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not as the gratification of a brutish appetite, but sanctioned by religion, and mingling itself with the graces and amenities of social life. They feasted upon human flesh, not at coarse repasts like those of naked savages, snatching from the embers the quivering limbs of enemies slain in battle, but at elaborate banquets, where the appetite was stimulated and the senses gratified by all the means and appliances of civilization ; by delicate meats, by delicious fruits, by dishes of gold and silver, by garlands of flowers, by soft music and graceful dances. These hideous and loathsome usages, prevalent among a people with so many claims to the character of a civilized community, present one of the most singular anomalies that history has recorded, for which we seek in vain for any sufficient explanation, and which must ever remain as one of those perplexing facts that baffle the learned and confound the wise.
The Aztec civilization is seen in its highest form and most complete development among the Tezcucans, one of the kindred and allied races which were in possession of the valley of Mexico at the time of the Conquest. Every reader, who feels an interest in the fate and fortunes of humanity, will be grateful to Mr. Prescott for the sketch which he has given, in the sixth chapter of his Introduction, of the golden age of this people ; of their wealth, their power, their scientific and literary culture, and their social refinement ; of the romantic fortunes and spendid career of their greatest monarch, Nezahualcoyotl, whose varied adventures are fruitful in themes for poetry, could any metre be devised sufficiently comprehensive and elastic to embrace his “ dissonant consonant name,
” and were life long enough to admit of its frequent repetition. In his early perils and misfortunes, his subsequent renown and prosperity, his poetical genius, and the great crime which stains his memory, he presents a striking parallel to the monarch minstrel of the Jews. It is curious to observe, in the specimens of his poetry that have come down to us, the same law of the human mind which led a kindred spirit, in another age and country, to exclaim, “Vanity of vanities ! all is vanity!" that law, by virtue of which, the aspirations and desires of a finely organized nature keep ever in advance of the gifts and flatteries of Fortune ; which, in the palmy state of glory and success, where there is no more room for hope or fear,
suggests most vividly the thought of the instability of all human good, the frail tenure upon which earthly possessions are held, the emptiness of fame, the worthlessness of wealth, the shadowy and unsatisfying character of all that prosperity pours into the lap. The strains of the royal minstrel of Tezcuco are set upon the minor key. The luxuriance of a tropical imagination is tempered with a vein of gentle melancholy, and with a dash of that Epicurean philosophy which seeks in the joys of the present a relief from those gloomy forebodings which throw their dark shadows over the future. In the delicious solitudes of his rural palace, lulled by the sound of falling waters and fanned by gales of balm, he gave utterance to the vague sense of languid discontent in solemn and pathetic hymns, marked both by dignity of sentiment and beauty of illustration. In reading Mr. Prescott's very interesting account of this remarkable monarch, of his wisdom, his valor, his powers of action and of thought, his kindliness of nature, and his many virtues, we cannot but be struck with the caprice of fortune, which has allowed the rust of oblivion to gather upon his name and memory, while those of inferior mark shine with such undimmed lustre, through the gloom of the past. To most persons, the very existence of this wise, powerful, and gifted monarch will probably be a new revelation. So much more does fame depend upon the reporter than upon the deed! To the accident of a Homer we owe it, that the name of Agamemnon is so familiar a sound, and Miltiades is mainly indebted to Herodotus, that the lapse of so many centuries has not withered one leaf of his laurels. But the shade of the Tezcucan monarch may now repose
in peace. The hour and the man have at last come, that are to disperse the dark oblivious clouds that have so long hidden his name from the general eye. His virtues and genius are now embalmed in the beautiful periods of a book which the world will not let die.
find compensation for having waited so long, in the full blaze of reflected light now thrown upon his memory by the fame and talents of his historian.
Mr. Prescott has appended to his work a dissertation on the interesting and perplexing question of the origin of Mexican civilization. It is written in a cautious spirit, and the conclusion he arrives at is something like that of Dr. Johnson's Rasselas, “ in which nothing is concluded.” This
we say not by way of censure, but of commendation. This is preëminently one of those subjects upon which half knowledge is bold, and assured knowledge is diffident. Mr. Prescott did not start with a theory, and in his progress accept whatever confirmed it, and reject every thing inconsistent with it. His object was to state the case fairly ; to present in a popular form the result of all that had been written upon the subject ; to discriminate between the fanciful and the sober; and to advance no conclusion to which he had not arrived by a legitimate process of inquiry and reflection. The reader who follows him through his preliminary observations, when he comes to the final summing up, will admit, that this is all which can be stated as matter of certainty, and that a single step further carries us from the firm earth of reality into the cloudland of conjecture. It is one of those mysterious questions, which, from the insuperable difficulties they present, administer a tacit rebuke to the pride of human intellect, by the bounds which they set to its progress, presenting depths which it cannot fathom and heights which it cannot scale. came those races which passed in successive waves over the elevated plains of Mexico, and dwelt in the sunny regions of Central America ? What was the origin of that peculiar civilization, of which such authentic accounts are preserved to us, and which has left its visible memorials in the stupendous structures of Palenque and Uxmal ? Was it of exotic or indigenous growth ? If the former, how are we to account for the singular discrepancies between it and every form of European or Asiatic civilization with which we are acquainted ?
