Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

Life in Mexico by Frances Calderon De La Barca

Part 5 out of 11

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 1.4 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

the hymn of "Gloria Patri." Long and solemn prayer followed; and then, all
uncovered, stood beside the gospels, at the altar.

The archbishop rose, and with mitre and crosier, pronounced a solemn
blessing on all the people assembled. Then, while all knelt beside the
altar, he said--"For many years." This he repeated thrice; the second time,
in the middle of the altar, the third at the feet of the presiding bishop.
Then all rising, the archbishop bestowed on each the kiss of peace, and the
ceremony concluded.

When everything was over, our carriage not being visible amongst the crowd
of vehicles, I returned home in that of the ----- Minister, with him and
his attaches; after which, they and C---n returned to dine with the new
archbishop in his palace. A dish of sweetmeats was sent me from his table,
which are so pretty, (probably the chef-d'oeuvre of the nuns,) that I send
them to you, to preserve as a memorial of the consecration of the first
Mexican archbishop--perhaps of the last!


Mexican Servants--Anecdotes--Remedies--An unsafe Porter--Galopinas--The
Reboso--The Sarape--Women Cooks--Foreign Servants--Characteristics of
Mexican Servants--Servants' Wages--Nun of the Santa Teresa--Motives for
taking the Veil.

June 3rd.

You ask me to tell you how I find the Mexican servants. Hitherto I had
avoided the ungrateful theme, from very weariness of it. The badness of the
servants, is an unfailing source of complaint even amongst Mexicans; much
more so amongst foreigners, especially on their first arrival. We hear of
their addiction to stealing, their laziness, drunkenness, dirtiness, with a
host of other vices. That these complaints are frequently just, there can
be no doubt, but the evil might be remedied to a great extent. In the first
place servants are constantly taken without being required to bring a
recommendation from their last place; and in the next, recommendations are
constantly given, whether from indolence or mistaken kindness, to servants
who do not deserve them. A servant who has lived in a dozen different
houses, staying about a month in each, is not thought the worse of on that
account. As the love of finery is inherent in them all, even more so than
in other daughters of Eve, a girl will go to service merely to earn
sufficient to buy herself an embroidered chemise; and if, in addition to
this, she can pick up a pair of small old satin shoes, she will tell you
she is tired of working, and going home to rest, "_para descansar_." So
little is necessary, when one can contentedly live on tortillas and chile,
sleep on a mat, and dress in rags!

A decent old woman, who came to the house to wash shortly after our arrival
in this country, and left us at the end of the month, "_para descansar_."
Soon after, she used to come with her six children, they and herself all in
rags, and beg the gardener to give her any _odds and ends_ of vegetables he
could spare. My maid asked her, why, being so poor, she had left a good
place, where she got twelve dollars a month. "Jesus!" said she, "if you
only knew the pleasure of doing nothing."

I wished to bring up a little girl as a servant, having her taught to read,
sew, etc. A child of twelve years old, one of a large family, who subsisted
upon charity, was procured for me; and I promised her mother that she
should be taught to read, taken regularly to church, and instructed in all
kinds of work. She was rather pretty, and very intelligent, though
extremely indolent; and though she had no stockings, would consent to wear
nothing but dirty white satin shoes, too short for her foot. Once a week,
her mother, a tall, slatternly woman, with long tangled hair, and a cigar
in her mouth, used to come to visit her, accompanied by a friend, a
friend's friend, and a train of girls, her daughters. The housekeeper would
give them some dinner, after which they would all light their cigars, and,
together with the little Josefita, sit, and howl, and bemoan themselves,
crying and lamenting her sad fate in being obliged to go out to service.
After these visits, Josefita was fit for nothing. If desired to sew, she
would sit looking so miserable, and doing so little, that it seemed better
to allow her to leave her work alone. Then, tolerably contented, she would
sit on a mat, doing nothing, her hands folded, and her eyes fixed on

According to promise, I took her several times to see her mother, but one
day being occupied, I sent her alone in the carriage, with charge to the
servants to bring her safely back. In the evening she returned, accompanied
by the whole family, all crying and howling; "For the love of the Most Holy
Virgin, Senora mia! Por la purissima Concepcion!" etc., etc., etc. I asked
what had happened, and after much difficulty discovered that their horror
was occasioned by my having sent her alone in the carriage. It happened
that the Countess S---- was in the drawing room, and to her I related the
cause of the uproar. To my astonishment, she assured me that the woman was
in this instance right, and that it was very dangerous to send a girl of
twelve years of age from one street to another, in the power of the
coachman and footman. Finding from such good authority that this was the
case, I begged the woman to be contented with seeing her daughter once a
month, when, if she could not come herself, I would send her under proper
protection. She agreed; but one day having given Josefita permission to
spend the night at her mother's, I received next morning a very dirty
note, nearly illegible, which, after calling down the protection of the
Virgin upon me, concluded-"but with much sorrow I must take my child from
the most illustrious protection of your excellency, for she needs to rest
her-self, (es preciso que descanse,) and is tired for the present of
working." The woman then returned to beg, which she considered infinitely
less degrading.

Against this nearly universal indolence and indifference to earning money,
the heads of families have to contend; as also against thieving and
dirtiness; yet I think the remedy much easier than it appears. If on the
one hand, no one were to receive a servant into their house, without
respectable references, especially from their last place, and if their
having remained one year in the same house were considered necessary to
their being received into another, unless from some peculiar circumstances;
and if on the other hand it were considered as unjust and dangerous, as it
really is, to recommend a servant who has been guilty of stealing, as being
"_muy honrado_," very honest, some improvement might soon take place.

A porter was recommended to us as "muy honrado;" not from his last place,
but from one before. He was a well-dressed, sad-looking individual; and at
the same time we took his wife as washerwoman, and his brother as valet to
our attache, thus having the whole family under our roof, wisely taking it
for granted that he being recommended as particularly honest, his relations
were "all honourable men." An English lady happened to call on me, and a
short time after I went to return her visit; when she informed me that the
person who had opened the door for her was a notorious thief; whom the
police had long been in search of; that she had feared sending a servant to
warn us of our danger, lest guessing the purport of her message, he might
rob the house before leaving it. We said nothing to the man that evening,
but he looked paler and more miserable than usual, probably foreseeing what
would be the result of Mrs. -----'s visit. The next morning C---n sent for
him and dismissed him, giving him a month's wages, that he might not be
tempted to steal from immediate want. His face grew perfectly livid, but he
made no remark. In half an hour he returned and begged to speak with C---n.
He confessed that the crime of which he concluded he was accused, he had in
fact committed; that he had been tempted to a gambling house, while he had
in his pocket a large sum of money belonging to his master. After losing
his own money, he tried his fortune with what was not his own; lost the
whole sum, then pawned a valuable shawl worth several hundred dollars, with
which also he had been entrusted; and having lost everything, in despair
made his escape from Mexico. He remained in concealment for some time, till
hearing that we wanted a porter, he ventured to present himself to the
housekeeper with his former certificate. He declared himself thoroughly
repentant--that this was his first, and would be his last crime--but who
can trust the good resolutions of a gambler! We were obliged to send him
away, especially as the other servants already had some suspicions
concerning him; and everything stolen in the house would in future have
been attributed to him. The gentleman who had recommended him, afterwards
confessed that he always had strong suspicions of this man's honesty, and
knew him to be so determined a gambler, that he had pawned all he
possessed, even his wife's clothes, to obtain money for that purpose. Now
as a porter in Mexico has pretty much at his disposal the property and even
the lives of the whole family, it is certainly most blameable to recommend
to that situation a man whose honesty is more than doubtful. We afterwards
procured two soldiers from the _Invalidos_, old Spaniards, to act in that
capacity, who had no other foiblesse but that of being constantly drunk. We
at length found two others, who only got tipsy alternately, so that we
considered ourselves very well off.

We had a long series of _galopinas_, kitchen-maids, and the only one who
brought a first-rate character with her, robbed the housekeeper. The money,
however, was recovered, and was found to have been placed by the girl in
the hands of a rich and apparently respectable coachmaker. He refunded it
to the rightful owner, and the galopina was punished by a month's
imprisonment, which he should have shared with her. One of the most
disagreeable customs of the women servants, is that of wearing their long
hair hanging down at its full length, matted, uncombed, and always in the
way. I cannot imagine how the Mexican ladies, who complain of this, permit
it. Flowing hair sounds very picturesque, but when it is very dirty, and
suspended over the soup, it is not a pretty picture.

The reboso, in itself graceful and convenient, has the disadvantage of
being the greatest cloak for all untidiness, uncombed hair and raggedness,
that ever was invented. Even in the better classes, it occasions much
indolence in the toilet, but in the common people, its effect is
overwhelming. When the reboso drops off, or is displaced by chance, we see
what they would be without it! As for the sarape, it is both convenient and
graceful, especially on horseback; but though Indian in its origin, the
custom of covering the lower part of the face with it, is taken from the
Spanish cloak; and the opportunity which both sarape and reboso afford for
concealing large knives about the person, as also for enveloping both face
and figure so as to be scarcely recognizable, is no doubt the cause of the
many murders which take place amongst the lower orders, in moments of
excitement and drunkenness. If they had not these knives at hand, their
rage would probably cool, or a fair fight would finish the matter, and if
they could not wear these knives concealed, I presume they would be
prohibited from carrying them.

As for taking a woman-cook in Mexico, one must have strong nerves and a
good appetite to eat what she dresses, however palatable, after having seen
her. One look at her flowing locks, one glance at her reboso, _et c'est
fini_. And yet the Mexican servants have their good qualities, and are a
thousand times preferable to the foreign servants one finds in Mexico;
especially the French. Bringing them with you is a dangerous experiment. In
ten days they begin to fancy themselves ladies and gentlemen--the men have
_Don_ tacked to their name; and they either marry and set up shops, or
become unbearably insolent. A tolerable French cook may occasionally be
had, but you must pay his services their weight in gold, and wink at his
extortions and robberies. There are one or two French _restaurans_, who
will send you in a very good dinner at an extravagant price: and it is
common in foreign houses, especially amongst the English, to adopt this
plan whenever they give a large entertainment.

The Mexican servants have some never-failing good qualities. They are the
perfection of civility-humble, obliging, excessively good-tempered, and
very easily attached to those with whom they live; and if that _rara avis_,
a good Mexican housekeeper, can be found, and that such may be met with I
from experience can testify, then the troubles of the menage rest upon her
shoulders, and accustomed as she is to the amiable weaknesses of her
_compatriotes_, she is neither surprised nor disturbed by them.

As for wages, a good porter has from fifteen to twenty dollars per month; a
coachman from twenty to thirty--many houses keep two or even three
coachmen; one who drives from the box, one who rides postilion, and a third
for emergencies. Our friend---, who has many horses, mules, and carriages,
has four; and pays forty dollars per month to his head coachman; the others
in proportion. A French cook has about thirty dollars--a housekeeper from
twelve to fifteen; a major-domo about twenty or more; a footman six or
seven; galopine and chambermaid five or six; a gardener from twelve to
fifteen. Sewing-girls have about three reals per diem. Porter, coachmen,
and gardener, have their wives and families in the house, which would be an
annoyance, were the houses not so large. The men-servants generally are
much cleaner and better dressed than the women.

One circumstance is remarkable; that, dirty as the women-servants are, and
notwithstanding the enormous size of Mexican houses, and Mexican families,
the houses themselves are, generally speaking, the perfection of
cleanliness. This must be due either to a good housekeeper, which is rarely
to be found, or to the care taken by the mistress of the house herself.
That private houses should have this advantage over churches and theatres,
only proves that ladies know how to manage these matters better than
gentlemen, so that one is inclined to wish _a la Martineau_, that the
Mexican police were entirely composed of old women.

12th.--I have formed an acquaintance with a very amiable and agreeable nun
in the convent of Santa Teresa, one of the strictest orders. I have only
seen her twice, through a grating. She is a handsome woman of good family,
and it is said of a remarkably joyous disposition; fond of music and
dancing, and gay society, yet at the age of eighteen, contrary to the
wishes of all her family, she took the veil, and declares she has never
repented of it. Although I cannot see her, I can hear her voice, and talk
to her through a turning wooden screen, which has a very mysterious effect.
She gives me an account of her occupations and of the little events that
take place in her small world within; whilst I bring her news from the
world without. The common people have the greatest veneration for the holy
sisterhood, and I generally find there a number of women with baskets, and
men carrying parcels or letters; some asking their advice or assistance,
others executing their commissions, bringing them vegetables or bread, and
listening to the sound of their voice with the most eager attention. My
friend, the Madre---, has promised to dress a number of wax figures for me,
in the exact costume of all the different nuns in Mexico, beginning with
that of her own convent.

