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SOME OBSERVATIONS Caused by the recent introduction by Mr. Bullock into
England of various rare and curious specimens of Mexican Antiquity ; intended shortly to be submitted by him to the inspection of the public.
may truly be said of scientific inquiry, as of the politics of different periods, that to each particular age some prevailing taste may be allotted. The man of science feels that to him the consideration of what during past ages it has been the aim of human intelligence to know, is an inquiry no less interesting, than to the historian is the investigation of what the political temper of any given time has been: he, like the latter, can cast his eyes over distant ages, and can mark the different roads which human wit has variously pursued, sometimes proceeding along the straight road of investigation terminating at the temple of knowlege, at other times deviating into the by-paths of delusion leading to error; he will however have the satisfaction of perceiving that every succeeding century has become more enlightened than the foregoing, till time in its progress arriving at the present age, the sun of science with continually increasing light seems to beam on us; in fact at the present time, throughout Europe, with the exception of one or two countries, every branch of science seems to be particularly cultivated. Never did the stream of knowlege burst forth in a purer and more sparkling tide-one study does not now alone engross, as heretofore, its undue share of attention, but all may boast that portion of esteem to which their respective merits and utility seve rally intitle them. It was the custom, at some former periods of time, to be very indifferent to investigations into the monuments of antiquity still existing of celebrated ancient nations: to this indifference may be imputed the loss of many suel precious remains, the erroneous accounts in books respecting others, and the confused and wrong ideas formerly entertained generally on the subject of the antiquities of nations. Against the present time, however, this complaint cannot be urged. What limits seem to be set to learned research? The pyramids themselves, whose dusky shadows the Nile has so long beheld reflected on her waves, an individual now compels reluctantly to disclose the awful tombs in which the Pharaohs vainly expected to find repose ! . But lest Thebes should exult over Memphis
hier royal sepulcres have been equally violated; and over the ruins of that city,—the greatest and fairest which the sun shone on in its wide career, whose hundred brazen gates, from each of which could issue ten thousand chariots of war, sternly and gloriously dictated peace to nations-over these splendid ruins the footstep of the traveller now wanders !
Her prostrate porphyry pillars afford a seat to the weary pilgrim. From the banks of the Nile, which sadly contemplates the loss of former pride, still exhale the fresh breezes which once spread delicious fragrance through her artificial terraces; but those who breathed them, vital air nourishes no more. But though her mortal population Thebes can no longer boast, her gods still have been faithful to her ruins; there in numbers they yet dwell, and undoubtedly on the stone tablets covered with hieroglyphics the religious rites sacred to them are yet recorded. Of all places of antiquarian research the ruins of Thebes seem most worthy to be explored; they deserve, and they have obtained the most curious attention. The antiquities of Egypt it must be admitted, if for a long space of time they have been unheeded, have of late years created their full share of interest:
any complaint on the subject of them can be alleged, it is that Egyptian antiquities seem too exclusively to have been the subjects of collection and research, whilst the antiquities of some other nations, as of China, of Assyria, and India, were no less worthy of attention, but have been much less successful in obtaining it. As for the antiquities of Egypt, what can exceed the respect with which, when discovered, the bust or statue of any Egyptian god is treated. The Ibis and the Crocodile, though lesser deities, are conducted from their mouldering retreats, whenever inquiry is blessed with such a discovery, with infinite veneration to national galleries and the museums of the learned. Isis propitiously smiles on her votaries, when she perceives her mutilated bust an object of regard; and Osiris might fain imagine his old worship about to be renewed!
The complaint, however, that might fairly have been alleged, that the antiquities of Egypt were too exclusively the objects of attention, seems likely soon to lose all foundation ; for being with justice advanced; already a certain direction has been given to the public taste towards the antiquities of other parts of the earth. The attention of celebrated men of learning in Paris has been of late much employed on the antiquities of Asia generally. These enlightened individuals are an honor to their country, and to men like them France owes, though envy and national jealousy may vainly deny it, and ignorantly dispute
it, the obligation of standing pre-eminent in science, would not, however, amongst other nations, be an ungenerous competition, if they, by revising some institutions, and establishing others on improved principles for the encouragement of sciences and the improvement of arts, would take as a inodel the generous example of France. To foreigners and to strangers, as to Frenchmen, all her precious collections are equally thrown open; they are to all alike accessible. France then has a right to receive, even from foreigners, the tribute of praise. It may be an empty, but it is a flattering gift; and nations that take gold have no right to feel envy. Some persons have felt regret that defeat imposed on France the necessity of restoring those works of art, of which the Vatican and other public collections had been despoiled by her arms.
It was argued, that though in Paris, from the attention with which strangers who visited the rich collection of the national gallery were received, where every thing worthy of admiration was particularly pointed out to their view, these precious objects of art were less the property of France than of the world, and that the arts and sciences derived an additional advantage from the mutual comparisons which the concentration of those objects offered the opportunity of making. This advantage was certainly inappreciable; but the claims of justice were much more sacred, and the restitution which was made by France conferred glory on her conquerors. With the conviction that this resignation on her part was a debt due to justice, France ought to be content; she will feel flattered, however, by hearing the voice of Europe whisper, that if any nation could have a right to enjoy that precious collection, that nation would be no other than France, who showed herself worthy to possess it by the noble use she made of it whilst in her hands.
