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Notes on Mexico Made in the Autumn of 1822


Writing Type: Book


An account of his visit to Mexico through letters addressed to a friend. These were apparently not meant to be published. Includes translations of official reports.

Keywords: Mexico, society, Iturbide, Independence, Countess of Regla, tertulias,

Publisher: H.C. Carey and I Lea, Carey Street, Philadelphia

Archive: University Library, Cambridge

Location Details: Reprinted by Frederick A. Praeger Publishers, New York, London, Washington, 1969.

Text: p.27 "One of the officers invited us to go to a tertulia [in Jalapa], to which we readily assented. We were conducted to a house where we found a few ladies assembled, who played on the guitar and sang agreeably. I was surprised to see no gentlemen in the room, but was not kept long in suspense as to the reason for the division in the party. After a whispering conversation between the officer and the lady of the house, she ordered the servant to shew us into another apartment. We were conducted with some mystery through a court yard, and up a narrow passage into a small card room, that looked like a cavern, where we found a numerous assembly of men gambling deeply, at a game called monte. As you know I never touch a card, I cannot describe the manner in which a great deal of money was won and lost. There is no exhibition of the human passions that disgusts me so thoroughly, and I very soon retired to scribble my journal."

pp.56-57 "We next visited the family of the Conde de Regla, so frequently mentioned by Humboldt, for his great possessions, his rich mines, and vast landed estates. His house is similar to those I have already described, the apartments spacious and well furnished, and we were politely received by the Condessa, who is very beautiful and amiable. She appeared to be very young, but had six children in the room with her. I learnt from her, that among the titled and the rich, early marriages are very common. She is not more than twenty years of age. Her youngest sister, only sixteen, has two children; and it is not uncommon for girls to marry at thirteen years of age. This custom exists wherever there are large entailed estates, and it is practised to secure great mayorazgos, or entails, and to unite powerful families. [...] I spent some time in conversation with the Countess, and found her very intelligent, and decidedly opposed to the present order of things [Iturbide], which she assures me is contrary to the wishes of the nation, and in opposition to all that is virtuous and enlightened in the country."

p.58 "At the next house we visited, we found the lady of the mansion smoking a paper cigar, which she took out of her mouth with the utmost nonchalance, and received us very graciously. On taking leave, she invited us to attend her Tertulias, evening assemblies, where the young dance and sing and sometimes join the old in games of hazard, which are always introduced in an assembly in Mexico. If they meet to dine together, they sit down to play before dinner, and no reunion takes place in the evening without gaming."

p.63 [31 October 1822] "On my return home, I was informed of an event anticipated for some days past - the sudden and violent dissolution of the congress by order of his imperial majesty Augustin the First. Soon after the members assembled this morning, brigadier general Cortazar appeared in the hall, and read the imperial mandate dissolving the congress. He then informed them, that it was his majesty's pleasure that they should disperse forthwith , and that if they did not retire within ten minutes, he would be compelled, in obedience to superior orders, to drive them out of the hall. The president immediately directed, that the order should be spread on the journals of congress, and called upon the general to sign it, which he did, and the members retired. In the afternoon a proclamation was issued to justify this measure. It sets forth, that congress, divided into factions, did nothing but quarrel; refusing to provide for the wants of the army; and that they were a useless expense and burden on the people. That each district should have one representative, to be chosen by the new emperor from among the former members, and this new congress, to be called a congresso instituyente, should meet on the second day of the next month."

p.65 "In the evening we returned to this walk, [Zócalo, Mexico City] and I was surprised to see several young ladies, pretty and well dressed, smoking cigars. I knew that it was the custom of ladies to smoke, but supposed they would only do so in private. It appears to me a detestable habit for young ladies, but I suppose my fastidiousness is the effect of early prejudice. The Mexican gentlemen do not seem to dislike it, and the tale of love is whispered, and vows of fidelity are interchanged, amidst volumes of smoke - a bad omen, which, if report speaks correctly, is too often verified."

