The Bible in Spain. Volume 1 of 2
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I have visited most of the principal capitals of the world, but upon the whole none has ever so interested me as this city of Madrid, in which I now found myself. I will not dwell upon its streets, its edifices, its public squares, its fountains, though some of these are remarkable enough; but Petersburg has finer streets, Paris and Edinburgh more stately edifices, London far nobler squares, whilst Shiraz can boast of more costly fountains, though not cooler waters. But the population! Within a mud wall scarcely one league and a half in circuit, are contained two hundred thousand human beings, certainly forming the most extraordinary vital mass to be found in the entire world; and be it always remembered that this mass is strictly Spanish. The population of Constantinople is extraordinary enough, but to form it twenty nations have contributed – Greeks, Armenians, Persians, Poles, Jews, the latter, by-the-by, of Spanish origin, and speaking amongst themselves the old Spanish language; but the huge population of Madrid, with the exception of a sprinkling of foreigners, chiefly French tailors, glove-makers, and perruquiers, is strictly Spanish, though a considerable portion are not natives of the place. Here are no colonies of Germans, as at Saint Petersburg; no English factories, as at Lisbon; no multitudes of insolent Yankees lounging through the streets, as at the Havannah, with an air which seems to say, “The land is our own whenever we choose to take it;” but a population which, however strange and wild, and composed of various elements, is Spanish, and will remain so as long as the city itself shall exist. Hail, ye aguadores of Asturia! who, in your dress of coarse duffel and leathern skull-caps, are seen seated in hundreds by the fountain sides, upon your empty water-casks, or staggering with them filled to the topmost stories of lofty houses. Hail, ye caleseros of Valencia! who, lolling lazily against your vehicles, rasp tobacco for your paper cigars whilst waiting for a fare. Hail to you, beggars of La Mancha! men and women, who, wrapped in coarse blankets, demand charity indifferently at the gate of the palace or the prison. Hail to you, valets from the mountains, mayordomos and secretaries from Biscay and Guipuzcoa, toreros from Andalusia, reposteros from Galicia, shopkeepers from Catalonia! Hail to ye, Castilians, Estremenians, and Aragonese, of whatever calling! And lastly, genuine sons of the capital, rabble of Madrid, ye twenty thousand manolos,126126
And the higher orders – the ladies and gentlemen, the cavaliers and se?oras– shall I pass them by in silence? The truth is I have little to say about them; I mingled but little in their society, and what I saw of them by no means tended to exalt them in my imagination.I am not one of those who, wherever they go, make it a constant practice to disparage the higher orders, and to exalt the populace at their expense. There are many capitals in which the high aristocracy, the lords and ladies, the sons and daughters of nobility, constitute the most remarkable and the most interesting part of the population. This is the case at Vienna, and more especially at London. Who can rival the English aristocrat in lofty stature, in dignified bearing, in strength of hand, and valour of heart? Who rides a nobler horse? Who has a firmer seat? And who more lovely than his wife, or sister, or daughter? But with respect to the Spanish aristocracy, the ladies and gentlemen, the cavaliers and se?oras, I believe the less that is said of them on the points to which I have just alluded the better. I confess, however, that I know little about them; they have, perhaps, their admirers, and to the pens of such I leave their panegyric. Le Sage has described them as they were nearly two centuries ago. His description is anything but captivating, and I do not think that they have improved since the period of the sketches of the immortal Frenchman. I would sooner talk of the lower class, not only of Madrid, but of all Spain. The Spaniard of the lower class has much more interest for me, whether manolo, labourer, or muleteer. He is not a common being; he is an extraordinary man. He has not, it is true, the amiability and generosity of the Russian mujik, who will give his only rouble rather than the stranger shall want; nor his placid courage, which renders him insensible to fear, and, at the command of his Tsar, sends him singing to certain death.128128
At the last attack on Warsaw, when the loss of the Russians amounted to upwards of twenty thousand men, the soldiery mounted the breach, repeating, in measured chant, one of their popular songs, “Come, let us cut the cabbage,” etc. – [Note by Borrow.] See the Glossary, s. v. Mujik.
[Çàêðûòü] There is more hardness and less self-devotion in the disposition of the Spaniard; he possesses, however, a spirit of proud independence, which it is impossible but to admire. He is ignorant, of course; but it is singular, that I have invariably found amongst the low and slightly educated classes far more liberality of sentiment than amongst the upper. It has long been the fashion to talk of the bigotry of the Spaniards, and their mean jealousy of foreigners. This is true to a certain extent; but it chiefly holds good with respect to the upper classes. If foreign valour or talent has never received its proper meed in Spain, the great body of the Spaniards are certainly not in fault. I have heard Wellington calumniated in this proud scene of his triumphs, but never by the old soldiers of Aragon and the Asturias, who assisted to vanquish the French at Salamanca and the Pyrenees. I have heard the manner of riding of an English jockey criticized, but it was by the idiotic heir of Medina Celi, and not by a picador of the Madrilenian bull-ring.
