Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, Volume 60, Number 371, September 1846
No. CCCLXXI. SEPTEMBER, 1846. Vol. LX.
|Mexico, its Territory and People,||261|
|A Summer Day. By Thomas Aird,||277|
|My College Friends. No. IV. Charles Russell, the Gentleman Commoner. Conclusion,||309|
|Letters on English Hexameters. Letter II.,||327|
|How to Build a House and Live in it. No. II.,||349|
|How I became a Yeoman,||358|
WILLIAM BLACKWOOD AND SONS, 45, GEORGE STREET;
AND 37, PATERNOSTER ROW, LONDON.
To whom all Communications (post paid) must be addressed.
SOLD BY ALL THE BOOKSELLERS IN THE UNITED KINGDOM.
PRINTED BY BALLANTYNE AND HUGHES, EDINBURGH.
Sabloniere Hotel, Leicester Square,
London, July 27th, 1846.
Messrs Blackwood and Sons,
Gentlemen,—Scarcely arrived in London, on my annual visit to thiscapital, a fiend put into my hands a copy of Blackwood’s EdinburghMagazine for June 1846, in which I observe an article entitled “Rogues inOutline.” The writer of this article, in a section headed “Birbone—Baseggio,”has taken most unwarrantable liberties with my character, mixing them upwith some false details respecting my private life. The latter impertinences Itreat with contempt: not so the titles applied to me of “Old Rogue B——”and “Birbone Baseggio,” with the insinuation that I make a practice ofselling modern objects for antiques.
If your correspondent had taken the trouble to inquire of any of his well-informedcountrymen at Rome or in England, he certainly never would havecommitted you, or himself, by the publication of the calumny he so wantonlyseeks to inflict on my character. Luckily for me, there are now here manyrespectable persons of rank and reputation who will take a pleasure in attesting,if necessary, the habitual fairness and straight-forwardness of my dealings.I expect equal fairness from you, and that you will lose no time inaffording me the reparation of a wrong you have (I trust unconsciously) doneme, by at least publishing this letter in your next Number, giving me in themean time an assurance to that effect. I await your answer, and remain yourobedient servant,
No. CCCLXXI. SEPTEMBER, 1846. Vol. LX.
MEXICO, ITS TERRITORY AND PEOPLE.
Man must be content to follow thesteps of Providence tardily, timidly,and uncertainly; but he can have nopursuit more worthy of his genius, hiswisdom, or his virtue. Why one halfof the globe remained hidden from theother during the four or five thousandyears after its creation, is among thequestions which we may long askwithout obtaining an answer. Whythe treasures, the plants, and the animalsof America should have beenutterly unknown, alike to the adventurousexpeditions of Tyre and Sidon,to the nautical skill of the Carthaginian,to the brilliant curiosity of theGreek, and to the imperial ambitionof the Roman; while their discoverywas reserved for a Genoese sailor inthe fifteenth century, is a problemperhaps inaccessible of solution by anyhuman insight into the ways of theGreat Disposer of all things. Yetmay it not be conjectured that theknowledge was expressly withhelduntil it could be of practical use tomankind; that if America had beendiscovered a thousand years before, itwould have been found only a vastwilderness in both its southern andnorthern divisions, for it was thenalmost wholly unpeopled; that withthe chief interest of imperial Rometurned to European possession orEastern conquest, the discovery wouldhave been nearly thrown away; thatthere was hitherto no superflux ofEuropean population to pour into thismagnificent desert; and that even ifRoman adventure had dared the terrorsof the ocean, and the perils ofnew climates, at an almost interminabledistance from home, the massacresand plunders habitual to heathenconquest must have impeded, ifnot wholly broken up, the progress ofthe feeble population already settlingon the soil; or perhaps trained thatpopulation to habits of ferocity liketheir own, and turned a peaceful andpastoral land into a scene of slaughterand misery?
The discovery of the American Continentflashed on the world like thediscovery of a new Creation. In readingthe correspondence of the learnedat the time, the return of Columbus,and the knowledge which that returnbrought, is spoken of with a raptureof language more resembling an Arabiantale than the narrative of themost adventurous voyage of man.The primitive races of their fellow-beings,living in the simplicity of nature,under forests of the palm, withall delicious fruits for their food, withgold and pearls for their toys, andthe rich treasures of new plants andanimals of all species for their indulgenceand their use, were describedwith the astonishment and delight ofa dream of Fairy-land, or the stillricher visions of restored Paradise.
Yet, when the hues of imaginationgrew colourless by time, the continentsof the West displayed to theripened knowledge of Europe virtuesonly still more substantial. The contrastbetween the northern and southernportions of the New World is ofthe most striking kind. It is scarcelyless marked than the distinction between262the broken, deeply-divided, andwell-watered surface of Europe, andthe broad plains, vast mountainranges, and few, but mighty rivers,which form the characteristic featuresof Asia. In North America, we seea land of singularly varied surface, inits primitive state, covered with forest;with an uncertain climate; asoil seldom luxuriant, often sterile,every where requiring, and generallyrewarding human industry; wateredby many rivers, penetrated in almostevery direction by navigable streams,and traversed from north to south, anunusual direction for rivers, by an immensestream, the Mississippi, bringingdown the furs, the produce of thenorth, the corn of the temperate zone,the fruits of the tropics, and connectingall those regions with the commerceof Europe: a natural canal, of morethan two thousand miles, without aperceptible difference of breadth, fromNew Orleans to the falls of St Anthony.The Arkansas, Missouri, Ohio,noble rivers, traverse the land in avariety of directions, with courses offrom fifteen hundred to two thousandmiles; and to the north of the UnitedStates, a chain of vast inland seas, asuccession of Mediterraneans, surroundedby productive provinces, rapidlyfilling with a busy population.
