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This is a phenomenon, so much the more remarkable, as the miner in several of these mines is exposed to a temperature 6° above the mean temperatures of Jamaica and Pondicherry *. I found the centigrade thermometer at 34* f at the bottom of the mine of Valenciana (en los planes), a perpendicular depth of 513 metres J, while at the mouth of the pit in the open air, the same thermometer sinks in winter to 4° or 5°§ above 0. The Mexican miner is, consequently, exposed to a change of temperature of more than 30° [|. But this enormous heat of the Valenciana mine is not the effect of a great number of men and lights collected into a small space; it is much more owing to local and geological causes which we shall afterwards examine.
It is curious to observe how the Mestizoes and Indians employed in carrying minerals on their back, who go by the name of Tenateros, remain continually loaded for six hours with a weight of from 225 to 350 pounds, and constantly exposed to a very high temperature, ascending eight or ten times successively, without intermission, stairs of 1800 steps. The appearance of these robust and laborious men would have operated a change in the opinions of the Raynals and Pauws, and a number of other authors, however estimable in other respects, who have been pleased to declaim against the degeneracy of our species in the torrid zone. In the Mexican mines, children (enfans) of seventeen years of age * are able to carry masses of stone of a hundred pounds weight. This occupation of Tenateros is accounted unhealthy, if they enter more than three times a week into the mines. But the labour which ruins most rapidly the robustest constitutions is that of the Barenadores, who blow up the rock with powder. These men rarely pass the age of 33, if from a thirst of gain they continue their severe labour for the whole week. They generally pass no more than five or six years at this occupation, and then betake themselves to other employments less injurious to health.
* Nearly 11° of Fahrenheit. Trans.
•f 93- of Fahrenheit. Trans. + 1681 feet. Tram.
§ 39° or 41° of Fahrenheit. Trans.
|1 54° of Fahrenheit. Trans.
The art of mining is daily improving, and the pupils of the" school of mines at Mexico gradually diffuse correct notions respectingthecirculation of air in pits and galleries. Machines are beginning tobe introduced in place of the old method of carrying minerals and water on men's backs up stairs of a rapid ascent. In proportion as the mines of New Spain resemble more and more those of Freiberg, Clausthal, and Schemnitz, the miner's health will be less injured by the influence of the Mofcttes*, and the excessively prolonged efforts of muscular motion.
* I should be inclined to think that the author meant here to say enfans de sept a dix ans, instead of enfans de dix sept ant; for enfant, it is believed, can hardly be applied with propriety to a youth of 17; and if a full-grown man could ascend eight or ten times, without intermission, 1800 steps of a stair with 350 pounds, it certainly could not add to the evidence of the strength of this race to say, that a young man of 17 could carry little more than the fourth part of that weight. Trans.
From five to six thousand persons are employed in the amalgamation of the minerals, or the preparatory labour. A great number of these individuals pass their lives in walking barefooted over heaps of brayed metal, moistened and mixed with muriate of soda, sulphate of iron, and oxid of mercury, by the contact of the atmospheric air and the solar rays. It is a remarkable phenomenon to see these men enjoy the most perfect health. The physicians who practise in places where there are mines unanimously assert, that the nervous affections, which might be attributed to the effect of an absorption of oxid of mercury, very rarely occur. At Guanaxuato part of the inhabitants drink the very water in which the amalgamation has been purified (aqua de lavaderos) without feeling any injury from it. This fact has often struck Europeans not intimately acquainted with the principles of chemistry. The water is at first of a greyish-blue colour, and contains in suspension black oxid of mercury, and small globules of natire mercury and amalgamation of silver. This metallic mixture gradually precipitates, and the water becomes limpid. It can neither dissolve the oxid of mercury nor the muriate of mercury, which is one of the most insoluble salts which we know. The mules are very fond of this water, because it contains a little muriate of soda in dissolution. In speaking of the progress of the Mexican population, and of the causes which retard that progress, I have neither mentioned the arrival of new European colonists, nor the mortality occasioned by the black vomiting. We shall discuss these subjects in the sequel. It is sufficient to observe here, that the vomito prieto is a scourge which is never felt but on the coast, and which does not, throughout the whole kingdom, carry off annually more than from two to three thousand individuals. As to Europe, it does not send more than 800 to Mexico. Political writers have always exaggerated what they call the depopulation of the old continent by the new. M. Page *, for example, asserts in his work on the commerce of St. Domingo that the emigrations from Europe supply annually more than 100,000 individuals to the United States. This estimate is twenty times higher than the truth; for, in 1784 and 1792, when the United
* The translator professes his ignorance of the meaning of this word.
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