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want of money, or some universal standard by which to estimate the value of commodities. The discovery of this is among the steps of greatest consequence in the progress of nations. Until it has been made, all their transactions must be fo aukward, to operose, and so limited, what we may boldly pronounce that they have advanced but a little way in their career.
The invention of such a commercial ftandard is of such high antiquity in our hemisphere, and rises so far beyond the æra of authentick hiftory, as to appear almost coeval with the existence of society. The precious metals seem to have been early employed for this purpose, and from their permanent value, their divisibility, and many other qualities, they are better adapted to serve as a common standard than any other substance of which nature has given us the command. But in the New World, where these metals abound most, this use of them was not known. The exigencies of rude tribes, or of monarchies imperfectly civilized, did not call for it. AIL their commercial intercourse was carried on by barter, and their ignorance of any common standard by which to facilitate that exchange of commodities which contributes so much towards the comfort of life, may be justly mentioned as an evidence of the infant state of their policy. But even in the New World the inconvenience of wanting some general inftrument of commerce began to be felt, and fome efforts were made ROBERTSON Vol.III.
towards supplying that defect. The Mexicans, among whom the number and greatness of their cities gave rise to a more extended commerce than in any part of America, had begun to employ a common standard of value, which rendered smaller transactions much more easy. As chocolate was the favourite drink of persons in every rank of life, the nuts or almonds of cacao, .of which it is composed, were of such universal consumption, that, in their stated markets, these were willingly received in return for commodities of small price. Thus they came to be considered as the instrument of commerce, and the value of what one wished to dispose of, was estimated by the number of nuts of the cacao, which he might expect in exchange for it. This feems to be the utmost length which the Americans had advanced towards the discovery of any expedient for supplying the use of money. And if the want of it is to be held, on one hand, as a proof of their barbarity , this expedient for fupplying that want, should be admitted on the other, as an evidence no less fatisfying, of fome progress which the Mexicans had made in refinement and eivilization, beyond the favage tribes around them.
Doubts concerning the state of their cities. In such a rude state were many of the Me. xican provinces when first visited by their con
Even their cities, extensive and populous as they were, seem more fit to be the habitation of men just emerging from barbarity , than the residence of a polished people. The description of Tascala nearly resembles that of an Indian village. A number of low ftraggling huts, scattered about irregularly , according to the caprice of each proprietor, built with turf and Atone, and thatched with reeds, without any light but what they received by a door, so low that it could not be entered upright. p) In Mexico, though, from the peculiarity of its situation, the difpofition of the houses was more orderly, the structure of the greater part was equally mean,
Nor does the fabrick of their temples, and other publick edifices, appear to have been such as entitled them to the high praises bestowed upon them by many Spanish authors. As far as one can gather from their obscure and inacu. rate descriptions, the great temple of Mexico, the most famous in New Spain, which has been represented as a magnificent building, raised to such a height, that the ascent to it was by a ftair - case of a hundred and fourteen steps, was a folid mass of earth of a square form, faced partly with stone. Its bare on each side extend.
p) Herrera, dec. 2. lib. vi. c. 12.
ed ninety feet, and decreasing gradually as it advanced in height, it terminated in a quadrangle of about thirty feet, where were placed a shrine of the deity and two altars on which the victims were facrificed. q) All the other celebrated temples of New Spain exactly re'embled that of Mexico. r)
Such structures convey no high idea of progress in art and ingenuity; and one can hardly conceive that a form more rude and simple could have occurred to a nation in its first efforts towards erecting any great work,
and other publick buildings.
Greater skill and ingenuity were displayed, if we may believe the Spanish historians in the houses of the emperor and in those of the principal nobility. There, fome elegance of design was visible, and a commodious arrangement of the apartments was attended to. But if buildings corresponding to such discriptions had ever existed in the Mexican cities, it is probable that fome remains of them would still be visible. From the manner in which Cortes conducted the fiege of Mexico, we can indeed eafily account for the total destruction of whatever had any appearance of fplendor in that capital. But as only two centuries and a half have elapsed since the con
9) Herrera, dec. 2. lib, yii.
quest of New Spain', it seems altogether in-
Even in a village of the rudest Indians there
Such as are destined for holding the council of the tribe, and in which all affemble on occasions of pu. blick festivity, may be called stately edifices, when compared with the rest. As among the Mexicans the distinction of ranks was established, and property was unequally divided, the number of distinguished structures in their towns would of course be greater than in other parts of America. But there seem pot to have been either fo folid or magnificent as to merit the pompous epithets which some Spanish authors employ in describing them. It is probable that, though more ornamented, and built on a larger scale, they were erected with the same flight materials which the Indians employed in their common buildings, s) and Time, in a space much less than two hundred and fifty years, may have swept away all remains of them, t)
s) See NOTE XXIX,