Robert Mackenzie.

America. A history

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The problem which savage occupants present to the civilized men who settle on their lands has been solved in Canada by the simple but rare device of friendly and perfectly fair dealing. The red men of Canada live contentedly under the rule of the strangers, and prove that they are able to uphold themselves by the white man’s industries. They adopt his language, often to the disuse of their own, his dress, his customs, his religion. Not only do the two races live in concord; their blood has been largely mixed. The native race is probably doomed to disappear, but this will not be the result of violence or even of neglect. The history of the Indian race in Canada will close with its peaceful absorption by the European races which possess the continent.

Thirty years ago the Canadians, borrowing largely from their neighbours of the United States, perfected their common-school system. Schools adequate to the wants of the population are provided. A Board chosen by the people conducts the school business of the district. The costs are defrayed by a local tax, supplemented by a grant from the treasury of the province. In general, no fees are charged; primary education is absolutely free. The French Canadians manifest less anxiety for education than their British neighbours, and have not yet emerged from the ignorance which they brought with them from Europe, and in which they were suffered for generations to remain. In Toronto and the maritime provinces the means of education are ample, and are very generally taken advantage of by the colonists.

A noble heritage has been bestowed upon the Canadian people. Treasures of the sea and of the soil, of forest and of mine, are theirs in lavish abundance. Their climate, stern but also kindly, favours the growth of physical and mental energy. They enjoy freedom in its utmost completeness. Their peaceable surroundings exempt them from the blight of war and the evils of costly defensive preparation. For generations these inestimable advantages were in large measure neutralized by the enfeebling rivalries which divided the provinces. But internal dissension has been silenced by confederation, and Canada has begun to consolidate into a nation. Differences of religion and of race still hold a place among the forces which are shaping out her future, but the antipathies which they once inspired have almost passed away. The distinctions of Catholic and Protestant, Englishman and Frenchman, are being merged in the common designation of Canadian, which all are proud to bear. The welfare of Canada, her greatness in the years of the future, are assured not merely by the vastness of her material resources, but still more by the spirit which animates her people. The destiny towards which the Canadian people are hastening is fittingly indicated by the eloquent words of one of the ablest of their Governor-Generals. 1875 A.D. “However captivating,” said Lord Dufferin, “may be the sights of beauty prepared by the hands of Nature, they are infinitely enhanced by the contemplation of all that man is doing to turn to their best advantage the gifts thus placed within his reach.

In every direction you see human industry and human energy digging deep the foundations, spreading out the lines, and marking the inviolable boundaries upon and within which one of the most intelligent and happiest offsets of the English race is destined to develop into a proud and great nation. The very atmosphere seems impregnated with the exhilarating spirit of enterprise, contentment, and hope. The sights and sounds which caressed the senses of the Trojan wanderer in Dido’s Carthage are repeated and multiplied in a thousand different localities in Canada, where flourishing cities, towns, and villages are rising in every direction with the rapidity of a fairy tale. And better still, pari passu with the development of these material evidences of wealth and happiness is to be observed the growth of political wisdom, experience, and ability, perfectly capable of coping with the difficult problems which are presented in a country where new conditions, foreign to European experience, and complications arising out of ethnological and geographical circumstances, are constantly requiring the application of a statesmanship of the highest order.”




Columbus prosecuted, down to the close of life, the great work of discovery to which, as he never ceased to feel, God had set him apart. He occupied himself almost entirely among those lovely islands to which Providence had guided his uncertain way; seeing almost nothing of the vast continents, on the right hand and on the left, which he had gained for the use of civilized man. Once, near the island of Trinidad, he was suffered to look for the only time upon the glorious mainland, so lavishly endowed with beauty and with wealth. Once again he sailed along the coasts of the isthmus and landed upon its soil. But he scarcely passed, in his researches, beyond the multitudinous islands which lay around him on every side. He sailed among them with a heart full, at the outset, of deep, solemn joy, over the unparalleled victory which had been vouchsafed to him; full, towards the close, with a bitter sense of ingratitude and perfidy. He had made his first landing on the little island of San Salvador. Voyaging thence he quickly found Cuba, “the most beautiful island that eyes ever beheld, full of excellent ports and profound rivers.” Then he discovered Hispaniola and Jamaica, and a multitude of smaller islands. Thirteen years of life were still left to him, and Columbus was content to expend them among the sights and sounds which had caressed his delighted senses at his first coming into this enchanted world.

But there were other adventurers, allured by the success which had crowned the efforts of Columbus, and hastening now to widen the scope of his inquiry. Five years from the first landing of Columbus, John Cabot had explored the northern continent from Labrador to Florida. Many navigators who had sailed with Columbus in his early voyages now fitted out small expeditions, in order to make fresh discoveries on the southern continent. Successive adventurers traversed its entire northern coasts. One discovered the great River of the Amazons; another passed southwards along the coasts of Brazil. Before the century closed, almost the whole of the northern and eastern shores of South America had been visited and explored.

Ten or twelve years after Columbus had discovered the mainland, there was a Spanish settlement at the town of Darien on the isthmus. Prominent among the adventurers who prosecuted, from this centre of operations, the Spaniard’s eager and ruthless search for gold was Vasco Nu?ez de Balboa – a man cruel and unscrupulous as the others, but giving evidence of wider views and larger powers of mind than almost any of his fellows. Vasco Nu?ez visited one day a friendly chief, from whom he received in gift a large amount of gold. The Spaniards had certain rules which guided them in the distribution of the spoils, but in the application of these rules disputes continually fell out. It so happened on this occasion that a noisy altercation arose. A young Indian prince, regarding with unconcealed contempt the clamour of the greedy strangers, told them that, since they prized gold so highly, he would show them a country where they might have it in abundance. Southward, beyond the mountains, was a great sea; on the coasts of that sea there was a land of vast wealth, where the people ate and drank from vessels of gold. This was the first intimation which Europeans received of the Pacific Ocean and the land of Peru on the western shore of the continent. Vasco Nu?ez resolved to be the discoverer of that unknown sea. Among his followers was Francisco Pizarro, who became, a few years later, the discoverer and destroyer of Peru.

1513 A.D. Vasco Nu?ez gathered about two hundred well-armed men, and a number of dogs, who were potent allies in his Indian wars. He climbed with much toil the mountain ridge which traverses the isthmus. After twenty-five days of difficult journeying, his Indians told him that he was almost in view of the ocean. He chose that he should look for the first time on that great sight alone. Sept. 25. He made his men remain behind, while he, unattended, looked down upon the Sea of the South, and drank the delight of this memorable success. Upon his knees he gave thanks to God, and joined with his followers in devoutly singing the Te Deum. He made his way down to the coast. Wading into the tranquil waters, he called his men to witness that he took possession for the Kings of Castile of the sea and all that it contained – a large claim, assuredly, for the Pacific covers more than one-half the surface of the globe.

Many of the adventurers realized large gains in gold and pearls, from their trading with the natives. But the hunger of the Spaniards for gold was still utterly unsatisfied. No considerable quantity of gold had been found in the islands; but the constant report of the natives pointed to regions in the interior where the precious metals abounded. On the mainland, beside the Gulf of Paria, the early voyagers were able to obtain more ample supplies. When Columbus explored the Mosquito country and Costa Rica, he found the natives in possession of massive ornaments of gold, on which they did not seem to place very special value. Still the natives spoke of a country far away among the mountains where gold and precious stones were profusely abundant. The Spaniards continued to advance in the direction to which these rumours pointed. As they approached the northern portions of Central America, evidences of higher civilization and greater wealth multiplied around them. The natives lived in houses solidly built of stone and lime, their temples were highly ornamented, the soil was more carefully cultivated here than elsewhere; above all, there was much gold, which could be obtained in exchange for the worthless trinkets offered by the strangers. 1518 A.D. At length the Spaniards arrived on the borders of Mexico, and held intercourse with the chief who ruled over the region to which they had come.

When the Spanish Governor of Cuba heard of the tempting wealth of Mexico, he determined to send out an expedition sufficiently strong to effect the conquest of the country. Hernando Cortes, then a young man of thirty-three, was intrusted with the guidance of this arduous enterprise. Cortes was a man of middle height and slender figure, with pale complexion and large dark eyes; of grave aspect, and with an air of command which secured prompt obedience; of resolution which no danger could shake; inexhaustibly fertile of resource, and eminently fitted, therefore, to lead men who were about to encounter unknown perils. Cortes having placed his fleet under the protection of St. Peter, and having kindled the enthusiasm of his men by assurances of glory and wealth and divine favour, sailed for the coast of Yucatan. Feb 18, 1519 A.D. His forces numbered seven hundred Europeans and two hundred Indians. He had fourteen pieces of artillery. His enemies had not yet seen the horse, and Cortes sought anxiously to have the means of overawing them by the sudden attack of cavalry. But horses were scarce, for they had still to be brought from Europe; and only sixteen mounted men rode in his ranks. These diminutive forces were embarked in eleven little ships, the largest of which did not exceed one hundred tons burden.

Cortes disembarked his army on a wide sandy plain where now stands the city of Vera Cruz, the chief sea-port of Mexico. He was within rather less than two hundred miles of the capital of the country, and he sent to demand access to the presence of the King. Pictures, which represented the ships and the cannon and the horses of the Spaniards, had been forwarded to Montezuma, who pondered with his councillors those symbols of mysterious and terrible power. The council failed to ascertain the true character of the strangers, and remained in doubt whether they were supernatural beings or merely the envoys of some distant sovereign. Montezuma came to the conclusion that in any case they should be persuaded to depart and leave his country in peace. He sent an embassy to point out the dangers of the journey, and request his unwelcome visitors to return to their own land. But, by a fatal indiscretion, the ambassadors supported the King’s request by rich gifts: – a helmet filled to the brim with gold; two circular plates of gold and silver “as large as carriage-wheels;” a multitude of ornamental articles of costly material and beautiful workmanship. The greedy eyes of the Spaniards glistened with delight as the treasures of the simple monarch were spread before them. From that moment the ruin of Montezuma was sealed.

Cortes prepared for his advance upon the Mexican capital by destroying all the ships of his fleet with one solitary exception. There were faint hearts among his men, and fears which counselled early return to Cuba. Cortes had accepted for himself the alternative of success or utter ruin, and he purposed that his men should have no other. When the enfeebling possibility of escape was withdrawn, he roused their courage by appeals to the complex motives which swayed the Spaniards of that day. The desire to plant the cross on the temples of the heathen, the craving for glory and for gain, nerved the hearts of the warriors, who now, trusting to the skill of their leader and the protecting care of Divine Providence, went forth to the conquest of a great empire.

Their way led at first across plains sodden and rendered almost impassable by the summer rain. Aug. 16, 1519 A.D. Soon they left the plain and began to climb the long ascent of the Cordilleras, up towards the great table-land where the city of Mexico stands. They left, too, the warmth of the coast, and traversed a dreary mountain-region, swept by cold winds and tempests of sleet and snow. They passed under the shadow of volcanic mountains whose fires had been long extinguished; they looked down the sheer depths of dizzy precipices, and saw, far below, the luxuriant vegetation which a tropical heat drew forth. At length they came within the fertile and populous territory of the Tlascalans – a bold republican people who maintained with difficulty their independence against the superior strength of Montezuma. Cortes sought the alliance of this people; but they unwisely rejected his overtures and attacked his army. It was not till the close of two days of fighting that Cortes routed his assailants. The bold savages endured the dreaded attack of Spanish horsemen, the murderous discharge of Spanish artillery; they offered their defenceless bodies to the Spanish sword and lance, and were slaughtered in thousands, while their feeble arms scarcely harmed the invaders. The humbled Tlascalans hastened to conclude peace, and a great fear of the irresistible strangers spread far and wide among the population of the plateau. Montezuma once more sent large gifts of the gold which the Spaniards loved, and vainly begged them to forbear from coming to his capital.

Fifteen miles from Tlascala stood the city of Cholula, which Cortes now received an invitation to visit. Cortes found Cholula “a more beautiful city than any in Spain,” lying in a well-tilled plain, with many lofty towers, and with a dense population. Montezuma had enticed the Spaniards hither that he might destroy them; and to that end he had prepared an ambuscade of twenty thousand Mexican troops. But Cortes detected the plot, and having drawn a large assemblage of the chiefs and their followers into the great square, he gave the signal for an indiscriminate and unsparing massacre. The defenceless people fell in thousands; and Cortes, satisfied with the fearful lesson he had taught, erected an altar and cross, addressed the priests and chiefs on the excellences of the Christian religion, and resumed his advance on Mexico.

For a few leagues the way led up the steep side of a great volcanic mountain, then in a state of eruption, although its fires are now extinguished. A dense forest for a time impeded their march; then, as they ascended, vegetation ceased, and they passed within the line of everlasting snow. At length, rounding a shoulder of the mountain, the great valley of Mexico, seen afar in that clear air, spread itself before them, in all its glory of lake and city, of garden and forest and cultivated plain. There were Spaniards who looked with fear upon the evidences of a vast population, and demanded to be led back to the security of the coast; but for the most part the soldiers, trusting to the skill of their leader and the favour of Heaven, thought joyfully of the vast plunder which lay before them, and hastened down the mountain-side.

The city of Mexico contained then a population which the Spaniards estimated at three hundred thousand souls. It was built in a shallow salt-water lake, and was approached by many broad and massive causeways, on some of which eight horsemen could ride abreast. The streets were sometimes wholly of water; sometimes they were of water flanked by solid foot-paths. There were numerous temples; the royal palaces excelled those of Europe in magnificence; the market-place accommodated fifty thousand persons, and the murmur of their bargaining spread far over the city; the dwellings and the aspect of the common people spoke of comfort and contentment.

Nov. 8, 1519 A.D. Montezuma received his unwelcome visitors with munificent although reluctant hospitality, and assigned one of his palaces as their place of residence while it should please them to remain. Cortes, whose desire to convert the heathen was of equal urgency with his desire to plunder them, took an early opportunity to acquaint Montezuma with the leading doctrines of the Christian faith, and to assure him that the gods of the Mexicans were not gods at all, but “evil things which are called devils.” But the unconvinced heathen refused his doctrine, and expressed himself satisfied with his gods such as they were.

For several days Cortes lived peaceably as the guest of Montezuma, pondering deeply the next step which he must take in this marvellous career. He perceived the full danger of his position. A handful of invaders had thrust themselves among a vast population, whose early feelings of wonder and fear were rapidly passing into hatred, and who would probably, ere long, attempt their destruction. Against this danger no guarantee was so immediately available as possession of the King’s person. With the calm decision in which lay much of his strength, Cortes rode down to the palace, attended by a competent escort, and brought the astonished but unresisting Montezuma home to the Spanish quarters. The Mexicans revered their sovereign with honours scarcely less than divine, and Cortes felt that while he possessed the King he was able to command the people. In a few days more Montezuma and his great lords professed themselves vassals of the King of Spain.

For six months Cortes ruled Mexico. He dethroned the Mexican gods, and he suppressed the human sacrifices which the Mexican priests offered profusely to their hideous idols. He built ships for defence; he sowed maize for food: he gave attention to mining, that he might have gold to satisfy the needs of the King of Spain. While he was thus occupied, he learned that eighteen ships had arrived near his little settlement of Vera Cruz. They carried a force of eighty horsemen, fourteen hundred foot soldiers, and twenty pieces of cannon, sent by the Governor of Cuba, who was jealous of his success, with instructions to arrest Cortes and his companions. It was a threatening interruption to a victorious career. Cortes devolved his government upon Alvarado, a rugged soldier in whom he had confidence, and with only seventy men hastened to encounter his new foes. By skill and daring he achieved decisive success, and within a few weeks from the day he quitted Mexico he was ready to return, strengthened by the arms of those whom he had subdued, and whom he now gained over to his cause.

But during those weeks events of grave import had occurred in Mexico. The absence of Cortes resulted in a visible diminution of the meek submission with which the Mexicans had hitherto demeaned themselves towards their conquerors. Rumours arose that a revolt was in contemplation. Alvarado resolved to anticipate the expected treachery. The time of the annual religious festival had come, and the great lords of Mexico were engaged in the sacred dance which formed the closing ceremonial. Suddenly a strong force of armed Spaniards attacked the undefended worshippers, six hundred of whom were slaughtered. The outraged city instantly rose against its murderous tyrants. The Spaniards endured at the hands of their despised assailants a blockade which must have quickly ended in ruin unless Cortes had hastened to their relief.

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