Edward Burnett Tylor

Part 2 out of 6

two or three weeks back had not yet been removed, but an opening at one
side allowed men and horses to get past. Carriages had to go round, an
easy matter in a city built as this is in squares like a chess-board.
The barricades mount two guns each, and as the streets are quite
straight they can sweep them in both directions, to the whole length of
their range. As in Turin, you can look backward and forward along the
straight streets from every part of the city, and see mountains at each
end. The suburbs of the city are quite as repulsive as our first
glimpse of them led us to expect; and, as far as one could judge by the
appearance of the half-caste inhabitants, it is not good to go there
alone after dark. Here is the end of the aqueduct of Chapultepec, the
Salto del Agua; and--crowded round it--a thoroughly characteristic
group of women and water-carriers, filling their great earthen jars
with water, which they carry about from house to house. The women are
simply and cheaply dressed, and though not generally pretty, are very
graceful in their movements. Their dress consists of a white cotton
under-dress, a coloured cotton skirt, generally blue, brown, or grey,
with some small pattern upon it, but never brilliant in colour, and a
rebozo, which is a small sober-coloured cotton shawl, long and narrow.
This rebozo passes over the back of the head, where it is somehow fixed
to a back hair-comb, and the two ends hang down over the shoulders in
front; or, more often, one end is thrown over the opposite shoulder, so
that the young lady's face is set in it, like a picture in a frame. Add
to this a springy step, the peculiarly unconstrained movement in
walking which comes of living in the open air and wearing a loose
dress, a pleasant pale face, small features, bright eyes, small hands
and feet, little slippers and no stockings, and you have as good a
picture of a Mexican half-caste girl as I can give. A book of Mexican
engravings, however, will give a much better idea of her. Then we went
past the great prison, the Acordada, and out at the gate (we had
purposely gone out of our way to see more of the city), and so into the
great promenade, the Pased or Alameda. The latter is the Spanish name
for this necessary appendage to every town. It comes from _alamo_,
which means a poplar. Imagine a long wide level road, a mile or so
long, generally so chosen as to have a fine view, with footpaths on
each side, lines of poplar trees, a fountain at each end and a statue
in the middle, and this description will stand pretty nearly for almost
every promenade of the kind I have seen in Spain or Spanish America.


Tacubaya is a pleasant place on the ride of the first hills that begin
to rise towards the mountain-wall of the valley. Here rich Mexicans
have country-houses in large gardens, which are interesting from the
immense variety of plants which grow there, though badly kept up, and
systematically stripped by the gardeners of the fruit as it gets
ripe--for their own benefit, of course. From Tacubaya we go to
Chapultepec (Grasshopper Mountain), which is a volcanic hill of
porphyry rising from the plain. On the top is the palace on which the
viceroy Galvez expended great sums of money some seventy years ago,
making it into a building which would serve either as a palace or as a
fortress in cases of emergency. Though the Americans charged up the
hill and carried it easily in '47, it would be a very strong place in
proper hands. It is a military school now. On the hill is the famous
grove of cypresses--ahuehuetes[5]--as they are called, grand trees with
their branches hung with fringes of the long grey Spanish moss--barba
Espanola--Spanish beard. I do not know what painters think of the
effect of this moss, trailing in long festoons from the branches of the
trees, but to me it is beautiful; and I shall never forget where I
first saw it, on a bayou of the Mississippi, winding through the depths
of a great forest in the swamps of Louisiana.[6] In this grove of
Chapultepec, there were sculptured on the side of the hill, in the
solid porphyry, likenesses of the two Montezumas, colossal in size. For
some reason or other, I forget now what, one of the last Spanish
viceroys thought it desirable to destroy them, and tried to blow them
up with gunpowder. He only partially succeeded, for the two great
bas-reliefs were still very distinguishable as we rode past, though
noseless and considerably knocked about.

We went home to breakfast with our friends, and looked at the
title-deeds of their house in crabbed Spanish of the sixteenth century,
and the great Chinese treasure-chest, still used as the strong-box of
the firm, with an immense lock, and a key like the key of Dover castle.
Fine old Chinese jars, and other curiosities, are often to be found in
Mexico; and they date from the time when the great galleon from Manila,
which was called "el nao"--the ship--to distinguish it from all other
ships, came once a year to Acapulco.

After breakfast, business hours begin; so we took ourselves off to
visit the canal of Chalco, and the famous floating gardens--as they are
called. On our way we had a chance of studying the conveyances our
ancestors used to ride in, and availed ourselves of it. In books on
Spanish America, written at the beginning of this century, there are
wonderful descriptions of the gilt coaches, with six or eight mules, in
which the great folks used to drive in state on the promenades. They
are exactly the carriages that it was the height of a lady's ambition
to ride in, in the days of Sir Charles Grandison, and Mr. Tom Jones.
Here, in Mexico, they were still to be found, after they had
disappeared from the rest of the habitable globe; and even now, though
the private carriages are all of a more modern type, there are still
left a few of these amazing vehicles, now degraded to the cab-stand;
and we got into one that was embellished with sculptured Cupids--their
faces as much mutilated as the two Montezumas--and with the remains of
the painting and gilding, which once covered the whole affair, just
visible in corners, like the colouring of the ceilings of the Alhambra.
We had to climb up three high steps, and haul ourselves into the body
of the coach, which hung on strong leather straps; springs belong to a
later period. By the time we had got to the Paseo de las Vigas we were
glad enough to get out, wondering at the sacrifice of comfort to
dignity those highly respectable grandees must have made, and not
surprised at the fate of some inquisitive travellers who have done as
we did, and have been obliged to stop by the qualms of sea-sickness. At
the bridge we chartered a canoe to Santa Anita. This Santa Anita is a
little Indian village on the canal of Chalco, and to-day there is to be
a festival there. For this, however, we shall be too early, as we have
to be back in time to see Mexico turn out for a promenade on the Paseo
de las Vigas, and then to go out to dinner. So we must just take the
opportunity of looking at the Indian population as they go up and down
the canal in canoes, and see their gardens and their houses. However,
as the Indian notion of a festival consists in going to mass in the
morning, and getting drunk and fighting in the afternoon, we are
perhaps as well out of it. We took our passage to Santa Anita and back
in a canoe--a mere flat-bottomed box with sloping sides, made of boards
put together with wooden pegs. There was a mat at the stern for us to
squat upon, and an awning over our heads. An old Indian and his son
were the crew; and they had long poles, which they set against the
banks or the bottom of the shallow canal, and so pushed us along.
Besides these two, an old woman with two little girls got in, as we
were starting--without asking our leave, by the way--and sat down at
the other end of the canoe. Of course, the old woman began to busy
herself with the two little girls, in the usual occupation of old women
here, during their idle moments; and though she left off at our earnest
request, she evidently thought us very crotchety people for objecting.

The scene on the canal was a curious one. There were numbers of boats
going up and down; and the Indians, as soon as they caught sight of an
acquaintance, began to shout out a long string of complimentary
phrases, sometimes in Spanish and sometimes in Mexican: "How is your
worship this morning?" "I trust that I have the happiness of seeing
your worship in good health." "If there is anything I can have the
honour of doing for your worship, pray dispose of me," and so forth;
till they are out of hearing. All this is accompanied by a taking-off
of hats, and a series of low bows and complimentary grimaces. As far as
we could ascertain, it is all mere matter of ceremony. It may be an
exaggeration of the formal, complimentary talk of the Spaniards, but
its origin probably dates further back.

The Indians here no longer appeared the same dull, melancholy men whom
we had seen in the richer quarter of the town. There they were under a
strong feeling of constraint, for their language is not understood by
the whites and mestizos; and they, for their part, know but little
Spanish; and besides, there is very little sympathy between the two
classes. One thing will shew this clearly enough. By a distinct line of
demarcation, the Indians are separated from the rest of the population,
who are at least partly white. These latter call themselves "gente de
razon"--people of reason,--to distinguish themselves from the Indians,
who are people without reason. In common parlance the distinction is
made thus: the whites and mixed breed are "gente"--_people_,--the brown
men being merely "Indios"--Indians--and not people at all.

Here, in their own quarter, and among their own people, they seem
talkative enough. We can only tell what they are chattering about when
they happen to speak Spanish, either for our benefit, or to show off
their proficiency in that tongue. People who can speak the Aztec
language say that their way of forming compound words gives constant
occasion for puns and quibbles, and that the talk of the Indians is
full of such small jokes. In this respect they differ exceedingly from
the Spaniards, whose jests are generally about _things_, and seldom
about their _names_, as one sees by their almost always bearing
translation into other languages.

Most of the canoes were tastefully decorated with flowers, for the
Aztecs have not lost their old taste for ornamenting themselves, and
everything about them, with garlands and nosegays. The fruits and
vegetables they were carrying to market were very English in their
appearance. Mexico is supplied with all kinds of tropical fruits, which
come from a distance; but the district we are now in only produces
plants which might grow in our own country--barley, potatoes, cabbages,
parsnips, apples, pears, plums, peaches, and so forth, but scarcely
anything tropical in its character. One thing surprises us, that the
Indians, in a climate where the mornings and evenings are often very
chilly, should dress so scantily. The men have a general appearance of
having outgrown their clothes; for the sleeves of the kind of
cotton-shirt they wear only reach to their elbows, and their trousers,
of the same material, only fall to their knees. To these two garments
add a sort of blanket, thrown over the shoulders, a pair of sandals,
and a palm-leaf hat, and the man is dressed. His skin is brown, his
limbs muscular--especially his legs--his lips thick, his nose Jewish,
his hair coarse, black, and hanging straight down. The woman's dress is
as simple as the man's. She has on a kind of cotton sack, very short in
the sleeves, and very open at the shoulders, and some sort of a skirt
or petticoat besides. Sometimes she has a folded cotton cloth on her
head, like a Roman contadina; but, generally, nothing covers her thick
black hair, which hangs down behind in long twisted tails.

In old times, when Mexico was in the middle of a great lake, and the
inhabitants were not strong enough to hold land on the shores, they
were driven to strange shifts to get food. Among other expedients, they
took to making little floating islands, which consisted of rafts of
reeds and brushwood, on which they heaped mud from the shores of the
lakes. On the banks of the lake of Tezcuco the mud was, at first, too
full of salt and soda to be good for cultivation; but by pouring the
water of the lake upon it, and letting it soak through, they dissolved
out most of the salts, and the island was fit for cultivation, and bore
splendid crops of vegetables.[7] These islands were called _chinampas_,
and they were often large enough for the proprietor to build a hut in
the middle, and live in it with his family. In later times, when the
Mexicans came to be no longer afraid of their neighbours, the chinampas
were not of much use; and when the water was drained off, and the city
stood on dry land, one would have supposed that such a troublesome and
costly arrangement would have been abandoned. The Mexican, however, is
hard to move from the customs of his ancestors; and we have Humboldt's
word for it, that in his time there were some of these artificial
islands still in the lake of Chalco, which the owners towed about with
a rope, or pushed with a long pole. They are all gone now, at any rate,
though the name of _chinampa_ is still applied to the gardens along the
canal. These gardens very much resemble the floating islands in their
construction of mud, heaped on a foundation of reeds and branches; and
though they are not the real thing, and do not float, they are
interesting, as the present representatives of the famous Mexican
floating gardens. They are narrow strips of land, with a frontage of
four or five yards to the canal, and a depth of one hundred, or a
hundred and fifty yards. Between the strips are open ditches; and one
principal occupation of the proprietor seems to be bringing up mud from
the bottom of the ditch with a wooden shovel, and throwing it on the
garden, in places where it has sunk. The reason of the narrowness of
the strips is that he may be able to throw mud all over them from the
ditches on either side.

While we are busy observing all these matters, and questioning our
boatmen about them, we reach Santa Anita. Here there are swampy lanes
and more swampy gardens, a little village of Indian houses, three or
four pulque-shops, and a church. Outside the pulque-shops are
fresco-paintings, representing Aztec warriors carousing, and draining
great bowls of pulque. These were no specimens of Aztec art, however,
but seemed to be copied (by some white or half-caste sign-painter,
probably) from the French coloured engravings which represent the
events of the Conquest. These extraordinary works of art are to be seen
everywhere in this country, where, of all places in the world, one
would have thought that people would have noticed that the artist had
not the faintest idea of what an Aztec was like, but supposed that his
limbs and face and hair were like an European's. Here, with the real
Aztec standing underneath, the difference was striking enough. One
ought not to be too critical about these things, however, when one
remembers the pictures of shepherds and shepherdesses that adorn our
English farmhouses. We drank pulque at the sign of _The Cacique_, and
liked it, for we had now quite got over our aversion to its putrid
taste and smell. I wonder that our new faculty of pulque-drinking did
not make us able to relish the suspicious eggs that abound in Mexican
inns, but it had no such effect, unfortunately.

