Sidor som bilder
PDF
ePub

AN UNFORTUNATE ADVENTURER. 293

they who built it think that in a few years their royal line would perish and their race be extinct, their city a ruin, and Mr. Catherwood, Pawling, and I and Juan its sole tenants. Other strangers had been there, wondering like ourselves. Their names were written on the walls, with comments and figures; and even here were marks of those low, grovelling spirits which delight in profaning holy places. Among the names, but not of the latter class, were those of acquaintances: Captain Caddy and Mr. Walker; and one was that of a countryman, Noah O. Piatt, New-York. He had gone out to Tobasco as supercargo of a vessel, ascended one of the rivers for logwood, and while his vessel was loading visited the ruins. His account of them had given me a strong desire to visit them long before the opportunity of doing so presented itself.

High up on one side of the corridor was the name of William Beanham, and under it was a stanza written in lead-pencil. By means of a tree with notches cut in it, I climbed up and read the lines. The rhyme was faulty and the spelling bad, but they breathed a deep sense of the moral sublimity pervading these unknown ruins. The author seemed, too, an acquaintance. I had heard his story in the village. He was a young Irishman, sent by a merchant of Tobasco into the interior for purposes of small traffic; had passed some time at Palenque and in the neighbourhood; and, with his thoughts and feelings turned strongly toward the Indians, after dwelling upon the subject for some time, resolved to penetrate into the country of the Caribs. His friends endeavoured to dissuade him, and the prefect told him, "You have red hair, a florid complexion, and white skin, and they will either make a god of you and keep you among them, or else kill and eat you;" but he set off alone and on foot, crossed the River Chacnmal, and after an absence of nearly a year returned safe, but naked and emaciated, with his hair and nails long, having been eight days with a single Carib on the banks of a wild river, searching for a crossing-place, and living upon roots and herbs. He built a hut on the borders of the Chacamal River, and lived there with a Carib servant, preparing for another and more protracted journey among them, until at length some boatmen who came to trade with him found him lying in his hammock dead, with his scull split open. He had escaped the dangers of a journey which no man in that country dared encounter, to die by the hands of an assassin in a moment of fancied security. His arm was hanging outside, and a book lying on the ground; probably he was struck while reading. The murderers, one of whom was his servant, were caught, and were then in prison in Tobasco. Unfortunately, the people of Palenque had taken but little interest in anything except the extraordinary fact of his visit among the Caribs and his return safe. All his papers and collection of curiosities were scattered and destroyed, and with him died all the fruits of his labours; but, were he still living, he would be the man, of all others, to accomplish the discovery of that mysterious city which had so much affected our imaginations.

As the ruins of Palenque are the first which awakened attention to the existence of ancient and unknown cities in America, and as, on that account, they are perhaps more interesting to the public, it may not be amiss to state the circumstances of their first discovery.

The account is, that in the year 1750, a party of Spaniards travelling in the interior of Mexico penetrated to the lands north of the district of Carmen, in the province of Chiapas, when all at once they found

DISCOVERY OF FALENQUE. 295

in the midst of a vast solitude ancient stone buildings, the remains of a city, still embracing from eighteen to twenty-four miles in extent, known to the Indians by the name of Casas de Piedras. From my knowledge of the country I am at a loss to conjecture why a party of Spaniards were travelling in that forest, or how they could have done so. I am inclined to believe rather that the existence of the ruins was discovered by the Indians, who had clearings in different parts of the forest for their corn-fields, or perhaps was known to them from time immemorial, and on their report the inhabitants were induced to visit them.

The existence of such a city was entirely unknown; there is no mention of it in any book, and no tradition that it had ever been. To this day it is not known by what name it was called, and the only appellation given to it is that of Palenque, after the village near which the ruins stand.

The news of the discovery passed from mouth to mouth, was repeated in some cities of the province, and reached the seat of government; but little attention was paid to it, and the members of the government, through ignorance, apathy, or the actual impossibility of occupying themselves with anything except public affairs, took no measures to explore the ruins, and it was not till 1786, thirty years subsequent to the discovery, that the King of Spain ordered an exploration; on the third of May, 1787, Captain Antonio del Rio arrived at the village, under a commission from the government of Guatimala, and on the fifth he proceeded to the site of the ruined city. In his official report he says, on making his first essay, owing to the thickness of the woods, and a fog so dense that it was impossible for the men to distinguish each other at five paces' distance, the principal building was completely concealed from their view.

He returned to the village, and after concerting measures with the deputy of the district, an order was issued to the inhabitants of Tumbala, requiring two hundred Indians with axes and billhooks. On the 17th seventy-nine arrived, furnished with twenty-eight axes, after which twenty more were obtained in the village; and with these he again moved forward, and immediately commenced felling trees, which was followed by a general conflagration.

The report of Captain Del Rio, with the commentary of Doctor Paul Felix Cabrera of New Guatimala, deducing an Egyptian origin for the people, through either the supineness or the jealousy of the Spanish government was locked up in the archives of Guatimala until the time of the Revolution, when, by the operation of liberal principles, the original manuscripts came into the hands of an English gentleman long resident in that country, and an English translation was published at London in 1822. This was the first notice in Europe of the discovery of these ruins; and, instead of electrifying the public mind, either from want of interest in the subject, distrust, or some other cause, so little notice was taken of it, that in 1831 the Literary Gazette, a paper of great circulation in London, announced it as a new discovery made by Colonel Galindo, whose unfortunate fate has been before referred to. If a like discovery had been made in Italy, Greece, Egypt, or Asia, within the reach of European travel, it would have created an interest not inferior to the discovery of Herculaneum, or Pompeii, or the ruins of Pactum.

While the report and drawings of Del Rio slept in the archives of Guatimala, Charles the Fourth of

[ocr errors]

FIRST EXPLORATIONS. 2U7

Spain ordered another expedition, at the head of which was placed Captain Dupaix, with a secretary and draughtsman, and a detachment of dragoons. His expeditions were made in 1805, 1806, and 1807, the last of which was to Palenque.

The manuscripts of Dupaix, and the designs of his draughtsman Castenada, were about to be sent to Madrid, which was then occupied by the French army, when the revolution broke out in Mexico; they then became an object of secondary importance, and remained during the wars of independence under the control of Castenada, who deposited them in the Cabinet of Natural History in Mexico. In 1828 M. Baradere disentombed them from the cartons of the museum, where, but for this accident, they might still have remained, and the knowledge of the existence of this city again been lost. The Mexican Congress had passed a law forbidding any stranger not formally authorized to make researches or to remove objects of art from the country; but, in spite of this interdict, M. Baradere obtained authority to make researches in the interior of the republic, with the agreement that after sending to Mexico all that he collected, half should be delivered to him, with permission to transport them to Europe. Afterward he obtained by exchange the original designs of Castenada, and an authentic copy of the itinerary and descriptions of Captain Dupaix was promised in three months. From divers circumstances, that copy did not reach M. Baradere till long after his return to France, and the work of Dupaix was not published until 1834, '5, twenty-eight years after his expedition, when it was brought out in Paris, in four volumes folio, at the price of eight hundred francs, with notes and commentaries by M. Alexandre Lenoir,

Vol. II.—P P

« FöregåendeFortsätt »