« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
on the progress of mining, and what quantity of mercury is lost in the process of Mexican amalgamation? Can we know with precision the quantity of precious metals which have passed since the conquest of Tenochtitlan from New Spain into Europe and Asia ? Is it
probable, considering the present method of working, and the geological constitution of the country, that the annual produce of the mines of Mexico will admit of an augmentation ? Or shall we admit, with several celebrated writers, that the exportation of silver from America has already attained its maximum ? These are the general questions which we propose to discuss in this work. They are connected with the most important problems of political economy.
Long before the arrival of the Spaniards, the natives of Mexico, as well as those of Peru, were acquainted with the use of several metals. They did not content themselves with those which were found in their native state on the surface of the earth, and particularly in the beds of rivers, and the ravins formed by the torrents; they applied themselves to subterraneous operations in the working of veins ; they cut galleries and dug pits of communication and ventilation ; and they had instruments adapted for cutting the rock. Cortez informs us in the historical account of his expedition, that gold, silver, copper, lead, and tin, were publicly sold in the
great market of Tenochtitlan. The inhabitants of Tzapoteca and Mixtecapan* two provinces which now form a part of the intendancy of Oaxaca, separated the gold by means of washing the alluvial soil. These people paid their tribute in two manners, either by collecting in leathern sacks or small baskets of very slender rushes, the grains of native gold, or by founding the metal into bars. These bars, like those now used in trade, are represented in the antient Mexican paintings. In the time of Montezuma, the natives had already begun to work the silver veins of Tlachco (Tasco), in the province of Cohuixco, and those which run across the mountains of Tzumpanco. +
In all the great towns of Anahuac, gold and silver vases were manufactured, although the latter metal was not held in such estimation by the Americans as by the natives of the old continent. The Spaniards, on their first arrival at Tenochtitlan, could never cease admiring the ingenuity of the Mexican goldsmiths, among whom, the most celebrated were those of Azcapozalco and Cholula. When Montezuma, seduced by an extreme credulity, recognized in the arrival of white and bearded men, the accomplishment of the mysterious prophecy of
* Especially the inhabitants of the old towns of Huaxyacaç, (Oaxaca), Cojolapan, and Atlacuechahuayan.
+ Clavigero, i. 43; ii. 125, 165; iv. 204.
Quetzalcoatl*, and compelled the Aztec nobility to yield homage to the king of Spain, the quan. tity of precious metals offered to Cortez was estimated at the value of 162,000 pesos de oro. iss Besides the great mass of gold and silver," says the conquistador, in his first letter to the emperor Charles the 5tht, “I was presented with gold plate and jewels of such precious workmanship, that, unwilling to allow them to be melted, I set apart more than a hundred thousand ducats worth of them to be presented to your imperial highness. These objects were of the greatest beauty, and I doubt if any other prince of earth ever possessed any thing similar to them. That your highness may not imagine I am advancing fables, I add, that all which the earth and ocean produce, of which king Montezuma could have any knowledge, he had caused to be imitated in gold and silver, in precious stones, and feathers, and the whole in such great perfection, that one could not help believing he saw the very objects represented. Although he gave me a great share of them for your highness, I gave orders to the natives to execute several other works in gold after designs
* See my work entitled, Vues des Cordillères des Andes, et Monumens des peuples indigènes de l'Amérique, p. 30.
+ Lorenzana, p. 99.--The booty in gold taken by the Spaniards after the taking of Tenochtitlan, was only estimated at 130,000 castellanos de pro (1.c. p. 301.)
which I furnished them with, such as images of saints, crucifixes, medals, and necklaces. As the fifth or duty on the silver paid to your highness, amounted to more than a hundred marcs, I
gave orders to the native goldsmiths to convert them into plates of various sizes, spoons, cups, and other vessels for drinking. All these works were imitated with the greatest exactness.” When we read this passage, we cannot help believing, that we are reading the account of a European ambassador, returned from China or Japan. Yet we can hardly accuse the Spanish general of exaggeration, when we consider that the emperor Charles the 5th, could judge with his own eyes of the perfection or imperfection of the objects sent to him.
The art of founding had also made considerable
progress among the Muyscas in the kingdom of New Grenada, among the Peruvians, and the inhabitants of Quito. In this last country, very precious works of the antient American goldsmiths have been preserved for several centuries in the royal treasury (en caxas reales). Within these few years, from a system of economy which may be stiled barbarous, these works, which proved that several nations of the New Continent had reached a degree of civilization very superior to what is generally attributed to them, have been all melted down.
The Aztec tribes extracted before the con
quest, lead and tin, from the veins of Tlachco (Tasco, to the north of Chilpansingo) and Izmiquilpan; and they drew cinnabar, ployed by the painters as a colour, from the mines of Chilapan. Of all the metals, copper was that which was most commonly employed in the mechanical arts ;; it supplied the place of iron and steel to a certain extent; and their arms, axes, chisels, and all their tools, were made of the copper which they extracted from the mountains of Zacotollan and Cohuixco: In every part of the globe, the use of copper seems to have preceded that of iron; and the abundance of copper in its natural state in the most northern parts of America, may have contributed to the extraordinary predilection which the Mexican tribes, who issued from those regions, have always shewn for it. Nature exhibited to the Mexicans enormous masses of iron and nickel; and these masses which are scattered over the surface of the ground, are fibrous, malleable, and of so great a tenacity, that it is with great difficulty a few fragments can be separated from them with steel instruments. The true native iron, that to which we cannot attribute a meteoric origin, and which is constantly found mixed with lead and copper, is infinitely rare in all parts of the globe; consequently we are not to be astonished, that in the commencement of civilization, the Ameri