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New Spain, the price of iron rose from 20 francs the quintal to 240, and steel from 80 francs to 1300. In those times when there is a total stagnation of foreign commerce, the Mexican industry is awakened for a time, and they then begin to manufacture steel, and to make use of the iron and mercury of the mountains of America. The nation is then alive to its true interest, and feels that true wealth consists in the abundance of objects of consumption, in that of things, and not in the accumulation of the sign by which they are represented. During the last war but one between Spain and America, they began to work the iron mines of Tecalitan, near Colima, in the intendancy of Guadalaxara. The tribunal de mineria expended more than 150,000 francs in extracting mercury from the veins of San Juan de la Chica; but the effects of so praise-worthy a zeal were only of short duration; and the peace of Amiens put an end to undertakings which promised to give to the labours of miners a more useful direction for the public prosperity. The maritime communication was scarcely well opened, when they again preferred to purchase steel, iron, and mercury in the markets of Europe.
In proportion as the Mexican population shall increase, and from being less dependent on Europe, shall begin to turn their attention to the great variety of useful productions contained in the bowels of the earth, the system of mining will undergo a change. An enlightened administration will give encouragement to those labours which are directed to the extraction of mineral substances of an intrinsic value; individuals will no longer sacrifice their own interests and those of the public to inveterate prejudices; and they will feel that the working of a mine of coal, iron, or lead may become as profitable as that of a vein of silver. In the present state of Mexico, the precious metals occupy almost exclusively the industry of the colonists; and when in the subsequent part of this chapter, we shall employ the word mine (real, real de minas), unless the contrary is expressly stated, a gold or silver mine is to be uniformly understood.
Having been engaged from my earliest youth in the study of mining, and having myself had the direction for several years of subterraneous operations, in a part of Germany which contains a great variety of minerals, I was doubly interested in examining with care the state of the mines and their management in New Spain. I had occasion to visit the celebrated mines of Tasco Pachuca and Guanaxuato, in which last place, where the veins exceed in richness all that has hitherto been discovered in other parts of the world, I resided for more than a month; and I had it in my power to compare the different methods of mining practised in Mexico, with those which I had observed in the former year in Peru; but the immensity of materials collected by me relative to these subjects, being only of utility when joined with the geological description of the country, I must reserve the detail of them for the historical account of my travels in the interior of the New Continent. Thus, without entering into discussions of a minute and purely technical nature, I shall confine myself in this work to the examination of what is conducive to general results.
What is the geographical position of the mines which supply this enormous mass of silver which flows annually from the commerce of Vera Cruz into Europe? Is this enormous mass of silver the produce of a great number oi scattered undertakings, or is it to be considered as almost exclusively furnished by three or four metallic veins of extraordinary wealth and extent? What is the quantity of precious metals annually extracted from the mines of Mexico? And what proportion does this quantity bear to the produce of the mines of the whole of Spanish America? At how many ounces per quintal may we estimate the mean richness of the silver ore of Mexico? What proportion is therebetween the quantity of ore which undergoes melting, and that in which the gold and silver are extracted by the process of amalgamation? What influence has the price of mercury
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 alluvions lands. 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 Tzumpancof.
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 Huaxyacac (Oaxaca) Cojolapan, and Atlacuechahuayan. f Clavigero, 1.43; II. 125,165; IV. 204.