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As the Conquest of Mexico has occupied the pens of 
Solis and of Robertson, two of the ablest historians of 
their respective nations, it might seem that little could 
remain at the present day to be gleaned by the historical 
inquirer. But Robertson's narrative is necessarily brief, 
forming only part of a more extended work ; and nei- 
ther the British, nor the Castilian author, was provided 
with the important materials for relating this event, 
which have been since assembled by the industry of 
Spanish scholars. The scholar who led the way in these 
researches was Don Juan Baptista Munoz, the celebrated 
historiographer of the Indies, who, by a royal edict, was 
allowed free access to the national archives, and to all 
libraries, public, private, and monastic in the kingdom 
and its colonies. The result of his long labours was a 
vast body of materials, of which unhappily he did not 
live to reap the benefit himself. His manuscripts were 
deposited, after his death, in the archives of the Royal 
Academy of History at Madrid ; and that collection was 
subsequently augmented by the manuscripts of Don 
Vargas Ponce, President of the Academy, obtained, like 
those of Munoz, from different quarters, but especially 
from the Archives of the Indies at Seville. 


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

Prom these three magnificent collections, the result of 
half a century's careful researches, I have obtained a 
mass of unpublished documents, relating to the Con- 
quest and Settlement of Mexico and of Peru, comprising 
altogether about eight thousand folio pages. They 
consist of instructions of the Court, military and private 
journals, correspondence of the great actors in the scenes, 
legal instruments, contemporary chronicles, and the like, 
drawn from all the principal places in the extensive 


colonial empire of Spain, as well as from the public 
archives in the Peninsula. 

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

I have also to acknowledge the very kind offices 
rendered to me by the Count Camaldoli at Naples ; by 
the Duke of Serradifalco in Sicily, a nobleman whose 
science gives additional lustre to his rank ; and by the 
Duke of Monteleone, the present representative of 
Cortes, who has courteously opened the archives of his 
family to my inspection. To these names must also be 
added that of Sir Thomas Phillips, Bart., whose precious 
collection of manuscripts probably surpasses in extent 
that of any private gentleman in Great Britain, if not 
in Europe ; that of Mons. Ternaux-Compans, the pro- 
prietor of the valuable literary collection of Don Antonio 
Uguina, including the papers of Munoz, the fruits of 
which he is giving to the world in his excellent trans- 
lations ; and, lastly, that of my friend and countryman, 
Arthur Micldleton, Esq., late Charge d'AfTaires from the 
United States at the. Court of Madrid, for the efficient 


aid he has afforded me in prosecuting my inquiries in 
that capital. 

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

Having thus stated the nature of my materials, and 
the sources whence they are derived, it remains for me 
to add a few observations on the general plan and com- 
position of the work. — Among the remarkable achieve- 
ments of the Spaniards in the sixteenth century, there is 
no one more striking to the imagination than the con- 
quest of Mexico. The subversion of a great empire by 
a handful of adventurers, taken with all its strange and 

7 o 

picturesque accompaniments, has the air of romance 
rather than of sober history ; and it is not easy to treat 
such a theme according to the severe rules prescribed by 
historical criticism. But, notwithstanding the seduc- 
tions of the subject, I have conscientiously endeavoured 
to distinguish fact from fiction, and to establish the 
narrative on as broad a basis as possible of contempo- 
rary evidence ; and I have taken occasion to corroborate 
the text by ample citations from authorities, usually in 
the original, since few of them can be very accessible to 
the reader. In these extracts I have scrupulously con- 
formed to the ancient orthography, however obsolete and 
even barbarous, rather than impair in any degree the 
integrity of the original document. 


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

The story of the Conquest terminates with the fall of 
the capital. Yet I have preferred to continue the narra- 
tive to the death of Cortes, relying on the interest which 
the development of his character in his military career 
may have excited in the reader. I am not insensible to 
the hazard I incur by such a course. The mind pre- 
viously occupied with one great idea, that of the subver- 
sion of the capital, may feel the prolongation of the story 
beyond that point superfluous, if not tedious ; and may 
find it difficult, after the excitement caused by witnessing 
a great national catastrophe, to take an interest in the 
adventures of a private individual. Solis took the more 
politic course, of concluding his narrative with the fall of 
Mexico, and thus leaves his readers with the full impres- 
sion of that memorable event undisturbed on their minds. 
To prolong the narrative is to expose the historian to the 
error so much censured by the French critics in some of 


their most celebrated dramas, where the author by a pre- 
mature denouement has impaired the interest of his piece. 
It is the defect that necessarily attaches, though in a 
greater degree, to the history of Columbus, in which 
petty adventures among a group of islands make up the 
sequel of a life that opened with the magnificent disco- 
very of a World ; a defect, in short, which it has required 
all the genius of Irving, and the magical charm of his 
style, perfectly to overcome. 

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

To the eye of the critic there may seem some incon- 
gruity in a plan which combines objects so dissimilar as 
those embraced by the present history ; where the Intro- 
duction, occupied with the antiquities and origin of 
a nation, has somewhat the character of a philosophic 
theme, while the conclusion is strictly biographical, and 
the two may be supposed to match indifferently with the 
main body, or historical portion of the work. But I may 
hope that such objections will be found to have less 
weight in practice than in theory ; and, if properly 
managed, that the general views of the Introduction will 
prepare the reader for the particulars of the Conquest, 


and that the great public events narrated in this will, 
without violence, open the way to the remaining personal 
history of the hero who is the soul of it. Whatever 
incongruity may exist in other respects, I may hope that 
the unity of interest, the only unity held of much impor- 
tance by modern critics, will be found still to be 

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

For one thing, before I conclude, I may reasonably 
ask the reader's indulgence. Owing to the state of my 


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

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


but justice to Mr. Irving by this statement, I feel the 
prejudice it does to myself in the unavailing regret I am 
exciting in the bosom of the reader. 

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

Boston, October 1. 1843. 











Extent of the Aztec Territory . 
The Hot Region ....'. 

Volcanic Scenery 

Cordillera of the Andes . . . 
Table-land in the Days of the 

Aztecs 8 

Valley of Mexico 8 

TheToltecs. ...... 9 

Their mysterious Disappearance ] 1 

Races from the North-west . 
Their Hostilities .... 
Foundation of Mexico 
Domestic Eeuds .... 
League of the kindred Tribes 
Rapid Rise of Mexico . . 
Prosperity of the Empire 
Criticism on Veytia's History 






Election of the Sovereign . . 19 

His Coronation 20 

Aztec Nobles 20 

Their barbaric Pomp .... 20 

Tenure of their Estates ... 21 

Legislative Power ..... 23 

Judicial System 24 

Independent Judges .... 25 

Their Mode of Procedure . . 26 

Showy Tribunal 27 

Hieroglyphical Paintings . . 27 

Marriage Rites 29 

Slavery in Mexico 29 

Roval Revenues 30 

Burdensome Imposts .... 31 

Public Couriers 33 

Military Enthusiasm .... 31 

Aztec Ambassadors .... 34 

Orders of Knighthood ... 35 

Gorgeous Armour 35 

National Standards .... 36 

Military Code 37 

Hospitals for the Wounded . . 37 
Influence of Conrpiest on a 

Nation 39 

Criticism on Torquemada's 

History 40 

Abbe Clavigero 41 





Revenue of the Priests 
Mexican Temples . . 
Religions Festivals . 
Human Sacrifices . . 
The Captive's Doom . 
Ceremonies of Sacrifice 
Torturing of the Victim 
Sacrifice of Infants 
Cannibal Bancpuets 
Number of Victims . 
Houses of Skulls . . 
Cannibalism of the Aztecs 
Criticism on Sahaguu's History 

Systems of Mythology 


Mythology of the Aztecs 


Ideas of a God .... 


Sanguinary War-god 


God of the Air . . 


Mystic Legends . 


Division of Time . 


Future State . . 


Puneral Ceremonies 


Baptismal Rites . 


Monastic Orders . 


Pasts and Flagellation 


Aztec Confessional 


Education of the You 







Dawning of Science .... 69 

Picture -writing * 70 

Aztec Hieroglyphics .... 71 

Manuscripts of the Mexicans . 72 

Emblematic Symbols .... 73 

Phonetic Signs 73 

Materials of the Aztec Manu- 
scripts 76 

Form of their Volumes . . . 77 

Destruction of most of them . 77 

Remaining Manuscripts ... 78 

Difficulty of deciphering them . 81 

Minstrelsy of the Aztecs . . 82 

Theatrical Entertainments . . 83 

System of Notation . 

. . 83 

Their Chronology . . 

. . 87 

. . 87 

Calendar of the Priests 

. . S9 

Science of Astrology . 

. . 91 

Astrology of the Aztecs 

. . 92 

Aztec Astronomy . . 

. . 93 

Wonderful Attainments 

n this 

. . 94 

Remarkable Festival . 

. . 95 

Carnival of the Aztecs 

. . 97 

Lord Kingsborough's W 

3 rk . 97 

. . 98 




Mechanical Genius .... 100 

Agriculture 101 

Mexican Husbandry .... 102 
Vegetable Products .... 103 

Mineral Treasures 105 

Skill of the Aztec Jewellers . 107 

Sculpture 108 

Huge Calendar-stone .... 108 

Azfcc Dyes 109 

Beautiful Feather-work . . . 110 

Fairs of Mexico Ill 

National Currency .... Ill 
Trades 112 

Aztec Merchants 112 

Militant Traders 113 

Domestic Life 114 

Kindness to Children .... 115 

Polygamy 115 

Condition of the Sex .... 116 
Social Entertainments . . . 116 

Use of Tobacco 117 

Culinary Art 118 

Agreeable Drinks 118 

Dancing 119 

Intoxication ... . . 119 

Criticism on Boturini's Work . ]21 


XV 11 




The Acollmaus or Tezcucans 
Prince Nezahualcoyotl . . 
His Persecution .... 

His hair-breadth Escapes 
His wandering Life . . . 
Fidelity of his Subjects . . 
Triumphs over his Enemies . 
Remarkable League . . . 
General Amnesty .... 

The Tezcucan Code . . . 
Departments of Government 
Council of Music .... 

Its Censorial Office . . . 
Literary Taste . ... . . 

Tezcucan Bards .... 

Resources of N ezahualcoyotl 
His magnificent Palace . . 
His Gardens and Villas . 
Address of the Priest . . 

His Baths 

Luxurious Residence . . . 


Existing Remains of it . . 
Royal Amours . ■ . . . . 
Marriage of the King . . 

Forest Laws 

Strolling Adventures . . . 
Munificence of the Monarch 

His Religion 

Temple to the Unknown God 
Philosophic Retirement . . 
His plaintive Verses . . . 
Last Hours of Nezahualcoyotl 

His Character 

Succeeded bv Nezahualpilli . 
The Lady of Tula .... 
Executes his Son . - . . . 
Effeminacy of the King . . 
His consequent Misfortunes 
Death of Nezahualpilli . . 
Tezcucan Civilization . . . 
Criticism on Txtlilxochitl's 








p. 163. 

Condition of Spain . . . 
Increase of Empire . . . 
Cardinal Ximenes .... 
Arrival of Charles the Fifth 
Swarm of Flemings . . . 
Opposition of the Cortes . 
Colonial Administration . . 
Spirit of Chivalry .... 
Progress of Discovery . . 
Advancement of Colonization 
System of Repartimientos . 

Colonial Policy 

Discovery of Cuba . . . 

VOL. I. 


Its Conquest by Velasquez . . . 
Cordova's Expedition to Yuca- 

His Reception by the Natives . 
Grijalva's Expedition . 
Civilization in Yucatan 
Traffic with the Indians 
His Return to Cuba . 
His cool Reception . 
Ambitious Schemes of the Go- 



Preparations for an Expedition 177 








Hernando Cortes 178 

His Education 179 

Choice of a Profession . . . 179 
Departure for America . . .180 
Arrival at Hispaniola .... 181 

His mode of Life 182 

Enlists under Velasquez . . .182 
Habits of Gallantry . . . .183 
Disaffected towards Velasquez 184 
Cortez in Confinement . . .184 


Elies into a Sanctuary . . .185 
Again put in Irons . . . .186 
His perilous Escape . . . .186 

His Marriage 186 

Reconciled with the Governor . 1 87 
lletires to his Plantation . . 188 
Armada intrusted to Cortes . 189 
Preparations for the Voyage . 190 
Instructions to Cortes . . .193 





Jealousy of Velasquez . . . 1 94 
Intrigues against Cortes . . .195 
His clandestine Embarkation . 196 

Arrives at Macaca 196 

Accession of Volunteers . .197 
Stores and Ammunition . . .198 
Orders from Velasquez to arrest 
Cortes 198 

Heraiscsthe Standard at Havana 199 

Person of Cortes 200 

His Character 200 

Strength of the Armament . . 202 
Stirring Address to his Troops 203 
Eleet weighs Anchor .... 204 
Remarks on Estrella's Manu- 
script . . 204 







Disastrous Voyage to Cozumel 205 
Humane Policy of Cortes . . 206 
Cross found in the Island . . 207 
Religious Zeal of the Spaniards 208 
Attempts at Conversion . . . 209 
Overthrow of the Idols . . . 209 
Jeronimo de Aguilar . . . .211 

His Adventures 211 

Employed as an Interpreter . 212 
Eleet arrives at Tabasco . . .213 

Hostile Reception 213 

Eierce Defiance of the Natives 213 
Desperate Conflict . . . .215 
Effect of the Eire-arms . . .215 

Cortes takes Tabasco . . . 
Ambush of the Indians . . 
The Country in Arms . . 
Preparations for Battle . 
March on the Enemy . . . 
Joins Battle with the Indians 
Doubtful Struggle. . . 
Terror at the War-horse . . 
Victory of the Spaniards . 

Number of slain 222 

Treaty with the Natives . .223 
Conversion of the Heathen . . 223 
Catholic Communion . . . . 224 
Spaniards embark for Mexico . 225 






Voyage along the Coast . . . 226 
Natives come on Board . . . 227 

Doiia Marina 228 

Her History 228 

Her Beauty and Character . . 229 
First Tidings of Montezuma . 230 


Spaniards land in Mexico . . 230 
First Interview with the Aztecs 232 
Their magnificent Presents . . 233 
Cupidity of the Spaniards . . 234 
Cortes displays his Cavalry . . 234 
Aztec Paintings 235 


MENT, p. 2.36. 

Embassy and Presents to the 
Spaniards ....... 244 

Life in the Spanish Camp . . 245 
Rich Present from Montezuma 240 
Large gold Wheels .... 247 

Message from Montezuma . . 248 
Effects of the Treasure on the 

Spaniards 249 

Return of the Aztec Envoys . 250 
Prohibition of Montezuma . .250 
Preaching of Father Olmcdo . 251 
Desertion of the Natives . .251 

Montezuma then npon 


Throne ..... 

. 236 

Inaugural Address . . 

. 237 

The Wars of Montezuma 

. 238 

. 238 

Oppression of his Subjects 

. 239 

Foes of his Empire . . 

. 240 

Superstition of Montezuma 

. 241 

Mysterious Prophecy . . 

. 241 

Portentous Omens . . 

. 242 

Dismay of the Emperor . 

. 242 





Discontent of the Soldiery . .253 
Envoys from the Totonacs . . 254 
Dissensions in the Aztec Empire 254 
Proceedings in the Camp . .255 
Cortes prepares to return to 

Cuba 256 

Army remonstrate 257 

Cortes yields 257 

Foundation of Villa Iiica . .258 
Resignation and Reappointment 

of Cortes 258 

. 259 
. 259 
. 261 
. 201 

Divisions in the Camp 
General Reconciliation 
March to Cempoalla . 
Picturesque Scenery . 

Remains of Victims .... 262 
Terrestrial Paradise .... 263 
Love of Flowers by the Natives 264 
Their splendid Edifices . . . 204 
Hospitable Entertainment at 

Cempoalla 265 

Conference with the Cacique . 266 
Proposals of Alliance . . . 267 
Advance of the Spaniards . . 268 
Arrival of Aztec Nobles . . . 269 
Artful Policy of Cortes . . .270 
Allegiance of the Natives . . 271 
City of Villa Rica built . . . 271 
Infatuation of the Indians . . 272 




THE FLEET SUNK, p. 273. 


Embassy from Montezuma . . 273 

Its Results. _. 274 

Severe Discipline in the Army . 275 
Gratitude of the Cempoallan Ca- 
cique 275 

Attempt at Conversion . . . 276 

Sensation among the Natives . 277 

The Idols burned ... 278 

Consecration of the Sanctuary . 278 

News from Cuba 279 

Presents for Charles the Fifth . 280 
First Letter of Cortes . . .281 

Despatches to Spain . . . . 2 SI 

Agents for the Mission . 
Departure of the Ship . 
It touches at Cuba , . 
Rage of Velasquez . . 
Ship arrives in Spain . . 
Conspiracy in the Camp . 
Destruction of the Fleet 
Oration of Cortes . . . 
Enthusiasm of the Army 
Notice of Las Casas . 
His Life and Character . 
Criticism on his Works . 


, 284 
, 284 
, 285 
, 285 
, 287 
, 288 
. 289 
. 290 
. 295 






Squadron off the Coast . . . 299 
Stratagem of Cortes .... 300 
Arrangement at Villa Rica . . 301 
Spaniards begin their March . 302 
Climb the Cordilleras . . .303 
Immense Heaps of human Skulls 307 
Accounts of Montezuma's Power 308 

Transactions with the Natives . 309 

Moderation of Father Olmedo . 310 

Indian Dwellings 311 

Cortes determines his Route . 312 

Embassy to Tlascala .... 312 
Remarkable Fortification . .314 

Arrival in Tlascala .... 315 




The Tlascalans 316 

Their Migrations 317 

Their Government . . . .317 

Public Games 318 

Order of Knighthood . . . .319 
Internal Resources .... 319 
Their Civilization 320 

Struggles with the Aztecs 
Means of Defence . . 
Sufferings of the Tlascalans 
Their hardy Character 
Debates in the Senate . 
Spaniards advance 
Desperate Onslaught . 




Retreat of the Indians . . 
Bivouac of the Spaniards 
The Army resumes its March 
Immense Host of Barbarians 
Bloody Conflict in the Pass 



Enemy give Ground . . . 
Spaniards clear the Pass . . 
Cessation of Hostilities . . 
Results of the Conflict . . 
Troops encamp for the Night 





Envoys to Tlascala .... 334 

Foraging Party 334 

Bold Defiance by the Tlascalans 335 
Preparations for Battle . . . 336 
Appearance of the Tlascalans . 337 
Showy Costume of the Warriors 337 

Their Weapons 339 

Desperate Engagement . . .340 
The Combat thickens . . .341 
Divisions among the Enemy . 343 

Decisive Victory 343 

Triumph of Science over Num- 
bers 344 

Dread of the Cavalry . . . 345 

Indian Council 345 

Night Attack 346 

Spaniards Victorious .... 347 
Embassy to Tlascala .... 347 
Peace with the Enemy . . . 348 
Patriotic Spirit of their Chief . 349 




Spaniards scour the Country . 350 
Success of the Eoray .... 351 
Discontents in the Camp . . 351 
Representations of the Malcon- 
tents 352 

Reply of Cortes 353 

Difficulties of the Enterprise . 354 
Mutilation of the Spies . . .355 

Interview with the Tlascalan 

Chief 357 

Peace with, the Republic . .358 
Embassy from Montezuma . . 359 
Declines to receive the Spa- 
niards 360 

They advance towards the City 361 




CHOLULA, p. 363. 

Spaniards enter Tlascala 
Rejoicings on their Arrival 
Description of Tlascala . 
Its Houses and Streets . 
Its Eairs and Police . . 
Divisions of the City . . 
Wild Scenery round Tlascala 
Character of the Tlascalans 
Vigilance of Cortes . . . 
Attempted Conversion . . 
Resistance of the Natives . 


b 3 

Zeal of Cortes .... 
Prudence of the Friar . 
Character of Olmedo . . 
Mass celebrated in Tlascala 
The Indian Maidens . . 
Aztec Embassy . . . 
Power of Montezuma 
Embassy from Pxtlilxochitl 
Deputies from Cholula . 
Invitation to Cholula 
Prepare to leave Tlascala 

. 369 
. 370 
. 370 
. 371 
. 372 
. 372 
. 373 
. 374 
. 374 
. 374 
. 376 







377 Army enters Cholula .... 384 

, 377 Brilliant Reception . . . .384 

, 378 Envoys from Montezuma . . 385 

, 379 Suspicions of Conspiracy . . 386 

. 380 Fidelity of Marina . . . . 387 

. 381 Alarming Situation of Cortes . 388 

. 382 Intrigues with the Priests . . 388 

. 382 Interview with the Caciques . 389 

. 3S3 Niffht- watch of the Spaniards . 390 

City of Cholula . . 
Its History .... 
Religious Traditions . 
Its ancient Pyramid . 
Temple of Quetzalcoatl 
Holy City .... 
Magnificent Scenery . 
Spaniards leave Tlascala 
Indian Volunteers 

MONTEZUMA, p. 392. 

Preparations for a secret As- 
sault 392 

Natives collect in the Square . 393 

The Signal given 393 

Terrible Massacre .... 393 

Onset of the Tlascalans . . . 394 
Defence of the Pyramid . . .395 
Division of the Spoil . . . .396 

Restoration of Order .... 396 

Reflections on the Massacre . 398 

Right of Conquest .... 398 

Missionary Spirit 399 




Policy of Cortes . . . . .401 
His perilous Situation . . . 401 
Cruelty to be charged on him . 402 
Terror of " the White Gods " . 403 
The Cross raised in Cholula . 404 
Victims liberated from the 

Cages 404 

Christian Temple reared on the 

Pyramid 404 

Embassy from Montezuma . . 405 
Departure of the Cempoallans . 406 





Spaniards leave Cholula . . . 408 
Signs of Treachery .... 409 
The Army reaches the Moun- 
tains 410 

Wild Traditions 410 

The Great Volcano . . . .410 
Spaniards ascend its Sides . . 411 
Perils of the Enterprise . .412 
Subsequent Ascent .... 413 
Descent into the Crater . . . 413 
The Troops suffer from the 

Tempest 414 

First View of the Valley . . 415 
Its Magnificence and Beauty . 415 

Impression on the Spaniards . 416 
Disaffection of the Natives to 

Montezuma 417 

Embassy from the Emperor . 418 
His gloomy Apprehensions . . 419 
Silence of the Oracles . . . 419 
Spaniards advance .... 420 
Death of the Spies .... 421 
Arrival of the Tezcucan Lord . 422 

Floating Gardens 423 

Crowds assembled on the Roads 424 
Army reaches Iztapalapan . . 425 
Its celebrated Gardens . . .425 
Striking View of Mexico . .427 




TO THE EMPEROR, p. 428. 

Preparations to enter the Capi- 

Anny enters on the great Cause- 
way . . _ 

Beautiful Environs .... 
Brilliant Procession of Chiefs . 
Splendid Betinue of Monte- 

Dress of the Emperor 

His Person 

His Beception of Cortes 
Spaniards enter the Capital 
Eeelings of the Aztecs . 
Hospitable Beception 
The Spanish Quarters 
Precaution of the General 
Yisited by the Emperor . 




His rich Presents 439 

Superstitious Terrors . . . 440 

Boyal Palace 441 

Description of its Interior . . 442 
Cortes visits Montezuma . . 442 
Attempts to convert the Mo- 
narch 443 

Entire Eailure 443 

His religious Views .... 444 
Montezuma's Eloquence . . 445 
His courteous Bearing . . . 446 
Beflections of Cortes .... 446 
Notice of Herrera .... 448 
Criticism on his History . . . 449 

Life of Toribio 450 

Peter Martyr 451 

His Works 452 






p. 457. 

Lake of Tezcuco 457 

Its Diminution 458 

Bloating Islands 459 

The ancient Dikes .... 459 
Houses of Ancient Mexico . . 460 

Its Streets 461 

Its Population 462 

Its Aqueducts and Eountains 
The Imperial Palace . . 
Adjoining Edifices . . . 
Magnificent Aviary . . . 
Extensive Menagerie . . 

the capital. - 




Collection of Dwarfs . . 
Beautiful Gardens 
Boyal Hill of Chapoltepec 
Wives of Montezuma 

His Meals 

Luxurious Dessert . . 
Custom of Smoking . . 
Ceremonies at Court . 
Economy of the Balace . 
Oriental Civilization . . 
Beserve of Montezuma . 


Symptoms of Decline of Power 477 


' — SPANISH QUARTERS, p. 478. 

Mexican Costume 479 

Great Market of Mexico . . 480 
Quarter of the Goldsmiths . . 4S0 
Booths of the Armourers . . 481 

Provisions for the Capital . .482 
Throngs in the Market . . .483 

Aztec Money 484 

The Great Temple . . . .485 



Its Structure 486 

Dimensions . . . . . . .487 

Instruments of Worship . .488 
Grand View from the Temple . 488 
Shrines of the Idols . . . .490 

Imprudence of Cortes . . .491 


Interior Sanctuaries . . . .492 

Mound of Skulls 493 

Aztec Seminaries 493 

Impression on the Spaniards . 495 
Hidden Treasures . . . 
Mass performed in Mexico . 






Montezuma's Treatment . . 506 

Vigilant Patrol 507 

Trial of the Aztec Chiefs . . 508 
Montezuma in Irons . . .. .509 
Chiefs burnt at the Stake . .509 
Emperor allowed to return . . 510 
Declines this Permission . .510 
Reflections on theseProceedmgs 511 
Views of the Conquerors . .512 

Anxiety of Cortes . . . .497 

Council of War 498 

Opinions of the Officers . . .498 
Bold Project of Cortes . . .499 
Plausible Pretext .- . . . .500 
Interview with Montezuma . .502 
Accusation of the Emperor . . 503 
His Seizure by the Spaniards . 505 
He is carried to their Quarters 506 
Tumult amonar the Aztecs . . 506 


montezuma's deportment. — his life in the Spanish quar- 


Troubles at Vera Cruz . . . 514 
Vessels built on the Lake . .515 
Montezuma's Life in the Spa- 
nish Quarters . . . . .515 

His Munificence 516 

Sensitive to Insult .... 517 
Emperor's Eavourites . . . 518 
Spaniards attempt his Conver- 
sion 519 

Brigantines on the Lake . . 519 

The Royal Chase 520 

Lord of Tezcuco 520 

Meditated Insurrection . . .522 

Policy of Cortes 523 

Tezcucan Lord in Chains . .524 
Further Measures of Cortes . 525 
Survevs the Coast .... 525 

Montezuma convenes his Nobles 527 





Progress in Conversion . . .536 
Cortes demands the Teocalli . 537 
Christian Worship in the Sanc- 

National Attachment to Reli- 

Discontents of the Aztecs . . 
Montezuma's Warning . . . 
Reply of Cortes . . . . .541 
Insecurity in the Castilian Quar- 
ters 542 

Swears Allegiance to Spain 
His Distress .... 
Its Effect on the Spaniards 
Imperial Treasures . 
Splendid Ornaments . 
The Royal Fifth . . 
Amount of the Treasure 
Division of Spoil . . 
Murmurs of the Soldiery 
Cortes calms the Storm . 











CAPITAL, p. 543. 

Cortes' Emissaries arrive in 

Spain 543 

Their Eate 544 

Proceeding at Court . . . .544 
The Bishop of Burgos . . . 545 
Emperor postpones his Decision 546 
Velasquez meditates Revenge . 547 
Sends Narvaez against Cortes . 547 
The Audience interferes . . .548 
Narvaez sails for Mexico . . 549 
He anchors off San Juan de Ulua 550 


Vaunts of Narvaez . . . .551 
Sandoval prepares for Defence . 552 
His Treatment of the Invaders 552 
Cortes hears of Narvaez . . . 553 
He bribes his Emissaries . .554 
Sends an Envoy to his Camp . 555 
The Briar's Intrigues . . . 556 
Embarrassment of Cortes . .557 
He prepares for Departure . .558 
He leaves the Capital . . .560 





The maps for this •work are the result of a laborious investigation by a 
skilful and competent hand. Humboldt's are the only maps of New Spain 
which can lay claim to the credit even of tolerable accuracy. They have 
been adopted as the basis of those for the present history ; and an occasional 
deviation from them has been founded on a careful comparison with the 
verbal accounts of Gomara, Bernal Diaz, Clavigero, and, above all, of 
Cortes, illustrated by his meagre commentator, Lorenzana. Of these, 
Cortes is generally the most full and exact in his statement of distances, 
though it is to. be regretted, that he does not more frequently afford a hint 
as to the bearings of the places. As it is desirable to present the reader 
with a complete and unembarrassed view of the route of Cortes, the names 
of all other places than those which occur in this work have been discarded, 
while a considerable number have been now introduced which are not to be 
found on any previous chart. The position of these must necessarily be, in 
some degree, hypothetical ; but, as it has been determined by a study of the 
narratives of contemporary historians, and by the measurement of distances, 
the result, probably, cannot in any instance be much out of the way. The 
ancient names have been retained, so as to present a map of the country as 
it was at the time of the Conquest. 


(Prefixed to the First Volume). 

This engraving of Cortes was taken from a full-length portrait, presented 
to me by my friend Don Angel Calderon de la Barca, during his residence as 
minister to Mexico. It is a copy, and as I am assured, a very faithful one, 
from the painting in the Hospital of Jesus. This painting is itself a copy 
from one taken, probably, a few years before the death of Cortes, on his 
last visit to Spain. What has become of the original is not known. That 
in Mexico was sent there by one of the family of Monteleone, descendants 
of the Conqueror, as appears from his arms, which the painter has 
introduced in a corner of the picture. This seems to be regarded by the 
family as the best portrait of the Conqueror, and a copy, like that in my 
possession, has been recently made for the present Duke of Monteleone in 
Italy. It- has never before been engraved. 



(Prefixed to the Second Volume). 

The original portrait was said to have been painted by an artist named Mal- 
donado, who came over to Mexico at the time of the Conquest. It belonged 
to the Counts of Miravalle, and, not many years since, came into the posses- 
sion of Mr. Smith Wilcox, consul from the United States to Mexico. Of 
the authenticity of this portrait I have received opposite opinions, and these, 
too, from the most respectable sources in Mexico ; the one representing it 
as undoubtedly genuine, the other regarding it as an ideal portrait, painted 
after the Conquest, to adorn the halls of the Counts of Miravalle, and to 
natter their pride by the image of their royal progenitor. The countenance 
must be admitted to wear a tinge of soft and not unpleasing melancholy, 
quite in harmony with the fortunes of the unhappy monarch. 


(Facing p. 465 Vol. II). 

This likeness of Cortes was originally engraved for that inquisitive scholar 
and industrious collector, Don Antonio Uguina, of Madrid, from what lie 
considered the best portrait of Cortes. The original is, I am informed, the 
same portrait which now hangs in the Museo, among the series of viceroys, 
at Mexico. It must have been taken at a much earlier period of life than 
the portrait in the Hospital of Jesus, in which both the hair and beard are 
somewhat grizzled with years. The expression of the countenance, of a 
higher and more intellectual cast than the preceding, has a quiet content 
plative air, not to have been expected in one of the stirring character of 


The stamp on the back of the work represents the arms granted by 
letters patent to Cortes by the Emperor Charles V., March 7, 1525. In 
the instrument, it is stated, that the double-headed eagle is given as the 
arms of the empire; the golden lion, in memory of the courage and 
constancy shown by Cortes in the conquest of Mexico ; the three gold 
crowns indicate the three monarehs whom he successively opposed in the 
capital of Mexico ; the city represents that capital ; and the seven heads 
held together by a chain, on the border of the shield, denote so many 
Indian princes whom he subdued in the Valley. 


Loti^.W. frrim Greenwidi 

Engraved, for Trescotts.History of ike Conquest oi'Mci 
London , Rouiledge , Warnes & BoutLedge . 




VOL. I. 





Ancient, Mexico. — Climate and Products. — Primitive Races. — Aztec 

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

But, in order that the reader may have a better under- 
standing of the subject, it will be well, before entering 
on it, to take a general survey of the political and social 



institutions of the races who occupied the land at the 
time of its discovery. 

The country of the ancient Mexicans, or Aztecs as 
they were called, formed but a very small part of the 
extensive territories comprehended in the modern re- 
public of Mexico. 1 Its boundaries cannot be defined 
with certainty. They were much enlarged in the latter 
days of the empire, when they may be considered as 
reaching from about the eighteenth degree north, to the 
twenty-first on the Atlantic ; and from the fourteenth to 
the nineteenth, including a very narrow strip, on the 
Pacific. 2 In its greatest breadth, it could not exceed 
five degrees and a half, dwindling, as it approached its 
south-eastern limits, to less than two. It covered, pro- 
bably, less than sixteen thousand square leagues. 3 Yet, 

1 Extensive indeed, if we may trust 
Archbishop Lorenzana, who tells us, 
" It is doubtful if the country of New 
Spain does not border on Tartary and 
Greenland ; — by the way of Califor- 
nia on the former, and by New Mexico 
on the latter ! " Historia de Nueva 
Espaha, (Mexico, 1770,) p. 38, nota. 

2 I have conformed to the limits 
fixed by Clavigero. He has, proba- 
bly, examined the subject with more 
thoroughness and fidelity than most 
of his countrymen, who differ from 
him, and who assign a more liberal 
extent to the monarchy. (See his 
Storia Antica del Messico, [Cesena, 
1780,] dissert, 7.) The Abbe, how- 
ever, has not informed his readers on 
what frail foundations his conclusions 
rest. The extent of the Aztec em- 
pire is to be gathered from the writ- 
ings of historians since the arrival of 
the Spaniards, and from the picture- 
rolls of tribute paid by the conquered 
cities ; both sources extremely vague 
and defective. See the MSS. of the 
Mendoza collection, in Lord Kings- 
borough's magnificent publication 
(Antiquities of Mexico, comprising 
Eac-similes of Ancient Paintings and 
Hieroglyphics, together with tbe 
Monuments of New Spain, London, 
1S30). The difficulty of the inquiry 

is much increased by the fact of the 
conquests having been made, as will 
be seen hereafter, by the united arms 
of three powers, so that it is not 
always easy to tell to which party 
they eventually belonged. The affair 
is involved in so much uncertainty, 
that Clavigero, notwithstanding the 
positive assertions m his text, has 
not ventured, in his map, to define 
the precise limits of the empire, 
either towards the north, where it 
mingles with the Tezcucan empire, 
or towards the south, where, indeed, 
he has fallen into the egregious 
blunder of asserting, that, while the 
Mexican territory reached to the 
fourteenth degree, it did not include 
any portion of Guatemala. (See torn, 
i. p. 29, and torn. iv. dissert. 7.) The 
Tezcucan chronicler, Ixtlilxochitl, 
puts in a sturdy claim for the para- 
mount empire of his own nation. 
Historia Chichemeca, MS., cap. 39, 
53, et alibi. 

3 Eighteen to twenty thousand, 
according to Humboldt, who con- 
siders the Mexican territory to have 
been the same with that occupied by 
the modern intendancies of Mexico, 
Puebla, Vera Cruz, Oxaca, and Val- 
ladolid. (Essai Politique sur le Roy- 
aume de Nouvelle Espagne, [Paris, 

chap, i.] ANCIENT MEXICO. 5 

such is the remarkable formation of this country, that, 
though not more than twice as large as New England, it 
presented every variety of climate, and was capable of 
yielding nearly every fruit found between the equator 
and the Arctic circle. 

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

After passing some twenty leagues across this burn- 
ing region, the traveller finds himself rising into a purer 
atmosphere. His limbs recover their elasticity. He 
breathes more freely, for his senses are not now op- 
pressed by the sultry heats and intoxicating perfumes of 
the valley. The aspect of nature, too, has changed, and 

1825,] torn. i. p. 196.) Tins last, choacan, as lie himself more correctly 
however, was all, or nearly all, in- states in another part of his work, 
eluded in the rival kingdom of Me- Comp. torn. ii. p. 164. 


his eye no longer revels among the gay variety of colors 
with which the landscape was painted there. The vanilla, 
the indigo, and the flowering cocoa groves disappear as 
he advances. The sugar-cane and the glossy-leaved 
banana still accompany him : and, when he has ascended 
about four thousand feet, he sees in the unchanging ver- 
dure, and the rich foliage of the liquid-amber tree, that 
he has reached the height where clouds and mists settle, 
in their passage from the Mexican Gulf. This is the 
region of perpetual humidity ; but he welcomes it with 
pleasure, as announcing his escape from the influence of 
the deadly vomiio} He has entered the tierra templada, 
or temperate region, whose character resembles that of 
the temperate zone of the globe. The features of the 
scenery become grand, and even terrible. His road 
sweeps along the base of mighty mountains, once gleam- 
ing with volcanic fires, and still resplendent in their man- 
tles of snow, which serve as beacons to the mariner, for 
many a league at sea. All around he beholds traces of their 
ancient combustion, as his road passes along vast tracts of 
lava, bristling in the innumerable fantastic forms into 
which the fiery torrent has been thrown by the obstacles 
in its career. Perhaps, at the same moment, as he casts 
his eye down some steep slope, or almost unfathomable 
ravine, on the margin of the road, he sees their depths 
glowing with the rich blooms and enamelled vegetation 
of the tropics. Such are the singular contrasts pre- 
sented, at the same time, to the senses, in this pic- 
turesque region ! 

Still pressing upwards, the traveller mounts into 

4 The traveller, who enters the than Latrobe, who came on shore at 

country across the dreary sand-hills Tampico ; (Rambler in Mexico, [New 

of Yera Cruz, will hardly recognise York, 1836,] chap, i.) a traveller, it 

the truth of the above description. may be added, whose descriptions of 

He must look for it in other parts of man and nature in our own country, 

the tierra calie?ite. Of recent tourists, where we can judge, are distinguished 

no one has given a more gorgeous by a sobriety and fairness that entitle 

picture of the impressions made on him to confidence in his delineation 

his senses by these sunny regions of other countries. 


other climates, favorable to other kinds of cultivation. 
The yellow maize, or Indian corn, as we usually call it, 
has continued to follow him up from the lowest level ; 
but he now first sees fields of wheat, and the other 
European grains, brought into the country by the con- 
querors. Mingled with them, he views the plantations 
of the aloe or maguey {cigave Americana), applied to such 
various and important uses by the Aztecs. The oaks 
now acquire a sturdier growth, and the dark forests of 
pine announce that he has entered the tierra fria, or 
cold region, — the third and last of the great natural ter- 
races into which the country is divided. When he has 
climbed to the height of between seven and eight thou- 
sand feet, the weary traveller sets his foot on the summit 
of the Cordillera of the Andes, — the colossal range that 
after traversing South America and the Isthmus of Darien, 
spreads out, as it enters Mexico, into that vast sheet of 
table land which maintains an elevation of more than six 
thousand feet, for the distance of nearly two hundred 
leagues, until it gradually declines in the higher latitudes 
of the north. 5 

Across this mountain rampart a chain of volcanic hills 
stretches, in a westerly direction, of still more stupen- 
dous dimensions, forming, indeed, some of the highest 
land on the globe. Their peaks, entering the limits of 
perpetual snow, diffuse a grateful coolness over the ele- 
vated plateaus below ; for these last, though termed 
" cold," enjoy a climate, the mean temperature of which 
is not lower than that of the central parts of Italy. 6 The 

5 This long extent of country varies tique, torn. i. p. 273.) The more 
in elevation., from 5570 to 8856 feet, elevated plateaus of the table land, 
— equal to the height of the passes as the valley of Toluea, about 8500 
of Mount Cenis, or the Great St. feet above the sea, have a stem cli- 
Eernard. The table land stretches mate, in which the thermometer, 
still three hundred leagues further, during a great part of the day, rarely 
before it declines to a level of 2624 rises beyond 45° E. Idem. (loc. cit.) 
feet. Humboldt, Essai Politique, and Malte-Brun, (Universal Geo- 
tom. i. pp. 157, 255. graphy, Eng. Trans, book 83,) who 

6 About 62° Fahrenheit, or 17° i?, indeed, in this part of his work, 
Reaumur. (Humboldt, Essai Poli- but an echo of the former writer. 


air is exceedingly dry ; the soil, though naturally good, 
is rarely clothed with the luxuriant vegetation of the 
lower regions. It frequently, indeed, has a parched and 
barren aspect, owing partly to the greater evaporation 
which takes place on these lofty plains, through the dimi- 
nished pressure of the atmosphere ; and partly, no doubt, 
to the want of trees to shelter the soil from the fierce in- 
fluence of the summer sun. In the time of the Aztecs, 
the table land was thickly covered with larch, oak, 
cypress, and other forest trees, the extraordinary dimen- 
sions of some of which remaining to the present day, 
show that the curse of barrenness in later times is 
chargeable more on man than on nature. Indeed, the 
early Spaniards made as indiscriminate war on the forest 
as did our Puritan ancestors, though with much less rea- 
son. After once conquering the country, they had no 
lurking ambush to fear from the submissive, semi-civilized 
Indian, and were not, like our forefathers, obliged to 
keep watch and ward for a century. This spoliation of 
the ground, however, is said to have been pleasing to 
their imaginations, as it reminded them of the plains of 
their own Castile, — the table land of Europe ; 7 where 
the nakedness of the landscape forms the burden of 
every traveller's lament, who visits that country. 

Midway across the continent, somewhat nearer the 
Pacific than the Atlantic ocean, at an elevation of nearly 
seven thousand five hundred feet, is the celebrated Valley 
of Mexico. It is of an oval form, about sixty-seven 
leagues in circumference, 8 and is encompassed by a tower- 

7 The elevation of the Castiles, ac- leagues, correcting at the same time 

cording to the authority repeatedly the statement of Cortes, which puts 

cited, is about 350 toises, or 2100 it at seventy, very near the truth, as 

feet above the ocean. (Humboldt's appears from the result of M. de 

Dissertation, apud Laborde, Itine- Humboldt's measurement, cited in 

rah-e Descriptif de l'Espagne, [Paris, the text. Its length is about eighteen 

1S27,] torn. i. p. 5.) It is rare to leagues, by twelve and a half in 

find plains in Europe of so great a breadth. (Humboldt, Essai Poli- 

height. tique, torn. ii. p. 29. — Lorenzana, 

s Archbishop Lorenzana estimates Hist, de Nueva Espaha, p. 101.) 

the circuit of the Valley at ninety Humboldt's map of the Valley of 



ing rampart of porphyritic rock, which nature seems to 
have provided, though ineffectually, to protect it from 

The soil, once carpeted with a beautiful verdure and 
thickly sprinkled with stately trees, is often bare, and, in 
many places, white with the incrustation of salts, caused 
by the draining of the waters. Five lakes are spread over 
the Valley, occupying one tenth of its surface. 9 On the 
opposite borders of the largest of these basins, much 
shrunk in its dimensions 10 since the days of the Aztecs, 
stood the cities of Mexico and Tezcuco, the capitals of the 
two most potent and flourishing states of Anahuac, whose 
history, with that of the mysterious races that preceded 
them in the country, exhibits some of the nearest ap- 
proaches to civilization to be met with anciently on the 
North American continent. 

Of these races the most conspicuous were the Toltecs. 
Advancing from a northerly direction, but from what 
region is uncertain, they entered the territory of Anahuac, 11 

Mexico forms the third in his "Atlas narchia Indiana, [Madrid, ]723,J 

Geographique et Physique," and, like torn. i. p. 309.) Quite as probable, 

all the others in the collection, will if not as orthodox an explanation, 

be found of inestimable value to the may be found in the active evapora- 

traveller, the geologist, and the his- tion of these upper regions, and in 

torian. the fact of an immense drain having 

9 Humboldt, Essai Politique, torn. been constructed, during the lifetime 
ii. pp. 29, 44-49.- — Malte-Brun, book of the good fattier, to reduce the 
85. This latter geographer assigns waters of the principal lake, and pro- 
only 6,700 feet for the level of the tect the capital from inundation. 
Valley, contradicting himself, (comp. u Anahuac, according to Hum- 
book S3,) or rather, Humboldt, to boldt, comprehended only the country 
whose pages he helps himself, plenis between the 14th and 21st degrees 
mcaiibus, somewhat too liberally, in- of N. latitude. (Essai Politique, 
deed, for the scanty references at the torn. i. p. 197.) According to Cla- 
bottom of his page. vigero, it included nearly all since 

10 Torquemada accounts, in part, known as New Spain. (Stor. del 
for this diminution, by supposing Messico, torn. i. p. 27.) Veytia uses 
that, as God permitted the waters, it, also, as synonymous with New 
which once covered the whole earth, Spain. (Historia Antigua de Mejico, 
to subside, after mankind had been [Mejico, 1836,] torn. i. cap. 12.) The 
nearly exterminated for their iniqui- first of these writers probably allows 
lies, so he allowed the waters of the too little, as the "latter do too much, 
Mexican lake to subside, in token of for its boundaries. Ixtlilxochitlsays 
goodwill and reconciliation, after the it extended four hundred leagues 
idolatrous races of the land had been south of the Otomie country. (Hist, 
destroyed by the Spaniards! (Mo- Chichemeca, MS., cap. 73.) The word 


probably before the close of the seventh century. Of 
course, little can be gleaned, with certainty, respecting a 
people whose written records have perished, and who are 
known to us only through the traditionary legends of the 
nations that succeeded them. 12 By the general agree- 
ment of these, however, the Toltecs were well instructed 
in agriculture, and many of the most useful mechanic 
arts ; were nice workers of metals ; invented the complex 
arrangement of time adopted by the Aztecs ; and, in 
short, were the true fountains of the civilization which 
distinguished this part of the continent in later times. 13 
They established their capital at Tula, north of the Mexican 
Valley, and the remains of extensive buildings were to be 
discerned there at the time of the Conquest. 14 The noble 
ruins of religious and other edifices, still to be seen in 
various parts of New Spain, are referred to this people, 
whose name, Toltec, has passed into a synonyme for 
architect} 5 Their shadowy history reminds us of those 
primitive races, who preceded the ancient Egyptians in the 
march of civilization ; fragments of whose monuments, as 
they are seen at this day, incorporated with the buildings 

Anahuac signifies near the water. It and Chichemec races was " derived 

was, probably, first applied to the from interpretation," (probably, of 

country around the lakes in the the Tezcucan paintings,) " and from 

Mexican Valley, and gradually ex- the traditions of old men;" poor 

tended to the remoter regions occu- authority for events which had 

pied by the Aztecs, and the other passed centuries before. Indeed, he 

semi-civilized races. Or, possibly, the acknowledges that their narratives 

name may have been intended, as were so full of absurdity and false- 

Veytia suggests, (Hist. Antig., bb. i. hood, that he was obbged to reject 

cap. 1,) to denote the land between nine-tenths of them. (See his Bela- 

the waters of the Atlantic and Pacific. clones, MS., no. 5.) The cause of 

truth would not have suffered much, 
12 Clavigero talks of Boturini's probably, if he bad rejected nine- 
having written " on the faith of the tenths of the remainder. 
Toltec historians." (Stor. del Mes- 13 Txtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., 
sico, torn. i. p. 128.) But that scho- cap. 2. — Idem, Relaciones, MS., no. 
lar does not pretend to have ever 2. — Sahagun, Historia General de las 
met with a Toltec manuscript him- Cosas de Nueva Esparia, (Mexico, 
self, and bad heard of only one in the 1129,) Hb. 10, cap. 29. — Veytia, 
possession of Ixtlilxochitl. (See his Hist. Antig., lib. 1, cap. 27. 
Idea de una Nueva Historia General u Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva Espa- 
de la America Septentrional, [Madrid, na, lib. 10, cap. 29. 
1746,] p. 110.) The latter writer 15 Idem, ubi supra. — Torquemada, 
tells us, that his account of the Toltec Monarch. Ind., lib. i. cap. II. 

chap. I.] PRIMITIVE RACES. 11 

of the Egyptians themselves, give to these latter the 
appearance of almost modern constructions. 16 

After a period of four centuries, the Toltecs, who 
had extended their sway over the remotest borders of 
Anahuac, 17 having been greatly reduced, it is said, by 
famine, pestilence, and unsuccessful wars, disappeared from 
the land as silently and mysteriously as they had entered 
it. A few of them still lingered behind, but much the 
greater number, probably, spread over the region of Central 
America and the neighbouring isles ; and the traveller now 
speculates on the majestic ruins of Mitla and Palenque as 
possibly the work of this extraordinary people. 18 

After the lapse of another hundred years, a numerous 
and rude tribe, called the Chichemecs, entered the de- 
serted country from the regions of the far North-west. 
They were speedily followed by other races, of higher 
civilization, perhaps of the same family with the Toltecs, 
Avhose language they appear to have spoken. The most 
noted of these were the Aztecs, or Mexicans, and the 
Acolhuans. The latter, better known in later times by 
the name of Tezcucans, from their capital, Tezcuco, 19 on 
the eastern border of the Mexican lake, were peculiarly 
fitted, by their comparatively mild religion and manners, 
for receiving the tincture of civilization which could be 
derived from the few Toltecs that still remained in the 
country. This, in their turn, they communicated to the 

1S Description de l'Egypte, (Paris, misinterpreting the Tezcncan hiero- 

1809,) Antiquites, torn. i. cap. 1. glyphics — has accconnted for this 

Veytia has traced the migrations of mysterious disappearance of the Tol- 

the Toltecs with sufficient industry, tecs by such fee-faio-fam stories of 

scarcely rewarded by the necessarily giants and demons, as show his appe- 

doubtful credit of the results. Hist. tite for the marvellous was fully equal 

Antig., lib. 2, cap. 21-33. to that of any of his calling. See his 

Monarch. Ind., lib. 1, cap. 14. 

17 Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., 

cap. 73. l9 Tezcuco signifies " place of de- 
tention ;" as several of the tribes 

18 Veytia, Hist. Antig., lib. 1, cap. who successively occupied Anahuac 
33. — Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., were said to have halted some time 
cap. 3. — Idem, Relaciones, MS., no. at the spot. Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. 
4, 5. — Pafcher Torquemada — perhaps Chich., MS., cap. 10. 


barbarous Chichemecs, a large portion of whom became 
amalgamated with the new settlers as one nation. 20 

Availing themselves of the strength derived, not only 
from the increase of numbers, but from their own superior 
refinement, the Acolhuans gradually stretched their em- 
pire over the ruder tribes in the north ; while their 
capital was filled with a numerous population, busily 
employed in many of the more useful and even elegant 
arts of a civilized community. In this palmy state, they 
were suddenly assaulted by a warlike neighbour, the 
Tepanecs, their own kindred, and inhabitants of the same 
valley as themselves. Their provinces were overrun, their 
armies beaten, their king assassinated, and the nourishing 
city of Tezcuco became the prize of the victor. From this 
abject condition the uncommon abilities of the young 
prince Nezahualcoyotl, the rightful heir to the crown, 
backed by the efficient aid of his Mexican allies, at length 
redeemed the state, and opened to it a new career of pro- 
sperity, even more brilliant than the former. 21 

The Mexicans, with whom our history is principally 
concerned, came also, as we have seen, from the remote 
regions of the north, — the populous hive of nations 
in the New World, as it has been in the Old. They 
arrived on the borders of Anahuac towards the be- 
ginning of the thirteenth century, some time after the 
occupation of the land by the kindred races. For a long 
time they did not establish themselves in any permanent 
residence ; but continued shifting their quarters to 
different parts of the Mexican Valley, enduring all the 
casualties and hardships of a migratory life. On one 
occasion they were enslaved by a more powerful tribe ; 
but their ferocity soon made them formidable to their 

20 The historian speaks, in one ■ — Veytia. Hist, Antig., lib. 2, cap. 

page, of the Chichemecs' burrowing 1-10. — Camargo, Historia de Tlas- 

in caves, or, at best, in cabins 5f cala, MS. 

straw ; — and, in the next, talks 21 Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., 

gravely of their setioras. infantas, cap. 9-20. — Veytia, Hist. Antig., 

and caballeros ! Ibid., cap. 9, et seq. lib- 2, cap. 29-54. 

chap, i.] PRIMITIVE RACES. 13 

masters. 22 After a series of wanderings and adventures, 
which need not shrink from comparison with the most 
extravagant legends of the heroic ages of antiquity, they 
at length halted on the south-western borders of the 
principal lake, in the year 1325. They there beheld, 
perched on the stem of a prickly pear, which shot out 
from the crevice of a rock that was washed by the waves, 
a royal eagle of extraordinary size and beauty, with a 
serpent in his talons, and his broad wings opened to the 
rising sun. They hailed the auspicious omen, announced 
by an oracle as indicating the site of their future city, 
and laid its foundations by sinking piles into the shal- 
lows ; for the low marshes were half buried under water. 
On these they erected their light fabrics of reeds and 
rushes ; and sought a precarious subsistence from fish- 
ing, and from the wild fowl which frequented the waters, 
as well as from the cultivation of such simple vegetables 
as they could raise on their floating gardens. The place 
was called Tenochtitlan, in token of its miraculous origin, 
though only known to Europeans by its other name 
of Mexico, derived from their war-god, Mexitli. 23 The 
legend of its foundation is still further commemorated 
by the device of the eagle and the cactus, which form 
the arms of the modern Mexican republic. Such were 
the humble beginnings of the Venice of the Western 
World. 24 

The forlorn condition of the new settlers was made 
still worse by domestic feuds. A part of the citizens 
seceded from the main body, and formed a sepa- 
rate community on the neighbouring marshes. Thus 
divided, it was long before they could aspire to the 

22 These were the Colhuans, not others. (See his Stor. del Messico, 
Acolhuans, with whom Humboldt, torn. i. p. 168, nota.) The name 
and most writers since, have con- Tenochtitlan signifies tunal (a cac- 
founded them. See his Essai Poli- tus) on a stone. Esplicacion de la 
tique, torn i. p. 414 ; ii. p. 37. Col. de Mendoza, apud Antiq. of 

23 Clavigero gives good reasons Mexico, vol. iv. 

for preferring the etymology of 24 " Datur hsec venia antiquitati," 

Mexico above noticed, to various says Livy, "ut miscendo humana 


acquisition of territory on the main land. They gra- 
dually increased, however, in numbers, and strengthened 
themselves yet more by various improvements in their 
polity and military discipline, while they established a 
reputation for courage as well as cruelty in war, which 
made their name terrible throughout the Valley. In the 
early part of the fifteenth century, nearly a hundred 
years from the foundation of the city, an event took 
place which created an entire revolution in the circum- 
stances, and, to some extent, in the character of the 
Aztecs. This was the subversion of the Tezcucan 
monarchy by the Tepanecs, already noticed. When the 
oppressive conduct of the victors had at length aroused 
a spirit of resistance, its prince, Nezahualcoyotl, suc- 
ceeded, after incredible perils and escapes, in mustering 
such a force, as, with the aid of the Mexicans, placed 
him on a level with his enemies. In two successive 
battles these were defeated with great slaughter, 
their chief slain, and their territory, by one of those 
sudden reverses which characterize the wars of petty 
states, passed into the hands of the conquerors. It was 
awarded to Mexico, in return for its important services. 
Then was formed that remarkable league, which, 
indeed, has no parallel in history. It was agreed be- 
tween the states of Mexico, Tezcuco, and the neigh- 

divinis primordia urbium augustiora of the Acolhuans ; torn. i. p. 147, 

faciat." Hist. Prajf. — See, for the and torn. iv. dissert. 2.) — 

above paragraph, Col. de Meudoza, a.d. 

plate 1, apud Antiq. of Mexico, vol. The Toltecs arrived in Anahuac 648 

i. — Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., They abandoned the country . 1051 

cap. 10. — Toribio, Historia de las The Chichemecs arrived . . 1170 

Indias, MS., Parte 3, cap. 8. — The Acolhuans arrived about 1200 

Veytia, Hist. Antig., lib. 2, cap. 15. The Mexicans reached Tula . 1196 

— Clavigero, after a laborious exa- They founded Mexico . . . 1325 
mination, assigns the following dates 

to some of the prominent events See his Dissert. 2. Sec. 12. In the 

noticed in the text. No two autho- last date, the one of most iruport- 

rities agree on them ; and this is ance, he is confirmed by the learned 

not strange, considering that Clavi- Veytia, who differs from him in all 

g er0 — the most inquisitive of all — the others. Hist. Antig , lib. 2. cap. 

does not always agree with himself. 15. 
(Compare his dates for the coming 



bo urin g little kingdom of Tlacopan, that they should 
mutually support each other in their wars, offensive 
and defensive, and that, in the distribution of the 
spoil, one-fifth should be assigned to Tlacopan, and 
the remainder be divided, in what proportions is un- 
certain, between the other powers. The Tezcucan 
writers claim an equal share for their nation with the 
Aztecs. But this does not seem to be warranted by 
the immense increase of territory subsequently appro- 
priated by the latter. And we may account for any 
advantage conceded to them by the treaty, on the sup- 
position, that, however inferior they may have been 
originally, they were, at the time of making it, in a 
more prosperous condition than their allies, broken 
and dispirited by long oppression. What is more 
extraordinary than the treaty itself, however, is the 
fidelity with which it was maintained. During a cen- 
tury of uninterrupted warfare that ensued, no instance 
occurred where the parties quarrelled over the division 
of the spoil, which so often makes shipwreck of similar 
confederacies among civilized states. 25 

The allies for some time found sufficient occupation 
for their arms in their own valley ; but they soon over- 
leaped its rocky ramparts, and by the middle of the 
fifteenth century, under the first Montezuma, had 
spread down the sides of the table land to the borders 

25 The loyal Tezcucan chronicler petent critics, acquiesce in an equal 

claims the supreme dignity for his division between the two principal 

own sovereign, if not the greatest states in the confederacy. An ode, 

share of the spoil, by this imperial still extant, of Nezahualcoyotl, in 

compact. (Hist. Chich., cap. 32.) its Castilian version, bears testimony 

Torquemada, on the other hand, to the singular union of the three 

claims one half of all the conquered powers. 

lands for Mexico. (Monarch. Ind., " Solo se acordaran en las Na- 

lib. 2, cap. 40.) All agree in as- ciones 

signing only one fifth to Tlacopan ; lo bien que gobemaron 

and Veytia (Hist. Antig., lib. 3, cap. las tres Cabezas que el Imperio 

3) and Zurita (Rapport sur les Dif- honraron.''" 

ferentes Classes de Chefs de la Kou- Cantares del Empehador. 

yelle Espagne, trad, de Ternaux Nezahualcoyotl, MS. 
[Paris, 1840] p. 11), both very com- 


of the Gulf of Mexico. Tenocbtitlan, the Aztec capi- 
tal, gave evidence of the public prosperity. Its frail 
tenements were supplanted by solid structures of stone 
and lime. Its population rapidly increased. Its old 
feuds were healed. The citizens who had seceded 
were again brought under a common government with 
the main body, and the quarter they occupied was 
permanently connected with the parent city ; the 
dimensions of which, covering the same ground, were 
much larger than those of the modern capital of 
Mexico. 26 

Fortunately, the throne was filled by a succession of 
able princes, who knew how to profit by their enlarged 
resources and by the martial enthusiasm of the nation. 
Year after year saw them return, loaded with the spoils 
of conquered cities, and with throngs of devoted cap- 
tives, to their capital. No state was able long to re- 
sist the accumulated strength of the confederates. At 
the beginning of the sixteenth century, just before the 
arrival of the Spaniards, the Aztec dominion reached 
across the continent from the Atlantic to the Pacific ; 
and, under the bold and bloody Ahuitzotl, its arms 
had been carried far over the limits already noticed as 
defining its permanent territory, into the farthest cor- 
ners of Guatemala and Nicaragua. This extent of 
empire, however limited in comparison with that of 
many other states, is truly wonderful, considering it as 
the acquisition of a people whose whole population 
and resources had so recently been comprised within 
the walls of their own petty city; and considering, 
moreover, that the conquered territory was thickly 
settled by various races, bred to arms like the Mexi- 

26 See the plans of the ancient seems probable, it is the one indi- 

and modem capital, in Bullock's cated on page 13 of his Catalogue, 

"Mexico," first edition. The ori- I find no warrant for Mr. Bullock's 

ginal of the ancient map was obtained statement, that it was the one pre- 

by that traveller from the collection pared for Cortes by the order of 

of the unfortunate Boturini : if, as Montezuma. 


.] VEYTIA. 17 

cans, and little inferior to them in social organization. 
The history of the Aztecs suggests some strong points 
of resemblance to that of the ancient Romans, not only 
in their military successes, but in the policy which led 
to them. 27 

27 Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, with other states, as the principal ; " 

torn. i. lib. 2. — Torquemada, Mo- and expresses his astonishment that 

narch. hid., torn. i. lib. 2. — Botu- a similar policy should not have been 

rini, Idea, p. 146. — Col. of Mendoza, adopted by ambitious republics in 

part i. and Codex Telleriano-Remen- later times. (See bis Discorsi sopra 

sis, apud Antiq. of Mexico, vol i., vi. T. Livio, lib. 2, cap. 4, apud Opere.) 

Machiavelli lias noticed it as one [Geneva, 1798.] This, as we have 

great cause of the military successes seen above, was the very course pur- 

of the Romans, " that they asso- sued by the Mexicans, 
ciated themselves, in their wars, 

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

Veytia's history covers the whole period from the first occupation of 
Anahuac to the middle of the fifteenth century, at which point his labours 
were unfortunately terminated by his death. In the early portion he has 
endeavoured to trace the migratory movements and historical annals of the 
principal races who entered the country. Every page bears testimony to 
the extent and fidelity of his researches ; and if we feel but moderate con- 
fidence in the results, the fault is not imputable to him, so much as to the 
dark and doubtful nature of the subject. As he descends to later ages, he 
is more occupied with the fortunes of the Tezcucan than with those of the 
Aztec dynasty, which have been amply discussed by others of his country- 
men. The premature close of his labours prevented him, probably, from 
giving that attention to the domestic institutions of the people he describes, 
to which they are entitled as the most important subject of inquiry to the 
historian. The deficiency has been supplied by his judicious editor, Orteaga, 
from other sources. In the early part of his work, Veytia has explained the 
chronological system of the Aztecs ; but, like most writers preceding the 

VOL. I. C 

18 VEYTIA. [book i. 

accurate Gama, with indifferent success. As a critic, he certainly ranks 
much higher than the annalists who preceded him ; and, when his own reli- 
gion is not involved, shows a discriminating judgment. When it is, he 
betrays a full measure of the credulity which still maintains its hold on too 
many even of the well informed of his countrymen. The editor of the work 
has given a very interesting letter from the Abbe Clavigero to Veytia, 
written when the former was a poor and humble exile, and in the tone of 
one addressing a person of high standing and literary eminence. Both were 
employed on the same subject. The writings of the poor Abbe, published 
again and again, and translated into various languages, have spread his 
fame throughout Europe ; while the name of Veytia, whose works have 
been locked up in their primitive manuscript, is scarcely known beyond the 
boundaries of Mexico. 




Succession to the Crown. — Aztec Nobility. — Judicial System. — Laws and 
Revenues. — Military Institutions. 

The form of government differed in the different states 
of Anahuac. With the Aztecs and Tezcucans it was 
monarchical and nearly absolute. The two nations re- 
sembled each other so much, in their political institutions, 
that one of their historians has remarked, in too un- 
qualified a manner indeed, that what is told of one may 
be always-understood as applying to the other. 1 I shall 
direct my inquiries to the Mexican polity, borrowing an 
illustration occasionally from that of the rival kingdom. 

The government was an elective monarchy. Eour of 
the principal nobles, who had been chosen by their own 
body in the preceding reign, filled the office of electors, 
to whom were added, with merely an honorary rank 
however, the two royal allies of Tezcuco and Tlacopan. 
The sovereign was selected from the brothers of the 
deceased prince, or, in default of them, from his nephews. 
Thus the election was always restricted to the same 
family. The candidate preferred must have distinguished 
himself in war, though, as in the case of the last Mon- 
tezuma, he were a member of the priesthood. 2 This 
singular mode of supplying the throne had some advan- 
tages. The candidates received an education which fitted 
them for the royal dignity, while the age at which they 
were chosen not only secured the nation against the evils 
of minority, but afforded ample means for estimating 
their qualifications for the office. The result, at all 

1 Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS. taken from the warrior caste, though 
cap. 36. obliged afterwards to be instructed 

2 This was an exception. — In in the mysteries of the priesthood : 
Egypt, also, the king was frequently o fie £k /zaxtVwc anoheheiyixevos 

c 2 


events, was favourable ; since the throne, as already 
noticed, was filled by a succession of able princes, well 
qualified to rule over a warlike and ambitious people. 
The scheme of election, however defective, argues a more 
refined and calculating policy than was to have been 
expected from a barbarous nation. 3 

The new monarch was installed in his regal dignity 
with much parade of religious ceremony ; but not until, 
by a victorious campaign, he had obtained a sufficient 
number of captives to grace his triumphal entry into the 
capital, and to furnish victims for the dark and bloody 
rites which stained the Aztec superstition. The crown, 
resembling a mitre in its form, and curiously ornamented 
with gold, gems, and feathers, was placed on his head 
by the lord of Tezcuco, the most powerful of his royal 
allies. The title of King, by which the earlier Aztec 
princes are distinguished by Spanish writers, is sup- 
planted by that of Umperor in the later reigns, intimating, 
perhaps, his superiority over the confederated monarchies 
of Tlacopan and Tezcuco. 4 

The Aztec princes, especially towards the close of the 
dynasty, lived in a barbaric pomp, truly Oriental. Their 
spacious palaces were provided with halls for the different 
councils, who aided the monarch in the transaction of 
business. The chief of these was a sort of privy council, 
composed in part, probably, of the four electors chosen 
by the nobles after the accession, whose places, when 
made vacant by death, were immediately supplied as 
before. It was the business of this body, so far as can 

evGvs eylvfro rap lepcov. Plutarch, Clavigero may be permitted to out- 

de Isid. et Osir., sec. 9. weigh this general assertion. 

3 Torquemada, Monarch. Lid., lib. 4 Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva Es- 
2, cap. 18 ; lib. 11, cap. 27.— Clavi- pana, lib. 6, cap. 9, 10, 14 ; lib. 8, 
gero, Stor. del Messico, torn. ii. p. cap. 31, 34. — See, also, Zurita, Rap- 
US. — Acosta, Naturall and Morall port, pp. 20—23. 
Historie of the East and West In- Ixtlilxochitl stoutly claims this 
dies, Eng. trans. (London, 1601.) supremacy for his own nation. 

According to Zurita, an election (Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 34.) His 

by the nobles took place only in assertions are at variance with facts 

default of heirs of the deceased stated by himself elsewhere, and are 

monarch. (Rapport, p. 15.) The not countenanced by any other writer 

minute historical investigation of whom I have consulted. 

chap, ii.] AZTEC NOBILITY. 21 

be gathered from the very loose accounts given of it, to 
advise the king, in respect to the government of the pro- 
vinces, the administration of the revenues, and indeed, 
on all great matters of public interest. 5 

In the royal buildings were accommodations, also, for 
a numerous body-guard of the sovereign, made up of the 
chief nobility. It is not easy to determine with precision, 
in these barbarian governments, the limits of the several 
orders. It is certain there was a distinct class of nobles, 
with large landed possessions, who held the most import- 
ant offices near the person of the prince, and engrossed 
the administration of the provinces and cities. 6 Many 
of these could trace their descent from the founders of 
the Aztec monarchy. According to some writers of 
authority, there were thirty great caciques, who had their 
residence, -at least a part of the year, in the capital, 
and who could muster a hundred thousand vassals each 
on their estates. 7 Without relying on such wild state- 
ments, it is clear, from the testimony of the conquerors, 
that the country was occupied by numerous powerful 
chieftains, who lived like independent princes on their 
domains. If it be true that the kings encouraged, or 
indeed exacted, the residence of these nobles in the 
capital, and required hostages in their absence, it is evi- 
dent that their power must have been very formidable. 8 

Their estates appear to have been held by various 

5 Sahagun, who places the elective Castellanos en las Islas y Tierra 
power in a much larger body, speaks Firme del Mar Oceano, (Madrid, 
of four senators, who formed a state 1730,) dec. 2, lib. 7, cap. 12. 
council. (Hist, de Nueva Espana, 8 Carta de Cortes, ap. Lorenzana, 
lib. 8, cap. 30.) Acosta enlarges Hist, de Nueva Espana, p. 110. — 
the council beyond the number of Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 2, 
the electors. (Lib. 6, ch. 26.) No cap. 89 ; lib. 14, cap. 6. — Clavigero, 
two writers agree. Stor. del Messico, torn. ii. p. 321. — 

6 Zurita enumerates four orders of Zurita, Rapport, pp. 48, 65. 
chiefs, all of whom were exempted Ixtlilxochitl (Hist. Chich., MS., 
from imposts, and enjoyed very con- cap. 34) speaks of thirty great feudal 
siderable privileges. He does not chiefs, some of them Tezcucan and 
discriminate the several ranks with Tlacopan, whom he styles " grandees 
much precision. Rapport, pp. 47 et of the empire !" He says nothing 
seq. of the great tail of 100,000 vassals 

7 See, in particular, Herrera, His- to each mentioned by Torquemada 
toria General de los Hechos de los and Herrera. 


tenures, and to have been subject to different restrictions. 
Some of them, earned by their own good swords, or 
received as the recompense of public services, were held 
without any limitation, except that the possessors could 
not dispose of them to a plebeian. 9 Others were entailed 
on the eldest male issue, and, in default of such, reverted 
to the crown. Most of them seem to have been burdened 
with the obligation of military service. The principle 
chiefs of Tezcuco, according to its chronicler, were ex- 
pressly obliged to support their prince with their armed 
vassals, to attend his court, and aid him in the council. 
Some, instead of these services, were to provide for the 
repairs of his buildings, and to keep the royal demesnes 
in order, with an annual offering, by w r ay of homage, of 
fruits and flowers. It was usual, if we are to believe 
historians, for a new king, on his accession, to confirm 
the investiture of estates derived from the crown. 10 

It cannot be denied that we recognise in all this, 
several features of the feudal system, which, no doubt, 
lose nothing of their effect, under the hands of the 
Spanish writers, who are fond of tracing analogies to 
European institutions. But such analogies lead some- 
times to very erroneous conclusions. The obligation of 
military service, for instance, the most essential principle 
of a fief, seems to be naturally demanded by every 
government from its subjects. As to minor points of 
resemblance, they fall far short of that harmonious sys- 
tem of reciprocal service and protection which embraced, 
in nice gradation, every order of a feudal monarchy. 

9 Maceliual, — a word equivalent mara, Crdnica de Nueva Espafia, cap. 
to the French word roturier. Nor 199, ap. Barcia, torn. ii. 

conld fiefs originally be held by pie- Boturini (Idea, p. 165) carries 

beians in Prance. See Hallam's back the origin of fiefs in Anahuac, 

Middle Ages, (London, 1819,) vol. ii. to the twelfth century. Carli says, 

p. 207. " Le systeme politique y etait feo- 

dal." In the nest page he tells us, 

10 Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., " Persoual merit alone made the dis- 
ubi supra. — Zurita, Rapport, ubi tmction of the nobility!" (Lettres 
supra. — Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, Americaines, trad. Fr., [Paris, 
torn. ii. pp. 122— 121.— -Torquemada, 1788,] torn. i. let. 11.) Carli was 
Monarch, hid., lib. 14, cap. 7. — Go- a writer of a lively imagination. 

chap, ii.] JUDICIAL SYSTEM. 23 

The kingdoms of Anahuac were, in their nature, despotic, 
attended, indeed, with many mitigating circumstances 
unknown to the despotisms of the East ; but it is chime- 
rical to look for much in common — beyond a few acci- 
dental forms and ceremonies — with those aristocratic 
institutions of the Middle Ages, which made the court 
of every petty baron the precise image in miniature of 
that of his sovereign. 

The legislative power, both in Mexico and Tezcuco, 
resided wholly with the monarch. This feature of des- 
potism, however, was, in some measure, counteracted 
by the constitution of the judicial tribunals — of more 
importance, among a rude people, than the legislative, 
since it is easier to make good laws for such a community, 
than to enforce them, and the best laws, badly admi- 
nistered, ^re but a mockery. Over each of the principal 
cities, with its dependent territories, was placed a supreme 
judge, appointed by the crown, with original and final 
jurisdiction in both civil and criminal cases. There was 
no appeal from his sentence to any other tribunal, nor 
even to the king. He held his office during life ; and 
any one who usurped his ensigns was punished with 
death. 11 

Below 7 this magistrate was a court, established in each 
province, and consisting of three members. It held con- 
current jurisdiction with the supreme judge in civil suits, 
but in criminal an appeal lay to his tribunal. Besides 
these courts, there was a body of inferior magistrates 
distributed through the country, chosen by the people 
themselves in their several districts. Their authority was 
limited to smaller causes, while the more important w r ere 

11 This magistrate, who was called justice, under Montezuma, who intro- 

cihuacoatl, was also to audit the duced great changes in them. (An- 

accounts of the collectors of the tiq. of Mexico, vol. i., Plate 70.) 

taxes in his district. (Clavigero, According to the interpreter, an 

Stor. del Messico, torn. ii. p. 127. — appeal lay from them, in certain 

Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 11, cases, to the king's council. Ibid., 

cap. 25.) The Mendoza Collection vol. vi. p. 70. 
contains a painting of the courts of 



carried up to the higher courts. There was still another 
class of subordinate officers, appointed also by the people, 
each of whom was to watch over the conduct of a certain 
number of families, and report any disorder or breach of 
the laws to the higher authorities. 12 

In Tezcuco the judicial arrangements were of a more 
refined character; 13 and a gradation of tribunals finally 
terminated in a general meeting or parliament, consisting 
of all the judges, great and petty, throughout the king- 
dom, held every eighty days in the capital, over which the 
king presided in person. This body determined all suits, 
which, from their importance, or difficulty, had been re- 
served for its consideration by the lower tribunals. It 
served, moreover, as a council of state, to assist the mo- 
narch in the transaction of public business, 14 

Such are the vague and imperfect notices that can be 
gleaned, respecting the Aztec tribunals, from the hiero- 
glyphical paintings still preserved, and from the most 
accredited Spanish writers. These, being usually eccle- 
siastics, have taken much less interest in this subject than 
in matters connected with religion. They find some 
apology, certainly, in the early destruction of most of the 

12 Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, the Tezcucan courts, which, in their 
torn. ii. pp. 127, 128. — Torquemada, forms of procedure, he says, were 
Monarch. Lid., ubi supra. like the Aztec. (Loc. cit.) 

In this arrangement of the more 

humble magistrates we are reminded u Boturiui, Idea, p. 87. Tor- 

of the Anglo-Saxon hundreds and quemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 11, 

tithings, especially the latter, the cap. 26. 

members of which were to watch Zurita compares this body to the 
over the conduct of the families in Castiliancortes. It would seem, how- 
their districts, and bring the offenders ever, according to him, to have con- 
to justice. The hard penalty of mu- sisted only of twelve principal judges, 
tu'al responsibility was not known to besides the king. His meaning is 
the Mexicans. somewhat doubtful. (Rapport, pp. 

94, 101, 106.) M. de Humboldt, in 

13 Zurita, so temperate, usually, in his account of the Aztec courts, has 
his language, remarks, that, in the confounded them with the Tezcucan. 
capital, " Tribunals were instituted Comp. Vues des Cordilleres et Mo- 
which might compare in their organ- numens des Peuples Indigenes de 
ization with the royal audiences of l'Amerique, (Paris. 1S10,) p. 55, and 
Castile." (Rapport, p. 93.) His Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, torn. ii. 
observations are chiefly drawn from pp. 128, 129. 

chap, ii.] JUDICIAL SYSTEM. 25 

Indian paintings, from which their information was, in 
part, to be gathered. 

