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Cities of Stone
Perhaps at the urging of Stephens, Catherwood left London to practice architecture in New York City, where he arrived in 1836. Here he found ample opportunity to exercise his skills, for the city had begun to grow rapidly as its eminence as a commercial center increased. Architecture was not Catherwood's only pursuit in America, however, for he had arrived with his panorama of Jerusalem in tow. In 1838, in partnership with one George Jackson, he became the owner of the only permanent panorama in the city. The circular exhibition building that the partners built at the corner of Prince and Mercer Streets, "covering an area of nearly ten thousand square feet," could exhibit a canvas nearly 350 feet long.
Stephens, who had sailed to New York at about the same time as Catherwood, was for his part not idle. Encouraged by the popular success of his articles in the American Monthly Magazine and by a meeting with James Harper of the Harper Brothers publishing house, he was busily engaged in researching and writing his first book. By May the work was being typeset, and advance excerpts were published in The Knickerbocker Magazine. The two-volume Incidents of Travel in Egypt, Arabia Petraea, and the Holy Land, by "An American," appeared in late summer of 1837. The entry in the Demarest catalogue of Harper Brothers publications reads, "Published originally in letter-press, but as the work in that form sold out immediately, it was at once stereotyped." In one year it went through eight editions, and according to one source sold 21,000 copies in its first two years. Egypt remained in the Harpers' catalogue for many years after, and was last reprinted in 1880.
Incidents of Travel in Egypt was followed the next year by Incidents of Travel in Greece, Turkey, Russia, and Poland, and it too was well received. Two weeks after its publication it was already into "a third large edition." Stephens, firmly established as one of the Harpers' best selling authors, began casting about for a suitable subject for his next book.
Exactly when and where Stephens' interest became piqued by the antiquities of Yucatan and Central America is uncertain. While he was in London he may have heard of the reports of Juan Galindo, the English-born governor of the state of Peten, Guatemala, whose notices concerning the ruins of Palenque and Copan were published in London and Paris between 1831 and 1836. Earlier, an edited version of Antonio del Rio's report to the governor of Guatemala had appeared in London in 1822, with illustrations by Frederick Waldeck. In its appendix, entitled Teatro Critico Americano, one Dr. Pablo Felix Cabrera, of Guatemala, purports to prove that the ruins are Egyptian in origin. In 1834, the two volume Antiquites Americaines had been published in Paris, which also attempted to show that the ancient monuments of the New World were not indigenous, but rather the products of the civilizations of Egypt and India. The European ethnocentricity that dismissed the inhabitants of the Americas as "men just emerging from barbarity" insisted that if there had been an "advanced" civilization in the New World, it had been brought over by the Egyptians, the "Hindoos," the lost tribes of Israel, or survivors from Atlantis.
In 1838 Jean Frederick Comte de Waldeck published Voyage Pittoresque et Archaeologique dans le Province d'Yucatan. At the age of 68 Waldeck, under the sponsorship of the Mexican government, had spent two years living in the ruins at Palenque, where he took a teenage Maya bride. He returned to Paris in 1838 to publishVoyage Pittoresque, his first work. Waldeck's magnum opus was not published until 1866 (he lived to be 106 years old) and he is today dismissed as an eccentric whose "ideas are so absurd as to preclude any intelligent discussion of them." Although F. L. Hawks (whom Stephens had met in London) and John Russell Bartlett each claim to have called his attention to the reports of ruined stone cities in Yucatan and Central America, their conflicting accounts agree that it was this 1838 work, with 22 of Waldeck's inaccurate and romanticized drawings of Maya sculpture and architecture, that was the final spur to Stephens.
John Russell Bartlett, a New York merchant, bookseller, and ardent "antiquarian," was later librarian for John Carter Brown's collection of books on the Americas and chief of the U. S.-Mexican Border Comission of 1854. He was a founder, in 1842, of the American Antiquarian Society (Stephens and Catherwood were charter members) and was active in the circle of American intellectuals who were the forerunners of the anthropologists and ethnologists of today. In an autobiographical memoir prepared for his family Bartlett wrote, "...I claim to have first suggested these [explorations in Central America and Yucatan] to Mr. S."
Hawks, too, in his obituary of Stephens in Putnam's Monthly Magazine, claimed, "In repeated conversations with the present writer, the attention of Mr. Stephens was called to the ruins of Guatemala and Yucatan, as represented in the works of Del Rio and Waldeck." From the accounts of Hawks and Bartlett and the date of publication of Waldeck's Voyage Pittoresque (1838) we may assume that Stephens' plan to explore the ruins did not crystallize until the latter half of 1838 or the early part of 1839.
"Fortunately for him," Bartlett continues, "Mr. Frederick Catherwood, a distinguished architect and draughtsman who had spent much time in Egypt and the Holy Land, and with whom he was on intimate terms, was then in New York. Mr. Catherwood had great enthusiasm in every thing (sic) appertaining to architecture, and was an ardent lover of the picturesque, and of archaeological research. Mr. Stephens made him a favorable offer to accompany him to Central America, which offer he at once accepted."