Part 2 out of 11
ruins of Jerusalem, though without its sublimity. The houses seemed
blackened by fire; there is not a carriage on the streets--nothing but the
men with the wide trousers slit up the side of the leg, immense hats, and
blankets, or _sarapes_, merely a closed blanket, more or less fine, with a
hole for the head to go through; and the women with _reboses_, long
coloured cotton scarfs, or pieces of ragged stuff, thrown over the head and
crossing over the left shoulder. Add to this, the sopilotes cleaning the
streets,--disgusting, but useful scavengers. These valuable birds have
black feathers, with gray heads, beaks, and feet. They fly in troops, and
at night perch upon the trees. They are not republican, nor do they appear
inclined to declare their independence, having kings, to whom it is said
they pay so much respect, that if one of the royal species arrives at the
same time with a plebeian sopilote, in sight of a dead body, the latter
humbly waits till the sovereign has devoured his share, before he ventures
A few ladies in black gowns and mantillas called this morning, and various
men. We find the weather sultry. In summer, with greater heat and the
addition of the _vomito_, it must be a chosen city! The principal street,
where we live, is very long and wide, and seems to have many good houses in
it. Nearly opposite is one which seems particularly well kept and handsome,
and where we saw beautiful flowers as we passed. I find it belongs to an
There is much deliberation as to the mode in which we are to travel to
Mexico. Some propose a coach, others a _litera_; others advise us to take
the diligence. While in this indecision, we had a visit this morning from a
remarkable-looking character, Don Miguel S----, agent for the diligence
office in Mexico, a tall, dark, energetic-looking person. He recommends the
diligence, and offers, by accompanying us, to ensure our safety from
accidents. He appears right. The diligence goes in four days, if it does
not break down. The coach takes any time we choose over that; the _literas_
nine or ten days, going slowly on mules with a sedan-chair motion. The
diligence has food and beds provided for it at the inns--the others
nothing. I am in favour of the diligence.
The couple from Havana, whom we passed in the _goleta_, have very coolly
requested permission to accompany us to Mexico, "under the protection of
the _Embajador de Espana_." We should set off in select company.
C---n called this morning on General Victoria. Found his excellency in a
large hall without furniture or ornament of any sort, without even chairs,
and altogether in a style of more than republican simplicity. He has just
returned the visit, accompanied by his colossal aide-de-camp.
General Guadalupe Victoria is perhaps the last man in a crowd whom one
would fix upon as being the owner of the above high-sounding cognomen,
which in fact is not his original, but his assumed name, _Guadalupe_ being
adopted by him in honour of the renowned image of the virgin of that name,
and _Victoria_ with less humility to commemorate his success in battle. He
is an honest, plain, down-looking citizen, lame and tall, somewhat at a
loss for conversation, apparently amiable and good-natured, but certainly
neither courtier nor orator; a man of undeniable bravery, capable of
supporting almost incredible hardships, humane, and who has always proved
himself a sincere lover of what he considered liberty, without ever having
been actuated by ambitious or interested motives.
It is said that his defects were indolence, want of resolution, and too
much reliance on his own knowledge. He is the only Mexican president who
finished as chief magistrate, the term prescribed by the laws. It is
alleged, in proof of his simplicity, though I think it is too absurd to be
true, that having received a despatch with the two-headed eagle on the
seal, he remarked to the astonished envoy who delivered it--"Our arms are
very much alike, only I see that his majesty's eagles have two heads. I
have heard that some of that species exist here, in _tierre caliente_, and
shall have one sent for."
The general is not married, but appears rather desirous of entering the
united state. He strongly recommends us to avoid broken bones by going it
literas, at least as far as Jalapa. Having stumbled about for some time in
search of his cocked-hat, it was handed to him by his aide-de-camp, and he
We walked out in the evening to take a look of the environs, with Senor
V---o, the commander of the Jason, and several young ladies of the house.
We walked in the direction of an old church, where it is or was the custom
for young ladies desirous of being married to throw a stone at the saint,
their fortune depending upon the stone's hitting him, so that he is in a
lapidated and dilapidated condition. Such environs! the surrounding houses
black with smoke of powder or with fire--a view of bare red sandhills all
round--not a tree, or shrub, or flower, or bird, except the horrid black
sopilote, or police-officer. All looks as if the prophet Jeremiah had
passed through the city denouncing woe to the dwellers thereof. Such a
melancholy, wholly deserted-looking burial-ground as we saw!
War and revolutions have no doubt done their work, yet I find difficulty in
believing those who speak of Vera Cruz as having been a gay and delightful
residence in former days, though even now, those who have resided here for
any length of time, even foreigners, almost invariably become attached to
it; and as for those born here, they are the truest of patriots, holding up
Vera Cruz as superior to all other parts of the world.
The city was founded by the Viceroy, Count de Monterey, at the end of the
seventeenth century, and ought not to be confounded, as it sometimes is,
with either of the two colonies founded by the first Spaniards. Built in
front of the island of San Juan de Ulua, it has one interesting
recollection attached to it, since on the same arid shores, Cortes
disembarked more than three centuries ago. Unlike the green and fertile
coast which gladdened the eyes of Columbus, the Spanish conqueror beheld a
bleak and burning desert, whose cheerless aspect might well have deterred a
feebler mind from going further in search of the paradise that existed
We returned to the house, and heard some ladies play upon a harp, so
called, a small, light instrument in that form, but without pedals, so
light, that they can lift it with one hand; and yet the music they bring
from it is surprising; one air after another, a little monotonously, but
with great ease and a certain execution, and with the additional merit of
I imagine that there must be a great deal of musical taste thrown away
here. There are pianos in almost every house, and one lady, who came to see
me to-day, and whose mother was English, had been extremely well taught,
and played with great taste. They attempted dancing, but having no masters,
can only learn by what they _hear_. On the balcony this evening, it was
delightful, and the moon is a universal beautifier.
21st.--We walked about the city yesterday, and returned visits. The streets
are clean, and some few churches tolerably handsome.
The _Comicos_ came in the morning to offer us the centre box in the
theatre, it being the benefit night of Donna Inocencia Martinez from
Madrid, a favourite of the public, and, in fact, a pretty woman and good
comic actress. The theatre is small, and, they say, generally deserted, but
last night it was crowded. The drop-scene represents the fine arts, who are
so fat, that their condition here must be flourishing. We were, however,
agreeably disappointed in the performance, which was the "Segunda Dama
Duende," nearly a translation from the "Domino Noir," and very amusing;
full of excellent _coups-de-theatre_. Donna Inocencia in her various
characters, as domino, servant-girl, abbess, etc., was very handsome, and
acted with great spirit. Moreover, she and her sister, with two Spaniards,
danced the Jota Aragonesa in perfection, so that we spent a pleasant
evening, upon the whole, within the precincts of the city of the True
To-morrow is the day fixed for our departure, and we shall not be sorry to
leave this place, although this house is excellent, a whole suite of rooms
given to us, and neither ceremony nor _gene_ of any sort. The weather is
certainly beautiful. The heat may be a little oppressive in the middle of
the day, but the evenings are cool and delightful.
Departure from Vera Cruz
We had a visit yesterday from the English and French consuls. M.
de ----- prophesies broken arms and dislodged teeth, if we persist in our
plan of taking the diligence,--but all things balanced, we think it
preferable to every other conveyance. General Victoria returned to see
us this morning, and was very civil and amiable, offering very cordially
every service and assistance in his power. We are to rise to-morrow at
two, being invited to breakfast with General Santa Anna, at his
country-seat Manga de Clavo, a few leagues from this.
We have been sitting on the balcony till very late, enjoying the moonlight
and refreshing breeze from the sea, and as we rise before daybreak, our
rest will be but short.
