigated the
antiquities of Anahuac, calls it one of the seven Nahuatlac tribes.
(Stor. del Messico, tom. i. p. 153, nota.) The fact is not of great
moment, since they were all cognate races, speaking the same tongue,
and, probably, migrated from their country in the far North at nearly
the same time.

[104] The descendants of these petty nobles attached as great value to
their pedigrees as any Biscayan or Asturian in Old Spain. Long after
the Conquest, they refused, however needy, to dishonor their birth
by resorting to mechanical or other plebeian occupations, _oficios
viles y bajos_. “Los descendientes de estos son estimados por hombres
calificados, que aunque sean pobrísimos no usan oficios mecánicos ni
tratos bajos ni viles, ni jamas se permiten cargar ni cabar con coas y
azadones, diciendo que son hijos Idalgos en que no han de aplicarse á
estas cosas soeces y bajas, sino servir en guerras y fronteras, como
Idalgos, y morir como hombres peleando.” Camargo, Hist. de Tlascala, MS.

[105] “Cualquier Tecuhtli que formaba un Tecalli, que es casa
de Mayorazgo, todas aquellas tierras que le caian en suerte de
repartimiento, con montes, fuentes, rios, ó lagunas tomase para la
casa principal la mayor y mejor suerte ó pagos de tierra, y luego las
demas que quedaban se partian por sus soldados amigos y parientes,
igualmente, y todos estos están obligados á reconocer la casa mayor y
acudir á ella, á alzarla y repararla, y á ser continuos en reconocer
á ella de aves, caza, flores, y ramos para el sustento de la casa del
Mayorazgo, y el que lo es está obligado á sustentarlos y á regalarlos
como amigos de aquella casa y parientes de ella.” Ibid., MS.

[106] Camargo, Hist. de Tlascala, MS.

[107] “Los grandes recibimientos que hacian á los capitanes que venian
y alcanzaban victoria en las guerras, las fiestas y solenidades con
que se solenizaban á manera de triunfo, que los metian en andas en su
puebla, trayendo consigo á los vencidos; y por eternizar sus hazañas se
las cantaban publicamente, y ansí quedaban memoradas y con estatuas que
les ponian en los templos.” Ibid., MS.

[108] For the whole ceremony of inauguration,--though, as it seems,
having especial reference to the merchant-knights,--see Appendix, No.
9, where the original is given from Camargo.

[109] “Ha bel paese,” says the Anonymous Conqueror, speaking of
Tlascala at the time of the invasion, “di pianure et motagne, et è
provincia popolosa et vi si raccoglie molto pane.” Rel. d’un gentil’
huomo, ap. Ramusio, tom. iii. p. 308.

[110] A full account of the manners, customs, and domestic policy of
Tlascala is given by the national historian, throwing much light on the
other states of Anahuac, whose social institutions seem to have been
all cast in the same mould.

[111] Camargo, Hist. de Tlascala, MS.--Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib.
2, cap. 70.

[112] Camargo (Hist. de Tlascala, MS.) notices the extent of
Montezuma’s conquests,--a debatable ground for the historian.

[113] Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 3, cap. 16.--Solís says, “The
Tlascalan territory was fifty leagues in circumference, ten long, from
east to west, and four broad, from north to south.” (Conquista de
Méjico, lib. 3, cap. 3.) It must have made a curious figure in geometry!

[114] Camargo, Hist. de Tlascala, MS.

[115] “Los Señores Mejicanos y Tezcucanos en tiempo que ponian treguas
por algunas temporadas embiaban á los Señores de Tlaxcalla grandes
presentes y dádivas de oro, ropa, y cacao, y sal, y de todas las cosas
de que carecian, sin que la gente plebeya lo entendiese, y se saludaban
secretamente, guardándose el decoro que se debian; mas con todos estos
trabajos la órden de su república jamas se dejaba de gobernar con la
rectitud de sus costumbres guardando inviolablemente el culto de sus
Dioses.” Ibid., MS.

[116] The Tlascalan chronicler discerns in this deep-rooted hatred of
Mexico the hand of Providence, who wrought out of it an important means
for subverting the Aztec empire. Hist. de Tlascala, MS.

[117] “Si bien os acordais, como tenemos de nuestra antigüedad como han
de venir gentes á la parte donde sale el sol, y que han de emparentar
con nosotros, y que hemos de ser todos unos; y que han de ser blancos y
barbudos.” Ibid., MS.

[118] To the ripe age of one hundred and forty! if we may credit
Camargo. Solís, who confounds this veteran with his son, has put a
flourishing harangue in the mouth of the latter, which would be a rare
gem of Indian eloquence,--were it not Castilian. Conquista, lib. 2,
cap. 16.

[119] Camargo, Hist. de Tlascala, MS.--Herrera, Hist. general, dec. 2,
lib. 6, cap. 3.--Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 4, cap. 27.--There
is sufficient contradiction, as well as obscurity, in the proceedings
reported of the council, which it is not easy to reconcile altogether
with subsequent events.

[120] “---- Dolus an virtus, quis in hoste requirat?”

[121] “I les matáron dos caballos, de dos cuchilladas, i segun algunos,
que lo viéron, cortáron á cercen de un golpe cada pescueço, con
riendas, i todas.” Gomara, Crónica, cap. 45.{*}

{*} [The Mexican sword was a horrible affair. On two sides of a stick
three feet and a half long and four inches wide were fastened a number
of obsidian razors about three inches long and one or two inches wide.
These razors were the thickness of a sword blade. They were at first
wonderfully sharp,--so sharp that once a horse was beheaded at one
stroke,--but soon lost their edge. The sword was tied to the arm by a
string that it should not be lost in battle.--M.]

[122] Rel. Seg. de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, p. 50.--Camargo, Hist. de
Tlascala, MS.--Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 62.--Gomara,
Crónica, cap. 45.--Oviedo, Hist. de las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 3,
41.--Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva-España, MS., lib. 12, cap. 10.

[123] “Que quando rompiessemos por los esquadrones, que lleuassen las
lanças por las caras, y no parassen á dar lançadas, porque no les
echassen mano dellas.” Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 62.

[124] “Entonces dixo Cortés, ‘Santiago, y á ellos.’” Bernal Diaz, Hist.
de la Conquista, cap. 63.

[125] “Una gentil contienda,” says Gomara of this skirmish. Crónica,
cap. 46.

[126] Rel. Seg. de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, p. 51. According to Gomara
(Crónica, cap. 46), the enemy mustered 80,000. So, also, Ixtlilxochitl.
(Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 83.) Bernal Diaz says, more than 40,000.
(Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 63.) But Herrera (Hist. general, dec. 2,
lib. 6, cap. 5) and Torquemada (Monarch. Ind., lib. 4, cap. 20) reduce
them to 30,000. One might as easily reckon the leaves in a forest, as
the numbers of a confused throng of barbarians. As this was only one of
several armies kept on foot by the Tlascalans, the smallest amount is,
probably, too large. The whole population of the state, according to
Clavigero, who would not be likely to underrate it, did not exceed half
a million at the time of the invasion. Stor. del Messico, tom. i. p.

[127] “La divisa y armas de la casa y cabecera de Titcala es una garga
blanca sobre un peñasco.” (Camargo, Hist. de Tlascala, MS.) “El capitan
general,” says Bernal Diaz, “que se dezia Xicotenga, y con sus diuisas
de blanco y colorado, porque aquella diuisa y librea era de aquel
Xicotenga.” Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 63.

[128] “Llaman Teponaztle ques de un trozo de madero concavado y de
una pieza rollizo y, como decimos, hueco por de dentro, que suena
algunas veces mas de media legua y con el atambor hace estraña y suave
consonancia.” (Camargo, Hist. de Tlascala, MS.) Clavigero, who gives a
drawing of this same drum, says it is still used by the Indians, and
may be heard two or three miles. Stor. del Messico, tom. ii. p. 179.

[129] “Una illis fuit spes salutis, desperâsse de salute.” (P. Martyr,
De Orbe Novo, dec. 1, cap. 1.) It is said with the classic energy of

[130] “Respondióle Marina, que no tuviese miedo, porque el Dios de los
Christianos, que es muy poderoso, i los queria mucho, los sacaria de
peligro.” Herrera, Hist. general, dec. 2, lib. 6, cap. 5.

[131] Ibid., ubi supra.

[132] Oviedo, Hist. de las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 3,
45.--Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 83.--Rel. Seg. de Cortés,
ap. Lorenzana, p. 51.--Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap.
63.--Gomara, Crónica, cap. 40.

[133] Viaje de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, p. ix.

[134] According to Cortés, not a Spaniard fell--though many were
wounded--in this action so fatal to the infidel! Diaz allows one. In
the famous battle of Navas de Tolosa, between the Spaniards and Arabs,
in 1212, equally matched in military science at that time, there were
left 200,000 of the latter on the field; and, to balance this bloody
roll, only five-and-twenty Christians! See the estimate in Alfonso
IX.’s veracious letter, ap. Mariana (Hist. de España, lib. 2, cap.
24). The official returns of the old Castilian crusaders, whether in
the Old World or the New, are scarcely more trustworthy than a French
_imperial_ bulletin in our day.

[135] Rel. Seg. de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, p. 52.--Oviedo, who made free
use of the manuscripts of Cortés, writes thirty-nine houses. (Hist. de
las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 3.) This may perhaps be explained by the
sign for a thousand, in Spanish notation, bearing great resemblance
to the figure 9. Martyr, who had access, also, to the Conqueror’s
manuscript, confirms the larger and, _a priori_, less probable number.

[136] “Que fuessemos á su pueblo adonde está su padre, q allá harian
las pazes cō hartarse de nuestras carnes, y honrar sus dioses con
nuestros coraçones, y sangre, é que para otro dia de mañana veriamos su
respuesta.” Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 64.

[137] More than one writer repeats a story of the Tlascalan general’s
sending a good supply of provisions, at this time, to the famished army
of the Spaniards; to put them in stomach, it may be, for the fight.
(Gomara, Crónica, cap. 46.--Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 83.)
This ultra-chivalrous display from the barbarian is not very probable,
and Cortés’ own account of his successful foray may much better explain
the abundance which reigned in his camp.

[138] Rel. Seg. de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, p. 52.--Ixtlilxochitl, Hist.
Chich., MS., cap. 83.--Gomara, Crónica, cap. 46, 47.--Oviedo, Hist. de
las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 3.--Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista,
cap. 64.

[139] Through the magnifying lens of Cortés, there appeared to be
150,000 men (Rel. Seg., ap. Lorenzana, p. 52); a number usually
preferred by succeeding writers.


    “Not half so gorgeous, for their May-day mirth
     All wreathed and ribanded, our youths and maids,
     As these stern _Tlascalans_ in war attire!
     The golden glitterance, and the feather-mail
     More gay than glittering gold; and round the helm
     A coronal of high upstanding plumes,
     Green as the spring grass in a sunny shower;
     Or scarlet bright, as in the wintry wood
     The clustered holly; or of purple tint;
     Whereto shall that be likened? to what gem
     Indiademed, what flower, what insect’s wing?
     With war-songs and wild music they came on;
     We, the while kneeling, raised with one accord
     The hymn of supplication.”
            SOUTHEY’S Madoc, Part 1, canto 7.

[141] The standards of the Mexicans were carried in the centre, those
of the Tlascalans in the rear of the array. (Clavigero, Stor. del
Messico, vol. ii. p. 145.) According to the Anonymous Conqueror, the
banner-staff was attached to the back of the ensign, so that it was
impossible to be torn away. “Ha ogni copagnia il suo Alfiere con la
sua insegna inhastata, et in tal modo ligata sopra le spalle, che non
gli da alcun disturbo di poter combattere ne far ció che vuole, et la
porta cosi ligata bene al corpo, che se no fanno del suo corpo pezzi,
non se gli puo sligare, ne torgliela mai.” Rel. d’un gentil’ huomo, ap.
Ramusio, tom. iii. fol. 305.

[142] Camargo, Hist. de Tlascala, MS.--Herrera, Hist. general, dec.
2, lib. 6, cap. 6.--Gomara, Crónica, cap. 46.--Bernal Diaz, Hist. de
la Conquista, cap. 64.--Oviedo, Hist. de las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap.
45.--The last two authors speak of the device of “a white bird like an
ostrich,” as that of the republic. They have evidently confounded it
with that of the Indian general. Camargo, who has given the heraldic
emblems of the four great families of Tlascala, notices the white heron
as that of Xicotencatl.

[143] “Portano in testa,” says the Anonymous Conqueror, “per difesa
una cosa come teste di serpeti, ò di tigri, ò di leoni, ò di lupi,
che ha le mascelle, et è la testa dell’ huomo messa nella testa di
qsto animale come se lo volesse diuorare: sono di legno, et sopra vi é
la pena, et di piastra d’oro et di pietre preciose copte, che è cosa
marauigliosa da vedere.” Rel. d’un gentil’ huomo, ap. Ramusio, tom.
iii. fol. 305.

[144] “I saw one day an Indian make a thrust at the horse of a cavalier
with whom he was fighting, which pierced its breast, and penetrated
so deep that it immediately fell dead; and the same day I saw another
Indian cut the neck of a horse, which fell dead at his feet.” Rel. d’un
gentil’ huomo, ap. Ramusio, tom. iii. fol. 305.

[145] Particular notices of the military dress and appointments of
the American tribes on the plateau may be found in Camargo, Hist. de
Tlascala, MS.,--Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, tom. ii. p. 101, et
seq.,--Acosta, lib. 6, cap. 26,--Rel. d’un gentil’ huomo, ap. Ramusio,
tom. iii. fol. 305, et auct. al.

[146] “Que granizo de piedra de los honderos! Pues flechas todo el
suelo hecho parva de varas todas de á dos gajos, que passan qualquiera
arma, y las entrañas adonde no ay defensa.” Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la
Conquista, cap. 65.

[147] So says Bernal Diaz; who at the same time, by the epithets _los
muertos_, _los cuerpos_, plainly contradicts his previous boast that
only one Christian fell in the fight. (Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 65.)
Cortés has not the grace to acknowledge that one.

[148] Oviedo, Hist. de las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 3.--Rel. Seg.
de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, p. 52.--Herrera, Hist. general, dec. 2,
lib. 6, cap. 6.--Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 83.--Gomara,
Crónica, cap. 46.--Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 4, cap. 32.--Bernal
Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 65, 66.--The warm, chivalrous glow
of feeling which colors the rude composition of the last chronicler
makes him a better painter than his more correct and classical rivals.
And, if there is somewhat too much of the self-complacent tone of the
_quorum pars magna fui_ in his writing, it may be pardoned in the hero
of more than a hundred battles and almost as many wounds.

[149] The Anonymous Conqueror bears emphatic testimony to the valor of
the Indians, specifying instances in which he had seen a single warrior
defend himself for a long time against two, three, and even four
Spaniards! “Sono fra loro di valētissimi huomini et che ossano morir
ostinatissimamēte. Et io ho veduto un d’ essi difendersi valetemente
da duoi caualli leggieri, et un altro da tre, et quattro.” Rel. d’un
gentil’ huomo, ap. Ramusio, tom. iii. fol. 305.

[150] The appalling effect of the cavalry on the natives reminds one of
the confusion into which the Roman legions were thrown by the strange
appearance of the elephants in their first engagements with Pyrrhus, as
told by Plutarch in his life of that prince.

