[next]  [bottom]  [back]


Cities of Stone
Page 9


  While in Guatemala City, Stephens and Catherwood had received information of another ruined city hidden in the thick jungle, just three hours from Encuentros, where the party had spent the second night of their journey. While Stephens was vainly canvassing the countryside for a functioning government, Catherwood was exploring the ruins of Quirigua and recording its magnificently carved stelae. Stephens, excited by the evidence of these drawings, had entered into negotiations with the Payes brothers, owners of the land on which the city stood, to purchase fourteen of its principal monuments. It was his plan to carry the stones to the banks of the nearby Motagua River and float them downstream on rafts to a waiting cargo vessel, which would take them to New York. There, together with the material from other Maya cities, they would form the nucleus of a national "Museum of American Antiquities."

Stele E, Quirigua  The plan was an ambitious one, for the stelae at Quirigna range in height from twelve to more than twenty-five feet. Stele E, the largest monolith in the Maya area, is 35 feet tall and weighs 65 tons. Stephens himself would be on the spot to supervise the men and machinery brought out from New York for this colossal undertaking. Although the negotiations dragged on for almost a year, the plans were finally abandoned. The Payes brothers had heard of the enormous sums expended by European countries to remove the monumental antiquities of Greece and Egypt. Under the mistaken belief that Stephens had the financial backing of his government, they stubbornly held out for more money than was available to underwrite the project. The monuments remain in situ.

  From a letter to his friend Henry Savage, the American consul in Guatemala, discussing the Quirigna venture, we also learn of Stephens' meeting with another early archaeological traveler in Yucatan, the Viennese Baron Emmanuel von Friederichsthal. Soon after Stephens' return to New York, Friederichsthal had called on him requesting information on Yucatan and letters of introduction. Although W. H. Prescott had met him and considered him "an accomplished man," Stephens was not impressed with Friederichsthal or his plans. "I have given the Chevalier Friederichsthal a letter to you," he wrote Savage. "He is going to follow in my trail. He has hardly means enough to pay his way, but to flatter the people he will promise everything."

  Friederichsthal's travels resulted in the publication of several brief notices in Paris and Merida which contain the first published descriptions of Chichen Itza by an outsider. More important however, were the photographs he made of Maya ruins, twenty-five of which were exhibited in New York, Paris, and at the British Museum in London. Although, as we will see, there is some confusion as to whether or not Friederichsthal brought the first photographic apparatus to Yucatan, there is no doubt that these were the first successful photographs to be made there. Unfortunately, their present whereabouts are unknown.

  Amid much anticipation, Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan appeared at the end of June, 1841. The "half-profits" contract between Stephens and his publishers, Harper Brothers of New York, was a standard arrangement for the time. It stipulated that, after meeting publishing costs, the profits would be divided equally between Stephens and the Harpers, with Stephens receiving one dollar and ten cents for each copy sold. In addition, Stephens was granted control of the foreign market, and to keep it supplied he was allowed to purchase "as many copies as he may require" at ten percent above cost. Although some bibliographers have described the early English editions of Central America as printed by John Murray of London, in fact these editions were printed by Harper Brothers in New York and purchased by Stephens for shipment overseas. The first English printing of this work was not issued until 1854, when Arthur Hall, Virtue and Co. published a one-volume edition "Revised from the latest American edition, with additions, by F. Catherwood."

  The reviews were many and unanimous in their praise, and the copious excerpts so widely reprinted from the two volumes no doubt helped spark their spectacular sales. By August, 5,000 copies had been sold; by October, 12,000; and by December John Lloyd Stephens' latest best-seller had sold over 20,000 copies and was into its eleventh printing.


[next]  [top]  [back]