LETTER THE FIFTH
Departure from Vera Cruz--Sandhills--Oriental Scene--Manga de
Clavo--General Santa Anna--Breakfast--Escort and Diligence--Santa
Fe--Puente National--Bridge sketched by Mrs. Ward--Country in
December--Don Miguel--First Impressions--Fruit--Plan del Rio--German
Musicians--Sleeping Captain--Approach to Jalapa--Appearance of the
City--Cofre de Perote-Flowers--House and Rock--Last View of Jalapa--Change
of Scenery--San Miguel de los Soldados--Perote--Striking Scene before
Daybreak--Non-arrival of Escort--Yankee Coachman--Dispute--Departure
--Company of Lancers--Alcalde--Breakfast at La Ventilla--Pulque--Double
Escort--Crosses--Brigand-looking Tavern-keeper--Ojo de Agua--Arrival at
Puebla--Dress of the Peasants--Christmas-eve--Inn--"_Nacimento_."
JALAPA, 23rd December.
Yesterday morning at two o'clock we rose by candlelight, with the pleasant
prospect of leaving Vera Cruz and of seeing Santa Anna. Two boxes, called
carriages, drawn by mules, were at the door, to convey us to Magna de
Clavo. Senor V---o, C---n, the commander of the Jason, and I being encased
in them, we set off half-asleep. By the faint light, we could just
distinguish as we passed the gates, and the carriages ploughed their way
along nothing but sand--sand--as far as the eye could reach; a few leagues
of Arabian desert.
At length we began to see symptoms of vegetation; occasional palm-trees and
flowers, and by the time we had reached a pretty Indian village, where we
stopped to change mules, the light had broke in, and we seemed to have been
transported, as if by enchantment, from a desert to a garden. It was
altogether a picturesque and striking scene; the huts composed of bamboo,
and thatched with palm-leaves, the Indian women with their long black hair
standing at the doors with their half-naked children, the mules rolling
themselves on the ground, according to their favourite fashion, snow-white
goats browsing amongst the palm-trees, and the air so soft and balmy, the
first fresh breath of morning; the dew-drops still glittering on the broad
leaves of the banana and palm, and all around so silent, cool, and still.
The huts, though poor, were clean; no windows, but a certain subdued light
makes its way through the leafy canes. We procured some tumblers of new
milk, and having changed mules, pursued our journey, now no longer through
hills of sand, but across the country, through a wilderness of trees and
flowers, the glowing productions of tierra caliente. We arrived about five
at Manga de Clavo, after passing through leagues of natural garden, the
property of Santa Anna.
The house is pretty, slight-looking, and kept in nice order. We were
received by an aide-de-camp in uniform, and by several officers, and
conducted to a large, cool, agreeable apartment, with little furniture,
into which shortly entered the Senora de Santa Anna, tall, thin, and, at
that early hour of the morning, dressed to receive us in clear white
muslin, with white satin shoes, and with very splendid diamond earrings,
brooch, and rings. She was very polite, and introduced her daughter
Guadalupe, a miniature of her mamma, in features and costume.
In a little while entered General Santa Anna himself; a gentlemanly,
good-looking, quietly-dressed, rather melancholy-looking person, with one
leg, apparently somewhat of an invalid, and to us the most interesting
person in the group. He has a sallow complexion, fine dark eyes, soft and
penetrating, and an interesting expression of face. Knowing nothing of his
past history, one would have said a philosopher, living in dignified
retirement--one who had tried the world, and found that all was
vanity--one who had suffered ingratitude, and who, if he were ever
persuaded to emerge from his retreat, would only do so, Cincinnatus-like,
to benefit his country. It is strange, how frequently this expression of
philosophic-resignation, of placid sadness, is to be remarked on the
countenances of the deepest, most ambitious, and most designing men. C---n
gave him a letter from the Queen, written under the supposition of his
being still President, with which he seemed much pleased, but merely made
the innocent observation, "How very well the Queen writes!"
It was only now and then, that the expression of his eye was startling,
especially when he spoke of his leg, which is cut off below the knee. He
speaks of it frequently, like Sir John Ramorny of his bloody hand, and when
he gives an account of his wound, and alludes to the French on that day,
his countenance assumes that air of bitterness which Ramorny's may have
exhibited when speaking of "Harry the Smith."
Otherwise, he made himself very agreeable, spoke a great deal of the United
States, and of the persons he had known there, and in his manners was quiet
and gentlemanlike, and altogether a more polished hero than I had expected
to see. To judge from the past, he will not long remain in his present
state of inaction, besides having within him, according to Zavala, "a
principle of action for ever impelling him forward."
_En attendant_, breakfast was announced. The Senora de Santa Anna led me
in. C---n was placed at the head of the table, I on his right, Santa Anna
opposite, the Senora on my right. The breakfast was very handsome,
consisting of innumerable Spanish dishes, meat and vegetables, fish and
fowl, fruits and sweatmeats, all served in white and gold French porcelain,
with coffee, wines, etc. After breakfast, the Senora having despatched an
officer for her cigar-case, which was gold, with a diamond latch, offered
me a cigar, which I having declined, she lighted her own, a little paper
"cigarito," and the gentlemen followed her good example.
We then proceeded to look at the out-houses and offices; at the General's
favourite war-horse, an old white charger, probably a sincerer philosopher
than his master; at several game-cocks, kept with especial care,
cock-fighting being a favourite recreation of Santa Anna's; and at his
_litera_, which is handsome and comfortable. There are no gardens, but, as
he observed, the whole country, which for twelve leagues square belongs to
him, is a garden. The appearance of the family says little for the
healthiness of the _locale_; and indeed its beauty and fertility will not
compensate for its insalubrity.
As we had but a few hours to spare, the General ordered round two
carriages, both very handsome, and made in the United States, one of which
conveyed him and C---n, the Senora and me. In the other were the little
girl and the officers; in which order we proceeded across the country to
the high-road, where the diligence and servants, with our guide, Don Miguel
S----, were to overtake us. The diligence not having arrived, we got down
and sat on a stone bench, in front of an Indian cottage, where we talked,
while the young lady amused herself by eating apples, and C---n and the
General remained moralizing in the carriage.
Shortly after, and just as the sun was beginning to give us a specimen of
his power, our lumbering escort of Mexican soldiers galloped up (orders
having been given by the government that a fresh escort shall be stationed
every six leagues) and announced the approach of the diligence. We were
agreeably disappointed by the arrival of a handsome new coach, made in the
United States, drawn by ten good-looking mules, and driven by a smart
Yankee coachman. Our party consisted of ourselves, Don Miguel, the captain
of the Jason and his first lieutenant, who accompany us to Mexico. The day
was delightful, and every one apparently in good-humour. We took leave of
General Santa Anna, his lady and daughter, also of our hospitable
entertainer, Senor V---o; got into the diligence--doors shut--all
right--lash up the mules, and now for Mexico!
Gradually, as in Dante's Commedia, after leaving Purgatory, typified by
Vera Cruz, we seemed to draw nearer to Paradise. The road is difficult, as
the approach to Paradise ought to be, and the extraordinary jolts were
sufficient to prevent us from being too much enraptured by the scenery,
which increased in beauty as we advanced. At Santa Fe and Sopilote we
changed horses, and at Tolome, one of the sites of the civil war, came to
the end of Santa Anna's twelve leagues of property.
We arrived at Puente Nacional, formerly Puente del Rey, celebrated as the
scene of many an engagement during the Revolution, and by occupying which,
Victoria frequently prevented the passage of the Spanish troops, and that
of the convoys of silver to the port. Here we stopped a short time to
admire the beautiful bridge thrown over the river Antigua, with its stone
arches, which brought Mrs. Ward's sketch to my recollection, though it is
very long since I saw the book. We were accompanied by the commander of the
fort. It is now a peaceful-looking scene. We walked to the bridge, pulled
branches of large white flowers, admired the rapid river dashing over the
rocks, and the fine, bold scenery that surrounds it. The village is a mere
collection of huts, with some fine trees.
