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Hernando Cortez

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In the year of 1504, at the small country town of Medellin, in Spain, there lived an idle, dissolute youth oí se venteen, who was the torment Of I nis parents, and the leader of all the i mischief going on in that neighborhood. His parents were of the highest respectability, though reduced in eircumstances, and they had given their son the best education within their rpeans. During his infancy and childhood.he had been so sickly that no one expected that he wou]d live to mature age; but as he grew older he grew stronger, and at seventeen he was a man of stature, and sufficiently robust. He was then at home, having lef t the college of Salamanca without. permission, and was passing his time in dissipation, reeardless of the remonstrances of his father and the entreaties of hismother. when, therefore, he declared his intention of sailing for America, the good people of Medellin were not sorry to hear it. His father had in tended him for the legal profession, which the youth disdained. Ne career attracted him except one of adventure in the New World, which had been discovered ten years before. He was only nineteen when he took passage in a inerchant vessel, and, af ter a most tempestuous passage, reached Hispandolu. then ihe seat of Spanlsh power in America. He was at that time a very handsome young man, graceful, selí-confident, a superior horseman and swordsman,aud highly accomplished in all warlike exereises. On leaving the ship, he went at once to the house of the governor, a friend of his family. The governor being absent on an expeditknChis secretary received Cortez with politeness, and, by way of encouraging a new comer, assured him that the governor, upon his return, would doubtlesl allot to him a liberal tract of land. "Land!" said Cortez. "1 come to find gold, not to plough the ground like a peasant." Nevertheless, when the governor offered him a portion of land and a number of Indians as slaves, there Deing nothing better to take at the time, Cortez accepted them, and became a planter. ïhe governor also named him notary of the town, an office of some little emolument. Without entirely neglecting his business, ie now resumed his dissolute habits. After seven years of alife like this, he joined the force destined to the conquest of Cuba uiider Velasquez, and displayed in that affair, so much dash, aotivity, courage and gayety, that he became a favorite with Velasquez, who nained him secretary. This friendship was soon changed into fierce hostility. Cortez had given a promise of marriageto a young lady, which he was not inclined to keep. Governor Velasquez iasisted on his Eulliüing the promise. Cortez, angry at this mterference with his pWsures, joined himself to the enemie3 of Vtlasquez, and prepared to go to Spain to intrigue for liis recall. ïhe govemor, discovering the plot, arrested Cortez, md would have hSBged him. it is s;u'd. mt for the intercession of friends. He ,hrew him intopiison, and catised him o be chained. Twice Cortez escaped, and was twice recaptured, and at engtli wa3 glad eaough to accept his liberty on condition of marrying the girl. The governor endowed the young couple with an extensivo tract of land in Cub;i, and a large number of ludians. Being now a uiwried man, he carried on his plantation with great vigor, imported cattle f rom Spain, and raised better crops than his neighbors. Gold having been discovered upon his land he kept many of his Indians at work inmining it, and gradually became a man of wealth. He is said to have been a hard taskmaster. In such labors his life passed until he was thirty-three years of age, and there was no prospect, at that time, of bis ever emerging from obscurity. So far as we know, he expected to live and die a planter and miner. But in 1518 there returned to Santiago (Chili), after an absence of several weeks a sniall neet which Velasquez had sent out to explore the coasts of the adjacent continent. Tliis fleet brought wonderful and most thtilling intelligence. Mexico had been discov ered ;- a land inhabited, not by poor and ignorant savages, but by a people considerably civilizad, who possessed spacious and costly ediíices, temples, rich garnientíí, ornmnents of gold; a people too, who were ruled by a poweii'ul monarch, with a discipliued army, and yet were so debased by superstition as to appeasetlie imaginary wrath of their idols by saciitices of human beings. How all this appealed at once to the cupidity and religious zeal ot the Spaniai'is, can be imagined by those who know anything of the charter of the Spaniards of that day. Governor Velatquez proceedod immediately to oiganize an expedition for the settleruent and conversión of Mexico There were two things wauting- money, and a man fit to command such an enïerprise. On looking around the governor thought he saw in Hernando Cortez a man rich enough to defray, in a great pait, the expense of the expedition, and eudowed with the requisite energy and talents to eouduct it. He sent for Cortez, revealed the project to him, and offered him the command. Cortez f.ccepted it, and agreed to embark his fortune in the