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Maladies which periodically arrest the progress of population.— Small-por, natural and inoculated.—Cow-por.—Matlazahuatl. —Famine.—Health of miners.
It remains for us to examine into the physical causes which almost periodically arrest the progress of Mexican population. These causes are the small-pox, the cruel malady called by the Indians Matlacahuatl, and especially famine, of which the effects are felt for a long time. The small-pox, introduced since 1520, appears only to exercise its ravages every seventeen or eighteen years. In the equinoxial regions it has, like the black comiting and several other diseases, its fixed periods, to which it is very regularly subjected. We might say that in these countries the disposition for certain miasmata is only renewed in the natives at long intervals; for though the vessels from Europe frequently introduce the germ of the small-pox, it never becomes epidemical but after very marked intervals; a singular circumstance, which renders the disease so much the more dangerous for adults. The smallpox committed terrible ravages in 1763, and especially in 1779, in which year it carried off in the capital of Mexico alone more than nine VOL. I. s
thousand persons. Every evening tumbrels passed through the streets to receive the corpses, as at Philadelphia during the yellow fever. A great part of the Mexican youth was cut down that year. The epidemic of 1707 was less destructive, chiefly owing to the zeal with which inoculation was propagated in the environs of Mexico, and in the bishopric of Mechoachan. In the capital of this bishopric the city of Valladolid, of 6800 in. dividuals inoculated only 170, or 24 per cent. died; and we must also observe, that several of those who perished were inoculated at a time when they were probably already infected in the natural manner. Fifteen in the hundred died of individuals of all ages, who without being inoculated were victims of the natural small-pox. Several individuals, particularly among the clergy, displayed at that period a very praiseworthy patriotism, in arresting the progress of the disease by inoculation. I shall merely mention the names of two enlightened men, M. de Reańo, intendant of Guanaxuato, and Don Manuel Abad, penitentiary canon of the cathedral of Valladolid, whose generous and disinterested views were constantly directed towards the public good. There were then inoculated in the kingdom between 50 and 60,000 individuals. But in the month of January 180i, the vaccine inoculation was even introduced at Mexico through the activity of a respectable citizen, Don Thomas Murphy, who brought several times the virus from North America. This introduction found few obstacles; the cow-pox appeared under the aspect of a very trivial malady; and the smallpox inoculation had already accustomed the Indians to the idea that it might be useful to submit to a temporary evil for the sake of evading a greater evil. If the vaccine inoculation, or even the ordinary inoculation, had been known in the new world in the sixteenth century, several millions of Indians would not have perished victims to the small-pox, and particularly to the absurd treatment by which the disease was rendered so fatal. To this disease the fearful diminution of the number of Indians in California is to be ascribed. The ships of war commissioned to carry the vaccine matter into America and Asia arrived at Vera Cruz shortly after my arrival. Don Antonio Palmis, physician general of this expedition, visited Portorico, Cuba, Mexico, and the Philippine islands; and his stay at Mexico, where nevertheless the cow-pox was known before his arrival, contributed singularly to facilitate the propagation of this salutary preservative. In the principal cities of the kingdom vaccine committees were formed (juntas centrales), composed of the most enlightened individuals, who, by vaccinating monthly, preserve the miasma from being lost. It is so much the less liable to be lost, as it exists in the country. M. Valmis discovered it in the environs of Walladolid, and in the village of Atlisco, near la Puebla, in the udders of the Mexican cows. The commission having fulfilled the beneficent views of the king of Spain, we may indulge a hope that through the influence of the clergy, and especially of the religious missionaries, vaccination will be gradually introduced into the very interior of the country. The voyage of M. Valmis will thus remain for ever memorable in the annals of history. The Indies saw for the first time those vessels, which were formerly freighted only with instruments of carnage and destruction, bearing about the germ of relief and consolation to distressed and suffering humanity. The arrival of the armed frigates in which M. Valmis made the circuit of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans gave rise on several coasts to one of the most simple, and therefore most affecting, ceremonies. The bishops, military governors, and persons of greatest distinction, repaired to the shore, where they took in their arms the children who were to carry the cow-pox to the indigenous Americans and the Malays of the Philippine islands, and, followed with public acclamations,they laid at the foot of the altar those precious preservative deposits, returning thanks to the Supreme Being for having been the witnesses of so happy an event. We must have some knowledge of the ravages occasioned by the small-pox in the torrid zone, and especially among a race of men whose physical constitution seems adverse to cutaneous eruptions, in order to feel all the importance of M. Jenner's discovery. It is a much greater blessing for the equinoxial part of the new continent than for the temperate climate of the old. It may be useful to relate here a fact of some importance for those who take an interest in the progress of vaccination. It was unknown at Lima till the month of November 1802. At that period the small-pox prevailed on the coast of the South Sea. A merchant vessel, Santo Domingo de la Calzada, put into Lima in the passage from Spain to Manilla. An individual had had the good sense to send by this vessel vaccine matter to the Philippine islands. They availed themselves of this opportunity at Lima; and M. Unanue, professor of anatomy, and author of an excellent physiological treatise on the climate of Peru", vaccinated several individuals by means of the matter brought by the merchant vessel. No pustule appeared ; and the virus appeared either altered or too weak. However, M. Unanue having observed that all the vaccinated individuals had a very mild small-pox, employed this variolous mat