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

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

To receive presents or a bribe, to be guilty of collusion 
in any way with a suitor, was punished, in a judge, with 
death. Who, or what tribunal, decided as to his guilt, 
does not appear. In Tezcuco, this was clone by the rest 
of the court. But the king presided over that body. 
The Tezcucan prince, Nezahualpilli, who rarely tempered 
justice with mercy, put one judge to death for taking 
a bribe, and another for determining suits in his own 
house, — a capital offence, also, by law. 15 

15 "Ah ! si esta se repitiera hoy, Rapport, p. 102. — Torquemada, Mo- 

que bueno seria !" exclaims Saha- narch.Lid.,ubi supra. — Ixtlilxochitl, 

gun's Mexican editor. Hist'.deNueva Hist. Chick, MS., cap. 67. 
Espafia, tora.ii. p.304,nota.— Zurita, 



The judges of the higher tribunals were maintained 
from the produce of a part of the crown lands, reserved 
for this purpose. They, as well as the supreme judge, 
held their offices for life. The proceedings in the courts 
were conducted with decency and order. The judges 
wore an appropriate dress, and attended to business both 
parts of the day, dining always, for the sake of despatch, 
in an apartment of the same building where they held 
their session \ a method of proceeding much commended 
by the Spanish chroniclers, to whom despatch was not 
very familiar in their own tribunals. Officers attended 
to preserve order, and others summoned the parties, and 
produced them in court. No counsel was employed ; the 
parties stated their own case, and supported it by their 
witnesses. The oath of the accused was also admitted in 
evidence. The statement of the case, the testimony, and 
the proceedings of the trial, were all set forth by a clerk, 
in hieroglyphical paintings, and handed over to the court. 
The paintings were executed with so much accuracy, that, 
in all suits respecting real property, they were allowed to 
be produced as good authority in the Spanish tribunals, 
very long after the Conquest ; and a chair for their study 
and interpretation was established at Mexico in 1553, 
which has long since shared the fate of most other pro- 
visions for learning in that unfortunate country. 16 

A capital sentence was indicated by a line traced with 
an arrow across the portrait of the accused. In Tezcuco, 
where the king presided in the court, this, according to 
the national chronicler, was done with extraordinary pa- 
rade. His description, which is of rather a poetical cast, 
I give in his own words. " In the royal palace of Tezcuco 
was a court-yard, on the opposite sides of which were 

16 Zurita, Rapport, pp. 95, 100, Clavigero says, the accused might 

103. — Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva free himself by oath ; " il reo poteva 

Espafta, loc. cit. — Humboldt, Vues purgarsi col giuramento." (Stor. del 

des Cordilleres, pp. 55, 56.— Tor- Messico, torn. ii. p. 129.) What 

quemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 11, rogue, then, could ever have been 

cap. 25. convicted ? 

chap, ii.] LAWS AND REVENUES. 27 

two halls of justice. In the principal one, called the 
' tribunal of God,' was a throne of pure gold, inlaid with 
turquoises and other precious stones. On a stool, in 
front, was placed a human skull, crowned with an im- 
mense emerald, of a pyramidal form, and surmounted by 
an aigrette of brilliant plumes and precious stones. The 
skull w T as laid on a heap of military weapons, shields, 
quivers, bows, and arrows. The walls were hung with 
tapestry, made of the hair of different wild animals, of 
rich and various colours, festooned by gold rings, and 
embroidered with figures of birds and flowers. Above 
the throne was a canopy of variegated plumage, from the 
centre of which shot forth resplendent rays of gold and 
jew r els. The other tribunal, called ' the King's,' was also 
surmounted by a gorgeous canopy of feathers, on which 
were emblazoned the royal arms. Here the sovereign 
gave public audience, and communicated his despatches. 
But, when he decided important causes, or confirmed 
a capital sentence, he passed to ' the tribunal of God,' 
attended by the fourteen great lords of the realm, mar- 
shalled according to their rank. Then, putting on his 
mitred crown, incrusted with precious stones, and holding 
a golden arrow, by way of sceptre, in his left hand, he 
laid his right upon the skull, and pronounced judgment." 17 
All this looks rather fine for a court of justice, it must be 
owned. But it is certain, that the Tezcucans, as we shall 
see hereafter, possessed both the materials and the skill 
requisite to work them up in this manner. Had they 
been a little further advanced in refinement, one might 
well doubt their having the bad taste to do so. 

The laws of the Aztecs were registered, and exhibited 
to the people in their hieroglyphical paintings. Much 
the larger part of them, as in every nation imperfectly 
civilized, relates rather to the security of persons than of 

17 Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chick., MS., bolical meaning, according to Botu- 
cap. 36. rim. Idea, p. 84. 

These various objects had a sym- 


property. The great crimes against society were all made 
capital. Even the murder of a slave was punished with 
death. Adulterers, as among the Jews, were stoned to 
death. Thieving, according to the degree of the offence, 
was punished by slavery or death. Yet the Mexicans 
could have been under no great apprehension of this 
crime, since the entrances to their dwellings were not 
secured by bolts, or fastenings of any kind. It was a 
capital offence to remove the boundaries of another's 
lands ; to alter the established measures ; and for a 
guardian not to be able to give a good account of his 
ward's property. These regulations evince a regard for 
equity in dealings, and for private rights, which argues 
a considerable progress in civilization. Prodigals, who 
squandered their patrimony, were punished in like man- 
ner ; a severe sentence, since the crime brought its 
adequate punishment along with it. Intemperance, 
which was the burden, moreover, of their religious homi- 
lies, was visited with ihe severest penalties ; as if they 
had foreseen in it the consuming canker of their own, as 
well as of the other Indian races in later times. It was 
punished in the young with death, and in older persons 
with loss of rank and confiscation of property. Yet a 
decent conviviality was not meant to be proscribed at 
their festivals, and they possessed the means of indulging 
it, in a mild fermented liquor, called pulque, which is still 
popular, not only with the Indian, but the European 
population of the country. 13 

18 Paintings of the Mendoza Col- p. 112.) Mons. Ternaux's translation 

lection, PL 72, and Interpretation ap. of a passage of the Anonymous Con- 

Antiq. of Mexico, vol vi. p. 87.— queror, " aucnn peuple n'est aussi 

Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 12, sobre," (Recueil de Pieces Relatives 

cap . 7 — Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, a la Conquete du Mexiqne, ap. Voy- 

tom. ii. pp. 130-134— Camargo, ages, &c, [Paris, 1838,] p. 44,) may 

Hist, de Tlascala, MS. give a more favourable impression, 

They could scarcely have been however, than that intended by his 

an intemperate people, with these original, whose remark is confined to 

heavy penalties hanging over them. abstemiousness in eating. See the 

Indeed, Zurita bears testimony that Relatione, ap. Ramusio, Raccolta 

those Spaniards, who thought they delle Navigation! et Viaggi. (Ve- 

were, greatly erred. (Rapport, netia, 1551-1565.) 


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

But the most remarkable part of the Aztec code was 
that relating- to slavery. There were several descriptions 
of slaves : prisoners taken in war, who were almost 
always reserved for the dreadful doom of sacrifice ; crimi- 
nals, public debtors, persons who, from extreme poverty, 
voluntarily resigned their freedom, and children who 
were sold by their own parents. In the last instance, 
usually occasioned also by poverty, it was common for 
the parents, with the master's consent, to substitute 
others of their children successively, as they grew up : 
thus distributing the burden, as equally as possible, 
among the different members of the family. The wil- 
lingness of freemen to incur the penalties of this condi- 
tion is explained by the mild form in which it existed. 
The contract of sale was executed in the presence of at 
least four witnesses. The services to be exacted were 
limited with great precision. The slave was allowed to 
have his own family, to hold property, and even other 
slaves. His children were free. No one could be born 
to slavery in Mexico; 19 an honourable distinction, not 
known, I believe, in any civilized community where 
slavery has been sanctioned. 20 Slaves were not sold by 

19 In Ancient Egypt the child of eye of the Mexican law, that one 
a slave was born tree, if the father might kill them with impunity. (His- 
were free. (Biodorus, Bibl. Hist., tory of America, [ed. London, 1 776,] 
lib. 1, sec. 80.) This, though more vol. iii. p. 164.) This, however, was 
liberal than the code of most coun- not in Mexico, but in Nicaragua, 
tries, fell short of the Mexican. (see his own authority, Herrera, 

20 In Egypt the same penalty was Hist. General, dec. 3, lib. 4, cap. 2,) 
attached to the murder of a slave as a distant country, not incorporated 
to that of a freeman. (Ibid. lib. 1, in the Mexican empire, and with 
sec. 77.) Robertson speaks .of a laws and institutions very different 
class of slaves held so cheap in the from those of the latter. 


their masters, unless when these were driven to it by 
poverty. They were often liberated by them at their 
death, and sometimes, as there was no natural repug- 
nance founded on difference of blood and race, were 
married to them. Yet a refractory or vicious slave 
might be led into the market, with a collar round his 
neck, which intimated his bad character, and there be 
publicly sold, and, on a second sale, reserved for sacri- 
fice. 21 

Such are some of the most striking features of the 
Aztec code, to which the Tezcucan bore great resem- 
blance. 22 With some exceptions, it is stamped with the 
severity, the ferocity, indeed, of a rude people, hardened 
by familiarity with scenes of blood, and relying on phy- 
sical, instead of moral means, for the correction of evil. 23 
Still, it evinces a profound respect for the great principles 
of morality, and as clear a perception of these principles 
as is to be found in the most cultivated nations. 

The royal revenues were derived from various sources. 
The crown lands, which appear to have been extensive, 
made their returns in kind. The places in the neigh- 
bourhood of the capital were bound to supply workmen 
and materials for building the king's palaces, and keeping 
them in repair. They were also to furnish fuel, provi- 
sions, and whatever was necessary for his ordinary do- 
mestic expenditure, which was certainly on no stinted 
scale. 24 The principal cities, which had numerous villages 

21 Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., countryman could boast, " Gloriari 
lib. 12, cap. 15 ; lib. 14, cap. 16, 17. licet, nulli gentium mitiores placuisse 
— Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva Espana, pcenas." Livy, Hist., lib. 1, cap. 28. 
lib. 8, cap. 14. — Clavigcro, Stor. del 24 The Tezcucan revenues were, in 
Messico, torn. ii. pp. 134-136. like manner, paid in the produce of 

22 Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., the country. The various branches 
cap. 3S, and Relaciones, MS. of the royal expenditure were de- 

The Tezcucan code, indeed, as frayed by specified towns and dis- 

digested under the great Nezahual- tricts ; and the whole arrangements 

coyotl, formed the basis of the Mex- here, and in Mexico, bore a remark- 

ican, in the latter days of the empire, able resemblance to the financial re- 

Zurita, Eapport, p. 95. gulations of the Persian empire, as 

23 hi this, at least, they did not reported by the Greek writers (see 
resemble the Romans; of whom their Herodotus, Clio, sec. 192); with 




and a large territory dependent on them, were distributed 
into districts, with each a share of the lands allotted to 
it, for its support. The inhabitants paid a stipulated 
part of the produce to the crown. The vassals of the 
great chiefs, also, paid a portion of their earnings into the 
public treasury ; an arrangement not at all in the spirit 
of the feudal institutions. 25 

In addition to this tax on all the agricultural produce 
of the kingdom, there was another on its manufactures. 
The nature and variety of the tributes will be best shown 
by an enumeration of some of the principal articles. 
These were cotton dresses, and mantles of featherwork 
exquisitely made ; ornamented armour ; vases and plates 
of gold ; gold-dust ; bands and bracelets ; crystal, gilt, 
and varnished- jars and goblets ; bells, arms, and utensils 
of copper ; reams of paper ; grain, fruits, copal, amber, 
cochineal, cocoa, wild animals, and birds, timber, lime, 
mats, &c. 26 In this curious medley of the most homely 

this difference, however, that the 
towns of Persia proper were not 
burdened with tributes, like the con- 
quered cities. (Idem, Thalia, sec. 

25 Lorenzana, Hist, de Nueva Es- 
pana, p. 172. — Torquemada, Mon- 
arch. Inch, lib. 2, cap. 89 ; lib. 14, 
cap. 7. — Boturini, Idea, p. 166. — 
Camargo, Hist, de Tlascala, MS. — 
Herrera, Hist. General, dec. 2, lib. 
7, cap. 13. 

The people of the provinces were 
distributed into calpulli, or tribes, 
who held the lands of the neighbour- 
hood in common. Officers of their 
own appointment parcelled out these 
lands among the several families of 
the calpulli ; and, on the extinction 
or removal of a family, its lands 
reverted to the common stock, to be 
again distributed. The individual 
proprietor had no power to alienate 
them. The laws regulating these 
matters were very precise, and had 
existed ever since the occupation of 
the country by the Aztecs. Zurita, 
Rapport, pp. 51-62. 

20 The fohWing items of the tri- 
bute furnished by different cities 
will give a more precise idea of its 
nature : — 20 chests of ground choco- 
late ; 40 pieces of armour, of a par- 
ticular device ; 2400 loads of large 
mantles, of twisted cloth ; 800 loads 
of small mantles, of rich wearing ap- 
parel ; 5 pieces of armour, of rich fea- 
thers; 60 pieces of armour of common 
feathers ; a chest of beans ; a chest 
of cJiian ; a chest of maize; 8000 
reams of paper ; likewise 2000 loaves 
of very white salt, refined in the 
shape of a mould, for the consump- 
tion only of the lords of Mexico ; 
8000 lumps of unrefined copal ; 400 
small baskets of white refined copal ; 
100 copper axes ; 80 loads of red 
chocolate ; 800 xicarus, out of which 
they drank chocolate ; a little vessel 
of small turquoise stones ; 4 chests 
of timber full of maize ; 4000 loads 
of lime ; tiles of gold, of the size of 
an oyster, and as thick as the finger ; 
40 bags of cochineal; 20 bags of 
gold dust, of the finest quality; a 
diadem of gold, of a specified pat- 


commodities, and the elegant superfluities of luxury, it is 
singular that no mention should be made of silver, the 
great staple of the country in later times, and the use of 
which was certainly known to the Aztecs. 27 

Garrisons were established in the larger cities, — pro- 
bably those at a distance, and recently conquered, — to 
keep down revolt, and to enforce the payment of the tri- 
bute. 28 Tax-gatherers were also distributed throughout 
the kingdom, who were recognised by their official 
badges, and dreaded from the merciless rigour of their 
exactions. By a stern law, every defaulter was liable to be 
taken and sold as a slave. In the capital were spacious 
granaries and warehouses for the reception of the tri- 
butes. A receiver-general was quartered in the palace, 
who rendered in an exact account of the various contri- 
butions, and watched over the conduct of the inferior 
agents, in whom the least malversation was summarily 
punished. This functionary was furnished with a map 
of the whole empire, with a minute specification of the 
imposts assessed on every part of it. These imposts, 
moderate under the reigns of the early princes, became 
so burdensome under those at the close of the dynasty, 
being rendered still more oppressive by the manner of 

tern ; 20 lip-jewels of clear amber, terly Review, No. xvii. Art. 4.) An 
ornamented with gold ; 200 loads of original painting of the same roll was 
chocolate; 100 pots or jars of liquid- in Boturini's museum. Lorenzana 
amber ; 8000 handfuls of rich scar- has given us engravings of it, in 
let feathers; 40 tiger-skins; 1000 which the outlines of the Oxford 
bundles of cotton, &c. &c. Col. copy are filled up, though somewhat 
de Mendoza, part 2, ap. Antiq. of rudely. Clavigero considers the ex- 
Mexico, vols, i., vi. planations in Lorezana's edition very 

27 Mapa de Tributes, ap. Loren- inaccurate, (Stor. del Messico, torn, 

zana, Hist, de Nueva Espaiia. — Tri- i. p. 25,) a judgment confirmed by 

bute-roll, ap. Antiq. of Mexico, vol. Aglio, who has transcribed the entire 

i., and Interpretation, vol. vi., pp. collection of the Mendoza papers, 

17-44,. " in the first volume of the Antiquities 

The Mendoza Collection, in the of Mexico. It would have much 

Bodleian Library at Oxford, contains facilitated reference to his plates, if 

a roll of the, cities of the Mexican they had been numbered ; — a strange 

empire, with the specific tributes ex- omission ! 
acted from them. It is a copy made 

after the Conquest, with a pen, on 28 The caciques, who submitted 

European paper. (See Foreign Quar- to the allied arms, were usually con- 


collection, that they bred disaffection throughout the 
land, and prepared the way for its conquest by the 
Spaniards. 29 

Communication was maintained with the remotest 
parts of the country by means of couriers. Post-houses 
were established on the great roads, about two leagues 
distant from each other. The courier, bearing his de- 
spatches in the form of a hieroglyphical painting, ran with 
them to the first station, where they were taken by an- 
other messenger, and carried forward to the next, and so 
on till they reached the capital. These couriers, trained 
from childhood, travelled with incredible swiftness ; not 
four or five leagues an hour, as an old chronicler would 
make us believe, but with such speed that despatches 
were carried from one to two hundred miles a-day. 30 
Fresh fish, was frequently served at Montezuma's table in 
twenty -four hours from the time it had been taken in the 
Gulf of Mexico, two hundred miles from the capital. In 
this way, intelligence of the movements of the royal armies 
was rapidly brought to court ; and the dress of the courier, 
denoting by its colour that of his tidings, spread joy or 
consternation in the towns through which he passed. 31 

firmed iu their authority, and the hundred miles in four and twenty 

conquered places allowed to retain hours. (Travels in N. America, 

their laws and usages. (Zurita, Rap- [New York, 1839,] vol. i. p. 193.) 

port, p. 67.) The conquests were The Greek, who, according to Plut- 

not always partitioned, but some- arch, brought the news of victory at 

times, singularly enough, were held Platsea, a hundred and twenty -five 

in common by the three powers. miles, hi a day, was a better traveller 

Ibid., p. 11. still. Some interesthig facts on the 

29 Collec. of Mendoza, ap. Antiq. pedestrian capabilities of man in the 

of Mexico, vol. vi. p. 17. — Carta de savage state are collected by Buf- 

Cortes, ap. Lorenzana, Hist, de Nue- fon, who concludes, truly enough, 

va Espana, p. 110. — Torquemada, " L'homme civilise ne connait pas 

Monarch. Ind., lib. 14, cap. 6, 8. — ses forces." (Histoire Naturelle ; 

Herrera, Hist. General, dec. 2, lib. De la Jeunesse.) 
7, cap. 13. — Sahagun, Nue- 31 Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 

va Espana, lib. 8, cap. 18, 19. 14, cap. 1. 

38 The Hon. C. A. Murray, whose The same wants led to the same 

imperturbable good humour under expedients in ancient Rome, and still 

real troubles forms a contrast rather more ancient Persia. "Nothing in 

striking, to the sensitiveness of some the world is borne so swiftly," says 

of his predecessors to imaginary ones, Herodotus, "as messages by the 

tells us, among other marvels, that Persian couriers ;" which his com- 

an Indian of his party travelled a mentator, Valckenaer, prudently qua- 

VOL. I. D 


But the great aim of the Aztec institutions to which 
private discipline and public honours were alike directed, 
was the profession of arms. In Mexico, as in Egypt, the 
soldier shared with the priest the highest consideration. 
The king, as we have seen, must be an experienced war- 
rior. The tutelary deity of the Aztecs was the god of 
war. A great object of their military expeditions, was to 
gather hecatombs of captives for his altars. The soldier, 
who fell in battle, was transported at once to the region 
of ineffable bliss in the bright mansions of the Sun. 32 
Every war, therefore, became a crusade ; and the war- 
rior, animated by a religious enthusiasm like that of the 
early Saracen, or the Christian crusader, was not only 
raised to a contempt of danger, but courted it, for the 
imperishable crown of martyrdom. Thus we find the 
same impulse acting in the most opposite quarters of the 
globe, and the Asiatic, the European, and the American, 
each earnestly invoking the holy name of religion in the 
perpetration of human butchery. 

The question of war was discussed in a council of the 
king and his chief nobles. Ambassadors were sent, pre- 
viously to its declaration, to require the hostile state to 
receive the Mexican gods, and to pay the customary tri- 
bute. The persons of ambassadors were held sacred 
throughout Anahuac. They were lodged and entertained 
in the great towns at the public charge, and were every- 
where received with courtesy, so long as they did not 
deviate from the highroads on their route. When they 
did, they forfeited their privileges. If the embassy proved 
unsuccessful, a defiance, or open declaration of war, was 

lifies by the exception of the carrier arrangement for posts subsists there 

pigeon. (Herodotus, Hist. Urania, at the present day, and excites the 

sec. 98, necnon Adnot. ed. Schweigh- admiration of a modern traveller, 

auser.) Couriers are noticed, in the (Anderson, British Embassy to Chi- 

thirteenth century, in China, by na, [London, 1796,] p. 282.) In all 

Marco Polo. Their stations were these cases, the posts were for the 

only three miles apart, and they ac- use of government only, 
complished five days' journey in one. 

(Viaggi di Marco Polo, lib. 2, cap. 32 Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva Es- 

20, ap. Ramusio, torn, ii.) A similar paha, lib. 3. Apend., cap. 3. 


sent ; quotas were drawn from the conquered provinces, 
which were always subjected to military service, as well 
as the payment of taxes ; and the royal army, usually 
with the monarch at its head, began its march. 33 

The Aztec princes made use of the incentives em- 
ployed by European monarchs to excite the ambition of 
their followers. They established various military orders, 
each having its privileges and peculiar insignia. There 
seems, also, to have existed a sort of knighthood of 
inferior degree. It was the cheapest reward of martial 
prowess, and whoever had not reached it, was excluded 
from using ornaments on his arms or his person, and 
obliged to wear a course white stuff, made from the 
threads of the aloe, called ?iequen. Even the members 
of the royal family were not excepted from this law, 
which reminds one of the occasional practice of Christian 
knights, to wear plain armour, or shields without device, 
till they had achieved some doughty feat of chivalry. 
Although the military orders were thrown open to all, 
it is probable that they were chiefly filled with persons 
of rank ; who, by their previous training and connexions, 
were able to come into the field under pecidiar advan- 
tages. 34 

The dress of the higher warriors was picturesque, and 
often magnificent. Their bodies were covered with a 
close vest of quilted cotton, so thick as to be impenetra- 
ble to the light missiles of Indian warfare. This gar- 
ment was so light and serviceable, that it was adopted 
by the Spaniards. The wealthier chiefs sometimes wore, 
instead of this cotton mail, a cuirass made of thin plates 
of gold or silver. Over it was thrown a surcoat of the 

33 Zurita, Rapport, pp. 6S, 120. Liv., Hist., lib. 1, cap. 32; lib. 4, cap. 

— Collec. of Mendoza, ap. Antiq. of 30, et alibi. 
Mexico, vol. i. PI. 67; vol. vi. p. 74. 

— Torquemada, Monarch. Lid., lib. si Ibid., lib. 14, cap. 4, 5. — Acos- 

14, cap. 1. ta, lib. 6, ch. 26.— Collec. of Men- 

The reader will find a remarkable doza, ap. Antiq. of Mexico, vol. i. 

resemblance to these military usages PL 65 ; vol. vi. p. 72. — Camargo, 

in those of the earlv Romans. Comp. Hist, de Tlascala, MS. 

D 2 


gorgeous feather-work in which they excelled. 35 Their 
helmets were sometimes of wood, fashioned like the heads 
of wild animals, and sometimes of silver, on the top of 
which waved a panache of variegated feathers, sprinkled 
with precious stones and ornaments of gold. They wore 
also collars, bracelets, and earrings, of the same rich 
materials. 36 

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

Their tactics were such as belong to a nation with 
whom war, though a trade, is not elevated to the rank 
of a science. They advanced singing, and shouting their 
war-cries, briskly charging the enemy, as rapidly retreat- 
ing, and making use of ambuscades, sudden surprises, 
and the light skirmish of guerilla warfare. Yet their 
discipline was such as to draw forth the encomiums of 

33 "Their mail, if mail it may be Or what the thin gold hauberk, 

called, was woven when opposed 

Of vegetable down, like finest To arms like ours in battle ?" 

flax, Madoc, P. 1, canto 7. 

Bleached to the whiteness of -r, ,.» , . . . . „ , , 

new-fallen snow." Beautiful painting! One may doubt, 

however, the propriety ol the Welsli- 

" Others, of higher office, were mau ' s vaunt > before the use of fire " 

arrayed arms - 

In feathery breastplates, of more ,, , TT . , , __ _ 

gorgeous hue " Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva Es- 

Than'the gay plumage of the P a ™> ^ 2 > cap. 27; lib 8, cap. 12. 

mountain cock, —Relatione d im gentil huomo, ap. 

Than the pheasant's glittering Ramusio, torn m. p. 305. -Torque- 
pride, But what were these, mada > Monarch. Ind., ubi supra. 


the Spanish conquerors. " A beautiful sight it was," 
says one of them, " to see them set out on their march, 
all moving forward so gaily, and in so admirable order!" 37 
In battle, they did not seek to kill their enemies, so much 
as to take them prisoners ; and they never scalped, like 
other North American tribes. The valour of a warrior 
was estimated by the number of his prisoners ; and no 
ransom was large enough to save the devoted captive. 38 

Their military code bore the same stern features as 
their other laws. Disobedience of orders was punished 
with death. It was death, also, for a soldier to leave his 
colours to attack the enemy before the signal was given, 
or to plunder another's booty or prisoners. One of the 
last Tezcucan princes, in the spirit of an ancient Roman, 
put two sons to death, after having cured their wounds, 
for violating the last-mentioned law. 39 

I must not omit to notice here an institution, the in- 
troduction of which, in the Old World, is ranked among 
the beneficent fruits of Christianity. Hospitals were 
established in the principal cities, for the cure of the 
sick, and the permanent refuge of the disabled soldier ; 
and surgeons were placed over them, " who were so far 
better than those in Europe," says an old chronicler, 
" that they did not protract the cure, in order to increase 
the pay." 40 

Such is the brief outline of the civil and military polity 
of the ancient Mexicans ; less perfect than could be de- 

S J Relatione d'un gentil' huomo, wore the hideous trophy, in the same 

ubi supra. manner as our North American In- 

38 Col. of Mendoza, ap. Antiq. of dians. (Herodot., Hist., Melpomene, 

Mexico, vol. i. PL 65, 66; vol. vi. p. sec. 64.) Traces of the same savage 

73. — Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva Es- custom are also found in tJie laws of 

park, lib. 8, cap. 12. — Toribio, Hist. the Visigoths, among the Franks, and 

de los Indios, MS., Parte 1. cap. even the Anglo-Saxons. See Guizot, 

7.— Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. Cours d'Histoire Moderne, (Paris, 

14, cap. 3.— Relatione d'un gentil' 1829,) torn. i. p. 283. 

huomo, ap. Ramusio, loc. cit. ,„ T ,,., , ... TT . ,-,,., , ro 

Scalping may claim high authority, Ixtldxochitl, Hist. Cinch., MS., 

or, at least, antiquity. The Father ca P- b/ ' 

of History gives an account of it 40 Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 

among the Scythians, showing that 12, cap. 6 ; lib. 14, cap. 3. — Ixtlilx- 

they performed the operation, and ochitl, Hist. Chich., MS,, cap. 36. 


sired, in regard to the former, from the imperfection of 
the sources whence it is drawn. Whoever has had oc- 
casion to explore the early history of modern Europe, has 
found how vague and unsatisfactory is the political infor- 
mation which can be gleaned from the gossip of monkish 
annalists. How much is the difficulty increased in the 
present instance, where this information, first recorded in 
the dubious language of hieroglyphics, was interpreted 
in another language, with which the Spanish chroniclers 
were imperfectly acquainted, while it related to institu- 
tions of which their past experience enabled them to form 
no adequate conception ! Amidst such uncertain lights, 
it is in vain to expect nice accuracy of detail. All that 
can be done is, to attempt an outline of the more pro- 
minent features, that a correct impression, so far as it 
goes, may be produced on the mind of the reader. 

Enough has been said, however, to show that the 
Aztec and Tezcucan races were advanced in civilization 
very far beyond the wandering tribes of North America. 41 
The degree of civilization which they had reached, as 

41 Zurita is indignant at the epi- of the Aztec laws and institutions, 
thet of barbarians bestowed on the and on that of the modifications in- 
Aztecs ; an epithet, he says, " which troduced by the Spaniards. Much of 
could come from no one who had his treatise is taken up with the lat- 
personal knowledge of the capacity ter subject. In what relates to the 
of the people, or their institutions, former he is more brief than could 
and which, in some respects, is quite be wished, from the difficulty, per- 
as well merited by the European na- haps, of obtaining full and satisfac- 
tions." (Rapport, pp. 200, et seq.) tory information as to the details. 
This is strong language. Yet no one As far as he goes, however, he ma- 
had better means of knowing than nifests a sound and discriminating 
this eminent jurist, who, for nineteen judgment. He is very rarely be- 
years, held a post in the royal audi- trayed into the extravagance of ex- 
ences of New Spain. During his long pression so visible in the writers of 
residence in the country he had ample the time ; and this temperance, corn- 
opportunity of acquainting himself bined with his uncommon sources of 
with its usages, both through his information, makes his work one of 
own personal observation and inter- highest authority on the limited topics 
course with the natives, aud through within its range.— The original manu- 
the first missionaries who came over script was consulted by Clavigero, 
after the Conquest. On his return and, indeed, has been used by other 
to Spain, probably about 1560, he writers. The work is now accessible 
occupied himself with an answer to to all, as one of the series of trans- 
queries which had been propounded lations from the pen of the indefati- 
by the government, on the character gable Ternaux. 

chap, ii.] AZTEC CIVILIZATION. 39 

inferred by their political institutions, may be considered, 
perhaps, not much short of that enjoyed by our Saxon 
ancestors, under Alfred. In respect to the nature of it, 
they may be better compared with the Egyptians ; and 
the examination of their social relations and culture may 
suggest still stronger points of resemblance to that 
ancient people. 

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

The American Indian has something peculiarly sen- 
sitive in his nature. He shrinks instinctively from the 
rude touch of a foreign hand. Even when this foreign 
influence comes in the form of civilization, he seems to 
sink and pine away beneath it. It has been so with the 
Mexicans. Under the Spanish domination, their num- 
bers have silently melted away. Their energies are 
broken. They no longer tread their mountain plains 
with the conscious independence of their ancestors. In 

40 TORQUEMADA. [book i. 

their faltering step, and meek and melancholy aspect, 
we read the sad characters of the conquered race. The 
cause of humanity, indeed, has gained. They live under 
a better system of laws, a more assured tranquillity, a 
purer faith. But all does not avail. Their civilization 
was of the hardy character which belongs to the wilder- 
ness. The fierce virtues of the Aztec were all his own. 
They refused to submit to European culture — to be 
engrafted on a foreign stock. His outward form, his 
complexion, his lineaments, are substantially the same ; 
but the moral characteristics of the nation, all that con- 
stituted its individuality as a race, are effaced for ever. 

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

The other authority, frequently cited in the preceding pages, is the Abbe 
Clavigero's Storia Antica del Messico. It was originally printed towards 
the close of the last century, in the Italian language, and in Italy, whither 
the author, a native of Vera Cruz, and a member of the order of the Jesuits, 
had retired, on the expulsion of that body from America, in 1767. During 



a residence of thirty-five years in Lis own country, Clavigero had made him- 
self intimately acquainted with its antiquities, by the careful examination of 
paintings, manuscripts, and such other remains as were to be found in his 
day. The plan of his work is nearly as comprehensive as that of his pre- 
decessor, Torquemada; but the later and more cultivated period, in which 
he wrote, is visible in the superior address with which he has managed his 
complicated subject. In the elaborate disquisitions in his concluding volume, 
he has done much to rectify the chronology, and the various inaccuracies of 
preceding writers. Indeed, an avowed object of his work was, to vindicate 
his countrymen from what he conceived to be the misrepresentations of 
Robertson, Raynal, and De Pau. In regard to the last two, he was per- 
fectly successful. Such an ostensible design might naturally suggest un- 
favourable ideas of his impartiality. But, on the whole, he seems to have 
conducted the discussion with good faith ; and if he has been led by national 
zeal to overcharge the picture with brilliant colours, he will be found much 
more temperate on this score, than those who preceded him, while he has 
applied sound principles of criticism, of which they were incapable. In a 
word, the diligence of his researches has gathered into one focus the 
scattered lights of tradition and antiquarian lore, purified in a great measure 
from the mists of superstition which obscure the best productions of an 
earlier period. Erom these causes, the work, notwithstanding its occasional 
prolixity, and the disagreeable aspect given to it by the profusion of uncouth 
names in the Mexican orthography, which bristle over every page, has found 
merited favour with the public, and created something like a popular interest 
in the subject. Soon after its publication at Cesena, in 1780, it was trans- 
lated into English, and more lately, into Spanish and German. 

42 Tbook i. 


Mexican Mythology. — The Sacerdotal Order. — The Temples. — 
Human Sacrifices. 

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

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

At a later and more refined period, we sometimes find 
these primitive legends combined into a regular system 
under the hands of the poet, and the rude outline 
moulded into forms of ideal beauty, which are the objects 
of adoration in a credulous age, and the delight of all 

chap, in.] AZTEC CIVILIZATION. 43 

succeeding ones. Such were the beautiful inventions of 
Hesiod and Homer, " who," says the Father of History, 
" created the theogony of the Greeks ;" an assertion not 
to be taken too literally, since it is hardly possible that 
any man should create a religious system for his nation. 1 
They only filled up the shadowy outlines of tradition 
with the bright touches of their own imaginations, until 
they had clothed them in beauty which kindled the 
imaginations of others. The power of the poet, indeed, 
may be felt in a similar way in a much riper period of 
society. To say nothing of the " Divina Commedia," who 
is there that rises from the perusal of "Paradise Lost," 
without feeling his own conceptions of the angelic 
hierarchy quickened by those of the inspired artist, and 
a new and sensible form, as it were, given to images 
which had before floated dim and undefined before him? 

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

The Mexican religion had emerged from the first of 
the periods we have been considering, and, although 
little affected by poetical influences, had received a 
peculiar complexion from the priests, who had di- 
gested as thorough and burdensome a ceremonial as 
ever existed in any nation. They had, moreover, 
thrown the veil of allegory over early tradition, and 
invested their deities with attributes, savouring much 
more of the grotesque conceptions of the eastern na- 
tions in the Old World, than of the lighter fictions of 

1 ILoi-qo-avTes Qeoyovirjv "EAA^cri. plied the numerous gods that fill her 

Herodotus, Euterpe, sec. 53. — Pantheon/' Historical Researches, 

Heeren hazards a remark equally Eng. trans., (Oxford, 1833,) vol. iii, 

strong, respecting the epic poets of p. 139. 
India; "who," says he, "have sup- 


Greek mythology, in which the features of humanity, 
however exaggerated, were never wholly abandoned. 2 

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

The Aztecs recognised the existence of a supreme 
Creator and Lord of the universe. They addressed 
him in their prayers, as " the God by whom we live," 
"omnipresent, that knoweth all thoughts, and giveth 
all gifts," " without whom man is as nothing," " invi- 
sible, incorporeal, one God, of perfect perfection and 
purity," "under whose wings we find repose and a 
sure defence." These sublime attributes infer no in- 
adequate conception of the true God. But the idea 
of unity — of a being, with whom volition is action — 
who has no need of inferior ministers to execute his 
purposes — was too simple, or too vast, for their under- 
standings ; and they sought relief, as usual, in a plu- 
rality of deities, who presided over the elements, the 
changes of the seasons, and the various occupations of 

2 The Hon. Mountstuart Elphin- same chapter of this truly philoso- 
stone has fallen into a similar train phic work suggests some curious 
of thought, in a comparison of the points of resemblance to the Aztec 
Hindoo and Greek Mythology, in religious institutions, that may fur- 
bis "History of India," published nish pertinent illustrations to the 
since the remarks in the text were mind bent on tracing the affinities 
written. (See book 1. ch. 4.) The of the Asiatic and American races. 



man. 3 Of these, there were thirteen principal deities, 
and more than two hundred inferior ; to each of whom 
some special day, or appropriate festival, was con- 
secrated. 4 

At the head of all stood the terrible Huitzilopotchli, 
the Mexican Mars ; although it is doing injustice to 
the heroic war-god of antiquity to identify him with 
this sanguinary monster. This was the patron deity 
of the nation. His fantastic image was loaded with 
costly ornaments. His temples were the most stately 
and august of the public edifices ; and his altars reeked 
with the blood of human hecatombs in every city of 
the empire. Disastrous, indeed, must have been the 
influence of such a superstition on the character of the 
people. 5 

3 Hittei* has well shown, by the 
example of the Hindoo system, how 
the idea of unity suggests, of itself, 
that of plurality. History of An- 
cient Philosophy, Eng. trans., (Ox- 
ford, 1838,) book 2, cli. 1. 

4 Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva Es- 
paha, lib. 6, passim. — Acosta, lib. 
5, ch. 9. — Boturini, Idea, p. 8, et 
seq.— IxtlilxochitlHist. Chich., MS. 
cap. 1. — Camargo, Hist, de Tlascala, 

The Mexicans, according to Cla- 
vigero, believed in an evil Spirit, the 
enemy of the human race, whose 
barbarous name signified " Rational 
Owl." (Stor. del Messico, torn. ii. 
p. 2.) The curate Bernaldez speaks 
of the Devil being embroidered on 
the dresses of Columbus's Indians, 
in the likeness of an owl. (Historia 
de los Reyes Catolicos, MS., cap. 
131.) This must not be confounded, 
however, with the evil Spirit in the 
mythology of the North American 
Indians, (see Heckewelder's Account, 
ap. Transactions of the American 
Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, 
vol. i. p. 205,) still less, with the 
evil Principle of the Oriental nations 
of the Old World. It was only one 
among many deities, for evil was 
found too - liberally mingled in the 

natures of most of the Aztec gods, — 
in the same manner as with the 
Greek, — to admit of its personifica- 
tion by any one. 

5 Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva Es- 
paua, lib. 3, cap. 1, et seq. — Acosta, 
lib. 5, ch. 9. — Torquemada, Monarch. 
Ind., lib. 6, cap. 21.— Boturini, Idea, 
pp. 27, 28. 

Huitzilopotchli is compounded of 
two words, signifying " humming- 
bird," and " left," from his image 
having the feathers of this bird on 
its left foot ; (Clavigero, Stor. del 
Messico, torn. ii. p. 17 ;) an amiable 
etymology for so ruffian a deity — 
The fantastic forms of the Mexican 
idols were in the highest degree 
symbolical. See Gama's learned ex- 
position of the devices on the statue 
of the goddess found in the great 
square of Mexico. (Descripcion de 
las Dos Piedras, [Mexico, 1832,] 
parte 1, pp. 34 — 44.) The tradition 
respecting the origin of this god, 
or, at least, his appearance on earth, 
is curious. He was born of a wo- 
man. His mother, a devout person, 
one day, in her attendance on the 
temple, saw a ball of bright-coloured 
feathers floating in the air. She 
took it, and deposited it in her 
bosom. She soon after found her- 



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

From some cause, not explained, Quetzalcoatl in- 
curred the wrath of one of the principal gods, and was 
compelled to abandon the country. On his way, he 
stopped at the city of Cholula, where a temple was 
dedicated to his worship, the massy ruins of which still 
form one of the most interesting relics of antiquity 
in Mexico. When he reached the shores of the Mexi- 
can Gulf, he took leave of his followers, promising that 
he and his descendants would revisit them hereafter; 
and then entering his wizard skiff, made of serpents' 

self pregnant, and the dread deity of a virgin. So were the Fohi of 
was born, coming into the world, China, and the Schaka of Thibet, no 
like Minerva, all armed, — with a doubt the same, whether a mythic 
spear in the right hand, a shield in or a real personage. The Jesuits in 
the left, and his head surmounted by China, says Barrow, were appalled 
a crest of green plumes. (See Cla- at finding in the mythology of that 
vigero, Stor. del Messico, torn. ii. p. country the counterpart of the 
19, et seq.) A similar notion in Virgo Deipara." (Vol. i. p. 99, 
respect to the incarnation of their note.) The existence of similar re- 
principal deity existed among the ligious ideas in remote regions, in- 
people of India beyond the Ganges, habited by different races, is an in- 
of China, and of Thibet. " Budh," terestingsubject ofstudy; furnishing, 
says Milman, in his learned and as it does, one of the most important 
luminous work on the History of links in the great chain of commu- 
Christianity, "according to a tra- nication which binds together the 
dition known in the West, was bora distant families of nations. 

chap, in.] MEXICAN MYTHOLOGY. 47 

skins, embarked on the great ocean for the fabled land 
of Tlapallan. He was said to have been tall in stature, 
with a white skin, long, dark hair, and a flowing beard. 
The Mexicans looked confidently to the return of the 
benevolent deity ; and this remarkable tradition, deeply 
cherished in their hearts, prepared the way, as we 
shall see hereafter, for the future success of the 
Spaniards. 6 

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

The Aztecs, felt the curiosity, common to man in 
almost every stage of civilization, to lift the veil 
which covers the mysterious past, and the more 
awful future. They sought relief, like the nations 
of the Old Continent, from the oppressive idea of 
eternity, by breaking it up into distinct cycles, or 
periods of time, each of several thousand years' dura- 
tion. There were four of these cycles, and at the end 
of each, by the agency of one of the elements, the 

6 Codex Vaticanus, PI. 15, and this rather startling conjecture he is 

Codex Telleriano-Remensis, Part 2, supported by several of his devout 

PI. 2, ap. Antiq. of Mexico, vols, i., countrymen, who appear to have as 

vi. — Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva Es- little doubt of the fact, as of the ad- 

pana, lib. 3, cap. 3, 4, 13, 14. — Tor- vent of St. James, for a similar pur- 

quemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 6, cap. pose, in the mother country. See 

24. — Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., the various authorities and argu- 

cap. 1. — Gomara, Crdnica de la ments set forth with becoming gra- 

Nueva Espana, cap. 222, ap. Barcia, vity in Dr. Mier's dissertation in 

Historiadores Primitivos de las In- Bustamente's edition of Sahagun, 

dias Occidentales, (Madrid, 1749,) (lib. 3, Suplem., [and Veytia,] torn, 

torn. ii. i. pp. 160 — 200.) Our ingenious 

Quetzalcoatl signifies " feathered countryman, M'Culloch, carries the 
serpent." The last syllable means, Aztec god up to a still more respect- 
likewise, a " twin " ; which fur- able antiquity, by identifying him 
nished an argument for Dr. Siguenza with the patriarch Noah. Researches, 
to identify this god with the Apostle Philosophical and Antiquarian, con- 
Thomas, (Didymus signifying also a ceruing the Aboriginal History of 
twin,) who, he supposes, came over America, (Baltimore, 1829,) p. 233. 
to America to preach the gospel. In 


human family was swept from the earth, and the 
sun blotted out from the heavens, to be again re- 
kindled. 7 

They imagined three separate states of existence 
in the future life. The wicked, comprehending the 
greater part of mankind, were to expiate their sins in 
a place of everlasting darkness. Another class, with 
no other merit than that of having died of certain 
diseases, capriciously selected, were to enjoy a negative 
existence of indolent contentment. The highest place 
was reserved, as in most warlike nations, for the heroes 
who fell in battle, or in sacrifice. They passed, at 
once, into the presence of the Sun, whom they ac- 
companied with songs and choral dances, in his bright 
progress through the heavens ; and, after some years, 
their spirits went to animate the clouds and singing 
birds of beautiful plumage, and to revel amidst the 
rich blossoms and odours of the gardens of paradise. 8 
Such was the heaven of the Aztecs ; more refined in 
its character than that of the more polished pagan, 

7 Cod. Vat. PI. 7 — 10 ap. Antiq. while the cycles of the Vatican 

of Mexico, vols, i., vi. — Ixtlilxochitl, paintings take up near 18,000 years. 

Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 1. — It is interesting to observe how 

M. de Humboldt has been at some the wild conjectures of an ignorant 
pains to trace the analogy between age have been confirmed by the 
the Aztec cosmogony and that of more recent discoveries in geology, 
Eastern Asia. He has tried, though making it probable that the earth 
in vain, to find a multiple which has experienced a number of con- 
might serve as the key to the calcu- vulsions, possibly thousands of years 
lations of the former. (Vues des distant from each other, which have 
Cordilleres, pp. 202 — 212.) In swept away the races then exist- 
truth, there seems to be a material iug, and given a new aspect to the 
discordance in the Mexican state- globe. 

ments, both in regard to the number 8 Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva Es- 

of revolutions and their duration. A paiia, lib. 3, Apend. — Cod. Vat., ap. 

manuscript before me, of Ixtlilxo- Antiq. of Mexico, PI. 1 — 5. — Tor- 

chitl, reduces them to three, before quemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 13, 

the present state of the world, and cap. 48. 

allows only 4,394 years for them ; The last writer assures us, " that 

(Sumaria Kelacioii, MS.. No. 1 ;) as to what the Aztecs said of their 

Gama, on the faith of an ancient going to hell, they were right ; for, 

Indian MS., in Boturini's Catalogue, as they died in ignorance of the true 

(viii. 13.) reduces the duration still faith, they have, without question, 

lower ; (Description de las Dos all gone there to suffer everlasting 

Piedras, parte 1, p. 49, et seq. ;) punishment ! " Ubi supra. 

chap, in.] MEXICAN MYTHOLOGY. 49 

whose elysium reflected only the martial sports, or 
sensual gratifications of this life. 9 In the destiny they 
assigned to the wicked, we discern similar traces of 
refinement; since the absence of all physical torture 
forms a striking contrast to the schemes of sufFerinp; 
so ingeniously devised by the fancies of the most en- 
lightened nations. 10 In all this, so contrary to the 
natural suggestions of the ferocious Aztec, we see the 
evidences of a higher civilization, inherited from their 
predecessors in the land. 

Our limits will allow only a brief allusion to one or 
two of their most interesting ceremonies. On the death 
of a person, his corpse was dressed in the peculiar habili- 
ments of his tutelar deity. It was strewed with pieces 
of paper, which operated as charms against the dangers 
of the dark road he was to travel. A throng of slaves, 
if he were rich, was sacrificed at his obsequies. His 
body was burned, and the ashes, collected in a vase, were 
preserved in one of the apartments of his house. Here 
we have successively the usages of the Roman Catholic, 
the Mussulman, the Tartar, and the ancient Greek and 
Roman ; curious coincidences, which may show how cau- 
tious we should be in adopting conclusions founded on 
analogy. 11 

A more extraordinary coincidence may be traced with 

9 It conveys but a poor idea of " He sees •with other eyes than 

these pleasures, that the shade of theirs ; where they 

Achilles can say, " he had rather be Behold a sun, he spies a deity." 

the slave of the meanest man on 10 It is singular that the Tuscan 

earth, than sovereign among the bard, while exhausting his invention 

dead." (Odyss. A. 488—490.) The in devising modes of bodily torture 

Mahometans believe that the souls in his " Inferno," should have made 

of martyrs pass, after death, into the so little use of the moral sources of 

bodies of birds, that haunt the sweet misery. That he has not done so 

waters and bowers of Paradise. might be reckoned a strong proof of 

(Sale's Koran, [London, 1S25,] vol. the rudeness of the time, did we not 

i. p. 106.) — The Mexican heaven meet with examples of it in a later 

may remind one of Dante's in its day ; in which a serious and sublime 

material enjoyments ; which, in both, writer, like Dr. Watts, does not 

are made up of light, music, and disdain to employ the same coarse 

motion. The sun, it must also be machinery for moving the conscience 

remembered, was a spiritual con- of the reader, 

ception with the Aztec ; " Carta del Lie. Zuazo, (Nov., 

VOL. I. E 


Christian rites, in the ceremony of naming their children. 
The lips and bosom of the infant were sprinkled with 
water, and " the Lord was implored to permit the holy 
drops to wash away the sin that was given to it before the 
foundation of the world ; so that the child might be born 
anew." 12 We are reminded of Christian morals, in more 
than one of their prayers, in which they used regular 
forms. "Wilt thou blot us out, Lord, for ever? « Is 
this punishment intended, not for our reformation, but 
for our destruction?" Again, " Impart to us, out of thy 
great mercy, thy gifts which we are not worthy to receive 
through our own merits." " Keep peace with all," says 
another petition; "bear injuries with humility; God, 
who sees, will avenge you." But the most striking 
parallel with Scripture is in the remarkable declaration, 
that " he who looks too curiously on a woman, commits 
adultery with his eyes." These pure and elevated maxims, 
it is true, are mixed up with others of a puerile, and even 
brutal character, arguing that confusion of the moral 
perceptions, which is natural in the twilight of civilization. 
One would not expect, however, to meet, in such a state 
of society, with doctrines as sublime as any inculcated by 
the enlightened codes of ancient philosophy. 13 

1521,) MS. — Acosta, lib. 5, cap. 8. Saliagun's account, see Appendix, 

— Torquemada, Monarch. Indiana, Part 1, No. 1. note 26. 

lib. 13, cap. 45. — Sahagun, Hist, de 13 " ,j Es posible que este azote 

Nueva Espana, lib. 3, Apend. y este castigo no se nos da para 

Sometimes the body was buried nuestra correccion y enmienda, sino 

entire, with valuable treasures, if the para total destruccionyasolamiento?" 

deceased was rich. The "Anony- (Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva Espana, 

mous Conqueror," as he is called, lib. 6, cap. 1.) "Y esto por sola 

saw gold to the value of 3,000 castel- vuestra liberalidad y magnificencia 

lanos drawn from one of these tombs. lo habeis de hacer, que ninguno es 

Relatione d'un gentil' huomo, ap. digno ni merecedor de recibir vues- 

ltamusio, torn. iii. p. 310. tras larguezas por su dignidad y 

12 This interesting rite, usually merecimiento, sino que por vuestra 

solemnized with great formality, in benignidad." (Ibid., lib. 6, cap. 2. 

the presence of the assembled friends " Sed sufridos y reportados, que Dios 

and relatives, is detailed with minute- bien os ve y respondera por vosotros, 

ness by Sahagun, (Hist, de Nueva y el os vengara (a) sed humildes con 

Espana, lib. 6, cap. 37,) and by Zuazo, todos, y con esto os hara Dios merced 

(Carta, MS.,) both of them eyewit- y tambien honra." (Ibid., lib. 6, 

nesses. For a version of part of cap. ] 7-) " Tampoco mires con 


But, although the Aztec mythology gathered nothing 
from the beautiful inventions of the poet, nor from the 
refinements of philosophy, it was much indebted, as I 
have noticed, to the priests, who endeavoured to dazzle 
the imagination of the people by the most formal and 
pompous ceremonial. The influence of the priesthood 
must be greatest in an imperfect state of civilization, 
where it engrosses all the scanty science of the time in 
its own body. This is particularly the case, when the 
science is of that spurious kind which is less occupied 
with the real phenomena of nature, than with the fan- 
ciful chimeras of human superstition. Such are the 
sciences of astrology and divination, in which the Aztec 
priests were well initiated; and while they seemed to 
hold the keys of the future in their own hands, they 
impressed the ignorant people with sentiments of super- 
stitious awe, beyond that which has probably existed in 
any other country — even in Ancient Egypt. 

The sacerdotal order was very numerous, as may be 
inferred from the statement, that five thousand priests 
were, in some way or other, attached to the principal 
temple in the capital. The various ranks and functions 
of this multitudinous body were discriminated with great 
exactness. Those best instructed in music took the 
management of the choirs. Others arranged the festivals 
conformably to the calendar. Some superintended the 
education of youth, and others had charge of the hiero- 
glyphical paintings and oral traditions ; while the dismal 
rites of sacrifice were reserved for the chief dignitaries of 
the order. At the head of the whole establishment were 
two high-priests, elected from the order, as it would 
seem, by the king and principal nobles, without reference 
to birth, but solely for their qualifications, as shown by 

euriosidad el gesto y disposition de la cnriosamente mira a la muger adul- 

gente principal, mayormente de las tera con la vista." (Ibid., lib. 6, 

mugeres, y sobre todo de las casadas, cap. 22.) 
porque dice el refran que el que 

E 2 


their previous conduct in a subordinate station. They 
were equal in dignity, and inferior only to the sovereign, 
who rarely acted without their advice in weighty matters 
of public concern. 14 

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

" In hopes to merit Leaven by making eartb a hell." 15 

The great cities were divided into districts, placed 
under the charge of a sort of parochial clergy, who regu- 
lated every act of religion within their precincts. It is 
remarkable that they administered the rites of confession 
and absolution. The secrets of the confessional were 
held inviolable, and penances were imposed of much the 
same kind as those enjoined in the Roman Catholic 

14 'Sabagun, Hist, de Nueva Es- the fact may be." (Monarch. Ind., 

pana, lib. 2, Apend. ; lib. 3, cap. 9. — lib. 9, cap. 5.) It is contradicted by 

Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 8, Sabagun, whom I have followed as 

cap. 20 ; lib. 9, cap. 3, 56. — Gomara, the highest authority in these mat- 

Grou., cap. 215, ap. Barcia, torn. ii. ters. Clavigero bad no other know- 

— Toribio, Hist, de los Indios, MS., ledge of Sabagun' s work than what 

Parte 1, cap. 4. was filtered through the writings of 

Clavigero says, that the high-priest Torquemada, and later authors, 
was necessarily a person of rank. 

(Stor. del Messico, torn. ii. p. 37.) 15 Sabagun, Hist, de Nueva Es- 

I find no authority for this, not even paha, ubi supra. — Torquemada, Mo- 

in bis oracle; Torquemada, who ex- narcb. Ind., lib. 9, cap. 25. — Gomara, 

pressly says, "There is no warrant Crdn., ap. Barcia, ubi supra. — Acosta, 

for the assertion, however probable lib. 5, cap. 14, 17. 

chap, in.] SACERDOTAL ORDER. 53 

Church. There were two remarkable peculiarities in the 
Aztec ceremony. The first was, that, as the repetition 
of an offence, once atoned for, was deemed inexpiable, 
confession was made but once in a man's life, and was 
usually deferred to a late period of it, when the penitent 
unburdened his conscience, and settled, at once, the long 
arrears of iniquity. Another peculiarity was, that priestly 
absolution was received in place of the legal punishment 
of offences, and authorized an acquittal in case of arrest. 
Long after the Conquest, the simple natives, when they 
came under the arm of the law, sought to escape by pro- 
ducing the certificate of their confession. 16 

One of the most important duties of the priesthood 
was that of education, to which certain buildings were 
appropriated within the inclosure of the principal temple. 
Here the youth of both sexes, of the higher and middling 
orders, were placed at a very tender age. The girls were 
intrusted to the care of priestesses ; for women were 
allowed to exercise sacerdotal functions, except those of 
sacrifice. 17 In these institutions the boys were drilled in 

16 Sahagun, Hist, cle Nueva Es- like thine, and they are men like thee!' 

pafia, lib. 1, cap. 12 ; lib. 6, cap. 7. Such is the strange medley of truly 

The address of the confessor, on Christian benevolence and heathenish 
these occasions, contains some things abominations which pervades the 
too remarkable to be omitted. " O Aztec litany, intimating sources 
merciful Lord," he says, in his prayer, widely different. 
"Thou who knowest the secrets of 17 The Egyptian gods were also 
all hearts, let thy forgiveness and served by priestesses. (See Hero- 
favour descend, like the pure waters dotus, Euterpe, sec. 54.) Tales of 
of heaven, to wash away the stains scandal similar to those which the 
from the soul. Thou knowest that Greeks circulated respecting them, 
this poor man has sinned, not from have been told of the Aztec virgins. 
his own free -will, but from the in- (See Le Noir's dissertation, ap. An- 
fluence of the sign under which he tiquites Mexicaines, [Paris, 1834,] 
was born." After a copious exhor- torn. ii. page 7, note.) The early 
tation to the penitent, enjoining a missionaries, credulous enough cer- 
variety of mortifications and minute tainly, give no countenance to such 
ceremonies by way of penance, and reports ; and father Acosta, on the 
particularly urging the necessity of contrary, exclaims, "In truth, it is 
instantly procuring a slave for sacri- very strange to see that this false 
fee to the Deity, the priest concludes opinion of religion hath so great 
with inculcating charity to the poor. force among these young men and 
" Clothe the naked and feed the maidens of Mexico, that they will 
hungry, whatever privations it may serve the Divell with so great rigour 
cost thee : for remember their flesh is and austerity, which many of us doe 


the routine of monastic discipline ; they decorated the 
shrines of the gods with flowers, fed the sacred fires, and 
took part in the religious chants and festivals. Those in 
the higher school, the Calmecac, as it was called, were 
initiated in their traditionary lore, the mysteries of hiero- 
glyphics, the principles of government, and such branches 
of astronomical and natural science as were within the 
compass of the priesthood. The girls learned various 
feminine employments, especially to weave and embroider 
rich coverings for the altars of the gods. Great atten- 
tion was paid to the moral discipline of both sexes. The 
most perfect decorum prevailed ; and offences were 
punished with extreme rigour, in some instances with 
death itself. Terror, not love, was the spring of educa- 
tion with the Aztecs. 18 

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

To each of the principal temples, lands were annexed 
for the maintenance of the priests. These estates were 

not in the service of the most high 15,16. — Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., 

God; the which is a great shame and lib. 9, cap. 11 — 14, 30, 31. 
confusion." Eng. Trans., lib. 5, " They were taught," says the 

cap. 18. good father last cited, "to eschew 

vice, and cleave to virtue, — according 

18 Toribio, Hist, de los Indios, to their notions of them ; namely, to 

MS., Parte 1, cap. 9. — Sahagun, abstain from wrath, to offer violence 

Hist, de Nueva Espafia, lib. 2, Apend.; and do wrong to no man, — in short, 

lib. 3, cap. 4 — 8. — Zurita, Rapport, to perform the duties plainly pointed 

pp. 123 — 126.— Acosta, lib. 5, cap. out by natural religion." 

chap, in.] SACERDOTAL ORDER. 55 

augmented by the policy or devotion of successive princes ; 
until, under the last Montezuma, they had swollen to an 
enormous extent, and covered every district of the empire. 
The priests took the management of their property into 
their own hands ; and they seem to have treated their 
tenants with the liberality and indulgence characteristic 
of monastic corporations. Besides the large supplies 
drawn from this source, the religious order was enriched 
with the first-fruits, and such other offerings as piety or 
superstition dictated. The surplus beyond what was 
required for the support of the national worship, was dis- 
tributed in alms among the poor; a duty strenuously 
prescribed by their moral code. Thus we find the same 
religion inculcating lessons of pure philanthropy on the 
one hand, and of merciless extermination, as we shall soon 
see, on the other. The inconsistency will not appear 
incredible to those who are familiar with the history of 
the Roman Catholic Church, in the early ages of the 
Inquisition. 19 

The Mexican temples, — teocallis, " houses of God," as 
they were called, were very numerous. There were 
several hundreds in each of the principal cities, many of 
them, doubtless, very humble edifices. They were solid 
masses of earth, cased with brick or stone, and in their 
form somewhat resembled the pyramidal structures of 
ancient Egypt. The bases of many of them were more 
than a hundred feet square, and they towered to a still 
greater height. They were distributed into four or five 
stories, each of smaller dimensions than that below. The 
ascent was by a flight of steps, at an angle of the pyramid, 

19 Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., English reader may consult, for the 

lib. 8, cap. 20, 21.— Camargo, Hist. same purpose, Heeren, (Hist. Res., 

de Tlascala, MS. vol. v. chap. 2,) Wilkinson, (Manners 

It is impossible not to be struck and Customs of the Ancient Egyp- 

with the great resemblance, not tians,[London,1837,] vol. i. pp. 257 — ■ 

merely in a few empty forms, but in 279,) the last writer especially, who 

the whole way of life, of the Mexican has contributed, more than all others, 

and Egyptian priesthood. Compare towards opening to us the interior of 

Herodotus (Euterpe, passim) and the social life of this interesting 

Diodorus (lib. 1, sec. 73, 8]). The people. 


on the outside. This led to a sort of terrace or gallery, 
at the base of the second story, which passed quite round 
the building to another flight of stairs, commencing also 
at the same angle as the preceding and directly over it, 
and leading to a similar terrace ; so that one had to make 
the circuit of the temple several times, before reaching 
the summit. In some instances the stairway led directly 
up the centre of the western face of the building. The top 
was a broad area, on which were erected one or two 
towers, forty or fifty feet high, the sanctuaries in which 
stood the sacred images of the presiding deities. Before 
these towers stood the dreadful stone of sacrifice, and two 
lofty altars, on which fires were kept, as inextinguishable 
as those in the temple of Vesta. There were said to be 
six hundred of these altars on smaller buildings within 
the enclosure of the great temple of Mexico, which, with 
those on the sacred edifices in other parts of the city, shed 
a brilliant illumination over its streets, through the darkest 
night. 20 

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

This impression was kept in full force by their nume- 
rous festivals. Every month was consecrated to some 

20 Rel. d'un gent., ap. llamusio, of the smaller temples, or pyramids, 

torn. iii. fol. 307. — Camargo, Hist. Avere filled with earth impregnated 

de Tlascala, MS. — Acosta, lib. 5, with odoriferous gums and gold dust ; 

cap. 13. — Gomara, Cron., cap. SO, the latter, sometimes in such quan- 

ap. Barcia, torn. ii. — Toribio, Hist. tities as probably to be worth a 

de los Iudios, MS., Parte 1, cap. 4. million of castellanos ! (Ubi supra.) 

Carta del Lie Zuazo, MS. These were the temples of Mammon, 

This last writer, who visited indeed ! But I find no confirmation 

Mexico immediately after the Con- of such golden reports, 
quest in 1521, assures us that some 

chap, ill.] HUMAN SACRIFICES. 57 

protecting deity ; and every week — nay, almost every 
day, was set down in their calendar for some appropriate 
celebration ; so that it is difficult to understand how the 
ordinary business of life could have been compatible with 
the exactions of religion. Many of their ceremonies 
were of a light and cheerful complexion, consisting of the 
national songs and dances, in which both sexes joined. 
Processions were made of women and children crowned 
with garlands and bearing offerings of fruits, the ripened 
maize, or the sweet incense of copal and other odoriferous 
gums, while the altars of the deity were stained with no 
blood save that of animals. 21 These were the peaceful 
rites derived from their Toltec predecessors, on which the 
fierce Aztecs engrafted a superstition too loathsome to be 
exhibited in alL its nakedness, and one over which I would 
gladly draw a veil altogether, but that it would leave the 
reader in ignorance of their most striking institution, and 
one that had the greatest influence in forming the national 

Human sacrifices were adopted by the Aztecs early in 
the fourteenth century, about two hundred years before 
the Conquest. 22 Rare at first, they became more frequent 
with the wider extent of their empire; till, at length, 
almost every festival was closed with this cruel abomina- 
tion. These religious ceremonials were generally arranged 
in such a manner as to afford a type of the most pro- 
minent circumstances in the character or history of the 
deity who was the object of them. A single example 
will suffice. 

One of their most important festivals was that in honour 

21 Cod. Tel. Rem... PI. 1, and Cod. 22 The traditions of their origin 

Vat., passim, ap. Autiq. of Mexico, have somewhat of a fabulous tinge, 

vols. L, vi — Torquemada, Monarch. But, whether true or false, they are 

Ind., lib. 10, cap. 10, et seq. — Saha- equally indicative of unparalleled 

gun, Hist, de Nueva Espaiia, lib. 2, ferocity in the people who could be 

passim. the subject of them. Clavigero, Stor. 

Among the oiferings, quails may del Messico, torn. i. p. 167, et seq. ; 

be particularly noticed, for the iucre- also Humboldt, (who does not appear 

dible quantities of them sacrificed and to doubt them,) Vues des Cordilleres, 

consumed at many of the festivals. p. 95. 


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

At length the fatal day of sacrifice arrived. The term 
of his short-lived glories was at an end. He was stripped 
of his gaudy apparel, and bade adieu to the fair partners 
of his revelries. One of the royal barges transported him 
across the lake to a temple which rose on its margin, 
about a league from the city. Hither the inhabitants of 
the capital flocked, to witness the consummation of the 
ceremony. As the sad procession wound up the sides of 
the pyramid, the unhappy victim threw away his gay 
chaplets of flowers, and broke in pieces the musical in- 
struments with which he had solaced the hours of cap- 
tivity. On the summit he was received by six priests, 
whose long and matted locks flowed disorderly over their 
sable robes, covered with hieroglyphic scrolls of mystic 

CHAP. Ill 


import. They led him to the sacrificial stone, a huge 
block of jasper, with its upper surface somewhat convex. 
On this the prisoner was stretched. Five priests secured 
his head and his limbs ; while the sixth, clad in a scarlet 
mantle, emblematic of his bloody office, dexterously opened 
the breast of the wretched victim with a sharp razor of 
itztti, — a volcanic substance hard as flint, — and, inserting 
Ids hand in the wound, tore out the palpitating heart. 
The minister of death, first holding this up towards the 
sun, an object of worship throughout Anahuac, cast it at 
the feet of the deity to whom the temple was devoted, 
while the multitudes below prostrated themselves in 
humble adoration. The tragic story of this prisoner was 
expounded by the priests as the type of human destiny, 
which, brilliant in its commencement, too often closes in 
sorrow and disaster. 23 

Such was the form of human sacrifice usually practised 
by the Aztecs. It was the same that often met the in- 
dignant eyes of the Europeans, in their progress through 
the country, and from the dreadful doom of which they 
themselves were not exempted. There were, indeed, 
some occasions when preliminary tortures, of the most 
exquisite kind, with which it is unnecessary to shock 
the reader, were inflicted ; but they always terminated 
with the bloody ceremony above described. It should be 
remarked, however, that such tortures were not the spon- 
taneous suggestions of cruelty, as with the North Ameri- 
can Indians ; but were all rigorously prescribed in the 
Aztec ritual, and doubtless were often inflicted with 
the same compunctious visitings which a devout familiar 
of the Holy Office might at times experience in executing 

23 Sahagun,]MuevaEspaiia, Regimiento de Vera Cruz, (Julio, 

lib. 2, cap. 2, 5, 24, et alibi.— Hen-era, 1519,) MS. 

Hist. General, dec. 3, lib. 2, cap. 16. Few readers, probably will sym- 
— Torquemada, Monarch, hid., lib. 7, pathise with the sentence of Torque- 
cap. 19 ; lib. 10, cap. 14. — Rel. d' un mada, who concludes his tale of woe 
gent., ap. Ramusio, torn, iii, fol. 307. by coolly dismissing " the soul of the 
— Acosta, lib. 5, cap. 9 — 21. — Carta victim, to sleep with those of his false 
del Lie. Zuazo, MS. — Relacion por el gods, in hell!" Lib. 10, cap. 23. 


its stern decrees. 24 Women, as well as the other sex, 
were sometimes reserved for sacrifice. On some occasions, 
particularly in seasons of drought, at the festival of the 
insatiable Tlaloc, the god of rain, children, for the most 
part infants, were offered up. As they were borne along 
in open litters, dressed in their festal robes, and decked 
with the fresh blossoms of spring, they moved the hard- 
est heart to pity, though their cries were drowned in the 
wild chant of the priests, who read in their tears a favour- 
able augury for their petition. These innocent victims 
were generally bought by the priests of parents who were 
poor, but who stifled the voice of nature, probably less at 
the suggestions of poverty, than of a wretched supersti- 
tion. 25 

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

24 Sahagmi, Hist, de Nueva Es- tion was sometimes furnished with 

paiia, lib. 2, cap. 10, 29. — Gomara, arms, and brought against a number 

Crdn., cap. 219, ap. Barcia, torn. ii. of Mexicans in succession. If he 

— Toribio, Hist, de los Indios, MS., defeated them all, as did occasionally 

Parte 1, cap. 6 — 11. happen, he was allowed to escape. 

The reader will find a tolerably If vanquished, he was dragged to 

exact picture of the nature of these the block and sacrificed in the usual 

tortures in the twenty-first canto of manner. The combat was fought on 

the " Inferno." The fantastic crea- a huge circular stone, before the as- 

tions of the Florentine poet were sembled capital. Sahagmi, Hist, de 

nearly realized, at the very time he Nueva Espana, lib. 2, cap. 21 — Eel. 

was writing, by the barbarians of an d'un gent., ap. Ramusio, torn. iii. 

unknown world. One sacrifice of a fol. 305. 

less revolting character, deserves to 25 Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva Es- 

be mentioned. The Spaniards called paiia, lib. 2, cap. 1, 4, 21, et alibi. — 

it the " gladiatorial sacrifice," and it Torqneiuada, Monarch. Ind., lib, 10, 

may remind one of the bloody games cap. 10.— Clavigero, Stor. del Mes- 

of antiquity. A captive of distinc- sico, torn. ii. pp, 76, 82. 




refinement and the extreme of barbarism brought so 
closely in contact with each other ! 26 

Human sacrifices have been practised by many nations, 
not excepting the most polished nations of antiquity; 27 
but never by any, on a scale to be compared with those 
in Anahuac. The amount of victims immolated on its 
accursed altars would stagger the faith of the least 
scrupulous believer. Scarcely any author pretends to 
estimate the yearly sacrifices throughout the empire at 
less than twenty thousand, and some carry the number 
as high as fifty ! 28 

On great occasions, as the coronation of a king, or the 
consecration of a temple, the number becomes still more 
appalling. At the dedication of the great temple of 
Huitzilopotchli, in 1486, the prisoners, who for some 
years had been reserved for the purpose, were drawn 
from all quarters to the capital. They were ranged in 

states that 20,000 victims were 
yearly slaughtered in the capital. 
Torquemada turns this into 20,000 
infants. (Monarch. Ind., lib. 7, cap. 
21.) Herrera, following Acosta, 
says 20,000 victims on a specified 
day of the year, throughout the 
kingdom. (Hist. General, dec. 2, 
lib. 2, cap. 16.) Clavigero, more 
cautious, infers that this number 
may have been sacrificed annually 
throughout Anahuac. (Ubi supra.) 
Las Casas, however, in his reply to 
Sepulveda's assertion, that no one 
who had visited the New World put 
the number of yearly sacrifices at less 
than 20,000, declares that "this is 
the estimate of brigands, who wish 
to find an apology for their own atro- 
cities, and that the real number was 
not above 50 !" (CEuvres, ed. Llo- 
rente, [Paris, 1822,] torn. i. pp. 365, 
386.) Probably the good Bishop's 
arithmetic, here, as in most other 
instances, came more from his heart 
than his head. With such loose and 
contradictory data, it is clear that 
any specific number is mere conjec- 
ture, undeserving the name of calcu- 

26 Carta del Lie. Zuazo, MS.— 
Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 7, 
cap. 19. — Herrera, Hist. General, 
dec. 3, lib. 2, cap. 17. — Sahagun, 
Hist, de Nueva Espana, lib. 2, cap. 
21, et alibi. — Toribio, Hist, de los 
Indios, MS., Parte 1, cap. 2. 

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

28 See Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, 
torn. ii. p. 49. 

Bishop Zumarraga, in a letter writ- 
ten a few years after the Conquest, 


files, forming a procession nearly two miles long. The 
ceremony consumed several clays, and seventy thousand 
captives are said to have perished at the shrine of this 
terrible deity ! But who can believe that so numerous 
a bodv would have suffered themselves to be led unresist- 
ingly like sheep to the slaughter ? Or how could their 
remains, too great for consumption in the ordinary way, 
be disposed of, without breeding a pestilence in the capi- 
tal ? Yet the event was of recent date, and is unequivo- 
cally attested by the best informed historians. 29 One 
fact may be considered certain. It was customary to 
preserve the skulls of the sacrificed, in buildings appro- 
priated to the purpose. The companions of Cortes 
counted one hundred and thirty-six thousand in one of 
these edifices ! 30 Without attempting a precise calcula- 
tion, therefore, it is safe to conclude that thousands were 
yearly offered up, in the different cities of Anahuac, 
on the bloody altars of the Mexican divinities. 31 

Indeed, the great object of war with the Aztecs, was 
quite as much to gather victims for their sacrifices, as to 
extend their empire. Hence it was, that an enemy was 
never slain in battle, if there were a chance of taking him 

29 I am within bounds. Torque- zotl a man " of a mild and moderate 

mada states the number, most pre- disposition," templada y benigjia con- 

cisely, at 72,344. (Monarch. Ind., dicion! Ibid., vol. v. p. 49. 
lib. 2, cap. 63.) Ixtlilxochitl, with 30 Gomara states the number on 

equal precision, at 80,400. (Hist. the authority of two soldiers, whose 

Chich., MS.,) Quien sabe? The names he gives, who took the trou- 

latter adds, that the captives massa- ble to count the grinning horrors in 

cred in the capital, in the course one of these Golgothas, where they 

of that memorable year, exceeded were so arranged as to produce the 

100,000 ! (Loc. cit.) One, however, most hideous effect. The existence 

has to read but a little way to find of these conservatories is attested by 

out that the science of numbers, at every writer of the time, 
least, where the party was not an 31 The "Anonymous Conqueror" 

eyewitness, is anything but an exact assures us, as a fact beyond dispute, 

science with these ancient chroni- that the devil introduced himself into 

clers. The Codex Tel.-Remensis, the bodies of the idols, and persuaded 

written some fifty years after the the silly priests that his only diet was 

Conquest, reduces the amount to human hearts i It furnishes a very 

20,000. (Antiq. of Mexico, vol. i., satisfactory solution, to his mind, of 

PI. 19; vol. vi. p. 14], Eng. note.) the frequency of sacrifices in Mexico. 

Even this hardly warrants the Span- Rel/d'un gent., ap. Ramusio, tom.'iii., 

ish interpreter in calling king Ahuit- fol. 307. 

chap, in.] HUMAN SACRIFICES. 03 

alive. To this circumstance the Spaniards repeatedly 
owed their preservation. When Montezuma was asked, 
" why he had suffered the republic of Tlascala to main- 
tain her independence on his borders," he replied, " That 
she might furnish him with victims for his gods !" As 
the supply began to fail, the priests, the Dominicans of 
the New World, bellowed aloud for more, and urged on 
their superstitious sovereign by the denunciations of ce- 
lestial wrath. Like the militant churchmen of Christen- 
dom in the Middle Ages, they mingled themselves in the 
ranks, and were conspicuous in the thickest of the fight, 
by their hideous aspects and frantic gestures. Strange, 
that in every country the most fiendish passions of the 
human heart have been those kindled in the name of re- 
ligion ! 32 

The influence of these practices on the Aztec cha- 
racter was as disastrous as might have been expected. 
Familiarity with the bloody rites of sacrifice steeled the 
heart against human sympathy, and begat a thirst for 
carnage, like that excited in the Romans by the exhibi- 
tions of the circus. The perpetual recurrence of ceremo- 
nies, in which the people took part, associated religion 
with their most intimate concerns, and spread the gloom 
of superstition over the domestic hearth, until the cha- 
racter of the nation wore a grave and even melancholy 
aspect, which belongs to their descendants at the present 

32 The Tezcucan priests would fain which the troops of the hostile na- 

have persuaded the good king Neza- tions were to engage at stated sea- 

hualcoyotl, on occasion of a pesti- sons, and thus supply themselves 

lence, to appease the gods by the sa- with subjects for sacrifice. The vic- 

crifice of some of his own subjects, torious party was not to pursue his 

instead of his enemies; on the advantage by invading the others' 

ground, that, not only they would territory, and they were to continue, 

be obtained more easily, but would in all other respects, on the most 

be fresher victims, and more accept- amicable footing. (Ubi supra.) The 

able. (Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., historian, who follows in the track of 

MS., cap. 41.) This writer mentions the Tezcucan chronicler, may often 

a cool arrangement entered into by find occasion to shelter himself, like 

the allied monarchs with the repub- Ariosto, with 

lie of Tlascala and her confederates. " Mettendolo Turpin, lo metto 

A ba'ttle-field was marked out, on anch'io." 



day. The influence of the priesthood, of course, be- 
came unbounded. The sovereign thought himself 
honoured by being permitted to assist in the services of 
the temple. Par from limiting the authority of the 
priests to spiritual matters, he often surrendered his 
opinions to theirs, where they were least competent to 
give it. It was their opposition that prevented the 
final capitulation which would have saved the capital. 
The whole nation, from the peasant to the prince, 
bowed their necks to the worst kind of tyranny — that 
of a blind fanaticism. 

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

Human sacrifice, however cruel, has nothing in it 
degrading to its victim. It may be rather said to en- 
noble him by devoting him to the gods. Although so 
terrible with the Aztecs, it was sometimes voluntarily 
embraced by them, as the most glorious death, and one 
that opened a sure passage into paradise. 33 The Inqui- 

33 Rel. d'un gent., ap. Hamusio, off an indignity offered him by a 

torn. iii. fol. 307. brother monarch. (Torquemada, Mo- 

Among other instances, is that of narch. Ind., lib. 2, cap. 28.) This 

Chimalpopoca, third king of Mexico, was the law of honour with the 

who doomed himself, with a number Aztecs, 
of his lords, to this death, to wipe 

chap, ill.] HUMAN SACRIFICES. 65 

sition, on the other hand, branded its victims with 
infamy in this world, and consigned them to everlasting 
perdition in the next. 

One detestable feature of the Aztec superstition, 
however, sunk it far below the Christian. This was its 
cannibalism ; though, in truth, the Mexicans were not 
cannibals in the coarsest acceptation of the term. They 
did not feed on human flesh merely to gratify a brutish 
appetite, but in obedience to their religion. Their 
repasts were made of the victims whose blood had been 
poured out on the altar of sacrifice. This is a distinction 
worthy of notice. 34 Still cannibalism, under any form, 
or whatever sanction, cannot but have a fatal influence 
on the nation addicted to it. It suggests ideas so loath- 
some, so degrading to man, to his spiritual and immor- 
tal nature, that it is impossible the people who practise 
it should make any great progress in moral or intel- 
lectual culture. The Mexicans furnish no exception to 
this remark. The civilization which they possessed 
descended from the Toltecs, a race who never stained 
their altars, still less their banquets, with the blood of 
man. All chat deserved the name of science in Mexico 
came from this source ; and the crumbling ruins of 
edifices, attributed to them, still extant in various parts 
of New Spain, show a decided superiority in their archi- 
tecture over that of the later races of Anahuac. It is 
true, the Mexicans made great proficiency in many of 
the social and mechanic arts, in that material culture — 
if I may so call it — the natural growth of increasing 
opulence, which ministers to the gratification of the 
senses. In purely intellectual progress, they were be- 
hind the Tezcucans, whose wise sovereigns came into 
the abominable rites of their neighbours with reluctance, 
and practised them on a much more moderate scale. 35 

34 Voltaire, doubtless, intends Americaines." (Essai sur les Moeurs, 

this when he says, "lis n'etaient chap. 148.) 

point anthropophages, comme un 35 Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., 

tres petit nombre de peuplades cap. 45, et alibi. 

