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relation to his original authorities, in which Gibbon stands to monkish chroniclers and Byzantine historians.
Mr. Prescott's opinions on the origin of Mexican civilization were formed without reference to Mr. Stephens's publications, the essay which constitutes the Appendix having been prepared three years ago, and being now published as it was then written. The reader who compares this Appendix with the reflections of Mr. Stephens, contained in the closing chapters of his two works, will perceive a coincidence in some of their views. Conclusions formed under such different circumstances, by minds so unlike in their organization, by the student in his library, and the traveller under the sun and stars, certainly corroborate each other. It cannot but be a source of gratification to Mr. Prescott to find the results to which he has come confirmed by so intelligent an observer as Mr. Stephens, whose authority is entitled to much weight, even on speculative points. The latter, it is true, is not a man of learning, but he is, therefore, free from those "peccant humors of learning" which sometimes make the mind of the scholar "dark with excess of light." His strong sense, his sagacity, his shrewdness of observation, combined with the extraordinary opportunities he has enjoyed for personal inspection of the monuments of the Aztec civilization which are yet visible, give him the right to be heard with great respect, even upon questions on which the learned have speculated and the wise have doubted.
It may seem to our readers, that we have occupied a disproportionate space in our observations upon the Introduction and the Appendix, and that, as the narrative of the Conquest and of the subsequent events in the life of Cortés fills nearly two volumes and a half, it will not be possible for us to do equal justice to this, the main part of the work, without transcending the utmost limits allowed to a reviewer by the sufferance of editors and the courtesy of readers. But in dwelling so long upon the preliminary and supplemental matter, we have been influenced by a consideration rather of the novelty and interest of the subjects discussed, than of the comparative space which it occupies; and we feel in some measure justified by the statement which Mr. Prescott makes in his Preface, that the Introduction and Appendix have cost him as much labor, and nearly as much time, as the narrative.
The moment that we land with Cortés upon the shores
of Mexico, we feel ourselves upon comparatively familiar ground. Few events in history are more extensively known, in their general outlines, than the conquest of Mexico. The romantic character of the enterprise itself, and the fact that it has been recorded by the classical pen of so popular a writer as Dr. Robertson, have made it one of those common-places of knowledge, with which every decently educated man is supposed to be acquainted. The names of Cortés and Montezuma are as familiar to the intelligent schoolboy, as those of Alexander and Darius. This is a disadvantage which must have presented itself distinctly to Mr. Prescott's mind, when he selected his subject. Nothing is more difficult than to give an attractive character to a thorough and detailed history of an event, which has been made universally popular by a well-written, though superficial sketch. It is like taking a traveller by slow stages, in an ordinary carriage, over a country through which he has been already whirled with the magic speed of steam. Such a journey can only be made pleasant by contriving that the resting-places shall be in spots interesting from their associations, or charming from their natural beauties of scenery and situation, and which the rapidity of his former mode of travelling compelled him to overlook. A somewhat similar necessity is imposed upon the historian who holds up to the view of the reader a subject in its full size and natural proportions, of which he has before seen a reduced copy in the pages of a skilful compiler. He must make his new matter so attractive, that the reader shall feel no impatience at the deliberate steps and slower movement by which the same point must now be approached. In this respect, Mr. Prescott has been eminently successful. We read with equal interest the minute details which were inconsistent with Dr. Robertson's flowing outline, and the new facts which Mr. Prescott's ampler sources of information have made known to him, and hang with fresh delight upon every page of an expanded narrative, the issue and leading events of which have long been familiar to us.
One of the "primal duties " of a historian is to give the very form and pressure of the time he is describing; to infuse its spirit into his pages; to paint his scenes to the eye as well as to the mind; to produce an effect resembling as nearly as possible the illusion created by seeing the events he narrates
represented by well-trained actors, with appropriate costume, scenery, and decorations. Here, too, Mr. Prescott has been signally successful. His mind is not of that passionless cast which preserves its own cold identity, while recording the most romantic adventures and the most gallant enterprises; but is sufficiently impressible and sympathetic to become "subdued to what it works in," and to catch a contagious glow from that fiery valor whose brilliant achievements he is called upon to narrate. In his animated pages, we see, as in the mirror of Cornelius Agrippa, the very shape and features of the sixteenth century. He makes us feel the electric influences which the successive discoveries in America propagated through the veins of Europe; what unbounded fields for enterprise the stirring spirits of the time saw in those unknown regions; what brilliant fortunes the stout soldier hoped to carve out for himself with his good sword, in that western world of promise; what golden dreams of untold wealth haunted the feverish slumbers of avarice; what noontide visions it beheld of El Dorado cities, where the tiles of the houses were of pure gold, and the streets were paved with ingots of silver; with what zeal the breast of the religious enthusiast glowed, to bring out of the thick darkness of idolatry into the light of the true faith the natives of those benighted lands. He paints to the life those hardy adventurers who landed with Cortés upon the shores of Mexico; men who seemed to be the peculiar growth of the soil of Spain, and expressly fitted to carry out those great schemes of discovery and conquest which the plans of Providence imposed upon that nation; men of iron frames and iron resolution, of deliberate valor, patient of hunger and thirst, cheerfully bearing the extremes of heat and cold, insensible to fatigue, conforming themselves to the most rigid discipline, calm in the midst of danger, and vigilant in the midst of security; men of the same mould and spirit as those from whom the "Great Captain" had formed that terrible Spanish infantry, from whose serried ranks the impetuous chivalry of France had recoiled, in shattered disarray, as the wave is thrown back in foam and spray from the cliffs of an iron-bound coast; men, too, stained by those vices which form the natural shading to the light of their stern military virtues; with hearts as hard and as cold as the steel of their swords; ferociously bigoted, remorselessly cruel, knowing no law but the will of their commander, prodigal, reckless, and dissolute.
