The Bible in Spain. Volume 1 of 2
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“Now for it,” thought I.
“Bu – ” And then he began to talk once more of the wearisome Council of Trent and I found that his writing in the paper, the offer of the cigar, and the long and prosy harangue were – what shall I call it? – mere ???????.140140
By this time the spring was far advanced; the sides, though not the tops, of the Guadarrama hills had long since lost their snows; the trees of the Prado had donned their full foliage, and all the campi?a in the neighbourhood of Madrid smiled and was happy. The summer heats had not commenced, and the weather was truly delicious.
Towards the west, at the foot of the hill on which stands Madrid, is a canal running parallel with the Manzanares for some leagues, from which it is separated by pleasant and fertile meadows. The banks of this canal, which was begun by Carlos Tercero141141
He was a fellow of infinite drollery, and, though he could scarcely read or write, by no means ignorant of the ways of the world: his knowledge of individuals was curious and extensive, few people passing his stall with whose names, character, and history he was not acquainted. “These two gentry,” said he, pointing to a magnificently dressed cavalier and lady, who had dismounted from a carriage, and arm-in-arm were coming across the wooden bridge, followed by two attendants; “those gentry are the Infante Francisco Paulo, and his wife the Neapolitana, sister of our Christina. He is a very good subject, but as for his wife —vaya– the veriest scold in Madrid; she can say carrajo with the most ill-conditioned carrier of La Mancha, giving the true emphasis and genuine pronunciation. Don’t take off your hat to her, amigo – she has neither formality nor politeness; I once saluted her, and she took no more notice of me than if I had not been what I am, an Asturian and a gentleman, of better blood than herself. Good day, Se?or Don Francisco. Que tal.142142
This last-named personage instantly engrossed my attention. He was a bulky old man, somewhat above the middle height, with white hair and ruddy features; his eyes were large and blue, and, whenever he fixed them on any one’s countenance, were full of an expression of great eagerness, as if he were expecting the communication of some important tidings. He was dressed commonly enough in a jacket and trousers of coarse cloth of a russet colour; on his head was an immense sombrero, the brim of which had been much cut and mutilated, so as in some places to resemble the jags or denticles of a saw. He returned the salutation of the orange-man, and bowing to me, forthwith produced two scented wash-balls, which he offered for sale, in a rough dissonant jargon, intended for Spanish, but which seemed more like the Valencian or Catalan.
Upon my asking him who he was, the following conversation ensued between us: —
“I am a Swiss of Lucerne, Benedict Mol143143
“You speak the language of Spain very imperfectly,” said I; “how long have you been in the country?”
“Forty-five years,” replied Benedict; “but when the guard was broken up, I went to Minorca, where I lost the Spanish language without acquiring the Catalan.”
“You have been a soldier of the king of Spain,” said I; “how did you like the service?”
“Not so well, but that I should have been glad to leave it forty years ago; the pay was bad, and the treatment worse. I will now speak Swiss to you, for, if I am not much mistaken, you are a German man, and understand the speech of Lucerne. I should soon have deserted from the service of Spain, as I did from that of the Pope, whose soldier I was in my early youth, before I came here; but I had married a woman of Minorca, by whom I had two children; it was this that detained me in those parts so long; before, however, I left Minorca my wife died, and as for my children, one went east, the other west, and I know not what became of them. I intend shortly to return to Lucerne, and live there like a duke.”
“Have you, then, realized a large capital in Spain?” said I, glancing at his hat and the rest of his apparel.
“Perhaps you are the son of good parents, and have lands and money in your own country wherewith to support yourself.”
“Not a heller, not a heller; my father was hangman of Lucerne, and when he died, his body was seized to pay his debts.”
“Then, doubtless,” said I, “you intend to ply your trade of soap-boiling at Lucerne. You are right, my friend; I know of no occupation more honourable or useful.”
“I have no thoughts of plying my trade at Lucerne,” replied Benedict; “and now, as I see you are a German man, lieber Herr, and as I like your countenance and your manner of speaking, I will tell you in confidence that I know very little of my trade, and have already been turned out of several fabriques as an evil workman; the two wash-balls that I carry in my pocket are not of my own making. In kurzem,145145
“Then I know not how you can hope to live like a Herzog in your native canton, unless you expect that the men of Lucerne, in consideration of your services to the Pope and to the King of Spain, will maintain you in splendour at the public expense.”
“Lieber Herr,” said Benedict, “the men of Lucerne are by no means fond of maintaining the soldiers of the Pope and the King of Spain at their own expense. Many of the guard who have returned thither beg their bread in the streets; but when I go, it shall be in a coach drawn by six mules, with a treasure, a mighty Schatz which lies in the church of Saint James of Compostella, in Galicia.”
“I hope you do not intend to rob the church,” said I; “if you do, however, I believe you will be disappointed. Mendizabal and the liberals have been beforehand with you. I am informed that at present no other treasure is to be found in the cathedrals of Spain than a few paltry ornaments and plated utensils.”
“My good German Herr,” said Benedict, “it is no church Schatz, and no person living, save myself, knows of its existence: nearly thirty years ago, amongst the sick soldiers who were brought to Madrid, was one of my comrades of the Walloon Guard, who had accompanied the French to Portugal; he was very sick and shortly died. Before, however, he breathed his last, he sent for me, and upon his death-bed told me that himself and two other soldiers, both of whom had since been killed, had buried in a certain church at Compostella a great booty which they had made in Portugal; it consisted of gold moidores and of a packet of huge diamonds from the Brazils; the whole was contained in a large copper kettle. I listened with greedy ears, and from that moment, I may say, I have known no rest, neither by day nor night, thinking of the Schatz. It is very easy to find, for the dying man was so exact in his description of the place where it lies, that were I once at Compostella, I should have no difficulty in putting my hand upon it; several times I have been on the point of setting out on the journey, but something has always happened to stop me. When my wife died, I left Minorca with a determination to go to Saint James;146146
I have been the more careful in relating the above conversation, as I shall have frequent occasion to mention the Swiss in the course of these journals; his subsequent adventures were highly extraordinary, and the closing one caused a great sensation in Spain.