VOL. I. F 



Iii tins state of things, it was beneficently ordered 
by Providence that the land should be delivered over 
to another race, who would rescue it from the brutish 
superstitions that daily extended wider and wider, with 
extent of empire. 36 The debasing institutions of the 
Aztecs furnish the best apology for their conquest. It 
is true, the conquerors brought along with them the 
Inquisition ; but they also brought Christianity, whose 
benign radiance would still survive, when the fierce 
flames of fanaticism should be extinguished ; dispelling 
those dark forms of horror which had so long brooded 
over the fair regions of Anahuac. 

36 No- doubt the ferocity of clia- corsi sopra T. Livio, lib. 2, cap. 2.) 
racter engendered by their sangui- The same chapter contains some in- 
nary rites greatly facilitated their genious reflections — much more iu- 
conquests. Machiavelli attributes genious than candid — on the opposite 
to a similar cause, in part, the mili- tendencies of Christianity, 
tary successes of the Romans. (Dis- 

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

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

The " Universal History " was concocted in a singular manner. In order 
to secure to it the greatest possible authority, he passed some years in a 
Tezcucan town, where he conferred daily with a number of respectable 
natives unacquainted with Castilian. He propounded to them queries, 
which they, after deliberation, answered in their usual method of writing, 
by hieroglyphical paintings. These he submitted to other natives, who had 
been educated under his own eye in the college of Santa Cruz ; and the 
latter, after a consultation among themselves, gave a written version, in the 
Mexican tongue, of the hieroglyphics. This process he repeated in another 



place, in some part of Mexico, and subjected the whole to a still further 
revision by a third body in another quarter. He finally arranged the com- 
bined results into a regular history, in the form it now bears ; composing it 
in the Mexican language, which he could both write and speak with great 
accuracy and elegance, greater, indeed, than any Spaniard of the time. 

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

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

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

t 2 


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

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

:hap. iv.] 69 


Mexican Hieroglyphics. — Manuscripts. — Arithmetic. — Chronology. — 

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

In the eastern hemisphere, we find some nations, as 
the Greeks, for instance, early smitten with such a love 
of the beautiful as to be unwilling to dispense with it, 
even in the graver productions of science ; and other 
nations, again, proposing a severer end to themselves, 
to which even imagination and elegant art were made 
subservient. The productions of such a people must be 
criticised, not by the ordinary rules of taste, but by their 



adaptation to the peculiar end for which they were de- 
signed. Such were the Egyptians in the Old World/ 
and the Mexicans in the New. We have already had 
occasion to notice the resemblance borne by the latter 
nation to the former in their religious economy. We 
shall be more struck with it in their scientific culture, es- 
pecially their hieroglyphical writing and their astronomy. 
To describe actions and events by delineating visible 
objects, seems to be a natural suggestion, and is prac- 
tised, after a certain fashion, by the rudest savages. 
The North American Indian carves an arrow on the 
bark of trees to show his followers the direction of his 
march, and some other sign to show the success of his 
expeditions. But to paint intelligibly a consecutive 
series of these actions — forming what Warburton has 
happily called picture-writing 2 — requires a combination 
of ideas, that amounts to a positively intellectual effort. 
Yet further, when the object of the painter, instead of 
being limited to the present, is to penetrate the past, 
and to gather from its dark recesses lessons of instruc- 
tion for coming generations, we see the dawnings of a 
literary culture, and recognise the proof of a decided 
civilization in the attempt itself, however imperfectly it 
may be executed. The literal imitation of objects will 
not answer for this more complex and extended plan. 
It would occupy too much space, as well as time, in the 
execution. It then becomes necessary to abridge the 
pictures, to confine the drawing to outlines, or to such 
prominent parts of the bodies delineated, as may readily 

1 "An Egyptian temple/' says The bishop of Gloucester, in his 
Denon, strikingly, " is an open comparison of the various hiero- 
volume, in which the teachings of glyphical systems of the world, 
science, morality, and the arts are shows his characteristic sagacity and 
recorded. Everything seems to boldness by announcing opinions 
speak one and the same language, little credited then, though since 
and breathes one and the same established. He affirmed the ex- 
spirit." The passage is cited by istence of an Egyptian alphabet, but 
Heeren, Hist, lies., vol. v. p. 178. was not aware of the phonetic pro- 

2 Divine Legation, ap. Works, perty of hieroglyphics, the great 
(London, 1811,) vol. iv. b. 4, sec. 4. literary discovery of our age. 



i Si 



7: W> J 


10 « 







i 1 





suggest the whole. This is the representative ox figurative 
writing, which forms the lowest stage of hieroglyphics. 

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

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

The Egyptians were well skilled in all three kinds of 
hieroglyphics. But, although their public monuments 
display the first class, in their ordinary intercourse and 
written records, it is now certain they almost wholly 
relied on the phonetic character. Strange, that having 
thus broken down the thin partition which divided them 
from an alphabet, their latest monuments should exhibit 
no nearer approach to it than their earliest. 3 The Aztecs, 
also, were acquainted with the several varieties of hiero- 

3 It appears that the hieroglyphics that the enchorial alphabet, so much 

on the most recent monuments of more commodious, should not have 

Egypt, contain no larger infusion of been substituted. But the Egyptians 

phonetic characters than those which were familiar with their hieroglyphics 

existed eighteen centuries before from infancy, which, moreover, took 

Christ ; showing no advance, in the fancies of the most illiterate, 

this respect, for twenty-two hundred probably in the same manner as our 

years ! (See Champollion, Precis du children are attracted and taught by 

Systeme Hieroglyphique des Anciens the picture-alphabets in an ordinary 

Egyptiens, [Paris, 1824,] pp. 242, spelling-book. 
281.) It may seem more strange 



glyphics. But they relied on the figurative infinitely 
more than on the others. The Egyptians were at the 
top of the scale, the Aztecs at the bottom. 

In casting the eye over a Mexican manuscript, or 
map, as it is called, one is struck with the grotesque 
caricatures it exhibits of the human figure ; monstrous, 
overgrown heads, on puny misshapen bodies, which are 
themselves hard and angular in their outlines, and with- 
out the least skill in composition. On closer inspection, 
however, it is obvious that it is not so much a rude 
attempt to delineate nature, as a conventional symbol, to 
express the idea in the most clear and forcible manner ; 
in the same way as the pieces of similar value on a chess- 
board, while they correspond with one another in form, 
bear little resemblance, usually, to the objects they re- 
present. Those parts of the figure are most distinctly 
traced, which are the most important. So also, the 
colouring, instead of the delicate gradations of nature, 
exhibits only gaudy and violent contrasts, such as may 
produce the most vivid impression. " For even colours," 
as Gama observes, " speak in the Aztec hieroglyphics." 4 

But in the execution of all this the Mexicans were 
much inferior to the Egyptians. The drawings of the 
latter, indeed, are exceedingly defective when criticised 
by the rules of art ; for they were as ignorant of per- 
spective as the Chinese, and only exhibited the head 
in profile, with the eye in the centre, and with total 
absence of expression. But they handled the pencil 
more gracefully than the Aztecs, were more true to the 
natural forms of objects, and, above all, showed great 
superiority in abridging the original figure by giving 
only the outline, or some characteristic or essential 
feature. This simplified the process, and facilitated the 
communication of thought. An Egyptian text has 
almost the appearance of alphabetical writing in its 

4 Description Historica y Cronologica de las Dos Piedras, (Mexico, 1832,) 
Parte 2, p. 39. 


regular lines of minute figures. A Mexican text looks 
usually like a collection of pictures, each one forming 
the subject of a separate study. This is particularly 
the case with the delineations of mythology ; in which 
the story is told by a conglomeration of symbols, that 
may remind one more of the mysterious anaglyphs 
sculptured on the temples of the Egyptians, than of their 
written records. 

The Aztecs had various emblems for expressing such 
things as, from their nature, could not be directly 
represented by the painter ; as, for example, the years, 
months, days, the seasons, the elements, the heavens, 
and the like. A "tongue " denoted speaking; a "foot- 
print," travelling ; " a man sitting on the ground," an 
earthquake. These symbols were often very arbitrary, 
varying with the caprice of the writer ; and it requires a 
nice discrimination to interpret them, as a slight change 
in the form or position of the figure intimated a very 
different meaning. 5 An ingenious writer asserts, that 
the priests devised secret symbolic characters for the 
record of their religious mysteries. It is possible. But 
the researches of Champollion lead to the conclusion, that 
the similar opinion, formerly entertained respecting the 
Egyptian hieroglyphics, is without foundation. 6 

Lastly, they employed, as above stated, phonetic signs, 
though these were chiefly confined to the names of 

5 Description Histdrica y Crono- 6 Gama, Description, Parte 2, 

ldgica de las Dos Piedras, (Mexico, p. 32. 

1832,) Parte 2, pp. 32, 44. — Acosta, Warburton, with his usual pene- 

lib. 6, cap. 7. tration, rejects the idea of mystery 

The continuation of Gama's work, in the figurative hieroglyphics. (Di- 

recently edited by Bustamante, in vine Legation, b. 4, sec. 4.) If 

Mexico, contains, among other there was any mystery reserved for 

things, some interesting remarks on the initiated, Champollion thinks it 

the Aztec hieroglyphics. The editor may have been the system of the 

has rendered a good service by this anaglyphs. (Precis, p. 360.) Why 

further pubbcation of the writings may not this be true, likewise, of 

of this estimable scholar, who has the monstrous symbobcal combina- 

done more than any of his country- tious which represented the Mexican 

men to explain the mysteries of Aztec deities ? 


persons and places ; which, being derived from some cir 
cumstance, or characteristic quality, were accommodated 
to the hieroglyphical system. Thus the town Cimatlan 
was compounded of cimatt, a " root," which grew near 
it, and tlan, signifying "near;" Tlaoccallan meant "the 
place of bread," from its rich fields of corn ; liuexotzinco, 
"a place surrounded by willows." The names of per- 
sons were often significant of their adventures and 
achievements. That of the great Tezcucan prince, 
Nezahualcoyotl, signified " hungry fox," intimating his 
sagacity, and his distresses in early life. 7 The emblems 
of such names were no sooner seen, than they suggested 
to every Mexican the person and place intended ; and, 
when painted on their shields, or embroidered on their 
banners, became the armorial bearings by which city and 
chieftain were distinguished, as in Europe, in the age of 
chivalry. 8 

But, although the Aztecs were instructed in all the 
varieties of hieroglyphical painting, they chiefly resorted 
to the clumsy method of direct representation. Had 
their empire lasted, like the Egyptian, several thousand, 
instead of the brief space of two hundred, years, they 
would, doubtless, like them, have advanced to the more 
frequent use of the phonetic writing. But, before they 
could be made acquainted with the capabilities of their 
own system, the Spanish Conquest, by introducing the 
European alphabet, supplied their scholars with a more 
perfect contrivance for expressing thought, which soon 
supplanted the ancient pictorial character. 9 

7 Boturini, Idea, pp. 77 — 83. — object to the hieroglyphic. This, of 

Gama, Descripcion, Parte 2, pp. course, could not admit of great 

34 — 43. extension. "We find phonetic charac- 

Heeren is not aware, or does not ters, however, applied, in some in- 

allow, that the Mexicans used pho- stances, to common, as well as proper 

netic characters of any kind. (Hist. names. 

Res., vol. v. p. 45.) They, indeed, 8 Boturini, Idea, ubi supra, 
reversed the usual order of proceed- 9 Clavigero has given a catalogue 
ing, and, instead of adapting the of the Mexican historians of the six- 
hieroglyphic to the name of the ob- teenth century, some of whom are 
ject, accommodated the name of the often cited in this history, which 


Clumsy as it was, however, the Aztec picture-writing 
seems to have been adequate to the demands of the 
nation in their imperfect state of civilization. By means 
of it were recorded all their laws, and even their regula- 
tions for domestic economy ; their tribute -rolls, specifying 
the imposts of the various towns ; their mythology, 
calendars, and rituals ; their political annals, carried back 
to a period long before the foundation of the city. They 
digested a complete system of chronology, and could 
specify with accuracy the dates of the most important 
events in their history ; the year being inscribed on the 
margin, against the particular circumstance recorded. It 
is true, history, thus executed, must necessarily be vague 
and fragmentary. Only a few leading incidents could be 
presented. But in this it did not differ much from the 
monkish chronicles of the dark ages, which often dispose 
of years in a few brief sentences, quite long enough for 
the annals of barbarians. 10 

In order to estimate aright the picture-writing of the 
Aztecs, one must regard it in connexion with oral tradi- 
tion, to which it was auxiliary. In the colleges of the 
priests the youth were instructed in astronomy, history, 
mythology, &c. ; and those who were to follow the pro- 
fession of hieroglyphical painting were taught the applica- 
tion of the characters appropriated to each of these 
branches. In an historical work, one had charge of the 
chronology, another of the events. Every part of the 
labour was thus mechanically distributed. 11 The pupils, 

bears honourable testimony to the two facts recorded in any year, and 

literary ardour and intelligence of sometimes not one in a dozen or 

the native races. Stor. del Messico, more. The necessary looseness and 

torn, i., Pref — Also, Gaina, Descrip- uncertainty of these historical records 

cion, Parte 1, passim. are made apparent by the remarks of 

10 M. de Humboldt's remark, that the Spanish interpreter of the Men- 

the Aztec annals, from the close of doza Codex, who tells us that the 

the eleventh century, " exhibit the natives, to whom it M'as submitted, 

greatest method, and astonishing were very long in coming to an agree- 

minuteness," (Vues des Cordilleres, ment about the proper signification 

p. 137,) must be received with some of the paintings. Antiq. of Mexico, 

qualification. The reader would vol. vi. p. 87. 

scarcely understand from it, that " Gama, Descripcion, Parte 2, p. 

there are rarely more than one or 30. — Acosta, lib. 6, cap. 7. 

" Tenian 




instructed in all that was before known in their several 
departments, were prepared to extend still further the 
boundaries of their imperfect science. The hieroglyphics 
served as a sort of stenography, a collection of notes, 
suggesting to the initiated much more than could be con- 
veyed by a literal interpretation. This combination of 
the written and the oral comprehended what may be 
called the literature of the Aztecs. 12 

Their manuscripts were made of different materials — 
of cotton cloth, or skins nicely prepared ; of a composition 
of silk and gum j but, for the most part, of a fine fabric 
from the leaves of the aloe, agave Americana, called by 
the natives, maguey, which grows luxuriantly over the 
table lands of Mexico. A sort of paper was made from it, 
resembling somewhat the Egyptian papyrus, 13 which, 
when properly dressed and polished, is said to have been 
more soft and beautiful than parchment. Some of the 
specimens, still existing, exhibit their original freshness, 

"Tenian para cada genero," says 
Ixtlilxochitl, "sus Escritores, uuos 
que tratabau de los Anales, poniendo 
por su orden las cosas que acaeciaueu 
cada un aho, con dia, mes, y hora; 
otros tenian a su cargo las Genealo- 
gias, y descendencia de los Reyes, 
Sefiores, y Personas de linaje, 
asentando por cuenta y razon los 
que nacian, y borraban los que mo- 
rian con la misma cuenta. Unos 
tenian cuidado de las pinturas, de los 
terminos, limites, y rnojoneras de las 
Ciudades, Provincias, Pueblos, y Lu- 
gares, y de las suertes, y reparti- 
miento de las tierras cuyas eran, y a 
quien pertenecian ; otros de los libros 
de Leyes, ritos, y seremonias que 
usaban." Hist. Chick, MS., Prologo. 

12 According to Boturini, the 
ancient Mexicans were acquainted 
with the Peruvian method of record- 
ing events, by means of the quippns 
— knotted strings of various colours 
— which were afterwards superseded 
by hieroglyphical painting. (Idea, 
p. 86.) He could discover, how- 
ever, but a single specimen, which 

he met with in Tlaseala, and that 
had nearly fallen to pieces with age. 
M c Culloch suggests that it may have 
been only a wampum belt, such as is 
common among our North American 
Indians. (Researches, p. 201 ) The 
conjectureisplausibleenough. Strings 
of wampum, of various colours, were 
used by the latter people for the 
similar purpose of registering events. 
The insulated fact, recorded by Bo- 
turini, is hardly sufficient — unsup- 
ported, as far as I know, by any 
other testimony — to establish the 
existence of quippus among the Az- 
tecs, who had but little in common 
with the Peruvians. 

13 Pliny, who gives a minute ac- 
count of the papyrus reed of Egypt, 
notices the various manufactures ob- 
tained from it, as ropes, cloth, paper, 
&c. It also served as a thatch for 
the roofs of houses, and as food and 
drink for the natives. (Hist. Nat., 
lib. 11, cap. 20-22.) It is singular 
that the American agave, a plant so 
totally different, should also have 
been applied to all these various uses. 

chap, iv.] . MANUSCRIPTS. 77 

and the paintings on them retain their brilliancy of colours. 
They were sometimes done up into rolls, but more fre- 
quently into volumes of moderate size, in which the 
paper was shut up, like a folding-screen, with a leaf or 
tablet of wood at each extremity, that gave the whole, 
when closed, the appearance of a book. The length of 
the strips was determined only by convenience. As the 
pages might be read and referred to separately, this form 
had obvious advantages over the rolls of the ancients. 14 

At the time of the arrival of the Spaniards, great quan- 
tities of these manuscripts were treasured up in the 
country. Numerous persons were employed in painting, 
and the dexterity of their operations excited the astonish- 
ment of the conquerors. Unfortunately, this was mingled 
with other, and unworthy feelings. The strange, un- 
known characters inscribed on them excited suspicion. 
They were looked on as magic scrolls ; and were regarded 
in the same light with the idols and temples, as the sym- 
bols of a pestilent superstition, that must be extirpated. 
The first archbishop of Mexico, Don Juan de Zumarraga, 
— a name that should be as immortal as that of Omar — 
collected these paintings from every quarter, especially 
from Tezcuco, the most cultivated capital in Anahuac, and 
the great depository of the national archives. He then 
caused them to be piled up in a " mountain-heap" — as it 
is called by the Spanish writers themselves — in the 
market-place of Tlatelolco, and reduced them all to ashes ! 15 

14 Lorenzana, Hist, de Nueva and jewellers. But Martyr had been 

Espafia, p. 8. — Boturini, Idea, p. 96. in Egypt, and he felt little hesitation 

— Humboldt, Vues des Cordilleres, in placing the Indian drawings in 

p. 52. — Peter Martyr Anglerius, De the same class with those he had 

Orbe Novo, (Compluti, 1530,) dec. seen on the obelisks and temples of 

3, cap. 8 ; dec. 5, cap. 10. that country. 

Martyr has given a minute de- 15 Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., 

scription of the Indian maps, sent Prologo.— Idem, Sum. Relac, MS. 
home soon after the invasion of New Writers are not agreed whether 

Spain. His inquisitive mind was the conflagration took place in the 

struck with the evidence they af- square of Tlatelolco or Tezcuco. 

forded of a positive civilization. Comp. Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, 

Ribera, the friend of Cortes, brought torn. ii. p 188, and Bustamante's 

back a story, that the paintings were Pref. to Ixtlilxochitl, Cruautes des 

designed as patterns for embroiderers Conqucrans, trad, de Ternaux, p. xvii. 


His greater countryman, Archbishop Ximenes, had cele- 
brated a similar auto-da-fe of Arabic manuscripts, in 
Granada, some twenty years before. Never did fana- 
ticism achieve two more signal triumphs, than by the 
annihilation of so many curious monuments of human 
ingenuity and learning ! 16 

The unlettered soldiers were not slow in imitating the 
example of their prelate. Every chart and volume which 
fell into their hands was wantonly destroyed ; so that, 
when the scholars of a later and more enlightened age 
anxiously sought to recover some of these memorials of 
civilization, nearly all had perished, and the few surviving 
were jealously hidden by the natives. 17 Through the in- 
defatigable labours of a private individual, however, a con- 
siderable collection was eventually deposited in the archives 
of Mexico ; but was so little heeded there, that some were 
plundered, others decayed piecemeal from the damps and 
mildews, and others, again, were used up as waste-paper ! 18 
We contemplate with indignation the cruelties inflicted by 
the early conquerors. But indignation is qualified with 
contempt, when we see them thus ruthlessly trampling 
out the spark of knowledge, the common boon and pro- 
perty of all mankind. We may well doubt, which has 
the strongest claims to civilization, the victor or the van- 

A few of the Mexican manuscripts have found their 
way, from time to time, to Europe, and are carefully 
preserved in the public libraries of its capitals. They 
are brought together in the magnificent w r ork of Lord 
Kingsborough ; but not one is there from Spain. The 
most important of them, for the light it throws on the 

16 It has been my lot to record both ,s Very many of the documents 
these displays of human infirmity, so thus painfully amassed in the ar- 
humbling to the pride of intellect. chives of the Audience of Mexico, 
See the History of Ferdinand and were sold, according to Bustamante, 
Isabella, Part 2, Chap. 6. as wrapping-paper, to apothecaries, 

17 Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva Espa- shopkeepers, and rocket-makers! 
fia, lib. 10, cap. 27- — Bustamante, Boturini's noble collection has not 
Mananasde Alameda, (Mexico, 1836,) fared much better. 

torn, ii., Prologo. 





Aztec institutions, is the Mendoza Codex ; which, after 
its mysterious disappearance for more than a century, 
has at length reappeared in the Bodleian library at 
Oxford. It has been several times engraved. 19 The 
most brilliant in colouring, probably, is the Borgian collec- 
tion, in Rome. 20 The most curious, however, is the 
Dresden Codex, which has excited less attention than it 
deserves. Although usually classed among Mexican 
manuscripts, it bears little resemblance to them in its 

19 The history of this famous col- 
lection is familiar to scholars. It 
was sent to the Emperor Charles the 
Fifth, not long after the Conquest, 
by the viceroy Mendoza, Marques de 
Mondejar. The vessel fell into the 
hands of a French cruiser, and the 
manuscript was taken to Paris. It 
was afterwards bought by the chap- 
lain of the English embassy, and, 
coming into the possession of the 
antiquary Purchas, was engraved, in 
extenso, by him, in the third volume 
of his "Pilgrimage." After its pub- 
lication, in 1625, the Aztec original 
lost its importance, and fell into obli- 
vion so completely, that, when at 
length the public curiosity was ex- 
cited in regard to its fate, no trace 
of it could be discovered. Many 
were the speculations of scholars, at 
home and abroad, respecting it, and 
Dr. "Robertson settled the question as 
to its existence in England, by declar- 
ing that there was no Mexican relic in 
that country except a golden goblet 
of Montezuma. (History of Ame- 
rica, [London, 1796,] vol. iii. p. 370.) 
Nevertheless, the identical Codex, 
and several other Mexican paintings, 
have been since discovered in the 
Bodleian library. The circumstance 
has brought some obloquy on the 
historian who, while prying into the 
collections of Vienna and the Escu- 
rial, could be so blind to those under 
his own eyes. The oversight will 
not appear so extraordinary to a 
thorough-bred collector, whether of 
manuscripts, or medals, or any other 
rarity. The Mendoza Codex is, after 
all, but a copy, coarsely done with a 

pen on European paper. Another 
copy, from which Archbishop Loren- 
zana engraved his tribute-rolls in 
Mexico, existed in Boturini's collec- 
tion. A third is in the Escurial, 
according to the Marquis of Spineto. 
(Lectures on the Elements of Hiero- 
glyphics, [London,] lee. 7.) This 
may possibly be the original painting. 
The entire Codex, copied from the 
Bodleian maps, with its Spanish and 
English interpretations, is included in 
the noble compilation of Lord Kings- 
borough. (Vols, i., v., vi.) It is 
distributed into three parts : em- 
bracing the civil history of the nation, 
the tributes paid by the cities, and 
the domestic economy and discipline 
of the Mexicans ; and, from the 
fulness of the interpretation, is of 
much importance in regard to these 
several topics. 

20 It formerly belonged to the 
Giustiniani family ; but was so little 
cared for, that it was suffered to fall 
into the mischievous hands of the 
domestics' children, who made sundry 
attempts to burn it. Eortunately it 
was painted on deerskin; and, though 
somewhat singed, was not destroyed. 
(Humboldt, Vues des Cordilleres, 
p. 89, et seq.) It is impossible to 
cast the eye over this brilliant assem- 
blage of forms and colours without 
feeling how hopeless must be the 
attempt to recover a key to the 
Aztec mythological symbols ; which 
are here distributed with the sym- 
metry, indeed, but in all the endless 
combinations of the kaleidoscope. It 
is in the third volume of Lord Kings- 
boromjh's work. 




execution ; the figures of objects are more delicately 
drawn, and the characters, unlike the Mexican, appear to 
be purely arbitrary, and are possibly phonetic. 21 Their 
regular arrangement is quite equal to the Egyptian. 
The whole infers a much higher civilization than the 
Aztec, and offers abundant food for curious speculation. 22 
Some few of these maps have interpretations annexed 
to them, which were obtained from the natives after the 
Conquest. 23 The greater part are without any, and can- 
not now be unriddled. Had the Mexicans made free 
use of a phonetic alphabet, it might have been originally 

21 Humboldt, who has copied some 
pages of it in his "Atlas Pittoresque," 
intimates no doubt of its Aztec origin. 
(Vues des Cordilleras, pp. 266, 267.) 
M. Le Noir even reads in it an expo- 
sition of Mexican Mythology, with 
occasional analogies to that of Egypt 
and of Hindostan. (Antiquites, 
Mexicaines, torn, ii., introd ) The 
fantastic forms of hieroglyphic sym- 
bols may afford analogies for almost 

22 The history of this Codex, en- 
graved entire in the third volume of 
the " Antiquities of Mexico," goes 
no further back than 1739, when it 
was purchased at Vienna for the 
Dresden library. It is made of the 
American agave. The figures painted 
on it bear little resemblance, either 
in feature or form, to the Mexican. 
They are surmounted by a sort of 
head-gear, which looks something 
like a modern peruke. On the chin 
of one we may notice a beard, a sign 
often used after the Conquest, to 
denote a European. Many of the 
persons are sitting cross-legged. The 
profiles of the faces, and the whole 
contour of the limbs, are sketched 
with a spirit and freedom very unlike 
the hard angular outbnes of the 
Aztecs. The characters, also, are 
delicately traced, generally in an irre- 
gular, but circular form, and are very 
minute. They are arranged, like the 
Egyptian, both horizontally and per- 
pendicularly, mostly in the former 

manner; and, from the prevalent 
direction of the profiles, would seem 
to have been read from right to left. 
Whether phonetic or ideographic, 
they are of that compact and purely 
conventional sort which belongs to a 
well digested system for the commu- 
nication of thought. One cannot 
but regret, that no trace should exist 
of the quarter whence this MS. was 
obtained ; perhaps some part of Cen- 
tral America, from the region of the 
mysterious races who built the monu- 
ments of MitlaandPalenque. Though, 
in truth, there seems scarcely more 
resemblance in the symbols to the 
Palenque bas-reliefs than to the Aztec 

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

chap, iv.] MANUSCRIPTS. 81 

easy, by mastering the comparatively few signs employed 
in this kind of communication, to have got a permanent 
key to the whole. 24 A brief inscription has furnished a 
clue to the vast labyrinth of Egyptian hieroglyphics. 
But the Aztec characters, representing individuals, or at 
most, species, require to be made out separately ; a hope- 
less task, for which little aid is to be expected from the 
vague and general tenor of the few interpretations now 
existing. There was, as already mentioned, until late in 
the last century, a professor in the university of Mexico, 
especially devoted to the study of the national picture- 
writing. But, as this was with a view to legal proceed- 
ings, his information, probably, was limited to deciphering 
titles. In less than a hundred years after the Conquest, 
the knowledge of the hieroglyphics had so far declined, 
that a diligent Tezcucan writer complains he could find 
in the country only two persons, both very aged, at all 
competent to interpret them. 25 

It is not probable, therefore, that the art of reading 
these picture-writings will ever be recovered ; a circum- 
stance certainly to be regretted. Not that the records 
of a semi-civilized people would be likely to contain any 
new truth or discovery important to human comfort or 
progress ; but they could scarcely fail to throw some 
additional light on the previous history of the nation, 
and that of the more polished people who before occu- 
pied the country. This would be still more probable, if 

24 The total number of Egyptian afford him the least clue to the Aztec 

hieroglyphics discovered by Cham- hieroglyphics. So completely had 

polliou amounts to 864; and of these every vestige of their ancient lan- 

130 only are phonetic, notwithstand- guage been swept away from the 

ing that this kind of character is memory of the natives. (Idea, p. 

used far more frequently than both 116.) If we are to believe Busta- 

the others. Precis, p. 263 ; also mante, however, a complete key to 

Spineto, Lectures, lect. 3. the whole system is, at this moment, 

25 ' Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., somewhere in Spain. It was carried 

Dedic. home at the time of the process 

Boturini, who travelled through against Father Myer, in 1795. The 

every part of the country, in the name of the Mexican Champollion 

middle of the last century, could not who discovered it is Borunda. Gama, 

meet with an individual who could Descripcion, torn, ii, p. 33, nota. 
VOL. I. G 


any literary relics of their Toltec predecessors were pre- 
served ; and, if report be true, an important compilation 
from this source was extant at the time of the invasion, 
and may have perhaps contributed to swell the holocaust 
of Zumarraga. 26 It is no great stretch of fancy, to sup- 
pose that such records might reveal the successive links 
in the mighty chain of migration of the primitive races ■ 
and, by carrying us back to the seat of their possessions 
in the Old World, have solved the mystery which has so 
long perplexed the learned, in regard to the settlement 
and civilization of the New. 

Besides the hieroglyphical maps, the traditions of the 
country were embodied in the songs and hymns, which, 
as already mentioned, were carefully taught in the public 
schools. These were various, embracing the mythic 
legends of a heroic age, the warlike achievements of their 
own, or the softer tales of love and pleasure. 27 Many of 
them were composed by scholars and persons of rank, 
and are cited as affording the most authentic record of 
events. 28 The Mexican dialect was rich and expressive, 
though inferior to the Tezcucan, the most polished of the 
idioms of Anahuac. None of the Aztec compositions 
have survived, but we can form some estimate of the 

26 Teoamoxtli, " the divine book," never so deep, has discovered that 

as it was called. According to Ix- the Teoamoxtli was the Pentateuch, 

tlilxochitl, it was composed by a Thus, teo means " divine," amotl 

Tezcucan doctor, named Huematzin, "paper," or "book," and moxtli 

towards the close of the seventh " appears to be Moses," — " Divine 

century. (Relaciones, MS.) It gave book of Moses !" Antiq. of Mexico, 

an account of the migrations of his vol. vi. p. 204, nota. 

nation from Asia, of the various v Boturini, Idea, pp. 90 — 97. — 

stations on their journey, of their Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, torn. ii. 

social and religious institutions, their pp. 174 — 178. 

science, arts, &c, &c, a good deal 2S " Los cantos con que las obser- 

too much for one book. Ignotum vaban Autores muy graves en su 

pro rnagnifico. It has never been modo de ciencia y facultad, pues 

seen by a European. A copy is said fueron los mismos Reyes, y de la 

to have been in possession of the gente mas ilustre y entendida, que 

Tezcucan chroniclers, on the taking siempre observaron y adquirieron la 

of their capital. (Bustamante, Crd- verdad, y esta con tanta, y razon, 

nica Mexicana, [Mexico, 1822,] carta quanta pudieron tener los mas graves 

3.) Lord Kingsborough, who can y fidedignos Autores." Ixtlilxochitl, 

scent out a Hebrew root, be it buried Hist. Chich., MS., Prdlogo. 

chap, iv.] ARITHMETIC. 83 

general state of poetic culture from the odes which have 
come down to us from the royal house of Tezcuco. 29 
Sahagun has furnished us with translations of their more 
elaborate prose, consisting of prayers and public discourses, 
which give a favourable idea of their eloquence, and show 
that they paid much attention to rhetorical effect. They 
are said to have had, also, something like theatrical exhi- 
bitions, of a pantomimic sort, in which the faces of the 
performers were covered with masks, and the figures of 
birds or animals were frequently represented ; an imita- 
tion to which they may have been led by the familiar deli- 
neation of such objects in their hieroglyphics. 30 In all 
this we see the dawning of a literary culture, surpassed, 
however, by their attainments in the severer walks of 
mathematical science. 

They devised a system of notation in their arithmetic, 
sufficiently simple. The first twenty numbers were 
expressed by a corresponding number of dots. The first 
five had specific names ; after which they were repre- 
sented by combining the fifth with one of the four pre- 
ceding : as five and one for six, five and two for seven, 
and so on. Ten and fifteen had each a separate name, 
which was also combined with the first four, to express 
a^higher quantity. These four, therefore, were the radical 
characters of their oral arithmetic, in the same manner 
as they were of the written with the ancient Romans ; a 
more simple arrangement, probably, than any existing 
among Europeans. 31 Twenty was expressed by a sepa- 
rate hieroglyphic — a flag. Larger sums were reckoned 
by twenties, and, in writing, by repeating the number of 

29 See Chap. 6, of this Introduction. 31 Gama, Descripcion, Parte 2, 

30 See some account of these mum- Apend. 2. 
meries in Acosta, (Kb. 5, cap. 30,) 

—also Clavigero (Stor. del Messico, Gama, in comparing the language 

ubi supra.) Stone models of masks of Mexican notation with the decimal 

are sometimes found among the In- system of the Europeans, and the 

dian ruins, and engravings of them are ingenious binary system of Leibnitz, 

both in Lord Kingsborough's work, confounds oral with written arith- 

and in the Antiquites Mexicaines. metic. 

G- 'Z 



flags. The square of twenty, four hundred, had a sepa- 
rate sign, that of a plume, and so had the cube of twenty, 
or eight thousand, which was denoted by a purse, or 
sack. This was the whole arithmetical apparatus of the 
Mexicans, by the combination of which they were enabled 
to indicate any quantity. For greater expedition, they 
used to denote fractions of the larger sums by drawing 
only a part of the object. Thus, half or three- fourths of 
a plume, or of a purse, represented that proportion of 
their respective sums, and so on. 32 With all this, the 
machinery will appear very awkward to us, who perform 
our operations with so much ease by means of the Arabic, 
or rather, Indian ciphers. It is not much more awkward, 
however, than the system pursued by the great mathe- 
maticians of antiquity, unacquainted with the brilliant 
invention which has given a new aspect to mathematical 
science, of determining the value, in a great measure, by 
the relative position of the figures. 

In the measurement of time, the Aztecs adjusted their 
civil year by the solar. They divided it into eighteen 
months of twenty days each. Both months and days 
were expressed by peculiar hieroglyphics, — those of the 
former often intimating the season of the year, like the 
French months, at the period of the Revolution. Five 
complementary days, as in Egypt, 33 were added, to make 
up the full number of three hundred and sixty-five. They 
belonged to no month, and were regarded as peculiarly 
unlucky. A month was divided into four weeks, of five 
days each, on the last of which was the public fair or 
market day. 34 This arrangement, different from that of 
the nations of the Old Continent, whether of Europe or 

32 Gama, ubi supra. 34 Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva Espa- 
This learned Mexican has given a fia, lib. 4, Apend. 

very satisfactory treatise on the According to Clavigero, the fairs 

arithmetic of the Aztecs, in his were held on the days bearing the 

second part. sign of the year. Stor. del Messico, 

33 Herodotus, Euterpe, sec. 4. torn. ii. p. 62. 

chap, iv.] ARITHMETIC. 85 

Asia, 35 has the advantage of giving an equal number of 
days to each month, and of comprehending entire weeks, 
without a fraction, both in the months and in the year. 36 
As the year is composed of nearly six hours more than 
three hundred and sixty-five days, there still remained an 
excess, which, like other nations who have framed a 
calendar, they provided for by intercalation • not, indeed, 
every fourth year, as the Europeans, 37 but at longer in- 
tervals, like some of the Asiatics. 38 They waited till the 
expiration of fifty-two vague years, when they interposed 
thirteen days, or rather twelve and a half, this being the 
number which had fallen in arrear. Had they inserted 
thirteen, it would have been too much, since the annual 
excess over three hundred and sixty-five is about eleven 
minutes less than six hours. But, as their calendar, at 
the time of the Conquest, was found to correspond with 
the European, (making allowance for the subsequent 
Gregorian reform,) they would seem to have adopted the 
shorter period of twelve days and a half, 39 which brought 

35 The people of Java, according coutando seis dias de nemontemi ;" 
to Sir Stamford Raffles, regulated the five unlucky complementary days 
their markets also by a week of five were so called. (Hist, de Nueva 
days. They had, besides, our week Espana, lib. 4. Apend.) But this 
of seven. (History of Java, [London, author, however good an authority 
1830,] vol. i., pp. 531, 532.) The for the superstitions, is an indifferent 
latter division of time, of general use one for the science of the Mexicans, 
throughout the East, is the oldest 3S The Persians had a cycle of one 
monument existing of astronomical hundred and twenty years, of three 
science See La Place, Exposition hundred and sixty-five days each, at 
du Systemedu Monde, (Paris, 1S08,) the end of which they intercalated 
liv. 5, chap. 1. thirty days. (Humboldt, Vues des 

36 Veytia, Historia Antigua de Cordilleres, p. 177.) This was the 
Mejico, (Mejico, 1806,) torn. i. cap. same as thirteen after the cycle of 
6, 7- — Gama, Descripcion, Parte 1, fifty-two years of the Mexicans ; but 
pp. 33, 34, et alibi. — Boturini, Idea, was less accurate than their probable 
pp. 4, 44, et seq. — Cod. Tel.-Rem., intercalation of twelve clays and a 
ap. Antiq. of Mexico, vol. vi. p. 104. half. It is obviously indifferent, as 
— Camargo, Hist, de Tlascala, MS. far as accuracy is concerned, which 
— Toribio, Hist, de los Indios, MS., multiple of four is selected to form 
Parte 1. cap. 5. the cycle ; though the shorter the 

37 Sahagun intimates doubts of interval of intercalation, the less, of 
this. " Otra fiesta hacian de cuatro course, will be the temporary de- 
en cuatro anos a honra del fuego, y parture from the tine time. 

en esta fiesta es verosimil, y hay 39 This is the conclusion to which 

congeturas que hacian su visieslo Gama arrives, after a very careful 



them, within an almost inappreciable fraction, to the exact 
length of the tropical year, as established by the most 
accurate observations. 40 Indeed, the intercalation of 
twenty-five days, in every hundred and four years, shows 
a nicer adjustment of civil to solar time than is presented 
by any European calendar ; since more than five centuries 
must elapse, before the loss of an entire day. 41 Such was 
the astonishing precision displayed by the Aztecs, or, 
perhaps, by their more polished Toltec predecessors, in 
these computations, so difficult as to have baffled, till a 
comparatively recent period, the most enlightened nations 
of Christendom ! 42 

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

40 This length, as computed by 
Zach, at 365 d. 5 h. 48 m. 48 sec, 
is only 2 m. 39 sec. longer than the 
Mexican; which corresponds with 
the celebrated calculation of the 
astronomers of the Caliph Almamon, 

that fell short about two minutes of 
the true time. See La Place, Ex- 
position, p. 350. 

41 " El corto exceso de 4 hor. 38 
mm. 40 seg., que hay de mas de los 
25 dias en el periodo de 104 anos, 
no puede componer un dia entero, 
hasta que pasen mas de cinco de 
estos periodos maximos 6 538 ahos." 
(Gama, Descripcion, Parte 1, p. 23.) 
Gama estimates the solar year at 
365 d. 5 h. 48 m. 50 sec. 

42 The ancient Etruscans arranged 
their calendar in cycles of 110 solar 
years, and reckoned the year at 
365 d. 5 h. 40 m. ; at least, this 
seems probable, says Niebuhr. (His- 
tory of Rome, Eng. trans., [Cam- 
bridge, 1828,] vol. I, pp. 113, 238.) 
The early Romans had not wit enough 
to avail themselves of this accurate 
measurement, which came within 
nine minutes of the true time. The 
Julian reform, which assumed 365 d. 
5| h. as the length of the year, erred 
as much, or rather more, on the other 
side. And when the Europeans, who 
adopted this calendar, landed in 
Mexico, their reckoning was nearly 
eleven days in advance of the exact 
time ; or, in other words, of the 
reckoning of the barbarous Aztecs ; 
a remarkable fact. 

Gama's researches lead to the con- 
clusion, that the year of the new 
cycle began with the Aztecs on the 
ninth of January ; a date considerably 

chap, iv.] CHRONOLOGY. 87 

The chronological system of the Mexicans, by which 
they determined the date of any particular event, was also 
very remarkable. The epoch, from which they reckoned, 
corresponded with the year 1091, of the Christian era. 
It was the period of the reform of their calendar, soon 
after their migration from Aztlan. They threw the years, 
as already noticed, into great cycles, of fifty-two each, 
which they called " sheafs," or "bundles," and represented 
by a quantity of reeds bound together by a string. As 
often as this hieroglyphic occurs in their maps, it shows 
the number of half centuries. To enable them to specify 
any particular year, they divided the great cycle into four 
smaller cycles, or indictions, of thirteen years each. They 
then adopted two periodical series of signs, one consisting 
of their numerical dots up to thirteen, the other, of four 
hieroglyphics of the years. 43 These latter they repeated in 
regular succession, setting against each one a number of 
the corresponding series of dots, continued also in regular 
succession up to thirteen. The same system was pursued 
through the four indictions, which thus, it will be ob- 
served, began always with a different hieroglyphic of the 
year from the preceding ; and in this way, each of the 
hieroglyphics was made to combine successively with each 
of the numerical signs, but never twice with the same ; 

earlier than that usually assigned by the annual excess of six hours, and 

the Mexican writers. (Descripcion, therefore never intercalated ! (Mo- 

Parte 1, pp. 49 — 52.) By post- narch. Ind., lib. 10, cap. 36.) The 

poning the intercalation to the end interpreter of the Vatican Codex has 

of fifty-two years, the annual loss of fallen into a series of blunders on the 

six hours made every fourth year same subject, still more ludicrous, 

begin a day earlier. Thus, the cycle (Antiq. of Mexico, vol. vi. PI. 16.) 

commencing on the ninth of January, So soon had Aztec science fallen into 

the fifth year of it began on the oblivion, after the Conquest ! 
eighth, the ninth year on the seventh, 43 These hieroglyphics were a 

and so onfso that the last day of "rabbit," a "reed," a "flint," a 

the series of fifty -two years fell on " house." They were taken as sym- 

the twenty-sixth of December, when bolical of the four elements, air, 

the intercalation of thirteen days water, fire, earth, according to Vey- 

rectifled the chronology, and carried tia. (Hist. Antig. torn. i. cap. 5.) 

the commencement of the new year It is not easy to see the connexion, 

to the ninth of January again. Tor- between the terms " rabbit " and 

quemada, puzzled by the irregularity " air," which lead the respective 

of the new year's day, asserts that series, 
the Mexicans were unacquainted with 




since four, and thirteen, the factors of fifty-two — the 
number of years in the cycle — must admit of just as 
many combinations as are equal to their product. Thus 
every year had its appropriate symbol, by which it was 
at once recognised. And this symbol, preceded by the 
proper number of "bundles," indicating the half centuries, 
showed the precise time which had elapsed since the 
national epoch of 1091. ^ The ingenious contrivance 

44 The following table of two of year of the great cycle, or "bundle;" 

the four indictions of thirteen years the second, the numerical dots used 

each will make the text more clear. in their arithmetic. The third is 

The first column shows the actual composed of their hieroglyphics for 

First Indiction. 

of the 






Second Indiction. 

of the 







C HAP. IV.] 



of a periodical series, in place of the cumbrous system of 
hieroglyphical notation is not peculiar to the Aztecs, and 
is to be found among various people on the Asiatic con- 
tinent, — the same in principle, though varying materially 
in arrangement. 45 

The solar calendar, above described, might have an- 
swered all the purposes of the nation ; but the priests 
chose to construct another for themselves. This was 
called a " lunar reckoning," though nowise accommo- 
dated to the revolutions of the moon. 46 It was formed, 
also, of two periodical series ; one of them consisting of 
thirteen numerical signs, or dots, the other of the twenty 
hieroglyphics of the days. But, as the product of these 

rabbit, reed, flint, . house, in their 
regular order. 

By pursuing the combinations 
through the two remaining indic- 
tions, it will be found that the same 
number of dots will never coincide 
with the same hieroglyphic. 

These tables are generally thrown 
into the form of wheels, as are those 
also of their months and days, having 
a very pretty effect. Several have 
been published, at different times, 
from the collections of Siguenza and 
Boturini. The wheel of the great 
cycle of fifty-two years is encom- 
passed by a serpent, which was also 
the symbol of " an age," both with 
the Persians and Egyptians. Father 
Toribio seems to misapprehend the 
nature of these chronological wheels ; 
" Tenian rodelas y escudos, y en ellas 
pintadas las figuras y armas de sus 
Demonios con su blason." Hist, de 
los Indios, MS., Parte 1, cap. 4. 

45 Among the Chinese, Japanese, 
Moghols, Mantchous,and other fami- 
lies of the Tartar race. Their series 
are composed of symbols of their five 
elements, and the twelve zodiacal 
signs, making a cycle of sixty years' 
duration. Then* several systems are 
exhibited in connexion with the 
Mexican, in the luminous pages of 
Humboldt, (Vues des Cordnleres, 
p. 149,) who draws important con- 
sequences from the comparison, to 

which we shall have occasion to 
return hereafter. 

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




combinations would only be 260, and, as some confusion 
might arise from the repetition of the same terms for the 
remaining 105 days of the year, they invented a third 
series, consisting of nine additional hieroglyphics, which, 
alternating with the two preceding series, rendered it- 
impossible that the three should coincide twice in the 
same year, or indeed in less than 2340 days ; since 20 
x 13 x 9 = 2340. 47 Thirteen was a mystic number, 
of frequent use in their tables, 48 Why they resorted to 
that of nine, on this occasion, is not so clear. 49 

47 They were named " com- 
panions," and " lords of the night," 
and were supposed to preside over 
the night, as the other signs did 
over the day. Boturini, Idea, p. 57. 

48 Thus, their astrological year 
was divided into months of thirteen 
days ; there were thirteen years in 
their indictions, which contained 
each three hundred and sixty-five 
periods of thirteen days, &c. It is 
a curious fact, that the number of 
lunar months of thirteen days, con- 
tained in a cycle of fifty-two years, 
with the intercalation, should corre- 
spond precisely with the number of 
years in the great Sothic period of 
the Egyptians, namely, 1491 ; a 
period, in which the seasons and 
festivals came round to the same 
place in the year again. The coinci- 
dence may be accidental. But a 
people employing periodical series, 
and astrological calculations, have 
generally some meaning in the num- 
bers they select and the combina- 
tions to which they lead. 

49 According to Gama, (Descrip- 
tion, Parte 1, pp. 75, 76,) because 
360 can be divided by nine without 
a fraction ; the nine " companions " 
not being attached to the five com- 
plementary days. But 4, a mystic 
number much used in their arith- 
metical combinations, would have 
answered the same purpose equally 
well. In regard to this, M°Culloch 
observes, with much shrewdness, 
" It seems impossible that the Mexi- 

cans, so careful in constructing their 
cycle, should abruptly terminate it 
with 360 revolutions, whose natural 
period of termination is 2340." And 
he supposes the nine " companions " 
were used in connexion with the 
cycles of 260 days, in order to throw 
them into the larger ones of 2340 ; 
eight of which, with a ninth of 260 
days, he ascertains to be equal to 
the great solar period of 52 years. 
(Researches, pp. 207, 208.) This is 
very plausible. But in fact the com- 
binations of the two first series, 
forming the cycle of 260 days, were 
always interrupted at the end of the 
year, since each new year began 
with the same hieroglyphic of the 
days. The third series of the " com- 
panions " was intermitted, as above 
stated, on the five unlucky days 
which closed the year, in order, if 
we may believe Boturini, that the 
first day of the solar year might 
have annexed to it the first of the 
nine "companions," which signified 
"lord of the year;" (Idea, p. 57;) 
a result which might have been 
equally well secured, without any 
intermission at all, by taking 5, 
another favourite number, instead of 
9, as the divisor. As it was, how- 
ever, the cycle, as far as the third 
series was concerned, did terminate 
with 360 revolutions. The subject 
is a perplexing one ; and I can 
hardly hope to have presented it in 
such a manner as to make it per- 
fectly clear to the reader. 

chap, iv.] CHRONOLOGY. 91 

This second calendar rouses a holy indignation in the 
early Spanish missionaries, and father Sahagun loudly 
condemns it as " most unhallowed, since it is founded 
neither on natural reason, nor on the influence of the 
planets, nor on the true course of the year ; but is plainly 
the work of necromancy, and the fruit of a compact with 
the Devil !" 50 One may doubt, whether the superstition 
of those who invented the scheme was greater than that 
of those who thus impugned it. At all events, we may, 
without having recourse to supernatural agency, find in 
the human heart a sufficient explanation of its origin ; in 
that love of power, that has led the priesthood of many 
a faith to affect a mystery, the key to which was in their 
own keeping. 

By means of this calendar the Aztec priests kept their 
own records, regulated the festivals and seasons of sacri- 
fice, and made all their astrological calculations. 51 The 
false science of astrology is natural to a state of society 
partially civilized, where the mind, impatient of the slow 
and cautious examination by which alone it can arrive at 
truth, launches, at once, into the regions of speculation, 
and rashly attempts to lift the veil — the impenetrable 
veil, which is drawn around the mysteries of nature. It 
is the characteristic of true science, to discern the im- 
passable, but not very obvious, limits which divide the 
province of reason from that of speculation. Such know- 
ledge comes tardily. How many ages have rolled away, 
in which powers, that, rightly directed, might have re- 
vealed the great laws of nature, have been wasted in 
brilliant, but barren, reveries on alchemy and astrology ! 

The latter is more particularly the study of a primitive 
age; when the mind, incapable of arriving at the stu- 

50 Hist, de Nueva Espaiia, lib. 4, power, " chez les peuples de inceurs 
Introd. les plus opposees, le sacerdoce a du 

51 " Dans les pays les plus diffe- au culte des elements et des astres 
rents," says Benjamin Constant, un pouvoir dont aujour-d'hui nous 
concluding some sensible reflections concevons a peine l'idee." De la 
on the sources of the sacerdotal Religion, (Paris, 1825,) liv. 3, ch. 4. 


pendous fact, that the myriads of minute lights, glowing 
in the firmament, are the centres of systems as glorious 
as our own, is naturally led to speculate on their probable 
uses, and to connect the in in some way or other with 
man, for whose convenience every other object in the 
universe seems to have been created. As the eye of the 
simple child of nature watches, through the long nights, 
the stately march of the heavenly bodies, and sees the 
bright hosts coming up, one after another, and changing 
with the changing seasons of the year, he naturally 
associates them with those seasons, as the periods over 
which they hold a mysterious influence. In the same 
manner, he connects their appearance with any interest- 
ing event of the time, and explores, in their flaming 
characters, the destinies of the new-born infant. 52 Such 
is the origin of astrology, the false lights of which have 
continued from the earliest ages to dazzle and bewilder 
mankind, till they have faded away in the superior illu- 
mination of a comparatively recent period. 

The astrological scheme of the Aztecs was founded 
less on the planetary influences than on those of the 
arbitrary signs they had adopted for the months and 
days. The character of the leading sign, in each lunar 
cycle of thirteen days, gave a complexion to the whole ; 
though this was qualified, in some degree, by the signs 
of the succeeding days, as well as by those of the hours. 
It was in adjusting these conflicting forces that the great 
art of the diviner was shown. In no country, not even 
in ancient Egypt, were the dreams of the astrologer more 
implicitly deferred to. On the birth of a child, he was 
instantly summoned. The time of the event was accu- 

52 " It is a gentle and affectionate Coleridge, " Translation of 

thought, Wallenstein," Act 2, sc. 4. 

That, in immeasurable heights Schiller is more true to poetry than 

above us, history, when he tells us, in the 

At our first birth the wreath of beautiful passage of which this is 

love was woven part, that the worship of the stars 

With sparkling stars for took the place of classic mythology. 

flowers." It existed long before it. 

chap, iv.] ASTRONOMY. 93 

rately ascertained; and the family hung in trembling 
suspense, as the minister of Heaven cast the horoscope 
of the infant, and unrolled the dark volume of destiny. 
The influence of the priest xvas confessed by the Mexican, 
in the very first breath which he inhaled. 53 

We know little further of the astronomical attainments 
of the Aztecs. That they were acquainted with the cause 
of eclipses is evident from the representation on their 
maps, of the disk of the moon projected on that of the 
sun. 54 Whether they had arranged a system of constel- 
lations, is uncertain ; though, that they recognised some 
of the most obvious, as the Pleiades, for example, is 
evident from the fact that they regulated their festivals 
by them. We know of no astronomical instruments 
used by them, except the dial. 55 An immense circular 
block of carved stone, disinterred in 1790, in the great 
square of Mexico, has supplied an acute and learned 
scholar with the means of establishing some interesting 
facts in regard to Mexican science. 56 This colossal frag- 

53 Gama lias given us a complete own ; whether the telescope may not 
almanac of the astrological year, have been of the number is uncer- 
with the appropriate signs and di- tain ; but the thirteenth plate of M. 
visions, showing with what scientific Dupaix's Monuments, Part Second, 
skill it was adapted to its various which represents a man holding 
uses. (Descripcion, Parte 1, pp. something of a similar nature to his 
25 — 31 ; 62 — 76.) Sahagun has eye, affords reason to suppose that 
devoted a whole book to explaining they knew how to improve the 
the mystic import and value of these powers of vision." (Antiq. of 
signs, with a minuteness that may Mexico, vol. vi. p. 15, note.) The 
enable one to cast up a scheme of instrument alluded to is rudely 
nativity for himself. (Hist, de carved on a conical rock. It is 
Nueva Espana, lib. 4.) It is evident raised no higher than the neck of 
he fully believed the magic wonders the person who holds it, and looks, 
which he told. " It was a deceitful to my thinking, as much like a 
art," he says, " pernicious and idola- musket as a telescope ; though I 
trous ; and was never contrived by shall not infer the use of fire-arms 
human reason." The good father among the Aztecs from this cir- 
was certainly no philosopher. cumstance. (See vol. iv. PI. 15.) 

54 See, among others, the Cod. Captain Dupaix, however, in his 
Tel.-Rem., Part 4., PI. 22, ap. Antiq. commentary on the drawing, sees 
of Mexico, vol. i. quite as much in it as his lordship. 

55 "It can hardly be doubted," Ibid., vol. v., p. 241. 

says Lord Kingsborough, " that the 56 Gama, Descripcion, Parte 1, 

Mexicans were acquainted with many sec. 4 ; Parte 2, Apend. 
scientifical instruments of strange Besides this colossal fragment 

invention, as compared with our Gama met with some others 


ment, on which the calendar is engraved, shows that 
they had the means of settling the hours of the day with 
precision, the periods of the solstices and of the equi- 
noxes, and that of the transit of the sun across the zenith 
of Mexico. 57 

We cannot contemplate the astronomical science of 
the Mexicans, so disproportioned to their progress in 
other walks of civilization, without astonishment. An 
acquaintance with some of the more obvious principles 
of astronomy is within the reach of the rudest people. 
With a little care, they may learn to connect the regular 
changes of the seasons with those of the place of the sun 
at its rising and setting. They may follow the march of 
the great luminary through the heavens, by watching the 
stars that first brighten on his evening track, or fade in 
his morning beams. They may measure a revolution of 
the moon, by marking her phases, and may even form a 
general idea of the number of such revolutions in a solar 
year. But that they should be capable of accurately 
adjusting their festivals by the movements of the hea- 
venly bodies, and should fix the true length of the tropical 
year, with a precision unknown to the great philosophers 
of antiquity, could be the result only of a long series of 
nice and patient observations, evincing no slight progress 
in civilization. 58 But whence could the rude inhabitants 

designed, probably, for similar scien- of most of the Asiatic nations, with 
tine use3, at Chapoltepec. Before sunrise. M. de Humboldt, who pro- 
he had leisure to examine them, bably never saw Gama's second trea- 
however, they were broken up for tise, allows only eight intervals. Vues 
materials to build a furnace ! A des Cordilleres, p. 128. 
fate not unlike that which has too 5S " TJn calendrier," exclaims the 
often befallen the monuments of enthusiastic Carli, " qui est regie 
ancient art in the Old World. sur la revolution annuelle du soleil, 
57 In his second treatise on the non seulement par l'addition de cinq 
cylindrical stone, Gama dwells more jours tous les ans, mais encore par 
at large on its scientific construction, la correction du bissextile, doit sans 
as a vertical sun-dial, in order to doute etre regarde comme une ope- 
dispel the doubts of some sturdy ration deduite d'une etude reflechie, 
sceptics on this point. (Description, et d'une grande combinaison. II faut 
Parte 2, Apend. 1.) The civil day done supposer chez ces peuples une 
was distributed by the Mexicans into suite d'obseryations astronomiques, 
sixteen parts ; and began, like that une idee distincte de la sphere, de 

chap. iv. J ASTRONOMY. 95 

of these mountain regions have derived this curious eru- 
dition? Not from the barbarous hordes who roamed 
over the higher latitudes of the north; nor from the 
more polished races on the southern continent, with 
whom it is apparent they had no intercourse. If we are 
driven, in our embarrassment, like the greatest astro- 
nomer of our age, to seek the solution among the civilized 
communities of Asia, we shall still be perplexed by rinding, 
amidst general resemblance of outline, sufficient discre- 
pancy in the details, to vindicate, in the judgments of 
many, the Aztec claim to originality. 59 

I shall conclude the account of Mexican science with 
that of a remarkable festival, celebrated by the natives at 
the termination of the great cycle of fifty -two years. We 
have seen, in the preceding chapter, their tradition of the 
destruction, of the world at four successive epochs. They 
look forward confidently to another such catastrophe, to 
take place, like the preceding, at the close of a cycle, 
when the sun was to be effaced from the heavens, the 
human race from the earth, and when the darkness of 
chaos was to settle on the habitable globe. The cycle 
would end in the latter part of December, and, as the 
dreary season of the winter solstice approached, and the 
diminished light of day gave melancholy presage of its 
speedy extinction, their apprehensions increased ; and, on 
the arrival of the five " unlucky" days which closed the 
year, they abandoned themselves to despair. 60 They 
broke in pieces the little images of their household gods, 
in whom they no longer trusted. The holy fires were 
suffered to go out in the temples, and none were lighted 

la declinaison de l'ecliptique, et new fire, with which ceremony the 

l'usage d'un calcul concernant les old cycle properly concluded, at the 

jours et les heures des apparitions winter solstice. It was not till the 

solaires." LettresAmericaines,tom.i. 26th of December, if Gama is right, 

let. 23. The cause of M. Jomard's error is 

59 La Place, who suggests the ana- his hxing it before, instead of after, 
logy, frankly admits the difficulty. the complementary days. See his 
Systeme du Monde, liv. 5, ch. 3. sensible letter on the Aztec calendar, 

60 M. Jomard errs in placing the in the Vues des Cordilleres, p. 309. 



in their own dwellings. Their furniture and domestic 
utensils were destroyed ; their garments torn in pieces ; 
and everything was thrown into disorder, for the coming 
of the evil genii who were to descend on the desolate 

On the evening of the last day, a procession of priests, 
assuming the dress and ornaments of their gods, moved 
from the capital towards a lofty mountain about two 
leagues distant. They carried with them a noble victim, 
the flower of their captives, and an apparatus for kindling 
the new fire, the success of which was an augury of the 
renewal of the cycle. On reaching the summit of the 
mountain, the procession paused till midnight ; when, as 
the constellation of the Pleiades approached the zenith, 61 
the new fire was kindled by the friction of the sticks 
placed on the wounded breast of the victim. 62 The flame 
was soon communicated to a funeral pile, on which the 
body of the slaughtered captive was thrown. As the light 
streamed up towards heaven, shouts of joy and triumph 
burst forth from the countless multitudes who covered 
the hills, the terraces of the temples, and the housetops, 
with eyes anxiously bent on the mount of sacrifice. 
Couriers, with torches lighted at the blazing beacon, 
rapidly bore them over every part of the country ; and 
the cheering element was seen brightening on altar and 
hearth-stone, for the circuit of many a league, long before 
the Sun, rising on his accustomed track, gave assurance that 

61 At the actual moment of their cycle, the greater still must be the 

culmination, according to both Saha- discrepancy, 
gun (Hist, de Nueva Espana, lib. 4, 

Apend.) and Torquemada (Monarch. f>2 " On his bare breast the cedar 

Ind., lib. 10, cap. 33, 36). But this boughs are laid; 

could not be, as that took place at On his bare breast, dry sedge 

midnight, in November ; so late as and odorous gums 

the last secular festival, which was Laid ready to receive the sacred 

early in Montezuma's reign, in 1507. spark, 

(Gama, Description, Parte 1, p. 50, And blaze to herald the as- 

nota. — Humboldt, Vues des Cordil- cending Sun, 

leres, pp. 181, 182.) The longer we Upon his living altar." 

postpone the beginning of the new Sottthey's Madoc, part 2, can. 26. 



a new cycle had commenced its march, and that the laws 
of nature were not to be reversed for the Aztecs. 

The following thirteen days were given up to festivity. 
The houses were cleansed and whitened. The broken 
vessels were replaced by new ones. The people, dressed 
in their gayest apparel, and crowned with garlands and 
chaplets of flowers, thronged in joyous procession, to 
offer up their oblations and thanksgivings in the temples. 
Dances and games were instituted, emblematical of the 
regeneration of the world. It was the carnival of the 
Aztecs ; or rather the national jubilee, the great secular 
festival, like that of the Romans, or ancient Etruscans, 
which few alive had witnessed before, or could expect 
to see again. 63 

63 I borrow the w-ords of the sum- los Inclios, MS., Parte 1, cap. 5. 

mons by which the people were called — Sagahun, Hist. de Nueva Espafia, 

to the ludi seculares, the secular lib. 7, cap. 9 — 12. See, also, Gama, 

games of ancient Rome, " quos nee Descripcion, Parte 1, pp. 52 — 5L— 

speetdsset quisquam, nee spectaturus Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, torn. ii. 

essetr (Suetonius, Vita Tib. Claudii, pp. 84—86.) The English reader 

lib, 5.) The old Mexican chroniclers will find a more brilliant colouring 

warm into something like eloquence of the same scene in the canto of 

in their descriptions of the Aztec fes- Madoc, above cited — " On the Close 

rival. (Torquemada, Monarch. Lid., of the Century." 
lib. 10, cap. 33.— Toribio, Hist, de 

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

Too much cannot be said of the mechanical execution of the book, its 
splendid typography, the apparent accuracy, and the delicacy of the draw- 
ings, and the sumptuous quality of the materials. Yet the purchaser would 

VOL. I. H 


have been saved some superfluous expense, and the reader much inconve- 
nience, if the letter-press had been in volumes of an ordinary size. But it 
is not uncommon in works on this magnificent plan, to find utility in some 
measure sacrificed to show. 

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

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

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

" neither sea, 
Nor good dry laud ; nigh foundered, on he fares." 

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

Another writer, whose works must be diligently consulted by every student 
of Mexican antiquities, is Antonio Gama. His life contains as few incidents 

chap, iv.j GAMA. 99 

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

H 2 


BOOK r. 


Aztec Agriculture. — Mechanical Arts. — Merchants. — Domestic Manners. 

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

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



reached a degree of excellence, that has wrought an im- 
portant change in the constitution of society. 

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

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

Husbandry, to a very limited extent, indeed, was prac- 
tised by most of the rude tribes of North America. 
Wherever a natural opening in the forest, or a rich strip 


of interval, met their eyes, or a green slope was found 
along the rivers, they planted it with beans and Indian 
corn. 1 The cultivation was slovenly in the extreme, and 
could not secure the improvident natives from the fre- 
quent recurrence of desolating famines. Still, that they 
tilled the soil at all was a peculiarity which honourably 
distinguished them from other tribes of hunters, and 
raised them one degree higher in the scale of civilization. 
Agriculture in Mexico was in the same advanced state 
as the other arts of social life. In few countries, indeed, 
has it been more respected. It was closely interwoven 
with the civil and religious institutions of the nation. 
There were peculiar deities to preside over it ; the names 
of the months and of the religious festivals had more or 
less reference to it. The public taxes, as we have seen, 
were often paid in agricultural produce. All, except the 
soldiers and great nobles, even the inhabitants of the 
cities, cultivated the soil. The work was chiefly done by 
the men; the women scattering the seed, husking the 
corn, and taking part only in the lighter labours of the 
field. 2 In this they presented an honourable contrast to 
the other tribes of the continent, who imposed the burden 
of agriculture, severe as it is in the North, on their 
women. 3 Indeed, the sex was as tenderly regarded by 

1 This latter grain, according to 3 A striking contrast also to the 
Humboldt, was found by the Euro- Egyptians, with whom some anti- 
peans in the New World, from the quaries are disposed to identify the 
south of Chili to Pennsylvania; (Essai ancient Mexicans. Sophocles notices 
Politique, torn. ii. p. 408 ;) he might the effeminacy of the men in Egypt, 
have added, to the St. Lawrence. who stayed at home tending the loom, 
Our puritan fathers found it in abun- while their wives were employed in 
dance on the New England coast, severe labours out of doors, 
wherever they landed. See Morton, " T I2 iravT iKeiva rols iv Klyvrtra 
New England's Memorial. (Boston, v6p,ois 

1826,) p. 68. — Gookin, Massachu- $v<tlv KareiKaaBevri kol filov rpo- 

setts Historical Collections, chap. 3. cpds. 

2 Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 'EKet yap ot p,ev dpo-eves Kara, crre- 
13, cap. 31. yas 

"Admirableexampleforourtimes," QaKovaiv larrovpyovvTes' at 8e 

exclaims the good father, " when wo- a-\ivvop.ot 

men are not only unfit for the labours Ta|w j3lov rporpe'ia ivopcrvvova' 

of the field, but have too much levity del." 

to attend to their own household!" Sophocl., (Edip. Col., v. 337—311. 

chap, v.] AGRICULTURE. 103 

the Aztecs in this matter, as it is in most parts of Europe 
at the present day. 

There was no want of judgment in the management 
of their ground. When somewhat exhausted, it was 
permitted to recover by lying fallow. Its extreme 
dryness was relieved by canals, with which the land was 
partially irrigated ; and the same end was promoted by 
severe penalties against the destruction of the woods, 
with which the country, as already noticed, was well 
covered before the Conquest. Lastly, they provided for 
their harvests ample granaries, which were admitted by 
the conquerors to be of admirable construction. In this 
provision we see the forecast of civilized man. 4 

Amongst the most important articles of husbandry, 
we may notice the banana, whose facility of cultivation 
and exuberant returns are so fatal to habits of systematic 
and hardy industry. 5 Another celebrated plant was the 
cacao, the fruit of which furnished the chocolate — from 
the Mexican chocolatl — now so common a beverage 
throughout Europe. 6 The vanilla, confined to a small 
district of the sea-coast, was used for the same purposes, 
of flavouring their food and drink, as with us. 7 The 
great staple of the country, as, indeed, of the American 
continent, was maize, or Indian corn, which grew freely 
along the valleys, and up the steep sides of the Cordilleras 
to the high level of the table-land. The Aztecs were as 

4 Torquemada, Monarch. Lid., concludes, that if some species were 

lib. 13, cap. 32. — Clavigero, Stor. brought into the country, others 

del Messico, torn. ii. pp. 153 — 155. were indigenous. (Essai Politique, 

"Jamas padecieron hambre," says torn. ii. pp. 382 — 388.) If we may 

the former writer, " sino en pocas credit Clavigero, the banana was the 

ocasiones." If these famines were forbidden fruit that tempted our 

rare, they were very distressing, poor mother Eve ! Stor. del Messico, 

however, and lasted very long. torn. i. p. 49, nota. 
Comp. Ixtlikochitl, Hist. Chich., 6 ^ ^ t Ramusio, 

MS. cap 41, /let alibi. fo m _ fol 3( f 6 ._ Hernaudez De 

_ • Oviedo considers the mum an Historia Plantarum Novre Hispaiiije, 

imported plant ; and Hernandez, in {mirit] mo) lib . 6 cap . 87 \ 

his copious catalogue, makes no * ' ' 

mention of it at all. But Humboldt, 7 Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva Es- 

who has given much attention to it, pana, lib. 8, cap. 1 3, et alibi. 


curious in its preparation, and as well instructed in its 
manifold uses, as the most expert New England house- 
wife. Its gigantic stalks, in these equinoxial regions, 
afford a saccharine matter, not found to the same extent 
in northern latitudes, and supplied the natives with sugar 
little inferior to that of the cane itself, which was not 
introduced among them till after the Conquest. 8 But 
the miracle of nature was the great Mexican aloe, or 
maguey, whose clustering pyramids of flowers, towering 
above their dark coronals of leaves, were seen sprinkled 
over many a broad acre of the table-land. As we have 
already noticed, its bruised leaves afforded a paste from 
which paper was manufactured; 9 its juice was fermented 
into an intoxicating beverage, pulque, of which the 
natives, to this day, are excessively fond ; 10 its leaves 
further supplied an impenetrable thatch for the more 
humble dwellings ; thread, of which coarse stuffs were 
made, and strong cords, were drawn from its tough 
and twisted fibres ; pins and needles were made of 
the thorns at the extremity of its leaves ; and the root, 
when properly cooked, was converted into a palatable 
and nutritious food. The agave, in short, was meat, 
drink, clothing, and writing materials for the Aztec ! 
Surely, never did Nature enclose in so compact a form 

8 Carta del Lie. Zuazo, MS. culture to the Senate of the United 
He extols the honey of the maize, States, March 12, 1838. 

as equal to that of bees. (Also 

Oviedo, Hist. Natural de las Indias, 10 Before the Revolution, the 

cap. 4, ap. Barcia, torn, i.) Her- duties on the pulque formed so im- 

nandez, who celebrates the manifold portant a branch of revenue, that the 

ways in which the maize was pre- cities of Mexico, Puebla, and Toluca 

pared, derives it from the Haytian alone paid $817,739 to government, 

word mahiz. Hist. Plantarum, lib. (Humboldt, Essai Politique, torn. ii. 

6, cap. 44, 45. p. 47.) It requires time to reconcile 

Europeans to the peculiar flavour of 

9 And is still, in one spot at least, this liquor, on the merits of which 
San Angel — three leagues from the they are consequently much divided, 
capital. Another mill was to have There is but one opinion among the 
been established a few years since in natives. The English reader will 
Puebla. Whether this has actually find a good account of its manu- 
been done I am ignorant. See the facture in Ward's Mexico, vol. ii. 
Report of the Committee on Agri- pp. 55 — 60. 

chap, v.] MECHANICAL ARTS. 105 

so many of the elements of human comfort and civil- 
ization ! " 

It would be obviously out of place to enumerate in 
these pages all the varieties of plants, many of them of 
medicinal virtue, which have been introduced from 
Mexico into Europe. Still less can I attempt a catalogue 
of its flowers, which, with their variegated and gaudy 
colours, form the greatest attraction of our greenhouses. 
The opposite climates embraced within the narrow lati- 
tudes of New Spain have given to it, probably, the 
richest and most diversified Mora to be found in any 
country on the globe. These different products were 
systematically arranged by the Aztecs, who understood 
their properties, and collected them into nurseries, more 
extensive than any then existing in the Old World. It 
is not improbable that they suggested the idea of those 
" gardens of plants " which were introduced into Europe 
not many years after the Conquest. 12 

The Mexicans were as well acquainted with the 
mineral, as with the vegetable treasures of their king- 
dom. Silver, lead, and tin, they drew from the mines 

11 Hernandez enumerates the seve- in Mexico. See, among others, Her- 

ral species of the maguey, which are nandez, ubi supra. — Sahagun, Hist, 

turned to these manifold uses, in his de Nueva Espana, lib. 9, cap. 2 ; 

learned work, De Hist. Plantarum. lib. 11, cap. 7. — Toribio, Hist, de 

(Lib. 7, cap. 71 et seq.) M. de los Indios, MS., Parte 3, cap. 19. 

Humboldt considers them all varie- —Carta del Lie. Zuazo, MS. The 

ties of the agave Americana, familiar last, speaking of the maguey which 

in the southern parts, both of the produces the fermented drink, says 

United States and Europe. (Essai expressly, " De lo que queda de las 

Politique, torn. ii. p. 487 et seq.) dichas hojas se aprovechan, como de 

This opinion has brought on him lino mui delgado, 6 de Olanda, de 

a rather sour rebuke from our que hacen lienzos mui primos para 

countryman, the late Dr. Perrine, vestir, e bien delgados." It cannot be 

who pronounces them a distinct denied, however, that Dr. Perrine 

species from the American agave ; shows himself intimately acquainted 

and regards one of the kinds, the with the structure and habits of the 

pita, from which the fine thread is tropical plants, which, with such 

obtained, as a totally distinct genus. patriotic spirit, lie proposed to intro- 

(See the Report of the Committee duce into Elorida. 
on Agriculture.) Yet the Baron 

may find authority for all the pro- 12 The first regular establishment 

perties ascribed by him to the ma- of this kind, according to Carli, was 

guey in the most accredited writers at Padua, in 1545. Lettres Americ, 

who have resided more or less time torn. i. chap. 21. 


of Tasco; copper from the mountains of Zacotollan. 
These were taken, not only from the crude masses on 
the surface, but from veins wrought in the solid rock, 
into which they opened extensive galleries. In fact, the 
traces of their labours furnished the best indications for 
the early Spanish miners. Gold, found on the surface, 
or gleaned from the beds of rivers, was cast into bars, 
or, in the form of dust, made part of the regular tribute 
of the southern provinces of the empire. The use of 
iron, with which the soil was impregnated, was unknown 
to them. Notwithstanding its abundance, it demands 
so many processes to prepare it for use, that it has com- 
monly been one of the last metals pressed into the service 
of man. The age of iron has followed that of brass, in 
fact as well as in fiction. 13 

They found a substitute in an alloy of tin and copper ; 
and, with tools made of this bronze, could cut not only 
metals, but, with the aid of a siliceous dust, the hardest 
substances, as basalt, porphyry, amethysts, and emeralds. 14 
They fashioned these last, which were found very large, 
into many curious and fantastic forms. They cast, also, 
vessels of gold and silver, carving them with their metal- 
lic chisels in a very delicate manner. Some of the silver 
vases were so large, that a man could not encircle them 
with his arms. They imitated very nicely the figures of 
animals, and, what was extraordinary, could mix the 

13 P. Martyr, De Orbe Novo, out it " they could have produced no 

Decades, (Compluti, 1530,) dec. 5, work in metal, worth looking at, no 

p. 191. — Acosta, lib. 4, cap. 3. — masonry nor architecture, engraving 

Humboldt, Essai Politique, torn. iii. nor sculpture." (History of the 

pp. 114 — 125. — Torquemada, Mon- Indies, Eng. trans., vol. iii. b. 6.) 

arch. Ind., lib. 13, cap. 34. Iron, however, if known, was little 

"Men wrought in brass," says used by the ancient Egyptians, 

Hesiod, " when iron did not exist." whose mighty monuments were hewn 

„ /x *>>'>• '\ j>> « with bronze tools, while their wea- 

XaAKO) o epyaCovTO ueAay ovk , j ,. ' , ., » 

»; '» pons ana domestic utensils were of 

tt^ot^ "r? * 'xj ' tlie same material, as appear from 

JlESIOD. Epva Kai Huepai. ,, i • i 1 .i ■ 

ri r r the green colour given to them in 

The Abbe Raynal contends that their paintings. 

the ignorance of iron must neces- l4 Gama, Description, Parte 2, 

sarily have kept the Mexicans in a pp.25 — 29. — Torquemada, Monarch. 

low state of civilization, since with- Ind., ubi supra. 

chap, v.] MECHANICAL ARTS. 107 

metals in such a manner, that the feathers of a bird, or 
the scales of a fish, should be alternately of gold and 
silver. The Spanish goldsmiths admitted their supe- 
riority over themselves in these ingenious works. 15 

They employed another tool, made of itztli, or obsi- 
dian, a dark transparent mineral, exceedingly hard, 
found in abundance in their hills. They made it into 
knives, razors, and their serrated swords. It took a 
keen edge, though soon blunted. With this they 
wrought the various stones and alabasters employed in 
the construction of their public works and principal 
dwellings. I shall defer a more particular account of 
these to the body of the narrative, and will only add 
here, that the entrances and angles of the buildings 
were profusely ornamented with images, sometimes of 
their fantastic deities, and frequently of animals. 16 The 
latter were executed with great accuracy. " The former," 
according to Torquemada, " were the hideous reflection 
of their own souls. And it was not till after they had 
been converted to Christianity, that they could model 
the true figure of a man." 17 The old chronicler's facts 
are well founded, whatever we may think of his reasons. 
The allegorical phantasms of his religion, no doubt, gave 
a direction to the Aztec artist, in his delineation of the 
human figure ; supplying him with an imaginary beauty 
in the personification of divinity itself. As these super- 
stitions lost their hold on his mind, it opened to the 

13 Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva Es- similar pieces of mechanism, at the 

pafia, lib. 9, cap. 15 — 17. — Boturini, court of the grand Chane of Cathay. 

