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paintings. Their penal code was sanguinary, like that of most semi-civilized nations ; all the great crimes against society being made capital. Marriage was celebrated with as much formality as in Christian countries. A separate tribunal was instituted for the sole purpose of determining questions relating to it, and a divorce could not be obtained, until authorized by a sentence of this court. The splendor of the crown was maintained, and the expenses of the state defrayed, by a regular system of taxes and revenues. These and many other details, which our limits will not permit us to give, show a civil polity which must have been the growth of the accumulated wisdom of many generations, and those elements of order, dependence, and stability, which distinguish a nation from a tribe.
In the arts which minister to the comforts and convenience of social life, they had also made great progress. They tilled the earth with judgment and skill.
Their knowledge of architecture was attested by imposing edifices of stone and brick, ornamented with sculptured decorations and basreliefs. They displayed ingenuity and taste in various kinds
. of manufactures. They made utensils of earthen ware for the ordinary purposes of domestic life, and cups and vases of lackered or painted wood, impervious to wet and richly colored. Their dyes were obtained from both vegetable and mineral substances. They wrought in gold, silver, and precious stones with so much skill and delicacy of workmanship, that the Spanish goldsmiths admitted their own inferiority. But the art in which they particularly excelled was feather-work, with which they produced the effect of the most beautiful mosaic or tapestry. The dazzling plumage of tropical birds was wrought into dresses for their nobility, hangings for apartments, and ornaments for the temples. The specimens of this species of manufacture which were sent to Europe awakened the highest admiration. In social life and domestic manners,
there was no inconsiderable degree of polish and refinement. Their fine climate and fertile soil created a taste for pleasurable sensations, and provided them with the means of gratifying it. In one important respect they will sustain a favorable comparison with nations advanced beyond them in general social progress, and that is in the consideration paid to women, and in the delicacy and tenderness with which they were treated.
The Aztec woman was exempted from the severe toil imposed upon the female sex among all the other Indian races in North America, and only such light labors were exacted of her as were suited to her strength. She shared the confidence of her husband, and was not excluded from his hours of social relaxation. She was his companion, and not his slave. The obligations of the marriage vow were mutually recognized. Their daily life had not the sullen monotony of the more northern races, but was sweetened by those unbought attentions and spontaneous courtesies, which throw their charm over the social intercourse of a civilized community. The sympathizing heart of the Aztec felt it to be a privilege to express by visits of congratulation, and by presents, his pleasure in the happiness of his friends, as on occasion of a marriage, or the birth of a child. Their social entertainments were tasteful and elegant. They had a taste for the pleasures of the table, and in the science of cookery were no mean proficients. Their meats were dressed with various sauces, were accompanied with a profusion of vegetables and fruits, and the more delicate luxuries of pastry and confectionary. After a sumptuous dinner, the Aztec gourmand refreshed himself with a cup of chocolate flavored with vanilla, and aided the process of digestion by smoking a pipe or a cigar. The table of Montezuma was spread with imperial magnificence, though he had the bad taste to take his meals alone. Fish, which cannot now be obtained at any price in the city of Mexico, were frequently served up at his board, which, the day before, had been swimming in the Gulf of Mexico, two hundred miles distant. The Aztecs were remarkable for a passionate love of flowers ; a taste which they have transmitted to their degenerate and degraded descendants, and which is so generally the accompaniment of a kindly and gentle nature. They decorated their persons with them ; their hues and odors heightened the charm of their entertainments, and were blended with their religious observances.
In scientific culture, they had made remarkable progress. By their peculiar and ingenious system of picture-writing, they were furnished with a tolerable substitute for alphabetical signs, and enabled to transport intelligence to distant points, to publish laws and edicts, and to record and hand down to posterity the memorable public and private events of their annals. They had devised a serviceable and sufficiently simple system of notation in their arithmetic. In the measurement of time, they displayed an astonishing precision, and their astronomical attainments were so extraordinary, so disproportioned to their progress in other intellectual departments, that nothing but an overwhelming amount of evidence would win our belief to the statements which we read. That the Mexicans had solved with more precision than any European nation the nice problem of adjusting the civil by the solar year, and had entirely escaped the error which was rectified by the Gregorian reform in the calendar, is a fact of startling interest, which suggests inquiries and reflections that seek in vain for solution and repose.
