Foot-prints of Travel - or, Journeyings in Many Lands
by Maturin M. Ballou
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7
Home - Random Browse

From this city we turn our steps towards Paris, by the way of Antwerp, Belgium, which is remarkable for its many churches, convents, and noble public buildings, beautiful parks, and open squares. It has a population of fully three hundred thousand, owing its attraction mostly to the fact that here are gathered so many masterpieces of painting. The great influence of Rubens can hardly be fully appreciated without a visit to this Flemish capital, where he lived so long, where he died, and where his ashes rest in the Church of St. Jacques. Here is the burial place of many noble families, and among them that of Rubens, his tomb being situated just back of the high altar. Above it is a painting by his own hand, intended to represent the Holy Family, but its object is also well understood as being to perpetuate a series of likenesses of the Rubens family; namely, of himself, his two wives, and his daughter, besides his father and grandfather. Vandyke and Teniers were also natives of Antwerp, where their best works still remain, and where the state has erected fitting monuments to their memory. Jordaens, the younger Teniers, and Denis Calvart, the art master of Guido, the great Italian painter, were also natives of this city.

The Cathedral of Antwerp, more remarkable for its exterior than interior, is of the pointed style. Did it not contain Rubens' world-renowned pictures, the Descent from the Cross, the Elevation of the Cross, and the Assumption, few people would care to visit it. In all the older portions of the town the houses have a queer way of standing with their gable ends to the street, as we see them in Amsterdam and Hamburg, showing it to be a Dutch fashion. Dogs are universally used here in place of donkeys for drawing small carts. Beggars there are none to be seen, to the credit of the city be it said.

From Antwerp we make our way to Paris, whence to take a brief trip into Switzerland, which, after a journey by rail of three hundred and twenty-five miles, we enter on the northwestern corner, at Bale, a considerable city of nearly seventy thousand inhabitants, situated on the left bank of the Rhine. Its earliest history was that of a Roman colony; consequently there are many portions of the place especially "quaint and olden." Being situated at the junction of the frontiers of France, Germany, and Switzerland, it has a considerable trade and evinces much commercial life. It has many admirable institutions, a public library which contains about a hundred thousand volumes, and a justly famed university which also has a library of two hundred thousand volumes. The town hall is a curious old structure three centuries old and of the Gothic style. Most cities have some specialty in manufacturing, and Bale is not without its peculiarity in this respect. It consists of the production of silk ribbons of exquisite finish and in great variety, which find their way to distant and profitable markets.

There is an admirably arranged picture gallery and art museum here, principally remarkable for the number of paintings by the younger Holbein, but containing, also, many other fine works of the modern painters. The cathedral dates back nearly nine hundred years, or, to be exact, to 1010. It was originally of the Byzantine order, but has been repaired and added to until it has assumed a Gothic shape. The material is red sandstone. It has two lofty towers, and the portal is ornamented with mounted statues of St. George and St. Martin. About six miles from Bale, on the river near its confluence with the Ergolz, is Augst, upon the site of the great Roman city of Augusta Rauracorum, founded in the reign of Augustus. From these ruins have been taken many valuable relics which are deposited in the museum of Bale.

From Bale we take the railway southward to Lausanne, situated on the borders of Lake Geneva, where we find a population numbering some thirty-three thousand. This city occupies a beautiful and commanding situation overlooking the lake and valley. Its streets are hilly and irregular, but are well kept and cleanly. The view from the high points of the town is very fine, the Jura Mountains enclosing a portion of the landscape, which is vine-clad and varied in its systematic cultivation. If we stop at the Hotel Gibbon, which is a good house, we shall see in its garden overlooking the lake, the spot where the historian Gibbon completed his "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire." Lausanne is a delightful summer resort, cool and healthful.

Geneva, with a population of about fifty thousand, is located on the same lake a short journey southward, being one of the largest and wealthiest towns in Switzerland. It is situated at the point where the river Rhone emerges from the lake, forming a favorite watering-place with large and admirable hotels, but many of the streets are steep, narrow, and crooked. The Rhone separates the town into two parts, and is here crossed by eight bridges. We get from Geneva a superb view of the Mont Blanc group, and the relative height of the several peaks is better realized than from a nearer point. Mont Blanc is upwards of fifteen thousand feet in height.

Geneva has few attractions except its position and scenery, being in the vicinity of the most famous mountains in Switzerland. The history of the place is, however, very interesting. Calvin resided here nearly thirty years. Rousseau was born here in 1712, and it has been the birthplace of other famous scholars, botanists, naturalists, and philosophers. Necker, financial minister to Louis XVI., and his daughter, Madame de Stael, were natives of Geneva. In the environs, say four miles from Geneva, Voltaire built a famous chateau, making it his home for a number of years. From here one goes to Chamouni, if disposed for mountain-climbing,—the immediate region of Mont Blanc.

The Lake of Geneva, or Lake Leman, the name by which it is best known, is forty-five miles long, varying from two to eight miles in width. We will cross the lake by steamer to the charming little town of Vevay, situated on the northern side, and containing some nine thousand inhabitants. A few miles from this point, where the Rhone enters the lake, stands the famous Castle of Chillon, connected with the shore by a drawbridge,—palace, castle, and prison, all in one. Some of its dark damp cells are hewn out of the solid rock beneath the surface of the lake. This fortress of the Middle Ages has been rendered familiar to us by Byron's poetic pen. It was built by Amedeus IV., Count of Savoy, in 1238. Here languished Bonnivard in his underground cell for six years, during which time he wore a prisoner's chains for his heroic defence of Genevan liberty.

A short journey northward by railway brings us to Berne, the capital of Switzerland, and which contains less than forty thousand inhabitants. It is situated upon a lofty promontory above the winding Aar, which nearly surrounds it, and is crossed here by two stone bridges. The view of the snow-capped Bernese Alps from Berne is remarkably fine and comprehensive. The town has all the usual charitable and educational organizations, with a public library containing fifty thousand volumes. Many of the business streets are lined by arcades for foot passengers. Fountains abound, each one being surmounted by some grotesque figure. The cathedral is a fine Gothic structure, dating from 1457. The bear, of whose name the word Berne is the German equivalent, forms the principal figure in the crest or arms of the city. Near the Aarburg gate is a small menagerie of these animals, kept up at all times, and at the public expense. The figure of a bear appears to one in all sorts of connections about the city. There is here a curious and famous clock-tower. Just as the hour is about to strike, a wooden figure of chanticleer appears and crows. He is followed by another puppet which strikes the hour upon a bell, and then come forth a number of bears from the interior of the clock, each one making an obeisance to an enthroned figure, which in turn inclines its sceptre and opens its mouth. The town is noted for the manufacture of choice musical boxes, which are sold all over Europe and America.

We go by railway from Berne to Lucerne, which is situated on the lake of the same name, and contains a population of twenty thousand. The ancient walls which served the town in olden times are still in good preservation. Lucerne is located between the Rigi and Pilatus (lofty mountains), while it faces the snow-clad Alps of Uri and Engelberg. Here the river Reuss issues from the lake with great force. The Schweizerhof Quay, beautifully ornamented with trees, borders the lake, and is a famous promenade for visitors. The chief object of interest, after the very remarkable scenery, is the lion-sculptured rock, in a garden adjoining the town, designed to commemorate the Swiss guard, who sacrificed themselves in fidelity to their royal master, the king of France, at the beginning of the French Revolution. It was modelled by Thorwaldsen. The lake of Lucerne is unsurpassed in Europe for its scenic beauty. It is twenty miles in length, and of irregular width; the greatest depth reaches five hundred feet.

