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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 29/July 1886/Correspondence

< Popular Science Monthly‎ | Volume 29‎ | July 1886



Messrs. Editors:

I HAVE read with interest the article under the above title published by Mr. David A. Wells in the April "Popular Science Monthly," and, while I admire in it the author's smoothness and facility of style, I can not afford, as a Mexican, to let it pass without at least pointing out some of its many inaccuracies in regard to history and current facts.

It does not require great acuteness of mind to perceive, prima facie, that, in preparing his article, Mr. Wells has been mere careful to pick out the best way of showing his predisposition against Mexico, than to make an accurate representation of things as they really are, and as they have been narrated by more competent and judicious persons. I am far from affirming that all the assertions of Mr. Wells are equally deficient in justice and truth, but I do hold that in no instance do we see him disposed to point out our good things among the countless bad ones he so eagerly mentions.

If I were to review Mr. Wells's "Economic Study of Mexico," I should begin by saying that while he thinks that "the majority of those who in recent years have visited that country would seem to have brought to their eyes the power of seeing little else than the picturesque side of things," I believe that he has exerted his powers of vision to see nothing else than the gloomy side of them, for so it must appear to everybody conversant with our modern history who may peruse the "Economic Study of Mexico."

According to Mr. Wells's notions, Mexico is one of the most stupid, the most insecure, the poorest, the most arid, the most miserable countries of our planet, and all candid readers who may be pleased to read his thrilling descriptions might think that they are the product of long, careful study and extensive travels, and not of a rapid pleasure trip along the Mexican Central and National Railroads. But to the thoughtful and intelligent reader it will rather appear a ridiculous pretension to try to demolish, with such an imperfect and unqualified knowledge, all that thoroughly competent men have written in regard to the immense natural resources of this country. It may be admitted that Mexico, as a nation, is poor, but as a country it may be classed among the richest in the world, despite the efforts of Mr. Wells to establish the contrary. Has Mr. Wells ever read the writings of Humboldt, Burckhardt, Egloffstein, and many others, about the wonderful natural richness of this country? Has he ever consulted the official statistics and reports? I think not, or else he enforces with his example the truth of that old saying that "the most blind is the one who does not want to see"; or perhaps Mr. Wells, considering himself the ne plus ultra in matters of authority, will emphatically assert that the writings of those great men are mere stories, destitute of all value, or, as he says of the historic writings of Mr. Prescott, are nothing more than "charming romances." It is very easy to dispose of authorities in this peculiar way of Mr. Wells, but the real damage inflicted by so doing is scarcely greater than that which would result if I were to try to stop the course of the sun with my hand.

It is very striking to see Mr. Wells completely disregarding our natural resources, especially our mines. In a period of one hundred and ten years (1690-1800) of the colonial epoch the mines of Mexico produced, in gold and silver, the sum of $1,499,435,898.[1] The pure mines of Guanajuato produced in a period of forty years (1766-1808) the respectable amount of $165,002,145;[2] and the Valenciana mine alone yielded from 1766 to 1826, in round numbers, the sum of $226,000,000.[3] Next in importance is the Zacatecas district, which, according to respectable authorities, produced, from 1548 to 1883, the astonishing sum of $1,000,000,000. But it would be an endless task to pursue our investigations about the many other mining districts of our country which also have yielded immense quantities of silver and gold; and what we have said of Guanajuato and Zacatecas surely will be sufficient to give an idea of the importance of our mines.

Our agriculture, it is true, has not been rightly developed, partly on account of the many revolutions we have had in past years, and partly on account of the fact that our attention is chiefly directed to the mining industries; yet we produce enough wheat, maize, beans, coffee, sugar, etc., for our consumption, and have a regular surplus for exportation. But even if we did not produce a single grain, on account of the imperfect development of our agriculture the argument would be a very poor one to brandish against the fact that our soil is rich and exuberant.

On account of the same revolutionary state of the country from the epoch of independence till eight years ago, our highways have been somewhat insecure, especially those more distant from centers of population, but never to the extent asserted by Mr. Wells; and at present I am sure that, in this respect, we are no worse than the United States or any other of the nations called civilized.

It has been always the practice of Americans to despise and abuse Mexicans (of course there are many honorable exceptions to the rule) whenever it was possible to do so, as I had occasion to notice during nearly two years that I lived in San Francisco, California. This, I believe, is a mere question of race, but it none the less awakens a feeling of antagonism, at least among the un-educated classes of Mexicans. The ex-minister to Mexico, Mr. John W. Foster, was not an exception to the rule of what I have said, when he wrote to the merchants of Chicago the exaggerated report to which Mr. Wells alludes. When that memorable piece of Mr. Foster's literary ability was published in the journals of Chicago, ex-deputy Martinez Negrete, of this country, had just arrived in that city, on his return from the Exhibition at Paris in 1878. As soon as he read the unfair communication of Mr. Foster, he made a very patriotic and energetic reply, and published it in one of the evening journals of that city, waiting there for results several days. The fact that there was never an argument adduced against our deputy's article, proved conclusively the lack of truth in Mr. Foster's malicious report. Señor Martinez Negrete, in showing at that time that there were robberies in the United States as well as in Mexico or other countries, among other things pointed out the recent and scandalous fact of the stealing of A. T. Stewart's corpse from the tomb, an event the parallel of which never has occurred in Mexico.

Now let us hear Mr. Wells discourse about the ancient civilization of Mexico: "The general idea is, that the people whom the Spaniards found in Mexico had attained to a degree of civilization that raised them far above the level of the average Indians of North America, more especially in all that pertained to government, architecture, agriculture, manufactures, and the useful arts, and the production and accumulation of property. For all this there is certainly but very little foundation, and the fascinating narrations of Prescott, which have done so much to make what is popularly considered 'Mexican history,' as well as the Spanish chronicles from which Prescott drew his so-called historic data, are, in the opinion of the writer, and with the exception of the military records of the Spaniards, little other than the merest romance, not much more worthy, in fact, of respect and credence, than the equally fascinating stories of 'Sindbad the Sailor.'" Who could refrain from laughing at such a pompous and presumptuous way of dealing-with historic matters? Perhaps Mr. Wells blames Mr. Prescott for not having drawn the materials for the "History of the Conquest of Mexico" from the annals of China or Japan. . . . But the most curious thing about Mr. Wells is the boldness with which he rejects the Spanish chronicles and the writings of Prescott without offering any better authority to upset them; he may be a man of unlimited knowledge, but we refuse to adopt him as the standard authority in the "History of Mexico," for which refusal, I am sure, the sensible world will justify us. If Mr. Wells has not learned anything about the advanced civilization of the ancient empires and kingdoms of Mexico, we advise him to read the famous historic writings of Clavijero, Las Casas, Alaman, Orozcoy Berra, and others, and the no less important archaeological and philological works of Chavero and Pimentel. There he will find ample evidence of the Indian civilization which he denies now without proof. The facts narrated by the writers cited have been widely illustrated and proved by the majestic and highly interesting ruins of Uxmal, Mitla, Magdalena, and several other places, in the States of Yucatan, Oaxaca, Pueblo, and Sonora, which have attracted so much attention and study from national and foreign archæologists.

From all that I have said it is clearly seen that Mr. Wells has been very hasty and unscrupulous in his article with which he tried to take the public by surprise; but I can assure the readers of the "Monthly" that, if there is any economy in Mr. Wells's "Economic Study of Mexico," it is to be found in the amount of truth comprised in the narrations which it contains.

P. F. Mange.
Alámos, Sonora, Mexico, May 5, 1886.

  1. Humboldt, "Political Essay on New Spain" vol. ii. p 91. v
  2. Ibid.
  3. Dahlgren, "Historic Mines of Mexico," p. 38. Ibid.