Major Scientific Publication in New Spain

With Illustrated Xochicalco Supplement

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451. [MEXICAN PERIODICALS]. ALZATE RAMÍREZ, José Antonio. Gacetas de literatura de Mexico: Por D. Jose Antono Alzate Ramirez, Socio Correspondiente de la Real Academia de las Ciencias de Paris, del Real Jardin Botanico de Madroid, y de la Sociedad Bascongada. Tomo Primero [-Quarto]. Puebla: Reimpresas en la Oficina del Hospital de S. Pedro, à cargo del ciudadano Manuel Buen Abad, 1831. Vol. I: [6], 1-449, [1, blank], [4] pp., 2 plates; Vol. II: [1-2] 3-459, [1, blank], [4], 1-17 [1, blank], [6] pp., 10 plates (3 folded, including map); Vol. III: [1-4] 5-471 [1, blank], [6] pp., 11 plates (one folded); Vol. IV: [6], 1-446, [6] pp. (last leaf bound upside down), 5 plates (2 folded); total of 28 copper-engraved plates (with a few duplicates), either unattributed or by Montes de Oca: portrait of Alzate, science, astronomy (Transit of Venus, April 1769), natural history, botany (including illustration of the rubber tree), Native American collecting cochineal with a deer tail, technology, archaeology, and map: Mapa de las Aguas que pr. el Circulo de 90. leguas vienen a la Laguna de Tesuco y la Ytención qe esta y la de Chalco tienen deliniado pr. D. Carlos Zaguena [i.e., Carlos de Siguënza y Góngora], [below neat line] Montes de Oca Sc en | Puebla C ct Yglcias;neat line to neat line: 16.2 x 20.6 cm). 4 vols., 8vo (20 x 16 cm), new brown cloth, over tan and beige marbled boards, title gilt lettered on each spine. Portion of Vol. II title in good facsimile, otherwise excellent, plates and map very fine. Lehigh duplicate with their purple ink stamp and pencil call numbers (most on titles) and contemporary ink ownership inscription in Vol. I. Difficult to find all four volumes together and complete.

     Second edition of the exceedingly rare original work (1788-1795; Medina, México 7750 & Sabin 989), a reissue of various articles written and edited by Creole polymath Alzate y Ramírez (1737-1799) that appeared primarily in the original Gacetas de literatura de México, but here augmented with material from some other sources. This edition, which is mentioned by Medina, contains more plates. The supplement on the antiquities of Xochicalco, the Temple of the Feathered Serpent, were first brought to European attention by Alzate in a 1791 supplement to his Gazeta de Literatura (see Medina, México 8026). Apenes, Mapas antiguos del Valle de Mexico, p. 24 (mentioning this map and its earlier appearance in Cuevas y Aguirre and subsequently in the 1786 Gaceta). Bancroft, Mexico, VI, p. 641: “The Gacetas de Literatura of the learned Alzate, begun in 1788, form no mean index to the growing taste, as specified in the varied philosophic and scientific subject of its pages. The range of Alzate’s studies was very wide, and he published numerous works of the highest value...also...miscellaneous writings, wherein are noticeable his assaults on the vicious and old-fashioned methods and ideas of the time.” Bibliotheca Mejicana 60. Guerra, American Medical Bibliography, p. 16 (noting the first publication, 1788-1792). Heredia, Catalogue de la Bibliothèque de Ricardo Heredia 7756. Palau 10139 (see note, calls for 4 volumes, a portrait, and 12 plates). Quaritch (1891) 111:616: “Highly esteemed for the learned...scientific and critical disquisitions which it contains.” Sabin 990. Dicc. Porrúa: “‘Las gazetas, dice García Icazbalceta, bastarían para crear la reputación de un sabio; su lectura es muy interesantea pesar de su desaliñada estilo; defecto que se olvida para admirar el ardiente seseo de ser útil a la patria y a la humanidad que todas aquellas páginas respiran.’”

     Among the content is Transit of Venus, eulogy to Benjamin Franklin (Alzate ignored Franklin’s politics but admired him as a practical scientist like himself), medicine, natural science, agriculture, industry, manufactures, archaeology, etc. As noted there is included an illustrated supplement on the ruins of Xochicalco, which has fine stylized depictions of the Feathered Serpent in a style which includes apparent influences of Teotihuacan and Maya art.

The latter part of the eighteenth century in New Spain was a period of lively cultural and scientific activity which brought to prominence a number of outstanding figures. None of them is more representative than José Antonio Alzate y Ramírez, who was its most zealous publicist in the field of science. Through the publication of a series of weekly newspapers, occasional scientific studies and reports, as well as by his unceasing investigations in a wide scientific field, Alzate attempted to spread a knowledge of science, especially applied science, throughout the viceroyalty.... It is as a pioneer in the field of scientific journalism in Mexico, however, not in that of pure science, that he made his greatest contribution. In Alzate an enthusiasm for scientific knowledge and its actual application to the specific problems of his own day were always associated. This being so, it was natural that he should have set his mind on the production of a weekly paper devoted to science. (W.F. Cody, “An Index to the Periodicals Published by Jose Antonio Alzate y Ramirez,” in Hispanic American Historical Review, Vol. XXXIII, No. 3 [August, 1953], pp. 442-475.)

     Some of the plates and the map in this edition were engraved by Montes de Oca. See Carrillo y Gariel (Grabados de la Colección de la Academia de San Carlos, p. 78), Mathes (La Ilustración en México colonial), and Romero de Terreros (Grabados y grabadores in la Nueva España, pp. 500-501). Among the plates is a fanciful pictorial table for determining the distance of a storm from the time it takes the sound of thunder to reach someone, with some references to Benjamin Franklin’s experiments. At the top is a cartoonish image of five men in various poses with word balloons above each, expressing how close the storm is, e.g. “much risk,” etc. Surrounding a statistical table are playful putti dispensing rain and lightning. A high spot in this set is Siguenza y Góngora’s map of the Valley of Mexico, based on his earlier map, one of the more important maps of Mexico produced in colonial times (see Cuevas Aguirre herein). Sigüenza’s map was the mother map for modern mapping of the Valley of Mexico (see Apenes, Mapas antiguos del Valle de México, plate XVI, p. 23).


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