A short trip northward brings us to Zurich, which has a population of eighty thousand, and is situated on the borders of the lake whose name it bears. It is recognized as the Athens of Switzerland, the intellectual capital of the country, as well as being one of the busiest of manufacturing centres, silk and cotton goods forming the staple. The educational facilities afforded at Zurich are recognized all over Europe. The scenery of the suburbs is very fine and peculiarly Swiss, the immediate neighborhood being highly cultivated, and the distance formed by snowy Alps. Lavater, the great physiognomist, Gesner, the celebrated naturalist, and Pestalozzi, the educational reformer, were born at Zurich. The shores of this beautiful lake are covered with vineyards, grain-fields, and pleasant gardens interspersed with the most picturesque cottages and capacious villas. Zurich is divided into two parts by the rapid river Limmat, somewhat as the Rhone divides Geneva. The Platz-promenade is an avenue of shady trees on the banks of the clear, swift river, which is much frequented by the populace. It terminates just where the small river Sihl joins the Limmat. The former is an insignificant stream except in the spring, when it assumes considerable importance through the body of water which it conducts into the bosom of the larger river.

Switzerland is but a small division of Europe. Its greatest length from east to west is about two hundred miles, and its width north and south is about one hundred and forty. Two-thirds of its surface consists of lofty Alps, as we have shown, the scenery being thus marked by towering mountains, vast glaciers, beautiful lakes, fertile valleys, and glittering cascades. Owing to the great elevation of most of the country, the climate is uniformly rather cold. The population does not exceed three millions. The different languages spoken in Switzerland show that the people have no common origin, but come from different races. In the west, French is the language which is in common use, and these people are believed to have descended from the Burgundians; in the north, where German is spoken, a common origin is indicated with the Germans of Swabia; while in the south, both the language and the physical appearance of the people is that of the Italians.

On our way towards England from Zurich, we pass through Schaffhausen, about forty miles from the former city, on the right bank of the Rhine, having a population of about ten thousand. It is a place of considerable business activity, very quaint and antique in general aspect, the style of architecture reminding one of that seen in Chester, England. The chief object of attraction to strangers in this neighborhood is the famous falls of the Rhine, which form three tremendous cascades, where the river is three hundred feet in width, and the falls are eighty feet in height. Schaffhausen is the capital of the canton of the same name, and retains many of the ancient features of a Swabian town of the period of the Empire. The cathedral, an early Romanesque structure, bears the date of 1052. It contains a remarkable bell, which shows by its date that it was placed here about four hundred years ago.


We shall speak only incidentally of London; to describe such a mammoth city even superficially would require an entire volume. It is situated on the river Thames, fifty miles from its mouth, containing a population of about five millions. It is consequently the largest metropolis in the world. Many of the older streets are confused, narrow, and intricate, but the modern portion of the city consists of broad, straight thoroughfares and fine substantial buildings. No capital is better supplied with public parks, the most notable being Hyde Park, covering about four hundred acres in the heart of London, and forming the most popular promenade and drive during the favorite hours of the day, when there is always a brilliant display of wealth and fashion.

It was in existence at the time of Caesar's invasion and has flourished ever since. Of the many churches, new and old, that known as Westminster Abbey is the most interesting, being the shrine of England's illustrious dead. It has been a sacred temple and a royal sepulchre for many centuries; but the towers were completed by the famous English architect, Sir Christopher Wren, who also designed St. Paul's Cathedral, the grandest structure of its kind in the country. Old St. Paul's was destroyed by fire in 1665-6. A Christian church has occupied the same site from a very early period. The present edifice is five hundred feet long and more than one-fourth as wide. The height of the dome to the top of the cross is over three hundred and sixty feet, while the grand and harmonious proportions of the whole are beyond description. The Houses of Parliament form a very imposing architectural pile. The Victoria Tower is seventy-five feet square and nearly three hundred and fifty feet high. The clock-tower is forty feet square and three hundred and eighteen feet high. The face of the clock, placed at this great elevation, must be very large to be discernible upon the street, and is twenty-three feet in diameter.

The British Museum is a noble institution, both in its object and its general appearance. Its front measures three hundred and seventy feet in length, the central portion being decorated with a grand line of lofty columns in the Ionic style. These columns are five feet in diameter and forty-five feet in height. The collection of Greek and Roman antiquities, curiosities from all parts of the world, and valuable relics, undoubtedly exceed in interest and comprehensiveness any other similar museum. The library contains over a million volumes and thousands of precious manuscripts. The National Gallery of Paintings on Trafalgar Square has been formed at an enormous expense, and is worthy of the great metropolis, though it is exceeded in the number of examples and in the individual merit of many of the paintings by some of the continental galleries of Europe. The Zooelogical Garden, adjoining Regent's Park, is one of the great attractions to strangers, and of never-failing interest to the people, being probably the most complete and extensive collection of wild and domestic animals, quadrupeds, birds, and reptiles in the world. Regent's Park is even larger than Hyde Park. Besides these noble, health-dispensing parks,—these breathing-places for a dense population,—the metropolis is dotted here and there with large squares, varying in extent from four to six acres each. The most notable of these are Belgrave Square, Trafalgar Square, Grosvenor Square, Portman Square, Eaton Square, and Russell Square.

Twelve bridges other than railroad bridges cross the river Thames within the city boundary. The largest manufacturing interest in London is that of the breweries, wherein eleven million bushels of malt are annually consumed.

Buckingham Palace, the town residence of Queen Victoria, occupies a location facing St. James's Park, and is a spacious building, but of no architectural pretention. The famous tower of London, according to tradition, was originally built by Julius Caesar, and is situated on the east side of the city, on the left bank of the Thames. It is no longer used as a prison, but is a national armory and museum of warlike implements of antiquity. London has an underground railway running beneath the streets and houses by means of tunnels, and also through cuttings between high walls, forming a complete belt round the inner sections of the city, while branch lines diverge to the suburbs. Statistics show that the railway company which controls the line conveys about eighty millions of passengers annually, at an average rate of twopence each, or four cents of our American currency, per trip. There are over fifty regularly licensed theatrical establishments in the city. The charitable organizations of London are on a scale commensurate with its great wealth and population, while its educational facilities are on an equally extensive scale.

Travellers who land in England at Holyhead, on their way to London, go to the great metropolis by way of Chester, which is one of the most interesting cities in Great Britain. It has a population of a little over thirty thousand, and retains more of its ancient character than any other city of England. The old defences have been carefully preserved, and charming views of the surrounding country may be enjoyed from the promenade which follows the course of the wall. Many of the houses are so constructed that the second floors form a series of continuous galleries or covered ways for foot passengers, known as the "Rows." There is an ancient cathedral here of considerable interest, rendered familiar by the numerous pictures of its several parts which have been so often published. One of the most popular race-courses in England is situated just outside of the city walls of Chester. There is a fine modern Gothic residence in the environs, belonging to the Marquis of Westminster, known as Eaton Hall, and which people travel long distances to see, as it is considered one of the finest structures of its kind in the kingdom.

A railway journey of a hundred miles from London takes us into a beautiful portion of rural England, to that pleasant watering-place, the town of Leamington, where some natural springs exist which are believed to possess certain medical properties. There is a resident population of twenty thousand, which is largely increased during the attractive season of the year. This neighborhood is not only remarkable in a historical point of view, but also for the rural beauty and quiet charms of its scenery. There is here a public garden of twelve or fifteen acres in the middle of the town, under a high condition of cultivation.

It is but a short trip by rail from Leamington to Kenilworth Castle, or rather to its ruins. We need not narrate the historical associations of this place. Scott, in his admirable novel, "Kenilworth," has rendered the reading world familiar with it. The bare and crumbling walls are an eloquent monument of the days of chivalry. The castle is said to have been sufficiently extensive to have accommodated on one occasion Queen Elizabeth and four hundred lords and ladies attached to her household. It was left to the charming pen of Sir Walter Scott to fix the history of the time and place upon the memory more effectually than could be done by the pages of the professed historian.

From Leamington we may also make an excursion to Warwick Castle, one of the grandest and best preserved of mediaeval structures to be seen in Great Britain, and which is occupied by the present Earl of Warwick. This relic of the past, perhaps quite as ancient as Kenilworth, of which only the ruins remain, is in a condition of perfect preservation, and we believe it has never ceased to be occupied by representatives or descendants of the same family. The castle contains a museum of antiquity, including a great variety of armor, battle-axes, swords, flags, and war implements generally, which were used by the ancestors of the present earl. There are some choice paintings in the spacious halls, while from the windows views may be enjoyed, fully depicting the beauties of English rural scenery.

