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Art. V.-1. Cruautés horribles des Conquérants du Mexique, et
des Indiens qui les aidèrent à soumettre cet empire à la couronne d'Espagne, Mémoire de Don Fernando D'Alva Ixtlilxochitel ; Supplément à l'Histoire du Père Sahagun; publié et dédié au gouvernement suprême de la Confédération Mexicaine. Par
Charles-Marie de Bustamante. Mexico, 1829. Paris, 1838. 2. Voyages, Relations, et Mémoires Originaux pour servir à
l'Histoire de la Découverte de l'Amerique, publiés pour la première fois en Français. Par H. Ternaux-Compans. 1840. At the present time, any work that tells of an untried region comes as the bearer of glad tidings; and there is perhaps no track, either in the old or new world, that has been less hacknied than Mexico. Yet it is an empire abounding with historic interest: its vast extent; the boundless wealth which has lent its aid in demoralising Spain; the condition of its inhabitants, strangely civilized, yet fearfully savage; the desperate wars it has waged; and its present singular political position; all mark it as the theme for romance; while the startling fictions that mingle with truths scarcely less incredible in its records, render these equally interesting to the historian. But the details hitherto published have afforded little satisfaction to the researches of the curious. We read with incredulity of a vast and warlike empire conquered by a handful of adventurers, while hints of allies which might dissipate our suspicions, only serve by their obscurity to exaggerate our doubts. Poems and romances have sprung plentifully from the exulting conquerors, involving the subject in an impenetrable cloud of fable, while British writers, intimidated perhaps by conscious or hopeless ignorance, have generally avoided the scene as a land of danger, and left it undisputed in the hands of the discoverers. The days of Mexican dreams have passed, and with them doubtless much of the romance; but the work before us, though it removes the marvels that have hung so long like an obscuring cloud over the land, and admits a ray of clearer light than has been elicited before, yet leaves abundant scope for the play of fancy, and opens an untried range for the poet and novelist. Don F. Ixtlilxochitl, the author of the work before us, was the grandson of one of the native princes of Mexico ; and his account was taken from the pictorial histories of his countrymen, from traditionary statements, and from the details of eye-witnesses who were living at the time he wrote. His history has been twice translated, once into Spanish, and lately into French, by M. Bustamante, and its revival from the obscurity into which it had fallen may be considered as an era of the utmost importance in the records of the conquest of Mexico.
From the second title that heads our present article, and the first at page 56 of our last number, the reader will easily recognize the volumes as one of that series which M. Bertrand of Paris is fast bringing before the public eye, and which, whether consisting of republications, like the two here specified, or of narratives heretofore absolutely unknown to the press, like some that are announced to follow, include a vast mass of the most important materials for the early history of the new world, and of such incalculable range and boundless variety, as to carry the whole series, if persevered in according to the original design, to an extent of some hundreds of volumes; their materials being principally derived from records preserved in public or private archives, both of Mexico and Spain ; and of which even Lord Kingsborough's magnificent publication gives but a faint idea.
To return to the work more immediately before us, we give the narrative in a condensed form, that the reader may compare it with existing histories and determine for himself its relative value in elucidation.
The unprepossessing title of this narrative might induce a supposition that the author was a descendant of some injured leader of the conquered country; and that his ancestor and namesake, whose deeds he endeavours to immortalize, had devoted his life to the protection of his native kingdom, and perished at length by the hands of the merciless invaders.
Such however is not the case; Ixtlilxochitl was indeed allied by blood to the sovereign of Mexico, and bound by every tie to resist to extremity the dominion of the Spaniards; yet we find him among the first to join the forces of the enemy, and aiding with such ruthless ardour in the subversion of his country, that we can scarcely wonder at the emphatic exclamation of bis Mexican editor, “ May curses light upon his odious memory.” The principal aim of our author obviously was to extol the virtues and bravery of his ancestor; nor does he appear anxious either to palliate or exaggerate the cruelty of the conquerors. He in truth evidently noted the acts of Cortez principally as they concerned his allies; and thus wherever the princely writer himself was concerned, much that is interesting and novel is elicited; while the circumstances which regard the Spaniards alone are full of omissions, and probably incorrectnesses. An important instance of the latter occurs in the very commencement. We learn from the accounts of Gomara, and Bernard Diaz, that soon after the landing of Cortez he was joined by the king of Zempoala, who furnished him with supplies and an auxiliary army; and that two Zempoalan nobles were dispatched with overtures to the Tlaxcalans, in the hope of bringing them to join the Chris
bristians in received and by the
tians; but this fierce and warlike people, distrusting their countrymen and hating the Spaniards, with small regard for the rights of nations, and the inviolability of the sacred persons of ambassadors, proceeded to kill and eat those two functionaries, and then give battle to the invaders. Three resolute engagements followed, in which the arms and discipline of the Spaniards enabled them, without losing a single man, to kill thousands of the natives, though the obstinate bravery of the latter gave the followers of Cortez a foretaste of the difficulties they were to meet with in the interior of the country. Our author's account is, that the Christians marched from Zempoala to Tlascala, where they were everywhere received with joy, and where no disputes arose but such as were provoked by the Spaniards themselves.
