Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

but their songs are sad. They have a great talent for drawing, and, if they would persevere, could excel in the art. They have much skill in modeling in wax and carving in wood. Their sense of the beautiful has survived their political degradation ; and they have now the same passion for flowers that was noted by Cortez. The Indians are a gentle race, and their materials for happiness are few ; they consist in a banana, a hammock, and a guitar. They are darker than their southern neighbors, resembling in countenance the Mongul race, though there is no people in whom there is so slight a projection of the forehead. They attribute their former state of civilization to a mysterious personage who arrived several centuries ago, introduced the arts of peace and abrogated human sacrifices to the gods. The priests made no difficulty in believing this person to have been Saint James ; for faith rises in proportion to the want of evidence. The Indians having little else to love, adhere tenaciously to their old customs. The priests, in indoctrinating the Indians into the mysteries of the Catholic religion, were obliged to incorporate with it many superstitions. The ceremonies are indeed changed, but the creed of the Indian is not very clear, though he loves fire-works, processions, and festivals. As the priests are somewhat addicted to miracles, several were used in conversions ; and the fire of a lens was concentrated on an Indian's arm, to convince him, that the sun was a body of fire, and not the Creator. A picture of the torments of the unconverted was shown them, and the terror it inspired turned to advantage.

As a class, the Indians are poor and miserable. They live mostly in the more barren districts, and feed on fruits of easy cultivation. The necessaries of life are so abundant, that there is little need for exertion ; some few of the Indians, however, possess considerable property. Were a stranger to see the edifices in the Mexican cities, he would not infer the existence of poverty, — but at the sight of an Indian hut, he could imagine the existence of but little else. In the cities they are more degraded than in the country, and it was remarked by a traveler, that he never saw a white tell an Indian to do anything that was not executed without remonstrance. There is no warrant for injustice, however, in the laws. But the Indian has little restraint over his propensity for pulque, and is often intoxicated. In the city of Mexico tumbrils are sent round by the police to take up those who are drunk. These are kept a night, and made to work in the streets for three days with a ring around their ancle.

The Indians are by law free, and have the rights of other citizens ; yet they are much oppressed. They are often kept' as laborers for years, against their own will. A small sum is advanced to one of the improvident race; it is expended in pulque, and the debtor is shut up in some mine or factory to liquidate the debt by labor. Here food, clothing, and brandy are furnished him, for which he is charged ; and there is little chance of his obtaining his freedom, till he is of no use to his creditor. The creditor has, or assumes, the right of a master, and may flog his debtor without mercy. The Indians are allowed magistrates of their own race, if this be an advantage ; though the Caziques seem to understand the principle, that leads men politically degraded to oppress those below them. The grade of the Caziques cannot be discovered by their superior dress or greater intelligence.

There is now in Mexico little distinction of mere color or caste. There was formerly a great hatred between the castes, but this is ended in the broader distinction between American and European. Several Indians are deputies to Congress. There has been an Indian judge in the Supreme Tribunal at Durango, and Guerrero is known to have had a great mixture of the African blood. The change in this respect has been wonderful. The acknowledged patent of nobility was once the hue of the skin ; and it was common to hear one say to another, in the heat of dispute, “Do you think me less white than yourself ?” Next to a skin perfectly white, it was considered advantageous to have an order of court to that effect. Sometimes, however, when the skin was too dark for the desired decision, the court would order, that the applicant should be considered white."

12. Amusements. The amusements of the Mexicans preserve much of the character of their Spanish origin. Bull-fights are therefore common, though they are less sanguinary than in Spain. A description of them will be deferred to the article on Spain. Gaming is so general among all ranks, that it is rather an employment than a pastime. Games of cards are to be seen in the public squares, carried on by animated groups, who hazard their last coin, and the very cloak upon their shoulder. This spirit of gaming is the characteristic and the bane of Mexico. Ladies, priests, soldiers, laborers, Indians, are all addicted to it. The player's, however, notwithstanding their ardent character, lose with much equanimity, and show litt le exultation when they win. The origin of this spirit of gaming is to be referred to the minians

a

employment, which is generally uncertain, and in which_much is risked that more may be gained. Gaming is the very passion to find aliment in El Dorado. The original conquest of Mexico was one of unequalled hazard. All was put at stake, and all was won. The descendants of the conquerors cultivate the same spirit; and in Mexico there is no tertulia, no social meeting whatever, without gaming.

