The appearance of Augusta struck me very agreeably as I reached it, on a most delightful afternoon, which seemed to me more like June than March. I was delighted to see turf again, regular greensward of sweet grasses and clover, such as you see in May in the northern states, and do not meet on the coast in the southern states. The city lies on a broad rich plain on the Savannah river, with woody declivities to the north and west. I have seen several things here since my arrival which interested me much, and if I can command time I will speak of them in another letter.
Southern Cotton Mills.
Barnwell District, South Carolina, March 31, 1849.
I promised to say something more of Augusta if I had time before departing from Cuba, and I find that I have a few moments to spare for a hasty letter.
The people of Augusta boast of the beauty of their place, and not without some reason. The streets are broad, and in some parts overshadowed with rows of fine trees. The banks of the river on which it stands are high and firm, and slopes half covered with forest, of a pleasant aspect, overlook it from the west and from the Carolina side. To the south stretches a broad champaign country, on which are some of the finest plantations of Georgia. I visited one of these, consisting of ten thousand acres, kept throughout in as perfect order as a small farm at the north, though large enough for a German principality.
But what interested me most, was a visit to a cotton mill in the neighborhood,—a sample of a class of manufacturing establishments, where the poor white people of this state and of South Carolina find occupation. It is a large manufactory, and the machinery is in as perfect order as in any of the mills at the north. "Here," said a gentleman who accompanied us, as we entered the long apartment in the second story, "you will see a sample of the brunettes of the piny woods."
The girls of various ages, who are employed at the spindles, had, for the most part, a sallow, sickly complexion, and in many of their faces, I remarked that look of mingled distrust and dejection which often accompanies the condition of extreme, hopeless poverty. "These poor girls," said one of our party, "think themselves extremely fortunate to be employed here, and accept work gladly. They come from the most barren parts of Carolina and Georgia, where their families live wretchedly, often upon unwholesome food, and as idly as wretchedly, for hitherto there has been no manual occupation provided for them from which they do not shrink as disgraceful, on account of its being the occupation of slaves. In these factories negroes are not employed as operatives, and this gives the calling of the factory girl a certain dignity. You would be surprised to see the change which a short time effects in these poor people. They come barefooted, dirty, and in rags; they are scoured, put into shoes and stockings, set at work and sent regularly to the Sunday-schools, where they are taught what none of them have been taught before—to read and write. In a short time they became expert at their work; they lose their sullen shyness, and their physiognomy becomes comparatively open and cheerful. Their families are relieved from the temptations to theft and other shameful courses which accompany the condition of poverty without occupation."
"They have a good deal of the poke-easy manner of the piny woods about them yet," said one of our party, a Georgian. It was true, I perceived that they had not yet acquired all that alacrity and quickness in their work which you see in the work-people of the New England mills. In one of the upper stories I saw a girl of a clearer complexion than the rest, with two long curls swinging behind each ear, as she stepped about with the air of a duchess. "That girl is from the north," said our conductor; "at first we placed an expert operative from the north in each story of the building as an instructor and pattern to the rest."
I have since learned that some attempts were made at first to induce the poor white people to work side by side with the blacks in these mills. These utterly failed, and the question then became with the proprietors whether they should employ blacks only or whites only; whether they should give these poor people an occupation which, while it tended to elevate their condition, secured a more expert class of work-people than the negroes could be expected to become, or whether they should rely upon the less intelligent and more negligent services of slaves. They decided at length upon banishing the labor of blacks from their mills. At Graniteville, in South Carolina, about ten miles from the Savannah river, a neat little manufacturing village has lately been built up, where the families of the crackers, as they are called, reclaimed from their idle lives in the woods, are settled, and white labor only is employed. The enterprise is said to be in a most prosperous condition.
Only coarse cloths are made in these mills—strong, thick fabrics, suitable for negro shirting—and the demand for this kind of goods, I am told, is greater than the supply. Every yard made in this manufactory at Augusta, is taken off as soon as it leaves the loom. I fell in with a northern man in the course of the day, who told me that these mills had driven the northern manufacturer of coarse cottons out of the southern market.
"The buildings are erected here more cheaply," he continued, "there is far less expense in fuel, and the wages of the workpeople are less. At first the boys and girls of the cracker families were engaged for little more than their board; their wages are now better, but they are still low. I am about to go to the north, and I shall do my best to persuade some of my friends, who have been almost ruined by this southern competition, to come to Augusta and set up cotton mills."
There is water-power at Augusta sufficient to turn the machinery of many large establishments. A canal from the Savannah river brings in a large volume of water, which passes from level to level, and might be made to turn the spindles and drive the looms of a populous manufacturing town. Such it will become, if any faith is to be placed in present indications, and a considerable manufacturing population will be settled at this place, drawn from the half-wild inhabitants of the most barren parts of the southern states. I look upon the introduction of manufactures at the south as an event of the most favorable promise for that part of the country, since it both condenses a class of population too thinly scattered to have the benefit of the institutions of civilized life, of education and religion—and restores one branch of labor, at least, to its proper dignity, in a region where manual labor has been the badge of servitude and dependence.
One of the pleasantest spots in the neighborhood of Augusta is Somerville, a sandy eminence, covered with woods, the shade of which is carefully cherished, and in the midst of which are numerous cottages and country seats, closely embowered in trees, with pleasant paths leading to them from the highway. Here the evenings in summer are not so oppressively hot as in the town below, and dense as the shade is, the air is dry and elastic. Hither many families retire during the hot season, and many reside here the year round. We drove through it as the sun was setting, and called at the dwellings of several of the hospitable inhabitants. The next morning the railway train brought us to Barnwell District, in South Carolina, where I write this.
I intended to send you some notes of the agricultural changes which I have observed in this part of South Carolina since I was last here, but I have hardly time to do it. The culture of wheat has been introduced, many planters now raising enough for their own consumption. The sugar cane is also planted, and quantities of sugar and molasses are often made sufficient to supply the plantations on which it is cultivated. Spinning-wheels and looms have come into use, and a strong and durable cotton cloth is woven by the negro women for the wear of the slaves. All this shows a desire to make the most of the recources of the country, and to protect the planter against the embarrassments which often arise from the fluctuating prices of the great staple of the south—cotton. But I have no time to dwell upon this subject. To-morrow I sail for Cuba.
The Florida Coast.—Key West.
Havana, April 7, 1849.
It was a most agreeable voyage which I made in the steamer Isabel, to this port, the wind in our favor the whole distance, fine bright weather, the temperature passing gradually from what we have it in New York at the end of May, to what it is in the middle of June. The Isabel is a noble sea-boat, of great strength, not so well ventilated as the Tennessee, in which we came to Savannah, with spacious and comfortable cabins, and, I am sorry to say, rather dirty state-rooms.
We stopped off Savannah near the close of the first day of our voyage, to leave some of our passengers and take in others; and on the second, which was also the second of the month, we were running rapidly down the Florida coast, with the trade-wind fresh on our beam, sweeping before it a long swell from the east, in which our vessel rocked too much for the stomachs of most of the passengers. The next day the sea was smoother; we had changed our direction somewhat and were going before the wind, the Florida reefs full in sight, with their long streak of white surf, beyond which, along the line of the shore, lay a belt of water, of bright translucent green, and in front the waves wore an amethystine tint. We sat the greater part of the day under an awning. A long line, with a baited hook at the end, was let down into the water from the stern of our vessel, and after being dragged there an hour or two, it was seized by a king-fish, which was immediately hauled on board. It was an elegantly shaped fish, weighing nearly twenty pounds, with a long head, and scales shining with blue and purple. It was served up for dinner, and its flavor much commended by the amateurs.