Stratford-on-Avon—the birthplace of Shakespeare—is within a short distance by rail: it contains some four thousand inhabitants. Few foreign travellers fail to visit Stratford. We come to the suggestive spot on a bright, sunny day, and hasten at once to the old church where rest the mortal remains of Shakespeare. Just back of this ancient Gothic structure flows the quiet Avon in the same bed where it has glided for centuries. A group of hay-makers lying idly upon the grass on the opposite bank are gossiping away the noon hour; a fisherman with pole and line is daintily sounding the shady nooks of the peaceful river; a few white swans glide gracefully in the shadow of the overhanging willows, while in the middle distance a flock of sheep nibble the rich green herbage. We find the interior of the church but little superior in architecture and ornamentation to most country churches. The tomb of the poet is in the chancel. Just over the grave, in a niche of the wall, is a bust of Shakespeare, which was placed there shortly after his death, and which is believed to be a good and true likeness of the original. He died at the comparatively early age of fifty-three. We take refreshment at the Red Horse Inn, rendered famous by Washington Irving, stroll thoughtfully through the quaint old village, and visit, with thrilling interest, the house in which Shakespeare was born.

From this remarkable vicinity we take passage over the Great Northern Railroad, by way of Preston and Carlisle, finally reaching Edinburgh, the thriving and pleasant capital of Scotland.

It is a peculiarly formed city, being built on three parallel ridges of considerable elevation, and is remarkable for the general excellence and elegance of its architecture. The older portion of the city is situated upon the loftiest of the ridges, and on which the houses rise to the height of nine and ten stories along the edges and on the steep slopes. The streets in the old town are narrow and irregular. The newer section occupies a lower ridge, being separated from the old by a valley which is improved as a public garden and for business purposes. The public and private buildings are mostly constructed of a white stone resembling marble, which is quarried in the neighborhood. The population numbers about three hundred thousand, occupying a territory which measures just about two square miles. The longest street commences at the Palace of Holyrood and ends at Castle Hill, upon the summit of which is Edinburgh Castle, standing four hundred and fifty feet above the level of the sea.

This might appropriately be called the city of monuments. Among the most prominent are statues to Sir Walter Scott, Nelson, Playfair, Professor Wilson, Allan Ramsay, the Duke of Wellington, and Robert Burns. Scott's monument stands quite by itself on Princes Street, and rises to two hundred feet in height. Few monuments in the world equal this Gothic structure in architectural beauty. The citizens of Edinburgh may well be proud of their numerous educational institutions and charitable establishments, in which departments of noble liberality no city in Great Britain can surpass the Scotch metropolis. Near by Holyrood Palace are the ruins of the ancient abbey of the same name, founded by David I. nearly eight hundred years ago. In its chapel Queen Mary was married to Lord Darnley. In visiting the castle on the hill we are shown the small room wherein Queen Mary became the mother of James VI., who was afterwards king of England. The royal infant was lowered from the window of the little chamber in a basket, when friends received it and thus saved it from its scheming enemies.

In the High Street we visit the house where John Knox, the great Scottish reformer, lived. Close by, in White Horse Close, is the inn where Dr. Johnson lodged in 1773, while in the churchyard hard by are the graves of Adam Smith and Dugald Stewart. It is not possible to feel indifferent to such associations. No grander figure can be found in the history of the Reformation than that of John Knox. His biography reads like a romance. Whether serving a two years' sentence in the French galleys, enduring a siege in the castle of St. Andrews, being tried for treason by order of Queen Mary, haranguing from the pulpit against what he considered false religionists, or having his steps dogged by assassins, Knox never swerved from what he believed to be the path of duty.

In the immediate environs of the city, to the south of Holyrood, are Salisbury Crags and Arthur's Seat, always visited by strangers, besides being a favorite resort of the citizens of Edinburgh. There is a fine road-way which surrounds Arthur's Seat, known as "The Queen's Drive." Scott made this vicinity of more than passing interest by his "Heart of Mid-Lothian," and the local guides point out the spot where Jeanie Deans is represented to have met Robertson. The "Queen's Drive" affords from several points charmingly comprehensive views.

A drive of twenty miles through the hills and plains lying to the southeast of the city will take us to Melrose, a place only noted for its famous ruins of the Abbey. It was founded by David I., in 1136, for monks of the Cistercian order, and rebuilt in an elaborate and elegant style between the reign of Robert Bruce and James IV. It was the finest church, as it is the noblest ruin, in Scotland. Scott has rendered us familiar with it. From here we drive to Abbotsford, the home of Sir Walter, and which is still kept exactly in the condition in which the poet left it on the day of his death. We wander through the house, lingering in the library, sit in the chair before the table where he sat and wrote in prose and poetry; we examine the curious collection of armor and the various historical mementos which he gathered about him, among which are weapons once owned by Rob Roy and the Douglas, and those of other real characters about whom his genius has woven such romantic interest. Abbotsford House is large, imposing, and beautifully situated, the spacious grounds which are attached to it sloping gracefully down to the banks of the river Tweed, beyond which rise the beautiful Selkirk Hills.

In travelling about the rural districts of Scotland in the vicinity of Edinburgh, one is impressed by the thrifty appearance of the country, which seems to be cultivated with great care. We see many flocks of sheep. There is not much attempt at what is called gardening, but a few staples in grain are depended upon, and much attention is given to the raising of sheep, horses, and cattle. The men and women are of a strong, vigorous type, hospitable and kindly. The national characteristics of the Scotch exhibit themselves in the simplest transactions. They are a remarkably intelligent and well-educated people; steady-going, plodding, economical, very set in their ways and opinions, being rather slow according to American ideas, but uncommonly sure and reliable.

Glasgow differs from Edinburgh in many respects. Its situation is low, and the view is obstructed by a multiplicity of tall, smoky chimneys, with other tokens of manufacturing industry. It is the most populous city of Scotland, having over half a million of inhabitants, and is located on the banks of the river Clyde. Except in the manufacturing parts of the town, the architecture and streets are fine and attractive. Dressed freestone is the material most commonly used in the construction of the best dwelling-houses and the public buildings. The river is crossed by five noble bridges,—two of granite, one of iron,—and two are suspension bridges. The city reminds one forcibly of Pittsburgh in America. The chemical works, foundries, and workshops of all kinds, using such quantities of bituminous or soft coal, create an atmosphere of a dense, smoky character.

Glasgow contains four large and beautifully kept parks. The city is over a thousand years old, but we have no record of its earliest three or four centuries. Situated in the midst of a district abounding in coal and iron, and upon a river which insures it world-wide commerce, maritime enterprise has been a natural result. Here James Watt made his memorable improvements in the steam-engine, and here Henry Bell first demonstrated in the Old World the practicability of steam navigation. This was in 1812, four years after Fulton's successful experiments upon the Hudson River in this country, but of which Bell seems to have had no knowledge. Glasgow has many handsome and substantial blocks of dwelling-houses. Buchanan Street and Queen Street are both remarkably elegant thoroughfares; the former especially is notable for its large and attractive stores. Argyle Street is very broad and two miles long, one of the finest avenues in Great Britain. Here, as in Edinburgh, there are numerous public monuments, among which we observe the equestrian statues of William III., the Duke of Wellington, in front of the Royal Exchange; and that of Queen Victoria, in George's Square. There is also an obelisk one hundred and forty feet high, erected to the honor of Nelson, besides others of Sir Walter Scott, Sir John Moore, James Watt, Sir Robert Peel, etc.

There are two chimneys in the city designed to carry off the poisonous gases from the chemical works, which are respectively four hundred and sixty, and four hundred and fifty feet in height, the latter carrying off the vapor from St. Rollox, the largest chemical manufactory in the world. These buildings cover fifteen acres of ground, and the works give employment to over a thousand men. Cotton factories are also numerous here, and calico-printing establishments. Beer-brewing is one of the largest branches of manufacture, as it is also in London. In the building of iron steamships the port of Glasgow leads the world. For a long time there was an average of one steamer a day launched on the banks of the Clyde, in the vicinity, though this number is not quite kept up at the present time. Clyde steamers have a high reputation, and are given the preference for durability and general excellence of workmanship.

