In October 1881 Alice and Augustus left Uxmal, vowing to return to finish their research if they could raise enough money. They traveled to New York, expecting to have realized a profit from exhibition of the casts of their Uxmal moulds at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Instead they discovered that General Cesnola had not only failed to exhibit the pieces, but had also mishandled them. The Le Plongeons found the casts in the basement of the museum, many of them broken. Alice and Augustus were distressed by the apparent lack of concern shown for their work and were further appalled by the museum director's attitude. "General Cesnola greatly resented our chagrin and never forgave us for expressing it, although our remarks were more than moderate and self -contained" (Alice Le Plongeon l900a).
Though the opportunity to exhibit at the Metropolitan and to sell the casts was lost, Augustus did exhibit his photos at the American Archaeo-logical Exhibition in Madrid. That and arranging for the publication of his first book on ancient civilizations, Vestiges of the Mayas, were two bright spots in this less than successful fund-raising trip. The book was Augustus' first major statement of his con-clusions. It was an outline of the central points on diffusion-ism he would argue for the next 20 years.
Meanwhile Le Plongeon's friendship with Stephen Salisbury began to be strained and the interest of the American Antiquarian Society began to cool. In fact, it seems that individuals in the Society were trying to isolate him. Feeling that his patrons had deserted him in favor of persons like Desire Charnay and Louis Ayme, the American consul in Merida, Augustus resolved to find another outlet for publishing his field reports. He saw no reason to continue supplying them with the fruits of his research for no compensation, and now, no enthusiasm.
What bothered Le Plongeon was seeing important friends like Salisbury falling under the spell of other less talented persons, who were more adventurers than serious scholars, Augustus would like to think. Charnay, Augustus pointed out, was fast becoming a joke among Mexican scholars, and was being used by certain unethical Mexicans as a source of new and unusual artifacts. Charnay was not a party to any criminal act as far as Augustus knew, but others watching his excavations would loot the sites, later using what informa-tion they could extract from him to find artifacts (Augustus Le Plongeon 1880b). In addition, Augustus considered Charnay's photographic record of sites to be superficial and incomplete since he spent only a short time at each site. And, there was a dispute over mould making, with Charnay claiming his work was superior to Le Plongeon's. Le Plongeon countered by having experts attest to the exquisite detail in his work.
Aside from the quality and quantity of his work, there was something about Charnay's personality that irritated Augustus. Possibly it was his elitist attitude toward the Maya, or perhaps his official connections with the French government, which had once invaded Mexico. Even though Le Plongeon was born of French parentage, he considered himself an American. Or possibly it was Charnay's accomplishments themselves, which Augustus saw as small considering the financial assistance he received. Not all of Charnay's support came from the French government; the aid from Lorillard and the encouragement from the American Antiquarian Society hit Le Plongeon in a particularly sore spot. Perhaps it was just as well their paths did not cross again after their 1880 encounter in Mexico City.
It was not only a dissatisfaction with the people the Society was supporting that distressed Augustus. Increas-ingly he found himself at odds on issues of scholarship, especially the publishing goals of the Society, and with the men who set the policies of the organization. Possibly the two most influential were Joseph Henry and Samuel Haven, who had helped shape the development of the descriptive method in American Archaeology. Their selective editing and publishing of works by other scholars had set in motion the trend away from hypothesizing on incom-plete evidence, emphasizing instead the recording of careful observations. They were still in a position to make their opinion of others' work widely known. Such was the case in a report to the Society in which Haven made un-favorable comments about Le Plongeon. "Like Brasseur," he wrote, referring to the earlier scholar Brasseur de Bourbourg, "he is an enthusiast, but less guarded and more impetuous" (l877:97).
How could these people argue so strongly for ideas they had concocted while sitting in their offices, Augustus fumed. How could they refuse to accept the true history of the Maya that he and Alice had paid so dearly to uncover? Had they not given up the pleasures of civilized society for lonely, remote, and uncomfortable habitats? These things they had tolerated, even willingly, so sure were they that the rewards would more than repay them. Yet, to passively sit back and tolerate derision from these supposed peers was more than Augustus could tolerate. There his patience ended.
