William Hawley Smith.

Walks abroad and talks about them online

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But without a study of problems^ as such, when the
like of this turns up in percentage it is a neiv thing to the
average student, something to sweat over and guess at,
even as when it first appeared in another guise.

But this chapter is already too long. I only add that
everyone of these miscellaneous problems is capable of
being relegated to its proper class and should be studied
only in such company, and then by the batch. Thc-one-



48 WALKS ABROAD.

of-a-kind-and-every-kind-different hodge-podge of exam-
ples that now makes up the part of arithmetic that always
shows its dirty face when an old book of this sort is per-
mitted to parade itself, is a monstrosity that ought to be
banished from all healthy mathematical society.

Won't jou help to shove it out into the rubbish pile,
where it ought to have gone long ago; or, better still,
wontyoti do what yon can to land it in a perdition which it
amply deserves for having caused so much trouble in the
w-^rld — and for having led so many primarily honest
souls astray.



AMONG THE AZTECS.

Just as a preacher now-a-days, sometimes, after he
has read his text, begins forthwith to explain to his con-
erreeration that the words he has read in their hearing do
not mean at all what they have commonly been supposed
to mean, but something entirely different ; that they
include more and exclude less, etc., etc., so I proceed to
remark to my " beloved readers" that the line-with-a-slot-
in-it, which has so kindly furnished me the theme for these
disjointed papers, should not be too literally construed
nor made too narrow in its application ; for it was my
original intention that it should be liberal enough in its
boundaries to permit my " Walks Abroad " to include
also my rides.

I make this remark for the sake of any literal critics
who may happen to read these lines, lest, in what follows,
they should insist that I could not have zualked so far as I
presently shall speak of going; and that, having misrepre-
sented in one case, I am not to be believed in any. For



AMONG THE AZTECS. 49

does not the law clearly say, falsus in Jino falsiis in omne ;
and does not the challenging of the authority of law lead
directly to anarchy, as the questioning of doctrine and
dogma leads, head on, to infidelity ? These things must
be looked after, or, as Mr. Dickens says, " the country is
done for."

How could we live without literal critics ?

And so I state again, to make sure that there may be
no danger of misunderstanding, that, true to the Hiber-
nian instinct which has always been strong within me,
when 1 say "walks" I mean "rides"; that these terms
are synonymous in my thought and mutually controvert-
ible in my expression, and I shall do my very best to keep
them equal in power and glory.

And now, if we understand each other, we will go on.



In one of my "walks abroad," the other day, I got as
far away from home as the City of Mexico, and the things
I saw while there are enough to fill the blank place in my
line-of-the-missing-link for many and many a day.

I think the thing that impressed me most during my
stay in the old city was the fact that I found I knew so
little about it before I got into it. And yet I studied my
geography, all right and regular, and I find, on referring
to my diploma (which I have looked up for this very
purpose, it being the first time I have had occasion to use
it since it was granted, twenty-five years ago), that my
mark in this branch of learning for the term which
included the study of Mexico was 96 !

Surely I must have known something about this

region once, or, in any event, I must have succeeded in

making my teacher think that I knew something of it, or,

at least, in making her think that it would be a good thing

4



50 WALk8 ABEOAD.

to make other people think that I knew — for the records
were open to inspection, and my diploma is addressed,
"To all the World, Greeting ! "

But the truth is, I knew very little of Mexico as it is
when first I set foot on her soil.

As near as I can make out, what ideas I had of this
country were gathered from the geography study which
my diploma kindly preserves the memory and record of.
As far as my own recollection of that epoch in my school
life is concerned, I find a sort of a shadowy remembrance
of some pretty tough lessons, near the back part of the
book, where there were pictures of savages and heathen
sparsely clad in hot weather clothes, and living in bamboo
huts ; and, arranged around which pictures aforesaid,
were certain strings of letters which were alleged to be
the names of something, but which seemed to my boyish
vision like a transcript of zig-zag lightning with the kinks
all left in. Witness Iztaccihuatl, Huitzilopochtli, Acama-
pit.zin, Itztli, etc., etc.