Our canoe took us back to the Promenade of Las Vigas, which is a long
drive, planted with rows of trees, and extends along the last mile or
two of the canal. Indeed, its name comes from the beam (Viga) which
swings across the canal at the place where the canoes pay toll. This
was the great promenade, once upon a time; but the new Alameda has
taken away all the promenaders to a more fashionable quarter, except on
certain festival days, three or four times in the year, when it is the
correct thing for society to make a display of itself--on horseback or
in carriages--in this neglected Indian quarter. We had happened upon
one of these festival days; so, as we crawled along the side-path,
tired and dusty, we had a good opportunity of seeing the Mexican beau
monde. The display of really good carriages was extraordinary; but it
must be recollected that many families here are content to live
miserably enough at home, if they can manage to appear in good style at
the theatre and on the promenade. This is one reason why so many of the
Mexicans who are so friendly with you out of doors, and in the cafes,
are so very shy of letting you see the inside of their houses. They
say, and very likely it is true, that among the richer classes, it is
customary to put a stipulation in the marriage-contracts, that the
husband shall keep a carriage and pair, and a box at the theatre, for
his wife's benefit. The horsemen turned out in great style, and the
foreigners were fully represented among them. It was noticeable that
while these latter generally adopted the high-peaked saddle, and the
jacket, and broad-brimmed felt hat of the country, and looked as though
the new arrangements quite suited them, the native dandies, on the
other hand, were prone to dressing in European fashion, and sitting
upon English saddles--in which they looked neither secure nor

We walked home past the old Bull-ring, now replaced by a new one near
the new promenade, and found, to our surprise, that in this quarter of
the town many of the streets were under water. We knew that the level
of the lake of Tezcuco had been raised by a series of three very wet
seasons, but had no idea that things had got so far as this. Of course
the ground-floors had to be abandoned, and the people had made a raised
pathway of planks along tho street, and adopted various contrivances
for getting dryshod up to their first floors; and in some places canoes
were floating in the street. The city looked like this some two hundred
years ago, when Martinez the engineer tried an unfortunate experiment
with his draining tunnel at Huehuetoca, and flooded the whole city for
five years. It was by the interference, they tell us, of the patroness
of the Indians, our Lady of Guadalupe, who was brought from her own
temple on purpose, that the city was delivered from the impending
destruction. A number of earthquakes took place, which caused the
ground to split in large fissures, down which the superfluous water
disappeared. For none of her many miracles has the Virgin of Guadalupe
got so much credit as for this. To be sure, it is not generally
mentioned in orthodox histories of the affair, that she was brought to
the capital a year or two before the earthquakes happened.

Talking of earthquakes, it is to be remembered that we are in a
district where they are of continual occurrence. If one looks carefully
at a line of houses in a street, it is curious to see how some walls
slope inwards, and some outwards, and some are cracked from top to
bottom. There is hardly a church-tower in Mexico that is not visibly
out of the perpendicular. Any one who has noticed how the walls of the
Cathedral of Pisa have been thrown out of the perpendicular by the
settling down of the foundations, will have an idea of the general
appearance of the larger buildings of Mexico. On different occasions the
destruction caused by earthquakes has been very great. By the way, the
liability of Mexico to these shocks, explains the peculiarity of the
building of the houses. A modern English town with two-or-three-storied
houses, with their thin brick walls, would be laid in ruins by a shock
which would hardly affect Mexico. Here, the houses of several storeys
have stone walls of such thickness that they resist by sheer strength;
and the one-storey mud houses, in the suburbs, are too low to suffer
much by being shaken about. A few days before we arrived here, our
friends Pepe and Pancho were playing at billiards in the Lonja,[8] the
Merchants' Exchange; and Pepe described to us the feeling of utter
astonishment with which he saw his ball, after striking the other,
go suddenly off at an absurd angle into a pocket. The shock of an
earthquake had tilted the table up on one side. While we were in
Mexico there was a slight shock, which set the chandeliers swinging,
but we did not even notice it. In April, a solemn procession goes from
the Cathedral, on a day marked in the Calendar as the "Patrocinio de
Senor San Jose", to implore the "Santissimo Patriarca" to protect the
city from earthquakes (temblores). In connection with this subject
there is an opinion, so generally received in Mexico that it is worth
notice. Everybody there, even the most educated people, will tell you
that there is an earthquake-season, which occurs in January or
February; and that the shocks are far more frequent than at any other
time of the year. My impression is that this is all nonsense; but I
should like to test it with a list of the shocks that have been felt,
if such a thing were to be had. It does not follow that, because
the Mexicans have such frequent opportunities of trying the question,
they should therefore have done so. In fact, experience as to popular
beliefs in similar matters rather points the other way. I recollect
that in the earthquake districts of southern Italy, when shocks were of
almost daily occurrence, people believed that they were more frequent
in the middle four hours of the night, from ten to two, than at other
times. Of course, this proved on examination to be quite without
foundation. To take one more case in point. How many of our
almanack-books, even the better class of them, contain prophecies of
wet and fine weather, deduced from the moon's quarters! How long will
it be before we get rid of this queer old astrological superstition?

We made a few rough observations of the thermometer and barometer
during our stay in Mexico. The barometer stands at about 22-1/2 inches,
and our thermometer gave the boiling point of water at 199 degrees. We
could never get eggs well boiled in the high lands, and attributed
this, whether rightly or not I cannot say, to the low temperature of
boiling water.




We went one morning to the house of our friend Don Pepe, and were
informed by the servant as we entered the courtyard that the nino, the
child, was up stairs waiting for us. "The Child" seemed an odd term to
apply to a young man of five and twenty. The young ladies, in the same
way are called the ni-as, and keep the appellation until they marry.

We went off with the nino to his uncle's house at Tacubaya, on the
rising ground above Mexico. In the garden there we found a vegetation
such as one would find in southern Europe--figs, olives, peaches,
roses, and many other European trees and flowers--growing luxuriantly,
but among them the passion-flower, which produces one of the most
delicious of fruits, the granadita, and other semi-tropical plants. The
live creatures in the garden, however, were anything but European in
their character. There were numbers of immense butterflies of the most
brilliant colours; and the garden was full of hummingbirds, darting
backwards and forwards with wonderful swiftness, and dipping their long
beaks into the flowers. They call them chupa-mirtos--myrtle-suckers,
and the Indians take them by blowing water upon them from a cane, and
catching them before they have recovered from the shock. One day we
bought a cage full of them, and tried to keep them alive in our room by
feeding them with sugar and water, but the poor little things pined
away. In old times the Mexicans were famous for their ornaments of
humming-bird's feathers. The taste with which they arranged feathers of
many shades of colour, excited the admiration of the conquerors; and
the specimens we may still see in museums are beautiful things, and
their great age has hardly impaired the brilliancy of their tints. This
curious art was practised by the highest nobility, and held in great
esteem, just as working tapestry used to be in Europe, only that the
feather-work was mostly done by men. It is a lost art, for one cannot
take much account of such poor things as are done now, in which,
moreover, the designs are European. In this garden at Tacubaya we saw
for the first time the praying Mantis, and caught him as he sat in his
usual devotional attitude. His Spanish name is "el predicador," the

We got back to Mexico in time for the Corrida de Toros. The bull-ring
was a large one, and there were many thousands of people there; but as
to the spectacle itself, whether one took it upon its merits, or merely
compared it with the bull-fights of Old Spain, it was disgusting. The
bulls were cautious and cowardly, and could hardly be got to fight; and
the matadors almost always failed in killing them; partly through want
of skill, partly because it is really harder to kill a quiet bull than
a fierce one who runs straight at his assailant. To fill up the measure
of the whole iniquitous proceeding, they brought in a wretch in a white
jacket with a dagger, to finish the unfortunate beasts which the
matador could not kill in the legitimate way. It was evidently quite
the regular thing, for the spectators expressed no surprise at it.

After the bull-fight proper was finished, there came two or three
supplementary performances, which were genuinely Mexican, and very well
worth seeing. A very wild bull was turned into the ring, where two
lazadores, on beautiful little horses, were waiting for him. The bull
set off at full speed after one of the riders, who cantered easily
ahead of him; and the other, leisurely untying his lazo, hung it over
his left arm, and then, taking the end in his light hand, let the cord
fall through the loop into a running noose, which he whirled two or
three times round his head, and threw it so neatly that it settled
gently down over the bull's neck. In a moment the other end of the cord
was wound several times round the pummel of the saddle, and the little
horse set off at full speed to get ahead of the bull. But the first
rider had wheeled round, thrown his lazo upon the ground, and just as
the bull stepped within the noose, whipped it up round his hind leg,
and galloped off in a contrary direction. Just as the first lazo
tightened round his neck, the second jerked him by the leg, and the
beast rolled helplessly over in the sand. Then they got the lazos off,
no easy matter when one isn't accustomed to it, and set him off again,
catching him by hind legs or fore legs just as they pleased, and
inevitably bringing him down, till the bull was tired out and no longer
resisted. Then they both lazo'd him over the horns, and galloped him
out, amid the cheers of the spectators. The amusements finished with
the "colear." This is quite peculiar to Mexico, and is done on this
wise. The coleador rides after the bull, who has an idea that something
is going to happen, and gallops off as fast as he can go, throwing out
his hind legs in his awkward bullish fashion. Now, suppose you are the
coleador, sitting in your peaked Mexican saddle, that rises behind and
before, and keeps you in your seat without an effort on your part. You
gallop after the bull, and when you come up with him, you pull as hard
as you can to keep your horse back; for, if he is used to the sport, as
almost all Mexican horses are, he is wild to get past, not noticing
that his rider has got no hold of the toro. Well, you are just behind
the bull, a little to the left of him, and out of the way of his hind
legs, which will trip your horse up if you don't take care; you take
your right foot out of the stirrup, catch hold of the end of the bull's
tail (which is very long), throw your leg over it, and so twist the end
of the tail round your leg below the knee. You have either got the
bridle between your teeth or have let it go altogether, and with your
left hand you give your horse a crack with the whip; he goes forward
with a bound, and the bull, losing his balance by the sudden jerk
behind, rolls over on the ground, and gets up, looking very
uncomfortable. The faster the bull gallops, the easier it is to throw
him over; and two boys of twelve or fourteen years of age coleared a
couple of young bulls in the arena, in great style, pitching them over
in all directions. The farmers and landed proprietors are immensely
fond of both these sports, which the bulls--by the way--seem to dislike
most thoroughly; but this exhibition in the bull-ring was better than
what one generally sees, and the leperos were loud in their expressions
of delight.

When we had been a week or two in the city of Mexico, we decided upon
making an excursion to the great silver mining district of the Real del
Monte. Some of our English friends were leaving for England, and had
engaged the whole of the Diligence to Pachuca, going from thence up to
the Real, and thence to Tampico, with all the pomp and circumstance of
a train of carriages and an armed escort. We were invited to go with
them as far as Pachuca; and accordingly we rose very early on the 28th
of March, got some chocolate under difficulties, and started in the
Diligence, seven grown-up people, and a baby, who was very good, and
was spoken of and to as "leoncito." On the high plateaus of Mexico, the
children of European parents grow up as healthy and strong as at home;
it is only in the districts at a lower elevation above the sea, on the
coasts for instance, that they do not thrive. Mr. G., who was leaving
Mexico, was the head of a great merchant-house, and it was as a
compliment to him and Mrs. G. that we were accompanied by a party of
English horsemen for the first two or three leagues. Englishmen take
much more easily to Mexican ways about horses than the Mexicans do to
ours, and a finer turn-out of horses and riders than our amateur escort
could hardly have been found in Mexico. There was our friend Don
Guillermo, who rode a beautiful horse that had once belonged to the
captain of a band of robbers, and had not its equal in the city for
swiftness; and Don Juan on his splendid little brown horse Pancho,
lazoing stray mules as he went, and every now and then galloping into a
meadow by the roadside after a bull, who was off like a shot the moment
he heard the sound of hoofs. I wonder whether I shall ever see them
again, those jovial open-hearted countrymen of ours. At last our
companions said good-bye, and loaded pistols were carefully arranged on
the centre cushion in case of an attack, much to the edification of my
companion and myself, as it rather implied that, if fighting were to be
done, we two should have to sit inside to be shot at without a chance
of hitting anybody in return.

The hedges of the Organ Cactus are a feature in the landscape of the
plains, and we first saw them to perfection on the road between Mexico
and Pachuca. This plant, the Cereus hexagonus, grows in Italy in the
open air, but seems not to be turned to account anywhere except in
Mexico for the purpose to which it is particularly suited. In its wild
state it grows like a candelabrum, with a thick trunk a few feet high,
from the top of which it sends out shoots, which, as soon as they have
room, rise straight upwards in fluted pillars fifteen or twenty feet in
height. Such a plant, with pillars rising side by side and almost
touching one another, has a curious resemblance to an organ with its
pipes, and thence its name "organo."

To make a fence, they break off the straight lateral shoots, of the
height required, and plant them closely side by side, in a trench,
sufficiently deep to ensure their standing firmly; and it is a curious
sight to see a labourer bearing on his shoulder one of these vegetable
pillars, as high as himself, and carefully guarding himself against its
spines. A hedge perfectly impassable is obtained at once; the cactus
rooting so readily, that it is rare to see a gap where one has died.
The villagers surround their gardens with these fences of cactus, which
often line the road for miles together. Foreigners used to point out
such villages to us, and remark that they seemed "well organized," a
small joke which unfortunately bears translation into all ordinary
European languages, and was inflicted without mercy upon us as new

We reached Pachuca early in the afternoon, and took up our quarters in
the inn there, and our friends went on to Real del Monte.

This little town of Pachuca has long been a place of some importance in
the world, as regards mining-operations. The Aztecs worked silver-mines
here, as well as at Tasco, long before the Spaniards came, and they
knew how to smelt the ore. It is true that, if no better process than
smelting were known now, most of the mines would scarcely be worth
working; but still, to know how to extract silver at all was a great
step; and indeed at that time, and for long after the Conquest, there
was no better method known in Europe. It was in this very place that a
Spaniard, Medina by name, discovered the process of amalgamation with
mercury, in the year 1557, some forty years after the invasion. We went
to see the place where he first worked his new process, and found it
still used as a "hacienda de beneficio" (establishment for extracting
silver from the ore.) So few discoveries in the arts have come out of
Mexico, or indeed out of any Spanish colony, that we must make the most
of this really very important method, which is more extensively used
than any other, both in North and South America. As for the rest of the
world, it produces, comparatively, so little silver, that it is
scarcely worth taking into account.

We had forgotten, when we went to bed, that we were nearly seven
hundred feet higher than Mexico; but had the fact brought to our
remembrance by waking in the middle of the night, feeling very cold,
and finding our thermometer marking 40 degrees Fahr.; whereupon we
covered ourselves with cloaks, and the cloaks with the strips of carpet
at our bedsides, and went to sleep again.

We had hired, of the French landlord, two horses and a mozo to guide
us, and sorry hacks they were when we saw them in the morning. It was
delightful to get a little circulation into our veins by going at the
best gallop our horses would agree to; for we were fresh from hot
countries, and not at all prepared for having our hands and feet numbed
with cold, and being as hoarse as ravens--for the sore throat which is
the nuisance of the district, and is very severe upon new comers, had
not spared us. Evaporation is so rapid at this high altitude that if
you wet the back of your hand it dries almost instantly, leaving a
smart sensation of cold. One may easily suppose, that when people have
been accustomed to live under the ordinary pressure of the air, their
throats and lungs do not like being dried up at this rate; besides
their having, on account of the rarity of the air, to work harder in
breathing, in order to get in the necessary quantity of oxygen.

Coughs seem very common here, especially among the children, though
people look strong and healthy, but in the absence of proper statistics
one cannot undertake to say whether the district is a healthy one or

For a wonder we have a good road, and this simply because the Real del
Monte Company wanted one, and made it for themselves. How unfortunate
all Spanish countries are in roads, one of the most important first
steps towards civilization! When one has travelled in Old Spain, one
can imagine that the colonists did not bring over very enlightened
ideas on the subject; and as the Mexicans were not allowed to hold
intercourse with any other country, it is easy to explain why Mexico is
all but impassable for carriages. But if the money--or half of it--that
has been spent in building and endowing churches and convents had been
devoted to road-making, this might have been a great and prosperous

For some three hours we rode along among porphyritic mountains, getting
higher at every turn, and enjoying the clear bright air. Now and then
we met or passed a long recua (train) of loaded mules, taking care to
keep the safe side of the road till we were rid of them. It is not
pleasant to meet a great drove of horned cattle in an Alpine pass, but
I really think a recua of loaded mules among the Andes is worse. A
knowing old beast goes first, and the rest come tumbling after him
anyhow, with their loads often projecting a foot or two on either side,
and banging against anybody or anything. Then, wherever the road is
particularly narrow, and there is a precipice of two or three hundred
feet to fall over, one or two of them will fall down, or get their
packs loose, and so block up the road, and there is a general scrimmage
of kicking and shoving behind, till the arrieros can get things
straight again. At last we reach the top of a ridge, and see the little
settlement of Real del Monte below us. It is more like a Cornish mining
village than anything else; but of course the engine-houses, chimneys,
and mine-sheds, built by Cornishmen in true Cornish fashion, go a long
way towards making up the resemblance. The village is built on the
awkwardest bit of ground possible, up and down on the side of a steep
ravine, one house apparently standing on the roof of another; and it
takes half a mile of real hard climbing to get from the bottom of the
town to the top.

We put up our horses at a neat little inn kept by an old Englishwoman,
and walked or climbed up to the Company's house. We made several new
acquaintances at the Real, though we left within a few hours, intending
to see the place thoroughly on our return.

One peculiarity of the Casa Grande--the great house of the Company--was
the warlike appearance of everybody in it. The clerks were posting up
the ledgers with loaded revolvers on the desk before them; the
manager's room was a small arsenal, and the gentlemen rode out for
exercise, morning and evening, armed to the teeth. Not that there is
anything to be apprehended from robbers--indeed I should like to see
any of the Mexican ladrones interfering with the Cornish miners, who
would soon teach them better manners. I am inclined to think there is a
positive pleasure in possessing and handling guns and pistols, whether
they are likely to be of any use or not. Indeed, while travelling
through the western and southern States of America, where such things
are very generally carried, I was the possessor of a five-barrelled
revolver, and admit that I derived an amount of mild satisfaction from
carrying it about, and shooting at a mark with it, that amply
compensated for the loss of two dollars I incurred by selling it to a
Jew at New Orleans.

We rode on to Regla, soon finding that our guide had never been there
before; so, next morning, we kept the two horses and dismissed him with
ignominy. A fine road leads from the Real to Regla, for all the
silver-ore from the mines is conveyed there to have the silver
separated from it. My notes of our ride mention a great water-wheel:
sections of porphyritic rocks, with enormous masses of alluvial soil
lying upon them: steep ravines: arroyos, cut by mountain-streams, and
forests of pine-trees--a thoroughly Alpine district altogether. At
Regla it became evident that our letter of introduction was not a mere
complimentary affair. There is not even a village there; it is only a
great hacienda, belonging to the Company, with the huts of the workmen
built near it. The Company, represented by Mr. Bell, received us with
the greatest hospitality. Almost before the letter was opened our
horses and mozo were off to the stables, our room was ready, and our
dinner being prepared as fast as might be. What a pleasant evening we
had, after our long day's work! We had a great wood-fire, and sat by
it, talking and looking at Mr. Bell's photographs and minerals, which
serve as an amusement in his leisure-hours. The Company's Administrador
leads rather a peculiar life here. There is no want of work or
responsibility; he has two or three hundred Indians to manage, almost
all of whom will steal and cheat without the slightest scruple, if they
can but get a chance; he has to assay the ores, superintend a variety
of processes which require the greatest skill and judgment, and he is
in charge of property to the value of several hundred thousand pounds.
Then a man must have a constitution of iron to live in a place where
the air is so rarefied, and where the temperature varies thirty and
forty degrees between morning and noon. As for society, he must find it
in his own family; for even the better class of Mexicans are on so
different a level, intellectually, from an educated Englishman, that
their society bores him utterly, and he had rather be left in solitude
than have to talk to them. Well, it is a great advantage to travellers
that circumstances fix pleasant people in such out-of-the-way places.

One necessary part of a hacienda is a church. The proprietors are
compelled by law to build one, and pay the priest's fees for mass on
Sundays and feast-days. Now, almost all the English one meets with
engaged in business, or managing mines and plantations, are Scotch, and
one may well suppose that there is not much love lost between them and
the priests. The father confessor plays an important part in the great
system of dishonesty that prevails to so monstrous an extent throughout
the country. He hears the particulars of the thefts and cheatings that
have been practised on the proprietor who builds his church and pays
for his services, and he complacently absolves his penitents in
consideration of a small penance. Not a word about restitution; and
just a formal injunction to go and sin no more, which neither priest
nor penitent is very sincere about. The various evils of the Roman
Catholic system have been reiterated till the subject has become
tiresome, but this particular practice is so contrary to the simplest
notions of morality, and has produced such fearful effects on the
character of this nation, that one cannot pass it by without notice. If
the Superintendent should roast the parish priest in front of the
oxidising furnace, till he confessed all he knew about the thefts of
his parishioners from the Company, he would tell strange stories,--how
Juan Fernandez carried off sixpennyworth of silver in each car every
day for a month; and how Pedro Alvarado (the Indian names have almost
disappeared except in a few families, and Spanish names have been
substituted) had a hammer with a hollow handle, like the stick that
Sancho Panza delivered his famous judgment about, and carried away
silver in it every day when he left work; and how Vasco Nunez stole the
iron key from the gate (which cost two dollars to replace), walking
twenty miles and losing a day's work in order to sell it, and
eventually getting but twopence for it; and plenty more stories of the
same kind. The Padre at Regla, we heard, was not given to preaching
sermons, but had lately favoured his congregation with a very striking
one, to the effect that the Company paid him only three dollars a time
for saying mass, and that he ought to have four.

Almost every traveller who visits Mexico enlarges on the dishonesty
which is rooted in the character of the people. That they are worse now
in this respect than they were before the Conquest is highly probable.
Their position as a conquered and enslaved people, tended, as it always
does, to foster the slavish vices of dissimulation and dishonesty. The
religion brought into the country by the Spanish missionaries concerned
itself with their belief, and left their morals to shift for
themselves, as it does still.

In the mining-districts stealing is universal. Public feeling among the
Indians does not condemn it in the least, quite the contrary. To steal
successfully is considered a triumph, and to be found out is no
disgrace. Theft is not even punishable. In old times a thief might be
put in the stocks; but Burkart, who was a mining-inspector for many
years, says that in his time, some twenty years ago, tins was
abolished, and I believe the law has not been altered since. It is a
miserable sight to see the Indian labourers searched as they come out
of the mines. They are almost naked, but rich ore packs in such a small
compass, and they are so ingenious in stowing it away, that the
doorkeepers examine their mouths and ears, and their hair, and
constantly find pieces that have been secreted, while a far greater
quantity escapes. It is this system of thieving that accounts for the
existence of certain little smelting-sheds, close to the works of the
Company, who look at them with such feelings as may be imagined. These
places profess to smelt ore from one or two little mines in the
neighbourhood, but their real object is no secret. They buy the stolen
bits of rich ore from the Indian labourers, giving exactly half the
value for it.

Of course, we must not judge these Mexican labourers as though we had a
very high standard of honesty at home. That we should see workmen
searched habitually in England, at the doors of our national
dock-yards, is a much greater disgrace to us. And not merely a
disgrace, but a serious moral evil, for to expose an honest man to such
a degradation is to make him half a thief already.

People who know the Indian population best assure us that their lives
are a perpetual course of intrigue and dissimulation. Always trying to
practise some small fraud upon their masters, and even upon their own
people, they are in constant fear that every one is trying to overreach
them. They are afraid to answer the simplest question, lest it should
be a trap laid to catch them. They ponder over every word and action of
their European employers, to find out what hidden intrigue lies
beneath, and to devise some counter-plot. Sartorius says that when he
has met an Indian and asked his name, the brown man always gave a false
one, lest the enquirer should want to do him some harm.

Never did any people show more clearly the effects of ages of servitude
and oppression; but, hopeless as the moral condition of this mining
population seems, there is one favourable circumstance to be put on
record. The Cornish miners, who have been living among them for years,
have worked quite perceptibly upon the Indian character by the example
of their persevering industry, their love of saving, and their utter
contempt for thieves and liars. Instead of squandering their wages, or
burying them in the ground, many of the Indian miners take their
savings to the Banks; and the opinions of the foreigners are
gradually--though very slowly--altering the popular standard of
honesty, the first step towards the moral improvement of the Mexican

In the morning we went off for an excursion, having got a lively young
fellow from the hacienda in exchange for our stupid mozo. There was
hoar frost on the ground, and the feeling of cold was intense at first;
but the sun began to warm the ground about eight o'clock, and we were
soon glad to fasten our great coats and shawls to our saddles. Three
leagues took us to the town of Atotonilco[9] el Grande, which gives its
name to the plateau we were crossing. Here we are no longer in the
valley of Mexico, which is separated from this plain by the mountains
of the Real del Monte. We rode on two leagues more to the village of
Soquital[10] where, it being Sunday, we found the inhabitants--mostly
Indians--amusing themselves by standing in the sun, doing nothing. I
can hardly say "doing nothing," though, for we went into the tienda, or
shop, and found a brisk trade going on in raw spirits. _Tienda_, in
Spanish, means a tent or booth. The first shops were tents or booths at
fairs or in market-places; and thence "tienda" came to mean a shop in
general; a derivation which corresponds with that of the word "shop"
itself. Such of the population as had money seemed to drop in at
regular intervals for a dram, which consisted of a small wine-glassful
of white-corn-brandy, called _chinguerito_. We tasted some, while the
people at the shop were frying eggs and boiling beans for our
breakfast; and found it so strong that a small sip brought tears into
our eyes, to the amusement of the bystanders. It seemed that everybody
was drinking who could afford it; from the old men and women to the
babies in their mothers' arms; everybody had a share, except those who
were hard up, and they stood about the door looking stolidly at the
drinkers. There was nothing like gaiety in the whole affair; only a
sort of satisfaction appeared in the face of each as he took his dose.
It is the drinkers of pulque who get furiously drunk, and fight; here
it is different. These drinkers of spirits are not much given to that
enormous excess that kills off the Red Indians; indeed, they are seldom
drunk enough to lose their wits, and they never have delirium tremens,
which would come upon a European, with much less provocation. They get
into a habit of daily--almost hourly--dram-drinking, and go on, year
after year, in this way; seeming, as far as we could judge, to live a
long while, such a life as it is. As we mounted our horses and rode on,
we agreed that we had seldom seen a more melancholy and depressing

We met some arrieros, who had brought up salt from the coast; and they,
seeing that we were English, judged we had something to do with mines,
and proposed to sell us their goods. The price of salt here is actually
three-pence per lb., in a district where its consumption is immense, as
it is used in refining the silver ore. It must be said, however, that
this is an unusual price; for the muleteers have been so victimised by
their mules being seized, either by the government or the rebels (one
seems about as bad as the other in this respect), that they must have a
high price to pay them for the risk. Generally seven reals, or 3s. 6d.
per arroba of 25 lbs. is the price. This salt is evaporated in the
salinas of Campeche, taken by water to Tuzpan, and then brought up the
country on mules' backs--each beast carrying 300 lbs. Of course, this
salt is very coarse and very watery; all salt made in this way is. It
suits the New Orleans people better to import salt from England, than
to make it in this way in the Gulf of Mexico, though the water there is
very salt, and the sun very hot. The fact, that it pays to carry salt
on mules' backs, tells volumes about the state of the country. At the
lowest computation, the mules would do four or five times as much work
if they were set to draw any kind of cart--however rough--on a
carriageable road. It is true that there is some sort of road from here
to Tampico, but an English waggoner would not acknowledge it by that
name at all; and the muleteers are still in possession of most of the
traffic in this district, as indeed they are over almost all the

It was mid-day by this time; and, as we could not get to the Rio Grande
without taking our chance for the night in some Indian rancho, we
turned back. The heat had become so oppressive that we took off our
coats; and Mr. Christy, riding in his shirt-sleeves and holding a white
umbrella over his head, which he had further protected with a turban,
declared that even in the East he had not had so fatiguing a ride. We
passed through Soquital, and there the natives were idling and drinking
spirits as before, and seemed hardly to have moved since we left. This
plateau of Atotonilco el Grande, called for shortness Grande, is, like
most of the high plains of Mexico, composed mostly of porphyry and
obsidian, a valley filled up with debris from the surrounding
mountains, which are all volcanic, embedded in reddish earth. The
mountain-torrents--in which the water, so to speak, comes down all at
once, not flowing in a steady stream all the year round as in
England--have left evidences of their immense power in the ravines with
which the sides of the hills, from their very tops downward, are

These fluted mountain-ridges resemble the "Kamms" (combs) of the Swiss
Alps, called so from their toothed appearance.

We had met numbers of Indians, bringing their wares to the Sunday
market in the great square of Atotonilco el Grande; and when we reached
the town on our way home, business was still going on briskly; so we
put up our horses, and spent an hour or two in studying the people and
the commodities they dealt in. It was a real old-fashioned Indian
market, very much such as the Spaniards found when they first
penetrated into the country. A large proportion of the people could
speak no Spanish, or only a few words. The unglazed pottery, palm-leaf
mats, ropes and bags of aloe-fibre, dressed skins, &c., were just the
same wares that were made three centuries ago; and there is no
improvement in their manufacture. This people, who rose in three
centuries from the condition of wandering savages to a height of
civilization that has no equal in history--considering the shortness of
the time in which it grew up--have remained, since the Conquest,
without making one step in advance. They hardly understand any reason
for what they do, except that their ancestors did things so--they
therefore must be right. They make their unglazed pottery, and carry it
five and twenty miles to market on their heads, just as they used to do
when there were no beasts of burden in the country. The same with their
fruits and vegetables, which they have brought great distances, up the
most difficult mountain-paths, at a ruinous sacrifice of time and
trouble, considering what a miserable sum they will get for them after
all, and how much even of this will be spent in brandy. By working on a
hacienda they would get double what their labour produces in this way,
but they do not understand this kind of reasoning. They cultivate their
little patches of maize, by putting a sharp stick into the ground, and
dropping the seed into the hole. They carry pots of water to irrigate
their ground with, instead of digging trenches. This is the more
curious, as at the time of the Conquest irrigation was much practised
by the Aztecs in the plains, and remains of water-canals still exist,
showing that they had carried the art to great perfection. They bring
logs of wood over the mountains by harnessing horses or mules to them,
and dragging them with immense labour over the rough ground. The idea
of wheels or rollers has either not occurred to them, or is considered
as a pernicious novelty.

It is very striking to see how, while Europeans are bringing the newest
machinery and the most advanced arts into the country, there is
scarcely any symptom of improvement among the people, who still hold
firmly to the wisdom of their ancestors. An American author, Mayer,
quotes a story of a certain people in Italy, as an illustration of the
feeling of the Indians in Mexico respecting improvements. In this
district, he says that the peasants loaded their panniers with
vegetables on one side, and balanced the opposite pannier by filling it
with stones; and when a traveller pointed out the advantage to be
gained by loading both panniers with vegetables, he was answered that
their forefathers from time immemorial had so carried their produce to
market, that they were wise and good men, and that a stranger showed
very little understanding or decency who interfered in the established
customs of a country. I need hardly say that the Indians are utterly
ignorant; and this of course accounts to a great extent for their
obstinate conservatism.

There were several shops round the market-place at Grande, and the
brandy-drinking was going on much as at Soquital. The shops in these
small towns are general stores, like "the shop" in coal- and
iron-districts in England. It is only in large towns that the different
retail-trades are separated. One thing is very noticeable in these
country stores, the certainty of finding a great stock of sardines in
bright tin boxes. The idea of finding _Sardines a l'huile_ in Indian
villages seemed odd enough; but the fact is, that the difficulty of
getting fish up from the coast is so great that these sardines are not
much dearer than anything else, and they go a long way. Montezuma's
method of supplying his table with fresh fish from the gulf, by having
relays of Indian porters to run up with it, is too expensive for
general use, and there is no efficient substitute. It is in consequence
of this scarcity of fish, that Church-fasts have never been very
strictly kept in Mexico.

[Illustration: HIEROGLYPHICS.]

The method of keeping accounts in the shops--which, it is to be
remembered, are almost always kept by white or half-white people,
hardly ever by Indians--is primitive enough. Here is a score which I
copied, the hieroglyphics standing for dollars, half-dollars, medios or
half-reals, cuartillos or quarter-reals, and tlacos--or clacos--which
are eighths of a real, or about 3/4d. While account-keeping among
the comparatively educated trades-people is in this condition,
one can easily understand how very limited the Indian notions of
calculation are. They cannot realize any number much over ten; and
twenty--cempoalli--is with them the symbol of a great number,
as a hundred was with the Greeks. There is in Mexico a mountain
called in this indefinite way "Cempoatepetl"--the twenty-mountain.
Sartorius mentions the Indian name of the many-petaled
marigold--"cempoaxochitl"--the twenty-flower. We traded for some
trifles of aloe-fibre, but soon had to count up the reckoning with

I have delayed long enough for the present over the Indians and their
market; so, though there is much more to be said about them, I will
only add a few words respecting the commodities for sale, and then
leave them for awhile.

There seemed to be a large business doing in costales (bags) made of
aloe-fibre, for carrying ore about in the mines. True to the traditions
of his ancestors, the Indian much prefers putting his load in a bag on
his back, to the far easier method of wheeling it about. Lazos sold at
one to four reals, (6d. to 2s.) according to quality. There are two
kinds of aloe-fibre; one coarse, _ichtli_, the other much finer,
_pito_; the first made from the great aloe that produces pulque, the
other from a much smaller species of the same genus. The stones with
which the boiled maize is ground into the paste of which the universal
tortillas are made were to be had here; indeed, they are made in the
neighbourhood, of the basalt and lava which abound in the district. The
metate is a sort of little table, hewn out of the basalt, with four
little feet, and its surface is curved from the ends to the middle. The
metalpile is of the same material, and like a rolling-pin. The
old-fashioned Mexican pottery I have mentioned already. It is
beautifully made, and very cheap. They only asked us nine-pence for a
great olla, or boiling-pot, that held four or five gallons, and no
doubt this was double the market-price. I never so thoroughly realized
before how climate is altered by altitude above the sea as in noticing
the fruits and vegetables that were being sold at this little market,
within fifteen or twenty miles of which they were all grown. There were
wheat and barley, and the pinones (the fruit of the stone-pine, which
grows in Italy, and is largely used instead of almonds); and from these
representatives of temperate climates the list extended to bananas and
zapotes, grown at the bottom of the great barrancas, 3,000 or 4,000
feet lower in level than the plateau, though in distance but a few
miles off. Three or four thousand miles of latitude would not give a
greater difference.

It would never do to be late, and break our necks in one of the awkward
water-courses that cut the plateau about in all directions; so we
started homewards, soon having to unfasten great-coats and shawls from
our saddles, to keep out the cold of the approaching sunset; and so we
got back to the hospitable hacienda, and were glad to warm ourselves at
the fire.

Next morning, we went off to get a view of the great barranca of Regla.
A ride over the hills brought us to a wood of oaks, with their branches
fringed with the long grey Spanish moss, and a profusion of epiphytes
clinging to their bark, some splendidly in flower, showing the
fantastic shapes and brilliant colours one sees in English
orchid-houses. Cactuses of many species complete the picture of the
vegetation in this beautiful spot. This is at the top of the barranca.
Then imagine a valley a mile or two in width, with sides almost
perpendicular and capped with basaltic pillars, and at the bottom a
strip of land where the vegetation is of the deepest green of the
tropics, with a river winding along among palm-trees and bananas. This
great barranca is between two and three thousand feet deep, and the
view is wonderful. We went down a considerable way by a zig-zag road,
my companion collecting armfuls of plants by the way, but unfortunately
losing his thermometer, which could not be found, though a long hunt
for it produced a great many more plants, and so the trouble was not
wasted. The prickly pear was covered with ripe purple fruit a little
way down, and we refreshed ourselves with them, I managing--in my
clumsiness--to get into my fingers two or three of the little sheaves
of needles which are planted on the outside of the fruit, and thus
providing myself with occupation for leisure moments for three or four
days after in taking them out.

Many species of cactus, and the nopal, or prickly pear, especially, are
full of watery sap, which trickles out in a stream when they are
pierced. In these thirsty regions, when springs and brooks are dry, the
cattle bite them to get at the moisture, regardless of the thorns. On
the north coast of Africa the camels delight in crunching the juicy
leaves of the same plant. I have often been amused in watching the
camel-drivers' efforts to get their trains of laden beasts along the
narrow sandy lanes of Tangier, between hedges of prickly pears, where
the camels with their long necks could reach the tempting lobes on both
sides of the way.

In this thirsty season, while the cattle in the Mexican plains derive
moisture from the cactus, the aloe provides for man a substitute for
water. It frequently happened to us to go from rancho to rancho asking
for water in vain, though pulque was to be had in abundance.

To attempt any description of the varied forms of cactus in Mexico
would be out of the question. In the northern provinces alone,
botanists have described above eight hundred species. The most striking
we met with were the prickly pear (cactus opuntia), the organo, the
night-blowing cereus, the various mamillarias--dome-shaped mounds
covered with thorns, varying in diameter from an inch to six or eight
feet--and the greybeard, _el viejo,_ "the old man," as our guide called
them, upright pillars like street-posts, and covered with grey
wool-like filaments.

Getting to the top of the ravine again, we found an old Indian milking
an aloe, which flourishes here, though a little further down the
climate is too hot for it to produce pulque. This old gentleman had a
long gourd, of the shape and size of a great club, but hollow inside,
and very light. The small end of this gourd was pushed in among the
aloe-leaves into the hollow made by scooping out the inside of the
plant, and in which the sweet juice, the aguamiel, collects. By having
a little hole at each end of the gourd, and sucking at the large end,
the hollow of the plant emptied itself into the Acocote, (in proper
Mexican, _Acocotl_, Water-throat), as this queer implement is called.
Then the Indian stopped the hole at the end he had been sucking at,
with his finger, and dexterously emptied the contents of the gourd into
a pig-skin which he carried at his back. We went up with the old man to
his rancho, and tested his pulque, which was very good, though we could
not say the same of his domestic arrangements. It puzzled us not a
little to see people living up at this height in houses built of
sticks, such as are used in the hot lands, and hardly affording any
protection from the weather, severe as it is here. The pulque is taken
to market in pig-skins, which, though the pig himself is taken out of
them, still retain his shape very accurately; and when nearly full of
liquor, they roll about on their backs, and kick up the little dumpy
legs that are left them, in the most comical and life-like way. When we
went away we bought the old man's acocote, and carried it home in
triumph, and is it not in the Museum at Kew Gardens to this day? _(See
the illustration at page 36.)_

At the hacienda of Regla are to be seen on a large scale most of the
processes which are employed in the extraction of silver from the
ore--the _beneficio_, or making good, as it is called.

In the great yard, numbers of men and horses were walking round and
round upon the "tortas," tarts or pies, as they are called, consisting
of powdered ore mixed with water, so as to form a circular bed of mud a
foot deep. To this mud, sulphate of copper, salt, and quicksilver are
added, and the men and mules walk round and round in it, mixing it
thoroughly together, a process which is kept up, with occasional
intervals of rest, for nearly two months. By that time the whole of the
silver has formed an amalgam with the mercury, and this amalgam is
afterwards separated from the earth by being trampled under water in
troughs. We were surprised to find that men and horses could pass their
lives in wading through mud containing mercury in a state of fine
division without absorbing it into their bodies, but neither men nor
horses suffer from it.

We happened to visit the melting-house one evening, while silver and
lead were being separated by oxidizing the lead in a reverberatory
furnace. Here we noticed a curious effect. The melted litharge ran from
the mouth of the furnace upon a floor of damp sand, and spread over it
in a sheet. Presently, as the heat of the mass vaporized the water in
the sand below, the sheet of litharge, still slightly fluid, began to
heave and swell, and a number of small cones rose from its surface.
Some of these cones reached the height of four inches, and then burst
at the top, sending out a shower of red-hot fragments. I removed one of
these cones when the litharge was cool. It had a regidar funnel-shaped
crater, like that which Vesuvius had until three or four years ago.

The analogy is complete between these little cones and those on the
lava-field at the foot of the volcano of Jorullo, the celebrated
"hornitos;" the concentric structure of which, as described by Burkart,
proves that they were formed in precisely the same manner. Until
lately, the formation of the great cone of Jorullo was attributed to
the same kind of action as the hornitos, but later travellers have
established the fact that this is incorrect. One of the De Saussure
family, who was in Mexico a few years back, describes Jorullo as
consisting of three terraces of basaltic lava, which have flowed one
above another from a central orifice, the whole being surmounted by a
cone of lapilli thrown up from the same opening, from which also later
streams of lava have issued.

The celebrated cascade of Regla is just behind the hacienda. There is a
sort of basin, enclosed on three sides by a perpendicular wall of
basaltic columns, some eighty feet high. On the side opposite the
opening, a mountain stream has cut a deep notch in this wall, and pours
down in a cascade. The basaltic pillars rest upon an undisturbed layer
of basaltic conglomerate five feet thick, and that upon a bed of clay.
The place is very picturesque; and two great Yuccas which project over
the waterfall, crowned with their star-like tufts of pointed leaves,
have a strange effect. These basalt-columns are very regular, with from
five to eight sides; and are almost black in colour. They have a
curiously well-defined circular core in the middle, five or six inches
in diameter. This core is light grey, almost white. The Indians bring
down numbers of short lengths or joints of the columns, and they are
used at the hacienda in making a primitive kind of ore-crushing mill,
in which they are dragged round and round by mule-power, on a floor
also of basalt.

When we had visited the falls we took leave of our hospitable friend,
and set off to return to the Real. We stopped at San Miguel, another of
the haciendas of the Company, where the German barrel-process is
worked. Just behind the hacienda is the Ojo de Agua--the Eye of
Water--a beautiful basin, surrounded by a green sward and a wood of
oaks and fir-trees. A little stream takes its rise from the spring
which bubbles up into this basin, and the name "Ojo de Agua," is a
general term applied to such fountain-heads. When one looks down from a
high hill upon one of these Eyes of Water, one sees how the name came
to be given, and indeed, the idiom is thousands of years older than the
Spanish tongue, and belongs as well to the Hebrew and Arabic. A Mexican
calls a lake _atezcatl_, Water-Mirror, an expressive word, which
reminds one of the German _Wasserspiegel_.

Soon after nightfall we got back to the English inn, and went to bed
without any further event happening, except the burning of some
outhouses, which we went out to see. The custom of roofing houses with
pine-shingles ("tacumeniles"), and the general use of wood for building
all the best houses, make fires very common here. During the few days
we spent in the Real district, I find in my notebook mention of three
fires which we saw. We spent the next day in resting, and in visiting
the mine-works near at hand. The day after, an Englishman who had lived
many years at the Real offered to take us out for a day's ride; and the
Company's Administrador lent us two of his own horses, for the poor
beasts from Pachuca could hardly have gone so far. The first place we
visited was Penas Cargadas, the "loaded rocks." Riding through a thick
wood of oaks and pines, we came suddenly in view of several sugar-loaf
peaks, some three hundred feet high, tapering almost to a point at the
top, and each one crowned with a mass of rocks which seem to have been
balanced in unstable equilibrium on its point,--looking as though the
first puff of wind would bring them down. The pillars were of
porphyritic conglomerate, which had been disintegrated and worn away by
wind and rain; while the great masses resting on them, probably of
solid porphyry, had been less affected by these influences. It was the
most curious example of the weathering of rocks that we had ever seen.
From Penas Cargadas we rode on to the farm of Guajalote, where the
Company has forests, and cuts wood and burns charcoal for the mines and
the refining works. Don Alejandro, the tenant of the farm, was a
Scotchman, and a good fellow. He could not go on with us, for he had
invited a party of neighbours to eat up a kid that had been cooked in a
hole in the ground, with embers upon it, after Sandwich Island fashion.
This is called a _barbacoa_--a barbecue. We should have liked to be at
the feast, but time was short, so we rode on to the top of Mount Jacal,
12,000 feet above the sea, where there was a view of mountains and
valleys, and heat that was positively melting. Thence down to the Cerro
de Navajas, the "hill of knives." It is on the sides of this hill that
obsidian is found in enormous quantities. Before the conquerors
introduced the use of iron, these deposits were regularly mined, and
this place was the Sheffield of Mexico.

We were curious to see all that was to be seen; for Mr. Christy's
Mexican collection, already large before our visit, and destined to
become much larger, contained numbers of implements and weapons of this
very peculiar material. Any one who does not know obsidian may imagine
great masses of bottle-glass, such as our orthodox ugly wine-bottles
are made of, very hard, very brittle, and--if one breaks it with any
ordinary implement--going, as glass does, in every direction but the
right one. We saw its resemblance to this portwine-bottle-glass in an
odd way at the Ojo de Agua, where the wall of the hacienda was armed at
the top, after our English fashion, apparently with bits of old
bottles, but which turned out to be chips of obsidian. Out of this
rather unpromising stuff the Mexicans made knives, razors, arrow- and
spear-heads, and other things, some of great beauty. I say nothing of
the polished obsidian mirrors and ornaments, nor even of the curious
masks of the human face that are to be seen in collections, for these
were only laboriously cut and polished with jewellers' sand, to us a
common-place process.

FROM MEXICO. 1. Flame shaped Arrow-head; obsidian: Teleohuacan. 2.
Arrow-head; opake obsidian: Teleohuacan. 3. Knife or Razor of Obsidian;
shown in two aspects; Mexico. 4. Leaf-shaped Knife or Javelin-head;
obsidian: from Real Del Monte. 5. Spear-head of Chalcedony; one of a
pair supposed to be spears of State: found in excavating for the Casa
Grande, Tezcuco. (This peculiar opalescent chalcedony occurs as
concretions, sometimes of large size, in the trachytic lavas of

Cortes found the barbers at the great market of Tlatelolco busy shaving
the natives with such razors, and he and his men had experience of
other uses of the same material in the flights of obsidian-headed
arrows which "darkened the sky," as they said, and the more deadly
wooden maces stuck all over with obsidian points, and of the priests'
sacrificial knives too, not long after. These things were not cut and
polished, but made by chipping or cracking off pieces from a lump. This
one can see by the traces of conchoidal fracture which they all show.

The art is not wholly understood, for it perished soon after the
Conquest, when iron came in; but, as far as the theory is concerned, I
think I can give a tolerably satisfactory account of the process of
manufacture. In the first place, the workman who makes gun-flints could
probably make some of the simpler obsidian implements, which were no
doubt chipped off in the same way. The section of a gun-flint, with its
one side flat for sharpness and the other side ribbed for strength, is
one of the characteristics of obsidian knives. That the flint knives of
Scandinavia were made by chipping off strips from a mass is proved by
the many-sided prisms occasionally found there, and particularly by
that one which was discovered just where it had been worked, with the
knives chipped off it lying close by, and fitting accurately into their
places upon it.

Now to make the case complete, we ought to find such prisms in Mexico;
and, accordingly, some months ago, when I examined the splendid Mexican
collection of Mr. Uhde at Heidelberg, I found one or two. No one seemed
to have suspected their real nature, and they had been classed as
maces, or the handles of some kind of weapon.


I should say from memory that they were seven or eight inches long, and
as large as one could conveniently grasp; and one or both of them, as
if to remove all doubt as to what they were, had the stripping off of
ribbons not carried quite round them, but leaving an intermediate strip
rough. There is another point about the obsidian knives which requires
confirmation. One can often see, on the ends of the Scandinavian flint
knives, the bruise made by the blow of the hard stone with which they
were knocked off. I did not think of looking to this point when at Mr.
Uhde's museum, but the only obsidian knife I have seen since seems to
be thus bruised at the end.


Once able to break his obsidian straight, the workman has got on a long
way in his trade, for a large proportion of the articles he has to make
are formed by planes intersecting one another in various directions.
But the Mexican knives are generally not pointed, but turned up at the
end, as one may bend up a druggist's spatula. This peculiar shape is
not given to answer a purpose, but results from the natural fracture of
the stone.

