of a

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

niards from Indians well acquainted with their
own arts. The style of painting in all these
is the same. They represent things, not
words. They exhibit images to the eye, not
ideas to the understanding. They may, there-
fore, be considered as the earliest and most
imperfect effay of men in their progress to..
wards discovering the art of writing. The de-
fects in this mode of recording transactions
must have been early felt. To paint every
occurrence was, from its nature, a very te-
dious operation ; and as affairs became more
complicated, and events multiplied in any fo-
ciety; its annals must have swelled to an enor-
mous bulk.

Befides this, no objects could
be delineated but those of fenfe; the concep-
tions of the mind had no corporeal from, and
as long as picture-writing could not convey an
idea of these, it muft have been a very im-
perfect art. The necessity of improving it must
have rouzed and sharpened invention, and the
humau mind holding the same course in the
New World as in the Old, might have ad-
vanced by the same fucceffive steps, first, from
an actual picture to the plain hieroglyphick ;
next, to the allegorical fymbol; then to the
arbitrary character; until, at length, an al-
phabet of letters was discovered, capable of
expreffing all the various combinations of found
employed in speech. In the paintings of the
Mexicans we, accordingly, perceive, that this

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

progress was begun among them. Upon an attentive inspection of the plates, which I have mentioned, we may observe fome, approach to the plain or simple hieroglyphick, where some principal part or circumstance in the fubject is made to stand for the whole. In the annals of their kings, published by Purchas, thetowns conquered by each are uniformly represented in the same manner by a rude den lineation of a house; but in order to point out the particular towns which submitted to their. victorious arms, peculiar emblems , · some times natural objects, and sometimes artificial. figures, are employed. In the tribute-roll, published by the archbishop of Toledo, the house, which was properly the picture of the town, is omitted, and the emblem alone is employed to represent it. The Mexicans seem: even to have made fome advances beyond this, towards the use of the more figurative and; fanciful hieroglyphick. In order to describe a monarch, who had enlarged his dominions by force of arms, they painted a target ornamenta ed with darts, and placed it between him and those towns which he fubdued. But it is on y in one instance, the notation of numbers, that we discern any attempt to exhibit ideas which had no corporeal form. The Mexican paint. ers had invented artificial marks, or signs of convention, for this purpose. By means of these, they computed the years of their .

kings reigns, as well as the amount of tribute to be paid into the royal treasury. The figure of a circle represented unit, and in small numbers , the computation was made by repeating it. Larger numbers were exprefsed by a peculiar mark, and they had such as denoted all integral numbers, from twenty to eight thou. sand. The short duration of their empire prevented the Mexicans from advancing farther in that long course which conducts men from the labour of delineating real objects, to the fimplicity and ease of alphabetick writing. Their records, notwithstanding some dawn of such ideas as might have led to a more perfect style, can be considered as nothing more than a species of pi&ture-writing, so far improved as to mark their superiority over the savage tribes of America ; but still so defective, as to prove that they had not proceeded far beyond the first stage in that progress which must be completed before any people can be ranked among polished nations. d)

[merged small][ocr errors]

*Their mode of computing time,

[merged small][ocr errors]

Their mode of computing time may be considered as a more decisive evidence of their progress in improvement. They divided their year into eighteen months, each consisting of


Thos an3 jei


twenty days, amounting in all to three hundred and fixty. But as they observed that the course of the sun was not completed in that time, they added five days to the year. These, which were properly intercalary days they term. ed fupernumeray or waste ; and as they did pot belong to any month, no work was done, and no sacred rite performed on them; they were devoted wholly to festivity and pastime. e) This near approach to philosophical accuracy is a remarkable proof that the Mexicans had be. ftowed some attention upon inquiries and speculations, to wbich men in a very rude state Dever turn their thoughts.

Fa&s indicating a small progress in civilization.

Such are the most striking particulars in the manners and policy of the Mexicans, which exbibit them to view as a people considerably refined. From other circumstances, one is apt to fufpect that their character, and many of their institutions, did not differ greatly from those of the other inhabitants of America.

[ocr errors][merged small]

Like the rude tribes around them, the Me. xicans were incessantly engaged in war and the motives which prompted them to hostility seem

e) Acosta , lib. vi. c. 2.

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

to have been the fame. They fought, in or

to gratify their vengeance, by shedding the blood of their enemies. In battle they were chiefly intent on taking prisoners, and it was by the number of these that they estimated the glory of victory. No captive was ever ransomed or fpared. All were facrificed without mercy, and their flesh devoured with the fame barbarous joy as among the fiercest favages. On fome occasions it rose to even wilder excesses. Their principal warriors covered themselves with the skins of the unhappy victims, and danced about the streets, boasting of their own valour, and exulting over their enemies, f) Even in their civil inftitu tions we discover traces of that barbarous dirposition which their fyftem of war inspired. The four chief counsellors of the empire were distinguished by atrocious titles, which could have been assumed only by a people who delighted in blood. g) This ferocity of character prevailed among all the nations of New Spain. The Tlafcalans, the people of Mechoacan, and other states at enmity with the Me. xicans, delighted equally in war, and treated their prisoners with the fame cruelty. In proportion as mankind combine in social union, and live under the influence of equal laws and

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]


f) Herrera, dec. 3. lib. ii, c, 15. Gom, Chron, 217. g) Seo NOTE XXVII.

« ElőzőTovább »