If the latter, how are we to explain the striking resemblances, and how came the frightful elements of human sacrifice and cannibalism to be mingled with so much of intellectual culture and social refinement ? How many centuries are looking down upon us from those nodding ruins which the enterprise of one of our own countrymen has recently made familiar to us? Were they the work of the same people who were in possession of the country when it was discovered by Europeans, or of another and higher race which had passed away and been lost in the night of ages ? All these questions press in vain for a satisfactory answer upon the mind lost in wandering mazes which find no end. The comprehensive glance of the philosophic historian, the VOL. LVIII. - No. 122.
minute diligence of the pains-taking antiquary, the practical sagacity of the observing traveller are alike perplexed and baffled.
The Introduction and the Appendix, though separated by the entire narrative of the Conquest, form parts of the same subject. We commend the judgment which induced Mr. Prescott to throw his observations upon a point rather speculative than historical into an appendix, though his readers could certainly have had no reason to complain, had he incorporated them into the Introduction, with which they are naturally connected. The Introduction and the Appendix, taken together, comprise rather more than half a volume ; and the value of Mr. Prescott's statements and opinions will be enhanced, and the conscientious spirit in which his investigations have been conducted will be appreciated, by a knowledge of the fact, that to the preparation of this half volume he has devoted the assiduous labor of two
and a half, with facilities and advantages such as no other person now living has at command. He is a bold man who, after this, will undertake to deny his facts or controvert his conclusions; and even to pronounce upon their correctness involves some spice of assurance.
We cannot take leave of this portion of the work, without again expressing our admiration of the great ability with which it has been executed. It cannot fail to add materially to Mr. Prescott's already distinguished literary reputation, especially as part of it requires those qualities of mind which belong rather to the philosopher than the historian, and which he was not called upon to put forth in his former work so distinctly, though in our age every historian must be more or less of a philosopher. For the investigation of questions of this kind, partly historical and partly speculative, he is very well fitted by his habits of patient industry, his sound judgment, his power of keeping his mind in a state of wellbalanced
suspense till all the means for coming to a result have been obtained, and that judicial skill in the weighing of testimony to which he has a hereditary claim. He has enough of the poetical temperament to feel the stimulating influence of those romantic elements in which his theme is so fruitful, and to give an appropriate richness and beauty to his style ; yet his imagination never carries him to extravagant theories or wild conjectures, but is always under the wise
control of a dispassionate judgment. The most superficial reader perceives, that he has made himself a perfect master of the subject, and that he writes down upon it from a superior position. His knowledge, patiently acquired and long reflected upon, has become assimilated and blended with the substance of his mind, and is not the crude and half-digested result of a hurried process of cramming. We hail, with pride and pleasure, the accession to the stores of our young and glowing literature of contributions like this ; the work of a manly understanding, applying itself in sincerity and good faith to the investigation of subjects interesting to humanity, and proclaiming its results in a style marked by dignity, simplicity, and grace. These are among the best possessions of a nation ; the most enduring monuments of its glory ; better than the bloody prizes of war or the peaceful gains of skilful diplomacy, — inferior only to that lofty distinction which waits upon moral worth, upon unfaltering adherence to truth, justice, and good faith.
We can have no question, that this portion of the work will prove highly attractive and interesting, even to general readers. The subject is one about which much vague curiosity is felt, but very little is accurately known. Heretofore, there has been no one work, to which reference could be had, containing the results of exhausting research, conveyed in a popular form. The inquirer must have turned over many leaves and consulted many uninviting books, before he could gratify his curiosity. For general use and for the purposes of most scholars, Mr. Prescott's labors have quite superseded those of all other writers ; and the day is far distant, when his will be set aside by ampler knowledge or more felicity in communicating it. Many of his facts and details are quite new, having been drawn from manuscripts, or books almost as rare as manuscripts. The care with which this part of the work has been prepared is perceptible in the style, which, with all his usual ease and grace, has more than his usual finish. It never oversteps the limits of good taste, but is tinged with that rich glow of coloring, so suited to the subject, which kindles the imagination, and almost compels an author to interweave with his sober prose the more vivid hues of poetry. It will doubtless be Mr. Prescott's good fortune to make permanently popular a recondite and abstruse subject, and to put himself in the same