Alexander von Humboldt.

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Humboldt, from various considerations, assumes the
population of Mexico in 1803 at 5,800,000 ; and thinks
it extremely probable that in 1808 it exceeded 6,500,000.

The causes which retard the increase of numbers in




CHAP.xxiv. Mexico are the small-pox ; a disease called by the
uue^ Indians matlazahuatl ; and famine. The first of these,
whieh was introduced in 1520, seems to exert its power
at periods of 17 or 18 years. In 1763, and in 1779, it
committed dreadful ravages, having carried off during
the latter, in the capital alone, more than 9000 persons.
In 1797 it was less destructive, chiefly in consequence
of the zeal with which inoculation was propagated ; be-
tween 60,000 and 60,000 individuals having undergone
the operation. The vaccine method was introduced in
various parts of Mexico and South America at the com-
mencement of the present century. Humboldt mentions
a curious circumstance, tending to show that the discov-
ery of our celebrated countryman, Dr Jenner, had long
been known to the country people among the Andes of
Peru. A negro slave, who had been inoculated for the
small-pox showed no symptom of the disease, and when
the practitioners were about to repeat the operation, told
them he was cei'tain that he should never ta^ce it ; for,
when milking cows in the mountains, he had been
affected with cutaneous eruptions, caused, as the herds-
men said, by the contact of pustules sometimes found
on the udders.

The frightful distemper called matlazahuatl, which is
peculiar to the Indian race, seldom appears more than
once in a century. It bears some resemblance to the
yellow fever or black vomiting, M'hich, however, very
seldom attacks the natives. The extent of its ravages is
not known with any degree of certainty, and it has not
yet been sulimitted to medical investigation. Torque-
dama asserts tliat in 1546 it destroyed 800,000, and
2,000,000 in 1576 ;-but these estimates are considered
by Humboldt as greatly exaggerated.

A third o})stacle to the progress of population in New
Spain is famine. The American Indians, naturally In-
dolent, contented with the smallest quantity of food on
which life can be supported, and living in a fine climate,
merely cultivate as much maize, potatoes, or wheat, as
is necessary for their own maintenance, or at most for




the additional consumption of the adjacent towns and CHAPXxrv,
mines. The inhabitants of Mexico have increased in a Freiiuem
greater ratio than the means of subsistence, and accord- failure of
ingly, whenever the crops fall short of the demand, or
are damaged by drought or other local causes, famine
ensues. With want of food comes disease ; and these
visitations, which are of not unfrequent occurrence, are
very destructive.

The working of the mines has also contributed to the Effect of
depopulation of America. At the period of the conquest ^^® mines.
many Indians perished from excessive toil, and as
they were forced from their homes to distant places,
they usually died without leaving progeny. In New
Spain, however, such labour has been free for many
years. The number employed in it does not exceed
28,000 or 30,000, and the mortality among them is not
much greater than in other classes.

The Mexican population consists of the same elements Mexican
as that of the other Spanish colonies. Seven races ^°^"^''°^
are distinguished : — 1. Gachupines, or persons born in
Europe ; 2. Spanish Creoles, or Whites of European ex-
traction born in America ; 3. Mestizoes, descendants of
Whites and Indians ; 4. Mulattoes, descendants of
Whites and Negroes ; 5. Zamhoes, descendants of Negroes
and Indians ; 6. Indians of the indigenous race ; and,
7. African Negroes.

The Indians appear to constitute at least two-fifths of Nimiber of
the whole. Humboldt seems to favour the opinion, '"'^'^'is.
that the Aztecs, who inhabited New Spain at the period
of the conquest, may have been of Asiatic origin. As
the migrations of the Ampricat, tribes have always taken
place from north to south, the native population of this
country must necessarily consist of very heterogeneous
elements. The number of languages exceeds twenty ; Lanf,Tiages.
and of these fourteen have tolerably complete grammars
and dictionaries. Most of these tongues, so i'ar from
being only dialects of the same, as some authors have
asserted, present as little affinity to each other as the
Greek and the Grerman. The variety spoken by the



diameter of
the Indians.