The waters around us were full of sails, gleaming in the sunshine. "They belong," said our Charleston pilot, "to the wreckers who live at Key West. Every morning they come out and cruise among the reefs, to discover if there are any vessels wrecked or in distress—the night brings them back to the harbor on their island."
Your readers know, I presume, that at Key West is a town containing nearly three thousand inhabitants, who subsist solely by the occupation of relieving vessels in distress navigating this dangerous coast, and bringing in such as are wrecked. The population, of course, increases with the commerce of the country, and every vessel that sails from our ports to the Gulf of Mexico, or comes from the Gulf to the North, every addition to the intercourse of the Atlantic ports with Mobile, New Orleans, the West Indies, or Central America, adds to their chances of gain. These people neither plant nor sow; their isle is a low barren spot, surrounded by a beach of white sand, formed of disintegrated porous limestone, and a covering of the same sand, spread thinly over the rock, forms its soil.
"It is a scandal," said the pilot, "that this coast is not better lighted. A few light-houses would make its navigation much safer, and they would be built, if Florida had any man in Congress to represent the matter properly to the government. I have long been familiar with this coast—sixty times, at least, I have made the voyage from Charleston to Havana, and I am sure that there is no such dangerous navigation on the coast of the United States. In going to Havana, or to New Orleans, or to other ports on the gulf, commanders of vessels try to avoid the current of the gulf-stream which would carry them to the north, and they, therefore, shave the Florida coast, and keep near the reefs which you see yonder. They often strike the reefs inadvertently, or are driven against them by storms. In returning northward the navigation is safer; we give a good offing to the reefs and strike out into the gulf-stream, the current of which carries us in the direction of our voyage."
A little before nine o'clock we had entered the little harbor of Key West, and were moored in its still waters. It was a bright moonlight evening, and we rambled two or three hours about the town and the island. The hull of a dismasted vessel lay close by our landing-place; it had no name on bow or stern, and had just been found abandoned at sea, and brought in by the wreckers; its cargo, consisting of logwood, had been taken out and lay in piles on the wharf. This town has principally grown up since the Florida war. The habitations have a comfortable appearance; some of them are quite neat, but the sterility of the place is attested by the want of gardens. In some of the inclosures before the houses, however, there were tropical shrubs in flower, and here the cocoanut-tree was growing, and other trees of the palm kind, which rustled with a sharp dry sound in the fresh wind from the sea. They were the first palms I had seen growing in the open air, and they gave a tropical aspect to the place.
We fell in with a man who had lived thirteen years at Key West. He told us that its three thousand inhabitants had four places of worship—an Episcopal, a Catholic, a Methodist, and a Baptist church; and the drinking-houses which we saw open, with such an elaborate display of bottles and decanters, were not resorted to by the people of the place, but were the haunt of English and American sailors, whom the disasters, or the regular voyages of their vessels had brought hither. He gave us an account of the hurricane of September, 1846, which overflowed and laid waste the island.
"Here where we stand," said he, "the water was four feet deep at least. I saved my family in a boat, and carried them to a higher part of the island. Two houses which I owned were swept away by the flood, and I was ruined. Most of the houses were unroofed by the wind; every vessel belonging to the place was lost; dismasted hulks were floating about, and nobody knew to whom they belonged, and dead bodies of men and women lay scattered along the beach. It was the worst hurricane ever known at Key West; before it came, we used to have a hurricane regularly once in two years, but we have had none since."
A bell was rung about this time, and we asked the reason. "It is to signify that the negroes must be at their homes," answered the man. We inquired if there were many blacks in the place. "Till lately," he replied, "there were about eighty, but since the United States government has begun to build the fort yonder, their number has increased. Several broken-down planters, who have no employment for their slaves, have sent them to Key West to be employed by the government. We do not want them here, and wish that the government would leave them on the hands of their masters."
On the fourth morning when we went on deck, the coast of Cuba, a ridge of dim hills, was in sight, and our vessel was rolling in the unsteady waves of the gulf stream, which here beat against the northern shore of the island. It was a hot morning, as the mornings in this climate always are till the periodical breeze springs up, about ten o'clock, and refreshes all the islands that lie in the embrace of the gulf. In a short time, the cream-colored walls of the Moro, the strong castle which guards the entrance to the harbor of Havana, appeared rising from the waters. We passed close to the cliffs on which it is built, were hailed in English, a gun was fired, our steamer darted through a narrow entrance into the harbor, and anchored in the midst of what appeared a still inland lake.
The city of Havana has a cheerful appearance seen from the harbor. Its massive houses, built for the most part of the porous rock of the island, are covered with stucco, generally of a white or cream color, but often stained sky-blue or bright yellow. Above these rise the dark towers and domes of the churches, apparently built of a more durable material, and looking more venerable for the gay color of the dwellings amidst which they stand. The extensive fortifications of Cabanas crown the heights on that side of the harbor which lies opposite to the town; and south of the city a green, fertile valley, in which stand scattered palm-trees, stretches towards the pleasant village of Cerro.
We lay idly in the stream for two hours, till the authorities of the port could find time to visit us. They arrived at last, and without coming on board, subjected the captain to a long questioning, and searched the newspapers he brought for intelligence relating to the health of the port from which he sailed. At last they gave us leave to land, without undergoing a quarantine, and withdrew, taking with them our passports. We went on shore, and after three hours further delay got our baggage through the custom-house.
Havana, April 10, 1849.
I find that it requires a greater effort of resolution to sit down to the writing of a long letter in this soft climate, than in the country I have left. I feel a temptation to sit idly, and let the grateful wind from the sea, coming in at the broad windows, flow around me, or read, or talk, as I happen to have a book or a companion. That there is something in a tropical climate which indisposes one to vigorous exertion I can well believe, from what I experience in myself, and what I see around me. The ladies do not seem to take the least exercise, except an occasional drive on the Paseo, or public park; they never walk out, and when they are shopping, which is no less the vocation of their sex here than in other civilized countries, they never descend from their volantes, but the goods are brought out by the obsequious shopkeeper, and the lady makes her choice and discusses the price as she sits in her carriage.
Yet the women of Cuba show no tokens of delicate health. Freshness of color does not belong to a latitude so near the equator, but they have plump figures, placid, unwrinkled countenances, a well-developed bust, and eyes, the brilliant languor of which is not the languor of illness. The girls as well as the young men, have rather narrow shoulders, but as they advance in life, the chest, in the women particularly, seems to expand from year to year, till it attains an amplitude by no means common in our country. I fully believe that this effect, and their general health, in spite of the inaction in which they pass their lives, is owing to the free circulation of air through their apartments.
For in Cuba, the women as well as the men may be said to live in the open air. They know nothing of close rooms, in all the island, and nothing of foul air, and to this, I have no doubt, quite as much as to the mildness of the temperature, the friendly effect of its climate upon invalids from the north is to be ascribed. Their ceilings are extremely lofty, and the wide windows, extending from the top of the room to the floor and guarded by long perpendicular bars of iron, are without glass, and when closed are generally only closed with blinds which, while they break the force of the wind when it is too strong, do not exclude the air. Since I have been on the island, I may be said to have breakfasted and dined and supped and slept in the open air, in an atmosphere which is never in repose except for a short time in the morning after sunrise. At other times a breeze is always stirring, in the day-time bringing in the air from the ocean, and at night drawing it out again to the sea.