The religious faith of every people is a subject of interest to an inquiring mind ; and the more isolated a nation has been, and the less influenced by the opinions and practice of others, the more interesting are the efforts they make to explain the mysteries which surround them, and to answer those perplexing questions which arise in the breast of the natural man with the dawn of intelligence. The religion of the Aztecs was so closely blended with their civil polity, that the latter can hardly be comprehended without a knowledge of the former. The church was with them a distinct institution, wielding great power, and possessing great influ
The sacerdotal order was very numerous ; as may be inferred from one fact, that five thousand priests were attached, in some way or other, to the principal temple in the capital. The priests were allowed to marry ; they did not live apart in monastic seclusion, but shared in the duties and responsibilities of life. The education of the young was, in particular, intrusted to them. The girls were given to the care of priestesses, for women were allowed to exercise all sacerdotal functions except those of sacrifice. To each of the principal temples, lands were annexed for the maintenance of the priests, which, augmented by the policy or devotion of successive princes, had become extensive and valuable at the time of the Conquest. The religious order was also enriched with the first-fruits, and with the voluntary offerings, always considerable, of sincere piety and timid superstition. It was their duty to distribute in alms to the poor all that was not required for their own support. As Mr. Prescott justly remarks, there is a striking resemblance,
not merely in a few empty forms, but in the whole way of life, between the Mexican and Egyptian priesthood.
The religious system of the Aztecs was marked by singular incongruities, and naturally suggests the idea of two distinct sources, and that they had engrafted their own belief upon the purer faith of some elder race of higher culture. They recognized the existence of a Supreme Creator and Lord of the universe, of whose character and attributes they had no unworthy conceptions ; but a crowd of inferior deities presided over the elements, the changes of the seasons, and the various occupations of man.
Their faith comprehended a future state of rewards and punishments, more refined in its character than that of the ancient Greeks or modern Mahometans. In their religious observances, as well as in their doctrines of belief, we recognize some singular coincidences with both Judaism and Christianity. The naming of children was accompanied with a ceremony closely resembling that of baptism. The head and lips of the infant were touched with water, and a prayer was offered, “that the sin which was given to us before the beginning of the world, might not visit the child, but that, cleansed by these waters, it might live and be born anew." The Catholic ecclesiastics saw with astonishment the rites of confession and absolution administered by their priests. Their traditionary accounts of the Deluge resembled, not only in the general outline, but in the particular details, the narrative of the same event as recorded by Moses ; and in the goddess Cioacoatl, “the serpent woman,” “who bequeathed the sufferings of child-birth to women as the tribute of death,” « by whom sin came into the world,” may be traced an affinity, more than fanciful, with the Eve of the Hebrew Scriptures. The cross, too, was an object of worship in the Mexican temples, and one of their religious rites strikingly resembled the Christian Communion. Some of their religious precepts breathe the lofty morality of the New Testament. What mind is not startled at the remarkable coincidence contained in the declaration which is found among them, that “he who looks too curiously upon a woman commits adultery with his eyes”? The effect of these resemblances upon the heated minds of the Catholic ecclesiastics, the fanciful conjectures to which they gave birth, and the extent to which the parallel between their own faith and observances and
those of the Aztecs was pushed by them, will not excite our surprise. Such striking coincidences, too, will inspire us with some charity for Lord Kingsborough, an English nobleman, who, in our own times, has lavished a world of curious learning, and reasoning powers of no mean order, in support of the proposition, that Mexico was colonized by the Israelites; and who records, as his deliberate conviction, that the Aztecs had a clear knowledge of the Old Testament, and most probably of the New, though somewhat corrupted by time and hieroglyphics”!
The sketch here given of the religious creed and observances of the Aztecs presents the fair side of the picture. The dark side cannot be contemplated without a shudder of hor
Among this people, to whom belonged so considerable a share of knowledge, civilization, and refinement, whose religion embraced so much that was pure and elevating, the practice of human sacrifices prevailed to an extent, compared with which, history has nowhere else recorded any thing that approaches to a parallel. The altars of their deities dripped with human blood. The fiercest superstitions of the Old World, — the dismal rites performed around the “ furnace blue” of Moloch,
“ horrid king, besmeared with blood
Of human sacrifice and parents' tears," are but faint types of the hideous abominations which were enacted in honor of the Mexican divinities. The bloody knife of the priest was never idle, and the steam of carnage was always fresh in the nostrils of their sullen gods. The number of human victims annually sacrificed to this merciless superstition throughout the empire is variously estimated at from twenty to fifty thousand. The necessity of providing victims for these sacrifices became a prominent motive for commencing or continuing wars. Hence, an enemy was never slain in battle, if there were a chance of taking him alive; a circumstance to which the Spaniards repeatedly owed their preservation. Nor is the worst yet told. That practice, from which the first instincts of our nature so strongly recoil, which we associate only with humanity in its lowest and most degraded forms, and which supposes the principle of humanity almost blotted out in him who indulges in it, — the practice of cannibalism, -- prevailed among them,