[151] Rel. Seg. de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, pp. 53, 54.--Oviedo, Hist.
de las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 3.--P. Martyr, De Orbe Novo, dec. 2,
cap. 2.--Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 4, cap. 32.--Herrera, Hist.
general, dec. 2, lib. 6, cap. 8.--Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista,
cap. 66.

[152] “Though she heard them every day talk of killing us and eating
our flesh, though she had seen us surrounded in past battles, and knew
that we were now all of us wounded and suffering, yet we never saw any
weakness in her, but a courage far beyond that of woman.” Bernal Diaz,
Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 66.

[153] Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 67.--Camargo, Hist. de
Tlascala, MS.--Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 83.

[154] The effect of the medicine--though rather a severe dose,
according to the precise Diaz--was suspended during the general’s
active exertions. Gomara, however, does not consider this a miracle.
(Crónica, cap. 49.) Father Sandoval does. (Hist. de Cárlos Quinto, tom.
i. p. 127.) Solís, after a conscientious inquiry into this perplexing
matter, decides--strange as it may seem--against the father! Conquista,
lib. 2, cap. 20.

[155] “Dios es sobre natura.” Rel. Seg. de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, p. 54.

[156] Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 64.--Not so Cortés, who says,
boldly, “I burned more than ten towns.” (Ibid., p. 52.) His reverend
commentator specifies the localities of the Indian towns destroyed by
him in his forays. Viaje, ap. Lorenzana, pp. ix-xi.

[157] [Lorenzana speaks of two standards as borne by Cortés in the
Conquest, one having the image of the Virgin emblazoned on it, the
other that of the Cross. It may be the latter which is still preserved
in the Museum of Artillery at Madrid. (Rel. Seg. de Cortés, ap.
Lorenzana, p. 52, nota.) In a letter written to me from that capital,
a few years since, by my friend Mr. George Summer, he remarks, “In
Madrid, in the Museum of Artillery, is a small mahogany box, about a
foot square, locked and sealed, which contains, as the inscription
above it states, the _pendon_ which Hernan Cortés carried to the
conquest of Mexico. On applying to the Brigadier Leon de Palacio, the
director of the museum, he was so kind as not only to order this to
be opened, but to come himself with me to examine it. The standard is
probably the same which Lorenzana, in 1770, speaks of as being then in
the Secretario de Gobierno. It is of red Damascus silk, and has marks
of the painting once upon it, but is now completely in rags.”]

[158] “E como trayamos la Bandera de la Cruz, y puñabamos por nuestra
Fe, y por servicio de Vuestra Sacra Magestad, en su muy Real ventura
nos dió Dios tanta victoria, que les matámos mucha gente, sin que los
nuestros recibiessen daño.” Rel. Seg. de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, p. 52.

[159] “It was a notable thing,” exclaims Herrera, “to see with what
humility and devotion all returned praising God, who gave them
victories so miraculous, by which it was clearly apparent that they
were favored with the divine assistance.”

[160] “Porque entrar en México, teníamoslo por cosa de risa, á causa de
sus grandes fuerças.” Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 66.

[161] Diaz indignantly disclaims the idea of mutiny, which Gomara
attached to this proceeding. “What they said to him was by way of
counsel, and because they believed it were well said, and not with any
other intent, since they followed him ever, bravely and loyally; nor is
it strange that in an army some good soldiers should offer counsel to
their captain, especially when such hardships have been endured as were
by us.” Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 71.

[162] This conference is reported, with some variety, indeed, by nearly
every historian. (Rel. Seg. de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, p. 55.--Oviedo,
Hist. de las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 3.--Gomara, Crónica, cap. 51,
52,--Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 80.--Herrera, Hist.
general, dec. 2, lib. 6, cap. 9.--P. Martyr, De Orbe Novo, dec. 5,
cap. 2.) I have abridged the account given by Bernal Diaz, one of the
audience, though not one of the parties to the dialogue,--for that
reason the better authority.

[163] Diaz says only seventeen lost their hands, the rest their
thumbs. (Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 70.) Cortés does not flinch from
confessing, the hands of the whole fifty: “I ordered that all the fifty
should have their hands cut off; and I sent them to tell their lord
that let him come when he would, by night or day, they should see who
we were.” Rel. Seg. de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, p. 53.

[164] “De que los Tlascaltecas se admiráron, entendiendo que Cortés les
entendia sus pensamientos.” Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 83.

[165] Rel. Seg. de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, pp. 56, 57.--Oviedo, Hist.
de las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 3.--Gomara, Crónica, cap. 53.--Bernal
Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 71, et seq.--Sahagun, Hist. de
Nueva-España, MS., lib. 12, cap. 11.

[166] “Cortés recibió con alegría aquel presente, y dixo que se lo
tenia en merced, y que él lo pagaria al señor Monteçuma en buenas
obras.” Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 73.

[167] He dwells on it in his letter to the emperor. “Seeing the discord
and division between them, I felt not a little pleasure, for it
appeared to me to suit well with my design, and that through this means
I might the more easily subjugate them. Moreover I remembered a text
of the Evangelist, which says, ‘Every kingdom divided against itself
is brought to desolation.’ I treated therefore with both parties, and
thanked each in secret for the intelligence it had given me, professing
to regard it with greater friendship than the other.” Rel. Seg. de
Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, p. 61.

[168] Herrera, Hist. general, dec. 2, lib. 6, cap. 10.--Oviedo, Hist.
de las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 4.--Gomara, Crónica, cap. 54.--Martyr,
De Orbe Novo, dec. 5, cap. 2.--Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap.
72-74.--Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 83.

[169] “Á distancia de un quarto de legua caminando á esta dicha ciudad
se encuentra una barranca honda, que tiene para pasar _un Puente de cal
y canto de bóveda_, y es tradicion en el pueblo de San Salvador, que se
hizo en aquellos dias, que estubo allí Cortés para que pasase.” (Viaje,
ap. Lorenzana, p. xi.) If the antiquity of this _arched_ stone bridge
could be established, it would settle a point much mooted in respect to
Indian architecture. But the construction of _so_ solid a work in _so_
short a time is a fact requiring a better voucher than the villagers of
San Salvador.

[170] Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, tom. iii. p. 53.--“Recibimiento
el mas solene y famoso que en el mundo se ha visto,” exclaims the
enthusiastic historian of the republic. He adds that “more than a
hundred thousand men flocked out to receive the Spaniards; a thing
that appears impossible,” _que parece cosa imposible_! It does indeed.
Camargo, Hist. de Tlascala, MS.

[171] Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva-España, MS., lib. 12, cap. 11.--Rel.
Seg. de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, p. 59.--Camargo, Hist. de Tlascala,
MS.--Gomara, Crónica, cap. 54.--Herrera, Hist. general, dec. 2, lib. 6,
cap. 11.

[172] “La qual ciudad es tan grande, y de tanta admiracion, que aunque
mucho de lo, que de ella podria decir, dexe, lo poco que diré creo es
casi increible, porque es muy mayor que Granada, y muy mas fuerte, y de
tan buenos Edificios, y de muy murcha mas gente, que Granada tenia al
tiempo que se ganó.” Rel. Seg. de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, p. 58.

[173] “En las Ruinas, que aun hoy se vén en Tlaxcala, se conoce, que no
es ponderacion.” Rel. Seg. de Cortés, p. 58. Nota del editor, Lorenzana.

[174] “Nullum est fictile vas apud nos, quod arte superet ab illis vasa
formata.” Martyr, De Orbe Novo, dec. 5, cap. 2.

[175] Camargo, Hist. de Tlascala, MS.--Rel. Seg. de Cortés, ap.
Lorenzana, p. 59.--Oviedo, Hist. de las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap.
4.--Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 83.--The last historian
enumerates such a number of contemporary Indian authorities for his
narrative as of itself argues no inconsiderable degree of civilization
in the people.

[176] Herrera, Hist. general, dec. 2, lib. 6, cap. 12.--The population
of a place which Cortés could compare with Granada had dwindled by the
beginning of the present century to 3400 inhabitants, of whom less than
a thousand were of the Indian stock. See Humboldt, Essai politique,
tom. ii. p. 158.

[177] Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva-España, MS., lib. 12, cap. 11.--Camargo,
Hist. de Tlascala, MS.--Gomara, Crónica, cap. 54, 55.--Herrera, Hist.
general, dec. 2, lib. 6, cap. 13.--Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista,
cap. 75.

[178] Camargo notices this elastic property in the religions of
Anahuac: “Este modo de hablar y decir que les querrá dar otro Dios, es
saber que cuando estas gentes tenian noticia de algun Dios de buenas
propiedades y costumbres, que le rescibiesen admitiéndole por tal,
porque otras gentes advenedizas trujéron muchos ídolos que tubiéron
por Dioses, y á este fin y propósito decian, que Cortés les traia otro
Dios.” Hist. de Tlascala, MS.

[179] Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 84.--Gomara, Crónica,
cap. 56.--Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 76, 77.--This
is not the account of Camargo. According to him, Cortés gained his
point: the nobles led the way by embracing Christianity, and the
idols were broken. (Hist. de Tlascala, MS.) But Camargo was himself
a Christianized Indian, who lived in the next generation after the
Conquest, and may very likely have felt as much desire to relieve his
nation from the reproach of infidelity as a modern Spaniard would to
scour out the stain--_mala raza y mancha_--of Jewish or Moorish lineage
from his escutcheon.

[180] The miracle is reported by Herrera (Hist. general, dec. 2, lib.
6, cap. 15), and _believed_ by Solís. Conquista de Méjico, lib. 3, cap.

[181] To avoid the perplexity of selection, it was common for the
missionary to give the same names to all the Indians baptized on the
same day. Thus, one day was set apart for the Johns, another for
the Peters, and so on; an ingenious arrangement, much more for the
convenience of the clergy than of the converts. See Camargo, Hist. de
Tlascala, MS.

[182] Ibid., MS.--Bernal Diaz. Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 74,
77.--According to Camargo, the Tlascalans gave the Spanish commander
three hundred damsels to wait on Marina; and the kind treatment and
instruction they received led some of the chiefs to surrender their
own daughters, “con propósito de que _si acaso_ algunas se empreñasen
quedase entre ellos generacion de hombres tan valientes y temidos.”

[183] Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 80.--Rel. Seg. de
Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, p. 60.--Martyr, De Orbe Novo, dec. 5, cap.
2.--Cortés notices only one Aztec mission, while Diaz speaks of three.
The former, from brevity, falls so much short of the whole truth, and
the latter, from forgetfulness perhaps, goes so much beyond it, that
it is not always easy to decide between them. Diaz did not compile
his narrative till some fifty years after the Conquest; a lapse of
time which may excuse many errors, but must considerably impair our
confidence in the minute accuracy of his details. A more intimate
acquaintance with his chronicle does not strengthen this confidence.

[184] _Ante_, p. 306.

[185] “Si no viniessen, iria sobre ellos, y los destruíria, y
procederia contra ellos como contra personas rebeldes; diciéndoles,
como todas estas Partes, y otras muy mayores Tierras, y Señoríos eran
de Vuestra Alteza.” (Rel. Seg. de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, p. 63.)
“Rebellion” was a very convenient term, fastened in like manner by the
countrymen of Cortés on the Moors for defending the possessions which
they had held for eight centuries in the Peninsula. It justified very
rigorous reprisals. (See the History of Ferdinand and Isabella, Part
I., chap. 13, et alibi.)

[186] Rel. Seg. de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, pp. 62, 63.--Oviedo, Hist.
de las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 4.--Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS.,
cap. 84.--Gomara, Crónica, cap. 58.--Martyr, De Orbe Novo, dec. 5, cap.
2.--Herrera, Hist. general, dec. 2, lib. 6, cap. 18.--Sahagun, Hist. de
Nueva-España, MS., lib. 12, cap. 11.

[187] Rel. Seg., ap. Lorenzana, p. 67.--According to Las Casas, the
place contained 30,000 _vecinos_, or about 150,000 inhabitants.
(Brevissima Relatione della Distruttione dell’ Indie Occidentale
(Venetia, 1643)). This latter, being the smaller estimate, is _a
priori_ the more credible; especially--a rare occurrence--when in the
pages of the good Bishop of Chiapa.

[188] Humboldt, Essai politique, tom. iii. p. 159.

[189] Veytia carries back the foundation of the city to the Ulmecs, a
people who preceded the Toltecs. (Hist. antig., tom. i. cap. 13, 20.)
As the latter, after occupying the land several centuries, have left
not a single written record, probably, of their existence, it will be
hard to disprove the licentiate’s assertion,--still harder to prove it.

[190] Herrera, Hist. general, dec. 2, lib. 7, cap. 2.{*}

{*} [“We find that, according to tradition, the territory of Cholula
was, up to the year 1519, necessarily occupied by at least three
different stocks. The modes of burial, so far as ascertained, reveal
an equal number of distinct customs. The architecture, so far as it
is possible to investigate it, shows at least two separate types....
Finally we may ask if the facts, that the adobe bricks of the great
mound contain pottery and obsidian, and that skulls have been found
beneath its projecting western apron, do not hint at a still older
population, with perhaps a different style of architecture.” Bandelier,
Archæological Tour, p. 261.--M.]

[191] Camargo, Hist. de Tlascala, MS.--Gomara, Crónica, cap.
58.--Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 3, cap. 19.

[192] Veytia, Hist. antig., tom. i. cap. 15, et seq.--Sahagun, Hist. de
Nueva-España, lib. 1, cap. 5; lib. 3.

[193] Later divines have found in these teachings of the Toltec god, or
high-priest, the germs of some of the great mysteries of the Christian
faith, as those of the Incarnation, and the Trinity, for example.

[194] Such, on the whole, seems to be the judgment of M. de Humboldt,
who has examined this interesting monument with his usual care. (Vues
des Cordillères, p. 27, et seq.--Essai politique, tom. ii. p. 150,
et seq.) The opinion derives strong confirmation from the fact that
a road, cut some years since across the tumulus, laid open a large
section of it, in which the alternate layers of brick and clay are
distinctly visible. (Ibid., loc. cit.) The present appearance of
this monument, covered over with the verdure and vegetable mould of
centuries, excuses the scepticism of the more superficial traveller.

[195] Several of the pyramids of Egypt, and the ruins of Babylon,
are, as is well known, of brick. An inscription on one of the former,
indeed, celebrates this material as superior to stone. (Herodotus,
Euterpe, sec. 136.)--Humboldt furnishes an apt illustration of the size
of the Mexican _teocalli_, by comparing it to a mass of bricks covering
a square four times as large as the Place Vendôme, and of twice the
height of the Louvre. Essai politique, tom. ii. p. 152.

[196] A minute account of the costume and insignia of Quetzalcoatl is
given by Father Sahagun, who saw the Aztec gods before the arm of the
Christian convert had tumbled them from “their pride of place.” See
Hist. de Nueva-España, lib. 1, cap. 3.

[197] They came from the distance of two hundred leagues, says
Torquemada. Monarch. Ind., lib. 3, cap. 19.

[198] “Hay mucha gente pobre, y que piden entre los Ricos por las
Calles, y por las Casas, y Mercados, como hacen los Pobres en España,
y en otras partes que hay _Gente de razon_.” Rel. Seg., ap. Lorenzana,
pp. 67, 68.