In walking through the streets of the towns in Cuba, I have been entertained by the glimpses I had through the ample windows, of what was going on in the parlors. Sometimes a curtain hanging before them allowed me only a sight of the small hands which clasped the bars of the grate, and the dusky faces and dark eyes peeping into the street and scanning the passers by. At other times, the whole room was seen, with its furniture, and its female forms sitting in languid postures, courting the breeze as it entered from without. In the evening, as I passed along the narrow sidewalk of the narrow streets, I have been startled at finding myself almost in the midst of a merry party gathered about the window of a brilliantly lighted room, and chattering the soft Spanish of the island in voices that sounded strangely near to me. I have spoken of their languid postures: they love to recline on sofas; their houses are filled with rocking-chairs imported from the United States; they are fond of sitting in chairs tilted against the wall, as we sometimes do at home. Indeed they go beyond us in this respect; for in Cuba they have invented a kind of chair which, by lowering the back and raising the knees, places the sitter precisely in the posture he would take if he sat in a chair leaning backward against a wall. It is a luxurious attitude, I must own, and I do not wonder that it is a favorite with lazy people, for it relieves one of all the trouble of keeping the body upright.
It is the women who form the large majority of the worshipers in the churches. I landed here in Passion Week, and the next day was Holy Thursday, when not a vehicle on wheels of any sort is allowed to be seen in the streets; and the ladies, contrary to their custom during the rest of the year, are obliged to resort to the churches on foot. Negro servants of both sexes were seen passing to and fro, carrying mats on which their mistresses were to kneel in the morning service. All the white female population, young and old, were dressed in black, with black lace veils. In the afternoon, three wooden or waxen images of the size of life, representing Christ in the different stages of his passion, were placed in the spacious Church of St. Catharine, which was so thronged that I found it difficult to enter. Near the door was a figure of the Saviour sinking under the weight of his cross, and the worshipers were kneeling to kiss his feet. Aged negro men and women, half-naked negro children, ladies richly attired, little girls in Parisian dresses, with lustrous black eyes and a profusion of ringlets, cast themselves down before the image, and pressed their lips to its feet in a passion of devotion. Mothers led up their little ones, and showed them how to perform this act of adoration. I saw matrons and young women rise from it with their eyes red with tears.
The next day, which was Good Friday, about twilight, a long procession came trailing slowly through the streets under my window, bearing an image of the dead Christ, lying upon a cloth of gold. It was accompanied by a body of soldiery, holding their muskets reversed, and a band playing plaintive tunes; the crowd uncovered their heads as it passed. On Saturday morning, at ten o'clock, the solemnities of holy week were over; the bells rang a merry peal; hundreds of volantes and drays, which had stood ready harnessed, rushed into the streets; the city became suddenly noisy with the rattle of wheels and the tramp of horses; the shops which had been shut for the last two days, were opened; and the ladies, in white or light-colored muslins, were proceeding in their volantes to purchase at the shops their costumes for the Easter festivities.
I passed the evening on the Plaza de Armas, a public square in front of the Governor's house, planted with palms and other trees, paved with broad flags, and bordered with a row of benches. It was crowded with people in their best dresses, the ladies mostly in white, and without bonnets, for the bonnet in this country is only worn while travelling. Chairs had been placed for them in a double row around the edge of the square, and a row of volantes surrounded the square, in each of which sat two or more ladies, the ample folds of their muslin dresses flowing out on each side over the steps of the carriage. The Governor's band played various airs, martial and civic, with great beauty of execution. The music continued for two hours, and the throng, with only occasional intervals of conversation, seemed to give themselves up wholly to the enjoyment of listening to it.
It was a bright moonlight night, so bright that one might almost see to read, and the temperature the finest I can conceive, a gentle breeze rustling among the palms overhead. I was surprised at seeing around me so many fair brows and snowy necks. It is the moonlight, said I to myself, or perhaps it is the effect of the white dresses, for the complexions of these ladies seem to differ several shades from those which I saw yesterday at the churches. A female acquaintance has since given me another solution of the matter.
"The reason," she said, "of the difference you perceived is this, that during the ceremonies of holy week they take off the cascarilla from their faces, and appear in their natural complexions."
I asked the meaning of the word cascarilla, which I did not remember to have heard before.
"It is the favorite cosmetic of the island, and is made of egg-shells finely pulverized. They often fairly plaster their faces with it. I have seen a dark-skinned lady as white almost as marble at a ball. They will sometimes, at a morning call or an evening party, withdraw to repair the cascarilla on their faces."
I do not vouch for this tale, but tell it "as it was told to me." Perhaps, after all, it was the moonlight which had produced this transformation, though I had noticed something of the same improvement of complexion just before sunset, on the Paseo Isabel, a public park without the city walls, planted with rows of trees, where, every afternoon, the gentry of Havana drive backward and forward in their volantes, with each a glittering harness, and a liveried negro bestriding, in large jack-boots, the single horse which draws the vehicle.
I had also the same afternoon visited the receptacle into which the population of the city are swept when the game of life is played out—the Campo Santo, as it is called, or public cemetery of Havana. Going out of the city at the gate nearest the sea, I passed through a street of the wretchedest houses I had seen; the ocean was roaring at my right on the coral rocks which form the coast. The dingy habitations were soon left behind, and I saw the waves, pushed forward by a fresh wind, flinging their spray almost into the road; I next entered a short avenue of trees, and in a few minutes the volante stopped at the gate of the cemetery. In a little inclosure before the entrance, a few starvling flowers of Europe were cultivated, but the wild plants of the country flourished luxuriantly on the rich soil within. A thick wall surrounded the cemetery, in which were rows of openings for coffins, one above the other, where the more opulent of the dead were entombed. The coffin is thrust in endwise, and the opening closed with a marble slab bearing an inscription.
Most of these niches were already occupied, but in the earth below, by far the greater part of those who die at Havana, are buried without a monument or a grave which they are allowed to hold a longer time than is necessary for their bodies to be consumed in the quicklime which is thrown upon them. Every day fresh trenches are dug in which their bodies are thrown, generally without coffins. Two of these, one near each wall of the cemetery, were waiting for the funerals. I saw where the spade had divided the bones of those who were buried there last, and thrown up the broken fragments, mingled with masses of lime, locks of hair, and bits of clothing. Without the walls was a receptacle in which the skulls and other larger bones, dark with the mould of the grave, were heaped.
Two or three persons were walking about the cemetery when we first entered, but it was now at length the cool of the day, and the funerals began to arrive. They brought in first a rude black coffin, broadest at the extremity which contained the head, and placing it at the end of one of the trenches, hurriedly produced a hammer and nails to fasten the lid before letting it down, when it was found that the box was too shallow at the narrower extremity. The lid was removed for a moment and showed the figure of an old man in a threadbare black coat, white pantaloons, and boots. The negroes who bore it beat out the bottom with the hammer, so as to allow the lid to be fastened over the feet. It was then nailed down firmly with coarse nails, the coffin was swung into the trench, and the earth shoveled upon it. A middle-aged man, wrho seemed to be some relative of the dead, led up a little boy close to the grave and watched the process of filling it. They spoke to each other and smiled, stood till the pit was filled to the surface, and the bearers had departed, and then retired in their turn. This was one of the more respectable class of funerals. Commonly the dead are piled without coffins, one above the other, in the trenches.