Idea, p. 77- — Torqueruada, Monarch. See his Voiage and Travaile, chap. 

Lid., loc. cit. 20. 

Herrera, who says they could also 16 Hprrpra Hit RpT1P1 . a i a pc a 

enamel, commends the skill of the r , Herreia » ™- General, dec. i, 

Mexican goldsmiths in making birds h \ \°f- ll--Torquemada Mon- 

j ■ s -,r ii • D i arch, lnd., lib. 13, cap. 34. — Gama, 

and animals with movable wings and Descri ^ Parte ' 2 , pp. 27, 28. 

limbs, in a most curious fashion. x ' ' rr ' 

(Hist. General, dec 2, lib. 7, cap. 15.) 17 "Parece, que permitia Dios, 

Sir John Maundeville, as usual, que la figura de sus cuerpos se 

it .,, , . , . j asimilase a la que tenian sus almas, 

' manecian, Monarch. Ind., lib. 13, 

notices the "gret marvayle" of cap. 34. 


influences of a purer taste ; and, after the Conquest, the 
Mexicans furnished many examples of correct, and some 
of beautiful portraiture. 

Sculptured images were so numerous, that the foun- 
dations of the cathedral in the Plaza Mayor, the great 
square of Mexico, are said to be entirely composed of 
them, 18 This spot may, indeed, be regarded as the 
Aztec forum, the great depository of the treasures of 
ancient sculpture, which now lie hid in its bosom. 
Such monuments are spread all over the capital, how- 
ever, and a new cellar can hardly be dug, or foundation 
laid, without turning up some of the mouldering relics 
of barbaric art. But they are little heeded, and, if not 
wantonly broken in pieces at once, are usually worked 
into the rising wall, or supports of the new edifice ! 19 
Two celebrated bas-reliefs of the last Montezuma and 
his father, cut in the solid rock in the beautiful groves 
of Chapoltepec, were deliberately destroyed, as late as 
the last century, by order of the government ! 20 The 
monuments of the barbarian meet with as little respect 
from civilized man, as those of the civilized man from 
the barbarian. 21 

The most remarkable piece oF sculpture yet disin- 
terred is the great calendar stone, noticed in the pre- 
ceding chapter. It consists of dark porphyry, and in its 
original dimensions, as taken from the quarry, is com- 
puted to have weighed nearly fifty tons. It was trans- 

18 Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, was destroyed in 1754, when it was 
torn. ii. p. 195. seen by Gama, who highly commends 

19 Gama Descripcion, Parte 1, the execution of it. Ibid. 
p. 1. Besides the Plaza Mayor, 

Gama points out the Square of 21 This wantonness of destruction 

Tlatelolco, as a great cemetery of provokes the bitter animadversion of 

ancient relics. It was the quarter Martyr, whose enlightened mind 

to which the Mexicans retreated, on respected the vestiges of civilization 

the siege of the capital. wherever found. " The conquerors," 

20 Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., he says, " seldom repaired the build- 
lib. 13, cap. 34. — Gama, Descrip- ings that were defaced. They would 
cion, Parte 2, pp. 81—83. rather sack twenty stately cities, 

These statues are repeatedly no- than erect one good edifice." De 
ticed by the old writers. The last Orbe Novo, dec. 5, cap. 10. 

chap, v.] MECHANICAL ARTS 109 

ported from the mountains beyond Lake Chalco, a 
distance of many leagues, over a broken country inter- 
sected by water-courses and canals. In crossing a bridge 
which traversed one of these latter, in the capital, the 
supports gave way, and the huge mass was precipitated 
into the water, whence it was with difficulty recovered. 
The fact, that so enormous a fragment of porphyry could 
be thus safely carried for leagues, in the face of such 
obstacles, and without the aid of cattle — for the Aztecs, 
as already mentioned, had no animals of draught — ■ 
suggests to us no mean ideas of their mechanical skill, 
and of their machinery ; and implies a degree of culti- 
vation, little inferior to that demanded for the geometrical 
and astronomical science displayed in the inscriptions 
on this very stone. 22 

The ancient Mexicans made utensils of earthenware 
for the ordinary purposes of domestic life, numerous 
specimens of which still exist. 23 They made cups and 
vases of a lackered or painted wood, impervious to wet, 
and gaudily coloured. Their dyes were obtained from 
both mineral and vegetable substances. Among them 
was the rich crimson of the cochineal, the modern rival 
of the famed Tyrian purple. It was introduced into 
Europe from Mexico, where the curious little insect was 
nourished with great care on plantations of cactus, since 
fallen into neglect. 24 The natives were thus enabled to 

22 Gama, Description, Parte 1, suggesting, that these great masses 

pp. 110 — 114. — Humboldt, Essai of stone were transported by means 

Politique, torn. ii. p. 40. of the mastodon, whose remains are 

Ten thousand men were employed occasionally disinterred in the Mexi- 

in the transportation of this enor- can Valley. Rambler in Mexico, 

mous mass, according to Tezozomoc, p. 145. 

whose narrative, with all the accom- 23 A great collection of ancient 

panying prodigies, is minutely tran- pottery, with various other specimens 

scribed by Bustamante. The Licen- of Aztec art, the gift of Messrs. 

tiate shows an appetite for the Poinsett and Keating, is deposited 

marvellous, which might excite the in the cabinet of the American philo- 

envy of a monk of the Middle Ages. sophical society, at Philadelphia. See 

(See Description, nota, loc. tit.) the Catalogue, ap. Transactions, vol. 

The English traveller, Latrobe, ac- iii. p. 510. 

commodates the wonders of nature 2i Hernandez, Hist. Plantarum, 

and art very well to each other, by lib. 0, cap. 116. 


give a brilliant colouring to the webs, which were manu- 
factured of every degree of fineness from the cotton 
raised in abundance throughout the warmer regions of 
the country. They had the art, also, of interweaving 
with these the delicate hair of rabbits and other animals, 
which made a cloth of great warmth as well as beauty, 
of a kind altogether original ; and on this they often laid 
a rich embroidery of birds, flowers, or some other fanciful 
device. 25 

But the art in which they most delighted was their 
plumaje, or feather- work. With this they could produce 
all the effect of a beautiful mosaic. The gorgeous 
plumage of the tropical birds, especially of the parrot 
tribe, afforded every variety of colour ; and the fine down 
of the humming-bird, which revelled in swarms among 
the honeysuckle bowers of Mexico, supplied them with 
soft aerial tints that gave an exquisite finish to the 
picture. The feathers, pasted on a fine cotton web, 
were wrought into dresses for the wealthy, hangings for 
apartments, and ornaments for the temples. No one of 
the American fabrics excited such admiration in Europe, 
whither numerous specimens were sent by the Con- 
querors. It is to be regretted, that so graceful an art 
should have been suffered to fall into decay. 20 

25 Carta del Lie. Zuazo, MS. — shows that it could not have reached 

Herrera, Hist. General, dec. 2, lib. any great excellence or extent. 

7, cap. 15. Boturini, Idea, p. 77. 26 Carta del Lie. Zuazo, MS. — 

It is doubtful how far they were Acosta, lib. 4, cap. 37. — Sahagun, 
acquainted with the manufacture of Hist, de Nueva Espaiia, lib. 9, cap. 
silk. Carli supposes that what Cortes 18 — 21. — Toribio,Hist.delosIndios, 
calls silk was only the fine texture of MS., Parte 1, cap. 15. — Rel. d'un 
hair or down, mentioned in the text. gent., ap. Ramusio, torn. hi. fol. 306. 
(Lettres Americ, torn. i. lett. 21.) Count Carli is in raptures with a 
But it is certain they had a species specimen of feather-painting which 
of caterpillar, unlike our silkworm, he saw in Strasbourg. " Never did 
indeed, which spun a thread that was I behold anything so exquisite," he 
sold in the markets of ancient Mexico. says, " for brilliancy and nice grada- 
See the Essai Politique, (torn. iii. tion of colour, and for beauty of 
pp. 66— 69,) where M. de Humboldt design. No European artist could 
has collected some interesting facts have made such a thing." (Lettres 
in regard to the culture of silk by the Americ., lett. 21, note.) There is still 
Aztecs. Still, that the fabric should one place, Patzquaro, where, accord- 
be a matter of uncertainty at all ing to Bustamante, they preserve 

chap, v 


There were no shops in Mexico, but the various 
manufactures and agricultural products were brought 
together for sale in the great market-places of the prin- 
cipal cities. Fairs were held there every fifth day, and 
were thronged by a numerous concourse of persons, who 
came to buy or sell from all the neighbouring country. 
A particular quarter was allotted to each kind of article. 
The numerous transactions were conducted without con- 
fusion, and with entire regard to justice, under the 
inspection of magistrates appointed for the purpose. 
The traffic was carried on partly by barter, and partly 
by means of a regulated currency, of different values. 
This consisted of transparent quills of gold dust ; of bits 
of tin, cut in the form of a T; and of bags of cacao, 
containing a specified number of grains. " Blessed 
money," exclaims Peter Martyr, " which exempts its 
possessors from avarice, since it cannot be long hoarded, 
nor hidden under ground !" 27 

There did not exist in Mexico that distinction of castes 
found among the Egyptian and Asiatic nations. It was, 
usual, however, for the son to follow the occupation of 
his father. The different trades were arranged into 
something like guilds ; having each a particular district 
of the city appropriated to it, with its own chief, its own 
tutelar deity, its peculiar festivals, and the like. Trade 
was held in avowed estimation by the Aztecs. " Apply 
thyself, my son," was the advice of an aged chief, " to 
agriculture, or to feather- work, or some other honourable 

some knowledge of this interesting gun, Hist, de Nueva -Espafia, lib. 8, 
art, though it is practised on a very cap. 36. — Toribio, Hist, de los In- 
limited scale, and at great cost. Sa- dios, MS., Parte 3, cap. 8. — Carta 
hagun, ubi supra, nota. del Lie. Zuazo, MS.) The substi- 
27 " felicem monetam, quae tute for money throughout the Chi- 
suavem utilemque prsebet humano nese empire was equally simple in 
generi potum, et a tartarea peste Marco Polo's time, consisting of bits 
avaritise suos immunes servat posses- of stamped paper, made from the 
sores, quod suffodi aut diu servari inner bark of the mulberry tree, 
nequeat!" (De Orbe Novo, dec. 5, See Viaggi di Messer Marco Polo, 
cap. 4. — See, also, Carta de Cortes, gentil' huomo Venetiano, lib. 2, cap. 
ap. Lorenzana, p. 100 et seq. — Saha- 18, ap. Ramusio, torn. ii. 


calling. Thus did your ancestors before you. Else, 
how would they have provided for themselves and their 
families ? Never was it heard, that nobility alone was 
able to maintain its possessor." 28 Shrewd maxims, that 
must have sounded somewhat strange in the ear of 
a Spanish /lidal^of" 29 

But the occupation peculiarly respected was that of 
the merchant. It formed so important and singular 
a feature of their social economy, as to merit a much 
more particular notice than it has received from histo- 
rians. The Aztec merchant was a sort of itinerant 
trader, who made his journeys to the remotest borders 
of Anahuac, and to the countries beyond, carrying with 
him merchandise of rich stuffs, jewelry, slaves, and other 
valuable commodities. The slaves were obtained at the 
great market of Aztcapotzalco, not many leagues from 
the capital, where fairs were regularly held for the sale 
of these unfortunate beings. They were brought thither 
by their masters, dressed in their gayest apparel, and 
instructed to sing, dance, and display their little stock 
of personal accomplishments, so as to recommend them- 
selves to the purchaser. Slave-dealing was an honourable 
calling among the Aztecs. 30 

With this rich freight, the merchant visited the dif- 
ferent provinces, always bearing some present of value 
from his own sovereign to their chiefs, and usually 
receiving others in return, with a permission to trade. 
Should this be denied him, or should he meet with 
indignity or violence, he had the means of resistance in 
his power. He performed his journeys with a number 
of companions of his own rank, and a large body of infe- 

28 " Proeui-ad de saber algun qficio 29 Col. dc Mendoza, ap. Aiitiq. of 

honroso, como es el hacer obras de Mexico, vol. i. PL 71 ; vol. vi. p. 36. 

pluma y otros oficios mecanicos. — Torquemada, Monarch. Lid., lib. 

.... Mirad que tengais cuidado de 2, cap. 41. 

lo tocante a la agricultura En 

ninguna parte he visto que alguno se 30 Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva Espa- 

mantengapor sunobleza." Sahagun, fia, lib. 9, cap. 4, 10 — 14. 
Hist, de Nueva Espaha, lib. 6, cap. 17. 

chap, v.] MERCHANTS. 113 

rior attendants who were employed to transport the 
goods. Fifty or sixty pounds were the usual load for 
a man. The whole caravan went armed, and so well 
provided against sudden hostilities, that they could make 
good their defence, if necessary, till reinforced from 
home. In one instance, a body of these militant traders 
stood a siege of four years in the town of Ayotlan, which 
they finally took from the enemy. 31 Their own govern- 
ment, however, was always prompt to embark in a war 
on this ground, finding it a very convenient pretext for 
extending the Mexican empire. It was not unusual 
to allow the merchants to raise levies themselves, which 
were placed under their command. It was, moreover, 
very common for the prince to employ the merchants as 
a sort of spies, to furnish him information of the state of 
the countries through which they passed, and the dispo- 
sitions of the inhabitants towards himself. 32 

Thus their sphere of action was much enlarged beyond 
that of a humble trader, and they acquired a high consi- 
deration in the body politic. They were allowed to 
assume insignia and devices of their own. Some of 
their number composed what is called by the Spanish 
writers a council of finance ; at least, this was the case 
in Texcuco. 33 They were much consulted by the monarch, 
who had some of them constantly near his person • 
addressing them by the title of "uncle," which may 
remind one of that of primo, or " cousin," by which 
a grandee of Spain is saluted by his sovereign. They 
were allowed to have their own courts, in which civil 

31 Ibid., lib. 9, cap. 2. Ixtlilxochitl gives a curious story 

32 Ibid, lib. 9, cap. 2, 4. of one of tbe royal family of Tezcuco, 
In the Mendoza Codex is a paint- who offered, with two other mer- 

ing, representing the execution of chants, otros mercaderes, to visit the 

a cacique and his family, with the court of a hostile cacique, and bring 

destruction of his city, for maltreat- him dead or alive to the capital. 

ing the persons of some Aztec mer- They availed themselves of a drunken 

chants. Antiq. of Mexico, vol. i. revel, at which they were_ to have 

PI. 67. been sacrificed, to effect their object. 

33 Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 62. 
lib. 2, cap. 41. 

VOL. I. I 



and criminal cases, not excepting capital, were deter- 
mined ; so that they formed an independent community, 
as it were, of themselves. And, as their various traffic 
supplied them with abundant stores of wealth, they 
enjoyed many of the most essential advantages of an 
hereditary aristocracy. 34 

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

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

34 Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva Es- picture, showing they enjoyed a con- 

pafia, lib. 9, cap. 2, 5. sideration among the half-civilized 

The ninth book is taken up with nations of Anahuac, to which there 

an account of the merchants, their is no parallel, unless it be that pos- 

pilgrimages, the religious rites on sessed by the merchant-princes of an 

their departure, and the sumptuous Italian republic, or the princely mer- 

way of living on their return. The chants of our own, 
whole presents a very remarkable 





by expressions of the most cordial and affectionate 
regard. 35 

The discipline of children, especially at the public 
schools, as stated in a previous chapter, was exceedingly 
But after she had come to a mature age, the 


Aztec maiden was treated by her parents with a tender- 
ness from which all reserve seemed banished. In the 
counsels to a daughter about to enter into life, they con- 
jured her to preserve simplicity in her manners and 
conversation, uniform neatness in her attire, with strict 
attention to personal cleanliness. They inculcated 
modesty as the great ornament of a woman, and implicit 
reverence for her husband ; softening their admonitions 
by such endearing epithets, as showed the fulness of 
a parent's love. 37 

Polygamy was permitted among the Mexicans, though 
chiefly confined, probably, to the wealthiest classes. 38 

33 Sahagun, Hist, cle Nueva Es- 
paha, lib. 6, cap. 23—37- — Camargo, 
Hist, de Tlascala, MS. 

These complimentary attentions 
were paid at stated seasons, even 
during pregnancy. The details are 
given with abundant gravity and 
minuteness by Sahagun, who descends 
to particulars, which his Mexican 
editor, Bustamante, has excluded, as 
somewhat too unreserved for the 
public eye. If they were more so 
than some of the editor's own notes, 
they must have been very communi- 
cative indeed. 

36 Zurita, Rapport, pp. 112—134. 
The third Part of the Col. de 

Mendoza (Antiq. of Mexico, vol. i.) 
exhibits the various ingenious punish- 
ments devised for the refractory 
child. The flowery path of know- 
ledge was well strewed with thorns 
for the Mexican tyro. 

37 Zurita, Rapport, pp. 151 — 160. 

Sahagun has given us the admoni- 
tions of both father and mother to 
the Aztec maiden, on her coming to 
years of discretion. What can be 
more tender than the beginning of 
the mother's exhortation? "Hija 

mia mny amada, muy querida pal- 
mita : ya has oido y notado las pala- 
bras que tu sehor padre te ha dicho ; 
ellas son palabras preciosas, y que 
raramente se dicen ni se oyen, las 
quales ban procedido de las entrafias 
y corazon en que estaban atesoradas ; 
y tu muy amado padre bien sabe que 
eres su hija, engendrada de el, eres 
su sangre y su came, y sabe Dios 
nuestro senor que es asi; aunque 
eres rnuger, e imagen de tu padre 
i que mas te puedo decir, hija mia, 
de lo que ya esta dicho ? " (Hist. 
de Nueva Espana, lib. 6, cap. 19.) 
The reader will find this interesting 
document, which enjoins so much of 
what is deemed most essential aniong 
civilized nations, translated entire in 
the Appendix, Part 2, No. 1. 

38 let we find the remarkable 
declaration, in the counsels of a 
father to his son, that, for the multi- 
plication of the species, God ordained 
one man only for one woman. " Nota, 
hijo mio, lo que te digo, mira que el 
mundo ya tiene este estilo de engen- 
drar y multiplicar, y para esta gene- 
racion, y multiplicacion, ordeno Dios 
que una muger nsase de un varon, 
i 2 


And the obligations of the marriage vow, which was 
made with all the formality of a religious ceremony, were 
fully recognised, and impressed on both parties. The 
women are described by the Spaniards as pretty, unlike 
their unfortunate descendants of the present day, though 
with the same serious and rather melancholy cast of 
countenance. Their long black hair, covered, in some 
parts of the country, by a veil made of the fine web of 
the pita, might generally be seen wreathed with flowers, 
or, among the richer people, with strings of precious 
stones, and pearls from the Gulf of California. They 
appear to have been treated with much consideration by 
their husbands ; and passed their time in indolent tran- 
quillity, or in such feminine occupations as spinning, 
embroidery, and the like ; while their maidens beguiled 
the hours by the rehearsal of traditionary tales and 
ballads. 39 

The women partook equally with the men of social 
festivities and entertainments. These were often con- 
ducted on a large scale, both as regards the number of 
guests and the costliness of the preparations. Nume- 
rous attendants, of both sexes, waited at the banquet. 
The halls were scented with perfumes, and the courts 
strewed with odoriferous herbs and flowers, which were 
distributed in profusion among the guests, as they arrived. 
Cotton napkins and ewers of water were placed before 
them, as they took their seats at the board ; for the ven- 
erable ceremony of ablution, 40 before and after eating, 

y un varon de una muger." Ibid. "Xepvifta 8' dpcpliroXos irpoxoco e ne- 

lib. 6, cap. 21. ^eve cpepovaa 

39 Ibid., lib. 6, cap. 21 — 23 ; lib. Kakfj xP vae ^> virep dpyvpeolo Xe- 
8, cap. 23. — Rel. d'un gent., ap. j3r)ros, 

Ramusio, torn. iii. fol. 305. — Carta Nl^ao-dar irepa 8e gearf/p erdpvcre 

del Lie. Zuazo, MS. Tpdne^av" nAV „„ 

40 As old as the heroic age of OAY22. A. 
Greece, at least. We may fancy The feast affords many other points 
ourselves at the table of Penelope, of analogy to the Aztec, inferring a 
where water in golden ewers was similar stage of civilization in the 
poured into silver basins for the ac- two nations. One may be surprised, 
coramodation of her guests before however, to find a greater profusion 
beginning the repast. of the precious metals in the barren 

JHAP. V.] 



was punctiliously observed by the Aztecs. 41 Tobacco 
was then offered to the company, in pipes, mixed up 
with aromatic substances, or in the form of cigars, in- 
serted in tubes of tortoise-shell or silver. They com- 
pressed the nostrils with the fingers, while they inhaled 
the smoke, which they frequently swallowed. Whether 
the women, who sat apart from the men at table, were 
allowed the indulgence of the fragrant weed, as in the 
most polished circles of modern Mexico, is not told us. 
It is a curious fact, that the Aztecs also took the dried 
leaf in the pulverized form of snuff. 42 

The table was well provided with substantial meats, 
especially game ; among which the most conspicuous was 
the turkey, erroneously supposed, as its name imports, 
to have come originally from the East. 43 These more 

isle of Ithaca, than in Mexico. But 
the poet's fancy was a richer mine 
than either. 

41 Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva Es- 
pana, lib. 6, cap. 22. 

Amidst some excellent advice of 
a parent to his sou, on his general 
deportment, we find the latter punc- 
tiliously enjoined not to take his seat 
at the board till he has washed his face 
and hands, and not to leave it till he 
has repeated the same thing, and 
cleansed his teeth. The directions 
are given with a precision worthy of 
an Asiatic. "Al principio de la 
comida labarte has las manos y la 
boca, y donde te juntares con otros 
a comer, no te sientes luego; mas 
antes tomaras el agua y la jicara para 
que se laben los otros, y echarles has 
agua a las manos, y despues de esto, 
cojeras lo que se ha caido por el 
suelo y barreras el lugar de la comida, 
y tambien despues de comer lavaras 
te las manos y la boca, y limpiaras 
los dientes." Ibid., loc. cit. 

42 Rel. d'un gent., ap. Ramusio, 
torn. hi. fol. 306. — Sahagun, Hist, de 
Nueva Espaha, lib. 4, cap. 37. — Tor- 
quemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 13, 
cap. 23. — Clavigero, Stor. del Mes- 
sico, torn. ii. p, 227. 

The Aztecs used to smoke after 

dinner, to prepare for the siesta, in 
which they indulged themselves as 
regularly as an old Castilian. — 
Tobacco, in Mexican yetl, is derived 
from a Haytien word, tabaco. The 
natives of Hispaniola, being the first 
with whom the Spaniards had much 
intercourse, have supplied Europe 
with the names of several important 
plants. Tobacco, in some form or 
other, was used by almost all the 
tribes of the American continent, 
from the North-west Coast to Pata- 
gonia. (See M c Culloch, Researches, 
pp. 91 — 94.) Its manifold virtues, 
both social and medicinal, are pro- 
fusely panegyrized by Hernandez, 
in his Hist. Plantarum, lib. 2, cap. 

43 This noble bird was introduced 
into Europe from Mexico. The 
Spaniards called it gallopavo, from 
its resemblance to the peacock. See 
Rel. d'un gent., ap. Ramusio, (torn, 
hi. fol. 306;) also Oviedo, (Rel. 
Sumaria, cap. 38,) the earliest natur- 
alist who gives an account of the 
bird, which he saw, soon after the 
Conquest, in the West Indies, 
whither it had been brought, as he 
says, from New Spain. The Euro- 
peans, however, soon lost sight of 


solid dishes were flanked by others of vegetables and 
fruits, of every delicious variety found in the North 
American continent. The different viands were pre- 
pared in various ways, with delicate sauces and season- 
ing, of which the Mexicans were very fond. Their 
palate was still further regaled by confections and pastry, 
for which their maize-flour and sugar supplied ample 
materials. One other dish, of a disgusting nature, was 
sometimes added to the feast, especially when the cele- 
bration partook of a religious character. On such occa- 
sions a slave was sacrificed, and his flesh elaborately 
dressed, formed one of the chief ornaments of the ban- 
quet. Cannibalism, in the disguise of an Epicurean 
science, becomes even the more revolting. 44 

The meats were kept warm by chafing dishes. The 
table was ornamented with vases of silver, and some- 
times gold, of delicate workmanship. The clrinking-cups 
and spoons were of the same costly materials, and like- 
wise of tortoise-shell. The favourite beverage was the 
c/tocolatl, flavoured with vanilla and different spices. 
They had a way of preparing the froth of it, so as to 
make it almost solid enough to be eaten, and took it 

its origin, and the name " turkey " preference to the bald eagle, as the 

intimated the popular belief of its national emblem. (See his Works, 

Eastern origin. Several eminent vol. x. p. 63, in Sparkes's excellent 

writers have mahitained its Asiatic edition.) Interesting notices of the 

or African descent ; but they could history and habits of the wild turkey 

not impose on the sagacious and may be found in the Ornithology 

better-instructed Buffon. (See His- both of Buonaparte and of that en- 

toire Naturelle, Art. Bindon.) The thusiastic lover of nature, Audubon 

Spaniards saw immense numbers of vox Meleagris, Gattopavo. 
turkeys in the domesticated state, 

on their arrival in Mexico, where 4i Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva Es- 

they were more common than any pana, lib. 4, cap. 37 ; lib. 8, cap. 13; 

other poultry. They were found lib. 9, cap. 10 — 14. — Torquemada, 

wild, not only in New Spain, but all Monarch. Lid., lib. 13, cap. 23. — 

along the continent, in the less fre- Bel. d'un gent., ap. Bamusio, torn, 

quented places, from the North- ih. fol. 306. 

western territory of the United Father Sahagun has gone into 

States to Banama. The wild turkey many particulars of the Aztec cuisine, 

is larger, more beautiful, and every and the mode of preparing sundry 

way an incomparably finer bird, than savoury messes, making, all together, 

the tame. Franklin, with some point, no despicable contribution to the 

as well as pleasantry, insists on his noble -science of gastronomy. 

chap, v.] DOMESTIC MANNERS. 119 

cold. 45 The fermented juice of the maguey, with a 
mixture of sweets and acids, supplied also various 
agreeable drinks of different degrees of strength, and 
formed the chief beverage of the elder part of the 

As soon as they had finished their repast, the young 
people rose from the table, to close the festivities of the 
day with dancing. They danced gracefully, to the sound 
of various instruments, accompanying their movements 
with chants of a pleasing, though somewhat plaintive 
character. 47 The older guests continued at table, sipping 
pulque, and gossiping about other times, till the virtues 
of the exhilarating beverage put them in good humour 
with their own. Intoxication was not rare in this part 
of the company, and, what is singular, was excused in 
them, though severely punished in the younger. The 
entertainment was concluded by a liberal distribution of 
rich dresses and ornaments among the guests, when they 
withdrew after midnight, " some commending the feast, 

45 The froth, delicately flavoured the achievements of their lord, which 
with spices and some other ingre- they chanted to the accompaniment 
dients, was taken cold by itself. It of instruments at the festivals and 
had the consistency almost of a dances. Indeed, there was more or 
solid ; and the " Anonymous Con- less dancing at most of the festivals, 
queror " is very careful to inculcate and it was performed in the court- 
the importance of " opening the yards of the houses, or in the open 
mouth wide, in order to facilitate de- squares of the city. (Ibid., ubi su- 
glutition, that the foam may dissolve pra.) The principal men had also 
gradually, and descend impercep- buffoons and jugglers in their ser- 
tibly, as it were, into the stomach." vice, who amused them, and asto- 
It was so nutritious that a single nished the Spaniards by their feats 
cup of it was enough to sustain a of dexterity and strength ; (Acosta, 
man through the longest day's lib. 6, cap. 28 ;) also Clavigero, 
march. (Pol. 306.) The old sol- (Stor. del Messico, torn. ii. pp. 179 
dier discusses the beverage con amore. — 186,) who has designed several 

46 Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva Es- representations of their exploits, 
pana, lib. 4, cap. 37 ; Ub. 8, cap. 13. truly surprising. It is natural that 
— Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., Hb. a people of limited refinement should 
13, cap. 23. — Rel. d'un gent., ap. find their enjoyment in material, 
Ramusio, torn. iii. fol. 306. rather than intellectual pleasures; 

47 Herrera, Hist. General, dec. 2, and, consequently, should excel in 
lib. 7, cap. 8. — Torquemada, Mo- them. The Asiatic nations, as the 
narch. Ind., lib. 14, cap. 11. Hindoos and Chinese, for example, 

The Mexican nobles entertained surpass the more polished Europeans 
minstrels in their houses, who com- in displays of agility and legerde- 
posed ballads suited to the times, or main. 



and others condemning the bad taste or extravagance of 
their host; in the same manner," says an old Spanish 
writer, " as with us." 48 Human nature is, indeed, much 
the same all the world over. 

In this remarkable picture of manners, which I have 
copied faithfully from the records of earliest date after 
the Conquest, we find no resemblance to the other races 
of North American Indians. Some resemblance we may 
trace to the general style of Asiatic pomp and luxury. 
But in Asia, woman, far from being admitted to unre- 
served intercourse with the other sex, is too often jeal- 
ously immured within the walls of the harem. Euro- 
pean civilization, which accords to this loveliest portion 
of creation her proper rank in the social scale, is still 
more removed from some of the brutish usages of the 
Aztecs. That such usages should have existed with the 
degree of refinement they showed in other things, is 
almost inconceivable. It can only be explained as the 
result of religious superstition ; — superstition which 
clouds the moral perception, and perverts even the na- 
tural senses; till man — civilized man — is reconciled to 
the very things which are most revolting to humanity. 
Habits and opinions founded on religion must not be 
taken as conclusive evidence of the actual refinement of 
a people. 

The Aztec character was perfectly original and unique. 
It was made up of incongruities apparently irreconcile- 
able. It blended into one the marked peculiarities of 
different nations, not only of the same phase of civiliza- 
tion, but as far removed from each other as the extremes 
of barbarism and refinement. It may find a fitting par- 
allel in their own wonderful climate, capable of pro- 
ducing, on a few square leagues of surface, the boundless 

48 "Y de esta manera pasaban mui ordinaria en los que a seme- 
gran rato de la noche, y se despe- jantes actos se juntan." Torque- 
dian, e iban a sus casas, unos ala- mada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 13, cap. 
bando la fiesta, y otros murmuran- 23. — Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva Es- 
do de las demasias, y excesos ; cosa pafia, Ub. 9, cap. 10 — 14. 

chap, v.] BOTURINI. 121 

variety of vegetable forms which belong to the frozen 
regions of the North, the temperate zone of Europe, and 
the burning skies of Arabia and Hindostan ! 

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

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

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

After some delay, the Council gave an award in his favour ; acquitting 
him of any intentional violation of the law, and pronouncing a high enco- 
mium on his deserts. His papers, however, were not restored. But his 
Majesty was graciously pleased to appoint him Historiographer General of the 
Indies, with a salary of one thousand dollars per annum. The stipend was 
too small to allow him to return to Mexico. He remained in Madrid, and 
completed there the first volume of a " General History of North America," 

122 BOTURINI. [book i. 

in 1749. Not long after this event, and before the publication of the work, 
he died. The same injustice was continued to his heirs ; and, notwith- 
standing repeated applications in their behalf, they were neither put in pos- 
session of their unfortunate kinsman's collection, nor received a remuneration 
for it. What was worse, — as far as the public was concerned — the collection 
itself was deposited in apartments of the Vice-regal palace at Mexico, so 
damp that they gradually fell in pieces, and the few remaining were still 
further diminished by the pilfering of the curious. When Baron Humboldt 
visited Mexico, not one-eighth of this inestimable treasure was in ex- 
istence ! 

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

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

vi.] 123 


Tezcucans. — Their Golden Age. — Accomplished Princes. — Decline of their 


The reader would gather but an imperfect notion of 
the civilization of Anahuac, without some account of the 
Acolhuans, or Tezcucans, as they are usually called ; a 
nation of the same great family with the Aztecs, whom 
they rivalled in power, and surpassed in intellectual 
culture and the arts of social refinement. Fortunately, 
we have ample materials for this in the records left by 
Ixtlilxochitl, a lineal descendant of the royal line of 
Tezcuco, who flourished in the century of the Conquest. 
With every opportunity for information he combined 
much industry and talent, and, if his narrative bears the 
high colouring of one who would revive the faded glories 
of an ancient, but dilapidated house, he has been uni- 
formly commended for his fairness and integrity, and has 
been followed without misgiving by such Spanish writers 
as could have access to his manuscripts. 1 I shall confine 
myself to the prominent features of the two reigns which 
may be said to embrace the golden age of Tezcuco; 
without attempting to weigh the probability of the 
details, which I will leave to be settled by the reader, 
according to the measure of his faith. 

The Acolhuans came into the Valley, as we have seen, 
about the close of the twelfth century, and built their 
capital of Tezcuco on the eastern borders of the lake, 

1 For a criticism on this writer, see (he Postscript to this Chapter. . 


opposite to Mexico. Prom this point they gradually 
spread themselves over the northern portion of Anahuac, 
when their career was checked by an invasion of a kin- 
dred race, the Tepanecs ; who, after a desperate struggle, 
succeeded in taking their city, slaying their monarch, 
and entirely subjugating his kingdom. 2 This event took 
place about 1418 ; and the young prince, Nezahualcoyotl, 
the heir to the crown, then fifteen years old, saw his 
father butchered before his eyes, while he himself lay 
concealed among the friendly branches of a tree, which 
overshadowed the spot. 3 His subsequent history is as 
full of romantic daring, and perilous escapes, as that of 
the renowned Scanderbeg, or of the "young Cheva- 

Not long after his flight from the field of his father's 
blood, the Tezcucan prince fell into the hands of his 
enemy, was borne off in triumph to his city, and was 
thrown into a dungeon. He effected his escape, how- 
ever, through the connivance of the governor of the 
fortress, an old servant of his family, who took the 
place of the royal fugitive, and paid for his loyalty with 
his life. He was at length permitted, through the in- 
tercession of the reigning family in Mexico, which was 
allied to him, to retire to that capital, and subsequently 
to his own where he found a shelter in his ancestral 
palace. Here he remained unmolested for eight years, 
pursuing his studies under an old preceptor, who had 
had the care of his early youth, and who instructed him 
in the various duties befitting his princely station. 5 

At the end of this period the Tepanec usurper died, 

2 See Chapter First of this Intro- for the latter, to refer the English 
duction, p. 12. reader to Chambers's "History of 

3 Ixtlilxochitl, Relaciones, MS., the Rebellion of 1745;" a work 
No. 9.— Idem, Hist. Chich., MS., which proves how thin is the par- 
cap. 19. tition in human life which divides 

4 The adventures of the former romance from reality. 
hero are told with his usual spirit 

by Sismondi (Republiques Italiennes, 5 Ixtlilxochitl, Relaciones, MS., 

chap. 79). It is hardly necessary, No. 10. 

chap. vi. j GOLDEN AGE OF TEZCUCO. 125 

bequeathing his 'empire to his son, Maxtla, a man of 
fierce and suspicious temper. Nezahualcoyotl hastened 
to pay his obeisance to him, on his accession. But the 
tyrant refused to receive the little present of flowers 
which he laid at his feet, and turned his back on him 
in presence of his chieftains. One of his attendants, 
friendly to the young prince, admonished him to provide 
for his own safety, by withdrawing, as speedily as pos- 
sible, from the palace, where his life was in danger. 
He lost no time, consequently, in retreating from the 
inhospitable court, and returned to Tezcuco. Maxtla, 
however, was bent on his destruction. He saw with 
jealous eye the opening talents and popular manners of 
his rival, and the favour he was daily winning from his 
ancient subjects. 6 

He accordingly laid a plan for making away with him 
at an evening entertainment. It was defeated by the 
vigilance of the prince's tutor, who contrived to mislead 
the assassins, and to substitute another victim in the 
place of his pupil. 7 The baffled tyrant now threw off all 
disguise, and sent a strong party of soldiers to Tezcuco, 
with orders to enter the palace, seize the person of 
Nezahualcoyotl, and slay him on the spot. The prince, 
who became acquainted with the plot through the 
watchfulness of his preceptor, instead of flying, as he 
was counselled, resolved to await his enemy. They 
found him playing at ball, when they arrived, in the 
court of his palace. He received them courteously, and 
invited them in, to take some refreshments after their 
journey. While they were occupied in this way, he 
passed into an adjoining saloon, which excited no sus- 
picion, as he v/as still visible through the open doors 
by which the apartments communicated with each other. 

6 Idem, Relaciones, MS., No. 10. by means of an extraordinary per- 
— Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 20 — 24. sonal resemblance of the parties ; a 

fruitful source of comic — as every 

7 Idem, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. reader of the drama knows — though 
25. The contrivance was effected rarely of tragic interest. 


A burning censer stood in the passage, and, as it was 
fed by the attendants, threw up such clouds of incense 
as obscured his movements from the soldiers. Under 
this friendly veil he succeeded in making his escape 
by a secret passage, which communicated with a large 
earthen pipe formerly used to bring water to the palace. 8 
Here he remained till nightfall, when, taking advantage 
of the obscurity, he found his way into the suburbs, 
and sought a shelter in the cottage of one of his father's 

The Tepanec monarch, enraged at this repeated dis- 
appointment, ordered instant pursuit. A price was set 
on the head of the royal fugitive. Whoever should take 
him, dead or alive, was promised, however humble his 
degree, the hand of a noble lady, and an ample domain 
along with it. Troops of armed men were ordered to 
scour the country in every direction. In the course of 
the search, the cottage in which the prince had taken 
refuge was entered. But he fortunately escaped detec- 
tion by being hid under a heap of maguey fibres used 
for manufacturing cloth. As this was no longer a 
proper place of concealment, he sought a retreat in the 
mountainous and woody district lying between the 
borders of his own state and Tlascala. 9 

Here he led a wretched, wandering life, exposed to 
all the inclemencies of the weather, hiding himself in 
deep thickets and caverns, and stealing out at night to 
satisfy the cravings of appetite ; while he was kept in 
constant alarm by the activity of his pursuers, always 
hovering on his track. On one occasion he sought 
refuge from them among a small party of soldiers, who 

8 It was customary, on entering sahumerio en el brasero ; y asf con 

the presence of a great lord, to throw este perfume se obscurecia algo la 

aromatics into the censer. c: Hecho sala." IxtHkochitl, Relaciones, MS., 

en el brasero incienso, y copal, que No. 11. 
era uso y costumbre donde estaban 

los Heyes y Senores, cada vez que 9 Idem, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 

los criados entraban con mucha 26. — Relaciones, MS., No. 11. — 

reverencia y acatamiento echaban Veytia, Hist. Antig., lib. 2, cap. 47. 

chap, vi.] GOLDEN AGE OF TEZCUCO. 1.27 

proved friendly to him, and concealed hiin in a large 
drum around which they were dancing. At another 
time, he was just able to turn the crest of a hill, as his 
enemies were climbing it on the other side, when he fell 
in with a girl who was reaping cliian,- — a Mexican plant, 
the seed of which was much used in the drinks of the 
country. He persuaded her to cover him up with the 
stalks she had been cutting. When his pursuers came 
up, and inquired if she had seen the fugitive, the girl 
coolly answered that she had, and pointed out a path as 
the one he had taken. Notwithstanding the high re- 
wards offered, Nezahualcoyotl seems to have incurred no 
danger from treachery, such was the general attachment 
felt to himself and his house. " Would you not deliver 
up the prince, if he came in your way ? " he inquired of 
a young peasant who was unacquainted with his person. 
" Not I," replied the other. " What, not for a fair lady's 
hand, and a rich dowry beside ? " rejoined the prince. 
At which the other only shook his head and laughed. 10 
On more than one occasion, his faithful people sub- 
mitted to torture, and even to lose their lives, rather than 
disclose the place of his retreat. 11 

However gratifying such proofs of loyalty might be to 
his feelings, the situation of the prince in these mountain 
solitudes became every day more distressing. It gave a 
still keener edge to his own sufferings to witness those 
of the faithful followers who chose to accompany him in 
his wanderings. "Leave me," he would say to them, 
" to my fate ! Why should you throw away your own 
lives for one whom fortune is never weary of perse- 
cuting?" Most of the great Tezcucan chiefs had con- 
sulted their interests by a timely adhesion to the usurper. 

10 " Nezahualcoyotl le dixo, que de todo, no haciendo caso ni de lo 

si viese a quien buscabau, si lo iria uno, ni de lo otro." Ixtlilxochitl, 

a denunciar ? respondio, que no ; Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 27. 
tornandole a replicar diciendole, que 

haria mui mal en perder una muger u Ibid., MS., cap. 26, 27. — 

hermosa, y lo demas, que el rey Relaciones, MS., No. 11. — Veytia, 

Maxtla prometia, el mancebo se rio Hist. Antig., lib. 2, cap. 47, 48. 


But some still clung to their prince, preferring pro- 
scription, and death itself, rather than desert him in his 
extremity. 12 

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

Soon after, he united his forces with the Mexicans, 
long disgusted with the arbitrary conduct of Maxtla. 
The allied powers, after a series of bloody engagements 
with the usurper, routed him under the walls of his own 
capital. He fled to the baths, whence he was dragged 
out, and sacrificed with the usual cruel ceremonies of 
the Aztecs ; the royal city of Azcapuzalco was razed 
to the ground, and the wasted territory was henceforth 
reserved as the great slave-market for the nations of 
Anahuac. 13 

These events were succeeded by the remarkable league 
among the three powers of Tezcuco, Mexico, and Tlaco- 
pan, of which some account has been given in a previous 
chapter. 14 Historians are not agreed as to the precise 
term of it ; the writers of the two former nations, each 
insisting on the paramount authority of his own in the 
coalition. All agree in the subordinate position of 

12 Ixtlikocliitl, MS., ubi supra. 11— Veytia, Hist. Antig., lib. 2, cap. 
— Veytia, ubi supra. 51 — 54. 

13 IxtlilxockitL Hist. Chick., MS., 

cap. 28— 31.— Relaciones, MS. No. " See page 14 of this volume. 

chap, vi.] GOLDEN AGE OF TEZCUCO. 129 

Tlacopan, a state, like the others, bordering on the lake. 
It is certain, that in their subsequent operations, whether 
of peace or war, the three states shared in each other's 
councils, embarked in each other's enterprises, and moved 
in perfect concert together, till just before the coming of 
the Spaniards. 

The first measure of Nezahualcoyotl, on returning to 
his dominions, was a general amnesty. It was his 
maxim, " that a monarch might punish, but revenge 
was unworthy of him." 15 In the present instance, he 
was averse even to punish, and not only freely pardoned 
his rebel nobles, but conferred on some, who had most 
deeply offended, posts of honour and confidence. Such 
conduct ,was doubtless politic, especially as their alien- 
ation was owing, probably, much more to fear of the 
usurper, than to any disaffection towards himself. But 
there are some acts of policy which a magnanimous spirit 
only can execute. 

The restored monarch next set about repairing the 
damages sustained under the late misrule, and reviving, 
or rather remodelling the various departments of govern- 
ment. He framed a concise, but comprehensive code of 
laws, so well suited, it was thought, to the exigencies of 
the times, that it was adopted as their own by the two 
other members of the tripple alliance. It was written 
in blood, and entitled the author to be called the Draco, 
rather than the " Solon of Anahuac," as he is fondly 
styled by his admirers. 16 Humanity is one of the best 
fruits of refinement. It is only with increasing civil- 
ization, that the legislator studies to economize human 
suffering, even for the guilty ; to devise penalties, not so 

15 " Que venganza no es justo la eighty laws, of which thirty-four only 
procuren los Reyes, sino castigar al have come down to us, according to 
que lo mereciere." MS. de Ixtlilx- Veytia. (Hist. Antig., toni. iii. p. 
ochitl. 22L, nota.) Ixtlilxochitl enumerates 

several of them. Hist. Chich., MS., 

16 See Clavigero, Stor. del Mes- cap. 38, and Relaciones, MS., Orde- 
sico, torn. i. p. 247. nanzas. 

Nezahualcoyotl' s code consisted of 
VOL. I. K 


much by way of punishment for the past, as of refor- 
mation for the future. 17 

He divided the burden of government among a num- 
ber of departments, as the council of war, the council of 
finance, the council of justice. This last was a court of 
supreme authority, both in civil and criminal matters, 
receiving appeals from the lower tribunals of the pro- 
vinces, which were obliged to make a full report, every 
four months, or eighty clays, of their own proceedings 
to this higher judicature. In all these bodies, a certain 
number of citizens were allowed to have seats with the 
nobles and professional dignitaries. There was, however, 
another body, a council of state, for aiding the king in 
the despatch of business, and advising him in matters 
of importance, which was drawn altogether from the 
highest order of chiefs. It consisted of fourteen mem- 
bers ; and they had seats provided for them at the 
royal table. 18 

Lastly, there was an extraordinary tribunal, called the 
council of music, but which, differing from the import of 
its name, was devoted to the encouragement of science 
and art. Works on astronomy, chronology, history, or 
any other science, were required to be submitted to its 
judgment before they could be made public. This cen- 
sorial power was of some moment, at least with regard 
to the historical department, where the wilful perversion 
of truth was made a capital offence by the bloody code of 
Nezahualcoyotl. Yet a Tezcucan author must have been 
a bungler, who could not elude a conviction under the 
cloudy veil of hieroglyphics. This body, which was 

17 Nowhere are these principles cap. 36. — Veytia, Hist. Antig., lib. 3, 
kept more steadily in view than in cap. 7. 

the various writings of our adopted According to Zurita, the principal 

countryman, Dr. Lieher, having more judges, at their general meetings 

or less to do with the theory of legis- every four months, constituted also 

lation. Such works could not have a sort of parliament or cortes, for 

been produced before the nineteenth advising the king on matters of state, 

century. See his Rapport, p. 106 ; also ante, 

18 Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., p. 26. 

chap, vi.] GOLDEN AGE OF TEZCUCO. 131 

drawn from the best instructed. persons in the kingdom, 
with little regard to rank, had supervision of all the pro- 
ductions of art, and of the nicer fabrics. It decided on 
the qualifications of the professors in the various branches 
of science, on the fidelity of their instructions to their 
pupils, the deficiency of which was severely punished, 
and it instituted examinations of these latter. In short, 
it was a general board of education for the country. 
On stated days, historical compositions, and poems treat- 
ing of moral or traditional topics, were recited before 
it by their authors. Seats were provided for the three 
crowned heads of the empire, who deliberated with the 
other members on the respective merits of the pieces, 
and distributed prizes of value to the successful com- 
petitors. 19 

Such are the marvellous accounts transmitted to us of 
this institution ; an institution certainly not to have been 
expected among the aborigines of America. It is calcu- 
lated to give us a higher idea of the refinement of the 
people, than even the noble architectural remains which 
still cover some parts of the continent. Architecture is, 
to a certain extent, a sensual gratification. It addresses 
itself to the eye, and affords the best scope for the 
parade of barbaric pomp and splendour. It is the form 
in which the revenues of a semi-civilized people are most 
likely to be lavished. The most gaudy and ostentatious 
specimens of it, and sometimes the most stupendous, 
have been reared by such hands. It is one of the first 
steps in the great march of civilization. But the institu- 

19 Ixtlilxocliitl, Hist. Cbicb., MS., Delaute de las sillas de los reyes 

cap. 36. — Clavigero, Stor. del Mes- habia una gran mesa cargada de joyas 

sico, torn. ii. p. 137. — Veytia, Hist. de oro y plata, pedreria, plumas, y 

Antig., lib. 3, cap. 7. otras cosas estimables, y en los rin- 

" Concurrian a este consejo las cones de la sala nmchas de mantas 

tres cabezas del imperio, en cicrtos de todas calidades, para premios de 

dias, a oir cantar las poesias bistdri- las babilidades y estnnulo de los pro- 

cas antiguas y niodernas, para in- fesores, las cuales albajas repartian 

struirse de toda su bistoria, y tam- los reyes, en los dias que concurrian, 

Men cuando babia algun nuevo a los que se aventajaban en el ejer- 

invento en cualquiera facultad, para cicio de sus facultades." Ibid, 
exambiarlo, aprobarlo, d reprobarlo. 

k 2 


tion in question was evidence of still higher refinement. 
It was a literary luxury ; and argued the existence of a 
taste in the nation, which relied for its gratification on 
pleasures of a purely intellectual character. 

The influence of this academy must have been most 
propitious to the capital, which became the nursery, 
not only of such sciences as could be compassed by 
the scholarship of the period, but of various useful and 
ornamental arts. Its historians, orators, and poets were 
celebrated throughout the country. 20 Its archives for 
which accommodations were provided in the royal 
palace, were stored with the records of primitive ages. 21 
Its idiom, more polished than the Mexican, was indeed 
the purest of all the Nahuatlac dialects ; and continued, 
long after the conquest, to be that in which the best 
productions of the native races were composed. Tezcuco 
claimed the glory of being the Athens of the Western 
World. 22 

Among the most illustrious of her bards was the em- 
peror himself, — for the Tezcucan writers claim this title 
for their chief, as head of the imperial alliance. He, 
doubtless appeared as a competitor before that very 
academy where he so often sat as a critic. Many of his 
odes descended to a late generation, and are still pre- 
served, perhaps, in some of the dusty repositories of 

20 Veytia, Hist Antig., lib. 3, cap. the poor wreck of these documents, 
7. — Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, once so carefully preserved by his 
torn. i. p. 247. ancestors, that the historian gleaned 

The latter author enumerates four the materials, as he informs us, for 

historians, some of much repute, of bis own works, 
the royal house of Tezcuco, descend- 22 " Aunque es tenida la lengua 

ants of the great Nezahualcoyotl. See Mejicana por materna, y la Tezcu- 

his Account of Writers, torn, i., pp. cana por mas cortesana y pulida." 

6—21. (Camargo Hist, de Tlascala, MS.) 

21 " En la ciudad de Tezcuco esta- " Tezcuco," says Boturini, " donde 
ban los Archivos Reales de todas las los Seilores de la Tierra embiaban a 
cosas referidas, por haver sido la sus hijos para aprehender lo mas 
Metrdpoli de todas las ciencias, usos, pulido de la Lengua, Nahuatl, la Poe- 
y buenas costumbres, porque los sia, Eilosofia Moral, la Theologia 
Reyes que fueron de ella se pre- Gentilica, la Astronomia, Medicina, y 
ciaron de esto." (Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. la Historia." Idea, p. 142. 
Chich., MS., Prdlogo.) It was from 

chap, vi.] GOLDEN AGE OF TEZCUCO. 133 

Mexico or Spain. 23 The historian, Ixtlilxochitl, has left 
a translation, in Castilian, of one of the poems of his 
royal ancestor. It is not easy to render his version into 
corresponding English rhyme, without the perfume of 
the original escaping in this double filtration. 24 They 
remind one of the rich breathings of Spanish-Arab poetry, 
in which an ardent imagination is tempered by a not 
unpleasing and moral melancholy. 25 But, though suffi- 
ciently florid in diction, they are generally free from the 
meretricious ornaments and hyperbole with which the 
minstrelsy of the East is usually tainted. They turn on 
the vanities and mutability of human life : a topic 
very natural for a monarch who had himself experienced 
the strangest mutations of fortune. There is mingled in 
the lament of the Tezcucan bard, however, an Epicurean 
philosophy, which seeks relief from the fears of the future 
in the joys of the present. " Banish care," he says; "if 
there are bounds to pleasure, the saddest life must also 
have an end. Then weave the chaplet of flowers, and 
sing thy songs in praise of the all-powerful God ; for the 
glory of this world soon fadeth away. Rejoice in the 
green freshness of thy spring ; for the day will come 
when thou shalt sigh for these joys in vain ; when the 
sceptre shall pass from thy hands, thy servants shall 
wander desolate in thy courts ; thy sons, and the sons 
of thy nobles shall drink the dregs of distress, and all 
the pomp of thy victories and triumphs shall live only 

23 " Compuso lx. cantares," says bility in her poetical movements, 
the author last quoted, " que quizas which the Castilian version, and pro- 
tambien havran perecido en las ma- bably the Mexican Original, cannot 
nos incendiarias de los ignorantes." boast. See both translations in Ap- 
(Idea, p. 79.) Boturini had transla- pendix, Part 2, No. 2. 

tions of two of these in bis museum, M Numerous specimens of this 

(Catalogo, p. 8,) and another has may be found in Conde's "Domi- 

since come to light. nacion de los Arabes en Espana." 

None of them are superior to the 

24 Difficult as the task may be, it plaintive strains of the royal Ab- 
has been executed by the hand of a derahman on the solitary palm tree, 
fair friend, who, while she has ad- which reminded him of the pleasant 
hered to the Castilian, with singular land of his birth. See Parte 2, 
fidelity, has shown a grace and fiexi- cap. 9. 


in their recollection. Yet the remembrance of the just 
shall not pass away from the nations, and the good thou 
hast done shall ever he held in honour. The goods of 
this life, its glories, and its riches, are but lent to us ; its 
substance is but an illusory shadow, and the things of 
to-day shall change on the coming of the morrow. Then 
gather the fairest flowers from thy gardens, to bind 
round thy brow, and seize the joys of the present, ere 
they perish." 26 

But the hours of the Tezcucan monarch were not all 
passed in idle dalliance with the Muse, nor in the sober 
contemplations of philosophy, as at a later period. In 
the freshness of youth and early manhood he led the 
allied armies in their annual expeditions, which were 
certain to result in a wider extent of territory to the 
empire. 27 In the intervals of peace he fostered those 
productive arts which are the surest sources of public 
prosperity. He encouraged agriculture above all; and 
there was scarcely a spot so rude, or a steep so inac- 
cessible, as not to confess the power of cultivation. The 

26 " Io tocare cantando Sur l'avenir insense qui se fie. 

El musico instrumento sonoroso, De nos ans passagers le uombre 

Tu de flores gozando est incertain. 

Danza, y festeja a Dios que es Hatons-nous aujourd'hui de jouir 

poderoso. de la vie, 

O gozernos de esta gloria, Qui sait si nous serons demain ? " 

Porque la Immana vida es Athalie, Acte 2. 

transitoria." It is interesting to see under what 

MS. de Ixtlilxochitl. different forms the same sentiment 

The sentiment, which is common is developed by different races, and 

enough, is expressed with uncommon in different languages. It is an Epi- 

beauty by the English poet, Herrick ; curean sentiment, indeed, but its 

*' Gather the rosebud while you may, universality proves its truth to na- 

Old Time is still a-flying ; ture. 
The fairest flower that blooms to- 
day, 27 Some of the provinces and 

To-morrow may be dying." places thus conquered were held 

. -, .,-, ..,, .ii by the allied powers in common : 

And with still greater beauty, per- T[ however, only receiving 

haps, by Racine; one ^ th of the ^^ n £* 

"Rions, chaatons, dit cette troupe more usual to annex the vanquished 

impie ; territory to that one of the two great 

De fleurs en fleurs, de plaisirs en states to which it lay nearest. See 

plaisirs, Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 

Promenons nos desirs. 3S. — Zurita, Rapport, p. 11. 

chap, vi.] GOLDEN AGE OF TEZCUCO. 135 

land was covered with a busy population, and towns and 
cities sprung up in places since deserted, or dwindled 
into miserable villages. 28 

Prom resources thus enlarged by conquest and do- 
mestic industry, the monarch drew the means for the 
large consumption of his own numerous household, 29 and 
for the costly works which he executed for the conve- 
nience and embellishment of the capital. He filled it 
with stately edifices for his nobles, whose constant 
attendance he was anxious to secure at his court. 30 He 
erected a magnificent pile of buildings which might serve 
both for a royal residence and for the public offices. It 
extended, from east to west, twelve hundred and thirty- 
four yards ; and from north to south, nine hundred and 
seventy-eight. It was encompassed by a wall of unburnt 
bricks and cement, six feet wide and nine high, for one 
half of the circumference, and fifteen feet high for the 
other half. Within this enclosure were two courts. The 
outer one was used as the great market-place of the city; 
and continued to be so until long after the Conquest, 

28 Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., 29 Torquemada has extracted the 

cap. 41. The same writer, in an- particulars of the yearly expenditure 

other work, calls the population of of the palace from the royal account- 

Tezcuco, at this period, double of book, which came into the historian's 

what it was at the Conquest ; found- possession. The following are some 

ing his estimate on the royal re- of the items, namely: 4,900,300 

gisters, and on the numerous re- fanegas of maize; (the fanega is 

mains of edifices still visible in his equal to about one hundred pounds;) 

day, in places now depopulated. 2,744,000 fanegas of cacao ; 8000 

" Parece en las historias que en este turkeys ; 1300 baskets of salt ; be- 

tiempo, antes que se destruyesen, sides an incredible quantity of game 

havia doblado mas gente de la que of every kind, vegetables, condi- 

hallo al tiempo que vino Cortes, y ments, &c. (Monarch. Iud., lib. 2, 

los demas Espafioles ; porque yo cap. 53.) See also Ixtlilxochitl, 

hallo en los padrones reales, que el Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 35. 

menor pueblo tenia 1100 vecinos, y 30 There were more than four 

de alb para arriba, y ahora no tienen hundred of these lordly residences. 

200 vecinos, y aun en algunas partes "A si mismo liizo edificar muchas 

de todo punto se ban acabado casas y palacios para los sehores y 

Como se hecha de ver en las ruinas, cavalleros, que asistian en su corte, 

hasta los mas altos montes y sierras cada uno conforme a la cabdad y 

tenian sus sementeras, y casas princi- meritos de su persona, las quales 

pales para vivir y morar." Rela- llegaron a ser mas de quatrocientas 

ciones, MS., No. 9. casas de senores y cavalleros de solar 

conocido." Ibid., cap. 38. 


if, indeed, it is not now. The interior court was sur- 
rounded by the council chambers and halls of justice. 
There were also accommodations there for the foreign 
ambassadors ; and a spacious saloon, with apartments 
opening into it, for men of science and poets, who pur- 
sued their studies in this retreat, or met together to 
hold converse under its marble porticos. In this quarter, 
also, were kept the public archives ; which fared better 
under the Indian dynasty than they have since under 
their European successors. 31 

Adjoining this court were the apartments of the king, 
including those for the royal harem, as liberally supplied 
with beauties as that of an eastern sultan. Their walls 
were incrusted with alabasters, and richly tinted stucco, 
or hung with gorgeous tapestries of variegated feather- 
work. They led through long arcades, and through in- 
tricate labyrinths of shrubbery, into gardens, where baths 
and sparkling fountains were overshadowed by tall groves 
of cedar and cypress. The basins of water were well 
stocked with fish of various kinds, and the aviaries with 
birds glowing in all the gaudy plumage of the tropics. 
Many birds and animals, which could not be obtained 
alive, were represented in gold and silver so skilfully, as 
to have furnished the great naturalist Hernandez with 
models for his work. 32 

31 Ibid., cap. 36. " Esta plaza though the government is said to 
cercada de portales, y tenia asi have expended sixty thousand du- 
mismo por la parte del poniente cats in effecting this great object, 
otra sala grande, y muchos quartos the volumes were not published till 
a la redonda, que era la universidad, long after the author's death. In 
en donde asistian todos los poetas, 1651 a mutilated edition of the part 
histdricos, y philosophos del reyno, of the work relating to medical 
divididos en sus claves, y academias, botany appeared at Rome. The 
conforme era la facultad de cada original MSS. were supposed to 
uno, y asi mismo estaban aqui los have been destroyed by the great 
archivos reales." fire in the Escurial, not many years 

32 This celebrated naturalist was after. Fortunately, another copy, 
sent by Philip II. to New Spain, in the author's own hand, was de- 
aud he employed several years in tected by the indefatigable Mimoz, 
compiling a voluminous work on its in the library of the Jesuits' College 
various natural productions, with at Madrid, in the latter part of the 
drawings illustrating them. Al- last century; and a beautiful edi- 

chap, vi.] GOLDEN AGE OF TEZCUCO. 137 

Accommodations on a princely scale were provided 
for the sovereigns of Mexico and Tlacopan, when they 
visited the court. The whole of this lordly pile con- 
tained three hundred apartments, some of them fifty 
yards square. 33 The height of the building is not men- 
tioned. It was probably not great ; but supplied the 
requisite room by the immense extent of ground which 
it covered. The interior was doubtless constructed of 
light materials, especially of the rich woods, which, in 
that country, are remarkable, when polished, for the 
brilliancy and variety of their colours. That the more 
solid materials of stone and stucco were also liberally 
employed, is proved by the remains at the present day ; 
remains which have furnished an inexhaustible quarry 
for the churches and other edifices since erected by the 
Spaniards- on the site of the ancient city. 34 

We are not informed of the time occupied in building 
this palace ; but two hundred thousand workmen, it is 
said, were employed on it ! 35 However this may be, it 
is certain that the Tezcucan monarchs, like those of Asia, 
and ancient Egypt, had the control of immense masses 
of men, and would sometimes turn the whole population 

tion, from the famous press of it stood," says Mr. Bullock, speak - 

Ibarra, was published in that capi- ing of this palace, " are still entire, 

tal, under the patronage of govern- and covered with cement, very hard, 

meat, in 1790. (Hist. Plantarum, and equal in beauty to that found in 

Prgefatio. — Nic. Ant onio, Biblio- ancient Roman buildings 

theca Hispana Nova, [Matriti, 1790,] The great church, which stands close 

torn. ii. p. 432.) by, is almost entirely built of the 

The work of Hernandez is a mo- materials taken from the palace, 

nument of industry, and erudition, many of the sculptured stones from 

the more remarkable, as being the which may be seen in the walls, 

first on this difficult subject. And though most of the ornaments are 

after all the additional light from turned inwards. Indeed, our guide 

the labours of later naturalists, it informed us, that whoever built a 

still holds its place as a book of the house at Tezcuco made the ruins 

highest authority, for the perspi- of the palace serve as his quarry." 

cuity, fidelity, and thoroughness, (Six Months in Mexico, chap. 26.) 

with which the multifarious topics Torquemada notices the appropri- 

in it are discussed. ation of the materials to the same 

33 Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., purpose. Monarch. Ind., lib. 2, 

cap. 36. cap. 45. 

31 " Some of the terraces on which. 35 Ixtlilxochitl, MS., ubi supra. 


of a conquered city, including the women, into the public 
works. 36 — The most gigantic monuments of architecture 
which the world has witnessed would never have been 
reared by the hands of freemen. 

Adjoining the palace were buildings for the king's 
children, who, by his various wives, amounted to no less 
than sixty sons and fifty daughters. 37 Here they were 
instructed in all the exercises and accomplishments 
suited to their station ; comprehending, — what would 
scarcely find a place in a royal education on the other 
side of the Atlantic, — the arts of working in metals, 
jewelry, and feather-mosaic. Once in every four months, 
the whole household, not excepting the youngest, and 
including all the officers and attendants on the kind's 
person, assembled in a grand saloon of the palace, to 
listen to a discourse from an orator, probably one of 
the priesthood. The princes, on this occasion, were 
all dressed in neqiien, the coarsest manufacture of the 
country. The preacher began by enlarging on the 
obligations of morality, and of respect for the gods, 
especially important in persons whose rank gave such 
additional weight to example. He occasionally seasoned 
his homily with a pertinent application to his audience, 
if any member of it had been guilty of a notorious 
delinquency. From this wholesome admonition the 
monarch himself was not exempted, and the orator 
boldly reminded him of his paramount duty to show 
respect for his own laws. The king, so far from taking- 
umbrage, received the lesson with humility ; and the 
audience, we are assured, were often melted into tears 

36 Thus, to punish the Chalcas mean time. Idem, Hist. Chich , 

for their rebellion, the whole popu- MS., cap. 46. 

lation were compelled, women as 37 If the people in general were 

well as men, says the chronicler so not much addicted to polygamy, the 

often quoted, to labour on the royal sovereign, it must be confessed, — 

edifices, for four years together ; and and it was the same, we shall see, 

large granaries were provided with in Mexico, — made ample amends for 

stores for their maintenance in the any self-denial on the part of his 


chap, vi.] GOLDEN AGE OF TEZCUCO. 139 

by the eloquence of the preacher. 38 This curious scene 
may remind one of similar usages in the Asiatic and 
Egyptian despotisms, where the sovereign occasionally 
condescended to stoop from his pride of place, and alloAv 
his memory to be refreshed with the conviction of his 
own mortality. 39 It soothed the feelings of the subject, 
to find himself thus placed, though but for a moment, 
on a level with his king ; while it cost little to the latter, 
who was removed too far from his people, to suffer 
anything by this short-lived familiarity. It is probable 
that such an act of public humiliation would have found 
less favour with a prince less absolute. 

Nezahualcoyotl's fondness for magnificence was shown 
in his numerous villas, which were embellished with all 
that could make a rural retreat delightful. His favourite 
residence-was at Tezcotzinco ; a conical hill about two 
leagues from the capital. 40 It was laid out in terraces, 
or hanging gardens, having a flight of steps five hundred 
and twenty in number, many of them hewn in the 
natural porphyry. 41 In the garden on the summit was 
a reservoir of water, fed by an aqueduct that was carried 
over hill and valley, for several miles, on huge buttresses 
of masonry. A large rock stood in the midst of this 
basin, sculptured with the hieroglyphics representing 
the years of Nezahualcoyotl's reign and his principal 
achievements in each. 42 On a lower level were three 

3S Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Cliicli., MS., 3, for the original description of this 
cap. 37. royal residence. 

39 The Egyptian priests managed . " :, Q ™, tos J y l ein % f ca " 
the affair in a more courtly stile, 1 ™T -p DaV * i P « > ^S™ 
and, while they prayed that all sorts f. }\ ?™™ C \ S ™ ia S°> ( Ma " 
of kingly virtues might descend on dn ^J . 159 \) llb \ ca P- & 1 L . ., . 
the prince, they threw the blame of , Tkls wnt . er > who ln ; cc ™ the + six ' 
actual delinquencies on his ministers ; \ em % m ^> C( ? un , ted tke f e P* 

thus, » not by the bitterness of re- ^ lm f L T lose whlch ™. uot . c ^ 

„,„„f" fv i ct i i i, *i in the rock were crumbling into 

prool, says Diodorus, but by the • . , ■, . °~ xl 

JilJ r c ■ ' +• • l • rums, as indeed every part ot the 

allurements ol praise, enticing him , ,? . , J l ,, . 

+„ „ i ■ ' t Vf » t —u i establishment was even then far 

to an honest way oi lite. Lib. 1, , -, 

cap 70 gone to decay. 

1 42 On the summit of the mount, 

40 Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., according to Padilla, stood an image 
cap. 42. — See Appendix, Tart 2, No, of a coi/otl, — an animal resembling a 


other reservoirs, in each of which stood a marble statue 
of a woman, emblematic of the three states of the 
empire. Another tank contained a winged lion, cut 
out of the solid rock, bearing in his mouth the portrait 
of the emperor. 43 His likeness had been executed in 
gold, wood, feather-work, and stone, but this was the 
only one which pleased him. 

From these copious basins the water was distributed 
in numerous channels through the gardens, or was made 
to tumble over the rocks in cascades, shedding refreshing 
dews on the flowers and odoriferous shrubs below. In 
the depths of this fragrant wilderness, marble porticos 
and pavilions were erected, and baths excavated in the 
solid porphyry, which are still shown by the ignorant 
natives, as the "Baths of Montezuma!" 44 The visitor 
descended by steps cut in the living stone, and polished 
so bright as to reflect like mirrors. 45 Towards the base 
of the hill, in the midst of cedar groves, whose gigantic 
branches threw a refreshing coolness over the verdure in 
the sultriest seasons of the year, 46 rose the royal villa, 

fox, which, according to tradition, basins, perhaps two feet and a half 

represented an Indian famous for his in diameter, not large enough for 

fasts. It was destroyed by that any monarch bigger than Oberon to 

staunch iconoclast, Bishop Zumar- take a duck in." (Comp. Six Months 

raga, as a relic of idolatry. (Hist, de in Mexico, chap. 26 ; and Rambler 

Santiago, lib. 2, cap. 81.) This in Mexico, let. 7.) Ward speaks 

figure was, no doubt, the emblem of much to the same purpose, (Mexico 

Nezahualcoyotl himself, whose name, in 1S27, [London, 1828,] vol. ii. p. 

as elsewhere noticed, signified "hun- 296,) which agrees with verbal ac- 

gry fox." counts I have received of the same 

43 " Hecho de una pena un leon spot. 

de mas de dos brazas de largo con 45 " Grados hechos de la misma 

sus alas y plumas : estaba hechado peiia tan bien gravadas y lizas que 

y mirando a la parte del oriente, en parecian espejos." (Ixtlilxochitl, 

cuia boca asomaba un rostro, que MS., ubi supra.) The travellers just 

era el mismo retrato del Bey." cited notice the beautiful polish still 

Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., visible in the porphyry. 

cap. 42. 46 Padilla saw entire pieces of 

44 Bullock speaks of a " beautiful cedar among the ruins, ninety feet 
basin, twelve feet long by eight long, and four in diameter. Some 
wide, having a well five feet by of the massive portals, he observed, 
four, deep in the centre," &c. &c. were made of a single stone. (Hist. 
Whether truth lies in the bottom of de Santiago, lib. II, cap. 81.) Peter 
this well, is not so clear. Latrobe Martyr notices an enormous wooden 
describes the baths as " two singular beam, used in the construction of 


with its light arcades and airy halls, drinking in the 
sweet perfumes of the gardens. Here the monarch 
often retired, to throw off the burden of state, and re- 
fresh his wearied spirits in the society of his favourite 
wives, reposing during the noontide heats in the em- 
bowering shades of his paradise, or mingling, in the cool 
of the evening, in their festive sports and dances. Here 
he entertained his imperial brothers of Mexico and 
Tlacopan, and followed the hardier pleasures of the chase 
in the noble woods that stretched for miles around his 
villa, flourishing in all their primeval majesty. Here, 
too, he often repaired in the latter days of his life, when 
age had tempered ambition and cooled the ardour of his 
blood, to pursue in solitude the studies of philosophy 
and gather wisdom from meditation. 

The extraordinary accounts of the Tezcucan archi- 
tecture are confirmed, in the main, by the relics which still 
cover the hill of Tezcotzinco, or are half buried beneath 
its surface. They attract little attention, indeed, in the 
country, where their true history has long since passed 
into oblivion ; 47 while the traveller, whose curiosity leads 
him to the spot, speculates on their probable origin, 
and, as he stumbles over the huge fragments of sculp- 
tured porphyry and granite, refers them to the primitive 
races who spread their colossal architecture over the 
country, long before the coming of the Acolhuans and 
the Aztecs. 48 

the palaces of Tezcuco, which was the idle garrisons of some of the 
one hundred and twenty feet long neighbouring towns, and employed 
by eight feet in diameter ! The ac- in excavating this ground, " the 
counts of this and similar huge Mount Palatine" of Mexico ! But, 
pieces of timber were so astonishing, unhappily, the age of violence has 
he adds, that he could not have re- been succeeded by one of apathy, 
ceived them except on the most an- 48 " They are. doubtless," says 
exceptionable testimony. De Orbe Mr. Latrobe, speaking of what he 
Novo, dec. 5, cap. 10. calls, " these inexplicable ruins," 
47 It is much to be regretted that " rather of Toltec than Aztec origin, 
the Mexican government should not and, perhaps, with still more pro- 
take a deeper interest in the Indian bability, attributable to a people of 
antiquities. What might not be an age yet more remote." (Rambler 
effected by a few hands drawn from in Mexico, let. 7.) " I am of opi- 


The Tezcucan princes were used to entertain a great 
number of concubines. They had but one lawful wife, 
to whose issue the crown descended. 49 Nezahualcoyotl 
remained unmarried to a late period. He was disap- 
pointed in an early attachment, as the princess, who 
had been educated in privacy to be the partner of his 
throne, gave her hand to another. The injured monarch 
submitted the affair to the proper tribunal. The parties, 
however, were proved to have been ignorant of the 
destination of the lady, and the court, with an inde- 
pendence which reflects equal honour on the judges who 
could give, and the monarch who could receive the 
sentence, acquitted the young couple. This story is 
sadly contrasted by the following. 50 

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

nion," says Mr. Bullock, " that these will find here, as he might probably 
were antiquities prior to the clis- in some other instances, that one 
covery of America, and erected by a need go little higher than the Con- 
people whose history was lost even quest for the origin of antiquities 
before the building of the city of which claim to be coeval with Phce- 
Mexico. — Who can solve this dif- nicia and Ancient Egypt, 
ficulty?" (Six Months in Mexico, 49 Zurit R t 12 _ 
ubi supra.) lhe reader who takes l ' r 
Ixtlilxochitl for his guide will have 50 Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chick, MS., 
no great trouble in solving it. He cap. 43. 


of his own honour, by sweeping away the only obstacle 
which stood in his path. 

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

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

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

It was arranged by the king, in order to give a more 
natural aspect to the affair, and prevent all suspicion 
of the unworthy part he had acted, that the princess 
should present herself in his grounds at Tezcotzinco, to 
witness some public ceremony there. Nezahualcoyotl 
was standing in a balcony of the palace, when she ap- 



peared, and inquired, as if struck with her beauty for 
the first time, " who the lovely young creature was, in 
his gardens." When his courtiers had acquainted him 
with her name and rank, he ordered her to be con- 
ducted to the palace, that she might receive the atten- 
tions due to her station. The interview was soon fol- 
lowed by a public declaration of his passion ; and the 
marriage was celebrated not long after, with great pomp, 
in the presence of his court, and of his brother monarchs 
of Mexico and Tlacopan. 51 

This story, which furnishes so obvious a counterpart 
to that of David and Uriah, is told with great circum- 
stantiality, both by the king's son and grandson, from 
whose narratives Ixtlilxochitl derived it. 52 They stig- 
matize the action as the basest in their great ancestor's 
life. It is indeed too base not to leave an indelible 
stain on any character, however pure in other respects, 
and exalted. 

The king was strict in the execution of his laws, 
though his natural disposition led him to temper justice 
with mercy. Many anecdotes are told of the benevolent 
interest he took in the concerns of his subjects, and of 
his anxiety to detect and reward merit, even in the most 
humble. It was common for him to ramble among them 
in disguise, like the celebrated caliph in the " Arabian 
Nights," mingling freely in conversation, and ascertain- 
ing their actual condition with his own eyes." 53 

On one such occasion, when attended only by a single 
lord, he met with a boy who was gathering sticks in a 
field for fuel. He inquired of him "why he did not go 
into the neighbouring forest, where he would find a 
plenty of them." To which the lad answered, "It was 

51 Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chick., MS., zado para que no fuese conocido, 
cap 43. a reconocer las faltas y necesidad 

52 Idem, ubi supra. que havia en la republica para reme- 

53 "En traje de cazador, (que lo diarlas." Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., 
acostumbraba a, hacer, muy de or- MS., cap. 46. 

dinario,) saliendo a solas, y disfra- 


the king's wood, and he would punish him with death 
if he trespassed there." The royal forests were very 
extensive in Tezcuco, and were guarded by laws full as 
severe as those of the Norman tyrants in England. 
" What kind of man is your king ? " asked the monarch, 
willing to learn the effect of these prohibitions on his 
own popularity. " A very hard man," answered the boy, 
"who denies his people what God has given them." 54 
Nezahualcoyotl urged him not to mind such arbitrary 
laws, but to glean his sticks in the forest, as there was 
no one present who would betray him ; but the boy 
sturdily refused, bluntly accusing the disguised king, at 
the same time, of being a traitor, and of wishing to 
bring him into trouble. 

Nezahualcoyotl, on returning to the palace, ordered 
the child and his parents to be summoned before him. 
They received the orders with astonishment, but, on 
entering the presence, the boy at once recognised the 
person with whom he had discoursed so unceremo- 
niously, and he was filled with consternation. The 
good-natured monarch, however, relieved his apprehen- 
sions, by thanking him for the lesson he had given him, 
and at the same time commended his respect for the 
laws, and praised his parents for the manner in which 
they had trained their son. He then dismissed the 
parties with a liberal largess ; and afterwards mitigated 
the severity of the forest laws, so as to allow persons 
to gather any wood they might find on the ground, if 
they did not meddle with the standing timber. 55 

Another adventure is told of him, with a poor wood- 
man and his wife, who had brought their little load of 
billets for sale to the market-place of Tezcuco. The 
man was bitterly lamenting his hard lot, and the diffi- 
culty with which he earned a wretched subsistence, while 
the master of the palace before which they were stand- 

54 " Un hombresillo miserable, pues manos llenas les da." Ibid., loc. cit. 
cjuita a los hombres lo que Dios a, 55 Ixtlilxochitl, cap. 46. 

VOL. I. L 



ing lived an idle life, without toil, and with all the luxu- 
ries in the world at his command. 