The favorite national pastime is cock-fighting, and it is amusing to a stranger, who partakes not in the excitement, to see the zeal of all that engage in it.

see the zeal of all that engage in it. The cock-pit is neutral ground; it is like the place of the Olympian games, a spot where all conflicting ranks and parties may meet in peace, and upon terms of strict equality. Here a general is to be seen betting with a fellow in rags ; for people apparently in the depths of poverty, often hazard a doubloon. All ranks meet at the cock-pit. The money staked is put into the hands of brokers, who pay it over to the winners, and receive a small gratuity from each. As the birds are armed with slashers, the contest is not long. A large sum accrues to government from licenses for the pits. At Guanaxuato, a traveler, who was annoyed all night by a general crowing, beheld in the morning more than 100 cocks arranged on each side of the street, and chained together. They belonged to the commandant, who was an amateur.

13. Education. The surface of society has not of late been sufficiently calm for the extension of the means of education ; and though there are a few Lancasterian schools, the facilities for obtaining a good education are perhaps less than they were under the sway of the Spaniards. Ample legislative provision, however, has been made, though little else has been done. The old school of Mines has no longer any students, and the very edifice is in ruins. The funds have been directed to other purposes. It formerly educated many young men as practical engineers, and in all useful branches of learning, but especially in natural philosophy. The University, though well endowed, has at present but few students, though there have been 200 at a time. The library is small. There are some inferior colleges and several large schools, under the direction of the clergy. The education of the higher classes is generally private, and, of course, it is seldom thorough. There are no large bookstores, and but few private libraries of a valuable kind; the library of the cathedral, however, is large, though the books are chiefly on theological subjects.

There is little diffusion of knowledge, though generally all the inhabitants of cities can read and write. It is not rare to see men in the streets in the garb of extreme poverty, reading the gazettes, which are published in Mexico on every other day. There may be seen in the streets too, as at Rome and Naples, scribes, to read and answer the letters of those who are unable to perform these services for themselves. Medical and chirurgical knowledge is in a low state; dissections are forbidden by law, or prohibited by public opinion. The course of instruction in the colleges includes a little Latin, some philosophy, law, and such theology as the clergy are able or willing to communicate. The education of females is neglected, though they have shown themselves endowed with the power of making much in this way, of few advantages, and some of them have become intelligent in spite of the deficiency of the usual means of instruction.

14. State of the Arts. If we except architecture, there are few monuments of art in Mexico. The churches are profusely decorated, but the images and paintings are gaudy without beauty. There is, however, a talent for the imitative arts, that needs only favorable circumstances to bring it forth. When instruction was given in drawing at the school of Mines, the rapid proficiency of some of the students was almost beyond parallel. The Indians show much talent in this way, and they make clay models of the different races, and their costumes, with admirable fidelity. There was lately in the great square at Mexico a bronze equestrian statue of Charles the Fourth, till it was removed, from republican scruples. It was the production of a Mexican, Tolsa ; and it is considered inferior only to the statue of Marcus Aurelius, at Rome. The school of Mines has a valuable collection of casts, purchased by the Spanish government. And the Laocoon, the Apollo Belvidere, and other statues of antiqui

, ty, are found in the new world, at an elevation equal to that of the convent of St. Bernard in the old.