Apropos of bull-fighters: – Shortly after my arrival, I one day entered a low tavern in a neighbourhood notorious for robbery and murder, and in which for the last two hours I had been wandering on a voyage of discovery. I was fatigued, and required refreshment. I found the place thronged with people, who had all the appearance of ruffians. I saluted them, upon which they made way for me to the bar, taking off their sombreros with great ceremony. I emptied a glass of val de pe?as, and was about to pay for it and depart, when a horrible-looking fellow, dressed in a buff jerkin, leather breeches, and jackboots, which came halfway up his thighs, and having on his head a white hat, the rims of which were at least a yard and a half in circumference, pushed through the crowd, and confronting me, roared: —
“Thank you, my good sir, you are very kind. You appear to know me, but I have not the honour of knowing you.”
“Not know me!” replied the being. “I am Sevilla, the torero. I know you well; you are the friend of Baltasarito, the national, who is a friend of mine, and a very good subject.”
Then turning to the company, he said in a sonorous tone, laying a strong emphasis on the last syllable of every word, according to the custom of the gente rufianesca throughout Spain —
“Cavaliers, and strong men, this cavalier is the friend of a friend of mine. Es mucho hombre.130130
“We do not believe it,” replied several grave voices. “It is not possible.”
“It is not possible, say you? I tell you it is. Come forward, Balseiro, you who have been in prison all your life, and are always boasting that you can speak the crabbed Gitano, though I say you know nothing of it – come forward and speak to his worship in the crabbed Gitano.”
A low, slight, but active figure stepped forward. He was in his shirt-sleeves, and wore a montero cap;131131
He spoke a few words in the broken gypsy slang of the prison, inquiring of me whether I had ever been in the condemned cell, and whether I knew what a Gitana132132
“Vamos Inglesito,” shouted Sevilla, in a voice of thunder; “answer the monr? in the crabbed Gitano.”
I answered the robber, for such he was, and one too whose name will live for many a year in the ruffian histories of Madrid; I answered him in a speech of some length, in the dialect of the Estremenian gypsies.
“I believe it is the crabbed Gitano,” muttered Balseiro. “It is either that or English, for I understand not a word of it.”
“Did I not say to you,” cried the bull-fighter, “that you knew nothing of the crabbed Gitano? But this Inglesito does. I understood all he said. Vaya, there is none like him for the crabbed Gitano. He is a good ginete, too; next to myself, there is none like him, only he rides with stirrup leathers too short.133133
And he clapped his hand repeatedly on his breast, reiterating, “I, Sevilla! I – ”
Mendizabal had told me to call upon him again at the end of three months, giving me hopes that he would not then oppose himself to the publication of the New Testament; before, however, the three months had elapsed, he had fallen into disgrace, and had ceased to be prime minister.
An intrigue had been formed against him, at the head of which were two quondam friends of his, and fellow-townsmen, Gaditanians, Isturitz, and Alcala Galiano. Both of them had been egregious liberals in their day, and indeed principal members of those Cortes which, on the Angoul?me invasion, had hurried Ferdinand from Madrid to Cadiz, and kept him prisoner there until that impregnable town thought proper to surrender, and both of them had been subsequently refugees in England, where they had spent a considerable number of years.
These gentlemen, however, finding themselves about this time exceedingly poor, and not seeing any immediate prospect of advantage from supporting Mendizabal – considering themselves, moreover, quite as good men as he, and as capable of governing Spain in the present emergency – determined to secede from the party of their friend, whom they had hitherto supported, and to set up for themselves.
They therefore formed an opposition to Mendizabal in the Cortes; the members of this opposition assumed the name of moderados, in contradistinction to Mendizabal and his followers, who were ultra-liberals. The moderados were encouraged by the Queen Regent Christina, who aimed at a little more power than the liberals were disposed to allow her, and who had a personal dislike to the minister. They were likewise encouraged by Cordova,134134
It is, however, by no means my intention to write an account of the political events which were passing around me at this period; suffice it to say that Mendizabal, finding himself thwarted in all his projects by the Regent and the general, the former of whom would adopt no measure which he recommended, whilst the latter remained inactive, and refused to engage the enemy, which by this time had recovered from the check caused by the death of Zumalacarregui,135135
By far the most clever member of this government was Galiano, whose acquaintance I had formed shortly after my arrival. He was a man of considerable literature, and particularly well versed in that of his own country. He was, moreover, a fluent, elegant, and forcible speaker, and was to the moderado party within the Cortes what Quesada was without, namely, their horses and chariots. Why he was made minister of marine is difficult to say, as Spain did not possess any; perhaps, however, from his knowledge of the English language, which he spoke and wrote nearly as well as his own tongue, having, indeed, during his sojourn in England, chiefly supported himself by writing for reviews and journals, – an honourable occupation, but to which few foreign exiles in England would be qualified to devote themselves.
