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3. Stretching far away at their feet were seen noble forests of oak, sycamore, and cedar, and beyond, yellow fields of maize, and the towering maguey, intermingled with orchards and blooming gardens; for flowers, in such demand for their religious festivals, were even more abundant in this populous valley than in other parts of Anahuac. In the centre of the great basin were beheld the lakes, occupying then a much larger portion of its surface than at present; their borders thickly studded with towns and hamlets, and, in the midst, like some Indian empress with her coronal of pearls,—the fair city of Mexico, with her white towers and pyramidal temples, reposing, as it were, on the bosom of the waters,—the far-famed “Venice of the Aztecs."
4. High over all rose the royal hill of Chapultepec, the residence of the Mexican monarchs, crowned with the same grove of gigantic cypresses which at this day fling their broad shadows over the land. In the distance beyond the blue waters of the lake, and nearly screened by intervening foliage, was seen a shining speck, the rival capital of Tezcuco, and still farther on, the dark belt of porphyry, girdling the valley around, like a rich setting which Nature had devised for the fairest of her jewels.
5. Such was the beautiful vision which broke on the eyes of the conquerors. And even now, when so sad a change has come over the scene, when the stately forests have been laid low, and the soil, unsheltered from the fierce radiance of a tropical sun, is in many places abandoned to sterility; when the waters have retired, leaving a broad and ghastly margin, white with the incrustation of salts, while the cities and hamlets on their borders have mouldered into ruins; even now that desolation broods over the landscape, so indestructible are the lines of beauty which Nature has traced on its features, that no traveller, however cold, can gaze on them with any other emotions than those of astonishment and rapture.
6. What, then, must have been the emotions of the Spaniards when, after working their toilsome way into. the upper air, the cloudy tabernacle parted before their eyes, and they beheld these fair scenes in all their pristine magnificence and beauty? It was like the spectacle which greeted the eyes of Moses from the summit of Pisgah, and, in the warm glow of their feelings, they cried out, “It is the promised land!”
7. But these feelings of admiration were soon followed by others of a very different complexion; as they saw in all this the evidences of a civilisation and power far superior to anything they had yet encountered. The more timid, disheartened by the prospect, shrunk from a contest so unequal, and demanded, as they had done on some former occasions, to be led back again to Vera Cruz. Such was not the effect produced on the sanguine spirit of the general. His avarice was sharpened by the display of the dazzling spoil at his feet; and, if he felt a natural anxiety at the formidable odds, his confidence was renewed as he gazed on the lines of his veterans, whose weather-beaten visages and battered armour told of battles won and difficulties surmounted, while his bold barbarians, with appetites whetted by the view of their enemies' country, seemed like eagles on the mountains, ready to pounce upon their prey. By argument, entreaty, and menace, he endeavoured to restore the faltering courage of the soldiers, urging them not to think of retreat, now that they had reached the goal for which they had panted, and the golden gates were opened to receive them. In these efforts he was well seconded by the brave cavaliers, who held honour as dear to them as fortune, until the dullest spirits caught somewhat of the
enthusiasm of their leaders, and the general had the satisfaction to see his hesitating columns, with their usual buoyant step, once more on their march down the slopes of the sierra.-William Hickling Prescott (1796–1859).
Questions on the lesson :—What is the position of the sierra of Ahualco? What was the surprising view which burst upon the Spaniards? What elements combined to form that splendid landscape? In what way is greater clearness lent to distant scenery there? What were at their feet?-beyond?—how interrupted? What were in the centre of the basin?-round the margin of the lakes ?—in the midst of the towns, &c., what was there?—to what is Mexico compared? Over all what was seen? What are some of the changes which have passed over the landscape? To what spectacle is the scene compared ? How was one part of the army affected? How was the general affected?
Montezuma, “The Montezumas were the Aztec or native Emperors of Mexico.” Mexico was conquered by the Spaniards under Cortez in 1519.
Mag'uey, a Mexican tree which furnished material for their buildings. Its leaves were used for covering the roofs of their houses, and for paper, clothing, &c.
Anahuac is the great plateau or table-land of Mexico. It has been raised by volcanic forces to an elevation varying from 6000 to 9000 feet. The lakes in the Mexican table-land are numerous.
Tezcuco, on the E. side of a lake of the same name. It is 15 miles from the city of Mexico, and contains a palace said to be that of Montezuma, the last of the native Mexican princes.
Vera Cruz (true cross), the principal seaport of Mexico.
1. When breezes are soft and skies are fair,
I steal an hour from study and care,
2. Yet pure its waters—its shallows are bright
With coloured pebbles and sparkles of light,
eye is thrown,
3. Yet fair as thou art, thou shunnest to glide,
Beautiful stream, by the village side;
4. Still-save the chirp of birds that feed
On the river cherry and seedy reed,