pp.67-69 3d. [November] I was presented to His Majesty this morning. On alighting at the gate of the palace, which is an extensive and handsome building, we were received by a numerous guard, and then made our way up a large stone staircase, lined with centinels, to a spacious apartment, where we found a brigadier general stationed to usher us into the presence. The emperor was in his cabinet and received us with great politeness. Two of his favourites were with him. We were all seated, and he conversed with us for half an hour in an easy unembarrassed manner, taking occasion to compliment the United States, and our institutions, and to lament that they were not suited to the circumstances of his country. He modestly insinuated that he had yielded very reluctantly to the wishes of the people, but had been compelled to suffer them to place the crown upon his head to prevent misrule and anarchy.
He is about five feet ten or eleven inches high, stoutly made and well proportioned. His face is oval, and his features are very good except his eyes, which were constantly bent on the ground or averted. His hair is brown with red whiskers, and his complexion fair and ruddy, more like that of a German, than of a Spaniard. As you will hear his name pronounced differently, let me tell you that you must accent equally every syllable, I-tur-bi-de. I will not repeat the tales I hear daily of the character and conduct of this man. Prior to the late successful revolution, he commanded a small force in the service of the Royalists, and is accused of having been the most cruel and blood thirsty persecutor of the Patriots, and never to have spared a prisoner. His official letters to the viceroy substantiate this fact. In the interval between the defeat of the patriot cause and the last revolution, he resided in the capital, and in a society not remarkable for strict morals, he was distinguished for his immorality. His usurpation of the chief authority has been the most glaring, and, unjustifiable; and his exercise of power arbitrary and tyrannical. With a pleasing address and prepossessing exterior, and by lavish profusion, he has attached the officers and soldiers to his person, and so long as he possesses the means of paying and rewarding them, so long he will maintain himself on the throne; when these fail he will be precipitated from it. It is a maxim of history, which will probably be again illustrated by this example, that a government not founded on public opinion, but established and supported by corruption and violence, cannot exist without ample means to pay the soldiery, and to maintain pensioners and partisans. Aware of the state of his funds, and of the probable consequences to himself of their failure, he is making great exertions to negociate loans in England; and such is the infatuation of the monied men in that country, that it is possible he may effect his object. The conditions of a loan have been agreed upon, and an gent has lately gone to London another is preparing to set out for the same destination with all the pomp of an embassy and the professors of Botany and Mineralogy told me with great dismay yesterday, that they had received orders from his majesty to prepare collections to be sent to England. There exists with all the governments of Spanish America, a great desire to conciliate Great Britain (sic); and although the people every where are more attached to us, the governments seek uniformly and anxiously to form diplomatic relations, and to connect themselves with that of Great Britain. They are afraid of the power of that nation, and are aware that their commercial interests require the support of a great manufacturing and commercial people.
We shall glean something of the commerce of those countries, but the harvest will be for the British.
To judge Iturbide from his public papers, I do not think him a man of talents. He is prompt, bold and decisive, and not scrupulous about the means he employs to obtain his ends.

pp.79-80 [The Indians of Chalco] We "continued to meet boats and canoes poled and paddled both by men and women. These Indians are much darker than those of our borders, their hair is straight and glossy, their lips rather thick, the nose small and the eye inclining upwards like that of the Chinese and Monguls. Their bodies are stout and their limbs nervous. They are not generally tall, but are strong and active. According to our notions of beauty, they are not a well favoured race. The women are not so well formed and have harsh features, and like those in Europe who are exposed to the weather and who labour hard, look old and wrinkled very early in life. They have all a melancholy expression, and are remarkably docile and obedient. To the Europeans they are very submissive, and are mild and even polite in their demeanor towards each other. I have not yet witnessed any altercation among them, that bore the semblance of a quarrel.

p.86 [A visit to a bull ring] "These places are calculated to contain two or three thousand spectators, and you cannot conceive a gayer sight than they present on a fine day, when crowded with well dressed women, who manifest rather more interest in the torment and death of a bull, than you, with your prejudices, would think becoming in the fair sex."

p.101 [In Querétaro] "there are about three thousand people employed, nineteen hundred of whom are women. They manufacture every month, about 2,500,000 small boxes of paper cigars, (cigarros) and 290 of cigars, (puros,) the value of which is about 185,300 dollars.

p.119 The Creoles [in Mexico City] in general possess good natural talents, and great facility of acquiring knowledge. They are extremely mild and courteous in their manners, kind and benevolent towards each other, and hospitable towards strangers. Their besetting sin is gambling. The married women are very pleasing in their manners. They are said to be faithful to the favoured lover, and a liaison of that nature does not affect the lady's reputation. The young women are lively and accomplished. They sing and play agreeably, dance well, and know all they have an opportunity of learning. If they would leave off the detestable practice of smoking, they would be very pleasing and amiable.
This is to be understood as characterizing the society generally. There are certainly some young ladies (very few I am afraid) who do not smoke - some married women (many I hope) who have no lover, or if this would be interpreted to derogate from their charms, who consider him only as a convenient dangler, and are fondly and faithfully attached to their husbands; and there are certainly many gentlemen who are not gamesters."