He was a very small and irritable man, and a bitter enemy to every person who stood in the way of his advancement. He hated Mendizabal with undisguised rancour, and never spoke of him but in terms of unmeasured contempt. “I am afraid that I shall have some difficulty in inducing Mendizabal to give me permission to print the Testament,” said I to him one day. “Mendizabal is a jackass,” replied Galiano. “Caligula made his horse consul, which I suppose induced Lord – to send over this huge burro of the Stock Exchange to be our minister.”
It would be very ungrateful, on my part, were I not to confess my great obligations to Galiano, who assisted me to the utmost of his power in the business which had brought me to Spain. Shortly after the ministry was formed, I went to him and said, “that now or never was the time to make an effort in my behalf.” “I will do so,” said he, in a waspish tone; for he always spoke waspishly whether to friend or foe; “but you must have patience for a few days; we are very much occupied at present. We have been out-voted in the Cortes, and this afternoon we intend to dissolve them. It is believed that the rascals will refuse to depart, but Quesada will stand at the door ready to turn them out, should they prove refractory. Come along, and you will perhaps see a funcion.”
After an hour’s debate, the Cortes were dissolved without it being necessary to call in the aid of the redoubtable Quesada, and Galiano forthwith gave me a letter to his colleague, the Duke of Rivas, in whose department he told me was vested the power either of giving or refusing the permission to print the book in question. The duke was a very handsome young man, of about thirty, an Andalusian by birth, like his two colleagues. He had published several works – tragedies, I believe – and enjoyed a certain kind of literary reputation. He received me with the greatest affability; and having heard what I had to say, he replied with a most captivating bow, and a genuine Andalusian grimace: “Go to my secretary; go to my secretary —el har? por usted el gusto.”139139
The British minister performed all I could wish, and much more than I could expect. He had an interview with the Duke of Rivas, with whom he had much discourse upon my affair: the duke was all smiles and courtesy. He moreover wrote a private letter to the duke, which he advised me to present when I next paid him a visit; and, to crown all, he wrote a letter directed to myself, in which he did me the honour to say, that he had a regard for me, and that nothing would afford him greater pleasure than to hear that I had obtained the permission which I was seeking. So I went to the duke, and delivered the letter. He was ten times more kind and affable than before: he read the letter, smiled most sweetly, and then, as if seized with sudden enthusiasm, he extended his arms in a manner almost theatrical, exclaiming, “Al secretario, el har? por usted el gusto.” Away I hurried to the secretary, who received me with all the coolness of an icicle. I related to him the words of his principal, and then put into his hand the letter of the British minister to myself. The secretary read it very deliberately, and then said that it was evident his Excellency “did take an interest in the matter.” He then asked me my name, and, taking a sheet of paper, sat down as if for the purpose of writing the permission. I was in ecstasy. All of a sudden, however, he stopped, lifted up his head, seemed to consider a moment, and then, putting his pen behind his ear, he said, “Amongst the decrees of the Council of Trent is one to the effect.”
“Oh dear!” said I.
“A singular person is this Oliban,” said I to Galiano; “you cannot imagine what trouble he gives me; he is continually talking about the Council of Trent.”
“I wish he was in the Trent up to the middle,” said Galiano, who, as I have observed already, spoke excellent English; “I wish he was there for talking such nonsense. However,” said he, “we must not offend Oliban – he is one of us, and has done us much service; he is, moreover, a very clever man, but he is an Aragonese, and when one of that nation once gets an idea into his head, it is the most difficult thing in the world to dislodge it. However, we will go to him. He is an old friend of mine, and I have no doubt but that we shall be able to make him listen to reason.”
So the next day I called upon Galiano, at his marine or admiralty office (what shall I call it?), and from thence we proceeded to the bureau of the interior, a magnificent edifice, which had formerly been the casa of the Inquisition, where we had an interview with Oliban, whom Galiano took aside to the window, and there held with him a long conversation, which, as they spoke in whispers, and the room was immensely large, I did not hear. At length Galiano came to me, and said, “There is some difficulty with respect to this business of yours, but I have told Oliban that you are a friend of mine, and he says that that is sufficient; remain with him now, and he will do anything to oblige you. Your affair is settled – farewell.” Whereupon he departed, and I remained with Oliban, who proceeded forthwith to write something, which having concluded, he took out a box of cigars, and having lighted one and offered me another, which I declined, as I do not smoke, he placed his feet against the table, and thus proceeded to address me, speaking in the French language.
“It is with great pleasure that I see you in this capital, and, I may say, upon this business. I consider it a disgrace to Spain that there is no edition of the Gospel in circulation, at least such a one as would be within the reach of all classes of society, the highest or poorest; one unencumbered with notes and commentaries, human devices, swelling it to an unwieldy bulk. I have no doubt that such an edition as you propose to print would have a most beneficial influence on the minds of the people, who, between ourselves, know nothing of pure religion; how should they? seeing that the Gospel has always been sedulously kept from them, just as if civilization could exist where the light of the Gospel beameth not. The moral regeneration of Spain depends upon the free circulation of the Scriptures; to which alone England, your own happy country, is indebted for its high state of civilization and the unmatched prosperity which it at present enjoys. All this I admit, in fact reason compels me to do so, but – ”
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