A page or two of that sort of thing musi have been a
most delectable diet of mental pabulum to set a " maw-
crammed and crop-full " boy down to, as, sleepily, he
began to turn the pages before him about half an hour
after school " took up " after dinner !

The geography class always recited after dinner. I
don't know why it was, but somehow geography always
was an afternoon study. We read and did arithmetic in
the morning, when we were fresh, but grammar and
geography always came in the afternoon. Perhaps that
is the reason I remember so little about these two studies,
though my marks in both of them are very high. I was
always a pretty good guesser, and I early learned that if
a noun came a/fer the word " is " it was in the " nominative



AMONG THE AZTECS. 51

case after" and not "objective after," and so my grammar
marks were as good as those in geography.

I have forgotten, though, how it happened that my
geography marks were so good. But I know that they
were good, for my diploma says so, and the figures on it
are all made by a man who wrote a most beautiful hand.
You ought to see those figures ! I hadn't seen them for
twenty-five years till to-day, but truly they are beautiful !

" But, to return to our subject," as our dear pastor
says.

My friend. Prof. (fill it in to suit yourself, you

all know him), who sits in his library reading this article,
and who tells his children to "go and find mother and
talk to her" if they happen to come into the room where
he sits by himself, surrounded by his books, and reads,
and reads, and reads, — remarks just here :

" But why did he have to rely on the memory of the
geography he learned at school for his knowledge of
Mexico before he visited that country ? Has he, then,
never read Prescott's 'Conquest of Mexico,' nor Brantz
Mayer's ' History of the Mexican War,' nor Kings-
borough's ' Mexican Antiquities,' nor any of the classic
authorities on this most interesting people and their
habitat ? "

To whom I reply .

My dear sir, I have not read these books, not one of
them. I wish I had, but, to be honest with you, I haven't.
And if you want to know why I haven't, I beg to ex-
plain that, up to the time I was of age I lived on a farm,
mostly, where we got up before day-light the year round,
and " hustled " from the hour when the "rosy-fingered
Aurora appeared bringing back the dawn" till after supper,
when we were too tired to do anything but go to bed.



52 WALKS AlillOAD.

That is one reason why I didn't read these interesting
books in the days of my youth, and another reason is, that
our folks didn't have these books, nor many others, even
if I had had time to read them. And I further respect-
fully submit that, in this respect, I much resemble about
95 per cent, of the boys (and girls, too, for that matter)
who attend our public schools!

To be sure, these do not all grow up on farms, but they
do live in homes where there is no plenitude of wealth ;
where all the household has to work hard at manual labor
for a living, and where there are few books on Mexico or
any other country. That is how it happens that I was
forced " to rely on the memory of the geography I learned
at school for my knowledge of Mexico before I went
there," and why there are several millions of people in
this dear land of ours who would be obliged to do the
same thing, should they take the "walk abroad" which I
have recently taken.

This shows why we ought to have pretty good ge-
ographies in our schools.

But to return once more to our subject.

I was surprised to find that one of the things I did
not know about the City of Mexico was what a perfectly
delightful climate it has. I don't remember one word
about " climate " in the geography, unless it might have
been *' mild and salubrious." But those words are of no
manner of account in giving one an idea of the climate of
Mexico City. They can^t begin to do the subject jus-
tice. Let me tell you a thing or two, and then see if you
think they are equal to the emergency.

We got into the City of Mexico about the middle of
January, and we left it the first of March, and if we saw a
cloud in the sky bigger than Barnum's circus tent during
all that time, I have forgotten it. Six weeks of sunshine



AMONG THE AZTECS. 53

without a break ! And I was told by perfectly reliable
parties that it had been just that way ever since the first
of October, and that that was the regular thing, every
year, infallibly.

That is to say, from October to March it never rains
in Mexico City. The sun shines continually (I mean by
dajf, dear literal critic) for more than five months in the
year, and umbrellas can go to the pawnshop all that time,
so far as rainy weather is concerned.

In early April the rains begin, and they come decently
and in order. In the first place, they always come in the
afternoon. It never rains in the morning in Mexico City.
The showers come at about five o'clock in the afternoon,
and they are generally over by seven. Sometimes they
last till into the night, but not often. The mornings are
always bright, and a fellow always has a fair chance to
get his work done, every day, before the rain begins.