Le Plongeon's own views, especially on cultural diffu-sion, continued to differ from the dominant views promoted by Henry, Haven, and others. Since Haven was librarian and manuscript reviewer of the American Antiquarian Society and its Proceedings when Le Plongeon was elected a member in 1878, they quickly came into direct conflict. For years Haven had promoted the idea that the American Indian derived from Asia, but "before the existing institu-tions and national divisions of the parent country were developed" (l856:l59). This contradicted Le Plongeon's view that the New World, particularly the Maya, brought civili-zation to the Old.
Then there was the controversy over the Aztec calendar stone. In 1880 Augustus had jumped into a two year old battle when he accused Professor Valentini of having robbed someone else's ideas about the Aztec calendar stone and giving a lecture on the subject in New York. Le Plongeon wrote to Stephen Salisbury that he had seen letters from Professor Philipp Valentini asking Mr. Alfredo Chavero, a Mexican scholar, for the interpretation of several Aztec signs, which he then claimed as his own ideas. According to Le Plongeon, Chavero had already published pamphlets with this information in them in Mexico. Valentini, an important contributor to the Proceedings and well thought of in scholarly circles, was furious over the attack on his character and waited for a chance to even the score.
By 1882 it was clear to Augustus that the Society would continue publishing what he considered to be works of substandard scholarship by authors who were not well res-pected by other scholars. This was especially true, he felt, among those who studied the Maya. He could no longer tolerate being linked to these "amateurs" through the Society, and in June 1882 Augustus submitted his letter of resignation. He asked for the return of several "objects of antiquity" he had left with the Society for safekeeping. His field reports would no longer appear in the Proceedings. Instead, he would turn increasingly to other journals such as the Scientific American and to his books.
Because some influential members of the Antiquarian Society had been pressuring Stephen Salisbury to back the work of American Consul Louis Ayme, Augustus felt compelled to make known his opinions of the man and his qualifications. According to Le Plongeon, Ayme was unable to take a decent photo, let alone "even say 'Goodmorning' in the vernacular of Yucatan" (1882a). As far as Augustus was concerned, being unable to communicate with the people whose cultural history was being studied would be an insurmountable handicap.
"I consider it a disgrace to belong to any society of which he is a member; not wishinghe wrote to Senator George Hoar, current Vice President of the Society. Not only did Ayme misrepresent himself to scientific societies and use the official diplo-matic seal to illegally export Mexican antiquities, said Augustus, but he was also instrumental in an attempt on the Le Plongeons' lives in Uxmal. There was no elaboration of that accusation. Augustus even denounced him for backing out of a dual to protect his own honor after being publicly insulted by a Mexican general. That was no way for any self respecting gentleman to act!
my name to be dishonored by being associated with his in such connection, or in any
Augustus argued that the Society's backing of Ayme would undermine any serious future scientific work in Yucatan.
"I consider it wrong to keep silent longer; knowing that no earnest, true and honestAugustus' position amounted to a demand that the Society choose between Ayme and himself.
scientific investigator will come to Yucatan to study the ancient monuments, and much
less stay in the country on finding himself confronted by such an indivi-dual, armed with
certificates of membership delivered to him by respectable American scientific societies,
backed by an official position granted by the American government."
"As for me, although I have been nine years at work, spent large sums of my own money,At least a portion of the feud with Ayme may have stemmed from Ayme's having sided with Desire Charnay against Le Plongeon in an earlier dispute. Augustus' resignation gave Professor Valentini the chance for revenge that he had been seeking. In a Proceedings article called "The Olmecas and Tultecas," published only three months later, he included two of Le Plongeon's photographs from Chichen Itza with captions that suggested they had been misleadingly retouched. By adding "[supposed]" to "head of a bearded Itza," Valentini implied that Le Plongeon had retouched the photos to support his position of Semitic contact at Chichen Itza.
made well known important discoveries...and I only consider my work fairly begun; I will
retire from this field of inves-tigation if [Ayme] remains - and I will publish to the world my
motive for so doing" (1882b).
By then Augustus had turned his back on the American Antiquarian Society and had returned to Merida with Alice. Anyone willing to expend the time and money to accompany them could have seen first hand the bearded figure that Augustus had photographed.