I have now seen three nuns take the veil; and, next to a death, consider it
the saddest event that can occur in this nether sphere; yet the frequency
of these human sacrifices here is not so strange as might at first appear.
A young girl, who knows nothing of the world, who, as it too frequently
happens, has at home neither amusement nor instruction, and no society
abroad, who from childhood is under the dominion of her confessor, and who
firmly believes that by entering a convent she becomes sure of heaven; who
moreover finds there a number of companions of her own age, and of older
women who load her with praises and caresses--it is not, after all,
astonishing that she should consent to insure her salvation on such easy

Add to this the splendour of the ceremony, of which she is the sole object;
the cynosure of all approving eyes. A girl of sixteen finds it hard to
resist all this. I am told that more girls are smitten by the ceremony,
than by anything else, and am inclined to believe it, from the remarks I
have heard made on these occasions by young girls in my vicinity. What does
she lose? A husband and children? Probably she has seen no one who has
touched her heart. Most probably she has hitherto seen no men, or at least
conversed with none but her brothers, her uncles, or her confessor. She has
perhaps also felt the troubles of a Mexican menage. The society of men! She
will still see her confessor, and she will have occasional visits from
reverend padres and right reverend bishops.

Some of these convents are not entirely free from scandal. Amongst the
monks, there are many who are openly a disgrace to their calling, though I
firmly believe that by far the greater number lead a life of privation and
virtue. Their conduct can, to a certain extent, be judged of by the world;
but the pale nuns, devout and pure, immured in the cloister for life,
kneeling before the shrine, or chanting hymns in the silence of the night,
a veil both truly and allegorically must shade their virtues or their
failings. The nuns of the Santa Teresa and of other strict orders, who live
sparingly, profess the most severe rules, and have no servants or boarders,
enjoy a universal reputation for virtue and sanctity. They consider the
other convents worldly, and their motto is, "All or nothing; the world or
the cloister." Each abbess adds a stricter rule, a severer penance than her
predecessor, and in this they glory. My friend the Madre---frequently says
--"Were I to be born again, I should choose, above every lot in life, to be
a nun of the Santa Teresa, but of no other convent."...

It is strange how, all the world over, mankind seems to expect from those
who assume religion as a profession a degree of superhuman perfection.
Their failings are insisted upon. Every eye is upon them to mark whatsoever
may be amiss in their conduct. Their virtues, their learning, their holy
lives--nothing will avail them, if one blot can be discovered in their
character. There must be no moral blemish in the priesthood. In the
Catholic religion, where more is professed, still more is demanded, and the
errors of one padre or one ecclesiastic seem to throw a shade over the
whole community to which they belong.


The Convent Entry--Dialogue--A Chair in Church--Arrival of the
Nun--Dress--Jose Maria--Crowd--Withdrawal of the Black Curtain--The Taking
of the Veil--The Sermon--A Dead Body--Another Victim--Convent of the
Encarnacion--Attempt at a Hymn--Invitation--Morning Visit--The Nun and her
Mother--Banquet--Taking Leave--Ceremony of the Veil-taking--A Beautiful
Victim--The Last Look--Presentation to the Bishop--Reflections--Verses.

4th June.

Some days ago, having received a message from _my nun_ that a girl was
about to take the veil in her convent, I went there about six o'clock, and
knowing that the church on these occasions is apt to be crowded to
suffocation, I proceeded to the _reja_, and speaking to an invisible
within, requested to know in what part of the church I could have a place.
Upon which a voice replied--

"Hermanita (my sister), I am rejoiced to see you. You shall have a place
beside the godmother."

"Many thanks, Hermanita. Which way shall I go?"

_Voice_.--"You shall go through the sacristy. Jose Maria!"

Jose Maria, a thin, pale, lank individual, with hollow cheeks, who was
standing near like a page in waiting, sprang forward--"_Madrecita_, I am

_Voice_.--"Jose Maria--That lady is the Senora de C---n. You will conduct
her excellency to the front of the grating, and give her a chair."

After I had thanked the _voice_ for her kindness in attending to me on a
day when she was so much occupied with other affairs, the obsequious Jose
Maria led the way, and I followed him through the sacristy into the church,
where there were already a few kneeling figures; and thence into the
railed-off enclosure destined for the relatives of the future nun, where I
was permitted to sit down in a comfortable velvet chair. I had been there
but a little while when the aforesaid Jose Maria reappeared, picking his
steps as if he were walking upon eggs in a sick-room. He brought me a
message from the Madre---that the nun had arrived, and that the madrecita
wished to know if I should like to give her an embrace before the ceremony
began. I therefore followed my guide back into the sacristy, where the
future nun was seated beside her god-mother, and in the midst of her
friends and relations, about thirty in all.

She was arrayed in pale blue satin, with diamonds, pearls, and a crown of
flowers. She was literally smothered in blonde and jewels; and her face was
flushed as well it might be, for she had passed the day in taking leave of
her friends at a fete they had given her, and had then, according to
custom, been paraded through the town in all her finery. And now her last
hour was at hand. When I came in she rose and embraced me with as much
cordiality as if we had known each other for years. Beside her sat the
Madrina, also in white satin and jewels; all the relations being likewise
decked out in their finest array. The nun kept laughing every now and then
in the most unnatural and hysterical manner, as I thought, apparently to
impress us with the conviction of her perfect happiness; for it is a great
point of honour amongst girls similarly situated to look as cheerful and
gay as possible; the same feeling, though in a different degree, which
induces the gallant highwayman to jest in the presence of the multitude
when the hangman's cord is within an inch of his neck, the same which makes
the gallant general whose life is forfeited, command his men to fire on
him; the same which makes the Hindoo widow mount the funeral pile without a
tear in her eye, or a sigh on her lips. If the robber were to be strangled
in a corner of his dungeon; if the general were to be put to death
privately in his own apartment; if the widow were to be burnt quietly on
her own hearth; if the nun were to be secretly smuggled in at the convent
gate like a bale of contraband goods,--we might hear another tale. This
girl was very young, but by no means pretty; on the contrary, rather
_disgraciee par la nature_; and perhaps a knowledge of her own want of
attraction may have caused the world to have few charms for her.

But Jose Maria cut short my train of reflections, by requesting me to
return to my seat before the crowd arrived, which I did forthwith. Shortly
after, the church doors were thrown open, and a crowd burst in, every one
struggling to obtain the best seat. Musicians entered, carrying desks and
music-books, and placed themselves in two rows, on either side of the
enclosure where I was. Then the organ struck up its solemn psalmody, and
was followed by the gay music of the band. Rockets were let off outside the
church, and, at the same time, the Madrina and all the relations entered
and knelt down in front of the grating which looks into the convent, but
before which hung a dismal black curtain. I left my chair and knelt down
beside the godmother.

Suddenly the curtain was withdrawn, and the picturesque beauty of the scene
within baffles all description. Beside the altar, which was in a blaze of
light, was a perfect mass of crimson and gold drapery; the walls, the
antique chairs, the table before which the priests sat, all hung with the
same splendid material. The bishop wore his superb mitre and robes of
crimson and gold; the attendant priests also glittering in crimson and gold

In contrast to these, five-and-twenty figures, entirely robed in black from
head to foot, were ranged on each side of the room prostrate, their faces
touching the ground, and in their hands immense lighted tapers. On the
foreground was spread a purple carpet bordered round with a garland of
freshly-gathered flowers, roses and carnations and heliotrope, the only
thing that looked real and living in the whole scene; and in the middle of
this knelt the novice, still arrayed in her blue satin, white lace veil and
jewels, and also with a great lighted taper in her hand.

The black nuns then rose and sang a hymn, every now and then falling on
their faces and touching the floor with their foreheads. The whole looked
like an incantation, or a scene in Robert le Diable. The novice was then
raised from the ground and led to the feet of the bishop, who examined her
as to her vocation, and gave her his blessing, and once more the black
curtain fell between us and them.

In the _second act_, she was lying prostrate on the floor, disrobed of her
profane dress, and covered over with a black cloth, while the black figures
kneeling round her chanted a hymn. She was now dead to the world. The
sunbeams had faded away, as if they would not look upon the scene, and all
the light was concentrated in one great mass upon the convent group.

Again she was raised. All the blood had rushed into her face, and her
attempt at a smile was truly painful. She then knelt before the bishop and
received the benediction, with the sign of the cross, from a white hand
with the pastoral ring. She then went round alone to embrace all the dark
phantoms as they stood motionless, and as each dark shadow clasped her in
its arms, it seemed like the dead welcoming a new arrival to the shades.

But I forget the sermon, which was delivered by a fat priest, who elbowed
his way with some difficulty through the crowd to the grating, panting and
in a prodigious heat, and ensconced himself in a great arm-chair close
beside us. He assured her that she "had chosen the good part, which could
not be taken away from her;" that she was now one of the elect, "chosen
from amongst the wickedness and dangers of the world;"--(picked out like a
plum from a pie). He mentioned with pity and contempt those who were "yet
struggling in the great Babylon;" and compared their miserable fate with
hers, the Bride of Christ, who, after suffering a few privations here
during a short term of years, should be received at once into a kingdom of
glory. The whole discourse was well calculated to rally her fainting
spirits, if fainting they were, and to inspire us with a great disgust for

When the sermon was concluded, the music again struck up--the heroine of
the day came forward, and stood before the grating to take her last look of
this wicked world. Down fell the black curtain. Up rose the relations, and
I accompanied them into the sacristy. Here they coolly lighted their
cigars, and very philosophically discoursed upon the exceeding good fortune
of the new-made nun, and on her evident delight and satisfaction with her
own situation. As we did not follow her behind the scenes, I could not give
my opinion on this point. Shortly after, one of the gentlemen civilly led
me to my carriage, and _so it was_.

As we were returning home, some soldiers rode up and stopped the carriage,
desiring the coachman to take to the other side of the aqueduct, to avoid
the body of a man who had just been murdered within a few doors of our

In the Convent of the Incarnation, I saw another girl sacrificed in a
similar manner. She was received there without a dowry, on account of the
exceeding fineness of her voice. She little thought what a fatal gift it
would prove to her. The most cruel part of all was, that wishing to display
her fine voice to the public, they made her sing a hymn alone, on her
knees, her arms extended in the form of a cross, before all the immense
crowd; "Ancilla Christi sum," "The Bird of Christ I am." She was a good-
looking girl, fat and comely, who would probably have led a comfortable
life in the world, for which she seemed well fitted; most likely without
one touch of romance or enthusiasm in her composition; but having the
unfortunate honour of being niece to two chanoines, she was thus honourably
provided for without expense in her nineteenth year. As might be expected,
her voice faltered, and instead of singing, she seemed inclined to cry out.
Each note came slowly, heavily, trembingly; and at last she nearly fell
forward exhausted, when two of the sisters caught and supported her.

I had almost made up my mind to see no more such scenes, which, unlike
pulque and bull-fights, I dislike more and more upon trial; when we
received an invitation, which it was not easy to refuse, but was the more
painful to accept, being acquainted, though slightly, with the victim. I
send you the printed note of invitation.

"On Wednesday, the----of this month, at six o'clock in the evening, my
daughter, Dona Maria de la Conception, P---e---, will assume the habit of a
nun of the choir and the black veil in the Convent of Our Lady of the
Incarnation. I have the honour to inform you of this, entreating you to
co-operate with your presence in the solemnity of this act, a favour which
will be highly esteemed by your affectionate servant, who kisses your hand.


"Mexico, June---, 1840."

