Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A Country Misunderstood

Having resolved to visit Mexico, the question first to be considered was how to do so in the most advantageous manner. Repairing to the office of Messrs. Raymond & Whitcomb, in Boston, after a brief consultation with those experienced organizers of travel, the author handed the firm a check for the cost of a round trip to Mexico and back. On the following day he took his seat in a Pullman parlor car in Boston, to occupy the same section until his return from an excursion of ten thousand miles. A select party of ladies and gentlemen came together at the same time in the Fitchburg railroad station, most of whom were strangers to each other, but who were united by the same purpose. The traveler lives, eats, and sleeps in the vestibule train, while en route, in which he first embarks, until his return to the starting-point, a dining-car, with reading and writing rooms, also forming a part of the train. All care regarding the routes to be followed, as to hotel accommodations while stopping in large cities, side excursions, and the providing of domestic necessities, are dismissed from his mind. He luxuriates in the pleasure of seeing a strange and beautiful land, without a thought as to the modus operandi, or the means by which detail is conquered. In short, he dons Fortunatus's cap, and permits events to develop themselves to his intense delight. Such was the author's experience on the occasion concerning which these wayside views of Mexico were written. It was a holiday journey, but it is hoped that a description of it may impart to the general reader a portion of the pleasure and useful information which the author realized from an excursion into Aztec Land, full of novel and uninterrupted enjoyment.
Bordering upon the United States on the extreme southwest, for a distance of more than two thousand miles, is a republic which represents a civilization possibly as old as that of Egypt; a land, notwithstanding its proximity to us, of which the average American knows less than he does of France or Italy, but which rivals them in natural picturesqueness, and nearly equals them in historic interest.
It is a country which is much misunderstood and almost wholly misrepresented. It may be called the land of tradition and romance, whose true story is most poetic and sanguinary. Such is Mexico, with her twenty-seven independent states, a federal district in which is situated the national capital, and the territory of Lower California,--a widespread country, containing in all a population of between ten and eleven millions. As in the instance of this Union, each state controls its internal affairs so far as it can do so without conflicting with the laws of the national government, which are explicitly defined. The nature of the constitution, adopted in 1857 by the combined states, is that of a republic pure and simple, thoroughly democratic in its provisions. The national power resides in the people, from whom emanates all public authority. The glowing pen of Prescott has rendered us all familiar with the romantic side of Mexican history, but legitimate knowledge of her primitive story is, unfortunately, of the most fragmentary character. Our information concerning the early inhabitants comes almost solely through the writings of irresponsible monks and priests who could neither see nor represent anything relative to an idolatrous people save in accordance with the special interests of their own church; or from Spanish historians who had never set foot upon the territory of which they wrote, and who consequently repeated with heightened color the legends, traditions, and exaggerations of others. "The general opinion may be expressed," says Janvier, in his "Mexican Guide," "in regard to the writings concerning this period that, as a rule, a most gorgeous superstructure of fancy has been raised upon a very meagre foundation of fact. As romance, information of this highly imaginative sort is entertaining, but it is not edifying." One would be glad to get at the other side of the Aztec story, which, we suspect, would place the chivalric invaders in a very different light from that of their own boastful records, and also enable us to form a more just and truthful opinion of the aborigines themselves. That their numbers, religious sacrifices, and barbaric excesses are generally overdrawn is perfectly manifest. Every fair-minded student of history frankly admits this. It was necessary for Cortez and his followers to paint the character of the Aztecs in darkest hues to palliate and excuse, in a measure, their own wholesale rapine and murder. It was the elder Dumas who said, "Truth is liable to be left-handed in history." As Cortez was a champion of the Roman Catholic Church, that institution did not hesitate to represent his achievements so as to redound to its own glory. "Posterity is too often deceived by the vague hyperboles of poets and rhetoricians," says Macaulay, "who mistake the splendor of a court for the happiness of a people." No one can forget the magnificence of Montezuma's household as represented by the chroniclers, and as magnified by time and distance.

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