p.144 "I observed that there are more whites in Celaya than in any other town we have passed through since we left Mexico. The women are generally pretty and very well made. [...] In the evening [Don Francisco] Tresguerras, with cloak and sword, called and conducted me to a tertulia of his friends. In this assembly, held in a shop under the arcades, and the guests seated around the counter, there were two priests present, one a canon of the church, who, when the clock struck eight, fell on his knees and muttered prayers for a quarter of an hour - the company joining in the responses. We were interrupted sometimes, too, by purchasers, and I was much amused by the novelty of such a party. This tertulia is held nightly throughout the year. I had hoped to derive some information from these gentlemen, who were intelligent men; but they were beforehand with me, and questioned me without secession and without mercy."

p.164 [A visit to the Hacienda de Plata, belonging to the Conde de Valenciana, Cañada de Marfil, Guananjuato] "The first process is separating the ore from the stones and refuse. Women are employed in this work. They throw aside the stones that have no ore, and with a hammer chip off small pieces of ore that have a little only on the surface. They perform this operation with great skill and despatch."

p.185 [San Luis Potosí] "In the afternoon we visited the cockpit and found a strange, motley group there. A priest was examining one of the birds, and betting largely; and we saw miserable wretches, half-naked, or covered with a blanket, put five, and some as much as twenty dollars, into the broker's hands, to stake on their favourite bird. Some Señoras, not, however, the most lady-like, but very finely dressed, were smoking cigars and betting."

p.190 [The schoolmaster, at the mining village of San Isidro, San Luis Potosí] "is not satisfied with the present order of things, and made some sarcastic observations on the change of masters, which the people had undergone; contrasting the colonial government with that of Iturbide, very much in favour of the former."

p.192 [Quelitan village, near San Luis Potosí] "in the evening we went to the well, the rendezvous of all the girls of the village, whose province it is, as in the olden time, to draw water. Each one had a jar, or pitcher, which she carried on her shoulder, and a small leather bucket and rope. Some of them were pretty and very well made; and although quite cheerful, laughing and chatting at a great rate, they were all very modest in their demeanor and conversation."

p.194 [Tula] The women are neatly dressed, and look clean and healthy. Their dress consists of a shift, one or more petticoats of striped cotton stuff, and a shawl, which they throw over the shoulder, and which they are never without when in company. I have seen them washing and cooking, very much distressed to manage this part of their dress, but persevere in wearing it, notwithstanding the inconvenience it put them to."

pp.195-196 [A ranch near Tula] "We found only the females of the family at home; the men are shepherds, and were out tending their flocks. The women were all employed weaving shawls of wool and cotton thread. They did not use a loom, but had the warp so adjusted, that one end was fastened to a pin in the wall, and the other passed around the waist. These shawls are two yards and a half long, and three quarters wide. It is two months work to make one, and the price is eight dollars. They might be manufactured in our country for less than two."

p.198 [Santa Barbara, between San Luis Potosí and Tampico] Strolling through the village, I stopped to speak to two ladies, who were standing at the door of one of the largest and neatest cottages. They invited me in, and seemed delighted to have an opportunity of asking about the fashions of other countries, and how the ladies dressed in the other America.
They had on pearl necklaces, and dark striped calico dresses, which cost, they told me, two dollars and a half a yard, and which was certainly not worth half a dollar.
They rejoiced with exceeding great joy at the independence of the country 'Now, that we are not governed by the gachupines, we shall be supplied with handsome stuffs at a cheap rate.' From a better motive, no doubt, the ladies of New Spain have always favoured the cause of independence. I have, too, found them every where republicans.

p.200 [A ranch on the river Limon] "I have just been disturbed by a strange notion of the woman of the house. Seeing her with a young child in her arms, I patted its cheek and complimented the mother on its beauty and healthy appearance. As the little urchin shortly after began to squall lustily, and would not be pacified, the poor woman immediately attributed its uneasiness to my having touched it with an evil hand. Putting down the child, she brought me a cup of water, and with some hesitation, begged me for the Virgin’s sake, to dip my fingers in the cup. After I had complied, she asked me with great earnestness, if that was the hand with which I had touched the child, and being assured of this, forced the water down its throat. The infant, exhausted by screaming and bawling, went to sleep soon after, and she was delighted with the success of her application."

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