[199] Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 3, cap. 19.--Gomara, Crónica,
cap. 61.--Camargo, Hist. de Tlascala, MS.

[200] Herrera, Hist. general, dec. 2, lib. 7, cap. 2.--Torquemada,
Monarch. Ind., ubi supra.

[201] “E certifico á Vuestra Alteza, que yo conté desde una Mezquita
quatrocientas, y tantas Torres en la dicha Ciudad, y todas son de
Mezquitas.” Rel. Seg., ap. Lorenzana, p. 67.

[202] The city of Puebla de los Angeles was founded by the Spaniards
soon after the Conquest, on the site of an insignificant village in the
territory of Cholula, a few miles to the east of that capital. It is,
perhaps, the most considerable city in New Spain, after Mexico itself,
which it rivals in beauty. It seems to have inherited the religious
preëminence of the ancient Cholula, being distinguished, like her, for
the number and splendor of its churches, the multitude of its clergy,
and the magnificence of its ceremonies and festivals. These are fully
displayed in the pages of travellers who have passed through the place
on the usual route from Vera Cruz to the capital. (See, in particular,
Bullock’s Mexico, vol. i. chap. 6.) The environs of Cholula, still
irrigated as in the days of the Aztecs, are equally remarkable for
the fruitfulness of the soil. The best wheat-lands, according to a
very respectable authority, yield in the proportion of eighty for one.
Ward’s Mexico, vol. ii. p. 270.--See, also, Humboldt, Essai politique,
tom. ii. p. 158; tom. iv. p. 330.

[203] According to Cortés, a hundred thousand men offered their
services on this occasion! “And although I forbade it, and requested
that they would not go, since there was no necessity for it, yet I was
followed by as many as a hundred thousand men well fitted for war, who
came with me to the distance of nearly two leagues from the city, and
then through my pressing importunities were induced to return, with the
exception of five or six thousand, who continued in my company.” (Rel.
Seg., ap. Lorenzana, p. 64.) This, which must have been nearly the
whole fighting force of the republic, does not startle Oviedo (Hist. de
las Ind., MS., cap. 4) nor Gomara, Crónica, cap. 58.

[204] The words of the _Conquistador_ are yet stronger. “There is not
a _hand’s-breadth_ of land that is not cultivated.” Rel. Seg., ap.
Lorenzana, p. 67.

[205] “All the inhabitants of rank wear, besides their other clothing,
_albornoces_, differing from those of Africa inasmuch as they have
pockets, but very similar in form, in material, and in the bordering.”
Rel. Seg. de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, p. 67.

[206] Rel. Seg. de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, p. 67.--Ixtlilxochitl,
Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 84.--Oviedo, Hist. de las Ind., MS., lib. 33,
cap. 4.--Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 82.--The Spaniards
compared Cholula to the beautiful Valladolid, according to Herrera,
whose description of the entry is very animated: “Saliéronle otro dia
á recibir mas de diez mil ciudadanos en diversas tropas, con rosas,
flores, pan, aves, i frutas, i mucha música. Llegaba vn esquadron
á dar la bien llegada á Hernando Cortés, i con buena órden se iba
apartando, dando lugar á que otro llegase.... En llegando á la ciudad,
que pareció mucho á los Castellanos, en el asiento, i perspectiva, á
Valladolid, salió la demas gente, quedando mui espantada de ver las
figuras, talles, i armas de los Castellanos. Saliéron los sacerdotes
con vestiduras blancas, como sobrepellices, i algunas cerradas por
delante, los braços defuera, con fluecos de algodon en las orillas.
Unos llevaban figuras de ídolos en las manos, otros sahumerios;
otros tocaban cornetas, atabalejos, i diversas músicas, i todos iban
cantando, i llegaban á encensar á los Castellanos. Con esta pompa
entráron en Chulula.” Hist. general, dec. 2, lib. 7, cap. 1.

[207] Cortés, indeed, noticed these same alarming appearances on
his entering the city, thus suggesting the idea of a premeditated
treachery. “On the road we noticed many indications such as the natives
of this province had told us of; for we found the royal road barred
up and another opened, and some holes dug,--though not many,--and
some of the streets of the city barricadoed, and many stones upon the
roofs; which put us more upon our guard and caused us to exercise great
caution.” Rel. Seg., ap. Lorenzana, p. 64.

[208] Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 83.--Gomara, Crónica,
cap. 59.--Rel. Seg. de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, p. 65.--Torquemada,
Monarch. Ind., lib. 4, cap. 39.--Oviedo, Hist. de las Ind., MS., lib.
83, cap. 4.--Martyr, De Orbe Novo, dec. 5, cap. 2.--Herrera, Hist.
general, dec. 2, lib. 7, cap. 1.--Argensola, Anales, lib. 1, cap. 85.

[209] “Las horas de la noche las regulaban por las estrellas, y tocaban
los ministros del templo que estaban destinados para este fin, ciertos
instrumentos como vocinas, con que hacian conocer al pueblo el tiempo.”
Gama, Descripcion, Parte 1, p. 14.

[210] “Usáron los de Tlaxcalla de un aviso muy bueno y les dió Hernando
Cortés porque fueran conocidos y no morir entre los enemigos por
yerro, porque sus armas y divisas eran casi de una manera; ... y ansí
se pusiéron en las cabezas unas guirnaldas de esparto á manera de
torzales, y con esto eran conocidos los de nuestra parcialidad que no
fué pequeño aviso.” Camargo, Hist. de Tlascala, MS.

[211] Camargo, Hist. de Tlascala, MS.--Oviedo, Hist. de las Ind.,
MS., lib. 33, cap. 4, 45.--Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 4, cap.
40.--Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 84.--Gomara, Crónica, cap.

[212] “They killed nearly six thousand persons, but touched neither
women nor children, for so it had been ordered.” Herrera, Hist.
general, dec. 2, lib. 7, cap. 2.

[213] Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 83.--Ixtlilxochitl,
Hist. Chich., MS., ubi supra.

[214] Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 83.--The descendants
of the principal Cholulan cacique are living at this day in Puebla,
according to Bustamante. See Gomara, Crónica, trad. de Chimalpain
(México, 1820), tom. i. p. 98, nota.

[215] Rel. Seg. de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, p. 66.--Camargo, Hist. de
Tlascala, MS.--Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 84.--Oviedo,
Hist. de las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 4, 45.--Bernal Diaz, Hist. de
la Conquista, cap. 83.--Gomara, Crónica, cap. 60.--Sahagun, Hist.
de Nueva-España, MS., lib. 12, cap. 11.--Las Casas, in his printed
treatise on the Destruction of the Indies, garnishes his account
of these transactions with some additional and rather startling
particulars. According to him, Cortés caused a hundred or more of the
caciques to be impaled or roasted at the stake! He adds the report
that, while the massacre in the court-yard was going on, the Spanish
general repeated a scrap of an old _romance_, describing Nero as
rejoicing over the burning ruins of Rome:

    “Mira Nero de Tarpeya,
     A Roma como se ardia.
     Gritos dan ninos y viejos,
     Y él de nada se dolia.”
              (Brevísima Relacion, p. 46.)

This is the first instance, I suspect, on record of any person being
ambitious of finding a parallel for himself in that emperor! Bernal
Diaz, who had seen “the interminable narrative,” as he calls it, of Las
Casas, treats it with great contempt. His own version--one of those
chiefly followed in the text--was corroborated by the report of the
missionaries, who after the Conquest, visited Cholula, and investigated
the affair with the aid of the priests and several old survivors who
had witnessed it. It is confirmed in its substantial details by the
other contemporary accounts. The excellent Bishop of Chiapa wrote with
the avowed object of moving the sympathies of his countrymen in behalf
of the oppressed natives; a generous object, certainly, but one that
has too often warped his judgment from the strict line of historic
impartiality. He was not an eye-witness of the transactions in New
Spain, and was much too willing to receive whatever would make for
his case, and to “over-red,” if I may so say, his argument with such
details of blood and slaughter as, from their very extravagance, carry
their own refutation with them.

[216] For an illustration of the above remark the reader is referred to
the closing pages of chap. 7, Part II., of the “History of Ferdinand
and Isabella,” where I have taken some pains to show how deep-settled
were these convictions in Spain at the period with which we are now
occupied. The world has gained little in liberality since the age of
Dante, who could coolly dispose of the great and good of antiquity in
one of the circles of Hell because--no fault of theirs, certainly--they
had come into the world too soon. The memorable verses, like many
others of the immortal bard, are a proof at once of the strength and
weakness of the human understanding. They may be cited as a fair
exponent of the popular feeling at the beginning of the sixteenth

    “Ch’ ei non peccaro, e, s’egli hanno mercedi,
      Non basta, perchè _non ebber battesmo_,
      Ch’ è parte della fede che tu credi.
     E, se furon dinanzi al Cristianesmo,
      Non adorar debitamente Dio;
      E di questi cotai son io medesmo
     Per tai difetti, e non per altro rio,
      Semo perduti, e sol di tanto offesi
      Che sanza speme vivemo in disio.”
                          INFERNO, canto 4.

[217] It is in the same spirit that the laws of Oleron, the maritime
code of so high authority in the Middle Ages, abandon the property of
the infidel, in common with that of pirates, as fair spoil to the true
believer! “S’ilz sont pyrates, pilleurs, ou escumeurs de mer, ou Tures,
_et autres contraires et ennemis de nostredicte foy catholicque_,
chascun peut prendre sur telles manieres de gens, _comme sur chiens,
si peut l’on les desrobber et spoiler de leurs biens sans pugnition_.
C’est le jugement.” Jugemens d’Oleron, Art. 45, ap. Collection de Lois
maritimes, par J. M. Pardessus (ed. Paris, 1828), tom. i. p. 351.

[218] The famous bull of partition became the basis of the treaty
of Tordesillas, by which the Castilian and Portuguese governments
determined the boundary line of their respective discoveries; a line
that secured the vast empire of Brazil to the latter, which from
priority of occupation should have belonged to their rivals. See the
“History of Ferdinand and Isabella,” Part I. chap. 18; Part II. chap.
9,--the closing pages of each.

[219] It is the condition, unequivocally expressed and reiterated,
on which Alexander VI., in his famous bulls of May 3d and 4th, 1493,
conveys to Ferdinand and Isabella full and absolute right over all
such territories in the Western World as may not have been previously
occupied by Christian princes. See these precious documents _in
extenso_, apud Navarrete, Coleccion de los Viages y Descubrimientos
(Madrid, 1825), tom. ii. Nos. 17, 18.

[220] The ground on which Protestant nations assert a natural right to
the fruits of their discoveries in the New World is very different.
They consider that the earth was intended for cultivation, and that
Providence never designed that hordes of wandering savages should
hold a territory far more than necessary for their own maintenance,
to the exclusion of civilized man. Yet it may be thought, as far
as improvement of the soil is concerned, that this argument would
afford us but an indifferent tenure for much of our own unoccupied
and uncultivated territory, far exceeding what is demanded for our
present or prospective support. As to a right founded on difference
of civilization, this is obviously a still more uncertain criterion.
It is to the credit of our Puritan ancestors that they did not avail
themselves of any such interpretation of the law of nature, and
still less relied on the powers conceded by King James’s patent,
asserting rights as absolute, nearly, as those claimed by the Roman
See. On the contrary, they established their title to the soil by
fair purchase of the aborigines; thus forming an honorable contrast
to the policy pursued by too many of the settlers on the American
continents. It should be remarked that, whatever difference of
opinion may have subsisted between the Roman Catholic--or rather the
Spanish and Portuguese--nations and the rest of Europe, in regard
to the true foundation of their titles in a moral view, they have
always been content, in their controversies with one another, to rest
them exclusively on priority of discovery. For a brief view of the
discussion, see Vattel (Droit des Gens, sec. 209), and especially
Kent (Commentaries on American Law, vol. iii. lec. 51), where it is
handled with much perspicuity and eloquence. The argument, as founded
on the law of nations, may be found in the celebrated case of Johnson
v. McIntosh. (Wheaton, Reports of Cases in the Supreme Court of the
United States, vol. iii. p. 543, et seq.) If it were not treating a
grave discussion too lightly, I should crave leave to refer the reader
to the renowned Diedrich Knickerbocker’s History of New York (book 1,
chap. 5) for a luminous disquisition on this knotty question. At all
events, he will find there the popular arguments subjected to the test
of ridicule; a test showing, more than any reasoning can, how much, or
rather how little, they are really worth.

[221] _Los Dioses blancos._--Camargo, Hist. de Tlascala,
MS.--Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 4, cap. 40.

[222] Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva-España, MS., lib. 12, cap. 11.--In an
old Aztec harangue, made as a matter of form on the accession of a
prince, we find the following remarkable prediction: “Perhaps ye are
dismayed at the prospect of the terrible calamities that are one day
to overwhelm us, calamities foreseen and foretold, though not felt,
by our fathers!... when the destruction and desolation of the empire
shall come, when all shall be plunged in darkness, when the hour shall
arrive in which they shall make us slaves throughout the land, and we
shall be condemned to the lowest and most degrading offices!” (Ibid.,
lib. 6, cap. 16.) This random shot of prophecy, which I have rendered
literally, shows how strong and settled was the apprehension of some
impending revolution.

[223] Herrera, Hist. general, dec. 2, lib. 7, cap. 3.

[224] Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 83.

[225] Veytia, Hist. antig., tom. i. cap. 13.

[226] Humboldt, Vues des Cordillères, p. 32.

[227] Rel. Seg. de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, p. 69.--Gomara, Crónica, cap.
63.--Oviedo, Hist. de las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 5.--Ixtlilxochitl,
Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 84.

[228] The language of the text may appear somewhat too unqualified,
considering that three Aztec codices exist with interpretations. (See
_ante_, vol. i. pp. 117-119.) But they contain very few and general
allusions to Montezuma, and these strained through commentaries of
Spanish monks, oftentimes manifestly irreconcilable with the genuine
Aztec notions. Even such writers as Ixtlilxochitl and Camargo,
from whom, considering their Indian descent, we might expect more
independence, seem less solicitous to show this, than their loyalty to
the new faith and country of their adoption. Perhaps the most honest
Aztec record of the period is to be obtained from the volumes, the
twelfth book particularly, of Father Sahagun, embodying the traditions
of the natives soon after the Conquest. This portion of his great
work was rewritten by its author, and considerable changes were made
in it, at a later period of his life. Yet it may be doubted if the
reformed version reflects the traditions of the country as faithfully
as the original, which is still in manuscript, and which I have chiefly

[229] Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 84, 85.--Rel. Seg. de
Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, p. 67.--Gomara, Crónica, cap. 60.--Oviedo, Hist.
de las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 5.

[230] “We walked,” says Diaz, in the homely but expressive Spanish
proverb, “with our beards over our shoulders”--_la barba sobre el
ombro_. Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 86.

[231] Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 86.--Rel. Seg. de
Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, p. 70.--Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 4, cap.

[232] “Llamaban al volcan Popocatépetl, y á la sierra nevada
Iztaccihuatl, que quiere decir la sierra que humea, y la blanca muger.”
Camargo, Hist. de Tlascala, MS.

[233] “La Sierra nevada y el volcan los tenian por Dioses; y que el
volcan y la Sierra nevada eran marido y muger.” Ibid., MS.

[234] Gomara, Crónica, cap. 62.

