Mexicans Great Eaters
Before leaving this interesting family, I think it best here to put down a few general remarks, which at different times I mem’d down.
All without exception were great and even gross eaters. I am sure no British Marquis or Marchioness or their children exists, who would not within themselves envy our nobility the keenness of their appetite and the zest with which the[y] partook of their various meals. From the time they got up to the time they went to rest, they were almost constantly at it. And first breakfast. Both father & Mother & sons eat soup & meat with beans & oil, tea, coffee, bread & butter for breakfast – then at 12 a pretty solid lunch – next at three a very large dinner, comprehending in general a tasting of every dish at table, fish., soup, poultry & beef, followed by a variety of preserves – fruit – plum pudding & liqueurs. Very little account was made of tea, but to make up for that there was a solid supper at 8, after prayers, which was always concluded with dolces (sweets) or presents. No wonder then that occasionally the stomach got disordered, and physic required to be taken. It is inconceivable the vast quantity of sweetmeats which was consumed among so small a party. Often a 4 lb Jar has hardly sufficed for one day, helped out though it were by 3 or 4 boxes of marmalade with biscchos (biscuits) & liqueurs. From this cause I suppose as much as any thing else, the teeth of all the ladies were bad, which greatly disfigured their countenances.
I have already remarked the voracity of the Mexicans at table, when speaking of those we carried but far be it from me to give you the impression that our present party were at all like these nasty disgusting animals. On the contrary they were remarkably clean & particular in changing their plate, and in no company would they forfeit the characters of being considered in England well bred people, well acquainted with all the biensances of good society.
The Mexicans are certainly very indolent in all ranks of society. Seldom did our gents promenade the deck – and as to our ladies they seemed to be fixtures as much as the chairs the occupied, & which were lashed to prevent their falling away. Nor did they ever amuse themselves with work, but were content to rest in complete inactivity, either absorbed in their own thoughts, or thinking upon nothing at all at all. They wore no caps or bonnets but generally had a silk handkerchief wrapped round their heads after a very neat fashion. They told us they could not bear to have their hair so confined & chose to run the risk of taking cold, to prevent it by adopting such restraints.
All the gents were otherwise very much averse to the use of hats or caps. The old Marquis generally wore a white flannel “night cap.” His friend Santa Maria, a similar one of red figured stuff, the two boys, if we would let them would have preferred their white cotton caps de nuit to their new white hats.
Making every possible allowance, and indulgence, still it is impossible to witness the notation of delicacy, as established among us, which the Mexican ladies so frequently exhibit. What modest English woman, for instance, under the influence of sea sickness, would allow a pot de chambre to be brought to her in presence of all & everyone for the same purpose which a wash hand basin would answer perfectly well, if not better. Yet this – and even more than this – the Mexican ladies would do, not I verily believe from a contempt for our vulgar prejudice & false notions, but in reality because they do not connect with the above mentioned indispensable utensil those ideas of shame which we attach to the public exhibition & use of it in any shape. Frequently no less than 6 or 7 were in requisition at the same time – and it was really laughable to observe the pretended wry faces, which jack made when called upon to bring or remove the utensils. To us it matters not whether they be made of china, earthenware or silver – still the idea of immodesty is inseparable from their view. If the excellence of the material indeed could have altered the character of the exhibition, then would those of our party never have raised a blush on the cheek of our modest females. For believe it, ye lovers of gold & silver, most of them were made of solid silver plain & unadorned, & rudely formed to the well known shape. Two of them were indeed of silver [plate] – but these were for the use of the servants. To make such utensils of so precious a material does at first sight appear to be most preposterous, as an abuse of what we would be pleased to call its legitimate object was a debasement of its high value by applying it to a purpose so mean. But in reality neither was the case. In a country where a china or earthenware [utensil] is not manufactured but imported, articles of that kind are so excessively dear, that when you take into consideration their extreme liability to be broken & the heavy expense of replacing them, you will at once see that to be possessed of silver utensils will ultimately prove the cheapest mode. Besides should any cause occur to render it necessary to raise the wind what can be better for that purpose than to sell such articles for silver [is] a metal whose intrinsic value, according to weight, never varies.
