Having parted from my travelling companion at New Orleans, one of my first endeavours was, by the aid of physiognomy, to discover some passenger on whom it might suit me to inflict my society. Casting my eyes around, they soon lit upon a fair-haired youth with a countenance to match, the expression thereof bespeaking kindness and intelligence; and when, upon further examination, I saw the most indubitable and agreeable evidence that his person and apparel were on the most successful and intimate terms with soap and water, I pounced upon him without delay, and soon found that he was a German gentleman travelling with his brother-in-law, and they both had assumed an incognito, being desirous of avoiding that curious observation which, had their real position in life been known, they would most inevitably have been subject to. Reader, be not you too curious, for I cannot withdraw the veil they chose to travel under; suffice it to know, their society added much to my enjoyment, both on the passage and at the Havana. The sailing of the vessel is so ingeniously managed, that you arrive at the harbour's mouth just after sunset, and are consequently allowed the privilege of waiting outside all night, no vessels except men-of-war being allowed to enter between sunset and daybreak. The hopes of the morrow were our only consolation, until at early dawn we ran through the narrow battery-girt entrance, and dropped anchor in the land-locked harbour of Havana.
[Footnote T: This was written in January, 1853.—The bale may be roughly estimated at 450 lbs.]
[Footnote U: This hotel has long since been re-opened.]
[Footnote V: All large cities in America must of necessity be democratic.]
[Footnote W: I have since heard that the Charleston authorities allow the captains of vessels to keep their coloured crew on board, under penalty of a heavy fine in case they land.]
The Queen of the Antilles.
It was a lovely morning, not a cloud in the sky; the harbour was as smooth as a mirror, and bright with the rays of a sun which had reached that height at which—in tropical climates—it gilds and gladdens the scene without scorching the spectator; the quay was lined with ships loading and unloading; small boats were flying about in every direction; all around was gay and fresh, but the filthy steamer was still beneath me. I lost no time in calling a skiff alongside; then, shaking the dust from off my feet, I was soon pulling away for the shore.
As a matter of course, the Custom-house is the landing-place, and the great object of search seems to be for Filibustero papers, or books which advocate that cause. Having passed this ordeal, you take your first drive in the national vehicle of the island, which rejoices in the appellation of a "Volante," a name given it, I suppose, in bitter sarcasm; a "Tortugante" would have been far more appropriate, inasmuch as the pace resembles that of a tortoise far more than that of a bird. I may here as well describe one of the best, of which, in spite of its gay appearance, I feel sure the bare sight would have broken the heart of "Humanity Dick of Galway."
From the point of the shaft to the axle of the wheel measures fifteen feet, and as the wheel varies in diameter from six to seven feet, it of course extends three feet beyond the axle. The body is something like a swell private cab, the leather at the back being moveable, so as to admit air, and a curtain is fitted in front joining the head of the cab and the splash-board, for the sake of shade, if needed; this body is suspended on strong leather springs, attached to the axle at one end, and to a strengthening-piece across the shafts, seven and a half feet distance from the axle, at the other. The point of the shaft is fitted with rings, by which it hangs on the back-pad of the horse, whose head necessarily extends about four feet beyond; thus you will observe, that from the outer tire of the wheel to the horse's nose occupies at least twenty-two feet, and that the poor little animal has the weight of the carriage lying on him at the end of a lever fifteen feet long. Owing to their great length, it is excessively difficult to turn them; a "Tommy Onslow" would cut in and out with a four-in-hand fifteen miles an hour, where the poor Volante would come to a regular fix—if the horses in Cuba came into power, they would burn every one of them the next minute. It must however be admitted that they are excessively easy to ride in, and peculiarly suited to a country with bad roads, besides being the gayest-looking vehicles imaginable; the boxes of the wheels, the ends of the axle, the springs for the head, the bar to keep the feet off the splash-board, the steps, the points of the fastenings of carriage and harness are all silvered and kept bright. Nor does the use of the precious metal stop here; the niggers who bestride the poor horses are put into high jack-boots fitted with plated buckles and huge spurs, both equally brilliant. These niggers have a most comical appearance; they wear a skull-cap, or a handkerchief under a gold-banded hat; some wear a red short-tailed jacket, the seams and the front of the collar covered with bright yellow, on which are dispersed innumerable emblazonments of heraldry, even to the very tails, which I should hardly have expected to find thus gaily decorated,—it may have been from this practice we have derived the expression of the seat of honour. The jack-boots they wear sometimes fit very tight to the legs, in which case poor Sambo has to roll up his pants till they assume the appearance of small bolsters tied round the knee, presenting a most ludicrous caricature. The poor little horses are all hog-maned, and their tails are neatly plaited down the whole length, the point thereof being then tied up to the crupper, so that they are as badly off as a certain class of British sheep-dog. This is probably an ancient custom, originating from a deputation of flies waiting upon the authorities, and binding themselves by treaty to leave the bipeds in peace if they would allow them the unmolested torture of the quadruped.
If the owner wishes to "make a splash," another horse, equally silvered, is harnessed abreast, something like the Russian Furieux; and in the country, where the roads on the plantations are execrable, and quite impassable for any spring carriage, a third horse is often added, the postilion always riding the near, or left-hand horse. The body of the carriage is comfortably cushioned, and lined with bright gay colours, and generally has a stunning piece of carpet for a rug. Such is the Cuban Volante, in which the Hidalgos and the Corazoncitas with glowing lustrous eyes roll about in soft undulating motion from place to place; and, believe me, such a Volante, tenanted by fairy forms lightly and gaily dressed, with a pleasant smile on their lips and an encyclopedia of language beaming from the orbs above, would arrest the attention of the most inveterate old bachelor that ever lived; nay, it might possibly give birth to a deep penitential sigh and a host of good and sensible resolutions. Ordinary Volantes are the same style of thing, only not so gay, and the usual pace is from three to five and a half miles an hour, always allowing five minutes for turning at the corner of every street. If you are curious to know why I am in such a hurry to describe a Volante, as if it were the great feature of Cuba, the reason is, simply, that my first act on landing was to get into one of the said vehicles and drive to the hotel.
The horses are generally very neat and compact, and about the size of a very small English hack. For riding there are two kinds—the Spanish, which goes at the "rack" or amble pace, and the American, which goes the regular pace; the broad foreheads, short heads, and open nostrils show plenty of good breeding. The charges both for horses and Volante, if you wish to go out of the town, are, like everything else in Cuba, ridiculously exorbitant. An American here is doing a tolerably good business in letting horses and carriages. For a short evening drive, we had the pleasure of paying him thirty-five shillings. He says his best customers are a gang of healthy young priests, whom he takes out nearly daily to a retired country village famous for the youth and beauty of its fair sex, and who appear to be very dutiful daughters of the Church, as they are said to appreciate and profit by the kind visits of these excellent young men and their zealous labours of love.
There is a very good view of the town from the top of the hotel[X]. Most of the houses have both flat and sloping roofs, the latter covered with concave red tiles, cemented together with white, thus giving them a strange freckled appearance; while in many cases the dust and dew have produced a little soil, upon which a spontaneous growth of shrubbery has sprung up; the flat roofs have usually a collection of little urn-shaped turrets round the battlement, between which are stretched clothes-lines. Here the ebony daughters of Eve, with their bullet-heads and polished faces and necks, may be seen at all hours hanging up washed clothes, their capacious mouths ornamented with long cigars, at which they puff away like steam-engines.
One of the first sights I witnessed was a funeral, but not the solemn, imposing ceremony which that word conveys to English ears. The sides of the hearse and the upper part of the coffin were made of glass; inside lay a little girl, six or seven years old, dressed as if going to a wedding, and decorated with gay flowers. Volantes followed, bearing the mourners—or the rejoicers; I know not which is the more correct term. One or two were attired in black, but generally the colours were gay; some were quietly smoking cigars, which it is to be hoped they did that the ashes at the end thereof might afford them food for profitable reflection. Custom is said to be second nature, and I suppose, therefore, one could get habituated to this system if brought up under it; but, seen for the first time, it is more calculated to excite feelings of curiosity than solemnity. Doubtless, some fond parent's heart was bleeding deeply, and tears such as a mother only can shed were flowing freely, despite the gay bridal appearance of the whole ceremony.
On my return to the hotel, I found the Press—if the slavish tool of a government can justly be designated by such a term—full of remarks upon the new British Ministry[Y], many of which were amusing enough; they showed a certain knowledge of political parties in England, and laughed good-humouredly at the bundling together in one faggot of such differently-seasoned sticks. Even the name of the Secretary of the Admiralty was honoured by them with a notice, in which they scorned to look upon him as a wild democrat. They criticised the great Peel's tail going over in a body to the enemy's camp and placing themselves at the head of the troops; but what puzzled them most was, how aquellos Grey's tan famosos por el nepotismo had not formed part of the ministry. I confess they were not more puzzled than I was to account for the mysterious combination; the only solution whereof which presented itself to my mind, was the supposition that power has the same influence on public men that lollipops have on the juvenile population, and that the one and the other are ready to sacrifice a great deal to obtain possession of the luscious morsel. However, as we live in an age of miracles, we may yet see even a rope of sand, mud, and steel-filings, hold together.—Pardon this digression, and let us back to Cuba.