Having gone out in the carriage to pay some visits, I suddenly recollected
that it was the very morning of the day in which this young girl was to
take the veil, and also that it was necessary to inquire where I was to be
placed; for as to entering the church with the crowd on one of these
occasions, it is out of the question; particularly when the girl being, as
in the present case, of distinguished family, the ceremony is expected to
be peculiarly magnificent. I accordingly called at the house, was shown
upstairs, and to my horror, found myself in the midst of a "goodlie
companie," in rich array, consisting of the relations of the family, to the
number of about a hundred persons; the bishop himself in his purple robes
and amethysts, a number of priests, the father of the young lady in his
general's uniform; she herself in purple velvet, with diamonds and pearls,
and a crown of flowers; the _corsage_ of her gown entirely covered with
little bows of ribbon of divers colours, which her friends had given her,
each adding one, like stones thrown on a cairn in memory of the departed.
She had also short sleeves and white satin shoes.

Being very handsome, with fine black eyes, good teeth, and fresh colour,
and above all with the beauty of youth, for she is but eighteen, she was
not disfigured even by this overloaded dress. Her mother, on the contrary,
who was to act the part of Madrina, who wore a dress fac-simile, and who
was pale and sad, her eyes almost extinguished with weeping, looked like a
picture of misery in a balldress. In the adjoining room, long tables were
laid out, on which servants were placing refreshments for the fete about to
be given on this joyous occasion. I felt somewhat shocked, and inclined to
say with Paul Pry, "Hope I don't intrude." But my apologies were instantly
cut short, and I was welcomed with true Mexican hospitality; repeatedly
thanked for my kindness in coming to see the nun, and hospitably pressed to
join the family feast. I only got off upon a promise of returning at
half-past five to accompany them to the ceremony, which, in fact, I greatly
preferred to going there alone.

I arrived at the hour appointed, and being led upstairs by the Senator Don
-----, found the morning party, with many additions, lingering over the
dessert. There was some gaiety, but evidently forced. It reminded me of a
marriage feast previous to the departure of the bride, who is about to be
separated from her family for the first time. Yet how different in fact is
this banquet, where the mother and daughter met together for the last time
on earth!

At stated periods, indeed, the mother may hear her daughter's voice
speaking to her as from the depths of the tomb; but she may never more fold
her in her arms, never more share in her joys or in her sorrows, or nurse
her in sickness; and when her own last hour arrives, though but a few
streets divide them, she may not give her dying blessing to the child who
has been for so many years the pride of her eyes and heart.

I have seen no country where families are so knit together as in Mexico,
where the affections are so concentrated, or where such devoted respect and
obedience are shown by the married sons and daughters to their parents. In
that respect they always remain as little children. I know many families of
which the married branches continue to live in their father's house,
forming a sort of small colony, and living in the most perfect harmony.
They cannot bear the idea of being separated, and nothing but dire
necessity ever forces them to leave their _fatherland_. To all the accounts
which travellers give them of the pleasures to be met with in the European
capitals, they turn a deaf ear. Their families are in Mexico--their
parents, and sisters, and relatives--and there is no happiness for them
elsewhere. The greater therefore is the sacrifice which those parents make,
who from religious motives devote their daughters to a conventual life.

-----, however, was furious at the whole affair, which he said was entirely
against the mother's consent, though that of the father had been obtained;
and pointed out to me the confessor whose influence had brought it about.
The girl herself was now very pale, but evidently resolved to conceal her
agitation, and the mother seemed as if she could shed no more tears--quite
exhausted with weeping. As the hour for the ceremony drew near, the whole
party became more grave and sad, all but the priests, who were smiling and
talking together in groups. The girl was not still a moment. She kept
walking hastily through the house, taking leave of the servants, and naming
probably her last wishes about everything. She was followed by her younger
sisters, all in tears.

But it struck six, and the priests intimated that it was time to move. She
and her mother went downstairs alone, and entered the carriage which was to
drive them through all the principal streets, to show the nun to the public
according to custom, and to let them take their last look, they of her, and
she of them. As they got in, we all crowded to the balconies to see her
take leave of her house, her aunts saying, "Yes, child, _despidete de tu
casa_, take leave of your house, for you will never see it again!" Then
came sobs from the sisters, and many of the gentlemen, ashamed of their
emotion, hastily quitted the room. I hope, for the sake of humanity, I did
not rightly interpret the look of constrained anguish which the poor girl
threw from the window of the carriage at the home of her childhood.

They drove off, and the relations prepared to walk in procession to the
church. I walked with the Count S---o, the others followed in pairs. The
church was very brilliantly illuminated, and as we entered, the band was
playing one of _Strauss's_ waltzes! The crowd was so tremendous that we
were nearly squeezed to a jelly in getting to our places. I was carried off
my feet between two fat Senoras in mantillas and shaking diamond pendants,
exactly as if I had been packed between two moveable feather-beds.

They gave me, however, an excellent place, quite close to the grating,
beside the Countess de S---o, that is to say, a place to kneel on. A great
bustle and much preparation seemed to be going on within the convent, and
veiled figures were flitting about, whispering, arranging, etc. Sometimes a
skinny old dame would come close to the grating, and lifting up her veil,
bestow upon the pensive public a generous view of a very haughty and very
wrinkled visage of some seventy years standing, and beckon into the church
for the major-domo of the convent (an excellent and profitable situation by
the way), or for padre this or that. Some of the holy ladies recognised and
spoke to me through the grating.

But at the discharge of fireworks outside the church the curtain was
dropped, for this was the signal that the nun and her mother had arrived.
An opening was made in the crowd as they passed into the church, and the
girl, kneeling down, was questioned by the bishop, but I could not make out
the dialogue, which was carried on in a low voice. She then passed into the
convent by a side door, and her mother, quite exhausted and nearly in
hysterics, was supported through the crowd to a place beside us, in front
of the grating. The music struck up; the curtain was again drawn aside. The
scene was as striking here as in the convent of the Santa Teresa, but not
so lugubrious. The nuns, all ranged around, and carrying lighted tapers in
their hands, were dressed in mantles of bright blue, with a gold plate on
the left shoulder. Their faces, however, were covered with deep black
veils. The girl, kneeling in front, and also bearing a heavy lighted taper,
looked beautiful, with her dark hair and rich dress, and the long black
lashes resting on her glowing face. The churchmen near the illuminated and
magnificently-decked altar formed, as usual, a brilliant background to the
picture. The ceremony was the same as on the former occasion, but there was
no sermon.

The most terrible thing to witness was the last, straining, anxious look
which the mother gave her daughter through the grating. She had seen her
child pressed to the arms of strangers, and welcomed to her new home. She
was no longer hers. All the sweet ties of nature had been rudely severed,
and she had been forced to consign her, in the very bloom of youth and
beauty, at the very age in which she most required a mother's care, and
when she had but just fulfilled the promise of her childhood, to a living
tomb. Still, as long as the curtain had not fallen, she could gaze upon
her, as upon one on whom, though dead, the coffin-lid is not yet closed.

But while the new-made nun was in a blaze of light, and distinct on the
foreground, so that we could mark each varying expression of her face, the
crowd in the church, and the comparative faintness of the light, probably
made it difficult for her to distinguish her mother; for, knowing that the
end was at hand, she looked anxiously and hurriedly into the church,
without seeming able to fix her eyes on any particular object; while her
mother seemed as if her eyes were glazed, so intently were they fixed upon
her daughter.

Suddenly, and without any preparation, down fell the black curtain like a
pall, and the sobs and tears of the family broke forth. One beautiful
little child was carried out almost in fits. Water was brought to the poor
mother; and at last, making our way with difficulty through the dense
crowd, we got into the sacristy. "I declare," said the Countess ----- to
me, wiping her eyes, "it is worse than a marriage!" I expressed my horror
at the sacrifice of a girl so young, that she could not possibly have known
her own mind. Almost all the ladies agreed with me, especially all who had
daughters, but many of the old gentlemen were of a different opinion. The
young men were decidedly of my way of thinking; but many young girls, who
were conversing together, seemed rather to envy their friend, who had
looked so pretty and graceful, and "so happy," and whose dress "suited her
so well," and to have no objection to "go, and do likewise."

I had the honour of a presentation to the bishop, a fat and portly prelate,
with good manners, and well besuiting his priestly garments. I amused
myself, while we waited for the carriages, by looking over a pamphlet which
lay on the table, containing the ceremonial of the veil-taking. When we
rose to go, all the ladies of the highest rank devoutly kissed the bishop's
hand; and I went home, thinking by what law of God a child can thus be
dragged from the mother who bore and bred her, and immured in a cloister
for life, amongst strangers, to whom she has no tie, and towards whom she
owes no duty. That a convent may be a blessed shelter from the calamities
of life, a haven for the unprotected, a resting-place for the weary, a safe
and holy asylum, where a new family and kind friends await those whose
natural ties are broken and whose early friends are gone, I am willing to
admit; but it is not in the flower of youth that the warm heart should be
consigned to the cold cloister. Let the young take their chance of sunshine
or of storm: the calm and shady retreat is for helpless and unprotected old

-----, to whom I described one of these ceremonies, wrote some verses,
suggested by my account of them, which I send you.

In tropic gorgeousness, the Lord of Day
To the bright chambers of the west retired,
And with the glory of his parting ray
The hundred domes of Mexico he fired,
When I, with vague and solemn awe inspired,
Entered the Incarnation's sacred fane.
The vaulted roof, the dim aisle far retired,
Echoed the deep-toned organ's holy strain,
Which through the incensed air did mournfully complain.

The veiling curtain suddenly withdrew,
Op'ning a glorious altar to the sight,
Where crimson intermixed its regal hue
With gold and jewels that outblazed the light
Of the huge tapers near them flaming bright
From golden stands--the bishop, mitre-crowned,
Stood stately near--in order due around
The sisterhood knelt down, their brows upon the ground.

The novice entered: to her doom she went,
Gems on her robes, and flowers upon her brow.
Virgin of tender years, poor innocent!
Pause, ere thou speak th' irrevocable vow.
What if thy heart should change, thy spirit fail?
She kneels. The black-robed sisters cease to bow.
They raise a hymn which seems a funeral wail,
While o'er the pageant falls the dark, lugubrious veil.

Again the veil is up. On earth she lies,
With the drear mantle of the pall spread o'er.
The new-made nun, the living sacrifice,
Dead to this world of ours for evermore!
The sun his parting rays has ceased to pour,
As loth to lend his light to such a scene....
The sisters raise her from the sacred floor,
Supporting her their holy arms between;
The mitred priest stands up with patriarchal mien.

And speaks the benediction; all is done.
A life-in-death must her long years consume
She clasped her new-made sisters one by one.
As the black shadows their embraces gave
They seemed like spectres from their place of doom.
Stealing from out eternal night's blind cave,
To meet their comrade new, and hail her to the grave.

The curtain fell again, the scene was o'er,
The pageant gone--its glitter and its pride,
And it would be a pageant and no more,
But for the maid miscalled the Heavenly Bride.
If I, an utter stranger, unallied
To her by slightest ties, some grief sustain,
What feels the yearning mother, from whose side
Is torn the child whom she hath reared in vain,
To share her joys no more, no more to sooth her pain!


San Agustin--The Gambling Fete--The Beauties of the Village--The Road from
Mexico--Entry to San Agustin--The Gambling Houses--San Antonio--The
Pedregal--Last Day of the Fete--The Cock-pit--The Boxes--The Cock-fight--
Decorum--Comparisons--Dinner--Ball at Calvario--House of General Moran--
View of the Gambling-tables--The Advocate--Ball at the Plaza de Gallos--
Return to Mexico--Reflections--Conversation between two Ministers.

15th June.

Since my last letter we have been at San Agustin de las Cuevas, which, when
I last saw it, was a deserted village, but which during three days in the
year presents the appearance of a vast bee-hive or ant-hill. San Agustin!
At the name how many hearts throb with emotion! How many hands are
mechanically thrust into empty pockets! How many visions of long-vanished
golden ounces flit before aching eyes! What faint crowing of wounded cocks!
What tinkling of guitars and blowing of horns come upon the ear! Some,
indeed, there be, who can look round upon their well-stored hacienda and
easy-rolling carriages, and remember the day, when with threadbare coat,
and stake of three modest ounces, they first courted Fortune's favours, and
who, being then indigent, and enjoying an indifferent reputation, found
themselves, at the conclusion of a few successive San Agustins, the
fortunate proprietors of gold, and land, and houses; and, moreover, with an
unimpeachable fame; for he who can fling gold-dust in his neighbour's eyes,
prevents him from seeing too clearly. But these favourites of the blind
goddess are few and far between; and they have for the most part, with a
view to greater security, become holders or sharers of banks at San
Agustin, thus investing their fortune in a secure fund; more so decidedly,
if we may believe the newspaper reports, than in the bank of the United
States at this present writing.