Greenock, with a population of about fifty thousand, is one of the finest seaports in Scotland, having also a large business in iron ship-building. This was the native place of James Watt, already spoken of, and here we observe an admirable statue reared to his memory. The city is situated a little over twenty miles from Glasgow, on the Firth of Clyde. From here we take passage in a steamer across the Irish Sea to Belfast, the principal city of Northern Ireland.

Belfast has a population of about two hundred thousand, and next to Dublin is the most important city of the country. It is comparatively modern, its tall chimneys, large factories, and spinning-mills speaking intelligibly of material prosperity. Queen's College is a large structure in the Tudor style, with a frontage of six hundred feet in length. There is an admirable museum on College Square containing a large collection of Irish antiquities. We also find an excellent botanical garden here, and there are no better school facilities in the United Kingdom than are to be enjoyed in this metropolis of Northern Ireland. From Cave Hill, in the suburbs, an elevation over a thousand feet in height, a most admirable view of the city and its surroundings may be enjoyed, the coast of Scotland being visible on the far horizon. The streets of Belfast are regular, broad, and cleanly, and many of the public buildings are superb in architectural effect. The city hall, the custom house, the Ulster Bank, and Linen Hall are all noble structures. This is the great headquarters of the Irish linen trade.

A short journey of about a hundred miles due south by railway will bring us to Dublin, the capital of Ireland. It has a population of about four hundred thousand, and is situated on the shore of Dublin Bay, with the river Liffey flowing through its centre. It is an attractive city with very beautiful surroundings. There are many grand public buildings, several large parks, a number of interesting old churches, and a cathedral,—St. Patrick's,—connected with which are the associations of six centuries. The remains of Dean Swift are buried here. Near by is the house where Thomas Moore, the poet, was born, and not far away is the birthplace of the Duke of Wellington. Dublin has its public library, its museum, its Royal College of Surgeons, and its famous Trinity College, where Goldsmith, Swift, Burke, and many others graduated. It has also many noble charitable organizations and societies for the diffusion of science. The zooelogical garden is one of the most extensive in Great Britain. Dublin Castle is near the centre of the city, on slightly elevated ground, containing an armory, a chapel, and various government offices. This city claims great antiquity, having existed as a capital since the days of Ptolemy. It was for centuries held by the Danes; in 1169 it was taken by the English under Strongbow, whose remains lie in Christ Church Cathedral.

From Dublin we take passage on board of a steamer for Liverpool, the commercial metropolis of England, which contains about seven hundred thousand inhabitants. It is situated on the river Mersey, four miles from the sea. To the traveller it presents few attractions save those of a great shipping depot, which is unsurpassed in the department of maritime enterprise.

The moral and physical character of the population, taken in mass, is rather low, though the city has many institutions and associations designed to promote intelligence and to fulfil all charitable demands. The exhibitions of intemperance to be met with upon the streets at all hours forms a disgraceful picture of humanity, in which respect Liverpool seems to be more sadly afflicted than are the lowest sections of London.

From here we sail for Nassau, New Providence, a British possession in the Bahama Islands, lying northeast from Cuba, the largest of the West Indian Islands.


Upon landing at Nassau we find everything quite different from our late experiences in the large European cities, and are brought face to face with nature,—with a tropical race and with tropical vegetation. Instead of palatial edifices we have low native huts, while the people we meet have the bronzed hue of Africans. This island, which was settled by Europeans as early as 1629, contains nearly a hundred square miles. The town has a small free library, several churches, a hospital, and a bank.

It seems singular that an island like New Providence, which is almost without soil, should be so productive in vegetation. It is surrounded by low-lying coral reefs, and is itself of the same formation. In a pulverized condition this limestone forms the earth out of which spring palm, banana, ceba, orange, lemon, tamarind, mahogany, and cocoanut trees, with various others, besides an almost endless variety of flowers. Science teaches us that all soils are but broken and decomposed rock pulverized by various agencies acting through long periods of time. So the molten lava which once poured from the fiery mouth of Vesuvius has become the soil of thriving vineyards which produce the choice grapes whence is made the priceless Lachryma Cristi wine of Naples. This transformation of lava into soil is not accomplished in the period of a single life.

The luscious pineapple, zapota, mango, pomegranate, citron, custard-apple, and other fruits captivate the palate of the stranger, while the profuseness and variety of beautiful ferns and orchids delight the eye of the northerner. The negroes are mostly engaged in cultivating pineapples, yams, sweet potatoes, and other vegetables, and a large number of the males employ themselves in fishing and gathering sponges. From this locality comes the largest supply of coarse sponge which is used in England and America. There is also a considerable trade carried on in fine turtle-shell, which is polished in an exquisite manner by the patient natives. The Bahama sponges are not equal to those obtained in the Mediterranean. But they are marketable for certain uses, and Nassau exports half a million dollars' worth annually. It is said that sponges can be propagated by cuttings taken from living specimens, which, when properly attached to a piece of board and sunk in the sea, will increase and multiply. Thus the fine Mediterranean sponge can be successfully transported to the coral reefs of the Bahamas.

A short drive or walk inland over smooth roads, formed of smooth, levelled coral rocks, brings us to the extensive pineapple fields, where this handsome fruit may be seen in the several stages of growth, varying according to the season of the year and the purposes of its use. If intended for exportation, the fruit is gathered when well-grown but still in a green state; if designed for canning,—that is, preserving,—the riper it is, the better it is adapted to the purpose. Great quantities are put in tin cans carefully sealed for use in this and other countries. The visitor is sure to be impressed by the beauty and grace of the cocoanut-trees, their plume of leaves, often sixty feet from the ground, notwithstanding that the bare stem or trunk is rarely over two feet in thickness.

There are said to be six hundred of the Bahama Islands, large and small, of which Nassau is the capital, and here the English governor-general resides. Many are mere rocky islets, and not more than twenty have fixed inhabitants. The sea-gardens, as they are called, situated just off the shore of the main island, are extremely interesting. We go out a short distance in a row-boat, and by means of a simple contrivance of wood and glass we can look many fathoms below the surface of the sea. These water-glasses are easily made, being formed of a small wooden box three or four inches square, open at the top and having a water-tight glass bottom. With the glass portion slightly submerged one is able to see distinctly the beautiful coral reefs with their marvellous surroundings. There are displayed tiny caves and grottoes of white coral, star-fishes, sea-urchins, growing sponges, sea-fans, and bright-colored fishes, including the hummingbird fish, and others like butterflies with mottled fins and scales, together with that little oddity, the rainbow-fish. The prevailing color of this attractive creature is dark green, but the tinted margins of its scales so reflect the light as to show all the colors of the rainbow, and hence its name. When bottled in alcohol for preservation, these fish lose their native colors. This unique display is enhanced in beauty by the clearness of these waters, and the reflected lights from the snow-white sandy bottom, which is dotted here and there by delicate shells of various shapes and colors. One longs to descend among these coral bowers,—these mermaid gardens,—and pluck a bouquet of the submarine flora in its purple, yellow, and scarlet freshness.

The surface life of these clear waters is also extremely interesting. Here the floating jelly-fish, called from its phosphorescence the glow-worm of the sea, is observed in great variety, sheltering little colonies of young fishes, which rush forth for a moment to capture some passing mite, and as quickly return again to their cover. If we take up a handful of the floating gulf-weed, we find within the pale yellow leaves and berries, tiny pipe-fish, seahorses, and specimens of the little nest-building fishes. Thus this curious weed forms a home for parasites, crabs, and shell-fishes, being itself a sort of mistletoe of the ocean. The young of the mackerel and the herring glide rapidly about in shoals, just below the surface, near the shore, like myriad pieces of silver. Verily there would seem to be more of animal life below than above the surface of the waters, which is not an unreasonable conclusion when it is remembered that the whole surface of the globe is supposed to have an area of about two hundred million square miles, and that of these only about fifty millions are composed of dry land.