    “Ætna Giganteos nunquam tacitura triumphos,
     Enceladi bustum, qui saucia terga revinctus
     Spirat inexhaustum flagranti pectore sulphur.”
             CLAUDIAN, De Rapt. Pros., lib. 1, v. 152.

[235] The old Spanish called any lofty mountain by that name, though
never having given signs of combustion. Thus, Chimborazo was called
a _volcan de nieve_, or “snow volcano” (Humboldt, Essai politique,
tom. i. p. 162); and that enterprising traveller, Stephens, notices
the _volcan de agua_, “water volcano,” in the neighborhood of Antigua
Guatemala. Incidents of Travel in Chiapas, Central America, and Yucatan
(New York, 1841), vol. i. chap. 13.

[236] Mont Blanc, according to M. de Saussure, is 15,670 feet high. For
the estimate of Popocatepetl, see an elaborate communication in the
“Revista Mexicana,” tom. ii. No. 4.

[237] Rel. Seg. de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, p. 70.--Oviedo, Hist. de las
Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 5.--Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap.
78.--The latter writer speaks of the ascent as made when the army lay
at Tlascala, and of the attempt as perfectly successful. The general’s
letter, written soon after the event, with no motive for misstatement,
is the better authority. See, also, Herrera, Hist. general, dec. 2,
lib. 6, cap. 18.--Rel. d’un gentil’ huomo, ap. Ramusio, tom. iii. p.
308.--Gomara, Crónica, cap. 62.

[238] [Montaño’s family remained in Mexico after the Conquest, and his
daughter received a pension from the government. Alaman, Disertaciones
históricas, tom. i. apénd. 2.]

[239] Rel. Ter. y Quarta de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, pp. 318,
380.--Herrera, Hist. general, dec. 3, lib. 3, cap. 1.--Oviedo, Hist.
de las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 41.--M. de Humboldt doubts the fact
of Montaño’s descent into the crater, thinking it more probable that
he obtained the sulphur through some lateral crevice in the mountain.
(Essai politique, tom. i. p. 164.){*} No attempt--at least, no
successful one--was made to gain the summit of Popocatepetl, since this
of Montaño, till the present century. In 1827 it was reached in two
expeditions, and again in 1833 and 1834. A very full account of the
last, containing many interesting details and scientific observations,
was written by Federico de Gerolt, one of the party, and published in
the periodical already referred to. (Revista Mexicana, tom. i. pp.
461-482.) The party from the topmost peak, which commanded a full view
of the less elevated Iztaccihuatl, saw no vestige of a crater in that
mountain, contrary to the opinion usually received.

{*} [There would seem to have been no grounds for the doubt expressed
by Humboldt, as the sulphur is now nearly exhausted, having been
regularly collected by Indian laborers, lowered into the crater by
means of a rope of hide attached to a windlass. Tylor, Anahuac, p.

[240] Humboldt, Essai politique, tom. iv. p. 17.

[241] The lake of Tezcuco, on which stood the capital of Mexico,
is 2277 metres--nearly 7500 feet--above the sea. Humboldt, Essai
politique, tom. ii. p. 45.

[242] It is unnecessary to refer to the pages of modern travellers,
who, however they may differ in taste, talent, or feeling, all concur
in the impressions produced on them by the sight of this beautiful

{*} [Modern civilization has, according to Bandelier, made Mexico much
more beautiful than it was in the days of Montezuma. He says, “The city
of Mexico, with its domes and spires glistening in the noonday sun, is
certainly a finer sight than was the old pueblo, resting on the dull
waters of the lagune, like an adobe patch, surmounted by the clumsy
mounds of worship.” He forgets, however, that the adobe was plastered
over with gypsum, and that “the walls were so well whitened, polished,
and shining that they appeared to the Spaniards when at a distance to
have been silver.” Clavigero, Mexico, ii. p. 232.--M.]

[243] Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 4, cap. 41.--It may call to the
reader’s mind the memorable view of the fair plains of Italy which
Hannibal displayed to his hungry barbarians after a similar march
through the wild passes of the Alps, as reported by the prince of
historic painters. Livy, Hist., lib. 21, cap. 35.

[244] Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., ubi supra.--Herrera, Hist. general,
dec. 2, lib. 7, cap. 3.--Gomara, Crónica, cap. 64.--Oviedo, Hist. de
las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 5.

[245] A load for a Mexican _tamane_ was about fifty pounds, or eight
hundred ounces. Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, tom. ii. p. 69, nota.

[246] Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva-España, MS., lib. 12, cap. 12.--Rel. Seg.
de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, p. 73.--Herrera, Hist. general, dec. 2, lib.
7, cap. 3.--Gomara, Crónica, cap. 64.--Oviedo, Hist. de las Ind., MS.,
lib. 33, cap. 5.--Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 87.

[247] This was not the sentiment of the Roman hero:

    “Victrix causa Diis placuit, sed victa Catoni!”
                 LUCAN, lib. 1, v. 128.

[248] Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva-España, MS., lib. 12, cap.
13.--Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 4, cap. 44.--Gomara, Crónica, cap.

[249] “El señor de esta provincia y pueblo me dió hasta quarenta
esclavas, y tres mil castellanos; y dos dias que allí estuve nos
proveyó muy cumplidamente de todo lo necesario para nuestra comida.”
Rel. Seg. de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, p. 74.

[250] “De todas partes era infinita la gente que de un cabo é de otro
concurrian á mirar á los Españoles, é maravillábanse mucho de los ver.
Tenian grande espacio é atención en mirar los caballos; decian, ‘Estos
son Teules,’ que quiere decir Demonios.” Oviedo, Hist. de las Ind.,
MS., lib. 33, cap. 45.

[251] Cortés tells the affair coolly enough to the emperor. “And that
night I kept such guard that of the spies--as well those who came
across the water in canoes as those who descended from the sierra to
watch for an opportunity of accomplishing their design--fifteen or
twenty were discovered in the morning that had been killed by our men;
so that few returned with the information they had come to get.” Rel.
Seg. de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, p. 74.{*}

{*} [Cortés cannot be blamed for adopting such precautions as any good
general would have thought it culpable to neglect; while his repeated
warnings to the natives not to approach the camp after sunset show his
anxiety to impress them with a sense of the danger. “Sabed,” he said
to the chiefs, “que estos que conmigo vienen no duermen de noche, é si
duermen es un poco cuando es de dia; é de noche están con sus armas,
é cualquiera que ven que anda en pié ó entra do ellos están, luego lo
matan; é yo no basto á lo resistir; por tanto, haceldo así saber á toda
vuestra gente, é decildes que despues de puesto el sol ninguna venga
do estamos, porque morirá, _é á mí me pesará de los que murieren_.”
Relacion hecha por el Señor Andrés de Tápia sobre la Conquista de

[252] Rel. Seg. de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, p. 75.--Gomara, Crónica, cap.
64.--Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 85.--Oviedo, Hist. de las
Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 5.--“We esteemed it a great matter, and said
amongst ourselves, If this cacique appeared in such state, what must
be that displayed by the great Montezuma?” Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la
Conquista, cap. 87.

[253] “Nos quedámos admirados,” exclaims Diaz, with simple wonder, “y
deziamos que parecia á las casas de encantamento, que cuentan en el
libro de Amadis!” Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 87. An edition of this
celebrated romance in its Castilian dress had appeared before this
time, as the prologue to the second edition of 1521 speaks of a former
one in the reign of the “Catholic Sovereigns.” See Cervantes, Don
Quixote, ed. Pellicer (Madrid, 1797), tom. i., Discurso prelim.

[254] “Una ciudad, la mas hermosa, aunque pequeña, que hasta entonces
habiamos visto, assí de muy bien obradas Casas, y Torres, como de la
buena órden, que en el fundamento de ella habia por ser armada toda
sobre Agua.” (Rel. Seg. de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, p. 76.) The Spaniards
gave this aquatic city the name of Venezuela, or Little Venice.
Toribio, Hist. de los Indios, MS., Parte 2, cap. 4.

[255] M. de Humboldt has dotted the _conjectural_ limits of the
ancient lake in his admirable chart of the Mexican Valley. (Atlas
géographique et physique de la Nouvelle-Espagne (Paris, 1811), carte
3.) Notwithstanding his great care, it is not easy always to reconcile
his topography with the itineraries of the Conquerors, so much has the
face of the country been changed by natural and artificial causes. It
is still less possible to reconcile their narratives with the maps of
Clavigero, Lopez, Robertson, and others, defying equally topography and

[256] Several writers notice a visit of the Spaniards to Tezcuco on
the way to the capital. (Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 4, cap.
42.--Solís, Conquista, lib. 3, cap. 9.--Herrera, Hist. general, dec. 2,
lib. 7, cap. 4.--Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, tom. ii. p. 74.) This
improbable episode--which, it may be remarked, has led these authors
into some geographical perplexities, not to say blunders--is altogether
too remarkable to have been passed over in silence in the minute
relation of Bernal Diaz, and that of Cortés, neither of whom alludes to

[257] “E me diéron,” says Cortés, “hasta tres, ó quatro mil
Castellanos, y algunas Esclavas, y Ropa, é me hiciéron muy buen
acogimiento.” Rel. Seg., ap. Lorenzana, p. 76.

[258] “Tiene el Señor de ella unas Casas nuevas, que aun no están
acabadas, que son tan buenas como las mejores de España, digo de
grandes y bien labradas.” Ibid., p. 77.

[259] The earliest instance of a Garden of Plants in Europe is said to
have been at Padua, in 1545. Carli, Lettres Américaines, tom. i. let.

[260] Rel. Seg. de Cortés, ubi supra.--Herrera, Hist. general, dec. 2,
lib. 7, cap. 44.--Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva-España, MS., lib. 12, cap.
13.--Oviedo, Hist. de las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 5.--Bernal Diaz,
Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 87.

    “There Aztlan stood upon the farther shore;
     Amid the shade of trees its dwellings rose,
     Their level roofs with turrets set around,
     And battlements all burnished white, which shone
     Like silver in the sunshine. I beheld
     The imperial city, her far-circling walls,
     Her garden groves and stately palaces,
     Her temples mountain size, her thousand roofs;
     And when I saw her might and majesty,
     My mind misgave me then.”
                     SOUTHEY’S Madoc, Part 1, canto 6.

[261] [Alaman objects to my speaking of the “gray mists of morning”
in connection with the Aztec capital. “In the beginning of November,”
he says, “there is no such thing as a mist to be seen in the morning,
or indeed in any part of the day, in the Valley of Mexico, where the
weather is uncommonly bright and beautiful. The historian,” he adds,
“has confounded the climate of Mexico with that of England or the
United States.” Conquista de Méjico (trad. de Vega), tom. i. p. 337.]

[262] [A Spanish translator incorrectly renders the words “dark files”
by _indisciplinadas filas_, “undisciplined files.” Señor Alaman,
correcting, in this instance at least, the translation instead of the
original, objects to this language. We may talk, says the critic, of
the different kind of discipline peculiar to the Tlascalans, but not of
their want of discipline, a defect which can hardly be charged on the
most warlike nation of Anahuac. Conquista de Méjico (trad. de Vega),
tom. i. p. 337.]

[263] He took about 6000 warriors from Tlascala; and some few of the
Cempoallan and other Indian allies continued with him. The Spanish
force on leaving Vera Cruz amounted to about 400 foot and 15 horse.
In the remonstrance of the disaffected soldiers, after the murderous
Tlascalan combats, they speak of having lost fifty of their number
since the beginning of the campaign. _Ante_, vol. ii. p. 150.

[264] “La calzada d’Iztapalapan est fondée sur cette même digue
ancienne, sur laquelle Cortéz fit des prodiges de valeur dans ses
rencontres avec les assiégés.” (Humboldt, Essai politique, tom. ii. p.
57.) [At present the road of Tlalplan, or St. Augustine of the Caves
(San Augustin de las Cuevas). Conquista de Méjico (trad. de Vega), tom.
i. p. 338.]

[265] Among these towns were several containing from three to five
or six thousand dwellings, according to Cortés, whose barbarous
orthography in proper names will not easily be recognized by Mexican or
Spaniard. Rel. Seg., ap. Lorenzana, p. 78.

[266] Father Toribio Benavente does not stint his panegyric in speaking
of the neighborhood of the capital, which he saw in its glory. “Creo,
que en toda nuestra Europa hay pocas ciudades que tengan tal asiento
y tal comarca, con tantos pueblos á la redonda de sí y tan bien
asentados.” Hist. de los Indios, MS., Parte 3, cap. 7.

[267] It is not necessary, however, to adopt Herrera’s account of
50,000 canoes, which, he says, were constantly employed in supplying
the capital with provisions! (Hist. general, dec. 2, lib. 7, cap. 14.)
The poet-chronicler Saavedra is more modest in his estimate:

    “Dos mil y mas canoas cada dia
     Bastecen el gran pueblo Mexicano
     De la mas y la menos niñería
     Que es necesario al alimento humano.”
                EL PEREGRINO INDIANO, canto 11.

[268] “Usaban unos brazaletes de musaico, hechos de turquezas con unas
plumas ricas que salian de ellos, que eran mas altas que la cabeza, y
bordadas con plumas ricas y con oro, y unas bandas de oro, que subian
con las plumas.” Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva-España, lib. 8, cap. 9.

[269] Gonzalo de las Casas, Defensa, MS., Parte 1, cap. 24.--Gomara,
Crónica, cap. 65.--Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap.
88.--Oviedo, Hist. de las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 5.--Rel. Seg. de
Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, pp. 78, 79.--Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS.,
cap. 85.

[270] Cardinal Lorenzana says, the street intended was, probably, that
crossing the city from the Hospital of San Antonio. (Rel. Seg. de
Cortés, p. 79, nota.) This is confirmed by Sahagun. “Y así en aquel
trecho que está desde la Iglesia de San Antonio (que ellos llaman
Xuluco) que va por cave las casas de Alvarado, hácia el Hospital de la
Concepcion, salió Moctezuma á recibir de paz á D. Hernando Cortés.”
Hist. de Nueva-España, MS., lib. 12, cap. 16. [The present Calle del
Rastro, which continues, under different names, from the guard-house
of San Antonio Abad to the Plaza. According to an early tradition,
Montezuma and Cortés met in front of the spot where the Hospital of
Jesus now stands, and the site for the building was chosen on that
account. Conquista de Méjico (trad. de Vega), tom. i. p. 339.]

[271] Carta del Lic. Zuazo, MS.

[272] “Toda la gente que estaba en las calles se le humiliaban y hacian
profunda reverencia y grande acatamiento sin levantar los ojos á le
mirar, sino que todos estaban hasta que él era pasado, _tan inclinados
como frayles en Gloria Patri_.” Toribio, Hist. de los Indios, MS.,
Parte 3, cap. 7.

[273] For the preceding account of the equipage and appearance of
Montezuma, see Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 88,--Carta
de Zuazo, MS.,--Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 85,--Gomara,
Crónica, cap. 65,--Oviedo, Hist. de las Ind., MS., ubi supra, et
cap. 45,--Acosta, lib. 7, cap. 22,--Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva-España,
MS., lib. 12, cap. 16,--Toribio, Hist. de los Indios, MS., Parte 3,
cap. 7.--The noble Castilian or rather Mexican bard, Saavedra, who
belonged to the generation after the Conquest, has introduced most of
the particulars in his rhyming chronicle. The following specimen will
probably suffice for the reader:

    “Y va el gran Moteçuma atauiado
     De manta açul y blanca con gran falda,
     De algodon muy sutil y delicado,
     Y al remate vna concha de esmeralda;
     En la parte que el nudo tiene dado,
     Y una tiara á modo de guirnalda,
     Zapatos que de oro son las suelas
     Asidos con muy ricas correhuelas.”
           EL PEREGRINO INDIANO, canto 11.

