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108 POLITICAL ESSAY ON THE [noox iv.
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 of scattered undertakings, or is it to be considered as almost exclusively fumished by three or four metallic veins of extraordinary wealth and ewtent? VVhat 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 wholeof Spanish America? At how many ounces per quintal may we estimate the mean richness of the silver ore of Mexico ? What proportion is there between the quantity of ore which undergoes melting, and that from 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
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
I10 POLITICAL ESSAY ON THE [nook iv.
great market of Tenoclititlan. The inhabitants of Tzapoteca and Mixtecapan" two provinces which now form a part of the intendancy qt‘ 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 acrdss the‘iiiountains of Tzumpanco. 1‘ /
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 firstarrival at Tenochtitlan, could never cease admiring the ingenuity, of the Mexican goldsiniths, among whom, the most celebrated were those of Amapozalco and Cholula. When Montezuma. 39¢" duced 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. ' T Clavigero, .i. 43; ii. 125, 165; iv. 204. .. ,
Quetzalcoatlh and compelled the Aztec nobility
-in such great perfection, that one could not help
believing he saw the very objects represented.
* See my work entitled, Vues des Cordilleres dz: Andes, et £1/Ionumens des peuples indigerges dc Lfmérique, p. 30. ‘
1‘ Lorenzana, p. 99.—The booty in gold taken by the Spaniards after the taking of Tenoehtitlan, was only estimated at l30,000 cqstellduos de oro ( l . c. p. 301.)
112 ' _ POLITICAL ESSAY ON THE [noox iv.
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 high. ness, 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, andthe 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 ca.z*as 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