Our Sister Republic/Chapter 14
AMID THE RUINS OF EMPIRES.
DID you ever go behind the scenes in a theatre after the play was over, the audience dismissed, and the actors had disrobed and gone? I did that, in Mexico. The theatre was an empire, and the actors played each a part in one of the mightiest dramas of our age and time. I went to the Palacio Nacional of Mexico, and saw in the garish light of day, the "scenic effects," "stage accessories," and tawdry "costumes," which dazzled the eyes of the outside world who witnessed the representation of "The Empire of Mexico," only three years ago.
In the long hall—made by throwing three rooms into one, by order of Maximilian—in which the grand dinner was given to Mr. Seward but a few nights before, I saw the full length portraits of Hidalgo and Guerrero, and other gallant men who sealed their faith in liberty with their blood, and laid down their lives for the independence of Mexico. "With them, I saw the sword and cane of Iturbide, which he, under the influence of the Church, exchanged for a crown and a traitors death; and only a few yards off, the crimson canopy, which overhung the throne on which Maximilian sat. From the windows of this hall I looked out on the great Cathedral of Mexico, with its millions of dollars worth of tawdry ornaments, going slowly but surely into decay, and the palace which Hernando Cortez built and occupied, now a national pawnbroker's shop.
Then we went into the chapel which Maximilian caused to be arranged for the coronation which never took place, and saw the cushioned seats on which he and his Empress were to sit while the services progressed. Then into another and smaller chapel, and from thence, to the great store-rooms in which is piled like so much useless rubbish, the costly trappings which adorned the persons of the actors and the stage on which they strutted their little hour, in the last grand imperial farce of our time—of all time I trust!
In one room there are numerous paintings, and wooden, marble, and gilded plaster of Paris decorations from the palace of Chapultepec. There are two full length portraits of Maximilian in his imperial robes, one painted in Munich, the other in Mexico. In each, the artist has given an almost feminine beauty to his forehead and eyes, and the blonde English whiskers are the same; but the coarse, weak mouth defied all efforts at toning down and softening, and both artists wisely represented it in all its deformity.
There is also a full length portrait of Carlotta, which so closely resembles the fancy pictures of Eugenie, current some twenty years ago, as to lead to the suspicion of a common model having served for each. On a pedestal near by, are marble busts of Maximilian and Carlotta, doubtless sculptured in actual mathematical proportions, which are as much unlike the painted portraits as possible; the features of each being coarser, and more distinctly marked and characteristic. Mexico is filled with representations of Maximilian, painted, engraved, sculptured, and printed, and it almost seems as if he had done nothing else, but to sit for his portrait during his whole residence in the country. His vanity induced him to stamp his likeness on every conceivable object within his reach, and you see it everywhere.
In a case in the same room, there is a miscellaneous collection of court costumes, which remind one of the wardrobe room in a theatre. There are gold and silver lace-embroidered coats and hats for the royal flunkies, gorgeous diamond buckles for the belts of gentlemen of the household, jockey caps for the outriders of the royal coach, silver and gold-mounted swords, and gold and silver buttons, for senators, representatives, cabinet officers, generals, judges, and every other member or officer of the imperial government. Great, gilt monograms of the Emperor and Empress, torn down from over windows and doorways, lay scattered about, and indecent statues in bronze, more indecently mutilated in some cases, were shown us. In one room there is a pile of boxes filled with patents of nobility, diplomas of orders of military merit, and certificates, conferring the order of Guadaloupe of Mexico, on hundreds of persons, already signed and sealed by Maximilian and his ministers. I was permitted to carry away some of these, as curiosities, and the whole will doubtless be eventually scattered over the world in the same manner. Who wants an imperial decoration cheap as dirt?
In another room I counted eighty-five large, brass-bound, oaken chests, some of them of immense size, all of which bore the imperial arms and cypher, and now contain, or once contained, the silver and golden plate which was manufactured in Europe for the imperial table. In the scenes of wild confusion which followed the downfall of the empire, much of this plate was stolen by servants, or otherwise disappeared; but a great quantity still remains, and I cannot but wonder that the Government of the Republic does not, in its present exigencies, melt it all up at once, and make an end of it. Every piece of this plate bears the royal monogram, and much of it appears never to have been used.