[274] “Satis vultu læto,” says Martyr, “an stomacho sedatus, et an
hospites per vim quis unquam libens susceperit, experti loquantur.” De
Orbe Novo, dec. 5, cap. 3.

[275] Rel. Seg. de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, p. 79.

[276] “Entráron en la ciudad de Méjico á punto de guerra, tocando
los atambores, y con banderas desplegadas,” etc. Sahagun, Hist. de
Nueva-España, MS., lib. 12, cap. 15.

[277] “Et giardini alti et bassi, che era cosa maravigliosa da vedere.”
Rel. d’un gentil’ huomo, ap. Ramusio, tom. iii. fol. 309.

[278] “¿Quien podrá,” exclaims the old soldier, “dezir la multitud de
hombres, y mujeres, y muchachos, que estauan en las calles, é açuteas,
y en Canoas en aquellas acequias, que nos salian á mirar? Era cosa
de notar, que agora que lo estoy escriuiendo, se me representa todo
delante de mis ojos, como si ayer fuera quando esto passó.” Hist. de la
Conquista, cap. 88.

[279] “Ad spectaculum,” says the penetrating Martyr, “tandem Hispanis
placidum, quia diu optatum, Tenustiatanis prudentibus forte aliter,
quia verentur fore, vt hi hospites quietem suam Elysiam veniant
perturbaturi; de populo secus, qui nil sentit æque delectabile, quàm
res novas ante oculos in presentiarum habere, de futuro nihil anxius.”
De Orbe Novo, dec. 5, cap. 3.

[280] The euphonious name of _Tenochtitlan_ is commonly derived
from Aztec words signifying “the _tuna_, or cactus, on a rock,” the
appearance of which, as the reader may remember, was to determine the
site of the future capital. (Toribio, Hist. de los Indios, Parte 3,
cap. 7.--Esplic. de la Coleccion de Mendoza, ap. Antiq. of Mexico, vol.
iv.) Another etymology derives the word from _Tenoch_, the name of one
of the founders of the monarchy.

[281] [“Por algunos manuscritos que he consultado é investigaciones
que he hecho, me inclino á creer, que el templo se estendia desde
la esquina de la calle de _Plateros_ y _Empedradillo_ hasta la de
_Cordobanes_; y de P. á O., desde el tercio ó cuarto de la placeta del
_Empedradillo_, hasta penetrar unas cuantas varas hácia el O., dentro
de las aceras que miran al P., y forman las calles del _Seminario_ y
del _Relox_.” Ramirez, Notas y Esclarecimientos, p. 103.]

[282] Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, tom. iii. p. 78.--It occupied what
is now the corner of the streets “Del Indio Triste” and “Tacuba.”{*}
Humboldt, Vues des Cordillères, p. 7, et seq.

{*} [Consequently, says Alaman, it must have faced the east, not the
west gate of the Temple. Conquista de Méjico, tom. i. p. 343.--K.]

[283] Rel. Seg. de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, p. 88.--Gonzalo de las Casas,
Defensa, MS., Parte 1, cap. 24.

[284] Boturini says, greater, by the acknowledgment of the goldsmiths
themselves. “Los plateros de Madrid, viendo algunas Piezas, y
Brazaletes de oro, con que se armaban en guerra los Reyes, y Capitanes
Indianos, confessáron, que eran inimitables en Europa.” (Idea, p.
78.) And Oviedo, speaking of their work in jewelry, remarks, “Io ví
algunas piedras jaspes, calcidonias, jacintos, corniolas, é plasmas de
esmeraldas, é otras de otras especies labradas é fechas, cabezas de
Aves, é otras hechas animales é otras figuras, que dudo haber en España
ni en Italia quien las supiera hacer con tanta perficion.” Hist. de las
Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 11.

[285] _Ante_, vol. ii. p. 175.

[286] Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 88.--Rel. Seg. de
Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, p. 80.

[287] Bernal Diaz, Ibid., loc. cit.--Oviedo, Hist. de las Ind., MS.,
lib. 83, cap. 5.--Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva-España, MS., lib. 12, cap. 16.

[288] “Muchas y diversas Joyas de Oro, y Plata, y Plumajes, y con
fasta cinco ó seis mil Piezas de Ropa de Algodon muy ricas, y de
diversas maneras texida, y labrada.” (Rel. Seg. de Cortés, ap.
Lorenzana, p. 80.) Even this falls short of truth, according to Diaz.
“Tenia apercebido el gran Monteçuma muy ricas joyas de oro, y de
muchas hechuras, que dió á nuestro Capitan, é assí mismo á cada vno
de nuestros Capitanes dió cositas de oro, y tres cargas de mantas de
labores ricas de pluma, y entre todos los soldados tambien nos dio á
cada vno á dos cargas de mantas, con alegría, y en todo parecia gran
señor.” (Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 89.) “Sex millia vestium, aiunt
qui eas vidêre.” Martyr, De Orbe Novo, dec. 5, cap. 3.

[289] Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 85.--Gomara, Crónica, cap.
66.--Herrera, Hist. general, dec. 2, lib. 7, cap. 6.--Bernal Diaz,
Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 88.--Oviedo, Hist. de las Ind., MS., lib.
33, cap. 5.

[290] “La noche siguiente jugáron la artillería por la solemnidad de
haber llegado sin daño á donde deseaban; pero los Indios como no usados
á los truenos de la artillería, mal edor de la pólvora, recibiéron
grande alteracion y miedo toda aquella noche.” Sahagun, Hist. de
Nueva-España, MS., lib. 12, cap. 17.

[291] “C’est là que la famille construisit le bel édifice dans
lequel se trouvent les archives del Estado, et qui est passé avec
tout l’héritage au duc Napolitain de Monteleone.” (Humboldt, Essai
politique, tom. ii. p. 72.) The inhabitants of modern Mexico have large
obligations to this inquisitive traveller for the care he has taken to
identify the memorable localities of their capital. It is not often
that a philosophical treatise is also a good _manuel du voyageur_.

[292] [The palace of Montezuma, according to Ramirez, “occupied the
site where the national palace now stands, including that of the
university and the adjacent houses, and extending to the Plaza del
Volador, or new market-place. This was the ordinary residence of the
last Montezuma, and the place where he was actually made prisoner.”
Notas y Esclarecimientos, p. 103.]

[293] “Et io entrai più di quattro volte in una casa del gran Signor
non per altro effetto che per vederla, et ogni volta vi camminauo tanto
che mi stancauo, et mai la fini di vedere tutta.” Rel. d’un gentil’
huomo, ap. Ramusio, tom. iii. fol. 309.

[294] Gomara, Crónica, cap. 71.--Herrera, Hist. general, dec. 2, lib.
7, cap. 9.--The authorities call it “tiger,” an animal not known in
America. I have ventured to substitute the “ocelot,” _tlalocelotl_ of
Mexico, a native animal, which, being of the same family, might easily
be confounded by the Spaniards with the tiger of the Old Continent.

[295] Toribio, Hist. de los Indios, MS., Parte 3, cap. 7.--Herrera,
Hist. general, dec. 2, lib. 7, cap. 9.--Gomara, Crónica, cap.
71.--Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 91.--Oviedo, Hist. de las
Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 5, 46.--Rel. Seg. de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana,
pp. 111-114.

[296] “Para entrar en su palacio, á que ellos llaman Tecpa, todos se
descalzaban, y los que entraban á negociar con él habian de llevar
mantas groseras encima de si, y si eran grandes señores ó en tiempo de
frio, sobre las mantas buenas que llevaban vestidas, ponian una manta
grosera y pobre; y para hablarle, estaban muy humiliados y sin levantar
los ojos.” (Toribio, Hist. de los Indios, MS., Parte 3, cap. 7.) There
is no better authority than this worthy missionary for the usages of
the ancient Aztecs, of which he had such large personal knowledge.

[297] The ludicrous effect--if the subject be not too grave to
justify the expression--of a literal belief in the doctrine of
transubstantiation in the mother-country, even at this day, is well
illustrated by Blanco White, Letters from Spain (London, 1822), let. 1.

[298] “Y en esso de la creacion del mundo assí lo tenemos nosotros
creido muchos tiempos passados.” (Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista,
cap. 90.) For some points of resemblance between the Aztec and Hebrew
traditions, see Book 1, chap. 3, and the essay on The Origin of the
Mexican Civilization, at the end of the first book of this History.

[299] “E siempre hemos tenido, que de los que de él descendiessen
habian de venir á sojuzgar esta tierra, y á nosotros como á sus
Vasallos.” Rel. Seg. de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, p. 81.

[300] “Y luego el Monteçuma dixo riendo, porque en todo era muy
regozijado en su hablar de gran señor: Malinche, bien sé que te han
dicho essos de Tlascala, con quien tanta amistad aueis tomado, que yo
que soy como Dios, ó Teule, que quanto ay en mis casas es todo oro, é
plata, y piedras ricas.” Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 90.

[301] “E por tanto Vos sed cierto, que os obedecerémos, y ternémos por
señor en lugar de esse gran señor que decis, y que en ello no habia
falta, ni engaño alguno; é bien podeis en toda la tierra, digo, que en
la que yo en mi Señorío poseo, mandar á vuestra voluntad, porque será
obedecido y fecho, y todo lo que nosotros tenemos es para lo que Vos de
ello quisieredes disponer.” Rel. Seg. de Cortés, ubi supra.

[302] Martyr, De Orbe Novo, dec. 5, cap. 3.--Gomara, Crónica, cap.
66.--Oviedo, Hist. de las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 5.--Gonzalo de las
Casas, MS., Parte 1, cap. 24.--Cortés, in his brief notes of this
proceeding, speaks only of the interview with Montezuma in the Spanish
quarters, which he makes the scene of the preceding dialogue. Bernal
Diaz transfers this to the subsequent meeting in the palace. In the
only fact of importance, the dialogue itself, both substantially agree.

[303] “Assí nos despedímos con grandes cortesías dél, y nos fuýmos á
nuestros aposentos, é ibamos platicando de la buena manera é criança
que en todo tenia, é que nosotros en todo le tuuiessemos mucho acato,
é con las gorras de armas colchadas quitadas, quando delante dél
passassemos.” Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 90.

[304] “Y assí,” says Toribio de Benavente, “estaba tan fuerte esta
ciudad, que parecia no bastar poder humano para ganarla; porque ademas
de su fuerza y municion que tenia, era cabeza y Señoría de toda la
tierra, y el Señor de ella (Moteczuma) gloriábase en su silla y en la
fortaleza de su ciudad, y en la muchedumbre de sus vassallos.” Hist. de
los Indios, MS., Parte 3, cap. 8.

[305] “Many are of opinion,” says Father Acosta, “that, if the
Spaniards had continued the course they began, they might easily have
disposed of Montezuma and his kingdom, and introduced the law of
Christ, without much bloodshed.” Lib. 7, cap. 25.

[306] The lake, it seems, had perceptibly shrunk before the Conquest,
from the testimony of Motolinia, who entered the country soon after.
Toribio, Hist. de los Indios, MS., Parte 3, cap. 6.

[307] Humboldt, Essai politique, tom. ii. p. 95.--Cortés supposed
there were regular tides in this lake. (Rel. Seg., ap. Lorenzana, p.
101.) This sorely puzzles the learned Martyr (De Orbe Novo, dec. 5,
cap. 3); as it has more than one philosopher since, whom it has led to
speculate on a subterraneous communication with the ocean! What the
general called “tides” was probably the periodical swells caused by the
prevalence of certain regular winds.

[308] Humboldt has given a minute account of this tunnel, which he
pronounces one of the most stupendous hydraulic works in existence,
and the completion of which, in its present form, does not date
earlier than the latter part of the eighteenth century. See his Essai
politique, tom. ii. p. 105, et seq.

[309] Humboldt, Essai politique, tom. ii. p. 87, et seq.--Clavigero,
Stor. del Messico, tom. ii. p. 153.

[310] Toribio, Hist. de los Indios, MS., Parte 3, cap. 8.--Cortés,
indeed, speaks of four causeways. (Rel. Seg., ap. Lorenzana, p. 102.)
He may have reckoned an arm of the southern one leading to Cojohuacan,
or possibly the great aqueduct of Chapoltepec.

[311] _Ante_, vol. i. p. 23.

[312] Martyr gives a particular account of these dwellings, which shows
that even the poorer classes were comfortably lodged. “Populares vero
domus cingulo virili tenus lapideæ sunt et ipsæ, ob lacunæ incrementum
per fluxum aut fluviorum in ea labentium alluvies. Super fundamentis
illis magnis, lateribus tum coctis, tum æstivo sole siccatis, immixtis
trabibus reliquam molem construunt; uno sunt communes domus contentæ
tabulato. In solo parum hospitantur propter humiditatem, tecta non
tegulis sed bitumine quodam terreo vestiunt; ad solem captandum
commodior est ille modus, breviore tempore consumi debere credendum
est.” De Orbe Novo, dec. 5, cap. 10.

[313] Toribio, Hist. de los Indios, MS., Parte 3, cap. 8.--Rel. Seg. de
Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, p. 108.--Oviedo, Hist. de las Ind., MS., lib.
33, cap. 10, 11.--Rel. d’un gentil’ huomo, ap. Ramusio, tom. iii. fol.

[314] Martyr was struck with the resemblance. “Uti de illustrissima
civitate Venetiarum legitur, ad tumulum in ea sinus Adriatici parte
visum, fuisse constructam.” Martyr, De Orbe Novo, dec. 5, cap. 10.

[315] May we not apply, without much violence, to the Aztec capital,
Giovanni della Casa’s spirited sonnet, contrasting the origin of Venice
with its meridian glory?

    “Questi Palazzi e queste logge or colte
       D’ostro, di marmo e di figure elette,
       Fur poche e basse case insieme accolte
       Deserti lidi e povere Isolette.
     Ma genti ardite d’ogni vizio sciolte
       Premeano il mar con picciole barchette,
       Che qui non per domar provincie molte,
       Ma fuggir servitù s’ eran ristrette
     Non era ambizion ne’ petti loro;
       Ma ’l mentire abborrian più che la morte,
       Nè vi regnava ingorda fame d’oro.
     Se ’l Ciel v’ ha dato piu beata sorte,
       Non sien quelle virtù che tanto onoro,
       Dalle nuove ricchezze oppresse e morte.”

[316] “Le lac de Tezcuco n’a généralement que trois à cinq mètres de
profondeur. Dans quelques endroits le fond se trouve même déjà à moins
d’un mètre.” Humboldt, Essai politique, tom. ii. p. 49.

[317] “Y cada dia entran gran multitud de Indios cargados de
bastimentos y tributos, así por tierra como por agua, en acales ó
barcas, que _en lengua de las Islas llaman Canoas_.” Toribio, Hist. de
los Indios, MS., Parte 3, cap. 6.

