The Bible in Spain. Volume 1 of 2
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A word or two about the gentleman who paid me this nocturnal visit. Though he has probably long since forgotten the humble circulator of the Bible in Spain, I still bear in mind numerous acts of kindness which I experienced at his hands. Endowed with an intellect of the highest order, master of the lore of all Europe, profoundly versed in the ancient tongues and speaking most of the modern dialects with remarkable facility – possessed, moreover, of a thorough knowledge of mankind – he brought with him into the diplomatic career advantages such as few, even the most highly gifted, can boast of. During his sojourn in Spain he performed many eminent services for the government which employed him; services which, I believe, it had sufficient discernment to see, and gratitude to reward. He had to encounter, however, the full brunt of the low and stupid malignity of the party who, shortly after the time of which I am speaking, usurped the management of the affairs of Spain. This party, whose foolish man?uvres he was continually discomfiting, feared and hated him as its evil genius, taking every opportunity of showering on his head calumnies the most improbable and absurd. Amongst other things, he was accused of having acted as an agent to the English government in the affair of La Granja, bringing about that revolution by bribing the mutinous soldiers, and more particularly the notorious Sergeant Garcia. Such an accusation will of course merely extract a smile from those who are at all acquainted with the English character, and the general line of conduct pursued by the English government. It was a charge, however, universally believed in Spain, and was even preferred in print by a certain journal, the official organ of the silly Duke of Frias, one of the many prime ministers of the moderado party who followed each other in rapid succession towards the latter period of the Carlist and Cristino struggle. But when did a calumnious report ever fall to the ground in Spain by the weight of its own absurdity? Unhappy land! not until the pure light of the Gospel has illumined thee, wilt thou learn that the greatest of all gifts is charity!
The next day verified the prediction of the Spanish surgeon; I had to a considerable degree lost my cough and fever, though, owing to the loss of blood, I was somewhat feeble. Precisely at twelve o’clock the horses were led forth before the door of my lodging in the Calle de Santiago, and I prepared to mount; but my black entero of Andalusia would not permit me to approach his side, and, whenever I made the attempt, commenced wheeling round with great rapidity.
“C’est un mauvais signe, mon ma?tre,” said Antonio, who, dressed in a green jerkin, a montero cap, and booted and spurred, stood ready to attend me, holding by the bridle the horse which I had purchased from the contrabandista. “It is a bad sign, and in my country they would defer the journey till to-morrow.”
“Are there whisperers in your country?” I demanded; and taking the horse by the mane, I performed the ceremony after the most approved fashion.The animal stood still, and I mounted the saddle, exclaiming —
We then rode forth from Madrid by the gate of San Vicente, directing our course to the lofty mountains which separate Old from New Castile. That night we rested at Guadarrama, a large village at their foot, distant from Madrid about seven leagues. Rising early on the following morning, we ascended the pass and entered into Old Castile.
After crossing the mountains, the route to Salamanca lies almost entirely over sandy and arid plains, interspersed here and there with thin and scanty groves of pine. No adventure worth relating occurred during this journey. We sold a few Testaments in the villages through which we passed, more especially at Pe?aranda. About noon of the third day, on reaching the brow of a hillock, we saw a huge dome before us, upon which the fierce rays of the sun striking, produced the appearance of burnished gold. It belonged to the cathedral of Salamanca, and we flattered ourselves that we were already at our journey’s end; we were deceived, however, being still four leagues distant from the town, whose churches and convents, towering up in gigantic masses, can be distinguished at an immense distance, flattering the traveller with an idea of propinquity which does not in reality exist. It was not till long after nightfall that we arrived at the city gate, which we found closed and guarded, in apprehension of a Carlist attack; and having obtained admission with some difficulty, we led our horses along dark, silent, and deserted streets, till we found an individual who directed us to a large, gloomy, and comfortless posada, that of the Bull, which we, however, subsequently found was the best which the town afforded.
A melancholy town is Salamanca; the days of its collegiate glory are long since past by, never more to return: a circumstance, however, which is little to be regretted; for what benefit did the world ever derive from scholastic philosophy? And for that alone was Salamanca ever famous. Its halls are now almost silent, and grass is growing in its courts, which were once daily thronged by at least eight thousand students; a number to which, at the present day, the entire population of the city does not amount. Yet, with all its melancholy, what an interesting, nay, what a magnificent place is Salamanca! How glorious are its churches, how stupendous are its deserted convents, and with what sublime but sullen grandeur do its huge and crumbling walls, which crown the precipitous bank of the Tormes, look down upon the lovely river and its venerable bridge!
What a pity that, of the many rivers of Spain, scarcely one is navigable! The beautiful but shallow Tormes, instead of proving a source of blessing and wealth to this part of Castile, is of no further utility than to turn the wheels of various small water mills, standing upon weirs of stone, which at certain distances traverse the river.
My sojourn at Salamanca was rendered particularly pleasant by the kind attentions and continual acts of hospitality which I experienced from the inmates of the Irish College, to the rector of which I bore a letter of recommendation from my kind and excellent friend Mr. O’Shea, the celebrated banker of Madrid. It will be long before I forget these Irish, more especially their head, Dr. Gartland, a genuine scion of the good Hibernian tree, an accomplished scholar, and a courteous and high-minded gentleman. Though fully aware who I was, he held out the hand of friendship to the wandering heretic missionary, although by so doing he exposed himself to the rancorous remarks of the narrow-minded native clergy, who, in their ugly shovel hats and long cloaks, glared at me askance as I passed by their whispering groups beneath the piazzas of the Plaza. But when did the fear of consequences cause an Irishman to shrink from the exercise of the duties of hospitality? However attached to his religion – and who is so attached to the Romish creed as the Irishman? – I am convinced that not all the authority of the Pope or the Cardinals would induce him to close his doors on Luther himself, were that respectable personage at present alive and in need of food and refuge.
Honour to Ireland and her “hundred thousand welcomes!”214214
The posada where I had put up was a good specimen of the old Spanish inn, being much the same as those described in the time of Philip the Third or Fourth. The rooms were many and large, floored with either brick or stone, generally with an alcove at the end, in which stood a wretched flock bed. Behind the house was a court, and in the rear of this a stable, full of horses, ponies, mules, machos, and donkeys, for there was no lack of guests, who, however, for the most part slept in the stable with their caballerias, being either arrieros or small peddling merchants who travelled the country with coarse cloth or linen. Opposite to my room in the corridor lodged a wounded officer, who had just arrived from San Sebastian on a galled broken-kneed pony: he was an Estrimenian,215215
During my stay at Salamanca I took measures that the word of God might become generally known in his celebrated city. The principal bookseller of the town, Blanco, a man of great wealth and respectability, consented to become my agent here, and I in consequence deposited in his shop a certain number of New Testaments. He was the proprietor of a small printing-press, where the official bulletin of the place was published. For this bulletin I prepared an advertisement of the work, in which, amongst other things, I said that the New Testament was the only guide to salvation; I also spoke of the Bible Society, and the great pecuniary sacrifices which it was making with the view of proclaiming Christ crucified, and of making his doctrine known. This step will perhaps be considered by some as too bold, but I was not aware that I could take any more calculated to arouse the attention of the people – a considerable point. I also ordered numbers of the same advertisement to be struck off in the shape of bills, which I caused to be stuck up in various parts of the town. I had great hope that by means of these a considerable number of New Testaments would be sold. I intended to repeat this experiment in Valladolid, Leon, St. Jago,216216
On Saturday, June 10, I left Salamanca for Valladolid. As the village where we intended to rest was only five leagues distant, we did not sally forth till midday was past. There was a haze in the heavens which overcast the sun, nearly hiding his countenance from our view. My friend, Mr. Patrick Cantwell, of the Irish College,217217
A woman directed us to a cottage somewhat superior in appearance to those contiguous. It had a small portico, which, if I remember well, was overgrown with a vine. We knocked loud and long at the door, but received no answer; the voice of man was silent, and not even a dog barked. The truth was, that the old curate219219
His care now was to furnish us with refreshments. In a twinkling, with the assistance of his old attendant, he placed on the table several plates of cakes and confectionery, and a number of large uncouth glass bottles, which I thought bore a strong resemblance to those of Schiedam, and indeed they were the very same. “There,” said he, rubbing his hands; “I thank God that it is in my power to treat you in a way which will be agreeable to you. In those bottles there is Hollands, thirty years old;” and producing two large tumblers, he continued, “fill, my friends, and drink – drink it every drop if you please, for it is of little use to myself, who seldom drink aught but water. I know that you islanders love it, and cannot live without it; therefore, since it does you good, I am only sorry that there is no more.”
