"Letter the Seventh ... Letter the Fifteenth." by Frances Calderon de la Barca [aka Frances Erskine Inglis] (1804-1882)
Début in Mexico–Cathedral–Temple of the Aztecs–Congregation–Stone of Sacrifices–Palace–Importunate Léperos–Visit to the President–Countess C—a–Street-cries–Tortilleras–Sartor Resartus.
I made my début in Mexico by going to mass in the cathedral. We drove through the Alameda, near which we live, and admired its noble trees, flowers, and fountains, all sparkling in the sun. We met but few carriages there, an occasional gentleman on horseback, and a few solitary-looking people resting on the stone benches, also plenty of beggars, and the forçats in chains, watering the avenues. We passed through the Calle San Francisco, the handsomest street in Mexico, both as to shops and houses (containing, amongst others, the richly-carved but now half-ruined palace of Yturbide), and which terminates in the great square where stand the cathedral and the palace. The streets were crowded, it being a holiday; and the purity of the atmosphere, with the sun pouring down upon the bright-coloured groups, and these groups so picturesque, whether of soldiers or monks, peasants or veiled ladies; the very irregularity of the buildings, the number of fine churches and old convents, and everything on so grand a scale, even though touched by the finger of time, or crushed by the iron heel of revolution, that the attention is constantly kept alive, and the interest excited.
The carriage drew up in front of the cathedral, built upon the site of part of the ruins of the great temple of the Aztecs; of that pyramidal temple, constructed by Ahuitzotli, the sanctuary so celebrated by the Spaniards, and which comprehended with all its different edifices and sanctuaries, the ground on which the cathedral now stands, together with part of the plaza and streets adjoining.
We are told, that within its enclosure were five hundred dwellings, that its hall was built of stone and lime, and ornamented with stone serpents. We hear of its four great gates, fronting the four cardinal points of its stone-paved court, great stone stairs, and sanctuaries dedicated to the gods of war; of the square destined for religious dances, and the colleges for the priests, and seminaries for the priestesses; of the horrible temple, whose door was an enormous serpent's mouth; of the temple of mirrors and that of shells; of the house set apart for the emperor's prayers; of the consecrated fountains, the birds kept for sacrifice, the gardens for the holy flowers, and of the terrible towers composed of the skulls of the victims–strange mixture of the beautiful and the horrible! We are told that five thousand priests chanted night and day in the Great Temple, to the honour and in the service of the monstrous idols, who were anointed thrice a day with the most precious perfumes; and that of these priests the most austere were clothed in black, their long hair dyed with ink, and their bodies anointed with the ashes of burnt scorpions and spiders; their chiefs were the sons of kings.
It is remarkable, by the way, that their god of war, Mejitli, was said to have been born of a woman, a Holy Virgin, who was in the service of the temple; and that when the priests, having knowledge of her disgrace, would have stoned her, a voice was heard, saying, "Fear not, mother, for I shall save thy honour and my glory," upon which the god was born, with a shield in his left hand, an arrow in his right, a plume of green feathers on his head, his face painted blue, and his left leg adorned with feathers! Thus was his gigantic statue represented.
There were gods of the Water, of the Earth, of Night, Fire, and Hell; goddesses of Flowers and of Corn: there were oblations offered of bread and flowers and jewels, but we are assured that from twenty to fifty thousand human victims were sacrificed annually in Mexico alone! That these accounts are exaggerated, even though a bishop is among the narrators, we can scarcely doubt; but if the tenth part be truth, let the memory of Cortes be sacred, who, with the cross, stopped the shedding of innocent blood, founded the cathedral on the ruins of the temple which had so often resounded with human groans, and in the place of these blood-smeared idols enshrined the mild form of the Virgin
Meanwhile we entered the Christian edifice, which covers an immense space of ground, is of the Gothic form, with two lofty ornamented towers, and is still immensely rich in gold, silver and jewels. A balustrade running through it, which was brought from China, is said to be very valuable, but seems to me more curious than beautiful. It is a composition of brass and silver. Not a soul was in the sacred precincts this morning but miserable léperos, in rags and blankets, mingled with women in ragged rebosos;–at least a sprinkling of ladies with mantillas was so very slight, that I do not think there were half a dozen in all. The floor is so dirty that one kneels with a feeling of horror, and an inward determination to effect as speedy a change of garments afterwards as possible. Besides, many of my Indian neighbours were engaged in an occupation which I must leave to your imagination; in fact, relieving their heads from the pressure of the colonial system, or rather, eradicating and slaughtering the colonists, who swarm there like the emigrant Irish in the United States. I was not sorry to find myself once more in the pure air after mass; and have since been told that, except on peculiar occasions, and at certain hours, few ladies perform their devotions in the cathedral. I shall learn all these particulars in time.
We saw, as we passed out, the Aztec Calendar,–a round stone covered with hieroglyphics, which is still preserved and fastened on the outside of the cathedral. We afterwards saw the Stone of Sacrifices, now in the courtyard of the university, with a hollow in the middle, in which the victim was laid while six priests, dressed in red, their heads adorned with plumes of green feathers (they must have looked like macaws), with gold and green earrings, and blue stones in their upper lips, held him down while the chief priest cut open his breast, threw his heart at the feet of the idol, and afterwards put it into his mouth with a golden spoon. They then cut off his head, to make use of it in building the tower of skulls, ate some parts of him, and either burnt the rest, or threw it to the wild beasts who were maintained in the palace.
These interesting particulars occurred to us as we looked at the stone, and we were not sorry to think that it is now more ornamental than useful.
After leaving the cathedral, C—n fastened on his orders in the carriage, as this day was appointed for his presentation to the President, and we drove to the place, where I left him, and returned home. He was received with great etiquette, a band of music playing in the court, the President in full uniform, surrounded by all his ministers and aides-de-camp, standing before a throne, under a velvet dais, his feet upon a tabouret, the whole being probably the same as was used by the viceroys. Viva la Republica! C—n made a discourse to him, and he made one in return, both of which may be found by those who are curious in these matters, in the Diario of the 31st December. . . .
Whilst I am writing a horrible lépero, with great leering eyes, is looking at me through the windows, and performing the most extraordinary series of groans, displaying at the same time a hand with two long fingers, probably the other three tied in. "Señorita! Señorita! For the love of the most Holy Virgin! For the sake of the most pure blood of Christ! By the miraculous Conception!–" The wretch! I dare not look up, but I feel that his eyes are fixed upon a gold watch and seals lying on the table. That is the worst of a house on the ground floor. . . . There come more of them! A paralytic woman mounted on the back of a man with a long beard. A sturdy-looking individual, who looks as if, were it not for the iron bars, he would resort to more effective measures, is holding up a deformed foot, which I verily believe is merely fastened back in some extraordinary way. What groans! what rags! what a chorus of whining! This concourse is probably owing to our having sent them some money yesterday. I try to take no notice, and write on as if I were deaf. I must walk out of the room, without looking behind me, and send the porter to disperse them. There are no bell-ropes in these parts. . . .
I come back again to write, hardly recovered from the start that I have just got. I had hardly written the last words, when I heard a footstep near me, and, looking up, lo! there was my friend with the foot, standing within a yard of me, his hand stretched out for alms! I was so frightened, that for a moment I thought of giving him my watch, to get rid of him. However, I glided past him with a few unintelligible words, and rushed to call the servants; sending him some money by the first person who came. The porter, who had not seen him pass, is now dispersing the crowd. What vociferous exclamations! A— has come in and drawn the curtains, and I think they are going off.
Yesterday evening I was taken to visit the President. The palace is an immense building, containing, besides the apartments of the President and his ministers, all the chief courts of justice. It occupies one side of the square, but is no way remarkable in its architecture. At the end of every flight of steps that we mounted we came upon lounging soldiers, in their yellow cloaks, and women in rebosos, standing about. We passed through a hall filled with soldiers, into the antechamber, where we were received by several aides-de-camp, who conducted us into a very well-furnished room, where we sat a few minutes, till an officer came to lead us into the reception-room, which is a handsome apartment, about a hundred feet long, and fitted up with crimson and gold, also well lighted. General Bustamante, now in plain clothes, gave us a very cordial reception.
He looks like a good man, with an honest, benevolent face, frank and simple in his manners, and not at all like a hero. His conversation was not brilliant, indeed I do not know apropos to what, I suppose to the climate, but it chiefly turned on medicine. There cannot be a greater contrast, both in appearance and reality, than between him and Santa Anna. There is no lurking devil in his eye. All is frank, open, and unreserved. It is impossible to look in his face without believing him to be an honest and well-intentioned man. An unprincipled but clever writer has said of him, that he has no great capacity or superior genius; but that, whether from reflection or from slowness of comprehension, he is always extremely calm in his determinations: that, before entering into any project, he inquires and considers deeply as to whether it be just or not; but that once convinced that it is or appears to be so, he sustains his ground with firmness and constancy. He adds, that it suits him better to obey than to command; for which reason he was always so devoted a servant of the Spaniards and of Yturbide.
He is said to be a devoted friend, is honest to a proverb, and personally brave, though occasionally deficient in moral energy. He is therefore an estimable man, and one who will do his duty to the best of his ability, though whether he has severity and energy sufficient for those evil days in which it is his lot to govern, may be problematical.
Having made a sufficiently long visit to his Excellency, we went to return that of the Countess C—, who has a magnificent house, with suites of large rooms, of which the drawing-room is particularly handsome, of immense size, the walls beautifully painted, the subjects religious, and where I found one of Broadwood's finest grand pianos. But although there are cabinets inlaid with gold, fine paintings, and hundreds of rich and curious things, our European eyes are struck with numerous inconsistencies in dress, servants, etc., in all of which there is a want of keeping very remarkable. Yet this house, and the one adjoining, which also belongs to the family, are palaces in vastness, and the Countess receives me more as if I were her daughter, than a person with whom she has been acquainted but a few days.
There are an extraordinary number of street-cries in Mexico, which begin at dawn and continue till night, performed by hundreds of discordant voices, impossible to understand at first, but Señor — has been giving me an explanation of them, until I begin to have some distinct idea of their meaning. At dawn you are awakened by the shrill and desponding cry of the Carbonero, the coalmen, "Carbon, Señor?" which, as he pronounces it, sounds like "Carbosiu?" Then the grease-man takes up the song, "Mantequilla! lard! lard! at one real and a half." "Salt beef! good salt beef!" ("Cecina buena!") interrupts the butcher in a hoarse voice. "Hay cebo-o-o-o-o-o?" This is the prolonged and melancholy note of the woman who buys kitchen-stuff, and stops before the door. Then passes by the cambista, a sort of Indian she-trader or exchanger, who sings out "Tejocotes por venas de chile?" a small fruit which she proposes exchanging for hot peppers. No harm in that.
A kind of ambulating pedler drowns the shrill treble of the Indian cry. He calls aloud upon the public to buy needles, pins, thimbles, shirt-buttons, tape, cotton-balls, small mirrors, etc. He enters the house, and is quickly surrounded by the women, young and old, offering him the tenth part of what he asks, and which, after much haggling, he accepts. Behind him stands the Indian with his tempting baskets of fruit, of which he calls out all the names, till the cook or housekeeper can resist no longer, and putting her head over the balustrade, calls him up with his bananas, and oranges, and granaditas, etc.
A note of interrogation is heard, indicating something that is hot, and must be snapped up quickly before it cools. "Gorditas de horna caliente?" "Little fat cakes from the oven, hot?" This is in a female key, sharp and shrill. Follows the mat-seller. "Who wants mats from Puebla? mats of five yards?" These are the most matinal cries.
At midday the beggars begin to be particularly importunate, and their cries, and prayers, and long recitations, form a running accompaniment to the other noises. Then above all rises the cry of "Honey-cakes!" "Cheese and honey?" "Requeson and good honey?" (Requeson being a sort of hard curd, sold in cheeses.) Then come the dulce-men, the sellers of sweetmeats, of meringues, which are very good, and of all sorts of candy. "Caramelos de esperma! bocadillo de coco!" Then the lottery-men, the messengers of Fortune, with their shouts of "The last ticket yet unsold, for half a real!" a tempting announcement to the lazy beggar, who finds it easier to gamble than to work, and who may have that sum hid about his rags.
Towards evening rises the cry of "Tortillas de cuajada?" "Curd-cakes?" or, "Do you take nuts?" succeeded by the night-cry of "Chestnuts hot and roasted!" and by the affectionate vendors of ducks; "Ducks, oh my soul, hot ducks!" "Maize-cakes," etc., etc. As the night wears away, the voices die off, to resume next morning in fresh vigour.
Tortillas, which are the common food of the people, and which are merely maize cakes mixed with a little lime, and of the form and size of what we call scones, I find rather good when very hot and fresh-baked, but insipid by themselves. They have been in use all through this country since the earliest ages of its history, without any change in the manner of baking them, excepting that, for the noble Mexicans in former days, they used to be kneaded with various medicinal plants supposed to render them more wholesome. They are considered particularly palatable with chile, to endure which, in the quantities in which it is eaten here, it seems to me necessary to have a throat lined with tin.
In unpacking some books to-day, I happened to take up "Sartor Resartus," which, by a curious coincidence, opened of itself, to my great delight, at the following passage:
"The simplest costume," observes our Professor, "which I anywhere find alluded to in history, is that used as regimental by Bolivar's cavalry, in the late Columbian wars. A square blanket, twelve feet in diagonal, is provided, (some were wont to cut off the corners, and make it circular;) in the centre a slit is effected, eighteen inches long; through this the mother-naked trooper introduces his head and neck, and so rides shielded from all weather, and in battle from many strokes (for he rolls it about his left arm); and not only dressed, but harnessed and draperied." Here then we find the true "Old Roman contempt of the superfluous," which seems rather to meet the approbation of the illustrious Professor Teufelsdroch.
Ball in Preparation–Agreeable Family–Fine Voices–Theatre–Smoking–Castle of Chapultepec–Viceroy Galvez–Montezuma's Cypress–Vice-Queen–Valley of Mexico–New Year's Day–Opening of Congress–Visits from the Diplomatic Corps–Poblana Dress–"Funcion extraordinaria"–Theatre–Visit to the Cathedral of Guadalupe–Divine Painting–Bishop–Beggars–Mosquitoes' Eggs.
A great ball is to be given on the 8th of January, in the theatre, for the benefit of the poor, which is to be under the patronage of the most distinguished ladies of Mexico. After much deliberation amongst the patronesses, it is decided that it shall be a bal costumé, and I have some thoughts of going in the Poblana dress, which I before described to you. As I am told that the Señora G—a wore it at a ball in London, when her husband was minister there, I have sent my maid to learn the particulars from her.
We called to-day on a family nearly related to the C—as, and who have been already excessively kind to us; Señor A—d, who is married to a daughter of Don Francisco Tagle, a very distinguished Mexican. We found a very large, very handsome house, the walls and roof painted in the old Spanish style, which, when well executed, has an admirable effect. The lady of the house, who is only nineteen, I took a fancy to at first sight. She is not regularly beautiful, but has lovely dark eyes and eyebrows, with fair complexion and fair hair, and an expression of the most perfect goodness, with very amiable manners. I was surprised by hearing her sing several very difficult Italian songs with great expression and wonderful facility. She has a fine contralto, which has been cultivated; but some Spanish ballads, and little songs of the country, she sang so delightfully, and with so much good-nature and readiness, that had it not been a first visit, I should have begged her to continue during half the morning. Fine voices are said to be extremely common, as is natural in a country peopled from Spain; and the opera, while it lasted, contributed greatly to the cultivation of musical taste.
In the evening we went to the theatre. Such a theatre! Dark, dirty, redolent of bad odours; the passages leading to the box so ill-lighted, that one is afraid in the dark to pick one's steps through them. The acting was nearly of a piece. The first actress, who is a favourite, and who dresses well, and bears a high reputation for good conduct, is perfectly wooden, and never frightened out of her proprieties in the most tragical scenes. I am sure there is not a fold deranged in her dress when she goes home. Besides, she has a most remarkable trick of pursing up her mouth in a smile, and frowning at the same time with tears in her eyes, as if personifying an April day. I should like to hear her sing
"Said a smile to a tear."
There was no applause, and half the boxes were empty whilst those who were there seemed merely to occupy them from the effect of habit, and because this is the only evening amusement. The prompter spoke so loud, that as
"Coming events cast their shadows before,"every word was made known to the audience in confidence before it came out upon the stage officially. The whole pit smoked, the galleries smoked, the boxes smoked, the prompter smoked, a long stream of smoke curling from his box, giving something oracular and Delphic to his prophecies.
"The force of smoking could no further go."The theatre is certainly unworthy of this fine city.
31st.–We have spent the day in visiting the castle of Chapultepec, a short league from Mexico, the most haunted by recollections of all the traditionary sites of which Mexico can boast. Could these hoary cypresses speak, what tales might they not disclose, standing there with their long gray beards, and outstretched venerable arms, century after century: already old when Montezuma was a boy, and still vigorous in the days of Bustamante! There has the last of the Aztec emperors wandered with his dark-eyed harem. Under the shade of these gigantic trees he has rested, perhaps smoked his "tobacco mingled with amber," and fallen to sleep, his dreams unhaunted by visions of the stern traveller from the far-east, whose sails even then might be within sight of the shore. In these tanks he has bathed. Here were his gardens, and his aviaries, and his fish-ponds. Through these now tangled and deserted woods, he may have been carried by his young nobles in his open litter, under a splendid dais, stepping out upon the rich stuffs which his slaves spread before him on the green and velvet turf.
And from the very rock where the castle stands, he may have looked out upon his fertile valley and great capital, with its canoe-covered lakes and outspreading villages and temples, and gardens of flowers, no care for the future darkening the bright vision!
Tradition says, that now these caves and tanks and woods are haunted by the shade of the conqueror's Indian love, the far-famed Doña Marina, but I think she would be afraid of meeting with the wrathful spirit of the Indian emperor.
The castle itself, modern though it be, seems like a tradition! The Viceroy Galvez, who built it, is of a bygone race! The apartments are lonely and abandoned, the walls falling to ruin, the glass of the windows and the carved work of the doors have been sold; and standing at this great height, exposed to every wind that blows, it is rapidly falling to decay. We were accompanied by Count C—a, and received by a Mexican governor, who rarely resides there, and who very civilly conducted us everywhere. But Chapultepec is not a show-place. One must go there early in the morning, when the dew is on the grass, or in the evening, when the last rays of the sun are gilding with rosy light the snowy summits of the volcanoes; and dismount from your horse, or step out of your carriage and wander forth without guide or object, or fixed time for return.
We set off early, passing over a fine paved road, divided by a great and solid aqueduct of nine hundred arches, one of the two great aqueducts by which fresh water is conveyed to the city, and of which the two sources are in the hill of Chapultepec, and in that of Santa Fé, at a much greater distance. When we arrived, the sleepy soldiers, who were lounging before the gates, threw them open to let the carriage enter, and we drew up in front of the great cypress, known by the name of "Montezuma's Cypress," a most stupendous tree–dark, solemn, and stately, its branches unmoved as the light wind played amongst them, of most majestic height, and forty-one feet in circumference. A second cypress standing near, and of almost equal size, is even more graceful, and they, and all the noble trees which adorn these speaking solitudes, are covered with a creeping plant, resembling gray moss, hanging over every branch like long gray hair, giving them a most venerable and druidical look.
We wandered through the noble avenues, and rested under the trees, and walked through the tangled shrubberies, bright with flowers and coloured berries, and groped our way into the cave, and stood by the large clear tank, and spent some time in the old garden; and then got again into the carriage, that we might be dragged up the precipitous ascent on which stands the castle, the construction of which aroused the jealousy of the government against the young count, whose taste for the picturesque had induced him to choose this elevated site for his summer palace.
The interior was never finished; yet, even as it stands, it cost the Spanish government three hundred thousand dollars. When we look at its strong military capabilities and commanding position, fortified with salient walls and parapets towards Mexico, and containing on its northern side great moats and subterraneous vaults, capable of holding a vast supply of provisions, the jealousy of the government, and their suspicions that it was a fortress masked as a summer retreat, are accountable enough.
The Vice-Queen Galvez, was celebrated for her beauty and goodness, and was universally adored in Mexico. A sister of hers, who still survives, and who paid me a visit the other day, says that her beauty chiefly consisted in the exceeding fairness of her complexion, very few blondes having then been seen in this part of the world.
From the terrace that runs round the castle, the view forms the most magnificent panorama that can be imagined. The whole valley of Mexico lies stretched out as in a map; the city itself, with its innumerable churches and convents; the two great aqueducts which cross the plain; the avenues of elms and poplars which lead to the city; the villages, lakes, and plains, which surround it. To the north, the magnificent cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe–to the south, the villages of San Augustin, San Angel, and Tacubaya, which seem imbosomed in trees, and look like an immense garden. And if in the plains below there are many uncultivated fields, and many buildings falling to ruin, yet with its glorious enclosure of mountains, above which tower the two mighty volcanoes, Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl, the Gog and Magog of the valley, off whose giant sides great volumes of misty clouds were rolling, and with its turquoise sky for ever smiling on the scene, the whole landscape, as viewed from this height, is one of nearly unparalleled beauty.