[318] “Esta la cibdad de Méjico ó _Teneztutan_, que será de sesenta
mil vecinos.” (Carta del Lic. Zuazo, MS.) “Tenustitanam ipsam inquiunt
sexaginta circiter esse millium domorum.” (Martyr, De Orbe Novo,
dec. 5, cap. 3.) “Era Méjico, quando Cortés entró, pueblo de sesenta
mil casas.” (Gomara, Crónica, cap. 78.) Toribio says, vaguely, “Los
moradores y gente era innumerable.” (Hist. de los Indios, MS., Parte
3, cap. 8.) The Italian translation of the “Anonymous Conqueror,”
who survives only in translation, says, indeed, “meglio di sessanta
mila _habitatori_” (Rel. d’un gentil’ huomo, ap. Ramusio, tom. iii.
fol. 309); owing, probably, to a blunder in rendering the word
_vecinos_, the ordinary term in Spanish statistics, which, signifying
_householders_, corresponds with the Italian _fuochi_. See, also,
Clavigero. (Stor. del Messico, tom. iii. p. 86, nota.) Robertson rests
_exclusively_ on this Italian translation for his estimate. (History
of America, vol. ii. p. 281.) He cites, indeed, two other authorities
in the same connection; Cortés, who says nothing of the population,
and Herrera, who confirms the popular statement of “sesenta mil
casas.” (Hist. general, dec. 2, lib. 7, cap. 13.) The fact is of some

[319] “In the smallest houses, with few exceptions, two, four, and even
six families resided together.” Herrera, Hist. general, dec. 2, lib. 7,
cap. 13.

[320] Rel. d’un gentil’ huomo, ap. Ramusio, tom. iii. fol. 309.

[321] “C’est sur le chemin qui mène a Tanepantla et aux Ahuahuetes
que l’on peut marcher plus d’une heure entre les ruines de l’ancienne
ville. On y reconnaît, ainsi que sur la route de Tacuba et
d’Iztapalapan, combien Mexico, rebâti par Cortéz, est plus petit que
l’était Tenochtitlan sous le dernier des Montezuma. L’énorme grandeur
du marché de Tlatelolco, dont on reconnaît encore les limites, prouve
combien la population de l’ancienne ville doit avoir été considerable.”
Humboldt, Essai politique, tom. ii. p. 43.

[322] A common food with the lower classes was a glutinous scum found
in the lakes, which they made into a sort of cake, having a savor not
unlike cheese. (Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 92.)--[This
“scum” consists in fact of the eggs of aquatic insects, with which
cakes are made, in the same manner as with the spawn of fishes.
Conquista de Méjico (trad. de Vega), tom. i. p. 366.{*}]

{*} [Little can be inferred, in regard to the difference of population,
from the use of the _ahuähutle_, as these cakes are called, since it
is still a favorite article of food at Tezcuco, where the eggs are
found in great abundance, and sold in the market both in the prepared
state and in lumps as collected at the edge of the lake. “The flies
which produce these eggs are called by the Mexicans _axayacatl_,
or _water-face_,--_Corixa femorata_, and _Notonecta unifasciata_,
according to MM. Meneville and Virlet d’Aoust.” Tylor, Anahuac, p.

[323] One is confirmed in this inference by comparing the two maps at
the end of the first edition of Bullock’s “Mexico;” one of the modern
city, the other of the ancient, taken from Boturini’s museum, and
showing its regular arrangement of streets and canals; as regular,
indeed, as the squares on a chess-board.{**}

{**} [The doubts so often excited by the descriptions of ancient
Mexico in the accounts of the Spanish discoverers, like the similar
incredulity formerly entertained in regard to the narrations of
Herodotus, are dispelled by a critical investigation in conjunction
with the results of modern explorations. Among recent travellers, Mr.
Edward B. Tylor, whose learning and acumen have been displayed in
various ethnological studies, is entitled to especial confidence. In
company with Mr. Christy, the well-known collector, he examined the
ploughed fields in the neighborhood of Mexico, making repeated trials
whether it was possible to stand in any spot where no relic of the
former population was within reach. “But this,” he says, “we could not
do. Everywhere the ground was full of unglazed pottery and obsidian.”
“We noticed by the sides of the road, and where ditches had been cut,
numbers of old Mexican stone floors covered with stucco. The earth
has accumulated above them to the depth of two or three feet, so that
their position is like that of the Roman pavements so often found in
Europe; and we may guess, from what we saw exposed, how great must be
the number of such remains still hidden, and how vast a population must
once have inhabited this plain, now almost deserted.” “When we left
England,” he adds, “we both doubted the accounts of the historians
of the Conquest, believing that they had exaggerated the numbers of
the population, and the size of the cities, from a natural desire to
make the most of their victories, and to write as wonderful a history
as they could, as historians are prone to do. But our examination of
Mexican remains soon induced us to withdraw this accusation, and even
made us inclined to blame the chroniclers for having had no eyes for
the wonderful things that surrounded them. I do not mean by this that
we felt inclined to swallow the monstrous exaggeration of Solís and
Gomara and other Spanish chroniclers, who seemed to think that it
was as easy to say a thousand as a hundred, and that it sounded much
better. But when this class of writers are set aside, and the more
valuable authorities severely criticised, it does not seem to us that
the history thus extracted from these sources is much less reliable
than European history of the same period. There is, perhaps, no better
way of expressing this opinion than to say that what we saw of Mexico
tended generally to confirm Prescott’s History of the Conquest, and but
seldom to make his statements appear to us improbable.” Anahuac, p.

[324] Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, tom. i. p. 274.

[325] “Era tan barrido y el suelo tan asentado y liso, que aunque la
planta del pie fuera tan delicada como la de la mano no recibiera
el pie detrimento ninguno en andar descalzo.” Toribio, Hist. de los
Indios, MS., Parte 3, cap. 7.

[326] Rel. Seg. de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, p. 108.--Carta del Lic.
Zuazo, MS.--Rel. d’un gentil’ huomo, ap. Ramusio, tom. iii. fol. 309.

[327] These immense masses, according to Martyr, who gathered his
information from eye-witnesses, were transported by means of long files
of men, who dragged them with ropes over huge wooden rollers. (De
Orbe Novo, dec. 5, cap. 10.) It was the manner in which the Egyptians
removed their enormous blocks of granite, as appears from numerous
reliefs sculptured on their buildings.

[328] Rel. d’un gentil’ huomo, ap. Ramusio, tom. iii. fol. 309.

[329] “Ricos edificios,” says the Licentiate Zuazo, speaking of the
buildings in Anahuac generally, “ecepto que no se halla alguno con
_bóveda_.” (Carta, MS.) The writer made large and careful observation,
the year after the Conquest. His assertion, if it be received, will
settle a question much mooted among antiquaries.

[330] “His residence within the city was so marvellous for its beauty
and vastness that it seems to me almost impossible to describe it. I
shall therefore say no more of it than that there is nothing like it in
Spain.” Rel. Seg., ap. Lorenzana, p. 111.

[331] Herrera’s account of these feathered insects, if one may so style
them, shows the fanciful errors into which even men of science were led
in regard to the new tribes of animals discovered in America: “There
are some birds in the country of the size of butterflies, with long
beaks, brilliant plumage, much esteemed for the curious works made of
them. Like the bees, they live on flowers, and the dew which settles on
them; and when the rainy season is over, and the dry weather sets in,
they fasten themselves to the trees by their beaks and soon die. But in
the following year, when the new rains come, they come to life again”!
Hist. general, dec. 2, lib. 10, cap. 21.

[332] “Pues mas tenian,” says the honest Captain Diaz, “en aquella
maldita casa muchas Víboras, y Culebras emponçoñadas, que traen en las
colas vnos que suenan como cascabeles; estas son las peores Víboras de
todas.” Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 91.

[333] “Digamos aora,” exclaims Captain Diaz, “las cosas infernales que
hazian, quando bramauan los Tigres y Leones, y aullauan los Adiues y
Zorros, y silbauan las Sierpes, era grima oirlo, y parecia infierno.”
Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 91.

[334] Ibid., ubi supra.--Rel. Seg. de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, pp.
111-113.--Carta del Lic. Zuazo, MS.--Toribio, Hist. de los Indios, MS.,
Parte 3, cap. 7.--Oviedo, Hist. de las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 11, 46.

[335] Montezuma, according to Gomara, would allow no fruit-trees,
considering them as unsuitable to pleasure-grounds. (Crónica, cap.
75.) Toribio says, to the same effect, “Los Indios Señores no procuran
árboles de fruta, porque se la traen sus vasallos, sino árboles de
floresta, de donde cojan rosas, y adonde se crian aves, así para gozar
del canto, como para las tirar con Cerbatana, de la cual son grandes
tiradores.” Hist. de los Indios, MS., Parte 3, cap. 6.

[336] Toribio, Hist. de los Indios, MS., Parte 3, cap. 6.--Rel. Seg. de
Cortés, ubi supra.--Oviedo, Hist. de las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 11.

[337] [It is used at the present day for a military school. Conquista
de Méjico (trad. de Vega), tom. i. p. 370.]

[338] Gomara, a competent critic, who saw them just before their
destruction, praises their execution. Gama, Descripcion, Parte 2, pp.
81-83.--Also, _ante_, vol. i. p. 157.

[339] [Yet the whole of this beautiful grove was not spared. The axes
of the Conquerors levelled such of the trees as grew round the fountain
of Chapoltepec and dropped their decayed leaves into its waters. The
order of the municipality, dated February 28, 1527, is quoted by
Alaman, Disertaciones históricas, tom. ii. p. 290.]

[340] No less than one thousand, if we believe Gomara; who adds the
edifying intelligence, “que huvo vez, que tuvo ciento i cincuenta
preñadas á un tiempo!”

[341] “Vestíase todos los dias quatro maneras de vestiduras todas
nuevas, y nunca mas se las vestia otra vez.” Rel. Seg. de Cortés, ap.
Lorenzana, p. 114.

[342] Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 91.--Gomara, Crónica,
cap. 67, 71, 76.--Rel. Seg. de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, pp. 113,
114.--Toribio, Hist. de los Indios, MS., Parte 3, cap. 7.--“Á la puerta
de la sala estaba vn patio mui grande en que habia cien aposentos de 25
ó 30 pies de largo cada vno sobre sí en torno de dicho patio, é allí
estaban los Señores principales aposentados como guardas del palacio
ordinarias, y estos tales aposentos se llaman galpones, los quales á
la contina ocupan mas de 600 hombres, que jamas se quitaban de allí,
é cada vno de aquellos tenian mas de 30 servidores de manera que á lo
menos nunca faltaban 3000 hombres de guerra en esta guarda cotediana
del palacio.” (Oviedo, Hist. de las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 46.) A
very curious and full account of Montezuma’s household is given by
this author, as he gathered it from the Spaniards who saw it in its
splendor. As Oviedo’s history still remains in manuscript, I have
transferred the chapter in the original Castilian to Appendix, No. 10.

[343] Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 91.--Rel. Seg. de
Cortés, ubi supra.

[344] “Y porque la Tierra es fria trahian debaxo de cada plato y
escudilla de manjar un braserico con brasa, porque no se enfriasse.”
Rel. Seg. de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, p. 113.

[345] Bernal Diaz has given us a few items of the royal _carte_. The
first cover is rather a startling one, being a fricassee or stew of
little children! “_carnes de muchachos de poca edad_.”{*} He admits,
however, that this is somewhat apocryphal. Ibid., ubi supra.

{*} [The story of Bernal Diaz is not at all improbable. Young children
were frequently sacrificed in order to obtain the auspices. As the
flesh of human victims was always eaten, it goes without saying that
“dishes of tender children” must have appeared at times upon the
tables. Bancroft (Native Races, vol. ii. p. 176, Note) explains that
Torquemada (Monarq. Ind.) “regrets that certain persons, out of the
ill-will they bore the Mexicans, have falsely imputed to Montezuma the
crime of eating human flesh, _without its being well seasoned_, but
he admits that when properly cooked and disguised, the flesh of those
sacrificed to the gods appeared at the royal board.”--M.]

[346] “_Lo que yo ví_,” says Diaz, speaking from his own observation,
“que traian sobre cincuenta jarros grandes hechos de buen cacao con su
espuma, y de lo que bebia.” Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 91.

[347] Ibid., ubi supra.--Rel. Seg. de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, pp. 113,
114.--Oviedo, Hist. de las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 11, 46.--Gomara,
Crónica, cap. 67.

[348] “Tambien le ponian en la mesa tres cañutos muy pintados, y
dorados, y dentro traian liquidámbar, rebuelto con vnas yervas _que se
dize tabaco_.” Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 91.

[349] The feats of jugglers and tumblers were a favorite diversion with
the Grand Khan of China, as Sir John Maundeville informs us. (Voiage
and Travaille, chap. 22.) The Aztec mountebanks had such repute, that
Cortés sent two of them to Rome to amuse his Holiness Clement VII.
Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, tom. ii. p. 186.

[350] “Ninguno de los Soldanes, ni otro ningun señor infiel, de los que
hasta agora se tiene noticia, no creo, que tantas, ni tales ceremonias
en servicio tengan.” Rel. Seg. de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, p. 115.

[351] Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 91.--Carta del Lic.
Zuazo, MS.--Oviedo, Hist. de las Ind., MS., ubi supra.--Toribio,
Hist. de los Indios, MS., Parte 3, cap. 7.--Rel. Seg. de Cortés, ap.
Lorenzana, pp. 110-115.--Rel. d’un gentil’ huomo, ap. Ramusio, tom.
iii. fol. 306.

[352] If the historian will descend but a generation later for his
authorities, he may find materials for as good a chapter as any in Sir
John Maundeville or the Arabian Nights.

[353] “Referre in tanto rege piget superbam mutationem vestis, et
desideratas humi jacentium adulationes.” (Livy, Hist., lib. 9, cap.
18.) The remarks of the Roman historian in reference to Alexander,
after he was infected by the manners of Persia, fit equally well the
Aztec emperor.

[354] “La Gente de esta Ciudad es de mas manera y primor en su vestido,
y servicio, que no la otra de estas otras Provincias, y Ciudades;
porque como allí estaba siempre este Señor Muteczuma, y todos los
Señores sus Vasallos ocurrian siempre á la Ciudad, había en ella mas
manera, y policía en todas las cosas.” Rel. Seg., ap. Lorenzana, p. 109.

[355] Zuazo, speaking of the beauty and warmth of this national fabric,
says, “Ví muchas mantas de á dos haces labradas de plumas de papos de
aves tan suaves, que trayendo la mano por encima á pelo y á pospelo,
no era mas que vna manta zebellina mui bien adobada: hice pesar vna
dellas; no pesó mas de seis onzas. Dicen que en el tiempo del Ynbierno
una abasta para encima de la camisa sin otro cobertor ni mas ropa
encima de la cama.” Carta, MS.

[356] “Sono lunghe & large, lauorate di bellisimi, & molto gentili
lauori sparsi per esse, cō le loro frangie, ò orletti ben lauorati che
compariscono benissimo.” Rel. d’un gentil’ huomo, ap. Ramusio, tom.
iii. fol. 305.

[357] Ibid., fol. 305.

[358] Ibid., fol. 309.

