Page:Travels in Mexico and life among the Mexicans.djvu/265

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A RAMBLE AROUND THE CITY.

with the demands of the times. A magnificent building has just been repaired, and in a measure reconstructed, for the reception of one hundred thousand or more volumes, which are to constitute a national library, with such additions as the future may bring. The books are mostly the spoils from other convents and religious establishments, and though mainly of a character more suited to monks and recluses than to the student of to-day, yet there are many volumes of great rarity and value pertaining to the early history of this country. While upon this subject, I might remark that Mexico is yet full of old and rare religious books. In the book-stalls, which are daily erected around the great cathedral, and nightly taken away, I have often purchased odd works of forgotten, but once famous authors. The keepers of these temporary establishments are shrewd and well informed on the value of books, from a Mexican standpoint; but as they are mostly illiterate, and judge of the value of a book more by the eagerness of a customer than from the reports of trade sales or catalogues, they often sell for a mere song volumes worth their weight in silver.[1]

If this were only a dissertation on old books, I might go on describing treasures that would make a bibliophile's eyes water; but as my object is merely to show my readers how they may see Mexico and its possessions to the best advantage, I repress this inclination to indulge in a favorite vanity.

Of old houses there are many about which the antiquary and the artist might love to linger. Perhaps that one in which Humboldt dwelt while here, in the Calle San Augustin, is sought out most persistently. It is made conspicuous by an inscription over the door. Humboldt, as one writer has well remarked, is indeed an honorary citizen of the capital, and achieved more for Mexican independence with his pen than many others combined with the sword. Coming up from South America, he landed on Mexican soil in March, 1803, and remained a year in the country. Though he only visited such points as were of easy access from the capital, he nevertheless so

  1. A few old works, brought home by the author, are now in the Public Library of Boston.