網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

red,' says Diaz, “to be called Cortés by us, to being called by any title; and with good reason,' continues the enthusiastic old cavalier, for the name of Cortés is as famous in our day as was that of Cæsar among the Romans, or of Hannibal among the Carthaginians.' He showed the same kind regard towards his ancient comrades in the very last act of his life. For he appropriated a sum by his will for the celebration of two thousand masses for the souls of those who had fought with him in the campaigns of Mexico.”

The following quotation is, however, open to the gravest censure: it is not borne out by the evidence.

“ Cortés was not a vulgar conqueror. He did not conquer from the mere ambition of conquest. If he destroyed the ancient capital of the Aztecs, it was to build up a more magnificent capital on its ruins. If he desolated the land, and broke up its existing institutions, he employed the short period of his administration in digesting schemes for introducing there a more improved culture and a higher civilization. In all his expeditions he was careful to study the resources of the country, its social organization, and its physical capacities. He enjoined it on his captains to attend particularly to these objects. If he was greedy of gold, like most of the Spanish cavaliers in the New World, it was not to hoard it, nor merely to lavish it in the support of a princely establishment, but to secure funds for prosecuting his glorious discoveries. Witness his costly expeditions to the Gulf of California. His enterprises were not undertaken solely for mercenary objects; as is shown by the various expeditions he set on foot for the discovery of a communication between the Atlantic and the Pacific. In his schemes of ambition he showed a respect for the interests of science, to be referred partly to the natural superiority of his mind, but partly, no doubt, to the influence of early education. It is, indeed, hardly possible, that a person of his wayward and mercurial temper should have improved his advantages at the University, but he brought away from it a tinctnre of scholarship, seldom found among the cavaliers of the period, and which had its influence in enlarging his own conceptions. His celebrated Letters are written with a simple elegance, that, as I have already had occasion to remark, have caused them to be compared to the military narrative of Cæsar. It will not be easy to find in the chronicles of the period a more concise, yet comprehensive, statement, not only of the events of his campaigns, but of the circumstances most worthy of notice in the character of the conquered countries.

“ Cortés was not cruel; at least, not cruel as compared with most of those who followed his iron trade. The path of the conqueror is necessarily marked with blood. He was not too scrupulous, indeed, in the execution of his plans. He swept away the obstacles which lay in his track; and his fame is darkened by the commission of more than one act which his boldest apologists will find it hard to vindicate. But he was not wantonly cruel. He allowed no outrage on his unresisting foes. This may seem small praise, but it is an exception to the usual conduct of his countrymen in their conquests, and it is something to be in advance of one's time. He was severe, it may be added, in enforcing obedience to his orders for protecting their persons and their property. With his licentious crew, it was sometimes not without hazard that he was so. After the Conquest, he sanctioned the system of repartimientos; but so did Columbus. He endeavored to regulate it by the most humane laws, and continued to suggest many important changes for ameliorating the condition of the natives. The best commentary on his conduct, in this respect, is the deference that was shown him by the Indians, and the confidence with which they appealed to him for protection in all their subsequent distresses.”

Here we leave the case in the hands of the reader ; we cannot judge so favorably of the great butcher.

Mr. Prescott concludes his character of the warrior by this attempt to explain away or account for his superstition :

“ One trait more remains to be noticed in the character of this remarkable man; that is, his bigotry, the failing of the age,—for surely it should be termed only a failing. When we see the hand, red with the blood of the wretched native, raised to invoke the blessing of Heaven on the cause which it maintains, we experience something like a sensation of disgust at the act, and doubt of its sincerity. Bnt this is unjust. We should throw ourselves back (it cannot be too often repeated) into the age; the age of the Crusades. For every Spanish cavalier, however sordid and selfish might be his private motives, felt himself to be the soldier of the Cross. Many of them would have died in defence of it. Whoever has read the correspondence of Cortés, or, still more, has attended to the circumstances of his career, will hardly doubt that he would have been among the first to lay down his life for the Faith. He more than once perilled life, and fortune, and the success of his whole enterprise, by the premature and most impolitic manner in which he would have forced conversion on the natives. To the more rational spirit of the present day, enlightened by a purer Christianity, it may seem difficult to reconcile gross deviations from morals with such devotion to the cause of religion. But the religion taught in that day was one of form and elaborate ceremony. In the punctilious attention to discipline, the spirit of Christianity was permitted to evaporate. The mind, occupied with

forms, thinks little of substance. In a worship that is addressed too exclusively to the senses, it is often the case that morality becomes divorced from religion, and the measure of righteousness is determined by the creed rather than by the conduct.”

Our historian need only to have gone to the Te Deums of London and Paris, the twin centres of civilization, for an excuse for Hernando Cortes. We, however, expect a higher standard from a man of Mr. Prescott's calibre.

In his next great work, the “Conquest of Peru,” we recognise a still greater advance, and the public have accorded great preference for it. It is undoubtedly the most popular of Mr. Prescott's productions.

There are more force and clearness in this history than in his others; the adjuncts are painted with more brilliancy, and the scenes are more vividly before us. Some may consider that the author has treated this with more freedom of coloring than is allowable, but we incline to the belief that a historical picture should be as brightly painted as a scene from the “Midsummer Night's Dream.”

The “ Conquest of Peru” has more of that terrible retribution in it which makes history a great instructor. From the first page to the last, we behold that master-spirit of cruelty, avarice, and fraud, Pizarro, preparing for his own inevitable fate. His very successes, almost miraculous, lure him to destruction. And after a time, when his great triumphs seemed to invest him with the monopoly of wrong-doing, he falls by the hands of assassins. The old proverb, “ that sure destruction dogs the steps of crime,” is visible in the histories of Pizarro and Napoleon, very clearly. But the powers they offended were different. The Spaniard outraged humanity; the Corsican, liberty. The recoil was equally crushing. There also appears a sort of poetical fitness in the punishments awarded to each. The outrager of humanity lost his life ; the violator of liberty his freedom. One was killed; the other was a captive. A celebrated poet has observed, that the history of the world is a game of chess which has not yet been played out. What is termed a revolution is merely a change in the phase of the game. Many may consider this the view of a Fatalist, but we do not see why this word should be used when there is the better word Necessity. Fatalism, in human progress, is Calvinism in religion : it paralyses effort. Under one aspect, inaction is as good as energy. But this is only one aspect. It has, however, the counterbalancing virtue of fortitude.

No sane man ever believed that Calvinism in religion, and Necessity in politics, meant stagnation of thought and action. This would be a living death ; a complete and suicidal solecism.

The true light by which history ought to be read, is the certainty of every fact producing its kind. What we sow, we reap. Tyranny is the parent of anarchy, which, in its turn, begets another despotism. Throw human freedom down, and in proportion to the force of the overthrow will be the violence of the rebound. Action and reaction revolve constantly, and produce events which constitute the life of humanity.

It would be a curious study to consider the world dra

« 上一頁繼續 »