The funerals now multiplied. The corpse of a little child was brought in, uncoffined; and another, a young man who, I was told, had cut his throat for love, was borne towards one of the niches in the wall. I heard loud voices, which seemed to proceed from the eastern side of the cemetery, and which, I thought at first, might be the recitation of a funeral service; but no funeral service is said at these graves; and, after a time, I perceived that they came from the windows of a long building which overlooked one side of the burial ground. It was a mad-house. The inmates, exasperated at the spectacle before them, were gesticulating from the windows—the women screaming and the men shouting, but no attention was paid to their uproar. A lady, however, a stranger to the island, who visited the Campo Santo that afternoon, was so affected by the sights and sounds of the place, that she was borne out weeping and almost in convulsions. As we left the place, we found a crowd of volantes about the gate; a pompous bier, with rich black hangings, drew up; a little beyond, we met one of another kind—a long box, with glass sides and ends, in which lay the corpse of a woman, dressed in white, with a black veil thrown over the face.
The next day the festivities, which were to indemnify the people for the austerities of Lent and of Passion Week, began. The cock-pits were opened during the day, and masked balls were given in the evening at the theatres. You know, probably, that cock-fighting is the principal diversion of the island, having entirely supplanted the national spectacle of bull-baiting. Cuba, in fact, seemed to me a great poultry-yard. I heard the crowing of cocks in all quarters, for the game-cock is the noisiest and most boastful of birds, and is perpetually uttering his notes of defiance. In the villages I saw the veterans of the pit, a strong-legged race, with their combs cropped smooth to the head, the feathers plucked from every part of the body except their wings, and the tail docked like that of a coach horse, picking up their food in the lanes among the chickens. One old cripple I remember to have seen in the little town of Guines, stiff with wounds received in combat, who had probably got a furlough for life, and who, while limping among his female companions, maintained a sort of strut in his gait, and now and then stopped to crow defiance to the world. The peasants breed game-cocks and bring them to market; amateurs in the town train them for their private amusement. Dealers in game-cocks are as common as horse-jockies with us, and every village has its cock-pit.
I went on Monday to the Valla de Gallos, situated in that part of Havana which lies without the walls. Here, in a spacious inclosure, were two amphitheatres of benches, roofed, but without walls, with a circular area in the midst. Each was crowded with people, who were looking at a cock-fight, and half of whom seemed vociferating with all their might. I mounted one of the outer benches, and saw one of the birds laid dead by the other in a few minutes. Then was heard the chink of gold and silver pieces, as the betters stepped into the area and paid their wagers; the slain bird was carried out and thrown on the ground, and the victor, taken into the hands of the owner, crowed loudly in celebration of his victory. Two other birds were brought in, and the cries of those who offered wagers were heard on all sides. They ceased at last, and the cocks were put down to begin the combat. They fought warily at first, but at length began to strike in earnest, the blood flowed, and the bystanders were heard to vociferate, "ahi estan pelezando"—"mata! mata! mata!" gesticulating at the same time with great violence, and new wagers were laid as the interest of the combat increased. In ten minutes one of the birds was dispatched, for the combat never ends till one of them has his death-wound.
In the mean time several other combats had begun in smaller pits, which lay within the same inclosure, but were not surrounded with circles of benches. I looked upon the throng engaged in this brutal sport, with eager gestures and loud cries, and could not help thinking how soon this noisy crowd would lie in heaps in the pits of the Campo Santo.
In the evening was a masked ball in the Tacon Theatre, a spacious building, one of the largest of its kind in the world. The pit, floored over, with the whole depth of the stage open to the back wall of the edifice, furnished a ball-room of immense size. People in grotesque masks, in hoods or fancy dresses, were mingled with a throng clad in the ordinary costume, and Spanish dances were performed to the music of a numerous band. A well-dressed crowd filled the first and second tier of boxes. The Creole smokes everywhere, and seemed astonished when the soldier who stood at the door ordered him to throw away his lighted segar before entering. Once upon the floor, however, he lighted another segar in defiance of the prohibition.
The Spanish dances, with their graceful movements, resembling the undulations of the sea in its gentlest moods, are nowhere more gracefully performed than in Cuba, by the young women born on the island. I could not help thinking, however, as I looked on that gay crowd, on the quaint maskers, and the dancers whose flexible limbs seemed swayed to and fro by the breath of the music, that all this was soon to end at the Campo Santo, and I asked myself how many of all this crowd would be huddled uncoffined, when their sports were over, into the foul trenches of the public cemetery.
Scenery of Cuba.—Coffee Plantations.
Matanzas, April 16, 1849.
My expectations of the scenery of the island of Cuba and of the magnificence of its vegetation, have not been quite fulfilled. This place is but sixty miles to the east of Havana, but the railway which brings you hither, takes you over a sweep of a hundred and thirty miles, through one of the most fertile districts in the interior of the island. I made an excursion from Havana to San Antonio de los Banos, a pleasant little town at nine leagues distance, in a southeast direction from the capital, in what is called the Vuelta Abajo. I have also just returned from a visit to some fine sugar estates to the southeast of Matanzas, so that I may claim to have seen something of the face of the country of which I speak.
At this season the hills about Havana, and the pastures everywhere, have an arid look, a russet hue, like sandy fields with us, when scorched by a long drought, on like our meadows in winter. This, however, is the dry season; and when I was told that but two showers of rain have fallen since October, I could only wonder that so much vegetation was left, and that the verbenas and other herbage which clothed the ground, should yet retain, as I perceived they did, when I saw them nearer, an unextinguished life. I have, therefore, the disadvantage of seeing Cuba not only in the dry season, but near the close of an uncommonly dry season. Next month the rainy season commences, when the whole island, I am told, even the barrenest parts, flushes into a deep verdure, creeping plants climb over all the rocks and ascend the trees, and the mighty palms put out their new foliage.
Shade, however, is the great luxury of a warm climate, and why the people of Cuba do not surround their habitations in the country, in the villages, and in the environs of the large towns, with a dense umbrage of trees, I confess I do not exactly understand. In their rich soil, and in their perpetually genial climate, trees grow with great rapidity, and they have many noble ones both for size and foliage. The royal palm, with its tall straight columnar trunk of a whitish hue, only uplifts a Corinthian capital of leaves, and casts but a narrow shadow; but it mingles finely with other trees, and planted in avenues, forms a colonnade nobler than any of the porticoes to the ancient Egyptian temples. There is no thicker foliage or fresher green than that of the mango, which daily drops its abundant fruit for several months in the year, and the mamey and the sapote, fruit-trees also, are in leaf during the whole of the dry season; even the Indian fig, which clasps and kills the largest trees of the forest, and at last takes their place, a stately tree with a stout trunk of its own, has its unfading leaf of vivid green.
It is impossible to avoid an expression of impatience that these trees have not been formed into groups, embowering the dwellings, and into groves, through which the beams of the sun, here so fierce at noonday, could not reach the ground beneath. There is in fact nothing of ornamental cultivation in Cuba, except of the most formal kind. Some private gardens there are, carefully kept, but all of the stiffest pattern; there is nothing which brings out the larger vegetation of the region in that grandeur and magnificence which might belong to it. In the Quinta del Obispo, or Bishop's Garden, which is open to the public, you find shade which you find nowhere else, but the trees are planted in straight alleys, and the water-roses, a species of water-lily of immense size, fragrant and pink-colored, grow in a square tank, fed by a straight canal, with sides of hewn stone.
Let me say, however, that when I asked for trees, I was referred to the hurricanes which have recently ravaged the island. One of these swept over Cuba in 1844, uprooting the palms and the orange groves, and laying prostrate the avenues of trees on the coffee plantations. The Paseo Isabel, a public promenade, between the walls of Havana and the streets of the new town, was formerly over-canopied with lofty and spreading trees, which this tempest leveled to the ground; it has now been planted with rows of young trees, which yield a meagre shade. In 1846 came another hurricane, still more terrific, destroying much of the beauty which the first had spared.