During June, July and August, it rains every day,
from five to seven p. m., and no postponements on account
of the weather. By October 1st the rains are over, and
they can be absolutely relied upon not to show up again
till the following April.

Now, that is what I call a good weather programme,
so far as the hydraulic part of it is concerned. As to the
heat, that is equally satisfactory. The mean temperature
for the year is 65 degrees Fahrenheit. The hottest month
is May, when the thermometer sometimes reaches 85
degrees. The coldest month is August, when the mercury
gets as low as 50 degrees. During our stay, from January
to March, the hottest weather we saw was 75 degrees, and
the coldest 55 degrees.

Can " mild and salubrious " do justice to such a
cimiate as that ? I wtjnder, ton, if these facts had been



54 WALKS ABROAD.

noted in my geography if I should not have remembered
them, whether I got 96 or not.

But I must draw rein, for, once on this subject of the
climate of Mexico City, I shall write on to the end of the
book if I don't put a limit on myself.

And even then I could not tell of allits charms. How
the farmers have six rainless months in which to gather
their crops, and no harm to fear for their grain. How
they have more than four months to plant in, and yet their
crops all come up together and get ripe together ; because,
you see, about the first of December the ground gets so
dry that grain will not sprout in it, even though it is
planted, but will lie there, safe and sound, till the rains
come, and then all come up at once, and grow evenly, and
get ripe evenly. Oh, there are a thousand things to tell,
just about f/ns, but " time and space forbid."

That is not the way my geography lesson about
Mexico ended. I wish it had been. Because, then, I
might have been so much interested in what I learned
about that country in school that I should have read
about it in "Classic Authorities" when I got where I
could.



THE SCJ/OOLS OF MEXICO. 55



THE SCHOOLS OF MEXICO.

I came across a good many other things not set down
in geography, during my "walks abroad " in that so-near-
and-yet-so-far sister Republic, and there are not a few of
them, of an educational nature, which seems to me worthy
of mention in this record.

In the first place, as we were on our way down to
Vera Cruz, I happened, by one of those fortunate accidents
which every now and then will come to even the most
unlucky of mortals, to make the acquaintance of a gentle-
man who, above all others, could give me the " inside
track," so to speak, that led to the very " upper walks " in
Mexican education circles. This was none other than
Sefior Sandoval, of the state of Zacatecas, the man who
was chairman of the committee appointed by President
Diaz to determine the nature and extent of the educa-
tional exhibit which the Republic of Mexico made at the
World's Fair, in Chicago.

It was a little curious, too, how I happened to
" locate " this most excellent and worthy Mexican scholar,
teacher, and above all, gentleman.

Our train had stopped in the "bush" (for we were
down in the low country ) for some unexplained reason,
and everybody was curious to know the "why" of this
unexpected phenomenon. Windows went up all along the
cars, on both sides of the train, and as many heads were
thrust out through them as though the geography of the
event were Massachusetts instead of the " terra cahente "
of old, and reputedly incurious Mexico.

Strange, isn't it, how, the world over, we all Hatter



5fi WALKS AIHi'OAD.

ourselves that we are the only ones who do this or that;
till presently, walking abroad, we find everybody doing the
very thing we thought we had a corner on? The Mexi-
cans on that train were as curious a lot of men and women
as though they had been born under the shadow of Bunker
Hill Monument.

But, as I was saying, when the train stopped, a very
urbane Mexican gentleman got up from his seat behind
me, and stood in the aisle, just beside me, looking out to
see what he could see. In his hand he held a book; and,
as he leaned over, I trained enough of my newly acquired
Spanish into line to make out that the volume was none
other than Mr. Herbert Spencer's Essay on " Education,"
translated into Spanish, and published by those worthy
bookmakers, D. Appleton & Co. of New York.

Now, experience has taught me that the books a man
reads are a far better index to his character than a whole
carload of certificates, recommendations and diplomas on
the same point; and as soon as I saw this book in the
hands of this gentleman, I felt, instinctively, that I had
found a friend, if only 1 knew enough to speak with him
in his native tongue.