Much of the drinking-water, and certainly the best in use at Nassau, as well as on some of the neighboring islands, is procured in a remarkable manner from the sea. Not far from shore, on the coral reefs, there are never-failing fresh-water springs, bubbling up from the bottom through the salt water with such force as to clearly indicate their locality. Over these ocean springs the people place sunken barrels filled with sand, one above another, the bottoms and tops being first removed. The fresh water is thus conducted to the surface through the column of sand, which acts as a filter, the water being sweet and palatable, as well as remarkable for its crystal clearness. So on the arid shores of the Persian Gulf, where rain seldom falls, and where there are no rills to refresh the parched soil, fresh water is obtained from springs beneath the sea. There it is brought to the surface by employing divers, who descend with leather bags. The mouth of a bag is placed over the bubbling spring, quickly filled and closed again, being then drawn to the surface by persons awaiting the signal from the diver, who then hastens to rise for needed air. There is no mystery as to the source of these springs. The rain falls on the distant mountains, and finding its way through the rocky ledges, pursues its course until it gushes forth in the bed of the gulf.

A fortnightly steamer from New York, bound for Cuba, touches at Nassau on the southward trip to leave the mail, and we will avail ourselves of this opportunity to visit the "Queen of the Antilles," as this island is called. At first we steam to the north for half a day, in order to find a safe channel out of the Bahamas, where there is more of shoal than of navigable waters, and as we do so, we leave many islands behind us inhabited only by turtles, flamingoes, and sea-birds. But we are soon steaming due south again towards our destination, namely, the island of Cuba, five hundred miles away. San Salvador is sighted on our starboard bow (right-hand side), the spot where Columbus first landed in the New World. It will be found laid down on most English maps as Cat Island, and is now the home of two or three thousand colored people, the descendants of imported Africans. The island is nearly as large as New Providence. It is said that the oranges grown here are the sweetest and best that are known. The voyager in these latitudes is constantly saluted by gentle breezes full of tropical fragrance, intensified in effect by the distant view of cocoanut, palmetto, and banana trees, clothing the islands in a mantle of green, down to the very water's edge. As we glide along, gazing shoreward, now and again little groups of swallows seem to be flitting a few feet above the waves, then suddenly disappearing beneath the water. These are flying-fish enjoying an air-bath, either in frolic or in fear; pursued possibly by some dreaded enemy in the sea, which they are trying to escape.

It is interesting to remain on deck at night and watch the heavens as we glide through the phosphorescent sea. Is it possible that the moon, whose light renders objects so plain that one can see to read small print, shines solely by borrowed light? We know it to be so, and also that Venus, Mars, and perhaps Jupiter and Saturn shine in a similar manner with light reflected from the sun. It is interesting to adjust the telescope, and bring the starry system nearer to the vision. If we direct our gaze upon a planet, we find its disk or face sharply defined; change the direction, and let the object-glass rest upon a star, and we have only a point of light more or less brilliant. The glass reveals to us the fact that the "star-dust" which we call the Milky Way is an accumulation of innumerable single stars. Sweeping the blue expanse with the telescope, we find some stars are golden, some green, others purple, many silvery white, and some are twins. Our use of the words "first and second magnitude" relates mainly to distance. It is most likely only a question of distance which regulates our vision or capacity for seeing, and which makes these "lamps of the sky" look larger or smaller to us.

When the lonely lighthouse which marks Cape Maysi, at the eastern point of Cuba, comes into view on the starboard bow, the dim form of the mountains of Hayti are visible on the opposite horizon. A subterranean connection is believed to exist between the mountain ranges of the two islands. We are now running through the Windward Passage, as it is called; by which one branch of the Gulf Stream finds its way northward. The Gulf Stream! Who can explain satisfactorily its ceaseless current? What keeps its tepid waters, in a course of thousands of miles, from mingling with the rest of the sea? And finally whence does it come? Maury, the great nautical authority, says the Gulf of Mexico is its fountain, and its mouth is the Arctic Sea. The maps make the eastern shore of Cuba terminate as sharp as a needle's point, but it proves to be very blunt in reality, where it forms one side of the gateway to the Caribbean Sea, and where the irregular coast line runs due north and south for the distance of many leagues.

The nights are mostly clear, soft, and lovely in this region. As we double Cape Maysi, and the ship is headed westward, the Southern Cross and the North Star blaze in the opposite horizons at the same time, the constellation on our port side (left-hand), and the North Star on the starboard side. Each day at noon the captain and his officers determine the exact position of the ship by "taking the sun," as it is termed. When the sun reaches the meridian, that is, the point directly overhead, the exact moment is indicated by the nautical instrument known as a quadrant, adjusted to the eye of the observer. The figures marked on the quadrant give the latitude of the ship at the moment of meridian. The ship's time is then made to correspond,—that is to say, it must indicate twelve o'clock noon,—after which it is compared with an exact timepiece called a chronometer, which keeps Greenwich (English) time, and the difference enables the observer to determine the longitude. As fifteen miles are allowed to the minute, there will be nine hundred miles to the hour. Thus, by means of the chronometer and the quadrant, the sailing-master is enabled to designate his exact situation upon the ocean chart.

Soon after passing the remarkably sheltered port of Guantanamo, which was for nearly a century the most notorious piratical rendezvous in the West Indies, the famous castle of Santiago is seen. It is called Moro Castle, but it is older than the better-known Moro of Havana, by nearly a hundred years. This antique, yellow, Moorish-looking stronghold, which modern gunnery would destroy in ten minutes or less, is picturesque to the last degree, with its crumbling, honey-combed battlements, and queer little flanking towers. It is built upon the face of a lofty, dun-colored rock, upon whose precipitous side the fortification is terraced. Its position is just at the entrance of the narrow river leading to the city, six or eight miles away, so that in passing up the channel one can speak from the ship's deck to any one who might be standing on the outer battlement of the Moro.

The winding channel which leads from the sea to the harbor passes through low hills and broad meadows covered with rank verdure, cocoanut groves, and fishing hamlets. Thrifty palms and intensely green bananas line the way, with here and there upon the pleasant banks a charming country-house in the midst of a garden fragrant with flowers. So close is the shore all the while that one seems to be navigating upon the land, gliding among trees and over greensward rather than upon blue water. Steaming slowly up the Santiago River, we presently pass a sharp angle of the hills, leading into a broad sheltered bay, upon whose banks stands the rambling old city of Santiago de Cuba, built on a hillside like Tangier, in Africa, and it is almost as Oriental as the capital of Morocco. The first and most conspicuous objects to meet the eye are the twin towers of the ancient cathedral, which have withstood so many earthquakes.

This city, once the capital of the island of Cuba, was founded by Velasquez, and is now gray with age and decay. The many-colored, one-story houses are ranged in narrow streets, which cross each other at right angles with considerable regularity, though the roadways are in an almost impassable condition. They were once paved with cobblestones, but are now dirty and neglected, a stream of offensive water flowing through their centres, in which little naked children, blacks and whites, are at play. No wonder that such numbers die here annually of yellow fever. The surprise is that it does not prevail all the year round.

Santiago dates back to the year 1514, making it the oldest city in the New World, next to San Domingo. From here Cortez sailed in 1518 to invade Mexico. Here has been the seat of modern rebellion against the arbitrary and bitterly oppressive rule of the home government of Spain. The city contains over forty thousand inhabitants, and is situated six hundred miles southeast of Havana; after Matanzas, it comes next in commercial importance, its exports reaching the annual aggregate of eight millions of dollars. After climbing and descending these narrow, dirty streets of Santiago, and watching the local characteristics for a few hours, one is glad to go on board ship again, and leave it all behind.

To reach Cienfuegos, our next destination, we take water conveyance, the common roads in this district being, if possible, a degree worse than elsewhere on the island. It is necessary to double Cape Cruz and make a coasting voyage along the southern shore of the island, for a distance of four hundred miles. This is really delightful sailing in any but the hurricane months; that is, between the middle of August and the middle of October.