Of late years, also, such of the orange-trees as were not uprooted, or have recently been planted, have been attacked by the insect which a few years since was so destructive to the same tree in Florida. The effect upon the tree resembles that of a blight, the leaves grow sere, and the branches die. You may imagine, therefore, that I was somewhat disappointed not to find the air, as it is at this season in the south of Italy, fragrant with the odor of orange and lemon blossoms. Oranges are scarce, and not so fine, at this moment, in Havana and Matanzas, as in the fruit-shops of New York. I hear, however, that there are portions of the island which were spared by these hurricanes, and that there are others where the ravages of the insect in the orange groves have nearly ceased, as I have been told is also the case in Florida.
I have mentioned my excursion to San Antonio. I went thither by railway, in a car built at Newark, drawn by an engine made in New York, and worked by an American engineer. For some distance we passed through fields of the sweet-potato, which here never requires a second planting, and propagates itself perpetually in the soil, patches of maize, low groves of bananas with their dark stems, and of plantains with their green ones, and large tracts producing the pineapple growing in rows like carrots. Then came plantations of the sugar-cane, with its sedge-like blades of pale-green, then extensive tracts of pasturage with scattered shrubs and tall dead weeds, the growth of the last summer, and a thin herbage bitten close to the soil. Here and there was an abandoned coffee-plantation, where cattle were browzing among the half-perished shrubs and broken rows of trees; and the neglected hedges of the wild pine, pina raton, as the Cubans call it, were interrupted with broad gaps.
Sometimes we passed the cottages of the monteros, or peasants, built often of palm-leaves, the walls formed of the broad sheath of the leaf, fastened to posts of bamboo, and the roof thatched with the long plume-like leaf itself. The door was sometimes hung with a kind of curtain to exclude the sun, which the dusky complexioned women and children put aside to gaze at us as we passed. These dwellings were often picturesque in their appearance, with a grove of plantains behind, a thicket of bamboo by its side, waving its willow-like sprays in the wind; a pair of mango-trees near, hung with fruit just ripening and reddish blossoms just opening, and a cocoa-tree or two lifting high above the rest its immense feathery leaves and its clusters of green nuts.
We now and then met the monteros themselves scudding along on their little horses, in that pace which we call a rack. Their dress was a Panama hat, a shirt worn over a pair of pantaloons, a pair of rough cowskin shoes, one of which was armed with a spur, and a sword lashed to the left side by a belt of cotton cloth. They are men of manly bearing, of thin make, but often of a good figure, with well-spread shoulders, which, however, have a stoop in them, contracted, I suppose, by riding always with a short stirrup.
Forests, too, we passed. You, doubtless, suppose that a forest in a soil and climate like this, must be a dense growth of trees with colossal stems and leafy summits. A forest in Cuba—all that I have seen are such—is a thicket of shrubs and creeping plants, through which, one would suppose that even the wild cats of the country would find it impossible to make their way. Above this impassable jungle rises here and there the palm, or the gigantic ceyba or cotton-tree, but more often trees of far less beauty, thinly scattered and with few branches, disposed without symmetry, and at this season often leafless.
We reached San Antonio at nine o'clock in the morning, and went to the inn of La Punta, where we breakfasted on rice and fresh eggs, and a dish of meat so highly flavored with garlic, that it was impossible to distinguish to what animal it belonged. Adjoining the inn was a cockpit, with cells for the birds surrounding the inclosure, in which they were crowing lustily. Two or three persons seemed to have nothing to do but to tend them; and one, in particular, with a gray beard, a grave aspect, and a solid gait, went about the work with a deliberation and solemnity which to me, who had lately seen the hurried burials at the Campo Santo, in Havana, was highly edifying. A man was training a game-cock in the pit; he was giving it lessons in the virtue of perseverance. He held another cock before it, which he was teaching it to pursue, and striking it occasionally over the head to provoke it, with the wing of the bird in his hand, he made it run after him about the area for half an hour together.
I had heard much of the beauty of the coffee estates of Cuba, and in the neighborhood of San Antonio are some which have been reputed very fine ones. A young man, in a checked blue and white shirt, worn like a frock over checked pantaloons, with a spur on one heel, offered to procure us a volante, and we engaged him. He brought us one with two horses, a negro postillion sitting on one, and the shafts of the vehicle borne by the other. We set off, passing through fields guarded by stiff-leaved hedges of the ratoon-pine, over ways so bad that if the motion of the volante were not the easiest in the world, we should have taken an unpleasant jolting. The lands of Cuba fit for cultivation, are divided into red and black; we were in the midst of the red lands, consisting of a fine earth of a deep brick color, resting on a bed of soft, porous, chalky limestone. In the dry season the surface is easily dispersed into dust, and stains your clothes of a dull red.
A drive of four miles, through a country full of palm and cocoanut trees, brought us to the gate of a coffee plantation, which our friend in the checked shirt, by whom we were accompanied, opened for us. We passed up to the house through what had been an avenue of palms, but was now two rows of trees at very unequal distances, with here and there a sickly orange-tree. On each side grew the coffee shrubs, hung with flowers of snowy white, but unpruned and full of dry and leafless twigs. In every direction were ranks of trees, prized for ornament or for their fruit, and shrubs, among which were magnificent oleanders loaded with flowers, planted in such a manner as to break the force of the wind, and partially to shelter the plants from the too fierce rays of the sun. The coffee estate is, in fact, a kind of forest, with the trees and shrubs arranged in straight lines. The mayoral, or steward of the estate, a handsome Cuban, with white teeth, a pleasant smile, and a distinct utterance of his native language, received us with great courtesy, and offered us cigarillos, though he never used tobacco; and spirit of cane, though he never drank. He wore a sword, and carried a large flexible whip, doubled for convenience in the hand. He showed us the coffee plants, the broad platforms with smooth surfaces of cement and raised borders, where the berries were dried in the sun, and the mills where the negroes were at work separating the kernel from the pulp in which it is inclosed.
"These coffee estates," said he, "are already ruined, and the planters are abandoning them as fast as they can; in four years more there will not be a single coffee plantation on the island. They can not afford to raise coffee for the price they get in the market."
I inquired the reason. "It is," replied he, "the extreme dryness of the season when the plant is in flower. If we have rain at this time of the year, we are sure of a good crop; if it does not rain, the harvest is small; and the failure of rain is so common a circumstance that we must leave the cultivation of coffee to the people of St. Domingo and Brazil."
I asked if the plantation could not be converted into a sugar estate.
"Not this," he answered; "it has been cultivated too long. The land was originally rich, but it is exhausted"—tired out, was the expression he used—"we may cultivate maize or rice, for the dry culture of rice succeeds well here, or we may abandon it to grazing. At present we keep a few negroes here, just to gather the berries which ripen, without taking any trouble to preserve the plants, or replace those which die."
I could easily believe from what I saw on this estate, that there must be a great deal of beauty of vegetation in a well-kept coffee plantation, but the formal pattern in which it is disposed, the straight alleys and rows of trees, the squares and parallelograms, showed me that there was no beauty of arrangement. We fell in, before we returned to our inn, with the proprietor, a delicate-looking person, with thin white hands, who had been educated at Boston, and spoke English as if he had never lived anywhere else. His manners, compared with those of his steward, were exceedingly frosty and forbidding, and when we told him of the civility which had been shown us, his looks seemed to say he wished it had been otherwise.
