The Story of Mexico/Chapter 22

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

TSOM D246 Page decoration.png



Events in Spain underwent great changes during these years. On the 25th of October, 1555, Charles V., executed an instrument by which he ceded to his son, Philip II., the sovereignty of Flanders. It was in Brussels that the ceremony took place, with all the pomp and solemnity suited to it. On the following 16th of January, in the presence of such of the Spanish nobility as were at the court, the emperor gave up also the sovereignty of Castile and Aragon, and then retired to the Convent of Yuste, weary of the cares of government.

By this act, Philip became master of the most widely extended and powerful monarchy in Europe. He was king of Spain, comprehending under that name Castile, Aragon, and Granada, which, for centuries independent states, had been brought under one sceptre in the reign of his father, Charles V. He was king of Naples and Sicily, duke of Milan, lord of Franche Comté and the Low Countries; he had important possessions in Africa; in the true Indias he owned the Philippine and Spice Islands; and in America, besides his possessions in the West Indies, he was master of Mexico and Peru.

In all this multiplicity of affairs entailed upon the sovereign, Philip II. has maintained the reputation for admirable management, constant attention to public affairs, and the strictest sense of justice. It may well be believed, however, that he had not the same interest in the remote acquisition to his territories which his father had. Charles knew Cortés personally; received the first exciting reports of the discovery of the new country and the rich gifts which were sent him as trophies and specimens of the advantages to be derived from the conquests. Philip had had no part in these things. Much of his early life was passed elsewhere, absorbed in other more closely personal events.

By the time he became king the exciting days of the Conquest were over. Cortés was dead. The government of New Spain was established. The vital interest to the monarch of Spain in his American colonies was to secure the large sums of gold and silver that were expected from them, and the mines of Peru by that time so far exceeded those of Mexico, that the latter had to take a second place.

Rumors of discontent that rose to him from the distant colony sounded to him "like a tale of little meaning, though the words were strong."

Under these circumstances, the character of the viceroys was lowered from the high standard adhered to when Charles the Emperor selected them himself. To follow the long list of them would be most tedious and useless, as they passed in rotation, governing according to the best of their lights for several years in Mexico, and then passing on, either by death or by promotion to Peru. In 1571 the Inquisition was fully established, the period marked, by the way, with a formidable eruption of Popocatepetl, and the next year the Jesuits arrived.

The matter of the Inquisition had been under discussion for many years, a council, as early as the year 1529, having solemnly declared it to be "most necessary that the Holy Office of the Inquisition shall be extended to this land, because of the commerce with strangers here carried on, and because of the many corsairs abounding upon our coasts, which strangers may bring their evil customs among both natives and Castilians, who, by the grace of God, should be kept free from heresy."

The full fruit of the declaration ripened only in 1570, when Don Pedro Moya de Contreras was appointed Inquisitor-General, with head-quarters in the city of Mexico. The Indians were especially exempted from its jurisdiction, only heretics from other nations falling under the ban.

The Quemadero, a burning place in the city of Mexico, upon land since included in the Alameda, was a square platform in a large open space, where the spectacle could be witnessed by the population. The first auto-da-fé was celebrated in the year 1574, when, as its chronicler mentions cheerfully, "there perished twenty-one pestilent Lutherans."

From this time such ceremonies were of frequent occurrence, but the Inquisition never reached the point it did in Old Spain. Although large numbers undoubtedly perished in these, autos-da-fé, the number of those actually burned to death was comparatively small and insignificant compared to that of the victims to this religious fury in Europe, Early in the present century the Holy Office was suppressed throughout Spain and all Spanish dependencies, and, although the Inquisition was again established, it was only for a short time.

