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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
From the ‘True History of the Conquest of Mexico’
By Bernal Díaz del Castillo (1496–1584)
 
Translation of Maurice Keatinge: London, 1800

The Capture of Guatimotzin

SANDOVAL at this moment made a signal for the flotilla to close up to him, and perceived that Guatimotzin was prisoner to Holguin, who was taking him to Cortés. Upon this he ordered his rowers to exert their utmost to bring him up to Holguin’s vessel, and having arrived by the side of it, he demanded Guatimotzin to be delivered to him as general of the whole force; but Holguin refused, alleging that he had no claim whatever.
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  A vessel which went to carry the intelligence of the great event, brought also to Cortés, who was then on the summit of the great temple in the Taltelulco, very near the part of the lake where Guatimotzin was captured, an account of the dispute between his officers. Cortés immediately dispatched Luis Marin and Francisco de Lugo to bring the whole party together to his quarters, and thus to stop all litigation; but he enjoined them not to omit treating Guatimotzin and his queen with the greatest respect. During the interval he employed himself in arranging a state, as well as he could, with cloths and mantles. He also prepared a table with refreshments, to receive his prisoners. As soon as they appeared he went forward to meet them, and embracing Guatimotzin, treated him and all his attendants with every mark of respect.  2
  The unfortunate monarch, with tears in his eyes, and sinking under affliction, then addressed him in the following words:—“Malintzin! I have done that which was my duty in the defense of my kingdom and people; my efforts have failed, and being now brought by force a prisoner in your hands, draw that poniard from your side and stab me to the heart.”  3
  Cortés embraced and used every expression to comfort him, by assurances that he held him in high estimation for the valor and firmness he had shown, and that he had required a submission from him and the people at the time that they could no longer reasonably hope for success, in order to prevent further destruction; but that was all past, and no more to be thought of it; he should continue to reign over the people as he had done before. Cortés then inquired after his queen, to which Guatimotzin replied that in consequence of the compliance of Sandoval with his request, she and her women remained in the piraguas until Cortés should decide as to their fate. The general then caused them to be sent for, and treated them in the best manner his situation afforded. The evening was drawing on, and it appeared likely to rain; he therefore sent the whole royal family to Cuyoacan, under the care of Sandoval. The rest of the troops then returned to their former quarters; we to ours of Tacuba, and Cortés, proceeding to Cuyoacan, took the command there, sending Sandoval to resume his station at Tepeaquilla. Thus was the siege of Mexico brought to a conclusion by the capture of Guatimotzin and his chiefs, on the thirteenth of August, at the hour of vespers, being the day of St. Hyppolitus, in the year of our Lord one thousand five hundred and twenty-one. Glorified by our Lord Jesus Christ, and Our Lady the Holy Virgin Mary his blessed mother, Amen!  4
  Guatimotzin was of a noble appearance both in person and countenance; his features were rather large and cheerful, with lively eyes. His age was about twenty-three or four years, and his complexion very fair for an Indian. His queen, the niece of Montezuma, was young and very handsome.  5
 
The Mortality at the Conquest of Mexico

  WHAT I am going to mention is truth, and I swear and say amen to it. I have read of the destruction of Jerusalem, but I cannot conceive that the mortality there exceeded this of Mexico; for all the people from the distant provinces which belonged to this empire had concentrated themselves here, where they mostly died. The streets, the squares, the houses, and the courts of the Taltelulco were covered with dead bodies; we could not step without treading on them; the lake and canals were filled with them, and the stench was intolerable. For this reason, our troops, immediately after the capture of the royal family, retired to their former quarters. Cortés himself was for some time ill from the effect of it.
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Cortés

  I WILL now proceed to describe the person and disposition of the Marquis [Cortés]. He was of good stature and strongly built, of a rather pale complexion and serious countenance. His features were, if faulty, rather too small; his eyes mild and grave. His beard was black, thin, and scanty; his hair in the same manner. His breast and shoulders were broad, and his body very thin. He was very well limbed, and his legs rather bowed; an excellent horseman, and dexterous in the use of arms. He also possessed the heart and mind which is the principal part of the business. I have heard that when he was a lad in Hispaniola he was very wild about women, and that he had several duels with able swordsmen, in which he always came off with victory. He had the scar of a sword wound near his under lip, which appeared through his beard if closely examined, and which he received in some of those affairs. In his appearance, manners, transactions, conversation, table, and dress, everything bore the appearance of a great lord. His clothes were according to the fashion of the time; he was not fond of silks, damasks, or velvets, but everything plain, and very handsome; nor did he wear large chains of gold, but a small one of fine workmanship bearing the image of Our Lady the Blessed Virgin with her precious Son in her arms, and a Latin motto; and on the reverse, St. John the Baptist with another motto. He wore on his finger a ring with a very fine diamond, and in his cap, which according to the fashion of that day was of velvet, he bore a medal, the head and motto of which I do not recollect; but latterly he wore a plain cloth cap without any ornament.
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  His table was always magnificently attended and served, with four major-domos or principal officers, a number of pages, and a great quantity of plate, both gold and silver. He dined heartily at midday, and drank a glass of wine mixed with water, of about half a pint. He was not nice in his food, nor expensive, except on particular occasions where he saw the propriety of it. He was very affable with all his captains and soldiers, especially those who accompanied him in his first expedition from Cuba. He was a Latinist, and as I have been told, a bachelor of laws. He was also something of a poet, and a very good rhetorician; very devout to Our Holy Virgin and to St. Peter, St. Jago, and St. John the Baptist, and charitable to the poor. When he swore he used to say, “By my conscience!” and when he was angry with any of us his friends, he would say, “Oh! may you repent it.” When he was very angry, the veins in his throat and forehead used to swell, and when in great wrath he would not utter a syllable to any one. He was very patient under insults or injuries; for some of the soldiers were at times very rude and abusive to him; but he never resented their conduct, although he had often great reason to do so. In such cases he used only to say “Be silent!” or “Go away, in God’s name, and take care not to repeat this conduct or I will have you punished.” He was very determined and headstrong in all business of war, not attending to any remonstrances on account of danger; an instance of which he showed in the attack of those fortresses called the Rocks of the Marquis, which he forced us to scale, contrary to our opinions, and when neither courage, council, nor wisdom could give any rational hope of success….  8
  Where we had to erect a fortress, Cortés was the hardest laborer in the trenches; when we were going into battle, he was as forward as any.  9
  Cortés was very fond of play, both at cards and dice, and while playing he was very affable and good-humored. He used frequently at such times those cant expressions which are customary amongst persons who game. In military service he practiced the most strict attention to discipline, constantly going the rounds in person during the night, visiting the quarters of the soldiers and severely reprehending those whom he found without their armor and appointments and not ready to turn out; repeating to them the proverb that “It is a bad sheep which cannot carry its own wool.”  10
  On our expedition to Higueras I perceived that he had acquired a habit which I had never before observed in him, and it was this: after eating, if he did not get his siesta or sleep, his stomach was affected and he fell sick. For this reason, when on the journey, let the rain be ever so heavy or the sun ever so hot, he always reposed for a short time after his repast, a carpet or cloak being spread under a tree, on which he lay down; and having slept a short time, he mounted his horse and proceeded on his journey. When we were engaged in the wars during the conquest of New Spain, he was very thin and slender; but after his return from Higueras he grew fat, and acquired a belly. He at this time trimmed his beard, which had now begun to grow white, in the short fashion. In his early life he was very liberal, but grew close latterly, some of his servants complaining that he did not pay them as he ought; and I have also to observe that in his latter undertakings he never succeeded. Perhaps such was the will of Heaven, his reward being reserved for another place; for he was a good cavalier, and very devout to the Holy Virgin, and also to St. Paul and other Holy Saints. God pardon him his sins, and me mine; and give me a good end, which is better than all conquests and victories over Indians.  11
 
Of Divine Aid in the Battle of Santa Maria de la Vitoria

  IN his account of this action, Gomara says that previous to the arrival of the main body of the cavalry under Cortés, Francisco de Morla appeared in the field upon a gray dappled horse, and that it was one of the holy Apostles, St. Peter or St. Jago, disguised under his person. I say that all our works and victories are guided by the hand of our Lord Jesus Christ, and that in this battle there were so many enemies to every one of us, that they could have buried us under the dust they could have held in their hands, but that the great mercy of God aided us throughout. What Gomara asserts might be the case, and I, sinner as I am, was not worthy to be permitted to see it. What I did see was Francisco de Morla, riding in company with Cortés and the rest upon a chestnut horse; and that circumstance and all the others of that day appear to me, at this moment that I am writing, as if actually passing in view of these sinful eyes. But although I, unworthy sinner that I am, was unfit to behold either of those holy Apostles, upwards of four hundred of us were present: let their testimony be taken. Let inquiry also be made how it happened that when the town was founded on that spot, it was not named after one or other of those holy Apostles, and called St. Jago de la Vitoria, or St. Pedro de la Vitoria, as it was Santa Maria, and a church erected and dedicated to one of those holy saints. Very bad Christians were we indeed, according to the account of Gomara, who, when God sent us his Apostles to fight at our head, did not every day after acknowledge and return thanks for so great a mercy! Would to heaven that it were so; but until I read the chronicle of Gomara I never heard of it, nor was it ever mentioned amongst the conquerors who were then present.
  12
 
Cortés Destroys Certain Idols

  THERE was on the island of Cozumel a temple, and some hideous idols, to which all the Indians of the neighboring districts used to go frequently in solemn procession…. Cortés summoned all the caciques and chief persons to come to him, and as well as he could, by signs and interpretations, explained to them that the idols which they worshiped were not gods, but evil things which would draw their souls down to hell, and that if they wished to remain in a brotherly connection with us, they must pull them down and place in their stead the crucifix of our Lord, by whose assistance they would obtain good harvests and the salvation of their souls; with many other good and holy reasons, which he expressed very well. The priests and chiefs replied that they worshiped these gods as their ancestors had done, because they were kind to them; and that if we attempted to molest them, the gods would convince us of their power by destroying us in the sea. Cortés then ordered them to be prostrated, which we immediately did, rolling them down some steps. He next sent for lime, of which there was abundance in the place, and Indian masons, by whom under our direction a very handsome altar was constructed, whereon we placed an image of the Holy Virgin; and the carpenters having made a crucifix, which was erected in a small chapel close to the altar, mass was said by the Reverend Father Juan Diaz, and listened to by the priests, chiefs, and the rest of the natives, with great attention.
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