Returning to our inn, we dined, and as the sun grew low, we strolled out to look at the town. It is situated on a clear little stream, over which several bathing-houses are built, their posts standing in the midst of the current. Above the town, it flows between rocky banks, bordered with shrubs, many of them in flower. Below the town, after winding a little way, it enters a cavern yawning in the limestone rock, immediately over which a huge ceyba rises, and stretches its leafy arms in mid-heaven. Down this opening the river throws itself, and is never seen again. This is not a singular instance in Cuba. The island is full of caverns and openings in the rocks, and I am told that many of the streams find subterranean passages to the sea. There is a well at the inn of La Punta, in which a roaring of water is constantly heard. It is the sound of a subterranean stream rushing along a passage in the rocks, and the well is an opening into its roof.
In passing through the town, I was struck with the neat attire of those who inhabited the humblest dwellings. At the door of one of the cottages, I saw a group of children, of different ages, all quite pretty, with oval faces and glittering black eyes, in clean fresh dresses, which, one would think, could scarcely have been kept a moment without being soiled, in that dwelling, with its mud floor. The people of Cuba are sparing in their ablutions; the men do not wash their faces and hands till nearly mid-day, for fear of spasms; and of the women, I am told that many do not wash at all, contenting themselves with rubbing their cheeks and necks with a little aguardiente; but the passion for clean linen, and, among the men, for clean white pantaloons, is universal. The montero himself, on a holiday or any public occasion, will sport a shirt of the finest linen, smoothly ironed, and stiffly starched throughout, from the collar downward.
The next day, at half-past eleven, we left our inn, which was also what we call in the United States a country store, where the clerks who had just performed their ablutions and combed their hair, were making segars behind the counter from the tobacco of the Vuelta Abajo, and returned by the railway to Havana. We procured travelling licenses at the cost of four dollars and a half each, for it is the pleasure of the government to levy this tax on strangers who travel, and early the following morning took the train for Matanzas.
Matanzas.—Valley of Yumuri.
Los Guines, April 18, 1849.
In the long circuit of railway which leads from Havana to Matanzas, I saw nothing remarkably different from what I observed on my excursion to San Antonio. There was the same smooth country, of great apparent fertility, sometimes varied with gentle undulations, and sometimes rising, in the distance, into hills covered with thickets. We swept by dark-green fields planted with the yuca, an esculent root, of which the cassava bread is made, pale-green fields of the cane, brown tracts of pasturage, partly formed of abandoned coffee estates where the palms and scattered fruit-trees were yet standing, and forests of shrubs and twining plants growing for the most part among rocks. Some of these rocky tracts have a peculiar appearance; they consist of rough projections of rock a foot or two in height, of irregular shape and full of holes; they are called diente de perro, or dog's teeth. Here the trees and creepers find openings filled with soil, by which they are nourished. We passed two or three country cemeteries, where that foulest of birds, the turkey-vulture, was seen sitting on the white stuccoed walls, or hovering on his ragged wings in circles over them.
In passing over the neighborhood of the town in which I am now writing, I found myself on the black lands of the island. Here the rich dark earth of the plain lies on a bed of chalk as white as snow, as was apparent where the earth had been excavated to a little depth, on each side of the railway, to form the causey on which it ran. Streams of clear water, diverted from a river to the left, traversed the plain with a swift current, almost even with the surface of the soil, which they keep in perpetual freshness. As we approached Matanzas, we saw more extensive tracts of cane clothing the broad slopes with their dense blades, as if the coarse sedge of a river had been transplanted to the uplands.
At length the bay of Matanzas opened before us; a long tract of water stretching to the northeast, into which several rivers empty themselves. The town lay at the southwestern extremity, sheltered by hills, where the San Juan and the Yumuri pour themselves into the brine. It is a small but prosperous town, with a considerable trade, as was indicated by the vessels at anchor in the harbor.
As we passed along the harbor I remarked an extensive, healthy-looking orchard of plantains growing on one of those tracts which they call diente de perro. I could see nothing but the jagged teeth of whitish rock, and the green swelling stems of the plantain, from ten to fifteen feet in height, and as large as a man's leg, or larger. The stalks of the plantain are juicy and herbaceous, and of so yielding a texture, that with a sickle you might entirely sever the largest of them at a single stroke. How such a multitude of succulent plants could find nourishment on what seemed to the eye little else than barren rock, I could not imagine.
The day after arriving at Matanzas we made an excursion on horseback to the summit of the hill, immediately overlooking the town, called the Cumbre. Light hardy horses of the country were brought us, with high pommels to the saddles, which are also raised behind in a manner making it difficult to throw the rider from his seat. A negro fitted a spur to my right heel, and mounting by the short stirrups, I crossed the river Yumuri with my companions, and began to climb the Cumbre. They boast at Matanzas of the perpetual coolness of temperature enjoyed upon the broad summit of this hill, where many of the opulent merchants of the town have their country houses, to which the mosquitoes and the intermittents that infest the town below, never come, and where, as one of them told me, you may play at billiards in August without any inconvenient perspiration.
From the Cumbre you behold the entire extent of the harbor; the town lies below you with its thicket of masts, and its dusty paseo, where rows of the Cuba pine stand rooted in the red soil. On the opposite shore your eye is attracted to a chasm between high rocks, where the river Canimar comes forth through banks of romantic beauty—so they are described to me—and mingles with the sea. But the view to the west was much finer; there lay the valley of the Yumuri, and a sight of it is worth a voyage to the island. In regard to this my expectations suffered no disappointment.
Before me lay a deep valley, surrounded on all sides by hills and mountains, with the little river Yumuri twining at the bottom. Smooth round hillocks rose from the side next to me, covered with clusters of palms, and the steeps of the southeastern corner of the valley were clothed with a wood of intense green, where I could almost see the leaves glisten in the sunshine. The broad fields below were waving with cane and maize, and cottages of the monteros were scattered among them, each with its tuft of bamboos and its little grove of plantains. In some parts the cliffs almost seemed to impend over the valley; but to the west, in a soft golden haze, rose summit behind summit, and over them all, loftiest and most remote, towered the mountain called the Pan de Matanzas.
We stopped for a few moments at a country seat on the top of the Cumbre, where this beautiful view lay ever before the eye. Round it, in a garden, were cultivated the most showy plants of the tropics, but my attention was attracted to a little plantation of damask roses blooming profusely. They were scentless; the climate which supplies the orange blossom with intense odors exhausts the fragrance of the rose. At nightfall—the night falls suddenly in this latitude—we were again at our hotel.
We passed our Sunday on a sugar estate at the hospitable mansion of a planter from the United States about fifteen miles from Matanzas. The house stands on an eminence, once embowered in trees which the hurricanes have leveled, overlooking a broad valley, where palms were scattered in every direction; for the estate had formerly been a coffee plantation. In the huge buildings containing the machinery and other apparatus for making sugar, which stood at the foot of the eminence, the power of steam, which had been toiling all the week, was now at rest. As the hour of sunset approached, a smoke was seen rising from its chimney, presently pufis of vapor issued from the engine, its motion began to be heard, and the negroes, men and women, were summoned to begin the work of the week. Some feed the fire under the boiler with coal; others were seen rushing to the mill with their arms full of the stalks of the cane, freshly cut, which they took from a huge pile near the building; others lighted fires under a row of huge cauldrons, with the dry stalks of cane from which the juice had been crushed by the mill. It was a spectacle of activity such as I had not seen in Cuba.