The southern portion of the NewWorld exhibits the plains of Tartary,the solitary mountain range of India,the fertility of the Asiatic soil. It, too,has its Ganges and its Indus, in theAmazon and the Rio de la Plata; butits smaller streams are few and feeble.It has the fiery heat of India, the dangerousexhalations of the jungle, thetiger and the lion, though of a lessdaring and powerful species; and thenative, dark, delicate, timid, and indolent,as the Hindoo.
Without speaking of the contrast asperfectly sustained in all its points,it is unquestionable that North andSouth America have been formed fortwo great families of humankind as distinctas energy and ease; that theNorth is to be possessed only as theconquest of toil, while the South allowsof the languor into whose hand thefruit drops from the tree.
May it not also be rationally conjectured,that in the discovery Europeand America were equally the objectsof the Providential benevolence? Itwas palpably the Divine will to giveEurope a new and powerful advancein the fifteenth century. Printing,gunpowder, and the mariner’s compass,were its gifts to Europe; to be followedand consummated in that newimpulse at once to religious truth andto social improvement, which so soontranspired in the German Reformation,and in the commercial system of Englandand the continental nations. Theextension of this mighty impulse toAmerica rapidly followed. The firstEnglish colony was planted in NorthAmerica in the reign of Elizabeth, thegreat protectress of Protestantism;and the first authentic knowledge ofSouth America was brought to Europeby the discoveries of Englishmen, followingthe route of Columbus, andgoing beyond him. It is true that theintercourse of the South with the energeticqualities and free principles ofEurope was impeded by an influencewhich, from its first being, has been hostileto the free progress of the humanmind. The Popedom threw its shadowover Spanish America, and the greatexperiment of civilisation was comparativelythrown away wherever thepriest of Rome was paramount. Theland, too, witnessed a succession ofslaughters, and the still more fearfultrade in the unfortunate natives ofAfrica. But the most powerful contrastwas furnished to mankind in therapid growth of the Protestant statesof the north, in their increasing commerce,in the vigour of their laws, inthe activity of the public mind, andthe ascent of their scattered and feeblecommunities into the rank and theenjoyments of a great nation.
Nor are we to speak of South Americaas having wholly slept during theperiod since its discovery. If all thelarger faculties which give nations aplace in history remained in a state ofcollapse under the pressure of Spain,society had made a forward step inevery province of that great territory.The inhabitants had never relapsedinto their primitive barbarism; theyhad laws, commerce, manufactures,and literature, all in a ruder degreethan as developed under thevivid activity of Europe, but allraising the provinces into a gradualcapacity of social vigour, of popularcivilisation, and perhaps even of thatpure religion without which national263power is only national evil. Perhapsthe cloud which has rested for so manyages over the moral soil of South America,may have been suffered to remainuntil the soil itself acquired strengthfor a larger product under a moreindustrious generation. It is not improbablethat as the gold and silver ofthe South were evidently developed,in the fifteenth century, to supply thenew commercial impulse of that timeof European advance, the still morecopious, and still more important,agricultural wealth of countries overflowingwith unused exuberance—themagnificent tropical fertility of the continentsbeyond the ocean—may havebeen reserved to increase the opulenceand stimulate the ardour of a periodwhich the Steam-boat and the Railwayhave marked for a mighty change inthe earth; and in which they may beonly the first fruits of scientific skill,the promises of inventions still morepowerful, the heralds of a general progressof mankind, to whose colossalstrides all the past is feeble, unpurposed,and ineffectual.
The invasion of the Mexican territoryby the army of the United Stateshas naturally attracted the eyes ofEurope; and whether the war shallissue in a total conquest or in a hollowpeace, its results must strongly affectthe future condition of the country.Mexico must at once take the boldattitude of an empire, or must be dis-severed,province by province, untilits very name is no more. But nocountry of the western world hasa position more fitted for empire.Washed on the east by the gulf whichbears its name, and on the west bythe Pacific, it thus possesses directaccess to two oceans, and by them tothe most opulent regions of the globe.On the south it can dread no rival inthe struggling state of Guatemala.But the north is the true frontier onwhich the battle of its existence is tobe fought, if fought at all, for beyondthat barrier stretch the United States.The extent of its territory startlesEuropean conceptions, extending innorth latitude from fifteen to forty-twodegrees, and in west longitudefrom eighty-seven to one hundred andtwenty-five degrees. Its surface, ona general calculation, contains abouta million and a half of square miles,or about seven times the dimensions ofFrance. Yet, though thus approachingthe equator, the climate of Mexico is ingeneral highly favourable to life andto the products of the temperate zone:the incomparably larger portion of itssurface being a succession of table-landsor elevated plains, where, withthe sun of the tropics blazing almostvertically, the evenings are refreshinglycool, the breeze is felt from the mountainsor the ocean, and the days arescarcely hotter than those of Europe.
We now glance at the principalfeatures of the great territory.
Vera Cruz, its chief commercialcity, and medium of intercourse withEurope, is handsomely built, exhibitingthe usual signs of commercialwealth, in the stateliness of its privatehouses, and in the rarer peculiarityof wide and cleanly streets. Butwhen did commerce build with anyother consideration than that oftrade? Vera Cruz is proverbiallyunhealthy; a range of swamps in thevicinity loads the summer air withfatal exhalations; and the Vomito,the name for a rapid disease, evidentlyakin to the