BROKEN PLATE FROM CHAPULTEPEC.
In another room I saw the English china dinner-service, in white and gold, which adorned the tables at Chapultepec and the palace in the city, each piece of which bears the monogram of Maximilian. In the last grand banquet which took place at Chapultepec, before the fatal expedition to Queretaro—a banquet which proved a very Belshazzar—feast to the Empire—many pieces of this porcelain service were broken. I was presented with some of these curious mementoes of that ghostly festival.
If one-tenth of the furniture, etc., etc., said to have been imported by Maximilian really came over at his expense, I am not surprised at the imperial treasury having been bankrupted so soon. I saw more billiard-tables than would fill the largest hall in New York, each of which was "Max's private table;" every saloon in town has one or more, and most of the private houses indulge in the same costly luxury. I have made it a point to knock the balls around—I seldom make a point in doing so—on all of them, and so have possibly played upon his private table somewhere, though where it may have been, heaven knows. His carriages are equally numerous; everybody who can keep a carriage, at all, has one of them. But in a room in the old convent building where the Aztec relics are deposited, I saw the veritable carriage presented to Maximilian when he was on his way to Mexico, by the imperialists of Milan. It is a very large and cumbersome affair, a load for four horses, though it might be drawn on a very good road by two, and as rich with gold and silver plating, plate-glass, silk and embossed enameled leather as it would be possible to make it. Nevertheless, I confess to no envy for the couple who rode in it. At present it is nominally the property of the Republic, but I think that no one has ever ridden in it since the Empire went down in blood, and it is a useless piece of lumber. President Juarez, who is very plain in all his ways, and anxious to avoid all show and ostentation, would hardly venture to ride in it—probably could not be persuaded to do so—and it is now a chronic case, not of "what is it?" but "what shall we do with it?" It is said to have cost forty-seven thousand dollars.
And it was for these knick-nacks and gew-gaws, gilt buttons, gold and silver laces, florid pictures, marble, bronze, and silver statues, busts and medals, gold and silver plate and flashy porcelain table services, and tawdry tinsel and trappings, now fading away, growing discolored, moulding, and dust-laden, in the lumber rooms of the Palacio Nacional, that the royal wittol Maximilian of Hapsburg, bartered an empire, sacrificed the love and respect of all the friends he ever had in Mexico, drenched the land in blood, clad a nation in mourning, and finally signed a decree which proved his own death-warrant, closed the door of mercy against him, consigned him to a bloody grave, and covered his name with infamy for all time!
Maximilian had a court as complete in all its appointments as that of Napoleon III, but no empire beyond the reach of the bayonets of his foreign mercenaries, and all the money went in raree-shows, and such theatrical displays as could be gotten up with the court-trappings which I have been describing. The bankrupt Prince from Miramar lost, completely, what little brains he had to lose, when he found himself before the foot-lights playing the role of Emperor. The millions wrung from a starving and terribly oppressed people, or cajoled from the humbugged and swindled subscribers to the Mexican loan in Europe, were wasted in such nonsense as this, while the people wanted bread; public improvements, which might have deferred, if not averted the evil day, could not go on for the want of funds, and the army—such as it was—subsisting on the plunder of helpless villages, perpetrated every conceivable atrocity, and, at last, drove the whole nation to forget private quarrels and unite, as one man, in a war of extermination against the invaders.
When money began to fail, and creditors to clamor, and it became evident, even to his dull senses, that a change must come, instead of reducing expenses, converting everything available into funds with which to pay the army and recruit followers from all ranks of society, then inaugurating a new and vigorous, but honorable campaign, he dallied and trifled, yielding to first one party, then the other, never being in the same mind two days in succession, and, finally, committed the fatal mistake of endeavoring to crush his enemies at a blow of the pen instead of the sword, and by compelling them to fight with the halter around their necks, increase the effectiveness of his own army, which wanted every element calculated to ensure success for his cause. When he signed the black flag decree, he reduced his followers to the level of common cut-throats and banditti, and drove his opponents to desperation.
I do not believe that the establishment of a permanent Empire in Mexico was ever practicable, but Maximilian might have won to himself a large and influential party, which would have sustained him for a long time, and in the end might have retired from the country without dishonor to himself, and with the respect, if not the sympathy of mankind, had he but possessed the smallest amount of practical common sense, and been less easily tickled with empty compliments, paid applause, and the gaudy feathers and tinsel with which he covered himself, and strutted his little hour upon the stage.
Probably it is better as it is, and Maximilian served the world better as material with which "to point a moral, and adorn a tale," than he could ever have done as a statesman and a ruler by "right Divine;" nevertheless, one cannot but feel a touch of regret, as he stands amid these ruins, and reflects upon the wide difference between the mournful fact, and the brighter possibility; what was, and what might have been.
The archives contain the decrees and other documents issued by each of the different governments and administrations of Mexico, from the Spanish conquest, down to the present day, with the single exception of those of Maximilian's Empire, which are ignored and treated as of no validity or importance whatever. All the documents emanating from that source are kept separate, as having no part in the legitimate history of Mexico. Among them is one which must stand as a full, complete, and irrefutable answer to all charges of cruelty and undue severity on the part of Mexico and the Juarez administration, in the matter of the execution of Maximilian. The act has been denounced in the most unmeasured terms by the sympathizers with monarchy, and the admirers of royalty in the United States and Europe, and even men whose education and natural instincts have led them, in all other matters, to take the side of the people against those who pretend to rule by "right Divine," have been so far misled by false statements and perversion of fact, as to characterize it as a murder.
Let us see the facts: Maximilian came into Mexico at the invitation of Napoleon III., backed by French bayonets and followed by an army of foreign mercenaries. A vote, taken only in places held by the French where the result was a foregone conclusion, and the entire movement a farce of the broadest description, as he well knew, proclaimed him the choice of the Mexican people, and he assumed the title and state of Emperor of Mexico. The defenders of the Republic were hunted down like wild beasts, and killed as fast as captured, until all hope seemed gone, and the Empire appeared so securely established that the professions of good will, mild intentions, and clemency, with which he entered the country, could be safely ignored, and the mask was thrown off, at once. The report was spread abroad in advance—as an excuse for the decree which was to follow—that President Juarez, who had been pursued with the most vindictive energy by the partizans and retainers of Maximilian, had been, at last, driven across the Rio Grande, at El Paso del Norte, into the United States; and thereupon the following proclamation, which lies before me as I write, was issued:
PROCLAMATION OF HIS MAJESTY, THE EMPEROR.
the civil wars.
In other words the French and mercenary troops had driven Juarez over the boundary—he never crossed it but the assertion was made for effect—and the Empire now felt strong enough to throw off the mask and hoist the black flag in form; it had done so, in fact and practice, from the very outset, but a show of clemency must be made, in order to conciliate public opinion and blind the eyes of the world at large, until a time arrived when it could with safety adopt a truly imperial policy, such as would be in keeping with the traditions of the house of Hapsburg-Lorraine.
On the next day after the publication of the above quoted decree, the famous and infamous "Black Flag Decree," which cost Maximilian his life two years later, was signed and issued. This most remarkable document of our times was as follows:
MAXIMILIAN, EMPEROR OF MEXICO.
Surely, when he stood at bay at Queretaro, with the Republican army surrounding him at all points, he could not have been under the impression that the war had dwindled down to a mere guerrilla conflict; and still the butchery of prisoners under this decree went on. Only two or three days before the capture of Maximilian at Queretaro, a young man named Mercado, son of one of the best families of Mexico, was captured by the Imperial forces, and murdered within the twenty-four hours, as prescribed by this decree.
Again, it is alleged that the decree was only intended to beheld in terrorem over the heads of Republicans, and was never intended to be put in force. The falsity of this plea is evidenced by the decree itself, which in express terms forbids the reception of any petition for pardon by the officer, and directs him to report the capture of prisoners after they have been executed, and not before. Then it was said that this was only aimed at the guerillas, and not at the regular Republican army. Articles one and two are drawn in terms which cannot be mistaken, and leave no possibility of a question on this point; and if any doubt existed after reading the decree, the records of the Empire itself prove beyond a question, what was meant and what was done.
Among these records, the first document relating to executions under this decree, is a report to the War Department from the State of Michoacan, signed by Colonel R. Mendez, and dated October 13th. In this report Col. Mendez details the particulars of the surprise of General Arteaga by his command, and adds:
Appended to this report is a note by the officer next in command, as follows:
All these officers, and many hundred captured subsequently, were murdered under this decree. Señor Romero writing to Mr. Seward on this subject, under date of Nov. 20th, 1865, says:
These generals and colonels belonged to the regular army of the Republic, were officers of education and profession, and had fought for the independence of their country from the time the French first landed in Mexico.
General Arteaga had reached the highest rank in the Mexican army, and had recently succeeded ex-General Uraga in command, in the army of the center. He was thoroughly loyal, a patriot without blemish, and enjoyed a high reputation for honesty and probity among his fellow-countrymen of all political shades. His constancy and suffering in the campaign against the French, Austrian and Belgian invaders in the State of Michoacan, for the last two years, would suffice to give him a great reputation, if he had not already possessed one. His humanity was proverbial, as the French, Belgian, and Austrian soldiers who were taken prisoners by his forces at different times can testify.
The other chiefs and officers who were made prisoners with General Arteaga, though they had not arrived at the high position of their leader, were not less respectable and worthy.
These distinguished Mexicans were executed in accordance with the above-mentioned bloody decree of the usurper of Mexico."
Nor has the worst and most damning fact in connection with this fearful crime been related. The officers named, fell into the hands of the traitor Mendez on the 13th of October, and he, being in doubt of the true purport of the decree, or willing, for his own credit, to appear to be so, kept them alive until the 21st of October, and then shot them all in obedience to a peremptory mandate from the Imperial Minister of War, directing him, on this and all subsequent occasions, to execute the provisions of the decree to the very letter. Can any honest man stand here with these damning records before him, and maintain that Maximilian did not deserve his fate? It does not seem to me to be possible, and I can only attribute the sympathy Maximilian has received in the United States, to gross ignorance of the facts of history, and his true character.
There is a positive relief in turning from the perusal of this infernal decree, and the record of the butcheries performed under it, to the letters of the loyal men who were the first sacrificed, written to their mothers during their last moments. These letters should be translated into all languages, and published, as the most effective answer to the charges of cruelty and unnecessary harshness in the matter of the treatment of Maximilian, made so freely against the Liberals of Mexico. Here they are:
Things did change indeed; and the remains of Arteaga and Salazar were removed to the Pantheon at Mexico, and entombed with great pomp among the Nation's Dead, a short time before the visit of Mr. Seward to the Republic. To the honor of the Belgians in the employ of Maximilian, let it be said that they protested most emphatically against this decree, and the murders which were perpetrated under it.
Two hundred Belgians, who were at the time in the hands of the Liberal forces at Tacambaro, signed a formal remonstrance to Maximilian on the subject, and Colonel Breuer issued the following manifesto:
To the Representatives of the Belgian Nation:
"We expected that all the Belgian prisoners would "be put to death; but the republic of Mexico being great and generous, like all free nations, deferred to act until after learning the action of the administration of the empire toward this Colonel Mendez.
The emperor is very fond of this man. He has already sacrificed our brave colonel, and he may sacrifice the lives of all the Belgian prisoners.
Gentlemen, it is incumbent upon you to intervene. The Belgian legion desired long since to return to its native country. It did not wish to take part in this iniquitous war, or to serve longer under an empire wherein such deeds are allowed to be committed.
Representatives of the nation, your duty calls you to act wherever the Belgian name is at stake. This is not a question of party, but of nationality.
Representatives of Belgium, remember our motto, "Unity and Strength." It behooves you to speak. "We call upon you in the name of Belgium, whose honest confidence has been abused. Representatives of Belgium, it behooves you to see that the blood of Belgians be not sacrificed. In the name of the country do your duty.
On behalf of the Belgian prisoners taken by the Republican army.
But "whom the Gods would destroy they first make mad." Maximilian never disowned the act, nor raised his finger to put a stop to the other butcheries which followed, and Mendez continued in his favor to the end. The tide turned at last, and Escobedo was compelled to shoot one hundred and sixty-three foreign mercenaries, taken prisoners by him in the battle with Miramon when the latter was defeated at Zacatacas. Then, the whole United States runs: with lamentations and denunciations of "this act of barbarism," on his part. Maximilian was hunted down and brought to the Cerro de Las Campanas, to receive the punishment due to a filibuster, robber, and murderer of prisoners of war, and the royal sufferer had all our sympathy. Is this impartial justice between man and man?
The business of "finding" Aztec relics, pottery, etc., etc., is carried on here and in the vicinity quite extensively, and there is good reason to suppose that many of the articles thus brought to light from time to time, are veritable relics of that ancient race. I am indebted to Señor Miron of Vera Cruz, for some recently dug up at Medalin, which are undoubtedly genuine. On the other hand, many articles of pottery in the form of hideous, half-human, half: brute monstrosities, which I have had offered me as relics recently exhumed from the ancient burial mounds and ruined temples, I am satisfied had not been buried a year, and I would not pay the freight on them to San Francisco if they were given to me.
All around the Lakes of Mexico there are traces of ancient potteries, and I noticed that the bits of broken red earthenware scattered about them, are identical, in composition and color, with those I have picked up in "the valley of the Mississippi, and supposed to be relics of the ancient mound-builders. Among the veritable relics of the Aztecs over the authenticity of which there can be no question, may be mentioned the great Aztec calendar, cut on the face of an irregular block of lava from Popocatépetl, some twelve feet in height by ten in breadth, which has been so often described by travelers and scientific men, from Cortez to Humboldt, and from Humboldt down. This is now built into the western wall of the great Cathedral of Mexico, and can be seen and inspected by everybody.
But more interesting than this, is the collection which I found, lying heaped carelessly together, and unguarded from Vandal hands, in the patio of one of the old Convents—now a school for young ladies—near the Palacio Nacional. If this collection was left thus unguarded, at the mercy of the relic hunters of the United States or Europe, there would not be a piece as large as a chestnut left in forty-eight hours. The people who cut into infinitesimal chips, the three last ties, and broke into fragments and carried off, within two hours, the last iron rail of the Pacific railroad, or those ladies(?) who rushed to the place at the table at which the Prince of Wales had been sitting in an English town a few months since, and quarreled and fought for the possession of the cherry stones which he had spit out of his mouth, would make short work of them.
The chief of these relics is the great sacrificial stone, a block of fine-grained lava, shaped like a mill-stone, ten feet in diameter, and over three feet in thickness, covered with boldly sculptured figures, and elaborately wrought on every part. In the center of this stone is a basin, holding about as much as an ordinary American wooden pail, into which the blood of the human victims ran, when the Priests of the Sun, cut open their bosoms with flint knives and tore out their living hearts. From this basin a channel cut in the face of the stone conducted the blood to the side, from whence it ran down into a large stone trough, which is now to be seen near the great stone itself. Thousands of victims perished on this stone; some say hundreds of thousands; and the blood so permeated the porous lava that the dark red stain can still be distinguished, after the lapse of more than three centuries.
The hideous idols, serpents, and other monstrosities—all rudely cut from great blocks of lava—which adorned the temple of Cholula, lie piled against the wall, neglected and covered with dust, in the vicinity of the great altar stone. I am told that this huge sacrificial stone—contrary to the common belief—is not that which adorned the great temple of Tenochtitlan which stood on the site of the great Cathedral of our day, but was brought from Cholula. It must have been a tremendous feat to move such a heavy weight so great a distance, over such roads, and without steam power. The veritable sacrificial stone of the great temple of Tenochtitlan, is said to lie buried under the Cathedral, where the great cross is now erected, and it is certain that the bones of many thousands of human beings supposed to have perished upon it, fill all the ground where the Cathedral stands.
It is believed by many, that nearly all the old city of Tenochtitlan—the Aztec name of Mexico—is buried under the present city, and some even assert that below that are to be found ruins of a still older city, built by a race before the Aztecs. However that may be, it is evident that Tenochtitlan was built on an unhealthy marsh much below the level of the streets of Mexico, and nearly surrounded by water. The foundations of buildings in the present city are laid very deep, and the walls are immensely thick. All over the city, wherever an excavation is made for building, old Aztec relics are thrown up. Probably no city in the world now inhabited, has so many relics of ancient days buried beneath it. The accumulation of centuries has gradually raised the surface of the whole city, and buildings erected a hundred or two hundred years since have lost the whole, or a portion of their lower stories, in many instances. At the residence of Mr. Hammekin, Calle Independencia, No. 1, which comprises a portion of the old Convent of San Francisco, I was shown a well twelve feet in depth, the bottom of which is what was formerly the surface of the ground in the patio, and the marks of old stair-cases, etc., etc., on the walls of the lower story, show that the filling in to bring it to the present level of the streets, could not be less than six to twelve feet.
Señor Altamirano, the best Aztec scholar living, claims that the proof is conclusive that the Aztecs did not come here from Asia, as has been almost universally believed, but were a race originated in America and as old as the Chinese themselves, and that China may even have been peopled from America. He points out on their old maps and charts, various things which Humboldt misunderstood and by which he was led into error, and demonstrates that the Aztecs, indeed, occupied Arizona in the fifteenth century as Humboldt supposed, but only as a colony sent out from the Valley of Mexico—not as a people making a temporary halt on a long march in search of a new home. If he is correct—and I think he is—extensive excavations in the "made land" of Mexico, would result in interesting revelations.
I had often heard the great National Monte de Piedad of Mexico, spoken of in terms of unqualified praise, before my coming to the country, and it was therefore, with not a little pleasure that I accepted the kind invitation of the director, Señor Don Francisco De P. Cendejas, to inspect it in all its details, and accompanied my kind friend Colonel Enrique A. Mejia, to the place.
This great establishment was founded, not as a matter of speculation, but as an act of practical Christian charity, by Pedro Romero de Torres Count de Regla, who on the 2d day of June 1774, gave three hundred thousand dollars in coin, for a perpetual fund for loans, and himself wrote out the rules and regulations under which, with some modifications, it is conducted to this day.
The object of the pious and philanthropic founder, was to provide the poor and temporarily needy, with a place where they could deposit whatever they might have of valuables in safety, and obtain upon them an advance in coin, at such a rate of interest as would not put it out of their power to reclaim them; thus protecting them, effectually, from the rapacity of the proprietors of the old-fashioned pawn-broker's shops; and how well he succeeded the present condition of the institution testifies.
The Spanish Vice Rey of Mexico, designated for the use of the institution, the great and magnificent house erected by Hernando Cortez for his own use, immediately after the conquest, and into which he built the great cedar beam found in possession of the Aztecs, which was regarded, for its immense size, as a curiosity in its day, comparable with the great trees of California in ours, with a certain amount of religious veneration thrown in. That beam nearly cost him his position, in spite of all he had done for the glory of God in the way of butchering Indians, and the honor and aggrandizement of the Kingdom of Spain, in acquiring by fraud and violence the mighty dominion of Mexico. It is still sound, and uninjured by time, though it has been removed to the Museum as a public curiosity, and no longer occupies its old place in the structure.
The building fronts upon the grand plaza, opposite the great cathedral of Mexico, and is almost in the exact condition to-day in which it was left, when its great founder died, more than three hundred years ago. The same cedar beams support the roofs of all the grand halls and corridors, and the hideous heads, sculptured by his command and placed in his presence over the doors and windows, still look down on the visitor with their derisive grin, as they did before the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock. The very staircases, with steps cut from great blocks of fine-grained lava from Popocatepetl, which he ascended, are ascended by the visitor to-day; and in the great patio you walk over the flag-stones trod many a time, and oft, by the grandest fillibuster and most pious and heroic butcher of all time.
On the 25th of February 1775, this great establishment was solemnly dedicated to the honor of God and the good of mankind, and thrown open to the public. From that day to this it has never been closed, and its business has continued uninterruptedly, though earthquakes have shaken its walls, though men and kingdoms have passed away, and the whole political and social aspect of the world has changed. Revolution after revolution has culminated in the grand plaza in front, or the palace beyond; but within its thick and solid walls, all has been quiet; and silently and undisturbed, the work planned by its founder, has gone on day by day, as it will go on years on years after the writer, and the reader of to-day, shall have been forgotten.
I can conceive of no more perfect system for the protection of the interest of the borrower, than that upon which this institution is operated to-day; and I wish it were possible for us to establish such a bank in every city in the United States.
You—no my friend, some other man—must raise funds to meet a temporary—it is to be hoped—emergency. A watch, or diamond ring, or some other valuable is offered as security at the Nacional Monte de Piedad. Two valuators are called on to pass upon it. They make their estimates, separately, and then on comparison of the two, the medium is adopted. On diamonds and other precious stones, and similar articles of unchanging value, the bank will loan up to seven-eighths of the agreed valuation, and on articles of less determined and permanent value, a lesser sum, according to circumstances; the average being much more than could be obtained on the same articles in the United States, by a stranger, at an ordinary pawnbrokers.
The interest varies, according to the time on which the loan is made, and the amount. The lowest rate is about three per cent., and the average nine and three-quarter per cent, per annum, on all the transactions of the institution. You—no, our friends—borrow money for a year, and can pay interest on the loan and have it carried on for any number of years, if desired.
When interest is no longer paid, the article pawned is kept in the vaults for seven months, and then taken out and passed into the hands of the official valuator who estimates its market value, and places the figures upon the ticket. From his hands, it passes into the sales-room, where it is exposed for sale for one month, at the price fixed by the valuator. If not sold at that sum during the month, it is again re-valued, the price being reduced, and again placed on sale for a month. And so on for five months. If at the end of a year from its forfeiture, or five months from its first exposure for sale, it still remains unsold, it is offered at public auction, and if it fails to bring as much as the loan and interest, the public valuator must refund to the bank the amount of the deficit, from his own purse.
If, on the other hand,—as is generally the case—it brings more than the amount due the bank, then the surplus is placed on deposit to the credit of the party who obtained the loan, and it remains subject to his order, or the order of " his heirs, executors, administrators and assigns," for one hundred years. If it is not claimed within the century, it is reasonably supposed that the depositor has died intestate, or moved to some other locality, and the money belongs to the bank. The centenial anniversary of the foundation of the establishment is now near at hand, and after that there will be many such sums forfeited annually.
Three sets of books are kept, viz., those of the "Contadurin" "Depositarin" and "Tesoreria" and the ticket must exactly agree with, and the article be identified from each, before it can be given up or disposed of. The smallest sum loaned is one dollar, and the largest four thousand dollars; but it is now intended to change the law so as to admit of loans being made up to ten thousand dollars. No loans are made upon real estate or any kind of goods not deposited in the vaults. The profits of the business were, for seventy-five years, devoted to paying for masses for the repose of the soul of the pious founder of the institution; but as a gentleman connected with the institution naively remarked to me, "it is fair to suppose that after seventy-five years of prayer, one's soul will be Out of hot water if ever," and the masses are now discontinued, and the annual profits applied to the founding of branch establishments, of which there are three now in the city.
The original capital of three hundred thousand dollars is still intact, and in addition there are accumulations and deposits to the amount of four hundred thousand dollars, so that the capital actually now in use, is seven hundred thousand dollars. Last year the number of loans made at this parent bank was one hundred thousand in round numbers, and the aggregate of the amounts loaned, one million six hundred thousand dollars, or an average of sixteen dollars to each loan. The number of loans seldom falls below two hundred in a day, and often reaches two thousand. Of all the articles deposited in the bank as security for loans, about two thirds are ultimately redeemed. The bank, in any event, never loses. If after all precautions, an article is found to have been stolen before being pawned, the owner must repay the amount loaned.