CHAP.XXIV. indigenous inhabitants of America forms a very striking
contrast witli the small number used in Asia and
Europe. The Aztec or Mexican is the most widely

The Indians of New Spain bear a general resemblance
to those of Florida, Canada, Peru, and Brazil. They
have the same dingy copper colour, straight and smooth
hair, deficient beard, squat body, elongated and oblique
eyes, prominent cheek-bones, and thick lips. But
although the American tribes have thus a certain uni-
formity of character, they differ as much from each
other as the numerous varieties of the European or
Caucasian race. Those who live in this province have
a more swarthy complexion than the inhabitants of the
warmest parts of the South. They have also a much
more abundant beard than the other tribes, and in the
neighbourhood of the capital they even wear small
moustaches. Pursuing a quiet and indolent life, and
accustomed to uniform nourishment of a vegetable
nature, they would no doubt attain a very great longe-
vity were they not extremely addicted to drunkenness.
Moral degra- -Th^^y exist in a state of great moral degradation, being
tu.tioii. entirely destitute of religion, although they have ex-

changed their original rites for those of Catholicism.
The men are grave, melancholic, and taciturn ; forming
a striking contrast to the negroes, who for this reason
are preferred by the In<lian women. Long liabituated
to slavery, they patiently suffer the privations to which
they are frequently subjected ; opposing to them only a
degree of cunning, veiled under the appearance of
aj)athy and stupidity. Although destitute of imagin-
Aoquirement ation, tliey are remarkable for the facility with which
oriiuiguagcs. they acquire a knowledge of languages; and, notwith-
standing tlieir usual taciturnity, they become loquacious
and eloquent wlien excited by important occurrences.
It is unnecessary to speak of the negroes, of whom there
are very few in Mexico, their character being the same
as m other countries where slavery is permitted.

No city of the New Continent, not even excepting



those of the United States, possesses more important CUAP.XXIV

scientific establishments than Mexico. Of these Hum- . ~~~

boldt mentions particularly the School of Mines, the estabUsh-

Botanic Garden, which has however fallen into a state T'}^'^^^ °'^
' „-, Mexico,

of neglect, and the Academy of Fine Arts. The

influence of this institution is perceptible in the

symmetry of the buildings which adorn the capital.

New Spain is divided into 15 disti'icts, which he

arranges as follows : —

I. In the Temperate Zone — 82,000 square leagues ; Districts of
fi77,000 inhabitants, or 8 to the square league — (978,834 ate zon&^'^'
square miles ; inhabitants S to the square mile).

A. Northern Re^-ion, in the interior.

1. Province of New Mexico along the Rio del Norte, to the
north of the parallel of 31°.

2. Intendancy of New Biscay, to the south-west of the Rio
del Norte, on the central table-land.

B. North-western Region, in the vicinity of the Pacific Ocean.

3. Province of New California, on the north-west coast of
Nortli America.

4. Province of Old Califoniia, the southern extremity of which
enters the torrid zone.

5. Intendancy of La Sonora, which also passes the tropic.

C. North-eastern Region, adjoining the Gulf of Mexico.

6. Intendancy of San Luis Potosi.

IL In the Torrid Zone — 86,500 square leagues ; Districts of
5,100,000 inhabitants, or 141 to the square league— *^f ""''^
(435,700 square miles ; inhabitants 12 to the square

D. Central Region.

7. Intendancy of Zacatecas.

8. Intendancy of Guadalaxara. . •

9. Intendancy of Guanaxuato.

10. Intendancy of Valladolid.

11. Intendancy of Mexico.

12. Intendancy of Piiebla.

13. Intendancy of Vera Cruz.

E. South-western Region.

14. Intendancy of Oaxaca-
16. Intendancy of Merida.

Without attempting to present an analysis of our
author's statistical account of these different provinces,



ijf Mexico.

\'aUcy of

CEAP.xxiv. we shall select from his descriptions those parts which
may prove most interesting to the general reader.

1. The Intendancy of Mexico is entirely within the
torrid zone. IVIore than two-thirds of it is mountainous,
and contains extensive plains elevated from 6661 to 7546
feet above the sea. Only one summit, the Ncvado de
Tolucca, 16,156 feet in height, enters the region of
perpetual snow.