Time, in its revolutions whirling all things out of their places, has made
no change in the annual fete of San Agustin. Fashions alter. The graceful
mantilla gradually gives place to the ungraceful bonnet. The old painted
coach, moving slowly like a caravan, with Guide's Aurora painted on its
gaudy panels, is dismissed for the London-built carriage. Old customs have
passed away. The ladies no longer sit on the door-sills, eating roast duck
with their fingers, or with the aid of tortillas. Even the Chinampas have
become stationary, and have occasionally joined the continent. But the
annual fete of San Agustin is built on a more solid foundation than taste
or custom, or floating soil. It is founded upon that love of gambling,
which is said to be a passion inherent in our nature, and which is
certainly impregnated with the Mexican constitution, in man, woman, and
child. The beggars gamble at the corners of the streets or under the
arches; the little boys gamble in groups in the villages; the coachmen and
footmen gamble at the doors of the theatre while waiting for their masters.

But while their hand is thus _kept in_ all the year round, there are three
days sacredly set apart annually, in which every accommodation is given to
those who are bent upon ruining themselves or their neighbours; whilst
every zest that society can afford, is held out to render the temptation
more alluring. As religion is called in to sanctify everything, right or
wrong; as the robber will plant a cross at the mouth of his cave, and the
pulque-shops do occasionally call themselves "Pulquerias of the Most Holy
Virgin," so this season of gambling is fixed for the fete of _Pascua_
(Whitsunday), and the churches and the gambling-houses are thrown open

The village is in itself pretty and picturesque; and, as a stone at its
entry informs us, was built by the active Viceroy Revillagigedo, with the
product, as ----- assured us, of two lotteries. It is charmingly situated,
in the midst of handsome villas and orchards, whose high walls, overtopped
by fruit-trees, border the narrow lanes. At this season the trees are
loaded with the yellow _chabacano_ and the purple plum, already ripe; while
the pear-trees are bending under the weight of their fruit. The gardens are
full of flowers; the roses in their last bloom, covering the crowd with
their pink leaves, and jasmine and sweetpeas in profusion, making the air
fragrant. The rainy season has scarce set in, though frequent showers have
laid the dust, and refreshed the air. The country villas are filled with
all that is gayest and most distinguished in Mexico, and every house and
every room in the village has been hired for months in advance. The ladies
are in their most elegant toilets, and looking forward to a delightful
whirl of dancing, cock-fighting, gambling, dining, dressing, and driving

The high-road leading from Mexico to San Agustin is covered with vehicles
of every description; carriages, diligences, hackney-coaches, carts, and
carratelas. Those who are not fortunate enough to possess any wheeled
conveyance, come out on horse, ass, or mule; single, double, or treble, if
necessary; and many hundreds, with visions of silver before their eyes, and
a few _clacos_ (pence), hid under their rags, trudge out on foot. The
President himself, in carriage-and-six, and attended by his aides-de-camp,
sanctions by his presence the amusements of the fete. The Mexican generals
and other officers follow in his wake, and the gratifying spectacle may not
unfrequently be seen, of the president leaning from his box in the _plaza
de gallos_, and betting upon a cock, with a coatless, bootless, hatless,
and probably worthless ragamuffin in the pit. Every one, therefore, however
humble his degree, has the pleasure, while following his speculative
inclinations, of reflecting that he treads in the steps of the magnates of
the land; and, as Sam Weller would say, "Vot a consolation that must be to
his feelings!"

At all events, nothing can be gayer than the appearance of the village, as
your carriage makes its way through the narrow lanes into the principal
plaza, amidst the assembled crowd of coaches and foot-passengers; though
the faces of the people bear evidence that pleasure alone has not brought
them to San Agustin. All round the square are the gambling-houses, where
for three nights and three days every table is occupied. At the principal
_montes_ nothing is played but gold, but as there is accommodation for all
classes, so there are silver tables in the inferior houses, while outside
are rows of tables on which are heaps of copper, covered with a rugged
awning, and surrounded by leperos and blanketed Indians, playing monta in
imitation of their betters, though on a scale more suited to their

Having left Mexico early in the morning, we stopped to breakfast at San
Antonio, a noble hacienda, about four leagues from Mexico, belonging to the
Dowager Marquesa de Vivanco, where we breakfasted with a large party. It is
a fine solid mass of building, and as you enter the courtyard, through a
deep archway, the great outhouses, stables, and especially the granary,
look like remains of feudalism, they are on so large and magnificent a
scale. It is an immense and valuable property, producing both maize and
maguey, and the hospitality of the family, who are amongst our earliest
friends here, is upon as large a scale as everything that belongs to them.
We had a splendid breakfast, in a fine old hall, and stayed but a short
time to visit the gardens and the chapel, as we were anxious to arrive at
San Agustin in time for the cock-fight.

It is singular, that while San Agustin is situated in the midst of the most
fertile and productive country, there should lie opposite to it, and
bounded as it were by the graceful Peruvian trees and silver poplars which
surround a small church on the other side of the high road, a great tract
of black lava, steril, bleak, and entirely destitute of vegetation, called
the _Pedregal_. This covers the country all along to San Agustin and to the
base of the mountain of Ajusco, which lies behind it, contrasting strangely
with the beautiful groves and gardens in its neighbourhood, and looking as
if it had been cursed for some crime committed there. The high-road, which
runs nearly in a direct line from the hacienda to San Agustin, is broad and
in tolerable repair; but before arriving there, it is so little attended
to, that during the rainy season it might be passed in canoes; yet this
immense formation of ferruginous larva and porphyritic rock lies
conveniently in its vicinity. A large sum, supposed to be employed in
mending the road, is collected annually at the toll, close to San Antonio.
For each carriage two dollars are asked, and for carts and animals in
proportion. The proprietor of this toll or _postazgo_ is also the owner of
the plaza de gallos, where a dollar is paid for entry, the sums produced by
which go exclusively to enrich the same individual. The government has no
advantage from it...

The last day of the fete is considered the best, and it is most crowded on
that day, both by families from Mexico and by foreigners who go solely for
pleasure, though not unfrequently tempted to do a little business on their
own account. In fact, the temptations are great; and it must be difficult
for a young man to withstand them.

We went to the _gallos_ about three o'clock. The plaza was crowded, and the
ladies in their boxes looked like a parterre of different-coloured flowers.
But whilst the Senoras in their boxes did honour to the fete by their
brilliant toilet, the gentlemen promenaded round the circle in jackets,
high and low being on the same _curtailed_ footing, and certainly in a
style of dress more befitting the exhibition. The president and his suite
were already there, also several of the foreign Ministers.

Meanwhile, the cocks crowed valiantly, bets were adjusted, and even the
women entered into the spirit of the scene, taking bets with the gentlemen
_sotto voce_ in their boxes, upon such and such favourite animal. As a
small knife is fastened to the leg of each cock, the battle seldom lasted
long, one or other falling every few minutes in a pool of blood. Then there
was a clapping of hands, mingled with the loud crowing of some unfortunate
cock, who was giving himself airs previous to a combat where he was
probably destined to crow his last. It has a curious effect to European
eyes, to see young ladies of good family, looking peculiarly feminine and
gentle, sanctioning, by their presence, this savage diversion. It is no
doubt the effect of early habit, and you will say that at least it is no
worse than a bull-fight; which is certain--yet cruel as the latter is, I
find something more _en grande_, more noble, in the

"Ungentle sport, that oft invites
The Spanish maid, and cheers the Spanish swain;"

in the roaring of the "lord of lowing herds," the galloping of the fine
horses, the skill of the riders, the gay dresses, the music, and the agile
matador; in short, in the whole pomp and circumstances of the combat, than
when one looks quietly on to see two birds peck each other's eyes out, and
cut each other to pieces. Unlike cock-pits in other countries, attended by
blacklegs and pickpockets and gentlemanly _roues_, by far the largest
portion of the assembly in the pit was composed of the first young men in
Mexico, and for that matter, of the first old ones also. There was neither
confusion, nor noise, nor even loud talking, far less swearing, amongst the
lowest of those assembled in the ring; and it is this quiet and orderly
behaviour which throws over all these incongruities a cloak of decency and
decorum, that hides their impropriety so completely, that even foreigners
who have lived here a few years, and who were at first struck with
astonishment by these things, are now quite reconciled to them.

As far as the company went, it might have been the House of Representatives
in Washington; the ladies in the gallery listening to the debates, and the
members in the body of the house surrounding Messrs.----- and -----, or any
other two vehement orators; applauding their biting remarks and cutting
sarcasms, and encouraging them to crow over each other. The president might
have been the speaker, and the corps diplomatique represented itself.

We had an agreeable dinner at the E---s, and afterwards accompanied them to
the Calvario, a hill where there was a ball _al fresco_, which was rather
amusing, and then paid a visit to the family of General Moran, who has a
beautiful house and gardens in the neighbourhood. We found a large party
assembled, and amongst them the president. Afterwards, accompanied by the
----- Minister, and the ladies of our party, we went to take a view of the
gambling-tables, and opened our eyes at the heaps of gold, which changed
owners every minute. I saw C---a, a millionaire, win and lose a thousand
ounces apparently with equal indifference. A little advocate having won two
thousand five hundred ounces, wisely ordered his carriage and set off for
Mexico, with the best _fee_ he had ever received in his life. Ladies do not
generally look on at the tables, but may if they please, and especially if
they be strangers. Each gambling-room was well fitted up, and looked like a
private apartment.

We then returned home and dressed for the ball, which was given in the
evening in the plaza de gallos. We first went upstairs to a box, but I
afterwards took the advice of M. de ----- and came down to see the dancers.
There were ladies in full dress, and gentlemen in white jackets--rather
inconsistent. The company, though perfectly quiet and well-behaved, were
not very select, and were, on that account, particularly amusing. Madame
de ----- and I walked about, and certainly laughed much more than we should
have done in a more distinguished society.

About two in the morning we returned to Mexico, and as I this moment
receive a note from the American Minister, informing me that the packet
from Vera Cruz is about to sail, I shall send off my letters now; and
should we still be here next year, I shall then give you a more detailed
description of the fete, of the ball, both at Calvario and in the cock-pit,
and also of the "high life below stairs" gambling, at which the scenes are
_impayable_. In one respect the fashions of San Agustin are altered from
what they were a few years ago, when the Senoras used to perform five
elaborate and distinct toilets daily; the first in the morning, the second
for the cockfight, the third for the dinner, the fourth for the ball on the
hill of Calvary, and the fifth for the ball in the evening. I am told that
as they danced in the open air, on the hill, with all their diamonds and
pearls on, in the midst of an immense concourse of people, a great many
jewels were constantly lost, which the _leperos_ used afterwards to search
for, and pick up from the grass; a rich harvest. Though they still dress a
great deal, they are contented with changing their toilet twice, or at the
most, three times in the course of the day.

Upon the whole, these three days are excessively amusing, and as all ranks
and conditions are mingled, one sees much more variety than at a ball in
the city.

On their way home, C---n and Senor ----- discussed the effects likely to be
produced on the morals of the people by this fete. Senor -----, like nearly
all the wisest men here, persists in considering gambling an innocent
amusement, and declares, that at all events, this fete ought never to be
done away with. In his opinion, it conduces to the happiness of the people,
gives them an annual pleasure to look forward to, and by the mingling of
all ranks which then takes place, keeps up a good feeling between the
higher and lower orders. C---n asked him why, if such was the case, the
government did not at least endeavour to draw some advantage from it, after
the manner of the Count de Revillagigedo--why, as the bank, by the nature
of the game, has, besides a great capital, which swallows up all the
smaller ones, an immense profit, amounting to twenty-five per cent., they
do not make the bankers pay four or five per cent., and charge half a
dollar or more to each individual who enters to gamble; with which money
they might beautify the village, make a public _pasoe_, a good road, a
canal to Mexico, etc.

I thought that whatever the government might feel on this subject, neither
the bankers nor the gamblers would relish the insinuation. I shall write in
a few days by the Baron de -----, Minister from -----, who leaves Mexico in
a fortnight.


Countess C---a--Gutierrez Estrada--Dinner at General Moran's--Dowager
Marquesa--Fete at San Antonio--Approach of the Rainy Season--Diamonds and
Plate--Great Ball--Night Travelling--Severe Storm--Chapter of Accidents--
Corpus Christi--Poblana Dress--Book-club--Ball--Humming-bird--Franciscan
Friar--Missions to Old and New California--Zeal and Endurance of the
Missionaries--Present Condition--Convent Gardener.

17th June.

As we dine nearly every Sunday with the Countess de la C---a at Tacubay,
where she keeps open house to all her friends, we have had the pleasure of
becoming intimately acquainted with her son-in-law, Senor Gutierrez
Estrada, who, with his amiable wife, has lately returned from Europe.

Fete at San Antonio

A great dinner was given us the other day by General Moran and his lady the
Marquesa de Vivanco, at San Agustin. We went early that we might have time
to walk about the garden, which is beautiful, and to visit an artificial
cave there, which we found lighted up with coloured lamps, and where a most
fascinating species of cold milk punch, with cakes, was served to the
company. The dinner would certainly have been superb in any country; the
family have travelled a great deal in Europe, (_per force_, the general
having been exiled for several years,) and are amongst the oldest and
richest in Mexico. The dowager marquesa has a most patriarchal family of
daughters and grand-daughters, and of the large party assembled at table,
nearly all were composed of its different members. In the evening we had a
pleasant dance under the trees.

20th.--Being invited yesterday to a fete at San Antonio, we left Mexico
about eight o'clock, by the great causeway leading to San Agustin. The day
was peculiarly brilliant, but the rainy season is now announcing its
approach by frequent showers towards evening. We found a large party
assembled, and about twelve o'clock sat down to a most magnificent
breakfast of about sixty persons. Everything was solid silver; even the
plates. A vast capital is sunk in diamonds and plate in this country, no
good sign of the state of commerce. The ladies in general were dressed in
white embroidered muslins, over white or coloured satin, and one or two
Paris dresses shone conspicuous. There was one specimen of real Mexican
beauty; the Senora---, a face perhaps more Indian than Spanish, very dark,
with fine eyes, beautiful teeth, very long dark hair, and full of
expression. The house, which is immensely large, is furnished, or rather
unfurnished, in the style of all Mexican haciendas. After breakfast, we had
music, dancing, walking, and billiard-playing. Some boleros were very
gracefully danced by a daughter of the marquesa's, and they also showed us
some dances of the country. The fete terminated with the most beautiful
supper I almost ever saw. A great hall was lighted with coloured lamps, the
walls entirely lined with green branches, and hung with fresh garlands of
flowers most tastefully arranged. There was a great deal of gaiety and
cordiality, of magnificence without ceremony, and riches without
pretension. Although warned by various showers that a bad night would
probably set in, and although it was too likely that the hospitality within
the house would be extended to our coachmen, and even though the whole
party were strongly pressed by the marquesa to pass the night there, so
that it was with difficulty we resisted her entreaties to remain, we did,
in the face of all this, set off at twelve o'clock at night to return to
Mexico; about seven carriages together, with various gentlemen riding.
Though very dark there was no rain, and we flattered ourselves it would
keep fair till we reached the city. The Minister of the interior, who is
married to a daughter of the marquesa, C---n and I, and La Guera Rodriguez,
set off in one carriage. Some carriages had lamps, others had none. Some
had six horses; we had six mules, and an escort of dragoons. We had not
gone two miles before a thunderstorm came on; and the black clouds which
had been gathering above our heads burst forth in torrents of rain. The
wind was tremendous. All the lamps were extinguished. The horses waded up
to their knees in mud--and water. Suddenly there was a crash, followed by
loud cries. A carriage was overturned, in which were the Senora L---- and a
party of gentlemen. In the midst of this awful storm, and perhaps still
more bewildered by generous liquor, their coachman had lost his way, and
lodged them all in a ditch. The poor Senora was dreadfully bruised, her
head cut, and her wrist dislocated. In the darkness and confusion she was
extricated with difficulty, and placed in another carriage.

Our mules stood still. As far as the noise of the storm would allow us to
hear, we made out that our coachman also had lost the road. Two dragoons
rode up to direct him. One fell, horse and all, into a deep ditch, where he
remained till the next morning. Another carriage came ploughing its way
behind us. Another exclamation in the darkness! A mule had fallen and
broken his traces, and plunged into the water. The poor animal could not be
found. Never was there such a chapter of accidents. We were the only
carriage-load which escaped entirely, owing chiefly to the sobriety of the
coachman. Very slowly and after sundry detentions, we arrived in Mexico
towards morning, very tired, but with neither broken bones nor bruises.

18th.--Day of the Corpus Christi, in which the host is carried through the
city in great procession at which the president, in full uniform, the
archbishop, and all the Ministers, etc., assist. In former days this
ceremony took place on Holy Thursday; but finding that, on account of the
various ceremonies of the holy week, it could not be kept with due
solemnity, another day was set apart for its celebration. We went to a
window in the square, to see the procession, which was very brilliant; all
the troops out, and the streets crowded. Certainly, a stranger entering
Mexico on one of these days would be struck with surprise at its apparent
wealth. Everything connected with the church is magnificent.

This evening the Senora A---- came after it was dark, in a Poblana dress,
which she had just bought to wear at a _Jamaica_, which they are going to
have in the country--a sort of fair, where all the girls disguise
themselves in peasants' dresses, and go about selling fruit, lemonade,
vegetables, etc., to each other--a very ancient Mexican amusement. This
dress cost her some hundred dollars. The top of the petticoat is yellow
satin; the rest, which is of scarlet cashmere, is embroidered in gold and
silver. Her hair was fastened back with a thick silver comb, and her
ornaments were very handsome, coral set in gold. Her shoes white satin,
embroidered in gold; the sleeves and body of the chemise, which is of the
finest cambric, trimmed with rich lace; and the petticoat, which comes
below the dress, shows two flounces of Valenciennes. She looks beautiful in
this dress, which will not be objected to in the country, though it might
not suit a fancy ball in Mexico.

June 27th.--I was awakened this morning by hearing that two boxes had
arrived from New York, containing books, letters, etc.; all very
acceptable. We also received a number of old newspapers by post, for which
we had to pay eighteen dollars! Each sheet costs a real and a half--a
mistaken source of profit in a republic, where the general diffusion of
knowledge is of so much importance, for this not only applies to the
introduction of French and English, but also of Spanish newspapers. Senors
Gutierrez Estrada and Canedo used every effort to reduce this duty on
newspapers, but in vain. The post-office opposes its reduction, fearing to
be deprived of an imaginary rent--imaginary, because so few persons,
comparatively, think it worth their while to go to this expense. There is
but one daily newspaper in Mexico, "La Gazeta del Gobierno" (the government
paper), and it is filled with orders and decrees. An opposition paper, the
"Cosmopolita," is published twice a week; also a Spanish paper, the
"Hesperia;" both (especially the last) are well written. There is also the
"Mosquito," so called from its stinging sarcasms. Now and then another with
a new title appears, like a shooting star, but, from want of support, or
from some other motive, is suddenly extinguished.

Enlightened individuals like Don Lucas Alaman and Count Cortina have
published newspapers, but not for any length of time. Count Cortina,
especially, edited a very witty and brilliant paper called the "Zurriago,"
the "Scourge," and another called the "Mono," the "Ape;" and in many of his
articles he was tolerably severe upon the incorrect Spanish of his brother
editors, of which no one can be a better judge, he having been a member of
the "Academia de la Lengua," in Spain.

The only kind of monthly review in Mexico is the "Mosaico Megicano," whose
editor has made his fortune by his own activity and exertions. Frequently
it contains more translations than original matter; but from time to time
it publishes scientific articles, said to be written by Don J. M.
Bustamante, which are very valuable, and occasionally a brilliant article
from the pen of Count Cortina. General Orbegoso, who is of Spanish origin,
is also a contributor. Sometimes, though rarely, it publishes "documentos
ineditos" (unedited documents), connected with Mexican antiquities, and
Mexican natural history and biography, which are very important; and now
and then it contains a little poetical gem, I know not whether original or
not, but exceedingly beautiful. So far as it goes, this review is one great
means of spreading know-ledge, at least amongst the better classes; but I
understand that the editor, Don Ygnacio Cumplido, a very courteous,
intelligent man, complains that it does not pay.

There are no circulating libraries in Mexico. Books are at least double the
price that they are in Europe. There is no diffusion of useful knowledge
amongst the people; neither cheap pamphlets nor cheap magazines written for
their amusement or instruction; but this is less owing to want of attention
to their interests on the part of many good and enlightened men, than to
the unsettled state of the country; for the blight of civil war prevents
the best systems from ripening.

Fortunately, there is an English society here, a kind of book-club, who,
with their Minister, have united in a subscription to order from England
all the new publications, and as C---n is a member of this society, we are
not so _arrieres_ in regard to the literature of the day as might be
supposed. Like all English societies, its basis is a good dinner, which
each member gives in turn, once a month, after which there is a sale of the
books that have been read, and propositions for new books are given in to
the president. It is an excellent plan, and I believe is in part adopted by
other foreigners here. But Germans of a certain class do not seem to be
sufficiently numerous for such an undertaking, and the French in Mexico,
barring some distinguished exceptions, are apt to be amongst the very worst
specimens of that people which "le plaisant pays de France" can furnish

We went lately to a ball given by a young Englishman, which was very
pretty, and where nearly all the English were collected. Of families, there
are not more than half a dozen resident here, the members of whom form a
striking contrast in complexion to the _Mexicanas_. With very few
exceptions (and these in the case of English women married to foreigners);
they keep themselves entirely aloof from the Mexicans, live quietly in
their own houses, into which they have transplanted as much English
comfort as possible, rarely travel, and naturally find Mexico the dullest of
cities. C---n has gone to dine with the English Minister, and I am left
alone in this large room, with nothing but a humming-bird to keep me
company; the last of my half-dozen. It looks like a large blue fly, and is
perfectly tame, but will not live many days.

I was startled by a solemn voice, saying, "Ave Maria Purissima!" And
looking up there stood in the doorway a "friar of orders gray," bringing
some message to C---n from the head of the convent of San Fernando, with
which monks C---n has formed a great intimacy, chiefly in consequence of
the interest which he has taken in the history of their missions to

In fact, when we hear the universal cry that is raised against these
communities for the inutility of their lives, it is but just that
exceptions should be made in favour of those orders, who, like the monks of
San Fernando, have dispersed their missionaries over some of the most
miserable parts of the globe, and who, undeterred by danger, and by the
prospect of death, have carried light to the most benighted savages. These
institutions are of a very remote date. A learned Jesuit monk, Eusebio
Kuhn, is said to have been the first who discovered that California was a
peninsula. In 1683 the Jesuits had formed establishments in old California,
and for the first time it was made known that the country which had until
then been considered an El Dorado, rich in all precious metals and
diamonds, was arid, stony, and without water or earth fit for vegetation;
that where there is a spring of water it is to be found amongst the bare
rocks, and where there is earth there is no water. A few spots were found
by these industrious men, uniting these advantages, and there they founded
their first missions.

But the general hatred with which the Jesuits were regarded, excited
suspicion against them, and it was generally supposed that their accounts
were false, and that they were privately becoming possessed of much
treasure. A _visitador_ (surveyor) was sent to examine into the truth, and
though he could discover no traces of gold or silver, he was astonished by
the industry and zeal with which they had cultivated the barren and
treeless waste. In a few years they had built sixteen villages, and when
they were expelled, in 1767, the Dominican friars of Mexico took their

Until these missions were established, and in every part of the peninsula
which is not included in the territory of the missions, the savages were
the most degraded specimens of humanity existing. More degraded than the
beasts of the field, they lay all day upon their faces on the arid sand,
basking in the heat; they abhorred all species of clothing, and their only
religion was a secret horror that caused them to tremble at the idea of
three divinities, belonging to three different tribes, and which divinities
were themselves supposed to feel a mortal hatred, and to wage perpetual war
against each other.