With the same vivid pencil he has sketched the grand and beautiful scenery of Mexico, which awakened feelings of admiration even in the rude bosoms of the Spanish soldiers, steeled as they must have been against such soft emotions. We follow the army, step by step, through every part of their eventful progress. We march with them over the dreary sand plains of the coast; we traverse the luxuriant regions of the tierra caliente, glowing with all the splendors of tropical vegetation,—the land of the vanilla, cochineal, cacao, and, in later days, of the orange and the sugar-cane, where the air is loaded with the fragrance of wild roses and honeysuckles, where the mocking-bird pours out his "fiery heart" in a tide of song, and the fairy humming-bird rises from the delicate spray as lightly as if the flower itself had suddenly taken wings and flown from its stalk. We commence the gradual ascent which leads up to the table-land of Mexico, and breathe the purer and niore bracing air of the tierra templada, where the more sober vegetation of the temperate zone begins to be mingled with the brilliant colors and fantastic forms of the tropics, and the aloe, the banana, and the myrtle are interspersed with groves of oak. The route winds round the base of extinct volcanoes, from whose snowy summits the wind sweeps down with piercing coldness. Higher up, we come upon that great central plain, which, at an elevation of seven thousand feet above the sea, stretches along the crests of the Cordilleras, and forms the highest of those natural terraces into which Mexico is distributed. Here the air is mild but invigorating, and the soil teems with a hardy growth of larch, oak, and cypress, now levelled by the merciless axe of the Conquerors, to recall, as it is said, more distinctly the image of those naked plains of Castile, which the force of memory and association had made so dear to them. Lying in the lap of this elevated plain, and encompassed by a towering rampart of rock, we behold the Valley of Mexico, an enchanted region of beauty and fertility, studded with towns and villages, overshadowed with stately forests, intermingled with blooming gardens and fields of maize twinkling in the sun, all brought near and presented to the eye in sharp distinctness of outline by the thin mountain air. The central point is occupied by the capital city, "the Venice of the Aztecs," floating swan-like upon the bosom of the waters, which reflect in softened beauty its towers and temples.
A single extract will be sufficient to show our readers, that we have not expressed too strongly our sense of the vividness and graphic power of Mr. Prescott's descriptions, and the clearness with which he paints a landscape to the eye. It is the passage which describes the first view which the Spaniards had of the Valley of Mexico.
"The army held on its march through the intricate gorges of the sierra. The route was nearly the same as that pursued at the present day by the courier from the capital to Puebla, by the way of Mecameca. It was not that usually taken by travellers from Vera Cruz, who follow the more circuitous road round the northern base of Iztaccihuatl, as less fatiguing than the other, though inferior in picturesque scenery and romantic points of view. The icy winds, that now swept down the sides of the mountains, brought with them a tempest of arrowy sleet and snow, from which the Christians suffered even more than the Tlascalans, reared from infancy among the wild solitudes of their own native hills. As night came on, their sufferings would have been intolerable, but they luckily found a shelter in the commodious stone buildings which the Mexican government had placed at stated intervals along the roads for the accommodation of the traveller and their own couriers. It little dreamed it was providing a protection for its enemies.
"The troops, refreshed by a night's rest, succeeded, early on the following day, in gaining the crest of the sierra of Ahualco, which stretches like a curtain between the two great mountains on the north and south. Their progress was now comparatively easy, and they marched forward with a buoyant step, as they felt they were treading the soil of Montezuma.
They had not advanced far, when, turning an angle of the sierra, they suddenly came on a view which more than compensated the toils of the preceding day. It was that of the Valley of Mexico, or Tenochtitlan, as more commonly called by the natives; which, with its picturesque assemblage of water, woodland, and cultivated plains, its shining cities and shadowy hills, was spread out like some gay and gorgeous panorama before them. In the highly rarefied atmosphere of these upper regions, even remote objects have a brilliancy of coloring and a distinctness of outline which seem to annihilate distance. Stretching far away at their feet, were seen noble forests of oak, sycamore, and cedar, and beyond, yellow fields of maize and the towering maguey, intermingled with orchards and blooming gardens; for flowers, in such demand for their religious festivals, were even more abundant in this populous valley than in other parts of Ana