15. Religion. The Roman Catholic is the religion of Mexico, and there are few believers in any other ; the distinction is strongly defined by the laws, that it is not lawful for a Protestant, until converted, to marry a Catholic. The influence of the clergy is of course very great, though it is on the decline. The clergy had a great agency in producing the first revolution, for they shared in all the disadvantages and disabilities of the Creoles. The number of the clergy is about 10,000, half of which are regular and wear the cowl. Including lay brothers and servants, the number may be increased to 4,000 more. Formerly they held large estates in mortmain, but their possessions have been reduced from 44,000,000 to less than 20,000,000. The greatest riches were in charges left by the pious on lands, for pious uses. These have been sequestrated both by Spain and Mexico. The greatest salary of any bishop is 130,000 dollars, and the least is 6,000. The income of the parish priests depends much upon the disposition and skill of the incumbent; the tithes do not produce any regular or certain sum, and the chief support of the priests comes from marriages, baptisms, burials, and masses. The marriages are celebrated with some pomp, and the fee for the priest, even from parties of the lowest rank, is no less than 22 dollars, and this in a country where the houses of the poor cost but 4 dollars, where the price of labor is a quarter of a dollar a day, and where the church observances leave but 175 working days in a year. This onerous tax upon marriages cannot but have an unfavorable effect upon public morals. There is little ceremony in Mexican funerals, the body is carried away in a common coffin from which it is turned into the earth. The coffin is used rather as a vehicle than a sarcophagus. Few monuments are erected over the dead. There is, however, a bust over the tomb of Cortez. There is 1 archbishopric and 9 bishoprics, 7 of which, together with 79 benefices attached to the Cathedral, are now vacant. The court of Rome has refused to present, under the political state of Mexico; but, should this refusal be continued, it is probable that the government will itself assume the right of presentation. Almost every house has an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, or of the crucifixion, but there are so few Bibles, that one is sometimes shown as a curiosity. 16. Government. The government is at least nominally republican. After the prolonged

. struggle with Spain for independence, the government fell into the hands of Iturbide, a Creole, who caused himself to be proclaimed emperor of Mexico in 1822. This short-lived empire was overthrown in the following year, and in 1824 the Mexicans adopted a constitution modeled on that of the United States. This constitution was not, however, sufficient to prevent civil dissensions, and the sword was too often appealed to, to decide the claims of rival chiefs or factions. But it preserved a nominal existence until 1835, when it was abolished by a decree of Congress, suppressing the State constitutions, and establishing a central government. Under this new order of things, which has only been partially established by force of arms, the president is chosen by an indirect vote, and the departments, as the new divisions are called, are governed by officers appointed by the national government.

Several of the States are still in arms in opposition to the execution of this revolution. Owing to the unsettled state of the country for so many years, nothing certain can be stated as to its revenue and army. The want of good harbors and a seafaring population, will prevent Mexico from becoming a great naval power. .

17. Antiquities. . The ancient Mexicans, though they knew not the uses of iron, nevertheless constructed some of the greatest works of labor that are found upon the earth, — works that in point of magnitude may be ranked with the monuments of Egypt. Few people, indeed, have moved such masses as the Mexicans ; the most prominent of their antiquities are pyramids or mounds of a pyramidal shape. The bases, however, are much longer than those of the Egyptian pyramids. At Cholula the base is in length 1,400 feet, nearly double that of the great pyramid of Cheops. The present height of the mound at Cholula is 177 feet, which is more than that of the third pyramid of Ghize. The materials are unburnt bricks and clay, in alternate layers. It is covered with vegetation, and looks at a distance like a conical hill. It is of 4 stories, which diminish in size, having a terrace or platform around each. In cutting through a part of this pile to make a road, a square chamber was discovered built of stone, and supported by beams of cypress. It was perhaps a chamber of the dead, though there are few funeral monuments in Mexico.