Even then, the way of making several implements or weapons is not
entirely clear. We got several obsidian maces or lance-heads--one about
ten inches long--which were taper from base to point, and covered with
taper flutings; and there are other things which present great
difficulties. I have heard on good authority, that somewhere in Peru,
the Indians still have a way of working obsidian by laying a bone wedge
on the surface of a piece, and tapping it till the stone cracks. Such a
process may have been used in Mexico.

We may see in museums beautiful little articles made in this
intractable material, such as the mirrors and masks I have mentioned,
and even rings and cups. But, as I have said, these are mere
lapidaries' work.

The situation of the mines was picturesque; grand hills of porphyritic
rock, and pine-forest everywhere. Not far off is the broad track of a
hurricane, which had walked through it for miles, knocking the great
trees down like ninepins, and leaving them to rot there. The vegetation
gave evident proof of a severe climate; and yet the heat and glare of
the sun were more intolerable than we had ever felt it in the region of
sugar-canes and bananas. About here, some of the trachytic porphyry
which forms the substance of the hills had happened to have cooled,
under suitable conditions, from the molten state into a sort of slag or
volcanic glass, which is the obsidian in question; and, in places, this
vitreous lava--from one layer having flowed over another which was
already cool--was regularly stratified.

The mines were mere wells, not very deep; with horizontal workings into
the obsidian where it was very good and in thick layers. Round about
were heaps of fragments, hundreds of tons of them; and it was clear,
from the shape of these, that some of the manufacturing was done on the
spot. There had been great numbers of pits worked; and it was from
these "minillas," little mines, as they are called, that we first got
an idea how important an element this obsidian was in the old Aztec
civilization. In excursions made since, we travelled over whole
districts in the plains, where fragments of these arrows and knives
were to be found, literally at every step, mixed with morsels of
pottery, and here and there a little clay idol. Among the heaps of
fragments were many that had become weathered on the upper side, and
had a remarkable lustre, like silver. Obsidian is called _bizcli_ by
the Indians, and the silvery sort is known as _bizcli platera_.[11]
They often find bits of it in the fields; and go with great secrecy and
mystery to Mr. Bell, or some other authority in mining matters, and
confide to him their discovery of a silver-mine. They go away angry and
unconvinced when told what their silver really is; and generally come
to the conclusion that he is deceiving them, with a view of throwing
them off the scent, that he may find the place for himself, and cheat
them of their share of the profits--just what their own miserable
morbid cunning would lead them to do under such circumstances.


The family-likeness that exists among the stone tools and weapons found
in so many parts of the world is very remarkable. The flint-arrows of
North America, such as Mr. Longfellow's arrow-maker used to work at in
the land of the Dacotahs, and which, in the wild northern states of
Mexico, the Apaches and Comanches use to this day, might be easily
mistaken for the weapons of our British ancestors, dug up on the banks
of the Thames. It is true that the finish of the Mexican obsidian
implements far exceeds that of the chipped flint and agate weapons of
Scandinavia, and still more those of England, Switzerland, and Italy,
where they are dug up in such quantities, in deposits of alluvial soil,
and in bone-caves in the limestone rocks. But this higher finish we may
attribute partly to the superiority of the material; for the Mexicans
also used flint to some extent, and their flint weapons are as hard to
distinguish by inspection as those from other parts of the world. We
may reasonably suppose, moreover, that the skill of the Mexican
artificer increased when he found a better material than flint to work
upon. Be this as it may, an inspection of any good collection of such
articles shows the much higher finish of the obsidian implements than
of those of flint, agate, and rock-crystal. They say there is an
ingenious artist who makes flint arrow-heads and stone axes for the
benefit of English antiquarians, and earns good profits by it: I should
like to give him an order for ribbed obsidian razors and spear-heads; I
don't think he would make much of them.


The wonderful similarity of character among the stone weapons found in
different parts of the world has often been used by ethnologists as a
means of supporting the theory that this and other arts were carried
over the world by tribes migrating from one common centre of creation
of the human species. The argument has not much weight, and a larger
view of the subject quite supersedes it.

We may put the question in this way. In Asia and in Europe the use of
stone tools and weapons has always characterized a very low state of
civilization; and such implements are only found among savage tribes
living by the chase, or just beginning to cultivate the ground and to
emerge from the condition of mere barbarians. Now, if the Mexicans got
their civilization from Europe, it must have been from some people
unacquainted with the use of iron, if not of bronze. Iron abounds in
Mexico, not only in the state of ore, but occurring nearly pure in
aerolites of great size, as at Cholula, and at Zacatecas, not far from
the great ruins there; so that the only reason for their not using it
must have been ignorance of its qualities.

The Arabian Nights' story of the mountain which consisted of a single
loadstone finds its literal fulfilment in Mexico. Not far from Huetamo,
on the road towards the Pacific, there is a conical hill composed
entirely of magnetic iron-ore. The blacksmiths in the neighbourhood,
with no other apparatus than their common forges, make it directly into
wrought iron, which they use for all ordinary purposes.

Now, in supposing civilization to be transmitted from one country to
another, we must measure it by the height of its lowest point, as we
measure the strength of a chain by the strength of the weakest link.
The only civilization that the Mexicans can have received from the Old
World must have been from some people whose cutting implements were of
sharp stone, consequently, as we must conclude by analogy, some very
barbarous and ignorant tribe.

From this point we must admit that the inhabitants of Mexico raised
themselves, independently, to the extraordinary degree of culture which
distinguished them when Europeans first became aware of their
existence. The curious distribution of their knowledge shows plainly
that they found it for themselves, and did not receive it by
transmission. We find a wonderful acquaintance with astronomy, even to
such details as the real cause of eclipses,--and the length of the year
given by intercalations of surprising accuracy; and, at the same time,
no knowledge whatever of the art of writing alphabetically, for their
hieroglyphics are nothing but suggestive pictures. They had earned the
art of gardening to a high degree of perfection; but, though there were
two kinds of ox, and the buffalo at no great distance from them, in the
countries they had already passed through in their migration from the
north, they had no idea of the employment of beasts of burden, nor of
the use of milk. They were a great trading people, and had money of
several kinds in general use, but the art of weighing was utterly
unknown to them; while, on the other hand, the Peruvians habitually
used scales and weights, but had no idea of the use of money.

To return to the stone knives; the Mexicans may very well have invented
the art themselves, as they did so many others; or they may have
received it from the Old World. The things themselves prove nothing
either way.

The real proof of their having, at some early period, communicated with
inhabitants of Europe or Asia rests upon the traditions current among
them, which are recorded by the early historians, and confirmed by the
Aztec picture-writings; and upon several extraordinary coincidences in
the signs used by them in reckoning astronomical cycles. Further on I
shall allude to these traditions.

On the whole, the most probable view of the origin of the Mexican
tribes seems to be the one ordinarily held, that they really came from
the Old World, bringing with them several legends, evidently the same
as the histories recorded in the book of Genesis. This must have been,
however, at a time, when they were quite a barbarous, nomadic tribe;
and we must regard their civilization as of independent and far later

We rode back through the woods to Guajalote, where the Mexican cook had
made us a feast after the manner of the country, and from her
experience of foreigners had learnt to temper the chile to our
susceptible throats. Decidedly the Mexicans are not without ideas in
the matter of cookery. We stayed talking with the hospitable Don
Alejandro and his sister till it was all but dark, and then rode back
to the Real, admiring the fire-flies that were darting about by
thousands, and listening to our companion's stories, which turned on
robberies and murders---as stories are apt to do in wild places after
dark. But, save an escape from being robbed some twenty years back, and
the history of an Indian who was murdered just here by some of his own
people, for a few shillings he was taking home, our friend had not much
reason to give for the two huge horse-pistols ho carried, ready for
action. His story of the death of a German engineer in these parts is
worth recording here. He was riding home one dark night, with a
companion; and, trusting to his knowledge of the country, tried a short
cut through the woods, among the old open mines near the Regla road.
They had quite passed all the dangerous places, he thought, so he gave
his horse the spur, and plunged sheer down a shaft, hundreds of feet
deep. His friend pulled up in time, and got home safely.

We had one more day among the mines, and then went back to Pachuca, and
next day to Mexico in the Diligence. Everywhere the same hospitality
and good-natured interest in us and our doings, often shown by people
with whom we had hardly the slightest acquaintance. Travelling here is
very different from what it is in a country on which the shadow of
Murray's Handbook has fallen.

Almost all the interest Europe takes in Mexico, politically and
commercially, turns upon the exportation of silver. The gold,
cochineal, and vanilla are of small account. It is the silver dollars
that pay for the Manchester goods, woollens, hardware, and many other
things--those ubiquitous boxes of sardines a l'huile, for instance. The
Mexicans send to Europe some five millions sterling in silver every
year, that is, about twelve shillings apiece for all the population. It
is just about what their government spends annually in promoting the
maladministration of the country (and, looking at the matter in that
point of view, they don't do their work badly for the money). The
income of the Mexican church is not quite so much, but not far off.

Baron Humboldt has expressed a hope that, at some future day, the
Mexicans will turn their attention to producing articles of real
intrinsic value, and not those which are merely a sign to represent it.
He tells us, quite feelingly, how the Peace of Amiens stopped the
working of the iron-mines that had been opened when they could get no
iron from abroad; for, when trade was reopened, people preferred buying
in Europe probably a better article at one-third the price. He even
hopes an enlightened government will encourage (that is, protect) more
useful industries. This was written fifty years ago, though. If an
enlightened government will give people some security for life and
property, and make reasonable laws, and execute them,--leaving men of
business to find out for themselves how it suits them to employ their
capital, it seems probable that the balance between articles of real
value and articles of imaginary value will adjust itself, perhaps
better than an enlightened government could do it. The Mexican
government has, unfortunately, followed Humboldt's advice in some
respects. Cotton goods, woollens, and hardware are thus protected. We
may sum up the statistics of the Mexican cotton-manufacture in a rough
way thus,--taking merely into question the coarse cotton cloth called
_manta_, and used principally by the Indians. We may reckon roughly
that for this article alone the Mexicans have to pay a million sterling
annually more than they could get it for if there were no
protection-duty. The only advantage anybody gets by this is that a
certain part of the population is employed in a manufacture unsuited to
the country, and is thus taken away from work that may be done
profitably. The actual amount of money paid in wages to the class of
operatives thus forced into existence is much _less_ than the amount
which the country forfeits for the sake of making its manta at home.
Thus a sum actually amounting to a third of the annual taxation of the
country is thrown away upon this one article; and more goes the same
way, to encourage similar unprofitable manufactures.

With respect to the silver-mines, it is stated, on competent authority,
that the northern States of Mexico are very rich in silver; but there
is scarcely any population, and that consisting mostly of Red Indians
who will not work. When this district becomes a territory of the United
States--as seems almost certain, this silver will, no doubt, be worked.
We may make three periods in the history of Mexican silver-mining.
Before the Conquest, the Aztecs worked the silver-ore at Tasco and
other places; and were very familiar with silver, though they did not
value it much. Under the Spaniards, the working of silver became the
prominent industry of the country; and, until the Mexican Independence,
the production steadily increased. The Spaniards invented amalgamation
by the _patio_-process, a most, important improvement. Then came above
twenty years of confusion, when little was done. But when the Republic
had fairly got under way, and the country was in some measure open to
foreigners, Europe, especially England, in hot haste to take advantage
of the opportunity, sent over engineers and machinery, and great sums
of money, much of which was quite wasted, to the hopeless ruin of a
great part of the adventurers.

The improvements and the machinery remained, however; and the mines
passed into other hands. Of late years the companies have been doing
very well, and now export nearly as much silver as during the latter
years of the Spanish government--nearly, but not quite. The financial
history of the Real del Monte Company is worth putting down. The
original English company spent nearly one million sterling on it,
without getting any dividend. They sold it to two or three Mexicans for
about twenty-seven thousand pounds, and the Mexicans spent eighty
thousand more on it, and then began to make profits. The annual profit
is now some L200,000.

