The Bible in Spain. Volume 1 of 2
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And sure enough the leper, in his shining scales, and half naked, was seated beneath a ruined wall. We dropped money into the hat of the unhappy being, and passed on.
“A bad disorder that,” said my friend. “I confess that I, who have seen so many of them, am by no means fond of the company of lepers. Indeed, I wish that they would never enter my shop, as they occasionally do to beg. Nothing is more infectious, as I have heard, than leprosy. There is one very virulent species, however, which is particularly dreaded here – the elephantine: those who die of it should, according to law, be burnt, and their ashes scattered to the winds, for if the body of such a leper be interred in the field of the dead, the disorder is forthwith communicated to all the corses even below the earth. Such at least is our idea in these parts. Law-suits are at present pending from the circumstance of elephantides having been buried with the other dead. Sad is leprosy in all its forms, but most so when elephantine.”
“Talking of corses,” said I, “do you believe that the bones of Saint James are veritably interred at Compostella?”
“What can I say?” replied the old man; “you know as much of the matter as myself. Beneath the high altar is a large stone slab or lid, which is said to cover the mouth of a profound well, at the bottom of which it is believed that the bones of the saint are interred; though why they should be placed at the bottom of a well is a mystery which I cannot fathom. One of the officers of the church told me that at one time he and another kept watch in the church during the night, one of the chapels having shortly before been broken open and a sacrilege committed. At the dead of night, finding the time hang heavy on their hands, they took a crowbar and removed the slab, and looked down into the abyss below; it was dark as the grave; whereupon they affixed a weight to the end of a long rope, and lowered it down. At a very great depth it seemed to strike against something dull and solid, like lead: they supposed it might be a coffin; perhaps it was, but whose? is the question.”
After a stay of about a fortnight at Saint James, we again mounted our horses and proceeded in the direction of Vigo. As we did not leave Saint James till late in the afternoon, we travelled that day no farther than Padron, a distance of only three leagues. This place is a small port, situate at the extremity of a firth which communicates with the sea. It is called, for brevity’s sake, Padron, but its proper appellation is Villa del Padron, or the town of the patron saint; it having been, according to the legend, the principal residence of Saint James during his stay in Galicia.By the Romans it was termed Iria Flavia. It is a flourishing little town, and carries on rather an extensive commerce, some of its tiny barks occasionally finding their way across the Bay of Biscay, and even so far as the Thames and London.
There is a curious anecdote connected with the skippers of Padron, which can scarcely be considered as out of place here, as it relates to the circulation of the Scriptures. I was one day in the shop of my friend the bookseller at Saint James, when a stout good-humoured-looking priest entered. He took up one of my Testaments, and forthwith burst into a violent fit of laughter. “What is the matter?” demanded the bookseller. “The sight of this book reminds me of a circumstance,” replied the other. “About twenty years ago, when the English first took it into their heads to be very zealous in converting us Spaniards to their own way of thinking, they distributed a great number of books of this kind amongst the Spaniards who chanced to be in London; some of them fell into the hands of certain skippers of Padron, and these good folk, on their return to Galicia, were observed to have become on a sudden exceedingly opinionated and fond of dispute. It was scarcely possible to make an assertion in their hearing without receiving a flat contradiction, especially when religious subjects were brought on the carpet.291291
Our next day’s journey brought us to Pontevedra. As there was no talk of robbers in these parts, we travelled without any escort and alone. The road was beautiful and picturesque, though somewhat solitary, especially after we had left behind us the small town of Caldas. There is more than one place of this name in Spain: the one of which I am speaking is distinguished from the rest by being called Caldas de los Reyes,292292
Pontevedra, upon the whole, is certainly entitled to the appellation of a magnificent town, some of its public edifices, especially the convents, being such as are nowhere to be found but in Spain and Italy. It is surrounded by a wall of hewn stone, and stands at the end of a creek into which the river Levroz disembogues. It is said to have been founded by a colony of Greeks, whose captain was no less a personage than Teucer the Telamonian. It was in former times a place of considerable commerce; and near its port are to be seen the ruins of a farol, or lighthouse, said to be of great antiquity. The port, however, is at a considerable distance from the town, and is shallow and incommodious. The whole country in the neighbourhood of Pontevedra is inconceivably delicious, abounding with fruits of every description, especially grapes, which in the proper season are seen hanging from the parras293293
The town itself is in a state of great decay, and, notwithstanding the magnificence of its public edifices, we found more than the usual amount of Galician filth and misery. The posada was one of the most wretched description, and to mend the matter, the hostess was a most intolerable scold and shrew. Antonio having found fault with the quality of some provision which she produced, she cursed him most immoderately in the country language, which was the only one she spoke, and threatened, if he attempted to breed any disturbance in her house, to turn the horses, himself, and his master forthwith out of doors. Socrates himself, however, could not have conducted himself on this occasion with greater forbearance than Antonio, who shrugged his shoulders, muttered something in Greek, and then was silent.