There are many of these teocalli or pyramids scattered over Mexico, and they have great coincidence in form with the most ancient monuments of Asia. Some were constructed of smooth stones ; in the Mexican cities they were as numerous as mosques in Moorish towns, and Cortez gave them the same name. In the Mexican valley are 2, one called the house of architectural ruins. The bath is cut with mathematical precision, in a hard, porphyretical rock; it is highly polished, and stands out like a swallow's nest in the side of a house ; it is 12 feet long, 8 feet wide, and has in the centre a well 5 feet deep. It is surrounded by a low parapet, in which there is a cut, the representation of a chain, such as is drawn in the ancient pictures as belonging to kings.

and the other the house of the moon. The former has a base of 682 feet, and is 180 feet in height. The faces of these are nearly north and south, and in some other pyramids they are exactly so. Around these two pyramids, are several hundred minor ones, disposed in parallel streets. Near Tezcuco is the bath of Montezuma, on a mountain covered with

the sun,

There is a dilapidated monument called the Fort of Xochicalco, on an insulated hill surrounded by trenches and divided by art into 5 terraces. Its sides exactly face the cardinal points. There are various fragments of porphyry well cut, with figures of crocodiles spouting water, and of men sitting like the Asiatics, cross-legged. On the top, which is a square surface of 100,000 square feet, there are the ruins of a small edifice. In the province of Oaxaca are the ruins of an ancient Mexican city, where many of the walls are ornamented in what we call grecques and labyrinths, in Mosaic, of small stones. The designs are much like those in the vessels called Etruscan. There are here 6 porphyry columns without capital or base, placed in a large hall to support the roof. Their height is 16 feet, and the general disposition of them, and of the other ruins, bears a resemblance to the remains in Upper Egypt.

All recent investigations support the descriptions given by the conquerors, of Mexican architecture. The remains are massy. In the palace of Mitla, there are stones more than 19 feet in length, 5 feet in breadth, and 3 in the thickness. The pyramid of Papantla, which was discovered but about 50 years ago, is composed altogether of large blocks of stone smoothly cut. On the borders of Yucatan there are large vestiges of an Indian capital ; much of it is of stone, and there are many sculptured figures and bas reliefs. The circumference of the ruin is about 6 leagues. Many however of the Mexican monuments, and all of them in the city, were destroyed by the Spanish conquerors, from motives both of policy and piety. The moveable antiquities of Mexico consist in rude and grotesque statues of

stone, in manuscripts or hieroglyphical paintings executed on skins, cloth, and agave paper. There is at Mexico a colossal statue of the goddess of war, which is now buried, that it may not revive the dormant superstitions of the Indians. When it

was taken

up that a cast might be made from it, the natives dressed it in flowers. “A view of this idol,” says a traveler, “ is enough to dispel any doubt of the enormities committed before it. Fuseli could have conceived nothing more hideous. The drapery is of twisted snakes, and 2 serpents supply the place of arms. The ornaments are in character. The necklace represents human hands and skulls fastened together by entrails. True it is that the gods of the heathen are devils.” This statue is 9 feet high. Within the enclosure of the cathedral, and sunk even with the earth is an ancient mass, called the stone of the sacrifices. It is of porphyry, 9 feet broad. In the centre is a head of relief, surrounded by 27 groups of figures. There is a groove in the stone to carry off the blood of the victims. There is another curious stone called Montezuma's watch, weighing 24 tons. It is of basaltic porphyry, of which none is found within 8 leagues of the city. It is in fact cut into figures, that denote tne Mexican division of time, and may, therefore, be called the Mexican calendar. Among the antiquities may perhaps be reckoned a sound cypress tree in the province of Oaxaca, measuring in circumference 93 feet and a half. 23. History. Mexico was subdued by the Spaniards under Cortez in 1521. Montezuma

was at that time emperor, and fell in defence of his capital. The inhabitants were considerably advanced in civilization ; they were acquainted with the arts of working gold, silver, and copper, and with a kind of printing ; and their cities were adorned with temples and palaces, and regulated by a police. The country continued a province of Spain till 1810, when an insurrection commenced in Durango, and after a variety of revolutionary movements, Iturbide proclaimed himself emperor, in 1822. His imperial sway was brief. He was banished the country, and a government was established

on a model similar to that of the United Death of Montezuma.