Great was my delight, therefore, when, a moment
later, I discovered that, although I was unable to speak
Spanish with this gentleman he was thoroughly prepared
to speak English with me; for, turning to me, he asked a
question in words and tone that even " Fair Harvard "
might not have been ashamed of. To this I made reply
to the best of my ability, and a fe\7 minutes later we were
chatting together just as easily as if we had grown up in
the same door yard, instead of having been born several
thousand miles apart, one a native Mexican, and the other
just as nati\'e a Yankee. It was the books we had read
that thus brought us together. It is always so.



THE i^CJlOOLS OF MEXICO. 57

As our conversation progressed, I soon found that my
newly acquired acquaintance was exceedingly well posted
on educational topics, both ancient and modern, foreign
and domestic; and I judged him to have been the very
man for the place, in mapping out the matter and manner
of the Mexican educational exhibit, in Chicago.

He gave a brief outline of what he had done, Dut I
was specially anxious to hear from him, direct, as to the
present status of education in the Republic. On this sub-
ject he was, of course, well prepared to speak, and he
jiave me much interesting and valuable information
regarding the same; but, what was infinitely better, he
gave me a chance to see for myself, by telling me where
I could find the best schools in Mexico, and by giving me
letters of introduction which I found to be limitless pass-
•"orts into the very heart of Mexico's educational 400.

For the very acme of courtesy and genuine good
fellowship, commend me to a Mexican gentleman and
scholar of the type of Seiior Sandoval. What a pleasure
it is to know that there are the best of good men, all over
the earth.

Being thus introduced, the school I saw the most of
was the National Normal School, located in the City of
Mexico, of which Sefior Serrano is Director General.

Regarding this school, let me say, first, that it is the
special pet of President Diaz, who has done everything
for it that money and an enthusiastic friend could do.
This peer among the greatest of modern statesmen is
thoroughly a nineteenth century man, and he believes that
the thing above all others that Mexico needs, just now, is
a public school system that shall educate all her people ;
and, as a first step in that direction, he has built up this
National Normal School which is intended to prepare
teachers for their work in the schools of the Republic.



58 WALKS ABROAD.

How well he has succeeded in making the materialization
of his plan tally with his ideal may be gathered, in part,
from what follows.

The school is compose of two divisions, one for young
men and the other for young women, the practice of co-
education of the sexes not having reached Mexico. These
different divisions occupy separate buildings, which are
several blocks apart; and, as a matter of fact, are as inde-
pendent of each other as though they had not a common
aim. I visited only the school for young men, and all I
have to say is about that branch of the institution.

I found, upon inquiry, that, while President Diaz fully
believes in the co-education of the sexes, yet he does not
deem it wise to attempt such a measure in a country
where prejudice is so deeply rooted and so strongly set
against it.

Indeed, the prudent policy of this man, not only in
this, but in a hundred other matters, commanded my
profoundest respect, the more I learned of him and his
doings in the last twenty years. He is a man among men
who really believes that Rome was not made in a day,
and who has the patience and good sense to regulate his
actions accordingly. If he lives twent\' years longer, and
remains at the head of affairs in Mexico during that
period, he will have Mexican boys and girls learning their
lessons seated in the same school-room; but if he ever
does bring about such a state of things, it will be because
he has head enough not to be in too big a hurry about it!

I wonder if it would be possible for some of our
"get-there" Americans to learn anything from this
patient and business-like head of the Mexican Republic.

The building occupied by the young men's depart-
ment of this school is located near the Palace buildings,
just a. little off from the Zocalo, or chief square of the city.



THE SCHOOLS OF MEXICO. 59

] t is a two story structure, and built around the four sides
of a central square, or patio, after the manner of all Mexi-
can buildings. When Diaz came into power this building
was an old monastery; but, in common with hundreds of
similar structures, it was confiscated by the republic, and
is now state, rather than church property.