We shall pass over the arrival of Cortez in the chief city of Mexico as well as the arrest, by his order, of the emperor Motecuhzoma (Montezuma). These transactions not being connected with our present hero, are but slightly noticed in the work before us: but soon after, an event happened which sufficiently demonstrated the intentions of the Spaniards, and appears to have been the first of those acts of cruelty which have made the infamy of Cortez even more familiar to us than his glory. About forty days after his arrival in the capital the Spanish commander, wishing to visit the neighbouring town of Tezcuco, applied to Cacama, the king of that city, to grant him a safe conduct with his native subjects. Cacana sent him two of his brothers, who rejoiced much more, we suspect, than the reader,) in the formidable names of Netzahualquentzin and Tetlahuehuezquititzin; but soon after their arrival in Tezcuco, a Spanish soldier, observing the former talking with the Mexican ambassador, in suspicion and ignorance of the language, struck bim with his staff and dragged him before Cortez; and he, without inquiry, caused the unoffending prince to be hanged.
Shortly after this, the Spavish general was compelled once more to quit the town of Mexico, to march against the forces of Narvuez which had been despatched by Velasquez, the governor of Cuba, to deprive him of his command. The manner in which he defeated his rival, and the facility with which the governor's forces deserted their commander and ranged themselves under the banner of his enemy, are well known. Upon his departure from Mexico, Cortez had left behind him one of his captains, named Alvarado, in charge of the person of the captured emperor; and this officer hastened to heap upon the Mexicans every outrage which bigotry and avarice could suggest. A great feast was to be held in the town at this period, in accordance with an ancient custom, and Alvarado readily consented that it should proceed without molestation : but when he saw the multitudes that thronged the principal temple, and that all were unarmed and wore the richest ornaments, his avarice got the better of his prudence : rushing into the temple with bis followers, he slaughtered all the worshippers, threw down the idols, and possessed himself of all the gold that adorned them.
A general rising of the people followed; but Alvarado brought forth the unhappy Motecuhzoma, and compelled him to minister to his own captivity by appeasing the tumult among his subjects. This was easily done by a monarch who was almost deified by bis people; but the deed of sacrilege and cruelty was not forgotten, and it added, doubtless, to the accumulating vengeance which burst so fearfully on the Spaniards in their retreat from Mexico,
Cortez returned soon after to the capital, having increased bis force, which bad originally consisted of about 600, to nearly 1500 fighting men, with those of Narvuez. Immediately upon the entrance of the Spaniards into their old quarters the Mexicans again revolted, attacking the invaders with the utmost fury. After many hours' severe conflict, Cortez was compelled to produce Moteculizoma ; but when that unhappy captive prince attempted once more to appease the people, they burst into a torrent of execrations, called him an enemy to his country and the gods, and concluded their rebellious demonstrations by a shower of arrows and stones.
The emperor was wounded in two places by the arrows, and stunned by a blow from a stone: his people, seeing him fall, were seized with remorse and fear, and dispersed without attempting any further violence. Cortez endeavoured to console the wounded monarch, but the proud spirit of Motecuhzoma had bent already to its utmost, and this last outrage burst the bonds of life: he haughtily rejected every consolation, refused all intercourse with his captors, and resolutely starved himself to death.
The situation of the Spaniards now became extremely perilous: the death of the emperor was speedily known; the people elected Cuitlabuatzin in his stead, and it was evident that on all sides secret but extensive preparations were making for war. To remain in the capital was certain destruction; to retreat was hardly less dangerous : for the town of Mexico was situated in the midst of a lake, connected with the main land only by narrow strips intersected by chasms. These were usually crossed by means of bridges, which would be easily broken down, and escape from the town rendered hardly practicable. It was resolved, therefore, that the attempt should be made at midnight, when it was hoped that the superstition of the natives would prevent an attack. In obedience to the orders of the commander the utmost secresy was observed in the preparations; and the Spaniards, having loaded themselves with the spoils they had collected, commenced their perilous retreat. As they passed through the town the silence that reigned on all sides was in itself ominous : it seemed rather suited to a deserted than a sleeping city : but as they proceeded, the skirts of the town and the narrow neck of land over which they were to pass appeared perfectly untenanted; their hopes revived, and by the time they had neared the interesting chasm all fear had deserted the fugitive host. Their leader, however, well knew that the real danger was only now to begin, and his doubts were confirmed by finding that the bridge had been carefully destroyed. Scarcely was the alarming discovery made when the shouts of the natives burst forth on all sides, and the torches which seemed to spring by magic into light displayed the shores of the lake absolutely swarming with armed men. The lake itself was covered with canoes, and innumerable warriors were rushing upon their enemy from both sides of the causeway. The extirpation of the Spaniards seemed now inevitable; but Cortez charged vigorously at the head of his few cavalry, and after a desperate contest succeeded in forcing his way to the ships which had been built on the lake: here part of his followers embarked and gained the shore; a few escaped by the causeway; many were drowned in attempting to swim to land, and more than half the troops perished or fell into the hands of the Mexicans. Such was the memorable retreat from Mexico, by which the designs of Cortez were for a time effectually crippled. The Mexicans sacrificed their prisoners to the sun, according to their usual custom; and Cortez, unwilling that his enemies should monopolize the character of cruelty, ordered the king, Cacamatzin, three of his sisters, and two of his brothers, to be put to death. This dreadful retaliation might, it is true, be but an act of necessity, forced upon their leader by the fury of his suffering troops, and intended to deter the enemy from their usual sacrifices. Torquemada is however not supported in this story by other historians, who report that Cacamatzin died in the flight.
The emperor Cuitlahuazin or Quetlavara, by whom this skilful and successful attack had been led, commenced vigorously raising and arming his subjects for the purpose of expelling or extirpating the Spaniards; but his warlike designs were stopped almost as soon as begun, for he died of the small-pox, one among the scourges introduced by the invaders. Quantemoctzin (Guatinozin) was elected in his stead, and Cohuanacochtzin was chosen