The valley of Mexico, or Tenochtitlan, which is of an
oval form, is situated in the centre of the cordillera of
Anahuac, and is 63 miles in length by 43 in breadth.
It is surrounded by a ridge of mountains, more elevated
on the southern side, where it is confined by the great
volcanoes of La Puebla, Popocatepetl, and Iztaccihuatl.
The capital stands in the immediate vicinity of one of
the great lakes which exist in this beautiful valley,
althougli formerly it was placed on an island in that
slieet of water, and communicated with the shore by
three great dikes. This city is represented by Hum-
boldt as one of the finest ever built by Europeans in
either hemisphere, and all travellers agree in admiring
its beauty. " From an eminence," says Captain Lyon
in his interesting Journal, " we came suddenly in sight
of the great valley of Mexico, with its beautiful city
appearing in the centre surrounded by diverging shady
pase'os, bright fields, and picturesque haciendas. The
great lake of Tezcuco lay immediately beyond it, shaded
by a low floating cloud of exhalations from its surface,
which liid from our view the bases of the volcanoes of
Popocatepetl and Iztacciliuatl ; while their snowy sum-
mits, brightly glowing beneath the direct rays of the
sun, which but partially illumined the plains, gave a
delightfully novel appearance to the whole scene before
me. I was, however, at this distance, disappointed as
to tlie size of Mexico ; but its lively wliiteness and
freedom from smoke, the magnitude of the churches,
and the extreme regularity of its structure, gave it an
appearance which can never be seen in a European city,
and declare it unique, perhaps unequalled in its kind."

Its appear-

\ - ii^iiiUi-' ' b


The ground it occupies is every where perfectly level, chap.xxiv
the streets are regular and broad, the architecture siteoTuie
generally of a very pure style, and many of the build- city.
ings are remarkably beautiful. Two kinds of hewn
stone, a porous amygdaloid and a glassy felspar porphyry
are used. The houses are not loaded with decorations,
nor disfigured by wooden balconies and galleries. The
roofs are terraced ; and the streets, which are clean and
well lighted, have very broad pavements. The water
of the lake is brackish, as is that of all the wells ; but
the city is supplied by two fine aqueducts. The objects
which generally attract the notice of travellers are,
1. The cathedral, which has two towers ornamented with Pnncipfa
pilasters and statues ; 2. The treasury ; 3. The convents, tiuidiiiga
of which the most distinguished is that of St Francis ;
4. The hospital ; 6. The acordada, a fine building, of
which the prisons are spacious and well aired ; 6. The
school of mines ; 7. The botanical garden ; 8. The
university ; 9. The academy of fine arts ; 10. The
equestrian statue of Charles IV. in the great square.

Few remains of ancient monuments are to be found Ancient
in the town or its vicinity. Of those that exist, the
chief are the ruins of the Aztec dikes and aqueducts ;
the sacrificial stone, adorned with a relievo representing
the triumph of a Mexican king ; the great calendar in
the plazo mayor ; the colossal statue of the goddess
Teoyaomiqui iu one of the galleries of the university ;
the Aztec manuscripts or hieroglyphical pictures pre-
served in the house of the viceroys ; and the foundations
of the palace belonging to the sovereigns of Alcolhuacan
at Tezcuco.

The only remarkable antiquities in the valley of Pyramids.
Mexico are the remains of the two pyramids of San
Juan de Teotihuacan, to the north-east of the lake of
Tezcuco, consecrated to the sun and moon. One of
these in its present state is a hundred and eighty feet in
height, the other a hundred and forty-four. The
interior is clay mixed with small stones, while the
facings are of porous amygdaloid, and they are sur-




iiient ot

Estimate of

Births and


rounded by a group of smaller elevation, disposed in a
regular series. Another ancient object worthy of notice
is tlie military entrenchment of Xochicalco, to the S.S. W.
of the town of Cuernavaco, near Tetlama. It consists
of a hill .383 feet hiyh, surrounded by ditches or trenches,
and divided into five terraces covered with masonry ;
the whole forming a truncated pyramid, the four faces
of which correspond to the four cardinal points. The
porphyritic stones are adorned with hieroglyphical figures,
among wJiich are crocodiles, and men sitting cross-legged
in the Asiatic manner. Other relics and places connected
with the history of the conquest are shown to the
stranger ; but of these it is unnecessary to speak.

Our author estimates the population of Mexico as
follows : —


White Europeans, 2,500

White Creiiles, 65,000

Copper-coloured natives, 3U,000

Mestizoes, mixture of Whites and Indians,... 20,500
Mulattoes, 10,000


The annual numljer of births for a mean term of 100
years is 59.30, and that of deaths 5050 ; while in New
Spain in general, the relation of the births to the popu-
lation is as 1 to 17, and that of the deatlis as 1 to 30, so
that the mortality in the capital appears much greater.
The great conflux of sick persons to the hospitals, and
on the other hand the celibacy of the nun"tcrous clergy,
the progress of luxury, and other cau'scs, induce this

According to researches matle by the Count de
Revillagigedo, the consumption of IMexico in 1791 was
as follows : —


Oxen, 16,300

Caive.s, 450

Sheep,. 278,!t23

Ho-s, 50,676

Kids and Rabbits, 24,000

Fowls, 1,255,340

Ducks 125,000

Turkeys, 205,000

Pif^eons, «5.300

Partridges 140.000



Maize, or Indian corn— cart,-as of 3 fanegas, 117,224=545,219 I. S. CHAP.XXIV

biisliels. .