Observing that we contented ourselves with merely tasting it, he looked at us with astonishment, and inquired the reason of our not drinking. We told him that we seldom drank ardent spirits; and I added, that as for myself, I seldom tasted even wine, but, like himself, was content with the use of water. He appeared somewhat incredulous; but told us to do exactly what we pleased, and to ask for what was agreeable to us. We told him that we had not dined, and should be glad of some substantial refreshment. “I am afraid,” said he, “that I have nothing in the house which will suit you; however, we will go and see.”
Thereupon he led us through a small yard at the back part of his house, which might have been called a garden or orchard if it had displayed either trees or flowers; but it produced nothing but grass, which was growing in luxuriance. At one end was a large pigeon-house, which we all entered; “for,” said the curate, “if we could find some nice delicate pigeons they would afford you an excellent dinner.” We were, however, disappointed; for, after rummaging the nests, we only found very young ones, unfitted for our purpose. The good man became very melancholy, and said he had some misgivings that we should have to depart dinnerless. Leaving the pigeon-house, he conducted us to a place where there were several skeps of bees, round which multitudes of the busy insects were hovering, filling the air with their music. “Next to my fellow-creatures,” said he, “there is nothing which I love so dearly as these bees; it is one of my delights to sit watching them, and listening to their murmur.” We next went to several unfurnished rooms, fronting the yard, in one of which were hanging several flitches of bacon, beneath which he stopped, and, looking up, gazed intently upon them. We told him that, if he had nothing better to offer, we should be very glad to eat some slices of his bacon, especially if some eggs were added. “To tell the truth,” said he, “I have nothing better, and if you can content yourselves with such fare I shall be very happy; as for eggs, you can have as many as you wish, and perfectly fresh, for my hens lay every day.”
So, after everything was prepared and arranged to our satisfaction, we sat down to dine on the bacon and eggs, in a small room, not the one to which he had ushered us at first, but on the other side of the doorway. The good curate, though he ate nothing, having taken his meal long before, sat at the head of the table, and the repast was enlivened by his chat. “There, my friends,” said he, “where you are now seated once sat Wellington and Crawford, after they had beat the French at Arapiles,220220
He was a thin spare man, of about sixty-five, and was dressed in a black cloak of very coarse materials; nor were his other garments of superior quality. This plainness, however, in the appearance of his outward man was by no means the result of poverty; quite the contrary. The benefice was a very plentiful one, and placed at his disposal annually a sum of at least eight hundred dollars, of which the eighth part was more than sufficient to defray the expenses of his house and himself; the rest was devoted entirely to the purest acts of charity. He fed the hungry wanderer, and despatched him singing on his way, with meat in his wallet and a peseta in his purse; and his parishioners, when in need of money, had only to repair to his study, and were sure of an immediate supply. He was, indeed, the banker of the village, and what he lent he neither expected nor wished to be returned. Though under the necessity of making frequent journeys to Salamanca, he kept no mule, but contented himself with an ass, borrowed from the neighbouring miller. “I once kept a mule,” said he; “but some years since it was removed without my permission by a traveller whom I had housed for the night: for in that alcove I keep two clean beds for the use of the wayfaring, and I shall be very much pleased if yourself and friend will occupy them, and tarry with me till the morning.”
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