1st January, 1840.–New Year's Day! The birth of the young year is ushered in by no remarkable signs of festivity. More ringing of bells, more chanting of mass, gayer dresses amongst the peasants in the streets, and more carriages passing along, and the ladies within rather more dressed than apparently they usually are, when they do not intend to pay visits. In passing through the Plaza this morning, our carriage suddenly drew up, and the servants took off their hats. At the same moment, the whole population, men, women, and children, vendors and buyers, peasant and señora, priest and layman, dropped on their knees, a picturesque sight. Presently a coach came slowly along through the crowd, with the mysterious Eye painted on the panels, drawn by piebald horses, and with priests within, bearing the divine symbols. On the balconies, in the shops, in the houses, and on the streets, every one knelt while it passed, the little bell giving warning of its approach.
We were then at the door of the palace, where we went this morning to see the opening of Congress, the two houses being included in this building. The House of Representatives, though not large, is handsome, and in good taste. Opposite to the presidential chair is a full-length representation of Our Lady of Guadelupe. All round the hall, which is semicircular, are inscribed the names of the heroes of independence, and that of the Emperor Augustin Yturbide is placed on the right of the presidential chair, with his sword hanging on the wall; while on the left of the chief magistrate's seat there is a vacant space; perhaps destined for the name of another emperor. The multitude of priests with their large shovel-hats, and the entrance of the president in full uniform, announced by music and a flourish of trumpets, and attended by his staff, rendered it as anti-republican-looking an assembly as one could wish to see. The utmost decorum and tranquillity prevailed. The president made a speech in a low and rather monotonous tone, which in the diplomate's seat, where we were, was scarcely audible. No ladies were in the house, myself excepted; which I am glad I was not aware of before going, or I should perhaps have stayed away.
Yesterday I received visits from the gentlemen of the diplomatic corps, who are not in great numbers here. England, Belgium, Prussia, and the United States, are the only countries at present represented, Spain excepted. The French minister has not arrived yet, but is expected in a few days. I was not sorry to hear English spoken once more, and to meet with so gentlemanly a person as the minister who for the last fourteen years has represented our island in the Republic. His visit and a large packet of letters just received from Paris and from the United States, have made me feel as if the distance from home were diminished by one-half.
This morning a very handsome dress was forwarded to me with the compliments of a lady whom I do not know, the wife of General —; with a request that, if I should go to the fancy ball as a Poblana peasant, I may wear this costume. It is a Poblana dress, and very superb, consisting of a petticoat of maroon-coloured merino, with gold fringe, gold bands and spangles; an under-petticoat, embroidered and trimmed with rich lace, to come below it. The first petticoat is trimmed with gold up the sides, which are slit open, and tied up with coloured ribbon. With this must be worn a chemise, richly embroidered round the neck and sleeves, and trimmed with lace; a satin vest, open in front, and embroidered in gold; a silk sash tied behind, the ends fringed with gold, and a small silk handkerchief which crosses the neck, with gold fringe. I had already another dress prepared, but I think this is the handsomer of the two.
The actors have just called to inform C—n, that their "funcion extraordinaria" in his honour, is to be given on the third, that a box is prepared for us, and that the play is to be "Don John of Austria." 1
4th.–Having sat through five acts last evening in the theatre, we came home very tired. The play was awfully long, lasting from eight o'clock till one in the morning. At the end of the first act, the prefect and other dignitaries came round with much precipitation and carried off C—n to a large box in the centre, intended for him; for, not knowing which it was, we had gone to that of the Countess C—a. The theatre looked much more decent than before; being lighted up, and the boxes hung with silk draperies in honour of the occasion. The ladies also were in full dress, and the boxes crowded, so that one could scarcely recognise the house.
This morning we drove out to see the cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe: C—n in one carriage with Count C—a, and the Señora C—a and I in another, driven by Señor A—d, who is a celebrated whip; the carriage open, with handsome white horses, frisones, as they here call the northern horses, whether from England or the United States, and which are much larger than the spirited little horses of the country. As usual, we were accompanied by four armed outriders.
We passed through miserable suburbs, ruined, dirty, and with a commingling of odours which I could boldly challenge those of Cologne to rival. After leaving the town, the road is not particularly pretty, but is for the most part a broad, straight avenue, bounded on either side by trees.
At Guadalupe, on the hill of Tepayac, there stood, in days of yore, the Temple of Tonantzin, the goddess of earth and of corn, a mild deity, who rejected human victims, and was only to be propitiated by the sacrifices of turtle-doves, swallows, pigeons, etc. She was the protectress of the Totonoqui Indians. The spacious church, which now stands at the foot of the mountain, is one of the richest in Mexico. Having put on veils, no bonnets being permitted within the precincts of a church, we entered this far-famed sanctuary, and were dazzled by the profusion of silver with which it is ornamented.
The divine painting of the Virgin of Guadalupe, represents her in a blue cloak covered with stars, a garment of crimson and gold, her hands clasped, and her foot on a crescent, supported by a cherub. The painting is coarse, and only remarkable on account of the tradition attached to it.
We afterwards visited a small chapel, covered by a dome, built over a boiling spring, whose waters possess miraculous qualities, and bought crosses and medals which have touched the holy image, and pieces of white ribbon, marked with the measure of the Virgin's hands and feet. We climbed (albeit very warm) by a steep path to the top of the hill, where there is another chapel, from which there is a superb view of Mexico; and beside it, a sort of monument in the form of the sails of a ship, erected by a grateful Spaniard, to commemorate his escape from shipwreck, which he believed to be owing to the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe. We then went to the village to call on the bishop, the Ylustrisimo Señor Campos, whom we found in his canonicals, and who seems a good little old man, but no conjurer; although I believe he had the honour of bringing up his cousin, Señor Posada, destined to be Archbishop of Mexico. We found him quietly seated in a large, simply-furnished room, and apparently buried over some huge volume, so that he was not at first aware of our entrance.
A picture of the Virgin of Guadalupe hung on the wall, which C—n having noticed, he observed that he could not answer for its being a very faithful resemblance, as Our Lady did not appear often, not so often as people supposed. Then folding his hands, and looking down, he proceeded to recount the history of the miraculous apparition, pretty much as follows:
In 1531, ten years and four months after the conquest of Mexico, the fortunate Indian whose name was Juan Diego, and who was a native of Cuatitlan, went to the suburb of Tlaltelolco to learn the Christian doctrine which the Franciscan monks taught there. As he was passing by the mountain of Tepeyac, the Holy Virgin suddenly appeared before him and ordered him to go, in her name, to the bishop, the Ylustrisimo D. Fr. Juan de Zumarraga, and to make known to him that she desired to have a place of worship erected in her honour, on that spot. The next day the Indian passed by the same place, when again the Holy Virgin appeared before him, and demanded the result of his commission. Juan Diego replied, that in spite of his endeavours, he had not been able to obtain an audience of the bishop. "Return," said the Virgin, "and say that it is I, the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, who sends thee." Juan Diego obeyed the divine orders, yet still the bishop would not give him credence, merely desiring him to bring some sign or token of the Virgin's will. He returned with this message on the twelfth of December, when, for the third time, he beheld the apparition of the Virgin. She now commanded him to climb to the top of the barren rock of Tepeyac, to gather the roses which he should find there, and to bring them to her. The humble messenger obeyed, though well knowing that on that spot were neither flowers nor any trace of vegetation. Nevertheless, he found the roses, which he gathered and brought to the Virgin Mary, who, throwing them into his tilma, said, "Return, show these to the bishop, and tell him that these are the credentials of thy mission." Juan Diego set out for the episcopal house, which stood on the ground occupied by the hospital, now called San Juan de Dios, and when he found himself in the presence of the prelate, he unfolded his tilma to show him the roses, when there appeared imprinted on it the miraculous image which had existed for more than three centuries.
When the bishop beheld it, he was seized with astonishment and awe, and conveyed it in a solemn procession to his own oratory, and shortly after, this splendid church was erected in honour of the patroness of New Spain. "From all parts of the country," continued the old bishop, "people flocked in crowds to see Our Lady of Guadalupe, and esteemed it an honour to obtain a sight of her. What then must be my happiness, who can see her most gracious majesty every hour and every minute of the day! I would not quit Guadalupe for any other part of the world, nor for any temptation that could be held out to me;" and the pious man remained for a few minutes as if wrapt in ecstasy. That he was sincere in his assertions, there could be no doubt. As evening prayers were about to begin, we accompanied him to the cathedral. An old woman opened the door for us as we passed out. "Have my chocolate ready when I return," said the bishop, "Si, padrecito!" said the old woman, dropping upon her knees, in which posture she remained for some minutes. As we passed along the street, the sight of the reverend man had the same effect; all fell on their knees as he passed, precisely as if the host were carried by, or the shock of an earthquake were felt. Arrived at the door of the cathedral, he gave us his hand, or rather his pastoral amethyst, to kiss.
The organ sounded fine as it pealed through the old cathedral, and the setting sun poured his rays in through the Gothic windows with a rich and glowing light. The church was crowded with people of the village, but especially with léperos, counting their beads, and suddenly in the midst of an "Ave Maria Purisima," flinging themselves and their rags in our path with a "Por el amor de la Santisima Virgen!" and if this does not serve their purpose, they appeal to your domestic sympathies. From men they entreat relief "By the life of the Señorita." From women, "By the life of the little child!" From children it is "By the life of your mother!" And a mixture of piety and superstitious feeling makes most people, women at least, draw out their purses.
Count C—a has promised to send me to-morrow a box of
mosquitoes' eggs, of which tortillas are made, which are considered a
great delicacy. Considering
mosquitoes as small winged cannibals, I was
rather shocked at the idea, but they pretend that these which are
from the Laguna, are a superior race of creatures, which do not
sting. In fact the Spanish historians mention that the Indians used
to eat bread made of the eggs which the fly called agayacatl
laid on the rushes of the lakes, and which they (the Spaniards) found
Visits from Spaniards–Visit from the President–Disquisition–Poblana Dress–Bernardo the Matador–Bull-fight extraordinary–Plaza de Toros–Fireworks–Portrait of C—n–Fancy Ball–Dress–Costume of the Patronesses–Beauty in Mexico–Doctor's Visit–Cards of faire part–Marquesa de San Roman–Toilet in Morning Visits of Ceremony–Attempt at Robbery–Murder of a Consul–La Guéra Rodriguez–Dr. Plan–M. de Humboldt–Anecdote–Former Customs.
Yesterday (Sunday), a great day here for visiting after mass is over. We had a concourse of Spaniards, all of whom seemed anxious to know whether or not I intended to wear a Poblana dress at the fancy ball, and seemed wonderfully interested about it. Two young ladies or women of Puebla, introduced by Señor — came to proffer their services in giving me all the necessary particulars, and dressed the hair of Josefa, a little Mexican girl, to show me how it should be arranged; mentioned several things still wanting, and told me that every one was much pleased at the idea of my going in a Poblana dress. I was rather surprised that every one should trouble themselves about it. About twelve o'clock the president, in full uniform, attended by his aides-de-camp, paid me a visit, and sat about half an hour, very amiable as usual. Shortly after came more visits, and just as we had supposed they were all concluded, and we were going to dinner, we were told that the secretary of state, the ministers of war and of the interior, and others, were in the drawing-room. And what do you think was the purport of their visit? To adjure me by all that was most alarming, to discard the idea of making my appearance in a Poblana dress! They assured us that Poblanas generally were femmes de rien, that they wore no stockings, and that the wife of the Spanish minister should by no means assume, even for one evening, such a costume. I brought in my dresses, showed their length and their propriety, but in vain; and, in fact, as to their being in the right, there could be no doubt, and nothing but a kind motive could have induced them to take this trouble; so I yielded with a good grace, and thanked the cabinet council for their timely warning, though fearing, that in this land of procrastination, it would be difficult to procure another dress for the fancy ball; for you must know, that our luggage is still toiling its weary way, on the backs of mules, from Vera Cruz to the capital. They had scarcely gone, when Señor — brought a message from several of the principal ladies here, whom we do not even know, and who had requested, that as a stranger, I should be informed of the reasons which rendered the Poblana dress objectionable in this country, especially on any public occasion like this ball. I was really thankful for my escape.
Just as I was dressing for dinner, a note was brought, marked reservada (private), the contents of which appeared to me more odd than pleasant. I have since heard, however, that the writer, Don José Arnaiz, is an old man, and a sort of privileged character, who interferes in everything, whether it concerns him or not. I translate it for your benefit.
"The dress of a Poblana is that of a woman of no character. The lady of the Spanish minister is a lady in every sense of the word. However much she may have compromised herself, she ought neither to go as a Poblana, nor in any other character but her own. So says to the Señor de C—n, José Arnaiz, who esteems him as much as possible."
6th.–Early this morning, this being the day of the "bull-fight extraordinary," placards were put up, as I understand, on all the corners of the streets, announcing it, accompanied by a portrait of C—n! Count C—a came soon after breakfast, accompanied by Bernardo, the first matador, whom he brought to present to us. I send you the white satin note of invitation, with its silver lace and tassels, to show you how beautifully they can get up such things here. The matador is a handsome but heavy-looking man, though said to be active and skilful. Tomorrow I shall write you an account of my first bull-fight.
7th.–Yesterday, towards the afternoon, there were great fears of rain, which would have caused a postponement of the combat; however, the day cleared up, the bulls little knowing how much their fate depended upon the clouds. A box in the centre, with a carpet and a silver lamp, had been prepared for us; but we went with our friends, the C—as, into their box adjoining. The scene, to me especially, who have not seen the magnificence of the Madrid arena, was animating and brilliant in the highest degree. Fancy an immense amphitheatre, with four great tiers of boxes, and a range of uncovered seats in front, the whole crowded almost to suffocation; the boxes filled with ladies in full dress, and the seats below by gaily-dressed and most enthusiastic spectators; two military bands of music, playing beautiful airs from the operas; an extraordinary variety of brilliant costumes, all lighted up by the eternally deep-blue sky; ladies and peasants, and officers in full uniform,–and you may conceive that it must have been altogether a varied and curious spectacle.
About half-past six, a flourish of trumpets announced the president, who came in uniform with his staff, and took his seat to the music of "Guerra! Guerra! I bellici trombi." Shortly after the matadors and picadors, the former on foot, the latter on horseback, made their entry, saluting all around the arena, and were received with loud cheering.
Bernardo's dress of blue and silver was very superb, and cost him five hundred dollars. The signal was given–the gates were thrown open, and a bull sprang into the arena; not a great, fierce-looking animal, as they are in Spain, but a small, angry, wild-looking beast, with a troubled eye.
"Thrice sounds the clarion; lo! the signal falls,
The den expands, and expectation mute
Gapes round the silent circle's peopled walls.
Bounds with one lashing spring the mighty brute,
And, wildly staring, spurns with sounding foot
The sand, nor blindly rushes on his foe;
Here, there, he points his threatening front, to suit
His first attack, wide waving to and fro
His angry tail; red rolls his eye's dilated glow."
A picture equally correct and poetical. That first pose of the bull is superb! Pasta, in her Medea, did not surpass it. Meanwhile the matadors and the banderilleros shook their coloured scarfs at him–the picadors poked at him with their lances. He rushed at the first, and tossed up the scarfs which they threw at him, while they sprung over the arena; galloped after the others, striking the horses, so that along with their riders they occasionally rolled in the dust; both, however, almost instantly recovering their equilibrium, in which there is no time to be lost. Then the matadors would throw fireworks, crackers adorned with streaming ribbons, which stuck on his horns, as he tossed his head, enveloped him in a blaze of fire. Occasionally the picador would catch hold of the bull's tail, and passing it under his own right leg, wheel his horse round, force the bullock to gallop backwards, and throw him on his face.
Maddened with pain, streaming with blood, stuck full of darts, and covered with fireworks, the unfortunate beast went galloping round and round, plunging blindly at man and horse, and frequently trying to leap the barrier, but driven back by the waving of hats and shouting of the crowd. At last, as he stood at bay, and nearly exhausted, the matador ran up and gave him the mortal blow, considered a peculiar proof of skill. The bull stopped, as if he felt that his hour were come, staggered, made a few plunges at nothing, and fell. A finishing stroke, and the bull expired.
The trumpets sounded, the music played. Four horses galloped in tied to a yoke, to which the bull was fastened, and swiftly dragged out of the arena. This last part had a fine effect, reminding one of the Roman sacrifice. In a similar manner, eight bulls were done to death. The scene is altogether fine, the address amusing, but the wounding and tormenting of the bull is sickening, and as here the tips of his horns are blunted, one has more sympathy with him than with his human adversaries. It cannot be good to accustom a people to such bloody sights.
Yet let me confess, that though at first I covered my face and could not look, little by little I grew so much interested in the scene, that I could not take my eyes off it, and I can easily understand the pleasure taken in these barbarous diversions by those accustomed to them from childhood.
The bull-fight having terminated amidst loud and prolonged cheering from the crowd, a tree of fireworks, erected in the midst of the arena, was lighted, and amidst a blaze of coloured light, appeared, first the Arms of the Republic, the Eagle and Nopal; and above, a full-length portrait of C—n! represented by a figure in a blue and silver uniform. Down fell the Mexican eagle with a crash at his feet, while he remained burning brightly, and lighted up by fireworks, in the midst of tremendous shouts and cheers. Thus terminated this "funcion extraordinaria;" and when all was over, we went to dine at Countess C—a's; had some music in the evening, and afterwards returned home tolerably tired.
10th.–The fancy ball took place last evening in the theatre, and although, owing either to the change of climate, or to the dampness of the house, I have been obliged to keep my room since the day of the bull-fight, and to decline a pleasant dinner at the English Minister's, I thought it advisable to make my appearance there. Having discarded the costume of the light-headed Poblamanas, I adopted that of a virtuous Roman Contadina, simple enough to be run up in one day; a white skirt, red bodice, with blue ribbons, and lace veil put on square behind; à propos to which head-dress, it is very common amongst the Indians to wear a piece of stuff folded square, and laid flat upon the head, in this Italian fashion; and as it is not fastened, I cannot imagine how they trot along, without letting it fall.
We went to the theatre about eleven, and found the entrée, though crowded with carriages, very quiet and orderly. The coup d'oeil on entering was extremely gay, and certainly very amusing. The ball, given for the benefit of the poor, was under the patronage of the ladies C—a, G—a,Guer—a, and others, but such was the original dirtiness and bad condition of the theatre, that to make it decent, they had expended nearly all the proceeds. As it was, and considering the various drawbacks, the arrangements were very good. Handsome lustres had superseded the lanterns with their tallow candles, the boxes were hung with bright silk draperies, and a canopy of the same drawn up in the form of a tent, covered the whole ball-room. The orchestra also was tolerably good. The boxes were filled with ladies, presenting an endless succession of China crape shawls of every colour and variety, and a monotony of diamond earrings; while in the theatre itself, if ever a ball might be termed a fancy-ball, this was that ball. Of Swiss peasants, Scotch peasants, and all manner of peasants, there were a goodly assortment; as also of Turks, Highlanders, and men in plain clothes. But being public, it was not, of course, select, and amongst many well-dressed people, there were hundreds who, assuming no particular character, had exerted their imagination to appear merely fanciful, and had succeeded. One, for example, would have a scarlet satin petticoat, and over it a pink satin robe, with scarlet ribbons to match. Another, a short blue satin dress, beneath which appeared a handsome purple satin petticoat; the whole trimmed with yellow bows. They looked like the signs of the zodiac. All had diamonds and pearls; old and young, and middle-aged; including little children, of whom there were many.
The lady patronesses were very elegant. The Señora de Gu—a, wore a head-dress in the form of a net, entirely composed of large pearls and diamonds; in itself a fortune. The Señora de C—a, as Madame de la Vallière, in black velvet and diamonds, looking pretty as usual, but the cold of the house obliged her to muffle up in furs and boas, and so to hide her dress. The Señora de G—a, as Mary, Queen of Scots, in black velvet and pearls, with a splendid diamond necklace, was extremely handsome; she wore a cap, introduced by the Albini, in the character of the Scottish Queen, but which, though pretty in itself, is a complete deviation from the beautiful simplicity of the real Queen-Mary cap. She certainly looked as if she had arrived at her prime without knowing Fotheringay.
Various ladies were introduced to me who are only waiting to receive our cards of faire part before they call. Amongst the girls, the best dresses that I observed were the Señoritas de F—d, the one handsome, with the figure and face of a Spanish peasant; the other much more graceful and intelligent-looking, though with less actual beauty. However, so many of the most fashionable people were in their boxes, that I am told this is not a good occasion on which to judge of the beauty or style of toilet of the Mexican women; besides which, these fancy balls being uncommon, they would probably look better in their usual costume. Upon the whole, I saw few striking beauties, little grace, and very little good dancing. There was too much velvet and satin, and the dresses were too much loaded. The diamonds, though superb, were frequently ill-set. The dresses, compared with the actual fashion, were absurdly short, and the feet, naturally small, were squeezed into shoes still smaller, which is destructive to grace, whether in walking or dancing.
