Hernando Cortez

Next day, Friday the 21st of April 1519, Cortez landed with his troops, and had an interview with Teuthlille, who received the visitors with suspicion; and this feeling was not lessened by the parade of mounted dragoons and firing of guns with which the Spanish commander thought fit to astonish him and the other natives. Sketches were taken of the appearance of the strangers, in order to be sent to Montezuma, the king of the country, who was likewise to be informed that the white men who had ar rived on his coast desired to be allowed to come and see him in his capital.

Here we pause to present a short account of the Mexican empire, in which Cortez had landed; also of the character and government of this monarch, Montezuma, whom the Spaniards expected soon to be permitted to visit.

If a traveler, landing on that part of the coast of the Mexican gulf where Cortez and his Spaniards landed three hundred and thirty years ago, were to proceed westward across the continent, he would pass successively through three regions or climates. First he would pass through the tierra caliente, or hot region, distinguished by all the features of the tropics - their luxuriant vegetation, their occasional sandy deserts, and their unhealthiness at particular seasons. After sixty miles of travel through this tierra caliente, he would enter the tierra templada, or temperate region, where the products of the soil are such as belong to the most genial European countries. Ascending through it, the traveler at last leaves wheat-fields beneath him, and plunges into forests of pine, indicating his entrance into the tierra fria, or cold region, where the sleety blasts from the mountains penetrate the very bones. This tierra fria constitutes the summits of part of the great mountain range of the Andes, which traverses the whole American continent. Fortunately, however, at this point the Andes do not attain their greatest elevation. Instead of rising, as in some other parts of their range, in a huge perpendicular wall or ridge, they here flatten and widen out, so as to constitute a vast plateau, or table-land, six or seven thousand feet above the level of the sea. On this immense sheet of table-land, stretching for hundreds of miles, the inhabitants, though living within the tropics, enjoy a climate equal to that of the south of Italy; while their proximity to the extremes both of heat and cold enables them to procure, without much labor, the luxuries of many lands. Across the table-land there stretches from east to west a chain of volcanic peaks, some of which are of immense height, and covered perpetually with snow.

This table-land was known in the Mexican language by the name of the plain of Anahuac. Near its centre is a valley of an oval form, about two hundred miles in circumference, surrounded by a rampart of porphyritic rock, and overspread for about a tenth part of its surface by five distinct lakes or sheets of water. This is the celebrated valley of Mexico - called a valley only by comparison with the mountains which surround it, for it is seven thousand feet above the level of the sea. Round the margins of the five lakes once stood numerous cities the relics of which are yet visible; and on an islet in the middle of the largest lake stood the great city of Mexico, or Tenochtitlan, the capital of the empire which the Spaniards were now invading, and the residence of the Mexican emperor, Montezuma.

The origin of the Mexicans is a question of great obscurity - a part of the more extensive question of the manner in which America was peopled. According to Mr. Prescott, the latest and one of the best authorities on the subject, the plains of Aanahuac were overrun, previous to the discovery of America, by several successive races from the north-west of the continent where it approaches Asia. Thus, in the thirteenth century, the great table-land of central America was inhabited by a number of races and sub-races, all originally of the same stock, but differing from each other greatly in character and degree of civilization, and engaged in mutual hostilities. The cities of these different races were scattered over the plateau, principally in the neighborhood of the five lakes. Tezcuco, the eastern bank of the greatest of the lakes, was the capital of the Acolhuans; and Tenochtitlan, or Mexico, founded in 1325, on an island in the same lake, was the capital of the Aztecs.

In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries the dominant race in the plains of. Anahuac was the Acolhuans, or Tezcucans, represented as a people of mild and polished manners, skilled in the elegant arts and possessing literary habits and tastes - the Athenians, if we may so call them, of the new world. The most celebrated of the Tezcucan sovereigns was Nezahualcoyotl, who reigned early in the fifteenth century. By this prince a revolution was effected in the political state of the valley of Anahuac. He procured the formation of a confederacy between Tezcuco and the two neighboring friendly cities of Mexico and Tlacopan, by which they bound themselves severally to assist each other when attacked, and to carry on wars conjointly. In this strange alliance Tezcuco was the principal member, as being confessedly the most powerful state; Mexico stood next; and lastly Tlacopan, as being inferior to the other two.