Undeterred by the miserable condition both of human and of vegetable
nature, these missionaries cultivated the ground, established colonies,
made important astronomical observations, and devoted themselves to
science, to agriculture, and to the amelioration of the condition of these
wretched savages.

In New California, the missions were under the charge of thirty-six
Franciscan friars, under whom the most extraordinary progress in
civilization took place; since in little more than thirty years, upwards of
thirty-three thousand Indians were baptized, and eight thousand marriages
had taken place. The soil being fertile and the climate more benign than in
the other California, in eighteen missions established there, they
cultivated corn, wheat, maize, etc., and introduced vegetables and
fruit-trees from Spain; amongst these the vine and the olive, from which
excellent wine and oil were made all through that part of the country.

Amongst the monks destined to these distant missions were those of San
Fernando. There, banished from the world, deprived of all the advantages of
civilization, they devoted themselves to the task of _taming_ the wild
Indians, introduced marriage amongst them, taught them to cultivate the
ground, together with some of the most simple arts; assisted their wants,
reproved their sins, and transplanted the beneficent doctrines of
Christianity amongst them, using no arms but the influence which religion
and kindness, united with extreme patience, had over their stubborn
natures; and making what Humboldt, in speaking of the Jesuit missions,
calls "a pacific conquest" of the country.

Many were the hardships which these poor men endured; changed from place to
place; at one time ordered to some barren shore, where it was necessary to
recommence their labours,--at another, recalled to the capital by orders of
the prelate, in conjunction with the wishes of their brethren, among whom
there was a species of congress, called by them a _capitulo_. No increase
of rank, no reward, no praise, inspired their labours; their only
recompense was their intimate conviction of doing good to their

In the archives of the convent there still exist papers, proving the
hardships which these men underwent; the zeal with which they applied
themselves to the study of the languages of the country; (and when we are
informed that in the space of one hundred and eighty leagues, nineteen
different languages are spoken, it was no such easy task;) and containing
their descriptions of its physical and moral state, more or less well
written, according to their different degrees of instruction or talent.

It frequently happened that marketable goods and even provisions had to be
sent by sea to those missionaries who lived in the most savage and
uncultivated parts of the peninsula; and a curious anecdote on this subject
was related to C---n by one of these men, who is now a gardener by
profession. It happened that some one sent to the monks, amongst other
things, a case of fine Malaga raisins; and one of the monks, whose name I
forget, sowed a number of the dried seeds. In process of time they sprouted
up, became vines, and produced fine grapes, from which the best wine in
California was made.

When the independence was declared, and that revolutionary fury which makes
a merit of destroying every establishment, good or bad, which is the work
of the opposite party, broke forth; the Mexicans, to prove their hatred to
the mother-country, destroyed these beneficent institutions; thus
committing an error as fatal in its results as when in 1828 they expelled
so many rich proprietors, who were followed into exile by their numerous
families and by their old servants, who gave them in these times of trouble
proofs of attachment and fidelity belonging to a race now scarcely existing
here, except amongst a few of the oldest families.

The result has been, that the frontiers, being now unprotected by the
military garrisons or _presidios_, which were established there, and
deserted by the missionaries, the Indians are no longer kept under
subjection, either by the force of arms or by the good counsels and
persuasive influence of their padres. The Mexican territory is, in
consequence, perpetually exposed to their invasions--whole families are
massacred by the savages, who exchange guns for rifles, which they already
know how to use, and these evil consequences are occasionally and
imperfectly averted at a great expense to the republic. Bustamante has
indeed been making an investigation lately as to the funds and general
condition of these establishments, with the intention of re-establishing
some similar institutions; but as yet I believe that nothing decisive has
been done in this respect....

Near the convent there is a beautiful garden, where we sometimes walk in
the morning, cultivated by an old monk, who, after spending a laborious
life in these distant missions, is now enjoying a contented old age among
his plants and flowers. Perhaps you are tired of my _prosing_ (caused by
the apparition of the old lay-brother), and would prefer some account of
him in verse.

An aged monk in San Fernando dwells,
An innocent and venerable man;
His earlier days were spent within its cells.
And end obscurely as they first began.
Manhood's career in savage climes he ran,
On lonely California's Indian shore--
Dispelling superstition's deadly ban,
Or teaching (what could patriot do more?)
Those rudiments of peace, the gardener's humble store.

Oft have I marked him, silent and apart,
Loitering near the sunny convent-gate,
Rewarded by tranquillity of heart
For toils so worthy of the truly great;
And in my soul admired, compared his state
With that of some rude brawler, whose crude mind
Some wondrous change on earth would fain create;
Who after flatt'ring, harassing mankind,
Gains titles, riches, pomp, with shame and scorn combined.


The President--Yturbide--Visit from the Archbishop--Senor Canedo
--General Almonte--Senor Cuevas--Situation of an Archbishop in Mexico--Of
Senor Posada--His Life--Mexican Charity--Wax Figures--Anecdote--Valuable
Talent--Annual--Compliments to the Mexican Ladies by the Editor--Families
of the Old School--Morals--Indulgence--Manners--Love of Country--Colleges.

5th July.

Yesterday morning we had a visit from the president, with two of his
officers. He was riding one of the handsomest black horses I ever saw. On
going out we stopped to look at a wax figure of Yturbide on horseback,
which he considers a good resemblance, and which was sent me as a present
some time ago. He ought to be a good judge, as he was a most devoted friend
of the unfortunate Agustin I., who, whatever were his faults, seems to have
inspired his friends with the most devoted and enthusiastic attachment. In
the prime of life, brave and active, handsome and fond of show, he had all
the qualities which render a chief popular with the multitude; "but
popularity, when not based upon great benefits, is transient; it is founded
upon a principle of egotism, because a whole people cannot have personal
sympathies." Ambition led him to desert the royal cause which he had served
for nine years; and vanity blinded him to the dangers that surrounded him
in the midst of his triumphs, even when proclaimed emperor by the united
voice of the garrison and city of Mexico--when his horses were taken from
his carriage, and when, amidst the shouts of the multitude, his coach was
dragged in triumph to the palace. His great error, according to those who
talk of him impartially, was indecision in the most critical emergencies,
and his permitting himself to be governed by circumstances, instead of
directing these circumstances as they occurred.

I could not help thinking, as the general stood there looking at the waxen
image of his friend, what a stormy life he himself has passed; how little
real tranquillity he can ever have enjoyed, and wondering whether he will
be permitted to finish his presidential days in peace, which, according to
rumour, is doubtful.

8th.--I had the honour of a long visit this morning from his grace the
archbishop. He came about eleven o'clock, after mass, and remained till
dinner-time, sitting out all our Sunday visitors, who are generally
numerous, as it is the only day of rest for _employes_, and especially for
the cabinet. Amongst our visitors were Senor Canedo, who is extremely
agreeable in conversation, and as an orator famed for his sarcasm and
cutting wit. He has been particularly kind and friendly to us ever since
our arrival--General Almonte, Minister of War, a handsome man and pleasant,
and an officer of great bravery--very unpopular with one party and
especially disliked by the English, but also a great friend of ours. Senor
Cuevas, Minister of the Interior, married to a daughter of the Marquesa de
Vivanco, an amiable and excellent man, who seems generally liked, and is
also most friendly to us. All these gentlemen are praised or abused
according to the party of the person who speaks of them; but I not
interferring in Mexican politics, find them amongst the most pleasant of
our acquaintances.

However, were I to choose a situation here, it would undoubtedly be that of
Archbishop of Mexico, the most enviable in the world to those who would
enjoy a life of tranquillity, ease, and universal adoration. He is a pope
without the trouble, or a tenth part of the responsibility. He is venerated
more than the Holy Father is in enlightened Rome, and, like kings in the
good old times, can do no wrong. His salary amounts to about one hundred
thousand dollars, and a revenue might be made by the sweetmeats alone which
are sent him from all the nuns in the republic. His palace in town, his
well-cushioned carriage, well-conditioned horses, and sleek mules, seem the
very perfection of comfort. In fact, _comfort_, which is unknown amongst
the profane of Mexico, has taken refuge with the archbishop; and though
many drops of it are shed on the shaven heads of all bishops, curates,
confessors, and friars, still in his illustrious person it concentrates as
in a focus. He himself is a benevolent, good-hearted, good-natured, portly,
and jovial personage, with the most _laissez-aller_ air and expression
conceivable. He looks like one on whom the good things of this world have
fallen in a constant and benignant shower, which shower hath fallen on a
rich and fertile soil. He is generally to be seen leaning back in his
carriage, dressed in purple, with amethyst cross, and giving his
benediction to the people as he passes. He seems engaged in a pleasant
revery, and his countenance wears an air of the most placid and
_insouciant_ content. He enjoys a good dinner, good wine, and ladies'
society, but just sufficiently to make his leisure hours pass pleasantly,
without indigestion from the first, headaches from the second, or
heartaches from the third. So does his life seem to pass on like a deep
untroubled stream, on whose margin grow sweet flowers, on whose clear
waters the bending trees are reflected, but on whose placid face no lasting
impression is made.

I have no doubt that his charities are in proportion to his large fortune;
and when I say that I have no doubt of this, it is because I firmly believe
there exists no country in the world where charities, both public and
private, are practised on so noble a scale, especially by the women under
the direction of the priests. I am inclined to believe that, generally
speaking, charity is a distinguishing attribute of a Catholic country.

The archbishop is said to be a man of good information, and was at one time
a senator. In 1833, being comprehended in the law of banishment, caused by
the political disturbances which have never ceased to afflict this country
since the independence, he passed some time in the United States, chiefly
in New Orleans; but this, I believe, is the only cloud that has darkened
his horizon, or disturbed the tranquil current of his life. His
consecration, with its attendant fatigues, must have been to him a
wearisome overture to a pleasant drama, a hard stepping-stone to glory. As
to the rest, he is very unostentatious, and his conversation is far from
austere. On the contrary, he is one of the best-tempered and most cheerful
old men in society that it is possible to meet with....

I send you, by the Mexican commissioners, who are kind enough to take
charge of a box for me, the figure of a Mexican _tortillera_, by which you
may judge a little of the perfection in which the commonest _lepero_ here
works in wax. The incredible patience which enabled the ancient Mexicans to
work their statues in wood or stone with the rudest instruments, has
descended to their posterity, as well as their extraordinary and truly
Chinese talent for imitation. With a common knife and a piece of hard wood,
an uneducated man will produce a fine piece of sculpture. There is no
imagination. They do not leave the beaten track, but continue on the models
which the Spanish conquerors brought out with them, some of which, however,
were very beautiful.

In wax, especially, their figures have been brought to great perfection.
Everything that surrounds them they can imitate, and their wax portraits
are sometimes little gems of art; but in this last branch, which belongs to
a higher order of art, there are no good workmen at present.

_A propos_ to which, a poor artist brought some tolerable wax portraits
here for sale the other day, and, amongst others, that of a celebrated
general. C---n remarked that it was fairer than the original, as far as he
recollected. "Ah!" said the man, "but when his excellency _washes his
face_, nothing can be more exact." A valuable present was sent lately by a
gentleman here, to the Count de ----- in Spain; twelve cases, each case
containing twelve wax figures; each figure representing some Mexican trade,
or profession or employment. There were men drawing the pulque from the
maguey, Indian women selling vegetables, tortilleras, venders of ducks,
fruitmen, lard-sellers, the postman of Guachinango, loaded with parrots,
monkeys, etc.,--more of everything than of letters--the Poblana peasant,
the rancherita on horseback before her farm-servant, the gaily-dressed
ranchero, in short, a little history of Mexico in wax....

You ask me how Mexican women are educated. In answering you, I must put
aside a few brilliant exceptions, and speak _en masse_, the most difficult
thing in the world, for these exceptions are always rising up before me
like accusing angels, and I begin to think of individuals, when I should
keep to generalities. Generally speaking, then, the Mexican Senoras and
Senoritas write, read, and play a little, sew, and take care of their
houses and children. When I say they read, I mean they know how to read;
when I say they write, I do not mean that they can always spell; and when I
say they play, I do not assert that they have generally a knowledge of
music. If we compare their education with that of girls in England, or in
the United States, it is not a comparison, but a contrast. Compare it with
that of Spanish women, and we shall be less severe upon their _far niente_
descendants. In the first place, the climate inclines every one to
indolence, both physically and morally. One cannot pore over a book when
the blue sky is constantly smiling in at the open windows; then, out of
doors after ten o'clock, the sun gives us due warning of our tropical
latitude, and even though the breeze is so fresh and pleasant, one has no
inclination to walk or ride far. Whatever be the cause, I am convinced that
it is impossible to take the same exercise with the mind or with the body
in this country, as in Europe or in the northern states. Then as to
schools, there are none that can deserve the name, and no governesses.
Young girls can have no emulation, for they never meet. They have no public
diversion, and no private amusement. There are a few good foreign masters,
most of whom have come to Mexico for the purpose of making their fortune,
by teaching, or marriage, or both, and whose object, naturally, is to make
the most money in the shortest possible time, that they may return home and
enjoy it. The children generally appear to have an extraordinary
disposition for music and drawing, yet there are few girls who are
proficient in either.

When very young, they occasionally attend the schools, where boys and girls
learn to read in common, or any other accomplishment that the old women can
teach them; but at twelve they are already considered too old to attend
these promiscuous assemblages, and masters are got for drawing and music to
finish their education. I asked a lady the other day if her daughter went
to school. "Good heavens!" said she, quite shocked, "she is past eleven
years old!" It frequently happens that the least well-informed girls are
the children of the cleverest men, who, keeping to the customs of their
forefathers, are content if they confess regularly, attend church
constantly, and can embroider and sing a little. Where there are more
extended ideas, it is chiefly amongst families who have travelled in
Europe, and have seen the different education of women in foreign
countries. Of these the fathers occasionally devote a short portion of
their time to the instruction of their daughters, perhaps during their
leisure evening moments, but it may easily be supposed that this desultory
system has little real influence on the minds of the children. I do not
think there are above half-a-dozen married women, or as many girls above
fourteen, who, with the exception of the mass-book, read any one book
through in the whole course of the year. They thus greatly simplify the
system of education in the United States, where parties are frequently
divided between the advocates for solid learning and those for superficial
accomplishments; and according to whom it is difficult to amalgamate the
solid beef of science with the sweet sauce of _les beaux arts_.

But if a Mexican girl is ignorant, she rarely shows it. They have generally
the greatest possible tact; never by any chance wandering out of their
depth, or betraying by word or sign that they are not well informed of the
subject under discussion. Though seldom graceful, they are never awkward,
and always self-possessed. They have plenty of natural talent, and where it
has been thoroughly cultivated, no women can surpass them. Of what is
called literary society, there is of course none--

"No bustling Botherbys have they to show 'em
That charming passage in the last new poem."

There is a little annual lying beside me called "_Calendario de las
Senoritas Mejicanas_," of which the preface, by Galvan, the editor, is very

"To none," he says, "better than to Mexican ladies, can I dedicate this
mark of attention--(_obsequio_). Their graceful attractions well deserve
any trouble that may have been taken to please them. Their bodies are
graceful as the palms of the desert; their hair black as ebony, or golden
as the rays of the sun, gracefully waves over their delicate shoulders;
their glances are like the peaceful light of the moon. The Mexican ladies
are not so white as the Europeans, but their whiteness is more agreeable to
our eyes. Their words are soft, leading our hearts by gentleness, in the
same manner as in their moments of just indignation they appal and confound
us. Who can resist the magic of their song, always sweet, always gentle,
and always natural? Let us leave to foreign ladies (_las ultramarinas_)
these affected and scientific manners of singing; here nature surpasses
art, as happens in everything, notwithstanding the cavillings of the

"And what shall I say of their souls? I shall say that in Europe the minds
are more cultivated, but in Mexico the hearts are more amiable. Here they
are not only sentimental, but tender; not only soft, but virtuous; the body
of a child is not more sensitive, (_no es mas sensible el cuerpo de un
nino_), nor a rose-bud softer. I have seen souls as beautiful as the
borders of the rainbow, and purer than the drops of dew. Their passions are
seldom tempestuous, and even then they are kindled and extinguished easily;
but generally they emit a peaceful light, like the morning star, Venus.
Modesty is painted in their eyes, and modesty is the greatest and most
irresistible fascination of their souls. In short, the Mexican ladies, by
their manifold virtues, are destined to serve as our support whilst we
travel through the sad desert of life.

"Well do these attractions merit that we should try to please them; and in
effect a new form, new lustre, and new graces have been given to the
'Almanac of the Mexican Ladies,' whom the editor submissively entreats to
receive with benevolence this small tribute due to their enchantments and
their virtues!"

There are in Mexico a few families of the old school, people of high rank,
but who mingle very little in society; who are little known to the
generality of foreigners, and who keep their daughters entirely at home,
that they may not be contaminated by bad example. These select few, rich
without ostentation, are certainly doing everything that is in their power
to remedy the evils occasioned by the want of proper schools, or of
competent instructresses for their daughters. Being nearly all allied by
birth, or connected by marriage, they form a sort of _clan_; and it is
sufficient to belong to one or other of these families, to be hospitably
received by all. They meet together frequently, without ceremony, and
whatever elements of good exist in Mexico, are to be found amongst them.
The fathers are generally men of talent and learning, and the mothers,
women of the highest respectability, to whose name no suspicion can be

But, indeed, it is long before a stranger even suspects the state of morals
in this country, for whatever be the private conduct of individuals, the
most perfect decorum prevails in outward behaviour. But indolence is the
mother of vice, and not only to little children might Doctor Watts have
asserted that

"Satan finds some mischief still,
For idle hands to do."

They are besides extremely _leal_ to each other, and with proper _esprit de
corps_, rarely gossip to strangers concerning the errors of their
neighbours' ways;--indeed, if such a thing is hinted at, deny all knowledge
of the fact. So long as outward decency is preserved, habit has rendered
them entirely indifferent as to the _liaisons_ subsisting amongst their
particular friends; and as long as a woman attends church regularly, is a
patroness of charitable institutions, and gives no scandal by her outward
behaviour, she may do pretty much as she pleases. As for flirtations in
public, they are unknown.

I must, however, confess that this indulgence on the part of women of
unimpeachable reputation is sometimes carried too far. We went lately to a
breakfast, at which was a young and beautiful countess, lately married, and
of very low birth. She looked very splendid, with all the ----- diamonds,
and a dress of rose-coloured satin. After breakfast we adjourned to another
room, where I admired the beauty of a little child who was playing about on
the floor, when this lady said, "Yes, she is very pretty--very like my
little girl, who is just the same age." I was rather surprised, but
concluded she had been a widow, and made the inquiry of an old French lady
who was sitting near me. "Oh, no!" said she--"she was never married before;
she alludes to the children she had before the count became acquainted with
her!" And yet the Senora de -----, the strictest woman in Mexico, was
loading her with attentions and caresses. I must say, however, that this
was a singular instance....

There are no women more affectionate in their manners than those of Mexico.
In fact, a foreigner, especially if he be an Englishman, and a shy man, and
accustomed to the coolness of his fair countrywomen, need only live a few
years here, and understand the language, and become accustomed to the
peculiar style of beauty, to find the Mexican Senoritas perfectly

And that this is so, may be judged of by the many instances of Englishmen
married to the women of this country, who _invariably_ make them excellent
wives. But when an Englishman marries here, he ought to settle here, for it
is very rare that a _Mexicaine_ can live out of her own country. They miss
the climate--they miss that warmth of manner, that universal cordiality by
which they are surrounded here. They miss the _laissez-aller_ and absence
of all etiquette in habits, toilet, etc. They find themselves surrounded by
women so differently educated, as to be doubly strangers to them, strangers
in feeling as well as in country. A very few instances there are of girls,
married very young, taken to Europe, and introduced into good society, who
have acquired European ways of thinking, and even prefer other countries to
their own; but this is so rare, as scarcely to form an exception. They are
true patriots, and the visible horizon bounds their wishes. In England
especially, they are completely out of their element. A language nearly
impossible for them to acquire, a religion which they consider heretical,
outward coldness covering inward warmth, a perpetual war between sun and
fog, etiquette carried to excess, an insupportable stiffness and order in
the article of the toilet; rebosos unknown, _cigaritos_ considered
barbarous.... They feel like exiles from paradise, and live but in hopes of
a speedy return.

As to the colleges for young men, although various projects of reform have
been made by enlightened men in regard to them, especially by Don Lucas
Alaman, and afterwards by Senor Gutierrez Estrada, and though to a certain
extent many of the plans were carried into effect, it is a universal source
of complaint among the most distinguished persons in Mexico, that in order
to give their sons a thorough education, it is necessary to send them


Revolution in Mexico--Gomez Farias and General Urrea--The Federalists--The
President Imprisoned--Firing--Cannon--First News--Escape--Proclamation of
the Government--Cannonading--Count C---a--Houses deserted--Countess del
V---e--Proclamation of the Federalists--Circular of the Federalists--
Scarcity of Provisions--Bursting of a Shell--Refugees--Dr. Plan--Young
Lady Shot--Gomez Farias--Rumours--Address of Gomez Farias--Balls and
Bullets--Visit from the ----- Minister--Arrival of Monsieur de -------
Expected Attack--Skirmish--Appearance of the Street--San Cosme--General
-------The Count de B------More Rumours--Suspense--Cannonading--Government
Bulletin--Plan of the Rebels defeated--Proclamation of the President--Of
General Valencia--Maternal Affection--Fresh Reports--Families leaving the
City--Letter from Santa Anna--Bustamante's Letter when Imprisoned--
Propositions--Refusal--Tacubaya--Archbishop--Fresh Proposals--Refusal--
Second Letter from Santa Anna--Government Bulletin--Proclamations--An
awkward Mistake-The Archbishop visits the President--Conclusion of the
Revolution--Government Newspapers--Circulars.

July 15th.

Revolution in Mexico! or _Pronunciamiento_, as they call it. The storm
which has for some time been brewing, has burst forth at last. Don
Valentin Gomez Farias and the banished General Urrea have pronounced for
federalism. At two this morning, joined by the fifth battalion and the
regiment of _comercio_, they took up arms, set off for the palace,
surprised the president in his bed, and took him prisoner. Our first
information was a message, arriving on the part of the government,
desiring the attendance of our two old soldiers, who put on their old
uniforms, and set off quite pleased. Next came our friend Don M---- del C-
--o, who advised us to haul out the Spanish colours, that they might be in
readiness to fly on the balcony in case of necessity. Little by little,
more Spaniards arrived with different reports as to the state of things.
Some say that it will end in a few hours--others, that it will be a long
and bloody contest. Some are assured that it will merely terminate in a
change of ministry--others that Santa Anna will come on directly and usurp
the presidency. At all events, General Valencia, at the head of the
government troops, is about to attack the pronunciados, who are in
possession of the palace....

The firing has begun! People come running up the street. The Indians are
hurrying back to their villages in double-quick trot. As we are not in the
centre of the city, our position for the present is very safe, all the
cannon being directed towards the palace. All the streets near the square
are planted with cannon, and it is pretended that the revolutionary party
are giving arms to the _leperos_. The cannon are roaring now. All along the
street people are standing on the balconies, looking anxiously in the
direction of the palace, or collected in groups before the doors, and the
azoteas, which are out of the line of fire, are covered with men. They are
ringing the tocsin--things seem to be getting serious.

Nine o'clock, P.M.--Continuation of firing without interruption. I have
spent the day standing on the balcony, looking at the smoke, and listening
to the different rumours. Gomez Farias has been proclaimed president by his
party. The streets near the square are said to be strewed with dead and
wounded. There was a terrible thunderstorm this afternoon. Mingled with the
roaring of the cannon, it sounded like a strife between heavenly and
earthly artillery. We shall not pass a very easy night, especially without
our soldiers. Unfortunately there is a bright moon, so night brings no
interruption to the firing and slaughter.

16th.--Our first news was brought very early this morning by the wife of
one of our soldiers, who came in great despair, to tell us that both her
husband and his comrade are shot, though not killed--that they were amongst
the first who fell; and she came to entreat C---n to prevent their being
sent to the hospital. It is reported that Bustamante has escaped, and that
he fought his way, sword in hand, through the soldiers who guarded him in
his apartment. Almonte at all events is at the head of his troops. The
balls have entered many houses in the square. It must be terribly dangerous
for those who live there, and amongst others, for our friend Senor Tagle,
Director of the Monte Pio, and his family.

