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torical events that occurred ages and ages ago, and which have reached us in the guise of myths and misty traditions.
As to the late Abbé Brasseur, I cannot claim the honor of having been personally acquainted with him, but among my friends and acquaintances in Yucatan and British Honduras several have known him intimately when he was residing in those countries. All agree that he understood and spoke Maya and could converse freely with the natives.
The late Dn. Juan Villanueva, a well-known lawyer in Merida, when in 1873 I made his acquaintance, was acknowledged by his countrymen to be one of the best Maya scholars in the country. He gave Brasseur his first lessons in that language, and was proud of his pupil, who, he said, learned it very rapidly. Dn. Juan now sleeps that sleep that knows no waking; but I can testify to what he told me. Many, however, are still living who were intimately acquainted with the learned Abbé, and who have also assured me that he had a fair knowledge of the language. Among these I may mention my esteemed friend the Right Rev. Dr. Dn. Crecencio Carillo y Ancona, now bishop of Yucatan, himself a student and a thorough Maya scholar ; also Dn. Vicente Solis de Leon, owner of the hacienda of X-Canchakan, a government engineer; Dn. Rafael Regil y Peon, a wealthy merchant and landed gentleman; Dn. José Tiburcio Cervera, a planter, owner of the lands on which the ruins of the ancient city of Labnaa are situated. All these gentlemen are well-known citizens of Merida, who have imbibed Maya with their nurses' milk.
In Belize, Mr. Henry Trumback, a merchant, whose name is mentioned by Abbé Brasseur among those of the persons to whom he was indebted for information whilst acquiring data for the compilation of his Maya vocabulary ; Rev. John Anderson, a Baptist minister, author of a Maya and English, and English and Maya dictionary; and Rev. Father Pitar, superior of the Jesuit college in Belize, wherein dwelt the Abbé when in that city, have assured me, all and each one, in
, particular, that they had been well acquainted with the late Abbé Brasseur and that he knew the Maya language.
Let us hope that the testimony of such witnesses, and others whose names I could mention, will suffice to wipe off the slanderous aspersion with which Dr. Brinton has tried to tarnish the memory of a great scholar.
To Abbé Brasseur belongs the honor of having been the first to bring to public notice the existence, in our day, of ancient books of Maya origin, when in 1867 he placed on exhibition in the Exposition on the Champ de Mars, in Paris, some of the proof-sheets of the Troano MS., which was then being reproduced under his supervision.
In November, 1864, as a member of the “French Scientific Commission ” which went to Mexico under the auspices of the French Government, he landed in Yucatan, and at once set to work to study the Maya language under the tuition of our friend, the late Dn. Juan Villanueva, a great Maya scholar. He was unable to make a prolix study of the ruins of Uxmal on account of the many difficulties placed in his way by the Imperial Commissary.
On his return to Europe, he found in Madrid, in possession of Dn. Juan Tro y Ortelano, professor of palæography at the University, an original American manuscript, which at a glance he recognized as being written with characters analogous those he had seen on the edifices at Uxmal. He obtained from the owner not only the loan of the document for all the time he might need it for his study, but also permission to reproduce it. After reaching Paris the Abbé applied himself with ardor to the classification and deciphering of the characters and symbols contained in the manuscript, with the help of those handed down by Landa. In 1869 he published the result of his labors in his work, “Études sur le Système Graphique et la Langue Maya.” In it he announced that he had discovered, classified, and deciphered two hundred and thirty-three variants of the thirty-five alphabetic characters of Landa, and one hundred and forty-one variants of his twenty symbols of the days.
With this vast array of signs, the value of which he fancied he knew, and with his knowledge of the Maya language, he undertook the deciphering of the texts of the Maya book. He certainly was better qualified for the work than those who after him have attempted it, as proved by the results. Still, not only have they criticised his interpretations, without however offering better in their stead, but they have tried to belittle his labors, going so far as to assert that he had hindered for a long time the study of American palæography. Yet it may be asked, What have his critics done? Have they not made use of his works in their endeavors to find a clew to the meaning of these same texts? Have they not built a reputation for learning on the débris of his fame, and from his own materials, to which they have added not a single valuable particle? Do we not find them consulting his Maya and French vocabulary, and translating ancient characters and symbols by words of modern coinage, not to be found in old dictionaries, and that are unknown in the vernacular of the natives?
Brasseur's vocabulary is decidedly the work of a scholar. Were it mine I should be proud of it. It is a comparative study of Maya with ancient Greek and other languages, marred, however, by his having taken too great a license with the language, and having given explanations of ancient lore and traditions according to his own personal bias and preconceived ideas. Barring these blemishes, it is a most valuable work for students of Maya antiquities and of philology. So also is his French translation and rearrangement of Father Gabriel de San Buenaventura's “ Arte del Idioma Maya," which he transcribed from the copy in possession of my honored friend, Bishop Dn. Crecencio Carillo y Ancona.
Although his many scholarly attainments preëminently qualified him for the undertaking of the interpretation of the Maya texts, his great drawbacks were his preconceived opinions on the one hand, and a strange weakmindedness on the other. The first led him to see analogies and similitudes where none existed, and to launch into speculations and fancies unsupported by facts and lacking evidence; the second caused him to be influenced by criticisms of persons incapable, for want of the necessary knowledge, of judging of the accuracy or inaccuracy of his renderings; but who, in their dogmatic ignorance, presumed to jeer at the idea of the Troano MS. containing an account of earthquakes, of the subsidence of certain countries and the upheaval of others, of volcanic eruptions, of inundations and cyclones and other geological and meteorological phenomena, that either happened in the writer's time or a relation of which he had found in older works. Yet it is well known that all early chroniclers, speaking of the books found among the natives, state that some contained the events of their ancient history; that they had treatises on archæology, medicine, and other sciences; and why should not the Troano be one of these? Still he allowed himself to be persuaded, and
acknowledged (p. xxvii) in his “Bibliothèque México Guatémalienne précedée d'un coup d'oeil sur les Études Américaines,” that he had begun the reading of the Maya text at the wrong end; adding, however, that his translations were simply intended as were experiments. Could he answer from beyond the grave, I would ask him: “Abbé, how did you know, when you wrote this confession, that you were not mistaken again in making it? You had not learned then how to read the texts better than before; you did not even know it at the time of your demise. Friend,” I would tell him could he hear me, “you have been weak, and many have taken advantage of your weakness to ridicule you, and then place themselves where you ought to be, by making use of your own discoveries.”
It is evident that he had no reliance on his ability to wade through the intricacies of the Maya symbols and characters; and that he did not notice the clew, placed by the author of the Troano within reach of his readers, like another thread of Ariadne, to guide them out of the mazes of the labyrinth. So he took no heed of the red lines that divide the text into paragraphs, and mark to which part the illustrations correspond. He read the horizontal lines from end to end, mixing disconnected sentences of one paragraph with equally disconnected sentences of another, then beginning the reading of the perpendicular columns at the bottom instead of at the top; the results were, of course, what might naturally be expected—an incoherent jumble and senseless phrases.
He likewise interpreted literally the names of the symbols for the days, many of which he simply regarded as variants of the originals given by Landa, not reflecting that variation in the sign implied also variation in the meaning, and that many of the characters were composed of the elements of several