The sound of the engine was heard all night, for the work of grinding the cane, once begun, proceeds day and night, with the exception of Sundays and some other holidays. I was early next morning at the mill. A current of cane juice was flowing from the mill in a long trunk to a vat in which it was clarified with lime; it was then made to pass successively from one seething cauldron to another, as it obtained a thicker consistence by boiling. The negroes, with huge ladles turning on pivots, swept it from cauldron to cauldron, and finally passed it into a trunk, which conveyed it to shallow tanks in another apartment, where it cooled into sugar. From these another set of workmen scooped it up in moist masses, carried it in buckets up a low flight of stairs, and poured it into rows of hogsheads pierced with holes at the bottom. These are placed over a large tank, into which the moisture dripping from the hogsheads is collected and forms molasses.
This is the method of making the sugar called Muscovado. It is drained a few days, and then the railways take it to Matanzas or to Havana. We visited afterward a plantation in the neighborhood, in which clayed sugar is made. Our host furnished us with horses to make the excursion, and we took a winding road, over hill and valley, by plantations and forests, till we stopped at the gate of an extensive pasture-ground. An old negro, whose hut was at hand, opened it for us, and bowed low as we passed. A ride of half a mile further brought us in sight of the cane-fields of the plantation called Saratoga, belonging to the house of Drake & Company, of Havana, and reputed one of the finest of the island. It had a different aspect from any plantation we had seen. Trees and shrubs there were none, but the canes, except where they had been newly cropped for the mill, clothed the slopes and hollows with their light-green blades, like the herbage of a prairie.
We were kindly received by the administrator of the estate, an intelligent Biscayan, who showed us the whole process of making clayed sugar. It does not differ from that of making the Muscovado, so far as concerns the grinding and boiling. When, however, the sugar is nearly cool, it is poured into iron vessels of conical shape, with the point downward, at which is an opening. The top of the sugar is then covered with a sort of black thick mud, which they call clay, and which is several times renewed as it becomes dry. The moisture from the clay passes through the sugar, carrying with it the cruder portions, which form molasses. In a few days the draining is complete.
We saw the work-people of the Saratoga estate preparing for the market the sugar thus cleansed, if we may apply the word to such a process. With a rude iron blade they cleft the large loaf of sugar just taken from the mould into three parts, called first, second, and third quality, according to their whiteness. These are dried in the sun on separate platforms of wood with a raised edge; the women standing and walking over the fragments with their bare dirty feet, and beating them smaller with wooden mallets and clubs. The sugar of the first quality is then scraped up and put into boxes; that of the second and third, being moister, is handled a third time and carried into the drying-room, where it is exposed to the heat of a stove, and when sufficiently dry, is boxed up for market like the other.
The sight of these processes was not of a nature to make one think with much satisfaction of clayed sugar as an ingredient of food, but the inhabitants of the island are superior to such prejudices, and use it with as little scruple as they who do not know in what manner it is made.
In the afternoon we returned to the dwelling of our American host, and taking the train at Caobas, or Mahogany Trees—so called from the former growth of that tree on the spot—we were at Matanzas an hour afterward. The next morning the train brought us to this little town, situated half-way between Matanzas and Havana, but a considerable distance to the south of either.
Negroes in Cuba.—Indian Slaves.
Havana, April 22, 1849.
The other day when we were at Guines, we heard that a negro was to suffer death early the next morning by the garrote, an instrument by which the neck of the criminal is broken and life extinguished in an instant. I asked our landlady for what crime the man had been condemned.
"He has killed his master," she replied, "an old man, in his bed."
"Had he received any provocation?"
"Not that I have heard; but another slave is to be put to death by the garrote in about a fortnight, whose offense had some palliation. His master was a man of harsh temper, and treated his slaves with extreme severity; the negro watched his opportunity, and shot him as he sat at table."
We went to the place of execution a little before eight o'clock, and found the preparations already made. A platform had been erected, on which stood a seat for the prisoner, and back of the seat a post was fixed, with a sort of iron collar for his neck. A screw, with a long transverse handle on the side of the post opposite to the collar, was so contrived that, when it was turned, it would push forward an iron bolt against the back of the neck and crush the spine at once.
Sentinels in uniform were walking to and fro, keeping the spectators at a distance from the platform. The heat of the sun was intense, for the sea-breeze had not yet sprung up, but the crowd had begun to assemble. As near to the platform as they could come, stood a group of young girls, two of whom were dressed in white and one was pretty, with no other shade for their dusky faces than their black veils, chatting and laughing and stealing occasional glances at the new-comers. In another quarter were six or eight monteros on horseback, in their invariable costume of Panama hats, shirts and pantaloons, with holsters to their saddles, and most of them with swords lashed to their sides.
About half-past eight a numerous crowd made its appearance coming from the town. Among them walked with a firm step, a large black man, dressed in a long white frock, white pantaloons, and a white cap with a long peak which fell backward on his shoulders. He was the murderer; his hands were tied together by the wrists; in one of them he held a crucifix; the rope by which they were fastened was knotted around his waist, and the end of it was held by another athletic negro, dressed in blue cotton with white facings, who walked behind him. On the left of the criminal walked an officer of justice; on his right an ecclesiastic, slender and stooping, in a black gown and a black cap, the top of which was formed into a sort of coronet, exhorting the criminal, in a loud voice and with many gesticulations, to repent and trust in the mercy of God.
When they reached the platform, the negro was made to place himself on his knees before it, the priest continuing his exhortations, and now and then clapping him, in an encouraging manner, on the shoulder. I saw the man shake his head once or twice, and then kiss the crucifix. In the mean time a multitude, of all ages and both sexes, took possession of the places from which the spectacle could be best seen. A stone-fence, such as is common in our country, formed of loose stones taken from the surface of the ground, upheld a long row of spectators. A well-dressed couple, a gentleman in white pantaloons, and a lady elegantly attired, with a black lace veil and a parasol, bringing their two children and two colored servants, took their station by my side—the elder child found a place on the top of the fence, and the younger, about four years of age, was lifted in the arms of one of the servants, that it might have the full benefit of the spectacle.
The criminal was then raised from the ground, and going up the platform took the seat ready for him. The priest here renewed his exhortations, and, at length, turning to the audience, said, in a loud voice, "I believe in God Almighty and in Jesus Christ his only Son, and it grieves me to the heart to have offended them." These words, I suppose, were meant, as the confession of the criminal, to be repeated after the priest, but I heard no response from his lips. Again and again the priest repeated them, the third time with a louder voice than ever; the signal was then given to the executioner. The iron collar was adjusted to the neck of the victim, and fastened under the chin. The athletic negro in blue, standing behind the post, took the handle of the screw and turned it deliberately. After a few turns, the criminal gave a sudden shrug of the shoulders; another turn of the screw, and a shudder ran over his whole frame, his eyes rolled wildly, his hands, still tied with the rope, were convulsively jerked upward, and then dropped back to their place motionless forever. The priest advanced and turned the peak of the white cap over the face to hide it from the sight of the multitude.
I had never seen, and never intended to see an execution, but the strangeness of this manner of inflicting death, and the desire to witness the behavior of an assembly of the people of Cuba on such an occasion, had overcome my previous determination. The horror of the spectacle now caused me to regret that I made one of a crowd drawn to look at it by an idle curiosity.