Cienfuegos has some twenty-five thousand inhabitants, a large percentage of whom speak English, nine-tenths of its commerce being with this country. It was in this immediate neighborhood, as Columbus tells us, on the occasion of his second voyage from Spain, that he saw with astonishment the mysterious king who spoke to his people only by signs, and that group of men who wore long white tunics like the monks of mercy, while the rest of the people were entirely naked. The town is low and level, occupying a broad plain. The streets are wide and clean, while the harbor is an excellent and spacious one. It is pitiful to behold such an array of beggars, and it is strange, too, in so small a city. Here the maimed, the halt, and the blind meet us at every turn. Saturday is the harvest day for beggars in Cuban cities, on which occasion they go about by scores from door to door, carrying a large canvas bag. Each well-to-do family and shop is supplied on this day with a quantity of small rolls of bread, one of which is almost invariably given to any beggar who calls, and thus the mendicant's bag presently becomes full of rolls. These, mixed with a few vegetables, bits of fish, and sometimes meat and bones, are boiled into a soup which at least keeps soul and body together in the poor creatures until another Saturday comes round.

Cienfuegos is in the centre of a great sugar-producing district. Sugar-cane is cultivated much like Indian corn, which it also resembles in appearance. It is first planted in rows and weeded until it gets high enough to shade its roots, after which it is left pretty much to itself until it reaches maturity. This refers to the first laying out of a plantation, which will afterwards continue to throw up fresh stalks from the roots, with a little help from the hoe, for several years. When ripe the cane is of a light golden yellow, streaked here and there with red. The top is dark green, with long narrow leaves depending,—very much like those of corn,—from the centre of which shoots upward a silvery stem fifteen or eighteen inches in height, and from the tip grows a white-fringed plume. The effect of a large field at maturity lying under a torrid sun, and gently yielding to the breeze, is very fine.

Though the modern machinery for crushing, grinding, and extracting the sugar from the cane as lately adopted on the Cuban plantations is expensive, still the result obtained is so much superior to that of the old methods, that small planters are being driven from the market. The low price of sugar and the great competition in its production renders economy in the manufacture quite necessary, especially now that slave labor is abolished.

The delightful climate is exemplified by the abundance and variety of fruits and flowers. Let us visit a private garden in the environs of the city. Here the mango with its peach-like foliage is found, bending to the ground with the weight of its ripening fruit; the alligator-pear is wonderfully beautiful in its blossom, suggesting in form and color the passion-flower; the soft, delicate foliage of the tamarind is like our sensitive plant; the banana-trees are in full bearing, the deep green fruit (it is ripened and turns yellow off the tree), being in clusters of nearly a hundred, tipped at the same time by a single, pendent, glutinous bud nearly as large as a pineapple. Here we see also the star-apple-tree, remarkable for its uniform and graceful shape, full of green fruit, with here and there a ripening specimen. The zapota, in its rusty coat, hangs in tempting abundance. From low, broad-spreading trees hangs the grape fruit, as large as a baby's head and yellow as gold; while the orange and lemon trees, bearing blossoms, and green and ripening fruit all together, serve to charm the eye and to fill the garden with rich fragrance.

Let us examine one of these products in detail, selecting the banana as being the most familiar to us at the north. It seems that the female banana-tree (for we must remember that there are sexes in the vegetable as well as in the animal kingdom), bears more fruit than the male, but not so large. The average clusters of the former comprise about one hundred, but the latter rarely bears over sixty or seventy distinct specimens of this finger-shaped fruit. The stem grows to about ten feet in height; from the centre of its broad leaves, which gather palm-like at the top, there springs forth a large purple bud ten inches long, shaped like a huge acorn, though more pointed. This cone-like bud hangs suspended from a strong stem, upon which a leaf unfolds, displaying a cluster of young fruit. As soon as these are large enough to support the heat of the sun and the chill of the night dews, the sheltering leaf drops off, and another unfolds, exposing its little brood of fruit; and so the process goes on until six or eight rings of young bananas are started, which gradually develop to full size. The banana is a plant which dies down to the ground after fruiting, but it annually sprouts again from the same roots.

We will continue our journey towards Havana by way of Matanzas, crossing the island so as to penetrate at once into a section of luxuriant tropical nature, where we see the cactus in great variety, flowering trees, and ever-graceful palms, with occasional trees of the ceba family grown to vast size. Vegetation here, unlike human beings, seems never to grow old, never to falter in productiveness; crop succeeds crop, harvest follows harvest; it is an endless cycle of abundance. Miles upon miles of the bright, golden sugar-cane lie in all directions; among the plantations here and there is seen the little cluster of low buildings constituting the laborers' quarters, and near by is the tall, white chimney of the sugar-mill, emitting its thick volume of smoke, like the funnel of a steamship. A little on one side stands the planter's house, low and white, surrounded by shade-trees and flower-plats. Scores of dusky Africans give life to the scene, and the overseer, on his little Cuban pony, dashes hither and thither to keep all hands advantageously at work. One large gang is busy cutting the ripe cane with sword-like knives; some are loading the stalks upon ox-carts; some are driving loads to the mill; and some are feeding the cane between the great steel crushers, beneath which pours forth a continuous jelly-like stream which is conducted by iron pipes to the boilers. Men, women, and children are spreading the refuse to dry in the sun, after which it will be used as fuel beneath the boilers. Coopers are heading up hogsheads full of the manufactured article, and other laborers are rolling up empty ones to be filled. Formerly the overseers were never seen without the long-lashed whip, but slavery no longer exists as an institution. The negroes are free, though they work for very small wages.

Occasionally in the trip across the island we pass through a crude but picturesque hamlet, having the mouldering stamp of antiquity, with low straggling houses built of rude frames, covered at side and roof with palm-bark and leaves. Chimneys, there are none,—none even in the cities,—charcoal being alone used, and all cooking is done in the open air. About the doors of the long, irregular posada, or inn, a dozen saddle-horses are seen tied to a bar erected for the purpose, while their owners are smoking and drinking inside; but there are no wheeled vehicles to be seen. The roads are only passable for men on foot or horseback. The people, the cabins, and the horses all are stained with the red dust of the soil, recalling our Western Indians in their war paint. This pigment, or colored dirt, penetrates and adheres to everything, fills the railroad cars, and decorates the passengers with a dingy brick color. It is difficult to realize that these comparatively indifferent places through which we glide so swiftly are of any importance, and the permanent home of any one. When the cars stop at the small way-stations, they are instantly boarded by lottery-ticket sellers, boys with tempting fruit, green cocoanuts, ripe oranges, and bananas, all surprisingly cheap. Here, too, is the guava-seller, with neatly sealed tin cans of this favorite preserve. Indeed, it seems to rain guava jelly in Cuba. At a shanty beside the road where we stop at noon, a large mulatto woman retails coffee and island rum, while a score of native whites lounge about with slouched hats, hands in pockets, and puffing cigarettes,—pictures of idleness and indifference.

Stray dogs hang about the car-wheels and track to pick up the crumbs which passengers throw away from their lunch-baskets. Just over the wild pineapple hedge close at hand, half a dozen naked negro children hover round the door of a low cabin; the mother, fat and shining in her one garment, gazes with arms akimbo at the scene of which she forms a typical part. The engineer imbibes a penny drink of thin Cataline wine and hastens back to his post. The station bell rings, the steam whistle is sounded, and we are quickly on our way again, to repeat the picture six or eight leagues farther on.

As we approach Matanzas, the scene undergoes a radical change. Comfortable habitations are multiplied, good roads appear winding gracefully about the country, and groves and gardens come into view with small dairy farms. Superb specimens of the royal palm begin to multiply themselves, always suggestive of the Corinthian column. Scattered about the scene a few handsome cattle are observed cropping the rank verdure. There is no greensward in the tropics, grass is not cultivated, and hay is never made. Such fodder as is fed to domestic animals is cut green and brought into the city from day to day.