Intending to say something of a curious collection of antiquities lately brought to this country from America, I have said more than I had purposed on that which is not immediately relative to my subject; it is however so connected with it, that if it was an error, it was one likely to be incurred. I shall now, however, make some remarks on monuments, of which the curiosity, not the beauty, the novelty, not the art, eminently intitle them to learned attention.
For a series of years it had been the custom to state, in contradiction to the evidence of older writers, that the continent of America possessed no monumental antiquities; that nothing existed there characterising the manners of the populous and civilised Indian nations which once inhabited, and whose
descendants still inhabit those extensive regions. This assertion
so often and so positively repeated, that general opinion was almost inclined to lean towards it, especially as none of the antiquities of the Mexicans or Peruvians seem hitherto to have found their way to Europe. We were informed that those nations were unacquainted with iron, and we came to the hasty inference that of monumental remains they could have none; as experience informs us that the monumental remains of nations are chiefly buildings of stone, or sculptured images of art. We gratuitously assumed that the Indians, not being acquainted with iron, had no mode of supplying its place; though perhaps the efficiency of their tools of copper was the
very reason that they had not discovered the use of iron, in which the mines of those countries are abundant. However this may be, specimens now in England of Mexican antiquities prove, not only that monumental records of stone preserve still the antiquities and manners of the Indians, but inspection of them will convince us that in the art of sculpture they had made great proficiency, if not arrived at some excellence; but we cannot suppose, when we contemplate these existing nionuments, that in other congenial arts, especially painting, they could have been less advanced. And here I may remark, that from the few Mexican paintings now extant, preserved from the fury of religious persecution and other accidents, it would by no means be fair to judge of the proficiency which the Mexicans had made in this art. We should rather form our opinion of the degree of merit which they had attained in it, from the contemplation of their best sculptured remains, more of which, it may now be expected, will be brought to Europe.
At the time of the conquest of Mexico by the Spaniards, historical, and other paintings were of infinite number, and threw great light on history, being of the utmost utility in preserving · uncorrupted the traditions of ancient times. It is certainly a painful reflection to think that almost all of these have been destroyed, together with many other monuments of Mexican antiquity : we only know that they once existed. It is not, however, so much owing to the neglect of individuals to the antiquities of their nation, that so few of the monuments of earlier ages have come down to us, as to the suspicious eyes with which the Spanish Government ever looked on those who seemed too curious in their investigations into her possessions in the New World, or any thing connected with them.
Amongst the native Indians, as well as the Spaniards, several
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intelligent individuals gave deep attention, and bestowed grea" research on the antiquities of New Spain. This their learned works, still existing, amply testify; but a name which deserves particular mention was that of Doctor Siguenza, Professor of Mathematics in the College of Mexico: he made an ample collection of Mexican manuscripts, and wrote works of profound learning on Mexican antiquity, which have unfortunately all been lost. Some few other names might be mentioned; but the collections which these individuals made have been dissipated and destroyed, or doubtless at the present day it would have been an interesting object to have had these remains secured against accident, by having pictures and fac-similes made of them, which would in a manner bave multiplied the original, and through its copies have preserved it from destruction and oblivion. With regard to Mexican antiquities and paintings, it may truly be said, that piety and ignorance, zeal and apathy-in short, the most contrary causes-have conspired for their destruction. Even science herself may be arraigned as an accomplice in this evil work; for, led by an eager desire to advance her interests, more than one European has crossed the Atlantic to explore the natural productions and antiquities of New Spain-from which country when about to return to their own, to enrich it by communication of the fruits of their laudable zeal, at once their hopes are ruined, and the labors of years defeated, by the jealous policy of the Spanish Government, which, after having robbed them of the valuable collections they had made, (which collections are dispersed never to be recovered), thinks it a boon that the dungeons of the Inquisition are not decreed to them for their habitation during the remainder of their days.
Such (except the Inquisition) was the fate of the unfortunate Italian, Boturini, who visited Mexico in 1736 : with great expense, and incredible zeal, he had made a vast acquisition of Mexican antiquities, with which he was about to leave New Spain, when by order of the Government he was arrested, his whole collection seized in the most unjustifiable manner, and he himself sent to Spain; where, after some short period of time had elapsed, he published in 1746, at Madrid, an account of the loss he and science had sustained, (in a detailed catalogue in one vol.) of the precious collection which his long residence in Mexico bad enabled him to procure, and his knowledge of the Mexican language, which he had learned on purpose the more easily to make inquiries amongst the Native Indians respecting their curiosities. Thus even the scientific zeal of an individual was in a measure the cause of many records of antiquity being lost. For had they not been