enterprise. Six large vessel8 were speedily equipped, and three hnndred men eagerly volunteeret to follow a leader already known for his courage aud skill' The orders given by Velasquez to the comroamler of the expedition enjoined it upon him to deal gently and liberally with the Mexicans, since the grand objects in view were, flrst, and ab'ove all. to convert them to Christianity ; secondly, toopen with them a peacefül, honest commerce ; and, lastly, to get such a knowledge of the country and lts waters as woulu be oí use to future navigators. He was directed, however to impress upon the Mexicans a lofty idea ofthe goodnef-s and greatness of the King of Spain, lo invite them to coiudlilate that monarch by presents of gold and pearls, and acknowledge hini as tlieir sovereign lord. When the fleet was ready to sail, Velasquez awoke to the danger of trusting with an important, independent command, a man so ambitious and resolute as Cortez, and he determined to remove h:m. Cortez, notifled in tim, liurried on board, raised his anchors, and put to sea ; so that when Velasquez ran down to the beach at the dawn of day, ííovember 18, 1518, to execute his inteniions, he saw the fleet standing out to sea, beyond the reach of his orders. Touching at several places on his wav for recruits.Cortez found hiinself, five nionths af ter, near the port now named Vera Cruz, with one hundred and ten sailors, live hundred and fiftythree soldier, and two hundred Indians, fourteen pieces of artillery, and sixteen horses. Disembarking he establishcd himself in an entrenched cinup, and opened relations with the Cacique of the district, who treated the strangers with the utmost hospitality. Their first interview began with the celebration of the Mass, alter which Cortez invited the Cacique and his attendants to a eollation. which, being ended, conversation began. Having leamed frota the Cacique that Montezuma, the king of the country, resided at a great city two hundred miles distant, Cortez asked jerniission to visit him, to which the Cacique replied that he would send his requast to the king. A week af ter the messeugersreturned, bearing to the Spaniards magnificent presents, and a message from Montezuma, declining the proffered visit. A second request elicited other costly gifts, and a positive order from the king for the strangers not to approach the capital. Cortez hesitated not a moment. Feigning submission, he prepared at once to mareh to Mexico. Some of his followers, however, not as bold as himself, murmured, and plotted against him. Then it was that, besides repressing the mutiny with the strong hand, he resolved to make all turning back impossible. He caused all his vessels, except the smallest, to be scuttled and sunk. From that hour, there was no safety except in the total conquest of the country. Leaving at Vera Cruz a sufiícient garrison, he began his immortal march, August 16, 1519, with the following forces: - four hundred foot soldiers, flfteen horsemen, thirteen hundred Indian warriors, one thousand Indians to draw the cannons and carry the baggage and seven pieces of artillery. To relate the conquest of Mexico requires volumes. That great empire feil, like Peru, because it was divided against itself. At what an enormous sacriflce of life the conquest was made, what perils Cortez escaped, what an amazing energy and genius he displayed, ho-v much wisdom and hunaanity were united in him with bigotry and cruelty - to know these things, ;he reader raust repair to one of the many works which relate the conquest ol!Mexico. F or twenty-one years, if we deduct one short, triumphal visit to Spain, ortez lived in Mexico, and f or Mexico, ighting, organizing, governing explorng, evangelizing. He explored the [sthmus of Darien, and discovered California. He aequired incalculable wealth, and expended the greater part of it in explorations and establishments, from which he neither received nor expected auy return. Falling into disfavor with the kiug, he returned to Spain, and, af ter living in obscurity for even years, died in 1547, aged sixtytwo years. He lef t large sums for the establishment in Mexico of three great nstitutions, a hospital, a college for :he education of missionaries, and a convent. His will contained one passage so curious that we will eonclude jy copying it. Af ter. recommending his heirs to treat the Indians with humanity. he proceeds thus:- "It has been long a question whether we can, in good conscience, hold the Indians in slavery. This question not having yet been deeided, I order my son, Martin, and his heirs, to spare no pains to arrive at a knowledge of the truth on tais point, f or it is a matter vvhich interests deeply their conscience and mine." Who would have thought to find such a passage in the will of Cortez ? Xothing is more certain than this, that Cortez, in all that he did in Mexico, fully believed that he was an instrument in the hands of a benevolent God ; for he found Mexico Pagan, and left it Catholic. Massacre rapiñe, devastation, the betrayal and murder of a king, the fall of an empire - these were as nothingin view of a result like thial So thought all good Spaniards of that age.


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