Notwithstanding the ceaseless novelty of the scene, one becomes a little fatigued by the long, hot ride; but as we draw nearer to Matanzas, the refreshing air from the Gulf suddenly comes to our relief, full of a bracing tonic which renders all things tolerable. The sight of the broad harbor, under such circumstances, lying with its flickering, shimmering surface under the afternoon sun, is very beautiful to behold.


The island of Cuba was discovered by Columbus, in October of the year 1492; the continent of America was not discovered until six years later,—that is, in 1498. Columbus and his followers found the land inhabited by a peculiar race; hospitable, inoffensive, timid, fond of the dance, yet naturally indolent. They had some definite idea of God and heaven, and were governed by patriarchs whose age gave them precedence. They spoke the dialect of the Lucagos or Bahamas, from which islands it was thought they originated, but it would seem more reasonable to suppose that both the people of the Bahamas and of the West Indian islands originally came from the mainland; that is, either from north or south of the Isthmus of Panama.

The natives were at once subjected by the new-comers, who reduced them to a condition of slavery, and proving to be hard taskmasters, the poor overworked creatures died by hundreds, until they had nearly disappeared. They were of tawny complexion, and beardless, resembling in many respects our native Indians. As Columbus described them in his first letter sent to his royal patrons in Spain, they were "loving, tractable, and peaceable; though entirely naked, their manners were decorous and praiseworthy." The wonderful fertility of the soil, its range of noble mountains, its widespread and well-watered plains, with its extended coast-line and excellent harbors, all challenged the admiration of the discoverers, so that Columbus recorded in his journal these words: "It is the most beautiful island that the eyes of man ever beheld, full of excellent ports and deep rivers."

The Spaniards were surprised to see the natives using rude pipes, in which they smoked a certain dried leaf with apparent gratification. Tobacco was native to the soil, and in the use of this now well-nigh universal narcotic, these simple savages indulged in an original luxury, or habit, which the Spanish invaders were not slow in acquiring.

The flowers were strongly individualized. The frangipanni, tall, and almost leafless, with thick, flesh-like shoots, and decked with a small, white blossom, was fragrant and abundant. Here, also, was the wild passion-flower, in which the Spaniards thought they beheld the emblem of our Saviour's passion. The golden-hued peta was found beside the myriad-flowering oleander and the night-blooming cereus, while the luxuriant undergrowth was braided with the cactus and the aloe. They were also delighted by tropical fruits in confusing variety, of which they knew not even the names.

This was four hundred years ago, and to-day the same flowers and the same luscious fruits grow upon the soil in similar abundance. Nature in this land of endless summer puts forth strange eagerness, ever running to fruits, flowers, and fragrance, as if they were outlets for her exuberant fancy.

Diego Velasquez, the first governor of the island under Spanish rule, appears to have been an energetic magistrate, and to have ruled affairs with intelligence. He did not live, however, in a period when justice erred on the side of mercy, and his harsh and cruel treatment of the natives will always remain a blot upon his memory. Emigration was fostered by the home government, and cities were established in the several divisions of the island; but the new province was mainly considered in the light of a military station by the Spanish government in its operations against Mexico. Thus Cuba became the headquarters of the Spanish power in the west, forming the point of departure for those military expeditions which, though small in number, were yet so formidable in the energy of the leaders, and in the arms, discipline, courage, fanaticism, and avarice of their followers, that they were fully adequate to carry out the vast scheme of conquest for which they were designed.

The Spaniards who invaded Mexico encountered a people who had attained a far higher degree of civilization than their red brethren of the outlying Caribbean Islands, or those of the northeastern portion of the continent, now forming the United States. Vast pyramids, imposing sculptures, curious arms, fanciful garments, various kinds of manufactures, filled the invaders with surprise. There was much which was curious and strange in their religion, while the capital of the Mexican empire presented a fascinating spectacle to the eyes of Cortez and his followers. The rocky amphitheatre in the midst of which it was built still remains, but the great lake which was its grandest feature, traversed by causeways and covered with floating gardens, is gone. The Aztec dynasty was doomed. In vain did the inhabitants of the conquered city, roused to madness by the cruelty and extortion of the victors, expel them from their midst. Cortez refused to flee further than the shore; the light of his burning vessels rekindled the desperate valor of his followers, and Mexico fell, as a few years after did Peru beneath the sword of Pizarro, thus completing the scheme of conquest, and giving Spain a colonial empire more splendid than that of any power in Christendom.

In the meantime, under numerous and often-changed captains-general, the island of Cuba increased in population by free emigration from Spain, and by the constant cruel importation of slaves from Africa. It may be said to have been governed by a military despotism from the outset to the present time, and nothing short of such an arbitrary rule could have maintained the connection between the island and so exacting a mother country, situated more than three thousand miles across the ocean.

The form of the island is quite irregular, resembling the blade of a Turkish cimeter slightly curved back, or that of a long, narrow crescent. It stretches away in this shape from east to west, throwing its western end into a curve, and thus forming a partial barrier to the outlet of the Gulf of Mexico, as if at some ancient period it had been a part of the American continent, severed on its north side from the Florida Peninsula by the wearing of the Gulf Stream, and from Yucatan on its southwestern point by a current setting into the Gulf. Two channels are thus formed by which the Mexican Gulf is entered.

One neither departs from nor approaches the Cuban shore without crossing that remarkable ocean-river to which we have so often referred in these pages,—the Gulf Stream,—with banks and bottom of cold water, while its body and surface are warm. Its color in the region of the Gulf is indigo-blue, so distinct that the eye can follow its line of demarkation where it joins the common water of the sea. Its surface temperature on the coast of the United States is from 75 deg. to 80 deg.. Its current, of a speed of four to five miles per hour, expends immense power in its course, and forms a body of water in the latitude of the Carolina coast fully two hundred miles wide. Its temperature diminishes very gradually, while it moves thousands of leagues, until one branch loses itself in Arctic regions, and the other breaks on the coast of Europe.

The sea-bottom, especially near the continents, resembles the neighboring land, and consists of hills, mountains, and valleys, like the earth upon which we live. A practical illustration of this fact is found in the soundings taken by the officers of our Coast Survey in the Caribbean Sea, where a valley was found giving a water-depth of three thousand fathoms, twenty-five miles south of Cuba. The Cayman Islands, in that neighborhood, are the summits of mountains bordering this deep valley at the bottom of the sea, which has been found, by a series of soundings, to extend over seven hundred miles from between Cuba and Jamaica nearly to the Bay of Honduras, with an average breadth of eighty miles. Thus the island of Grand Cayman, scarcely twenty feet above sea-level, is said to be a mountain-top twenty thousand five hundred and sixty feet above the bottom of the submarine valley beside which it rises,—an altitude exceeding that of any mountain on the North American continent. A little more than five miles, or say twenty-seven thousand feet, is the greatest depth yet sounded at sea.

Cuba is the most westerly of the West Indian Islands, and compared with the others has nearly twice as much superficial extent of territory, being about as large as England proper, without the principality of Wales. Its greatest length from east to west is very nearly eight hundred miles, its narrowest part is over twenty miles, and its average width fifty. The circumference is two thousand miles, and it contains over forty thousand square miles.

The nearest port of the island to this continent is Matanzas, lying due-south from Cape Sable, Florida, a distance of a hundred and thirty miles. Havana is situated some sixty miles west of Matanzas, and it is here that the island divides the entrance to the Gulf of Mexico, whose coast-line measures six thousand miles, finding the outlet for its commerce along the shore of Cuba, almost within range of the guns in Moro Castle. Lying thus at our very door, as it were, this island stands like a sentinel guarding the approaches to the Gulf of Mexico, whose waters wash the shores of five of the United States, and by virtue of the same position barring the entrance of the great river, the Mississippi, which drains half the continent of North America. So, also, Cuba keeps watch and ward over our communication with California by way of the Isthmus of Panama. It is not surprising, therefore, when we realize the commanding position of the island, that so much interest attaches to its ultimate destiny.