The Cubans usually dine about half-past three; after dinner some go to the Paseo in their Volantes, others lounge on the quay or gather round the military band before the Governor-General's palace. Look at that man with swarthy countenance, dark hair, and bright eyes—he is seated on a stone bench listening to the music; a preserved bladder full of tobacco is open before him, a small piece of thin paper is in his hand; quick as thought a cigarette is made, and the tobacco returned to his pocket. Now he rises, and walks towards a gentleman who is smoking; when close, he raises his right hand, which holds the cigarette, nearly level with his chin, then gracefully throwing his hand forward, accompanies the act with the simple word Favor; having taken his light, the same action is repeated, followed by a courteous inclination of the head as a faintly expressed Gracias escapes his lips. In this man you have a type of a very essential portion of the male population. Reader, it is no use your trying to imitate him; the whole scene, is peculiar to the Spaniard, in its every act, movement and expression. Old Hippo at the Zoological might as well try to rival the grace of a Taglioni.
The promenade over, many spend their evenings at billiards, dominoes, &c., adjourning from time to time to some cafe for the purpose of eating ices or sucking goodies, and where any trifling conversation or dispute is carried on with so much vivacity, both of tongue and of fingers, that the uninitiated become alarmed with apprehensions of some serious quarrel. Others again, who are ladies' men, or of domestic habits, either go home or meet at some friend's house, where they all sit in the front room on the ground-floor, with the windows wide open to the street, from which they are separated only by a few perpendicular iron bars. Yankee rocking-chairs and cane chairs are placed abreast of these windows, and facing each other like lines of sentinels; there they chat, smoke cigars, or suck their fingers, according to their sex and fancy. Occasionally a merry laugh is heard, but I cannot say it is very general. Sometimes they dance, which with them is a slow undulating movement, suited to a marble floor and a thermometer at eighty degrees. At a small village in the neighbourhood I saw a nigger hall,—the dance was precisely the same, being a mixture of country-dance and waltz; and I can assure you, Sambo and his ebony partner acquitted themselves admirably: they were all well dressed, looked very jolly and comfortable, and were by no means uproarious.
You must not imagine, from my observations on the fair tenant of the Volante, that this is a land of beauty—far from it: one feature of beauty, and one only, is general—good eyes: with that exception, it is rare; but there are some few lovely daughters of Eve that would make the mouth of a marble statue water. Old age here is anything but attractive, either producing a mountainous obesity, or a skeleton on which the loose dried skin hangs in countless wrinkles. But such is generally the case in warm climates, as far as my observation goes. Any one wishing to verify these remarks, has only to go on the Paseo a little before sunset upon a Sunday evening, when he will be sure to meet nine-tenths of the population and the Volantes all in gayest attire. The weather on my arrival was very wet, and I was therefore unable to go into the country for some days; but having cleared up, I got my passport and took a trip into the interior.
The railway cars are built on the American models, i.e., long cars, capable of containing about forty or fifty people; but they have had the good sense to establish first, second, and third-class carriages; and, at the end of each first-class carriage, there is a partition, shutting off eight seats, so that any party wishing to be private can easily be so. They travel at a very fair pace, but waste much time at the stopping-places, and whole hours at junctions. By one of these conveyances I went to Matanzas, which is very prettily situated in a lovely bay. There is a ridge, about three miles from the town, which is called the Cumbre, from the summit whereof you obtain a beautiful view of the valley of the Yumuri, so called from a river of that name, and concerning which there is a legend that it is famous for the slaughter of the Indians by the Spaniards; a legend which, too probably, rests on the foundation of truth, if we are to judge by the barbarities which dimmed the brilliancy of all their western conquests. The valley is now fruitful in sugar-canes, and surrounded with hills and woods; and the coup-d'oeil, when seen in the quick changing lights and shadows of the setting sun, is quite, enchanting. Continuing our ride, we crossed the valley as the moon was beginning to throw her dubious and silvery light upon the cane fields. A light breeze springing up, their flowery heads swayed to and fro like waving plumes, while their long leaves, striking one against the other, swept like a mournful sigh across the vale, as though Nature were offering its tribute of compassion to the fettered sons of Adam that had helped to give it birth.
There is a very important personage frequently met with in Cuba, who is called El Casero—in other words, the parish commissariat pedler. He travels on horseback, seated between two huge panniers, and goes round to all the cottages collecting what they wish to sell, and selling what they wish to buy, and every one who addresses him on business he styles, in reply, Caserita. This pedlering system may be very primitive, but it doubtless is a great convenience to the rural population, especially in an island which is so deficient in roads and communication. In short, I consider El Casero the representative of so useful and peculiar a class of the community, that I have honoured him with a wood-cut wherein he is seen bargaining with a negress for fowls, or vice versa,—whichever the reader prefers,—for not being the artist, I cannot undertake to decide which idea he meant to convey.
There is nothing in the town of Matanzas worth seeing except the views of it and around it. The population amounts to about twenty-five thousand, and the shipping always helps to give it a gay appearance. My chief object in visiting these parts was to see something of the sugar plantations in the island; but as they resemble each other in essential features, I shall merely describe one of the best, which I visited when retracing my steps to Havana, and which belongs to one of the most wealthy men in the island. On driving up to it, you see a large airy house,—windows and doors all open, a tall chimney rearing its proud head in another building, and a kind of barrack-looking building round about. The hospitable owner appears to delight in having an opportunity of showing kindness to strangers. He speaks English fluently; but alas! the ladies do not; so we must look up our old rusty armoury of Spanish, and take the field with what courage we may. Kindness and good-will smooth all difficulties, and we feel astonished how well we get on; in short, if we stay here too long we shall get vain, and think we really can speak Spanish,—we must dine, we must stay, we must make the house our own, and truly I rejoiced that it was so. The house had every comfort, the society every charm, and the welcome was as warm as it was unostentatious. We—for you must know our party was four in number—most decidedly lit upon our legs, and the cuisine and the cellar lent effectual aid. The proprietor is an elderly man, and the son, who has travelled a good deal in Europe, manages the properties, which consist of several plantations, and employ about twelve hundred slaves. The sound of the lash is rarely heard, and the negroes are all healthy and happy-looking; several of them have means to purchase their liberty, but prefer their present lot. A doctor is kept on the estate for them; their houses are clean and decent; there is an airy hospital for them if sick, and there is a large nursery, with three old women who are appointed to take charge during the day of all children too young to work: at night they go to their respective families. On the whole property there was only one man under punishment, and he was placed to work in chains for having fired one of his master's buildings, which he was supposed to have been led to do, owing to his master refusing to allow him to take his infant home to his new wife till it was weaned; his former wife had died in child-bed, and he wished to rear it on arrowroot, &c. This the master—having found a good wet nurse for it—would not permit. The man had generally borne a very good character, and the master, whose entourage bears strong testimony to his kind rule, seized the opportunity of my visit to let him free at my request, as he had already been working four months in chains similar to those convicts sometimes wear; thus were three parties gratified by this act of grace.
It is well known that there are various ways of making sugar; but as the method adopted on this plantation contains all the newest improvements, I may as well give a short detail of the process as I witnessed it. The cane when brought from the field is placed between two heavy rollers, worked by steam, and the juice falls into a conductor below—the squashed cane being carried away to dry for fuel—whence it is raised by what is termed a "monte jus" into a tank above the "clarifier," which is a copper boiler, with iron jacket and steam between. A proper proportion of lime is introduced, sufficient to neutralize the acidity. When brought to the boiling-point the steam is shut off, and the liquid subsides. This operation is one of the most important in the whole process; from the clarifier it is run through an animal charcoal filterer, which, by its chemical properties, purifies it; from the filterer it runs into a tank, whence it is pumped up above the condensers, i.e., tubes, about fifteen in number, laid horizontally, one above the other, and containing the steam from the vacuum pans. The cold juice in falling over these hot tubes, condenses the steam-therein, and at the same time evaporates the water, which is always a considerable ingredient in the juice of the cane; the liquor then passes into a vacuum pan, which is fitted with a bull's-eye on one side, and a corresponding bull's-eye with a lamp on the opposite side, by which the process can be watched. Having boiled here sufficiently, it passes through a second filtration of animal charcoal, and then returns to a second vacuum pan, where it is boiled to the point of granulation; it is then run off into heaters below, whence it is ladled into moulds of an irregular conical shape, in which it is left to cool and to drain off any molasses that remain; when cooled it is taken to the purging-house. The house where the operations which we have been describing were going on, was two hundred yards long, forty yards broad, and built of solid cedar and mahogany.
