The Bible in Spain. Volume 1 of 2
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Myself. – You say you are wealthy. In what does your wealth consist?
Abarbenel. – In gold and silver, and stones of price; for I have inherited all the hoards of my forefathers. The greater part is buried underground; indeed, I have never examined the tenth part of it. I have coins of silver and gold older than the times of Ferdinand the Accursed and Jezebel;112112
Myself. – Are there more of you than yourself and your two wives?
Abarbenel. – There are my two servants, who are likewise of us – the one is a youth, and is about to leave, being betrothed to one at some distance; the other is old: he is now upon the road, following me with a mule and car.
Myself. – And whither are you bound at present?
Abarbenel. – To Toledo, where I ply my trade occasionally of longanizero. I love to wander about, though I seldom stray far from home. Since I left the Englishman my feet have never once stepped beyond the bounds of New Castile. I love to visit Toledo, and to think of the times which have long since departed. I should establish myself there, were there not so many accursed ones, who look upon me with an evil eye.
Myself. – Are you known for what you are? Do the authorities molest you?
Abarbenel. – People of course suspect me to be what I am; but as I conform outwardly in most respects to their ways, they do not interfere with me. True it is that sometimes, when I enter the church to hear the mass, they glare at me over the left shoulder, as much as to say – “What do you here?” And sometimes they cross themselves as I pass by; but as they go no further, I do not trouble myself on that account. With respect to the authorities, they are not bad friends of mine. Many of the higher class have borrowed money from me on usury, so that I have them to a certain extent in my power; and as for the low alguazils and corchetes, they would do anything to oblige me, in consideration of a few dollars which I occasionally give them; so that matters upon the whole go on remarkably well.Of old, indeed, it was far otherwise; yet, I know not how it was, though other families suffered much, ours always enjoyed a tolerable share of tranquillity. The truth is, that our family has always known how to guide itself wonderfully. I may say there is much of the wisdom of the snake amongst us. We have always possessed friends; and with respect to enemies, it is by no means safe to meddle with us, for it is a rule of our house never to forgive an injury, and to spare neither trouble nor expense in bringing ruin and destruction upon the heads of our evil-doers.
Myself. – Do the priests interfere with you?
Abarbenel. – They let me alone, especially in our own neighbourhood. Shortly after the death of my father one hot-headed individual endeavoured to do me an evil turn; but I soon requited him, causing him to be imprisoned on a charge of blasphemy, and in prison he remained a long time, till he went mad and died.
Myself. – Have you a head in Spain, in whom is vested the chief authority?
Abarbenel. – Not exactly. There are, however, certain holy families who enjoy much consideration; my own is one of these – the chiefest, I may say. My grandsire was a particularly holy man; and I have heard my father say, that one night an archbishop came to his house secretly, merely to have the satisfaction of kissing his head.
Myself. – How can that be? What reverence could an archbishop entertain for one like yourself or your grandsire?
Abarbenel. – More than you imagine. He was one of us, at least his father was, and he could never forget what he had learned with reverence in his infancy. He said he had tried to forget it, but he could not; that the ruah was continually upon him, and that even from his childhood he had borne its terrors with a troubled mind, till at last he could bear himself no longer; so he went to my grandsire, with whom he remained one whole night; he then returned to his diocese, where he shortly afterwards died, in much renown for sanctity.
Myself. – What you say surprises me. Have you reason to suppose that many of you are to be found amongst the priesthood?
Abarbenel. – Not to suppose, but to know it. There are many such as I amongst the priesthood, and not amongst the inferior priesthood either; some of the most learned and famed of them in Spain have been of us, or of our blood at least, and many of them at this day think as I do. There is one particular festival of the year at which four dignified ecclesiastics are sure to visit me; and then, when all is made close and secure, and the fitting ceremonies have been gone through, they sit down upon the floor and curse.
Myself. – Are you numerous in the large towns?
Abarbenel. – By no means; our places of abode are seldom the large towns; we prefer the villages, and rarely enter the large towns but on business. Indeed, we are not a numerous people, and there are few provinces of Spain which contain more than twenty families. None of us are poor, and those among us who serve, do so more from choice than necessity, for by serving each other we acquire different trades. Not unfrequently the time of service is that of courtship also, and the servants eventually marry the daughters of the house.
We continued in discourse the greater part of the night; the next morning I prepared to depart. My companion, however, advised me to remain where I was for that day. “And if you respect my counsel,” said he, “you will not proceed farther in this manner. To-night the diligence will arrive from Estremadura, on its way to Madrid. Deposit yourself therein; it is the safest and most speedy mode of travelling. As for your animal, I will myself purchase her. My servant is here, and has informed me that she will be of service to us. Let us, therefore, pass the day together in communion, like brothers, and then proceed on our separate journeys.” We did pass the day together; and when the diligence arrived I deposited myself within, and on the morning of the second day arrived at Madrid.