“Where does the notary public live?” I demanded. Now the notary public vended books, and to this personage I was recommended by my friend at Saint James. A boy conducted me to the house of Se?or Garcia, for such was his name. I found him a brisk, active, talkative little man of forty. He undertook with great alacrity the sale of my Testaments, and in a twinkling sold two to a client who was waiting in the office, and appeared to be from the country. He was an enthusiastic patriot, but of course in a local sense, for he cared for no other country than Pontevedra.
“Those fellows of Vigo,” said he, “say their town is a better one than ours, and that it is more deserving to be the capital of this part of Galicia. Did you ever hear such folly? I tell you what, friend, I should not care if Vigo were burnt, and all the fools and rascals within it. Would you ever think of comparing Vigo with Pontevedra?”
“I don’t know,” I replied; “I have never been at Vigo, but I have heard say that the bay of Vigo is the finest in the world.”
“Bay! my good sir; bay. Yes, the rascals have a bay, and it is that bay of theirs which has robbed us of all our commerce. But what needs the capital of a district with a bay? It is public edifices that it wants, where the provincial deputies can meet to transact their business; now, so far from there being a commodious public edifice, there is not a decent house in all Vigo. Bay! yes, they have a bay, but have they water fit to drink? Have they a fountain? Yes, they have, and the water is so brackish that it would burst the stomach of a horse. I hope, my dear sir, that you have not come all this distance to take the part of such a gang of pirates as those of Vigo?”
“I am not come to take their part,” I replied; “indeed, I was not aware that they wanted my assistance in this dispute. I am merely carrying to them the New Testament, of which they evidently stand in much need, if they are such knaves and scoundrels as you represent them.”
“Represent them, my dear sir! Does not the matter speak for itself? Do they not say that their town is better than ours, more fit to be the capital of a district? que disparate! que briboneria!”294294
“Is there a bookseller’s shop at Vigo?” I inquired.
“There was one,” he replied, “kept by an insane barber. I am glad, for your sake, that it is broken up, and the fellow vanished. He would have played you one of two tricks; he would either have cut your throat with his razor, under pretence of shaving you, or have taken your books and never have accounted to you for the proceeds. Bay! I never could see what right such an owl’s nest as Vigo has to a bay!”
No person could exhibit greater kindness to another than did the notary public to myself, as soon as I had convinced him that I had no intention of siding with the men of Vigo against Pontevedra. It was now six o’clock in the evening, and he forthwith conducted me to a confectioner’s shop, where he treated me with an iced cream and a small cup of chocolate. From hence we walked about the city, the notary showing the various edifices, especially the Convent of the Jesuits. “See that front,” said he; “what do you think of it?”
I expressed to him the admiration which I really felt, and by so doing entirely won the good notary’s heart. “I suppose there is nothing like that at Vigo?” said I. He looked at me for a moment, winked, gave a short triumphant chuckle, and then proceeded on his way, walking at a tremendous rate. The Se?or Garcia was dressed in all respects as an English notary might be; he wore a white hat, brown frock coat, drab breeches buttoned at the knees, white stockings, and well blacked shoes. But I never saw an English notary walk so fast: it could scarcely be called walking; it seemed more like a succession of galvanic leaps and bounds. I found it impossible to keep up with him. “Where are you conducting me?” I at last demanded, quite breathless.
“To the house of the cleverest man in Spain,” he replied, “to whom I intend to introduce you; for you must not think that Pontevedra has nothing to boast of but its splendid edifices and its beautiful country; it produces more illustrious minds than any other town in Spain. Did you ever hear of the grand Tamerlane?”
“Oh yes,” said I; “but he did not come from Pontevedra or its neighbourhood: he came from the steppes of Tartary, near the river Oxus.”
“I know he did,” replied the notary, “but what I mean to say is, that when Enrique the Third wanted an ambassador to send to that African, the only man he could find suited to the enterprise was a knight of Pontevedra, Don – by name.295295
We entered a large portal and ascended a splendid staircase, at the top of which the notary knocked at a small door. “Who is the gentleman to whom you are about to introduce me?” demanded I.
“It is the Advocate – ,” replied Garcia; “he is the cleverest man in Spain, and understands all languages and sciences.”
We were admitted by a respectable-looking female, to all appearance a housekeeper, who, on being questioned, informed us that the Advocate was at home, and forthwith conducted us to an immense room, or rather library, the walls being covered with books, except in two or three places where hung some fine pictures of the ancient Spanish school. There was a rich mellow light in the apartment, streaming through a window of stained glass, which looked to the west. Behind the table sat the Advocate, on whom I looked with no little interest. His forehead was high and wrinkled, and there was much gravity on his features, which were quite Spanish. He was dressed in a long robe, and might be about sixty. He sat reading behind a large table, and on our entrance half raised himself, and bowed slightly.
The notary public saluted him most profoundly, and, in an under-voice, hoped that he might be permitted to introduce a friend of his, an English gentleman, who was travelling through Galicia.
“I am very glad to see him,” said the Advocate, “but I hope he speaks Castilian, else we can have but little communication; for, although I can read both French and Latin, I cannot speak them.”