In the purging-house, these moulds are all ranged with the point of the cone down, and gutters below. A layer of moist clay, about two inches deep, is then placed upon the sugar at the broad end of the cone, and, by the gradual percolation of its thick liquid, carries off the remaining impurities. When this operation is finished, the cones are brought out, and the sugar contained therein is divided into three parts, the apex of the cone being the least pure, the middle rather better, and the base the most pure and looking very white. This latter portion is then placed upon strong wooden troughs, about six or eight feet square. There, negroes and negresses break it up with long poles armed with hard-wood head, trampling it under their delicate pettitoes to such an extent as to give rise to the question whether sugar-tongs are not a useless invention. When well smashed and trodden, it is packed in boxes, and starts forth on its journeys; a very large proportion goes to Spain. The two least pure portions are sent to Europe, to be there refined. Such is a rough sketch of the sugar-making process, as I saw it. All the machinery was English, and the proprietor had a corps of English engineers, three in number, to superintend the work. In our roadless trips to various parts of the plantation, we found the advantage of the Volante, before described; and though three horses were harnessed, they had in many places enough to do. We stayed a couple of days with our kind and hospitable friends, and then returned to Havana.
No pen can convey the least idea of the wonderful luxuriance of vegetation which charms the eye at every step. There is a richness of colour and a fatness of substance in the foliage of every tree and shrub which I never met with before in any of my travels. The stately palm, with its smooth white stem glittering in the sunbeams like a column of burnished silver; the waving bamboo growing in little clumps, and nodding in the gentle breeze with all the graceful appearance of a gigantic ostrich plume; groves of the mango, with its deep and dark foliage defying the sun's rays; the guava, growing at its feet, like an infant of the same family; the mammee—or abricot de St. Domingue—with its rich green fruit hanging in clusters, and a foliage rivalling the mango; the dark and feathery tamarind; the light and graceful indigo; the slow-growing arrowroot, with its palmy and feathery leaves spreading like a tender rampart round its precious fruit; boundless fields of the rich sugar-cane; acres of the luscious pine apple; groves of banana and plantain; forests of cedar and mahogany; flowers of every hue and shade; the very jungle netted over with the creeping convolvulus,—these, and a thousand others, of which fortunately for the reader I know not the names, are continually bursting on the scene with equal profusion and variety, bearing lovely testimony to the richness of the soil and the mildness of the climate.
Alas! that this fair isle should be at one and the same time the richest gem in the crown of Spain, and the foulest blot on her escutcheon. Her treaties are violated with worse than Punic faith, and here horrors have been enacted which would make the blood of a Nero curdle in his veins. Do you ask, how are treaties violated? When slaves are brought here by our cruisers, Spain is bound by treaty to apprentice them out for three years, so as to teach them how to earn a living, and then to free them. My dear John Bull, you will be sorry to hear, that despite the activity of our squadron for the suppression of slavery, that faithless country which owes a national existence to oceans of British treasure, and the blood of the finest army the great Wellington ever led, has the unparalleled audacity to make us slave carriers to Cuba. Yes, thousands of those who, if honour and truth were to be found in the Government of Spain, would now be free, are here to be seen pining away their lives in the galling and accursed chains of slavery, a living reproach to England, and a black monument of Spanish faith. Yes, John Bull, I repeat the fact; thousands of negroes are bound here in hopeless fetters, that were brought here under the British flag. And, that there may be no doubt of the wilfulness with which the Cuban authorities disregard their solemn obligations, it is a notorious fact, that in a country where passports and police abound in every direction, so that a negro cannot move from his own home, upwards of a hundred were landed in the last year, 1852, from one vessel, at a place only thirty-five miles from the Havana, and marched in three days across the island to—where do you think?—to some Creole's, or to some needy official's estate? no such thing; but, as if to stamp infamy on Spain, at the highest step of the ladder, they were marched to the Queen Mother's estate. If this be not wickedness in high places, what is? The slave trade flourishes luxuriantly here with the connivance of authority; and what makes the matter worse is, that the wealth accumulated by this dishonesty and national perjury is but too generally—and I think too justly—believed to be the mainspring of that corruption at home for which Spain stands pre-eminent among the nations of the earth. I will now give you a sketch of the cruelties which have been enacted here; and, although an old story, I do not think it is very generally known.
When General O'Donnell obtained the captain-generalship of Cuba, whether his object was to obtain honours from Spain for quelling an insurrection, or whether he was deceived, I cannot decide; but an imaginary insurrection was got up, and a military court was sent in every direction throughout the island. These courts were to obtain all information as to the insurrection, and, of course, to flog the negroes till they confessed. Unfledged ensigns would come with their guard upon a plantation, and despite the owner's assurance that there was no feeling of insubordination among the negroes, they would set to work flogging right and left, till in agony the poor negro would say something which would be used to criminate some other, who in turn would be flogged till in agony he made some assertion; and so it went on, till the blood-thirsty young officer was satiated. On one plantation a negro lad had been always brought up with one of the sons of the proprietor, and was, in fact, quite a pet in the family. One of these military courts visited the plantation, and insisted upon flogging this pet slave till he confessed what he never knew. In vain his master strove to convince the officer of his perfect innocence; he would not listen, and the poor lad was tied up, and received seven hundred lashes, during which punishment some remarks he made in the writhings of his agony were noted down, and he was shot at Matanzas for the same. The master's son, who was forced to witness this barbarity inflicted upon the constant companion of his early youth, never recovered the shock, and died the following year insane.
The streets of Matanzas were in some places running with negro blood. An eye-witness told me that near the village of Guines he saw a negro flogged with an aloe-leaf till both hip-bones were perfectly bare; and there is little doubt that 1500 slaves died under the lash. You will perhaps be surprised, most excellent John Bull, when I tell you that the cruelties did not stop at the negroes, but extended even to whites who claimed British protection. One of them was chained to a log of wood in the open air for a hundred days and a hundred nights, despite the strongest remonstrances on the part of the British authorities, and was eventually unchained, to die two days after in jail. Several others were imprisoned and cruelly treated; and when this reign of terror, worthy even of Spain in her bloodiest days, was over, and their case was inquired into, they were perfectly exonerated, and a compensation was awarded them. This was in 1844. Some of them have since died from the treatment they then received; and, if I am correctly informed, Spain—by way of keeping up her character—has not paid to those who survive one farthing of the sum awarded. Volumes might be filled with the atrocities of 1844; but the foregoing is enough of the sickening subject. When I call to mind the many amiable and high-minded Spaniards I have met, the national conduct of Spain becomes indeed a mystery. But to return to present times.
H.M.S. "Vestal," commanded by that active young officer, Captain C.B. Hamilton, was stationed at Cuba for the suppression of slavery, &c. She had been watching some suspicious vessels in the harbour for a long time; but as they showed no symptoms of moving, she unbent sails and commenced painting, &c. A day or two after, as daylight broke, the suspicious vessels were missing from the harbour. The "Vestal" immediately slipped, and, getting the ferry-boat to tow her outside, commenced a chase, and the next day succeeded in capturing four vessels. Of course they were brought into Havana, to be tried at the Mixed Court there; three, I believe, were condemned, but the fourth, called the "Emilia Arrogante" is the one to which I wish to call your attention, because she, though the most palpably guilty, belonged to wealthy people in the island, and therefore, of course, was comparatively safe. When taken, the slave-deck which she had on board was carefully put into its place, and every plank and beam exactly fitted, as was witnessed and testified to by several of the "Vestal's" officers; yet, will you believe it, when given up to the local authorities, they either burnt or made away with this only but all-sufficient evidence, so that it became impossible for the Court to condemn her.
It is curious to hear the open way people speak of the bribery of the officials in the island, and the consequent endless smuggling that goes on. A captain of a merchant-vessel told me that in certain articles, which, for obvious reasons, I omit to mention, it is impossible to trade except by smuggling; so universal is the practice, that he would be undersold fifty per cent. He mentioned an instance, when the proper duties amounted to 1200l., the broker went to the official and obtained a false entry by which he only paid 400l. duty, and this favour cost him an additional 400l. bribe to the official, thus saving 400l. This he assured me, after being several years trading to Cuba, was the necessary practice of the small traders; nobody in Cuba is so high that a bribe does not reach him, from the Captain-General, who is handsomely paid for breaking his country's plighted faith in permitting the landing of negroes, down to the smallest unpaid official. With two-thirds the excuse is, "We are so ill-paid, we must take bribes;" with the other third the excuse is, "It is the custom of the island." Spain could formerly boast pre-eminence in barbarity—she has now attained to pre-eminence in official corruption; but the day must come, though it may yet be distant, when her noble sons of toil will burst the fetters of ignorance in which they are bound, and rescue their fair land from the paltry nothingness of position which it occupies among the nations of Europe, despite many generous and noble hearts which even now, in her degradation, are to be found blushing over present realities and striving to live on past recollections.