It was difficult to believe, as we journeyed on, that we were now in the
midst of December. The air was soft and balmy. The heat, without being
oppressive, that of a July day in England. The road through a succession of
woody country; trees covered with every variety of blossom, and loaded with
the most delicious tropical fruits; flowers of every colour filling the air
with fragrance, and the most fantastical profusion of parasitical plants
intertwining the branches of the trees, and flinging their bright blossoms
over every bough. Palms, cocoas, oranges, lemons, succeeded one another,
and at one turn of the road, down in a lovely green valley, we caught a
glimpse of an Indian woman, with her long hair, resting under the shade of
a lofty tree--beside a running stream--an Oriental picture. Had it not been
for the dust and the jolting, nothing could have been more delightful. As
for Don Miguel, with his head out of the window, now desiring the coachman
to go more quietly, now warning us to prepare for a jolt, now pointing out
everything worth looking at, and making light of difficulties, he was the
very best conductor of a journey I ever met with. His hat of itself was a
curiosity to us; a white beaver with immense brim, lined with thick silver
tissue, with two large silver rolls and tassels round it.
One circumstance must be observed by all who travel in Mexican territory.
There is not one human being or passing object to be seen that is not in
itself a picture, or which would not form a good subject for the pencil.
The Indian women with their plaited hair, and little children slung to
their backs, their large straw hats, and petticoats of two colours--the
long strings of arrieros with their loaded mules, and swarthy,
wild-looking faces--the chance horseman who passes with his sarape of many
colours, his high ornamented saddle, Mexican hat, silver stirrups, and
leathern boots--this is picturesque. Salvator Rosa and Hogarth might have
travelled here to advantage, hand-in-hand; Salvator for the sublime, and
Hogarth taking him up where the sublime became the ridiculous.
At La Calera we had a distant view of the sea. Occasionally we stopped to
buy oranges fresh from the trees, pineapples, and granaditas, which are
like Brobdinagian gooseberries, the pulp enclosed in a very thick yellow or
green rind, and very refreshing.
It was about seven in the evening, when very dusty, rather tired, but very
much enchanted with all we had seen, we arrived at Plan del Rio. Here the
diligence passengers generally stop for the night; that is, sleep a few
hours on a hard bed, and rise at midnight to go on to Jalapa. But to this
arrangement, I for one made vociferous objections, and strongly insisted
upon the propriety and feasibility of sleeping at Jalapa that night. Don
Miguel, the most obsequious of dons, declared that it should be exactly as
the Senora ordered.
Accordingly it was agreed that we should wait for the moon, and then pursue
our journey; and meanwhile we walked out to a short distance, to see the
bridge, the river, and the wood. The bridge consists of a single large arch
thrown over the river, and communicating with a great high-road, formerly
paved, but now going to ruin.
We returned to the inn, a long row of small rooms, built of brick and
prettily situated, not far from the water. Here we had the luxury of water
and towels, which enabled us to get rid of a certain portion of dust before
we went to supper.
The diligence from Jalapa has just deposited at the inn, a German with his
wife and child, he bearing so decidedly the stamp of a German musician,
that we at once guessed his calling. They are from Mexico, from whence the
fine arts seem to be taking their flight, and gave a most woeful account of
the road between this and Jalapa.
We had a very tolerable supper; soup, fish, fowls, steak, and frijoles, all
well seasoned with garlic and oil. The jolting had given me too bad a
headache to care for more than coffee. We were strongly advised to remain
the night there, but lazy people know too well what it is to rise in the
middle of the night, especially when they are much fatigued; and when the
moon rose, we packed ourselves once more into the diligence, sufficiently
refreshed to encounter new fatigues. The moon was very bright, and most of
the party prepared themselves for sleep with cigars in their mouths; not a
very easy matter, for the roads were infamous, a succession of holes and
rocks. As we were gradually ascending, the weather became cooler, and from
cool began to grow cold, forcing us to look out for cloaks and shawls. We
could now discern some change in the vegetation, or rather a mingling of
the trees of a colder climate with those of the tropics, especially the
Mexican oak, which begins to flourish here. Fortunately, at one part of the
road, the moon enabled us to see the captain of the escort lying on the
ground fast asleep, his horse standing quietly beside him, he having fallen
off while asleep, and continued his nap. The soldiers shook him up with
At _Carral falso_ we changed mules, and from the badness of the road,
continued to go slowly.
The cold increased, and at last by the moonlight, we had a distinct view of
the Peak of Orizava, with his white nightcap on (excuse the simile,
suggested by extreme sleepiness), the very sight enough to make one shiver.
As we approached Jalapa, the scene was picturesque. The escort had put on
their _sarapes_, and with their high helmets and feathers, went galloping
along, and dashing amongst the trees and shrubs. Orizava and the Cofre de
Perote shone white in the distance, while a delicious smell of flowers,
particularly of roses, gave token of the land through which we were
It was nearly two in the morning when we reached Jalapa, tired to death,
and shivering with cold. Greatly we rejoiced as we rattled through its
mountainous streets, and still more when we found ourselves in a nice clean
inn, with brick floors and decent small beds, and everything prepared for
us. The sight of a fire would have been too much luxury; however, they gave
us some hot tea, and very shortly after, I at least can answer for myself,
that I was in bed, and enjoying the most delightful sleep that I have had
since I left New York.
This morning the diligence being at our disposal we did not rise by break
of day, but on the contrary, continued to sleep till eight o'clock. I was
waited on by such a nice, civil, clean little old woman, that I should like
to carry her off with me. Meanwhile, various authorities of the town were
stationed at the door to give C---n welcome when he should appear.
Our breakfast was delicious. Such fresh eggs, and fresh butter, and good
coffee and well-fried chickens; moreover, such good bread and peculiarly
excellent water, that we fell very much in love with Jalapa.
After breakfast we walked out, accompanied by various gentlemen of the
place. The town consists of little more than a few steep streets, very old,
with some large and excellent houses, the best as usual belonging to
English merchants, and many to those of Vera Cruz, who come to live in or
near Jalapa, during the reign of the "_Vomito_." There are some old
churches, a very old convent of Franciscan monks, and a well-supplied
marketplace. Everywhere there are flowers--roses creeping over the old
walls, Indian girls making green garlands for the virgin and saints,
flowers in the shops, flowers at the windows, but, above all, everywhere
one of the most splendid mountain views in the world.
The Cofre de Perote, with its dark pine forests and gigantic _chest_ (a
rock of porphyry which takes that form), and the still loftier snow-white
peak of Orizava, tower above all the others, seeming like the colossal
guardians of the land. The intervening mountains, the dark cliffs and
fertile plains, the thick woods of lofty trees clothing the hills and the
valleys; a glimpse of the distant ocean; the surrounding lanes shaded by
fruit trees: aloes, bananas, chirimoyas, mingled with the green
liquidambar, the flowering myrtle, and hundreds of plants and shrubs and
flowers of every colour and of delicious fragrance, all combine to form one
of the most varied and beautiful scenes that the eye can behold.
Then Jalapa itself, so old and gray, and rose-becovered, with a sound of
music issuing from every open door and window, and its soft and agreeable
temperature, presents, even in a few hours, a series of agreeable
impressions not easily effaced.
But we are now returned to our inn, for it is near noon, and the veil of
clouds, that earlier in the morning enveloped Orizava, has passed away,
leaving its white summit environed by a flood of light. I shall probably
have no opportunity of writing until we reach Puebla.
Yesterday morning we took leave of the _Jalapenos_, and once more found
ourselves _en route_. Such a view of the mountains as we ascended the steep
road! and such flowers and blossoming trees on all sides! Large scarlet
blossoms, and hanging purple and white flowers, and trees covered with
fragrant bell-shaped flowers like lilies, which the people here call the
_floripundio_, together with a profusion of double pink roses that made the
air fragrant as we passed; and here and there a church, a ruined convent,
or a white hacienda. We had the advantage of clear weather, not always to
be found at Jalapa, especially when the north wind, blowing at Vera Cruz,
covers this city and its environs with a dense fog.