Matanzas is situated in one of the most fertile portions of the island, the city covering the picturesque hills by which the bay is surrounded. The fortifications are of a meagre character and could not withstand a well-directed attack for half an hour. The custom house is the most prominent building which strikes the eye on approaching the city by water. Though built of stone, it is only one story in height, and was erected at the commencement of the present century. The city is connected with Havana by railway, of which there are nearly a thousand miles in operation in the island.

Club life prevails at Matanzas, as usual at the expense of domestic or family ties; the same may be said of Havana, and both cities in this respect are like London. It is forbidden to discuss politics in these Cuban clubs, the hours being occupied mostly in playing cards, dominoes, chess, and checkers, for money. Gambling is as natural and national in Cuba as in China. Many Chinese are seen about the streets and stores of Matanzas, variously employed, and usually in a most forlorn and impoverished condition,—poor creatures who have survived their "apprenticeship" and are now free. They were brought here under the disguise of the Coolie system, as it is called, but which was only slavery in another form. These Chinese are peaceful, do not drink spirituous liquors, work hard, never meddle with politics, and live on one-half they can earn, so as to save enough to pay their passage home to their beloved land. Few succeed; eight-tenths of those imported into the island have been not only cheated out of the promised wages, but worked to death!

The famous afternoon drive and promenade of Matanzas was formerly the San Carlos Paseo. It has fine possibilities, and is lined and beautifully ornamented with thrifty Indian laurels. It overlooks the spacious harbor and outer bay, but is now entirely neglected and abandoned; even the roadway is green with vegetation, and gullied with deep hollows. It is the coolest place in the city at the evening hour, but the people have become so poor that there are hardly a dozen private vehicles in the city. Matanzas, like all the cities of Cuba, is under the shadow of depressed business, evidence of which meets one on every hand.

Havana is a thoroughly representative city, and is the centre of the talent, wealth, and population of the island. Moro Castle, with its Dahlgren guns peeping out through the yellow stones, and its tall lighthouse, stands guard over the narrow entrance of the harbor. The battery of La Punta, on the opposite shore, answers to the Moro. There are also the long range of cannon and barracks on the city side, and the massive fortress of the Cabanas crowning the hill behind the Moro. All these are decorated with the yellow flag of Spain,—the banner of gold and blood. These numerous and powerful fortifications show how important the home government regards this island, and yet modern gunnery renders these defences comparatively useless.

The city presents a large extent of public buildings, cathedrals, antique and venerable churches. It has been declared in its prosperity to be the richest city, for its number of square miles, in Christendom, but this cannot be truthfully said of it now. There is nothing grand in its appearance as we enter the harbor, though Baron Humboldt pronounced it the gayest and most picturesque sight in America. Its architecture is not remarkable, its enormous prison overshadowing all other public buildings. This structure is designed to contain five thousand prisoners at one time. The hills which make up the distant background are not sufficiently high to add much to the general effect. The few palm-trees which catch the eye here and there give an Oriental aspect to the scene, quite in harmony with the atmospheric tone of intense sunshine.

Havana contains numerous institutions of learning, but not of a high character. It has a medical and a law school, but education is at a low ebb. There is a Royal Seminary for girls, but it is scarcely more than a name. The means of obtaining a good education can hardly be said to exist, and most of the youth of both sexes belonging to the wealthier class are sent to this country for school purposes. The city was originally surrounded by a wall, though the population has long since extended its dwellings and business structures far into what was once the suburbs. A portion of the old wall is still extant, crumbling and decayed, but it has mostly disappeared. The narrow streets of the old town are paved or macadamized, and cross each other at right angles; but in their dimensions they recall those of Toledo in Spain, whose Moorish architecture is also followed here.

The Paseo is the favorite afternoon drive of the citizens, where the ladies in open carriages and the gentlemen on horseback pass and repass each other, gayly saluting, the ladies with a coquettish flourish of the fan, and the gentlemen with a peculiar wave of the hand. The Alameda, a promenade and garden combined,—every Spanish city has a spot so designated,—skirts the shore of the harbor on the city side, near the south end of Oficios Street, and is a favorite resort for promenaders, where a refreshing coolness is breathed from off the sea. This Alameda might be a continuation of the Neapolitan Chiaja (the afternoon resort of Naples). With characteristics quite different, still these shores remind us of the Mediterranean, Sorrento, Amalfi, and Capri, recalling the shadows which daily creep up the heights of San Elmo, and disappear with the setting sun behind the orange-groves.

The cathedral of Havana, on Empedrado Street, is a structure of much interest, its rude pillared front of defaced and moss-grown stone plainly telling of the wear of time. The two lofty towers are hung with many bells which daily call to morning and evening prayers, as they have done for a hundred years and more. The church is not elaborately ornamented, but strikes one as being unusually plain. It contains a few oil paintings of moderate merit; but most important of all is the tomb where the ashes of Columbus so long reposed. All that is visible of this tomb, which is on the right of the altar, is a marble tablet six feet square, upon which, in high relief, is a bust of the great discoverer.

As we view the scene, Military Mass begins. The congregation is very small, consisting almost exclusively of women, who seem to do penance for both sexes in Cuba. The military band, which leads the column of infantry, marches, playing an operatic air, while turning one side for the soldiery to pass on towards the altar. The time-keeping steps of the men upon the marble floor mingle with drum, fife, and organ. Over all, one catches now and then the subdued voice of the priest, reciting his prescribed part at the altar, where he kneels and reads alternately. The boys in white gowns busily swing incense vessels; the tall, flaring candles cast long shadows athwart the high altar; the files of soldiers kneel and rise at the tap of the drum; seen through an atmosphere clouded by the fumes of burning incense, all this combines to make up a picture which is sure to forcibly impress itself upon the memory.

It seems unreasonable that, when the generous, fruitful soil of Cuba is capable of producing two or three crops of vegetation annually, the agricultural interests of the island should be so poorly developed. Thousands of acres of virgin soil have never been broken. Cuba is capable of supporting a population of almost any density; certainly five or six millions of people might find goodly homes here, and yet the largest estimate of the present number of inhabitants gives only a million and a half. When we tread the fertile soil and behold the clustering fruits in such abundance,—the citron, the star-apple, the perfumed pineapple, the luscious banana, and others,—not forgetting the various noble woods which caused Columbus to exclaim with pleasure, we are forcibly struck with the thought of how much nature, and how little man, has done for this "Eden of the Gulf." We long to see it peopled by those who can appreciate the gifts of Providence,—men willing to do their part in grateful recognition of the possibilities so liberally bestowed by Heaven.

As we go on shipboard to sail for our American home, some reflections naturally occur to us. To visit Cuba is not merely to pass over a few degrees of latitude; it is to take a step from the nineteenth century back into the dark ages. In a climate of tropical luxuriance and endless summer, we are in a land of starless political darkness. Lying under the lee of a Republic, where every man is a sovereign, is a realm where the lives, liberties, and fortunes of all are held at the will of a single individual, who acknowledges no responsibility save to a nominal ruler more than three thousand miles away.

Healthful in climate, varied in productions, and most fortunately situated for commerce, there must yet be a grand future in store for Cuba. Washed by the Gulf Stream on half her border, she has the Mississippi pouring out its riches on one side, and the Amazon on the other. In such close proximity to the United States, and with so obvious a common interest, her place seems naturally to be within our own constellation of stars.

But as regards the final destiny of Cuba, that question will be settled by certain economic laws which are as sure in their operation as are those of gravitation. No matter what our individual wishes may be in this matter, such feelings are as nothing when arraigned against natural laws. The commerce of the island is a stronger factor in the problem than is mere politics; it is the active agent of civilization all over the world. It is not cannon, but ships; not gunpowder, but peaceful freights which settle the great questions of mercantile communities. As the United States take over ninety per cent of her entire exports, towards this country Cuba naturally looks for fellowship and protection. The world's centre of commercial gravity is changing very fast by reason of the rapid development of the United States, and all lands surrounding the Union must conform, sooner or later, to the prevailing lines of motion.


Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7
Home - Random Browse