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mounds of the Ohio and Mississippi Valleys, exploring the strange earthworks of Wisconsin, and diligently searching for Phoenician characters or Scandinavian runes on the Dighton rock, to give shape to their faith in the existence of nations that had preceded them, and substantiality to the dream of populous cities and mighty confederacies, that had not so utterly passed away from their ancient sites, but that some memorials of their history remained. While the great tide of emigration swept westward, exterminating the Indian with his forests, and effacing the feeble footprints on his trail, the enterprising pioneer still sent back word from time to time of ruined enclosures and fenced cities, which gathered new features at every fresh narration, and filled the imagination with vague and wondering faith in a mighty past. But meanwhile the inhabitants of Spanish America had been dwelling for centuries in the very midst of ruins wonderful for their magnitude, rich variety, and beauty, with a stolid indifference even more wonderful than the grand disclosures it so long withheld. Of the forty-four sites of ancient edifices, some of them the ruins of mighty cities, examined by Mr. Stephens during his travels in Yucatan, few had ever been visited by white men; and when it is considered how small a portion of the surface of Yucatan, or Central America, has been explored, it is difficult for fancy to exaggerate the wonders of native art and civilisation which have yet to be revealed.
Among the various explorations by Mr. Stephens, a peculiar charm attaches to his visit to the ancient palaces of Utatlan, once the court of the native kings of Quiché, and the most sumptuous city discovered by the Spaniards in that region. Corn was growing among the ruins, and the site was in use by an Indian family claiming descent from the royal line, while occupying a miser
able hut amid the crumbling Quiché palaces. But the ruins, as described by Stephens, appear to be of Mexican rather than of Yucatan or Central American character. The principal feature now remaining, called El Sacrificatorio, closely corresponds to the Mexican teocallis; and in entire accordance with this, a figure of baked clay, found among the ruins, presents the modern Indian features, executed in a style of art greatly inferior to the totally diverse sculptures of Palenque and other ruins of unknown dates.1
The intermixture of the traces of two very distinct eras of art within the ancient Aztec dominions, is as clearly recognisable as that of Hellenic and Byzantine art in the later empire of Constantine. The general character of the terra-cottas and sculptured figures of Mexico is rude and barbarian ; yet in some of the ancient ruins, as at Oaxaca, terra-cotta busts and figures have been found which justly admit of comparison with the corresponding remains of classic art.2 Such indications of two entirely distinct periods and styles accord with all the most ancient native traditions, which concur in the idea of successive migrations, foreign intrusion, and the displacement of an ancient and highly civilized people. Of these, Ixtlilxochitl gives a coherent digest, which, apart from his dates, seems to find some confirmation from the diverse characteristics of the predominant remains of art in Mexico and Central America. According to the old Tezcucan chronicler, on the intrusion of the Aztec conquerors, which he places in the middle of the tenth century, the Toltecs, who escaped their fury, spread themselves southward over Guatemala, Tecuantepec, Campeachy, Tecolotlan, and the neighbour
1 Vide Engraving, "Figures found at Santa Cruz del Quiché," Stephens' Travels in Central America, vol. ii.
2 Vide Antiquités Mexicaines, tom. iii. pl. 36.
ing coasts and islands. The architectural chronicles, however, would rather suggest that, in deserting Anahuac for the southern regions, where such abundant traces of ancient art have been found, the Toltecs migrated to a country already in occupation by a branch of the same highly civilized race.
There are manifestly two entirely distinct classes of ruins in Mexico, Central America, and Yucatan; and amid architectural remains so extensive and so varied, it may well be believed that there may be included relics of widely different periods. The one class consists chiefly of the relics of edifices reared as well as occupied by the races supplanted and enslaved by the conquering Spaniards; the other class finds its illustrations in Palenque, Quirigua, Copan, and other voiceless relics of cities, already in ruins before the intruding European mingled the descendants of native conquered and conquering races in one indiscriminate degradation. That these remains should have been found only in a few imperfect and scanty traces on the Mexican soil, accords with the transitional characteristics of its latest native conquerors, who appear to have played the same part there as the Tartar intruders on the southern sites of ancient Asiatic arts and civilisation. But as we descend from the Mexican plateau along the south-eastern slope of the Cordilleras, the remains of art, such as tradition ascribes to the genius and refinement of the peaceful and industrious Toltecs, multiply on every hand; and even mingle with the ruder arts of a remote antiquity recovered from the graves of Chiriqui and the Isthmus of Panama.
But a special interest attaches to the ruined capital of Quiché, though of a different and accidental character: for it was there that the indefatigable explorers first
1 Ixtlilxochitl Relaciones, Ms. No. 5, quoted by Prescott.
heard that, on the other side of the Great Sierra, was a living city, large and populous, occupied by the descendants of the ancient race of Builders, as in the days before the Conquest or the discovery of America. In earlier years the Padre, their informant, had climbed to the lofty summit of the Sierra, and from thence, at a height of ten or twelve thousand feet, looked over an immense plain, extending to Yucatan and the Gulf of Mexico, and beheld at a great distance, as had been told him, a large city, with turrets white and glittering in the sun. The Indian traditions tell that a native race, speaking the Maya language, guard there the marches of their land, and put to death every one of the race of strangers who approaches its borders. "That the region referred to," says Stephens, "does not acknowledge the government of Guatemala, has never been explored, and that no white man ever pretends to enter it, I am satisfied;" and speculating on the possibility that there still live the Indian inhabitants of an Indian city, as Cortes found them, who can solve the mystery that hangs over the traces of native civilisation, and perchance even read the hieroglyphic inscriptions of Copan and Palenque,―he exclaims, "One look at that city was worth ten years of an everyday life!" In the sober thoughts of a later period, the enthusiastic traveller held to the belief that the Padre had not only looked down on the white towers and temples of a vast city, but that the city might still be the abode of a native race, the descendants of the civilized nations of ante-Columbian centuries. As he draws his interesting narrative to a close, he once more turns "to that vast and unknown region, untraversed by a single road, wherein fancy pictures that mysterious city, seen from the topmost range of the Cordilleras, of unconquered, unvisited, and un
1 Stephens' Travels in Central America, vol. ii. chap. xi.
sought aboriginal inhabitants." Its exploration presented to the traveller's mind a noble field for future enterprise; as unquestionably it is, even should the result only prove, as is most probable, another mysterious and magnificent pile of ruins. He died in the belief that in the direction of that mysterious city lay discoveries for some future explorer, which would constitute a triumph to look back upon with delight through life. Since then, numerous exploring expeditions have gone forth from the United States; the mystery of a polar sea has been deemed object enough for brave men to face perils as great as any that such an enterprise could involve; but the romance of the New World, this living city enshrining the mysteries of its strangely obscure yet significant past, has lapsed into dim forgetfulness, as a mere traveller's dream.
Referring, then, to the works of Stephens, Catherwood, and Waldeck for the details of native American architecture; it may be noted, as a general characteristic of all the ruined cities of Central America, that they betray everywhere evidences of a barbaric pomp, wherein utility and convenience are alike sacrificed to architectural magnificence. Though constructed, moreover, for the most part, of stones of moderate size, there is still that same laborious aim at vast and massive solidity which constitutes the essential characteristic of megalithic architecture. Huge pyramidal mounds and terraces are reared as platforms for ponderous structures of massive grandeur, but only of a single storey in height; and presenting, in the interior, a narrow and imperfectly-lighted vault, roofed in by the converging walls, which supplied to the unskilled builders the poor substitute for the arch. It is the comparatively unintellectual civilisation of a nation only in the transitional state, where art and even science have been sufficiently