There were some British men-of-war lying in the harbour; and as my two German friends were anxious to see the great-gun exercise, I went on board with these gentlemen to witness the drill, with which they were much pleased. After it was over, and the ship's company had gone to dinner, they wished to smoke a cigar, the whiffs of Jack's pipe having reached their olfactories. Great was their astonishment, and infinite my disgust, when we were walked forward to the galley to enjoy our weed, to find the crew smoking on the opposite side. It is astonishing to think that, with so much to be improved and attended to in the Navy, the authorities in Whitehall-place should fiddle-faddle away precious time in framing regulations about smoking, for the officers; and, instead of leaving the place to be fixed by the captain of each vessel, and holding him responsible, should name a place which, it is not too much to say, scarce one captain in ten thinks of confining his officers to, for the obvious reason that discipline is better preserved by keeping the officers and men apart during such occupations,—and, moreover, that sending officers to the kitchen to smoke is unnecessarily offensive. These same orders existed thirty years ago; and, as it was well known they were never attended to, except by some anti-smoking captain, who used them as an excuse, the Admiralty very wisely rescinded an order which, by being all but universally disregarded, tended to weaken the weight and authority of all other orders; and after the word "galley," they then added, "or such other place as the captain shall appoint." After some years, however, so little was there of greater importance to engage their attention in naval affairs, that this sensible order was rescinded, and the original one renewed in full force, and, of course, with similar bad effect, as only those captains who detest smoking—an invisible minority—or those who look for promotion from scrupulous obedience to insignificant details—an equally invisible minority—act up to the said instructions. Nevertheless, so important an element in naval warfare is smoking now considered, that in the printed form supplied to admirals for the inspection of vessels under their command, as to "State and Preparation for Battle," one of the first questions is, "Are the orders relative to smoking attended to?" If I am not much misinformed, when Admiral Collier was appointed to the Channel squadron, he repaired to the Admiralty, and told the First Lord that he had smoked in his own cabin for twenty years, and that he could not forego that pleasure. The First Lord is said to have laughed, and made the sensible remark, "Of course you'll do as you like;" thereby showing, in my opinion, his just sense of the ridiculousness of such a childish regulation. So much for folly redivivus.
While on the subject of smoking, I may as well say a few words upon cigar manufacture. In the first place, all the best tobacco grows at the lower end of the island, and is therefore called "Vuelta abajo." An idea has found its way into England, that it is impossible to make cigars at home as well as at the Havana; and the reason given is, the tobacco is made up at Havana during its first damping, and that, having to be re-damped in England, it loses thereby its rich flavour and aroma. Now, this is a most egregious mistake; for in some of the best houses here you will find tobacco two and even four years old, which is not yet worked up into cigars, and which, consequently, has to be re-damped for that purpose. If this be so, perhaps you will ask how is it that British-made cigars are never so good as those from Havana? There are two very good reasons for this—the one certain, the other probable. The probable one is, that the best makers in Havana, whose brand is their fortune—such as Cabanos y Carvajal—will be jealous of sending the best tobacco out of the country, lest, being forced to use inferior tobacco, they might lose their good name; and the other reason is, that cigars improve in flavour considerably by a sea voyage. So fully is this fact recognised here, that many merchants pay the duty of three shillings a thousand to embark their cigars in some of the West India steamers, and then have them carried about for a month or so, thereby involving a further payment for freight; and they all express themselves as amply repaid by the improvement thereby effected in their cigars. Nevertheless, many old Cubans prefer smoking cigars the same week that they are made. At the same time, if any honest tobacconist in England chose to hoist the standard of "small profit and plenty of it," he might make very good Havana tobacco cigars, at 50 per cent. profit, under 16s. per 100. Thus—duty, 3s. 6d; tobacco, 5s.; freight and dues, &c., 6d.; making up, 1s. 6d.—absolute cost of cigars, 10s. 6d. per 100; 50 per cent. profit thereon, 5s. 3d.; total, 15s. 9d. For this sum a better article could be supplied than is ordinarily obtained at prices varying from 25s. to 30s.
But 50 per cent. profit will not satisfy the British tobacconist when he finds John Bull willing to give him 100 per cent. He therefore makes the cigars at the prices above-mentioned, puts them into old boxes with some pet brand upon them, and sells them as the genuine article. John Bull is indebted for this extortionate charge to the supreme wisdom of the Legislature, which has established a 3s. 6d. duty on the pound of unmanufactured tobacco, and a 9s. duty on manufactured; instead of fixing one duty for manufactured and unmanufactured, and making the difference thereof depend upon the quality—lowering the duty upon the tobacco used by the poor to 2s. 6d., and establishing on all the better kinds a uniform rate, say 6s. or 7s. The revenue, I believe, would gain, and the public have a better protection against the fraud of which they are now all but universal victims. But to return to Havana.
The price paid for making cigars varies from 8s. to 80s. a thousand, the average being about 15s. A certain quality of tobacco is made up into cigars, and from time to time they are handed over to the examiner, who divides them into three separate classes, the difference being merely in the make thereof. A second division then takes place, regulated by the colour of the outside wrapper, making the distinction of "light" or "brown." Now, the three classes first noticed, you will observe, are precisely the same tobacco; but knowing how the public are gulled by the appearance, the prices are very different. Thus, taking the brand of Cabanos y Carvajal Prensados, his first, or prettiest, are 6l. 8s. per 1000; his second are 5l. 12s.; and his third are 5l.; and yet no real difference of quality exists. The cigars of which I speak are of the very best quality, and the dearest brand in Havana. Now, let us see what they cost put into the tobacconist's shop in London:—32 dollars is 180s.; duty, 90s.; export at Havana, 3s.; freight and extra expenses, say 7s.—making 230s. a thousand, or 23s. a hundred, for the dearest and best Havana cigars, London size. But three-fourths of the cigars which leave the Havana for England do not cost more than 3l. 4s. per thousand, which would bring their cost price to the tobacconist down to 16s. 5d. The public know what they pay, and can make their own reflections.
There is another class of cigar known in England as "Plantations," here called "Vegueros." They are of the richest tobacco, and are all made in the country by the sable ladies of the island, who use no tables to work at, if report speaks truth; and as both hands are indispensable in the process of rolling, what they roll upon must be left to the imagination. It will not do to be too fastidious in this world. Cooks finger the dainty cutlets, and keep dipping their fingers into the rich sauces, and sucking them, to ascertain their progress, and yet the feasters relish the savoury dish not one whit the less; so smokers relish the Veguero, though on what rolled modesty forbids me to mention,—nor do they hesitate to press between their lips the rich "Regalia," though its beautifully-finished point has been perfected by an indefinite number of passages of the negro's forefinger from the fragrant weed to his own rosy tongue. Men must not be too nice; but I think in the above description a fair objection is to be found to ladies smoking.
With regard to the population of Cuba, the authorities, of course, wish to give currency to the idea that the whites are the most numerous. Having asked one of these officials who had the best means of knowing, he told me there were 550,000 whites and 450,000 negroes; but prosecuting my inquiries in a far more reliable quarter, I found there were 600,000 slaves, 200,000 free, and only 500,000 whites,—thus making the coloured population as eight to five. The military force in the island consists of 20,000, of which 18,000 are infantry, 1000 cavalry, and 1000 artillery[Z]. The demand for labour in the island is so great, that a speculation has been entered into by a mercantile house here to bring 6000 Chinese. The speculator has already disposed of them at 24l. a-head; they are to serve for five years, and receive four shillings a day, and they find their own way back. The cost of bringing them is calculated at 10l. a head,—thus leaving 14l. gain on each, which, multiplied by 6000, gives 84,000l. profit to the speculator,—barring, of course, losses from deaths and casualties on the journey. Chinese have already been tried here, and they prove admirably suited to all the mechanical labour, but far inferior to the negroes in the fields.
I find that people in the Havana can he humbugged as well as John Bull. A Chinese botanist came here, and bethought him of trying his skill as a doctor. Everybody became mad to consult him; no street was ever so crowded as the one he lived in, since Berners-street on the day of the hoax. He got a barrel of flour, or some other innocuous powder, packed up in little paper parcels, and thus armed he received his patients. On entering, he felt the pulse with becoming silence and gravity; at last he said, "Great fire." He then put his hand on the ganglionic centre, from which he radiated to the circumjacent parts, and then, frowning deep thought, he observed, "Belly great swell; much wind; pain all round." His examination being thus accomplished, he handed the patient a paper of the innocuous powder, pocketed sixteen shillings, and dismissed him. This scene, without any variety in observation, examination, prescription, or fee, was going on for two months, at the expiration of which time he re-embarked for China with 8000l.
As I believe that comparatively little is known in England of the laws existing in Cuba with respect to domicile, police, slavery, &c., I shall devote a few pages to the subject, which, in some of its details, is amusing enough. No person is allowed to land on the island without a passport from the place whence he arrives, and a fiador, or surety, in the island, who undertakes to supply the authorities with information of the place of his residence for one year; nor can he remain in the island more than three months without a "domiciliary ticket." People of colour arriving in any vessel are to be sent to a government deposit; if the master prefers to keep them on board he may, but in that case he is liable to a fine of 200l. if any of them land on the island; after a certain hour in the evening all gatherings in the street are put a stop to, and everybody is required to carry a lantern about with him; the hierarchy and "swells"—personas de distincion—being alone exempt. All purchases made from slaves or children or doubtful parties are at the risk of the purchaser, who is liable not merely to repay the price given, but is further subject to a heavy fine: no bad law either. Any boy between the ages of ten and sixteen who may be found in the streets as a vagrant may be taken before the president of the Seccion de Industria de la Real Sociedad Economica, by whom he is articled out to a master of the trade he wishes to learn. No place of education can be opened without the teacher thereof has been duly licensed. No game of chance is allowed in any shop or tavern, except in billiard-saloons and coffee-houses, where draughts and dominoes, chess and backgammon are tolerated. After a certain fixed hour of the night, no person is allowed to drive about in a Volante with the head up, unless it rains or the sitter be an invalid; the penalty is fifteen shillings. No private individual is allowed to give a ball or a concert without permission of the authorities. Fancy Londonderry House going to the London police-office to get permission for a quadrille or a concert. How pleasant! The specific gravity of milk is accurately calculated, and but a moderate margin allowed for pump mixture; should that margin be exceeded, or any adulteration discovered, the whole is forfeited to some charitable institution. If such a salutary law existed in London, pigs' brains would fall in the market, and I should not see so many milk-pails at the spring during my early morning walks to the Serpentine.
Among the regulations for health, the following are to be found. No private hospital or infirmary is to be opened without a government licence. All keepers of hotels, coffee or eating houses, &c., are bound to keep their kitchen "battery" well tinned inside, under a heavy penalty of 3l. 10s. for every utensil which may be found insufficiently tinned, besides any further liabilities to which they may be subject for accidents arising from neglect thereof. Every shop is obliged to keep a vessel with water at the threshold of the outer door, to assist in avoiding hydrophobia. All houses that threaten to tumble down must be rebuilt, and if the owner is unable to bear the expense, he must sell the house to some one who can bear it. Another clause, after pointing out the proper places for bathing, enjoins a pair of bathing breeches, under a penalty of fifteen shillings for each offence; the particular cut is not specified. Let those who object to put convex fig-leaves over the little cherubs, and other similar works of art at the Crystal Palace, take a lesson from the foregoing, and clothe them all in Cuba pants as soon as possible; scenes are generally more interesting when the imagination is partially called into play. Boys, both little and big, are kept in order by a fine of fifteen shillings for every stone they throw, besides paying in full for all damage caused thereby. No one is allowed to carry a stick more than one inch in diameter under a penalty of twelve shillings; but all white people are allowed to carry swords, provided they are carried openly and in their scabbards.
The foregoing are sufficient to convey to the reader some idea of the ban of pains and penalties under which a resident is placed; at the same time it may be as well to inform him, that, except those enactments which bear upon espionage, they are about as much attended to as the laws with regard to the introduction of slaves, respecting which latter I will now give you a few of the regulations.
Slave owners are bound to give their slaves three meals a-day, and the substance thereof must be eleven ounces of meat or salt-fish, four ounces of bread, and farinaceous vegetables equal to six plantains; besides this, they are bound to give them two suits of clothes—all specified—yearly. Alas! how appropriate is the slang phrase "Don't you wish you may get 'em?" So beautifully motherly is Spain regarding her slaves, that the very substance of infants' clothes under three years of age is prescribed; another substance from three to six; then comes an injunction that from six to fourteen the girls are to be shirted and the boys breeched. I am sure this super-parental solicitude upon the part of the Government must be admitted to be most touching. By another regulation, the working time is limited from nine to ten hours daily, except in the harvest or sugar season, during which time the working hours are eighteen a-day. No slave under sixteen or over sixty can be employed on task-work, or at any age at a work not suited to his or her strength and sex.
Old slaves must be kept by their master, and cannot be freed for the purpose of getting rid of the support of them. Upon a plantation, the houses must be built on a dry position, well ventilated, and the sexes kept apart, and a proper hospital provided for them. By another law, marriage is inculcated on moral grounds, and the master of the slave is required to purchase the wife, so that they may both be under one roof; if he declines the honour, then the owner of the wife is to purchase the husband; and if that fails, a third party is to buy both: failing all these efforts, the law appears non-plused, and leaves their fate to Providence. If the wife has any children under three years of age, they must be sold with her. The law can compel an owner to sell any slave upon whom he may be proved to have exercised cruelty; should any party offer him the price he demands, he may close the bargain at once, but if they do not agree, his value is to be appraised by two arbiters, one chosen by each party, and if either decline naming an arbiter, a law officer acts ex officio. Any slave producing fifty dollars (ten pounds) as a portion of his ransom-money, the master is obliged to fix a price upon him, at which his ransom may be purchased; he then becomes a coartado, and whatever sums he can save his master is bound to receive in part payment, and, should he be sold, the price must not exceed the price originally named, after subtracting therefrom the amount he has advanced for his ransom. Each successive purchaser must buy him subject to these conditions. In all disputes as to original price or completion of the ransom, the Government appoints a law officer on behalf of the slave. The punishments of the slave are imprisonment, stocks, &c.; when the lash is used, the number of stripes is limited to twenty-five.
The few regulations I have quoted are sufficient to show how carefully the law has fenced-in the slave from bad treatment. I believe the laws of no other country in regard to slaves are so merciful, excepting always Peru; but, alas! though the law is as fair as the outside of the whited sepulchre, the practice is as foul as the inside thereof; nor can one ever expect that it should be otherwise, when we see that, following the example of the treaty-breaking, slave-importing Queen Mother, every official, from the highest government authority down to the lowest petty custom-house officer, exposes his honesty daily in the dirty market of bribery.
A short summary of the increase of slave population may be interesting, as showing that the charges made against the Cubans of only keeping up the numbers of the slaves by importation is not quite correct. In the year 1835 a treaty was made with Spain, renewing the abolition of slave traffic, to which she had assented in 1817 by words which her subsequent deeds belied. At this latter date, the slave population amounted to 290,000, since which period she has proved the value of plighted faith by introducing upwards of 100,000 slaves, which would bring the total up to 390,000. The present slave population, I have before remarked, amounts to 600,000, which would give as the increase by births during nearly twenty years, 210,000. If we take into consideration the ravages of epidemics, and the serious additional labour caused by the long duration of the sugar harvest, we may fairly conclude, as far as increase by birth is admitted as evidence, that the treatment of slaves in Cuba will stand comparison with that of the slave in the United States, especially when it is borne in mind that the addition of slave territory in the latter has made the breeding of slaves a regular business.
The increase of the produce of Cuba may very naturally be ascribed to the augmentation of slave labour, and to the improvements in machinery; but there is another cause which is very apt to be overlooked, though I think there can be no doubt it has exercised the most powerful influence in producing that result: I allude to the comparative monopoly of the sugar trade, which the events of late years have thrown into her hands.
When England manumitted the 750,000 slaves in the neighbouring islands, the natural law of reaction came into play, and the negro who had been forced to work hard, now chose to take his ease, and his absolute necessities were all that he cared to supply: a little labour sufficed for that, and he consequently became in his turn almost the master. The black population, unprepared in any way for the sudden change, became day by day more idle and vicious, the taxes of the islands increased, and the circulation issued by the banks decreased in an equally fearful ratio. When sugar the produce of slave labour was admitted into England, a short time after the emancipation, upon the same terms as the produce of the free islands, as a natural consequence, the latter, who could only command labour at high wages and for uncertain time, were totally unable to compete with the cheap labour and long hours of work in Cuba; nearly every proprietor in our West India colonies feel into deep distress,—some became totally ruined. One property which had cost 118,000l., so totally lost its value, owing to these changes in the law, that its price fell to 16,000l. In Demerara, the sugar produce sank from 104,000,000 lbs. to 61,000,000 lbs., and coffee from 9,000,000 lbs. to 91,000 lbs., while 1,500,000 lbs. of cotton disappeared entirely.
These are no fictions, they are plain facts, borne testimony to in many instances by the governors of the colonies; and I might quote an infinite number of similar statements, all tending to prove the rapid growth of idleness and vice in the emancipated slaves, and the equally rapid ruin of the unfortunate proprietor. The principles upon which we legislated when removing the sugar duties is a mystery to me, unless I accept the solution, so degrading to the nation, "that humanity is a secondary consideration to L s.d., and that justice goes for nothing." If such were not the principles on which we legislated, there never was a more complete failure. Not content with demoralizing the slave and ruining the owner, by our hasty and ill-matured plan of emancipation, we gave the latter a dirty kick when he was falling, by removing the little protection we had all put pledged our national faith that he should retain; and thus it was we threw nearly the whole West India sugar trade into the hands of Cuba, stimulating her energy, increasing her produce, and clinching the fetters of the slave with that hardest holding of all rivets—the doubled value of his labour.
Perhaps my reader may say I am taking a party and political view of the question. I repudiate the charge in toto: I have nothing to do with politics: I merely state facts, which I consider it requisite should be brought forward, in order that the increase of Cuban produce may not be attributed to erroneous causes. For this purpose it was necessary to show that the ruin we have brought upon the free West Indian colonies is the chief cause of the increased and increasing prosperity of their slave rival; at the same time, it is but just to remark, that the establishment of many American houses in Cuba has doubtless had some effect in adding to the commercial activity of the island.
I have, in the preceding pages, shown the retrogression of some parts of the West Indies, since the passing of the Emancipation and Sugar-Duty Acts. Let me now take a cursory view of the progression of Cuba during the same period.—Annual produce—
Previous to Emancipation. 1852.
Sugar 300,000,000 lbs. — 620,000,000 lbs. Molasses 125,000,000 " — 220,000,000 " Leaf Tobacco 6,000,000 " — 10,000,000 " Coffee 30,000,000 " — 19,000,000 "
The sugar manufactories during that time had also increased from eight hundred to upwards of sixteen hundred. Can any one calmly compare this marvellous progression of Cuba with the equally astounding retrogression of our Antilles, and fail to come to the irresistible conclusion that the prosperity of the one is intimately connected with the distress of the other.
While stating the annual produce of tobacco, I should observe that upwards of 180,000,000 of cigars, and nearly 2,000,000 boxes of cigarettes, were exported in 1852, independent of the tobacco-leaf before mentioned. Professor J.F.W. Johnston, in that curious and able work entitled Chemistry of Common Life, styles tobacco "the first subject in the vegetable kingdom in the power of its service to man,"—some of my lady friends, I fear, will not approve of this opinion,—and he further asserts that 4,500,000,000 lbs. thereof are annually dispersed throughout the earth, which, at twopence the pound, would realize the enormous sum of 37,000,000l.
If smoking may be called the popular enjoyment of the island, billiards and dominoes may be called the popular games, and the lottery the popular excitement. There are generally fifteen ordinary lotteries, and two extraordinary, every year. The ordinary consist of 32,000l. paid, and 24,000l. thereof as prizes. There are 238 prizes, the highest being 600l., and the lowest 40l. The extraordinary consist of 54,400l. paid, of which 40,800l. are drawn as prizes. There are 206 prizes, the highest of which is 20,000l., and the lowest 40l.; from which it will appear, according to Cocker, that the sums drawn annually as prizes are very nearly 150,000l. less than the sums paid. Pretty pickings for Government! As may naturally be supposed, the excitement produced by this constitutional gambling—which has its nearest counterpart in our own Stock Exchange—is quite intense; and as the time for drawing approaches, people may be seen in all the cafes and public places, hawking and auctioning the billets at premium, like so many Barnums with Jenny Lind tickets. One curious feature in the lotteries here is the interest the niggers take in them. To understand this, I must explain to you that the coloured population are composed of various African tribes, and each tribe keeps comparatively separate from the others; they then form a kind of club among their own tribe, for the purpose of purchasing the freedom of some of their enslaved brethren, who, I believe, receive assistance in proportion as they contribute to the funds, and bear such a character as shall interpose no obstacle to their ransom being permitted. A portion of their funds is frequently employed in the purchase of lottery-tickets, and a deep spirit of gambling is the natural consequence; for though the stake entered is dollars, the prize, if won, is freedom. These lotteries date back to 1812; and if they have always been kept up as before explained, they must have contributed something like ten millions sterling to the Government during their forty years' working.
A friend told me of a shameful instance of injustice connected with these lotteries. A poor slave who had saved enough money to buy a ticket, did so; and, drawing a small prize, immediately went off to his master, and presented it to him as a part of his redemption-money. The master having ascertained how he obtained it, explained to him that, as a slave, he could not hold property; he then quietly pocketed it, and sent poor Sambo about his business. What a beautiful commentary this is on the law respecting Coartados, which I inserted a few pages back. I must, however, remark that, from the inquiries I made, and from my own observations of their countenances and amusements, the impression left on my mind is, that the slaves are quite as happy here as in the United States; the only disadvantage that they labour under being, that the sugar harvest and manufacture last much longer in Cuba, and the labour thereof is by far the hardest drain upon the endurance of the slave. The free negroes I consider fully as well off as those in the Southern States, and immeasurably more comfortable than those who are domiciled in the Northern or Free States of the Union. The number of free negroes in Cuba amounts to one-fourth of the whole coloured population, while in the United States it only amounts to one-ninth—proving the great facilities for obtaining freedom which the island offers, or the higher cultivation of the negro, which makes him strive for it more laboriously. I will not attempt to draw any comparison between the scenes of horror with which, doubtless, both parties are chargeable, but which, for obvious reasons, are carefully concealed from the traveller's eye.
Among the curious anomalies of some people, is that of a dislike to be called by the national name, if they have a local one. The islanders feel quite affronted if you call them Espanoles; and a native of Old Spain would feel even more affronted if you called him a Cubano or an Havanero. The appellations are as mutually offensive as were in the olden times those of Southron and Scot, although Cuba is eternally making a boast of her loyalty. The manner of a Cuban is as stiff and hidalgoish as that of any old Spaniard; in fact, so far as my short acquaintance with the mother country and the colony enables me to judge, I see little or no difference. Some of them, however, have a dash of fun about them, as the two following little squibs will show.
It appears that a certain Conde de ——, who had lately been decorated, was a most notorious rogue; in consequence of which, some wag chalked up on his door in large letters, during the night, the following lines, which, of course, were in everybody's mouth soon after the sun had risen:—
En el tiempo de las barbaras naciones A los ladrones se les colgaban en cruces; Pero hoy en el siglo de las luces A los ladrones se les cuelgan cruces.
A play upon words is at all times a hopeless task to transfer to another language; nevertheless, for the benefit of those who are unacquainted with Spanish, I will convey the idea as well as I can in English;—
Hang the thief on the cross was the ancient decree; But the cross on the thief now suspended we see.
The idea is of very ancient date, and equally well known in Italy and Spain; but I believe the Spanish verses given above are original.
The following was written upon a wealthy man who lived like a hermit, and was reported to be very averse to paying for anything. He had, to the astonishment of everybody, given a grand entertainment the night before. On his door appeared—
"El Marquis de C—— Hace lo que debe Y debe por lo que hace."
It is useless to try and carry this into Saxon. In drawing it from the Spanish well, the bottom must come out of the translationary bucket. The best version I can offer is—
"He gives a party, which he ought to do, But, doing that, he does his tradesmen too."
I am aware my English version is tame and insipid, though, perhaps, not quite as much so as a translation I once met with of the sentence with which it was said Timoleon, Duc de Brissac, used to apostrophize himself before the looking-glass every morning. The original runs thus:— "Timoleon, Duc de Brissac, Dieu t'a fait gentilhomme, le roi t'a fait duc, fais toi la barbe, pour faire quelque chose." The translation was charmingly ridiculous, and ran thus:—"Timoleon, Duke of Brissac, Providence made you a gentleman; the king gave you a dukedom; shave yourself by way of doing something."—But I wander terribly. Reader, you must excuse me.
I one day asked an intelligent friend, long resident in the island, whether any of the governors had ever done any good to the island, or whether they were all satisfied by filling their pockets with handsome bribes. He told me that the first governor-general who had rendered real service to the people was Tacon. On his arrival, the whole place was so infested with rogues and villains that neither property nor even life was secure after dusk. Gambling, drunkenness, and vice of every kind rode rampant. He gave all evil-doers one week's warning, at the expiration of which all who could not give a satisfactory account of themselves were to be severely punished. Long accustomed to idle threats, they treated his warning with utter indifference; but they soon found their mistake, to their cost. Inflexible in purpose, iron-handed in rule, unswerving in justice, he treated nobles, clergy, and commoners alike, and, before the fortnight was concluded, twelve hundred were in banishment or in durance vile. Their accomplices in guilt stood aghast at this new order of things, and, foreseeing their fate, either bolted, reformed, or fell victims to it, and Havana became as quiet and orderly as a church-parade. Shops, stores, and houses sprung up in every direction. A magnificent opera-house was built outside the town, on the Grand Paseo, and named after the governor-general; nothing can exceed the lightness, airiness, and taste of the interior. I never saw its equal in any building of a similar nature, and it is in every respect most perfectly adapted to this lovely climate.
The next governor-general who seems to have left any permanent mark of usefulness is Valdes, whom I suppose I may be allowed to call their modern Lycurgus. It was during his rule that the laws were weeded and improved, and eventually produced in a clear and simple form. The patience he must have exhibited in this laborious occupation is evidenced by the minuteness of the details entered into, descending, as we have seen, even to the pants of bathers and the bibs of the infant nigger, but, by some unaccountable omission, giving no instructions as to the tuckers of their mammas. If Tacon was feared and respected, Valdes was beloved; and each appears to have fairly earned the reputation he obtained. Valdes was succeeded by O'Donnell, whose rule was inaugurated in negro blood. Frightful hurricanes soon followed, and were probably sent in mercy to purify the island from the pollutions of suffering and slaughter. During the rule of his successor, Roncali, the rebel Lopez appears on the stage. The American campaign in Mexico had stirred up a military ardour which extended to the rowdies, and a piratical expedition was undertaken, with Lopez at the head. He had acquired a name for courage in the Spanish army, and was much liked by many of them, partly from indulging in the unofficer-like practice of gambling and drinking with officers and men. His first attempt at a landing was ludicrously hopeless, and he was very glad to re-embark with a whole skin; but he was not the man to allow one failure to dishearten him, for, independent of his courage, he had a feeling of revenge to gratify.[AA] Having recruited his forces, he landed the following year, 1851, with a stronger and better-equipped force of American piratical brigands, and succeeded in stirring up a few Cubans to rebellion. He maintained himself for a few days, struggling with a courage worthy of a better cause. The pirates were defeated; Lopez was made prisoner, and died by the garotte, at Havana, on the 1st of September. Others also of the band paid the penalty of the law; and the ruffian crew, who escaped to the United States, now constitute a kind of nucleus for the "Lone Star," "Filibustero," and other such pests of the community to gather round, being ready at any moment to start on a buccaneering expedition, if they can only find another Lopez ass enough to lead them.
Concha became governor-general just before Lopez' last expedition, and the order for his execution was a most painful task for poor Concha, who had been for many years an intimate friend of his. Concha appears to have left an excellent name behind him. I always heard him called "the honest governor." He introduced a great many reforms into the civil code, and established a great many schools and scientific and literary societies. During my stay in the island, his successor, Canedo, was the governor-general. Whenever I made inquiries about him, the most favourable answer I could get was, a chuck-up of the head, a slight "p'tt" with the lips, and an expression of the eyes indicating the sight of a most unpleasant object. The three combined required no dictionary of the Academy to interpret.[AB]
The future of this rich and lovely island, who can predict? It is talked of by its powerful neighbours as "the sick man." Filibustero vultures hover above it as though it were already a putrid corpse inviting their descent; young America points to it with the absorbing index of "manifest destiny;" gold is offered for it; Ostend conferences are held about it; the most sober senators cry respecting it—"Patience, when the pear is ripe, it must drop into our lap." Old Spain—torn by faction, and ruined by corruption—supports its tottering treasury from it. Thus, plundered by friends, coveted by neighbours, and assailed by pirates, it lies like a helpless anatomical subject, with the ocean for a dissecting-table, on one side whereof stands a mother sucking its blood, and on the other "Lone Stars" gashing its limbs, while in the background, a young and vigorous republic is seen anxiously waiting for the whole carcass. If I ask, "Where shall vitality be sought?" Echo answers "Where?" If I ask, "Where shall I look for hope?" the very breath of the question extinguishes the flickering taper. Who, then, can shadow forth the fate that is reserved for this tropical gem of the ocean, where all around is so dark and louring?... A low voice, borne on a western breeze, whispers in my ear—"I guess I can."
[Note: The subsequent squabbles between the Cuban authorities and the United States have taken place long since my departure, and are too complicated to enter into without more accurate information than I possess.]
[Footnote X: I put up at "The Havana House," where I found everything very clean, and the proprietor, an American, very civil. It is now kept by his son.]
[Footnote Y: This was written in January, 1853.]
[Footnote Z: The Filibustero movement in the United States has caused Spain to increase her military force considerably.]
[Footnote AA: When first suspected of treason, he had been hunted with dogs like a wild beast, and, with considerable difficulty, escaped to America.]
[Footnote AB: Those who desire more detailed information respecting Cuba will find it in a work entitled La Reine des Antilles. Par LE VICOMTE GUSTAVE D'HARPONVILLE. 1850.]
Change of Dynasty.
The month of February was drawing to a close, when I took my passage on board the "Isabel," bound for Charleston. A small coin removed all difficulty about embarking luggage, cigars, &c.; the kettle was boiling, hands shook violently, bells rang rapidly, non-passengers flew down to shore-boats; round go the wheels, waving go the kerchiefs, and down fall the tears. The "Isabel" bounds o'er the ripp'less waters; forts and dungeons, as we gaze astern, fade from the view; an indistinct shade is all by which the eye can recal the lovely isle of Cuba; and, lest memory should fail, the piles of oranges, about four feet square, all round the upper-deck, are ready to refresh it. How different the "Isabel" from the "Cherokee!" Mr. Law might do well to take a cruise in the former; and, if he had any emulation, he would sell all his dirty old tubs for firewood, and invest the proceeds in the "Isabel" style of vessel. Land a-head!—a flourishing little village appears, with watch-towers high as minarets. What can all this mean?
This is a thriving, happy community, fixed on the most dreary and unhealthy-looking point imaginable, and deriving all their wealth and happiness from the misfortunes of others. It is Key West, a village of wreckers, who, doubtless, pray earnestly for a continuance and increase of the changing currents, which are eternally drifting some ill-fated barque on the ever-growing banks and coral reefs of these treacherous and dangerous waters; the lofty watch-towers are their Pisgah, and the stranded barques their Land of Promise. The sight of one is doubtless as refreshing to their sight as the clustering grapes of Eschol were to the wandering Israelites of old. So thoroughly does the wrecking spirit pervade this little community, that they remind one of the "Old Joe Miller," which gives an account of a clergyman who, seeing all his congregation rise from their seats at the joyous cry of, "A wreck! a wreck!" called them to order with an irresistible voice of thunder, and deliberately commencing to despoil himself of his surplice, added, "Gentlemen, a fair start, if you please!"
We picked up a couple of captains here, whose ships had tasted these bitter waters, and who were on their road to New York to try and make the best of a bad job. We had some very agreeable companions on board; but we had others very much the contrary, conspicuous among whom was an undeniable Hebrew but no Nathanael. He was one of those pompous loud talkers, whose every word and work bespoke vulgarity in its most obnoxious form, and whose obtuseness in matters of manners was so great that nothing short of the point of your shoe could have made him understand how offensive he was. He spoke of courts in Europe, and of the Vice-regal court in Ireland, as though he had the entree of them all; which it was palpable to the most superficial observer he never could have had, except possibly when, armed with a dingy bag on his shoulder and an "Ol clo'" on his lips, he sought an investment in cast-off garments. He was taking cigars, which, from their quantity, were evidently for sale; and as the American Government is very liberal in allowing passengers to enter cigars, never—I believe—refusing any one the privilege of five hundred, he was beating up for friends who had no cigars to divide his speculations among, so as to avoid the duty; at last his arrangements were completed, and his mind at ease.
On entering the port of Charleston he got up the box containing his treasures, and was about to open it, when, to my intense delight and amusement, an officer of the ship stayed his hasty hand. "What's that for?" exclaimed the wrathful Israelite. "I guess that box is in the manifest," was the calm reply, "and you can't touch it till it goes to the custom-house." Jonathan had "done" the Hebrew; and besides the duty, he had the pleasure of paying freight on them also; while, to add to his satisfaction, he enjoyed the sight of all the other passengers taking their five hundred or so unmolested, while compelled to pay duty on every cigar himself. But we must leave the Jew, the "Isabel"—ay, Charleston itself. "Hurry hurry, bubble bubble, toil and trouble!" Washington must be reached before the 4th of March, or we shall not see the Senate and the other House in session. Steamer and rail; on we dash. The boiling horse checks his speed; the inconveniences of the journey are all forgotten: we are at Washington, and the all-absorbing thought is, "Where shall we get a bed?"
My companion[AC] and myself drove about from hotel to boarding-house, from boarding-house to hotel, and from hotel to the Capitol, seeking a resting-place in vain. Every chink and cranny was crammed; the reading-rooms of the hotels had from one to two dozen stretcher beds in each of them. 'Twas getting on for midnight; Hope's taper was flickering faintly, when a police-officer came to the rescue, and recommended us to try a small boarding-house at which he was himself lodging. There, as an especial favour, we got two beds put into a room where another lodger was already snoring; but fatigue and sleep soon obliterated that fact from our remembrance. Next morning, while lying in a half doze, I heard something like the upsetting of a jug near my bedside, and then, a sound like mopping up; suspicious of my company, I opened my eyes, and lo! there was the owner of the third bed, deliberately mopping up the contents of the jug he had upset over the carpet, with—what do you think? His handkerchief? oh, no—his coat-tails? oh, no—a spare towel? oh, no; the savage, with the most placid indifference, was mopping it up with my sponge! He expressed so much astonishment when I remonstrated, that I supposed the poor man must have been in the habit of using his own sponge for such purposes, and my ire subsided gradually as he wrung out the sponge by an endless succession of vigorous squeezes, accompanying each with a word of apology. So much for my first night at Washington.