Señor Cendejas, in order to accustom the Mexican people to the use of paper money in some shape, and to encourage them in accumulating and laying it up against future contingencies, has introduced the system of receiving "confidential deposits," for which the bank issues certificates payable to bearer at sight, which are now current for their face at any point in the Republic. The bank also receives jewelry, plate, diamonds, and other not bulky valuables on deposit for safe keeping, the owner being required to make only a nominal loan of one dollar upon them, in order to bring it into the books of the institution. It also takes on deposit, in trust, from the courts, all moneys in dispute, and the proceeds of unsettled estates, and receives one or two per cent, per annum for ensuring its safety. It is contemplated also to found a savings-bank feature of the institution, and by putting the money at interest, aid the depositors to increase their funds without risk.
There are three grand divisions; one devoted to clothing, another to miscellaneous goods, and the last and most important, to diamonds, plate, and costly jewelry. In this last named, I saw goods piled up in separate compartments in a single room, valued at two million dollars upon the books of the institution, and probably worth in the United States, at least four million dollars or five million dollars. The valuation of diamonds is at about the rate of sixty dollars per carat, for perfect stones of that weight,—say, at least thirty-three and one-third less than the value in our market; and I am told that the diamonds, pearls, rubies, and emeralds, which are sold, are largely purchased by people going to the United States and Europe who frequently realize large profits from their sale in those countries. One set, which sold that month at the public sale, for five hundred dollars, has since been sold at one thousand dollars to my knowledge, in New York, and will be sent to Europe to be sold again.
At this time, when there is an immense amount of suffering among the "middle classes," and the old families, who were once rich, but now deprived of all income with no hopeful future before them, at the same time that they must struggle to "keep up appearances" before the world, the deposits of diamonds, watches, and fine jewelry are something enormous, and constantly increasing. I was shown,—under cover of the promise of secrecy, of course—set after set of diamonds and pearls of great value, which had adorned the persons of the proudest and most haughty beauties of any land, many of whom are known to history. One set, of antique pattern, but great value, once adorned the brow of "Isabella the Catholic," who sold them to fit out Columbus for his voyage which gave to Castile and to Leon, a New World. I was allowed to draw from its solid gold and diamond incrusted scabbard, and inspect, the sword of one of the famous generals of the early part of this century, on which twenty-seven hundred dollars had been loaned.Such a commentary on the vanity of human pride and ambition as may be read on each of the four walls of this great, cold, silent, vaulted chamber, I do not care to read again. All the forms which human vanity assumes are there. The jeweled order bestowed by Iturbide, or Santa Anna, or Maximilian, or some European monarch; the golden cup which figured at the baptism of some child of a noble house; the silver plate off which royal guests have dined; the saint in frame of solid gold; the saddle, one mass of burnished silver, on which the successful revolutionist rode in triumph; the watch-chain and trinkets of the courtezan, and the jeweled cross worn on the bosom of the pious and sainted mother of an honored family, lie there side by side, and will go out together, to be sold to strangers, and borne away to strange lands, to be regarded, henceforth as curious mementoes of travel and adventure, and nothing more.
THE CATHEDRAL OF MEXICO BY MOONLIGHT
In the sales department I noticed an article of some value, which I desired for a present to one of the dearest of friends, and offered to buy at the price fixed. The salesman gravely held it up, and asked if anybody present would pay more, explaining that the law required him to do so; and no one responding, it was wrapped up and handed to me. Then we went into the parlor, where Cortez received and entertained his guests, drank a glass of the bright, yellow wine of old Spain from Parisian glasses with the Director, Señor Cendejas, bade good bye to one of the most interesting localities I have ever visited in my life, and strolled out upon the Plaza to look on the richly-clad women of Mexico with prayer books in their hands, walking with grave, decorous silence towards the great Cathedral; and the thousands of ragged bare-footed Indians, from villages twenty-five, fifty, or a hundred miles away, bearing great burthens on their backs, as they trudged patiently along, on their annual pilgrimage to the shrine of their adored Saint and Holy Mother and protector of their race, the Virgin of Guadaloupe.