[359] “Quivi concorrevano i Pentolai ed i Giojellieri di Cholulla,
gli Orefici d’ Azcapozalco, i Pittori di Tezcuco, gli Scarpellini di
Tenajocan, i Cacciatori di Xilotepec, i Pescatori di Cuitlahuac, i
fruttajuoli de’ paesi caldi, gli artefici di stuoje, e di scranne di
Quauhtitlan ed i coltivatori de’ fiori di Xochimilco.” Clavigero, Stor.
del Messico, tom. ii. p. 165.

[360] “Oro y plata, piedras de valor, con otros plumajes é argenterías
maravillosas, y con tanto primor fabricadas que excede todo ingenio
humano para comprenderlas y alcanzarlas.” (Carta del Lic. Zuazo, MS.)
The licentiate then enumerates several of these elegant pieces of
mechanism. Cortés is not less emphatic in his admiration: “Contrahechas
de oro, y plata, y piedras y plumas, tan al natural lo de Oro, y
Plata, que no ha Platero en el Mundo que mejor lo hiciesse, y lo de
las Piedras, que no baste juicio comprehender con que Instrumentos
se hiciesse tan perfecto, y lo de Pluma, que ni de Cera, ni en
ningun broslado se podria hacer tan maravillosamente.” (Rel. Seg.,
ap. Lorenzana, p. 110.) Peter Martyr, a less prejudiced critic than
Cortés, who saw and examined many of these golden trinkets afterwards
in Castile, bears the same testimony to the exquisite character of the
workmanship, which, he says, far surpassed the value of the material.
De Orbe Novo, dec. 5, cap. 10.

[361] Herrera makes the unauthorized assertion, repeated by Solís, that
the Mexicans were unacquainted with the value of the cochineal till
it was taught them by the Spaniards. (Herrera, Hist. general, dec. 4,
lib. 8, cap. 11.) The natives, on the contrary, took infinite pains
to rear the insect on plantations of the cactus, and it formed one
of the staple tributes to the crown from certain districts. See the
tribute-rolls, ap. Lorenzana, Nos. 23, 24.--Hernandez, Hist. Plantarum,
lib. 6, cap. 116.--Also, Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, tom. i. p. 114,

[362] _Ante_, vol. i. p. 155.

[363] Zuazo, who seems to have been nice in these matters, concludes
a paragraph of dainties with the following tribute to the Aztec
_cuisine_: “Vendense huebos asados, crudos, en tortilla, é diversidad
de guisados que se suelen guisar, con otras cazuelas y pasteles, que en
el mal cocinado de Medina, ni en otros lugares de Tlamencos dicen que
hai ni se pueden hallar tales trujamanes.” Carta, MS.

[364] Ample details--many more than I have thought it necessary to
give--of the Aztec market of Tlatelolco may be found in the writings
of all the old Spaniards who visited the capital. Among others, see
Rel. Seg. de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, pp. 103-105.--Toribio, Hist. de los
Indios, MS., Parte 3, cap. 7.--Carta del Lic. Zuazo, MS.--Rel. d’un
gentil’ huomo, ap. Ramusio, tom. iii. fol. 309.--Bernal Diaz, Hist. de
la Conquista, cap. 92.

[365] Zuazo raises it to 80,000! (Carta, MS.) Cortés to 60,000. (Rel.
Seg., ubi supra.) The most modest computation is that of the “Anonymous
Conqueror,” who says from 40,000 to 50,000. “Et il giorno del mercato,
che si fa di cinque in cinque giorni, vi, sono da quaranta ò cinquanta
mila persone” (Rel. d’un gentil’ huomo, ap. Ramusio, tom. iii. fol.
309); a confirmation, by the by, of the supposition that the estimated
population of the capital, found in the Italian version of this author,
is a misprint. (See the preceding chapter, note 13.) He would hardly
have crowded an amount equal to the whole of it into the market.{*}

{*} [And yet, even now, the number of “persone,” _i.e._, shoppers or
transient visitors, in a Mexican or Peruvian plaza on a great fair
day, not infrequently equals the number of “habitatori,” or permanent
inhabitants of the city.--M.]

[366] [From the description of the coin, Ramirez infers that it was not
stamped, but cut, in the form mentioned in the text. This is confirmed
by one or two specimens of the kind still preserved in the National
Museum at Mexico. Ramirez, Notas y Esclarecimientos, p. 102.]

[367] _Ante_, vol. i. p. 161.

[368] Toribio, Hist. de los Indios, MS., Parte 3, cap. 7.--Rel. Seg.,
ap. Lorenzana, p. 104.--Oviedo, Hist. de las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap.
10.--Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, loc. cit.

[369] “There were amongst us,” says Diaz, “soldiers who had been in
many parts of the world,--in Constantinople and in Rome and through all
Italy,--and who said that a market-place so large, so well ordered and
regulated, and so filled with people, they had never seen.” Hist. de la
Conquista, loc. cit.

[370] Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, tom. ii. p. 27.

[371] _Ante_, vol. i. p. 94.--[A minute account of the site and
extent of the ground covered by the great temple is given by Alaman
(Disertaciones históricas, tom. ii. pp. 246-248). The Mexicans are
largely indebted to this eminent scholar for his elaborate researches
into the topography and antiquities of the Aztec capital.]

[372] “Et di più v’ hauea vna guarnigione di dieci mila huomini di
guerra, tutti eletti per huomini valenti, & questi accompagnauano
& guardauano la sua persona, & quando si facea qualche rumore ò
ribellione nella città ò nel paese circumuicino, andauano questi, ò
parte d’ essi per Capitani.” Rel. d’un gentil’ huomo, ap. Ramusio, tom.
iii. fol. 309.

[373] Humboldt, Essai politique, tom. ii. p. 40.--On paving the square,
not long ago, round the modern cathedral, there were found large blocks
of sculptured stone buried between thirty and forty feet deep in the
ground. Ibid., loc. cit.

[374] Clavigero calls it oblong, on the alleged authority of the
“Anonymous Conqueror.” (Stor. del Messico, tom. ii. p. 27, nota.) But
the latter says not a word of the shape, and his contemptible woodcut
is too plainly destitute of all proportion to furnish an inference of
any kind. (Comp. Rel. d’un gentil’ huomo, ap. Ramusio, tom. iii. fol.
307.) Torquemada and Gomara both say it was square (Monarch. Ind., lib.
8, cap. 11;--Crónica, cap. 80); and Toribio de Benavente, speaking
generally of the Mexican temples, says they had that form. Hist. de los
Ind., MS., Parte 1, cap. 12.

[375] See the essay on the Origin of the Mexican Civilization. _Ante._

[376] Clavigero, calling it oblong, adopts Torquemada’s estimate--not
Sahagun’s, as he pretends, which he never saw, and who gives no
measurement of the building--for the length, and Gomara’s estimate,
which is somewhat less, for the breadth. (Stor. del Messico, tom. ii.
p. 28, nota.) As both his authorities make the building square, this
spirit of accommodation is whimsical enough. Toribio, who did measure
a _teocalli_ of the usual construction in the town of Tenayuca, found
it to be forty _brazas_, or two hundred and forty feet, square. (Hist.
de los Ind., MS., Parte 1, cap. 12.) The great temple of Mexico was
undoubtedly larger, and, in the want of better authorities, one may
accept Torquemada, who makes it a little more than three hundred and
sixty Toledan, equal to three hundred and eight French feet square.
(Monarch. Ind., lib. 8, cap. 11.) How can M. de Humboldt speak of the
“great concurrence of testimony” in regard to the dimensions of the
temple? (Essai politique, tom. ii. p. 41.) No two authorities agree.

[377] Bernal Diaz says he counted one hundred and fourteen steps.
(Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 92.) Toribio says that more than one
person who had numbered them told him they exceeded a hundred. (Hist.
de los Indios, MS., Parte 1, cap. 12.) The steps could hardly have
been less than eight or ten inches high, each; Clavigero assumes that
they were a foot, and that the building, therefore, was a hundred and
fourteen feet high, precisely. (Stor. del Messico, tom. ii. pp. 28,
29.) It is seldom safe to use anything stronger than _probably_ in

[378] “Tornámos á ver la gran plaça, y la multitud de gente que en
ella auia, vnos comprado, y otros vendiendo, que solamente el rumor, y
zumbido de las vozes, y palabras que allí auia, sonaua mas que de vna
legua!” Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 92.

[379] “Y por honrar mas sus templos sacaban los caminos muy derechos
por cordel de una y de dos leguas que era cosa harto de ver, desde lo
Alto del principal templo, como venian de todos los pueblos menores y
barrios; salian los caminos muy derechos y iban á dar al patio de los
teocallis.” Toribio, Hist. de los Indios, MS., Parte 1, cap. 12.

[380] “No se contentaba el Demonio con los [Teucales] ya dichos, sino
que en cada pueblo, en cada barrio, y á cuarto de legua, tenian otros
patios pequeños adonde habia tres ó cuatro teocallis, y en algunos mas,
en otras partes solo uno, y en cada Mogote ó Cerrejon uno ó dos, y por
los caminos y entre los Maizales, habia otros muchos pequeños, y todos
estaban blancos y encalados, que parecian y abultaban mucho, que en la
tierra bien poblada parecia que todo estaba lleno de casas, en especial
de los patios del Demonio, que eran muy de ver.” Toribio, Hist. de los
Indios, MS., ubi supra.

[381] Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, ubi supra.

[382] _Ante_, vol. i. p. 70.

[383] “Y tenia en las paredes tantas costras de sangre, y el suelo todo
bañado dello, que en los mataderos de Castilla no auia tanto hedor.”
Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, ubi supra.--Rel. Seg. de Cortés,
ap. Lorenzana, pp. 105, 106.--Carta del Lic. Zuazo, MS.--See, also, for
notices of these deities, Sahagun, lib. 3, cap. 1, et seq.--Torquemada,
Monarch. Ind., lib. 6, cap. 20, 21.--Acosta, lib. 5, cap. 9.

[384] Bernal Diaz, Ibid., ubi supra.--Whoever examines Cortés’ great
letter to Charles V. will be surprised to find it stated that, instead
of any acknowledgment to Montezuma, he threw down his idols and erected
the Christian emblems in their stead. (Rel. Seg., ap. Lorenzana, p.
106.) This was an event of much later date. The _Conquistador_ wrote
his despatches too rapidly and concisely to give heed always to exact
time and circumstance. We are quite as likely to find them attended to
in the long-winded, gossiping,--inestimable chronicle of Diaz.

[385] “Quarenta torres muy altas y bien obradas.” Rel. Seg. de Cortés,
ap. Lorenzana, p. 105.

[386] “Delante de todos estos altares habia braçeros que toda la noche
hardian, y en las salas tambien tenian sus fuegos.” Toribio, Hist. de
los Indios, MS., Parte 1, cap. 12.

[387] Bernal Diaz, Ibid., ubi supra.--Toribio, also, notices this
temple with the same complimentary epithet. “La boca hecha como de
infierno y en ella pintada la boca de una temerosa Sierpe con terribles
colmillos y dientes, y en algunas de estas los colmillos eran de
bulto, que verlo y entrar dentro ponia gran temor y grima, en especial
el infierno que estaba en México, que parecia traslado del verdadero
infierno.” Hist. de los Indios, MS., Parte 1, cap. 4.

[388] Bernal Diaz, ubi supra.--“Andres de Tapia, _que me lo dijo_, i
Gonçalo de Umbria, las contáron vn Dia, i halláron ciento i treinta
i seis mil Calaberas, en las Vigas, i Gradas.” Gomara, Crónica, cap.

{*} [Gomara is so often accused of exaggeration and falsehood that
it is satisfactory to find his exactness, in the present instance,
established by the evidence of Tápia himself, who thus describes the
manner in which the estimate was made: “E quien esto escribe, y un
Gonzalo de Umbréa, contaron los palos que habie, é multiplicando á
cinco cabezas cada palo de los que entre viga y viga estaban, ...
hallamos haber ciento treinta y seis mill cabezas, _sin las de las
torres_.” (Icazbalceta, Col. de Doc. para la Hist. de México, tom.
iii.) The original of this “Relacion,” recently discovered, is in
the library of the Academy of History at Madrid. It is an unfinished
narrative, valuable as the production of one of the chief companions of
Cortés, and for the confirmation it affords of other contemporaneous
accounts of the Conquest.--K.]

[389] “Three collections, thus fancifully disposed, of these grinning
horrors--in all 230,000--are noticed by Gibbon!” (Decline and Fall, ed.
Milman, vol. i. p. 52; vol. xii. p. 45.) A _European_ scholar commends
“the conqueror’s piety, his moderation, and his justice”! Rowe’s
Dedication of “Tamerlane.”

[390] _Ante_, vol. i. pp. 83, 84.--The desire of presenting the reader
with a complete view of the actual state of the capital at the time of
its occupation by the Spaniards has led me in this and the preceding
chapter into a few repetitions of remarks on the Aztec institutions in
the Introductory Book of this History.

[391] Toribio, Hist. de los Indios, MS., Parte 1, cap. 12.--Gomara,
Crónica, cap. 80.--Rel. d’un gentil’ huomo, ap. Ramusio, tom. iii. fol.

[392] “Es tan grande que dentro del circuito de ella, que es todo
cercado de Muro muy alto, se podia muy bien facer una Villa de
quinientos Vecinos.” Rel. Seg., ap. Lorenzana, p. 105.

[393] “Todas estas mugeres,” says Father Toribio, “estaban aquí
sirviendo al demonio por sus propios intereses; las unas porque el
Demonio las hiciese modestas,” etc. Hist. de los Indios, MS., Parte 1,
cap. 9.

[394] See essay on the Origin of the Mexican Civilization. _Ante._

[395] “Y luego lo supímos entre todos los demas Capitanes, y soldados,
y lo entrámos á ver muy secretamente, y como yo lo ví, digo que me
admiré, é como en aquel tiempo era mancebo, y no auia visto en mi vida
riquezas como aquellas, tuue por cierto, que en el mundo no deuiera
auer otras tantas!” Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 93.

[396] Ibid., loc. cit.

[397] “We Spaniards,” says Cortés, frankly, “are apt to be somewhat
unmanageable and troublesome.” Rel. Seg., ap. Lorenzana, p. 84.

[398] Gomara, Crónica, cap. 83.--There is reason to doubt the truth
of these stories. “Segun una carta original que tengo en mi poder
firmada de las tres cabezas de la Nueva-España en donde escriben á
la Magestad del Emperador Nuestro Señor (que Dios tenga en su Santo
Reyno) disculpan en ella á Motecuhzoma y á los Mexicanos de esto, y de
lo demas que se les argulló, que lo cierto era que fué invencion de
los Tlascaltecas, y de algunos de los Españoles que veian la hora de
salirse de miedo de la Ciudad, y poner en cobro innumerables riquezas
que habian venido á sus manos.” Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap.