Whether the plan was adopted for a time on board, or whether it was their general custom, but I observed that the Mexican children were not kept under the same restraint or at the same distance as ours are. Those belonging to our party in every thing were on an equal footing with us all. They breakfasted & dined at the same table. They were asked what they would have, and received what they asked for. There was no stint or correction at all. In conversation they joined as freely as their elders – and never were silent for half an hour together. To this cause then I must look for account for the circumstance which struck me so much at first – that in their behaviour & manners, they seemed to act the part of little women to admiration. In fact they were perfect miniature copies of their seniors. They spoke, they questioned, they twirled their fans, and did every thing in exact imitation of their mothers and their friends. To look at them attentively, you would fancy that you saw before you a number of those dwarfish women, who are exhibited at home for money! Not that they [are] always so grave and sedate and despised of the childish amusements of European girls. Far from it. Apart from their studied behaviour, they were [the] merriest children on the face of the earth – laughing, talking & romping with all the glee in the world. No wonder then that girls of 14 a enter the holy state of matrimony, seeing from their very childhood their whole study has been to ape the airs & demeanour of womanhood. But, notwithstanding, no tuition & no imitation will ever be sufficient to communicate to a girl of that early age the feelings, the principles, & the sedate habits of consideration which are inseparable from the due support of the character of a matron – the mother of a family – the guide & the instructress of her children.
I shall now take leave of the Marquis and his children & turn me now to some of our other passengers
Senor Santa Maria
Senor Santa Maria was the intimate friend of General Moran. He was also the cavaliere serviente of the Marchioness in the strictest sense of the Italian phraseology. He was at her service night & day. Never did she apply to her husband but always to Santa Maria. This might be all very well, according to Mexican notions, which considered that since these gentlemen were like two brothers, it was but a sign of fraternal regard for the one to pay what attention was in his power to the wife of the other – but to our ideas, there was something extremely improper in the exclusiveness of Santa Maria to the lady. But let that pass.
Senor Santa Maria was as I believe a Mexican – at least from what he told me himself, he had been one of the Ministers of government – & had advocated in that capacity certain measures which were not quite agreeable to the President and his partisans. He had also been the Mexican Minister to the republic of Columbia and seemed well acquainted with that country. Santa Maria spoke English very well indeed – and French like a native. He had spent several years in England and in France, whether for his own pleasure or because his enemies civilly desired his absence, where his presence was so dangerous, I know not, for he himself completely abstained from saying any thing on the subject. That his present trip was involuntary I well know from hearing him say so – but I question whether he had use[d] the ceremony of asking permission to travel, because he came on board of us in a quiet way, and under a fictitious name.
I do not wonder that the political enemies of Santa Maria should wish him at Jerusalem or Jericho – in short any where than where he could employ his great talents to their discomfiture. He was really a very superior character. His education had been of a general nature, and the opportunities of instruction had not been let slip unimproved. He was a true devotee of the classics – and would quote freely & to the purpose. He was intimately acquainted with English, French, Italian & Spanish literature. He always travelled with a choice collection of books, among which by the bye I observed many on political economy & the sciences of government, shewing that he had studied the important subject, and drawn [on] the subjects for the display of his own legislative powers from the most approved authors in various languages.
He and I often used to converse & to reciprocate our ideas on various subjects. We travelled over a considerable extent of the literary field, and made our remarks on our different writers with a unanimity of opinion that was highly pleasing to me. Whilst on the subject of Logic & Belles Lettres we had occasion to mention Blair’s lectures. This led him to mention that he had translated & published for the benefit of the Mexicans, Blair’s Sermons, which he considered equally applicable to the Protestant & the Catholic – and moreover he had already disposed of several impressions. He showed me at the same [time] 6 of the sermons, very nicely printed & on good paper. Of their accuracy I am not qualified to judge, but from [what] I saw of Santa Maria, I should consider him to be a very competent hand.
Senor Santa Maria was a complete contrast to his countrymen in his habits and modes of thinking. He knew and observed as well as we did all the civilities & delicacies of the table. Our customs were perfectly familiar and seemed to be preferred by him. He was a very modest eater – and like the rest of his countrymen very temperate in his drinking. The manners of the gentleman such as [we] picture to belong to that character – sat as easy and natural upon him as if he had been all his life accustomed to no other. His address was pleasing – his language choice & polite – indeed more choice than you generally find to be used by most Englishmen – a circumstance which has probably arisen from his having been obliged to study the language with great care and attention, and his constant customs of reading our best authors.
