THE CONQUERORS OF CENTRAL AMERICA, II
Cortès had not been able to fit out these expeditions without coming into antagonism with the viceroy Don Antonio de Mendoza, whom the emperor had sent to Mexico, an appointment which had wounded the feelings of the Marquis della Valle. Wearied with these continual, annoyances, and indignant at finding his prerogative as captain-general, if not absolutely ignored, at least perpetually questioned, Cortès left Mexico, and once more set out for Spain. But this journey was not destined at all to resemble the first. Grown old, disgusted with life, and betrayed by fortune, the "conquistador" had no longer anything to expect from government. He had not to wait long before receiving proof of this; one day he pressed through the crowd which surrounded the emperor's coach, and mounted upon the step of the door. Charles V. pretended not to recognize him, and asked who this man was. Cortès answered proudly, "It is the man who has given you more States than your father left you Towns." By this time public interest was diverted from Mexico, which had not yielded as much as had been expected from it, and was centred upon the marvellous riches of Peru. Cortès was, however, received with honour by the supreme council of the Indies, and permitted to state his complaints before it, but the debates upon the subject were endlessly drawn out, and he could obtain no redress. In 1541, during the disastrous expedition of Charles V. against Algiers, Cortès, who was serving in it as a volunteer, but whose counsels had not been listened to, had the misfortune to lose three great carved emeralds, jewels which would have sufficed for the ransom of an empire. Upon his return he renewed his solicitations, but with the same want of success. His grief over this injustice and these repeated disappointments was so deep, that his health suffered severely; he died far from the scene of his exploits, on the 10th of November, 1547, at Castilleja de la Cuesta, at the very moment when he was making preparations to return to America.
"He was a true knight errant," says Prescott; "of all that glorious troop of adventurers which the Spain of the sixteenth century sent forth to a career of discovery and conquest, there was not one more deeply imbued with the spirit of romantic enterprise than Fernando Cortès. Strife was his delight, and he loved to attempt an enterprise by its most difficult side."...
This passion for the romantic might have reduced the conqueror of Mexico to the part of a common adventurer, but Cortès was certainly a profound politician and a great captain, if one is justified in giving this name to a man who accomplished great actions by his own unassisted genius. There is no other example in history of so great an enterprise having been carried to a successful end with such inadequate means. It may be said with truth that Cortès conquered Mexico with his own resources alone. His influence over the minds of his soldiers was the natural result of their confidence in his ability, but it must be attributed also to his popular manners, which rendered him eminently fit to lead a band of adventurers. When he had attained to a higher rank, if Cortès displayed more of pomp, his veterans at least continued on the same terms of intimacy with him as before. In finishing this portrait of the "conquistador," we shall quote the upright and veracious Bernal Diaz, with whose sentiments we fully agree. "He preferred his name of Cortès to all the titles by which he might be addressed, and he had good reasons for it, for the name of Cortès is as famous in our days as that of Cesar amongst the Romans, or Hannibal amongst the Carthaginians." The old chronicler ends by a touch which vividly depicts the religious spirit of the sixteenth century: "Perhaps he was destined to receive his reward only in a better world, and I fully believe it to be so; for he was an honest knight, very sincere in his devotions to the Virgin, to the Apostle St. Peter, and to all the saints."