[399] Rel. Seg. de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, p. 84.--Ixtlilxochitl,
Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 85.--P. Martyr, De Orbe Novo, dec. 5, cap.
3.--Oviedo, Hist. de las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 6.--Bernal Diaz gives
a very different report of this matter. According to him, a number
of officers and soldiers, of whom he was one, suggested the capture
of Montezuma to the general, who came into the plan with hesitation.
(Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 93.) This is contrary to the character of
Cortés, who was a man to lead, and not to be led, on such occasions.
It is contrary to the general report of historians, though these, it
must be confessed, are mainly built on the general’s narrative. It is
contrary to anterior probability; since, if the conception seems almost
too desperate to have seriously entered into the head of any one man,
how much more improbable is it that it should have originated with a
number! Lastly, it is contrary to the positive written statement of
Cortés to the emperor, publicly known and circulated, confirmed in
print by his chaplain, Gomara, and all this when the thing was fresh
and when the parties interested were alive to contradict it. We cannot
but think that the captain here, as in the case of the burning of the
ships, assumes rather more for himself and his comrades than the facts
will strictly warrant; an oversight for which the lapse of half a
century--to say nothing of his avowed anxiety to show up the claims of
the latter--may furnish some apology.

[400] Even Gomara has the candor to style it a “pretext,”--_achaque_.
Crónica, cap. 83.

[401] Bernal Diaz states the affair, also, differently. According to
him, the Aztec governor was enforcing the payment of the customary
tribute from the Totonacs, when Escalante, interfering to protect his
allies, now subjects of Spain, was slain in an action with the enemy.
(Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 93.) Cortés had the best means of knowing
the facts, and wrote at the time. He does not usually shrink from
avowing his policy, however severe, towards the natives; and I have
thought it fair to give him the benefit of his own version of the story.

[402] Oviedo, Hist. de las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 5.--Rel. Seg. de
Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, pp. 83, 84. The apparition of the Virgin was
seen only by the Aztecs, who, it is true, had to make out the best case
for their defeat they could to Montezuma; a suspicious circumstance,
which, however, did not stagger the Spaniards. “Assuredly all of us
soldiers who accompanied Cortés held the belief that the divine mercy
and Our Lady the Virgin Mary were always with us, and this was the
truth.” Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 94.

[403] “Paseóse vn gran rato solo, i cuidadoso de aquel gran hecho, que
emprendia, i que aun á él mesmo le parecia temerario, pero necesario
para su intento, andando.” Gomara, Crónica, cap. 83.

[404] Diaz says, “All that night we spent in prayer, beseeching the
Father of Mercies that he would so direct the matter that it should
contribute to his holy service.” Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 95.

[405] According to Ixtlilxochitl, it was his own portrait. “Se quitó
del brazo una rica piedra, donde está esculpido su rostro (que era lo
mismo que un sello Real).” Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 85.

[406] Rel. Seg. de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, p. 86.

[407] “Quando Io lo consintiera, los mios no pasarian por ello.”
Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 85.

[408] “¿Que haze v. m. ya con tantas palabras? O le lleuemos preso, ó
le darémos de estocadas, por esso tornadle á dezir, que si da vozes,
ó haze alboroto, que le mataréis, porque mas vale que desta vez
asseguremos nuestras vidas, ó las perdamos.” Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la
Conquista, cap. 95.

[409] Oviedo has some doubts whether Montezuma’s conduct is to be
viewed as pusillanimous or as prudent. “Al coronista le parece, segun
lo que se puede colegir de esta materia, que Montezuma era, ó mui falto
de ánimo, ó pusilánimo, ó mui prudente, aunque en muchas cosas, los que
le viéron lo loan de mui señor y mui liberal; y en sus razonamientos
mostraba ser de buen juicio.” He strikes the balance, however, in favor
of pusillanimity. “Un Príncipe tan grande como Montezuma no se habia de
dexar incurrir en tales términos, ni consentir ser detenido de tan poco
número de Españoles, ni de otra generacion alguna; mas como Dios tiene
ordenado lo que ha de ser, ninguno puede huir de su juicio.” Hist. de
las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 6.

[410] The story of the seizure of Montezuma may be found, with the
usual discrepancies in the details, in Rel. Seg. de Cortés, ap.
Lorenzana, pp. 84-86,--Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap.
95,--Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 85,--Oviedo, Hist. de las
Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 6,--Gomara, Crónica, cap. 83,--Herrera, Hist.
general, dec. 2, lib. 8, cap. 2, 3,--Martyr, De Orbe Novo, dec. 5, cap.

[411] “Siempre que ante él passauamos, y aunque fuesse Cortés, le
quitauamos los bonetes de armas ó cascos, que siempre estauamos
armados, y él nos hazia gran mesura, y honra á todos.... Digo que no se
sentauan Cortés, ni ningun Capitan, hasta que el Monteçuma les mandaua
dar sus assentaderos ricos, y les mandaua assentar.” Bernal Diaz, Hist.
de la Conquista, cap. 95, 100.

[412] Herrera, Hist. general, dec. 2, lib. 8, cap. 3.

[413] On one occasion, three soldiers, who left their posts without
orders, were sentenced to run the gauntlet,--a punishment little short
of death. Ibid., ubi supra.

[414] Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 97.

[415] [The patriotic sensibilities of Señor Ramirez are somewhat
disturbed by my application of the term _barbarians_ to his Aztec
countrymen.{*} This word, with the corresponding epithet of _savages_,
forms the key, he seems to think, to my description of the ancient
Mexicans. “Regarded from this point of view,” he says, “the astounding
examples of heroism and self-devotion so rarely met with in the history
of the world are interpreted not as a voluntary sacrifice inspired
by the holy love of country and of freedom, but as the effect of a
brutish hatred and stupid ferocity.” There may be some foundation for
these strictures, though somewhat too highly colored. And one cannot
deny that, as he reflects on the progress made by the Aztecs in the
knowledge of the useful arts, and, indeed, to a certain extent, of
science, he must admit their claim to a higher place in the scale of
civilization than that occupied by barbarians,--to one, in truth,
occupied by the semi-civilized races of China and Hindostan. But there
is another side of the picture, not presented by the Eastern nations,
in those loathsome abominations which degraded the Aztec character to
a level with the lowest stages of humanity, and makes even the term
_barbarian_ inadequate to express the ferocity of his nature.]

{*} [This sensibility is the more natural that Señor Ramirez claims
descent not from the conquering but from the conquered race,--a fact
which may also account for his rigorous judgments on the acts and
character of Cortés.--K.]

[416] “Y despues que confesáron haber muerto los Españoles, les hice
interrogar si ellos eran Vasallos de Muteczuma? Y el dicho Qualpopoca
respondió, que si habia otro Señor, de quien pudiesse serlo? casi
diciendo, que no habia otro, y que si eran.” Rel. Seg. de Cortés, ap.
Lorenzana, p. 87.

[417] “E assimismo les pregunte, si lo que allí se habia hecho si habia
sido por su mandado? y dijéron que no, aunque despues, al tiempo que en
ellos se executó la sentencia, que fuessen quemados, todos á una voz
dijéron, que era verdad que el dicho Muteczuma se lo habia embiado á
mandar, y que por su mandado lo habian hecho.” Rel. Seg. de Cortés, ap.
Lorenzana, loc. cit.

[418] Gomara, Crónica, cap. 89.--Oviedo, Hist. de las Ind., MS., lib.
33, cap. 6.--Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 95.--One may
doubt whether pity or contempt predominates in Martyr’s notice of
this event. “Infelix tunc Muteczuma re adeo noua perculsus, formidine
repletur, decidit animo, neque iam erigere caput audet, aut suorum
auxilia implorare. Ille vero pœnam se meruisse fassus est, vti agnus
mitis. Æquo animo pati videtur has regulas grammaticalibus duriores,
imberbibus pueris dictatas, omnia placide fert, ne seditio ciuium et
procerum oriatur.” De Orbe Novo, dec. 5, cap. 3.

[419] Rel. Seg. de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, p. 18.

[420] Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, ubi supra.

[421] Archbishop Lorenzana, as late as the close of the last century,
finds good Scripture warrant for the proceeding of the Spaniards.
“Fué grande prudencia, y Arte militar haber asegurado á el Emperador,
porque sino quedaban expuestos Hernan Cortés, y sus soldados á perecer
á traycion, y teniendo seguro á el Emperador se aseguraba á sí mismo,
pues los Españoles no se confian ligeramente: Jonathas fué muerto, y
sorprendido por haberse confiado de Triphon.” Rel. Seg. de Cortés, p.
84, nota.

[422] See Puffendorf, De Jure Naturæ et Gentium, lib. 8, cap. 6, sec.
10.--Vattel, Law of Nations, book 3, chap. 8, sec. 141.

[423] “Osar quemar sus Capitanes delante de sus Palacios, y echalle
grillos entre tanto que se hazia la Justicia, que muchas vezes aora que
soy viejo me paro á considerar las cosas heroicas que en aquel tiempo
passámos, que me parece las veo presentes: Y digo que nuestros hechos,
que no los haziamos nosotros, sino que venian todos encaminados por
Dios.... Porque ay mucho que ponderar en ello.” Hist. de la Conquista,
cap. 95.

[424] Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 96.

[425] Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 97.

[426] Gomara, Crónica, cap. 84.--Herrera, Hist. general, dec. 2, lib.
8, cap. 4.

[427] Herrera, Hist. general, dec. 2, lib. 8, cap. 5.

[428] “En esto era tan bien mirado, que todos le queriamos con gran
amor, porque verdaderamente era gran señor en todas las cosas que le
viamos hazer.” Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 100.

[429] “Y él bien conocia á todos, y sabia nuestros nombres, y aun
calidades, y era tan bueno que á todos nos daua joyas, á otros mantas é
Indias hermosas.” Ibid., cap. 97.

[430] Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 98.

[431] According to Solís, the Devil closed his heart against these good
men; though, in the historian’s opinion, there is no evidence that this
evil counsellor actually appeared and conversed with Montezuma after
the Spaniards had displayed the Cross in Mexico. Conquista, lib. 3,
cap. 20.

[432] Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 99.--Rel. Seg. de
Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, p. 88.

[433] He sometimes killed his game with a tube, a sort of air-gun,
through which he blew little balls at birds and rabbits. “La Caça á
que Moteçuma iba por la Laguna, era á tirar á Pájaros, á Conejos, con
Cerbatana, de la qual era diestro.” Herrera, Hist. general, dec. 2,
lib. 8, cap. 4.

[434] _Ante_, book I. chap. 6.

[435] “E llámase esta Ciudad Tezcuco, y será de hasta treinta mil
Vecinos.” (Rel. Seg., ap. Lorenzana, p. 94.) According to the
licentiate Zuazo, double that number,--_sesenta mil Vecinos_. (Carta,
MS.) Scarcely probable, as Mexico had no more. Toribio speaks of it as
covering a league one way by six another! (Hist. de los Indios, MS.,
Parte 3, cap. 7.) This must include the environs to a considerable
extent. The language of the old chroniclers is not the most precise.

[436] A description of the capital in its glory is thus given by an
eyewitness. “Esta Ciudad era la segunda cosa principal de la tierra, y
así habia en Tezcuco muy grandes edificios de templos del Demonio, y
muy gentiles casas y aposentos de Señores, entre los cuales, fué muy
cosa de ver la casa del Señor principal, así la vieja con su huerta
cercada de mas de mil cedros muy grandes y muy hermosos, de los cuales
hoy dia están los mas en pie, aunque la casa está asolada, otra casa
tenia que se podia aposentar en ella un egército, con muchos jardines,
y un muy grande estanque, que por debajo de tierra solian entrar á él
con barcas.” (Toribio, Hist. de los Indios, MS., Parte 3, cap. 7.) The
last relics of this palace were employed in the fortifications of the
city in the revolutionary war of 1810. (Ixtlilxochitl, Venida de los
Esp., p. 78, nota.) Tezcuco is now an insignificant little place, with
a population of a few thousand inhabitants. Its architectural remains,
as still to be discerned, seem to have made a stronger impression on
Mr. Bullock than on most travellers. Six Months in Mexico, chap. 27.

[437] “Cacama reprehendió asperamente á la Nobleza Mexicana porque
consentia hacer semejantes desacatos á quatro Estrangeros y que no
les mataban; se escusaban con decirles les iban á la mano y no les
consentian tomar las Armas para libertarlo, y tomar sí una tan gran
deshonra como era la que los Estrangeros les habian hecho en prender á
su señor, y quemar á Quauhpopocatzin, los demas sus Hijos y Deudos sin
culpa, con las Armas y Municion que tenian para la defenza y guarda de
la ciudad, y de su autoridad tomar para sí los tesoros del Rey, y de
los Dioses, y otras libertades y desvergüenzas que cada dia pasaban, y
aunque todo esto vehian lo disimulaban por no enojar á Motecuhzoma que
tan amigo y casado estaba con ellos.” Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS.,
cap. 86.

[438] It is the language of Cortés. “Y este señor _se rebeló_, assí
contra el servicio de Vuestra Alteza, á quien se habia ofrecido, como
contra el dicho Muteczuma.” Rel. Seg., ap. Lorenzana, p. 95.--Voltaire,
with his quick eye for the ridiculous, notices this arrogance in his
tragedy of Alzire:

    “Tu vois de ces tyrans la fureur despotique:
     Ils pensent que pour eux le Ciel fit l’Amérique,
     Qu’ils en sont nés les Rois; et Zamore à leurs yeux,
     Tout souverain qu’il fut, n’est qu’un sêditieux.”
                    ALZIRE, act 4, sc. 3.

[439] Gomara, Crónica, cap. 91.

[440] “I que para reparar la Religion, i restituir los Dioses, guardar
el Reino, cobrar la fama, i libertad á él, i á México, iria de mui
buena gana, mas no las manos en el seno, sino en la Espada, para matar
los Españoles, que tanta mengua, i afrenta havian hecho á la Nacion de
Culhúa.” Ibid., cap. 91.

[441] “Pero que él tenia en su Tierra de el dicho Cacamazin muchas
Personas Principales, que vivian con él, y les daba su salario.” Rel.
Seg. de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, p. 95.

[442] Rel. Seg. de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, pp. 95, 96.--Oviedo, Hist.
de las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 8.--Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS.,
cap. 86.--The latter author dismisses the capture of Cacama with the
comfortable reflection “that it saved the Spaniards much embarrassment,
and greatly facilitated the introduction of the Catholic faith.”

[443] Cortés calls the name of this prince Cucuzca. (Rel. Seg., ap.
Lorenzana, p. 96.) In the orthography of Aztec words, the general was
governed by his ear, and was wrong nine times out of ten.--Bustamante,
in his catalogue of Tezcucan monarchs, omits him altogether. He
probably regards him as an intruder, who had no claim to be ranked
among the rightful sovereigns of the land. (Galería de antiguos
Príncipes (Puebla, 1821), p. 21.) Sahagun has, in like manner, struck
his name from the royal roll of Tezcuco. Hist. de Nueva-España, lib. 8,
cap. 3.

[444] The exceeding lenity of the Spanish commander, on this occasion,
excited general admiration, if we are to credit Solís, throughout the
Aztec empire! “Tuvo notable aplauso en todo el imperio este género
de castigo sin sangre, que se atribuyó al superior juicio de los
Españoles, porque no esperaban de Montezuma semejante moderacion.”
Conquista, lib. 4, cap. 2.

[445] Rel. Seg. de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, p. 91.

[446] “Damus quæ dant,” says Martyr, briefly, in reference to this
valuation. (De Orbe Novo, dec. 5, cap. 3.) Cortés notices the reports
made by his people, of large and beautiful edifices in the province of
Oaxaca. (Rel. Seg., ap. Lorenzana, p. 89.) It is here, also, that some
of the most elaborate specimens of Indian architecture are still to be
seen, in the ruins of Mitla.

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