They have just brought the government bulletin, which gives the following
statement of the circumstances:--"Yesterday, at midnight, Urrea, with a
handful of troops belonging to the garrison and its neighbourhood took
possession of the National Palace, surprising the guard, and Committing the
_incivility_ of imprisoning His Excellency the President, Don Anastasio
Bustamante, the commander-in-chief, the _Mayor de la Plaza_, and other
chiefs. Don Gabriel Valencia, chief of the _plana mayor_ (the staff),
General Don Antonio Mozo, and the Minister of War, Don Juan Nepomuceno
Almonte, re-united in the citadel, prepared to attack the _pronunciados_,
who, arming the lowest populace, took possession of the towers of the
cathedral, and of some of the highest edifices in the centre of the city.
Although summoned to surrender, at two in the afternoon firing began, and
continued till midnight, recommencing at five in the morning, and only
ceasing at intervals. The colonel of the sixth regiment, together with a
considerable part of his corps, who were in the barracks of the palace,
escaped and joined the government troops, who have taken the greatest part
of the positions near the square and the palace. His Excellency the
President, with a part of the troops which had _pronounced_ in the palace,
made his escape on the morning of the sixteenth, putting himself at the
head of the troops who have remained faithful to their colours, and at
night published the following proclamation:"

"_The President of the Republic to the Mexican Nation._

"Fellow-Citizens:--The seduction which has spread over a very small part of
the people and garrison of this capital; the forgetfulness of honour and
duty, have caused the defection of a few soldiers, whose misconduct up to
this hour has been thrown into confusion by the valiant behaviour of the
greatest part of the chiefs, officers, and soldiers, who have intrepidly
followed the example of the valiant general-in-chief of the _plana mayor_
of the army. _The government was not ignorant of the machinations that were
carrying on; their authors were well known to it, and it foresaw that the
gentleness and clemency which it had hitherto employed in order to disarm
them, would be corresponded to with ingratitude._

"This line of policy has caused the nation to remain _headless (acefala)_
for some hours, and public tranquillity to be disturbed; but my liberty
being restored, the dissidents, convinced of the evils which have been and
may be caused by these tumults, depend upon a reconciliation for their
security. The government will remember that they are misled men, belonging
to the great Mexican family, but not for this will it forget how much they
have forfeited their rights to respect; nor what is due to the great bulk
of the nation. Public tranquillity will be restored in a few hours; the
laws will immediately recover their energy, and the government will see
them obeyed.


"Mexico, July 16th, 1840."

A roar of cannon from the Palace, which made the house shake and the
windows rattle, and caused me to throw a blot over the President's good
name, seems the answer to this proclamation.

17th.--The state of things is very bad. Cannon planted all along the
streets, and soldiers firing indiscriminately on all who pass. Count C---a
slightly wounded, and carried to his country-house at Tacubaya. Two
Spaniards have escaped from their house, into which the balls were pouring,
and have taken refuge here. The E---- family have kept their house, which
is in the very centre of the affray, cannons planted before their door, and
all their windows already smashed. Indeed, nearly all the houses in that
quarter are abandoned. We are living here like prisoners in a fortress. The
Countess del V---e, whose father was shot in a former revolution, had just
risen this morning, when a shell entered the wall close by the side of her
bed, and burst in the mattress.

As there are two sides to every story, listen to the proclamation of the
chief of the rebels.

"_Senor Valentin Gomez Farias to the Mexican People._

"Fellow-Citizens:--We present to the civilized world two facts, which,
while they will cover with eternal glory the Federal army and the heroic
inhabitants of this capital, will hand down with execration and infamy, to
all future generations, the name of General Bustamante; this man without
faith, breaking his solemnly-pledged word, after being put at liberty by an
excess of generosity; for having promised to take immediate steps to bring
about a negotiation of peace, upon the honourable basis which was proposed
to him, he is now converted into the chief of an army, the enemy of the
Federalists; and has beheld, with a serene countenance, this beautiful
capital destroyed, a multitude of families drowned in tears, and the death
of many citizens; not only of the combatants, but of those who have taken
no part in the struggle. Amongst these must be counted an unfortunate woman
_enceinte_, who was killed as she was passing the palace gates under the
belief that a parley having come from his camp, the firing would be
suspended, as in fact it was on our side. This government, informed of the
misfortune, sent for the husband of the deceased, and ordered twenty-five
dollars to be given him; but the unfortunate man, though plunged in grief,
declared that twelve were sufficient to supply his wants. Such was the
horror inspired by the atrocious conduct of the ex-government of
Bustamante, that this sentiment covered up and suffocated all the others.

"Another fact, of which we shall with difficulty find an example in
history, is the following. The day that the firing began, being in want of
some implements of war, it was necessary to cause an iron case to be
opened, belonging to Don Stanislaus Flores, in which he had a considerable
sum of money in different coin, besides his most valuable effects. Thus,
all that the government could do, was to make this known to the owner,
Senor Flores, in order that he might send a person of confidence to take
charge of his interests, making known what was wanting, that he might be
immediately paid. The pertinacity of the firing prevented Senor Flores from
naming a commissioner for four days, and then, although the case has been
open, and no one has taken charge of it, the commissioner has made known
officially that nothing is taken from it but the implements of war which
were sent for. Glory in yourselves, Mexicans! The most polished nation of
the earth, illustrious France, has not presented a similar fact. The
Mexicans possess heroic virtues, which will raise them above all the
nations in the world. This is the only ambition of your fellow-citizen,


"God, Liberty, and Federalism.

"Mexico, July 17th, 1840."

Besides this, a circular has been sent to all the governors and commandants
of the different departments, from the "Palace of the Federal Provisional
Government," to this effect:

"The Citizen Jose Urrea, with the greater part of the garrison of the
capital, and the whole population, pronounced early on the morning of this
day, for the re-establishment of the Federal system, adopting in the
interim the Constitution of 1824, whilst it is reformed by a Congress which
they are about to convoke to that effect; and I, having been called, in
order that at this juncture I should put myself at the head of the
government, communicate it to your Excellency, informing you at the same
time, that the object of the Citizen Urrea, instead of re-establishing the
Federal system, has been to re-unite all the Mexicans, by proclaiming
toleration of all opinions, and respect for the lives, properties, and
interests of all.

"God, Liberty, and Federalism.


"National Palace of Mexico, 15th July, 1840."

18th.--There is a great scarcity of provisions in the centre of the city,
as the Indians, who bring in everything from the country, are stopped. We
have laid in a good stock of _comestibles_, though it is very unlikely that
any difficulties will occur in our direction. While I am writing, the
cannon are roaring almost without interruption, and the sound is anything
but agreeable, though proving the respect entertained by Farias for "the
lives, properties, and interests of all." We see the smoke, but are
entirely out of the reach of the fire.

I had just written these words, when the Senora -----, who lives opposite,
called out to me that a shell has just fallen in her garden, and that her
husband had but time to save himself. The cannon directed against the
palace kill people in their beds, in streets entirely out of that
direction, while this ball, intended for the citadel, takes its flight to
San Cosme! Both parties seem to be _fighting the city_ instead of each
other; and this manner of firing from behind parapets, and from the tops of
houses and steeples, is decidedly safer for the soldiers than for the
inhabitants. It seems also a novel plan to keep up a continual cannonading
by night, and to rest during a great part of the day. One would think that
were the guns brought nearer the palace, the affair would be sooner over.

Late last night, a whole family came here for protection; the
Senora ----- with -----, nurse, and baby, etc. She had remained very
quietly in her own house, in spite of broken windows, till the bullets
whizzed past her baby's bed. This morning, everything remains as it was the
first day--the president in the citadel, the rebels in the palace. The
government are trying to hold out until troops arrive from Puebla. In an
interval of firing, the---Secretary contrived to make his way here this
morning. The English Minister's house is also filled with families, it
being a little out of the line of fire. Those who live in the Square, and
in the Calle San Francisco are most exposed, and the poor shopkeepers in
the _Parian_ are in a state of great and natural trepidation. I need not
say that the shops are all shut.

19th.--Dr. Plan, a famous French physician, was shot this morning, as he
was coming out of the palace, and his body has just been carried past our
door into the house opposite.

The Senorita ----- having imprudently stepped out on her balcony, her house
being in a very exposed street, a pistol-ball entered her side, and passed
through her body. She is still alive, but it seems impossible that she can
recover. The Prior of San Joaquin, riding by just now, stopped below the
windows to tell us that he fears we shall not remain long here in safety,
as the pronunciados have attacked the Convent of La Concepcion, at the end
of the street.

My writing must be very desultory. Impossible to fix one's attention on
anything. We pass our time on the balconies, listening to the thunder of
the cannon, looking at the different parties of troops riding by, receiving
visitors, who, in the intervals of the firing, venture out to bring us the
last reports--wondering, speculating, fearing, hoping, and excessively
tired of the whole affair.

Gomez Farias, the prime mover of this revolution, is a distinguished
character, one of the _notabilities_ of the country, and has always
maintained the same principles, standing up for "rapid and radical reform."
He is a native of Guadalajara, and his literary career is said to have been
brilliant. He is also said to be a man of an ardent imagination and great
energy. His name has appeared in every public event. He first aided in the
cause of Independence, then, when deputy for Zacatecas, showed much zeal in
favour of Yturbide--was afterwards a warm partisan of the federal
cause--contributed to the election of General Victoria; afterwards to that
of Pedraza--took an active part in the political changes of '33 and '34;
detests the Spaniards, and during his presidency endeavoured to abolish the
privileges of the clergy and troops--suppressed monastic
institutions--granted absolute liberty of opinion--abolished the laws
against the liberty of the press--created many literary institutions; and
whatever were his political errors, and the ruthlessness with which in the
name of liberty and reform he marched to the attainment of his object,
without respect for the most sacred things, he is generally allowed to be a
man of integrity, and even by his enemies, an enthusiast, who deceives
himself as much as others. Now in the hopes of obtaining some uncertain and
visionary good, and even while declaring his horror of civil war and
bloodshed, he has risen in rebellion against the actual government, and is
the cause of the cruel war now raging, not in the open fields or even in
the scattered suburbs, but in the very heart of a populous city.

This morning all manner of opinions are afloat. Some believe that Santa
Anna has started from his retreat at Manga de Clavo, and will arrive
to-day--will himself swallow the disputed oyster (the presidential chair),
and give each of the combatants a shell apiece; some that a fresh supply of
troops for the government will arrive to-day, and others that the rebels
must eventually triumph. Among the reports which I trust may be classed as
doubtful, is, that General Urrea has issued a proclamation, promising
_three hours' pillage_ to all who join him. Then will be the time for
testing the virtues of all the diplomatic _drapeaux_. In the midst of all,
here comes another.

"_Address of His Excellency, Senor Don Valentin Gomez Farias, charged
provisionally with the government of Mexico, and of the General-in-Chief of
the Federal army, to the troops under his command_."

"Companions in arms:--No one has ever resisted a people who fight for their
liberty and who defend their sacred rights. Your heroic endeavours have
already reduced _our unjust aggressors_ almost to complete nullity. Without
infantry to cover their parapets, without artillery to fire their pieces,
without money, without credit, and without support, they already make their
last useless efforts. On our side, on the contrary, all is in abundance
_(sobra)_, men, arms, ammunition, and money, and above all, the invincible
support of opinion;--while the parties which adhere to our _pronunciamento_
in all the cities out of the capital, and the assistance which within this
very city is given by every class of society to those who are fighting for
the rights of the people, offer guarantees which they will strictly fulfil
to all the inhabitants of the country, natives as well as foreigners. Our
enemies, in the delirium of their impotence, have had recourse to their
favourite weapon, calumny. In a communication directed to us, they have had
the audacity to accuse you of having attacked some property. Miserable
wretches! No, the soldiers of the people are not robbers; the cause of
liberty is very noble, and its defence will not be stained by a degrading
action. This is the answer given to your calumniators by your chiefs, who
are as much interested in your reputation as in their own. Soldiers of the
people! let valour, as well as all other civic virtues, shine in your
conduct, that you may never dim the renown of valiant soldiers and of good

"Valentin Gomez Farias."

"Jose Urrea."

We hear that two shells have fallen into the house of Senor -----, who has

Book of the day: