Book Report

Mexico and its Religion

Mexico and its Religion, (with incidents of travel in that country during parts of the years 1861-52 53-54, and Historical Notices of Events Connected with Places Visited).  Harper Brothers Publications. 1855. Available as an e-book. IPad. Free, as it’s out of copyright.

Well, writing books was different in 1855.

This is not a book to be read straight through.  I read and reread parts, and then hop-skipped through chapters, following one idea after another. This may be the best way, as I couldn’t really figure out the author’s method of organization, only that except for meanderings away from the subject, most of this book follows the author’s trip and what he learned as he traveled.

mxrel.jpgHowever, I did find it a fascinating and valuable book, useful for anyone wishing to read opinions and history that were written at the time that the news was current. That makes it a kind of journalism. I skimmed, located and read whatever intrigued me, and found bits of general knowledge interspersed with anecdotes of Mexican history, as well as many nuggets about Baja and California history that I had never learned before.  Is it fair to assume these bits of information may be the “real story?

In the preface, the author states his purpose (and a little about his organization or lack of). He tells us that mingling popular (of that era), historical descriptions with his own personal opinions of historical events was not the fashion in his time.

So, I will follow his lead, and beg my reader’s indulgences for my own choices.  I picked some of the most colorful parts of this extensive and historical book that I found particularly unique and interesting. The author has written travel notes on all places he’s visited, and he made attempts to follow other published opinions and claims, trying, in his own way, to separate fables from history.  Reading the book was great fun, and I do believe there is a valid place for both fable and history.

Some of the topics below, along with many others, are examples of the information you may find in more than one place in this book: stories of Cortez (written about in many sections). This includes letters by Cortez. Much is also written about Mining…places and practices, and reports (timely for Loreto today).  Then he skips back to the Inquisition, the Jesuits,  yellow fever, slave ships, buccaneers and pirates, Santa Anna “…a man of whom truth is seldom spoken”, Aztecs, Bernal Diaz, the conquest, the pearl industry when Mexico was the most important country for pearls, and everyone had pearls and wore them.

The author also talks about superstitions and worship, a description of the superiority of the Californias, the missions, the legend of the virgin of Guadalupe, the virgin of remedies, (healing powers), malinche, and other legends. Mexican millionaires (of that time), were covered,  women’s rights, and descriptions of the different orders that came to Baja to spread Christianity. 

Digging into many of these widely diverse subjects helps give the reader a different perspective and a window on the Mexico of that era. The author never spares us his own viewpoint and opinions.

He extolls the beauty of women and says they enjoy gaming days and find the nights much too short.  The Mexican costume, according to Wilson is made of “silks, precious stones, and waistcoats with skirts laced in gold and silver, and no sleeves. This clothing is of great price, with pearls and gold knots, and networks of silk”. I am skeptical that the poorer working classes in Mexico were dressed in this way.

 Many statements of facts are included in this book, and these often just brought more questions to me.  I found myself wishing I could pull Wilson out of his era, ask him to time travel, and come to my book shop in Loreto, sit down for coffee, and compare and contrast what he saw then with today’s Mexico.

I thought it interesting that early in the book, he agrees with those who called all historians who write about the Conquest of Mexico liars.  He had a ready answer to why fables are passed as history, saying that the inquisition controlled all printing offices in Spain and the colonies, and that they toed the party line of the Christian Cortez.  Cortez gratified the then current national taste for holy wars and because of authors like Robert Wilson, Cortez went down in history as a Christian hero.

To make any research based on this book, a bit easier, the reader should make good use of his footnotes. Whenever you find a subject that interests you, you will need to check all the other places in the book where you may also find it.

I Googled the author’s name for more information, and it was the first time Google has let me down. There are many Robert Wilsons, and a few born and/or published in the 1900s, but I have an idea that the Robert A. Wilson who wrote this book may have been Robert Anton Wilson. I do not know about other books he’s written, and there was no personal information about him.

I truly believe there is something for everyone in this unique book, as it is our history but as it was perceived by someone who was living in that era. But the facts and anecdotes, and nuggets of his opinions are totally entertainment.  ,

This ebook is available on Amazon (collectible for a price), and on Ipad, free.  The book is well worth browsing and adding to your Baja library.