“He speaks, sir, almost as good Spanish,” said the notary, “as a native of Pontevedra.”
“The natives of Pontevedra,” I replied, “appear to be better versed in Gallegan than in Castilian, for the greater part of the conversation which I hear in the streets is carried on in the former dialect.”
“The last gentleman whom my friend Garcia introduced to me,” said the Advocate, “was a Portuguese, who spoke little or no Spanish. It is said that the Gallegan and Portuguese are very similar, but when we attempted to converse in the two languages, we found it impossible. I understood little of what he said, whilst my Gallegan was quite unintelligible to him. Can you understand our country dialect?” he continued.
“Very little of it,” I replied; “which I believe chiefly proceeds from the peculiar accent and uncouth enunciation of the Gallegans, for their language is certainly almost entirely composed of Spanish and Portuguese words.”
“So you are an Englishman,” said the Advocate. “Your countrymen have committed much damage in times past in these regions, if we may trust our histories.”
“Yes,” said I, “they sank your galleons, and burnt your finest men-of-war in Vigo Bay, and, under old Cobham,296296
“Any foreign power,” interrupted the notary public, “has a clear right to attack Vigo, but I cannot conceive what plea your countrymen could urge for distressing Pontevedra, which is a respectable town, and could never have offended them.”
“Se?or Cavalier,” said the Advocate, “I will show you my library. Here is a curious work, a collection of poems, written mostly in Gallegan, by the curate of Fruime.297297
We stopped upwards of an hour with the Advocate, whose conversation, if it did not convince me that he was the cleverest man in Spain, was, upon the whole, highly interesting, and who certainly possessed an extensive store of general information, though he was by no means the profound philologist which the notary had represented him to be.
When I was about to depart from Pontevedra in the afternoon of the next day, the Se?or Garcia stood by the side of my horse, and, having embraced me, thrust a small pamphlet into my hand. “This book,” said he, “contains a description of Pontevedra. Wherever you go, speak well of Pontevedra.” I nodded. “Stay,” said he, “my dear friend, I have heard of your society, and will do my best to further its views. I am quite disinterested, but if at any future time you should have an opportunity of speaking in print of Se?or Garcia, the notary public of Pontevedra – you understand me – I wish you would do so.”
“I will,” said I.
It was a pleasant afternoon’s ride from Pontevedra to Vigo, the distance being only four leagues. As we approached the latter town, the country became exceedingly mountainous, though scarcely anything could exceed the beauty of the surrounding scenery. The sides of the hills were for the most part clothed with luxuriant forests, even to the very summits, though occasionally a flinty and naked peak would present itself, rising to the clouds. As the evening came on the route along which we advanced became very gloomy, the hills and forests enwrapping it in deep shade. It appeared, however, to be well frequented: numerous cars were creaking along it, and both horsemen and pedestrians were continually passing us. The villages were frequent. Vines, supported on parras, were growing, if possible, in still greater abundance than in the neighbourhood of Pontevedra. Life and activity seemed to pervade everything. The hum of insects, the cheerful bark of dogs, the rude songs of Galicia, were blended together in pleasant symphony. So delicious was my ride that I almost regretted when we entered the gate of Vigo.
The town occupies the lower part of a lofty hill, which, as it ascends, becomes extremely steep and precipitous, and the top of which is crowned with a strong fort or castle. It is a small compact place, surrounded with low walls; the streets are narrow, steep, and winding, and in the middle of the town is a small square.
There is rather an extensive faubourg extending along the shore of the bay. We found an excellent posada, kept by a man and woman from the Basque provinces, who were both civil and intelligent. The town seemed to be crowded, and resounded with noise and merriment. The people were making a wretched attempt at an illumination, in consequence of some victory lately gained, or pretended to have been gained, over the forces of the Pretender. Military uniforms were glancing about in every direction. To increase the bustle, a troop of Portuguese players had lately arrived from Oporto, and their first representation was to take place this evening. “Is the play to be performed in Spanish?” I demanded. “No,” was the reply; “and on that account every person is so eager to go, which would not be the case if it were in a language which they could understand.”
On the morning of the next day I was seated at breakfast in a large apartment which looked out upon the Plaza Mayor, or great square of the good town of Vigo. The sun was shining very brilliantly, and all around looked lively and gay. Presently a stranger entered, and, bowing profoundly, stationed himself at the window, where he remained a considerable time in silence. He was a man of very remarkable appearance, of about thirty-five. His features were of perfect symmetry, and I may almost say of perfect beauty. His hair was the darkest I had ever seen, glossy and shining; his eyes large, black, and melancholy; but that which most struck me was his complexion. It might be called olive, it is true, but it was a livid olive. He was dressed in the very first style of French fashion. Around his neck was a massive gold chain, while upon his fingers were large rings, in one of which was set a magnificent ruby. Who can that man be? thought I – Spaniard or Portuguese; perhaps a Creole. I asked him an indifferent question in Spanish, to which he forthwith replied in that language, but his accent convinced me that he was neither Spaniard nor Portuguese.
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