I saw many superb pairs of eyes, and beautiful hands and arms, perfect models for a sculptor, the hands especially; and very few good complexions.
There was a young gentleman pointed out to me as being in the costume of a Highlander! How I wished that Sir William Cumming, Macleod of Macleod, or some veritable Highland chieftain could suddenly have appeared to annihilate him, and show the people here what the dress really is! There were various unfortunate children bundled up in long satin or velvet dresses, covered with blond and jewels, and with artificial flowers in their hair.
The room was excessively cold, nor was the ancient odour of the theatre entirely obliterated; nor indeed do I think that all the perfumes of Arabia would overpower it. Having walked about, and admired all the varieties of fancy costumes, I being nearly frozen, went to the Countess C—a's box on the pit tier, and enveloped myself in a cloak. They pointed out the most distinguished persons in the boxes, amongst others the family of the E—s, who seem very handsome, with brilliant colours and fine teeth. We remained until three in the morning, and declined all offers of refreshment, though, after all, a cup of hot chocolate would not have been amiss. There was supper somewhere, but I believe attended only by gentlemen. I had the satisfaction in passing out to see numerous ladies on their partners' arms, and all bedizened as they were with finery, stop under the lamps, and light their cigars,–cool and pretty.
16th.–I have passed nearly a week in a slight fever; shivering and hot. I was attended by a doctor of the country, who seems the most harmless creature imaginable. Every day he felt my pulse, and gave me some little innocent mixture. But what he especially gave me was a lesson in polite conversation. Every day we had the following dialogue, as he rose to take leave:
"Madam!" (this by the bedside) "I am at your service."
"Many thanks, sir."
"Madam!" (this at the foot of the bed) "know me for your most humble servant."
"Good morning, sir."
"Madam!" (here he stopped beside a table) "I kiss your feet."
"Sir, I kiss your hand."
"Madam!" (this near the door) "my poor house, and all in it, myself though useless, all I have, is yours."
"Many thanks, sir."
He turns round and opens the door, again turning round as he does so.
"Adieu, madam! your servant."
He goes out, partly reopens the door, and puts in his head–
"Good morning, madam!"
This civility so lengthened out, as if parting were such "sweet sorrow," between doctor and patient, seems rather misplaced. It is here considered more polite to say Señorita than Señora, even to married women, and the lady of the house is generally called by her servants, "La Niña," the little girl, even though she be over eighty. This last custom is still more common in Havana, where the old negresses, who have always lived in the family, and are accustomed to call their young mistress by this name, never change, whatever be her age.
I have received a packet of letters which have done me more good than the old doctor's visits. The captain left us yesterday, and took charge of a box of chocolate stamped with various figures, and of some curious dulces for you. Our cards, giving the Mexicans the tardy information of our arrival, were sent out some days ago. I copy one, that you may have a specimen of the style, which looks for all the world like that of a shop-advertisement, purporting that Don — makes wigs, dresses hair, and so forth, while Doña — washes lace, and does up fine linen.
"Don A— C— de la B—, Enviado Extraordinario y Ministro Plenipotenciario de S. M. C. cerca de la Republica Mexicana; y su Esposa, Doña F— E— C— de la B—; Participan á su Llegada á esta Capital y se afrecen á su disposicion, en la Plazuela de Buenavista, No. 2."1
18th.–For the last few days our rooms have been filled with visitors, and my eyes are scarcely yet accustomed to the display of diamonds, pearls, silks, satins, blondes, and velvets, in which the ladies have paid their first visits of etiquette. A few of the dresses I shall record for your benefit, not as being richer than the others, but that I happen to recollect them best.—The Marquesa de San Roman, an old lady who has travelled a great deal in Europe, and is very distinguished for talents and information. She has the Grand Cross of Maria Louisa of Spain, is of a noble Venetian family, and aunt to the Duke of Canizzaro. Her dress was a very rich black Genoa velvet, black blonde mantilla, and a very splendid parure of diamonds. She seems in exceedingly delicate health. She and her contemporaries are fast fading away, the last record of the days of Viceroyalty. In their place a new race have started up, whose manners and appearance have little of the vieille cour about them; chiefly, it is said, wives of military men, sprung from the hotbeds of the revolutions, ignorant and full of pretensions, as parvenus who have risen by chance and not by merit must be. I continue my list after the fashion of the Court Journal.
Countess de S—o. Under dress of rich violet satin, gown of black blonde, mantilla of black blonde, diamond earrings, five or six large diamond brooches fastening the mantilla, necklace of large pearls and diamond sévigné. The Señora S—. Dress of white satin, gown of white blonde, white blonde mantilla, pearls, diamonds, and white satin shoes. Madame S—r. Black velvet dress, white blonde mantilla, pearls, diamonds, short sleeves, and white satin shoes. The Señora de A—d. Fawn-coloured satin dress, black blonde mantilla, diamonds, and black satin shoes.
The Señora B—a, the wife of a General, extremely rich, and who has the handsomest house in Mexico. Dress of purple velvet, embroidered all over with flowers of white silk, short sleeves, and embroidered corsage; white satin shoes and bas à jour; a deep flounce of Mechlin appearing below the velvet dress, which was short. A mantilla of black blonde, fastened by three diamond aigrettes. Diamond earrings of extraordinary size. A diamond necklace of immense value, and beautifully set. A necklace of pear pearls, valued at twenty thousand dollars. A diamond sévigné. A gold chain going three times round the neck, and touching the knees. On every finger two diamond rings, like little watches. As no other dress was equally magnificent, with her I conclude my description, only observing that no Mexican lady has yet paid me her first morning visit without diamonds. They have few opportunities for displaying their jewels, so that were it not on the occasion of some such morning visit of etiquette, the diamonds would lie in their cases, wasting their serene rays in darkness.
Last night an attempt was made to break into the house, but our fine little bull-dog Hercules, a present from Señor A—d, kept his ground so well, and barked so furiously, that the servants were awakened, even the porter, the soundest slumberer amongst them; and the robbers escaped without doing further mischief than inflicting a severe wound on the poor animal's paw, which has made him for the present quite lame.
A propos to which matters, a most cruel murder, of which I have just been hearing the particulars, was committed not very long ago in this neighbourhood, upon Mr. M—, the Swiss consul. He was also a leather-merchant, and one morning having sent out his porter on some commission, a carriage drove up to the door, and three gentlemen presented themselves to Mr. M— requesting to speak to him on business. He begged them to walk in, and there entered a general in uniform, a young officer, and a monk. Mr. M— requested to be informed of their business, when suddenly the general, seizing hold of him, whilst the others went to secure the door, exclaimed, "We have not come to hear about your goods, we want your money." The poor man, astounded at perceiving the nature of his customers, assured them he kept but little money in the house, but proceeded instantly to open his private drawers, and empty their contents, amounting, in fact, to a trifle of some few hundred dollars. Finding that he had indeed no more to give them they prepared to depart, when the monk said, "We must kill him, or he will recognise us." "No," said the officers, "leave him and come along. There is no danger." "Go on," said the monk, "I follow;" and, turning back, stabbed the consul to the heart. The three then re-entered the carriage, and drove off at full speed. A few minutes afterwards the porter returning found his master bathed in blood, and rushing out to a neighbouring gambling-house, gave the alarm. Several gentlemen ran to his assistance, but he died in an hour after, having given all the particulars of the dress and appearance of his murderers, and that of their carriage. By these tokens they were soon afterwards discovered, and by the energy of the Governor, then Count C—a, they were arrested and hanged upon the trees in front of our house, together with the real Mexican colonel, who had kindly lent the ruffians his carriage for the occasion. It is seldom that crime here meets with so prompt a punishment.
Our friend, Count C—a, when Governor of Mexico, was celebrated for his energy in "el persiguimiento de los ladrones," (persecuting the robbers,) as it is called. It is said upon one occasion his zeal carried him rather far. Various robberies having been committed in the city, he had received a hint from the government, that the escape of the perpetrators was considered by them as a proof that he had grown lukewarm in the public service. A few days afterwards, riding in the streets, he perceived a notorious robber, who, the moment he observed himself recognised, darted down another street with the swiftness of an arrow. The governor pursued him on horseback; the robber made all speed towards the Square, and rushed into the sanctuary of the cathedral. The count galloped in after him, and dragged him from his place of refuge near the altar. This violation of the church's sanctity was, of course, severely reprimanded, but, as the governor remarked, they could no longer accuse him of want of zeal in the discharge of his duty.
He took as his porter the captain of a gang of robbers, ordering him to stand at the door, and to seize any of his former acquaintances who might pass, his own pardon depending on his conduct in this respect. Riding out one day to his country place with his lady, this man accompanying them as a servant, they were overtaken by a messenger, who desired the return of the count to the city, upon some urgent and important business. It was already dusk, yet the count, trusting to the honour of the robber, ordered him to conduct his lady to the hacienda; and she alone, on horseback, with this alarming guide, performed her journey in safety.
Before I conclude this letter, I must tell you that I received a visit this morning from a very remarkable character, well known here by the name of La Güera (the fair) Rodriguez, said to have been many years ago celebrated by Humboldt as the most beautiful woman he had seen in the whole course of his travels. Considering the lapse of time which has passed since that distinguished traveller visited these parts, I was almost astonished when her card was sent up with a request for admission, and still more so to find that in spite of years and of the furrows which it pleases Time to plough in the loveliest faces, La Güera retains a profusion of fair curls without one gray hair, a set of beautiful white teeth, very fine eyes, and great vivacity.
Her sister, the Marquesa de Juluapa, lately dead, is said to have been also a woman of great talent and extraordinary conversational powers; she is another of the ancient noblesse who has dropped off. The physician who attended her in her last illness, a Frenchman of the name of Plan, in great repute here, has sent in a bill to her executors of ten thousand dollars, which, although it does not excite any great astonishment, the family refuse to pay, and there is a lawsuit in consequence. The extortions of medical men in Mexico, especially of foreign physicians, have arrived at such a height, that a person of moderate fortune must hesitate before putting himself into their hands. 2 A rich old lady in delicate health, and with no particular complaint, is a surer fund for them than a silver-mine.
I found La Güera very agreeable, and a perfect living chronicle. She is married to her third husband, and had three daughters, all celebrated beauties; the Countess de Regla, who died in New York, and was buried in the cathedral there; the Marquesa de Guadalupe, also dead, and the Marquesa de A—a, now a handsome widow. We spoke of Humboldt, and talking of herself as of a third person, she related to me all the particulars of his first visit, and his admiration of her; that she was then very young, though married, and the mother of two children, and that when he came to visit her mother, she was sitting sewing in a corner where the baron did not perceive her; until talking very earnestly on the subject of cochineal, he inquired if he could visit a certain district where there was a plantation of nopals. "To be sure," said La Güera from her corner; "we can take M. de Humboldt there;" whereupon he first perceiving her, stood amazed, and at length exclaimed, "Valgame Dios! who is that girl?" Afterwards he was constantly with her, and more captivated, it is said, by her wit than by her beauty, considering her a sort of western Madame de Staël; all which leads me to suspect that the grave traveller was considerably under the influence of her fascinations, and that neither mines nor mountains, geography nor geology, petrified shells nor alpenkalkstein, had occupied him to the exclusion of a slight stratum of flirtation. It is a comfort to think that "sometimes even the great Humboldt nods."
One of La Güera's stories is too original to be lost. A lady of high rank having died in Mexico, her relatives undertook to commit her to her last resting-place, habited according to the then prevailing fashion, in her most magnificent dress, that which she had worn at her wedding. This dress was a wonder of luxury, even in Mexico. It was entirely composed of the finest lace, and the flounces were made of a species of point which cost fifty dollars a vara (the Mexican yard). Its equal was unknown. It was also ornamented and looped up at certain intervals with bows of ribbon very richly embroidered in gold. In this dress, the Condesa de — was laid in her coffin, thousands of dear friends crowding to view her beautiful costume de mort, and at length she was placed in her tomb, the key of which was intrusted to the sacristan.
From the tomb to the opera is a very abrupt transition; nevertheless, both have a share in this story. A company of French dancers appeared in Mexico, a twentieth-rate ballet, and the chief danseuse was a little French damsel, remarkable for the shortness of her robes, her coquetry, and her astonishing pirouettes. On the night of a favourite ballet, Mademoiselle Pauline made her entrée in a succession of pirouettes, and poising on her toe, looked round for approbation, when a sudden thrill of horror, accompanied by a murmur of indignation, pervaded the assembly. Mademoiselle Pauline was equipped in the very dress in which the defunct countess had been buried! Lace, point flounces, gold ribbons; impossible to mistake it. Hardly had the curtain dropped, when the little danseuse found herself surrounded by competent authorities, questioning her as to where and how she had obtained her dress. She replied that she had bought it at an extravagant price from a French modiste in the city. She had rifled no tomb, but honestly paid down golden ounces, in exchange for her lawful property. To the modiste's went the officers of justice. She also pleaded innocent. She had bought it of a man who had brought it to her for sale, and had paid him much more than à poids d'or, as indeed it was worth. By dint of further investigation, the man was identified, and proved to be the sacristan of San —. Short-sighted sacristan! He was arrested and thrown into prison, and one benefit resulted from his cupidity, since in order to avoid throwing temptation in the way of future sacristans, it became the custom, after the body had lain in state for some time in magnificent robes, to substitute a plain dress previous to placing the coffin in the vault. A poor vanity after all.
I was told by a lady here, that on the death of her grandchild, he was not only enveloped in rich lace, but the diamonds of three condesas and four marquesas were collected together and put on him, necklaces, bracelets, rings, brooches and tiaras, to the value of several hundred thousand dollars. The street was hung with draperies, and a band of music played, whilst he was visited by all the titled relatives of the family in his dead splendour, poor little baby! Yet his mother mourned for him as for all her blighted hopes, and the last scion of a noble house. Grief shows itself in different ways; yet one might think that when it seeks consolation in display, it must be less profound than when it shuns it.
San Fernando–House of Perez de Galvez–A Removal–Size of the Houses–Old Monastery–View by Sunset–Evening Visits–Mexican Etiquette–A Night-view from the Azotea–Tacubaya–Magueys–Making of Pulque–Organos and Nopal–Environs of Mexico–Miracle–Hacienda–View from the Countess C—a's House–Arzobispado–Anecdote–Comparative View of Beauty–Indians–Rancheritas–Mexican Cordiality–Masses for the Dead–San Augustin–Form of Invitation–Death of a Senator–A Mistake.
SAN FERNANDO, 25th February.
We have been engaged for some time past in the disagreeable occupations, first of finding, then of furnishing, and lastly of entering into a new house. We were very anxious to hire that of the Marquesa de Juluapa, which is pretty, well situated, and has a garden; but the agent, after making us wait for his decision more than a fortnight, informed us that he had determined to sell it. House-rent is extremely high; nothing tolerable to be had under two thousand five hundred dollars per annum, unfurnished. There is also an extraordinary custom of paying a sum called traspaso, sometimes to the amount of fourteen thousand dollars, taking your chance of having the money repaid you by the next person who takes the house. We next endeavoured to procure a house not far from our present residence,—a palace in fact, which I mentioned to you before as having been occupied at one time by Santa Anna, and at another by the English Legation, but the present proprietor cannot be prevailed upon to let it. It has a beautiful garden and olive-ground, but is not a very secure abode, except with a guard of soldiers. We at length came to the determination of taking up our quarters here. It is a handsome new house, built by General G—, and has the fault of being only too large. Built in a square, like all Mexican houses, the ground-floor, which has a stone-paved court with a fountain in the middle, contains about twenty rooms, besides outhouses, coach-house, stables, pigeon-house, garden-house, etc. The second storey where the principal apartments are, the first-floor being chiefly occupied by servants, has the same number of rooms, with coal-room, wood-room, bath-room, and water everywhere, in the court below, in the garden, and on the azotea, which is very spacious, and where, were the house our own, we might build a mirador, and otherwise ornament it; but to build for another is too heroic. The great defect in all these houses is their want of finish; the great doors that will not shut properly, and the great windows down to the ground, which in the rainy season will certainly admit water, making these residences appear something like a cross-breed between a palace and a barn; the splendour of the one, the discomfort of the other. I will not inflict upon you the details of all our petty annoyances caused by procrastinating tradesmen. Suffice it to say, that the Mexican mañana (to-morrow), if properly translated, means never. As to prices, I conclude we pay for being foreigners and diplomates, and will not believe in a first experience. However, we are settled at last, and find the air here much purer than in the heart of the city, while the maladies and epidemics so common there, are here almost unknown. Behind this house is a very small garden, bounded on one side by the great wall which encloses the orchard of the old monastery of San Fernando, within whose vast precincts only seven or eight monks now linger. It is an immense building, old and gray, and time-worn, with church adjoining, and spacious lands appertaining to it. At all times it is picturesque, but by moonlight or sunset it forms a most olden-time vision.
At that hour, standing alone in the high-walled garden when the convent bells are tolling, and the convent itself, with its iron-barred, Gothic windows, and its gray-green olive-trees that look so unreal and lifeless, is tinged by the last rays of the sun, the whole seems like a vision, or a half-remembered sketch, or a memory of romance.
Then the sun sets behind the snow-crowned mountains with a bright fiery red, covering their majestic sides with a rosy glow, while great black clouds come sailing along like the wings of night; and then is the hour for remembering that this is Mexico, and in spite of all the evils that have fallen over it, the memory of the romantic past hovers there still. But the dark clouds sail on, and envelop the crimson tints yet lingering and blushing on the lofty mountains, and like monstrous night-birds brood there in silent watch; and gradually the whole landscape–mountains and sky, convent and olive-trees, look gray and sad, and seem to melt away in the dim twilight.
Then the bright moon rises and flings her silver veil over the mountains, and lights up the plains, glittering and quivering upon the old gray stones, and a sound of military music is heard in the distance far and faint. And all the bells are tolling; from old San Fernando that repeats himself like a sexagenarian; from the towers of the cathedral, from many a distant church and convent; and above the rumbling of carriages and the hum of the city, are heard the notes of a hymn, now rising, now falling on the ear, as a religious procession passes along to some neighbouring temple. But it grows late–a carriage enters the courtyard–a visit. There is no romance here. Men and women are the same everywhere, whether enveloped in the graceful mantilla, or wearing Herbault's last, whether wrapped in Spanish cloak, or Mexican sarape, or Scottish plaid. The manners of the ladies here are extremely kind, but Spanish etiquette and compliments are beyond measure tiresome. After having embraced each lady who enters, according to the fashion, which after all seems cordial, to say the least of it, and seated the lady of most consequence on the right side of the sofa, a point of great importance, the following dialogue is de rigueur. "How are you? Are you well?" "At your service, and you?" "Without novelty (sin novedad) at your service." "I am rejoiced, and how are you, Señora?" "At your disposal, and you?" "A thousand thanks, and the Señor?" "At your service, without novelty," etc., etc., etc. Besides, before sitting down, there is, "Pray be seated." "Pass first, Señorita." "No, madam, pray pass first." "Vaya, well, to oblige you, without further ceremony; I dislike compliments and etiquette." And it is a fact that there is no real etiquette but the most perfect laissez aller in the world. All these are mere words, tokens of good will. If it is in the morning, there is the additional question of "How have you passed the night?" And the answer, "In your service." Even in Mexico the weather affords a legitimate opening for a conversation battery, but this chiefly when it rains or looks dull, which, occasioning surprise, gives rise to observation. Besides a slight change in the degree of heat or cold which we should not observe, they comment upon.
The visit over, the ladies re-embrace, the lady of the house following her guest to the top of the staircase, and again compliments are given and received. "Madam, you know that my house is at your disposal." "A thousand thanks, madam. Mine is at yours, and though useless, know me for your servant, and command me in everything that you may desire." "Adieu, I hope you may pass a good night," etc., etc., etc. At the bottom of the first landing-place the visitors again turn round to catch the eye of the lady of the house, and the adieus are repeated. All this, which struck me at first, already appears quite natural, and would scarce be worth mentioning, but as affording a contrast to our slight and indifferent manner of receiving and taking leave of our guests. All the ladies address each other, and are addressed by gentlemen, by their Christian names, and those who have paid me more than one or two visits, use the same familiar mode of address to me. Amongst women I rather like this, but it somewhat startles my ideas of the fitness of things to hear a young man address a married woman as Maria, Antonia, Anita, etc. However, things must be taken as they are meant, and as no familiarity is intended, none should be supposed. . . .
But these visitors are gone, and into the open court the consolatory moon is shining. All clouds have passed away, and the blue sky is so blue, as to dazzle the eyes even in the moonlight. Each star shines out bright, golden, and distinct, and it seems a sin to sleep and to lose so lovely a night. . . . But for a true night view, mount upon the Azotea, and see all Mexico sleeping at your feet; the whole valley and the city itself floating in moonlight; the blue vault above gemmed with stars, and the mountains all bathed in silver, the white volcanoes seeming to join earth and sky. Here even Salvator's genius would fail. We must evoke the ghost of Byron. The pencil can do nothing. Poetry alone might give a faint idea of a scene so wondrously beautiful.