Philip II. died just before the end of the century. With him ends the greatness of Spain, which from that time declined rapidly. Naturally the remote provinces felt the loosening of the firm hand which had controlled them, yet it is to be observed that the viceroys of New Spain under Philip III. were, for the most part, men of judgment and moderation. While the government at home, in the hands of profligate favorites, was growing weaker and weaker, that of Mexico was becoming more firmly established. Spanish blood had descended into a new generation, with Mexican habits, thoughts, and impressions. The national character, as always happens with colonists remote from their origin, was becoming modified into a new shape by change of climate and environment. Meanwhile the Indians were undoubtedly greatly improved by the genial influence of their new religion. They were like children, for it was not the intention of the Church to teach them to think, as they were only too ready to acquire the knowledge of how to obey.

In the beginning of the sixteenth century the city of Mexico was overwhelmed by inundations such as had from time to time caused the Aztecs great trouble. Their works were quite ineffectual against the floods which invaded the city, and it was evident that some vigorous measure must be taken. There was question, once more, of removing the whole city to the solid ground of Tacubaya; but this plan was open to great objections.

The engineer Enrico Martinez offered a plan for the rescue of the city which was accepted. It was to reduce the highest of the several lakes belonging to the network in the valley of Mexico, by diverting its waters elsewhere, and thus prevent its overflow. Work was begun in 1607. Fifteen thousand Indians were set to sinking shafts at intervals in order to bore a tunnel, to lead off the water, more than four miles long, and eleven feet wide by thirteen in height. It was completed in eleven months, and the event was celebrated by the presence of the viceroy himself with great pomp, who gave the first stroke with his spade. Mass was said, and there were great rejoicings. This cut was call the desaguë of Huehuetoca, a small village near the hills of Nochistongo.

The canal proved too small, and several schemes were tried for enlarging and strengthening it, with varying and moderate success. The novelty of the enterprise having worn out, people began to think, during a series of dry years, that the peril from the lakes after all was not so great. The engineer Adrian Boot was sent from Spain to visit the canal of Huehuetoca; having done so, he qualified it as insufficient, in which he shared the opinion of those who had not come so far. He failed in making it more efficacious, for, in 1629, came another inundation. In 1614, the rainy season having set in with unusual violence, Martinez, the engineer, himself gave orders to close the mouth of the tunnel, perhaps to rouse the people to its importance, and the importance of not neglecting it. The result was frightful. The whole city was instantly under water, and for five years it was converted into an unwilling Venice, during which the streets were passable only in boats.

Martinez, who was put in prison for blocking the tunnel, was released in order to open it again. This he did, and erected a strong dyke which afforded some relief, but inundations were always recurring at intervals, until the whole plan of the work was altered by an open cut to replace the tunnel. This work was undertaken vigorously in 1767, and pressed to a conclusion by 1789. The tajo of Nochistongo, as it is called, can be seen from the Central Railway, whose track runs through it, at an elevation of fifty feet or more above the stream.

Owing to such drainage, and the process of evaporation, the large lake of Texcuco has greatly subsided, and the waters which surrounded Tenochtitlan have given place to nothing more than a marsh.

The lovely river Lerma, which winds through the valley of Toluca, with fine views of a beautiful mountain, the Nevada de Toluca, bears the name of the worthless favorite of Philip III.

This Philip died, and his son, Philip IV., succeeded him, continuing the line of royal favorites, and spending the imported wealth of Mexico and Peru in the extravagances of his court, and the exhausting demands of frequent wars with England, Holland, and France. He left the crown to his son, Charles II., who died without an heir in 1700; and then began the troublous wars of the Succession, which involved the whole of Europe. This ended the reign of the house of Austria. The king whose cause triumphed was a Bourbon, Philip V., and Bourbons continued to reign in Spain until the latter half of the present century.

Mexico took no part in the war of succession. When Charles II. died, the ruling viceroy was the Conde de Moctezuma, whose title was from his wife, the great-great-great-granddaughter of the last emperor of the name. Events in Europe caused no disturbance in his mind; he quietly went on ruling, and awaited the result. It has been said that Philip the Bourbon at one time thought of running away from his difficulties at home, and taking refuge in Mexico.

Only one more of the viceroys need be mentioned, the Conde de Revillagigedo, Don Juan Vicente de Güemes Pacheco de Padilla, whose deeds are worth remembering. He found the city in 1787 in a wretched condition, unlighted, undrained, unpaved. Even a part of the viceregal palace was useless, being occupied by the stalls of Indian women selling things to eat, such as tortillas, and mole. The viceroy corrected all these disorders, both in the accounts and the morality of the metropolis.

Revillagigedo was honored for his justice, renowned for his energy, and feared for his severity; at the same time he was extremely eccentric, and many anecdotes survive of his day. It is said he had the habit, like Montezuma and Haroun al Raschid, of going about incognito, with one or two aides-decamp, to detect abuses in order to correct them. Walking one evening in the Calle San Francisco, he met a monk taking his pleasure much after the hour permitted for monks to be abroad. The viceroy went directly to the convent, where, on making himself known, he was received by the abbot with all due respect.

"How many monks, father, have you in your convent?" he asked.

"Fifty, your Excellency."

"There are now only forty-nine. Call them over and see which is the missing brother, that his name may be struck out."

The list was produced, the roll was called, and only forty-five monks presented themselves. By the order of the viceroy, when the five appeared they were refused admission to the convent, and never permitted to return.

A poor Indian came to the viceroy and told him he was in difficulty, reproached with stealing some money. He said he had found a bag full of golden ounces in the street, and seeing an advertisement containing the promise of a handsome reward for the finder, he carried them to the person therein mentioned as the owner. The Don received the bag, and counted the ounces. In doing so, not unobserved by the Indian, he slipped two into his pocket, and then accused the poor man of having stolen a part of the money, and turned him out of the house as a thief and a rascal. The viceroy kept the Indian while he immediately sent for the Don, and asked him to relate the circumstances.

"May it please your Excellency, I lost a bag of gold. This Indian brought it to me in hopes of a reward, but he first stole part of the contents, and I drove him from my house."

"Stay," said the viceroy, "there is some mistake here. How many ounces did you have in your bag?"


"And how many are there here?"


"Count them down. I see it is as you say. The case is clear, we have all been mistaken. Had the Indian been a thief he would never have brought back the bag and kept two ounces; he would have kept the whole. It is evident this is not your bag, but another which this poor man has found. Continue to search for yours. Good-morning."

And sweeping up the gold pieces he gave them to the Indian to keep for himself.

Many such tales are still current of this kind, eccentric viceroy. He rendered substantial services to the country, and especially to the city of Mexico, which continued to maintain the better standard for cleanliness and order he introduced. Revillagigedo was calumniated and persecuted by certain enemies, and withdrew to Spain in 1794.

Mexico during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries offers no picturesque situations to describe at length. In fact, the history of the country is like some pictures with admirable background and sky full of clouds and light, the foreground crowded with emotional detail, all of great interest, but absolutely lacking in middle distance.

The early study of Mexico is, to those who can view it from its romantic side, and put up with its troublesome, unpronounceable names, as attractive as the landscape of the plateau, where the two lofty volcanoes, snow-capped, are enhanced by the movement of heavy clouds, and the play of sunshine on their lineaments. In the foreground may be seen well-built cities, with the domes and towers of many a church, regular streets, pleasant plazuelas shaded with trees, bright and perfumed with flowers. Between, there is nothing but a level plain, its monotony scarcely relieved by rows of maguey with stiff, bristling leaves. We will hasten over the uninteresting plain, and come to the emotional foreground.

There were in all sixty-four viceroys, beginning with Don Antonio de Mendoza, 1535, and ending with Juan O'Donojú in 1822. For nearly three centuries they ruled New Spain, and ruled it pretty well, according to their lights and those from whom they received their authority.

TSOM D255 Page decoration.png