I have said that the modern Mexican Indian has but little idea of
arithmetic. This was not the case with his ancestors, who had a curious
notation, serving for the highest numbers. The Indians of the present
day use the old Aztec numerals, and from these there is something to be

Baron Humboldt, speaking of the Muysca Indians of South America, says
that their word for eleven is _quihicha ata_, that is, "foot one;"
meaning that they have counted all their fingers, and are beginning
their toes. He proceeds to compare the Persian words, _pentcha_, hand,
and _pendj_, five, as being connected with one another, and gives
various other curious instances of finger-numeration. We may carry the
theory further. The Zulu language reckons from one up to five, and then
goes on with _tatisitupe_ ("take the thumb"), meaning _six_;
_tatukomba_ ("take the pointer," or forefinger), meaning _seven_, and
so on. The Vei language counts from one up to nineteen, and for twenty
says _mo bande_--"a person is finished"--that is, both fingers and
toes. I venture to add another suggestion. Eichhoff gives a Sanskrit
word for finger, "daicini" (taken apparently from _pra-decini_,
forefinger), and which corresponds curiously with "dacan," ten; and we
have the same resemblance running through many of the Indo-European
languages, as [Greek: deka] and [Greek: daktylos], _decem_ and
_digitus_; German, _Zehn_ and _Zehe_, and so on.

Here the Mexican numerals will afford us a new illustration. Of the
meaning of the first four of them--_ce, ome, yei, nahui_--I can give no
idea, any more than I can of the meaning of the words one, two, three,
four, which correspond to them; but the Mexican for _five_ is
_macuilli_, "hand-depicting." Then we go on in the dark as far as
_ten_, which is _matlactli_, "hand-half," as I think it means, (from
_tlactli_, half); and this would mean, not the halving of a hand, but
the half of the whole person, which you get by counting his hands only.
The syllable _ma_, which means "hand," makes its appearance in the
words five and ten, and no where else; just as it should do. When we
come to twenty, we have _cempoalli_, "one counting;" that is, one whole
man, fingers and toes--corresponding to the Vei word for twenty, "a
person is finished."

I think we need no more examples to show that people--in almost all
countries--reckon by fives, tens, or twenties, merely because they
began to count upon their fingers and toes. If the strong man who had
six fingers on each hand, and six toes on each foot, had invented a
system of numeration, it would have gone in twelves, nearly like the
duodecimals which our carpenters use; unless, indeed, he had been
stupid after the manner of very strong men, and not gone beyond sixes.
We see how the Romans, though they inherited from their Eastern
ancestors a numeration by tens up to _decem_, and then beginning again
_undecim_, &c., yet when they began to write a notation could get no
farther than five--I., II., III., IV., V.; and then on again, VI.,
VII., up to ten, from ten to fifteen, and so on.

There is a very curious vulgar error which prevails, even among people
who have a good practical acquaintance with arithmetic. It is that the
number _ten_ has some special virtue which fits it for counting up to.
The fact is that ten is not the best number for the purpose; you can
halve it, it is true, but that is about all you can do with it, for its
being divisible by five is of hardly any use for practical purposes.
_Eight_ would be a much better number, for you can halve it three times
in succession; and _twelve_ is perhaps the most convenient number
possible, as it will divide by two, three, and four. It is this
convenient property that leads tradesmen to sell by dozens, and
grosses, rather than by tens and hundreds. If we used eights or twelves
instead of tens for numeration, we might of course preserve all the
advantages of the Indian or Arabic numerals; in the first case, we
should discard the ciphers 8 and 9, and reckon 5, 6, 7, 10; and in the
second case, we should want two new ciphers for ten and eleven; and 10
would stand for twelve, and 11 for thirteen. Our happening to have ten
fingers has really led us into a rather inconvenient numerical system.


* * * * *


The unique Knife figured at page 101 and two masks incrusted with a
similar mosaic work (of turquoise and obsidian) are in Mr. Christy's
collection; and a mask and head of similar workmanship are in the
collection at Copenhagen. These are the only known examples of this
advanced style of Aztec art.

The whole once belonged probably to one set, brought to Europe soon
after the Conquest of Mexico. The two at Copenhagen were obtained at a
convent in Rome; and, of the other three, two were for a long period in
a collection at Florence, and the other was obtained at Bruges, where
it was most probably brought by the Spaniards during their rule in the
Low Countries.




While we were away at the Real del Monte, the news had reached Mexico
that Puebla had capitulated, and that the rebel leader had fled. The
victory was celebrated in the capital with the most triumphal entries,
harangues, bull-fights, and illuminations done to order. If you had a
house in one of the principal streets, the police would make you
illuminate it, whether you liked or not. The newspapers loudly
proclaimed the triumph of the constitutional principle, and the
inauguration of a reign of law and order that was never to cease.

As for the newspapers, indeed, one looked in vain in them for any free
expression of public opinion. They were all either suppressed, or
converted into the merest mouthpieces of the government. The telegraph
was under the strictest surveillance, and no messages were allowed to
be sent which the government did not consider favourable to their
interests; a precaution which rather defeated itself, as the people
soon ceased to believe any public news at all. In all these mean little
shifts, which we in England consider as the special property of
despotic governments, the authorities of the Mexican Republic showed
themselves great proficients.

We were left, therefore, to form what idea we could of the real state
of Mexican affairs, from the private information received by our
friends. Just for once it may be worth while to give a few details, not
because the people engaged were specially interesting, but because the
affair may serve to give an idea of the condition of the country.

President Comonfort, not a bad sort of man, as it seemed, but not
"strong enough for the place," and with an empty treasury, tried to
make a stand against the clergy and the army, who stood firm against
any attempt at reform--knowing, with a certain instinct, that, if any
real reform once began, their own unreasonable privileges would soon be
attacked. So the clergy and part of the army set up an anti-president,
one Haro; and he installed himself at Puebla, which is the second city
of the Republic, and there Comonfort besieged him. So far I have
already described the doings of the "reaccionarios."

The newspapers gave wonderful accounts of attacks and repulses, and
reckoned the killed on both sides at 2,500. There were 10,000 regular
troops, and 10,000 irregulars (very irregular troops indeed); and these
were commanded by a complete regiment of officers, and _forty_
generals. This is reckoning both sides; but as, on pretty good
authority (Tejada's statistical table), the troops in the Republic are
only reckoned at 12,000, no doubt the above numbers are much
exaggerated. As for the 2,500 killed, the fact is that the siege was a
mere farce; and, judging by what we heard at the time in Mexico, and
soon afterwards in Puebla itself, 25 was a much more correct estimate:
and some facetious people reduced it, by one more division, to two and
a half. The President had managed, by desperate efforts, to borrow some
money in Mexico, on the credit of the State, at sixty per cent.; and it
seems certain that it was this money, judiciously administered to some
of Haro's generals, that brought about the flight of the
anti-president, and the capitulation of Puebla. The termination of the
affair, according to the newspapers, was, that the rebel army were
incorporated with the constitutional troops; that their officers--500
in number--were reduced to the ranks for a term of years; that a hot
pursuit was made after the fugitive Haro; and that, as it was notorious
that the clergy had found the money for the rebellion, it was
considered suitable that they should pay the expenses of the other side
too; and an order was made on the church-estates of the district to
that effect. Of course, it was an understood thing that the officers
thus degraded would desert at the first opportunity, and thus the
Government would be rid of them. As for Haro, it is not probable that
they ever intended to catch him; and they were very glad when he
disguised himself in sailor's clothes, and shipped himself off
somewhere. When the Mexicans first took to civil wars, the victorious
leader used to finish the contest by having his adversary shot. At the
time of our visit, this fashion had gone out; and the victor treated
the vanquished with great leniency, not unmindful of the time when he
might be in a like situation himself.

Whether the President ever got much of the forced contribution from the
clergy, I cannot say. At any rate, they have turned him out since; and
for a very poor government have substituted mere chaotic anarchy, as
Mr. Carlyle would call it. While the siege was going on, all the
commerce between Vera Cruz and the capital was interrupted, and, of
course, trade and manufacturing felt the effects severely. Nothing
shews the capabilities of the country more clearly than the fact that,
in spite of its distracted state and continual wars, its industrial
interests seem to be gaining ground steadily, though very slowly. The
evil of these ceaseless wars and revolutions is not that great battles
are here fought, cities destroyed, and men sacrificed by thousands.
Perhaps in no country in the world are "decisive victories,"
"sanguinary engagements," "brilliant attacks," and the like, got over
with less loss of life. Incredible as it may seem to any one who knows
how many civil wars and revolutions occur in the history of the country
for the last four or five years, I should not wonder if the number of
persons killed during that time in actual battle was less than the
number of those deliberately assassinated, or killed in private

Cheap as Mexican revolutions are in actual bloodshed, we must recollect
what they bring with them. Thousands of deserters prowling about the
country, robbing and murdering, and spreading everywhere the precious
lessons they have learnt in barracks. We know something in England of
the good moral influence that garrisons and recruiting sergeants carry
about with them; and can judge a little what must be the result of the
spreading of numbers of these fellows over a country where there is
nothing to restrain their excesses! As for the soldiers themselves, one
does not wonder at their deserting, for they are in great part pressed
men, earned off from their homes, and shut up in barracks till they
have been drilled, and are considered to be tamed; and moreover their
pay, as one may judge from the general state of the military finances,
is anything but regular. People who understand such matters, say that
the Mexicans make very good soldiers, and fight well and steadily when
well trained and well officered. They are able to march surprising
distances, day after day, to live cheerfully on the very minimum of
food, and to sleep anyhow. This we could judge for ourselves. One thing
there is, however, that they strongly object to, and that is to be
moved much beyond the range of their own climate. The men of the plains
are as susceptible as Europeans to the ill effects of the climate of
the tierra caliente; and the men of the hot lands cannot bear the cold
of the high plateaus.

Travellers in the United States make great fun of the profusion of
colonels and generals, and tell ludicrous stories on the subject. There
is also talk of the absurd number of officers in the Spanish-American
armies, but we should not, by any means, confound the two things. In
the United States it is merely a harmless exhibition of vanity, and an
amusing comment on their own high-minded abnegation of mere titles. In
Spanish America it indicates a very real and serious evil indeed.

Don Miguel Lerdo de Tejada, in his statistical chart for 1856, quoted
above, estimates the soldiers in the Republic at 12,000, and the
officers at 2,000, not counting those on half-pay. One officer to every
six men; and among them sixty-nine generals. These are not mere militia
heroes, walking about in fine uniforms, but have actual commissions
from some one of the many governments that have come and gone, and are
entitled to their pay, which they get or do not get, as may happen.
Only a fraction of them know anything whatever about the art of war.
They were political adventurers, friends or relatives of some one in
power, or simply speculators who bought their commissions as a sort of
illegitimate Government Annuities. The continual rebellions or
pronunciamientos have increased the number of officers still further.
Comonfort's notion of degrading all the officers of the rebel army was
a new and bold experiment. A very common course had been, when a
pronunciamiento had been made anywhere against the then existing
government, and a revolutionary army had been raised, for an
amalgamation to take place between the two forces; intrigue and bribery
and mutual disinclination to fight bringing matters to this peaceful
kind of settlement. In this case, it was usual for the rebel officers
to retain their self-conferred dignities.

I think this body of soldierless officers is one of the most
troublesome political elements at work in the Republic. The political
agitators are mostly among them; and it is they, more than any other
class, who are continually stirring up factions and making
pronunciamientos (what a pleasant thing it is that we have never had to
make an English word for "pronunciamiento"). Several times, efforts
have been made to reduce the Army List to decent proportions, but a
fresh crop always springs up.

In the "lowest depth" of mismanagement to which Mexican military
affairs have sunk, the newspapers still triumphantly refer to countries
which surpass them in this respect, and, at the time of our arrival,
were citing the statistics of the Peruvian Republic, where there are a
general and twenty officers to every sixty soldiers, and as many naval
officers as seamen.

These officers are not subject to the civil administration at all,
whatever they may do. They have their _fuero_, their private charter,
and are only amenable to their own tribunals, just as the clergy are to
theirs. To the ill effects of the presence of such armies and such
officers in the country, we must add the continual interruptions to
commerce arising from the distracted state of the republic, and the
uncertain tenure by which every one holds his property, not to say his
life; and this, in its effect on the morale of the whole country, is
worse than the positive suffering they inflict. So much for soldiering,
for the present. We leave the President trying, with the aid of his
Congress, to organize the government, and set things straight
generally. This August assembly is selected from the people by
universal suffrage, in the most approved manner, and ought to be a very
important and useful body, but unfortunately can do nothing but talk
and issue decrees, which no one else cares about.