In the mean time the affairs of the moderados did not proceed in a very satisfactory manner; they were unpopular at Madrid, and still more so in the other large towns of Spain, in most of which juntas had been formed, which, taking the local administration into their own hands, declared themselves independent of the queen and her ministers, and refused to pay taxes; so that the government was within a short time reduced to great straits for money. The army was unpaid, and the war languished – I mean on the part of the Cristinos, for the Carlists were pushing it on with considerable vigour; parties of their guerillas149149
With respect to my own matters, I lost no opportunity of pushing forward my application; the Aragonese secretary, however, still harped upon the Council of Trent, and succeeded in baffling all my efforts. He appeared to have inoculated his principal with his own ideas upon this subject, for the duke, when he beheld me at his levees, took no farther notice of me than by a contemptuous glance; and once, when I stepped up for the purpose of addressing him, disappeared through a side-door, and I never saw him again, for I was disgusted with the treatment which I had received, and forbore paying any more visits at the Casa de la Inquisicion. Poor Galiano still proved himself my unshaken friend, but candidly informed me that there was no hope of my succeeding in the above quarter. “The duke,” said he, “says that your request cannot be granted; and the other day, when I myself mentioned it in the council, began to talk of the decision of Trent, and spoke of yourself as a plaguy pestilent fellow; whereupon I answered him with some acrimony, and there ensued a bit of a funcion between us, at which Isturitz laughed heartily. By-the-by,” continued he, “what need have you of a regular permission, which it does not appear that any one has authority to grant? The best thing that you can do under the circumstances is to commit the work to the press, with an understanding that you shall not be interfered with when you attempt to distribute it. I strongly advise you to see Isturitz himself upon the matter. I will prepare him for the interview, and will answer that he receives you civilly.”
In fact, a few days afterwards, I had an interview with Isturitz at the palace, and for the sake of brevity I shall content myself with saying that I found him perfectly well disposed to favour my views. “I have lived long in England,” said he; “the Bible is free there, and I see no reason why it should not be free in Spain also. I am not prepared to say that England is indebted for her prosperity to the knowledge which all her children, more or less, possess of the sacred writings; but of one thing I am sure, namely, that the Bible has done no harm in that country, nor do I believe that it will effect any in Spain. Print it, therefore, by all means, and circulate it as extensively as possible.” I retired, highly satisfied with my interview, having obtained, if not a written permission to print the sacred volume, what, under all circumstances, I considered as almost equivalent – an understanding that my biblical pursuits would be tolerated in Spain; and I had fervent hope that, whatever was the fate of the present ministry, no future one, particularly a liberal one, would venture to interfere with me, more especially as the English ambassador was my friend, and was privy to all the steps I had taken throughout the whole affair.150150
Two or three things connected with the above interview with Isturitz struck me as being highly remarkable. First of all, the extreme facility with which I obtained admission to the presence of the prime minister of Spain. I had not to wait, or indeed to send in my name, but was introduced at once by the doorkeeper. Secondly, the air of loneliness which pervaded the place, so unlike the bustle, noise, and activity which I observed when I waited on Mendizabal. In this instance, there were no eager candidates for an interview with the great man; indeed, I did not behold a single individual, with the exception of Isturitz and the official. But that which made the most profound impression upon me, was the manner of the minister himself, who, when I entered, sat upon a sofa, with his arms folded, and his eyes directed to the ground. When he spoke there was extreme depression in the tones of his voice, his dark features wore an air of melancholy, and he exhibited all the appearance of a person meditating to escape from the miseries of this life by the most desperate of all acts – suicide.
And a few days showed that he had, indeed, cause for much melancholy meditation: in less than a week occurred the revolution of La Granja,151151
The day after this event152152
The crowd was rapidly increasing, and several nationals made their appearance in their uniforms, but without their arms, of which they had been deprived, as I have already stated. “What has become of the moderado government?” said I to Baltasar, whom I suddenly observed amongst the crowd, dressed as when I had first seen him, in his old regimental great coat and foraging cap; “have the ministers been deposed and others put in their place?”
“Not yet, Don Jorge,” said the little soldier-tailor; “not yet; the scoundrels still hold out, relying on the brute bull Quesada and a few infantry, who still continue true to them. But there is no fear, Don Jorge; the queen is ours, thanks to the courage of my friend Garcia, and if the brute bull should make his appearance – ho! ho! Don Jorge, you shall see something – I am prepared for him, ho! ho!” and thereupon he half opened his great coat, and showed me a small gun which he bore beneath it in a sling, and then moving away with a wink and a nod, disappeared amongst the crowd.
Presently I perceived a small body of soldiers advancing up the Calle Mayor, or principal street which runs from the Puerta del Sol in the direction of the palace; they might be about twenty in number, and an officer marched at their head with a drawn sword. The men appeared to have been collected in a hurry, many of them being in fatigue dress, with foraging caps on their heads. On they came, slowly marching; neither their officer nor themselves paying the slightest attention to the cries of the crowd which thronged about them, shouting, “Long live the constitution!” save and except by an occasional surly side glance: on they marched with contracted brows and set teeth, till they came in front of the cavalry, where they halted and drew up in rank.
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