The conversation sometimes turned on the topic of religion, when M.r Santa Maria would point out to us his opinions. These were at best rather lax. He professed to be a Catholic – but not a bigoted one. He believed all good Christians, of whatever sect or denomination, would go to heaven. He denied the infallibility of the Pope, and refused to acknowledge him in any other light than as the Spiritual Head of the Church, to the complete exclusion of his interferences with temporal & political concerns of any other country, over which he is entitled to exercise a temporal power, viz. his own peculiar territories. Santa Maria, in conjunction with other Ministers strenuously exerted themselves to prevent the induction of a Bishop, appointed solely by the Holy Father himself – and they eventually succeeded, declaring that if the Court of Rome would not consent to be satisfied with fixing upon one out of 3 or 4 names which the Mexicans would themselves recommend, that then & in that case they would separate in toto from that Church, and set up one in their country. The reason assigned for this unparalleled audacity and resistance to papal claims seems to be perfectly satisfactory to us Protestants. Granting that the Pope should be allowed to appoint a Bishop, it is almost certain that he would choose some Italian or Spaniard ignorant of the country – a stranger to manners, customs – opinions and prejudices of the people to be committed to his pastoral charge – & whose only claim to the high & sacred Office is grounded upon personal friendship or interest or money. And what would be the consequence. The Bishop would [be] useless, nay worse than useless – as to any benefit to be derived from his sacerdotal duties – & then continual jealousies & heart burnings would as certainly follow between him and the native ministers of religion whom he might despise or try to rule with the rod of a despot. Whereas according to Santa Maria’s plan, one man of the number proposed by the Mexican government, being selected, he would be best adapted to discharge the duties of his station and to supply the wants of his flock, knowing as he should what those wants are.
The Pope having been foiled in his endeavour to appoint as well as to consecrate the Bishop for Mexico, cunningly in order to probe the temper of the Government, sent to Mexico an Italian with the title of General Superintendent of Convents and other religious establishments. This ruse failed likewise – and it was determined to crush his hopes at once by firmly refusing to admit under any title or appellation whatever, any person who should be sent direct from him, & without the privity or consent of the Government – even tho’ the ostensible duties of that person were purely religious. The Mexicans looked to the principle of the act, not to the act itself. They considered that in one instance to acknowledge His Holiness’s power of his authority to appoint Men to act in a religious capacity would be virtually to acknowledge his right to appoint in the more important matters, involving even their civil polity and internal administration.
I was much pleased one day with conversation which was held one day. The subject was improvement of the people in learning & knowledge – the gradual abolition abatement of religious prejudices, and the happy signs of a spirit of elevation among all ranks. Santa Maria mentioned that within the last 20 or 30 years, a most wonderful alteration had been witnesses by himself among his countrymen. Previous to that, the most absurd notions were universal, respecting the English. They were said to be heretics – not believing in Christ – nor in the Father or Holy Ghost – & last not least in the Saints. They were held out as appointed to eternal damnation, and that a free intercourse with them would be prejudicial to their own souls & bodies. Nay the common people were so ignorant as to believe the tales made current by the priests that Englishmen like the monkeys were furnished with tails. Hence, when our countrymen first came to the country in pursuit of commercial speculation, their lives were often endangered by the prejudices of the people – & not a few were assassinated. Now a-days, after a long residence & intimate connection with the Mexicans, the scale of opinion has been turned to the opposite side – in their favour. The falsity of the reports respecting their religion and their manners has been proved & what remained to conciliate good will & a more liberal feeling, was accomplished by the benefits conferred by the manufactures & commerce – their upright character as merchants – their excellent conduct in private life, and by a more true confiding intercourse in all the relations of social life. And thus there is great room to hope that in the progress of time, information & general knowledge will be so spread abroad, that the baneful influence of national & religious prejudices will disappear, and each nation strive with the other in acts of friendship, & in political harmony.