In consequence of the alarming increase of highway-robbery, steps are
taken to diminish the evil. It is made lawful to punish such offenders
on the spot, by Lynch law. This is all. You may do justice on him when
caught, but really you must catch him yourself. Sober citizens are even
regretting the days of Santa Ana (recollect, I speak now of 1856, and
they might regret him still more in 1860.) He was a great scoundrel, it
is true; but he sent down detachments of soldiery to where the robbers
practised their profession, and garotted them in pairs, till the roads
were as safe as ours are in England. A President who sells states and
pockets the money may have even that forgiven him in consideration of
roads kept free from robbers, and some attempt at an effectual police.
There is a lesson in this for Mexican rulers.

The Congress professed to be hard at work cleaning out the Augean
stable of laws, rescripts, and proclamations, and making a working
constitution. We went to see them one day, and heard talking going on,
but it all came to nothing. Of one thing we may be quite sure, that if
this unlucky country ever does get set straight, it will not be done by
a Mexican Congress sitting and cackling over it.

On our return from the Real, we spent two days at the house of an
English friend at Tisapan, at the edge of the great Pedrigal, or
lava-field, which lies south of the capital. It was across this
lava-field that a part of the American army marched in '47, and
defeated a division of the Mexican forces encamped at Contrevas. On the
same day the American army attacked the Mexicans who held a strongly
fortified position at Churubusco, some four miles nearer Mexico, and
routed the main army there. They beat them again at Molino del Rey,
carried the hill of Chapultepec by storm, and then entered the city
without meeting with further resistance; though the Mexicans, after
they had formally yielded possession of the city, disgraced themselves
by assassinating stray Americans, stabbing them in the streets, and
lazoing them from the tops of the low mud houses in the suburbs.

An acquaintance of ours in Mexico met some American soldiers, with a
corporal, in the street close to his house, and asked them in.
Presently the corporal sent one of the men off into the next street to
execute some commission; but half an hour elapsed, and the man not
returning, the corporal went out to see what was the matter. He came
back presently, and remarked that some of those cursed Mexicans had
stabbed the man as he was turning the corner of the street, and left
him lying there. "So," said the corporal, "I may as well finish his
brandy and water for him;" he did so accordingly, and the men went home
to their quarters.

The American soldiers were, as one may imagine, a rough lot. Only the
smaller part of them were born Americans, the rest were emigrants from
Europe; to judge by what we heard of them--both in the States and in
Mexico--the very refuse of all the scoundrels in the Republic; but they
were well officered, and rigid discipline was maintained. So
effectually were they kept in order, that the Mexicans confessed that
it was a smaller evil to have the enemy's forces marching through the
country, than their own army.

An elaborate account of the American invasion is given in Mayer's
'Mexico.' To those who do not care for details of military operations,
there are still points of interest in the history. That ten thousand
Americans should have been able to get through the mountain-passes, and
to reach the capital at all, is an astonishing thing; and after that,
their successes in the valley of Mexico follow as a matter of course.
They could never have crossed the mountains but for a combination of

The inhabitants generally displayed the most entire indifference;
possibly preferring to sell their provisions to the Americans, instead
of being robbed of them by their own countrymen. Add to this, that the
Mexican officers showed themselves grossly ignorant of the art of war;
and that the soldiers, though they do not seem to have been deficient
in courage, were badly drilled and insubordinate. One would not have
wondered at the army being in such a condition---in a country that had
long been in a state of profound peace; but in Mexico a standing army
had been maintained for years, at a great expense, and continual civil
wars ought to have given people some ideas about soldiering. We may
judge, from the events of this war, that Mexico might be kept in good
order by a small number of American troops. The mere holding of the
country is not the greatest difficulty in the question of American

One thing that struck our friends at Tisapan, among their experiences
of the war, was the number of dead bodies of women and children that
were found on the battle-fields. A crowd of women follow close in the
rear of a Mexican army; almost every soldier having some woman who
belongs to him, and who carries a heavy load of Indian corn and babies,
and cooks tortillas for her lord and master. The number of these poor
creatures who perished in the war was very great.

We spent much of our time at Tisapan in collecting plants, and
exploring the lava-field, and the canada, or ravine, that leads up into
the mountains that skirt the valley of Mexico. I recollect one
interesting spot we came to in riding through the pine-forest on the
northern slope of the mountains, where the course of a torrent, now
dry, ran along a mere narrow trench in the hard porphyritic rock, some
ten or fifteen feet wide, until it had suddenly entered a bed of
gravel, where it had hollowed out a vast ravine, four hundred feet wide
and two hundred deep, the inlet of the water being, in proportion, as
small as the pipe that serves to fill a cistern.

Such places are common enough in the south of Europe, but seldom on so
grand a scale as one finds them in this country, where the floods come
down from the hills with astounding suddenness and violence. Mr. L. had
experience of this one day, when he had got inside his waterwheel, to
inspect its condition, the water being securely shut off, as he
thought. However, an aversada--one of these sudden freshets--came down,
quite without notice; and enough water got into the channel to set the
wheel going, so as to afford its proprietor a very curious and exciting
ride, after the manner of a squirrel in a revolving cage, until the
people succeeded in drawing off the water.

It was after our return from Tisapan that we paid a visit to Our Lady
of Guadalupe, rather an important personage in the history of Mexican
church-matters. The way lies past Santo Domingo, the church of the Holy
Office, and down a long street where live the purveyors of all things
for the muleteers. Here one may buy mats, ropes, pack-saddles--which
the arrieros delight to have ornamented with fanciful designs and
inscriptions, lazos, and many other things of the same kind. Passing
out through the city-gate, we ride along a straight causeway, which
extends to Guadalupe. A dull road enough in itself, but the
interminable strings of mules and donkeys, bringing in pig-skins full
of pulque, are worth seeing for once; and the Indians, trudging out and
in with their various commodities, are highly picturesque.

On a building at the side of the causeway we notice "Estacion de
Mejico" (Mexico Station) painted in large letters. As far as we could
observe, this very suggestive sign-board is the whole plant of the
Railway Company at this end of the line. A range of hills ends abruptly
in the plain, at a place which the Indians called Tepeyacac, "end of
the hill" (literally "at the hill's nose"). Our causeway leads to this
spot; and there, at the foot and up the slope of the hill, are built
the great cathedral and other churches and chapels, altogether a vast
and imposing collection of buildings; and round these a considerable
town has grown up, for this is the great place of pilgrimage in the

The Spaniards had brought a miraculous picture with them, Nuestra
Senora de Remedios, which is still in the country, and many pilgrims
visit it; but Our Lady of Guadalupe is a native Mexican, and decidedly
holds the first rank in the veneration of the people.

In the great church there is a picture mounted in a gold frame of great
value. Its distance from the altar-rails, and the pane of glass which
covers it, prevent one's seeing it very well. This was the more
unfortunate, as, according to my history, the picture is in itself
evidently of miraculous origin, for the best artists are agreed that no
human hand could imitate the drawing or the colour! It appears that the
Aztecs, long before the arrival of the Spaniards, had been in the habit
of worshipping--in this very place--a goddess, who was known as
_Teotenantzin_, "mother-god," or _Tonantzin_, "our mother." Ten years
after the Conquest, a certain converted Indian, Juan Diego (John James)
by name, was passing that way, and to him appeared the Virgin Mary. She
told him to go to the bishop, and tell him to build her a temple on the
place where she stood, giving him a lapful of flowers as a token. When
the flowers were poured out of the garment, in presence of the bishop,
the miraculous picture appeared underneath, painted on the apron
itself. The bishop accepted the miracle with great unction; the temple
was built, and the miraculous image duly installed in it. Its name of
"Santa Maria de Guadalupe," was not, as one might imagine, taken from
the Madonna of that name in Spain (of course not!), but was
communicated by Our Lady herself to another converted Indian. She told
him that her title was to be _Santa Maria de Tequatlanopeuh_, "Saint
Mary of the rocky hill," of which hard word the Spaniards made
"Guadalupe,"--just as they had turned Quauhnahuac into Cuernavaca, and
Quauhaxallan into Guadalajara, substituting the nearest word of Spanish
form for the unpronounceable Mexican names. This at least is the
ingenious explanation given by my author, the Bachelor Tanco, Professor
of the Aztec language, and of Astrology, in the University of Mexico,
in the year 1666. The bishop who authenticated the miracle was no less
a person than Fray Juan de Zumarraga, whose name is well known in
Mexican history, for it was he who collected together all the Aztec
picture-writings that he could find, "quite a mountain of them," say
the chroniclers, and made a solemn bonfire of them in the great square
of Tlatelolco. The miracles worked by the Virgin of Guadalupe, and by
copies of it, are innumerable; and the faith which the lower orders of
Mexicans and the Indians have in it is boundless.

On the 12th of December, the Anniversary of the Apparition is kept, and
an amazing concourse of the faithful repair to the sanctuary. Heller, a
German traveller who was in Mexico in 1846, saw an Indian taken to the
church; he had broken his leg, which had not even been set, and he
simply expected Our Lady to cure him without any human intervention at
all. Unluckily, the author had no opportunity of seeing what became of
him. The great miracle of all was the deliverance of Mexico from the
great inundation of 1626, and the fact is established thus. The city
was under water, the inhabitants in despair. The picture was brought to
the Cathedral in a canoe, through the streets of Mexico; and between
one and two years afterwards the inundation subsided. _Ergo_, it was
the picture that saved the city!

For centuries a fierce rivalry existed between the Spanish Virgin,
called "de Remedios," and Our Lady of Guadalupe; the Spaniards
supporting the first, and the native Mexicans the second. A note of
Humboldt's illustrates this feeling perfectly. He relates that whenever
the country was suffering from drought, the Virjen do Remedios was
carried into Mexico in procession, to bring rain, till it came to be
said, quite as a proverb, _Hasta el agua nos debe venir de la
Gachupina_--"We must get even our water from that Spanish creature." If
it happened that the Spanish Madonna produced no effect after a long
trial, the native Madonna was allowed to be brought solemnly in by the
Indians, and never failed in bringing the wished-for rain, which always
came sooner or later. It is remarkable that the Spanish party, who were
then all-powerful, should have allowed their own Madonna to be placed
at such a disadvantage, in not having the last innings. I need hardly
say that the shrine of Guadalupe is monstrously rich. The Chapter has
been known to lend such a thing as a million or two of dollars at a
time, though most of their property is invested on landed security.
They are allowed to have lotteries, and make something handsome out of
them; and they even sell medals and prints of their patroness, which
have great powers. You may have plenary indulgence in the hour of death
for sixpence or less. We drank of the water of the chalybeate spring,
bought sacred lottery-tickets, which turned out blanks, and tickets for
indulgences, which, I greatly fear, will not prove more valuable; and
so rode home along the dusty causeway to breakfast.

As means of learning what sort of books the poorer classes in Mexico
preferred, we overhauled with great diligence the book-stalls, of which
there are a few, especially under the arcades (Portales) near the great
square. The Mexican public have not much cheap literature to read; and
the scanty list of such popular works is half filled with Our Lady of
Guadalupe, and other miracle-books of the same kind. Father Ripalda's
Catechism has a large circulation, and is apparently the one in general
use in the country. Zavala speaks of this catechism as containing the
maxims of blind obedience to king and pope; but my more modern edition
has scarcely anything to say about the Pope, and nothing at all about
the government. Of late years, indeed, the Pope has not counted for
much, politically, in Mexico; and on one occasion his Holiness found,
when he tried to interfere about church-benefices, that his authority
was rather nominal than real. On the whole, nothing in the Catechism
struck me so much as the multiplication-table, which, to my unspeakable
astonishment, turned up in the middle of the book; a table of fractions
followed; and then it began again with the Holy Trinity.

To continue our catalogue; there are the almanacks, which contain rules
for foretelling the weather by the moon's quarters, but none of the
other fooleries which we find in those that circulate in England among
the less educated classes. It is curious to notice how the taste for
putting sonnets and other dreary poems at the beginnings and ends of
books has survived in these Spanish countries. What used to be known in
England as "a copy of verses" is still appreciated here, and almanacks,
newspapers, religious books, even programmes of plays and bull-fights,
are full of such dismal compositions. We ought to be thankful that the
fashion has long since gone out with us (except in the religions tract,
where it still survives). It is not merely apropos of sonnets, but of
thousands of other things, that in these countries one is brought, in a
manner, face to face with England as it used to be; and very trifling


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