26th.–We went yesterday with Mr. M— , his wife and daughter and a padre to visit the archbishop's palace at Tacubaya, a pretty village about four miles from Mexico, and a favourite ride of ours in the morning. The country round Mexico, if not always beautiful, has the merit of being original, and on the road to Tacubaya, which goes by Chapultepec, you pass large tracts of country, almost entirely uncultivated, though so near the city, or covered by the mighty maguey plant, the American agave, which will flourish on the most arid soil, and, like a fountain in a desert place, furnishes the poorest Indian with the beverage most grateful to his palate. It seems to be to them what the reindeer is to the Esquimaux, fitted by nature to supply all his wants. The maguey and its produce, pulque, were known to the Indians in the most ancient times, and the primitive Aztecs may have become as intoxicated on their favourite octli, as they called it, as the modern Mexicans do on their beloved pulque.
It is not often that we see the superb flower with its colossal stem, for the plant that is in blossom is a useless beauty. The moment the experienced Indian becomes aware that his maguey is about to flower, he cuts out the heart, covers it over with the side leaves of the plant, and all the juice which should have gone to the great stem of the flower, runs into the empty basin thus formed, into which the Indian, thrice a day, and during several months in succession, inserts his acojote or gourd, a kind of siphon, and applying his mouth to the other end, draws off the liquor by suction; a curious-looking process. First it is called honey-water, and is sweet and scentless; but easily ferments when transferred to the skins or earthen vases where it is kept. To assist in its fermentation, however, a little old pulque, Madre pulque, as it is called, which has fermented for many days, is added to it, and in twenty-four hours after it leaves the plant, you may imbibe it in all its perfection. It is said to be the most wholesome drink in the world, and remarkably agreeable when one has overcome the first shock occasioned by its rancid odour. At all events, the maguey is a source of unfailing profit, the consumption of pulque being enormous, so that many of the richest families in the capital owe their fortune entirely to the produce of their magueys. When the owners do not make the pulque themselves, they frequently sell their plants to the Indians; and a maguey, which costs a real when first planted, will, when ready to be cut, sell for twelve or eighteen dollars; a tolerable profit, considering that it grows in almost any soil, requires little manure, and, unlike the vine, no very special or periodical care. They are planted in rows like hedges, and though the individual plant is handsome, the general effect is monotonous. Of the fibres is made an excellent strong thread called pita, of which pita they make a strong brownish paper, and might make cloth if they pleased. There is, however, little improvement made by the Mexicans upon the ingenuity of their Indian ancestors, in respect to the maguey. Upon paper made of its fibres, the ancient Mexicans painted their hieroglyphical figures. The strong and pointed thorns which terminate the gigantic leaves, they used as nails and pins; and amongst the abuses, not the uses of these, the ancient sanguinary priests were in the habit of piercing their breasts and tearing their arms with them, in acts of expiation. Besides, there is a very strong brandy distilled from pulque, which has the advantage of producing intoxication in an infinitely shorter period.
Together with the maguey, grows another immense production of nature, the organos, which resembles the barrels or pipes of an organ, and being covered with prickles, the plants growing close together, and about six feet high, makes the strongest natural fence imaginable, besides being covered with beautiful flowers. There is also another species of cactus, the nopal, which bears the tuna, a most refreshing fruit, but not ripe at this season. The plant looks like a series of flat green pin-cushions fastened together, and stuck full of diminutive needles.
But though the environs of Mexico are flat, though there are few trees, little cultivation, and uninhabited haciendas, and ruined churches in all directions, still, with its beautiful climate and ever-smiling sky, the profusion of roses and sweet-peas in the deserted gardens, the occasional clumps of fine trees, particularly the graceful Arbold de Peru (shinum molle, the Peruvian pepper-tree), its bending branches loaded with bunches of coral-coloured berries, the old orchards with their blossoming fruit-trees, the conviction that everything necessary for the use of man can be produced with scarcely any labour, all contributes to render the landscape one which it is impossible to pass through with indifference.
A magnificent ash-tree (the Mexican fresno), the pride of Tacubaya; which throws out its luxuriant branches, covering a large space of ground, was pointed out to us as having a tradition attached to it. It had nearly withered away, when the Ylustrisimo Señor Fonti, the last of the Spanish archbishops, gave it his solemn benediction, and prayed that its vigour might be restored. Heaven heard his prayer; new buds instantly shot forth, and the tree has since continued to thrive luxuriantly.
Tacubaya is a scattered village, containing some pretty country-houses, and some old gardens with stone fountains. The word country-house must not, however, be understood in the English acceptation of the word. The house, which is in fact merely used as an occasional retreat during the summer months, is generally a large empty building, with innumerable lofty rooms, communicating with each other, and containing the scantiest possible supply of furniture. One room will have in it a deal table and a few chairs; you will then pass through five or six quite empty; then you will arrive at two or three, with green painted bedsteads and a bench; the walls bare, or ornamented with a few old pictures of Saints and Virgins, and bare floors ornamented with nothing. To this add a kitchen and outhouses, a garden running to waste and overrunning with flowers, with stiff stone walks and a fountain in the middle, an orchard and an olive-ground; such are most of the haciendas that I have yet seen. That of the Countess C—a, which seems to be the handsomest in Tacubaya, is remarkable for commanding from its windows one of the most beautiful views imaginable of Mexico, the volcanoes and Chapultepec. From her azotea there is also a splendid view of the whole valley; and as her garden is in good order, that she has an excellent billiard-table, a piano, but above all, a most agreeable society in her own family, and that her house is the very centre of hospitality, one may certainly spend many pleasant hours there, without regretting the absence of the luxurious furniture, which, in Mexico, seems entirely confined to the town houses. The countess herself assured us that she had twice completely furnished the house, but as, in two revolutions, everything was thrown out of the windows and destroyed, she was resolved in future to confine herself to le stricte nécessaire.
We went to see a house and garden which has fallen, in chance succession, to a poor woman, who, not being able to occupy her unexpected inheritance, is desirous of selling it. The garden and grounds are a deserted wilderness of sweets. We were joined by several monks from a neighbouring convent, and with them went to visit the archbishop's palace. Chemin faisant, the padre informed us that he was formerly a merchant, a married man, and a friend of Yturbide's. He failed, his wife died, his friend was shot, and he joined a small community of priests who lived retired in the convent of La Profesa, which, with its church is one of the richest in Mexico.
The Arzobispado is a large, handsome, but deserted building, commanding the same fine view as from the house of the countess, and with a garden and fine olive-ground, of which the trees were brought from Europe. The garden was filled with large double pink roses, and bunches of the mille-fleur-rose, which are disposed in arches, a favourite custom here, also with a profusion of sweet-peas and jessamine, and a few orange-trees. The gardener gave us some beautiful bouquets, and we lingered here till sunset, admiring the view. There is no point from which Mexico is seen to such advantage. It is even a finer prospect than that from Chapultepec, since it embraces the castle itself, one of the most striking features in the landscape. But just as the sun sunk behind the mountains, a sudden change took place in the weather. The wind rose, great masses of dark clouds came driving over the sky, and the rain fell in torrents, forcing us to make a hasty retreat to our carriages, and having omitted to take any precautions, and this road not being particularly safe at night, we were probably indebted for our safe return more to "good luck than good guidance;" or, perhaps, we owed it in part to the padre, for the robbers are shy at attacking either soldiers or priests, the first from fear, and the second from awe.
Talking of robbers and robberies, rather a fertile theme of conversation, Señor — told me the other day that, in the time of a former president, it came to pass, that a certain gentleman went to take his leave at the palace, previous to setting off for Vera Cruz. He was received by the president, who was alone with his aide-de-camp, General —, and mentioned to him in confidence that he was about to take a considerable sum of money with him, but that it was so well concealed in the lining of a trunk, which he described, that even if attacked by robbers, it was impossible they should discover it, and that therefore he did not think it necessary to take an escort with him. The next day this confidential gentleman left Mexico, in the diligence. Not far from the gates the coach was attacked, and, strange to say, the robbers singled out the very trunk which contained the money, opened it, ripped up the lining, and having possessed themselves of the sum therein concealed, peaceably departed. It was a singular coincidence that the captain of the robbers, though somewhat disguised, bore a striking general resemblance to the president's aide-de-camp! These coincidences will happen. . . .
My chief occupation, lately, has consisted in returning visits; and it is certain that, according to our views of the case, there is too wide a distinction between the full-dress style of toilet adopted by the ladies when they pay visits, and the undress in which they receive their visitors at home. To this there are some, nay, many exceptions, but en masse this is the case. . . .
On first arriving from the United States, where an ugly woman is a phoenix, one cannot fail to be struck at the first glance with the general absence of beauty in Mexico. It is only by degrees that handsome faces begin to dawn upon us; but, however, it must be remarked that beauty without colour is apt to be less striking and to make less impression on us at first. The brilliant complexion and fine figure of an Englishwoman strike every one. The beauty of expression and finely-chiselled features of a Spaniard steal upon us like a soft moonlight, while a Frenchwoman, however plain, has so graceful a manner of saying agreeable things, so charming a tournure, such a piquant way of managing her eyes, and even her mouth, that we think her a beauty after half an hour's acquaintance, and even lose our admiration for the quiet and high-bred, but less graceful Anglaise. The beauty of the women here consist in superb black eyes, very fine dark hair, a beautiful arm and hand, and small, well-made feet. The defects are, that they are frequently too short and too fat, that their teeth are often bad, and their complexion not the clear olive of the Spaniards, nor the glowing brown of the Italians, but a bilious-looking yellow. Their notion of inserting the foot into a shoe half an inch shorter, ruins the foot, and destroys their grace in walking, and, consequently, in every movement. This fashion is, fortunately, beginning to fall into disuse. . . . It is therefore evident that when a Mexicana is endowed with white teeth and a fine complexion, when she has not grown too fat, and when she does not torture her small foot to make it smaller, she must be extremely handsome. . . . The general carelessness of their dress in the morning is, however, another great drawback to beauty. A woman without stays, with uncombed hair and reboso, had need to be very lovely, if she retain any attraction at all. This indolence, indeed, is going out of fashion, especially among the younger part of the community, owing, perhaps, to their more frequent intercourse with foreigners, though it will probably be long before the morning at home is not considered a privileged time and place for dishabille. Notwithstanding, I have made many visits where I have found the whole family in a perfect state of order and neatness, but I have observed that there the fathers, and what is more important, the mothers, had travelled in Europe, and established a new order of things on their return.
Upon the whole, the handsomest women here are not Mexicans, that is, not born in the capital, but in the provinces. From Puebla, and Jalapa and Vera Cruz, we see many distinguished by their brilliant complexions and fine teeth, and who are taller and more graceful than those born in the city of Mexico; precisely as in Spain, where the handsomest women in Madrid are said to be those born out of it.
The common Indians, whom we see every day bringing in their fruit and vegetables to market, are, generally speaking, very plain, with an humble, mild expression of countenance, very gentle, and wonderfully polite in their manners to each other; but occasionally, in the lower classes, one sees a face and form so beautiful, that we might suppose such another was the Indian who enchanted Cortes; with eyes and hair of extraordinary beauty, a complexion dark but glowing, with the Indian beauty of teeth like the driven snow, together with small feet and beautifully-shaped hands and arms, however imbrowned by sun and toil. In these cases it is more than probable that, however Indian in her appearance, there must have been some intermarriages in former days between her progenitors and the descendants of the conquerors. We also occasionally observe very handsome Rancheritas, wives or daughters of the farmers, riding in front of their farm-servants on the same horse, with the white teeth and fine figures which are preserved by the constant exercise that country women must perforce take, whatever be their natural indolence, while the early fading of beauty in the higher classes, the decay of teeth, and the over-corpulency so common amongst them, are no doubt the natural consequences of want of exercise and of injudicious food. There is no country in the world where so much animal food is consumed, and there is no country in the world where so little is required. The consumers are not the Indians, who cannot afford it, but the better classes, who generally eat meat three times a day. This, with the quantities of chile and sweetmeats, in a climate which every one complains of as being irritating and inflammatory, probably produces those nervous complaints which are here so general, and for which constant hot baths are the universal and agreeable remedy.
In point of amiability and warmth of manner, I have met with no women who can possibly compete with those in Mexico, and it appears to me that women of all other countries will appear cold and stiff by comparison. To strangers this is an unfailing charm, and it is to be hoped that whatever advantages they may derive from their intercourse with foreigners, they may never lose this graceful cordiality, which forms so agreeable a contrast with English and American frigidity.
C—n received an invitation some time ago to attend the honras of the daughter of the Marquis of S—a; that is, the celebration of mass for the repose of her soul. M— was observing to-day, that if this Catholic doctrine be firmly believed, and that the prayers of the Church are indeed availing to shorten the sufferings of those who have gone before us; to relieve those whom we love from thousands of years of torture, it is astonishing how the rich do not become poor, and the poor beggars, in furtherance of this object; and that if the idea be purely human, it showed a wonderful knowledge of human nature, on the part of the inventor, as what source of profit could be more sure? . . . .
Certainly no expense was spared on this occasion. San Augustin, in itself a beautiful church, was fitted up with extraordinary splendour. The walls and pillars were covered with draperies of rich crimson velvet. Innumerable wax candles were lighted, and an invisible band of music played during the intervals of the deep-rolling organ. All the monks of San Augustin, with their white hoods and sandalled feet, and carrying lighted tapers, were ranged near the altar. All the male relatives of the family, dressed in deep mourning, occupied the highbacked chairs placed along one side of the church, the floor of which was covered with a carpet, on which various veiled and mourning figures were kneeling, whom I joined. The whole service, the chanting, the solemn music, and the prayers, were very impressive, yet more joyous than sad, perhaps from the pervading feeling that each note, as it rose to heaven, carried some alleviation to the spirit of the young and beloved one for whose repose they played, and brought her nearer to the gates of the Holy City.
She was but twenty when she died; and our first house is close to that of the Marquis de S—a, her father, so that we were shocked to learn that she had expired on the night of our great serenade (we, of course, not aware of her illness), actually to the sound of that gay music, and amidst the shouting and clapping of hands of the multitude. When the service was over the procession passed out, every one kissing the hand of the bishop as he went along, and we found some difficulty in making our way through the crowds of léperos, who, though not allowed to enter the church on this occasion, were swarming at the gates. Our carriage, as we returned home, formed one of a file of at least one hundred.
We found on our table another invitation to a very splendid mass, which is to be performed in San Francisco, on account of the death of a friend of ours, a senator of a distinguished family. The style of these invitations is as follows:–A device is engraved on the paper, such as a tomb and cypress, and below is printed,
"José Maria A—,
José G— de la C—a, and Basilio G—,
brothers and uncle of the
Senator Don Augustin T—,
who died on the twenty-eighth of last month,
request you to assist at the suffrage of the funeral honours, which, by the desire of his wife, Doña J— A—, will be celebrated in the church of San Francisco on the morning of the eighth of this month of February, 1840, at nine o'clock."
Beside this invitation, was a piece of information of a different description:
"General A— and Anna R— beg to inform you that they have contracted matrimony, and have the honour of offering themselves to your disposal.
"M— Street, No. 24. Mexico, 1840."
Here, as in Spain, a lady, after her marriage, retains her maiden name; and though she adds to it that of her husband, she is more commonly known by her own.
From ignorance of another Mexican custom, I made rather an awkward blunder the other day; though I must observe, in my justification, that I had lately been in the agonies of searching for servants, and had just filled all the necessary departments pretty much to my satisfaction. Therefore, when the porter of the Señora de — brought me the compliments of his mistress, and that she begged to inform me that she had another servant at my disposal (otra criada á mi disposicion), I returned for answer, that I was greatly obliged, but had just hired a recamerera (chambermaid). At this the man, stupid as he was, opened his great eyes with a slight expression of wonder. Fortunately, as he was turning away, I bethought me of inquiring of the señora's health, and his reply, that "she and the baby were coming on very well," brought the truth suddenly before me, that the message was merely the etiquette used on informing the friends of the family of the birth of a child–a conviction which induced me slightly to alter the style of my answer. Experientia docet!
Calle de Tacuba–The Leap of Alvarado–The "Noche Triste"–Sale of a Curate's Goods–Padre Leon–Leprosy–Pictures–The Annunciation–The Alameda–Paseo de Bucarelli–The Viga–Indians in Canoes–A Murder–A Country Fête–Visit to the Colegia Vizcaino–The Jota Arragonesa–Old Soldiers.
The street in which we live forms part of the Calle de Tacuba, the ancient Tlacopan, one of the great causeways by which ancient Mexico communicated with the continent. The other two were Tepeyayac (now Guadalupe) and Iztapalapan, by which last the Mexican emperor and his nobles went out to receive Cortes on his entrance to Tenochtitlan. The ancient city was divided into four districts, and this division is still preserved, with a change from the Indian names to those of San Pablo, San Sebastian, San Juan, and Santa Maria. The streets run in the same direction as they did in former times. The same street frequently changes its name in each division, and this part of the Calle de Tacuba is occasionally called the "Plazuela del Sopilote," "San Fernando," and the "Puente de Alvarado," which is the more classic of the three, as celebrating the valour of a hero; while a ditch, crossed by a small bridge near this, still retains the name of "el Salto de Alvarado," in memory of the famous leap given by the valiant Spaniard, Pedro de Alvarado, on the memorable night called the "noche triste," of the 1st of July, 1520, when the Spaniards were forced to retreat from Mexico to the mountains of Tepeyayac.
On that "sad night," the rain falling in torrents, the moon and the stars refusing their light, the sky covered with thick clouds, Cortes commanded the silent march of his troops. Sandoval, the unconquerable captain, led his vanguard; and the stern hero, Pedro de Alvarado, brought up the rear. A bridge of wood was carried by forty soldiers, to enable the troops to pass the ditches or canals, which must otherwise have impeded their retreat. It is said that in choosing the night for this march Cortes was guided by the counsels of an astrologer.
Be that as it may, the first canal was happily passed by means of the portable bridge. The sentinels who guarded that point were overcome; but the noise of the struggle attracted the attention of the vigilant priests, who in the silence of the night were keeping watch in the temple. They blew the holy trumpets, cried to arms, and awakened the startled inhabitants from their slumbers.
In a moment the Spaniards were surrounded by water and by land. At the second canal, which they had already reached, the combat was terrible. All was confusion, wounds, groans, and death; and the canal became so choked with dead bodies, that the rear-guard passed over them as over a bridge. We are told that Cortes himself swam more than once over the canal, regardless of danger, cheering on his men, giving out his orders, every blow aimed in the direction of his voice, yet cool and intrepid as ever, in the midst of all the clamour and confusion and darkeness. But arrived at the third canal, Alvarado finding himself alone, and surrounded by furious enemies, against whom it was in vain for his single arm to contend, fixed his lance in the bottom of the canal, and leaning against it, gave one spring to the opposite shore.
An Aztec author, and contemporary of Cortes, says that when the Indians beheld this marvellous leap, and that their enemy was safe, they bit the dust (comieron tierra); and that the children of Alvarado, who was ever after known as "Alvarado of the leap," proved in the course of a lawsuit before the judges of Tezcuco, by competent witnesses, the truth of this prowess of their father.
In a hitherto unpublished manuscript which has come to light this year, in an annual called the "Mosaico Mexicano," there are some curious particulars concerning the "noche triste." It is said that the alarm was given by an old woman who kept a stall; and mention is made of the extraordinary valour of a lady called Maria de Estrada, who performed marvellous deeds with her sword, and who was afterwards married to Don Pedro Sanchez Farfan. It is also said that when the Indians beheld the leap they called out, "Truly this man is the offspring of the sun;" and that this manner of tearing up the ground, and eating earth by handfuls, was a common Indian mode of expressing admiration. However, Mexico is so rich in traditions, that when I particularize this one it is only because we live on the site where the event took place. . . .
We went a few days ago to see some effects which are for sale, belonging to a cura who died lately, having heard that he has left some good paintings amongst them. We went in the evening, and found no one but the agent (an individual in the Daniel Lambert style), an old woman or two, and the Padre Leon, a Jesuit, capellan of the Capuchin nuns, and whose face, besides being handsome, looks the very personification of all that is good, and mild, and holy. What a fine study for a painter his head would be! The old priest who died, and who had brought over various valuables from Spain, had a sister who was a leper, and who died in the hospital of San Lazaro. This dreadful scourge is by no means wholly unknown here; and though it is ordained that all who are afflicted by it shall be shut up in this hospital, I have met two persons, and one of these in society, who have the disease.
For this house, which is very large, the executors ask a preposterous rent. The goods of the defunct, which were for sale, were ranged on long tables in a very large apartment. There were virgins and saints, surplices, candlesticks, and snuffer-trays; boxes of all sorts and sizes; an ill-set parure of emeralds and diamonds; several good paintings, especially one of the Annunciation. There was the death of San José, various saints, etc., all religious subjects, as may be supposed. Two C—n bought; one I greatly coveted. There were also two large pieces of embroidered velvet, on which were the arms of Castile, said to have been hung on a portrait of Queen Christina when she entered Madrid. The agent begged C—n to buy them, asking at the same time an impossible price therefor.
