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Page:The despatches of Hernando Cortes.djvu/19

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The conquest of Mexico by Hernando Cortes, at the head of a few hundred Spaniards, forms one of those romantic episodes in history that give color to the saying, that "truth is stranger than fiction.", Whether we regard the temerity of the undertaking, of which a signal example is afforded in the voluntary destruction of the ships that had conveyed the conquerors to the Mexican coast, for the purpose of cutting off all hope of retreat; or the chivalric spirit with which they met the perils that surrounded them at every step of their progress, or the brilliant results that finally crowned their exertions, this enterprise in point of strange and wonderful adventure, and we may add of high military achievement, is wholly without a parallel in ancient or modern times. Like all conquests in war, it was doubtless stained by acts of gross injustice and cruelty towards the conquered, for which no substantial justification can be alleged. Some palliation may be sought, however, in the spirit of the age, which not only excused but commended the summary destruction of the enemies of the Christian faith wherever they might be found. This spirit formed a deep infusion in the character of the Spanish hidalgos who were engaged in the discovery of the Indies, (as the New World was then styled,) of which Columbus himself was a memorable example; and the reader of the following despatches from the conqueror of Mexico to his sovereign, will be struck by the religious feeling every where displayed, which gives to his expedition quite as much the air of a crusade against infidel pagans, as of an attempt to enlarge the dominions and increase the wealth of his Catholic Majesty. The sincerity of Cortes in these professions of zeal for the spread of the "true faith," is