Barley— carinas, 40,219=187,062 I. S. bushels. G''""-
Wheat flour— carg-as of 12 arrobas, 130,000=353,229 cwt


Pulque, the fermented juice of agave — cargas, 294,790=800,987

Wine and vinegar — barrels of 4| a(Tobas, 4,507=71,756 I. S. galls.
Brandy— barrels, 12,000=191,052 I. S. galls. _
Spanish oil— arrobas of 25 pounds, 5,585=15,530 I. S. galls.

The market is abundantly supplied with vegetables Market
of numerous kinds, which are brought in every morning
by the Indians in boats. Most of these are cultivated on
the chinampas or gardens, some of which float upon the
neighbouring sheet of water, while others are fixed in
the marshy grounds.*

The surface of the four principal lakes in the valley Lakes,
of Mexico occupies nearly a tenth of its extent, or 168
square miles. The lake of Xochimilco contains 49^, that
of Tezcuco 77, of San Christobal 27g, and of Zumpango
^i%» square miles. The valley is itself a basin enclosed
by a wall of porphyritic mountains, and all the water
furnished by the surrounding cordilleras is collected in
it. No stream issues from it excepting the brook of
Tequisquiac, which joins the Rio de Tula. The lakes
rise by stages in proportion to their distance from its
centre, or, in other words, from the site of the capital.
Next to the lake of Tezcuco, Mexico is the least elevated
point of the valley, the plazo mayor or great square being
only 1 foot 1 inch higher than the mean level of its
water, which is 11 1 feet lower than that of San Christ-
obal. Zumpango, which is the most northern, is 29*211

* " These are long narrow stripes of ground redeemed from the
faiTTOunding swamp, and intersected by small canals. They all ap-
peared to abound in very fine vegetables, and livelj'-foliaged pop-
lars generally shadowed their extremities. The little gardens con-
structed on bushes or wooden rafts no longer exist in the immediate
vicinity of Mexico; but I learned that some may yet been seen at
Jucliimilco, a place near San Augustin de las Cuevas." — Captain
Lyon's Journal of a llesidence and Tour in the Republic of
Mexico,yo\. ii. p. 110.






CHAP. xxrv. feet higher than the surface of Tezcuco ; while that ol
~~ Chalco, at the southern extremity, is only 3-632 feet
more elevated than the great square of Mexico.

In consequence of this peculiarity the city has for a
long series of ages beeij exposed to inundations. The
lake of Zumpango, swelled by an unusual rise of the
Rio de Guautitlan, flows over into that of San Christobal.
which again bursts tbe dike that separates it from
Tezcuco. The water of this last is consequently aug-
mented, and flows with impetuosity into the streets of
Mexico. Since the arrival of the Spaniards the town
has experienced five great floods, the latest of which
happened in 1G29. In more recent periods there have
been several alarming appearances, but the city was
preserved from any actual loss by the desague or canal,
which was formed for the purpose.

The situation of the capital is more exposed to danger,
because the bed of the lake is progressively rising in
consequence of the mud carried into it, and the difference
between it and the level of the plain diminishing. Pre-
vious to the conquest, and for some time after, it was
defended by dikes ; but this method having been found
incff"ectual, the viceroy in 1607 employed Enrico Mar-
tinez, a native of Germany, to effect tlie evacuation of
the lakes. After making an exact survey of the valley
he presented two plans for canals, the one to empty
those of Tezcuco, Zumpango, and San Christobal, the
other to drain tliat of Zumpango alone. The latter
scheme was adopted, and, in consequence, the famous
subterraneous gallery of Nochistongo was commenced on
tlie 28th November 1607. Fifteen thousand Indians
were employed, and aftei eleven months of continued
labour the work was completed. Its length was more
than 21,6.54 feet, its breadth 11-482, and its height 13-78.
On the opposite side of the hill of Nochistongo is the
Rio de Tula, which runs into the Rio de Panuco, and
from the nortliern or further extremity of the gallery
an open trench, 28,215 feet long, was cut to carry the
water to the former river. Soon after tlic current began

Plan for
tlie danger.


to flow through this artificial channel, it gradually oc- CHAP.xxiv
casioned depositions and erosions, so that it became qv^ — 7.
necessary to support the roof, which was composed of of the canal
marl and clay. For this purpose wood was at first em-
ployed, and afterwards masonry ; but the arches being
soon undermined, the passage at length was obstructed.

