26 MAY 1866, Page 19


Across Mexico is not quite so good a book as Mr. Bullock's repu- tation led us to expect, decidedly not so good as his work on Poland. It is scrappy, like all diaries, and coloured by a dislike of the country and the people which is partly genuine, partly, we suspect, the result of exasperation at constantly recurring annoyances of the personal kind. One cannot admire Tivoli heartily while the mosquitoes bite so hard. At the same time Mr. Bulloekis entirely free from the usual faults of very rapid travellers. He does not "pad" his observations, either with statistics, or see- Arrest Mexico. By W. H. Bullock. London: Alucenillau

timent, or apocryphal anecdotes, and is sparing of words to a fault. He tells us simply what he has seen, and if the telling is sometimes a little tainted with the London tone of pseudo- sarcasm, why, that is the tone in which most Englishmen relate personal adventures—a bad one, no doubt, because forced, but better than sentimental outbursts. The whole book is readable, and though it will teach next to nothing to any one who has read Bram Mayer and Madame Calderon de la Barca, it will serve to convey to the casual reader some external impression of a very great, very interesting, and apparently very neglected country. That impression will not be a very pleasant one, Mr. Bullock apparently approving absolutely nothing in Mexico ex- cept the address of its people, who retain something of that charm of manner which a Spaniard can hardly lose, and which the Indian has derived from his habitual melancholy and reserve, features of character common to all the native tribes of America, from the Pawnee, who has never been oppressed, to the Araucanian. Vera Cruz he describes as a city which, seen from a distance, has an imposing appearance, but is really "a tomb" built of plastered mud, with grass growing in the streets, destroyed churches, and a half-naked Indian population, the chosen home of yellow fever, and incessantly liable to the Norte, or north wind, which brings with it that greatest of desert evils—a sand storm. From Vera Cruz one travels thirty-five miles by railway, and thence to Mexico, 220 miles more by diligence or on horseback, over a road constantly crossed by barrancas or deep gullies, so deep with mud that travellers feel as if they were swimming, or winding in zigzags as it approaches the plateau over passes otherwise impassable. This plateau is the centre of Mexico, a "yellowish brown table cloth, from which the Tierras Templada and Caliente hang down like a deep green fringe." It was once covered with trees, but the Spaniards cut them down, either to avoid ambushes, or to punish the Indians, or to reproduce Castile, and the plateau is now a vast, brown, treeless, sun-baked plain, a work of ruin which was consummated in an equally perfect degree and from the same motives by the Sikhs in the Punjaub, and which is remediable only by making the ownership of the soil dependent on replanting. Up the steep sides of this plateau the railway must climb till it reaches Puebla, "a cheerful, well built city, containing close upon a hundred thousand inhabitants," among whom Mr. Bullock scarcely met one who looked as if he had the right to be out of prison, except a few of the upper class in their carriages, and they looked "listless."

The far famed valley of Anahuac did not impress Mr. Bullock 'favourably. "Admitting, as I do willingly, that it would be well nigh impossible for one at all acquainted with the real history of Mexico, and especially with Prescott's highly coloured picture of the conquest of the country by the Spaniards, its most brilliant, if not its most authentic page, to look upon the valley of Mexico for the first time without some kind of emotion, I cannot but attribute this far more to the influence of its historical associations than to its intrinsic beauty. Of the city of Mexico itself you get not a glimpse, for it is completely concealed by a range of bare hills, which crop up in the centre of the valley. Of the much vaunted lakes you see almost nothing, and the mountains which surround the valley are of that yellowish-brown complexion which charac- terizes the whole Mexican table-lawl, and are for the most part quite bare of trees. As for the valley itself, a large portion of it is neither land nor water, but an unsightly expanse of marsh and bog. Of the dry land barely one-third is under cultivation, the remaining two-thirds consisting chiefly of square grass fields, hedged round by impenetrable fences of maguey. Where, then, are the elements of beauty here ? With the most earnest desire to find them—for I had no other purpose in going out to Mexico than, by looking on the things themselves, to slake at the foun- tain head the thirst occasioned by Prescott's gorgeous images—I can only say that I sought for them in vain, yet till the end of the world I suppose people will go on talking of the beautiful valley of Anahuac, the Indian name of Mexico. However, it must be borne in mind that the traveller approaching from the east has his back turned upon the snow-capped volcanos Popo- catapetl and Iztaccihuatl, which lend whatever of grandeur it possesses to the valley of Mexico. Constantly at morning and evening to behold these two mountains lighted up by the rays of the rising and setting sun is the most beautiful sight in the world. Take them away, and, in spite of the deep blue sky, it would not be easy to match the rest of the picture in ugliness.''' The entrance to Mexico itself is quite as bad :—" The entrance to the modern city is quite in keeping with the uninviting ap- proach, and consists simply of a gap in a mud wall, dignified by the name of La Garita de San Lazsro.' Once within the walls

the traveller finds himself in a waste place half a foot deep in sand, bounded on one side by a stinking ditch, on the other by ruined churches and convents, and tenanted by dogs and vulturea preying on the offal which is left there to rot. Sometimes a vulture may be seen daintily picking the eye—the tit-bit--out of the head of a dead horse or mule, in the carcase of which a dog may be descried buried up to his tail." Mexico itself is a city full of ruined churches and open drains, with ap/aza in the centre look- ing like an Indian encampment, and with but one beautiful build- ing in its whole extent, the School of Mines. What other buildings there are are neglected, the Mexicans destroying everything, even the roads, which the Spaniards had constructed in the Roman man- ner. The outlying faubourgs resemble Shoreditch, with one storey taken off and a blazing sun pouring down on the yellow ground. 'The celebrated lake is a nasty marsh. "At the period of the con- quest, the prospect on either side the causeway must have been considerably less dreary than it is now, for then the eye wandered over an expanse of water reaching right up to the foot of the hills, which at that period are reported to have been well wooded. But since those days the scene has entirely changed, and the aspect. which this portion of the valley of Mexico has presented since the draining off of the waters of the lake of Tezcuco is unutterably desolate. Were this region merely an unsightly tract of bog and marsh land tenanted only by wild fowl, like the larger portion of the valley immediately surrounding the city, it would be bad enough, but I should have taken it as a matter of course. Here, however, scabby mounds of earth, standing forlorn amidst mud ruins of abandoned villages, lend an air of desolation quite pecu- liar to itself to this portion of what travellers will persist in calling the beautiful valley of the Anahuac. On inquiring what could have induced human beings to settle on these marshes, I was in- formed, that when the waters of the lake of Tezcuco were drained off, the soil was found to be so impregnated with salt, that the poverty-stricken Indians found that they could support for a time a precarious existence on the slender profits derivable from washing the earth for salt. But their settlements have been long since aban- doned, and are now only marked by the ruins of their mud hovels,. and huge heaps of earth from which the salt has been extracted.' The Court is simple, the Emperor a man entirely without intelligence in his face, and life in general excessively dreary. Mr. Bullock visited the pyramids near Tezcuco, but found them merely shapeless mounds, and appears to have avoided Mexican antiquities with some zeal. His judgment on the people. is as unfavourable as on their country. He says little of the. whites, except that they are polite and listless, but considers the Indians miserable savages, and did not see among them in all his- travels one decently good-looking woman. They are not indus- trious except on the plain of El Bajio, the garden of Mexico, and the only province in which Mr. Bullock found anything cordially to approve. Even there, however, the superabundant crops are wasted for want of means of communication, and the inhabitants. have been subjected to forced loans, and almost every form of oppression except brigandage, for which the country is ill adapted.

It is clear that there is exaggeration in this view of Mexico, realistic though the description may be,—that of Humboldt, for instance, the keenest of observers, being far more favourable, and we believe the origin of the error is a mistaken point of view. Mr. Bullock expected to find Mexico a European colony, whereas it is a tropical settlement. Had he compared it with an Asiatic instead of a European ideal he would have formed a more favourable, and we cannot but suspect a more accurate, judgment. He expected neatness which does not exist out of Europe, confuses the neglect universal in the tropics, where nature always beats you, and the labour of one generation must be spent in repairing the work of the last, with want of energy, resents the nakedness of a population which avoids heat as if nakedness were equivalent to savagery, and sees only ugliness in every brown skin. He would describe the Punjaub or Bengal in the same style and almost the same words, and depict a Calcutta merchant who can write four languages, discusses Kant as subtly as a German professor, and owns a million, as a half-naked, over-fed savage. This tendency has doubtless been increased by that horror of a tropical climate which falls upon some Europeans, that sense of not being fairly alive which attacks constitutions which require cold, and which when borne for any length of time produces a per- manent depression fatal to energy or success. The "listless- ness" of which he speaks so frequently is the Oriental manner, and constantly conceals genuine energy, and the politeness is Eastern too, the result in great measure of indifference as to the loss of time. The sweetness of temper which he attributes to Mexicans is in Asia almost universal, and is modified, we doubt not, in Mexico, as in Hindostan and Turkey, by liability to frantic bursts of rage, caused either by jealousy or by a suspicion of insult. The sweet- ness, moreover, strikes Englishmen in an exceptional degree, much more, for example, than it strikes Americans, our countrymen being perhaps the worst-tempered race, in the explosive sense, which exists on the globe. From peers to cabmen they are always standing up for their "rights," always in a hurry, and always worried by small extortions, and are consequently, as Mr. Bullock's book abundantly proves, the most acrid and fretful travellers in the world. The good-tempered Mexican, like the good-tempered Italian, does not care enough about trifles to be irritated by them, but when he loses his temper stabs you, just the pint at which the bad-tempered Englishman stops short. Each temper has its merits, the savage English growl remedying all sorts of evils ; but if a happy life be the end, the Southern is the more useful, while its aristence among Englishmen would at least diminish the pro- found hatred with which the softer races always regard the Teuton, who understands their civilization and sympathizes with their aspirations as little as Mr. Bullock does with Mexico and Mexicans.