It was the commencement of February, 1837, when I reached Madrid. After staying a few days at a posada, I removed to a lodging which I engaged at No. 3, in the Calle de la Zarza,113113
It was rather a singular house in which I had taken up my abode. I occupied the front part of the first floor; my apartments consisted of an immense parlour, and a small chamber on one side in which I slept. The parlour, notwithstanding its size, contained very little furniture: a few chairs, a table, and a species of sofa, constituted the whole. It was very cold and airy, owing to the draughts which poured in from three large windows, and from sundry doors. The mistress of the house, attended by her two daughters, ushered me in. “Did you ever see a more magnificent apartment?” demanded the former; “is it not fit for a king’s son? Last winter it was occupied by the great General Espartero.”114114
The hostess was an exceedingly fat woman, a native of Valladolid, in Old Castile. “Have you any other family,” I demanded, “besides these daughters?” “Two sons,” she replied; “one of them an officer in the army, father of this urchin,” pointing to a wicked but clever-looking boy of about twelve, who at that moment bounded into the room; “the other is the most celebrated national in Madrid. He is a tailor by trade, and his name is Baltasar. He has much influence with the other nationals, on account of the liberality of his opinions, and a word from him is sufficient to bring them all out armed and furious to the Puerta del Sol. He is, however, at present confined to his bed, for he is very dissipated, and fond of the company of bullfighters and people still worse.”
As my principal motive for visiting the Spanish capital was the hope of obtaining permission from the government to print the New Testament in the Castilian language, for circulation in Spain, I lost no time, upon my arrival, in taking what I considered to be the necessary steps.
I was an entire stranger at Madrid, and bore no letters of introduction to any persons of influence who might have assisted me in this undertaking, so that, notwithstanding I entertained a hope of success, relying on the assistance of the Almighty, this hope was not at all times very vivid, but was frequently overcast with the clouds of despondency.
Before taking this step, however, I deemed it advisable to wait upon Mr. Villiers,116116
Early one morning I repaired to the palace, in a wing of which was the office of the prime minister. It was bitterly cold, and the Guadarrama, of which there is a noble view from the palace plain, was covered with snow. For at least three hours I remained shivering with cold in an anteroom, with several other aspirants for an interview with the man of power. At last his private secretary made his appearance, and after putting various questions to the others, addressed himself to me, asking who I was and what I wanted. I told him that I was an Englishman, and the bearer of a letter from the British Minister. “If you have no objection, I will myself deliver it to his Excellency,” said he; whereupon I handed it to him, and he withdrew. Several individuals were admitted before me; at last, however, my own turn came, and I was ushered into the presence of Mendizabal.
He stood behind a table covered with papers, on which his eyes were intently fixed. He took not the slightest notice when I entered, and I had leisure enough to survey him. He was a huge athletic man, somewhat taller than myself, who measure six feet two without my shoes. His complexion was florid, his features fine and regular, his nose quite aquiline, and his teeth splendidly white; though scarcely fifty years of age, his hair was remarkably grey. He was dressed in a rich morning gown, with a gold chain round his neck, and morocco slippers on his feet.
His secretary, a fine intellectual-looking man, who, as I was subsequently informed, had acquired a name both in English and Spanish literature,117117
After I had been standing about a quarter of an hour, Mendizabal suddenly lifted up a pair of sharp eyes, and fixed them upon me with a peculiarly scrutinizing glance.
My interview with him lasted nearly an hour. Some singular discourse passed between us. I found him, as I had been informed, a bitter enemy to the Bible Society, of which he spoke in terms of hatred and contempt; and by no means a friend to the Christian religion, which I could easily account for. I was not discouraged, however, and pressed upon him the matter which brought me thither, and was eventually so far successful as to obtain a promise, that at the expiration of a few months, when he hoped the country would be in a more tranquil state, I should be allowed to print the Scriptures.
As I was going away he said, “Yours is not the first application I have had: ever since I have held the reins of government I have been pestered in this manner by English, calling themselves Evangelical Christians, who have of late come flocking over into Spain. Only last week a hunchbacked fellow found his way into my cabinet whilst I was engaged in important business, and told me that Christ was coming… And now you have made your appearance, and almost persuaded me to embroil myself yet more with the priesthood, as if they did not abhor me enough already. What a strange infatuation is this which drives you over lands and waters with Bibles in your hands! My good sir, it is not Bibles we want, but rather guns and gunpowder to put the rebels down with, and, above all, money, that we may pay the troops. Whenever you come with these three things you shall have a hearty welcome; if not, we really can dispense with your visits, however great the honour.”
Myself. – There will be no end to the troubles of this afflicted country until the Gospel have free circulation.
Mendizabal. – I expected that answer, for I have not lived thirteen years in England without forming some acquaintance with the phraseology of you good folks. Now, now, pray go; you see how engaged I am. Come again whenever you please, but let it not be within the next three months.
“Don Jorge,” said my hostess, coming into my apartment one morning, whilst I sat at breakfast, with my feet upon the brasero, “here is my son Baltasarito, the national. He has risen from his bed, and hearing that there is an Englishman in the house, he has begged me to introduce him, for he loves Englishmen on account of the liberality of their opinions. There he is; what do you think of him?”
I did not state to his mother what I thought; it appeared to me, however, that she was quite right in calling him Baltasarito, which is the diminutive of Baltasar, forasmuch as that ancient and sonorous name had certainly never been bestowed on a more diminutive personage. He might measure about five feet one inch, though he was rather corpulent for his height; his face looked yellow and sickly; he had, however, a kind of fanfaronading air, and his eyes, which were of dark brown, were both sharp and brilliant. His dress, or rather his undress, was somewhat shabby: he had a foraging cap on his head, and in lieu of a morning gown he wore a sentinel’s old great-coat.
“I am glad to make your acquaintance, se?or nacional,” said I to him, after his mother had departed and Baltasar had taken his seat, and of course lighted a paper cigar119119
Baltasar. – Yes, I have a great deal to say with the other nationals; there is none in Madrid better known than Baltasar, or more dreaded by the Carlists. You say you may stand in need of a friend; there is no fear of my failing you in any emergency. Both myself and any of the other nationals will be proud to go out with you as padrinos, should you have any affair of honour on your hands. But why do you not become one of us? We would gladly receive you into our body.
Myself. – Is the duty of a national particularly hard?
Baltasar. – By no means. We have to do duty about once every fifteen days, and then there is occasionally a review, which does not last long. No! the duties of a national are by no means onerous, and the privileges are great. I have seen three of my brother nationals walk up and down the Prado of a Sunday, with sticks in their hands, cudgelling all the suspicious characters; and it is our common practice to scour the streets at night, and then if we meet any person who is obnoxious to us, we fall upon him, and with a knife or a bayonet generally leave him wallowing in his blood on the pavement. No one but a national would be permitted to do that.
Myself. – Of course none but persons of liberal opinions are to be found amongst the nationals?
Baltasar. – Would it were so! There are some amongst us, Don Jorge, who are no better than they should be; they are few, however, and for the most part well known. Theirs is no pleasant life, for when they mount guard with the rest they are scouted, and not unfrequently cudgelled. The law compels all of a certain age either to serve in the army or to become national soldiers, on which account some of these Godos are to be found amongst us.
Myself. – Are there many in Madrid of the Carlist opinion?
Baltasar. – Not among the young people; the greater part of the Madrilenian Carlists capable of bearing arms departed long ago to join the ranks of the factious in the Basque provinces. Those who remain are for the most part greybeards and priests, good for nothing but to assemble in private coffee-houses, and to prate treason together. Let them prate, Don Jorge; let them prate; the destinies of Spain do not depend on the wishes of ojalateros and pasteleros,120120
Myself. – I am sorry to learn from your lady-mother that you are strangely dissipated.
Baltasar. – Ho, ho, Don Jorge, she has told you that, has she? What would you have, Don Jorge? I am young, and young blood will have its course. I am called Baltasar the gay by all the other nationals, and it is on account of my gaiety and the liberality of my opinions that I am so popular among them. When I mount guard I invariably carry my guitar with me, and then there is sure to be a funcion at the guard-house. We send for wine, Don Jorge, and the nationals become wild, Don Jorge, dancing and drinking through the night, whilst Baltasarito strums the guitar and sings them songs of German?a: —121121
That is Gitano, Don Jorge; I learnt it from the toreros of Andalusia, who all speak Gitano, and are mostly of gypsy blood. I learnt it from them; they are all friends of mine, Montes, Sevilla, and Poquito Pan.123123
We did go to see this execution, which I shall long remember. The criminals were two young men, brothers; they suffered for a most atrocious murder, having in the dead of night broken open the house of an aged man, whom they put to death, and whose property they stole. Criminals in Spain are not hanged as they are in England, or guillotined as in France, but strangled upon a wooden stage. They sit down on a kind of chair with a post behind, to which is affixed an iron collar with a screw; this iron collar is made to clasp the neck of the prisoner, and on a certain signal it is drawn tighter and tighter by means of the screw, until life becomes extinct. After we had waited amongst the assembled multitude a considerable time, the first of the culprits appeared; he was mounted on an ass without saddle or stirrups, his legs being allowed to dangle nearly to the ground. He was dressed in yellow, sulphur-coloured robes, with a high-peaked conical red hat on his head, which was shaven. Between his hands he held a parchment, on which was written something – I believe the confession of faith. Two priests led the animal by the bridle; two others walked on either side, chanting litanies, amongst which I distinguished the words of heavenly peace and tranquillity, for the culprit had been reconciled to the church, had confessed and received absolution, and had been promised admission to heaven. He did not exhibit the least symptom of fear, but dismounted from the animal and was led, not supported, up the scaffold, where he was placed on the chair, and the fatal collar put round his neck. One of the priests then in a loud voice commenced saying the Belief, and the culprit repeated the words after him. On a sudden, the executioner, who stood behind, commenced turning the screw, which was of prodigious force, and the wretched man was almost instantly a corpse; but, as the screw went round, the priest began to shout, “pax et misericordia et tranquillitas,”125125
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