States. The most important events in the re

cent history of Mexico are the overthrow of the federal constitution in 1835, the consequent revolt and unsuccessful invasion of Texas, the

[graphic]
[ocr errors]

war with France, during which Vera Cruz was taken by the French, and the civil wars between the centralists and federalists. The present state of the country is far from tranquil. Civil commotions are still constantly occurring; and the stability and quiet of real freedom are yet to be experienced.

CHAPTER LV. REPUBLIC OF CENTRAL AMERICA.

[ocr errors]

States. Guatemala San Salvador

Capitals.
Old Guatemala
San Salvador

1. Boundaries and Divisions. Guatemala or the Republic of Central America is bounded N. by the Mexican United States ; E. by the Caribbean sea ; S. by the Republic of New Grenada, and W. by the Pacific Ocean. It lies between lat. 8o and 170 N., and long. 87° and 990 W., having an area of 185,000 square miles, with a population of about 2,000,000. It is composed of 5 States, which are subdivided into partidos or districts, and of the Federal District, which contains the seat of government. Population.

Population. 850,000

20,000 350,000

40,000 Honduras

280,000
Comayagua

20,000 Nicaragua

270,000
Leon

38,000 Costa Rica

150,000
San José

20,000 Federal District,

New Guatemala

50,000 2. Mountains. A lofty chain of mountains, forming a part of the great Mexican and Rocky Mountain range traverses the country. It extends along the western coast not far from the Pacific, and presents a series of 21 volcanic summits in constant activity. This part of the country is subject to the most tremendous convulsions of nature, which have buried cities in ruins, and destroyed whole tribes of people. The volcano of Agua, and that of Fuego, both near Guatemala, rise to the height of from 12,000 to 15,000 feet.

3. Lakes and Rivers. The largest rivers flow down the eastern declivity of the mountains into the Caribbean Sea. There is none of great extent, but several are navigable. The Motagua, which flows through the State of Guatemala, the Ulua and Segovia of Honduras, and the San Juan, 64 miles long, which forms the outlet of Lake Nicaragua, are the principal. Lake Nicaragua, 120 miles in length by 41 in breadth, is navigable for the largest vessels, and receives the waters of Lake Leon, which is 10 miles to the northwest, by a navigable river. Lake Leon is but 5 miles from the Tosta, which runs into the Pacific Ocean. A union of the 2 oceans through these channels is contemplated. In the State of Guatemala is Lake Dulce or Izaval, communicating with the Bay of Honduras.

4. Soil and Climate. The soil is in general good, and the climate exhibits the same variety as in the Mexican States. The productions are also similar, including indigo, tobacco, cochineal, cotton, wheat, maize, &c.

5. Coasts and Bays. In the northeast, between Honduras and the Mexican State of Yucatan, lies the large Bay of Ilonduras, the navigation of which is rendered dangerous by numerous reefs and keys. On this bay is an English settlement called Balize, formed for the purpose of cutting dye-wood and mahogany. It consists of about 200 whites and 3,000 slaves.

. A great extent of coast to the south of the bay is occupied by the Sambo and Mosquito Indians, who have never been subdued by the whites. On the Pacific are only open roadsteads.

6. Towns. New Guatemala, the capital of the republic, is situated in a pleasant and fertile valley, which enjoys a delightful climate. It was built in 1774, in consequence of the almost entire destruction of Old Guatemala by an earthquake. The streets are broad, clean, and straight ; the houses are generally low, on account of the frequency of earthquakes, and provided with gardens and fountains. The cathedral, the government house, the archbishop's palace, the mint, and several of the churches, are handsome buildings. The commerce and manufactures of the city are extensive. Population, 50,000.

Old Guatemala, capital of the State of Guatemala, has been several times destroyed by earthquakes, and lies between the volcanoes of Agua and Fuego. It suffered much from an earthquake in 1830. It formerly contained 50 or 60 churches, and several large convents, which are now in ruins. Its cathedral is one of the largest in America. Population, 20,000. Chiquimula, in the same State, is a place of about 35,000 inhabitants.

[ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinuar »