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illustrating the whole colonial history of Spain in this quarter of the globe. In this task, he labored with indefatigable industry, with a zeal that no obstacles could chill, and a patient assiduity that shrunk from no amount of toil, however exhausting. It was an employment congenial to his taste, and he pursued it with that intense devotion which belongs only to a labor of love. By royal command, every repository was thrown open to him ; the archives of cities and towns, in the Old and the New World, were ransacked by him; he explored the dark recesses of convent libraries, and disturbed the dust of generations which had settled upon their shelves ; the great national collections of Seville and Simancas opened to him their treasures. Manuscripts mouldy with age were rescued from the devouring jaws of time and brought forth into the light of day, to give their testimony to the past. So patient of labor was he, that he transcribed with his own hand the manuscript of Sahagun's history, forming two bulky volumes in folio, and made a similar transcript of the printed account of Grijalva's expedition by his chaplain, because the book had become so exceedingly rare, that he feared the entire destruction of every existing copy by some of those many casualties that books are heirs to. The result of his labors and researches was an enormous mass of documents, consisting of letters, ordinances, chronicles, journals, and official reports. Of this collection he did not live to reap the benefit himself. Death arrested his labors when he had completed one volume of his great work, which contains an account of a portion of the discoveries of Columbus.
A second collection was made by Don Vargas Ponce, president of the Academy of History. His manuscripts were chiefly drawn from the archives at Seville, a rich and extensive repository of official documents. He died, too, before he had had time to avail himself of the fruits of his own researches ; and both his manuscripts and those of Muñoz are preserved in the archives of the Royal Academy of History at Madrid, which is intrusted by government with a particular supervision of the colonial history.
A third collection was made by Navarrete, the present president of the Academy, well known as the author of an excellent life of Cervantes, and who is still living in Madrid, in a green old age, universally respected and beloved for his
learning, his talents, his estimable character, and amiable
He went over the same ground, gleaning what his predecessors had left, and making
many important additions for his own private collection. About twenty years ago, he commenced the publication of the various documents in his possession and that of the Academy. The work is called "Coleccion de los Viages y Descubrimientos de los Españoles.” The first two volumes are devoted to the life and voyages of Columbus, and in consequence of their publication, Mr. Irving went from London to Madrid to avail himself of these new materials to write the life of the Great Admiral. A third volume, afterwards printed, gives the voyages of the inferior discoverers, as Vespucci, Balboa, and others, who followed in the track of Columbus, and supplied Mr. Irving with the materials for his “ Companions of Columbus.” Instead of going on, as he had originally proposed, with the publication of the documents illustrating the conquests of Peru and Mexico, Navarrete, in the succeeding volumes, turned aside to the discovery of the Moluccas and the voyages in the East. . The troubled state of affairs in Spain prevented the continuation of this excellent undertaking, and the publication was accordingly suspended.
The application which Mr. Prescott made to the Academy for permission to copy that part of their inestimable collection, which related to Mexico and Peru, was received by them in a manner which showed their consciousness, that the admirable work which he had already written, upon one of the most brilliant periods in the annals of Spain, had created a debt of gratitude on the part of the scholars of that country, which they felt a lively desire to repay. After choosing him a member of their body, they appointed one of their own number, a distinguished German scholar resident in Madrid, to superintend the copying of all the materials in their possession. In a similar spirit of generous courtesy, Navarrete, their president, allowed him the free use of his own private collection, the fruits of a long life of accumulation.
From all these various sources, a mass of unpublished documents was obtained, relating to the conquest and settlement of Mexico and Peru, comprising altogether about eight thousand folio pages, varying, of course, in authority and interest, but none without some value, and many of the highest importance. It is a curious subject of reflection, that two Spanish scholars, armed with all the authority of government, had thus been employed for half a century in gathering materials for the use of a writer, living in a distant portion of the globe, to whom they were not bound by ties either of religion, language, or blood. A shade of melancholy, too, passes over the mind in remembering, that they were not permitted to reap the fruits of their own labors, and to shape their ample materials into a fair edifice of literary fame. It was for others to gather where they had sown. The law of Providence, which Virgil has embodied in his well-known lines, which dooms the bee, the bird, and the ox to toil for others, and not for themselves, is perpetually applied in the history of literary enterprises. The materials are slowly gathered, the plan is sketched, years of patient inquiry and reflection are devoted to preliminary preparation, and when the projected work is beginning to assume distinct proportions in the scholar's mind, when the creative spirit of genius is proceeding to arrange the confused mass into order and beauty, when the heart beats high with anticipated success, and the laurel seems already within the grasp,
“Comes the blind Fury, with the abhorred shears,
And slits the thin-spun life.” All, too, who take pleasure in seeing the decline of exclusiveness and intolerance, and the removal of those walls of division which separate nations from each other, will be gratified with the courteous and liberal spirit manifested by the Spanish Academy, which shows, that, even in that part of Europe which is the least progressive in its movement, a decided advance has been made in generous feeling and elevated sentiment since the days of Robertson.
Mr. Prescott did not rest here in his accumulation of unpublished materials. From the Duke of Monteleone, a Sicilian nobleman, the descendant and representative of Cortés, who courteously opened to him the archives of his fanily, were obtained some interesting manuscripts of a personal nature, illustrating the biography of that renowned adventur
After these details, it will be hardly necessary to add, that he provided himself with every printed work which had reference to the subject, including the splendid publications of Dupaix and Lord Kingsborough, which, from their colossal dimensions and costly character, are not often found in private libraries.
As the events, which Mr. Prescott was called upon to record, took place in a country and among a people whose usages and institutions were unlike those of any other, his first step was to transport the reader to the period of the Conquest, and to paint the scene of the enterprise as it appeared to the Spaniards upon their landing and during their progress. This he has done with singular judgment, taste, and sagacity in his Introduction, of about two hundred pages, devoted to a consideration of the Mexican, or, more properly speaking, Aztec civilization. This portion of the work, embodying, as it does, the results of careful reflection and exhausting research, will require to be read with more concentrated attention than the narrative of the Conquest ; but it will richly repay all the time which may be devoted to it. It contains a summary and abstract of many elaborate works neither accessible nor attractive to the general reader, written in a style of transparent beauty and simplicity, and pervaded by a sound judgment equally removed from the extremes of credulity and skepticism. We read in it, with melancholy interest, the tale of the flourishing fortunes and palmy prosperity of a race, now humbled to the dust by long years of subjection, and with every spark of manly feeling trampled out by the iron heel of their oppressors.
When the Spaniards landed upon the shores of Mexico, they found themselves in a new world. The singular physical features of the country prepared them for strange revelations, and at every step their anticipations were confirmed. The forms of animal life, which they observed, everywhere suggested resemblances to those of the European world, but nowhere presented an exact parallel. In the productions of the vegetable kingdom, the discrepancy was still more marked. The exhaustless wealth of a tropical soil lavished itself in the grandest and most fantastic shapes ; in trees of giant size and luxuriant foliage ; in a tangled undergrowth of shrubbery; in a variety of climbing plants, that threw their green arches over the open spaces of the forest, or hung in pendulous grace from the highest branches ; and in flowers of vivid
; hues, whose intoxicating perfume was Aung upon the air for many a league. It was a vision of fairy land made real. The old world which they had left seemed tame, languid, and
cold, compared with that upon whose teeming soil they saw the evidence of such undecayed and exuberant energies. The air was clearer ; the sun was brighter, the stars seemed nearer to the earth ; every thing was steeped in a more passionate beauty, and wore the glory and freshness of early youth.
The lord of this favored region was marked by peculiarities of appearance and organization which made him, as compared with the “homo sapiens Europæus,” another, yet the same. In his form and limbs, there was more of feminine delicacy and roundness than of masculine vigor; he was more suited to exercises of agility than of strength ; active rather than muscular. The hair was black, coarse, glossy, and straight; the beard thin and usually plucked out ; the complexion of a reddish brown or copper color ; the cheek-bones high, and the eyes obliquely directed towards the temples ; the expression of the countenance soft, with a tinge of melancholy. In vital energy, power of endurance, and strength of muscle, he was inferior to the European, and a proportionately less quantity of food sufficed for his sustenance.
In social life, manners and customs, civil polity, and religious belief, there were also striking peculiarities. The Aztec race had reached a point in civilization very far beyond that attained by the wandering tribes of the North. Their political organization presented all the elements of a welldefined state.
The government was an elective monarchy, and the sovereign was selected from the brothers of the deceased monarch, and, in default of these, from his nephews. The king exercised both legislative and executive functions, and was aided in his duties by a sort of privy council of no
There was a numerous body of nobility, bound to the crown by ties of dependence, which had some elements in common with the feudal system. In the organization of the judicial department, the results of wisdom and experience were conspicuous. The judges of the higher courts were appointed by the crown ; those of the inferior tribunals were chosen by the people. The superior judges were independent of the crown, and held their offices for life. In criminal cases, an appeal lay from the inferior to the higher tribunal; but not in civil. A wise solicitude was felt for the rights both of property and of person, and the purity of the judicial office was guarded by severe penalties. "Laws were registered and promulgated by means of hieroglyphical VOL. LVIII. - No. 122.