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view ourselves in connection with an unknown and extinct species of men.
Which way soever we turn our eyes, we behold the mighty remnants of their arts, and the wide waste of their mental and physical creations. We every where see the wonderful labors of those who, in times long gone by, gloried in these stupendous achievements, but whose might and inventions are told only in their far-spread destruction ; a people, in short, of whom history has not left a solitary wreck behind! To describe the antique arts of such a people, strewed as they are over United and Central America, or buried for thousands of years beneath venerable forests, is a task which ages only can accomplish. An approach to this, therefore, is all our most ardent hopes can at present realize. Curiosity has indeed been awakened by the little which has lately been brought to light. The ambition of the learned has been excited, and the enthusiasm of the antiquarian enkindled; yet these are but the things of yesterday. Th most industrious research, and the lapse of many years, are required, to develope the hidden treasures of art with which our continent abounds. For three hundred years have the most extraordinary of these slept in Central America, among strangers from another, not a newer world, as they had before slept for many thousands ! Even now,comparatively little is known of their character. Sufficient, however, has recently been disclosed, to excite our wonder and admiration. In truth, had we fallen upon a new planet, crowded with strange memorials of a high order of genius, that for an indefinite time had survived their unknown authors, we should not be more amazed, than we are in gazing upon the anomalous relics of American antiquity.
America has been called the new world, and we still designate it by this really unmeaning title, when, in point of fact, it is coeval with the oldest. We are authorized, from its geological structure, to consider it the first great continent that sprang from the depths profound,' and are justified in believing, with Galinda, that it exhibits stronger proofs of senility, as the residence of man, than any other portion of our world. At another time, we shall speak more definitely of these facts, and present the evidence on which they are founded.
We have said that the subject of our antiquities has peculiar and important claims upon every American ; but that these claims have been overlooked or disregarded. This will have appeared strikingly obvious to those who, in Central or United America, have had the satisfaction to examine the unique specimens of remote antiquity which characterize our continent. While the homage of the world has so long been paid to the monumental piles of transatlantic antiquity, and while voyages and pilgrimages have been performed to far distant quarters of the earth, to obtain a glance at oriental magnificence, and the ruined arts of primitive nations, here we find ourselves surrounded by those of a still more remarkable character. The wondrous cities of Pompeii, Herculaneum, Elephanta, Thebes, and Petra, are not more the subjects of just admiration than are those of our own America. The former have acquired universal notoriety, from the enthusiastic descriptions of numerous travellers, while the latter are possessed of all the charms of novelty. The first are confined
If this spot,
to well known localities, and are intimately connected with a distinctive people, with dynasties, events, customs, and ceremonies, familiar to all who are acquainted with antiquarian literature. In fact, they tell their own stories, so that he who runs may read. Not so with the antiquities of America. These stretch from the great lakes of the north and west, to Central America, and the southern parts of Peru, on the south ; from the Alleghany Mountains, on the east, throughout the great valleys, to the Rocky Mountains, on the west; and from the Pacific ocean to the Atlantic, through all the wide transverse central range of our continent. How immense this field of observation, and how rich in objects of antiquarian research ! With what associations does the scene inspire us ! Standing at any point in this vast space, and looking back through the long lapse of ages, a thousand thrilling emotions crowd upon us. perchance, be in the midst of the massive and almost illimitable ruins of Palenque, who so insensible as not to be aroused by the scene around him ? Here, strewed in one indiscriminate mass, lie the wrecks of unknown ages of toil and of mind. Here dwelt millions of people, enjoying happiness more complete than that of any other, since man made a part of creation. Surrounded by the most luxuriant soil, the purest air, and, in fine, by every gift of nature that ever blessed our earth — politically and socially constituted by laws the most mild and effective that were ever devised — this city, unsurpassed in magnitude by any other of the eastern continent, may, in truth, be thought the great paradise of the western world. But the reflections arising from a glance at this part of our subject, though now seemingly irresistible, would follow, more appropriately, perhaps, the description; and so it may be with those arising from a view of the extraordinary relics of antiquity which every where meet the eye in the great western valleys of United America.
Trusting, by these preliminary observations — not, we hope, indulged at too much length to have awakened attention to the importance of our subject, we shall pass to particulars, which seem to us to possess no common interest. It should be sufficient to induce popular research, when it is remembered, that these facts are connected with the most interesting portions of the history of man — with great and signal epocha of the world; that they involve the relative condition of the intellectual and moral state of our species, with their comparative local and general happiness, during all time.
Aside, however, from the associations which the subject of antiquities generally excites, our own antique arts will be seen to have peculiar and striking characteristics. They are not hackneyed, like others, but come to us with all the freshness of romance. They are singularly unique ; and, what is not less important, they reveal to us a hitherto unknown people, which, amid the world's alarms, the wars and revolutions that have destroyed a great proportion of the human population, have quietly remained for thousands of years, if not from the origin of man, on this continent. Of these strange people, not a scrap of recorded truth is known to have been left us. Not a traditionary story, nor a symbol, is yet brought to light, that elearly tells us, as we have long anxiously hoped, of the manners
and customs of this large division of our race. Their arts, it is true, develope extraordinary facts, and, in the very language of the people, reveal faint records of their character and origin; but to us they are a sealed book; and so they must remain, until some bold and gifted spirit, with untiring research, removes the veil. This lack of historical evidence, however, does not add essentially to the interest of this subject. It gives an additional spur to our inquiries ; it incites us to an examination of the only testimonials which yet remain, of the numbers, character, and origin, of these lost nations.
Aside from the historical interest of American antiquities, the ingenuity and magnitude of those specimens of art already discovered, are well calculated to inspire national admiration. We need only turn, in proof of this position, to the extraordinary works on Paint Creek, and Licking River, in Ohio, Mount Joliet, in Illinois ; the Great Mounds at St. Louis, in Missouri ; the ruined walls and cities in Wisconsin and Arkansas; the three hundred tumuli of the Mississippi, or the stupendous pyramids of ancient Mexico and Tultica, some of which exceed in dimensions the largest of Egypt; and the vast ruins of immense Tultican cities. Surely, these are enough to convince us, that American antiquities are not less worthy of admiration, and of philosophical inquiry, than those of the eastern continent, the descriptions of which have so much astonished the learned world. A knowledge of the principal monuments of Egyptian antiquity is now deemed essential to a fashionable education, particularly to a liberal one; yet few Americans, professedly fashionable or literary, avow an acquaintance with the antiquities of our own country. This far-fetched knowledge, at the sacrifice of that which relates to ourselves, is ridiculous, and ought no longer to be imputed to our countrymen. That it is a just imputation, is sufficiently apparent, in the surprise manifested by distinguished strangers, who make inquiries of us respecting our antiquities, and who have made voyages across the Atlantic for the sole purpose of examining them. Of the recently discovered antiquities of Central America, little is known which has not come to us through a foreign channel. The ambition displayed by scientific men in Europe, in exploring these ruins, is worthy both of them and of the subject. Since the first voyages were undertaken, for the investigation of these relics, great anxiety has been manifested by the learned in France, England and Spain, to gain a knowledge of the facts which enthusiastic explorers might disclose. These facts have now been before us for many years; and yet not an effort has been made either to explore them ourselves, or to procure the results of those ambitious inquirers, in this country. Of the three voyages of discovery by Dupaix, the twelve years' devotion among these antiquities by Waldrick, the archæology of Neibel, or the discoveries of Del Rio, little or nothing is here known. Few among us have ventured a league out of our way to obtain a sight of those relics which more immediately surround us, notwithstanding the great interest of the subject, the important facts which it involves, and the local feelings which, in this country, it might be supposed natural for us to manifest. Is not this indifference a national shame?
The first step in our inquiries is marked by peculiar develop
ments; and each successive remove will be seen to advance in interest. The nature of the subject leads us first to investigate the history of the ancient Tultiques, the most recently discovered, though most remote, people of our continent. These are to be distinctly understood as independent, and more ancient than the arts and the popu. lation of Mexico. The half-buried cities, still extraordinary fabrics, existing among the wide-spread piles of huge architectural fragments, and the singular specimens of antique workmanship, to which our attention is at the outset attracted, are found on the eastern portion of Central America, and south of the Gulf of Mexico. Surprising as is the fact, these remained unexplored by the Spanish conquerors, until toward the close of the last century; or, if at all noticed, they excited little attention or curiosity among the invaders previous to that time. They were intent only on conquest and plunder; their minds were absorbed in the treasures with which the newly-conquered country was stored; and all inquiry was for the buried resources of nature, or the acquired riches of the people. Gold dazzled their eyes, bewildered their judgment, and inflamed their passions, at every point of their unrighteous conquests. The swarms of desperate and adventurous priests, battening on the spoils of victory, were only content in the grossest luxuries, or in destroying, 'for the sake of the holy religion,' every vestige of antiquity which fell in their way. The manner in which this holy zeal was carried out, and to which we shall hereafter allude, is revolting to reason, and sickening to humanity.
Thus in the early history of Spanish discovery, or aggression, every nobler purpose was sacrificed by the clergy and the soldiery to their base idols, and every Christian virtue made subservient to wanton indulgence, or cruel bigotry. In view of this, it is not surprising that the singular ruins of ancient Mexican and Tultican cities should
have had little attraction for the selfish and barbarous victors, or that many curious and antique relics should have disappeared before the superstitious phrenzy of religious zealots. It is more than probable, that the monumental ruins of Chiapa, of Yucatan, and particularly those of the great Palenquan city, were, in fact, unknown to the European invaders, and to their descendants, until about the time we have mentioned.
From Vera Cruz, the first city they built in the reputed new world, at the head of the Mexican Gulf, they pursued their triumphant way around a south-easterly branch of the Cordillera Mountains, directly to the great valley and city of Mexico. Hence the antiquities spoken of were left far on their left. The subsequent conquest of Peru, under Pizarro, led them still farther from these scenes of ancient greatness. In the conquered territories themselves, crowded as they were with magnificent specimens of primitive genius and wealth, they may be supposed to have had a field sufficiently large, and objects numerous and valuable enough, for their cupidity, while the innumerable vassals – before, the proud and happy lords of the
finest country under heaven afforded them ample scope for robbery and tyranny. These ruins, then, being removed from the first settlements of the Spanish, is one reason why they were not made known to Europeans at an earlier date. The natives them
selves, from a just reverence for the relics of their ancestors, and a religious regard for the objects of their worship, withheld all intelligence respecting them from their cruel tyrants, and the occupants of their favored soil. At length, however, the facts in relation to the Palenquan city were revealed by some Spaniards, who, having penetrated into the dreary solitudes of a high and distant desert, discovered, to their astonishment, that they were surrounded by the remains of a once large and splendid city, the probable capital of an unknown and immeasurably remote empire ! These facts were communicated by them to one of the governors of a neighboring province, who, on ascertaining the truth of the representations from the natives, wrote to his royal master, the king of Spain, to induce him to command an exploration of these strange ruins.
Another reason why the world was kept in ignorance of the antiquities of Tultica and Mexico, or, as the whole was anciently called, Anahua, is attributable to the gross misrepresentations of Robertson, the historian, who, as every one knows, wrote the history of the conquest of Mexico. This writer says but little of the Mexican arts that is calculated to excite astonishment; and what is said by him, plainly evinces the strangest ignorance of facts, or an unpardonable and wilful perversion of truth. He says, in fact, that there is not in all the extent of New Spain, any monument or vestige of building more ancient than the conquest.' The great Temple of Chollula, he says, 'was nothing but a mound of solid earth, without any facing or steps, covered with grass and shrubs !' He also says, that the houses of the people of Mexico were but huts, built of turf, or branches of trees, like those of the rudest Indians !' Robertson, in these rank mistatements, could not, we think, have had the plea of ignorance ; for the account of the conquerors themselves was a full contradiction of his assertions. From the facts before him, there fore, we are compelled to conclude that prejudice, incredulity, or a spirit of wilful perversion, dictated these erroneous statements. Our descriptions will hereafter show how wide from truth these statements are. The high reputation of Robertson as a historian will hardly atone for the errors here fixed upon him. It might be thought that prejudice or incredulity caused the Spanish inhabitants of the neighboring places to be so long silent on this subject, inasmuch as they can hardly be considered likely to have formed a correct opinion of the remoteness of the Tultican monuments, if they had noticed them, or speculated at all upon their origin. Whatever cause contributed most toward our ignorance of the antiquities we are about to describe, nothing will appear half so strange as the inconsistency and otherwise singular conduct of the Spanish authorities on this subject.
Conformably to the information communicated by the Governor of Guatemala, the King of Spain, in 1786, thirty years subsequent to the discovery of the ruins, commissioned, under the direction of that functionary, Don Antonio Del Rio, captain in his majesty's cavalry service in that province, to proceed with despatch, and the requisite means, to the exploration of the great ruins of the city of Ciudad del Palenque — signifying the city of the desert, called Otulum, from the name of a river running near it, which we shall hereafter notice — situated in the province of Ciudad Real Chiapa.