He was going on in his complaints, when the good 
woman stopped him, by reminding him he might be 
overheard. He was so, by Nezahualcoyotl himself, who 
standing, screened from observation, at a latticed window 
which overlooked the market, was amusing himself, as 
he was wont, with observing the common people chaf- 
fering in the square. He immediately ordered the 
querulous couple into his presence. They appeared 
trembling and conscience-struck before him. The king 
gravely inquired what they had said. As they answered 
him truly, he told them they should reflect, that, if he 
had great treasures at his command, he had still greater 
calls for them ; that, far from leading an easy life, he 
was oppressed with the whole burden of government ; 
and concluded by admonishing them " to be more 
cautious in future, as walls had ears." 56 He then 
ordered his officers to bring a quantity of cloth, and a 
generous supply of cacao, (the coin of the country,) and 
dismissed them. "Go," said he; "with the little you 
now have, you will be rich ; while, with all my riches, I 
shall still be poor." " 

It was not his passion to hoard. He dispensed his 
revenues munificently, seeking out poor, but meritorious 
objects, on whom to bestow them. He was particularly 
mindful of disabled soldiers, and those who had in any 
way sustained loss in the public service ; and, in case of 
their death, extended assistance to their surviving fami- 
lies. Open mendicity was a thing he would never to- 
lerate, but chastised it with exemplary rigour. 58 

It would be incredible, that a man of the enlarged 

56 tt p or q ue ] as paredes oian." le bastaba, y viviria bien aveuturado ; 
(Ixtlilxochitl.) A European pro- y el, con toda la maquina que le 
verb among the American aborigines parecia que tenia arto, no tenia 
looks too strange, not to make one nada ; y asi lo despidio." Ibid. 
suspect the band of the chronicler. 

57 "Le dijo, que con aquello poco 58 Ibid. 


mind and endowments of Nezahualcoyotl should ac- 
quiesce in the sordid superstitions of his countrymen, 
and still more in the sanguinary rites borrowed by them 
from the Aztecs. In truth, his humane temper shrunk 
from these cruel ceremonies, and he strenuously endea- 
voured to recal his people to the more pure and simple 
worship of the ancient Toltecs. A circumstance pro- 
duced a temporary change in his conduct. 

He had been married some years to the wife he had 
so unrighteously obtained, but was not blessed with 
issue. The priests represented that it was owing to 
his neglect of the gods of his country, and that his 
only remedy was to propitiate them by human sacri- 
fice, The king reluctantly consented, and the altars 
once more smoked with the blood of slaughtered cap- 
tives. But ~ it was all in vain; and he indignantly ex- 
claimed, "These idols of wood and stone can neither 
hear nor feel ; much less could they make the heavens 
and the earth, and man, the lord of it. These must be 
the work of the all-powerful, unknown God, Creator of 
the universe, on whom alone I must rely for consolation 
and support." 59 

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

59 « y er d ac l erameil t,e los Dioses las gentes que la poseen, y todo lo 

que io adoro, que son idolos de criado ; algun Dios muy poderoso, 

piedra que uo hablan, ni sienten, oculto, y no conocido es el Criador 

no pudieron kacer ni formal la her- de todo el universe El solo es el 

mosura del cielo, el sol, luna, y es- que puede consolarme en mi afliccion, 

trellas que lo hermosean, y dan luz y socorrerme eu tau grande augustia 

a la tierra, rios, aguas, y fuentes, como mi corazon siente." MS. de 

arboles, y plantas que la hermosean, Ixtlilxochitl. 



triumph of his arms in a quarter where he had lately 
experienced some humiliating reverses. 60 

Greatly strengthened in his former religious convic- 
tions, he now openly professed his faith, and was more 
earnest to wean his subjects from their degrading super- 
stitions, and to substitute nobler and more spiritual con- 
ceptions of the Deity. He built a temple in the usual 
pyramidal form, and on the summit a tower nine stories 
high, to represent the nine heavens ; a tenth was sur- 
mounted by a roof painted black, and profusely gilded 
with stars on the outside, and incrusted with metals and 
precious stones within. He dedicated this to " the un- 
knoion God, the Cause of causes.'' ' G1 It seems probable, 
from the emblem on the tower, as well as from the 
complexion of his verses, as we shall see, that he mingled 
with his reverence for the Supreme the astral worship 
which existed among the Toltecs. 62 Various musical 
instruments were placed on the top of the tower, and the 
sound of them, accompanied by the ringing of a sonorous 
metal struck by a mallet, summoned the worshippers to 
prayers at regular seasons. 03 No image was allowed in 
the edifice, as unsuited to the " invisible God ; " and the 
people were expressly prohibited from profaning the 
altars with blood, or any other sacrifices than that of the 
perfume of flowers and sweet-scented gums. 

The remainder of his days was chiefly spent in his 
delicious solitudes of Tezcotzinco, where he devoted him- 

co MS. de Ixtlilxochitl. Hist. Antiq., torn. i. cap. 25.) The 

The manuscript here quoted is ruins still existing at Teotihuacan, 

one of the many left by the author about seven leagues from Mexico, 

on the antiquities of his country, are supposed to have been temples 

and forms part of a voluminous raised by this ancient people in 

compilation made in Mexico by father honour of the two great deities. 

Vega, in 1792, by order of the Spa- Boturini, Idea, p. 42. 
nish government. See Appendix, 63 MS. de Ixtlilxochitl. 

Part 2, No. 2. " This was evidently a gong" says 

61 " Al Dios no conocido, Causa de Mr. Ranking, who treads with envi- 
las. causas." MS. de Ixtlilxochitl. able confidence over the " suppositos 

62 Their earliest temples were cineres," in the path of the antiquary, 
dedicated to the Sun. The Moon See his Historical Researches on the 
they worshipped as his wife, and Conquest of Peru, Mexico, &c, by 
the Stars as his sisters. (Veytia, the Mongols, (London, 1827,) p. 310. 


self to astronomical and, probably, astrological studies, 
and to meditation on his immortal destiny, — giving 
utterance to his feelings in songs, or rather hymns, of 
much solemnity and pathos. An extract from one of 
these will convey some idea of his religious speculations. 
The pensive tenderness of the verses quoted in a pre- 
ceding page is deepened here into a mournful, and even 
gloomy colouring : while the wounded spirit, instead of 
seeking relief in the convivial sallies of a young and 
buoyant temperament, turns for consolation to the world 
beyond the grave. 

" All things on earth have their term, and, in the 
most joyous career of their vanity and splendour, their 
strength fails, and they sink into the dust. All the 
round world is but a sepulchre ; and there is nothing, 
which lives- on its surface, that shall not be hidden and 
entombed beneath it. Rivers, torrents, and streams 
move onward to their destination. Not one flows back 
to its pleasant source. They rush onward, hastening to 
bury themselves in the deep bosom of the ocean. The 
things of yesterday are no more to-day ; and the things 
of to-day shall cease, perhaps, on the morrow. 64 The 
cemetery is full of the loathsome dust of bodies once 
quickened by living souls, who occupied thrones, pre- 
sided over assemblies, marshalled armies, subdued pro- 
vinces, arrogated to themselves worship, were puffed up 
with vainglorious pomp, and power, and empire. 

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

" The great, the wise, the valiant, the beautiful, — 

64 " Toda la redondez de la tierra ansia para los vastos dominios de 

es un scpulcro : no hay cosa que sus- Tluloca [Neptuno], y cuanto mas se 

tente cpie con titulo de piedad no la arriman a sus dilatadas margenes, 

esconda y entierre. Corren los rios, tanto mas van labrando las melanco- 

los arroyos, las fuentes, y las aguas, licas urnas para sepultarse. Lo que 

y ningunas retroceden para sus ale- fue ayer no es hoy, ni lo de hoy se 

gres nacimientos : aceleranse con afiauza que sera manaua." 


alas ! where are they now ? They are all mingled with 
the clod ; and that which has befallen them shall happen 
to us ; and to those that come after us. Yet let us take 
courage, illustrious nobles and ehieftians, true friends 
and loyal subjects, — let its aspire to that heaven, where 
all is eternal, and corruption cannot come™ The horrors 
of the tomb are but the cradle of the Sun, and the dark 
shadows of death are brilliant lights for the stars." 66 The 
mystic import of the last sentence seems to point to that 
superstition respecting the mansions of the Sun, which 
forms so beautiful a contrast to the dark features of the 
Aztec mythology. 

At length about the year 1470, 67 Nezahualcoyotl, full 
of years and honours, felt himself drawing near his end. 
Almost half a century had elapsed since he mounted the 
throne of Tezcuco. He had found his kingdom dismem- 
bered by faction, and bowed to the dust beneath the 
yoke of a foreign tyrant. He had broken that yoke ; and 
breathed new life into the nation, renewed its ancient 
institutions, extended wide its domain; had seen it 
flourishing in all the activity of trade and agriculture, 

65 " Aspirernos al cielo, que alii the great Tezcucan nobles. If this 
todo es eterno y nada se corrompe." last, however, be the same mentioned 

66 " El horror del sepulero es lison- by Torquemada, (Monarch. Ind., lib. 
gera cuna para el, y las funestas 2, cap. 45,) it must have been writ- 
sombras, brillantes luces para los ten in the Tezcucan tongue ; and, 
astros." indeed, it is not probable that the 

The original text and a Spanish Otomie, an Indian dialect, so distinct 

translation of this poem first ap- from the languages of Anahuac, how- 

peared, I believe, in a work of Gra- ever well understood by the royal 

nados y Galvez. (Tardes Americanas, poet, could have been comprehended 

[Mexico, 1778,] p. 90 et seq.) The by a miscellaneous audience of his 

original is in the Otomie tongue, and countrymen. 

both, together with a French version, 67 An approximation to a date is 

have been inserted by M. Ternaux- the most one can hope to arrive at 

Compans in the Appendix to bis with Ixtlilxochitl, who has enf angled 

translation of Ixtlilxochitl's Hist. his chronology in a manner beyond 

des Chichimeques (torn. i. pp. 359 — my skill to unravel. Thus, after tell- 

367). Bustamante, who has also iug us that ISezahnalcoyotl was fif- 

published the Spanish Version in his teen years old when his father was 

Galena de Antiguos Principes Meji- slain in 1418, he says he died at the 

canos, [Puebla, 1821,] (pp. 16, 17), age of seventy-one, in 1462. Instar 

calls it the " Ode of the Flower," omnium. Comp. Hist. Chich., MS., 

which was recited at a banquet of cap. 18, 19, 49. 



gathering strength from its enlarged resources, and daily- 
advancing higher and higher in the great march of civili- 
zation. All this he had seen, and might fairly attribute 
no small portion of it to his own wise and beneficent 
rule. His long and glorious day was now drawing to 
its close ; and he contemplated the event with the same 
serenity which he had shown under the clouds of its 
morning and in its meridian splendour. 

A short time before his death, he gathered around him 
those of his children in whom he most confided, his chief 
counsellors, the ambassadors of Mexico and Tlacopan, 
and his little son, the heir to the crown, his only offspring 
by the queen. He was then not eight years old ; but 
had already given, as far as so tender a blossom might, 
the rich promise of future excellence. 68 

After tenderly embracing the child, the dying monarch 
threw over him the robes of sovereignty. He then gave 
audience to the ambassadors, and when they had retired, 
made the boy repeat the substance of the conversation. 
He followed this by such counsels as were suited to his 
comprehension, and which, when remembered through 
the long vista of after years, would serve as lights to 
guide him in his government of the kingdom. He 
besought him not to neglect the worship of " the un- 
known God," regretting that he himself had been un- 
worthy to know him, and intimating his conviction that 
the time would come when he should be known and 
worshipped throughout the land. 69 

He next addressed himself to that one of his sons in 
whom he placed the greatest trust, and whom he had 
selected as the guardian of the realm. " From this 
hour," said he to him, " you will fill the place that I 

68 MS. de Ixtlilxochitl, — also, que llevo es no tener luz, ni conoci- 

Hist. Chicli., MS., cap. 49. miento, ni ser merecedor de conoeer 

tan gran Dios, el qual tengo por 

09 " No consentiendo que haya cierto que ya que los presentes no lo 

sacrificios de gente huniana, que Dios conozcan, ha de venir tiempo en que 

se enoja de eilo, casligando con rigor sea conocido ;/ adorado en est a tierra." 

a los que lo hicieren ; que el dolor MS. de Ixtlilxochitl. 


have filled, of father to this child ; you will teach him to 
live as he ought ; and by your counsels he will rule over 
the empire. Stand in his place, and be his guide, till he 
shall be of age to govern for himself." Then, turning 
to his other children, he admonished them to live united 
with one another, and to show all loyalty to their prince, 
who, though a child, already manifested a discretion far 
above his years. " Be true to him," he added, " and 
he will maintain you in your rights and dignities." 70 

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

Thus died the greatest monarch, and if one foul blot 
could be effaced, perhaps the best who ever sat upon an 
Indian throne. His character is delineated with toler- 
able impartiality by his kinsman, the Tezcucan chronicler. 
" He was wise, valiant, liberal ; and, when we consider 
the magnanimity of his soul, the grandeur and success 
of his enterprises, his deep policy, as well as daring, we 
must admit him to have far surpassed every other prince 
and captain of this New World. He had few failings 
himself, and rigorously punished those of others. He 
preferred the public to his private interest ; was most 
charitable in his nature, often buying articles at double 
their worth, of poor and honest persons, and giving them 

70 MS. de Ixtlilxochitl, ubi supra ; 71 Hist. Chich., cap. 49. 

also Hist. Chich., cap. 49. 


away again to the sick and infirm. In seasons of scarcity- 
he was particularly bountiful, remitting the taxes of his 
vassals, and supplying their wants from the royal gran- 
aries. He put no faith in the idolatrous worship of the 
country. He was well instructed in moral science, and 
sought, above all things, to obtain light for knowing the 
true God. He believed in one God only, the Creator of 
heaven and earth, by whom we have our being, who 
never revealed himself to us in human form, nor in any 
other ; with whom the souls of the virtuous are to dwell 
after death, while the wicked will suffer pains unspeak- 
able. He invoked the Most High, as Him by whom we 
live, and ■ Who has all things in himself.' He recog- 
nised the Sun for his father, and the Earth for his 
mother. He taught his children not to confide in idols, 
and only to conform to the outward worship of them 
from deference to public opinion. 72 If he could not en- 
tirely abolish human sacrifices, derived from the Aztecs, 
he, at least, restricted them to slaves and captives." 73 

I have occupied so much space with this illustrious 
prince that but little remains for his son and successor, 
Nezahualpilli. I have thought it better, in our narrow 
limits, to present a complete view of a single epoch, the 
most interesting in the Tezcucan annals, than to spread 
the inquiries over a broader, but comparatively barren 
field. Yet Nezahualpilli, the heir to the crown, was a 
remarkable person, and his reign contains many incidents, 
which I regret to be obliged to pass over in silence. 74 

He had, in many respects, a taste similar to his father's, 

72 " Solia amonestar a sus hijos plained the meaning of the equally 
en secreto que no adorasen a aquel- euphonious name of his parent, Neza- 
las figuras cle idolos, y que aquello hualcoyotl. (Ante, eh. 4, p. 74.) If 
que hiciesen en publico fuese solopor it be true, that 

eumplimieiito." Hist. Chich., c. 49. " Cassar or Epammondas 

73 Id. ubi supra. Could ne'er without names have been 

74 The name Nezahualpilli sig- known to us," 

nines " the prince for whom one has it is no less certain that such names 

fasted," — in allusion, no doubt, to as those of the two Tezcucan princes, 

the long fast of his father previous so difficult to be pronounced or re- 

to his birth. (See Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. membered by a European, are most 

Chich., MS., cap 45.) I have ex- unfavourable to immortality. 



and, like him, displayed a profuse magnificence in his 
way of living and in his public edifices. He was more 
severe in his morals ; and, in the execution of justice, 
stern even to the sacrifice of natural affection. Several 
remarkable instances of this are told ; one, among others, 
in relation to his eldest son, the heir to the crown, a 
prince of great promise. The young man entered into 
a poetical correspondence with one of his father's concu- 
bines, the lady of Tula, as she was called, a woman of 
humble origin, but of uncommon endowments. She 
wrote verses with ease, and could discuss graver mat- 
ters with the king and his ministers. She main- 
tained a separate establishment, where she lived in 
state, and acquired, by her beauty and accomplishments, 
great ascendancy over her royal lover. 75 With this 
favourite the prince carried on a correspondence in verse, 
— whether of an amorous nature does not appear. At 
all events, the offence was capital. It was submitted to 
the regular tribunal, who pronounced sentence of death 
on the unfortunate youth; and the king, steeling his 
heart against all entreaties, and the voice of nature, suf- 
fered the cruel judgement to be carried into execution. 
We might, in this case, suspect the influence of baser 
passions on his mind, but it was not a solitary instance 
of his inexorable justice towards those most near to him. 
He had the stern virtue of an ancient Roman, destitute 
of the softer graces which make virtue attractive. When 
the sentence was carried into effect, he shut himself up 
in his palace for many weeks, and commanded the doors 
and windows of his son's residence to be walled up, that 
it might never again be occupied. 76 

75 " De las concubinas la que mas voluntad de tal manera que lo que 

privo con el rey, fue la que Uarnaban queria alcanzaba de el, y asi vivia 

la Seiiora de Tida, no por linage, sola por si con grande aparato y ma- 

sino porque era hija de un mercader, gestad en unos palacios que el rey le 

y era tan sabia que competia con el mandd edificar." Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. 

rey y con los mas sabios de su reyno, Chich., MS., cap. 57. 

y era en la poesia muy aventajada, 76 Ibid., cap. 67. 

que con estas gracias y dones natu- The Tezcucan historian records 

rales tenia al rey muy sugeto a su several appalling examples of this 

chap, vi.] DECLINE OF THE MONARCHY. 155 

Nezahualpilli resembled his father in his passion for 
astronomical studies, and is said to have had an obser- 
vatory on one of his palaces. 77 He was devoted to war 
in his youth, but as he advanced in years, resigned him- 
self to a more indolent way of life, and sought his chief 
amusement in the pursuit of his favourite science, or in 
the soft pleasures of the sequestered gardens of Tezcot- 
zinco. This quiet life was ill suited to the turbulent 
temper of the times, and of his Mexican rival Montezuma. 
The distant provinces fell ofT from their allegiance ; the 
army relaxed its discipline ; disaffection crept into its 
ranks ; and the wily Montezuma, partly by violence, and 
partly by stratagems unworthy of a king, succeeded in 
plundering his brother monarch of some of his most 
valuable domains. Then it was, that he arrogated to him- 
self the title and supremacy of emperor, hitherto borne by 
the Tezcucan princes, as head of the alliance. Such is 
the account given by the historians of that nation, who, 
in this way explain the acknowledged superiority of the 
Aztec sovereign, both in territory and consideration, on 
the landing of the Spaniards. 78 

These misfortunes pressed heavily on the spirits of 
Nezahualpilli. Their effect was increased by certain 
gloomy prognostics of a near calamity which was to 
overwhelm the country. 79 He withdrew to his retreat, 

severity ; — one in particular, in rela- this, or what passed for such, in Lis 

tion to his guilty wife. The story, day. Monarch. Ind., lib. 2, cap. 64. 

reminding one of the tales of an 78 Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., 

Oriental harem, has been translated cap. 73, 74. 

for the Appendix, Part 2, No. 4. This sudden transfer of empire 

See also Torquemada, (Monarch. from the Tezcucans, at the close of 

Ind., lib. 2, cap. 66,) and Zurita the reigns of two of their ablest 

(Rapport, pp. 108, 109). He was monarchs, is so improbable, that one 

the terror, in particular, of all unjust cannot but doubt if they ever pos- 

magistrates. They had little favour sessed it, — at least, to the extent 

to expect from the man who could claimed by the patriotic historian, 

stifle the voice of nature in his own See ante, Chap. 1, note 25, and the 

bosom, hi obedience to the laws. As corresponding text. 
Suetonius said of a prince who had 

not his virtue, " Vebemens et in 79 Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., 

coercendis qnidem delictis immodi- cap. 72. 

cus." Yita Galbse, sec. 9. The reader will find a particular 

77 Torquemada saw the remains of account of these prodigies, ^better 


to brood in secret over his sorrows. His health rapidly 
declined; and in the year 1515, at the age of fifty- 
two, he sunk into the grave ; 80 happy, at least, that, by 
this timely death, he escaped witnessing the fulfilment 
of his own predictions, in the ruin of his country, and 
the extinction of the Indian dynasties, for ever. 81 

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

authenticated than most miracles, in dred male and one hundred female 

a future page of this History. slaves were sacrificed at his tomb. 

80 Ibid., cap. 75. — Or, rather, at His body was consumed, amidst a 
the age of fifty, if the historian is heap of jewels, precious stuffs, and 
right, in placing his birth, as he incense, on a funeral pile ; and the 
does, in a preceding chapter, in ashes, deposited in a golden urn, 
1465. (See cap. 46.) It is not easy were placed in the great temple of 
to decide what is true, when the Huitzilopotchli, for whose worship 
writer does not take the trouble to the king, notwithstanding the les- 
be true to himself. sons of his father, had some par- 

81 His obsequies were celebrated tiality. Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., 
with sanguinary pomp. Two hun- MS., cap. 75. 


mythology, which threw its withering taint over the very 
air that they breathed. 

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

What was the actual amount of the Tezcucan civili- 
zation, it is not easy to determine, with the imperfect 
light afforded us. It was certainly far below anything 
which the word conveys, measured by a European 
standard. In some of the arts, and in any walk of 
science, they could only have made, as it were, a be- 
ginning. But they had begun in the right way, and 
already showed a refinement in sentiment and manners, 
a capacity for receiving instruction, which, under good 
auspices, might have led them on to indefinite improve- 
ment. Unhappily, they were fast falling under the 
dominion of the warlike Aztecs. And that people 
repaid the benefits received from their more polished 
neighbours by imparting to them their own ferocious 



superstition, which, falling like a mildew on the land, 
would soon have blighted its rich blossoms of promise, 
and turned even its fruits to dust and ashes. 

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

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

With these allowances, it will be found that the Tezcucan historian has 
just claims to our admiration for the compass of his inquiries, and the 
sagacity with which they have been conducted. He has introduced us to 
the knowledge of the most polished people of Anahuac, whose records, if 

chap, vi.] IXTLILXOCHITL. 159 

preserved, could not, at a much later period, Lave been comprehended ; and 
he has thus afforded a standard of comparison, which much raises our ideas 
of American civilization. His language is simple, and occasionally eloquent 
and touching. His descriptions are highly picturesque. He abounds in 
familiar anecdote ; and the natural graces of his manner, in detailing the 
more striking events of history, and the personal adventures of his heroes, 
entitle him to the name of the Livy of Anahuac. 

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

Note. It was my intention to conclude this introductory portion of the 
work with an inquiry into the Origin of the Mexican Civilization. " But the 
general question of the origin of the inhabitants of a continent," says Hum- 
boldt, " is beyond the limits prescribed to history ; perhaps it is not even a 
philosophic question." " For the majority of readers," says Livy, " the 
origin and remote antiquities of a nation can have comparatively little 
interest." The criticism of these great writers is just and pertinent ; and, 
on further consideration, 1 have thrown the observations on this topic, pre- 
pared with some care, into the Appendix {Part 1) ; to which those, who feel 
sufficient curiosity in the discussion, can turn before entering on the 
narrative of the Conquest. 




vol. I. M 




Spain under Charles V. — Progress of Discovery. — Colonial Policy. — 
Conquest of Cuba. — Expeditions to Yucatan. 


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

ii 2 

164 DISCOVERY OF MEXICO. [book ii. 

sitions both in Europe and Africa, while a New World 
beyond the waters poured into her lap treasures of count- 
less wealth, and opened an unbounded field for honourable 

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

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

On his entrance into Castile, the young monarch was 
accompanied by a swarm of courtly sycophants, who 


settled, like locusts, on every place of profit and honour 
throughout the kingdom. A Fleming was made grand 
chancellor of Castile ; another Fleming was placed in 
the archiepiscopal see of Toledo. They even ventured 
to profane the sanctity of the cortes, by intruding them- 
selves on its deliberations. Yet that body did not tamely 
submit to these usurpations, but gave vent to its indig- 
nation in tones becoming the representatives of a free 
people. 1 

The deportment of Charles, so different from that to 
which the Spaniards had been accustomed under the 
benign administration of Ferdinand and Isabella, closed 
all hearts against him ; and, as his character came to be 
understood, instead of the spontaneous outpourings of 
loyalty, which usually greet the accession of a new and 
youthful sovereign, he was everywhere encountered by 
opposition and disgust. In Castile, and afterwards in 
Aragon, Catalonia, and Valencia, the commons hesitated 
to confer on him the title of King during the lifetime of 
his mother; and, though they eventually yielded this 
point, and associated his name with hers in the sove- 
reignty, yet they reluctantly granted the supplies he 
demanded, and, when they did so, watched over their 
appropriation with a vigilance which left little to gratify 
the cupidity of the Flemings. The language of the 
legislature on these occasions, though temperate and 
respectful, breathes a spirit of resolute independence not 
to be found, probably, on the parliamentary records of 

1 The following passage — one qualisve sit gens hsec, depingere ad- 

among many — from that faithful hue nescio. Insufflat vulgus hie in 

mirror of the times, Peter Martyr's omne genus hominum non arctoum. 

correspondence, does ample justice Minores faciunt Hispanos, quam si 

to the intemperance, avarice, and in- nati essent inter eorum cloacas. 

tolerable arrogance of the Flemings. Rugiunt jam Hispani, labra mordent, 

The testimony is worth the more, as submurmurant taciti, fatorum vices 

coming from one who, though re- tales esse conqueruntur, quod ipsi 

sident in Spain, was not a Spaniard. domitores regnorum ita floccifiant ab 

" Crumenas auro fulcire inhiant ; his, quorum Deus unicus (sub rege 

huic uni studio invigilant. Nee de- temperato) Bacchus est cum Cith- 

trectatjuvenisRex. Farcitquacunque erea." Opus Epistolarum, (Amstelo- 

posse datur; non satiat tamen. Quae dami, 1610,) ep. 608. 


any other nation at that period. No wonder that Charles 
should have early imbibed a disgust for these popular 
assemblies. — the only bodies whence truths so unpalat- 
able could find their way to the ears of the sovereign ! 2 
Unfortunately, they had no influence on his conduct ; till 
the discontent, long allowed to fester in secret, broke out 
into that sad war of the comunidades, which shook the 
state to its foundations, and ended in the subversion of 
its liberties. 

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

It is difficult for those of our time, as familiar from 
childhood with the most remote places on the globe as 
with those in their own neighbourhood, to picture to 
themselves the feelings of the men who lived in the six- 
teenth century. The dread mystery, which had so long 
hung over the great deep, had indeed been removed. It 
was no longer beset with the same undefined horrors as 

2 Yet the nobles were not all back- desire no honours but tlioseof my own 

ward in manifesting their disgust. country, in my opinion, quite as good 

When Charles would have conferred as — indeed, better than — those of 

the famous Burgundian order of the any other." Sandoval, Historia de 

Golden Fleece on the Count of Bena- la Vida y Hechos del Emperador 

ventc, that lord refused it, proudly Carlos V., (Amberes, 1681,) torn. 

telling him, "I am a Castilian. I i. p. 103. 

chap, i.] SPAIN UNDER CHARLES V. 167 

when Columbus launched his bold bark on its dark and 
unknown waters. A new and glorious world had been 
thrown open. But as to the precise spot where that world 
lay, its extent, its history, whether it were island or con- 
tinent, — of all this they had very vague and confused 
conceptions. Many, in their ignorance, blindly adopted 
the erroneous conclusion into which the great Admiral 
had been led by his superior science, — that the new 
countries were a part of Asia ; and, as the mariner wan- 
dered among the Bahamas, or steered his caravel across 
the Caribbean seas, he fancied he was inhaling the rich 
odours of the spice-islands in the Indian Ocean. Thus 
every fresh discovery, interpreted by this previous delu- 
sion, served to confirm, him in his error, or, at least, to 
fill his mind with new perplexities. 

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

Under this chivalrous spirit of enterprise, the progress 

168 DISCOVERY OF MEXICO. [book it 

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

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

The cruel system of repartimientos, or distribution of 


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

They conducted the inquiry in a very dispassionate 
manner ; but, after long deliberation, came to a conclu- 
sion most unfavourable to the demands of Las Casas, 
who insisted on the entire freedom of the natives. This 
conclusion they justified on the grounds that the Indians 
would not labour without compulsion, and that, unless 
they laboured, they could not be brought into communi- 
cation with the whites, nor be converted to Christianity. 
"Whatever we may think of this argument, it was doubt- 
less urged with sincerity by its advocates, whose conduct 
through their whole administration places their motives 
above suspicion. They accompanied it with many careful 
provisions for the protection of the natives, — but in vain. 
The simple people, accustomed all their days to a life of 
indolence and ease, sunk under the oppressions of their 
masters, and the population wasted away with even more 
frightful rapidity than did the aborigines in our own 
country, under the operation of other causes. It is not 
necessary to pursue these details further, into which I 
have been led by the desire to put the reader in posses- 

170 DISCOVERY OF MEXICO. [book ii. 

sion of the general policy and state of affairs in the New 
World, at the period when the present narrative begins. 3 

Of the islands, Cuba was the second discovered ; but 
no attempt had been made to plant a colony there during 
the lifetime of Columbus ; who, indeed, after skirting 
the whole extent of its southern coast, died in the con- 
viction that it was part of the continent. 4 At length, in 
1511, Diego, the son and successor of the "Admiral," 
who still maintained the seat of government in Hispa- 
niola, finding the mines much exhausted there, proposed 
to occupy the neighbouring island of Cuba, or Fernan- 
dina, as it was called, in compliment to the Spanish 
monarch. 5 He prepared a small force for the conquest, 
which he placed under the command of Don Diego 
Velasquez ; a man described by a contemporary, as 
" possessed of considerable experience in military affairs, 
having served seventeen years in the European wars ; as 
honest, illustrious by his lineage and reputation, covetous 
of glory, and somewhat more covetous of wealth." 6 The 
portrait was sketched by no unfriendly hand. 

Velasquez, or rather his lieutenant Narvaez, who took 
the office on himself of scouring the country, met with 
no serious opposition from the inhabitants, who were of 
the same family with the effeminate natives of Hispa- 
niola. The conquest, through the merciful interposition 
of Las Casas, "the protector of the Indians," who ac- 

3 I will take the liberty to refer by Columbus, Juana, iu honour of 
the reader, who is desirous of being Prince John, heir to the Castilian 
more minutely acquainted with the crown. After his death it received 
Spanish Colonial administration and the name of Fernandina, at the 
the state of discovery previous to King's desire. The Indian name 
Charles V., to the " History of the lias survived both. Herrera, Hist, 
lleign of Ferdinand and Isabella," General, descrip., cap. 6. 

(Part 2, ch. 9, 20,) where the sub- c " Erat Didacus, ut hoc in loco 

ject is treated in exteaso. de eo semel tantum dicamus, vete- 

4 See the curious document at- rauus miles, rei militaris gnarus, 
testing this, and drawn up by order quippe qui septem et decern annos 
of Columbus, ap. Navarrete, Colec- in Hispania militiam exercitus fuerat, 
cion de los Viages y de Descubri- homo probus, opibus, genere et fama 
mientos, (Madrid, 1825,) torn. ii. clarus, honoris cupidus, pecuniae 
Col. Dip., No. 76. aliquanto cupidior." De Rebus 

5 The island was originally called, Gcstis Ferdinaudi Cortesii, MS. 

chap. I.] COLONIAL POLICY. 171 

companied the army in its march, was effected without 
much bloodshed. One chief, indeed, named Hatuey, 
having fled originally from St. Domingo to escape the 
oppression of its invaders, made a desperate resistance, 
for which he was condemned by Velasquez to be burned 
alive. It was he who made that memorable reply, more 
eloquent than a volume of invective. When urged at 
the stake to embrace Christianity, that his soul might 
find admission into heaven, he inquired if the white men 
would go there. On being answered in the affirmative, 
he exclaimed, " Then I will not be a Christian ; for I 
would not go again to a place where I must find men so 
cruel ! " 7 

After the conquest, Velasquez, now appointed go- 
vernor, diligently occupied himself with measures for 
promoting the prosperity of the Island. He formed a 
number of settlements, bearing the same names with 
the modern towns, and made St. Jago, on the south- 
east corner, the seat of government. 8 He invited set- 
tlers by liberal grants of land and slaves. He encou- 
raged them to cultivate the soil, and gave particular 
attention to the sugar-cane, so profitable an article of 
commerce in later times. He was, above all, intent on 
working the gold mines, which promised better returns 
than those in Hispaniola. The affairs of his government 
did not prevent him, meanwhile, from casting many a 
wistful glance at the discoveries going forward on the 
continent, and he longed for an opportunity to embark 
in these golden adventures himself. Fortune gave him 
the occasion he desired. 

7 The story is told by Las Casas 8 Among the most ancient of 

in his appalling record of the cm- these establishments we find the 

elties of his countrymen in the New Havana, Puerto del Principe, Triui- 

Woiid, which charity — and common dad, St. Salvador, and Matanzas, or 

sense — may excuse us for believing the Slaughter, so called from a mas- 

the good father has greatly over- sacre of the Spaniards there by the 

charged. Brevissima Relacion dc Indians. Bernal Diaz, Hist, do la 

la Destruycion de las Indias, (Ve- Conquista, cap. 8. 
netia, 1613,) p. 28. 

172 DISCOVERY OF MEXICO. [book ii. 

An hidalgo of Cuba, named Hernandez de Cordova, 
sailed with three vessels on an expedition to one of the 
neighbouring Bahama Islands, in quest of Indian slaves. 
(February 8, 1517.) He encountered a succession of 
heavy gales which drove him far out of his course, and 
at the end of three weeks he found himself on a strange 
and unknown coast. On landing and asking the name 
of the country, he was answered by the natives, " Tec- 
tetan," meaning " I do not understand you," — but which 
the Spaniards, misinterpreting into the name of the 
place, easily corrupted into Yucatan. Some writers give 
a different etymology. 9 Such mistakes, however, were 
not uncommon with the early discoverers, and have been 
the origin of many a name on the American continent. 10 

Cordova had landed on the north-eastern end of the 
peninsula, at Cape Catoche. Pie was astonished at the 
size and solid materials of the buildings constructed of 
stone and lime, so different from the frail tenements of 
reeds and rushes which formed the habitations of the 
islanders. He was struck, also, with the higher cultiva- 
tion of the soil, and with the delicate texture of the 
cotton garments and gold ornaments of the natives. 
Everything indicated a civilization far superior to any- 
thing he had before witnessed in the New World. He 
saw the evidence of a different race, moreover, in the 
warlike spirit of the people. Rumours of the Spaniards 
had, perhaps, preceded them, as they were repeatedly 
asked if they came from the east ; and, wherever they 
landed, they were met with the most deadly hostility. 
Cordova himself, in one of his skirmishes with the In- 

9 Gomara, Historia de las Iudias, 10 Two navigators, Solis and Pin- 
cap. 52, ap. Barcia, torn. ii. zon, had descried the coast as far 

Bernal Diaz says the word came back as 1506, according to Hen-era, 

from the vegetable pica, and tale though they had not taken possession 

the name for a hillock in which it is of it. (Hist. General, dec. 1, lib. 6, 

planted. (Hist, de la Conquista, cap. cap. 17.) It is, indeed, remarkable 

6.) M. Waldeck finds a much more it should so long have eluded dis- 

plausible derivation in the Indian covery, considering that it is but 

word Ouyoiickatan, "listen to what two degrees distant from Cuba, 
they say." Voyage Pittoresque, p. 25. 


dians, received more than a dozen wounds, and one only 
of his party escaped unhurt. At length, when he had 
coasted the peninsula as far as Campeachy, he returned to 
Cuba, which he reached after an absence of several months, 
having suffered all the extremities of ill, which these 
pioneers of the ocean were sometimes called to endure, 
and which none but the most courageous spirit could 
have survived. As it was, half the original number, con- 
sisting of one hundred and ten men, perished, including 
their brave commander, who died soon after his return. 
The reports he had brought back of the country, and, 
still more, the specimens of curiously wrought gold, con- 
vinced Velasquez of the importance of this discovery, 
and he prepared with all despatch to avail himself of it. 11 
He accordingly fitted out a little squadron of four 
vessels for the newly- discovered lands, and placed it 
under the command of his nephew, Juan de Grijalva, a 
man on whose probity, prudence, and attachment to 
himself he knew he could rely. The fleet left the port 
of St. Jago de Cuba, May 1, 1518. 12 It took the course 
pursued by Cordova, but was driven somewhat to the 
south, the first land that it made being the island of 
Cozumel. From this quarter Grijalva soon passed over 
to the continent and coasted the peninsula, touching at 
the same places as his predecessor. Everywhere he was 
struck, like him, with the evidences of a higher civiliza- 
tion, especially in the architecture ; as he well might be, 
since this was the region of those extraordinary remains 
which have become recently the subject of so much 
speculation. He was astonished, also, at the sight of 

11 Oviedo, General y Natural His- cap. 2.) But he is contradicted in 

toria de las Indias, MS., lib. 38, cap. this by the other contemporary re- 

1. — De Rebus Gestis, MS. — Carta cords above cited, 

del Cabildo de Vera Cruz, (July 10, 12 Itinerario de la isola de Iucha- 

1519,) MS. than, novamente ritrovata per il sig- 

Bernal Diaz denies that the ori- nor Joan de Grijalva, per il suo 

ginal object of the expedition, in capellano, MS. 

which he took part, was to procure The chaplain's word may be taken 

slaves, though Velasquez had pro- for the date, which is usually put at 

posed it. (Hist, de la Conquista, the eighth of April. 

174 DISCOVERY OF MEXICO. [book ii. 

large stone crosses, evidently objects of worship, which 
he met with in various places. Reminded by these cir- 
cumstances of his own country, he gave the peninsula 
the name " New Spain," a name since appropriated to 
a much wider extent of territory. 13 

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

The cacique who ruled over this province had received 
notice of the approach of the Europeans, and of their 
extraordinary appearance. He was anxious to collect all 
the information he could respecting them and the motives 
of their visit, that he might transmit them to his master, 
the Aztec Emperor. 14 A friendly conference took place 
between the parties on shore, where Grijalva landed with 
all his force, so as to make a suitable impression on the 
mind of the barbaric chief. The interview lasted some 
hours, though, as there was no one on either side to 
interpret the language of the other, they could commu- 
nicate only by signs. They, however, interchanged pre- 
sents, and the Spaniards had the satisfaction of receiving, 
for a few worthless toys and trinkets, a rich treasure of 

13 De Rebus Gestis, MS— Itine- sovereign, who had received pre- 
rario del Capellano, MS. vious tidings of the approach of the 

Spaniards. I have followed Sahagun, 

14 According to the Spanish au- who obtained his intelligence directly 
thorities, the cacique was sent with from the natives. Historia de la 
these presents from the Mexican Conquista, MS., cap. 2. 


jewels, gold ornaments and vessels, of the most fantastic 
forms and workmanship. 15 

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

He touched at St. Juan de Ulua, and at the Ida de 
los Sacrificios, so called by him from the bloody remains 
of human victims found in one of the temples. He then 
held on his course as far as the province of Panuco, 
where finding some difficulty in doubling a boisterous 
headland, he returned on his track, and after an absence 
of nearly six months, reached Cuba in safety. Grijalva 
has the glory of being the first navigator who set foot on 
the Mexican soil, and opened an intercourse with the 
Aztecs. 16 

On reaching the Island, he was surprised to learn that 
another and more formidable armament had been fitted 
out to follow up his own discoveries, and to find orders 
at the same time from the governor, couched in no very 
courteous language, to repair at once to St. Jago. He 
was received by that personage, not merely with cold- 
ness, but with reproaches for having neglected so fair an 
opportunity of establishing a colony in the country he 
had visited. Velasquez was one of those captious spirits, 

15 Gomara has given the per and scissors, and other trinkets common 

contra of this negotiation, in which in an assorted cargo for savages, 

gold and jewels, of the value of fif- Cronica, cap. 6. 

teen or twenty thousand pesos de oro, 16 Itinerario del Capellano, MS. — 

were exchanged for glass beads, pins, Carta de Vera Cruz, MS. 


who, when things do not go exactly to their minds, are 
sure to shift the responsibility of the failure from their 
own shoulders, where it should lie, to those of others. 
He had an ungenerous nature, says an old writer, cre- 
dulous, and easily moved to suspicion, 17 In the present 
instance it was most unmerited. Grijalva, naturally a 
modest, unassuming person, had acted in obedience to 
the instructions of his commander, given before sailing ; 
and had done this in opposition to his own judgment 
and the importunities of his followers. His conduct 
merited anything but censure from his employer. 18 

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

Finally he resolved to fit out another armament on a 
sufficient scale to insure the subjugation of the country. 

He previously solicited authority for this from the 
Hieronymite commission in St. Domingo. He then 
despatched his Chaplain to Spain with the royal share 
of the gold brought from Mexico, and a full account of 
the intelligence gleaned there. He set forth his own 
manifold services, and solicited from the court full powers 
to go on with the conquest and colonization of the newly 
discovered regions. 19 Before receiving an answer, he 

17 " Hombre de terrible condition," toria General de las Indias, MS., lib. 
says Herrera, citing the good bishop 3, cap. 113. 

of Chiapa, " para los qne le Servian, 19 Itinerario del Capellano, MS. — 

i aiudaban, i qne facilmente se indig- Las Casas, Hist, de las Indias, MS., 

naba contra aquellos." Hist. General, lib. 3, cap. 113. 

dec. 2, Ub. 3, cap. 10. The most circumstantial account 

of Grijalva's expedition is to be found 

18 At least, such is the testimony in the Itinerary of his chaplain above 
of Las Casas, who knew both the quoted. The original is lost, but an 
parties well, and had often conversed indifferent Italian version was pub- 
with Grijalva upon his voyage. His- lished at Venice, in 1522. A copy, 


began his preparations for the armament, and, first of 
all, endeavoured to find a suitable person to share the 
expense of it, and to take the command. Such a person 
he found, after some difficulty and delay, in Hernando 
Cortes ; the man of all others best calculated to achieve 
this great enterprise, — the last man to whom Velasquez, 
could he have foreseen the results, would have con- 
fided it. 

which belonged to Ferdinand Colum- grapher, Munos, made a transcript 

bus, is still extant in the library of of it with his own hand, and from 

the great church of Seville. The his manuscript that in my possession 

book had become so exceedingly was taken, 
rare, however, that the historio- 

VOL. T. 

1'7 8 I BOOK II. 


Hernando Cortes. — His early Life. — Visits the New World. — His 
Residence in Cuba. — Difficulties with Velasquez. — Armada intrusted to 


Hernando Coutes was born at Medellin, a town in 
the south-east corner of Estremadura, in 1485. l He 
came of an ancient and respectable family ; and his- 
torians have gratified the national vanity by tracing it 
up to the Lombard kings, whose descendants crossed 
the Pyrenees, and established themselves in Aragon 
under the Gothic monarchy. 2 This royal genealogy was 
not found out till Cortes had acquired a name which 
would confer distinction on any descent, however noble. 
His father, Martin Cortes de Monroy, was a captain of 
infantry, in moderate circumstances, but a man of un- 
blemished honour ; and both he and his wife, Dona 

1 Gomara, Cronica, cap. 1. — Ber- the good cavalier, which places the 

nal Diaz, Hist, de la Conquista, cap. birth of our hero in 1483, looks 

203. I find no more precise notice rather more like a zeal for "the true 

of the date of his birth ; except, in- faith," than for historic, 
deed, by Pizarro y Orellana, who 

tells us " that Cortes came into the 2 Argensola, in particular, has be- 

world the same day that that infernal stowed great pains on the prosapia 

least, the false heretic Luther, en- of the house of Cortes ; which he 

teredit, ; — by way of compensation, no traces up, nothing doubting, to 

doubt, since the labours of the one to Names Cortes, king of Lombardy 

pull down the true faith were counter- and Tuscany. Anales de Aragon, 

balanced by those of the other to (Zaragoza, 1630,) pp. 621 — 625. — 

maintain and extend it ! " (Varones Also, Caro de Torres, Historia de 

Ilustres del Nuevo Mundo, [Madrid, las Ordenes Militares, (Madrid, 

1839,] p. 66.) But this statement of 1629,) fol. 103. 

chap, ii.] HERNANDO CORTES. 179 

Catalina Pizarro Altamirano, appear to have been much 
regarded for their excellent qualities. 3 

In his infancy Cortes is said to have had a feeble 
constitution, which strengthened as he grew older. At 
fourteen, he was sent to Salamanca, as his father, who 
conceived great hopes from his quick and showy parts, 
proposed to educate him for the law, a profession which 
held out better inducements to the young aspirant than 
any other. The son, however, did not conform to these 
views. He showed little fondness for books, and after 
loitering away two years at college, returned home to 
the great chagrin of his parents. Yet his time had not 
been wholly misspent, since he had laid up a little store 
of Latin, and learned to write good prose, and even 
verses " of some estimation, considering" — : as an old 
writer quaintly remarks — " Cortes as the author." 4 He 
now passed his days in the idle, unprofitable manner 
of one who, too wilful to be guided by others, proposes 
no object to himself. His buoyant spirits were continu- 
ally breaking out in troublesome frolics and capricious 
humours, quite at variance with the orderly habits of his 
father's household. He showed a particular inclination 
for the military profession, or rather for the life of ad- 
venture to which in those days it was sure to lead. And 
when, at the age of seventeen, he proposed to enrol him- 
self under the banners of the Great Captain, his parents, 
probably thinking a life of hardship and hazard abroad 
preferable to one of idleness at home, made no objection. 

The youthful cavalier, however, hesitated whether 
to seek his fortunes under that victorious chief, or in the 

3 De Rebus Gestis, MS. 4 Argensola, Anales, p. 220. 

Las Casas, who knew the father, Las Casas and Bernal Diaz both 

bears stronger testimony to his state that he was Bachelor of Laws 

poverty than to his noble birth. at Salamanca. (Hist, de las Indias, 

" Un escudero," he says of him, MS., ubi supra. — Hist, de la Con- 

" que yo conoci harto pobre y hu- quista, cap. 203,) The degree was 

milde, aunque Christiano, viejo y given probably in later life, when 

dizen que hidalgo" Hist, de las the University might feel a pride in 

Indias, MS., lib. 3, cap. 27. claiming him among her sons. 

N 2 

180 DISCOVERY OF MEXICO. [book ii. 

New World, where gold as well as glory was to be won, 
and where the very dangers had a mystery and romance 
in them inexpressibly fascinating to a youthful fancy. 
It was in this direction accordingly, that the hot spirits 
of that day found a vent, especially from that part of the 
country where Cortes lived, the neighbourhood of Seville 
and Cadiz, the focus of nautical enterprise. He decided 
on this latter course, and an opportunity offered in the 
splendid armament fitted out under Don Nicolas de 
O van do, successor to Columbus. An unlucky accident 
defeated the purpose of Cortes. 5 

As he was scaling a high wall one night, which gave 
him access to the apartment of a lady with whom he 
was engaged in an intrigue, the stones gave way, and he 
was thrown down with much violence and buried under 
the ruins. A severe contusion, though attended with 
no other serious consequences, confined him to his bed 
till after the departure of the fleet. 6 

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

The vessel in which Cortes sailed was commanded by 
one Alonso Quintero. The fleet touched at the Canaries, 
as was common in the outward passage. While the 
other vessels were detained there taking in supplies, 
Quintero secretly stole out by night from the island, 
with the design of reaching Hispaniola, and securing 
the market, before the arrival of his companions. A 

5 De Rebus Gestis, MS. — Go- cause of his detention concisely 
mara, Cronica, cap. 1. enough ; " Suspendid el viaje, por 

6 De Rebus Gestis, MS. — Go- enumorado y por qvartanario" Ana- 
mara, Ibid. — Argensola states the les, p. 621. 


furious storm which he encountered, however, dismasted 
his ship, and he was obliged to return to port and refit. 
The convoy consented to wait for their unworthy 
partner, and after a short detention they all sailed in 
company again. But the faithless Quintero, as they 
drew near the Islands, availed himself once more of the 
darkness of the night, to leave the squadron with the 
same purpose as before. Unluckily for him, he met 
with a succession of heavy gales and head winds, which 
drove him from his course, and he wholly lost his 
reckoning. For many days the vessel was tossed about, 
and all on board were filled with apprehensions, and no 
little indignation against the author of their calamities. 
At length they were cheered one morning with the sight 
of a white dove, which, wearied by its flight, lighted on 
the topmast. The biographers of Cortes speak of it as 
a miracle. 7 Fortunately it was no miracle, but a very 
natural occurrence, showing incontestibly that they were 
near land. In a short time, by taking the direction of 
the bird's flight, they reached the island of Hispaniola ; 
and, on coming into port, the worthy master had the 
satisfaction to find his companions arrived before him, 
and their cargoes already sold. 8 

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

7 Some thought it was the Holy reasonable to Pizarro y Orcllana, 

Ghost in the form of this dove ; since the expedition was to " re- 

" Sanctum esse Spiritum, qui, in dound so much to the spread of 

illius alitis specie, ut mcestos et tie Catholic faith, and the Castilian 

anlictos solaretur, venire erat dig- monarchy" ! Varones Ilustres, p. 

natus ;" (Do Rebus Gestis, MS. ;) 70. 
a conjecture which seems very 8 Gomara, Crdnica, cap. 2. 

182 DISCOVERY OF MEXICO. [bock ii. 

On the governor's return, Cortes consented to give 
up his roving thoughts, at least for a time, as the other 
laboured to convince him that he would be more likely 
to realize his wishes from the slow, indeed, but sure 
returns of husbandry, where the soil and the labourers 
were a free gift to the planter, than by taking his 
chance in the lottery of adventure, in which there were 
so many blanks to a prize. He accordingly received a 
grant of land, with a repartimiento of Indians, and was 
appointed notary of the town or settlement of Acua. 
His graver pursuits, however, did not prevent his in- 
dulgence of the amorous propensities which belong to 
the sunny clime where he was born ; and this frequently 
involved him in affairs of honour, from which, though an 
expert swordsman, he carried away scars that accom- 
panied him to his grave. 9 He occasionally, moreover, 
found the means of breaking up the monotony of his 
way of life by engaging in the military expeditions 
which, under the command of Ovanclo's lieutenant, 
Diego Velasquez, were employed to suppress the in- 
surrections of the natives. In this school the young 
adventurer first studied the wild tactics of Indian 
warfare ; he became familiar with toil and danger, and 
with those deeds of cruelty which have too often, alas ! 
stained the bright scutcheons of the Castilian chivalry in 
the New World. He was only prevented by illness — 
a most fortunate one, on this occasion — from embarking 
in Nicuessa's expedition, which furnished a tale of woe, 
not often matched in the annals of Spanish discovery. 
Providence reserved him for higher ends. 

At length, in 1511, when Velasquez undertook the 
conquest of Cuba, Cortes willingly abandoned his quiet 
life for the stirring scenes there opened, and took part 
in the expedition. He displayed throughout the inva- 
sion an activity and courage that won him the appro- 
bation of the commander ; while his free and cordial 

9 Bemal Diaz, Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 203. 

chap, ii.] RESIDENCE IN CUBA. 183 

manners, his good humour, and lively sallies of wit, 
made him the favourite of the soldiers. " He gave little 
evidence," says a contemporary, " of the great qualities 
which he afterwards showed." It is probable these 
qualities were not known to himself; while to a com- 
mon observer his careless manners and jocund repartees 
might well seem incompatible with anything serious 
or profound; as the real depth of the current is not 
suspected under the light play and sunny sparkling of 
the surface. 10 

After the reduction of the island, Cortes seems to 
have been held in great favour by Velasquez, now 
appointed its governor. According to Las Casas, he was 
made one of his secretaries. 11 He still retained the 
same fondness for gallantry, for which his handsome 
person afforded obvious advantages, but which had more 
than once brought him into trouble in earlier life. 
Among the families who had taken up their residence in 
Cuba was one of the name of Xuarez, from Granada in 
Old Spain. It consisted of a brother, and four sisters 
remarkable for their beauty. With one of them, named 
Catalina, the susceptible heart of the young soldier 
became enamoured. 12 How far the intimacy was carried, 
is not quite certain. But it appears he gave his promise 
to marry her, — a promise which, when the time came, 
and reason, it may be, had got the better of passion, he 
showed no alacrity in keeping. He resisted, indeed, all 
remonstrances to this effect from the lady's family, 
backed by the governor, and somewhat sharpened, no 

10 De Ptebus Gestis, MS. — Go- magna Cortesio iuvidia est orta." 
mara, Cronica, cap. 3, 4. — Las Casas, De Rebus Gestis, MS. 

Hist, de las Indias, MS., lib. 3, cap. 12 Solis has found a patent of 

27. nobility for this lady also, — " don- 

11 Hist, de las Indias, MS., loc. f 11 * ™ ble I f™£. (^toria 
■j. de la Conquista de Menco, [Paris, 

1838,] lib. 1, cap. 9.) Las Casas 

"Res oranes arduas difficilesque treats her with less ceremony. "Una 

per Cortesium, quern in dies magis hermana de un Juan Xuarez, gente 

magisque amplectebatur, Velasquius pobre." Hist, dc las Indias, MS., 

egit. Ex eo ducis favore et gratia lib. 3, cap 17- 



doubt, in the latter by the particular interest he took in 
one of the fair sisters, who is said not to have repaid it 
with ingratitude. 

Whether the rebuke of Velasquez, or some other 
cause of disgust, rankled in the breast of Cortes, he 
now became cold towards his patron, and connected 
himself with a disaffected party tolerably numerous in 
the island. They were in the habit of meeting at his 
house and brooding over their causes of discontent, 
chiefly founded, it would appear, on what they con- 
ceived an ill requital of their services in the distribution 
of lands and offices. It may well be imagined, that it 
could have been no easy task for the ruler of one of these 
colonies, however discreet and well intentioned, to satisfy 
the indefinite cravings of speculators and adventurers, 
who swarmed, like so many famished harpies, in the 
track of discovery in the New World. 13 

The malcontents determined to lay their grievances 
before the higher authorities in Hispaniola, from whom 
Velasquez had received his commission. The voyage 
was one of some hazard, as it was to be made in an open 
boat, across an arm of the sea, eighteen leagues wide; 
and they fixed on Cortes, with whose fearless spirit they 
were well acquainted, as the fittest man to undertake it. 
The conspiracy got wind, and came to the governor's 
ears before the departure of the envoy, whom he instantly 
caused to be seized, loaded with fetters, and placed in 
strict confinement. It is even said, he would have hung 
him, but for the interposition of his friends. 14 The fact 
is not incredible. The governors of these little terri- 
tories, having entire control over the fortunes of their 
subjects, enjoyed an authority far more despotic than 
that of the sovereign himself. They were generally men 

13 Gomara, Cronica, cap. 4. — Las pellan de D. Velasquez contra H. 

Casas, Hist, de las Indias, MS., ubi Cortes, MS. 

supra. — De Rebus Gestis, MS. — 14 Las Casas, Hist, de las Indias, 

Memorial de Benito Martinez, ca- MS., ubi supra. 


of rank and personal consideration ; the distance from 
the mother country withdrew their conduct from search- 
ing scrutiny, and, when that did occur, they usually had 
interest and means of corruption at command, sufficient 
to shield them from punishment. The Spanish colonial 
history, in its earlier stages, affords striking instances of 
the extraordinary assumption and abuse of powers by 
these petty potentates ; and the sad fate of Vasquez 
Nunez de Balboa, the illustrious discoverer of the Pacific, 
though the most signal, is by no means a solitary ex- 
ample, that the greatest services could be requited by 
persecution and an ignominious death. 

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

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

Velasquez, though incensed at his escape, was afraid 
to violate the sanctity of the place by employing force. 
But he stationed a guard in the neighbourhood, with 
orders to seize the fugitive, if he should forget himself 
so far as to leave the sanctuary. In a few days this 
happened. As Cortes was carelessly standing without 
the walls in front of the building, an alguacil suddenly 
sprung on him from behind and pinioned his arms, 
while others rushed in and secured him. This man, 

180 DISCOVERY OF MEXICO. [book ii. 

whose name was Juan Escudero, was afterwards hung 
by Cortes for some offence in New Spain. 15 

The unlucky prisoner was again put in irons, and 
carried on board a vessel to sail the next morning for 
Hispaniola, there to undergo his trial. Fortune favoured 
him once more. He succeeded, after much difficulty 
and no little pain, in passing his feet through the rings 
which shackled them. He then came cautiously on 
deck, and, covered by the darkness of the night, stole 
quietly down the side of the ship into a boat that lay 
floating below. He pushed off from the vessel with as 
little noise as possible. As he drew near the shore, the 
stream became rapid and turbulent. He hesitated to 
trust his boat to it ; and, as he was - an excellent swim- 
mer, prepared to breast it himself, and boldly plunged 
into the water. The current was strong, but the arm of 
a man struggling for life was stronger ; and after 
buffeting the waves till he was nearly exhausted, he 
succeeded in gaining a landing ; when he sought refuge 
in the same sanctuary which had protected him before. 
The facility with which Cortes a second time effected his 
escape, may lead one to doubt the fidelity of his guards ; 
who perhaps looked on him as the victim of persecution, 
and felt the influence of those popular manners which 
seem to have gained him friends in every society into 
which he was thrown. 10 

For some reason not explained — perhaps from policy 
— he now relinquished his objections to the marriage 
with Catalina Xuarez. He thus secured the good offices 
of her family. Soon afterwards the governor himself 
relented, and became reconciled to his unfortunate 
enemy. A strange story is told in connexion with this 
event. It is said, his proud spirit refused to accept the 

15 Las Casas, Hist, de las Indias, being unable to swim, and throwing 
MS., loc. cit. — Memorial de Mar- himself on a plank, which, after 
tinez, MS. being carried out to sea, was washed 

16 Gomara, Crdnica, cap. 4. ashore with him at flood tide. Hist. 
Herrera tells a silly story of his General, dec. 1, lib. 9, cap. S. 


proffers of reconciliation made him by Velasquez ; and 
that one evening, leaving the sanctuary, he presented 
himself unexpectedly before the latter in his own 
quarters, when on a military excursion at some distance 
from the capital. The governor, startled by the sudden 
apparition of his enemy completely armed before him, 
with some dismay inquired the meaning of it. Cortes 
answered by insisting on a full explanation of his 
previous conduct. After some hot discussion the in- 
terview terminated amicably; the parties embraced, 
and, when a messenger arrived to announce the escape 
of Cortes, he found him in the apartment of his Ex- 
cellency, where, having retired to rest, both were 
actually sleeping in the same bed ! The anecdote is 
repeated without distrust by more than one biographer 
of Cortes. 17 It is not very probable, however, that a 
haughty, irascible man like Velasquez should have given 
such uncommon proofs of condescension and familiarity 
to one, so far beneath him in station, with whom he had 
been so recently in deadly feud ; nor, on the other hand, 
that Cortes should have had the silly temerity to brave 
the lion in his den, where a single nod would have 
sent him to the gibbet, — and that too with as little 
compunction or fear of consequences as would have 
attended the execution of an Indian slave. 13 

The reconciliation with the governor, however brought 
about, was permanent. Cortes, though not reestablished 
in the office of secretary, received a liberal rejiaiiimienfo 
of Indians, and an ample territory in the neighbourhood 
of St. Jago, of which he was soon after made alcalde. 

17 Gomara, Crdnica, cap. 4. received any favour from the least 

" Coeuat cubatque Cortesius cum of Velasquez' attendants," treats the 

Velasquio eodem in lecto. Qui story of the bravado with contempt, 

postero die fugaj Cortesii nuntius "Por lo qual si el (Telasquez) sin- 

venerat, Velasquium et Cortesium tiera de Cortes una punta de alfiler 

juxta accubantes intuitns, miratur." de cerviguillo 6 presuncion, 6 lo 

De Rebus Gestis, MS. aliorcara 6 a lo menos lo echara de 

1S Las Casas, who remembered la tierra y lo sumiera en ella sin que 

Cortes at this time " so poor and alzara eabeza en su vida." Hist, de 

lowly that he would have gladly las Iudias, MS., lib. 3, cap, 27. 

188 DISCOVERY OF MEXICO. [book ii. 

He now lived almost wholly on his estate, devoting 
himself to agriculture, with more zeal than formerly. 
He stocked his plantation with different kinds of cattle, 
some of which were first introduced by him into Cuba. 19 
He wrought, also, the gold mines which fell to his share, 
and which in this island promised better returns than 
those in Hispaniola. By this course of industry he 
found himself in a few years master of some two or 
three thousand castettanos, a large sum for one in his 
situation. " God, who alone knows at what cost of 
Indian lives it was obtained," exclaims Las Casas, " will 
take account of it !" 20 His days glided smoothly away 
in these tranquil pursuits, and in the society of his 
beautiful wife, who, however ineligible as a connexion, 
from the inferiority of her condition, appears to have 
fulfilled all the relations of a faithful and affectionate 
partner. Indeed, he was often heard to say at this time, 
as the good bishop above quoted remarks, " that he lived 
as happily with her as if she had been the daughter of a 
duchess." Fortune gave him the means in after life of 
verifying the truth of his assertion. 21 

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

19 " Pecuariam primus quoque dias, MS., lib. 3, cap. 27. The text 
kabuit, in insulamque induxit, omni is a free translation. 

pecorum genere ex Hispania petito." „ „ mwdo conm i g o, me lo dixo 

De Rebus Gestis, MS. que estava tan contento C011 ella 

20 " Los que por sacarle el oro como si fuera liija de una Duquessa." 
nmrieron Dios abra tenido mejor Hist, de las Indias, MS., ubi supra. 
cuenta que yo." Hist, de las In- — Goniara, Cronica, cap. 4. 


Several hidalgos presented themselves, whom, from 
want of proper qualifications, or from his distrust of 
their assuming an independence of their employer, he, 
one after another, rejected. There were two persons 
in St. Jago in whom he placed great confidence, — 
Amador de Lares, the contador, or royal treasurer, 22 
and his own secretary, Andres de Duero. Cortes was 
also in close intimacy with both these persons; and 
he availed himself of it to prevail on them to recom- 
mend him as a suitable person to be intrusted with 
the expedition. It is said, he reinforced the proposal, 
by promising a liberal share of the proceeds of it. 
However this may be, the parties urged his selection 
by the governor with all the eloquence of which they 
were capable. That officer had had ample experience 
of the capacity and courage of the candidate. He 
knew, too, that he had acquired a fortune which would 
enable him to cooperate materially in fitting out the 
armament. His popularity in the island would speedily 
attract followers to his standard. 23 All past animosities 
had long since been buried in oblivion, and the con- 
fidence he was now to repose in him would insure his 
fidelity and gratitude. He lent a willing ear, therefore, 
to the recommendation of his counsellors, and, sending 
for Cortes, announced his purpose of making him 
captain-general of the armada. 24 

Cortes had now attained the object of his wishes, — 
the object for which his soul had panted ever since he 
had set foot in the New World. He was no longer to 
be condemned to a life of mercenary drudgery ; nor to 

22 The treasurer used to boast he 23 " Si el no fuera por Capitan, 

had passed some two and twenty que no fuera la tercera parte de la 

years in the wars of Italy. He was gente que con el fue." Declaracion 

a shrewd personage, and Las Casas, de Puertocarrero, MS. (Coruila, 30 

thinking that country a slippery de Abril, 1529.) 

school for morals, warned the go- u Bemal Diaz, Hist, de la Con- 

vernor, he says, more than once " to quista, cap. 19. — De Rebus Gestis, 

beware of the twenty-two years in MS.— Gomara, Crdnica, cap. 7.— 

Italy." Hist, de las Indias, MS., Las Casas, Hist. General de las 

lib. 3, cap. 113. Indias, MS., lib. 3, cap. 113. 

190 DISCOVERY OF MEXICO. [book it. 

be cooped up within the precincts of a petty island ; but 
he was to be placed on a new and independent theatre 
of action, and a boundless perspective was opened to his 
view, which might satisfy not merely the wildest cravings 
of avarice, but, to a bold aspiring spirit like his, the far 
more importunate cravings of ambition. He fully ap- 
preciated the importance of the late discoveries, and read 
in them the existence of the great empire in the far 
West, dark hints of which had floated from time to time 
to the islands, and of which more certain glimpses had 
been caught by those who had reached the continent. 
This was the country intimated to the " Great Admiral " 
in his visit to Honduras in 1502, and which he might 
have reached, had he held on a northern course, instead 
of striking to the south in quest of an imaginary strait. 
As it was, " he had but opened the gate," to use his own 
bitter expression, "for others to enter." The time had 
at length come, when they were to enter it ; and the 
young adventurer, whose magic lance was to dissolve 
the spell which had so long hung over these mysterious 
regions, now stood ready to assume the enterprise. 

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

The funds thus acquired he expended in the purchase 


of vessels, provisions, and military stores, while he invited 
recruits by offers of assistance to such as were too poor 
to provide for themselves, and by the additional promise 
of a liberal share of the anticipated profits. 25 

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

How far the governor contributed towards the ex- 
penses of the outfit, is not very clear. If the friends of 
Cortes are to be believed, nearly the whole burden fell 
on him : since, while he supplied the squadron without 
remuneration, the governor sold many of his own stores 
at an exorbitant profit. 26 Yet it does not seem proba- 
ble that Velasquez, with such ample means at his com- 
mand, should have thrown on his deputy the burden of 
the expedition ; not that the latter, had he done so, 
could have been in a condition to meet these expenses, 
amounting, as we are told, to more than twenty thou- 

25 Declaration de Puertocarrero, clecir que entre nosotros los Espa- 
MS. — Carta de Vera Cruz, MS. — iioles vasallos de Vras. Reales Alte- 
Probauza en la Villa Segura, MS. zas ha hecko Diego Velasquez su 
(4 de Oct., 1520.) rescate y granosea de sus dineros 

26 The letter from the Municipality cobrandolos muy bieu." (Carta de 
of Vera Cruz, after stating that Ve- Vera Cruz, MS.) Puertocarrero 
lasquez bore only one third of the ori- and Montejo, also, in their deposi- 
ginal expense, adds, " Y sepan Vras. tions taken in Spain, both speak of 
Magestades que la mayor parte de la Cortes' having furnished two-thirds 
dicha tercia parte que el dicho Diego of the cost of the flotilla. (Declara- 
Velasquez gastd en hacer la dicha cion de Puertocarrero, MS. — De- 
armada fue, emplear sus dineros en claracion de Montejo, MS.) [29 de 
•vinos y en ropas, y en otras cosas Abril, 1520.] The letter from Vera 
de poco valor para nos lo vender aca Cruz, however, was prepared under 
en mucha mas cantidad de lo que a the eye of Cortes ; and the last two 
el le costd, por manera que podemos were his confidential officers. 

192 DISCOVERY OF MEXICO. [book ii. 

sand gold ducats. Still it cannot be denied that an am- 
bitious man like Cortes, who was to reap all the glory of 
the enterprise, would very naturally be less solicitous to 
count the gains of it, than his employer, who, inactive at 
home, and having no laurels to win, must look on the 
pecuniary profits as his only recompense. The question 
gave rise, some years later, to a furious litigation be- 
tween the parties, with which it is not necessary at pre- 
sent to embarrass the reader. 

It is due to Velasquez to state, that the instructions 
delivered by him for the conduct of the expedition cannot 
be charged with a narrow or mercenary spirit. The 
first object of the voyage was to find Grijalva, after which 
the two commanders were to proceed in company toge- 
ther. Reports had been brought back by Cordova, on 
his return from the first visit to Yucatan, that six Chris- 
tians were said to be lingering in captivity in the in- 
terior of the country. It was supposed they might be- 
long to the party of the unfortunate Nicuessa, and orders 
were given to find them out, if possible, and restore 
them to liberty. But the great object of the expedition 
was barter with the natives. In pursuing this, special 
care was to be taken that they should receive no wrong, 
but be treated with kindness and humanity. Cortes was 
to bear in mind, above all things, that the object which 
the Spanish monarch had most at heart was the conver- 
sion of the Indians. He was to impress on them the 
grandeur and goodness of his royal master, to invite 
them " to give in their allegiance to him, and to mani- 
fest it by regaling him with such comfortable presents of 
gold, pearls, and precious stones as, by showing their 
own good- will, would secure his favour and protection." 
He was to make an accurate survey of the coast, sound- 
ing its bays and inlets for the benefit of future naviga- 
tors. He was to acquaint himself with the natural pro- 
ducts of the country, with the character of its different 
races, their institutions and progress of civilization ; and 

.. n.] 



he was to send home minute accounts of all these, toge- 
ther with such articles as he should obtain in his inter- 
course with them. Finally, he was to take the mosu 
careful care to omit nothing that might redound to the 
service of God or his sovereign. 27 

Such was the general tenour of the instructions given 
to Cortes, and they must be admitted to provide for the 
interests of science and humanity, as well as for those 
which had reference only to a commercial speculation. 
It may seem strange, considering the discontent shown by 
Velasquez with his former captain, Grijalva, for not col- 
onizing, that no directions should have been given to 
that effect here. But he had not yet received from Spain 
the warrant for investing his agents with such powers ; 
and that which had been obtained from the Hieronymite 
fathers in Hispaniola conceded only the right to traffic 
with the natives. The commission at the same time 
recognised the authority of Cortes as Captain General 
of the expedition. 28 

27 The instrument, in the original 
Castilian, will be found in Appendix, 
Part 2, No. 5. It is often referred 
to by writers who never saw it, as 
the Agreement between Cortes and 
Velasquez. It is, in fact, only the 
instructions given by this latter to 
his officer, who was no party to it. 

28 Declaracion de Puertocarrero, 
'MS. — Gomara, Cronica, cap. 7. 

Velasquez soon after obtained 
from the crown authority to colo- 
nize the new countries, with the title 

of adelantado over them. The in- 
strument was dated at Barcelona, 
Nov. 13th, 1518. (Herrera, Hist. 
General, dec. 2, lib. 3, cap. 8.) 
Empty privileges ! Las Casas gives 
a caustic etymology of the title 
of adelantado, so often granted to 
the Spanish discoverers. " Adelan- 
tados porque se adelantaran enhazer 
males y dahos tan gravisimos a gentes 
pacificas." Hist, de las Indias, MS., 
lib. 3, cap. 117. 

VOL. I. 



Jealousy of Velasquez. — Cortes embarks. — Equipment of his Eleet. — His 
Person and Character. — Rendezvous at Havana. — Strength of his 


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

There were not wanting persons about his Excellency, 
who fanned the latent embers of jealousy into a blaze. 
These worthy gentlemen, some of them kinsmen of 
Velasquez, who probably felt their own deserts some- 

chap, in.] JEALOUSY OF VELASQUEZ. 195 

what thrown into the shade by the rising fortunes of 
Cortes, reminded the governor of his ancient quarrel 
with that officer, and of the little probability that 
affronts so keenly felt at the time could ever be for- 
gotten. By these and similar suggestions, and by mis- 
constructions of the present conduct of Cortes, they 
wrought on the passions of Velasquez to such a degree, 
that he resolved to intrust the expedition to other 
hands. 1 

He communicated his design to his confidential ad- 
visers, Lares and Duero, and these trusty personages 
reported it without delay to Cortes, although, " to a 
man of half his penetration," says Las Casas, " the 
thing would have been readily divined from the gover- 
nor's altered demeanour." 2 The two functionaries advised 
their friend to expedite matters as much as possible, and 
to lose no time in getting his fleet ready for sea, if he 
would retain the command of it. Cortes showed the 
same prompt decision on this occasion, which more than 
once afterwards in a similar crisis gave the direction to 
his destiny. 

He had not yet got his complement of men, nor of 
vessels ; and was very inadequately provided with sup- 
plies of any kind. But he resolved to weigh anchor that 
very night. He waited on his officers, informed them of 
his purpose, and probably of the cause of it ; and at 
midnight, when the town was hushed in sleep, they all 
went quietly on board, and the little squadron dropped 
down the bay. First, however, Cortes had visited the 
person whose business it was to supply the place with 
meat, and relieved him of all his stock on hand, notwith- 

1 " Deterrebat," says the anony- Hist, de la Ccmquista, cap. 19. — Las 

mous biographer, " eum Cortesii na- Casas, Hist, de las Indias, MS , 

tura imperii avida, fiducia sui ingens, cap. 114. 

et nimius sumptus in classe paranda. 2 " Cortes no avia menester mas 

Timere itaque Velasquius ccepit, si para entendello de mirar el gesto a 

Cortesius cum ea classe iret, nihil ad Diego Velasquez segun sn astuta 

se vel honoris vel lucri rediturum." \>iveza y mundana sabidurfa. Hist. 

De Rebus Gestis, MS. — Bemal Diaz, de las Indias, MS., cap. 114. 

o 2 

196 DISCOVERY OF MEXICO. [book ii. 

standing his complaint that the city must suffer for it on 
the morrow, leaving him, at the same time, in payment, 
a massive gold chain of much value, which he wore 
round his neck. 3 

Great was the amazement of the good citizens of 
St. Jago, when, at dawn, they saw that the fleet, which 
they knew was so ill prepared for the voyage, had left 
its moorings and was busily getting under way. The 
tidings soon came to the ears of his Excellency, who 
springing from his bed, hastily dressed himself, mounted 
his horse, and, followed by his retinue, galloped down to 
the quay. Cortes, as soon as he descried their approach, 
entered an armed boat, and came within speaking dis- 
tance of the shore. " And is it thus you part from me !" 
exclaimed Velasquez ; "a courteous way of taking leave, 
truly !" " Pardon me," answered Cortes, " time presses, 
and there are some things that should be done before 
they are even thought of. Has your Excellency any 
commands?" But the mortified governor had no com- 
mands to give; and Cortes, politely waving his hand, 
returned to his vessel, and the little fleet instantly made 
sail for the port of Macaca, about fifteen leagues distant. 
(November, 18, 1516.) Velasquez rode back to his 
house to digest his chagrin as he best might ; satisfied, 
probably, that he had made at least two blunders ; one 
in appointing Cortes to the command, — the other in 
attempting to deprive him of it. Eor, if it be true, that 
by giving our confidence by halves, we can scarcely hope 
to make a friend, it is equally true, that by withdrawing 
it when given, we shall make an enemy. 4 

This clandestine departure of Cortes has been severely 

3 Las Casas had the story from Soli's, who follows Bemal Diaz in 
Cortes' own mouth. Hist, de las saying that Cortes parted openly and 
Indias, MS., cap. 114. — Gomara, amicably from Velasquez, seems to 
Cronica, cap. 7. — De Rebus Gestis, consider it a great slander on the 
MS. character of the former to suppose 

4 Las Casas Hist, de las Indias, that he wanted to break with the 
MS., cap. 114. — Herrera, Hist. Gene- governor so soon, when he had re- 
ral, dec. 2, lib. 3, cap. 12. ceived so little provocation. (Con- 

chap, in.] cortes embarks. 197 

criticised by some writers, especially by Las Casas. 5 Yet 
Hiuch may be urged in vindication of his conduct. He 
bad been appointed to the command by the voluntary 
act of the governor, and this had been fully ratified by 
the authorities of Hispaniola. He had at once devoted 
all his resources to the undertaking, incurring, indeed, 
a heavy debt in addition. He was now to be deprived 
of his commission, without any misconduct having 
been alleged or at least proved against him. Such an 
event must overwhelm him in irretrievable ruin, to say 
nothing of the friends from whom he had so largely bor- 
rowed, and the followers who had embarked their for- 
tunes in the expedition on the faith of his commanding 
it. There are few persons, probably, who under these 
circumstances would have felt called tamely to acquiesce 
in the sacrifice of their hopes to a groundless and arbi- 
trary whim. The most to have been expected from 
Cortes was, that he should feel obliged to provide faith- 
fully for the interests of his employer in the conduct of 
the enterprise. How far he felt the force of this obliga- 
tion will appear in the sequel. 

From Macaca, where Cortes laid in such stores as he 
could obtain from the royal farms, and which, he said, 
he considered as " a loan from the king," he proceeded 
to Trinidad ; a more considerable town, on the southern 
coast of Cuba. Here he landed, and erecting his stan- 
dard in front of his quarters, made proclamation, with 
liberal offers to all who would join the expedition. 
Volunteers came in daily, and among them more than a 
hundred of Grijalva's men, just returned from their 
voyage, and willing to follow up the discovery under an 
enterprising leader. The fame of Cortes attracted, also, 
a number of cavaliers of family and distinction, some of 

quista, lib. 1, cap. 10.) But it is not forms in every particular to the 

necessary to suppose that Cortes in- statement of Las Casas, who, as he 

tended a rupture with his employer knew both the parties well, and re- 

by this clandestine movement ; but sided on the island at the time, had 

only to secure himself in the com- ample means of information, 

maud. At all events, the text con- 5 Hist, delasludias, MS., cap. 114. 


whom, having accompanied Grijalva, brought much in- 
formation valuable for the present expedition. Among 
these hidalgos may be mentioned Pedro de Alvarado 
and his brothers, Cristoval de Olid, Alonso de Avila, 
Juan Velasquez de Leon, a near relation of the governor, 
Alonso Hernandez de Puertocarrero, and Gonzalo de 
Sandoval, — all of them men who took a most important 
part in the Conquest. Their presence was of great 
moment, as giving consideration to the enterprise ; and, 
when they entered the little camp of the adventurers, 
the latter turned out to welcome them amidst lively 
strains of music and joyous salvos of artillery. 

Cortes meanwhile was active in purchasing military 
stores and provisions. Learning that a trading vessel 
laden with grain and other commodities for the mines 
was off the coast, he ordered out one of his caravels to 
seize her and bring her into port. He paid the master 
in bills for both cargo and ship, and even persuaded 
this man, named Sedeno, who was wealthy, to join his 
fortunes to the expedition. He also despatched one of 
his officers, Diego de Ordaz, in quest of another ship, of 
which he had tidings, with instructions to seize it in like 
manner, and to meet him with it off Cape St. Antonio, 
the westerly point of the island. 6 By this he effected 
another object, that of getting rid of Ordaz, who was 
one of the governor's household, and an inconvenient 
spy on his own actions. 

While thus occupied, letters from Velasquez were re- 
ceived by the commander of Trinidad, requiring him to 
seize the person of Cortes, and to detain him, as he had 
been deposed from the command of the fleet, which was 
given to another. This functionary communicated his 
instructions to the principal officers in the expedition, 

6 Las Casas had this also from the e con estas formales palabras, Ala 

lips of Cortes in later life. " Todo mi fee andube por alii como un gentil 

esto me dixo el mismo Cortes, con cosario." Hist, de las Indias, MS., 

otras cosas cerca dello despues de cap. 115. 

Marques ; reindo y mofando 

chap, ill.] CORTES EMBARKS. 199 

who counselled him not to make the attempt, as it would 
undoubtedly lead to a commotion among the soldiers, 
that might end in laying the town in ashes. Verdugo 
thought it prudent to conform to this advice. 7 

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

His principal standard was of black velvet embroidered 
with gold, and emblazoned with a red cross amidst 
flames of blue and white, with this motto in Latin 
beneath : " Friends, let us follow the Cross ; and under 
this sign, if we have faith, we shall conquer." He now 
assumed more state in his own person and way of living, 
introducing a greater number of domestics and officers 
into his household, and placing it on a footing becoming 
a man of high station. This state he maintained 
through the rest of his life. 8 

7 De Rebus Gestis, MS. — Gomara, Las Casas, Hist, de las Iudias, MS., 
Cronica, cap. 8. — Las Casas, Hist. cap. 115. 

de las Indias, MS., cap. 114, 115. The legend on the standard was, 

8 Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Con- doubtless, suggested by that on the 
quista, cap. 24. — De Rebus Gestis, labarum, — the sacred banner of Con- 
MS. — Gomara, Cronica, cap. 8. — stantine. 

200 DISCOVERY OF MEXICO. [book ir. 

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

The character of Cortes seems to have undergone 
some change with change of circumstances ; or to speak 
more correctly, the new scenes in which he was placed 
called forth qualities which before lay dormant in his 
bosom. There are some hardy natures that require 
the heats of excited action to unfold their energies ; 
like the plants, which, closed to the mild influence 
of a temperate latitude, come to their full growth, and 
give forth their fruits, only in the burning atmosphere 
of the tropics. — Such is the portrait left to us by his 


contemporaries of this remarkable man ; the instrument 
selected by Providence to scatter terror among the bar- 
barian monarchs of the Western world, and lay their 
empires in the dust ! 9 

Before the preparations were fully completed at the 
Havana, the commander of the place, Don Pedro Barba, 
received despatches from Velasquez ordering him to 
apprehend Cortes, and to prevent the departure of his 
vessels ; while another epistle from the same source was 
delivered to Cortes himself, requesting him to postpone 
his voyage till the governor could communicate with 
him, as he proposed, in person. " Never," exclaims 
Las Casas, " did I see so little knowledge of affairs 
shown, as in this letter of Diego Velasquez, — that he 
should have imagined, that a man, who had so recently 
put such ah affront on him, would defer his departure at 
his bidding ! " 10 It was, indeed, hoping to stay the flight 
of the arrow by a word, after it had left the bow. 

The captain-general, however, during his short stay 
had entirely conciliated the good -will of Barba. And, if 
that officer had had the inclination, he knew he had not 
the power, to enforce his principal's orders, in the face 
of a resolute soldiery, incensed at this ungenerous per- 
secution of their commander, and " all of whom," in the 
words of the honest chronicler who bore part in the 
expedition, " officers and privates, would have cheerfully 
laid down their lives for him." 11 Barba contented 
himself, therefore, with explaining to Velasquez the 
impracticability of the attempt, and at the same time 
endeavoured to tranquillize his apprehensions by asserting 
his own confidence in the fidelity of Cortes. To this the 
latter added a communication of his own, couched "in 

9 The most minute notices of the Gomara's Cronica, and cap. 203 of 

person and habits of Cortes are to the Hist, de la Conquista. 

be gathered from the narrative of 10 T ^ „■ , , , _ ,. 

the old cavalier Bernal Diaz, who Mg Las ^ sas ' Hlst - de las Indlas > 

served so long under him, and from '' P - 

Gomara, the general's chaplain. See ll Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Con- 
in particular the last chapter of quista, cap. 24. 

202 DISCOVERY OF MEXICO. [book ii. 

the soft terms he knew so well how to use," 12 in which 
he implored his Excellency to rely on his devotion to his 
interests, and concluded with the comfortable assurance 
that he and the whole fleet, God willing, would sail on 
the following morning. 

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

Landing on the Cape and mustering his forces, Cortes 
found they amounted to one hundred and ten mariners, 
five hundred and fifty-three soldiers, including thirty-two 
crossbow-men, and thirteen arquebusiers, besides two 
hundred Indians of the island, and a few Indian women 
for menial offices. He was provided with ten heavy 
guns, four lighter pieces called falconnets, and with a 
good supply of ammunition. 13 He had, besides, sixteen 
horses. They were not easily procured ; for the difficulty 
of transporting them across the ocean in the flimsy craft 
of that day made them rare and incredibly dear in the 
islands. 14 But Cortes rightfully estimated the import- 

12 Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Con- of Hispaniola, states the number at 
quista, loc. cit. six hundred. (Carta de Diego Ve- 

13 Ibid., cap. 26. lasquez al Lie. Figueroa, MS.) I 
There is some discrepancy among have adopted the estimates of Bernal 

authorities, in regard to the numbers Diaz, who, in his long service seems 

of the army. The Letter from Vera to have become intimately acquainted 

Cruz, which should have been exact, with every one of his comrades, their 

speaks in round terms of only four persons, and private history, 

hundred soldiers. (Carta de Vera u Incredibly dear, indeed, since 

Cruz, MS.) Velasquez himself, in from the statements contained in 

a communication to the chief judge the depositions at Villa Segura, it 


ance of cavalry, however small in number, both for their 
actual service in the field, and for striking terror into the 
savages. With so paltry a force did he enter on a con- 
quest which even his stout heart must have shrunk from 
attempting with such means, had he but foreseen half its 
real difficulties ! 

Before embarking, Cortes addressed his soldiers in a 
short but animated harangue. He told them they were 
about to enter on a noble enterprise, one that would 
make their name famous to after ages. He was leading 
them to countries more vast and opulent than any yet 
visited by Europeans. " I hold out to you a glorious 
prize," continued the orator, " but it is to be won by 
incessant toil. "Great things are achieved only by great 
exertions, and glory was never the reward of sloth. 15 If 
I have laboured hard and staked my all on this under- 
taking, it is for the love of that renown, which is the 
noblest recompense of man. But, if any among you 
covet riches more, be but true to me, as I will be true to 
you and to the occasion, and I will make you masters of 
such as our countrymen have never dreamed of! You 
are few in number, but strong in resolution ; and, if this 
does not falter, doubt not but that the Almighty, who 
has never deserted the Spaniard in his contest with the 
infidel, will shield you, though encompassed by a cloud 
of enemies ; for your cause is a just cause, and you are 

appears that the cost of the horses proper to give of every one of them ; 

for the expedition was from four minute enough for the pages of a 

to five hundred pesos de oro each ! sporting calendar. See Hist, de la 

" Si saben que de caballos que el Conquista, cap. 23. 

dicho Seilor Capitan General Her- ,, „ T , 

nando Cortes ha comprado para Io vos propcmgo grandes pre- 

servir en la dicha Conquista, que ™ 10 *>. mas embueltos en grandes 

son diez e ocho, que le han costa- trabajos; pero la vertud ne quiere 

do a quatrocientos ciuquenta e a ociosidad. (Gomara Cronica cap. 

quinientos pesos ha pagado, e que 9 -) " {? ™ e tll0U S ht so finel J ex " 

deve mas de ocho mil pesos de oro P ressed b ? ah °mson : 

dellos." (Probanza en Villa Segura, " For sluggard's brow the laurel 

MS.) The estimation of these horses never grows ; 

is sufficiently shown by the minute Renown is not the child of indolent 

information Bernal Diaz has thought repose." 

204 DISCOVERY OF MEXICO. [book ii. 

to fight under the banner of the Cross. Go forward 
then," he concluded, " with alacrity and confidence, and 
carry to a glorious issue the work so auspiciously 
begun." 16 

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

Cortes was well satisfied to find his own enthusiasm 
so largely shared by his followers. Mass was then cele- 
brated with the solemnities usual with the Spanish navi- 
gators, when entering on their voyages of discovery. 
The fleet was placed under the immediate protection of 
St. Peter, the patron saint of Cortes ; and, weighing 
anchor, took its departure on the eighteenth day of 
February, 1519, for the coast of Yucatan. 17 

16 The text is a very coudensed viving, and is addressed to the son 
abridgment of the original speech of of Cortes. The historian, therefore, 
Cortes, — or of his chaplain, as the had ample means of verifying the 
case may be. See it in Goniara, truth of his own statements, al- 
Cronica, cap. 9. though they too often betray, in his 

17 Las Casas, Hist, de las Indias, partiality for his hero, the influence 
MS., cap. 115. — Gomara, Cronica, of the patronage under which the 
cap. 10. — De Rebus Gestis, MS. work was produced. It runs into a 

" Tantus fuit armorum apparatus," prolixity of detail, which, however 

exclaims the author of the last work, tedious, has its uses in a contem- 

" quo alterum terrarum orbem bellis porary document. Unluckily, only 

Cortesius concutit; ex tarn parvis the first book was finished, or, at 

opibus tantum imperium Carolo facit ; least, has survived ; terminating 

aperitque omnium primus Hispanse with the events of this Chapter. It 

gentiHispaniamnovami" The author is written in Latin, in a pure and 

of this work is unknown. It seems perspicuous style ; and is conjec- 

to have been part of a great compi- tured with some plausibility to be 

lation, " De Orbe Novo," written, the work of Calvet de Estrella, 

probably, on the plan of a series of Chronicler of the Indies. The ori- 

biographical sketches, as the intro- ginal exists in the Archives of 

daction speaks of a life of Columbus Simancas, where it was discovered 

preceding this of Cortes. It was and transcribed by Muilos, from 

composed, as it states, while many whose copy that in my library was 

of the old conquerors were still sur- taken. 


iv.] 205 


Voyage to Cozumcl. — Conversion of the Natives. — Jeronimo de Aguilar. — 
Army arrives at Tabasco. — Great Battle with the Indians. — Christianity 


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

Cortes, who had lingered behind to convoy a disabled 
vessel, reached the island of Cozumel last. On landing 
he learned that one of his captains, Pedro de Alvarado, 
had availed himself of the short time he had been there, 
to enter the temples, rifle them of their few ornaments, 
and, by his violent conduct, so far to terrify the simple 
natives, that they had fled for refuge into the interior of 
the island. Cortes, highly incensed at these rash pro- 
ceedings, so contrary to the policy he had proposed, 
could not refrain from severely reprimanding his officer 
in the presence of the army. He commanded two Indian 
captives, taken by Alvarado, to be brought before him, 

206 DISCOVERY OF MEXICO. [book ii. 

and explained to them the pacific purposes of his visit. 
This he did through the assistance of his interpreter, 
Melchorejo, a native of Yucatan, who had been brought 
back by Grijalva, and who, during his residence in Cuba, 
had picked up some acquaintance with the Castilian. 
He then dismissed them loaded with presents, and with 
an invitation to their countrymen to return to their 
homes without fear of further annoyance. This humane 
policy succeeded. The fugitives, reassured, were not 
slow in coming back ; and an amicable intercourse was 
established, in which Spanish cutlery and trinkets were 
exchanged for the gold ornaments of the natives ; a 
traffic in which each party congratulated itself — a phi- 
losopher might think with equal reason — on outwitting 
the other. 

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

It was poor and thinly peopled. But everywhere he 
recognised the vestiges of a higher civilization than what 
he had before witnessed in the Indian islands. The 
houses were some of them large, and often built of stone 
and lime. He was particularly struck with the temples, 
in which were towers constructed of the same solid 
materials, and rising several stories in height. 

chap, iv.] VOYAGE TO COZUMEL. 207 

In the court of one of these he was amazed by the 
sight of a cross, of stone and lime, about ten palms high. 
It was the emblem of the God of rain. Its appearance 
suggested the wildest conjectures, not merely to the 
unlettered soldiers, but subsequently to the European 
scholar, who speculated on the character of the races 
that had introduced there the sacred symbol of Chris- 
tianity. But no such inference, as we shall see here- 
after, could be warranted. 1 Yet it must be regarded as 
a curious fact, that the Cross should have been vene- 
rated as the object of religious worship both in the 
New World, and in regions of the Old, where the light 
of Christianity had never risen. 2 

The next object of Cortes was to reclaim the natives 
from their gross idolatry, and to substitute a purer form 
of worship. In accomplishing this he was prepared to 
use force, if milder measures should be ineffectual. 
There was nothing which the Spanish government had 
more earnestly at heart, than the conversion of the 
Indians. It forms the constant burden of their in- 
structions, and gave to the military expeditions in this 
Western Hemisphere somewhat of the air of a crusade. 
The cavalier who embarked in them entered fully into 
these chivalrous and devotional feelings. No doubt was 

1 See Appendix, Part 1, No. 1. covered with impenetrable forests. 
Note 27. Near the shore he saw the remains 

2 Carta de Vera Cruz, MS. — Ber- of ancient Indian structures, which 
nal Diaz, Hist, de la Conquista, cap. he conceives may possibly have been 
25,etseq. — Gomara,Cr6nica,cap.l0, the same that met the eyes of Gri- 
15. — Las Casas, Hist, de las Indias, jalva and Cortes, and which suggest 
MS., lib. 3, cap. 115. — Herrera, to him some important inferences. 
Hist. General, dec. 2, lib. 4, cap. 6. He is led into further reflections on 
— Martyr, de Insulis nuper inventis, the existence of the cross as a sym- 
(Colonise, 1574,) p. 344. bol of worship among the islanders. 

While these pages were passing (Incidents of Travel in Yucatan, 

through the press, but not till two [New York, 1843,] vol. ii. chap 20.) 

years after they were written, Mr. As the discussion of these matters 

Stephens' important and interesting would lead me too far from the 

volumes appeared, containing the ac- track of our narrative, I shall take 

count of hi-> second expedition to occasion to return to them hereafter, 

Yucatan. In the latter part of the when I treat of the architectural 

work, he describes his visit to Co- remains of the country, 
zumel, now an uninhabited island 

203 DISCOVERY OF MEXICO. [book ii. 

entertained of the efficacy of conversion, however sudden 
might be the change, or however violent the means. 
The sword was a good argument, when the tongue 
failed; and the spread of Mahometanism had shown 
that seeds sown by the hand of violence, far from perish- 
ing in the ground, would spring up and bear fruit to 
after time. If this were so in a bad cause, how much 
more would it be true in a good one ! The Spanish 
cavalier felt he had a high mission to accomplish as a 
soldier of the Cross. However unauthorized or un- 
righteous the war into which he had entered may seem 
to us, to him it was a holy war. He was in arms 
against the infidel. Not to care for the soul of his 
benighted enemy was to put his own in jeopardy. The 
conversion of a single soul might cover a multitude of 
sins. It was not for morals that he was concerned, but 
for the faith. This, though understood in its most literal 
and limited sense, comprehended the whole scheme of 
Christian morality. Whoever died in the faith, however 
immoral had been his life, might be said to die in the 
Lord. Such was the creed of the Castilian knight of 
that day, as imbibed from the preachings of the pulpit, 
from cloisters and colleges at home, from monks and 
missionaries abroad, — from all save one, whose devotion, 
kindled at a purer source, was not, alas ! permitted to 
send forth its radiance far into the thick gloom by which 
he was encompassed. 3 

No one partook more fully of the feelings above de- 
scribed than Hernan Cortes. He was, in truth, the very 
mirror of the times in which he lived, reflecting its 
motley characteristics, its speculative devotion, and prac- 
tical licence, — but with an intensity all his own. He 
was greatly scandalized at the exhibition of the idolatrous 
practices of the people of Cozumel, though untainted, as 

3 See the biographical sketch of Postscript at the close of the pre- 
the good bishop Las Casas, the sent Book. 
" Protector of the Indians," in the 


it would seem, with human sacrifices. He endeavoured 
to persuade them to embrace a better faith, through the 
agency of two ecclesiastics who attended the expedition, 
- — the licentiate Juan Diaz and father Bartolome de 
Olmedo. The latter of these godly men afforded the 
rare example — rare in any age — of the union of fervent 
zeal with charity, while he beautifully illustrated in his 
own conduct the precepts which he taught. He re- 
mained with the army through the whole expedition, and 
by his wise and benevolent counsels was often enabled 
to mitigate the cruelties of the Conquerors, and to turn 
aside the edge of the sword from the unfortunate natives. 

These two missionaries vainly laboured to persuade 
the people of Cozumel to renounce their abominations, 
and to allow the Indian idols, in which the Christians 
recognised the true lineaments of Satan, 4 to be thrown 
down and demolished. The simple natives, filled with 
horror at the proposed profanation, exclaimed that these 
were the gods who sent them the sunshine and the 
storm, and, should any violence be offered, they would 
be sure to avenge it, by sending their lightnings on the 
heads of its perpetrators. 

Cortes was probably not much of a polemic. At all 
events, he preferred, on the present occasion, action to 
argument ; and thought that the best way to convince 
the Indians of their error was to prove the falsehood of 
the prediction. He accordingly, without further cere- 
mony, caused the venerated images to be rolled down 
the stairs of the great temple, amidst the groans and 
lamentations of the natives. An altar was hastily con- 
structed, an image of the Virgin and Child placed over 
it, and mass was performed by father Olmedo and his 
reverend companion for the first time within the walls of 
a temple in New Spain. The patient ministers tried 

4 " Fucse que el Demons) se lcs que seria primorosa imitacion del 
aparecia como es, y dejaba en su artifice la fealdad del simulacro." 
imaginaciou aquellas especies ; con Soli's, Conquista, p. 39. 

VOL. I. P 

210 DISCOVERY OF MEXICO. [book ii. 

once more to pour the light of the gospel into the be- 
nighted understandings of the islanders, and to expound 
the mysteries of the Catholic faith. The Indian inter- 
preter must have afforded rather a dubious channel for 
the transmission of such abstruse doctrines. But they 
at length found favour with their auditors, who, whether 
overawed by the bold bearing of the invaders, or con- 
vinced of the impotence of deities that could not shield 
their own shrines from violation, now consented to em- 
brace Christianity. 5 

While Cortes was thus occupied with the triumphs 
of the Cross, he received intelligence that Ordaz had 
returned from Yucatan without tidings of the Spanish 
captives. Though much chagrined, the general did not 
choose to postpone longer his departure from Cozumel. 
The fleet had been well stored with provisions by the 
friendly inhabitants, and, embarking his troops, Cortes, 
in the beginning of March, took leave of its hospitable 
shores. The squadron had not proceeded far, however, 
before a leak in one of the vessels compelled them to 
return to the same port. The detention was attended 
with important consequences ; so much so, indeed, that 
a writer of the time discerns in it " a great mystery and 
a miracle." 6 

Soon after landing, a canoe with several Indians was 

5 Carta cle Vera Cruz, MS. — Go- of the Deity, aud of the doctrines 

mara, Cronica, cap. 13. — Herrera, they are to embrace. Above all, the 

Hist. General, dec. 2, lib. 4, cap. 7. lives of the Christians should be 

— Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., such as to exemplify the truth of 

cap. 78. these doctrines, that, seeing this, 

Las Casas, whose enlightened the poor Indian may glorify the 

views in religion would have done Father, and acknowledge him, who 

honour to the present age, insists has such worshippers, for the true 

on the futility of these forced con- and only God." See the original 

versions, by which it is proposed remarks, which I quote in extenso, 

in a few days to wean men from the as a good specimen of the Bishop's 

idolatry which they had been taught style, when kindled by his subject 

to reverence from the cradle. " The into eloquence, in Appendix, Part 2, 

only way of doing this," he says, "is, No. 6. 

by long, assiduous, and faithful 6 " Muy gran misterio y milagro 

preaching, until the heathen shall de Dios." Carta de Vera Cruz, 

gather some ideas of the true nature MS. 

chap, iv.] JERONIMO DE AGUILAR. 211 

seen making its way from the neighbouring shores of 
Yucatan. On reaching the island, one of the men in- 
quired in broken Castilian, " if he were among Chris- 
tians ; " and, being answered in the affirmative, threw 
himself on his knees and returned thanks to Heaven for 
his delivery. He was one of the unfortunate captives 
for whose fate so much interest had been felt. His 
name was Jeronimo de Aguilar, a native of Ecija, in Old 
Spain, where he had been regularly educated for the 
church. He had been established with the colony at 
Darien, and on a voyage from that place to Hispaniola, 
eight years previous, was wrecked near the coast of Yu- 
catan. He escaped with several of his companions in 
the ship's boat, where some perished from hunger and 
exposure, while others were sacrificed, on their reaching 
land, by the cannibal natives of the peninsula. Aguilar 
was preserved from the same dismal fate by escaping 
into the interior, where he fell into the hands of a 
powerful cacique, who, though he spared his life, treated 
him at first with great rigour. The patience of the cap- 
tive, however, and his singular humility, touched the 
better feelings of the chieftain, who would have per- 
suaded Aguilar to take a wife among his people, but the 
ecclesiastic steadily refused, in obedience to his vows. 
This admirable constancy excited the distrust of the 
cacique, who put his virtue to a severe test by various 
temptations, and much of the same sort as those with 
which the devil is said to have assailed St. Anthony. 7 
From all these fiery trials, however, like his ghostly pre- 
decessor, he came out unscorched. Continence is too 
rare and difficult a virtue with barbarians, not to chal- 
lenge their veneration, and the practice of it has made 

7 They arc enumerated by Her- lib. 4, cap. 6 — 8.) The story is 

rera with a minuteness which may prettily told by Washington Irving, 

claim, at least, the merit of giving Voyages and Discoveries of the 

a much higher notion of Aguilar's Companions of Columbus (London, 

virtue than the barren generalities of 1833,) p. 2G3, et sea. 
the text. (Hist. Geueral, dec. 2, 


212 DISCOVERY OF MEXICO. [book ii. 

the reputation of more than one saint in the Old as well 
as the New world. Aguilar was now intrusted with the 
care of his master's household and his numerous wives. 
He was a man of discretion, as well as virtue; and 
his counsels were found so salutary, that he was con- 
sulted on all important matters. In short, Aguilar be- 
came a great man among the Indians. 

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

On appearing before Cortes, the poor man saluted 
him in the Indian style, by touching the earth with his 
hand, and carrying it to his head. The commander, 
raising him up, affectionately embraced him, covering 
him at the same time with his own cloak, as Aguilar 
was simply clad in the habiliments of the country, some- 
what too scanty for a European eye. It was long, in- 
deed, before the tastes which he had acquired in the 
freedom of the forest could be reconciled to the con- 
straints either of dress or manners imposed by the arti- 
ficial forms of civilization. Aguilar's long residence in 
the country had familiarized him with the Mayan dialects 
of Yucatan, and, as he gradually revived his Castilian, 
he became of essential importance as an interpreter. 
Cortes saw the advantage of this from the first, but he 
could not fully estimate all the consequences that were 
to flow from it. 8 

The repairs of the vessels being at length completed, 

8 Camargo, Historia de Tlascala, Conquista, cap. 29. — Carta de Vera 

MS.— Oviedo, Hist, de las Ind., MS., Cruz, MS.— Las Casas, Hist, de las 

lib. 33, cap. 1. Martyr, De Insulis, Indias, MS., lib. 3, cap. 115, 116. 
p. 317.— Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la 

chap, iv.] ARMY ARRIVES AT TABASCO. 213 

the Spanish commander once more took leave of the 
friendly natives of Cozumel, and set sail on the 4th of 
March. Keeping as near as possible to the coast of 
Yucatan, he doubled Cape Catoche, and with flowing 
sheets swept down the broad bay of Campeachy, fringed 
with the rich dye-woods which have since furnished so 
important an article of commerce to Europe. He passed 
Potonchan, where Cordova had experienced a rough 
reception from the natives ; and soon after reached the 
mouth of the Bio de Tabasco, or Grijalva, in which that 
navigator had carried on so lucrative a traffic. Though 
mindful of the great object of his voyage, — the visit to 
the Aztec territories, — he was desirous of acquainting 
himself with the resources of this country, and determined 
to ascend the river and visit the great town on its borders. 

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

When the day broke, the Spaniards saw the opposite 

214 DISCOVERY OF MEXICO. [book ii. 

banks lined with a much more numerous array than on 
the preceding evening, while the canoes along the shore 
were rilled with bands of armed warriors. Cortes now 
made his preparations for the attack. He first landed 
a detachment of a hundred men under Alonso de Avila, 
at a point somewhat lower down the stream, sheltered 
by a thick grove of palms, from which a road, as he 
knew, led to the town of Tabasco, giving orders to his 
officer to march at once on the place, while he himself 
advanced to assault it in front. 9 

Then embarking the remainder of his troops, Cortes 
crossed the river in face of the enemy ; but, before com- 
mencing hostilities, that he might " act with entire re- 
gard to justice, and in obedience to the instructions of 
the Royal Council," 10 he first caused proclamation to be 
made through the interpreter, that he desired only a free 
passage for his men ; and that he proposed to revive the 
friendly relations which had formerly subsisted between 
his countrymen and the natives. He assured them that 
if blood were split, the sin would lie on their heads, and 
that resistance would be useless, since he was resolved at 
all hazards to take up his quarters that night in the town 
of Tabasco. This proclamation, delivered in lofty tone, 
and duly recorded by the notary, was answered by the 
Indians — who might possibly have comprehended one 
word in ten of it — with shouts of defiance and a shower 
of arrows. 11 

Cortes having now complied with all the requisitions 

9 Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Con- Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Conquista, 
quista, cap. 31.- — Carta de Vera cap. 31. 

Cruz, MS.— Gomara, Crdnica, cap. n " See," exclaims the Bishop of 

18. — Las Casas, Hist, de las Indias, Chiapa, in his caustic vein, " the 

MS., lib. 3, cap. 118. — Martyr, De reasonableness of this 'requisition,' 

Insulis, p. 348. or, to speak more correctly, the folly 

There are some discrepancies be- and insensibility of the Boyal Coun- 

tween the statements of Bernal cil, who could find, in the refusal of 

Diaz, and the Letter from Vera the Indians to receive it, a good pre- 

Cruz ; both by parties who were text for war." (Hist, de las Indias, 

present. MS., lib. 3, cap. 118.) In another 

10 Carta de Vera Cruz, MS. — place, he pronounces an animated 

chap, iv.] ARMY ARRIVES AT TABASCO. 215 

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

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

Meanwhile Avila had arrived from the opposite 
quarter, and the natives taken by surprise made no 
further attempt at resistance, but abandoned the place 
to the Christians. They had previously removed their 

invective against the iniquity of King's council. " But I laugh at 

those who covered up hostilities him and his letters," exclaims 

under this empty form of words, Oviedo, " if lie thought a word of it 

the import of which was utterly in- could be comprehended by the untu- 

comprehensible to the barbarians. tored Indians ! " (Hist, de las Ind., 

(Ibid , lib. 3, cap, 57 ) The famous MS., lib. 29, cap. 7.) The regular 

formula, used by the Spanish Con- Manifesto, requirimiento, may be 

querors on this occasion, was drawn found translated in the concluding 

up by Dr. Palacios Reubios, a man pages of Irving's " Voyages of the 

of letters, and a member of the Companions of Columbus." 

216 DISCOVERY OF MEXICO. [book ii. 

families and effects. Some provisions fell into the 
hands of the victors, but little gold; " a circumstance/' 
says Las Casas, " which gave them no particular satis- 
faction." 12 It was a very populous place. The houses 
were mostly of mud ; the better sort of stone and lime ; 
affording proofs in the inhabitants of a superior refine- 
ment to that found in the islands, as their stout resistance 
had given evidence of superior valour. 13 

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

The general took up his quarters that night in the 
court-yard of the principal temple. He posted his 
sentinels, and took all the precautions practised in 
wars with a civilized foe. Indeed, there was reason 
for them. A suspicious silence seemed to reign through 

12 " Hallaronlas llenas de maiz quse sunt egregie lapidibus et calce 
e gallinas y otros vastimentos, oro fabrefactce, maxima ' industrid et archi- 
ninguno, de lo que ellos no resci- tectorum arte." (De Insulis, p. 349.) 
vieron muclio plazer." Hist, de las With his usual inquisitive spirit, he 
Ind., MS., ubi supra. gleaned all the particulars from the 

old pilot Alaminos, and from two of 

13 Peter Martyr gives a glowing the officers of Cortes who revisited 
picture of this Indian capital. " Ad Spain in the course of that year, 
flumiiiis ripam protentum dicunt Tabasco was in the neighbourhood 
esse oppidum, quantum non ausim of those ruined cities of Yucatan, 
dicere ; mille quingentorum passuum, which have lately been the theme of 
ait Alaminus nauclerus, et domorum so much speculation. The encomi- 
quinque ac viginti millium : strin- urns of Martyr are not so remarkable 
gunt alij, ingens tamen fatentur et as the apathy of other contemporary 
celebre. Ilortis intcrsecanturdomus, chroniclers. 


the place and its neighbourhood ; and tidings were 
brought that the interpreter, Melchorejo, had fled, 
leaving his Spanish dress hanging on a tree. Cortes 
was disquieted by the desertion of this man, who would 
not only inform his countrymen of the small number of 
the Spaniards, but dissipate any illusions that might be 
entertained of their superior natures. 

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

A few prisoners were taken in this skirmish. By them 
Cortes found his worst apprehensions verified. The 
country was everywhere in arms. A force consisting of 
many thousands had assembled from the neighbouring 
provinces, and a general assault was resolved on for the 
next day. To the general's inquiries why he had been 
received in so different a manner from his predecessor, 
Grijalva, they answered, that "the conduct of the Ta- 
bascans then had given great offence to the other Indian 
tribes, who taxed them with treachery and cowardice ; so 
that they had promised, on any return of the white men, 
to resist them in the same manner that their neighbours 
had done. 14 

14 Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Con- nica, cap. 18 —Las Casas, Hist, de 
quista, cap. 31, 32%- Gomara, do- las Indias, MS., lib. 3, cap. 118, 119. 



Cortes might now well regret that he had allowed 
himself to deviate from the direct object of his enterprise, 
and to become entangled in a doubtful war which could 
lead to no profitable result. But it was too late to re- 
pent. He had taken the step, and had no alternative 
but to go forward. To retreat would dishearten his own 
men at the outset, impair their confidence in him as their 
leader, and confirm the arrogance of his foes, the tidings 
of whose success might precede him on his voyage, and 
prepare the way for greater mortifications and defeats. 
He did not hesitate as to the course he was to pursue ; 
but, calling his officers together, announced his intention 
to give battle the following morning. 15 

He sent back to the vessels such as were disabled by 
their wounds, and ordered the remainder of the forces to 
join the camp. Six of the heavy guns were also taken 
from the ships, together with all the horses. The animals 
were stiff and torpid from long confinement on board ; 
but a few hours' exercise restored them to their strength 
and usual spirit. He gave the command of the artillery 
— if it may be dignified with the name — to a soldier 
named Mesa, who had acquired some experience as an 
engineer in the Italian wars, the infantry he put under 
the orders of Diego de Ordaz, and took charge of the 
cavalry himself. It consisted of some of the most valiant 
gentlemen of his little band, among whom may be men- 
tioned Alvaraclo, Velasquez deLeon, Avila, Puertocarrero, 
Olid, Montejo. Having thus made all the necessary 
arrangements, and settled his plan of battle, he retired 
to rest — but not to slumber. His feverish mind, as may 
well be imagined, was filled with anxiety for the morrow, 
which might decide the fate of his expedition ; and, as 
was his wont on such occasions, he was frequently ob- 

— Ixtlilxoehitl, Hist. Chich., MS., captains to advise him as to the 

cap. 78, 79. course he should pursue. (Conquista, 

15 According to Soils, who quotes cap. 19.) It is possible ; but I find 

the address of Cortes on the occa- no warrant for it anywhere, 
sion, he summoned a council of his 


served, during the night, going the rounds and visiting 
the sentinels, to see that no one slept upon his post. 

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

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

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

220 DISCOVERY OF MEXICO. [book it. 

ment essential to a life of rambling adventure in the 

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

They even pressed closer on the Spaniards, and, when 
driven off by a vigorous charge, soon turned again, and, 
rolling back like the waves of the ocean, seemed ready 
to overwhelm the little band by weight of numbers. 
Thus cramped, the latter had scarcely room to perform 
their necessary evolutions, or even to work their guns 
with effect. 10 

The engagement had now lasted more than an hour, 
and the Spaniards, sorely pressed, looked with great 
anxiety for the arrival of the horse, — which some un- 
accountable impediments must have detained, — to re- 
lieve them from their perilous position. At this crisis, 
the furthest columns of the Indian army were seen to be 

10 Las Casas, Hist, de las Indias, ochitl, Hist. Chicli., MS., cap. 79.— 

MS., lib. 3, cap. 119. — Gomara, do- Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Conquista, 

nica, cap. 19, 20. — Hen-era, Plist. cap. 33, 36. — Carta de Vera Cruz, 

General, dec. 2, lib. 4, cap. 11.— MS. 
Martyr, de Insulis, p. 350. — Ixtlilx- 


agitated and thrown into a disorder that rapidly spread 
through the whole mass. It was not long before the 
ears of the Christians were saluted with the cheering 
war-cry of " San Jago and San Pedro," and they beheld 
the bright helmets and swords of the Castilian chivalry 
flashing back the rays of the morning sun, as they 
dashed through the ranks of the enemy, striking to the 
right and left, and scattering dismay around them. The 
eye of faith, indeed, could discern the patron Saint of 
Spain himself, mounted on his grey war-horse, heading 
the rescue and trampling over the bodies of the fallen 
infidels ! ir 

The approach of Cortes had been greatly retarded by 
the broken nature of the ground. When he came up, 
the Indians were so hotly engaged, that he was upon 
them before they observed his approach. He ordered 
his men to direct their lances at the faces of their oppo- 
nents, 18 who, terrified at the monstrous apparition, — for 
they supposed the rider and the horse, which they had 
never before seen, to be one and the same, 19 — were seized 
with a panic. Ordaz availed himself of it to command a 
general charge along the line, and the Indians, many of 
them throwing away their arms, fled without attempting 
further resistance. 

Cortes was too content with the victory, to care to 
follow it up by dipping his sword in the blood of the 

17 Ixtldxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., 18 It was the order — as the reader 

cap. 79. may remember — given by Cajsar to 

" Cortes supposed it was his own his followers in his battle with 

tutelar saint, St. Peter," says Pizarro Pompey ; 
y Orellana ; " but the common and 

indubitable opinion is, that it was " Adversosque jubet ferro confun- 

our glorious apostle St. James, the derc vultus." 

bulwark and safeguard of our na- Lucan, Pharsalia, lib. 

tion." (Varones Ilustres, p. 73.) 7, v. 575. 
" Sinner that I am ! " exclaims honest 

Bernal Diaz, in a more sceptical vein, ,9 " Equites," says Paolo Giovio, 

" It was not permitted to me to see " unum integrum Centaurorum spe- 

either the one or the other of the cie animal esse existimarent." Elogia 

Apostles on this occasion." Hist. Virorum lllustrium, (Basil, 1696,) 

de la Conquista, cap. M. lib. 6, p. 229. 

,&22 DISCOVERY OF MEXICO. [book ir. 

fugitives. He drew off his men to a copse of palms 
which skirted the place, and, under their broad canopy, 
the soldiers offered up thanksgivings to the Almighty for 
the victory vouchsafed them. The field of battle was 
made the site of a town, called in honour of the day on 
which the action took place, Santa Maria de la Vitoria, 
long afterwards the capital of the Province. 20 The num- 
ber of those who fought or fell in the engagement is 
altogether doubtful. Nothing, indeed, is more uncertain 
than numerical estimates of barbarians. And they gain 
nothing in probability, when they come, as in the pre- 
sent instance, from the reports of their enemies. Most 
accounts, however, agree that the Indian force consisted 
of five squadrons of eight thousand men each. There is 
more discrepancy as to the number of slain, varying 
from one to thirty thousand ! In this monstrous dis- 
cordance, the common disposition to exaggerate may 
lead us to look for truth in the neighbourhood of the 
smallest number. The loss of the Christians was in- 
considerable ; not exceeding — if we receive their own 
reports, probably, from the same causes, much dimi- 
nishing the truth — two killed and less than a hundred 
wounded ! We may readily comprehend the feelings 
of the Conquerors, when they declared, that " Heaven 
must have fought on their side, since their own strength 
could never have prevailed against such a multitude of 

I " 21 

enemies ! 

Several prisoners were taken in the battle, among 
them two chiefs. Cortes gave them their liberty, and 
sent a message by them to their countrymen, " that he 

20 Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, 20. — Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Con- 
tom. iii. p. 11. quista, cap. 35.) It is Las Casas, 

21 " Crean Vras. Reales Altezas who, regulating his mathematics, as 
por cierto, que esta batalla fue ven- usual, by his feelings, rates the Indian 
cida mas por voluntad de Dios que loss at the exorbitant amount cited 
por nras fuerzas, porque para con in the text. " This," he concludes 
quarenta mil hombres de guerra, dryly, " was the first preaching of 
poca defensa fuera quatrozientos que the Gospel by Cortes in New Spain!" 
nosotros eramos." (Carta de Vera Hist, do las Indias, MS., lib. 3, cap. 
Cruz, MS. — Gomara, Cronica, cap. 119. 


would overlook the past, if they would come in at once, 
and tender their submission. Otherwise he would ride 
over the land, and put every living thing it it, man 
woman, and child, to the sword!" With this formid- 
able menace ringing in their ears, the envoys departed. 

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

Before his departure the Spanish Commander did not 
omit to provide for one great object of his expedition, 
the conversion of the Indians. He first represented to 
the caciques, that he had been sent thither by a powerful 
monarch on the other side of the water, to whom he had 
now a right to claim their allegiance. He then caused 

224 DISCOVERY OF MEXICO. [book ii. 

the reverend fathers Olmedo and Diaz to enlighten their 
minds, as far as possible, in regard to the great truths 
of revelation, urging them to receive these in place of 
their own heathenish abominations. The Tabascans, 
whose perceptions were no doubt materially quickened 
by the discipline they had undergone, made but a faint 
resistance to either proposal. The next day was Palm 
Sunday, and the general resolved to celebrate their con- 
version by one of those pompous ceremonials of the 
Church, which should make a lasting impression on their 

A solemn procession was formed of the whole army 
with the ecclesiastics at their head, each soldier bearing 
a palm-branch in his hand. The concourse was swelled 
by thousands of Indians of both sexes, who followed in 
curious astonishment at the spectacle. The long files 
bent their way through the flowery savannas that bor- 
dered the settlement, to the principal temple, where an 
altar was raised, and the image of the presiding deity 
was deposed to make room for that of the Virgin with 
the infant Saviour. Mass was celebrated by father 
Olmedo, and the soldiers who were capable joined in the 
solemn chant. The natives listened in profound silence, 
and if we may believe the chronicler of the event who 
witnessed it, were melted into tears ; while their hearts 
were penetrated with reverential awe for the God of 
those terrible beings who seemed to wield in their own 
hands the thunder and the lightning. 22 

The Roman Catholic communion has, it must be 
admitted, some decided advantages over the Protestant, 
for the purposes of proselytism. The dazzling pomp of 
its service and its touching appeal to the sensibilities 
affect the imagination of the rude child of nature much 
more powerfully than the cold abstractions of Protes- 
tantism, which, addressed to the reason, demand a 

22 Gomara, Crdnica, cap. 21, 22. tyr, De Insulip, p. 351. — Lrs Casas, 
— Carta de Vera Cruz, MS. — Mar- Hist, de las Indias, MS., ubi supra. 


degree of refinement and mental culture in the audience 
to comprehend them. The respect, moreover, shown by 
the Catholic for the material representations of Divinity, 
greatly facilitates the same object. It is true, such 
representations are used by him only as incentives, not 
as the objects of worship. But this distinction is lost on 
the savage, who finds such forms of adoration too analo- 
gous to his own to impose any great violence on his 
feelings. It is only required of him to transfer his 
homage from the image of Quetzalcoatl, the benevolent 
deity who walked among men, to that of the Virgin or 
the Redeemer ; from the Cross, which he has worshipped 
as the emblem of the God of rain, to the same Cross, the 
symbol of salvation. 

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

VOL. I. 

9 9 ft 


Voyage along the Coast.— Doha Marina.— Spaniards land in Mexico. 
Interview with the Aztecs. 


The fleet held its course so near the shore, that the 
inhabitants could be seen on it ; and, as it swept along 
the winding borders of the gulf, the soldiers, who had 
been on the former expedition with Grijalva, pointed 
out to their companions the memorable places on the 
coast. Here was the Bio de Aharado, named after 
the gallant adventurer, who was present, also, in this 
expedition ; there the Bio de Vanderas, in which Gri- 
jalva had carried on so lucrative a commerce with the 
Mexicans ; and there the Jsla de los Sacrificios, where 
the Spaniards first saw the vestiges of human sacrifice 
on the coast. Puertocarrero, as he listened to these 
reminiscences of the sailors, repeated the words of the 
old ballad of Montesinos, " Here is France, there is Paris, 
and there the waters of the Duero," 1 &c. "But I 
advise you," he added, turning to Cortes, " to look out 
only for the rich lands, and the best way to govern 
them." " Fear not," replied his commander, " if For- 
tune but favours me as she did Orlando, and I have such 

1 " Cata Francia, Montesinos, They are the words of the popular 

Cata Paris la ciudad, old ballad, first published, I believe, 

Cata las aguas de Duero in the Romancero de Amberes, and 

Do van a dar en la mar." lately by Duran, Romances Cabel- 

lerescos e Historicos, Parte 1, p 82. 

chap, v.] DONA MARINA. 22 

gallant gentlemen as you for my companions, I shall 
understand myself very well." 2 

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

The ships had not been long at anchor, when a light 
pirogue, filled with natives, shot off from the neigh- 
bouring continent, and steered for the general's vessel, 
distinguished by the royal ensign of Castile floating 
from the mast. The Indians came on board with a frank 
confidence, inspired by the accounts of the Spaniards 
spread by their countrymen who had traded with Grijalva. 
They brought presents of fruits and flowers and little 
ornaments of gold, which they gladly exchanged for the 
usual trinkets. Cortes was baffled in his attempts to 
hold a conversation with his visiters by means of the 
interpreter, Aguilar, who was ignorant of the language ; 
the Mayan dialects, with which he was conversant, 
bearing too little resemblance to the Aztec. The natives 
supplied the deficiency, as far as possible, by the uncom- 
mon vivacity and significance of their gestures, — the 
hieroglyphics of speech, — but the Spanish commander 
saw with chagrin the embarrassments he must encounter 
in future for want of a more perfect medium of commu- 
nication. 3 In this dilemma, he was informed that one of 

2 Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Con- plying a most active imagination, 
quista, cap. 37. " Senas e meueos con que los Yndios 

3 Las Casas notices the signifi- mucho mas que otras generaciones 
cance of the Indian gestures as im- cntienden y se dan a entender, por 


228 DISCOVERY OF MEXICO. [book it. 

the female slaves given to him by the Tabascan chiefs 
was a native Mexican, and understood the language. 
Her name — that given to her by the Spaniards — was 
Marina; and, as she was to exercise a most important 
influence on their fortunes, it is necessary to acquaint the 
reader with something of her character and history. 

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

From the place of her birth she was well acquainted 
with the Mexican tongue, which, indeed, she is said to 
have spoken with great elegance. Her residence in 
Tabasco familiarized her with the dialects of that coun- 
try, so that she could carry on a conversation with 
Aguilar, which he in turn rendered into the Castilian. 
Thus a certain, though somewhat circuitous channel was 
opened to Cortes for communicating with the Aztecs ; 
a circumstance of the last importance to the success of 
his enterprise. It was not very long, however, before 

tener muy bivos los sentidos ex- ginacion." Hist, de las Iudias, 
teriores y tambieu los interiores, MS., lib. 3, cap. 120. 
mayormente ques admirable su ima- 

chap, v.] DONA MARINA. 229 

Marina, who had a lively genius, made herself so far 
mistress of the Castilian as to supersede the necessity of 
any other linguist. She learned it the more readily, as 
it was to her the language of love. 

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

Marina was at this time in the morning of life. She 
is said to have possessed uncommon personal attractions, 4 
and her open, expressive features indicated her generous 
temper. She always remained faithful to the countrymen 
of her adoption; and her knowledge of the language 
and customs of the Mexicans, and often of their designs, 
enabled her to extricate the Spaniards, more than once, 
from the most embarrassing and perilous situations. 
She had her errors, as we have seen ; but they should 
be rather charged to the defects of early education, and 
to the evil influence of him to whom in the darkness of 
her spirit she looked with simple confidence for the light 
to guide her. All agree that she was full of excellent 
qualities, and the important services which she rendered 
the Spaniards have made her memory deservedly dear to 
them ; while the name of Malinche — the name by which 
she is still known in Mexico — was pronounced with 
kindness by the conquered races, with whose misfortunes 
she showed an invariable sympathy. 5 

4 " Ilermosa como Diosa," beau- Gira la vista en el concurso mudo ; 

tiful as a goddess, says Carnargo of Rico manto de extretna sutileza 

her. (Hist, de Tlascala, MS.) A Con cliapas de oro autorizarla pudo, 

modern poet pays her charms the Prendido con bizarra gentileza 

following not inelegant tribute : Sobre los pechos en ayroso nudo ; 

" Admira tan lucida cabalgada Reyna parece de la Indiana Zona, 

Y espectiiculo tal Doha Marina, Varonil y hermosisima Amazona." 

India noble al caudillo presentada, Moeatin, Las .Naves de 

De fortuna y belleza peregrina. Cortes Destrnidas. 

* * • * * 5 Las Casas, Hist, de las Indias, 

" Con despejado espiritu y viveza MS., lib. 3, cap. 120.— Gomara, 

230 DISCOVERY OF MEXICO. [book ii. 

With the aid of his two intelligent interpreters, Cortes 
entered into conversation with his Indian visiters. He 
learned that they were Mexicans, or rather subjects of the 
great Mexican empire, of which their own province 
formed one of the comparatively recent conquests. The 
country was ruled by a powerful monarch, called Moc- 
theuzoma, or by Europeans more commonly Montezuma, 6 
who dwelt on the mountain plains of the interior, nearly 
seventy leagues from the coast ; their own province was 
governed by one of his nobles, named Teuhtlile, whose 
residence was eight leagues distant. Cortes acquainted 
them in turn with his own friendly views in visiting their 
country, and with his desire of an interview with the 
Aztec governor. He then dismissed them, loaded with 
presents, having first ascertained that there was abun- 
dance of gold in the interior, like the specimens they had 

Cortes, pleased with the manners of the people, and 
the goodly reports of the land, resolved to take up his 
quarters here for the present. The next morning, April 
21, being Good Friday, he landed with all his force on 
the very spot where now stands the modern city of Vera 
Cruz. Little did the Conqueror imagine that the deso- 
late beach, on which he first planted his foot, was one 
day to be covered by a flourishing city, the great mart of 
European and Oriental trade, the commercial capital of 
New Spain. 7 

Cronica, cap. 25, 26. — Clavigero, 6 The name of the Aztec mon- 

Stor. del Messico, torn. iii. pp. 12 — arch, like those of most persons 

14. — Oviedo, Hist, de las Ind., MS., and places in New Spain, has been 

lib. 33, cap. 1. — Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. twisted into all possible varieties 

Chich., MS-, cap. 79.' — Camargo, of orthography. Modern Spanish 

Hist, de Tlascala, MS. — Bernal historians usually call him Mote- 
Diaz, Hist, de la Conquista, cap. ■ zurna. But as there is no reason 

37, 38. to suppose that this is correct, I 

There is some discordance in the have preferred to conform to the 

notices of the early life of Marina. name by which he is usually known 

1 have followed Bernal Diaz, — from to English readers. It is the one 

his means of observation, the best adopted by Bernal Diaz, and by no 

authority. There is happily no dif- other contemporary, as far as I 

ference in the estimate of her singu- know, 

lar merits and services. 7 Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS. 


It was a wide and level plain, except where the sand 
had been drifted into hillocks by the* perpetual blowing 
of the norte. On these sand-hills he mounted his little 
battery of guns, so as to give him the command of the 
country. He then employed the troops in cutting down 
small trees and bushes which grew near, in order to pro- 
vide a shelter from the weather. In this he was aided 
by the people of the country, sent, as it appeared, by 
the governor of the district, to assist the Spaniards. 
With their help stakes were firmly set in the earth, and 
covered with boughs, and with mats and cotton carpets, 
which the friendly natives brought with them. In this 
way they secured, in a couple of days, a good defence 
against the scorching rays of the sun, which beat with 
intolerable fierceness on the sands. The place was sur- 
rounded by stagnant marshes, the exhalations from which, 
quickened by the heat into the pestilent malaria, have 
occasioned in later times wider mortality to Europeans 
than all the hurricanes on the coast. The bilious dis- 
orders, now the terrible scourge of the tierra caliente, 
were little known before the Conquest. The seeds of 
the poison seem to have been scattered by the hand of 
civilization ; for it is only necessary to settle a town, 
and draw together a busy European population, in order 
to call out the malignity of the venom which had before 
lurked innoxious in the atmosphere. 8 

cap/ 79. — Clavigero, Stor. del Mes- essentially different from the vomito, 

sico, torn. iii. p. 16. or bilious fever of our day. Indeed, 

New Vera Cruz, as the present this disease is not noticed by the 

town is called, is distinct, as we early conquerors and colonists ; and 

shall see hereafter, from that esta- Clavigero asserts, was not known in 

Wished by Cortes, and was not Mexico, till 1725. (Stor. del Messico, 

founded till the close of the six- torn. i. p. 117, nota.) Humboldt, 

teenth century, by the Coude de however, arguing that the same phy- 

Monterey, viceroy of Mexico. It sical causes must have produced 

received its privileges as a city similar results, carries the disease 

from Philip III. iu 16L5. Ibid., back to a much higher antiquity, of 

torn. iii. p. 30, nota. which he discerns some traditional 

and historic vestiges. "II ne faut 

s The epidemic of the matlaza- pas confondre l'epoque," he remarks 
hucdl, so fatal to the Aztecs, is with his usual penetration, "a la- 
shown by M. de Humboldt to be quelle une maladic a 6te decrite pour 

232 DISCOVERY OF MEXICO. [book 11. 

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

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

The first inquiries of Teuhtlile were respecting the 
country of the strangers, and the purport of their visit. 
Cortes told him, that " he was the subject of a potent 
monarch beyond the seas, who ruled over an immense 
empire, and had kings and princes for his vassals ! that, 
acquainted with the greatness of the Mexican emperor, 
his master had desired to enter into a communication 
with him, and had sent him as his envoy to wait on 
Montezuma with a present in token of his good will, and 

la premiere fois, parca qu'elle a fait premiere apparition." Essai Poli- 
de grands ravages dans un court tique, torn. iv. p. 161 et seq., and 
cspacede temps, avec l'epoque de sa 179. 


a message which he must deliver in person." He con- 
cluded by inquiring of Teuhtlile when he could be ad- 
mitted to his sovereign's presence. 

To this the Aztec noble somewhat haughtily replied, 

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

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

Cortes received these presents with suitable acknow- 
ledgments, and ordered his own attendants to lay before 
the chief the articles designed for Montezuma. These 
were an arm-chair richly carved and painted, a crimson 
cap of cloth, having a gold medal emblazoned with St. 
George and the dragon, and a quantity of collars, brace- 
lets, and other ornaments of cut glass, which, in a 
country where glass was not to be had, might claim to 
have the value of real gems, and no doubt passed for 
such with the inexperienced Mexican. Teuhtlile ob- 
served a soldier in the camp with a shining gilt helmet 
on his head, which he said reminded him of one worn 
by the god Quetzalcoatl in Mexico ; and he showed a 
desire that Montezuma should see it. The coming of 
the Spaniards, as the reader will soon see, was associated 
with some traditions of this same deity. Cortes ex- 

234 DISCOVERY OF MEXICO. [book ii. 

pressed his willingness that the casque should be sent to 
the emperor, intimating a hope that it would be returned 
filled with the gold dust of the country, that he might be 
able to compare its quality with that in his own ! He 
further told the governor, as we are informed by his 
chaplain, " that the Spaniards were troubled with a 
disease of the heart, for which gold was a specific re- 
medy !" 9 "In short," says Las Casas, "he contrived 
to make his want of gold very clear to the governor." 10 

While these things were passing, Cortes observed one 
of Teuhtlile's attendants busy with a pencil, apparently 
delineating some object. On looking at his work, he 
found that it was a sketch on canvass of the Spaniards, 
their costumes, arms, and, in short, different objects of 
interest, giving to each its appropriate form and colour. 
This was the celebrated picture-writing of the Aztecs, 
and, as Teuhtlile informed him, this man was employed 
in portraying the various objects for the eye of Monte- 
zuma, who would thus gather a more vivid notion of 
their appearance than from any description by words. 
Cortes was pleased with the idea ; and, as he knew how 
much the effect would be heightened by converting still 
life into action, he ordered out the cavalry on the beach, 
the wet sands of which afforded a firm footing for the 
horses. The bold and rapid movements of the troops, 
as they went through their military exercises ; the ap- 
parent ease with which they managed the fiery animals 
on which they were mounted; the glancing of their 
weapons, and the shrill cry of the trumpet, all filled the 
spectators with astonishment ; but when they heard the 
thunders of the cannon, which Cortes ordered to be fired 
at the same time, and witnessed the volumes of smoke 
and flame issuing from these terrible engines, and the 
rushing sound of the balls, as they dashed through the 
trees of the neighbouring forest, shivering their branches 

3 Gomara, Crdnica, cap. 26. 
10 Las Casas, Hist, de las Inclias, MS., lib. 3, cap. 119. 


into fragments, they were filled with consternation, from 
which the Aztec chief himself was not wholly free. 

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

These various matters completed, Teuhtlile with his 
attendants withdrew from the Spanish quarters, with 
the same ceremony with which he had entered them ; 
leaving orders that his people should supply the troops 
with provisions and other articles requisite for their ac- 
commodation, till further instructions from the capital. 11 

11 Ixtlilxochitl, Relaciones, MS., General, dec. 2, lib. 5, cap. 4. — 
No. 13.— Idem. Hist. Chich., MS., Carta de Vera Cruz, MS.— Torque- 
cap. 79. — Gomara, Cronica, cap. 25, raada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 4, cap. 13 
26. — Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Con- — 15. — Tezozomoc, Cron. Mexicana, 
quista, cap. 38. — Herrera, Hist. MS., cap. 107. 



Account of Montezuma. — State of his Empire. — Strange Prognostics. — 
Embassy and Presents. — Spanish Encampment. 


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 rilled at that time by Montezuma 
the Second, nephew of the last, and grandson of a pre- 
ceding 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 demeanour, speaking little and with 
prudent deliberation. His deportment was well calcu- 
lated to inspire ideas of superior sanctity. 1 

When his election was announced to him, he was 

1 His name suited his nature ; Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 70. — Acosta, 

Montezuma, according to Las Casas, lib. 7, cap. 20. — Col. de Mendoza, 

signifying, in the Mexican, " sad or pp. 13-16 ; Codex Tel.-Rem., p. 143> 

severe man." Hist, de las Indias, ap. Antiq. of Mexico, vol. vi. 
MS., lib. 3, cap 120.— Ixtlilxochitl, 

chap. vi. J ACCOUNT OF MONTEZUMA. 237 

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 re- 
sponsible 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 pre- 
served, and presents a favourable 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 neighbourhood was crowned with 
success, and he led back in triumph a throng of cap- 
tives for the bloody sacrifice that was to grace his coro- 
nation. This was celebrated with uncommon pomp. 
Games and religious ceremonies continued for several 

2 For a full account of this prince, little more than half a century after 
see book i. chap. 6, pp. 153-356. its delivery. It has been recently 

3 The address is fully reported by republished by Bustamante. Tez- 
Torquemada, (Monarch. Ind., lib. 3, cuco en los Ultimos Tiempos, (Mexi- 
cap. 68,) who came into the country co, 1826,) pp. 256-258. 

238 DISCOVERY OF MEXICO. [book ii. 

days, and among the spectators who flocked from dis- 
tant quarters were some noble Tlascalans, the hereditary 
enemies of Mexico. They were in disguise, hoping thus 
to elude detection. They w r ere recognised, however, and 
reported to the monarch. But he only availed himself 
of the information to provide them with honourable 
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 furthest provinces on the 
Gulf of Mexico, and the distant regions of Nicaragua 
and Honduras. The expeditions were generally success- 
ful ; and the limits of the empire were more widely 
extended than at any preceding period. 

Meanwhile the monarch was not inattentive to the 
interior concerns of the kingdom. He made some im- 
portant changes in the courts of justice ; and carefully 
watched over the execution of the laws, which he en- 
forced 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 establish- 
ing a hospital, or retreat for invalid soldiers, in the city 
of Colhuacan. 4 

4 Acosta, lib. 7, cap. 22.— Saha- Monarch. Ind., lib. 3, cap. 73, 74, 
gxm, Hist, de Nueva Esparia, lib. 8, 81. — Col. de Mendoza, pp. 1*4, 85, 
Prdlogo, et cap. 1. — Torquemada, ap. Ant iq. of Mexico, vol. vi. 

chap. VI.] STATE OF HIS EMPIRE. 239 

These acts, so worthy of a great prince, were counter- 
balanced 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, dis- 
missed several plebeians, chiefly poor soldiers of merit, 
from the places they had occupied near the person of 
his predecessor, considering their attendance a dishonour 
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 imposi- 
tion 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 amalga- 
mation by which the new acquisitions could be incor- 
porated 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 

In 1516, died the Tezcucan king, Nezahualpilh, in 
whom Montezuma lost his most sagacious counsellor. 
The succession was contested by his two sons, Cacama 

240 DISCOVERY OF MEXICO. [book ii. 

and Ixtlilxochitl. The former was supported by Mon- 
tezuma. 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 com- 
promise, 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. It 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. 

Such was the condition of the Aztec monarchy, on the 
arrival of Cortes ; — the people disgusted with the arro- 
gance of the sovereign ; the provinces and distant cities 
outraged by fiscal exactions ; while potent enemies in 
the neighbourhood 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 valour and discipline of his armies, grown grey 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 

5 Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, xochitl, Hist. Chicli., MS., cap. 70-76. 
torn. i. pp. 267, 274, 275.— Ixtlil- Acosta, lib. 7, cap. 21. 

chap, vi.] STATE OF HIS EMPIRE. 241 

left to his captains, occupying himself chiefly with his 
sacerdotal functions. Under no prince had the priest- 
hood enjoyed greater consideration and immunities. The 
religious festivals and rites were celebrated with unpre- 
cedented 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 bene- 
volence 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 apprehen- 
sion, according to the interest of the believer, but with 
general confidence throughout the wide borders of Ana- 
huac. 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 histo- 
rians. 8 In 1510, the great lake of Tezcuco, without the 

c Ante, book 1, chap. 3, p. 47, Antiq. of Mexico, vol. vi. — Sahagun, 

and note 6. Hist, de Nueva Espaiia, lib. S, cap. 

7 Tezozomoc, Cron. Mexicana, 7. — Ibid., MS., lib. 12, cap. 3, 4. 

MS., cap. 107. — Ixtlilxocliitl, Hist. 8 " Tenia por cierto," says Las 

Cliich. MS., cap. I. — Torquemada, Casas of Montezuma, " segun sus 

Monarch. Ind., lib. 4, cap. 14 ; lib. 6, prophetas 6 agoreros le avian certifi- 

cap. 24. — Codex Yaticanus, ap. cado, epic su estado erricpiezas y 

VOL. I. R 

242 DISCOVERY OF MEXICO. [book ii. 

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 ex- 
presses 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, myste- 
rious calamity ! The Aztec monarch, terrified at the 
apparitions in the heavens, took council of Nezahualpilli, 
who was a great proficient in the subtle science of astro- 
logy. 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 chroni- 
clers, in which it is not impossible to detect the glim- 
merings of truth. 11 Nearly thirty years had elapsed 

prosperidad avia de perezer dentro 23. — Herrera, Hist. General, dec. 2, 

de pocos aiios por ciertas gentes que lib. 5, cap. 5. — Ixtlilxochitl, Hist, 

avian de venir en sus dias, que de su Chich., MS., cap. 74. 
felicidad lo derrocasen, y por esto " I omit the most extraordinary 

vivia siempre con temor y en tristeca miracle of all, — though legal attesta- 

y sobresaltado." Hist, de las Indias, tions of its truth were furnished the 

MS., lib. 3, cap. 120. Court of Rome, (see Clavigero, Stor. 

9 Camargo, Hist, de Tlascala, MS. del Messico, torn, i.p.289,) — namely, 
— The Interpreter of the Codex Tel.- the resurrection of Montezuma's si's- 
Rem. intimates that this scintillating ter, Papantzin, four days after her 
phenomenon was probably nothing burial, to warn the monarch of the 
more than an eruption of one of the approaching ruin of his empire. It 
great volcanoes of Mexico. Antiq. finds credit with one writer, at least, 
of Mexico, vol. vi. p. 144. in the nineteenth century ! See the 

10 Sahagun, NuevaEspaiia, note of Sahagun's Mexican editor, 
MS., lib. 12, cap. 1. — Camargo, Hist. Bustamante, Hist, de NuevaEspana, 
de Tlascala, MS. — Acosta, lib. 7, cap. torn. ii. p. 270. 

chap, vi.] STRANGE PROGNOSTICS. 243 

since the discovery of the islands by Columbus, and 
more than twenty since his visit to the American conti- 
nent. Rumours, 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 rumours, 
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 again. 

In the excited state of their imaginations, prodigies 
became a familiar occurrence. Or rather, events not very 
uncommon in themselves, seen through the discoloured 
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. 1 
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, 

12 Lucan gives a fine enumeration The philosopher intimates a belief 

of such prodigies witnessed in the even in the existence of beneficent 

Roman capital in a similar excite- intelligences who send these portents 

ment. (Pharsalia, lib. i. v. 523, et as a sort of premonitories, to warn 

seq.) Poor human nature is much mankind of ihe coming tempest, 

the same everywhere. Machiavelli Discorsi sopra Tito Livio, lib. 1, 

has thought the subject worthy of a cap. 56. 
separate chapter in his Discourses. 

it 2 

244 DISCOVERY OF MEXICO. [book n. 

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 for ever. 
Though somewhat relieved by the departure of the Spa- 
niards, he caused sentinels to be stationed on the heights; 
and when the Europeans returned under Cortes, 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 them. 13 

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 con- 
tended, that, if they were supernatural beings, fraud and 
force would be alike useless. If they were, as they pre- 
tended, 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 favour of giving them a friendly and honourable recep- 
tion 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 

13 Las Casas, Hist, de las Indias, Nueva Espaila, MS., lib. 12, cap. 3, 

MS., lib. 3, cap. 120. — Ixtlikocliitl, 4 — Tezozomoc, Crdn. Mexicana, 

Hist. CJkich., MS., cap. 80.— Idem, MS., cap. 10S. 
Eclacioues, MS. — Sahaguu, Hist, de 

chap, vi.] EMBASSY AND PRESENTS. 245 

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 con- 
structed more than a thousand huts or booths of branches 
and matting which they occupied in the neighbourhood 
of the camp. Here they prepared various articles of 
food for the tables of Cortes 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 
savoury 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 inva- 
sion of his rights. Cortes, 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 near 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, 

14 Tezozomoc, Crdii. Mexicana, ] 5 Benial Diaz. Hist, de la Con- 

MS., loc. cit. — Camargo, Hist, de quista, cap. 39. — Gomara, Cronica, 

Tlascala, MS. — Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. cap. 27, ap. Bareia, torn. ii. 

Chick., MS., cap. 80. )6 Ante, book 1, ckap. 2, p. 33. 



accustomed as the Mexicans were to long and rapid tra- 
velling. At all events, no writer states the period occu- 
pied by the Indian emissaries on this occasion as longer 
than that mentioned. 

The embassy, consisting of two Aztec nobles, was 
accompanied by the governor, Teuhtlile, and by a hun- 
dred 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 com- 
mander. 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 

On entering the general's pavilion, the ambassadors 
saluted him and his officers with the usual signs of re- 
verence 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 workman- 
ship ; curtains, coverlets, and robes of cotton, fine as silk, 
of rich and various dyes, interwoven with featherwork 
that rivalled the delicacy of painting. 17 There were more 

17 Prom the chequered figure of animals, feathers, and cotton thread, 

some of these coloured cottons, Peter interwoven together. " Plumas illas 

Martyr infers, the Indians were ac- et concinnant inter cuniculorum vil- 

quainted with chess ! He notices a los interque gossampij stamina or- 

curious fabric made of the hair of diuntur, et intexunt opcrose adco, 





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 car- 
riage-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 

ut quo pacto id ' faciant non bene 
intellexerimus." De Orbe Novo, 
(Parisiis, 1587,) dec. 5, cap. 10. 

18 Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Con- 
quista, cap. 39. — Oviedo, Hist, de 
las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 1.— Las 
Casas, Hist, de las Iudias, MS., lib. 
3, cap. 120. — Gomara, Cronica, cap. 
27, ap. Barcia, torn. ii. — Carta de 
Vera Cruz, MS. — Herrera, Hist. 
General, dec. 2, lib. 5, cap. 5. 

Bobertson cites Bernal Diaz as 
reckoning the value of the silver 
plate at 20,000 pesos, or about 
5,000/. (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, a different affair 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 

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. 

Senor Cletnencin, the secretary 

of the Royal Academy of History, 
in the sixth volume of its Memorius, 
has computed with great accuracy 
the value of the different denomina- 
tions 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 pre- 
cise value of the gold ducat, Avhich 
will answer our purpose as well. 
(Memorias de la Real Academia de 
Historia, [Madrid, 1821,] torn. vi. 
Ilust. 20.) Oviedo, a contempo- 
rary 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 Yiaggi, [Venetia, 
1565,] torn, hi.) Now the ducat, 
as appears from Clemencin, reduced 
to our own 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 ac- 
tual value, in pesos de oro, of any 
sum that may be hereafter men- 

248 DISCOVERY OF MEXICO. [book ii. 

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 workmanship. 19 

When Cortes and his officers had completed their 
survey, the ambassadors courteously delivered the mes- 
sage of Montezuma. " It gave their master great plea- 
sure," 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 ttoo 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." 

Cortes, though much chagrined at this decided refusal 
of Montezuma to admit his visit, concealed his mortifica- 
tion 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 pre- 
sent 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 

19 " Cierto cosas de ver ! " ex- sitive Martyr, who examined them 

claims Las Casas, who saw them carefully, remarks yet more empha- 

with the Emperor Charles V., in tically, "Si quid unquam honoris 

Seville, in 1520. "Quedaron todos humana ingenia in huiuscemodi arti- 

los que vieron aquestas cosas tan bus sunt adepta, priucipatum iure 

ricas y tan bien artificiadas y her- merito ista consequentur. Aurum, 

mosisimas como de cosas nunca gemmasque non admiror quidem, qua 

vistas," &c. (Hist, de las Indias, industria, quove studio superet opus 

MS., lib. 3, cap. 120.) " Muy materiam, stupeo. Mille figuras 

hermosas ; " says Oviedo, who saw et facies mille prospexi qua? scribere 

them in Vallaclolid, and describes nequeo. Quid oculos hominum sua 

the great wheels more minutely ; pulchritudme seque possit allicere 

" todo era mucho de ver !" (Hist, de meo iudicio vidi nunquam." De 

las Indias, MS., loc. cit.) The inqui- Orbe Novo, dec. 4, cap. 9. 


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 Floren- 
tine 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 bosoms 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 pro- 
ceedings 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 Cortes, on which difficulties ever oper- 
ated as incentives rather than discouragements to enter- 
prise. 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 impulse. 

Meanwhile the soldiers suffered greatly from the in- 
conveniences of their position amidst burning sands and 
the pestilent effluvia of the neighbouring marshes, while 

20 Las Casas, Hist, de las Indias, Ixtlilxocliitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 
MS., lib. 3, cap. 121.— Bemal Diaz, 80. — Gomara, Crdnica, cap. 27, ap. 
Hist de la Conquista, cap. 39. — Barcia, torn. ii. 

250 DISCOVERY OF MEXICO. [book ii. 

the venomous insects of these hot regions left them no 
repose, day or night. Thirty of their number had al- 
ready sickened and died ; a loss that could ill be afforded 
by the little band. To add to their troubles, the cold- 
ness of the Mexican chiefs had extended to their fol- 
lowers ; and the supplies for the camp were not only 
much diminished, but the prices set on them were exor- 
bitant. The position was equally unfavourable for the 
shipping, which lay on an open roadstead, exposed to 
the fury of the first norte which should sweep the Mexi- 
can 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 re- 
turned. 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 orna- 
ments, 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 stran- 

21 Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Con- mezcladas de bianco, usanlas nmcho 

quista, cap. 40. los principal es, trayendolas a las 

Father Saliagun thus describes muiiecas atadas en hilo, y aquello es 

these stones, so precious in Mexico serial de que es persona noble cl que 

that the use of them was interdicted las trae." Hist, de Nueva Espaiia, 

to any but the nobles. " Las dial- lib. 11, cap. S. 
chidtes son verdes y no transparentes 

chap, vi.] SPANISH ENCAMPMENT. 251 

gers to advance nearer to the capital ; and expressed the 
confidence, that, now they had obtained what they had 
most desired, they would return to their own country 
without unnecessary delay. Cortes received this unpa- 
latable 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 ves- 
pers. 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, Cortes thought it a favour- 
able 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 the 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 per- 
ceived 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 inter- 
view. 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 wilder- 
ness. The movement had so suspicious an appearance, 

252 DISCOVERY OF MEXICO. [book ii. 

that Cortes 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 adja- 
cent country, well watered by fresh, running streams, 
afforded a favourable position for the camp ; and thither, 
after some deliberation, it was determined to repair. 22 

22 Camargo, Hist, de Tlascala, — Hen-era, Hist. General, dec. 2, 

MS. — Las Casas, Hist, de las Indias, lib. 5, cap. 6. — Gomara, Cronica, 

MS., lib. 3, cap. 121. — Bemal Diaz, cap. 29, ap. Barcia, torn. ii. 
Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 40, 41. 




Troubles in the Camp. — Plan of a Colony. — Management of Cortes. — 
March to Cempoalla.— Proceediugs with the Natives. — Foundation of 
Vera Cruz. 


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 com- 
mander 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 neighbourhood 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 ! " Cortes 
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 favourable 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 a 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 vex- 
atious oppressions from their conquerors as made them 
very impatient of the yoke. They informed Cortes 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 

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 

chap, vii.] PLAN OF A COLONY. 255 

empire. He received the mission of the Totonacs most 
graciously, and, after informing himself, as far as possi- 
ble, of their dispositions and resources, dismissed them 
with presents, promising soon to pay a visit to their 
lord. 1 

Meanwhile, his personal friends, among whom may be 
particularly mentioned Alonso Hernandez Puertocarrero, 
Christoval 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 Cortes 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 coun- 
try, 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, Cortes had no such 
authority from Velasquez. But the interests of the 
Sovereigns, which were paramount to every other, im- 
peratively demanded it.' 5 

These conferences could not be conducted so secretly, 
though held by night, as not to reach the ears of the 
friends of Velasquez. 2 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. 

Cortes, instead of taking umbrage at this high-handed 

j Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Con- Vera Cruz says nothing of these 

quista, cap. 41. — Las Casas, Hist. midnight conferences. Bernal Diaz, 

de las Indias, MS., lib. 3, cap. 121. who was privy to them, is a suffiei- 

Gomara, Cronica, cap. 28. ent authority. See Hist, dela Con- 

2 The letter from the calildo of quista, cap. 42. 

256 DISCOVERY OF MEXICO. [book n- 

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 follow- 
ing 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. 3 

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 
Cortes 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 ; 4 
and it is necessary to plant a colony to watch over their 
interests, instead of wasting time in idle barter, or, still 

3 Gomara, Crdnica, cap. 30. — former case, intending queen Joanna, 
Las Casas, Hist, de las Indias, MS., the crazy mother of Charles V., as 
lib. 3, cap. 121. — Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. well as himself. Indeed, all public 
Chichi., MS., cap. 80. — Bernal Diaz, acts and ordinances ran in the name 
ibid., loc. cit. — Declaracion de Puer- of both. The title of " Highness," 
tocarrero, MS. which, until the reign of Charles Y., 

The deposition of a respectable had usually — not uniformly, as 

person like Puertocarrero, taken in Robertson imagines, (History of 

the course of the following year Charles Y., vol. ii. p. 59,) — been 

after his return to Spain, is a docu- applied to the sovereign, now gra- 

ment of such authority, that I have dually gave way to that of "Majesty," 

transferred it entire, in the original, which Charles affected after his elec- 

to the Appendix, Part 2, No. 7. tion to the imperial throne. The 

same title is occasionally found in 

4 Sometimes we find the Spanish the correspondence of the Great 
writers referring to "the sovereigns," Captain, and other courtiers of the 
sometimes to " the emperor ;" in the reign of Perdinand and Isabella. 



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." 

Cortes 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 clay. 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 expe- 
dition, and had hoped to reimburse himself by continu- 
ing 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." 5 
He concluded by declaring his willingness to take mea- 
sures for settling a colony in the name of the Spanish 
Sovereigns, and to nominate a magistracy to preside 
over it. 6 

For the alcaldes he selected Puertocarrero and Mon- 
tejo, 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 regi- 
dores, alguacil, treasurer, and other functionaries, were 
then appointed, all of them his personal friends and 

5 According to Robertson, Cortes he had a copy. They all concur in 
told his men that he had proposed the statement in the text. 
to establish a colony on the coast G Las Casas, Hist, de las Indias, 
before marching into the country ; MS., lib. 3, cap. 122. — Carta de 
but he abandoned his design, at their Vera Cruz, MS. — Declaration de 
entreaties to set out at once on the Montejo, MS. — Declaracion de 
expedition. In the very next page, Puertocarrero, MS. 
we find him organizing this same " Our general, after some urging, 
colony. (History of America, vol. acquiesced," says the blunt old sol- 
ii. pp. 241, 242.) The historian dier, Bernal Diaz ; " for, as the pro- 
would, have been saved this incon- verb says, ' You ask me to do what 
sistency, if he had followed either I have already made up^ my mind 
of the authorities whom he cites, to.' " Tu me lo rogas, e yo me lo 
Bernal Diaz and Herrera, or the quiero. Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 
letter from Vera Cruz, of which 42. 

VOL. I. S 

258 DISCOVERY OF MEXICO. [book ii. 

adherents. They were regularly sworn into office, and. 
the new city received the title of Villa Bica 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. 7 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 to- 
gether ; when Cortes presented himself, cap in hand, 
before that august body, and, laying the powers of 
Velasquez on the table, respectfully tendered the resig- 
nation of his office of Captain General. " which, indeed," 
he said, <c had necessarily expired, since the authority of 
the governor was now superseded by that of the magis- 
tracy of Villa Rica de Vera Cruz." He then, with a 
profound obeisance left the apartment. 8 

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 

" According to Bernal Diaz, the mouth of his hero, of which there is 

title of " Vera Cruz " was intended not a vestige in any contemporary 

to commemorate their landing on account. (Conquista, lib. 2, cap. 7.) 

Good Friday. Hist, de la Con- Dr. Robertson has transferred it to 

quista, cap. 42. his own eloquent pages, without 

3 Solis, whose taste for speech- citing his author, indeed, who, con- 
making might have satisfied even sidering he came a century and a 
the Abbe Mabl.y, (see his Treatise, half after the Conquest, must be 
" De la Maniere d'ecrire, l'His- allowed to be not the best, espc- 
toire,") has put a very flourishing cially when the only, voucher for a 
harangue on this occasion into the fact. 

chap, vii.] MANAGEMENT OF CORTES. 259 

from the natives. 9 Thus clothed with supreme civil and 
military jurisdiction, Cortes was not backward in exert- 
ing 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 cava- 
liers, 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 
Cortes 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 neigh- 
bouring country, and bring home provisions for the des- 
titute 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 abund- 
ance of poultry and vegetables, and the cravings of the 
stomach — that great laboratory of disaffection, whether 
in camp or capital — were appeased, good humour re- 
turned with good cheer, and the rival factions embraced 
one another as companions in arms, pledged to a com- 

9 " Lo peor de todo que le otor- The letter from Vera Cruz says no- 

gainos," says Bernal Diaz, somewhat thing of this fifth. The reader, who 

peevishly, was, " que le dariamos el would see the whole account of this 

quinto del oro de lo que se huvicsse, remarkable transaction in the ori- 

despues de sacado el Real quinto." ginal, may find it in Appendix, Part 

(Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 42.) 2, No. S. 

s 2 

260 DISCOVERY OF MEXICO. [book ii. 

mon 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 cava- 
liers became the most steady and devoted partisans of 
Cortes. 10 

Such was the address of this extraordinary man, and 
such the ascendancy which in a few months he had 
acquired over these wild and turbulent spirits ! By this 
ingenious transformation of a military into a civil com- 
munity, 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 responsi- 
bility, 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 cooperation, might now 
boldly meditate, and gradually disclose, those lofty 

10 Carta cle Vera Cruz, MS. — the other hand, sees nothing but 

Gomara, Crdnica, cap. 30, 31. — Las good faith and loyalty in the con- 

Casas, Hist, de las Indias, MS., lib. duct of the general, who acted from 

3, cap. 122. — Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. a sense of duty ! (Conquista, lib. 2, 

Cliich., MS., cap. SO. — Bernal Diaz, cap. G, 7.) Solis is even a more 

Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 42. — steady apologist for his hero, than 

Declaraciones de Montejo y Puerto- his own chaplain, Gomara, or the 

carrero, MSS. worthy magistrates of Vera Cruz. A 

In the process of Narvaez against more impartial testimony than either, 

Cortes, the latter is accused of being probably, may be gathered from 

possessed with the devil, as only honest Bernal Diaz, so often quoted. 

Lucifer could have gained him thus A hearty champion of the cause, he 

the affections of the soldiery. (De- was by no means blind to the defects 

manda de Narvaez, MS.) Solis, on nor the merits of his leader. 

chap, vii.] MANAGEMENT OF CORTES. 261 

schemes which he had formed in his own bosom for the 
conquest of an empire. n 

Harmony being thus restored, Cortes sent his heavy 
guns on board the fleet, and ordered it to coast along 
the shore to the north as far as Chiahuitsala, the town 
near which the destined port of the new city was situ- 
ated ; 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 neighbourhood of 
the modern Vera Cruz. In this sandy waste no signs of 
vegetation met their eyes, which, however, were occa- 
sionally 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. 12 As they advanced, the country 
gradually assumed a greener and richer aspect. They 
crossed a river, probably a tributary of the Bio tie 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 

11 This may appear rather indif- la tierra, y es tan alta, que si el dia 
ferent logic to those who consider no es bien claro, no se puede divisar 
that Cortes appointed the very body, ni ver lo alto de ella, porque de la 
who, in turn, appointed him to the mitad arriba esta toda cubierta de 
command. But the affectation of nubes ; y algunos veces, cuando hace 
legal forms afforded him a. thin var- muy claro dia, se vce por cima de 
nish for his proceedings, which served las dichas nubes lo alto de ella, y 
his purpose, for the present at least, esta, tan bianco, que lo jusgamos por 
with the troops. For the future he nieve." (Carta de Vera Cruz, MS.) 
trusted to his good star, — in other This huge volcano was called Citlal- 
words, to the success of his enter- tepetl, or " Star-mountain," by the 
prise, to vindicate his conduct to the Mexicans, — perhaps from the fire 
Emperor. He did not miscalculate. which once issued from its conical 

12 The name of the mountain is summit, far above the clouds. It 
not given, and probably was not stands in the intendancy of Vera 
known, but the minute description Cruz, and rises, according to Hum- 
in the MS. of Vera Cruz leaves no boldt's measurement, to the enor- 
doubt that it was the one mentioned mous height of 17,308 feet above the 
in the text. " Entre las quales cs ocean. (Essai Politique, torn. i. p. 
una que excede en mucha altura a 265.) It is the highest peak but one 
todas las otras y de ella se vee y in the whole range of the Mexican 
descubre gran parte de la mar y de Cordilleras. 

262 DISCOVERY OF MEXICO. [book ir. 

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. 13 

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 whicli 
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 splendour of 
tropical vegetation. The branches of the stately trees 
were gaily 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 blos- 
soms fluttered numerous birds of the parrot tribe, and 

13 Carta de Vera Cruz, MS. — Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Conrruista, cap. 44. 

chap, vii.] MARCH TO CEMPOALLA. 263 

clouds of butterflies, whose gaudy colours, 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. 14 

As they approached the Indian city, they saw abun- 
dant signs of cultivation in the trim gardens and orchards 
that lined both sides of the road. They were now met 
by partiesof 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 

14 Gomara, Cronica, cap. 32, ap. Where the palm tapers and the 

Barcia, torn. ii. — Herrera, Hist. orange glows, 

General, dec. 2, lib. 5, cap. 8.— Where the light bamboo weaves her 

Oviedo, Hist, de las Lid., MS., lib. feathery screen, 

33, cap. 1. And her far shade the matchless 

" Mui hermosas vegas y ribe- ceiba throws ! 
ras tales y tan hermosas que en 

toda Espaiia no pueden ser mejores " Ye cloudless ethers of unchanging 

ansi de apacibles a la vista como blue, 

de fructiferas." (Carta de Vera Save where the rosy streaks of 

Cruz, MS.) The following poetical eve give way 

apostrophe, by Lord Morpeth, to To the clear sapphire of your mid- 

the scenery of Cuba, equally appli- night hue, 

cable to that of the tierra caliente, The burnish' d azure of your per- 

will give the reader a more animated feet day ! 
picture of the glories of these sunny 

climes, than my own prose can. The " Yet tell me not my native skies 

verses, which have never been pub- are bleak, 

lished, breathe the generous senti- That flush' d with liquid wealth 

ineivt characteristic of their noble no cane fields wave ; 

author. For Virtue pines and Manhood 

dares not speak, 

" Ye tropic forests of unfading And Nature's glories brighten 


round the Slave. 

264 DISCOVERY OF MEXICO. [book ii. 

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 vege- 
table 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. 15 

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 coloured, 
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, a 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 per- 
forated with rings of the same metal. 

Just before reaching the town, some horsemen who 
had rode in advance returned with the amazing intel- 
ligence, " 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 circum- 
stance 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. 10 The edifices of the 
better kind were of stone and lime, or bricks dried in 

13 " The same love of flowers," guinary worship and barbarous sa- 

observes one of the most delightful crifices." Madame Calderon de la 

of modern travellers, " distinguishes Barca, Life in Mexico, vol. i. let. 12. 
the natives now, as in the times of lfi " Con la imaginacion que 

Cortes. And it presents a strange llevaban, i buenos deseos, todo se 

anomaly." she adds, with her usual les antojaba plata, i oro lo que re- 

acuteness ; "this love of flowers lucia." Gomara, Cronica, cap. 32, 

having existed along with their san- ap. Barcia, torn. ii. 


the sun; the poorer were of clay and earth. All were 
thatched with palrn-leaves, which, though a flimsy roof, 
apparently, for such structures, were so nicely inter- 
woven as to form a very effectual protection against the 

The city was said to contain from twenty to thirty 
thousand inhabitants. This is the most moderate com- 
putation, and not improbable. 17 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. 18 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 Cortes and his fol- 
lowers with great courtesy ; and, after a brief interchange 
of civilities, assigned the army its quarters in a neigh- 
bouring temple, into the spacious court-yard of which a 
number of apartments opened, affording excellent accom- 
modations 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, Cortes 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. 

17 This is Las Casas' estimate. probably, for trade. Its ruins were 

(Hist, de las Ind., MS., lib. 3, cap. visible at the close of the last cen- 

121.) Torquemada hesitates between tury. See Lorenzana, Hist, de 

twenty, fifty, and one hundred and Nueva Espana, p. 39, nota. 
fifty thousand, each of which he 

names at different times ! (Clavi- ls " Porque viven mas poh'tica y 

gero, Stor. del Messico, torn. ii. p. rasonablemente que ninguna de las 

27, nota.) The place was gradually gentes que hasta oy en estas partes 

abandoned, after the Conquest, for se ha visto." Carta de Vera Cruz, 

others, in a more favourable position, MS. 

266 DISCOVERY OF MEXICO. [book ii. 

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 death. 19 

The following morning, Cortes, 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. Cortes, leaving his soldiers in the 
court-yard, entered the mansion with one of his officers, 
and his fair interpreter, Dona Marina. 20 A long confer- 
ence 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. Cortes 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; 21 and, if the Totonacs would be 

19 Las Casas, Hist, de las Indias, 21 " No venia sino a deshacer 
MS., lib. 3, cap. 121. — Carta de agravios, i favorecer los presos, 
Vera Cruz, MS. — Gomara, Cronica, aiudar a los rnezquinos, i quitar 
cap. 33, ap. Barcia, torn. ii. — Oviedo, tirauias." (Gomara, Cronica, cap. 
Hist, de las Lid., MS., lib. 33, 33, ap. Barcia, torn, ii.) Are we 
cap. 1. reading the adventures — it is the 

20 The courteous title of dona is language — of Don Quixote, or Ama- 
usually given by the Spanish chro- dis de Gaula ? 

niclers to this accomplished Indian. 


true to him, he would enable them to throw off the 
detested yoke of the Aztecs. 

The cacique added, that the Totonac territory con- 
tained about thirty towns and villages, which could 
muster a hundred thousand warriors, — a number much 
exaggerated. 22 There were other provinces of the em- 
pire, 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 indepen- 
dence of Mexico. The fame of the Spaniards had gone 
before them, and he was well acquainted with their ter- 
rible 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 re- 
gions of the west, and, rushing over the plains like a 
whirlwind, sweep off the wretched people to slavery and 
sacrifice ! 

Cortes endeavoured 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 cooperate with them, 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 extermina- 
tion. 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 ad- 
joining port, and secured a permanent settlement there. 23 

The intelligence gained by Cortes gave great satis- 
faction to his mind. It confirmed his former views, and 

22 Ibid., cap. 36. 23 Las Casas, Hist, de las Indias, 

Cortes, in his Second Letter to MS., lib. 3, cap. 121. — Ixtlilxochitl, 

the emperor Charles V., estimates Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 81. — Oviedo, 

the number of fighting men at 50,000. Hist, de las Ind., MS., lib. 33, 

Relacion Segunda, ap. Lorenzana, cap. 1. 

p. 40. 

268 DISCOVERY OF MEXICO. [book ii. 

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 em- 
pire 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 ob- 
stacle. He communicated his own feelings to the offi- 
cers abont 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 comsummation could be 

Taking leave of the hospitable Indian on the follow- 
ing day, the Spaniards took the road to Chiahuitzlan, 24 
about four leagues distant, near which was the port dis- 
covered by Montejo, where their ships were now riding 
at anchor. They were provided by the cacique with four 
hundred Indian porters, tamenes, 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. 

24 The historian, with the aid of spell the name of this place Quiab- 

Clavigero, himself a Mexican, may islan. Blunders in such a barbarous 

rectify frequent blunders of former nomenclature must be admitted to 

writers in the orthography of Aztec be very pardonable, 
names. Both Robertson and Solis 


The people of the place, losing their fears, gradually re- 
turned. 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 Cortes 
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 chords, 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, Avho seemed anxious to conciliate them by every 
kind of attention. 

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 af- 
forded the Spaniards without the Emperor's permission ; 
and demanded in expiation twenty young men and 
women for sacrifice to the gods. Cortes showed the 
strongest indignation at this insolence. He required 
the Totonacs not only to refuse the demand, but to ar- 
rest 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 

270 DISCOVERY OF MEXICO. [book it. 

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 en- 
deavour to obtain the release of their companions. He 
desired them to report this to their master, with assur- 
ances of the great regard the Spaniards entertained for 
him, notwithstanding his ungenerous behaviour in leav- 
ing 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 cus- 
tody on board the fleet. Soon after, they were per- 
mitted to join their companions. — This artful proceeding, 
so characteristic of the policy of Cortes, 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 historians ! 25 

By order of Cortes, messengers were despatched to 
the Totonac towns, to report what had been done, call- 
ing 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, 

25 " Grande artifice," exclaims capitan el que sabe caminar en 
Solis, " de medir lo que disponia alcance de las coutingeucias!" Con- 
cern lo que recelaba; y prudente quista, lib. 2, cap. 9. 


cheered with the sweet hope of regaining their ancient 
liberty, came in numbers to Chiahuitzlan, to see and 
confer with the formidable strangers. The more timid, 
dismayed at the thoughts of encountering the power of 
Montezuma, recommended an embassy to avert his dis- 
pleasure by timely concessions. But the dexterous man- 
agement of Cortes 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 sove- 
reigns, and duly recorded by Godoy, the royal notary. 
Cortes, 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 w 7 as but partially accomplished. 26 

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. Cortes was not long 
in determining the circuit of the walls, and the sites of 
the fort, granary, town-house, 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 laboured with the meanest of the soldiers, stimu- 
lating 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, 

20 Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chicli., MS., Bemal Diaz, Conquista, cap. 46, 47. 

cap. 81. — ReL Seg. de Cortes, ap. — Herrera, Hist. General, dec. 2, 

Lorenzana, p. 40. — Gomara, Crdnica, lib. 5, cap. 10, 11. 
cap. 34 — 36, ap. Barcia, torn. ii. — 

272 DISCOVERY OF MEXICO. [book it. 

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 overawe the adjacent 
country. 27 

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 op- 
pressed. 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. 

27 Carta de Vera Cruz, MS.— Vera Cruz, or " New Vera Cruz," 

Bernal Diaz, Conquista, cap. 4S. — ■ as it is called. (See Ante, chap. 4, 

Oviedo, Hist, de las Ind., MS., lib. note 7.) Of the true cause of these 

33, cap. 1. — Declaracion de Montejo, successive migrations we are igno- 

MS. rant. If, as is pretended, it was on 

Notwithstanding the advantages account of the vomito, the inhabitants, 

of its situation, La Villa Rica was one would suppose, can have gained 

abandoned in a few years for a neigh- little by the exchange. (See Hurn- 

bouring position to the south, not boldt,Essai Politique, torn. ii. p. 210.) 

far from the mouth of the Antigua. A want of attention to these changes 

The second settlement was known has led to much confusion and inac- 

by the name of Vera Cruz Vieja, curacy in the ancient maps. Loien- 

" Old Vera Cruz." Early in the zana has not escaped them in his 

17th century this place also was chart and topographical account of 

abandoned for the present city, Niteva the route of Cortes. 


ii.] 273 


Another Aztec Embassy. — Destruction of the Idols. — Despatches sent 
to Spain. — Conspiracy in the Camp. — The Fleet sunk. 


While the Spaniards were occupied with their new 
settlement, they were surprised by the presence of an 
embassy from Mexico. The account of the imprison- 
ment 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 prepara- 
tions 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 
Cortes reached the capital, and reported the courteous 
treatment they had received from the Spanish com- 
mander, Montezuma's anger was mitigated, and his 
superstitious fears, getting the ascendancy again, in- 
duced 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 
jplumaje, or feather embroidery. The envoys, on coming 
before Cortes, presented him with the articles, at the 

VOL. I. T 



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. 1 
From deference to them he would spare the Totonacs, 
while they were present. But the time for vengeance 
would come. 

Cortes 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 
capita], 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. Notwith- 
standing 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. 2 

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 neighbouring city. Cortes 
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. Cortes, indignant at this violation 
of his orders before his face, and aware of the import- 

1 " Teniendo respeto a que tiene Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Conquista, 

por cierto, que soraos los que sus cap. 48. 
antepassados les auiau dicho, que 

auiau de veuir a sus tierras, e que 2 Gomara, Crouica, cap. 37- — Ix. 

deuemos de ser de sus linajes." lilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 82, 


ance 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 con- 
queror of Quiche, was present, and ventured to cut 
down the body, while there was yet life in it. He, pro- 
bably, 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 Cortes 
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 com- 
panionship led to a spirit of insubordination among them, 
which made his own post as commander the more deli- 
cate and difficult. 

On reaching the hostile city, but a few leagues from 
the coast, they were received in an amicable manner ; 
and Cortes, 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 
favourable an opinion of his moderation and justice, as 
they had before been of his valour. 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 cap- 
tains might take them as their wives. Cortes received 
the damsels courteously, but told the cacique they must 
first be baptized, as the sons of the Church could have 
no commerce with idolators. 3 He then declared that it 

3 " De buena gana recibirian las de Dios, tener comercio con iddla- 
Doucellas como fuesen Christianos ; tras." Herrera, Hist. General, dec. 
porque de otra manera, no era per- 2, lib. 5, cap. 13. 
mitido a hombres, bijos de la Iglesia 

t 2 


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, in- 
duce 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 persecu- 
tion from the hands of those whom his breath had called 
into existence. 4 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 de- 
struction 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 sacri- 
fices of human victims, and their disgusting cannibal 
repasts. 5 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 

4 Herrera, dec. 2, lib. 5, cap. 13. la mas espantosa cosa de ver que 
—Las Casas, Hist, de las Indias, jamas ban visto." Still more strongly 
MS., lib. 3, cap. 122. speaks Bemal Diaz (Hist, de la Con- 

Herrera has put a very edifying quista, cap. 51.) The Letter com- 

barangue, on this occasion, into the putes that there were fifty or sixty 

mouth of Cortes, which savours much persons thus butchered in each of 

more of the priest than the soldier. the teocallis every year, giving an 

Does he not confound him with annual consumption, in the countries 

father Olmedo ? which the Spaniards had then visited, 

5 " Esto habemos visto," says of three or four thousand victims ! 
the Letter of Vera Cruz, " algu- (Carta de Vera Cruz, MS.) How- 
nos de nosotros, y los que lo ban ever loose this arithmetic may be, 
visto dizen que es la mas terrible y the general fact is appalling. 

chap, viii.] DESTRUCTION OF THE IDOLS. 277 

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, divin- 
ing 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 nations. 

Cortes took his usual prompt and decided measures. 
He caused the cacique and some of the principal inhabi- 
tants 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, repre- 
sented 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 

278 DISCOVERY OF MEXICO. [eook ii. 

of the terrace. Their fantastic forms and features, con- 
veying a symbolic meaning, which was lost on the 
Spaniards, seemed in their eyes only the hideous linea- 
ments 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 con- 
summated the whole by burning them in the presence of 
the assembled multitude. 

The same effect followed as in Cozumel. The Toto- 
nacs, finding their deities incapable of preventing, or 
even punishing this profanation of their shrines, con- 
ceived 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 Cortes, 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 understand- 
ing of his convert by the pale light of reason. But the 
bolder Catholic, kindling the spirit by the splendour of 
the spectacle, and by the glowing portrait of an agonized 
Redeemer, sweeps along his hearers in a tempest of pas- 
sion, that drowns everything like reflection. He has 
secured his convert, however, by the hold on his affec- 

chap, viii.] DESPATCHES SENT TO SPAIN. 279 

tions, — an easier and more powerful hold with the untu- 
tored 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. Cortes 
then embracing his Totonac allies, now brothers in reli- 
gion 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. 6 

He was surprised to find that a Spanish vessel had 
arrived there in his absence, having on board twelve sol- 
diers and two horses. It was under the command of a 
captain named Saucedo, a cavalier of the ocean, who had 
followed in the tract of Cortes in quest of adventure. 
Though a small, they afforded a very seasonable, body of 
recruits forthe 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. 

Cortes 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 ex- 
tent 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 im- 
portance of his own services to the crown. To effect 

6 Las Casas, Hist, de las Indias, rera, Hist. General, dec. 2, lib. 5, 

MS., lib. 3, cap. 122.— Bernal Diaz, cap. 13, 14. — Ixtlikochitl, Hist. 

Hist, de la Concpiista, cap. 51, 52. Chick, MS., cap. S3. 
— Goraara, Crouica, cap. 43. — Her- 


this, the royal fifth he considered inadequate. He con- 
ferred 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 sur- 
render, but the whole would make a present worthy of 
the monarch for whom it was intended. By this sacri- 
fice, they might hope to secure his indulgence for the past, 
and his favour for the future ; a temporary sacrifice, that 
would be well repaid by the security of the rich pos- 
sessions 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 re- 
spected, and receive the amount due to them. No one 
refused to sign ; thus furnishing another example of the 
extraordinary power obtained by Cortes over these rapa- 
cious spirits, who, at his call, surrendered up the very 
treasures which had been the great object of their 
hazardous enterprise ! 7 

7 Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Con- featherwork, having the quills of 

qnista, cap. 53. — Ixtlilxockitl, Hist. their wings and tails, their feet, eyes, 

Chich., MS., cap. 82.— Carta deVera and the ends of their beaks, of gold, 

Cruz, MS. — standing upon two reeds covered 

A complete inventory of the arti- with gold, which are raised on balls 

cles received from Montezuma is of featherwork and gold embroidery, 

contained in the Carta de Vera Cruz. one white and the other yellow, with 

—The following are a few of the seven tassels of featherwork hanging 

items. from each of them. 
_ Two collars made of gold and pre- A large wheel of silver weighing 

cious stones. forty marks, and several smaller ones 

A hundred ounces of gold ore, that of the same metal, 
their Highnesses might see in what A box of featherwork embroidered 

state the gold came from the mines. on leather, with a large plate of 

Two birds made of green feathers, gold, weighing seventy ounces, in 

with feet, beaks, and eyes of gold, — the midst. 

and, in the same piece with them, Two pieces of cloth woven with 

animals of gold resembling snails. feathers ; another with variegated 

A large alligator's head of gold. colours ; and another worked with 

A bird of green feathers, with feet, black and white figures, 
beak, andeyes of gold. A large wheel of gold, with figures 

Two birds made of thread and of strange animals on it, and worked 


He accompanied this present with a letter to the em- 
peror, in which he gave a full account of all that had be- 
fallen him since his departure from Cuba ; of his various 
discoveries, battles, and traffic with the natives ; their con- 
version 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 Mexi- 
can monarchy and its sovereign. He stated his difficul- 
ties with the governor of Cuba, the proceedings of the 
army in reference to colonization, and besought the em- 
peror 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. 8 

This was the celebrated First Letter, as it is called, of 
Cortes, which has hitherto eluded every search that has 
been made for it in the libraries of Europe. 9 Its exist- 
ence is fully established by references to it, both in his 
own subsequent letters, and in the writings of contem- 
poraries. 10 Its general purport is given by his chaplain, 

with tufts of leaves ; weighing three instance, but without success. (His- 

thousand eight hundred ounces. tory of America, vol. ii. note 70.) 

A fan of variegated featherwork, I have not been more fortunate in 

with thirty-seven rods plated with the researches made for me in the 

gold. British Museum, the Royal Library 

Kve fans of variegated feathers, of Paris, and that of the Academy of 

— four of which have ten, and the History at Madrid. The last is a 

other thirteen rods, embossed with great depository for the colonial 

gold. historical documents; but a very 

Sixteen shields of precious stones, thorough inspection of its papers 

with feathers of various colours makes it certain that this is wanting 

hanging from their rims. to the collection. As the emperor 

Two pieces of cotton very richly received it on the eve of his embark - 

wrougbt with black and white em- ation for Germany, and the Letter of 

broidery. Vera Cruz, forwarded at the same 

Six shields, each covered with a time, is in the library of Vienna, this 

plate of gold, with something re- would seem after all, to be the 

sembling a golden mitre in the most probable place of its retreat. _ 
cen t r e. 10 " En una nao," says Cortes, in 

8 "Una muy larga Carta," says the very first sentence of his Second 
Gomara, in his loose analysis of it. Letter to the emperor, " que de esta 
Cronica, cap. 40. Nueva Espaha de Vuestra Sacra 

9 Dr. Robertson states that the Magestad despache a. 16 de Julio de 
Imperial Library at Vienna was ex- el aho 1519 embie a Vuestra Alteza 
amined for this document, at his muy larga y particular Relation de 

282 DISCOVERY OF MEXICO. [book n. 

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 narra- 
tive. He 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. 11 

The magistrates of the Villa Rica, in their epistle, 
went over the same ground with Cortes ; 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, 12 They implored the 
government not to sanction his interference with the new 
colony, which would be fatal to its welfare, but to com- 
mit the undertaking to Hernando Cortes, as the man 
most capable, by his experience and conduct, of bringing 
it to a glorious termination. 13 

las cosas hasta aquella razon desques admits he uever saw the letter him- 

que yo a ella vine en ella sucedidas." self. Ibid., cap. 54. 
(Rel. Seg. de Cortes, ap. Lorenzana, 12 " Fingiendo mill cautelas," says 

p. 38.) "Cortes escribid," says Las Casas, politely, of this part of 

Bernal Diaz, " segun el nos dixo, con the letter, " y afirmando otras rau- 

recta relacion, mas no vimos su chas falsedades e mentiras ! " Hist, 

carta." (Hist, de la Conquista, cap. de las Indias, MS., lib. 3, cap. 122. 
53.) (Also, Oviedo, Hist, de las 13 This document is of the greatest 

Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 1, and Go- value and interest, coming as it does 

mara, ut supra ) Were it not for from the best instructed persons in 

these positive testimonies, one might the camp. It presents an elaborate 

suppose that the Carta de Vera Cruz record of all then known of the 

had suggested an imaginary letter of countries they had visited, and of 

Cortes. Indeed, the copy of the the principal movements of the army, 

former document, belonging to the to the time of the foundation of the 

Spanish Academy of History — and Villa Rica. The writers conciliate 

perhaps the original at Vienna — bears our confidence by the circumspect 

the erroneous title of " Primera tone of their narration. " Querer 

Relacion de Cortes." dar," they say, " a Vuestra Magestad 

todas las particularidades de esta 

11 This is the imputation of Ber- tierra y gente de ella, podria ser que 

nal Diaz, reported on hearsay, as he en algo se errase la relacion, porqne 

chap, viii.] DESPATCHES SENT TO SPAIN. 283 

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 con- 
firmation of their proceedings, above all that of Cortes 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. Cortes 
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 connexions might 
secure a favourable influence at court. 

Together with the treasure, which seemed to verify 
the assertion that " the land teemed with gold as abun- 
dantly as that whence Solomon drew the same precious 
metal for his temple," 14 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. 15 Pour Indian slaves were added as specimens 
of the natives. They had been rescued from the cages 

muclias de ellas no se han visto mas folio, is taken from that of the Aca- 

de por informaciones de los naturales demy of History at Madrid, 

de ella, y por esto no nos entreme- M „ £ nuegtra er se debe 

temos a dar mas de aquello que por &{ m ^ i[em ^ 

muy cierto y verdadero Vras. Realcs to H en elk de donde se dize 

Altezas podran mandar toner. The * Hevado Salomon el oro para el 

account given of V elasquez, however, h „ Carfca de Vera ^ m 

must be considered as an ex parte l 

testimony, and, as such, admitted 15 Peter Martyr, preeminent above 

with great reserve. It was essential his contemporaries for the enlight- 

to their own vindication, to vindicate ened views he took of the new dis- 

Cortes. The letter has never been coveries, devotes half a chapter to 

printed. The original exists, as the Indian manuscripts, in which he 

above stated, in the Imperial Library recognised the evidence of a civili- 

at Vienna. The copy in my posses- zation analogous to the Egyptian, 

sion, covering more than sixty pages De Orbe Novo, dec. 4, cap. 8, 

284 DISCOVERY OF MEXICO. [book il 

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 direc- 
tion of the pilot Alaminos. He was directed to hold his 
course through the Bahama channel, north of Cuba, or 
Pernandina, 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 

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 neighbourhood. 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 Velas- 
quez. 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 Cortes, who 
had recommended him as the leader of the expedition. 
After somewhat relieving himself in this way, he de- 
spatched 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 dis- 
appointment, Velasquez wrote letters of indignant com- 
plaint to the government at home, and to the fathers of 
St. Jerome, in Hispaniola, demanding redress. He 

chap, viii.] DESPATCHES SENT TO SPAIN. 235 

obtained little satisfaction from the last. He resolved, 
however, to take it 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 prospe- 
rous way across the waters ; and, after touching at one 
of the Azores, came safely into the harbour 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 tlKf sensation caused by their intelligence, I defer the 
account to a future chapter. 16 

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 Cortes, 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 con- 
spiracy 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 impli- 
cated to be instantly apprehended. An examination was 

16 Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Con- chiefly derived from his conversa- 

quista, cap. 54 — 57. — Gomara, tions wijli Alaminos and the two 

Crdnica, cap. 40.— Hen-era, Hist. envoys, on their arrival at court. 

General, dec. 2, lib. 5, cap. 14.— De Orbe Novo, dec. 4, cap. 6, et 

Carta de Vera Cruz, MS. alibi ; also Idem, Opus Epistolarum, 

Martyr's copious information was (Amstelodami, 1670,) ep. 650. 

286 DISCOVERY OF MEXICO. [book ii. 

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 Cortes before the sanctuary in Cuba. 17 
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. 18 
The arrangements being now finally settled at the 
Villa Rica, Cortes 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 com- 
panions. Even the more resolute, on any occasion of 
disgust or disappointment hereafter, might falter in pur- 
pose, 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. 19 The best chance for success was to cut 

17 See ante, p. 185. damnati ut ex more subscriberet, 

18 Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Con- admoneretur, ' Quam vellem,' in- 
quista, cap. 57. — Oviedo, Hist, de quit, 'nescire literas!'" Lib. 6, 
las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 2.— Las cap. 10. 

Casas, Hist, de las Indias, MS., lib. 19 " Y porque," says Cortes, " de- 

3, cap. 122. — Demands de Narvaez, mas de los que por ser criados y 

MS. — Rel. Seg. de Cortes, ap. Lo- amigos de Diego Velasquez tenian 

renzana, p. 41. voluntad de salir de la Tierra, habia 

It was the exclamation of Nero, otros, que por verla tan grande, y de 

as reported by Suetonius. " Et tanta gente, y tal, y ver los pocos 

cum de supplicio cujusdam capite Espailoles que eramos, estaban del 

chap, viii.] CONSPIRACY IN THE CAMP. 287 

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 per- 
suaded 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 sea- worthy, 
and some, indeed, could scarcely now be kept afloat. 

Cortes 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 !" 20 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 con- 
demned in the same manner. Only one small vessel 
remained ! 

When the intelligence reached the troops in Cempoalla, 
it caused the deepest consternation. They saw them- 
selves cut off by a single blow from friends, family, 
country ! The stoutest hearts quailed before the pro- 
spect 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 

mismo proposito ; creyendo, que si savia bien hacer fingimientos quando 

alii los uavios dejasse, se me alzarian le era provechoso, y respoudidles que 

con ellos, y yeudose todos los que de mirasen vien en ello, e que si no 

esta voluntad estavan, yo quedaria estavan para navegar que diesen 

casi solo." gracias a Dios por ello, pues no se 

20 " Mostro quando se lo dixeron podia hacer mas." Las Casas, Hist. 

muclio sentimiento Cortes, porque de las Indias, MS., lib. 3, cap. 122. 


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!" 21 The affair wore a most alarming aspect. 
In no situation was Cortes ever exposed to greater 
danger from his soldiers. 22 

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 con- 
sider, 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 

21 " Decian, que los queria meter muchos, y esta fue uno de los peli- 
en el matadero." Gomara, Croiiica, gros que pasaron por Cortes de mu- 
cap. 42. chos que para matallo de los mismos 

22 " Al cavo lo oyieron de sentir Espailoleses tuvo." Las Casas, Hist. 
la gente y ayua se le amotinarau de las Iudias, MS., lib. 3, cap. 122. 

chap, vm.] THE FLEET SUNK. 259 

shrink from sharing the dangers of our glorious enter- 
prise, 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 have deserted their com- 
mander and their comrades, and patiently wait till we 
return loaded with the spoils of the Aztecs." 23 

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, thev 
felt ashamed of their temporary distrust. The enthu- 
siasm for their leader revived, for they felt that under 
his banner only they could hope for victory ; and they 
testified the revulsion of their feelings by making the air 
ring with their shouts, " To Mexico ! to Mexico !" 

The destruction of his fleet by Cortes, 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. 24 Had he failed, it might 
well seem 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 

23 " Que ninguno seria tan cobarde 24 Perhaps the most remarkable 

y tan pusilanime que queria estimar of these examples is that of Julian, 

su vida mas que la suya, ni de tan who, in his unfortunate Assyrian in- 

debil corazon que dudase de ir con vasion, burnt the fleet which had 

el a Mexico, donde tanto bien le carried him up the Tigris. The story 

estaba aparejado, y que si acaso se is told by Gibbon, who shows very 

determinaba alguno de dejar de hacer satisfactorily that the fleet would 

este se podia ir bendito de Dios a have proved a hindrance rather than 

Cuba en el navio que habia dexado, a help to the emperor in his further 

de que antes de mucho se arrepen- progress. See History of the Decline 

tiria, y pelaria las barbas, viendo la and Fall, (vol. ix. p. 177,) of Mil- 

buena ventura que esperaba la suce- man's excellent edition, 
deria." Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich, 
MS, cap. 82. 

VOL. I. V 




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 history. 25 

25 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 ap- 
probation of the army, though at the 
suggestion of Cortes. (Hist, de la 
Conquista, cap. 58.) This version 
is sanctioned by Dr. Robertson (His- 
tory 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 Cortes 
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. (Bel. Seg. de Cortes, ap. 
Lorenzana, p. 41.) The cavaliers 
Montejo and Puertocarrero, on their 
visit to Spain, stated, in their depo- 
sitions, that the general destroyed 
the fleet on information received from 
the pilots. (Dcclaraciones, MSS.) 
Narvaez, in his accusation of Cortes, 
and Las Casas, speak of the act in 
terms of unqualified reprobation, 
charging hirn, moreover, with bribing 
the pilots to bore holes in the bot- 
toms 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 dif- 
ferent commentary as to its merits, 
is repeated by Oviedo, (Hist, de las 
lad., MS., lib. 33, cap. 2,) Gomara, 
(Cronica, cap. 42,) aud 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 abso- 
lutely incredible, when considered as 
the result of so many independent 
wills. It is not improbable that Ber- 
nal Diaz, from his known devotion to 
the cause, may have been one of the 
few to whom Cortes confided his 
purpose. The veteran, in writing 
his narrative, many years after, may 
have mistaken a part of the whole, 
and in his zeal to secure to the army 
a full share of the glory of the expe- 
dition, 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 sus- 
tained against the weight of contem- 
porary evidence from such competent 

Pray Bartolome 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 resi- 
dence there, he was attended by an Indian page, whom his father had brougbt 
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 gene- 
rous commands of Isabella. 


.] LAS CASAS. 291 

In 149S, 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 ame- 
liorating 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 
vigour, instituted a commission of three Hieronomite friars, with full autho- 
rity, as already noticed in the text, to reform abuses. Las Casas was 
honoured, for his exertions, with the title of " Protector General of the 

The new commissioners behaved with great discretion. But their office 
was one of consummate difficulty, as it required time to introduce important 
changes iu established institutions. The ardent and impetuous temper of 
Las Casas, disdaining every consideration of prudence, overleaped all these 
obstacles, and chafed under what he considered the lukewarm and tem- 
porizing 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 

He found the country under the administration of the Flemings, who dis- 
covered 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 labourers, 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 recom- 
mended the measure at all. Unfortunately for the latter assertion, Las 
Casas, in his History of the Indies, confesses, with deep regret and humilia- 
tion, 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 dimi- 
nishing 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 


292 LAS CASAS. [book ir. 

which it occurred, and the age, it may well be forgiven in Las Casas, espe- 
cially taking into view, that, as he became more enlightened himself, he 
was so ready to testify his regret at having unadvisedly countenanced the 

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 
neighbourhood of the famous pearl fisheries, might be ceded to him for the 
purpose of planting a colony there, and of converting the natives to Chris- 
tianity. 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 labourers 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 proposi- 
tion was denounced as chimerical and fantastic by some, whose own oppor- 
tunities of observation entitled their judgment to respect. These men de- 
clared 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 main- 
tain, and nothing daunted by the august presence in which he stood, deli- 
vered 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 kingdoms in the beginning of 
your reign, that the Almighty may make it long and glorious." 

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 neighbourhood 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 Hispa- 
niola. The very people, among whom Las Casas was to appear as the mes- 
senger 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 labourers 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 doiibt, be partly ascribed to circumstances beyond the 
control of its projector. Yet it is impossible not to recognise, 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 

chap, vm.] LAS CASAS. 293 

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 bis monastic retirement, 
applied hhnself for many years to the performance of bis spiritual duties, 
and the composition of various works, all directed, more or less, to vindicate 
the rights of the Indians. Here, too, he commeuced bis 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 labours, and he found means to engage in several 
laborious missions. He preached the gospel among the natives of Nica- 
ragua and Guatemala ; and succeeded in converting and reducing to obe- 
dience some wild tribes in the latter province, who had defied the arms of 
his countrymen. In all these pious labours, he was sustained by bis Domi- 
nican 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 
bis 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 rilled 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 representa- 
tions 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 " Brevisima Ke- 
lacion, or short account of the Destruction ot the Indies," in which lie 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 country- 
men; to exhibit then - misdeeds in their true colours, 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 favour 
with foreigners ; was rapidly translated into various languages, and orna- 
mented 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 re- 
gulations made at this time for the better government of the colonies, and 
particularly in respect of the aborigines. A code of Laws, LasNaevas Lei/es, 
was passed, having for then avowed object the enfranchisement of this un- 
fortunate race ; and, in the wisdom and humanity of its provisions, it is easv 

294 LAS CASAS. [book 11. 

to recognise 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 
labours. 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 coining 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 pre- 
sence 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 dis- 
position to conciliate his opponents by what he deemed an unworthy con- 
cession ; 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 alter- 
cation without coming to any decision. The Spaniards, to borrow their accus- 
tomed 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 
further 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 correct- 
ness 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 Chris- 
tianity, 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 Castdc. 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, pre- 
vented 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 con- 
stitution, naturally excellent, had been strengthened by a life of temperance 


] LAS CAS AS. 295 

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 for ever ; 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, all that he said 
aud 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 popidace, 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 obsta- 
cles, led him to count too confidently on the cooperation 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-colouring 
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 motives 
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 
beeu prejudiced ; but from that of the members of his own profession, per- 
sons 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 com- 
mentary 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 con- 
dition, 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 suc- 
cessful efforts and arguments since made in behalf of persecuted humanity 
may be traced to the example and the writings of this illustrious philan- 
thropist ? 

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 Jndias, still 
remains in manuscript. It is m 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 prin- 
ciples 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 colouring to events which passed 

296 LAS CASAS. [book ii 

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 Yelasquez, who, as we have noticed, treated hiin, while a poor 
curate in the island, with peculiar confidence. Tor Cortes, 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 Iris indignation ; nor speak of him otherwise 
than with a sneer, as a mere upstart adventurer. 

It was the existence of defects like these, and the fear of the miscon- 
ception 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, it seems to me a mistake. Las Casas, with every 
deduction, is one of the great writers of the nation ; great from the im- 
portant truths which he discerned when none else could see them, and from 
the courage with which he proclaimed them to the world. They are scat- 
tered 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 fail- 
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 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 " Espanoles Celebres," 
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 trans- 
ferred 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 hereafter, as his account of the expedition of Cortes 
terminates with the destruction of the navv. 






Proceedings at Cempoalla. — The Spaniards climb the Table-land. — Pic- 
turesque Scenery. — Transactions with the Natives. — Embassy to 


While at Cempoalla, Cortes 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 con- 
querors 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 Cortes replied with 
the homely proverb, " A wounded hare takes no nap," l 

1 " Cabra coja no tenga siesta." 

300 MARCH TO MEXICO. [book hi. 

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 Cortes to desist from what was 
considered an encroachment on the territories of Garay. 
Probably neither the governor of Jamaica, nor his 
officers, had any very precise notion of the geography 
and limits of these territories. 

Cortes 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 com- 
rades appeared to be with the Spaniards, refused to send 
their boat ashore. In this dilemma, Cortes 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 suc- 
ceeded. A boat put off, filled with armed men, and 
three or four leaped on shore. But they soon detected 
the deceit, and Cortes, springing from his ambush, 



made them prisoners. Their comrades in the boat, 
alarmed, pushed off at once for the vessels, which soon 
got under weigh, leaving those on shore to their fate. 
Thus ended the affair. Cortes 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 
operations. 2 

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, thirteen hundred Indian warriors, and a thousand 
tamanes, or porters, from the cacique of Cempoalla, to 
drag the guns, and transport the baggage. He tool- 
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. 3 

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 judi- 
cious. 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 rela- 
tions with the natives, on the other. Cortes recom- 
mended the Totonac chiefs to apply to this officer, in 
case of any difficulty, assuring them, that, so long as they 

2 Oviedo, Hist, de las Ind., MS., liaries stated in the text is much 

lib. 33, cap. 1. — Eel. Seg. de Cortes, larger than that allowed by either 

ap. Lorenzana, pp. 42 — 4-5. — Bernal Cortes or Diaz. But both these 

Diaz, Hist, de la Conquista, cap. actors in the drama show too obvious 

59 60. a desire to magnify their own prowess, 

* Gomara, Cronica, cap. 44. — by exaggerating the numbers of their 

Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. foes, and diminishing their own, to 

83. — Bernal Diaz, Hist, dc la Con- be entitled to much confidence in 

epiista, cap. 61. their estimates. 

The number of the Indian auxi- 

302 MARCH TO MEXICO. [book in. 

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." 4 He ended by com- 
paring 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 chroni- 
cler who heard them. Cortes 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." r ' 
Taking leave, therefore, of their hospitable Indian friends, 
the little army, buoyant with high hopes and lofty plans 
of conquest, set forward on the 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 

4 " No teniamos otro socorro, ni 5 " Y todos a una le respondimos, 

ayuda sino el de Dios ; porque ya no que hariamos lo que ordonasse, que 

teniamos uauios para ir a Cuba, salvo echada estaua la suerte de la bucna, 

nuestro buen pelea, y coracones d mala ventura." Loc. cit, 
fuertes." Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la 
Conquista, cap. 59. 


their sweetness ; and the groves are filled with many- 
coloured birds, and insects whose enamelled wings 
glisten like diamonds in the bright sun of the tropics. 
Such are the magical splendours of this paradise of the 
senses. Yet nature, who generally works in a spirit of 
condensation, 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 vomito 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 Con- 
querors, nor any notice, indeed, of an uncommon morta- 
lity. 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. This town stands mid- 
way up the long ascent, at an elevation where the vapours 
from the ocean, touching in their westerly progress, 
maintain a rich verdure throughout the year. Though 
somewhat infected with these marine fogs, the air is 
usually bland and salubrious. The wealthy resident of 

Jalap, Convolvulus jalapee. The x and j arc convertible consonants in 

the Castilian. 

304 MARCH TO MEXICO. [book hi. 

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 vomito. 7 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 dis- 
tance. 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 hundred of inhabitants each, and on the fourth day 
reached a " strong town," as Cortes terms it, standing 
on a rocky eminence, supposed to be that now known by 
the Mexican name of Taulinco. Here they were hospi- 
tably entertained by the inhabitants, who were friends 
of the Totonacs. Cortes endeavoured, 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, 

7 The heights of Xalapa are same auspices, says an agreeable tra- 

crowned with a convent dedicated to veller, a military as well as religious 

St. Francis, erected in later days by design. Tudor's Travels in North 

Cortes, showing, in its solidity, like America, (London, 1834,) vol. ii. 

others of the period built under the p. 186. 


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. 8 

The troops now entered a rugged defile, the Bishop's 
Pass, 9 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 armour 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 annoy- 
ance. But the poor Indians, natives of the tierra caliente, 
with little protection in the way of covering, sunk 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. 10 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 scorise, and cinders, pro- 

3 Oviedo, Hist, de las Ind., MS., Travels in North America, vol. ii. 188. 
lib. 33, cap. 1.— Rel. Seg. de Cortes, 9 M Paso del Obispo. Cortes 

ap. Lorenzana, p. 40. — Gornara, Cro- named it Puerto del Nombre de Pios. 

nica, cap. 44. — lxtlilxochitl, Hist. Yiaje, ap. Lorenzana, p. 2. 
Cliich., MS., cap. S3. 10 The Aztec name is Nauhcam- 

" Every hundred yards of our patepetl, from nauhcampa, " anything 

route," says the traveller last quoted, square," and tepetl, " a mountain." 

speaking of this very region, "was — Humboldt, who waded through 

marked by the melancholy erection forests and snows to its summit, 

of a wooden cross, denoting, accord- ascertained its height to be 40S9 

ing to the custom of the country, the metres = 13,414 feet above the sea. 

commission of some horrible murder See his Yues des Cordilleres, p, 234, 

on the spot where it was planted." and Essai Politique, vol. i. p. 206. 

VOL. J. X 

306 MARCH TO MEXICO. [book hi. 

claim tlie 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 way-worn 
army emerged through another defile, the Sierra del Agua} y 
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 tem- 
perate 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 harvests in all the pride of cul- 
tivation, the great staple of the higher, equally with the 
lower terraces of the plateau. 

Suddenly the troops came upon what seemed the en- 
virons of a populous city, which, as they entered it, ap- 
peared to surpass even that of Ceinpoalla in the size and 

11 The same mentioned in Cortes' letter as the Puerto de la Lena. 
Yiaje, ap. Lorenzana. p. 3. 


solidity of its structures. 12 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. 13 Whatever faith we may attach to the precise 
accuracy of his figures, the result is almost equally start- 
ling. 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 sove- 
reign. 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 Cortes, whether he were 
subject to Montezuma, he answered, with real or affected 
surprise, " Who is there that is not a vassal to Monte- 
zuma?" 14 The general told him, with some emphasis, 
that he Avas 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 

12 Now known by the euphonious bien contar, segun el concierto con 
Indian name of Tlatlauqnitepec. que estauan puestas, que me parece 
(Viaje, ap. Lorenzana, p. 4.) It is que eran mas de cien mil, y digo 
the Cocotlan of Bernal Diaz. (Hist. otra vez sobre cien mil." Ibid., ubi 
de la Conquista, cap. 61.) The old supra. 

conquerors made sorry work with M " & El qual casi admirado de lo 

the Aztec names, both of places and que le preguntaba, me rcspondio, 

persons, for which they must be al- diciendo ; que quien no era vasallo 

lowed to have had ample apology. de Muctezumar querieiido decir, 

13 "Puestos tantos rimeros de que alii era Seiior del Mundo." Eel. 
calaveras de muertos, que sc podiau Seg. de Cortes, ap. Lorenzana, p. i7. 

308 MARCH TO MEXICO. [ B00K m ' 

the Indian emperor. He told his guest that Montezuma 
could muster thirty great vassals, each master of a hun- 
dred thousand men ! 15 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 colouring of romance. Whether romance 
or reality, the Spaniards could not determine. The par- 
ticulars 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." 1G 

15 "Tiene mas de 30 Prmcipes a neral, dec. 2, lib. 7, cap. 12. — Solfs, 

si subjectos, que cada uno dellos Conquista, lib. 3, cap. 16. 
tiene cient mill liombres e mas de 

pelea." (Oviedo, Hist, de las Ind., 1G Bcrnal Diaz, Hist, de la Con- 

MS., lib. 33, cap. 1.) This marvel- quista, cap. 61. 

lous tale is gravely repeated by more There is a slight ground-swell of 

than one Spanish writer, in their ac- glorification in the captain's narra- 

counts of the Aztec monarchy, not live, which may provoke a smile — 

as the assertion of this chief, but as not a sneer — for it is mingled with 

a veritable piece of statistics. See, too much real courage, and simpli- 

among others, Herrera, Hist. Ge- city of character. 


In a further conversation Cortes 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, Aveapons, horses, and dogs of the 
Spaniards. Marina, in satisfying their inquiries, took 
occasion to magnify the prowess of her adopted country- 
men, expatiating on their exploits and victories, and 
stating the extraordinary marks of respect they had re- 
ceived 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 re- 
pose, more important to them, in the present juncture, 
than all the gold of Mexico. 17 

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 super- 
stitions. The cacique listened with civil, but cold indif- 
ference. Cortes, 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 

17 For the preceding pages, be- MS., cap. S3. — Gomara, Cronica, 

sides authorities cited in course, sec cap. 44. — Torquemada, Monarch. 

Peter Martyr, De Orbe Novo, dec. Ind., lib. 4, cap. 26. 
5, cap. 1. — Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Cliich., 



natives, in their present state of ignorance and incredu- 
lity, would be to expose the sacred symbol to desecra- 
tion, 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 Cortes 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 unscru- 
pulous mind of the soldier, trained to the stern discipline 
of the camp, would have employed force, whenever fair 
means were ineffectual. 18 But Olmedo belonged to that 
class of benevolent missionaries — of whom the Roman 
Catholic church, to its credit, has furnished many ex- 
amples — 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 

18 The general clearly belonged The holy text of pike and gun ; 

to the church militant mentioned by And prove their doctrines ortho- 
Butler ; dox 

" Such as do build their faith upon By Apostolic blows and knocks." 


Church. Yet the seeds thus recklessly scattered must 
have perished but for the missionaries of their own na- 
tion, 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 Cortes was styled, par excellence.™ 
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. 20 

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 ; argu- 
ing a population much denser than at present. 21 On a 
rough and rising ground stood a town, that might con- 
is " Arbol grande, dicho, ahue- on the plantation from wasting their 
huete" (Viaje, ap. Lorenzana, p. 3.) time by loitering in their shade ! 
The cupressus disticha of Linnams. n It confirms the observations of 

See Humboldt, Essai Politique, torn. M. de Humboldt. " Sans doute lors 
ii. p. 54, note. de la premiere arrivee des Espagnols, 

tonte cette cote, depuis la riviere 
20 It is the same taste which has de Papaloapan (Alvarado) jusqu'a 
made the Castries, the table-land of Huaxtecapan, etait plus habitee et 
the Peninsula, so naked of wood. mieux cultivee qu'elle ne Test au- 
Prudential reasons, as well as taste, jourd'hui. Cependaut a mesure que 
however, seem to have operated in les conquerans monterent au plateau, 
New Spain. A friend of mine on a ils trouverent les villages plus rap- 
visit to a noble hacienda, but uncom- proches les uns des autres, les champs 
monly barren of trees, was informed divises en portions plus petites, le 
by the proprietor, that they were peuple plus police." Humboldt, 
cut down to prevent the lazy Indians Essai Politique, torn. ii. p. 202. 

312 DISCOVERY OF MEXICO. [book in. 

tain 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 treatment. 22 

Cortes 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 inhabi- 
tants 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 w x ere 
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 occasion. 

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 w r as observed, 
excited general admiration amonp- the natives. He 
added a letter, in which he asked permission to pass 
through their country. He expressed his admiration of 
the valour of the Tlascalans, and of their long resistance 
to the Aztecs, whose proud empire he designed to hum- 
ble. 23 It was not to be expected that this epistle, indited 

22 The correct Indian name of the carved stones of large dimensions, 

town Yxtacamaxtitldn, Yztacmastitan attesting the elegance of the ancient 

of Cortes, will hardly be recognised fortress or palace of the cacique, 

in the Xalacingo of Diaz. The town Viaje, ap. Lorenzana, p. v. 
was removed, in 1601, from the top 

of the hill to the plain. On the ori- 23 " Estas cosas y otras de gran 

ginal site are still visible remains of persuasion contenia la carta, pero 

chap, i.] EMBASSY TO TLASCALA. 313 

in good Castilian, would be very intelligible to the Tlas- 
calans. But Cortes 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 mis- 
sives which formed the usual credentials of an Indian 
ambassador. 24 

The Spaniards remained three days in this hospitable 
place, after the departure of the envoys, when they re- 
sumed 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 armour, waking or sleeping, lying 
down with their weapons by their sides. This unintermit- 
ting 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," Cortes would say to them ; " be prepared, 
then, not as if you were going to battle, but as if actually 
in the midst of it." 25 

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 a neighbourhood of the ancient Cholula. They more 
than once forded the stream that rolls through this beau- 
tiful plain, lingering several days on the- way, in hopes 
of receiving an answer from the Indian republic. The 

eomo no sabian leer no pudieron en- veis que somos pocos, hemos de estar 

tender lo que contenia." Camargo, sietnpre tan apercibidos, y apareja- 

Hist. de Tlascala, MS. dos, eomo si ahora vieseraos venir 

„, _, . c .1 v i los contrarios a pelear, y no sola- 

»* For an account of the diplo- ]ncutc vcllog vcnh , gin0 ^ 0Mnta 

matic usages of the people ot Ana- estamM eu k bataUa o(m 

huac,seeante,p. 34 ^ os „ BernaL Diaz, Hist, de la 

23 " Mira, scnores eompaneros, ya Conquista, cap. 62. 

314 DISCOVERY OF MEXICO. [book in. 

unexpected delay of the messengers could not be ex- 
plained, and occasioned some uneasiness. 

As they advanced into a country of rougher and bolder 
features, their progress was suddenly arrested by a re- 
markable 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 protec- 
tion 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 con- 
trived, 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 stone nicely laid together 
without cement ; 26 and the remains still existing, among 
which are rocks of the whole breadth of the rampart, 
fully attest its solidity and size. 27 

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 sur- 
mises long to dwell in their minds. Cortes put himself 
at the head of his cavalry, and calling out, " Forward, 

20 According to the writer last present appearance of the wall. 

cited, the stones were held by a Viaje, ap. Lorenzana, p. vii. 
cement so hard that the men could 2! Yiaje, ap. Lorenzana, p. vii. 

scarcely break it with their pikes. The attempts of the Archbishop to 

(Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 62.) identify the route of Cortes, have 

Eut the contrary statement, in the been very successful. It is a pity, 

general's letter, is confirmed by the that his map illustrating the itinerary 

should be so worthless. 


soldiers, the Holy Cross is our banner, and under that 
we shall conquer," led his little army through the un- 
defended passage, and in a few moments they trod the 
soil of the free republic of Tlascala. 28 

28 Caraargo, Hist, de Tlascala, MS. dec. 2, lib. 6, cap. 3. — Oviedo, Hist. 

— Gomara, Cronica, cap. 44, 45. — de las Lid., MS., lib. 33, cap. 2. — 

— Jxtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., Peter Martyr, De Orbe Novo, dec. 5, 

cap. S3. — Herrera, Hist. General, cap. 1. 




Republic of Tlascala. — Its Institutions. — Early History. — Discussions 
in the Senate. — Desperate Battles. 


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 Tlasca- 
lans belonged to the same great family with the Aztecs. 1 
They came on the grand plateau about the same time 
with the kindred races, at the close of the twelfth cen- 
tury, 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. From some cause or other, perhaps 
their turbulent temper, they incurred the enmity of sur- 
rounding tribes. A coalition was formed against them ; 
and a bloody battle was fought on the plains of Poyauht- 
lan, in which the Tlascalans were completely victorious. 

Disgusted, however, with their residence among 
nations with whom they found so little favour, the con- 

1 The Indian chronicler, Camargo, del Messico, torn. i. p. 153, nota.) 

considers his nation a branch of the The fact is not of great moment, 

Chichemec. (Hist, de Tlascala, since they were all cognate races, 

MS.) So, also, Torquemada. (Mo- speaking the same tongue, and, pro- 

narch. Ind., lib. 3, cap. 9.) Clavigero, bably, migrated from their country 

who has carefully investigated the in the far North at nearly the same 

antiquities of Anahuac, calls it one time, 
of the seven Nahuatlac tribes. (Stor. 


quering 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 lwged 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 coordinate 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. 2 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 distri- 
buted. 3 Thus a chain of feudal dependencies was esta- 

2 The descendants of these petty oficios mecanicos ni tratos bajos ni 

nobles attached as great value to viles, ni jamas se permiten cargar 

their pedigrees, as any Biscayan or ni cabar con coas y azadones, diciendo 

Asturian in Old Spain. Long after que son hijos Idalgos en que no han 

the Conquest, they refused, however de aplicarse a cstas cosas soeces y 

needy, to dishonour their birth by bajas, sino servir en guerras y fron- 

rcsorting to mechanical or other pie- teras, como Idalgos, y morir como 

beian occupations, oficiosvilesy bajos. hombres pcleando." Hist, de Tlas- 

" Los descendicntes de estos son esti- scila, MS. 

mados por hombres calificados, que 3 " Cualquier Tccuhtli que formaba 

aunque sean pob'.isimos no usan unTecalli, que es casa de Mayorazgo, 

318 MARCH TO MEXICO. [book hi. 

blished, 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 per- 
sonal 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 undis- 
turbed 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 

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. 4 

The nation, agricultural in its habits, reserved its 
highest honours, 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 achieve- 
ments 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. 5 

todas aquellas tierras que le caiau en continuos en reconocer a ella de avcs, 

suerte de repartimiento, con montes, eaza, flores, y ramos para el sustento 

l'uentes, rios, 6 lagunas tomase pant de lacasa del Mayorazgo, yel que lo 

la casa principal la mayor y mejor es esta obligado a sustentarlos y a. 

suerte 6 pagos de tierra, y luego las regalarlos como amigos de aquella 

demas que quedaban se partian por casa y parientes de ella." Ibid., MS. 

sus soldados amigos y parientes, 4 Camargo, Hist, de Tlascala, MS. 

igualmentc, y todos estos estan obli- 5 " Los grandcs recibiniientos que 

gados a reconocer la casa mayor y acu- hacian a los capitanes que venian y 

air a ella a alzarla y repararla, y a ser alcauzaban victoria en las guerras., las 

chap, ii.] ITS INSTITUTIONS. 319 

All institution not unlike knighthood was introduced, 
very similar to one existing also among the Aztecs. The 
aspirant to the honours 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 hence- 
forth by certain peculiar privileges, as well as by a badge 
intimating his rank. It is worthy of remark, that this 
honour 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. 

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 agricul- 
tural industry, the merchant found his way clown the 
sides of the Cordilleras, wandered over the sunny regions 
at their base, and brought back the luxuries which 
nature had denied to his own. 7 

fiestas y solenidades con que se so- knights, — See Appendix, Part II., 

lenizaban a, manera tie triuafo que No. 9, where the original is given 

los metian en andas en sn puebla, from Camargo. 
trayendo consigo ;i los vencidos, y ' " Ha bel paese," says the Anony- 

por eternizar sus hazailas se las can- mous Conqueror, speaking of Tlas- 

taban publican* or, te y ansi quedaban cala, at the time of the invasion, "di 

memoradas y con cstatuas que les pianure et motagne, et e provincia 

ponian en los templos." Ibid., MS. popolosa et vi si raccoglie molto 

6 For the whole ceremony of inau- pane." Eel. d' un gent., ap. Kamu- 

guration, — though as it seems having sio, torn. iii. p 303. 
especial reference to the merchant- 

3.20 MARCH TO MEXICO. [book hi. 

The various arts of civilization kept pace with increas- 
ing 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 they 
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. 8 

Though not ambitious of foreign conquest, the pro- 
sperity of the Tlascalans, in time, excited the jealousy 
of their neighbours, and especially of the opulent state 
of Cholula. Frequent hostilities arose 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 inde- 
pendence 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 ren- 
dered by other people of the country. If it were 
refused, the Aztecs would raze their cities to their foun- 
dations, 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 

8 A full account of the manners, the other states of Anahuac, whose 

customs, and domestic policy of social institutions seem to have been 

Tlascala is given by the national all cast in the same mould, 
historian, throwing much light on 

chap, ii.] EARLY HISTORY. 321 

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 ! " y 

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 war- 
like race originally spread over the table-land north of 
the Mexican valley. A portion of them obtained a settle- 
ment 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 

Camarsro, Hist, de Tlascala, MS.— Torquemada, Monarch. Tnd., lib. 2, 
cap. 70. 

VOL. I. V 



arms had spread down the declivities of the Andes to 
the distant provinces of Vera Paz and Nicaragua, 10 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. 11 He sent an 
army against them under the command of a favourite 
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 them- 
selves in numbers and resources. The Aztec armies lay 
between them and the coast, cutting off all communica- 
tion with that prolific region, and thus limited their 
supplies to the products of their own soil and manufac- 
ture. 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. 12 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. 

10 Camargo (Hist, de Tlascala, in circumference, ten long, from east 
MS.) notices the extent of Mon- to west, and four broad, from north 
tezuma's conquests, — a debatable to south." (Conquista de Mejico, 
ground for the historian. lib. 3, cap. 3.) It must have made 

11 Torquemada, Monarch. Inch, a curious figure in geometry ! 
lib. 3, cap. 16. — Soils says, "The 

Tlascalan territory was fifty leagues 12 Camargo, Hist, de Tlascala MS. 



This intercourse, we are assured by the Indian chroni- 
cler, 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 main- 
tained its customs and good government inviolate, and 
the worship of its gods." 13 

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 valour in war, while her un- 
compromising spirit of independence secured the respect 
even of her enemies. With such qualities of character, 
and with an animosity sharpened by long, deadly hos- 
tility with Mexico, her alliance was obviously of the last 
importance to the Spaniards, in their present enterprise. 
It was not easy to secure it. 14 

The Tiascalans 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 de- 
manding a passage through their territories. The great 
council was convened, and a considerable difference of 
opinion prevailed in its members. Some, adopting the 

13 " Los Senores Mejicanos y Tez- su republica jamas se dejaba de go- 
cucanos, en tiempo que ponian tre- bernar cou la rectitud de sua cos- 
guas por algunas temporadas embi- tumbres guardaudo inviolablemente 
aban a los Senores de Tlaxcalla el culto de sus Dioses." Camargo, 
grandes presentes y dadivas de oro, Hist, de Tlascala, MS. 
ropa, y cacao, y sal, y de todas las u The Tlascalan chronicler dis- 
cosas de que carecian, sin que la cerns in this deep-rooted hatred of 
gente plebeya lo entendiese, y se Mexico the hand of Providence, who 
saludaban seeretameute, guardan- wrought out of it an important 
dose el decoro que se debian: mas means for subverting the Aztec em- 
con todos estos trabajos la orden de pire. Ibid., MS. 

y 2 

324 MARCH TO MEXICO. [book hi. 

popular superstition, supposed the Spaniards might be 
the white and bearded men foretold by the oracles. 15 
At all events, they were the enemies of Mexico, and as 
such might cooperate 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. 16 His son, an 
impetuous young man of the same name with himself, 
commanded a powerful army of Tlascalan and Otomie 
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. 17 The 
cunning counsel of the chief found favour 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 

15 " Si bien os acordais, como the latter, which would be a rare 

tenemos de nuestra antiguedad como gem of Indian eloquence, — were it 

ban de venir gentes a la parte donde not Castilian. Conquista, lib. 2, 

sale el sol, y que han de emparentar cap. 16. 

con nosotros, y que hemos de ser 17 Camargo, Hist, de Tlascala, 
todos unos ; y que han de ser blan- MS. — Herrera, Hist. General, dec. 
cos y barb lidos." Camargo, Hist. 2, lib. 6, cap. 3.— Torquemada, Mo- 
de Tlr sea' a, MS. narch. Ind., lib. 4, cap. 27. 

10 To the ripe age of one hundred There is sufficient contradiction, 

and forty ! if we may credit Ca- as well as obscurity, in the pro- 

margo. Soli's, who confounds this ceedings reported of the council, 

veteran with his son, has put a which it is not easy to recoiicde 

flourishing harangue in the mouth of altogether with subsequent events. 


they were among the barbarians of ancient Rome. 18 — The 
Cempoallan envoys were to be detained under pretence 
of assisting at a religious sacrifice. 

Meanwhile, Cortes 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 Otomie garri- 
son, and the Spaniards passed in, as we have seen, 
without resistance. Cortes 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 ad- 
vancing 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, and coming 
briskly on to the support of their countrymen. 

Cortes, 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 broad- 
swords — if we may believe the chronicler — at a blow. 19 

18 " Dolus an virtus, quis in lo vieron, cortaron a. cercen de un 

hoste requirat ?." golpe cada pescueco, con riendas, i 

19 "I les mataron dos Caballos, de todas." Gomara, Cronica, cap. 45. 
dos cuchilladas, i segun algunos, que 



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 Cortes, 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 crossbows 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. Cortes 
received the communication in a courteous manner, 
affecting to place more confidence in its good faith than 
he probably felt. 

It was now growing late, and the Spaniards quickened 

chap, ii.] DESPERATE BATTLES. 327 

their march, anxious to reach a favourable 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 un- 
savoury repast with the fruit of the tuna, the Indian fig, 
which grew wild in the neighbourhood, they contrived to 
satisfy the cravings of appetite. A careful watch was 
maintained by Cortes, 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. 20 

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 auxi- 
liaries might now amount to three thousand ; for Cortes 
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 Cortes in- 
structed 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 foes. 21 

20 Rel. Seg. de Cortes, ap. Lo- las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 3, 41.— 

reuzaua, p. 50. — Camargo, Bust, de Saliagun, Hist, de Nueva Espafia, 

Tlascala, MS.— Bernal JWaz, Hist. MS., lib. 12, cap. 10. 
de la Conquista, cap. 62. — Gouwa, 

Crdnica, cap. 45. — Ovicdo, Hist, de 21 "Que quando rompiessemos 

328 MARCH TO MEXICO. [book hi. 

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 sacri- 
ficed 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. Cortes, when he had come within hearing, 
ordered the interpreters to proclaim that he had no hos- 
tile 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 procla- 
mation 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 them ! " 22 

The Indians maintained their ground for a while with 
spirit, when they retreated with precipitation, but not in 
disorder. 23 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 imprac- 

por los esquadrones, que lleuasseu 22 " Entonces dixo Cortes, ' San- 
las lancas por las caras, y no pa- tiago, y a ellos.' " Ibid., cap. 63. 
rassen a dar lancadas, porque no les 23 " Una gentil contienda," says 
echassen mano dellas." Bernal Diaz, Gomara of this skirmish. Cronica, 
Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 62. cap. 46. 


ticable 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 Cortes, they ap- 
peared a hundred thousand men, while no account esti- 
mates them at less than thirty thousand. 24 

They presented a confused assemblage of helmets, 
weapons, and many-coloured plumes, glancing bright in 
the morning sun, and mingled 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 colours on the feather-mail of 
the Indians, showed that they were the warriors of 
Xicotencatl. 25 

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 me- 
lancholy drums, that could be heard for half a league or 
more, 26 might well have filled the stoutest heart with 
dismay. This formidable host came rolling on towards 

' n Rel. Seg. de Cortes, ap. Lo- million at the time of the invasion. 

renzana, p. 51. According to Go- Stor. del Messico, torn. i. p. 156. 
mara, (Crdnica, cap. 40,) the enemy 25 " La divisa y armas de la casa 

mustered S0,000. So, also, Ixtlilxo- y cabecera de Titcala es una garza 

chitl. (Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 83.) blanca sobre uri penasco." (Ca- 

Bernal Diaz says, more than 40,000. margo, Hist, de Tlascala, MS.) " El 

(Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 63.) capitan general," says Bernal Diaz, 

But Herrera (Hist. General, dec. 2, " que se dezia Xicoteuga, y con sus 

lib. 6, cap. 5) and Torquemada (Mo- divisas de bianco y Colorado, porque 

narch. Ind., lib. 4, cap. 20) reduce aquella devisa y librea era de aquel 

them to 30,000. One might as Xicoteuga." Hist, de la Conquista, 

easily reckon the leaves in a forest, cap. 63. 

as the numbers of a confused throng 26 " Llaman Teponaztle que cs de 

of barbarians. As this was only one un trozo de madero concavado y de 

of several armies kept on foot by una pieza rollizo y, como decimos, 

the Tlascalans, the smallest amount hueco por de dentro, que suena 

is, probably, too large. The whole algunas veces mas de media legua 

population of the state, according to y con el tambor hace estrana y suave 

Clavigero, who would not be likely consonancia." (Camargo, Hist, de 

to underrate it, did not exceed half a Tlascala, MS.) Clavigero, who gives 



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 pano- 
plies, 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. 

Cortes, as usual, in the front of danger, in vain en- 
deavoured, 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 suc- 
ceeded in retrieving the unfortunate cavalier from his 
assailants, but in so disastrous a plight that he died on 
the following clay. 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 sur- 
rounded 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 en- 
counter, the Indian allies were of great service to the 

a drawing of this same drum, says it be heard two or three miles. Stor. 
is still used by the Indians, and may del Messico, torn. ii. p. 179. 


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." 27 " 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," an- 
swered the intrepid woman : " and he will carry us 
safely through." 28 

Amidst the din of battle the voice of Cortes 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?" 29 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 plain beyond. 

Here they quickly recovered their confidence with 
their superiority. The horse soon opened a space for 
the manoeuvres 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 sulphu- 
rous 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 cany off the dead and wounded from the 
field, a general practice among the people of Anahuac, 
but which necessarily exposed them, while thus employed, 
to still greater loss. 

27 "Una illis fait spes salutis, de- tuviese miedo, porque el Dios de los 

sperasse de salute." (P. Martyr, Christianos, que es muy poderoso, i 

De Orbe Novo, dec. 1, cap. 1.) It los queria muclio, los sacaria de 

is said with the classic energy of pcligro." Herrera, Hist. General, 

Tacitus. dec. 2, lib, 6, cap. 5. 

23 " Respondiole Marina, que no Cj Ibid., ubi supra. 



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 com- 
mon among barbarians, the Tlascalan force moved off 
the ground with all the order of a well-disciplined army. 
Cortes, as on the preceding clay, 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 re- 
fresh his wounded troops, and bivouac for the night. 30 

Gathering up his wounded, he held on his way, with- 
out loss of time ; and before dusk reached a rocky emi- 
nence, called Tzompachtepetl, or " the hill of Tzompach." 
It was crowned by a sort of tower or temple, the re- 
mains of which are still visible. 31 His first care was 
given to the wounded, both men and horses. Fortu- 
nately, an abundance of provisions was found in some 
neighbouring 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 

30 Oviedo, Hist, de las Ind., MS., quista, cap. 63. — Gomara Crdiiica, 

lib. 33, cap. 3, 45.— Ixtlikockitl, cap. 40. 
Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 83.— Rd. 

Seg. de Cortes, ap. Lorenzana, p. 51. 8l Viaje de Cortes, ap. Lorenzana, 

• — JBernal Diaz, Hist, de la Con- p. ix. 


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. 32 

The events of the day had suggested many topics for 
painful reflection to Cortes. He had no where met with 
so determined a resistance Avithin the borders of Ana- 
huac ; nowhere had he encountered native troops so for- 
midable for their weapons, their discipline, and their 
valour. Par 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 su- 
periority 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 In- 
dians, celebrated the events of the day with feasting and 
dancing, songs of merriment, and shouts of triumph. 
Cortes 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 hill. 

32 According to Cortes, not a five and twenty Christians ! See 

Spaniard fell— though, many were the estimate in Alfonso IX.'s vera- 

wounded— in this action so fatal to cious letter, ap. Mariana (Hist, de 

the infidel! Diaz allows one. In Espana, lib. 2, cap. 24). The official 

the famous battle of Navas de Tolosa, returns of the old Castilian crusaders, 

between the Spaniards and Arabs, whether in the Old World or the 

in 1212, equally matched in military New, are scarcely more trustworthy 

science at that time, there were left than a French imperial, bulletin in 

200,000 of the latter on the field ; our day. 
and, to balance this bloody roll, only 

334 [book hi. 


Decisive Victory. — Indian Council.— Night Attack. — Negotiations with the 
Enemy. — Tlascalan Hero. 


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 hosti- 
lities, should the severe lesson they had inflicted on the 
enemy prove insufficient to discourage him. On the 
second day, as Cortes 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 dan- 
gerous 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 neigh- 
bouring 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 plan- 
tations of maguey, while the eminences were crowned 
with populous towns and villages. In one of these, he 

chap. lit.] DECISIVE VICTORY. 335 

tells us, he found three thousand dwellings. 1 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, endea- 
vouring 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." 2 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 Otomie warriors, assem- 
bled under the banners of their respective leaders, by 
command of the senate, who were resolved to try the 

1 Itel. Seg. de Cortes, ap. Loren- confirms the larger, and, a priori, less 

zana, p, 52. probable number. 

O\dedo, who made free use of the 

manuscripts of Cortes, writes thirty- 2 " Que fuessemos a su pueblo 

nine houses. (Hist, de las Ind., adonde esta su padre, q'alla harian 

MS., lib. 33, cap. 3.) This may, las pazes c5 hartarse de nuestras 

perhaps, be explained by the sign carnes, y honrar sus dioses con nues- 

for a thousand, in Spanish notation, tros coracones, y sangre, e que para 

bearing a great resemblance to the otro dia de maiiana veriamos su re- 

figure 9. Martyr, who had access spuesta." Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la 

also to the Conqueror's manuscript, Conquista, cap. 64. 

336 MARCH TO MEXICO. [book hi. 

fortunes of the state in a pitched battle, and strike one 
decisive blow for the extermination of the invaders. 3 

This bold defiance fell heavily on the ears of the Spa- 
niards, 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. 4 

As a battle was now inevitable, Cortes 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 anta- 
gonists, inactive in their own intrenchments. The sun 
rose bright on the following morning, the 5th of Sep- 
tember, 1519, an eventful clay in the history of the 
Spanish Conquest. The general reviewed his army, and 
gave them, preparatory to marching, a few words of 

3 More than one writer repeats Cortes' own account of his successful 

a story of the Tlascalan general's foray may much better explain the 

sending a good supply of provisions, abundance which reigned in his camp, 
at this time, to the famished army of 

the Spaniards ; to put them in sto- 4 Rel. Seg. de Cortes, ap. Loreu- 

mach, it may be, for the fight. (Go- zana, p. 52. Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., 

mara, Crdn., cap. 46. — Ixtlilxochitl, MS., cap. 83. — Gomara, Cronica, cap. 

Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 83.) This 46, 47— Oiedo, Hist, de las Ind., 

ultra-chivalrous display from the bar- MS., lib. 33, cap. 3. — Bernal Diaz, 

barian is not very probable, and Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 64. 

chap, ill.] DECISIVE VICTORY. 337 

encouragement and advice. The infantry he instructed 
to rely on the point rather than the edge of their swords, 
and to endeavour 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 artil- 
lery, 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 appear- 
ance justified the report which had been given of its 
numbers. 5 "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. 6 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 

5 Through the magnifying lens of Green as the spring grass in a 
Cortes, they appeared to be 150,000 sunny shower; 

men; (Rel. Seg., ap. Lorenzana, p. Or scarlet bright, as in the wintry 
52 ;) a number usually preferred by wood 

succeeding writers. The cluster'd holly ; or of purple 
6 "Not half so gorgeous, for their tint; 

May-day mirth Whereto shall that be liken'd ? 
All wreath'd and ribanded, our to what gem 

youths and maids, Indiadem'd, what flower ? what 
As these stern Tlascalans in war insect's wing ? 

attire ! With war sougs and wild music 
The golden glitt'rance, and the they came on; 

feather-mail We, the while kneeling, raised 
More gay than glitt'ring gold ; with one accord 

and round the helm The hymn of supplication." 
A coronal of high upstanding Southey's Madoc, Part 1, canto 7. 

VOL. I. Z 

338 MARCH TO MEXICO. [book hi. 

of banners, on which were emblazoned the armorial 
bearings of the great Tlascalan and Otomie chieftains. 7 
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 eme- 
ralds and silver work, the great standard of the republic 
of Tlascala. 8 

The common file wore no covering except a girdle 
round the loins. Their bodies were painted with the 
appropriate colours of the chieftain whose banner they 
followed. The feather-mail of the higher c 1 ass of war- 
riors exhibited, also, a similar selection of coiours for the 
like object, in the same manner as the colour of the 
tartan indicates the peculiar clan of the Highlander. 9 
The caciques and principal warriors were clothed in a 
quilted cotton tunic, two inches thick, wdiich, fitting 
close to the body, protected also the thighs and the 
shoulders. Over this the wealthier Indians wore cui- 
rasses of thin gold plate, or silver. Their legs were 
defended by leathern boots or sandals, trimmed with 

7 The standards of the Mexicans The 'ast two authors speak of the 
were carried in the centre, those of device of " a white bird like an 
the Tlascalans hi the rear of the ostrich," as that of the Republic, 
army. (Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, They have evidently confounded it 
vol. ii. p. 145.) According to the with that of the Indian general. Ca- 
Anonymous Conqueror, the banner margo, who lias given the heraldic 
staff was attached to the back of the emblems of the four great families of 
ensign, so that it was impossible to Tlascala, notices the white heron, as 
be torn away. " Ha ogni copagnia that of Xicotencatl. 

il suo Alfiere con la sua insegna in- 

hastata, et in tal modo ligata sopra le D The accounts of the Tlascalan 

spalle, che non gli da alcun disturbo chronicler are confirmed by the 

di poter combattere ne far cio che Anonymous Conqueror and by Ber- 

vuole, et la porta cosi ligata bene al nal Diaz, both eye-witnesses; though 

corpo, che se no fanno del suo corpo the latter frankly declares, that, had 

pezzi, non se gli puo sligare, ne he not seen them with his own eyes, 

torgliela mai." Rel. d'un gent., ap. he should never lrve credited the 

Ramusio, torn. hi. fol. 305. existence of orders and badges 

8 Camargo, Hist, de Tlascala, MS. among the barbarians, like those 
— Herrera, Hist. General, dec. 2, found among the civilized nations cf 
lib. 6, cap. 6. — Gomara, Crdnica, cap. Europe. Hist, de la Conquista, 
46. — Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Con- cap. 64, et alibi. — Camargo, Hist, de 
quista, cap. 64. — Oviedo, Hist, de Tlascala, MS. — Rel. d' un gent., ap. 
las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 45. Ramusio, torn. iii. fol. 305. 

chap, in.] DECISIVE VICTORY. 339 

gold. But the most brilliant part of their costume was 
a rich mantle of the plumaje or feather-work, embroi- 
dered with curious art, and furnishing some resemblance 
to the gorgeous surcoat worn by the European knight 
over his armour 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. 10 From the crown floated a splendid panache of 
the richly variegated plumage of the tropics, indicating, 
by its form and colours, the rank and family of the 
wearer. To complete their defensive armour, 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 com- 
pact 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 featherwork. 

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 recal the weapon, was 
especially dreaded by the Spaniards. These various 
weapons were pointed with bone, or the mineral itztli, 

10 " Portano in testa," says the come se lo volesse diuorare : sono 

Anonymous Conqueror, " per difesa di legno, et sopra vi e la pena, et di 

una cosa come teste di serpeti, b di piastra d'oro et di pietre preciose 

tigri, b di leoni, b di lupi, che ha le copte, che e cosa marauigiiosa da 

mascelle, et e la testa dell' huomo vedere." Rel. d'un gent., ap. Ram- 

messa nella testa di q'sto animale usio, torn. iii. fol. 305. 

z 2 

340 MARCH TO MEXICO. [book in. 

(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 has seen fell a horse at a 
blow. 11 

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-arms. But what armour is not ? Yet it is 
probably no exaggeration to say, that, in convenience, 
gracefulness, and strength, the arms of the Indian war- 
rior were not very inferior to those of the polished 
nations of antiquity. 12 

As soon as the Castilians came in sight, the Tlas- 
calans set up their yell of defiance, rising high above the 
wild barbaric minstrelsy of shell, atabal, and trumpet, 
with which they proclaimed their triumphant anticipa- 
tions of victory over the paltry forces of the invaders. 
When the latter had come within bow-shot, the Indians 

11 "Io viddi che cobattedosi un ap. Ramusio, torn. iii. fol. 305. 

di, diede un Indiano una cortellata 12 Particular notices of the mili- 

a un cauallo sopra il qual era un tary dress and appointments of the 

caualliero co chi cobatteua, nel petto, American tribes on the plateau may 

che glielo aperse fin alle iteriora, et be found in Camargp, Hist, de Tlas- 

cadde icotanete morto, et il medesimo cala, MS. — Clavigero, Stor. del Mes- 

giorno viddi che un altro Indiano sico, torn. ii. p. 101, et seq. — Acosta, 

diede un altra cortellata a un altro lib. 6, cap. 26. — Rel. d' un gent., 

cauallo su il collo che se lo gettd ap. Ramusio, torn. hi. fol. 305, et 

morto a i piedi." Rel d' un gent., auet. al. 

chap, in.] DECISIVE VICTORY. 341 

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. 13 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. Cortes 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 

On they came like an avalanche, or mountain torrent, 
shaking the solid earth, and sweeping away every ob- 
stacle 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. 
Por 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 

13 " 4 Que granizo de piedra de los arma, y las entrafias adonde no ay 

houderos ! Pues flechas todo el defensa." Berual Diaz,. Hist, de la 

suelo hecho parva de varas todas de Conquista, cap. 65. 
a dos gajos, que passan qualquiera 



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, charged gallantly 
under Cortes, 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 advanced. 

More than once in the course of the action, a similar 
assault was attempted by the Tlascalans, but each time 
Avith less spirit, and greater loss. They were too de- 
ficient in military science to profit by their vast superi- 
ority 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 constancv of the 

chap, in] DECISIVE VICTORY. 343 

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 
demeanour of Xicoteucatl, 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 example. 

Thus reduced to about half his original strength, and 
that greatly crippled by the losses of the day, Xicoteu- 
catl could jio 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 Cortes, 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. 14 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 ; 

14 So says JBernal Diaz ; who at one Christian fell in the fight. (Hist, 

the same time, by the epithets, los de la Conquista, cap. 65.) Cortes 

muertos, los cuerpos, plainly contra- has not the grace to acknowledge 

diets his previous boast that only that one. 

344 MARCH TO MEXICO. [book hi. 

and bows and arrows, as Bernal Diaz sarcastically re- 
marks, formed an indifferent protection against the 
inclemency of the weather. 15 

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 any thing like contempt for their 
Indian foe. Singly and with the same weapons, he 
might have stood his ground against the Spaniard. 16 
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 ascendancy 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 pro- 
bably 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, 

15 Oviedo, Hist, de las Lid., MS., be pardoned in the hero of more 

lib. 33, cap. 3. — Rel. Seg. de Cortes, than a hundred battles, and almost 

ap. Lorenzana, p. 52. — Herrera, as many wounds. 
Hist. General, dec. 2, lib. 6, cap, 6. 16 The Anonymous Conqueror 

■ — Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., bears emphatic testimony to the 

cap. 83. — Gomara, Cronica, cap. 46. valour of the Indians, specifying in- 

— Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. stances in which he had seen a 

4, cap. 32. — Bernal Diaz, Hist, de single warrior defend himself for a 

la Conquista, cap. 65, 66. long time against two, three, and 

The warm, chivalrous glow of even four Spaniards ! " Sono fra 

feeling, which colours the rude com- loro di valetissimi huomini et che 

position of the last chronicler, makes ossano morir ostinatissimamete. Et 

him a better painter than his more io ho veduto un d'essi difendersi 

correct and classical rivals. And, if valetemente da duoi caualli leggieri, 

there is somewhat too much of the et un altro da tre, et quattro." Eel. 

self-complacent tone of the quorum d'un gent., ap. Ramusio, torn. iii. 

pars magna fid in his writing, it may fol. 305. 

chap. III.] INDIAN COUNCIL. 345 

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 reflec- 
tion 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. 17 

Cortes, thinking the occasion favourable, 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 Con- 
queror 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 farther 
exasperated by the younger Xicotencatl, who burned for 
an opportunity to retrieve his disgrace, and to wipe 

17 The appalling effect of the strange appearance of the elephants 

cavalry on the natives reminds one in their first engagements with 

of the confusion into which the Ro- Pyrrhus, as told by Plutarch, in his 

man legions were thrown by the life of that prince. 

346 MARCH TO MEXICO. [book hi. 

away the stain which had fallen for the first time on the 
arms of the republic. 

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 in- 
quired, 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 chil- 
dren of the Sun j 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 camp. 

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 ap- 
pointed was illumined by the full beams of an autumnal 
moon ; and one of the videttes 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 

chap, in.] NIGHT ATTACK. 347 

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. 
Cortes determined not to abide the assault in his in- 
trenchments, 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 ex- 
panded the horse and his rider into gigantic and unearthly 

Scarcely waiting the shock of their enemy, the panic- 
struck barbarians let off a feeble volley of arrows, and, 
offering no other resistance, fled rapidly and tumult- 
uously across the plain. The horse easily overtook the 
fugitives, riding them down and cutting them to pieces 
without mercy, until Cortes, weary with slaughter, called 
off his men, leaving the field loaded with the bloody 
trophies of victory. 18 

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 

18 Rel. Seg. de Cortes, ap. Lo- cap. 2. — Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., 

renzaua, pp.53, 54. — Oviedo, Hist. lib. 4, cap. 32. — Hen-era, Hist, 

de las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 3. — General, dec. 2, lib. 6, cap 8. — Ber- 

P. Martyr, De Orbe Novo, dec. 2, nal Diaz, Hist, de la Conq., cap. 66. 

348 MARCH TO MEXICO. [book hi. 

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. 19 

Through his faithful interpreter, Cortes 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. Stra- 
tagem 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 proceed-; 

19 " Digamos como Dona Marina, das, y que aora todos estauaraos 

con ser muger de la tierra, que heridos y dolientes, jamas viinos 

esfuerco tan varonil tenia, que con flaqucza eu ella, sino muy mayor 

oir cada dia que nos auian de matar, esfuerco que de muger." Bernal 

y comer nuestras carnes, y auernos Diaz, Hist, de la Couquista, cap. 

visto cercados en las batallas passa- 66. 


ings. 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 provisions. 

But the Tlascalan deputies, on arriving at the quarters 
of that chief, did not find him in the humour 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 honours, and for taking ven- 
geance on the invaders of his country. He refused to dis- 
band any of the force, still formidable, under his command ; 
or to send supplies to the enemy's camp. He further in- 
duced the ambassadors to remain in his quarters, and re- 
linquish their visit to the Spaniards. The latter, in conse- 
quence, were kept in ignorance of the movements in their 
favour, which had taken place in the Tlascalan capital. 20 

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 gather- 
ing darkness would infuse his own intrepid spirit into 
the hearts of his nation, to animate them to a last strug- 
gle for independence. 

20 Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Con- Tlascala, MS. — Ixtlilxockitl, Hist. 
quista, cap. 67— Camargo, Hist, de Ckicli., MS., cap. 83. 

350 Tbook hi. 


Discontents in the Army.— Tlascalan Spies.— Peace with the Republic— 
Embassy from Montezuma. 


Desirous to keep up the terror of the Castilian name, 
by leaving the enemy to no respite, Cortes 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 neighbouring country. He was at 
that time so ill from fever, aided by medical treatment, 1 
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 sol- 
diers, discouraged by this ill omen, would have per- 
suaded him to return. But he made answer, " We 
fight under the banner of the Cross ; God is stronger 
than nature," 2 and continued his march. 

It led through the same kind of chequered scenery of 
rugged hill and cultivated plain as that already described, 

1 The effect of the medicine — 127.) Soli's, after a conscientious 

though rather a severe dose, accord- inquiry into this perplexing matter, 

ing to the precise Diaz — was sus- decides — strange as it may seem— 

pended during the general's active against the father ! Conquista, lib. 

exertions. Gomara, however, does 2, cap. 20. 
not consider this a miracle. (Cro- 

niea, cap. 49.) Father Sandoval does. 2 " Dios es sobre natura." Rel. 

(Hist, de Carlos Quinto, torn. i. p. Seg. de Cortes, ap. Lorenzana,p. 54. 

chap, iv.] DISCONTENTS IN THE ARMY. 351 

well covered with towns and villages, some of them the 
frontier posts occupied by the Otomies. Prastising 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 deso- 
lation. After a short absence, he returned in safety, 
laden with the plunder of a successful foray. It would 
have been more honourable to him, had it been con- 
ducted with less rigour. The excesses are imputed by 
Bernal Diaz to the Indian allies, whom in the heat of 
victory it was found impossible to restrain. 3 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, 4 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." 5 
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 clay. 6 

On his return to the camp, Cortes found a new cause 
of disquietude in discontents which had broken out 
among the soldiery. Their patience was exhausted by 

3 Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 64. Fe, y por servicio de Vuestra Sacrs 
Not so Cortes, who says boldly, Magestad, en su muy Real ventura 

" Queme mas de diez pueblos." nos did Dios tanta victoria, que les 

(Ibid. p. 52.) _ His reverend com- matamos muclia gente, sin que los 

mentator specifies the localities of nuestros recibiessen dano." Rel. 

the Indian towns destroyed by him, Seg. de Cortes, ap. Lorenzana, p. 52. 
in his forays. Viaje, ap. Lorenzana, 

pp. ix. — xi. 8 " Y fue cosa notable," exclaims 

4 The famous banner of the Con- Hen-era, " con quanta humildad, i 
queror, with the Cross emblazoned devocion, bolvian todos alabando a 
on it, has been reserved in Mexico Dios, que tan milagrosas victorias 
to our day. les daba ; de donde se conocia claro, 

5 " E como trayamos la Bandera q ue losfavorecia con su Divina asis- 
de la Cruz, y punabamos por nuestra tencia. 

352 MARCH TO MEXICO. [book in. 

a life of fatigue and peril, to which there seemed to be 
no end. The battles they had won against such tremen- 
dous 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 ;" 7 
and the indefinite prospect of hostilities with the fero- 
cious people among whom they were now cast, threw a 
deep gloom over their spirits. 

Among the malcontents w T ere a number of noisy 
vapouring 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 mutin- 
ous 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. 8 The 
tone of familiarity thus assumed was eminently charac- 
teristic of the footing of equality on which the parties in 
the expedition stood with one another. 

Their sufferings, they told him, w T ere 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 labours ; but they, fighting or watching, had no 
rest, day nor night. As to conquering Mexico, the very 

7 " Porque entrar en Mexico teni- de acosejarle, y porque les parecia 
araoslo por cosa de risa, a causa de que eran bien dicbas, y no por otra 
sus grandes fuerzas." Bernal Diaz, via, porque siempre le siguieron may 
Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 66. bien, y lealmete ; y no es mucho que 

en los exercitos algunos buenos sol- 

8 Diaz indignantly disclaims tbe dados aconsejen a su Capitan y mas 
idea of mutiny, which Gomara at- si se ven tan trabajados como noso- 
tached to this proceeding. " Las tros andauamos." Bemal Diaz, Hist, 
palabras que le dezian era por via de la Conquista, cap. 71. 

chap, iv.] DISCONTENTS IN THE ARMY. 353 

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 

Cortes 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. Ho 
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 righting ? They had en- 
countered clangers 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 

VOL. i. a A 



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 Mexi- 
cans exult at this miserable issue of their vain-glorious 
vaunts ! Their former friends would become their ene- 
mies ; 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 honour, 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 malcontents, 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 them in it. 9 

9 This conference is reported, -with historian. (Rel. Seg. de Cortes, ap. 
some variety indeed, by nearly every Lorenzana, p. 55.— Oviedo, Hist, de 

chap, iv.] TLASCALAN SPIES. 355 

Such were the difficulties that lay in the path of 
Cortes ; a wily and ferocious enemy ; a climate uncer- 
tain, 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 colour of which inti- 
mated 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 num- 
ber, who remained, excited some distrust in the bosom 
of Marina. She communicated her suspicions to Cortes 
that they were spies. He caused several of them, in 
consequence, to be arrested, examining them separately, 
and ascertained that they were employed by Xicotencatl 
to inform him of the state of the Christian camp, pre- 
paratory to a meditated assault, for which he was 
mustering his forces. Cortes, satisfied of the truth of 
this, determined to make such an example of the delin- 
quents, 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, 

las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 3. — Go- dec. 5, cap. 2.) I have abridged the 
mara Cronica, cap. 51, 52. — Ixtlilxo- account given by BemalDiaz, one of 
chitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 80. — the audience, though not one of the 
Herrera, Hist. General, dec. 2, lib. 6, parties to the dialogue, — for that 
cap. 9. — P. Martyr, de Orbe Novo, reason, the better authority. 

aa 2 

35 G MARCH TO MEXICO. [book hi. 

with the message, " that the Tlascalans might come by day 
or night; they would find the Spaniards ready for them." 10 

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 buoy- 
ancy and confidence. His soldiers, filled with supersti- 
tious fear, refused to serve longer against a foe who could 
read their very thoughts, and divine their plans before 
they were ripe for execution. 11 

The punishment inflicted by Cortes 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 bar- 
barous nature of the sentence, we should reflect that it 
was no uncommon one at that day ; not more uncom- 
mon, 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 de- 
grading to humanity. But in the sixteenth century, they 
were openly recognised 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 con- 
tent, if, in circumstances so unfavourable to humanity, 
he does not fall below it. 

10 Dias says only seventeen lost y de dia, y cada, y qnando el viniesse 

their hands, the rest their thumbs, verian quien eramos." Rel. Seg. de 

(Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 70.) Cortes, ap. Lorenzana, p. 53. 
Cortes doesnotflinchfrom confessing, 

the hands of the whole fifty. " Los n " De que los Tlascalteeas se ad- 

mande tomar a todos cincuenta, y miraron, entendiendo que Cortes les 

cortaiies las manos, y los embie, que entendia sus pensamientos." Ixtlil- 

dixessen a, su Seilor, que de noche, xochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. S3. 

chap, iv.] PEACE WITH THE REPUBLIC. 357 

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 Spa- 
nish lines, they were easily recognised by the white and 
yellow colours 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 Cortes 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 pre- 
sence of Cortes, 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 slaves. 

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 war. 

Cortes, 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 Cortes, " 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. 12 

12 Hel. Seg. de Cortes, ap. Loren- Diaz, Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 71, 

zana, pp. 56, 57. — Oviedo, Hist. et seq. — Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva 

de las Lid., MS., lib. 33, cap. 3.— Espaiia, MS., lib. 12, cap. 11. 
Gomara, Croiiica, cap. 53. — Bemal 


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 un- 
tarnished glory. To the enemy, they seemed invulner- 
able, bearing charmed lives, proof alike against the acci- 
dents 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 him- 
self the subject of a special interposition of Providence, 
which shielded him in the hour of battle, and reserved 
him for a higher destiny. 

While the Tlascalans were still in the camp, an em- 
bassy 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 cou- 
rier 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 

His superstitious fears returned in fidl force. He saw 
in the Spaniards " the men of destiny " who were to 
take possession of his sceptre. In his alarm and uncer- 
tainty, 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 con- 
sisted of three thousand ounces of gold, in grains, or in 
various manufactured articles, with several hundred man- 
tles and dresses of embroidered cotton, and the pic- 
turesque feather-work. As they laid these at the feet 
of Cortes, they told him, they had come to offer the con- 
gratulations 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, re- 
sorted 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 enter- 
prise, — the terror of Anahuac ! 

Cortes, 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 Ins munificence, as he could wish, at pre- 
sent, he trusted to repay him, at some future day, with 
good works ! 13 

The Mexican ambassadors were not much gratified 
with finding the war at an. end, and a reconciliation esta- 
blished between their mortal enemies and the Spaniards. 

13 " Cortes recibio con alegria ria cl seilor Montecunia en buenas 
aqnel presente, j dixo que se lo obras." Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la 
tenia en merced, y que el lo paga- Conquista, cap. 73. 


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. u 

Two of the Aztec mission returned to Mexico, to 
acquaint their sovereign with the state of affairs in the 
Spanish camp. The others remained with the army, 
Cortes being willing that they should be personal spec- 
tators 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 intima- 
tions of the Mexicans respecting their good faith. Yet 
he was willing to put this to some longer trial, and, 
at the same time, to reestablish his own health more 
thoroughly, before his visit. Meanwhile, messengers 
daily arrived from the city, pressing his journey, and 
Avere finally followed by some of the aged rulers of 
the republic, attended by a numerous retinue, impa- 
tient of his long delay. They brought with them a 
body of five hundred lamanes, 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 

14 He dwells on it in his letter to que dice, Omne Regnum in seipsum 

the Emperor. " Vista la discordia aivisum desolabitur : y con los unos 

y desconformidad de los unos y de y con los otros maneaba, y a cada 

los otros, no have poco placer, por- uno en secreto le agradecia el aviso, 

que me parecio haccr mucho a mi que me daba, y le daba credito de 

proposito, y que podria tener manera mas amistad que al otro." Rel. Seg. 

de mas ayna sojuzgarlos, e aim acor- de Cortes, ap. Loreuzana, p. 61. 
deme de una autoridad Evangelica, 



Victory j" 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 Conquerors. 15 

15 Herrera, Hist. General, dec. 2, Novo, dec. 5, cap. 2. — Bemal Diaz, 

lib. 6, cap. 10. — Oviedo, Hist, de las Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 72-74. — 

Ind., MS., Kb. 33, cap. 4. — Gomara, Is.tlilxocb.itl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 

Crdnica, cap. 54.— Martyr, De Orbc S3. 


r.] 3G3 


Spaniards enter Tlascala. — Description of the Capital. — Attempted Conver- 
sion. — Aztec Embassy. — Invited to Cholula. 


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, ex- 
hibiting 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 stand- 
ing, and was constructed originally for the passage of 
the army. 1 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 nocked 
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 

1 "A distancia de un quarto de quity of this arched stone bridge 

legua caminando a esta dicha ciudad could be established, it would settle 

se encuentra una barranca honda, a point much mooted in respect to 

que tiene para pasar un Puente de Indian architecture. But the con- 

cal y canto de boceda, y es tradicion struction of so solid a work in so 

en el pueblo de San Salvador, que short a time is a fact requiring a 

se hizo en aquellas dias, que estubo better voucher than the villagers of 

alii Cortes paraque pasasse." (Viaje, San Salvador, 
ap. Lorenzana, p. xi.) If the anti- 



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 multitu- 
dinous 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. 2 

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, inter- 
twined 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. Cortes 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 
w r ay to a spacious hall in his palace, where a banquet 
was served to the army. In the evening, they were 

2 Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, "more than a hundred thousand 

torn, iii. p. 53. men flocked out to receive the Spa- 

" Recibimiento el mas solene y niards : a thing that appears impos- 

famoso que en el mundo se ha visto," sible," que jiarece cosa imposible ! It 

exclaims the enthusiastic historian does indeed. Camargo, Hist, de 

of the republic. He adds, that Tlascala, MS. 


shown to their quarters, in the buildings and open 
ground surrounding one of the principal teocallis ; while 
the Mexican ambassadors, at the desire of Cortes, had 
apartments assigned them next to his own, that he might 
the better watch over their safety, in this city of their 
enemies. 3 

Tlascala was one of the most important and popu- 
lous towns on the table-land. Cortes, 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. 4 But, notwithstanding, we are assured by a most 
respectable writer at the close of the last century, that 
its remains justify the assertion, 5 we shall be slow to be- 
lieve that its edifices could have rivalled those monu- 
ments 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 Cortes, like Columbus, saw objects through the 
warm medium of his own fond imagination, giving them 
a higher tone of colouring and larger dimensions than 
were strictly warranted by the fact. It was natural that 
the man who had made such rare discoveries should un- 
consciously magnify their merits to his own eyes, and to 
those of others. 

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 win- 
dows, but in the apertures for the former hung mats 

3 Sahagun Hist, de Nueva Es- decir, dexe, lo poco que dire creo es 
paila, MS., lib. 12, cap. 11. — Rel. casi increible, porque es muy mayor 
Seg. de Cortes, ap. Lorenzana, p 59. que Granada, y muy mas iuerte, y 
— Camargo, Hist, de Tlascala, MS., de tau buenos Edificios, y de muy 
— Gomara, Cronica, cap. 54. — Her- muclia mas gente, que Granada tenia 
rera, Hist. General, dec. 2, lib. 6, al tiempo que se gano." Rel. Seg. 
cap. 11. de Cortes, ap, Lorenzana, p. 58. 

5 "En las Ruinas, que aun hoy 

4 ''La qual ciudad es tan grande, se ven en Tlaxcala, se conoce, que 
y de tanta admiracion, que aunque no es ponderacion." Ibid., p. 58. 
muclio de lo, que de ella podria Nota del editor, Lorenzana. 

366 MARCH TO MEXICO. [book in. 

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 Cortes asserts, thirty 
thousand souls were often gathered in the market on a 
public clay. These meetings were a sort of fairs, held, 
as usual in all the great towns, every fifth day, and at- 
tended by the inhabitants of the adjacent country, who 
brought there for sale every description of domestic pro- 
duce and manufacture with which they were acquainted. 
They peculiarly excelled in pottery, which was considered 
as equal to the best in Europe. 6 It is a further proof of 
civilized habits, that the Spaniards found barbers' shops, 
and baths, both of vapour 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. 7 

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 sum- 
mits and sides of hills, at whose base are now gathered 
the miserable remains of its once flourishing population.® 

B "Nullum est fictile vas apud The last historian enumerates such 

nos, quod arte superet ab illis vasa a number of contemporary Indian 

i'ormata." Martyr, De Orbe Novo, authorities for his narrative, as of 

dec. 5, cap. 2. itself argues no inconsiderable degree 

7 Camargo, Hist, de Tlascala, MS. of civilization in the people. 

— Rel. Seg. de Cortes, ap. Loren- 8 Herrera, Hist. General, dec. 2, 

zana, p. 59— Oviedo, Hist, de las lib. 6, cap. 12. 

Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 4. — Ixtlilxo- The population of a place, which 

chit), Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 83. Cortes could compare with Granada, 


Far beyond, to the southwest, 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, unincumbered 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 
neighbourhood 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 tem- 
perature of the lower regions, it was far more favourable 
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 temper- 
ance and toil. Cut off by his long wars with the Aztecs 
from commercial intercourse, he was driven chiefly to 
agricultural labour, 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 conscious- 
ness of independence, the natural birthright of the child 

had dwindled by the beginning of were of the Indian stock. See Hum- 
the present century to 3,400 inhabi- boldt, Essai Politique, tom ii n 
tants, of which less than a thousand 158. 

368 MARCH TO MEXICO. [book in. 

of the mountains. — Such was the race with whom 
Cortes was now associated, for the achievement of his 
great work. 

Some days were given by the Spaniards to festivity, 
in which they were successively entertained at the hos- 
pitable boards of the four great nobles, in their several 
quarters of the city. Amidst these friendly demon- 
strations, however, the general never relaxed for a mo- 
ment 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 permis- 
sion. 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 Cortes explained it, as in obedience 
to an established military system, they testified their 
admiration, and the ambitious young general of the re- 
public proposed to introduce it, if possible, into his own 
ranks. 9 

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 
Cortes and his omcers. He told them this should 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, exhibit- 

9 Saliagun, Hist, de Nueva Es- Herrera, Hist. General, dec. 2, lib. 

pafia, MS., lib. 12, cap. 11. — Ca- 6, cap._ 13. — ■ Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la 

margo, Hist, de Tlascala, MS.— Conquista, ca]). 75. 
Gomara, Cronica, cap. 54, 55. — 


ing 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 perdition. 

It is unnecessary to burden the reader with a recapi- 
tulation of his homily, which contained, probably, dog- 
mas 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 Tlas- 
cala. 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. 10 But 
every nation, they continued, must have its own appro- 
priate and tutelary duties. Nor could they, in their 
old age, abjure the service of those who had watched 
over them from youth. It would bring down the ven- 
geance of their gods, and of their own nation, who 
were as warmly attached to their religion as their liber- 
ties, 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 Cortes, 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. 

10 Camargo notices this elastic que le rescibiesen admitiendole por 

property in the religions of Ana- tal, porque otras gentes advenedizas 

huac. "Este modo de hablar y trujeron muchos idolos que tubieron 

decir que les querra dar otro Dios, por Dioses, y a este fin y proposito 

es saber que cuando estas gentes decian, que Cortes les traia otro 

tenian noticia de algun Dios de Dios." Hist, de Tlascala, MS. 
buenas propiedadcs y costumbres, 

VOL. I. B B 

370 MARCH TO MEXICO. [book in. 

The good monk, his ghostly adviser, seeing the course 
things were likely to take, with better judgment inter- 
posed 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 per- 
manent conviction. These rational views were enforced 
by the remonstrances of Alvarado, Velasquez de Leon, 
and those in whom Cortes 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 the scenes, 
which, considering the different mettle of the population, 
might have been attended with very different results 
from those at Cozumel and Cempoalla. 11 

In the course of our narrative, we have had occasion 
to witness more than once the good effects of the inter- 
position of father Olmedo. Indeed, it is scarcely too 
much to say, that his discretion in spiritual matters con- 
tributed as essentially to the success of the expedition, as 
did the sagacity and courage of Cortes 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 

11 IxtHlxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., Christianised Indian, who lived in 

cap. 84. — Gomara, Crdnica, cap. 56. the next generation after the Con- 

Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Conquista, quest ; and may very likely have felt 

cap. 76, 77- as much desire to relieve his nation 

This is not the account of Camargo. from the reproach of infidelity, as 

According to him, Cortes gained his a modern Spaniard would to scour 

point ; the nobles led the way by out the stain — mala raza y mancha — 

embracing Christianity, and the idols of Jewish or Moorish lineage, from 

were broken. (Hist, de Tlascala, his escutcheon. 
MS.) But Camargo was himself a 


glow of Christian charity. He had come out to the New 
World as a missionary among the heathen, and he 
shrunk 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 labours of conversion. He afforded the 
uncommon example — not to have been looked for, cer- 
tainly, in a Spanish monk of the sixteenth century — of 
enthusiasm controlled by reason, a quickening zeal tem- 
pered by the mild spirit of toleration. 

But though Cortes abandoned the ground of conver- 
sion for the present, he compelled the Tlascalans to break 
the fetters of the unfortunate victims reserved for sacri- 
fice ; 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 per- 
form the services of their own religion unmolested. A 
large cross was erected in one of the great courts or 
squares. Mass was celebrated every clay 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 ! 12 

The principle of toleration in religious matters being 

12 The miracle is reported by Her- cap. 15,) and believed hy Solis. Con- 
rera, (Hist. General, dec. 2, lib. 6, quista de Mejico, lib. 3, cap. 5. 

b b 2 

372 MARCH TO MEXICO. [book hi. 

established, the Spanish general consented to receive the 
daughters of the caciques. Five or six of the most beau- 
tiful 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. 13 

Among them, Xicotencatl's daughter, Doria 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 favourite with the Tlascalans ; and his bright 
open countenance, fair complexion, and golden locks, 
gave him the name of Tonatiuli, the " Sun." The Indians 
often pleased their fancies by fastening a sobriquet, or 
some characteristic epithet, on the Spaniards. As Cortes 
was always attended, on public occasions, by Dona Ma- 
rina, 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. 14 

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 

13 To avoid the perplexity of selee- <ie la Conquista, cap. 74, 77. 

tion, it was common for the mission- According to Camargo, the Tlas- 

ary to give the same names to all calans gave the Spanish commander 

the Indians baptized on the same three hundred damsels to wait on 

day. Thus, one day was set apart Marina ; and the kind treatment and 

for the Johns, another for the Peters, instruction they received led some of 

and so on; an ingenious arrange- the chiefs to surrender their own 

ment, much more for the convenience daughters, " con propdsito de que si 

of the clergy, than of the converts. acaso algunas se emprehasan quedase 

See Camargo, Hist, de Tlascala, MS. entre ellos generacion de hombres 

14 Ibid., MS. — Bernal Diaz, Hist, tan valientes y temidos." 

chap, v.] AZTEC EMBASSY. 373 

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 barba- 
rous 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. 15 

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 com- 
munication 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 are false." 
When Cortes 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 

13 Bemal Diaz, Hist, de la Con- not always easy to decide between 

quista, cap. 80. — Rel. Seg. de Cortes, them. Diaz did not compile his nar- 

ap. Lorenzana, p. 60. — Martyr, de rative till some fifty years after the 

Orbe Novo, dec. 5, cap. 2. Conquest ; a lapse of time which. 

Cortes notices only one Aztec mis- may excuse many errors, but must 

sion, while Diaz speaks of three. The considerably impair our confidence 

former, from brevity, falls so much in the minute accuracy of his details, 

short of the whole truth, and the A more intimate acquaintance with 

latter, from forgetfulness perhaps, his chronicle does not strengthen 

goes so much beyond it, that it is this confidence. 



head-quarters 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 inun- 
dation from the foundations of his shrine, which should 
bury their enemies in the deluge. The Tlascalans further 
reminded Cortes, 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 sovereign, 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. 16 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 Cortes, 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 disaffec- 
tion 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 Cortes regarded it as a fresh indignity. 

16 Ante, p. 240. 

chap, v.] INVITED TO CHOLULA. 375 

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 ! 17 The 
menace had the desired effect. The Cholulans were not 
inclined to contest, at least for the present, his magnifi- 
cent 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 appre- 
hensions for their personal safety in the capital of their 
enemies. The explanation was plausible, and was ad- 
mitted by Cortes. 

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

These suggestions disturbed the mind of Cortes, 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 
Cholula. 18 

17 "Si no viniessen, iria sobre It justified very rigorous reprisals, 

ellos, y los destruiria, y procederia — (See the History of .Ferdinand 

contra ellos como contra personas and Isabella, Part I. Chap. 13, et 

rebeldes ; diciendoles, como todas alibi.) 

estas Partes, y otras muy mayores ls Rel. Seg. de Cortes, ap. Loren- 
Tierras, y Seilorios eran de Vuestra zana, pp. 62, 63. — Oviedo, Hist, de 
Alteza." (Rel. Seg. de Cortes, ap. las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 4.— Ixtlil- 
Lorenzana, p. 63.) " Rebellion " was xochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 84. 
a very convenient terra, fastened in — Gomara, Cronica, cap. 58. — Mar- 
like manner by the countrymen of tyr, de Orbe Novo, dec. 5, cap. 2. — 
Cortes on the Moors, for defending Herrera, Hist. General, dec. 2, lib. 6, 
the possessions which they had held cap. 18. — Sahagun, Hist, de Nucva 
for eight centuries in the Peninsula. Espaha, MS., lib. 12, cap. 11. 

376 MARCH TO MEXICO. [book hi. 

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 an enemy, 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 
cooperation of these brave and warlike republicans, 
greatly depended the ultimate success of the expedition. 


,-i.] 377 


City of Cholula. — Great Temple. — March to Cholula. — Reception of 
the Spaniards. — Conspiracy detected. 


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 south-east of Mexico. It 
was said by Cortes to contain twenty thousand houses 
within the walls, and as many more in the environs j 1 
though now dwindled to a population of less than sixteen 
thousand souls. 2 Whatever was its real number of inha- 
bitants, it was unquestionably, at the time of the Con- 
quest, 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. 3 We have few particulars of its form of govern- 
ment, which seems to have been cast on a republican 
model similar to that of Tlascala. This answered so 

1 Rel. Seg., ap. Lorenzana, p. 67- 2 Humboldt, Essai Politique, torn. 

According to Las Casas, the place iii. p. 159. 

contained 30,000 vecinos, or about 3 Veytia carries back the founda- 

150,000 inhabitants. (Brevissima tion of the city to the Ulmecs, a 

Relatione della Distruttione dell' people who preceded the Toltecs. 

Indie Occidentale.) [Venetia, 1643.] (Hist. Antig., torn. i. cap. 13, 20.) 

This latter, being the smaller esti- As the latter, after occupying the 

mate, is a priori the most credible ; land several centuries, have left not 

especially — a rare occurrence — when a single written record, probably of 

in the pages of the good bishop of their existence, it will be hard to 

Chiapa. disprove the licentiate's assertion, — 

still harder to prove it. 

378 MARCH TO MEXICO. [book hi. 

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 connexion with Mexico brought the Cholulans into 
frequent collision with their neighbours and kindred, the 
Tlascalans. But, although far superior to them in refine- 
ment 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 commer- 
cial 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. 4 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. 5 

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 inhabi- 
tants 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. 6 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. 7 It is pro- 

4 Herrera, Hist. General, dec. 2, 6 Veytia, Hist. Antig., torn. i. 
lib. 7, cap. 2. cap. 15, et seq. — Sahagun, Hist, de 

5 Camargo, Hist, de Tlascala, MS. Nueva Espafia, Jib. 1, cap. 5 ; lib. 3. 
— Gomara Crdnica, cap. 58. — Tor- 7 Later divines have found in these 
quemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 3, teachings of the Toltec god, or high 
cap. 19. priest, the germs of some of the great 

chap, vi.] CITY OF CHOLULA. 379 

bable lie 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 honour 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 teocattis, 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 arti- 
ficial composition of stone and earth, deeply incrusted, 
as is certain, in every part, with alternate strata of brick 
and clay. 8 

The perpendicular height of the pyramid is one hun- 

mysteries of the Christian faith, as who has examined this interesting 

those of the Incarnation, and the monument with his usual care. (Vues 

Trinity, for example. In the teacher des Cordilleres, p. 27, et seq. Essai 

himself they recognise no less a per- Politique, torn. ii. p. 150, et seq.) The 

son than St. Thomas the Apostle ! opinion derives strong confirmation 

See the Dissertation of the irrefra- from the fact, that a road cut some 

gable Dr. Mier, with an edifying years since across the tumulus, laid 

commentary by Senor Bustamante, open a large section of it, in which 

ap. Sahagun. (Hist, de Nueva Es- the alternate layers of brick and clay 

pana, torn. i. Suplemento.) The are distinctly visible. (Ibid., loc. cit.) 

reader will find further particulars The present appearance of this mo- 

of this matter in Appendix, Part 1, nument,coveredoverwiththeverdure 

of this History. and vegetable mould of centuries, 

8 Such, on the whole, seems to be excuses the scepticism of the more 

the judgment of M. de Humboldt, superficial traveller. 

380 MARCH TO MEXICO. [book hi. 

dred 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 brick-work, 
which are still seen in ruins on the banks of the Eu- 
phrates, and, in much higher preservation, on those of 
the Nile. 9 

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. 10 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 furthest corners of Anahuac 
came to offer up their devotions at the shrine of Quet- 
zalcoatl. 11 The number of these was so great, as to give 
an air of mendicity to the motley population of the city ; 
and Cortes, struck with the novelty, tells us, that he saw 
multitudes of beggars such as are to be found in the en- 
lightened capitals of Europe ; u — a whimsical criterion of 

9 Several of the pyramids of Egypt, 10 " A minute account of the cos- 
and the ruins of Babylon, are, as is tume and insignia of Quetzalcoatl 
well known, of brick. An inscrip- is given by father Sahagun, who 
tion on one of the former, indeed, saw the Aztec gods before the arm 
celebrates this material as superior of the Christian convert had turn- 
to stone. (Herodotus, Euterpe, sec. bled them from " their pride of 
136.) — Humboldt furnishes an apt place." See Hist, de Nueva Es- 
illustration of the size of the Mexi- paaa, lib. 1, cap. 3. 
can teocalli, by comparing it to a u They came from the distance 
mass of bricks covering a square four of two hundred leagues, says Tor- 
times as large as the place Vendome, quemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 3, 
and of twice the height of the Louvre. cap. 19. 
Essai Politique, torn. ii. p. 152. 12 " Hay mucha gente pobre, y que 

chap, vi.] GREAT TEMPLE. 381 

civilization which must place our own prosperous land 
somewhat low in the scale. 

Cholula was not the resort only of the indigent de- 
votee. 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 proces- 
sions, such pomp of ceremonial, sacrifice, and religious 
festivals. Cholula was, in short, what Mecca is among 
Mahometans, or Jerusalem among Christian ; it was the 
Holy City of Anahuac. 13 

The religious rites were not performed, however, in 
the pure spirit of originality 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. 14 The great number of 
these may be estimated from the declaration of Cortes, 
that he counted four hundred towers in the city ; 15 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 

pideu entre los Eicos por las Calles, " Herrera, Hist. General, dec. 2, 

Y por las Casas, y Mercados, como lib. 7, cap. 2. — Torquemada, Mon- 

bacen los Pobres en Espaiia, y en arcb. Ind., ubi supra, 

otras partes que bay Genie de razon." 15 " E certifico a Vuestra Alteza, 

Eel. Seg., ap. Lorenzana, pp. 67, OS. que yo conte desde una Mezquita 

13 Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., quatrocientas, y tautas Torres en la 

lib. 3, cap. 19. — Gomara, Crdnica, dicha Ciudad, y todas son de Mez- 

cap. 61. — Camargo, Hist, de Tlas- quitas." Eel. Seg., ap. Lorenzana, 

cala, MS. p. 67. 

382 MARCH TO MEXICO. [book hi. 

the pyramid. Toward the north stretched that bold 
barrier of porphyritic rock which nature has reared round 
the Valley of Mexico, with the huge Popocatepetl and 
Iztaccihuatl standing like two colossal sentinels to guard 
the entrance to the enchanted region. Par away to the 
south was seen the conical head of Orizaba soaring high 
into the clouds, and nearer, the barren, though beauti- 
fully shaped Sierra de 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. 16 

But it is time to return to Tlascala. On the ap- 
pointed morning the Spanish army took up its inarch 
to Mexico by the way of Cholula. It was followed by 
crowds of the citizens, filled with admiration at the in- 

10 The city of Puebla de los An- the pages of travellers who have 

geles was founded by the Spaniards passed through the place on the 

soon after the Conquest, on the site usual route from Vera Cruz to the 

of an insignificant village in the ter- capital. (See, in particular, Bul- 

ritory of Cholula, a few miles to the lock's Mexico, vol. i. chap. 6.) The 

east of that capital. It is, perhaps, environs of Cholula, still irrigated as 

the most considerable city in New in the days of the Aztecs, are equally 

Spain, after Mexico itself, which it remarkable for the fruitfulness of 

rivals in beauty. It seems to have the soil. The best wheat lands, ac- 

inherited the religious preeminence cording to a very respectable autho- 

of the ancient Cholula, being distin- rity, yield in the proportion of eighty 

guished, like her, for the number for one. Ward's Mexico, vol. ii. 

and splendour of its churches, the p. 270. — See also Humboldt, Essai 

multitude of its clergy, and the mag- Politique, torn. ii. p. 158 ; torn. iv. 

nificence of its ceremonies and festi- p. 330. 
vals. These are fully displayed in 

chap, vi.] GREAT TEMPLE. 383 

trepidity 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 Cortes, while he showed his gra- 
titude for their good-will, selected only six thousand of 
the volunteers to bear him company. 17 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 guaranty for their fidelity. 

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 pro- 
ducts 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 bril- 
liant cochineal is nourished. Not a rood of land but 
was under cultivation ; 18 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. To- 
wards evening they reached a small stream, on the banks 
of which Cortes 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 un- 
seasonable hour. 

Here he was soon joined by a number of Cholulan 
caciques and their attendants, who came to view and 

17 According to Cortes, a hundred en mi compania liasta cinco o seis 
thousand men offered their services mil de ellos." (Rel. Seg., ap. Lo- 
on this occasion ! " E puesto que renzana, p. 64.) This, which must 
yo ge lo defendiesse, y rogue que no have been nearly the whole fighting 
fuessen, porque no habia necesidad, force of the republic, does not startle 
todavia me siguieron hasta cien mil Oviedo, (Hist, de las Ind., MS., 
Hombres muy bien aderezados de cap. 4,) nor Gomara, Crdnica, cap. 58. 
Guerra, y llegaron con migo hasta 18 The words of the Conquistador 
dos leguas de la Ciudad : y desde are yet stronger, " Nino palmo de 
alii, por mucha importunidad mia se tierra hay, que no esta labrada." 
bolvieron, aunque todavia quedaron Eel. Seg., ap. Lorenzana, p. 67. 



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 Cortes, and he ac- 
cordingly commanded his allies to remain in their present 
quarters, and to join him as he left the city on the way 
to Mexico. 

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 appear- 
ance 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. 19 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 

19 " Los honrados ciudadanos de tieneii rnaneras ; pero en la hechura 

ella todos traken albornoces, encima y tela y los rapacejos son muy seme- 

de la otra ropa, aunque son difer- jables." Rel. Seg. de Cortes, ap. 

enciados de los de Africa, porqne Lorenzana, p. 67. 

chap, vi.] CONSPIRACY DETECTED. 385 

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 

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. 20 

They were soon visited by the principal lords of the 
place, who seemed solicitous to provide them with ac- 
commodations. 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 hostility. 

In a few days the scene changed. Messengers arrived 
from Montezuma, who, after a short and unpleasant 
intimation to Cortes that his approach occasioned much 
disquietude to their master, conferred separately with the 
Mexican ambassadors still in the Castilian camp, and 

20 Rel. Seg., p. 67. — Ixtlilxocliitl, Castellanos, en el asiento, i perspec- 

Hist. Chich.j MS., cap. 84. — Oviedo, tiva, a Valladolid, salid la demas 

Hist, de las Lid-, MS., lib. 33, cap. gente, quedando mui espantada de 

4.— Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Con- ver las figures, talles, i armas de los 

quista, cap. 82. Castellanos. Salieron los sacerdotes 

The Spaniards compared Cholula con vestiduras blancas, como sobre- 

to the beautiful Valladolid, accord- pellices, i algunas cerradas por de- 

ing to Herrera, whose description of lante, los bracos defuera, con fluecos 

the entry is very animated. " Sail- de algodon en las orillas. Unos 

eronle otro dia a recibir mas de diez Uevaban figuras de idolos en las 

mil ciudadanos en diversas tropas, manos, otros sahumerios; otros toca- 

con rosas, flores, pan, aves, i frutas, ban cornetas, atabalejos, i diversas 

i mucha musica. Llegaba vn esqua- miisicas, i todos iban cantando, i 

dron a dar la bien llcgada a Her- llegaban a encensar a los Castella- 

nando Cortes, i con bucua drden se nos. Con esta pompa entraron en 

iba apartando, dando lngar a que Cholula." Hist. General, dec. 2, 

otro llegase En llegando lib. 7, cap. ] . 

a la ciudad, que parecid mucho a los 

VOL. I. C C 

386 MARCH TO MEXICO. [book hi. 

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 pro- 
visions 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 Cortes, 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 mis- 
siles, 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. 21 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 favour 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 Cortes, 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 

The amiable manners of the Indian girl had won her 
the regard of the wife of one of the caciques, who re- 

21 Cortes, indeed, noticed these camino real cerrado, y hecho otro, 

same alarming appearances on his y algunos hoyos annque no rnuchos, 

entering the city, thus suggesting y algunas calles de la ciudad tapia- 

the idea of a premeditated treach- das, y muchas piedras en todas las 

ery. " Y en el camino topamos Azoteas. Y con esto nos hicieron 

muchos sehales, de las que los estar mas sobre aviso, y a mayor 

Naturales de esta Provincia nos recaudo." Rel. Seg. ap. Lorenzana, 

habian dicho : por que hallamos el p. (i-1. 

chap, vi.] CONSPIRACY DETECTED. 387 

peateclly urged Marina to visit her house, darkly intimat- 
ing, 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, throw- 
ing the credulous Cholulan off her guard, Marina gra- 
dually insinuated herself into her confidence, so far as to 
draw from her a full account of the conspiracy. 

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 Avas 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 occu- 
pied 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 imme- 
diately caused the cacique's wife to be seized, and on 
examination she fully confirmed the statement of his 
Indian mistress. 

c c 2 



The intelligence thus gathered by Cortes 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 embarrass- 
ments were thrown in the way, as might render the 
manoeuvres of his artillery and horse nearly impracti- 
cable. In addition to the wily Cholulans, he must cope, 
under all these disadvantages, with the redoubtable war- 
riors of Mexico. He was like a traveller who had 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 in- 
duced two of the priests in the neighbourhood, one of 
them a person of much influence in the place, to visit 
his quarters. By courteous treatment, and liberal lar- 
gesses of the rich presents he had received from Monte- 
zuma, — 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 w r ere, 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. 

Cortes, now feeling himself fully possessed of the facts, 
dismissed the priest, 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 

chap, vi.] CONSPIRACY DETECTED. 389 

a council of his officers, though, as it seems, already de- 
termined 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 pros- 
pect 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 mea- 
sures 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 Cortes, 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 pro- 
posed to leave it early on the following morning. He 
requested, moreover, that they would furnish a rein- 
forcement of two thousand men to transport his artillery 
and baggage. The chiefs, after some consultation, ac- 
quiesced in a demand which might in some measure 
favour 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 

390 MARCH TO MEXICO. [book hi. 

enemies against the prince whom they 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 Cortes 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 resent- 
ment 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 dis- 
missed the ambassadors, taking care, notwithstanding 
this show of confidence, to place a strong guard over 
them, to prevent communication with the citizens. 22 

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. In- 
deed every Spaniard lay down in his arms, and every 
horse stood saddled and bridled, ready for instant ser- 

22 Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Con- Hist, de las Ind., MS., lib. S3, cap. 

quista, cap. 83. — Gomara, Cronica, 4. — Martyr, de Orbe Novo, dec. 5, 

cap. 59. — Rel. Seg. de Cortes, ap. cap. 2. — Herrera, Hist. Gen., dec. 2, 

Lorenzana, p. 65. — Torquemada, lib. 7, cap. I. — Argensola, Anales, 

Mon. Ind., lib. 4, cap. 39. — Oviedo, lib. 1, cap. 85. 

chap, vi.] CONSPIRACY DETECTED. 391 

vice. 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 teocattis, proclaiming 
through their trumpets the watches of the night. 23 

23 " Las horas de la noclie las regu- mentos como vocinas, con que hacian 

laban por las estrellas, y tocaban los couocer al pueblo el tiempo." Garaa, 

miuistros del templo que estaban de- Description, Parte 1, p. 14. 
stinados para este fin, ciertos instru- 

392 [book hi. 


Terrible Massacre.— Tranquillity restored— Reflections on the Massacre — 
Further Proceedings. — Envoys from Montezuma. 


With the first streak of morning light, Cortes 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, 
iamanes, 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 Avails. Cortes then took some of 
the caciques aside. With a stern air, he bluntly charged 
them with the conspiracy, showing that he was well ac- 
quainted 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 

chap, vii.] TERRIBLE MASSACRE. ' 393 

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 hospi- 
tality, 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 endeavoured to excuse 
themselves by throwing the blame on Montezuma. 
Cortes, 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 crossbow 
was levelled at the unfortunate Cholulans in the court- 
yard, 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 endeavoured 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 loaded. 

While this work of death was going on, the country- 
men of the slaughtered Indians, drawn together by the 
noise of the massacre, had commenced a furious assault 
on the Spaniards from without. But Cortes 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 ter- 
rific spectacle, the flash of fire-arms mingling with the 
deafening roar of the artillery, as its thunders rever- 
berated 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 Cortes, wreaths of sedge round their heads, 
that they might the more surely be distinguished from 
the Cholulans. 1 Coming up in the very heat of the en- 
gagement, they fell on the defenceless rear of the towns- 
men, who, trampled down under the heels of the Casti- 
lian 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 

1 " Usiironlos de Tlaxcalla de xm sieron en las cabezas unas guirnaldas 

aviso muy bueno y les dio Hernando de esparto k manera de torzales, y 

Cortes porque fueran conocidos y no con esto eran conocidos losde nuestra 

morir entre los enemigos por yeiTO, parcialidad que no fue pequeiio 

porque sus annas y divisas eran casi aviso." Camargo, Hist, de Tlas- 

de una manera; y ansi se pu- cala, MS. 

chap, vii.] TERRIBLE MASSACRE. 395 

possession of the great teocalli. There was a vulgar tra- 
dition, 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 Spa- 
niards, as they climbed the great staircase, which, by a 
flight of one hundred and twenty steps, scaled 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 flames. 2 

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 van- 
quished 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 rancour 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 

2 Camargo, Hist, de Tlascala, MS. Monarch. Lid., lib. 4, cap. 40. — 
— Oviedo, Hist, de las Lid., MS., Ixtlikochitl, Hist. Cliich., MS., cap. 
lib. 33, cap. 4, 45. — Torquemada, 84.— Gomara, Crdiiica, cap. 60. 

396 MARCH TO MEXICO. [book in. 

of whatever valuables they contained, plate, jewels, which 
were found in some quantity, wearing apparel and provi- 
sions, 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 confede- 
rates. Amidst this universal licence, it is worthy of 
remark, the commands of Cortes were so far respected 
that no violence was offered to women or children, though 
these, as well as numbers of the men, were made pri- 
soners, to be swept into slavery by the Tlascalans. 3 These 
scenes of violence had lasted some hours, when Cortes, 
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 Monte- 
zuma, 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 

These measures had their effect. By the joint efforts 
of Cortes and the caciques, the tumult was with much 
difficulty appeased. The assailants, Spaniards and In- 
dians, gathered under their respective banners, and the 
Cholulans, relying on the assurance of their chiefs, gra- 
dually returned to their homes. 

The first act of Cortes was, to prevail on the Tlascalan 
chiefs to liberate their captives. 4 Such was their defe- 
rence to the Spanish commander, that they acquiesced, 
though not without murmurs, contenting themselves, as 
they best could, with the rich spoil rifled from the Cho- 
lulans, 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 

3 " Mataron casi seis mil personas 4 Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Con- 
sin tocar a niiios ni mugeres, porque quista, cap. S3. — Ixtlilxochitl, Hist, 
asi se les ordeno." Herrera, Hist. Clrich., MS., ubi supra. 
General, dec. 2, lib. 7, cap. 2. 





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, 
Cortes assisted the Cholulans in installing a successor in 
his place. 5 By these pacific measures, confidence was 
gradually restored. The people in the environs, reassured, 
flocked into the capital to supply the place of the dimi- 
nished population. The markets were again opened; 
and the usual avocations of an orderly, industrious com- 
munity 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 stand- 
ing more than fifty years after the event, told the sad 
tale of the Massacre of Cholula. 6 

5 Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Con- 
quista, cap. 83. 

The descendants of the principal 
Cholulan cacique are living at this 
day in Puebla, according to Busta- 
mante. See Goraara, Cronica, trad, 
de Chimalpain, (Mexico, 1826,) torn. 
i. p. 98, nota. 

6 Eel Seg. de Cortes, ap. Loren- 
zana, 66. — Camargo, Hist, de Tlas- 
cala,MS — IxtlilxochitlHist.Chich, 
MS., cap. 84. — Oviedo, Hist, de las 
Ind, MS, lib. 33, cap. 4, 45.— Ber- 
nal Diaz, Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 
83. — Gomara, Cronica, cap. 60. — 
Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva Esparia, 
MS, lib. 12, cap. 11. 

Las Casas, in his printed treatise 
on the Destruction of the Indies, 
garnishes his account of these trans- 
actions with some additional and 
rather startling particulars. Accord- 
ing to him, Cortes caused a hundred 
or more of the caciques to be im- 
paled or roasted at the stake ! He 
adds the report, that, while the mas- 
sacre, 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 el de nada se dolia." 

Brevisima Relacion, p. 46. 

This is the first instance, I suspect, 
on record, of any person being ambi- 
tious of finding a parallel for himself 
in that emperor ! Bemal Diaz, who 
had seen "the interminable narra- 
tive," as he calls it, of Las Casas, 
treats it with great contempt. His 
own version — one of those chiefly 
followed in the text — was corrobo- 
rated by the report of the missiona- 
ries, 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 
country men in behalf of the oppressed 
natives ; a generous object, certainly, 

398 MARCH TO MEXICO. [book hi. 

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 nourishing 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, whe- 
ther hereditary or acquired, heretical or pagan — as a sin 
to be punished with fire and faggot 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. 7 Under this code, the ter- 
ritory of the heathen, wherever found, was regarded as a 
sort of religious waif, which, in default of a legal pro- 
prietor, 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 

but one that has too often warped his pains to show how deep settled were 

judgment from the strict line of his- these convictions in Spain, at the 

toric impartiality. He was not an period with which we are now occu- 

eye-witness of the transactions in pied. The world had gained little in 

New Spain, and was much too wil- liberality since the age of Dante, who 

ling to receive whatever would make could coolly dispose of the great and 

for his case, and to " over-red," if I good of Antiquity in one of the cir- 

may so say, his argument with such cles of Hell, because — no fault of 

details of blood and slaughter, as, theirs, certainly — they had come into 

from their very extravagance, carry the world too soon. The memorable 

their own refutation with them. verses, like many others of the im- 
mortal bard, are a proof at once of 

7 For an illustration of the above the strength and weakness of the 

remark the reader is referred to the human understanding. They may be 

closing pages of chap. 7, part ii. of cited as a fair exponent of the popu- 

the "History of Ferdinand and Isa- lar feeling at the beginning of the 

bella," where I have taken some sixteenth century : 


pleased, that would assume the burden of conquest. 8 
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 pre- 
tensions of the successors of the humble fishermen of 
Galilee, far from being nominal, were acknowledged 
and appealed to as conclusive in controversies between 
nations. 9 

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. How- 
ever much it may have been debased by temporal mo- 
tives and^mixed up with worldly considerations of ambi- 
tion 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 Cortes. The concession of the Pope then, 
founded on and enforcing the imperative duty of conver- 

" Ch' ei non peccaro, e, s'egli hamio liever ! " S'ilz sont pyrates, pilleurs, 

mercedi, ou escumeurs de mer, ou Turcs, et 

Non basta, perch' e' non ebber autres contraires et ennemis de nostre 

baitesmo, dicte fuy catholicque, chascun pent 

Ch' e porta della fcde eke tu prendre sur telles manieres dc gens, 

credi. comme sur cldetis, et peut Von les 

E, se fnron dinanzi al Christian- desrobber et spoiler de leurs Mens 

esmo, sans pugnitlon. C'est le jugement." 

Non adorar debitamente Dio ; Jugemens d'Oleron, Art. 45, ap. 

E di questi cotai son io me- Collection de Lois Maritimes, par 

desmo, J. M. Pardessus, (ed. Paris, 1S2S,) 

Per tai difetti, e non per altro rio, torn. i. p. 351. 

Semo perduti, e sol di tanto 9 The famous bull of partition be- 
offesi came the basis of the treaty of Tor- 
Che sanza speme vivemo in dcsillas, by which the Castilian and 
disio." Portuguese governments determined 
Inferno, canto iv. the boundary line of their respective 
discoveries ; a line that secured the 
8 It is in the same spirit that the vast empire of Brazil to the latter, 
laws of Oleron, the maritime code of which from priority of occupation 
so high authority in the Middle should have belonged to their rivals. 
Ages, abandon the property of the See the History of Ferdinand and 
infidel, in common with that of Isabella, part i. ch. 18 ; part ii. ch. 9, 
pirates, as fair spoil to the true be- ■ — the closing pages of each. 




sion, 10 was the assumed basis — and, in the apprehension 
of that age, a sound one — of the right of conquest. 11 

This right could not, indeed, be construed to authorize 
any unnecessary act of violence to the natives. The pre- 
sent 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 enterprize of 
the Spanish discoverers in the New World. Through- 
out the campaign, Cortes had prohibited all wanton 
injuries to the natives, in person or property, and had 

10 It is the condition, unequivo- 
cally expressed and reiterated, on 
which Alexander VI., in his famous 
bulls of May 3d and 4th, 1493, con- 
veys to Ferdinand and Isabella full 
and absolute right over all such ter- 
ritories in the Western World as 
may not have been previously occu- 
pied by Christian princes. See these 
precious documents, in extenso, apud 
Navarrete, Colleccion de los Viages 
y Descubrimientos, (Madrid, 1825,) 
torn. ii. nos. 17, IS. 

11 The ground on which Protestant 
nations assert a natural right to the 
fruits of their discoveries in the New 
World is very different. They con- 
sider that the earth was intended 
for cultivation ; and that Providence 
never designed that hordes of wan- 
dering savages should hold a terri- 
tory far more than necessary for 
their own maintenance, to the exclu- 
sion of civilized man. Yet it may be 
thought, as far as improvement of 
the sod is concerned, that this argu- 
ment would afford us but an indif- 
ferent tenure for much of our own 
unoccupied and uncultivated terri- 
tory, far exceeding what is demanded 
for our present or prospective sup- 
port. As to a right founded on 
difference of civilization, this is obvi- 
ously a still more uncertain crite- 
rion. It is to the credit of our 
puritan ancestors, that they did not 
avail themselves of any such inter- 
pretation of the law of nature, and 
still less rely on the powers conceded 
by King James' patent, asserting 
rights as absolute, nearly, as those 

claimed by the Pcornan See. On the 
contrary, they established their title 
to the soil by fair purchase of the 
aborigines ; thus forming an honour- 
able 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 be- 
tween 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 con- 
troversies with one another, to rest 
them exclusively on priority of dis- 
covery. For a brief view of the dis- 
cussion, see Vattel, (Droit des Gens, 
sec. 209,) and especially Kent, (Com- 
mentaries on American Law, vol. iii. 
Lee. 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. M'ln- 
tosh. (Wheaton, Reports of Cases 
in the Supreme Court of the United 
States, vol. viii. pp. 543, et seq.) If 
it were not treating a grave discus- 
sion too lightly, I should crave leave 
to refer the reader to the renowned 
Diedrich Knickerbocker's History of 
New lork, (book 1, chap. 5,) for a 
luminous disquisition on this knotty 
question. At all events, he will find 
there the popular arguments sub- 
jected to the test of ridicule ; a test 
showing, more than any reasoning 
can, how much, or rather how little, 
they are really worth. 


punished the perpetrators of them with exemplary seve- 
rity. 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 obtained 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 pow T er 3 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 cir- 
cumstances. The atrocities at Cholula were not so bad 
as those inflicted on the descendants of these very Spa- 
niards, in the late war of the Peninsula, by the most 
polished nations of our time ; by the British at Badajoz, 
for example, — at Taragona, and a hundred other places, 
by the French. The wanton butchery, the ruin of pro- 
perty, and, above all, those outrages worse than death, 
from which the female part of the population were pro- 
tected at Cholula, show a catalogue of enormities quite 
as black as those imputed to the Spaniards, and without 

vol. i. n D 



the same apology for resentment, — with no apology, 
indeed, but that afforded by a brave and patriotic resist- 
ance. 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 excite- 
ment, savage or civilized, is much the same in every age. 
It may teach us, — it is one of the best lessons of his- 
tory, — 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 
honour, 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 periled life and 
fortune in the cause ; and as they made little account of 
danger and suffering for themselves, they had little sym- 
pathy 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 pas- 
sages in our own history, which hardly arrest the eye of 
the contemporary. 

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, appa- 
rently, 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 12 — 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 
trembled ! 

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. 13 
He felt his empire melting away like a morning mist. 
He might well feel so. Some of the most important 
cities in the neighbourhood of Cholula, intimidated by 
the fate of that capital, now sent their envoys to the 
Castilian camp, tendering their allegiance, and propitia- 
ting the favour of the strangers by rich presents of gold 
and slaves. 14 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 

12 Los Bioses blancos. — Camargo, and desolation of the empire shall 
Hist.deTlascala, MS. — Torquemada, come, when all shall be plunged in 
Monarch. Ind., lib. 4, cap. 40. darkness, when the hour shall arrive 

13 Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva Es- in which they shall make us slaves 
pafia, MS., lib. 12, cap. 11. throughout the land, and we shall be 

In an old Aztec harangue, made condemned to the lowest and most 
as a matter of form on the accession degrading offices !" (Ibid., lib. 6, 
of a prince, we find the following cap. 16.) This random shot of pro- 
remarkable prediction. " Perhaps ye phecy, which I have rendered lite- 
are dismayed at the prospect of the rally, shows how strong and settled 
terrible calamities that are one day was the apprehension of some im- 
to overwhelm us, calamities foreseen pending revolution, 
and foretold, though not felt, by our " Herrera, Hist. General, dec. 2, 

fathers ! When the destruction lib. 7, cap. 3. 




Spaniards, disavowing any participation in the conspiracy 
of Cliolula. 

Meanwhile Cortes 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 conver- 
sion. He accordingly urged the citizens to embrace the 
Cross, and abandon the false guardians who had aban- 
doned 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 reli- 
gious capital of Anahuac. It was too much to expect 
that the people would willingly resign this preeminence, 
and descend to the level of an ordinary community. 
Still Cortes might have pressed the matter, however un- 
palatable, but for the renewed interposition of the wise 
Olmedo, who persuaded him to postpone it till after the 
reduction of the whole country. 15 

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 teocatti, 
and devoted that portion of the building, which, being 
of stone, had escaped the fury of the flames, to the pur- 
poses 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 
Bemedios. An image of the Virgin presides over it, 
said to have been left by the Conqueror himself; 16 
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 

15 Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Con- 16 Veytia, Hist. Antig., torn. i. 

quista, cap. 83. cap. 13. 

chap, vii.] ENVOYS FROM MONTEZUMA. 405 

celebrated the sanguinary rites of the mystic Quet- 
zalcoatl. 17 

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 neighbourhood, by the necessity of 
repressing some disorders there. 18 

One cannot contemplate this pusillanimous conduct of 
Montezuma without mingled feelings of pity and con- 
tempt. 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 nourished 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. 19 It is the hard fate of this 

17 Humboldt, Vues des Cordilleres, notions. Even such writers as Ix- 

p. 32. tlilxochitl and Camargo, from whom, 

i» t> i o t n i' t considerinc; their Indian descent, we Cortes ap ; Loren- . fc B m&Q iud denC6) 

zana, p. 69-Gomara Cromca , cap. * ^J solicitous to S [ 10W this 

63.-Oviedo Hist, c le las Inc L MS tban ^ , % to the new faith 

rn • l 3j ™l' 5 - J ^ 0(Mi ' Hlst and country of their adoption. Per- 
Ghich., MS., cap. 84. haps the ^ honest Aztec record of 

19 The language of the text may the period is to be obtained from the 

appear somewhat too unqualified, volumes, the twelfth book particu- 

considering that three Aztec codices larly, of father Sahagun, embodying 

exist with interpretations. (See ante, the traditions of the natives soon 

vol. i. pp. 87, 88.) But they con- after the Conquest. This portion of 

tain very few and general allusions his great work was re-written by its 

to Montezuma, and these strained author, and considerable changes 

through commentaries of Spa ush were made in it at a later period ot 

monks, oftentimes manifestly irre- his life. Yet it may be doubted if 

eoncilab'.e with the genuine Aztec the original version reflects the tra-. 

400 MARCH TO MEXICO. [book hi. 

unfortunate monarch, to be wholly indebted for his 
portraiture to the pencil of his enemies. 

More than a fortnight had elapsed since the entrance 
of the Spaniards into Cholnla, and Cortes 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 Tlas- 
cala, 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 cooperation with the Spaniards, to care to 
trust themselves in his capital. It was in vain Cortes 
endeavoured to reassure them by promises of his pro- 
tection. 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 staunch fidelity 
and courage. All this made it the more difficult for him 
to resist their reasonable demand. Liberally recom- 
pensing their services, therefore, from the rich wardrobe 
and treasures of the emperor, he took leave of his faith- 
ful 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 interfer- 

ditions of the country as faithfully as script, and which I have chiefly fol- 
the reformed, which is still in manu- lowed. 

chap, vil.] FURTHER PROCEEDINGS. 407 

ence from Cuba, — an event for which Cortes 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. 20 

20 Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Con- Gomara, Cronica, cap. GO. — Ovi- 
quista, cap. 8i, 85. — Rel. Seg. edo, Hist, de las Ind., MS., lib. 33, 
de Cortes, ap Lorenzana, p. 67- — cap. 5. 

408 [book. hi. 


March resumed. — Ascent of the Great Volcano. — Valley of Mexico. — 
Impression on the Spaniards. — Conduct of Montezuma. — They descend 
into the Valley. 


Everything being now restored to qniet 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 neighbouring places, anxious to 
claim the protection of the white men, and to propitiate 
them by gifts, especially of gold, for which their appetite 
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 dis- 
position, 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 Cortes, who kept a 
strict eye on the movements of the Mexican envoys, and 

chap, viii.] MARCH RESUMED. 409 

redoubled his own precautions against surprise. 1 Cheer- 
ful 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 
well-nigh proved fatal to him. He approached so near 
a sentinel, that the man, unable to distinguish his person 
in the dark, levelled his crossbow at him, when, fortu- 
nately, an exclamation of the general, who gave the 
watch-word 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, Avhere 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. Cortes 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 im- 
practicable for the cavalry. They acknowledged, how- 
ever, that it was the most direct road; and Cortes, 
declaring that this was enough to decide him in favour 
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 road-side, 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. 2 

1 " Andavamos," says Diaz, in the 2 Ibid., ubi supra.— Rel. Seg. de 
homely but expressive Spanish pro- Cortes, ap. Lorenzana, p. 70. — Tor- 
verb, "la barba sobre el ombro." quemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 4, 
Hist, de la Conquista, cap. S6. cap. 41. 

410 MARCH TO MEXICO. [book hi. 

They were now leaving the pleasant champaign coun- 
try, as the road wound up the bold sierra which sepa- 
rates 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 moun- 
tains, made the soldiers shiver in their thick harness of 
cotton, and benumbed the limbs of both men and 

They were passing between two of the highest moun- 
tains on the North American continent, Popocatepetl, 
"the hill that smokes," and Iztaccihuatl, or "white 
woman," 3 — 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 neighbour. 4 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 bel- 
lowings and convulsions in times of eruption. It was 
the classic fable of Antiquity. 5 These superstitious le- 
gends 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 difficulty. 

The great volcan? 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 moun- 

3 " Llamaban al volcan Popo- Enceladi bustum, qui saucia terga 

catepetl, j a la sierra nevada Izt- revinctus 

accihuatl, que quiere decir la sier- Spirat inexhaustum flagranti pectore 

ra que humea, y la blanca muger." sulphur." — Claudian, de Rapt. 

Camargo, Hist, de Tlascala, MS. Pros. lib. 1, v. 152. 

a cc-r - i ii 6 The old Spaniards called any 

" La Sierra nevada y el volcan m moimtaiu b tlmt th { 

los teman por Dioses ; y que el vol- ^ hayi iy ^ gi of CQmb £. 

can y la Siena nevada eran mando y ^ ^ g Mmboi ? azo was called 

muger. Ibid., MS. a vokan (Je ^ Qv « sno ^ vol _ 

5 Gomara, Cronica, cap. 62. cano ;" (Humboldt, Essai Politique, 

" JEtna Giganteos nunquam tacitura torn. i. p. 162 ;) and that enterpris- 

triumphos, ing traveller, Stephens, notices the 



tains," — the highest elevation in Europe. 7 During the 
present century, it has rarely given evidence of its vol- 
canic 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 deposite 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 strik- 
ingly with the ruinous waste of sand and lava immedi- 
ately 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. 
Cortes 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, under- 
took 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 pos- 
sible to penetrate it. It grew thinner, however, as they 

volcan de agnu, " water volcano," in 7 Mont Blanc, according to M. de 

the neighbourhood of Antigua Guate- Saussure, is 15,670 feet high. 3?or 

mala. Incidents of Travel in Chi- the estimate of Popocatepetl, see 

apas, Central America, and Yucatan an elaborate communication in the 

(New York, 1841,) vol. i. chap. 13. Revista Mexicana, torn. ii. No. 4. 



advanced, dwindling by degrees into a straggling, stunted 
vegetation, till at the height of somewhat more than 
thirteen thousand feet it 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 boil- 
ing progress in a thousand fantastic forms, opposed con- 
tinual 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 hun- 
dred 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, respira- 
tion 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 suffi- 
cient 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 under- 
taking 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 

chap, viii.] ASCENT OF THE GREAT VOLCANO. 413 

of the affair was transmitted to the Emperor Charles 
the Fifth, and the family of Ordaz was allowed to com- 
memorate the exploit by assuming a burning mountain 
on their escutcheon. 8 

The general was not satisfied with the result. Two 
years after, he sent up another party, under Francisco 
Montano, a cavalier of determined resolution. The 
object was to obtain sulphur to assist in making gun- 
powder for the army. The mountain was quiet at this 
time, and the expedition was attended with better suc- 
cess. 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 sulphureous steam, which, cooling as it 
rose, was precipitated on the sides of the cavity. The 
party cast lots, and it fell on Montano 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 adven- 
turous cavalier had collected a sufficient quantity of sul- 
phur for the wants of the army. This doughty enter- 
prise excited general admiration at the time. Cortes 
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. 9 

8 Pel. Seg. de Cortes, ap. Loren- 9 Rel. Ter. y Quarta de Cortes, 

zana, p. 70. — Oviedo, Hist, de las ap. Lorenzana, pp. 318, 380. — Her- 

Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 5. — Bernal rera, Hist. General, dec. 3, lib. 3, 

Diaz, Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 78. cap. 1. — Oviedo, Hist, de las Ind., 

The latter writer speaks of the MS., lib. 33, cap. 41. 
ascent as made when the army lay M. de Humboldt doubts the fact 

at Tlascala, and of the attempt as of Montaiio's descent into the crater, 

perfectly successful. The general's thinking it more probable that he 

letter, written soon after the event, obtained the sulphur through some 

■with no motive for mis-statement, is lateral crevice in the mountain, 

the better authority. See also Her- (Essai Politique, torn. i. p. 164.) 

rera, Hist. General, dec. 2, lib. 6, No attempt — at least no successful 

cap. 18. — Rel. d' un gent., ap. Pa- one — has been made to gain the 

musio, torn. iii. p. 308. — Gomara, summit of Popocatepetl, since this 

Cronica, cap. 62. of Montano, till the present century. 


414 MARCH TO MEXICO. [book hi. 

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 

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. 10 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 govern- 
ment had placed at stated intervals along the roads for 
the accommodation of the traveller and their own cou- 
riers. 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 

In 1827 it was reached in two expe- The party from the topmost peak, 
ditions, and again in 1833 and 1834. which commanded a full view of the 
A very full account of the last, con- less elevated Iztaccihuatl, saw no 
taining many interesting details and vestige of a crater in that mountain, 
scientific observations, was written contrary to the opinion usually re- 
by Frederic de Gerolt, one of the ceived. 
party, and published in the periodi- 
cal already referred to. (Revista 10 Humboldt, Essai Politique, torn. 
Mexicana, torn. i. pp. 461 — 482.) iv. p. 17- 

chap, viii.] VALLEY OF MEXICO. 415 

progress was now comparatively easy, and they marched 
forward with a buoyant step, as they felt they were 
treading the soil of Montezuma. 

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 pic- 
turesque 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 colouring and a 
distinctness of outline which seem to annihilate dis- 
tance. 11 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, inter- 
mingled with orchards and blooming gardens ; for flowers, 
ill such demand for their religious festivals, were even 
more abundant in this populous valley than in other 
parts of Analmac. 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 pyra- 
midal 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 

11 The lake of Tezcuco, on which sea. Humboldt, Essai Politique, torn. 
stood the capital of Mexico, is 2277 ii. p. 45. 
metres, nearly 7500 feet, above the 

416 MARCH TO MEXICO. [book hi. 

Tezcuco, and still further 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 aban- 
doned 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. 12 

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 pris- 
tine 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 !" 13 

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 supe- 
rior to anything they had yet encountered. The more 
timid, disheartened by the prospect, shrunk from a con- 
test so unequal, and demanded, as they had done on 
some former occasions, to be led back again to Vera 

12 It is unnecessary to refer to the It may call to the reader's mind 
pages of modern travellers, who, the memorable view of the fair 
however they may differ in taste, plains of Italy which Hannibal dis- 
talent, or feeling, all concur in the played to his hungry barbarians, 
impressions produced on them by the after a similar march through the 
sight of this beautiful valley. wild passes of the Alps, as reported 

13 Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. by the prince of historic painters, 
lib. 4, cap. 41. Livy, Hist. lib. 21, cap. 35. 

chap. Vin.] CONDUCT OF MONTEZUMA. 417 

Cruz. Such was not the effect produced on the san- 
guine 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 con- 
fidence was renewed, as he gazed on the lines of his 
veterans, whose weather-beaten visages and battered 
armour 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 argu- 
ment, intreaty, and menace, he endeavoured 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 honour as dear 
to them as fortune ; until the dullest spirits caught some- 
what 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. 14 

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 systems of discontent were noticed with satisfac- 
tion by Cortes, 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 

14 Torquemada, Monarch. Incl., ubi cap. 64. — Oviedo, Hist, de las Ind., 
supra. — Herrera, Hist. General, dec. MS., lib. 33, cap. 5. 
2, lib. 7, cap. 3. — Gomara, Cronica, 

VOL. I. E E 



encouraged the disaffected natives to rely on his protec- 
tion, as he had come to redress their wrongs. He took 
advantage, moreover, of their favourable 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 high- 
ways 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 mes- 
sage of the emperor was couched in the same depreca- 
tory 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, 15 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 superstition ! 

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 embasay with his 
usual courtesy, declaring, as before, that he could not 
answer it to his own sovereign, if he were now to return 
without visitiug the emperor in his capital. It would 
be much easier to arrange matters by a personal inter- 
view 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. 16 

The Aztec monarch, meanwhile, was a prey to the 

15 A load for a Mexican tamane Seg. de Cortes, ap. Lorenzana, p. 73. 
was about fifty pounds, or eight bun- — Herrera, Hist. General, dec. 2, 
dred ounces. Clavigero, Stor. del lib. 7, cap. 3. — Gomara, Crouica, 
Messico, torn. iii. p. 69, nota. cap. 64. — Oviedo, Hist, de las Ind., 

16 Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva Es- MS., lib. 33, cap. 5. — Bernal Diaz, 
paiia, MS., lib. 12, cap. 12.— Eel. Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 87. 


most dismal apprehensions. It was intended that the 
embassy above noticed should reach the Spaniards be- 
fore 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 thresh- 
old 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 su- 
perior — 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 na- 
ture 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 

E E 2 


book nr. 

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 ! 17 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 bear 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 de- 
fence, and prepared, like the last of the Palseologi, to bury 
himself under its ruins. 18 

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. 19 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 Ajot- 
zinco, 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 

17 This was not the sentiment of quemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 4, cap. 
the Roman Hero. 44. — Gomara, Crdnica, cap. 63. 

19 " El seiior de esta provincia y 

"Yictrix causa Diis placuit, sed pueblo me did hasta quarenta es- 

victa Catoni ! " clavas, y tres mil castellanos, y dos 

LucAisr, lib. 1, v. 128. dias que alii estuve nos proveyo muy 

cumplidamente de todo lo necesario 

18 Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva Es- para nuestra comida." 
pana, MS.,* lib. 12, cap. 13. — Tor- Cortes, ap. Lorenzana, p.