We will pass over breakfast, and away to the Capitol. There it stands, on a rising knoll, commanding an extensive panoramic view of the town and surrounding country. The building is on a grand scale, and faced with marble, which, glittering in the sunbeams, gives it a very imposing appearance; but the increasing wants of this increasing Republic have caused two wings to be added, which are now in the course of construction. Entrance to the Senate and House of Representatives was afforded to us with that readiness and courtesy which strangers invariably experience. But, alas! the mighty spirits who had, by their power of eloquence, so often charmed and spell-bound the tenants of the senate chamber—where were they? The grave had but recently closed over the last of those giant spirits; Webster was no more! Like all similar bodies, they put off and put off, till, in the last few days of the session, a quantity of business is hustled through, and thus no scope is left for eloquent speeches; all is matter of fact, and a very business-looking body they appeared, each senator with his desk and papers before him; and when anything was to be said, it was expressed in plain, unadorned language, and free from hesitation. The only opportunity offered for eloquence was, after the inauguration, on the discussion of the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty. I will not say that the venerable senator for Delaware—Mr. Clayton—was eloquent, but he was very clear both in language and delivery, and his bearing altogether showed the honest conviction of a man who knew he was in the right, and was certain he would be ultimately so judged. His principal antagonist was the senator for Illinois—Mr. Douglas—one of the stars of the Young American party, and an aspirant to the presidential honours of the Republic. He is a stout-built man, rather short, with a massive overhanging forehead. When he rose, he did so with the evident consciousness that the gallery above him was filled with many of his political school, and thrusting both hands well into the bottom of his breeches pockets, he commenced his oration with an air of great self-confidence, occasionally drawing one hand from its concealment to aid his oratory by significant gesture. He made an excellent clap-trap—or, as they term it in America, Buncombe—speech, aiding and emphasizing, by energetic shakings of the forefinger, such passages as he thought would tell in the gallery above; his voice was loud and clear, his language blunt and fluent, and amusingly replete with "dares and daren't;" "England's in the wrong, and she knows it;" if the original treaty, by which America was to have had the canal exclusively, had been concluded, "America would have had a rod to hold over all the nations." Then came "manifest destiny;" then the mare's nest called "Monroe doctrine;" then more Buncombe about England; and then ... he sat down—satisfied, no doubt, that he had very considerably increased his chances for the "tenancy of the White House."
I regretted much not being able to hear Mr. Everett speak, for I believe he is admitted on all hands to be the most eloquent and classical orator within the precincts of the senate at the present moment; but I was obliged to leave Washington before he addressed the assembly. The absence of all signs of approbation or disapprobation, while a senator is addressing the House, gives a coldness to the debate, and I should think must have a damping effect upon the enthusiasm of the speaker. The "Hear hears" and "cheers" of friends, and the "Oh ohs" or "laughter" of opponents, certainly give an air of much greater excitement to the scene, and act as an encouragement to the orator. But such exclamations are not allowed either in the Senate or the House of Representatives. The chamber of the latter is of course much larger than that of the Senators, and, as far as I can judge, a bad room to hear in. When the new wings are finished, they will move into one of them, and their present chamber is, I believe, to be a library. I had no opportunity of hearing any of the oratory of this house, as they were merely hustling a few money and minor bills through, previous to the inauguration, which closed their session. They also have each a desk and chair; but with their increasing numbers I fear that any room large enough to afford them such accommodation must be bad for speaking in.—Let us now turn to the great event of the day, i.e., the Inauguration.
The senators are all in their places; ministers of foreign Powers and their suites are seated on the row of benches under the gallery; the expectant masses are waiting outside; voices are suddenly hushed, and all eyes turned towards the door of the senate-chamber; the herald walks in, and says, "The President Elect of the United States." The chosen of his country appears with as little form or ceremony as a gentleman walking into an ordinary drawing-room. All rise as he enters.
I watched the man of the day as he proceeded to his seat on the floor of the senate. There was neither pride in his eye nor nervousness in his step, but a calm and dignified composure, well fitted to his high position, as though gratified ambition were duly tempered by a deep sense of responsibility. The procession moved out in order to a platform in front of the Capitol, the late able president walking side by side with his untried successor, and apparently as calm in resigning office as his successor appeared to be in entering upon it. Of the inaugural speech I shall say nothing, as all who care to read it have done so long since. But one thing should always be remembered, and that is, that the popular candidates here are all compelled to "do a little Buncombe," and therefore, under the circumstances, I think it must be admitted there was as little as was possible. That speech tolled the knell, for the present at least, of the Whig party, and ushered in the reign of General Pierce and the Democrats.
Since these lines were penned, the "chosen of the nation" has passed through his ordeal of four years' administration; and, whatever private virtues may have adorned his character, I imagine the unanimous voice of his countrymen would unhesitatingly declare, that so utterly inefficient a man never filled the presidential chair. He has been succeeded by Mr. Buchanan, who was well known as the accredited Minister to the Court of St. James's, and who also made himself ludicrously conspicuous as one of the famous Ostend manifesto party. However, his talents are undoubted, and his public career renders it probable that, warned by the failure of his predecessor, his presidency will reflect more credit upon the Republic than that of Mr. Pierce. Mr. B.'s inaugural address has been published in this country, and is, in its way, a contradictory curiosity. He urges, in diplomacy, "frankness and clearness;" while, to his fellow-citizens, he offers some very wily diplomatic sentences. Munroe doctrine and manifest destiny are not named; but they are shadowed forth in language worthy of a Talleyrand. First, he glories in his country having never extended its territory by the sword(?); he then proceeds to say—what everybody says in anticipation of conquest, annexation, or absorption—"Our past history forbids that, in future, we should acquire territory, unless this be sanctioned by the laws of justice and honour" (two very elastic laws among nations). "Acting on this principle, no nation will have a right to interfere, or to complain if, in the progress of events, we shall still further extend our possessions." Leaving these frank and clear sentences to the consideration of the reader, we return from the digression.
The crowd outside was very orderly, but by no means so numerous as I had expected; I estimated them at 8000; but a friend who was with me, and well versed in such matters, calculated the numbers at nearly 10,000, but certainly, he said, not more. The penny Press, by way of doing honour to their new ruler, boldly fixed the numbers at 40,000—that was their bit of Buncombe. One cause, probably, of the crowd not being greater, was the drizzling snow, which doubtlessly induced many to be satisfied with seeing the procession pass along Pennsylvania Avenue.
I cannot help remarking here, how little some of their eminent men know of England. A senator, of great and just reputation, came to me during the ceremony, and said, "There is one thing which must strike you as very remarkable, and that is, that we have no soldiers here to keep order upon an occasion of such political importance." He was evidently unaware that, not only was such the case invariably in England, but that soldiers are confined to barracks, or even removed during the excitement of elections. There is no doubt that the falsehoods and exaggerations with which the Press here teems, in matters referring to England, are sufficiently glaring to be almost self-confuting; but if they can so warp the mind of an enlightened senator, how is it to be wondered at that, among the masses, many suck in all such trash as if it were Gospel truth, and look upon England as little else than a land of despotism; but of that, more anon. The changing of presidents in this country resembles, practically speaking, the changing of a premier in England; but, thank Heaven! the changing of a premier in England does not involve the same changes as does the changing of a president here.
I believe it was General Jackson who first introduced the practice of a wholesale sweeping out of opponents from all situations, however small; and this bright idea has been religiously acted upon by all succeeding presidents. The smallest clerkships, twopenny-halfpenny postmasterships in unheard-of villages—all, all that can be dispensed with, must make way for the friends of the incomers to power. Fancy a new premier in England making a clean sweep of nine-tenths of the clerks, &c., at the Treasury, Foreign-office, Post-office, Custom-house, Dockyards, &c., &c. Conceive the jobbing such a system must lead to, not to mention the comparative inefficiency it must produce in the said departments, and the ridiculous labour it throws upon the dispensers of these gifts of place. The following quotation may be taken as a sample:—
OUR CUSTOM-HOUSE—WHAT A HAUL.—The New Hampshire Patriot, in an article on proscription, thus refers to the merciless decapitation of the Democrats of our Custom-house, by Mr. Collector Maxwell:—
"Take the New York Custom-house as a sample. There are 626 officers there, exclusive of labourers; and it appears from the records that, since the Whigs came into power, 427 removals have been there made. And to show the greediness of the Whig applicants for the spoils, it need only be stated that, on the very day the collector was sworn into office he made forty-two removals. He made six before he was sworn. In thirty days from the time of his entrance upon his duties he removed 220 persons; and, in the course of a few months, he had made such a clean sweep, that only sixty-two Democrats remained in office, with 564 Whigs! A like sweep was made in other custom-houses; and so clean work did this 'anti-proscription' administration make in the offices, that a Democrat could scarcely be found in an office which a Whig could be found to take."
This is ominous, for the 564 Whigs to be turned over to the charity of the new collector. Alas! the Democrats are hungry—hard shells and soft shells—and charity begins at home. In the course of the coming month we may anticipate a large emigration from the custom-house to California and Australia. What a blessing to ejected office-holders that they can fall back upon the gold mines! Such is the beautiful working of our beneficent institutions! What a magnificent country!
As a proof of the excitement which these changes produce, I remember perfectly there being ten to one more fuss and telegraphing between Washington and New York, as to who should be collector at the latter port, than would exist between London and Paris if a revolution was in full swing at the latter. To this absurd system may no doubt be partly attributed the frequent irregularities of their inland postage; but it is an evil which, as far as I can judge from observation and conversation, will continue till, with an increasing population and increase of business, necessity re-establishes the old and better order of things. Political partisanship is so strong that nothing but imperative necessity can alter it.