We stopped at a small village to change horses (for on leaving Jalapa, our
mules were exchanged for eight strong white horses), and here Don Miguel
made us enter a very pretty house belonging to some female friends of his,
one of whom was very handsome, with a tasteful white turban. The curiosity
of this place is a rock behind the house, covered with roses,
clove-carnations, and every variety of bright flower-tree, together with
oranges, lemons, limes, and cedrats, all growing out of the rock. The
ladies were very civil, though I dare say surprised at our admiration of
their December flowers, and gave us orangeade and cake, with large cedrats
and oranges from the trees; but above all, the most delicious bouquet of
roses and carnations; so that, together with the unknown scarlet and purple
blossoms which the captain of the escort had gathered for me, the diligence
inside looked like an arbour.
We continued our journey, the road ascending towards the tableland, and at
one striking point of view we got out and looked back upon Jalapa, and
round upon a panorama of mountains. Gradually the vegetation changed: fine,
fresh-looking European herbage and trees succeeded the less hardy though
more brilliant trees and flowers of the tropics; the banana and chirimoya
gave place to the strong oak, and higher still, these were interspersed
with the dark green of the pine.
At San Miguel de los Soldados we stopped to take some refreshment. The
country became gradually more bleak, and before arriving at the village of
Las Vigas, nearly all trees had disappeared but the hardy fir, which
flourishes amongst the rocks. The ground for about two leagues was covered
with lava, and great masses of black calcined rock, so that we seemed to be
passing over the crater of a volcano. This part of the country is
deservedly called the _Mal Pais_, and the occasional crosses with their
faded garlands, that gleam in these bleak, volcanic regions, give token
that it may have yet other titles to the name of "Evil Land." The roses and
carnations that I had brought from Jalapa were still unwithered, so that in
a few hours we had passed through the whole scale of vegetation.
The road became steep and dreary, and after passing _Cruz Blanca_,
excepting occasional cornfields and sombre pine-forests, the scene had no
objects of interest sufficient to enable us to keep our eyes open. The sun
was set--it grew dusk, and by the time we reached Perote, where we were to
pass the night, most of us had fallen into an uncomfortable sleep, very
cold and quite stupefied, and too sleepy to be hungry, in spite of finding
a large supper prepared for us.
The inn was dirty, very unlike that at Jalapa, the beds miserable, and we
were quite ready to get up by the light of an unhappy specimen of tallow
which the landlord brought to our doors at two in the morning.
There are some scenes which can never be effaced from our memory, and such
a one was that which took place this morning at Perote at two o'clock, the
moon and the stars shining bright and cold.
Being dressed, I went into the kitchen, where C---n, the officers of the
Jason, Don Miguel, and the Mexican captain of the last night's escort, were
assembled by the light of one melancholy sloping candle, together with a
suspicious-looking landlord, and a few sleepy Indian women with bare feet,
tangled hair, copper faces and reboses. They made us some chocolate with
goat's milk, horrid in general, and rancid in particular.
It appeared that all parties were at a standstill, for, by some mistake in
the orders, the new escort had not arrived, and the escort of the preceding
night could go no further. Don Miguel, with his swarthy face, and great
sarape, was stalking about, rather out of humour, while the captain was
regretting, in very polite tones, with his calm, Arab-looking, impassive
face, that his escort could proceed no further. He seemed to think it
extremely probable that we should be robbed, believed, indeed had just
heard it asserted, that a party of _ladrones_ were looking out for el Senor
Ministro, regretted that he could not assist us, though quite at our
service, and recommended us to wait until the next escort should arrive.
To this advice our conductor would by no means listen. He was piqued that
any detention should occur, and yet aware that it was unsafe to go on. He
had promised to convey us safely, and in four days, to Mexico, and it was
necessary to keep his word. Some one proposed that two of the men should
accompany the diligence upon mules, as probably a couple of these animals
might be procured. The captain observed, that though entirely at our
disposal, two men could be of no manner of use, as, in case of attack,
resistance, except with a large escort, was worse than useless.
Nevertheless it was remarked by some ingenious person, that the robbers
seeing two, might imagine that there were more behind. In short there were
various opinions. One proposed that they should go on the coach, another
that they should go _in_ it. Here I ventured to interpose, begging that
they might ride on mules or go outside, but by no means within. As usual,
it was as the Senora pleased.
At length we all collected before the door of the inn, and a queer group we
must have made by the light of the moon, and a nice caricature, I thought
to myself, our friend Mr. G---- would have made of us, had he been there.
The diligence with eight white horses and a Yankee coachman, originally, no
doubt, called Brown, but now answering to the mellifluous appellation of
_Bruno_; A---- with her French cap, and loaded with sundry mysterious
looking baskets; I with cloak and bonnet; C---n with Greek cap, cloak, and
cigar; the captain of the Jason also with cloak and cigar, and very cold;
the lieutenant in his navy uniform, taking it coolly; Don Miguel, with his
great sarape and silver hat--(six people belonging to five different
countries); the Mexican captain, with his pale impassive face and
moustaches, enveloped in a very handsome sarape, and surrounded by the
sleepy escort of the preceding night; dirty-looking soldiers lounging on
the ground, wrapped in their blankets; the Indian women and the host of the
inn, and a bright moon and starry sky lighting up the whole--the figures in
the foreground, and the lofty snow-clad mountains, and the dismal old town
of Perote itself, that looked gray and sulky at being disturbed so early,
with its old castle of San Carlos, and cold, sterile plains.
Meanwhile, two soldiers with cloaks and arms had climbed up outside of the
coach. The captain remarked that they could not sit there. Bruno made some
reply, upon which the captain very coolly drew his sword, and was about to
put a very decided impediment to our journey by stabbing the coachman, when
Don Miguel, his eyes and cigar all shining angrily, rushed in between them.
High words ensued between him and the captain, and the extreme coolness and
precision with which the latter spoke, was very amusing. It was as if he
were rehearsing a speech from a play. "I always speak frankly," said Don
Miguel, in an angry tone. "And I," said the captain, in a polite, measured
voice, "am also accustomed to speak my mind with extreme frankness. I
regret, however, that I did not at the moment perceive the Senora at the
door, otherwise," etc.
At length the two little men, who with their arms and sarapes looked like
bundles of ammunition, and who, half asleep, had been by some zealous
person, probably by our friend Bruno, tumbled upon the diligence like
packages, were now rolled off it, and finally tumbled upon mules, and we
got into the coach. Don Miguel, with his head out of the window, and not
very easy in his mind, called up the two bundles and gave them directions
as to their line of conduct in a stage whisper, and they trotted off,
primed with valour, while we very cold and (I answer for myself) rather
frightened, proceeded on our way. The earliness of the hour was probably
our salvation, as we started two hours before the usual time, and thus
gained a march upon the gentlemen of the road.
We were not sorry, however, when at our first halting-place, and whilst
we, were changing horses, we descried a company of lancers at full gallop,
with a very good-looking officer at their head, coming along the road;
though when first I heard the sound of horses' hoofs, clattering along,
and, by the faint light, discerned the horsemen enveloped as they were in a
cloud of dust, I felt sure that they were a party of robbers. The captain
made many apologies for the delay, and proceeded to inform us that the
alcaldes of Tepeyagualco, La Ventilla, and of some other villages, whose
names I forget, had for twenty days prepared a breakfast in expectation of
his Excellency's arrival:--whether twenty breakfasts, or the same one cold,
or _rechauffe_, we may never know.
The captain had a very handsome horse, which he caused to _caracolear_ by
the side of the diligence, and put at my disposal with a low bow, every
time I looked at it. He discoursed with C---n of robbers and wars, and of
the different sites which these gentry most affected, and told him how his
first wife had been shot by following him in some engagement, yet how his
second wife invariably followed him also.
Arrived at Tepeyagualco, after having passed over a succession of sterile
plains covered with scanty pasture, an alcalde advanced to meet the
diligence, and hospitably made C---n an offer of the before-mentioned
twenty days' entertainment, which he with many thanks declined. Who ate
that breakfast, is buried in the past. Whether the alcalde was glad or
sorry, did not appear. He vanished with a profusion of bows, and was
followed by a large, good-looking Indian woman, who stood behind him while
he made his discourse. Perhaps they eat together the long-prepared feast;
which was at least one of the many tributes paid to the arrival of the
first messenger of peace from the mother-country.
At La Ventilla, however, we descended with a good appetite, and found
several authorities waiting to give C---n a welcome. Here they gave us
delicious chirimoyas, a natural custard, which we liked even upon a first
trial, also granaditas, bananas, sapotes, etc. Here also I first tasted
_pulque;_ and on a first impression it appears to me, that as nectar was
the drink in Olympus, we may fairly conjecture that Pluto cultivated the
maguey in his dominions. The taste and smell combined took me so completely
by surprise, that I am afraid my look of horror must have given mortal
offence to the worthy alcalde who considers it the most delicious beverage
in the world; and in fact, it is said, that when one gets over the first
shock, it is very agreeable. The difficulty must consist in getting over
After a tolerable breakfast, hunger making chile and garlic supportable, we
continued our route; and were informed that the robbers, having grown very
daring, and the next stage being very dangerous, our escort was to be
doubled. Since we left Perote, the country had gradually become more
dreary, and we had again got into the "_mal pais_," where nothing is to be
seen but a few fir-trees and pines, dark and stunted, black masses of lava,
and an occasional white cross to mark either where a murder has been
committed, or where a celebrated robber has been buried. Of each, Don
Miguel gave us a succinct account. Some lines of Childe Harold suit this
scene as if written for it:
"And here and there, as up the crags you spring,
Mark many rude-carved crosses near the path:
Yet deem not these devotion's offering--
These are memorials frail of murderous wrath;
For, wheresoe'er the shrieking victim hath
Pour'd forth his blood beneath the assassin's knife,
Some hand erects a cross of mouldering lath;
And grove and glen with thousand such are rife,
Throughout this purple land, where law secures not life."
The whole scene was wild and grand, yet dreary and monotonous, presenting
the greatest contrast possible to our first day's journey. The only signs
of life to be met with were the long strings of arrieros with their droves
of mules, and an occasional Indian hut, with a few miserable half-naked
women and children.
At one small, wild-looking inn, where, very cold and miserable, we stopped,
some hot wine was brought us, which was very acceptable. The tavern-keeper,
for it was no more than a spirit-shop, if not a robber, had all the
appearance of one; wild, melancholy, and with a most sinister expression of
countenance. Salvator never drew a more bandit-looking figure, as he stood
there with his blanket and slouched hat, and a knife in his belt, tall and
thin and muscular, with his sallow visage and his sad, fierce eyes.
However, he showed us the marks on his door, where a band of twenty robbers
had broken in one night, and robbed some travellers, who were sleeping
there, of a large sum of money.
C---n asked him how the robbers treated the women when they fell into their
power. "_Las saludan_," said he, "and sometimes carry them off to the
mountains, but rarely, and chiefly when they are afraid of their giving
information against them."
At _Ojo de Agua_, where we changed horses, we saw the accommodations which
those who travel in private coach or litera must submit to, unless they
bring their own beds along with them, and a stock of provisions besides a
common room like a barn, where all must herd together; and neither chair,
nor table, nor food to be had. It was a solitary-looking house, standing
lonely on the plain, with a few straggling sheep nibbling the brown grass
in the vicinity. A fine spring of water from which it takes its name, and
Orizaya, which seems to have travelled forward, and stands in bold outline
against the sapphire sky, were all that we saw there worthy notice.
We changed horses at Nopaluca, Acagete and Amosoque, all small villages,
with little more than the POSADA, and a few poor houses, and all very
dirty. The country, however, improves in cultivation and fertility, though
the chief trees are the sombre pines. Still accompanied by our two escorts,
which had a very grandiloquent effect, we entered, by four o'clock, Puebla
de los Angeles, the second city to Mexico (after Guadalajara) in the
republic, where we found very fine apartments prepared for us in the inn,
and where, after a short rest and a fresh toilet, we went out to see what
we could of the city before it grew dusk, before it actually became what it
now is, CHRISTMAS-EVE!
It certainly does require some time for the eye to become accustomed to the
style of building adopted in the Spanish colonies. There is something at
first sight exceedingly desolate-looking in these great wooden doors, like
those of immense barns, the great iron-barred windows, the ill-paved
courtyards, even the flat roofs; and then the streets, where, though this
is a fete-day, we see nothing but groups of peasants or of beggars--the
whole gives the idea of a total absence of comfort. Yet the streets of
Puebla are clean and regular, the houses large, the cathedral magnificent,
and the plaza spacious and handsome.
The cathedral was shut, and is not to be opened till midnight mass, which I
regret the less as we must probably return here some day.
The dress of the Poblana peasants is pretty, especially on fete-days. A
white muslin chemise, trimmed with lace round the skirt, neck, and sleeves,
which are plaited neatly; a petticoat shorter than the chemise, and divided
into two colours, the lower part made generally of a scarlet and black
stuff, a manufacture of the country, and the upper part of yellow satin,
with a satin vest of some bright colour, and covered with gold or silver,
open in front, and turned back. This vest may be worn or omitted, as suits
the taste of the wearer. It is without sleeves, but has straps; the hair
plaited in two behind, and the plaits turned up and fastened together by a
diamond ring; long earrings, and all sorts of chains and medals and
tinkling things worn round the neck. A long, broad, coloured sash,
something like an officer's belt, tied behind after going twice or thrice
round the waist, into which is stuck a silver cigar-case. A small coloured
handkerchief like a broad ribbon, crossing over the neck, is fastened in
front with a brooch, the ends trimmed with silver, and going through the
sash. Over all is thrown a reboso, not over the head, but thrown on like a
scarf; and they wear silk stockings, or more commonly no stockings, and
white satin shoes trimmed with silver.
This is on holidays. On common occasions, the dress is the same, but the
materials are more common, at least the vest with silver is never worn; but
the chemise is still trimmed with lace, and the shoes are satin.
Christmas-eve in Puebla! The room is filled with visitors, who have come to
congratulate C---n on his arrival, and a wonderfully handsome room it is,
to do it justice, with chairs and sofas of scarlet stuff. But I was anxious
to see _something_. As we are to leave Puebla very early, I am prohibited
from going to the midnight mass. I proposed the theatre, where there is to
be a _Nacimiento_, a representation in figures of various events connected
with the Birth of Christ; such as the Annunciation, the Holy Family, the
Arrival of the Wise Men of the East, etc. But after some deliberation, it
was agreed that this would not do; so finding that there is nothing to be
done, and tired of polite conversation, I betake myself to bed.
It is now about three o'clock, but I was awakened an hour ago by the sounds
of the hymns which ushered in Christmas morning; and looking from the
window, saw, by the faint light, bands of girls dressed in white, singing
in chorus through the streets.
We have just taken chocolate, and, amidst a profusion of bows and
civilities from the landlord, are preparing to set off for Mexico.
LETTER THE SIXTH
Departure from Puebla--Chirimoyas--Rio Frio--Indian Game--Black
Forest--Valley of Mexico--Recollections of Tenochtitlan--Mexican
Officer--Reception--Scenery--Variety of Dresses--Cheers--Storm of
Rain--Entry to Mexico--Buenavista--House by Daylight--Sights from the
Windows--Visits--Mexican Etiquette--Countess C----a--Flowers in
Mexico, 26th December.
We left Puebla between four and five in the morning, as we purposely made
some delay, not wishing to reach Mexico too early; and in so doing, acted
contrary to the advice of Don Miguel, who was generally right in these
matters. The day was very fine when we set off, though rain was predicted.
Some of the gentlemen had gone to the theatre the night before, to see the
_Nacimiento_, and the audience had been composed entirely of _Gentuza_, the
common people, who were drinking brandy and smoking; so it was fortunate
that we had not shown our faces there.
The country was now flat but fertile, and had on the whole more of a
European look than any we had yet passed through.
At Rio Prieto, a small village, where we changed horses, I found that I had
been sitting very comfortably with my feet in a basket of chirimoyas, and
that my bordequins, white gown, and cloak, had been all drenched with the
milky juice, and then made black by the floor of the diligence.
With no small difficulty a trunk was brought down, and another dress
procured, to the great amusement of the Indian women, who begged to know if
my gown was the _last fashion_, and said it was "_muy guapa,_" very pretty.
Here we found good hot coffee, and it being Christmas-day, every one was
cleaned and dressed for mass.
At Rio Frio, which is about thirteen leagues from Mexico, and where there
is a pretty good posada in a valley surrounded by woods, we stopped to
dine. The inn was kept by a Bordelaise and her husband, who wish themselves
in Bordeaux twenty times a day. In front of the house some Indians were
playing at a curious and very ancient game--a sort of swing, resembling
"_El Juego de los Voladores,_" "The game of the flyers," much in vogue
amongst the ancient Mexicans. Our French hostess gave us a good dinner,
especially excellent potatoes, and jelly of various sorts, regaling us with
plenty of stories of robbers and robberies and horrid murders all the
while. On leaving Rio Frio, the road became more hilly and covered with
woods, and we shortly entered the tract known by the name of the Black
Forest, a great haunt for banditti, and a beautiful specimen of forest
scenery, a succession of lofty oaks, pines, and cedars, with wild flowers
lighting up their gloomy green. But I confess that the impatience which I
felt to see Mexico, the idea that in a few hours we should actually be
there, prevented me from enjoying the beauty of the scenery, and made the
road appear interminable.
But at length we arrived at the heights looking down upon the great valley,
celebrated in all parts of the world, with its framework of everlasting
mountains, its snow-crowned volcanoes, great lakes, and fertile plains,
all surrounding the favoured city of Montezuma, the proudest boast of his
conqueror, once of Spain's many diadems the brightest. But the day had
overcast, nor is this the most favourable road for entering Mexico. The
innumerable spires of the distant city were faintly seen. The volcanoes
were enveloped in clouds, all but their snowy summits, which seemed like
marble domes towering into the sky. But as we strained our eyes to look
into the valley, it all appeared to me rather like a vision of the Past
than the actual breathing Present. The curtain of Time seemed to roll back,
and to discover to us the great panorama that burst upon the eye of Cortes
when he first looked down upon the table-land; the king-loving, God-fearing
conqueror, his loyalty and religion so blended after the fashion of ancient
Spain, that it were hard to say which sentiment exercised over him the
greater sway. The city of Tenochtitlan, standing in the midst of the five
great lakes, upon verdant and flower-covered islands, a western Venice,
with thousands of boats gliding swiftly along its streets, long lines of
low houses, diversified by the multitudes of pyramidal temples, the
Teocalli, or houses of God--canoes covering the mirrored lakes--the lofty
trees, the flowers, and the profusion of water now wanting to the
landscape--the whole fertile valley enclosed by its eternal hills and
snow-crowned volcanoes--what scenes of wonder and of beauty to burst upon
the eyes of these wayfaring men!
Then the beautiful gardens surrounding the city, the profusion of flowers,
and fruit, and birds--the mild bronze-coloured Emperor himself advancing in
the midst of his Indian nobility, with rich dress and unshod feet, to
receive his unbidden and unwelcome guest--the slaves and the gold and the
rich plumes, all to be laid at the feet of "His most sacred Majesty"--what
pictures are called up by the recollection of the simple narrative of
Cortes, and how forcibly they return to the mind now, when, after a lapse
of three centuries, we behold for the first time the city of palaces raised
upon the ruins of the Indian capital. It seemed scarcely possible that we
were indeed so near the conclusion of our journey, and in the midst of so
different a scene, only two months minus two days since leaving New York
and stepping aboard the Norma. How much land and sea we had passed over
since then! How much we had seen! How many different climates, even in the
space of the last four days!
But my thoughts which had wandered three centuries into the past, were soon
recalled to the present by the arrival of an officer in full uniform at the
head of his troop, who came out by order of the government to welcome the
bearer of the olive-branch from ancient Spain, and had been on horseback
since the day before, expecting our arrival. As it had begun to rain, the
officer, Colonel Miguel Andrade, accepted our offer of taking shelter in
the diligence. We had now a great troop galloping along with us, and had
not gone far before we perceived that in spite of the rain, and that it
already began to grow dusk, there were innumerable carriages and horsemen
forming an immense crowd, all coming out to welcome us. Shortly after the
diligence was stopped, and we were requested to get into a very splendid
carriage, all crimson and gold, with the arms of the republic, the eagle
and nopal, embroidered in gold on the roof inside, and drawn by four
handsome white horses. In the midst of this immense procession of troops,
carriages, and horsemen, we made our entry into the city of Montezuma.
The scenery on this side of Mexico is arid and flat, and where the waters
of the Lagunas, covered with their gay canoes, once surrounded the city,
forming canals through its streets, we now see melancholy marshy lands,
little enlivened by great flights of wild duck and waterfowl. But the
bleakness of the natural scenery was concealed by the gay appearance of the
procession--the scarlet and gold uniforms, the bright-coloured sarapes, the
dresses of the gentlemen (most, I believe, Spaniards), with their handsome
horses, high Mexican saddles, gold-embroidered _anqueras_ generally of
black fur, their Mexican hats ornamented with gold, richly-furred jackets,
pantaloons with hanging silver buttons, stamped-leather boots, silver
stirrups, and graceful mangas with black or coloured velvet capes.
At the gates of Mexico the troops halted, and three enthusiastic cheers
were given as the carriage entered. It was now nearly dusk, and the rain
was falling in torrents, yet we met more carriages full of ladies and
gentlemen, which joined the others. We found that a house, in the suburbs
at Buenavista, had been taken for us _provisoirement_ by the kindness of
the Spaniards, especially of a rich merchant who accompanied us in the
carriage, Don M---l M---z del C---o; consequently we passed all through
Mexico before reaching our destination, always in the midst of the crowd,
on account of which and of the ill-paved streets we went very slowly.
Through the rain and the darkness we got an occasional faint lamp-light
glimpse of high buildings, churches, and convents. Arrived at length in the
midst of torrents of rain, C---n got out of the carriage and returned
thanks for his reception, giving some ounces to the sergeant for the
soldiers. We then entered the house, accompanied by the Mexican officer,
and by a large party of Spaniards.
We found the house very good, especially considering that it had been
furnished for us in eight-and-forty hours, and we also found an excellent
supper smoking on the table; after doing justice to which we took leave of
our friends, and, very tired, prepared for sleep.
The servants and luggage arrived late. They had been left with the
diligence, under the guardianship of Don Miguel, and it appeared that the
robbers had mingled with the crowd, and followed in hopes of plunder;
insomuch that he had been obliged to procure two carriages, one for the
servants, while into another he put the luggage, mounting in front himself
to look out. Tired enough the poor man was, and drenched with rain; and we
found that much of this confusion and difficulty, which was chiefly caused
by the storm and darkness, would have been avoided had we left Puebla some
However, "All's well that ends well." I thought of Christmas in "Merrie
England," and of our family gatherings in the olden time, and as if one had
not travelled enough in the body, began travelling in the mind, away to far
different, and distant, and long gone-by scenes, fell asleep at length with
my thoughts in Scotland, and wakened in Mexico!
By daylight we find our house very pretty, with a large garden adjoining,
full of flowers, and rosebushes in the courtyard, but being all on the
ground-floor, it is somewhat damp, and the weather, though beautiful, is so
cool in the morning, that carpets, and I sometimes think even a _soupcon_
of fire, would not be amiss. The former we shall soon procure, but there
are neither chimneys nor grates, and I have no doubt a fire would be
disagreeable for more than an hour or so in the morning. The house stands
alone, with a large court before it, and opposite to it passes the great
stone aqueduct, a magnificent work of the Spaniards, though not more so,
probably, than those which supplied the ancient Tenochtitlan with water.
Behind it we see nothing but several old houses, with trees, so that we
seem almost in the country. To the right is one large building, with garden
and olive-ground, where the English legation formerly lived, a palace in
size, since occupied by Santa Anna, and which now belongs to Senor Perez
Galvez; a house which we shall be glad to have, if the proprietor will
consent to let it.
But what most attracts our attention are the curious and picturesque groups
of figures which we see from the windows--men bronze-colour, with nothing
but a piece of blanket thrown round them, carrying lightly on their heads
earthen basins, precisely the colour of their own skin, so that they look
altogether like figures of terra cotta: these basins filled with sweetmeats
or white pyramids of grease (_mantequilla_); women with rebosos, short
petticoats of two colours, generally all in rags, yet with a lace border
appearing on their under garment: no stockings, and dirty white satin
shoes, rather shorter than their small brown feet; gentlemen on horseback
with their Mexican saddles and sarapes; lounging _leperos_, moving bundles
of rags, coming to the windows and begging with a most piteous but false
sounding whine, or lying under the arches and lazily inhaling the air and
the sunshine, or sitting at the door for hours basking in the sun or under
the shadow of the wall: Indian women, with their tight petticoat of dark
stuff and tangled hair, plaited with red ribbon, laying down their baskets
to rest, and meanwhile deliberately _examining_ the hair of their copper-
coloured offspring. We have enough to engage our attention for the present.
Several visitors came early--gentlemen, both Spaniards and Mexicans. Senor
A---z, decidedly the ugliest man I ever beheld, with a hump on his back,
and a smile of most portentous hideosity, yet celebrated for his _bonnes
fortunes_; Senor de G---a, Ex-Minister of the Treasury, extremely witty and
agreeable, and with some celebrity as a dramatic writer; Count C---a,
formerly attached to the bedchamber in Spain, married to a pretty
Andalusian, and entirely Mexicanized, his heart where his interests are. He
is very gentlemanlike and distinguished-looking, with good manners, and
extremely eloquent in conversation. I hear him called "_inconsecuente_,"
and capricious, but he has welcomed C---n, who knew him intimately in
Madrid, with all the warmth of ancient friendship.
We are told that a great serenade has been for some time in contemplation,
to be given to C---n, the words, music, and performance by the young
27th.--A day or two must elapse before I can satisfy my curiosity by going
out, while the necessary arrangements are making concerning carriage and
horses, or mules, servants, etc.; our vehicles from the United States not
having yet arrived,--nor is it difficult to foresee, even from once passing
through the streets, that only the more solid-built English carriages will
stand the wear and tear of a Mexican life, and that the comparatively
flimsy coaches which roll over the well-paved streets of New York, will not
endure for any length of time.
Meanwhile we have constant visits, but chiefly from gentlemen and from
Spaniards, for there is one piece of etiquette, entirely Mexican, nor can I
imagine from whence derived, by which it is ordained that all new arrivals,
whatever be their rank, foreign Ministers not excepted, must in solemn
print give notice to every family of any consideration in the capital, that
they have arrived, and offer themselves and their house to their
"_disposicion_;" failing in which etiquette, the newly-arrived family will
remain unnoticed and unknown. Our cards to this effect are consequently
being printed under the auspices of Count C---a. I have, however, received
the visits of some ladies who have kindly waived this ceremony in my
favour; and amongst others, from the Dowager and the young Countess of
C---a; the eldest a very distinguished woman, of great natural talent, one
of the true ladies of the old school, of whom not many specimens now remain
in Mexico; the other extremely pretty, lively, and amiable, a true
Andalusian both in beauty and wit. The old Countess was dressed in black
velvet, black blonde mantilla, diamond earrings and brooch--her daughter-
in-law also in black, with a mantilla, and she had a pretty little daughter
with her, whose eyes will certainly produce a kindling effect on the next
They were both extremely kind and cordial; if there are many such persons
in Mexico, we shall have no reason to complain. I hope I am not seeing the
cream before the milk!
Some Mexican visits appear to me to surpass in duration all that one can
imagine of a visit, rarely lasting less than one hour, and sometimes
extending over a greater part of the day. And gentlemen, at least, arrive
at no particular time. If you are going to breakfast, they go also--if to
dinner, the same--if you are asleep, they wait till you awaken--if out,
they call again. An indifferent sort of man, whose name I did not even
hear, arrived yesterday, a little after breakfast, sat still, and walked in
to a late dinner with us! These should not be called visits, but
visitations,--though I trust they do not often occur to that extent. An
open house and an open table for your friends, which includes every passing
acquaintance; these are merely Spanish habits of hospitality transplanted.
Had a visit from Senor ----- and his wife, very civil and obliging people,
always agreeing with each other, and with you, and with all the world,
almost to the extent of Polonius to Hamlet. Our conversation reminded me of
that the whole time they were here.
I have just brought from the garden a lapful of pink roses,
clove-carnations, and sweet-peas. Rosetta could not sing here--
"For June and December will never agree."
The weather is lovely, the air fresh and clear, the sky one vast expanse of
bright blue, without a single cloud. Early this morning it was cool, but
now, by ten o'clock, the air is as soft and balmy as on a summer-day with
28th.--Day of the memorable serenade. After dinner some ladies paid me a
visit, amongst others the wife and daughter of the Spanish consul, Senor
M---y, who were accompanied by the sister of Count A---a. They and a few
gentlemen arrived about six o'clock, and it was said that the serenade
would not begin till twelve. It may be supposed that our conversation,
however agreeable it might be, would scarcely hold out that time. In fact,
by nine o'clock, we were all nearly overcome by sleep, and by ten I believe
we were already in a refreshing slumber, when we were awakened by the sound
of crowds assembling before the door, and of carriages arriving and
stopping. Not knowing who the occupants might be, we could not invite them
in, which seemed very inhospitable, as the night, though fine, was cold and
chilly. About eleven the Count and Countess C---a arrived, and the Senora
de G----, a remarkably handsome woman, a Spaniard, looking nearly as young
as her daughters; also the pretty daughters of the proprietress of this
house, who was a beauty, and is married to her third husband; and a lively
little talkative person, the Senora de L---n, all Spanish; and who, some on
that account, and others from their husbands having been former friends of
C---n's have not waited for the ceremony of receiving cards. Gradually,
however, several Mexican ladies, whom we had sent out to invite, came in.
Others remained in their carriages, excusing themselves on the plea of
their not being _en toilette_. We had men _a discretion_, and the rooms
About midnight arrived a troop of Mexican soldiers, carrying torches, and a
multitude of musicians, both amateur and professional, chiefly the former,
and men carrying music-stands, violins, violoncellos, French horns, etc.,
together with an immense crowd, mingled with numbers of leperos, so that
the great space in front of the house as far as the aqueduct, and all
beyond and along the street as far as we could see, was covered with people
and carriages. We threw open the windows, which are on a level with the
ground, with large balconies and wide iron gratings, and the scene by the
torch-light was very curious. The Mexican troops holding lights for the
musicians, and they of various countries, Spanish, German, and Mexican; the
leperos, with their ragged blankets and wild eyes, that gleamed in the
light of the torches; the ladies within, and the crowd without, all formed
a very amusing _spectacle_.
At length the musicians struck up in full chorus, accompanied by the whole
orchestra. The voices were very fine, and the instrumental music so good, I
could hardly believe that almost all were amateur performers.
A hymn, which had been composed for the occasion, and of which we had
received an elegantly-bound copy in the morning, was particularly
effective. The music was composed by Senor Retes, and the words by Senor
Covo, both Spaniards. Various overtures from the last operas were played,
and at the end of what seemed to be the first act, in the midst of
deafening applause from the crowd, C---n made me return thanks from the
window in beautiful impromptu Spanish! Then came shouts of "Viva la
Espana!" "Viva Ysabel Segunda!" "Viva el Ministro de Espana!" Great and
continued cheering. Then C---n gave in return, "Viva la Republica
Mexicana!" "Viva Bustamente!" and the shouting was tremendous. At last an
Andalusian in the crowd shouted out, "Viva todo el Mundo!" (Long live
everybody), which piece of wit was followed by general laughter.
After hot punch and cigars had been handed about out of doors, a necessary
refreshment in this cold night, the music recommenced, and the whole ended
with the national hymn of Spain, with appropriate words. A young Spanish
girl, whose voice is celebrated here, was then entreated by those within,
and beseeched by those without, to sing alone the hymn composed in honour
of C---n, which she naturally felt some hesitation in doing before such an
immense audience. However, she consented at last, and in a voice like a
clarion, accompanied by the orchestra, sung each verse alone, joined in the
chorus by the whole crowd. I give you a copy:
Himno Patriotico que varios Espanoles, Residentes en Mexico, dedican al
Esmo. Sr. Don A---- C---- de la B----, Ministro Plenipotenciario de S. M.
C. en la Republica, con Motivo de su Llegada a dicha Capital.
Musica del Sr. J. N. DE RETES; Palabras del Sr. DN. JUAN COVO.
Y libre respir
La Patria del Cid.
La augusta _Cristina_,
De Espana embeleso,
El mas tierno beso
Imprime a _Ysabel_:
Y "Reina," le dice,
"No ya sobre esclavos;
Sobre Iberos bravos,
Sobre un pueblo fiel."
Triunfamos, amigos, etc.
Donde esta de Carlos
La perfida hueste?
Un rayo celeste
Polvo la torno.
Rayo que al malvado
Hundio en el abismo--
Rayo que al Carlismo
Triunfamos, amigos, etc.
Al bravo Caudillo,
Al bueno, al valiente,
Cinamos la frente
De mirto y laurel.
Tu diestra animosa,
Tu _diestra, Espartero_,
Sojuzgo al infiel.
Triunfamos, amigos, etc.
Nuestras santas leyes;
Temblaran los Reyes
De Espana al poder.
Y el cetro de oprobrio,
Si empuna un tirano,
De su infame mano
Le haremos caer.
Triunfamos, amigos, etc.
Salud a _Ysabela_,
Salud a _Cristina_,
Quel el cielo destina
La patria a salvar.
Y el libre corone
La candida frente
De aquella inocente
Que juro amparar.
Triunfamos, amigos, etc.
Y tu, mensagero
De paz y ventura,
Oye la voz pura
De nuestra lealtad.
Oye los acentos
Que al cielo elevamos,
Oye cual gritamos,
Triunfamos, amigos, etc.
Tu el simbolo digno
De grata reunion,
De eterna amistad,
Que ya, en ambos mundos,
La insana discordia
Trocose en concordia
Triunfamos, amigos, etc.
Patriotic Hymn which various Spaniards, resident in Mexico, dedicate to his
Excellency Senor Don A---- C---- de la B----, Minister Plenipotentiary and
Envoy Extraordinary from H. C. M. to the Republic, to celebrate his arrival
in this Capital.
The music by Senor Don J. N. De Retes; the words by Senor Don Juan Covo.
Let us triumph, my friends,
Let us triumph at length,
And let the country of the Cid
Breathe freely again.
The august Christina,
The ornament of Spain,
Imprinted the most tender kiss
On the cheek of Isabel.
And "Reign," she said to her,
"Not now over slaves,
But over _brave Iberians_,
Over a faithful people!"
Let us triumph, my friends, etc.
Where is the perfidious
Army of Carlos?
A celestial thunderbolt
Has turned it to dust--
A thunderbolt which plunged
The wicked one into the abyss--
A thunderbolt which _Liberty_
Launched against Carlism.
Let us triumph, my friends, etc.
Of the brave chief,
Of the good, the valiant,
Let us gird the forehead
With myrtle and laurel.
Thy brave right hand,
Thy right hand, _Espartero_,
Subdued the disloyal one.
Let us triumph, my friends, etc.
Our holy laws
Will be acknowledged,
And kings will tremble
At the power of Spain;
And should a tyrant grasp
The sceptre of opprobrium,
From his infamous hand
We shall cause it to fall.
Let us triumph, my friends, etc.
Health to _Isabella_,
Health to _Christina_,
Whom Heaven has destined
To save the country;
And may he freely crown
The white forehead
Of the innocent princess
He swore to protect.
Let us triumph, my friends, etc.
And thou, messenger
Of peace and joy,
Hear the pure voice
Of our loyalty;
Hear the accents
Which we raise to Heaven;
Hear what we cry,
Let us triumph, my friends, etc.
Thou, C---n, shalt be
The worthy symbol
Of grateful reunion,
Of eternal friendship,
Which already has changed,
In both worlds,
Into concord and fraternity.
Let us triumph, my friends, etc.
The air was rent with vivas! and bravos! as the Senorita de F----
concluded. Her voice was beautiful, and after the first moment of
embarrassment, she sang with much spirit and enthusiasm. This was the
finale of the serenade, and then the serenaders were invited in, and were
in such numbers that the room would scarcely hold them all. More cigars,
more punch, more giving of thanks. About three o'clock the crowd began to
disperse, and at length, after those Spanish leave-takings, which are
really no joke, had ended, Captain E----, C---n, and I, all three
excessively cold and shivering, having passed the night at the open
windows, consoled ourselves with hot chocolate and punch, and went to dream
of sweet-sounding harmonies. Altogether, it was a scene which I would not
have missed for a great deal.
The enthusiasm caused by the arrival of the first Minister from Spain seems
gradually to increase. The actors are to give him a "_funcion
extraordinaria_," in the theatre--the matadors a bull-fight extraordinary,
with fireworks. ... But in all this you must not suppose there is any
personal compliment. It is merely intended as a mark of good will towards
the first representative of the Spanish monarchy who brings from the
mother-country the formal acknowledgment of Mexican independence.
LETTER THE SEVENTH
Debut in Mexico--Cathedral--Temple of the Aztecs--Congregation--Stone of
Sacrifices--Palace--Importunate Leperos--Visit to the President--Countess
I made my _debut_ 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
_forcats_ 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
_leperos_, 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 ocasions, 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, eat 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 lepero, 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. "Senorita! Senorita! 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
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 Senor ----- 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, Senor?" 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
A sharp 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.
LETTER THE EIGHTH
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--"Function 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 costume_, and I have
some thoughts of going in the Poblana dress, which I before described to
you. As I am told that the Senora 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; Senor 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 boxes 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.
3ist.--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:
al ready 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
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 Dona 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 Fe, 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 Senora, 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
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 Guadalupe. 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
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."
[Footnote 1: Translated from the French of Casimir Delavigne.]
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 Senora C---a and I in another,
driven by Senor 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
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 Senor 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, Senor 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 _leperos_, 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 Senorita." 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 Life in Mexico, 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 very palatable.
LETTER THE NINTH
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 Guera
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 Senor ----- 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 Senor ----- 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
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 Jose 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 Senor de C---n, Jose
Arnaiz, who esteems him as much as possible."
6th.--Early this morning, this being the day of the "bull-fight