Several plans were now proposed, and in 1614 the
court of Madrid sent to Mexico a Dutcli engineer, Adrian
Boot, who advised tlie construction of great dikes after Adrian Boot
the Indian plan. A new viceroy, however, having re-
cently arrived, who had never witnessed the effects of
an inundation, ordered Martinez to stop up the subter-
raneous passage, and make the water of the upper lakes
return to the bed of the Tezcuco, that he might see if the
danger were really so great as it had been represented.
Being convinced that it was so, he ordered the German
to recommence his operations in the gallery. The
engineer accordingly proceeded to clear it, and continued
working until the 20th June 1629, when finding the
mass of water too great to be received by this narrow
outlet, he closed it in order to prevent its destruction.
In the morning the city of Mexico was flooded to the
depth of three feet, and, contraiy to expectation, re-
mained in that state for five years. In this interval
vai'ious plans were proposed for draining the neighliour-
ing lake, although none of them w^as carried into effect ;
but the inundation at length subsided in consequence
of a succession of earthquakes.

Martinez, who had been imprisoned from a belief that Cliange of
he had closed the gallery for the purpose of affording ^^^""^
the incredulous a proof of the utility of his work, was
now set at liberty, and constructed the dike of San
Christobal. He was ordered to enlarge the gallery ; but
the operations were conducted with very little energy,
and in the end it was determined to abandon the plan,
to remove the top of the vault, and to convert it into an
open passage by cutting through the hill. A lawyer,
named Martin de Solis, undertook the management of
this enterprise ; though it required nearly two centuries


CHAT. XXIV. to complete the work ; the canal not being opened in
Completion its whole length until 1789. As it now appears, it is
of the canal, stated by Humboldt to be one of the most gigantic hy-
draulic operations executed by man. Its length is 67,537
feet, its greatest depth 197, and its greatest breadth 361.
Precarious The safety of the capital depends, 1st, On the stone

^t^y * °^ dikes which prevent the water of the lake of Zumpango
from passing into that of San Christobal, and the latter
from flowing into the Tezcuco ; 2d, On the dikes and
sluices which prevent the lakes of Chalco and Xochi-
milco from ovei-flowing ; 3d, On the great cut of Enrico
]\Iartinez, by which the Rio de Guautitlan passes across
the hills into the valley of Tula ; and, 4th, On the
canals by wliich tlie Zumpango and San Christobal may
be completely drained. These means, however expen-
sive and numerous as they must appear, are insufficient
to secure it against inundations proceeding from the
north and north-west ; and our author asserts, that it will
continue exposed to great risks until a canal sliall Ixj
directly opened from the lake of Tezcuco.
Towns of the The intendancy of Mexico contains, besides the capital,
intendency. ggyeral towns of considerable size, of which the more
important are, Tezcuco, Acapulco,Toluca, and Queretaro,
the latter having a population of thirty -five thousand.
Government 2. The government of Puebla is wholly situated in
of Puebu. j_]jg torrid zone, and is bounded on the nortli-east by that
of Vera Cruz, on the south by the ocean, on the east by
the province of Oaxaca, and on the west by that of
Mexico. It is traversed by the cordilleras of Anahuac,
and contains the highest mountain in New Spain, the
volcano of Popocatepetl. A great portion, howevei',
consists of an elevated plain, on which are cultivated
wheat, maize, agave, and fruit-trees.
Ancient The pojiulation is concentrated on this table-land, ex-

rcmains. tending from the eastern slope of the Nevados, or Snowy
Mountains, to tlie vicinity of Perote. It exhibits re-
markable vestiges of ancient Mexican civilisatiou. Tlie
great pyramid of Cliolula has a much larger base than
any ediiice of tlie kind in the Old Continent, its horizontal


breadth being not less than 1440 feet ; but its present cHAP.xxiv
height is only fifty-nine yards, while the platform on its ~-
summit has a surface of 45,210 feet.

At the village of Atlixco is seen a cypress (^Cupressus Gicrantic
disticha) 76 feet in circumference, which is probably one cypress.
of the oldest vegetable monuments on the globe.* There
are very considerable salt-works in this intendancy, and
a beautiful marble is quarried in the vicinity of Puebla.
The principal towns are that just named, containing a
population of 67,800, Cholula, Tlascala, and Atlixco.

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