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From this enumeration of facts, it seems, upon the whole, to be evident, that the state of society in Mexico was considerably ada vanced beyond that of the savage tribes which we have delineated. But it is no less manifest, that with respect to many particulars, the Spanifh accounts of their progress appear to be highly embellished. There is not a more frequent or a more fertile source of deception in describing the manners and arts of favage nations, or of such as are imperfectly civilized, than that of applying to them the names and phrases appropriated to the institutions and refinements of polished life. When the leader of a small tribe, or the head of a rude community, is dignified with the name of king or emperor, the place of his residence can receive no other name but that of his palace; and whatever his attendants may be, they must be called his court. Under such appellations they acquire an importance and dignity which does not belong to them. The illusion spreads, and giving a false colour to every part of the narrative, the imagination is so much carried away with the resemblance, that it becomes difficult to discern objects as they really are.
The Spaniards, when they first touched on the Mexican coast, were so much ftruck with the appearance of attainments in policy and in the arts of life, far superior to those of the rude tribes with which they were hitherto acquaint
ed, that they fancied they had at length discovered a civilized people in the New World. This comparison between the people of Mexico, and their uncultivated neighbours, they appear ito have kept constantly in view, and observing with admiration many things which marked the preeminence of the former, they employ in defcribing their imperfect policy and infant arts, such terms as are applicable to the institutions of men far beyond them in improvement. Both these circumstances concur in detracting from the credit due to the descriptions of Mexican manners by the early Spanish writers. By drawing a' parallel between them and those of people so much less civilized, they raised their own ideas too high. By their mode of describing them, they conveyed ideas to others no less exalted above truth. Later writers have adopted the style of the original historians, and improved upon it. The colours with which De Solis delineates the character of Montezuma, the splendour of his court, the laws and policy of his empire, are the same that he must have employed, in exhibiting to view the monarch and institutions of an highly polished people. "But though we may admit, that the warm imagination of the Spanish writers has added some embellishment to their defcriptions, this will not juftify the decisive and peremptory tone, with which several authors pronounce all their accounts of the Mexican power, policy
and laws, to be the fictions of men who wish. ed to deceive, or who delighted in the mar. yellous. There are few historical facts that can be ascertained by evidence more unexceptionable, than may be produced in support of the material articles,, in the description to the Mexican constitution and manners. Eye-witnesles relate what they had beheld, men who ha i resided among the Mexicans, both before and after the conquest, describe inftitutions and customs which were familiar to them, persons of such different professions that objects must have presented themselves to their view under every various aspect; foldiers , priests, and lawyers, all concur in their tef. timony. Had Cortes ventured to impose upon his sovereign, by exhibiting to him a picture of imaginary manners, there wanted not enemies and rivals who were qualified to detect his deceit, and who would have rejoiced in exposing it. But according to the just remark of an author, whose ingenuity has illustrated, and whose eloquence has adorned, the history of America, u) this supposition is in itself as improbable, as the attempt would have been audacious. Who among the destroyers of this great empire was so enlightened by science, or so, attentive to the progress and operations of men in social life, as to frame a fictitious
u) M. l'Abbé Raynal Hist. pbilos,& polit. iii. 127.
system of policy fo well combined and fo con-
standard of improvement in their own age and country.
Or if Cortes and his followers had been capable of this, what inducement had those by whom they were superseded to continue the deception? Why should Corita, or Motolinea, or Acofta, have amused their sovereign or their fellow-citizens with a tale pure. ly fabulous ?
Religion of the Mexicans,
In one particular , however, the guides whom we must follow have represented the Mexicans to be more barbarous, perhaps , than they really were. Their religious tenets, and the rites of their worship, are described by them as wild and cruel in an extreme degrée. Religion, which occupies no considerable place in the thoughts of a favage, whose conceptions of any fuperior power are obscure , and his facred rites few as well as simple, was formed, among the Mexicans, into a regular system, with its complete train of priests, temples, victims, and festivals. This, of itself, is a clear proof that the state of the Mexicans was very different from that of the ruder American tribes. But from the extrava. gance of their religious notions, or the barbarity of their rites, no conclusion can be drawn with certainty concerning the degree of their civilization. For nations, long after their ideas begin to enlarge, and their manners