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wiys. b) The appointment of a number of persons to clean the streets, to light them by fires kindled in different places, and to patrole as watchmen during the night, c) discovers a degree of attention which even polished nations are late in acquiring.
The progress of the Mexicans in various arts , is considered as the most decisive proof of their superior refinement. Cortes, and the early Spanish authors, describe this with rapture, and maintain, that the moft celebrated European artists could not surpafs or even equal them in ingenuity and neatness of workmanship. They represented men, animals, other objects, by such a disposition of various coloured feathers, as is said to have produced all the effects of light and shade, and to have imitated nature with truth and delicacy. Their ornaments of gold and filver have been described to be of a fabrick no less curious. But in forming any idea, from general descriptions, concerning the state of arts among nations imperfectly polished, we are extremely ready to err. In examining the works of people whose advances in improvement are nearly the same
b) See NOTE XXIV.
c) Herrera, dec. 2. lib. viii. c. 4. Torribio, MS,
with our own, we view them with a critical, and often with a jealous eye. Whereas, when conscious of our own superiority, we survey the arts of nations comparatively rude, we are astonished at works executed by them under such manifest disadvantages, and , in the warmth of our admiration, are apt to represent them as productions more finished than they really are. To the influence of this illu- • sion, without supposing any intention to deceive, we may impute the exaggeration of some Spanish authors, in their accounts of the Mexican arts.
It is not from those descriptions, but from considering such specimens of their arts as are still preserved, that we must decide concerning their degree of merit. As the ship in which cortes sent to Charles V. the most curious productions of the Mexican artisans, which were collected by the Spaniards when they first pillaged the empire, was taken by a French corfair, d) the remains of their ingenuity are less numerous than those of the Peruvians. Whether any of their works with feathers , in imitation of painting, be ftill extant in Spain, I have not learned; but many of their ornaments in gold and silver, as well as various utensils
d) Relat. de Cort, Ramus. iii, 294. F.
employed in common life, are deposited in the magnificent cabinet of natural and artificial productions, lately opened by the king of Spain; and I am informed by persons on whose judgment and taste I can rely, that these boafted efforts of their art are uncouth representations of common objects, or very coarse images of the human and fome other forms, deftitute of grace and propriety. e) The juftness of these observations is confirmed by inspecting the wooden prints or copperplates of their paintings, which have been - published by various authors.
In them every figure of men, of quadrupeds, or birds, as well as every representation of inanimated nature, is extremely rude and aukward. The hardest Egyptian fiyle, ftiff and imperfect as it was, is more elegant. The fcrawls of children delineate objects almost as accurately
But however low the Mexican paintings may be ranked
, when viewed merely as works of art, a very different station belongs to them when considered as the records of their country, as historical monuments of its policy and transactions; and they become curious as well as interesting objects of attention. The noblest and moft beneficial inyention of which human ingenuity can boast, is that of writing. But the first eflays of this art, which hath contributed more than all
e) See NOTE XXV.
others to the improvement of the species, were very rude, and it advanced towards perfection slowly, and by a gradual progression. When the warrior, eager for fame wished to transmit some knowledge of his exploits to succeeding ages; when the gratitude of a people to their sovereign prompted them to hand down an account of his beneficent deeds to posterity, the first method of accomplishing this, that seems to have occurred to them, was to delineate, in the best manner they could, figures representing the action of which they were solicitous to preserve the memory. of this, which has very properly been called picture-writing, f) we find traces among some of the most favage tribes of America. When a leader returns from the field, he strips a tree of its bark, and with red paint scratches upon it fome uncouth figures, which represent the order of his Anarch, the number of his followers, the enemy whom he attacked, the scalps and captives which he brought home. To those simple annals he trufts for renown, and foothes himself with hope that by their means he shall receive praise from the warriors of future times. g)
Compared with those aukward essays of their fayage countrymen, the paintings of the
f) Divine Logat. of Mofos , iii. 73.
de la Hontan, ii, 191, Lafitau , Moeurs de Sauv. ii. 43.
Mexicans may be considered as works of composition and design. They were not acquainted, it is true, with any other method of re. cording transactions, than that of delineating the objects which they wished to represent. But they could exhibit a more complex series of events in progressive order, and describe, by a proper disposition of figures, the occurrences of a king's reign from his accession to his death; the progress of an infant's educa. tion from its birth until it attained to the years of maturity; the different recompences and marks of distinction conferred upon warriors, in proportion to the exploits which they had performed. Some singular specimens of this picture-writing have been preserved, which are justly considered as the most curious mo. numents of art brought from the New World, The most valuable of these was published by Purchas in fixty-fix plates. It is divided into three parts. The first contains the. hiftory of the Mexican empire under its ten monarchs. The second is a tribute-roll representing what each conquered town paid into the royal treafury. The third is a code of their institutions, domestick, political, and military. Another fpecimen of Mexican painting has been published in thirty-two plates, by the present arch, bishop of Toledo. To both are annexed a full explanation of what the figures were intended to represent, which was obtained by the Spa