There was moreover a large box full of relics from Jerusalem, which the padre told me could not be sold, but that I might choose whatever I liked; so that I returned home with various Agnus Deis, crucifixes, and rosaries. The next day a messenger from Padre Leon brought me the painting of the Annunciation, which I had admired so much, and which is a sketch of Bayeu, a Valencian painter, from his own painting of the Annunciation in the royal chapel of Aranjuez; also the embroidered velvet, begging my acceptance of both. We have since wished to show our sense of the padre's politeness, but he will neither accept presents, nor will he visit any one but such as in the hour of need require his spiritual services. In the house of sickness and by the bed of death he is ever to be found, but chiefly if it is also the abode of poverty. In the house of the rich man he rarely visits, and then only when his presence has been requested–when he has been called in to administer spiritual consolation to the sick or the dying. But in the dwelling of the lowly, in the meanest and most wretched hovels, he has never to be sought. The guardian and friend of the poor, his charities are equally extensive and judicious. . . .
Yesterday being a fête-day, the Paséo was very full of carriages, and consequently more brilliant and amusing than usual. This Paséo is the Mexican Prado or Hyde Park, while the Viga may be reckoned the Kensington Gardens of the metropolis, only however as succeeding to the other, for there is no walking, which in Mexico is considered wholly unfashionable; and though a few ladies in black gowns and mantillas do occasionally venture forth on foot very early to shop or to attend mass, the streets are so ill kept, the pavements so narrow, the crowd so great, and the multitude of léperos in rags and blankets so annoying, that all these inconveniences, added to the heat of the sun in the middle of the day, form a perfect excuse for their non-appearance in the streets of Mexico.
In the Alameda, however, which is so pretty and shady, it is very agreeable to walk; but though I have gone there frequently in the morning, I have met but three ladies on foot, and of these two were foreigners. After all, every one has feet, but ladies alone have carriages, and it may be a mixture of aristocracy and indolence which prevents the Mexican Doñas from profaning the soles of their feet by a contact with their mother earth.
The Paséo called de Bucarelli, after a viceroy of that name, is a long and broad avenue bounded by the trees which he planted, and where there is a large stone foundation, whose sparkling waters look cool and pleasant, ornamented by a gilded statue of Victory. Here, every evening, but more especially on Sundays and fête-days, which last are nearly innumerable, may be seen two long rows of carriages filed with ladies, crowds of gentlemen on horseback riding down the middle between these carriages, soldiers at intervals attending to the preservation of public order, and multitudes of common people and léperos, mingled with some well-dressed gentlemen on foot. The carriages are for the most part extremely handsome–European coaches with fine horses and odd liveries, mingled with some well-dressed carriages made in the country, some in the old Mexican fashion, heavy and covered with gilding, or a modern imitation of an English carriage, strong, but somewhat clumsy and ill-finished. Various hackney-coaches, drawn by mules, are seen among the finer equipages, some very tolerable, and others of extraordinary form and dimensions, which bear tokens of having belonged in former days to some noble Don.
Horses, as being more showy, are more fashionable in these public promenades than mules; but the latter animal requires less care, and is capable of undergoing more fatigue than the horse. Most families have both mules and horses in their stable, and for those who visit much this is necessary. The carriages, of which the most fashionable seems to be the carratela, open at the sides, with glass windows, are filled with ladies in full toilet, without mantillas, their heads uncovered, and, generally, coiffées with flowers or jewels; but the generality being close coaches, afford but an indistinct view of the inmates, as they pass along saluting each other with their fingers or fan. The whole scene, on the evening of a fête, is exceedingly brilliant, but very monotonous. The equestrians, with their fine horses and handsome Mexican dresses, apparently take no notice of the ladies as they pass, rarely salute them, and never venture to enter into conversation with them. But they are well aware to whom each carriage belongs, and consequently when it behoves them to make their horses curvet, and otherwise show off their horsemanship to advantage. Black eyes are upon them, and they know it. When the carriages have made two or three turns, they draw up at different stations in a semicircle a little off the road, and there the inmates sit and view the passers by. Occasional streams of smoke may be seen issuing from the carriages, but chiefly, it must be confessed, from the most old-fashioned equipages, and from the hackney-coaches. Smoking amongst ladies in the higher classes is going very much out of fashion, and is rarely practised openly except by elderly, or at least by married ladies. In a secondary class, indeed, young and old inhale the smoke of their cigaritos without hesitation, but when a custom begins to be considered vulgar, it will hardly subsist another generation. Unfeminine as it is, I do not think it looks ungraceful to see a pretty woman smoke.
This Paséo commands a fine view of the mountains, but I greatly prefer the Viga, which now begins to be the fashionable promenade. It is bordered by a canal shaded by trees, which leads to the Chinampas, and is constantly covered with Indians in their canoes bringing in fruit and flowers and vegetables to the Mexican market. Early in the morning it is a pretty sight to see them in these canoes gliding along in a perfect bower of green branches and flowers.
Yesterday, on returning from an evening drive there, having left C—n and several gentlemen who had dined with us, taking coffee and smoking upon the balcony, I found that by good fortune I had escaped being witness of a murder which took place before our door. These gentlemen had observed, for some time, a group of persons, male and female, of the lower class, talking and apparently amusing themselves; sometimes laughing and at other times disputing and giving each other blows. Suddenly, one of the number, a man, darted out from amongst the others, and tried to escape by clambering over the low wall which supports the arches of the aqueduct. Instantly, and quite coolly, another man followed him, drew his knife, and stabbed him in the back. The man fell backwards and with a groan, upon which a woman of the party, probably the murderer's wife, drew out her knife, and stabbed the man several times to the heart, the others, meanwhile, neither speaking nor interfering, but looking on with folded arms, and their usual placid smile of indifference.
At the same time, some soldiers appeared in the distance, riding down the street; seeing which, the man and woman who had committed the murder, endeavoured to take shelter in our house. The porter had, fortunately, barred the doors, and the soldiers riding up, took them both into custody. No sensation was excited by this, which is an everyday occurrence. Yesterday I saw a dead man lying near the Longa (the Exchange) and nobody took any notice of him. "You have been engaged in a disagreeable business," said I to Colonel —, who had come to pay us a visit, and was still en grande tenue, having just returned from the execution of one of his own soldiers, who had stabbed a comrade. "Yes," said he, with an air of peculiar gaiety; "we have just been shooting a little tambour.". . . . We were invited, lately, to a "dia de campo" (a day in the country), a very common amusement here, in which, without any peculiar arrangement or etiquette, a number of people go out to some country place in the environs, and spend the day in dancing, breakfasting, walking about, etc. This was given at Tacubaya by Don B—o G—a, a senator, and was amusing enough. The music consisted of a band of guitars, from which the performers, common men, and probably self-taught, contrived to draw wonderfully good music, and, in the intervals of dancing, played airs from the Straniera and Puritani. The taste of music is certainly universal, the facilities wonderful, the science nearly at zero.
The ladies in general wore neither diamonds nor pearls, but a sort of demi-toilet, which would have been pretty if their dresses had been longer and their shoes not so tight. Some wore bonnets, which are considered full dress. The E— family, and the young Señora de C—, were beautifully dressed. Mexican women, when they sit, have an air of great dignity, and the most perfect repose of feature. They are always to be seen to most advantage on their sofas, in their carriages, or in their boxes at the theatre.
There were immensely long tables, covered with Mexican cookery, which I begin to get accustomed to; and a great many toasts were given and a great quantity of champagne drank. We danced a great deal, quadrilles, waltzes and Spanish country-dances, walked about in the garden and orchard in the evening, and returned to dance again to the music of indefatigable guitars, so that it was dusk when all the carriages set off, much about the same time, to bear each other company. . . .
The following day, the Countess C—a having been kind enough to procure an order for permission to visit the Colegio Vizcaino, which I was anxious to see, we went there with a large party. The college, founded by the gratuitous charities of Spaniards, chiefly from the province of Biscay, is a truly splendid institution. It is an immense building of stone, in the form of a square, on the model, they say, of the palace of Madrid, and possesses in the highest degree that air of solidity and magnificence which distinguishes the Mexican edifices, and which, together with the width and regularity of the streets, the vastness of the public squares, the total absence of all paltry ornament, the balconies with their balustrades and window-gratings of solid iron and bronze, render Mexico, in spite of its insufficient police, one of the noblest-looking cities in the world. The object of this college is to provide for the education of the children of Spaniards, especially for the descendants of Biscayans, in Mexico; a certain number being admitted upon application to the directors. There are female teachers in all the necessary branches, such as reading, writing, sewing, arithmetic, etc.; but besides this, there is a part of the building with a separate entrance, where the children of the poor, of whatever country, are educated gratis. These spend the day there, and go home in the evening. The others are kept upon the plan of a convent, and never leave the institution while they belong to it; but the building is so spacious and airy, with its great galleries, and vast court and fine fountains, garden and spacious azotea, that the children are perfectly well off. There are portières and sisters, pretty much as in a convent; together with an old respectable Rectora; and the most perfect order and cleanliness prevails through the whole establishment.
We first visited the poor scholars, passing through the large halls where they sat with their teachers, divided into classes, sewing, writing, reading, embroidering, or casting up accounts, which last accomplishment must, I think, be sorely against the Mexican genius. One of the teachers made a little girl present me with a hair chain which she had just completed. Great order and decorum prevailed. Amongst the permanent scholars in the upper part of the institution, there are some who embroider astonishingly well–surplices, altar-hangings, in short, all the church vestments in gold or silk. In the room where these are kept are the confessionals for the pupils. The priests are in a separate room, and the penitents kneel before the grating which separates the two apartments. All the sleeping-rooms are scrupulously neat and clean, with two green painted beds in each, and a small parlour off it, and frequently ornamented with flowers and birds. The girls are taught to cook and iron, and make themselves generally useful, thus being fitted to become excellent wives to respectable men in their own rank of life.
We visited the chapel, which is extremely rich and handsome, incrusted with gilding, and very large. The pupils and their teachers attend mass in the gallery above, which looks down upon the chapel and has a grating before it. Here they have the organ, and various shrines, saints, nacimientos, etc. We were afterwards shown into a great hall devoted to a different purpose, containing at one end a small theatre for the pupils to act plays in. All the walls of the long galleries are covered with old paintings on holy subjects, but many of them falling to pieces from damp or want of care. The building seems interminable, and after wandering all through it for several hours, and visiting everything–from the garden below where they gave me a large bunch of roses and carnations, to the azotea above, which looks down upon every street and church and convent in Mexico–we were not sorry to rest on the antique, high-backed chairs of a handsome apartment, of which the walls were hung with the portraits of the different Spanish directors of the college in an ancient court costume. Here we found that the directors had prepared a beautiful collation for us–fruit, ices, cakes, custards, jellies, wines, etc., in great profusion.
Rested and refreshed, we proceeded to visit the pupils at their different classes. At the writing-class various specimens of that polite art were presented to us. That of the elder girls was generally bad, probably from their having entered the college late in life. That of the younger ones was much more tolerable. We saw some really beautiful specimens of embroidery. Having returned to the hall where there was a piano, some of our party began to sing and play. The Señora G—o sang an Italian air beautifully. She is evidently a scientific musician. The Señorita H—s played one of Herz's most difficult combinations with great execution, and a pretty girl, who is living in a convent, having been placed there by her novio, to keep her out of harm's way till he is prepared to give her his hand, sang a duet with another young lady, which I accompanied. Both had fine voices, but no notion of what they were singing. My friend the Señora C— delighted us with some of the innumerable and amusing verses of the Jota Arragonesa, which seem to have neither end nor beginning, all gay and all untranslatable, or at least losing their point and wit when put into an English dress. Such as
A poor man met with a sixpence,It is impossible to see any building of this size kept more perfectly clean and neat; generally the case here in all establishments which are under petticoat government. These old Spanish institutions are certainly on a magnificent scale, though now for the most part neglected and falling to ruin; nor has any work of great consequence been attempted since the independence. . . .
And for joy he gave up the ghost,
And in the troubles of death,
Even his sixpence was lost.
The woman who loves two at once,
Knows what is discreet and right,
Since if one of her candles goes out,
Still the other remains alight, etc. . . .
After various alarms and rumours in our house concerning robbers, some true, some exaggerated, and some wholly false, we have at length procured two old Spanish soldiers of the Invalidos, who have taken up their quarters downstairs, and spend their time in cleaning their guns, making shoes, eating and sleeping, but as yet have had no occasion to prove their valour. Perhaps the fact of there being soldiers in the house will be sufficient to keep off the more ordinary robbers.
The Viga during the Carnival–Variety of Equipages–The Millionaires–The Monks–Masked Ball–An Alarming Sight–Medical Students–Dinner at the Prussian Minister's–Rides on Horseback–Indian Love of Flowers–Santa Anita–The Chinampas–Their Origin–Indians in Canoes–Song of "El Palomo"–Fighting–The Great Lakes–The Drain of Huehuetoca–The Great Market of Tlatelolco.
We are now in Lent in the midst of prayer, church-going, and fasting. The carnival was not very gay, with the exception of a few public masked balls and very brilliant paséos. The Viga is one of the most beautiful promenades imaginable, though it might easily be rendered still more so; but even as it is, with its fine shady trees and canal, along which the lazy canoes are constantly gliding, it would be difficult, on a fine evening, just before sunset, especially on the evening of a fête-day, to find anywhere a prettier or more characteristic scene. Which rank of society shows the most taste in their mode of enjoyment, must be left to the scientific to determine; the Indians, with their flower-garlands and guitars, lying in their canoes, and dancing and singing after their own fashion as they glide along the water, inhaling the balmy breezes; or the ladies, who shut up in their close carriages, promenade along in full dress and silence for a given space of time, acknowledging by a gentle movement of their fan, the salutations of their fair friends from the recesses of their coaches, and seeming to dread lest the air of heaven should visit them too roughly; though the soft breeze, laden with balm, steals over the sleepy water, and the last rays of the sun are gilding the branches of the trees with a broken and flickering light. . . .
Then at certain intervals of time each carriage slowly draws up beside its neighbour (as in the other paséo); the splendid equipage of the millionaire beside the lumbering and antique vehicle whose fashion hath how departed. There sit the inmates in silence, as if the business of life were over, and it was now their part to watch the busy world from the loopholes of their retreat, and see it rolling along whilst they take their rest. The gentlemen also draw up their prancing steeds, though not within hail of the carriages, but they in the fresh air and under the green trees have as much advantage over the Señoras as the wandering friar has over the cloistered nun.
Yet enter the Viga about five o'clock, when freshly watered, and the soldiers have taken their stand to prevent disturbance, and two long lines of carriages are to be seen going and returning as far as the eye can reach, and hundreds of gay plebeians are assembled on the sidewalks with flowers and fruit and dulces for sale, and innumerable equestrians in picturesque dresses, and with spirited horses, fill up the interval between the carriages, and the canoes are covering the canal, the Indians singing and dancing lazily as the boats steal along, and the whole under a blue and cloudless sky, and in that pure clear atmosphere: and could you only shut your eyes to the one disagreeable feature in the picture, the number of lepéros busy in the exercise of their vocation, you would believe that Mexico must be the most flourishing, most enjoyable, and most peaceful place in the world, and moreover the wealthiest; not a republic, certainly, for there is no well-dressed people; hardly a connecting link between the blankets and the satins, the poppies and the diamonds. As for the carriages, many would not disgrace Hyde Park, though there are some that would send a shiver all along Bond-street; but the very contrast is amusing, and upon the whole, both as to horses and equipages, there is much more to admire than to criticise. . . .
There, for example, is the handsome carriage of the rich — —, who has one of the finest houses in Mexico; his wife wears a velvet turban twisted with large pearls, and has at this moment a cigar in her mouth. She is not pretty, but her jewels are superb. How he made his fortune, partly by gambling, and partly by even less honourable means, let some other chronicler relate. Or look at this elegant carratela, with its glass sides all open, giving to view a constellation of fair ones, and drawn by handsome gray frisones. These ladies are remarkable as having a more European air than most others, brighter colours, longer and simpler dresses, and Paris bonnets. Perhaps they have been in Europe. It is remarkable that the horses of the gentlemen all appear peculiarly unmanageable every time they pass this carriage. Another handsome, plain carriage, containing the family of one of the ministers; mother and daughters all beautiful, with Spanish eyes and dark glowing complexions, followed close by a hackney-coach containing women with rebosos, and little children, with their faces and fingers all dedaubed with candy . . . . Some of the coachmen and footmen wear Mexican dresses, and others have liveries . . . . But here come three carriages en suite, all with the same crimson and gold livery, all luxurious, and all drawn by handsome white horses. It is the President? Certainly not; it is too ostentatious. Even royalty goes in simpler guise, when it condescends to mingle in the amusements of its subjects. In the first carriage appear the great man himself and his consort, rather withdrawing from the plebeian gaze. There is here much crimson and gold, much glass and well-stuffed cushions, much comfort and magnificence combined. Two handsome northern steeds, white and prancing, draw this commodious equipage. The next is a splendid coach containing the children and servants, while in the third, equally magnificent, are the babies and nurses. By the side of the first carriage rides an elderly gentleman, who, were his seat firmer, might be mistaken for a picador. He wears a rich Mexican dress, all covered with gold embroidery; his hat with gold rolls is stuck jauntily on one side, contrasting oddly enough with his uneasy expression of countenance, probably caused by the inward trepidation of which he cannot wholly repress the outward sign while managing his highbred steed, and with his feet pressing his silver stirrups, cautiously touching him with a whip which has a large diamond in the handle.
But the chief wonder of his equipment, and that which has procured him such a retinue of little ragged and shouting boys, is his saddle. This extraordinary piece of furniture, which cost the owner five thousand dollars, is entirely covered with velvet, richly embossed in massive gold; he sometimes appears with another, inlaid with pure silver.
His whole appearance is the most singular imaginable, and the perturbation of spirit in which he must return when it begins to grow dusk, and he reflects at once upon his own value, and his countrymen's taste for appropriation, must balance the enjoyment which his vanity receives from the admiration of the little boys in the Paseo.
Just as these millionaires pas by, an old hackney-coach in their wake, attracts our attention, exactly the sort of quaint old vehicle in which it sometimes pleases Lady Morgan to introduce her heroines. In it are six figures, closely masked, their faces covered with shawls. After many conjectures, it is impossible to guess whether they are men or women. It was impossible, but as the carriages return, the wind suddenly blows aside the shawls of two of the party, and discloses the gowns and hoods of the–friars! O tempora! O Mores!
There were three masked balls at the theatre, of which we only attended one. We went about ten o'clock to a box on the pit tier, and although a pronunciamento (a fashionable term here for a revolution) was prognosticated, we found everything very quiet and orderly, and the ball very gay and crowded. As we came in, and were giving our tickets, a number of masks came springing by, shrieking out our names in their unearthly voices. Captain G—, brother of Lord —, came to our box; also a scion of La jeune France, M. de C—, who condescendingly kept his hat on during the whole evening. In a box directly above us were the French legation who arrived lately. Amongst the women, the dresses were for the most part dominoes, adopted for greater concealment, as it was not considered very creditable to be there.
There were also several in men's attire, chiefly French modistes, generally a most disreputable set here, and numerous men dressed as women. There were masked Poblanas without stockings, and with very short petticoats; knights in armour; innumerable dresses probably borrowed from the theatre, and even more than the usual proportion of odd figures. The music was very good, and the dancers waltzed and galloped, and flew round the room like furies. There was at least no want of animation. Hundreds of masks spoke to us, but I discovered no one. One in a domino was particularly anxious to direct my attention to the Poblana dress, and asked me if it would have done for me to attend a fancy ball in such a costume. Very angry at his absurdity, I began to explain how I should have dressed, when I recollected the folly of explaining anything to a creature whom I did not know. C—n stepped out of the box, to walk amongst the crowd, at which various masks showed great signs of joy, surrounding and shaking hands with him.
The boxes were filled with ladies, and the scene was very amusing. Señor M—, whose box we occupied, ordered in cakes and wine, and about one o'clock we left the ball-room and returned home, one of our soldiers acting as lackey. . . .
I paid a visit the other day, which merits to be recorded. It was to the rich Señora —, whose first visit I had not yet returned. She was at home, and I was shown into a very large drawing-room, where, to my surprise, I found the lamps, mirrors, etc., covered with black crape, as in cases of mourning here. I concluded that some one of the family was dead, and that I had made a very ill-timed first visit. However I sat down, when my eyes were instantly attracted by something awful, placed directly in front of the sofa where I sat. There were six chairs raged together, and on these lay stretched out a figure, apparently a dead body, about six feet long, enveloped in black cloth, the feet alone visible, from their pushing up the cloth. Oh, horror! Here I sat, my eyes fixed upon this mysterious apparition, and lost in conjecture as to whose body it might be. The master of the house? He was very tall, and being in bad health might have died suddenly. My being received, argued nothing against this, since the first nine days after a death, the house is invariably crowded with friends and acquaintances, and the widow or orphan, or childless mother must receive the condolences of all and sundry, in the midst of her first bitter sorrow. There seems to be no idea of grief wishing for solitude.
Pending these reflections, I sat uneasily, feeling or fancying a heavy air in the apartment, and wishing, most sincerely, that some living person would enter. I thought even of slipping away, but feared to give offence, and in fact began to grow so nervous, that when the Señora de — entered at length, I started up as if I had heard a pistol. She wore a coloured muslin gown and a blue shawl; no signs of mourning!
After the complimentary preface, I asked particularly after her husband, keeping a side glance on the mysterious figure. He was pretty well. Her family? Just recovered from the smallpox, after being severely ill. "Not dangerously?" said I, hesitatingly, thinking she might have a tall son, and that she alluded to the recovery of the others. "No;" but her sister's children had been alarmingly ill. "Not lost any, I hope?"–"None." Well, so taken up was I, that conversation flagged, and I answered and asked questions at random, until, at last, I happened to ask the lady if she were going to the country soon. "Not to remain. But to-morrow we are going to convey a Santo Cristo (a figure of the Crucifixion) there, which has just been made for the chapel;" glancing towards the figure; "for which reason this room is, as you see, hung with black." I never felt so relieved in my life, and thought of the Mysteries of Udolpho.
The houses being so large, and the servants not drilled to announce visitors; besides that the entresols are frequently let to other families, it is a matter of no small difficulty for a stranger to pioneer him or herself into the presence of the people of the house. The mistakes that I have made! for not being aware of this fact concerning the entresols, which are often large and handsome, and the porter having begged me to walk up, I generally stopped at the first landing-place, and then walked up to the first door that I saw. I did walk in one morning upon two gentlemen who seemed marvellously startled by my visit. They looked like two medical students. And were engaged before a table, Heaven knows how; dissecting, I imagine. I inquired for the Señora —, which astonished them still more, as well it might. However, they were very civil, and rushed downstairs to call up the carriage. After that adventure I never entered a house unaccompanied by a footman, until I had learnt my way through it.
We had a pleasant dinner-party a few days ago at the Prussian Minister's, and met the C—s family there. The Condesa de C— has been a long while in Europe, and in the best society, and is now entirely devoted to the education of her daughters, giving them every advantage that Mexico can afford in the way of masters, besides having at home a Spanish governess to assist her, an excellent woman, whom they regard as a second mother.
Though there is very little going on in Mexico at present, I amuse myself very well; there is so much to see, and the people are so kind and friendly. Having got riding-horses we have been making excursions all round the country, especially early in the morning, before the sun is high, when the air is delightfully cool and refreshing. Sometimes we go to the Viga at six in the morning, to see the Indians bringing in their flowers and vegetables by the canal. The profusion of sweet-peas, double poppies, bluebottles, stock gillyflower, and roses, I never saw equalled. Each Indian woman in her canoe looks as if seated in a floating flower-garden. The same love of flowers distinguishes them now as in the time of Cortes; the same which Humboldt remarked centuries afterwards. In the evening these Indian women, in their canoes, are constantly crowned with garlands of roses or poppies. Those who sit in the market, selling their fruit or their vegetables, appear as if they sat in bowers formed of fresh green branches and coloured flowers. In the poorest village church the floor is strewed with flowers, and before the service begins fresh nosegays are brought in and arranged upon the altar. The baby at its christening, the bride at the altar, the dead body in its bier, are all adorned with flowers. We are told that in the days of Cortes a bouquet of rare flowers was the most valuable gift presented to the ambassadors who visited the court of Montezuma, and it presents a strange anomaly, this love of flowers having existed along with their sanguinary worship and barbarous sacrifices.
We went the other evening on the canal, in a large canoe with an awning, as far as the little village of Santa Anita, and saw, for the first time, the far-famed Chinampas, or floating gardens, which have now become fixtures, and are covered with vegetables, intermingled with flowers, with a few poor huts beside them, occupied by the Indians, who bring these to the city for sale. There were cauliflowers, chili, tomatoes, cabbages, and other vegetables, but I was certainly disappointed in their beauty. They are however curious, on account of their origin. So far back as 1245, it is said the wandering Aztecs or Mexicans arrived first at Chapultepec, when, being persecuted by the princes of Taltocan, they took refuge in a group of islands to the south of the lake of Tezcuco. Falling under the yoke of the Tezcucan kings, they abandoned their island home and fled to Tezapan, where, as a reward for assisting the chiefs of that country in a war against other petty princes, they received their freedom, and established themselves in a city to which they gave the name of Mexicalsingo, from Mejitli, their god of war–now a collection of strong barns and poor huts. But they did not settle there, for to obey an oracle they transported themselves from this city to the islands east of Chapultepec to the western side of the lake of Tezcuco. An ancient tradition had long been current amongst them, that where they should behold an eagle seated upon a nopal whose roots pierced a rock, there they should found a great city. In 1325 they beheld this sign, and on the spot, in an island in the lake, founded the first house of God–the Teocalli, or Great Temple of Mexico. During all their wanderings, wherever they stopped, the Aztecs cultivated the earth, and lived upon what nature gave them. Surrounded by enemies and in the midst of a lake where there are few fish, necessity and industry compelled them to form floating fields and gardens on the bosom of the waters.
They weaved together the roots of aquatic plants, intertwined with twigs and light branches until they had formed a foundation sufficiently strong to support a soil formed of the earth which they drew from the bottom of the lake; and on it they sowed their maize, their chili, and all other plants necessary for their support. These floating gardens were about a foot above the water, and in the form of a long square. Afterwards, in their natural taste for flowers, they not only cultivated the useful but the ornamental, and these small gardens multiplying were covered with flowers and aromatic herbs, which were used in the worship of the gods, or were sent to ornament the palace of the emperor. The Chinampas along the canal of the Viga are no longer floating gardens, but fixed to the mainland in the marshy grounds lying between the two great lakes of Chalco and Tezcuco. A small trench full of water separates each garden; and though now in this marshy land they give but a faint idea of what they may have been when they raised their flower-crowned heads above the clear waters of the lake, and when the Indians, in their barks, wishing to remove their habitations, could tow along their little islands of roses, it is still a pretty and a pleasant scene.
We bought numerous garlands of roses and poppies from the Indian children, both here and at Santa Anita, a little village where we landed, and as we returned towards evening we were amused by the singing and dancing of the Indians. One canoe came close up to ours, and kept beside it for some time. A man was lying lazily at the bottom of the boat tingling his guitar, and one or two women were dancing monotonously and singing at the same time to his music. Sundry jars of pulque and earthen dishes with tortillas and chili and pieces of tasajo, long festoons of dried and salted beef, proved that the party were not without their solid comforts, in spite of the romantic guitar and the rose and poppy garlands with which the dancing nymphs were crowned. Amongst others they performed the Palomo, the Dove, one of their most favourite dances. The music is pretty, and I send it to you with the words, the music from ear; the words are given me by my friend the Señora A—d, who sings all these little Indian airs in perfection. If we may form some judgment of a people's civilization by their ballads, none of the Mexican songs give us a very high idea of theirs. The words are generally a tissue of absurdities, nor are there any patriotic songs which their new-born freedom might have called forth from so musical a people. At least I have as yet only discovered one air of which the words bear reference to the glorious "Grito de Dolores," and which asserts in rhyme that on account of that memorable event, the Indian was able to get as drunk as a Christian! The translation of the Palomo is as follows:
"What are you doing, little dove, there in the wineshop? Waiting for my love until Tuesday, my life. A dove in flying hurt her little wing. If you have your dove I have my little dove too. A dove in flying all her feathers fell off. Women pay badly; not all, but some of them. Little dove of the barracks, you will tell the drummers when they beat the retreat to strike up the march of my loves. Little dove, what are you doing there leaning against that wall? Waiting for my dove till he brings me something to eat." At the end of each verse the chorus of "Palomita, palomo, palomo."
Yet, monotonous as it is, the air is so pretty, the women sang so softly and sleepily, the music sounded so soothingly as we glided along the water, that I felt in a pleasant half-dreamy state of perfect contentment, and was sorry when, arriving at the landing-place, we had to return to a carriage and civilized life, with nothing but the garlands of flowers to remind us of the Chinampas.
Unfortunately these people generally end by too frequent applications to the jarro of pulque, or what is worse to the pure spirit known by the name of chinguirite; the consequence of which is, that from music and dancing and rose-becrowning, they proceed to quarrelling and jealousy and drunkeness, which frequently terminates in their fighting, stabbing each other, or throwing each other into the canal. "The end crowns the work."
Noble as this present city of Mexico is, one cannot help thinking how much more picturesque the ancient Tenochtitlan was, and how much more fertile its valley must have been, on account of the great lakes. Yet even in the time of Cortes these lakes had no great depth of water, and still further back, in the time of the Indian Emperors, navigation had been so frequently interrupted in seasons of drought, that an aqueduct had been constructed in order to supply the canals with water.
After this, the Spaniards, like all new settlers, hewed down the fine trees in this beautiful valley, both on plain and mountain, leaving the bare soil exposed to the vertical rays of the sun. Then their well-founded dread of inundation caused them to construct the famous Desagüe of Huehuetoca, the drain or subterranean conduit or channel in the mountain for drawing off the waters of the lakes; thus leaving marshy lands or sterile plains covered with carbonate of soda, where formerly were silver lakes covered with canoes. This last was a necessary evil, since the Indian emperors themselves were sensible of its necessity and had formed great works for draining the lakes, some remains of which works still exist in the vicinity of the Penon. The great Desagüe was begun in 1607, when the Marquis of Salinas was viceroy of Mexico; and the operations were commenced with great pomp, the viceroy assisting in person, mass being said on a portable altar, and fifteen hundred workmen assembled, while the marquis himself began the excavation by giving the first stroke with a spade. From 1607 to 1830, eight millions of dollars were expended, and yet this great work not brought to a conclusion. However, the limits of the two lakes of Zumpango and San Cristobal, to the north of the valley, were thus greatly reduced, and the lake of Tezcuco, the most beautiful of all the five, no longer received their contributions. Thus the danger of inundations has diminished also, and the suburbs of the city, which were formerly covered with beautiful gardens, now present to the eye an arid expanse of efflorescent salt. The plains near San Lazaro especially, in their arid whiteness, seem characteristic of the unfortunate victims of leprosy enclosed in the walls of that hospital.
We rode out the other day by the barrio, or ward of Santiago, which occupies part of the ancient Tlatelolco, which once constituted a separate state, had kings of its own, and was conquered by a Mexican monarch, who made a communication by bridges between it and Mexico. The great market mentioned by Cortes was held here, and its boundaries are still pointed out, whilst the convent chapel stands on the height where Cortes erected a battering engine, when he was besieging the Indian Venice.
Convent of San Joaquin–Mexico in the Morning–Tacuba–Carmelite Prior–Convent Garden–Hacienda of Los Morales–El Olivar–A Huacamaya–Humming-birds–Correspondence–Expected Consecration–Visit to the Mineria–Botanic Garden–Arbol de las Manitas–The Museum–Equestrian Statue–Academy of Painting and Sculpture–Disappointment.
Early this morning we rode to the convent of San Joaquin, belonging to friars of the Carmelite order, passing though Tacuba, the ancient Tlacopan, once the capital of a small kingdom, and whose monarch, Tetlepanquetzaltzin (short and convenient name), Cortes caused to be hung on a tree for a supposed or real conspiracy. The number of carts, the innumerable Indians loaded like beasts of burden, their women with baskets of vegetables in their hands and children on their backs, the long stings of arrièros with their loaded mules, the droves of cattle, the flocks of sheep, the herds of pigs, render it a work of some difficulty to make one's way on horseback out of the gates of Mexico at an early hour of the morning, but it must be confessed, that the whole scene is lively and cheerful enough to make one forget that there is such a thing as care in the world. There is an indifferent, placid smile on every face, and the bright blue sky smiling over them all; dogs bark, and asses bray, and the Indian, with near a mule's load on his back, drags his hat off to salute a bevy of his bronze-coloured countrymen, nearly equally laden with himself, and they all show their teeth and talk their liquid Indian and pass on.
These plains of Tacuba, once the theatre of fierce and bloody conflicts, and where, during the siege of Mexico, Alvarado of the Leap fixed his camp, now present a very tranquil scene. Tacuba itself is now a small village of mud huts, with some fine old trees, a few very old ruined houses, a ruined church, and some traces of a building which — assured us had been the palace of their last monarch; whilst others declare it to have been the site of the Spanish encampment.
San Joaquin, also a poor village, contains the fine convent and immense walled garden and orchard belonging to the rich monks of the Carmelite order. As C—n knows the prior, he sent in our names, and I was admitted as far as the sacristy of the convent church. The prior received us with the utmost kindness: he is a good-looking man, extremely amiable and well-informed, and still young. The gentlemen were admitted into the interior of the convent which they describe as being a very large handsome building, clean and airy, with a fine old library, chiefly composed of theological works; to the garden, which is immensely large, and though not much cultivated, full of flowers; and to the great orchard, celebrated for the profusion and excellence of its fruit. There is a mirador in the garden which can be seen from the road, and from which there is a very extensive view. I was very anxious for admission only to the garden, and pleaded the manly appearance of my riding-hat, which would prevent all scandal were I seen from a distance; but the complaisance of the good prior would not go quite so far as that, so I sat in the sacristy and conversed with a good-natured old monk with a double chin, whilst the others wandered through the grounds. They afterwards gave us a very nice breakfast, simple but good; fish from the lake, different preparations of eggs, riz-ou-lait, coffee, and fruit. The monks did not sit down with us, nor would they partake of anything themselves.
We went in the evening to see a pretty hacienda called Los Morales (the mulberry-tree) belonging to a Spaniard, which has a nice garden with a bath in it, and where they bestowed a quantity of beautiful flowers on us.
The other day we set off early, together with the Belgian and French ministers and their families, in carriages, to visit a beautiful deserted hacienda, called el Olivar, belonging to the Marquis of Santiago. The house is perfectly bare, with nothing but the walls; but the grounds are a wilderness of tangled flowers and blossoming trees, rose-bushes, sweet-peas, and all manner of fragrant flowers. We passed an agreeable day, wandering about, breakfasting on the provisions brought with us, arranging large bouquets of flowers, and firing at a mark, which must have startled the birds in this solitary and uncultivated retreat. We had a pleasant family dinner at the E—'s, and passed the evening at the Baron de —'s. The gentlemen returned late, it being the day of a diplomatic dinner at the English minister's.
The Countess del V—e has just sent me a beautiful bird with the most gorgeous plumage of the brightest scarlet and blue. It is called a huacamaya, and is of the parrot species, but three times as large, being about two feet from the beak to the tip of the tail. It is a superb creature but very wicked, gnawing not only its own pole, but all the doors, and committing great havoc amongst the plants, besides trying to bite every one who approaches it. It pronounces a few words very hoarsely and indistinctly, and has a most harsh, disagreeable cry. In fact it presumes upon its beauty to be as unamiable as possible.
I prefer some beautiful little humming-birds (chupamirtos as they are called here) which have been sent me, and which I am trying to preserve alive, but I fear the cold will kill them, for though we see them occasionally here, hanging by their beaks upon the branches of the flowers, like large butterflies, and shaking their brilliant little wings so rapidly that they seem to emit sparkles of coloured light; still this is not their home; properly speaking, they belong to the tierra caliente. These little birds are of a golden green and purple, and are so tame, that whilst I am writing I have two on my shoulder and one perched on the edge of a glass, diving out its long tongue for sugar and water. Our live stock is considerable: we have Guinea fowls, who always remind me of old maiden ladies in half-mourning, and whose screaming notes match those of the huacamaya; various little green parrots; a scarlet cardinal, one hundred and sixty pigeons in the pigeon-house, and three fierce dogs in conspicuous situations.
I received a very polite letter to-day from the Señora de Santa Anna, and as it was enclosed in a few lines from Santa Anna himself, I send you his autograph, for I doubt much whether we have seen the last of that illustrious personage, or whether his philosophic retirement will endure for ever.
I have been endeavouring lately to procure permission from Señor Posada, who is shortly to be consecrated archbishop, to visit the convents of nuns in Mexico. Señor C—o, secretary of state, our particular friend, has been kind enough to interest himself in the matter, though with indifferent hopes of success. A few days ago he sent me his correspondence with Señor Posada, who observes that the vice-queens alone had the privilege of the entrée, and seems to hesitate a good deal as to the advisableness of granting a permission which might be considered a precedent for others. However, I think he is too amiable to resist our united entreaties. I hold out as an argument, that C—n, being the duplicado of the queen herself, my visit is equal to that of the vice-queen, which argument has at least amused him. His consecration is fixed for the 31st of May.
Don Pedro Fonti, the last archbishop named in the time of the Spanish dominion, having renounced the mitre, three illustrious churchmen were proposed to fill the vacant place: this Don Manuel Posada, Don Antonio Campos, and Dr. Don José Maria de Santiago. The first was chosen by the Mexican government, and was afterwards proclaimed in the Roman Consistory last December, with the approbation of Gregory XVI. They are now only waiting for the pontifical bulls, which are daily expected from Rome; and it is said that the ceremony, which will take place in the cathedral, will be very magnificent.
April 3rd.–Accompanied by the — minister, we spent yesterday in visiting the Mineria, the Botanic Garden, the Museum, etc., all which leave a certain disagreeable impression on the mind, since, without having the dignity of ruins, they are fine buildings neglected. The Mineria, or School of Mines, the work of the famous architect and sculptor Tolsa, is a magnificent building, a palace whose fine proportions would render it remarkable amongst the finest edifices of any European country. All is on a great scale, its noble rows of pillars, great staircases, large apartments and lofty roofs, but it reminds one of a golden aviary, containing a few common sparrows. Several rich Spaniards contributed more than six hundred thousand dollars to its construction. We were shown through the whole of this admirable building by the director, who occupies a very handsome house attached to it. But however learned the professors may be,–and amongst them is the scientific Señor del Rio, now very old, but a man of great learning and research,–the collection of minerals, the instruments and models, are all miserable and ill kept.
The Botanical Garden, within the palace, is a small ill-kept enclosure, where there still remain some rare plants of the immense collection made in the time of the Spanish government, when great progress was made in all the natural sciences, four hundred thousand dollars having been expended in botanical expeditions alone. Courses of botanical lectures were then given annually by the most learned professors, and the taste for natural history was universal.
El Arbol de las Manitas (the tree of the small hands) was the most curious which we saw in the garden. The flower is of a bright scarlet, in the form of a hand, with five fingers and a thumb; and it is said that there are only three of these trees in the republic. The gardener is an old Italian, who came over with one of the viceroys, and though now one hundred and ten years old, and nearly bent double, possesses all his faculties. The garden is pretty from the age of the trees, and luxuriance of the flowers, but melancholy as a proof of the decay of the science in Mexico. The palace itself, now occupied by the president, formerly belonged to Cortes, and was ceded by his descendants to the government. In exchange they received the ground formerly occupied by the palace of the Aztec kings, and built on it a very splendid edifice, where the state archives are kept, and where the Monte Pio (the office where money is lent on plate, jewels, etc.) now is, the director of which is Don Francisco Tagle, whose apartments within the building are very elegant and spacious.
The Museum within the University, and opposite the palace, in the plaza called del Volador, contains many rare and valuable works, many curious Indian antiquities; but they are ill-arranged. On the walls are the portraits of the vice-kings, beginning with Hernan Cortes. We spent a long time here examining these antiquities; but we have seen nothing in Mexico to equal the beauty of the colossal equestrian statue in bronze of Charles IV, placed on a pedestal of Mexican marble, which stands in the court of the University, but formerly adorned the middle of the square. It is a magnificent picture of sculpture, the masterpiece of Tolosa, remarkable for the noble simplicity and purity of its style, and was made at the expense of an ex-viceroy, the Marquis of Branciforte. We also saw the goddess of war lying in a corner of the court, beside the stone of sacrifices, which we had already been shown.
To-day we have been visiting the Academy of painting and sculpture, called the Academy of Fine Arts, of which I unfortunately recollected having read Humboldt's brilliant account, in my forcibly prolonged studies on board the Jason, and that he mentions its having had the most favourable influence in forming the national taste. He tells us that every night, in these spacious halls, well illumined by Argand lamps, hundreds of young men were assembled, some sketching from the plaster-casts, or from life, and others copying designs of furniture, candelabras, and other bronze ornaments; and that here all classes, colours, and races, were mingled together; the Indian beside the white boy, and the son of the poorest mechanic beside that of the richest lord. Teaching was gratis, and not limited to landscape and figures, one of the principle objects being to propagate amongst the artists a general taste for elegance and beauty of form, and to enliven the national industry. Plaster-casts, to the amount of forty thousand dollars, were sent out by the King of Spain, and as they possess in the academy various colossal statues of basalt and porphyry, with Aztec hieroglyphics, it would have been curious, as the same learned traveller remarks, to have collected these monuments in the courtyard of the Academy, and compared the remains of Mexican sculpture, monuments of a semi-barbarous people, with the graceful creations of Greece and Rome.
Let no one visit the Academy with these recollections or anticipations in his mind. . . . That the simple and noble taste which distinguishes the Mexican buildings, their perfection in the cutting and working of their stones, the chaste ornaments of the capitals and relievoes, are owing to the progress they made in this very Academy, is no doubt the case. The remains of these beautiful but mutilated plaster-casts, the splendid engravings which still exist, would alone make it probable; but the present disorder, the abandoned state of the building, the nonexistence of these excellent classes of sculpture and painting, and, above all, the low state of the fine arts in Mexico, at the present day, are amongst the sad proofs, if any were wanting, of the melancholy effects produced by years of civil war and unsettled government. . . .
The Holy Week is now approaching, and already Indians are to be seen bringing in the palm-branches and the flowers for the altars, and they are beginning to erect booths and temporary shops, and to make every preparation for the concourse of people who will arrive next Sunday from all the different villages and ranchoes, far and near.
Palm Sunday–Holy Thursday–Variety of Costumes–San Francisco–Santo Domingo–Santa Teresa–Nuns–Stone Bust–The Academy–Religious Procession–Pilgrimage to the Churches–Santa Clara–Nun's Voice–Orange-trees and Rose-bushes–The Cathedral Illuminated–Our Saviour in Chains–Good Friday–The Great Square towards Evening–Dresses of Men, Women and Children–Approach of the Host–Judas–Great Procession–Miserere–The Square by Moonlight–A Lonely Walk–Sabado de Gloria–Ball in Contemplation–Weekly Soirées–Embroidered Muslins–A Tertulia at Home.
On the morning of Palm Sunday, I went to the Cathedral, accompanied by Mademoiselle de —, daughter of the — Minister. We found it no easy matter to make our way through the crowd; but at last, by dint of patience and perseverance, and changing our place very often, we contrived to arrive very near the great altar; and there we had just taken up our position, when a disinterested man gave us a friendly hint, that as the whole procession, with their branches, must inevitably squeeze past the spot where we were, we should probably be crushed or suffocated; consequently we followed him to a more convenient station; also close to the altar and defended by the railing, where we found ourselves tolerably well off. Two ladies, to whom he made the same proposition, and who rejected it, we afterwards observed in a sad condition, their mantillas nearly torn off and the palm-branches sweeping across their eyes.
In a short time, the whole cathedral presented the appearance of a forest of palm-trees (à la Birnam wood) moved by a gentle wind; and under each tree a half-naked Indian, his rags clinging together with wonderful pertinacity; long, matted, dirty black hair both in men and women, bronze faces with mild unspeaking eyes, or all with one expression of eagerness to see the approach of the priests. Many of them had probably travelled a long way, and the palms were from tierra caliente, dried and plaited into all manner of ingenious ways. Each palm was about seven feet high, so as far to overshadow the head of the Indian who carried it; and whenever they are blessed, they are carried home to adorn the walls of their huts. The priests arrived, at length, in great pomp; and also carrying palm-branches. For four mortal hours, we remained kneeling or sitting on the floor, and thankful we were when it was all over, and we could make our way once more into the fresh air.
From this day, during the whole week, all business is suspended, and but one train of thought occupies all classes, from the highest to the lowest. The peasants flock from every quarter, shops are shut, churches are opened; and the Divine Tragedy enacted in Syria eighteen hundred years ago, is now celebrated in land then undiscovered, and by the descendants of nations sunk in Paganism for centuries after that period.
But amongst the lower classes, the worship is emphatically the worship of Her who Herself predicted, "From henceforth all nations shall call me blessed." Before her shrines, and at all hours, thousands are kneeling. With faces expressive of the most intense love and devotion, and with words of the most passionate adoration, they address the mild image of the Mother of God. To the Son their feelings seem composed of respectful pity, of humble but more distant adoration; while to the Virgin they appear to give all their confidence, and to look up to her as to a kind and bountiful Queen, who, dressed in her magnificent robes and jewelled diadem, yet mourning in all the agony of her divine sorrows, has condescended to admit the poorest beggar to participate in her woe, whilst in her turn she shares in the afflictions of the lowly, feels for their privations, and grants them her all-powerful intercession.
On Holy Thursday nothing can be more picturesque than the whole appearance of Mexico. No carriages are permitted and the ladies, being on foot, take the opportunity of displaying all the riches of their toilet. On this day velvets and satins are your only wear. Diamonds and pearls walk the streets. The mantillas are white or black blonde; the shoes white or coloured satin. The petticoats are still rather short, but it would be hard to hide such small feet, and such still smaller shoes. "Il faut souffrir pour être belle," but à quoi bon être belle? if no one see it. As for me, I ventured upon a lilac silk of Palmyre's, and a black mantilla.
The whole city was filled with picturesque figures. After the higher Señoras were to be remarked the common women, chiefly in clear white, very stiffly starched muslins, some very richly embroidered, and the petticoat trimmed with lace, white satin shoes, and the dresses extremely short, which in them looks very well. A reboso is thrown over all. Amongst these were many handsome faces, but in a still lower and more Indian class, with their gay-coloured petticoats, the faces were sometimes beautiful, and the figures more upright and graceful; also they invariably walk well whilst many of the higher classes, from tight shoes and want of custom, seem to feel pain in putting their feet to the ground.
But none could vie with the handsome Poblana peasants in their holiday dresses, some so rich and magnificent, that, remembering the warning of our ministerial friends, I am inclined to believe them more showy than respectable. The pure Indians, with whom the churches and the whole city is crowded, are as ugly as can be imagined; a gentle, dirty, and much-enduring race. Still, with their babies at their backs, going along at their usual gentle trot, they add much to the general effect of the coup-d'oeil.
We walked to San Francisco about ten o'clock, and the body of the church being crowded, went upstairs to a private gallery with a gilded grating, belonging to the Countess de Santiago, and here we had the advantage of seats, besides a fine view of the whole. This church is very splendid, and the walls were hung with canvas paintings representing different passages of our Saviour's life; his entry into Jerusalem, the woman of Samaria at the well, etc., which, with the palm-trees had a cool and oriental effect.
Before the altar, which was dazzling with jewels, was a representation of the Lord's Supper, not in painting, but in sculptured figures as large as life, habited in the Jewish dresses. The bishops and priests were in a blaze of gold and jewels. They were assisted during the ceremony by the young Count of Santiago. The music was extremely good, and the whole effect impressive. We visited several churches in the course of the day, and continued walking until four o'clock, when we went to dine with our friends the A—s. After dinner one of their coachmen, a handsome Mexican, in a superb dress, all embroidered in gold, was called upstairs to dance the Jarabe to us with a country girl. The dance is monotonous, but they acquitted themselves to perfection.
We then continued our pilgrimage through the city, though, as the sun had not yet set, we reserved our chief admiration until the churches should be illuminated. One, however, we entered at sunset, which is worthy of remark–Santo Domingo. It looked like a little Paradise, or a story in the Arabian Nights. All the steps up the altar were covered with pots of beautiful flowers; orange-trees, loaded with fruit and blossom, and rose-bushes in full bloom, glasses of coloured water, and all kinds of fruit. Cages full of birds, singing delightfully, hung from the wall, and really fine paintings filled up the intervals. A gay carpet covered the floor, and in front of the altar, instead of the usual representation of the Saviour crucified, a little infant Jesus, beautifully done in wax, was lying amidst flowers with little angels surrounding him. Add to this, the music of Romeo and Juliet, and you may imagine that it was more like a scene in an opera, than anything in a church. But certainly, as the rays of the setting sun streamed in with a rosy light through the stained windows, throwing a glow over the whole; birds, and flowers, and fruit, paintings and angels, it was the prettiest and most fantastic scene I ever beheld, like something expressly got up for the benefit of children.
We did not kneel before each altar for more than three minutes, otherwise we should never have had time even to enter the innumerable churches which we visited in the course of the night. We next went to Santa Teresa la Nueva, a handsome church, belonging to a convent of strict nuns, which was now brilliantly illuminated; and here, as in all the churches, we made our way through the crowd with extreme difficulty. The number of léperos was astonishing, greatly exceeding that of well-dressed people. Before each altar was a figure, dreadful in the extreme, of the Saviour, as large as life, dressed in purple robe and crown of thorns, seated on the steps of the altar, the blood trickling from his wounds; each person, before leaving the church, devoutly kneeling to kiss his hands and feet. The nuns, amongst whom is a sister of Señor A—, sung behind the grating of the gallery above, but were not visible.
One of the churches we visited, that of Santa Teresa, called the Antigua, stand upon the site formerly occupied by the palace of the father of the unfortunate Montezuma. It was here that the Spaniards were quartered when they took Montezuma prisoner, and here Cortes found and appropriated the treasures of that family. In 1830 a bust of stone was found in the yard of the convent, which the workmen were digging up. Don Lucas Alaman, then Minister of Exterior Relations, offered a compensation to the nuns for the curious piece of antiquity which they gladly gave up to the government, on whose account he acted. It is said to be the idol goddess of the Indians, Centeotl, the goddess of medicine and medicinal herbs, also known by the name of Temaz calteci, or the "Grandmother of the Baths." A full account is given of her in one of the numbers of the "Mosaico Megicano," as also of a square stone found in the same place, beautifully carved, and covered with hieroglyphical characters.
In the evening, towards the hour when the great procession was expected, we went to the balconies of the Academia, which command a fine view of the streets by which it was to pass. Till it arrived we amused ourselves by looking over the beaux restes of former days, the collections of painting and sculpture, the fine plaster-casts that still remain, and the great volumes of fine engravings. It was dark when the procession made its appearance, which rendered the effect less gaudy and more striking. The Virgin, the Saints, the Holy Trinity, the Saviour in different passages of his life, imprisonment and crucifixion, were carried past in succession, represented by figures magnificently dressed, placed on lofty scaffoldings of immense weight, supported by different bodies of men. One is carried by the coachmen, another by the aguadores (water-carriers), a third by the cargadores (porters), a Herculean race.
First arrived the favourite protectress of all classes, the Virgin of Dolores, surmounted by a velvet canopy, seated on a glittering throne, attired in her sable robes, her brow surmounted by glittering rays, and contracted with an expression of agony; of all representations of the Virgin, the only one which is always lovely, however rudely carved, with that invariably beautiful face of terrible anguish. Then followed the Saviour bearing the cross; the Saviour crucified, the Virgin supporting the head of her dying son, the Trinity (the Holy Spirit represented by a dove); all the apostles, from St. Peter with the keys to Judas with the money-bag; and a long train of saints, all brilliantly illuminated and attended by an amazing crowd of priests, monks, and laymen. However childish and superstitious all this may seem, I doubt whether it be not as well thus to impress certain religious truths on the minds of a people too ignorant to understand them by any other process. By the time the last saint and angel had vanished, the hour was advanced, and we still had to visit the illuminated churches. Being recommended to divest ourselves of our ornaments before wandering forth amongst the crowd, a matter of some moment to the Señora A—, who wore all her diamonds, we left our earrings, brooches, etc., in charge of the person who keeps the Academia, and recommenced our pilgrimage.
Innumerable were the churches we visited that evening; the Cathedral, La Ensenanza, Jesus Maria, Santa Clara, Santa Brigida, San Hipolito, La Encarnacion, the five churches of San Francisco, etc., etc., a list without an end, kneeling for a short space of time before each blazing altar, for the more churches one visits, the more meritorious is the devotion. The cathedral was the first we entered, and its magnificence struck us with amazement. Its gold and silver and jewels, its innumerable ornaments and holy vessels, the rich dresses of the priests, all seemed burning in almost intolerable brightness. The high altar was the most magnificent; the second, with its pure white marble pillars, the most imposing.
The crowd was immense, but we made our way slowly through it to the foot of each altar, where the people were devoutly kissing the Saviour's hand or the hem of his garment; or beating their breasts before the mild image of Our Lady of Grief. Each church had vied with the other in putting forth all its splendour of jewellery, of lights, of dresses, and of music.
In the church of Santa Clara, attached to the convent of the same name, small but elegant, with its pillars of white marble and gold, one voice of angelic sweetness was singing behind the grating alone, and in the midst of a most deathlike stillness. It sounded like the notes of a nightingale in a cage. I could have listened for hours, but our time was limited, and we set off anew. Fortunately, the evening was delightful, and the moon shining brightly. We visited about twenty churches in succession. In all the organ was pealing, the blaze of light overpowering, the magnificence of jewels and crimson velvet and silver and gold dazzling, the crowd suffocating, the incense blinding.
The prettiest effect in every church was caused by the orange-trees and rose-bushes, which covered the steps of the altars, up to where the magnificence of the altar itself blazed out; and the most picturesque effect was produced by the different orders of monks in their gowns and hoods, either lying on their faces or standing ranged with torches like figures carved in stone.
In the passage leading to most of the churches was a table, at which several ladies of the highest rank sat collecting alms for the poor. The fair quêteuses had not been very successful, and that chiefly amongst the lower classes. The fatigue was terrible, walking for so many hours on that bad pavement with thin satin shoes, so that at length our feet seemed to move mechanically, and we dropped on our knees before each altar like machines touched by a spring, and rose again with no small effort. Of all the churches we entered that night, the cathedral was the most magnificent, but the most beautiful and tasteful was San Francisco. The crowd there was so dense, that we were almost carried off our feet, and were obliged, in defiance of all rule, to take the arms of our caballeros. Still it was worth the trouble of making our way through it to see such a superbly illuminated altar. It was now eleven o'clock, and the crowd were breaking up as the churches are shut before midnight. In one corner of the middle aisle, near the door, was the representation of a prison from which issued a stream of soft music, and at the window was a figure of Christ in chains, his eyes bandaged, and a Jew on each side; the chains hanging from his hands, and clanking as if with the motion of his arms. The rush here was immense. Numbers of people were kneeling before the window of the prison, and kissing the chains and beating their breasts with every appearance of contrition and devotion. This was the night before the Crucifixion, and the last scene of the Holy Thursday.
We reached home hardly able to stand. I never felt more dazzled, bewildered, and sleepy; but I was wakened by finding a packet of letters from home, which brought back my thoughts, or rather carried them away to very different lands.
On Good Friday, a day of sorrow and humiliation, the scene in the morning is very different. The great sacrifice is complete–the Immortal has died a mortal death. The ladies all issue forth in mourning, and the churches look sad and wan after their last night's brilliancy. The heat was intense. We went to San Francisco, again to the Tribuna of the Countess de Santiago, to see the Adoration and Procession of the Cross, which was very fine.
But the most beautiful and original scene was presented towards sunset in the great square, and it is doubtful whether any other city in the world could present a coup-d'oeil of equal brilliancy. Having been offered the entrée to some apartments in the palace, we took our seats on the balconies, which commanded a view of the whole. The Plaza itself, even on ordinary days, is a noble square, and but for its one fault, a row of shops called the Parian, which breaks it uniformity, would be nearly unrivalled. Every object is interesting. The eyes wanders from the cathedral to the house of Cortes (the Monte Pio), and from thence to a range of fine buildings with lofty arcades to the west. From our elevated situation, we could see all the different streets that branch out from the square, covered with gay crowds pouring in that direction to see another great procession, which was expected to pass in front of the palace. Booths filled with refreshments, and covered with green branches and garlands of flowers, were to be seen in all directions, surrounded by a crowd who were quenching their thirst with orgeat, chia, 1 lemonade, or pulque. The whole square, from the cathedral to the Portales, and from the Monte Pio to the palace, was covered with thousands and tens of thousands of figures, all in their gayest dresses, and as the sun poured his rays down upon their gaudy colours, they looked like armies of living tulips. Here was to be seen a group of ladies, some with black gowns and mantillas; others, now that their church-going duty was over, equipped in velvet or satin, with their hair dressed,–and beautiful hair they have; some leading their children by the hand, dressed . . . alas! how they were dressed! Long velvet gowns trimmed with blonde, diamond earrings, high French caps befurbelowed with lace and flowers, or turbans with plumes of feathers. Now and then the head of a little thing that could hardly waddle alone, might have belonged to an English dowager-duchess in her opera-box. Some had extraordinary bonnets, also with flowers and feathers, and as they toddled along, top heavy, one would have thought they were little old women, till a glimpse was caught of their lovely little brown faces and black eyes. Now and then a little girl, simply dressed with a short frock, and long black hair plaited down and uncovered, would trip along, a very model of grace amongst the small caricatures. The children here are generally beautiful, their features only too perfect and regular for the face "to fulfil the promise of its spring." They have little colour, with swimming black or hazel yes, and long lashes resting on the clear pale cheek, and a perfect mass of fine dark hair of the straight Spanish or Indian kind plaited down behind.
As a contrast to the Señoras, with their over-dressed beauties, were the poor Indian women, trotting across the square, their black hair plaited with dirty red ribbon, a piece of woollen cloth wrapped about them, and a little mahogany baby hanging behind, its face upturned to the sky, and its head going jerking along, somehow without its neck being dislocated. The most resigned expression on earth is that of an Indian baby. All the groups we had seen promenading the streets the day before were here collected by the hundreds; the women of the shopkeeper class, or it may be lower, in their smart white embroidered gowns, with their white satin shoes, and neat feet and ankles, and rebosos or bright shawls thrown over their heads; the peasants and countrywomen, with their short petticoats of two colours, generally scarlet and yellow (for they are most anti-quakerish in their attire), thin satin shoes and lace-trimmed chemises, or bronze-coloured damsels, all crowned with flowers, strolling along with their admirers, and tingling their light guitars. And above all, here and there a flashing Poblana, with a dress of real value and much taste, and often with a face and figure of extraordinary beauty, especially the figure; large and yet élancée, with a bold coquettish eye and a beautiful little brown foot, shown off by the white satin shoe, the petticoat of her dress frequently fringed and embroidered in real massive gold, and a reboso either shot with gold, or a bright-coloured China crape shawl, coquettishly thrown over her head. We several whose dresses could not have cost less than five hundred dollars.
Add to this motley crowd, men dressed à la Mexicaine, with their large ornamented hats and serapes, or embroidered jackets, sauntering along, smoking their cigars, léperos in rags, Indians in blankets, officers in uniform, priests in their shovel hats, monks of every order; Frenchmen exercising their wit upon the passers-by; Englishmen looking cold and philosophical; Germans gazing through their spectacles, mild and mystical; Spaniards seeming pretty much at home, and abstaining from remarks; and it may be conceived that the scene at least presented variety. Sometimes the tinkling of the bell announced the approach of Nuestro Amo. Instantly the whole crowd are on their knees, crossing themselves devoutly. Two men who were fighting below the window suddenly dropped down side by side. Disputes were hushed, flirtations arrested, and to the busy hum of voices succeeded a profound silence. Only the rolling of the coach-wheels and the sound of the little bell were heard.
No sooner had it passed than the talkers and the criers recommenced with fresh vigour. The venders of hot chestnuts and cooling beverages plied their trade more briskly than ever. A military band struck up an air from Semiramis: and the noise of the innumerable matracas (rattles), some of wood and some of silver, with which every one is armed during the last days of the holy week, broke forth again as if by magic, while again commenced the sale of the Judases, fireworks in the form of that arch-traitor, which are sold on the evening of Good Friday, and let off on Saturday morning. Hundreds of these hideous figures were held above the crowd, by men who carried them tied together on long poles. An ugly misshapen monster they represent the betrayer to have been. When he sold his master for thirty pieces of silver, did he dream that in the lapse of ages his effigies should be held up to the execration of a Mexican mob, of an unknown people in undiscovered countries beyond the seas?–A secret bargain, perhaps made whisperingly in a darkened chamber with the fierce Jewish rulers; but now shouted forth in the ears of the descendants of Montezuma and Cortes!
But the sound of a distant hymn rose on the air, and shortly after there appeared, advancing towards the square, a long and pompous retinue of mitred priests, with banners and crucifixes and gorgeous imagery, conducting a procession in which figures representing scenes concerning the death of our Saviour, were carried by on platforms, as they were the preceding evening. There was the Virgin in mourning at the foot of the cross–the Virgin in glory–and more saints and more angels–St. Michael and the dragon, etc., etc., a glittering and innumerable train. Not a sound was heard as the figures were carried slowly onwards in their splendid robes, lighted by thousands of tapers, which mingled their unnatural glare with the fading light of day.
As the Miserere was to be performed in the cathedral late in the evening, we went there, though with small hopes of making our way through the tremendous crowd. Having at length been admitted through a private entrance, per favour, we made our way into the body of the church; but the crowd was so intolerable, that we thought of abandoning our position, when we were seen and recognized by some of the priests, and conducted to a railed-off enclosure near the shrine of the Virgin, with the luxury of a Turkey carpet. Here, separated from the crowd, we sat down in peace on the ground. The gentlemen were accommodated with high-backed chairs, beside some ecclesiastics; for men may sit on chairs or benches in church, but women must kneel or sit on the ground. Why? "Quien sabe?" (Who knows?) is all the satisfaction I have ever obtained on that point.
The music began with a crash that wakened me out of an agreeable slumber into which I had gradually fallen; and such discordance of instruments and voices, such confusion worse confounded, such inharmonious harmony, never before deafened mortal ears. The very spheres seemed out of tune, and rolling and crashing over each other. I could have cried Miserere! with the loudest; and in the midst of all the undrilled band was a music-master, with violin-stick uplifted, rushing desperately from one to the other, in vain endeavouring to keep time, and frightened at the clamour he himself had been instrumental in raising, like Phaeton intrusted with his unmanageable coursers. The noise was so great as to be really alarming; the heat was severe in proportion. The calm face of the Virgin seemed to look reproachfully down. We were thankful when, at the conclusion of this stormy appeal for mercy, we were able to make our way into the fresh air and soft moonlight, through the confusion and squeezing at the doors, where it was rumoured that a soldier had killed a baby with his bayonet. A bad place for poor little babies–decidedly.
Outside, in the square, it was cool and agreeable. A military band was playing airs from Norma, and the womankind were sitting on the stones of the railing, or wandering about and finishing their day's work by a quiet flirtation au clair de la lune.
It was now eleven o'clock, and the pulquerias were thrown open for the refreshment of the faithful, and though hitherto much order had prevailed, it was not likely to endure much longer; notwithstanding which, we had the imprudence to walk unattended to our own house, at San Fernando. In the center of the city there seemed no danger. People were still walking, and a few still drinking at the lighted booths; but when arrived at the lower part of the Alameda, all was still, and as we walked outside, under the long shadows of the trees, I expected every moment to be attacked, and wished we were anywhere, even on the silvery top of Popocatepetl! We passed several crowded pulquerias, where some were drinking and others drunk. Arrived at the arches, we saw from time to time a suspicious blanketed figure half hid by the shadow of the wall. A few doors from our own domicile was a pulque-shop filled with léperos, of whom some were standing at the door, shrouded in their blankets. It seemed to me we should never pass them, but we walked fast, and reached our door in safety. Here we thundered in vain. The porter was asleep, and for nearly ten minutes we heard voices within, male and female, ineffectually endeavouring to persuade the heavy-headed Cerberus to relinquish his keys. It would have been a choice moment for our friends, had any of them wished to accost us; but either they had not observed us, or perhaps they thought that C—n walking so late must have been armed; or perhaps, more charitable construction, they had profited by the solemnities of the day.
We got in at last, and I felt thankful enough for shelter and safety, and as wearied of the day's performances as you may be in reading a description of them.
Next morning, Sabado de Gloria, I could not persuade myself to go as far as the Plaza, to see the Iscariots explode. At a distance we listened to the hissing and crackling of the fireworks, the ringing of all the bells, and the thundering of artillery; and knew by the hum of busy voices, and rolling of carriages, that the Holy Week was numbered with the past. . . .
We hear that it is in contemplation amongst the English here, headed by their Minister, to give a ball in the Mineria, to celebrate the Marriage of Queen Victoria, which will be turning these splendid halls to some account.
I have some intention of giving a series of weekly soirées, but am assured that they will not succeed, because hitherto such parties have failed. As a reason, is given the extravagant notions of the ladies in point of dress, and it is said that nothing but a ball where they can wear jewels, and toilet therewith consistent, will please them; that a lady of high rank who had been in Madrid, having proposed simple tertulias and white muslin dresses, half the men in Mexico were ruined that year by the embroidered French and India muslins bought by their wives during this reign of simplicity; the idea of a plain white muslin, a dress worn by any lépera, never having struck them as possible. Nevertheless we can but make the attempt.
We propose going next week to Tulansingo, where our friends the — have a country place, from thence we proceed to visit the mines of Real del Monte.
23rd.–On Monday we gave a Tertulia, which, notwithstanding all predictions, went off remarkably well, and consisted of nearly all the pleasantest people in Mexico. We had music, dancing, and cards, and at three in the morning the German cotillon was still in full vigour. Every one was disposed to be amused, and, moreover, the young ladies were dressed very simply; most of them in plain white muslins. There was but a small sprinkling of diamonds, and that chiefly among the elderly part of the community. Still it is said that the novelty alone induced them to come, and that weekly soirées will not succeed. We shall try. Besides which, the Lady of the — Minister proposes being At home on Wednesday evenings; the Lady of the — Minister takes another evening; I, a third, and we shall see what can be effected.
Letter from the Archbishop–Visit to the "Encarnacion"–Reception–Description–The Novices–Convent Supper–Picturesque Scene–Sonata on the Organ–Attempt at Robbery–Alarms of the Household–Visit to San Agustin–Anonymous Letter–The Virgin de los Remedios–Visit to the Chapel–The Padre–The Image–Anecdote of the Large Pearl–A Mine.
The Archbishop has not only granted me permission to visit the convents, but permits me to take two ladies along with me, of which I have been informed by the Minister, Señor C—o, in a very amiable note just received, enclosing one from Señor Posada, which I translate for your edification.
To His Excellency, Señor Don J. de D. C—o.
April 24th, 1842.
My dear Friend and Companion:
The Abbess and Nuns of the Convent of the Encarnacion are now prepared to receive the visit of our three pilgrims, next Sunday, at half-past four in the afternoon, and should that day not suit them, let them mention what day will be convenient.
Afterwards we shall arrange their visit to the Concepcion, Enseñanza Antigua, and Jesus Maria, which are the best, and I shall let you know, and we shall agree upon the days and hours most suitable. I remain your affectionate friend and Capellan,
27th–Accordingly, on Sunday afternoon, we drove to the Encarnacion, the most splendid and richest convent in Mexico, excepting perhaps la Concepcion. If it were in any other country, I might mention the surpassing beauty of the evening, but as except in the rainy season, which has not yet begun, the evenings are always beautiful, the weather leaves no room for description. The sky always blue, the air always soft, the flowers always blossoming, the birds always singing; Thomson never could have written his "Seasons" here. We descended at the convent gate, were admitted by the portress, and received by several nuns, their faces closely covered with a double crape veil. We were then lead into a spacious hall, hung with handsome lustres, and adorned with various Virgins and Saints magnificently dressed; and here the eldest, a very dignified old lady, lifted her veil, the others following her example, and introduced herself as the Madre Vicaria; bringing us many excuses from the old abbess, who having an inflammation in her eyes, were confined to her cell. She and another reverend mother, and a group of elderly dames, tall, thin, and stately, then proceeded to inform us, that the archbishop had, in person, given orders for our reception, and that they were prepared to show us the whole establishment.
The dress is a long robe of very fine white casimere, a thick black crape veil, and long rosary. The dress of the novices is the same, only that the veil is white. For the first half-hour or so, I fancied, that along with their politeness, was mingled with a good deal of restraint, caused perhaps by the presence of a foreigner, and especially of an Englishwoman. My companions they knew well, the Señorita having even passed some months there. However this may have been, the feeling seemed gradually to wear away. Kindness or curiosity triumphed; their questions became unceasing; and before the visit was concluded, I was addressed as "mi vida" (my life), by the whole establishment. Where was I born? Where had I lived? What convents had I seen? Which did I prefer, the convents in France, or those in Mexico? Which were the largest? Which had the best garden? Etc., etc. Fortunately, I could, with truth, give the preference to their convent, as to spaciousness and magnificence, over any I ever saw.
The Mexican style of building is peculiarly advantageous for recluses; the great galleries and courts affording them a constant supply of fresh air, while the fountains sound so cheerfully, and the garden in this climate of perpetual spring affords them such a constant source of enjoyment all the year round, that one pities their secluded state much less here than in any other country.
This convent is in fact a palace. The garden, into which they led us first, is kept in good order, with its stone walks, stone benches, and an ever-playing and sparkling fountain. The trees were bending with fruit, and they pulled quantities of the most beautiful flowers for us; sweet-peas and roses, with which all gardens here abound, carnations, jasmine, and heliotrope. It was a pretty picture to see them wandering about, or standing in groups in this high-walled garden, while the sun was setting behind the hills, and the noise of the city was completely excluded, everything breathing repose and contentment. Most of the halls in the convent are noble rooms. We visited the whole, from the refectory to the botica, and admired the extreme cleanness of everything, especially of the immense kitchen, which seems hallowed from the approach even of a particle of dust; this circumstance is partly accounted for by the fact that each nun has a servant, and some have two; for this is not one of the strictest orders. The convent is rich; each novice at her entrance pays five thousand dollars into the common stock. There are about thirty nuns and ten novices.
The prevailing sin in a convent generally seems to be pride;
"The pride that apes humility;"and it is perhaps inseparable from the conventual state. Set apart from the rest of the world, they, from their little world, are too apt to look down with contempt which may be mingled with envy, or modified by pity, but must be unsuited to a true Christian spirit.
The novices were presented to us–poor little entrapped things! who really believe they will be let out at the end of the year if they should grow tired, as if they would ever be permitted to grow tired! The two eldest and most reverend ladies are sisters, tall, thin, and stately, with high noses and remains of beauty. They have been in the convent since they were eight years old (which is remarkable, as sisters are rarely allowed to profess in the same establishment), and consider La Encarnacion as a small piece of heaven upon earth. There were some handsome faces amongst them, and one whose expression and eyes were singularly lovely, but truth to say, these were rather exceptions to the general rule.
Having visited the whole building, and admired one virgin's blue satin and pearls, and another's black velvet and diamonds, sleeping holy infants, saints, paintings shrines, and confessionals,–having even climbed up the Azotea, which commands a magnificent view, we came at length to a large hall, decorated with paintings and furnished with antique high-backed arm-chairs, where a very elegant supper, lighted up and ornamented, greeted our astonished eyes; cakes, chocolate, ices, creams, custards, tarts, jellies, blancmangers, orange and lemonade, and other profane dainties, ornamented with gilt paper cut into little flags, etc. I was placed in a chair that might have served for a pope under a holy family; the Señora — and the Señorita — on either side. The elder nuns in stately array, occupied the other arm-chairs, and looked like statues carved in stone. A young girl, a sort of pensionnaire, brought in a little harp without pedals, and while we discussed cakes and ices, sung different ballads with a good deal of taste. The elder nuns helped us to everything, but tasted nothing themselves. The younger nuns and the novices were grouped upon a mat à la Turque, and a more picturesque scene altogether one could scarcely see.
The young novices in their white robes, white veils, and black eyes, the severe and dignified madres with their long dresses and mournful-looking black veils and rosaries, the veiled figures occasionally flitting along the corridor;–ourselves in contrast, with our worldly dresses and coloured ribbons; and the great hall lighted by one immense lamp that hung from the ceiling–I felt transported three centuries back, and half afraid that the whole dream would flit away, and prove a mere vision, a waking dream.
A gossiping old nun, who hospitably filled my plate with everything, gave me the enclosed flag cut in gilt paper, which together with her custards and jellies, looked less unreal. They asked many questions in regard to Spanish affairs, and were not to be consoled for the defeat of Don Carlos, which they feared would be an end of the true religion in Spain.
After supper we proceeded upstairs to the choir (where the nuns attend public worship, and which looks down upon the handsome convent church) to try the organ. I was set down to a Sonata of Mozart's, the servants blowing the bellows. It seems to me that I made more noise than music, for organ is very old, perhaps as old as the convent, which dates three centuries back. However, the nuns were pleased, and after they had sung a hymn, we returned below. I was rather sorry to leave them, and I felt as if I could have passed some time there very contentedly; but it was near nine o'clock, and we were obliged to take our departure; so having been embraced very cordially by the whole community, we left the hospitable walls of the Encarnacion.
28th.–Last evening we were sitting at home very quietly about ten o'clock, C—n, Monsieur de —, of the — Legation, and I, when A— rushed into the room all dishevelled. "Come quickly, sir! Robbers are breaking open the kitchen door!" A succession of feminine shrieks in the distance, added effect to her words. C—n jumped up, ran for his pistols, gave one to Monsieur de —, called up the soldiers, but no robbers appeared. The kitchen-door was indeed open, and the trembling galopina attested, that being in the kitchen alone, dimly lighted by one small lamp, three men, all armed, had entered, and had rushed out again on hearing her give the alarm. We somewhat doubted her assertions, but the next morning found that the men had in fact escaped by the Azotea, a great assistance to all Mexican depredators. At the end of this row of houses the people ran out and fired upon them, but without effect. The house of the old Countess of S— F— had been broken into, her porter wounded, report says killed, and her plate carried off. In the meantime our soldiers watch in the kitchen, a pair of loaded pistols adorn the table, a double-barrelled gun stands in the corner, and a bull-dog growls in the gallery. This little passing visit to us was probably caused by the arrival of some large boxes from London, especially of a very fine harp and piano, both from Erard's, which I had the pleasure of seeing unpacked this morning, and which, in spite of jolting and bad roads, have arrived in perfect condition. . . .
Thus far I had written, it being now the evening, and I sitting alone, when a succession of shrieks arose, even more awful than those which alarmed us last night. At the same time the old galopina, her daughter, and a French girl who lives here, rushed shouting along the gallery; not a word they said comprehensible, but something concerning "a robber in black, with men at his back, who had burst open the door." At the noise the whole household had assembled. One ran this way, one ran that. A little French teinturier, who it appeared had been paying the maids a polite visit, seized the loaded gun; the footman took a pistol and hid himself behind the porter; A—, like a second Joan of Arc, appeared, with a rusty sabre; the soldiers rushed up with their bayonets; the coachman stood aloof with nothing; the porter led up the rear, holding a large dog by the collar; but no robber appears; and the girls are all sobbing and crying because we doubt their having seen one. Galopina the younger shedding tears in torrents, swears to the man. Galopina the elder, enveloped in her reboso, swears to any number of men; and the recamerera has cried herself into a fit between fear and indignation.
Such is the agreeable state of things about nine o'clock this evening, for one real attempt to enter the house, invariably give rise a thousand imaginary attacks and fanciful alarms. . . .
After many attempts at walking, I have very nearly abandoned it, but take a great deal of exercise both on horseback and in the carriage; which last, on account of the ill-paved condition of the streets, affords rather more exercise than the former. I drove out this morning in an open carriage with the Señorita E— to her country-house at San Agustin, the gambling emporium. But the famous annual fête does not take place till Whitsunday, and the pretty country villas there are at present abandoned. We walked in the garden till the sun became insupportable. The fragrance of the roses and jasmine was almost overpowering. There are trees of millefleur roses; heliotrope and honeysuckle cover every pillar, and yellow jasmine trails over everything. . . .
Found on my return an anonymous letter, begging me to "beware of my cook!" and signed Fernandez. Having shown it to some gentlemen who dined here, one thought it might be a plan of the robbers to get rid of the cook, whom they considered in their way; another, with more probability, that it was merely a plan of the attentive Señor Fernandez to get the cook's place for himself.
We went lately to pay a visit to the celebrated Virgen de los Remedios, the Gachupina, the Spanish patroness, and rival of Our Lady of Guadalupe. This Virgin was brought over by Cortes, and when he displaced the Indian idols in the great Temple of Mexico, caused them to be broken in pieces, and the sanctuary to be purified, he solemnly placed there a crucifix and this image of the Virgin; then kneeling before it, gave solemn thanks to Heaven, which had permitted him thus to adore the Most High in a place so long profaned by the most cruel idolatries.
It is said that this image was brought to Mexico by a soldier of Cortes's army called Villefuerte, and that the day succeeding the terrible Noche Triste, it was concealed by him in a place where it was afterwards discovered. At all events, the image disappeared, and nothing further was known of it until, on the top of a barren and treeless mountain, in the heart of a large maguey, she was found by a fortunate Indian. Her restoration was joyfully hailed by the Spaniards. A church was erected on the spot. A priest was appointed to take charge of the miraculous image. Her fame spread abroad. Gifts of immense value were brought to her shrine. A treasurer was appointed to take care of her jewels; a camarista to superintend her rich wardrobe. No rich dowager died in peace until she had bequeathed to Our Lady of Los Remedios her largest diamond, or her richest pearl. In seasons of drought she is brought in from her dwelling in the mountain, and carried in procession through the streets. The viceroy himself on foot used to lead the holy train. One of the highest rank drives the chariot in which she is seated. In succession she visits the principal convents, and as she is carried through the cloistered precincts, the nuns are ranged on their knees in humble adoration. Plentiful rains immediately follow her arrival. —, who accompanied us, has on several occasions filled the office of her coachman, by which means he has seen the interior of most of the convents in Mexico. It is true that there came a time when the famous curate Hidalgo, the prime mover of the Revolution, having taken as his standard an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, a rivalry arose between her and the Spanish Virgin; and Hidalgo having been defeated and forced to fly, the image of the Virgen de los Remedios was conducted to Mexico dressed as a general and invoked as the patroness of Spain. Later still, the Virgin herself was denounced as a Gachupina! her general's sash boldly torn from her by the valiant General —, who also signed her passport, with an order for her to leave the republic. However, she was again restored to her honours, and still retains her treasures, her camarista, and sanctum sanctorum.
Being desirous of seeing this celebrated image, we set off one fine afternoon in a carriage of —'s, drawn by six unbroken horses, accompanied by him and his lady, and performed four leagues of bad road in an incredibly short space of time. The horses themselves were in an evident state of astonishment, for after kicking and plunging, and, as they imagined, running away, they found themselves driven much faster than they had the slightest intention of going: so after a little while they acknowledged, in —'s capital coachman, une main de maître.
The mountain is barren and lonely, but the view from its summit is beautiful, commanding the whole plain. The church is old and not very remarkable, yet a picturesque object, as it stands in its gay solitariness, with one or two trees beside it, of which one without leaves was entirely covered with the most brilliant scarlet flowers. Señor — having been the Virgin's coachman, the Señora — having been the daughter of her camarista, and C—n the minister from the land of her predilection, we were not astonished at the distinguished reception which we met with from the reverend padre, the guardian of the mountain. The church within is handsome; and above the altar is a copy of the original Virgin. After we had remained there a little while, we were admitted into the Sanctum, where the identical Virgin of Cortes, with a large silver maguey, occupies her splendid shrine. The priest retired and put on his robes, and then returning, and all kneeling before the altar, he recited the credo. This over, he mounted the steps, and opening the shrine where the Virgin was encased, knelt down and removed her in his arms. He then presented her to each of us in succession, every one one kissing the hem of her satin robe. She was afterwards replaced with the same ceremony.
The image is a wooden doll about a foot high, holding in its arms an infant Jesus, both faces evidently carved with a rude penknife; two holes for the eyes and another for the mouth. This doll was dressed in blue satin and pearls with a crown upon her head and a quantity of hair fastened on to the crown. No Indian idol could be much uglier. As she has been a good deal scratched and destroyed in the lapse of ages, C—n observed that he was astonished that they had not tried to restore her a little. To this the padre replied, that the attempt had been made by several artists, each one of whom had sickened and died. He also mentioned as one of her miracles, that living on a solitary mountain she had never been robbed; but I fear the good padre is somewhat oblivious, as this sacrilege has happened more than once. On one occasion a crowd of léperos being collected, and the image carried round to be kissed, one of them, affecting intense devotion, bit off the large pearl that adorned her dress in front, and before the theft was discovered, he had mingled with the crowd and escaped. When reminded of the circumstance, the padre said it was true, but that the thief was a Frenchman. After taking leave of the Virgin, we visited the padre in his own old house, attached to the church, where his only attendant, as usual among the padres, is an old woman.
We then made our way on foot down a steep hill, stopping to admire some noble stone arches, the remains of an aqueduct built by the Spaniards for conveying water from one mountain to the other; and with an Indian for our guide, visited a newly-discovered, though anciently-opened mine, said to be of silver, and which had until lately been covered with rubbish. We groped through it and found vaults and excavations and a deep pit of water. C—n got some Indians to break off pieces of stone for him, which were put into a sack and sent home for examination. We were so tired of our walk down this steep and mountainous path, that on our return, I mounted a horse with a man's saddle, belonging to one of the servants, and contrived to keep on, while it climbed up the perpendicular ascent. As this seemed rather a selfish proceeding while the others walked, I invited the Señora — to mount also in front; which she did, and the path being almost perpendicular, my head nearly touched the ground, which certainly made the seat not over safe or easy. However, we reached the top of the mountain in safety, though somewhat exhausted with laughing, and were driven home with the speed of a rail-car.
[Letter the Eighth]
1 Translated from the French of Casimir Delavigne.
[Letter the Ninth]
1 Don A— C— de la B—, Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary from H. C. M.; and his Lady, Doña F— E— C— de la B—; Inform you of their arrival in this capital, and put themselves at your disposal, in the street of Buenavista, No. 2.
2 The Mexican Government has since taken this matter into consideration, and is making regulations which render it necessary for a medical man to possess a certain degree of knowledge, and to have resided a specified time in the city, before he is permitted to practise; they are also occupied in fixing a certain sum for medical attendance.
[Letter the Fourteenth]
1 A drink made of the seed of the plant of that name.
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