And may I stop, just here, to say that the church and
the state are most thoroughly divorced from each other
in modern Mexico, under the rule of Diaz. This separa-
tion is carried to such an extent that no religious exercises
whatever are permitted in connection with any state
affairs; nor is a priest, or a nun or a protestant minister,
or even a " Y. M. C. A. young man " allowed to go upon the
street clad in garments that in any way indicate his or
her relations to religion or the church — any church.

On the street, all men are alike, in that they are then
simply citizens of the Republic. In their homes, or in
their churches, they may dress as they please and do as
they will, provided they keep within bounds; but in
public, their peculiar creeds or whatnot peccadillos must
not be flaunted in the faces of their neighbors.

Any church — all churches, per se, receive the fullest
protection from the Mexican government. A Mormon
or a Hotentot can go there and worship according to the
dictates of his own conscience, and the whole power of
the Mexican government is behind him as a guarantee
that he shall in no way be molested or made afraid, so
long as he " keeps out of politics; " but let any church or
religious organization, as such, begin to meddle with state
affairs, and somebody is exceedingly liable to be in states'-
prison, forthwith.

Curious, some of the ways they have in Mexico!

The building fronts on a well kept street, and is built
flush to the side walk. Its only entrance or exit is a wide



60 WALKS AUIWAJK

door which is in the middle of the building, on the street
side, and there is always a portero, or guard, on duty
there. Every pupil and teacher has to pass this guard in
going in or out; and an accurate record is kept of the
presence or absence of everybody connected with the
school, during school hours. This record is preserved,
and is open to inspection, to all parties concerned, at any
and all times. In this and some other respects there is a
rigorous military discipline in the management of this
school.

I found Senor Serrano, the president of the institution,
to whom I presented my letter of introduction, a most
gracious and affable gentleman. He is about sixty-five
years old, and has "seen service," as nearly every promi-
nent Mexican has who has reached that age and has had
anything to do with public affairs. He was for many
years a successful lawyer, and was called to his present
position on account of his rare executive ability. He was
director in chief of the Mexican exhibit in Chicago and
spent most of his time in that city during the progress of
the Fair. I found him dictating a letter to Mrs. Potter
Palmer on some point connected with the exhibit he had
charge of, and in which she was also interested, and if that
lady ever receives a more dignified, gracious and diplo-
matic epistle than that same letter, like the author of
John Gilpin, "may I be there to see."

My letter of introduction was a "sesame open" to
the school and all that pertained thereto, and I spent
some two days in going about the institution, which is, in
many respects, much like a normal school in "the
states;" but which has a number of things, that, like
somebody's sarsaparilla, are "peculiar to itself."

There are about two hundred 5'Oung men in the
school preparing to teach. The course covers four years,



THE SCHOOLS OF MEXICO. 61

and is considerably more extended than that of any other
normal school with which I am acquainted. It differs
from our normal school course in that it has more lan-
guage study than our schools insist on. Of these lan-
guages, Latin, French, German and English (and of
course Spanish), all have prominent places ; but it struck
me as a significant fact that English is the one language,
besides Spanish, the study of which is made compulsory.

Most of the teachers in the school speak English,
and all of them are busy studying that language. Sefior
Serrano himself had never learned the English language
though he speaks Spanish, French, and German; but the
fact that he was to go to Chicago made him, as he said to me,
" ashamed to go to a country the language of which he
should be unable to speak," and so at sixty-five, he was
learning English!

And admirably he was progressing, too, as his conver-
sation showed, though he had been at work on it less than
two months when I met him. As I compared my six
weeks old Spanish with his English, which was but two
weeks its senior, I was fain to hide my head and exclaim,
" O, wretched man that I am, how can I catch the trick
of learning a foreign language to equal this charming old
gentleman ! "

But from what I saw of Mexican students they are
much quicker in learning a foreign language than our
American students arc. Indeed, the " cultured classes "
in Mexico are much more proficient in speaking lan-
guages other than their mother tongue than are a cor-
responding set of people in the states. It is a rare thing
to meet a scholarly person in the City of Mexico who
does not speak more than one language, while it is not
uncommon to meet men and women who will converse
fluently in eithci Spanish, French, English, or German.


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Online LibraryWilliam Hawley SmithWalks abroad and talks about them → online text (page 4 of 16)