The negro in blue then stepped forward and felt the limbs of the dead man one by one, to ascertain whether life were wholly extinct, and then returning to the screw, gave it two or three turns more, as if to make his work sure. In the mean time my attention was attracted by a sound like that of a light buffet and a whimpering voice near me. I looked, and two men were standing by me, with a little white boy at their side, and a black boy of nearly the same age before them, holding his hat in his hand, and crying. They were endeavoring to direct his attention to what they considered the wholesome spectacle before him. "Mira, mira, no te harda dano" said the men, but the boy steadily refused to look in that direction, though he was evidently terrified by some threat of punishment and his eyes filled with tears. Finding him obstinate, they desisted from their purpose, and I was quite edified to see the little fellow continue to look away from the spectacle which attracted all other eyes but his. The white boy now came forward, touched the hat of the little black, and goodnaturedly saying "pontelo, pontelo" made him put it on his head.
The crowd now began to disperse, and in twenty minutes the place was nearly solitary, except the sentinels pacing backward and forward. Two hours afterward the sentinels were pacing there yet, and the dead man, in his white dress and iron collar, was still in his seat on the platform.
It is generally the natives of Africa by whom these murders are committed; the negroes born in the country are of a more yielding temper. They have better learned the art of avoiding punishment, and submit to it more patiently when inflicted, having understood from their birth that it is one of the conditions of their existence. The whip is always in sight. "Nothing can be done without it," said an Englishman to me, who had lived eleven years on the island, "you can not make the negroes work by the mild methods which are used by slaveholders in the United States; the blacks there are far more intelligent and more easily governed by moral means." Africans, the living witnesses of the present existence of the slave-trade, are seen everywhere; at every step you meet blacks whose cheeks are scarred with parallel slashes, with which they were marked in the African slave-market, and who can not even speak the mutilated Spanish current in the mouths of the Cuba negroes.
One day I stood upon the quay at Matanzas and saw the slaves unloading the large lighters which brought goods from the Spanish ships lying in the harbor—casks of wine, jars of oil, bags of nuts, barrels of flour. The men were naked to the hips; their only garment being a pair of trowsers. I admired their ample chests, their massive shoulders, the full and muscular proportions of their arms, and the ease with which they shifted the heavy articles from place to place, or carried them on their heads. "Some of these are Africans?" I said to a gentleman who resided on the island. "They are all Africans," he answered, "Africans to a man; the negro born in Cuba is of a lighter make."
When I was at Guines, I went out to look at a sugar estate in the neighborhood, where the mill was turned by water, which a long aqueduct, from one of the streams that traverse the plain, conveyed over arches of stone so broad and massive that I could not help thinking of the aqueducts of Rome. A gang of black women were standing in the secadero or drying-place, among the lumps of clayed sugar, beating them small with mallets; before them, walked to and fro the major-domo, with a cutlass by his side and a whip in his hand, I asked him how a planter could increase his stock of slaves. "There is no difficulty," he replied, "slaves are still brought to the island from Africa. The other day five hundred were landed on the sea-shore to the south of this; for you must know, Senor, that we are but three or four leagues from the coast."
"Was it done openly?" I inquired.
"Publicamente, Senor, publicamente; they were landed on the sugar estate of El Pastor, and one hundred and seven more died on the passage from Africa."
"Did the government know of it?"
He shrugged his shoulders. "Of course the government knows it," said he; "every body else knows it."
The truth is, that the slave-trade is now fully revived; the government conniving at it, making a profit on the slaves imported from Africa, and screening from the pursuit of the English the pirates who bring them. There could scarcely be any arrangement of coast more favorable for smuggling slaves into a country, than the islands and long peninsulas, and many channels of the southern shore of Cuba. Here the mangrove thickets, sending down roots into the brine from their long branches that stretch over the water, form dense screens on each side of the passages from the main ocean to the inland, and render it easy for the slaver and his boats to lurk undiscovered by the English men-of-war.
During the comparative cessation of the slave-trade a few years since, the negroes, I have been told, were much better treated than before. They rose in value, and when they died, it was found not easy to supply their places; they were therefore made much of, and every thing was done which it was thought would tend to preserve their health, and maintain them in bodily vigor. If the slave-trade should make them cheap again, their lives of course will be of less consequence to their owners, and they will be subject again to be overtasked, as it has been said they were before. There is certainly great temptation to wear them out in the sugar mills, which are kept in motion day and night, during half the year, namely, through the dry season. "If this was not the healthiest employment in the world," said an overseer to me on one of the sugar estates, "it would kill us all who are engaged in it, both black and white."
Perhaps you may not know that more than half of the island of Cuba has never been reduced to tillage. Immense tracts of the rich black or red mould of the island, accumulated on the coral rock, are yet waiting the hand of the planter to be converted into profitable sugar estates. There is a demand, therefore, for laborers on the part of those who wish to become planters, and this demand is supplied not only from the coast of Africa, but from the American continent and southwestern Asia.
In one of the afternoons of Holy Week, I saw amid the crowd on the Plaza de Armas, in Havana, several men of low stature, of a deep-olive complexion, beardless, with high cheek-bones and straight black hair, dressed in white pantaloons of cotton, and shirts of the same material worn over them. They were Indians, natives of Yucatan, who had been taken prisoners of war by the whites of the country and sold to white men in Cuba, under a pretended contract to serve for a certain number of years. I afterward learned, that the dealers in this sort of merchandise were also bringing in the natives of Asia, Chinese they call them here, though I doubt whether they belong to that nation, and disposing of their services to the planters. There are six hundred of these people, I have been told, in this city.
Yesterday appeared in the Havana papers an ordinance concerning the "Indians and Asiatics imported into the country under a contract to labor." It directs how much Indian corn, how many plantains, how much jerked-pork and rice they shall receive daily, and how many lashes the master may inflict for misbehavior. Twelve stripes with the cowskin he may administer for the smaller offenses, and twenty-four for transgressions of more importance; but if any more become necessary, he must apply to a magistrate for permission to lay them on. Such is the manner in which the government of Cuba sanctions the barbarity of making slaves of the freeborn men of Yucatan. The ordinance, however, betrays great concern for the salvation of the souls of those whom it thus delivers over to the lash of the slave-driver. It speaks of the Indians from America, as Christians already, but while it allows the slaves imported from Asia to be flogged, it directs that they shall be carefully instructed in the doctrines of our holy religion.
Yet the policy of the government favors emancipation. The laws of Cuba permit any slave to purchase his freedom on paying a price fixed by three persons, one appointed by his master and two by a magistrate. He may, also, if he pleases, compel his master to sell him a certain portion of his time, which he may employ to earn the means of purchasing his entire freedom.
It is owing to this, I suppose, that the number of free blacks is so large in the island, and it is manifest that if the slave-trade could be checked, and these laws remain unaltered, the negroes would gradually emancipate themselves—all at least who would be worth keeping as servants. The population of Cuba is now about a million and a quarter, rather more than half of whom are colored persons, and one out of every four of the colored population is free. The mulattoes emancipate themselves as a matter of course, and some of them become rich by the occupations they follow. The prejudice of color is by no means so strong here as in the United States. Five or six years since the negroes were shouting and betting in the cockpits with the whites; but since the mulatto insurrection, as it is called, in 1843, the law forbids their presence at such amusements. I am told there is little difficulty in smuggling people of mixed blood, by the help of legal forms, into the white race, and if they are rich, into good society, provided their hair is not frizzled.
You hear something said now and then in the United States concerning the annexation of Cuba to our confederacy; you may be curious, perhaps, to know what they say of it here. A European who had long resided in the island, gave me this account:
"The Creoles, no doubt, would be very glad to see Cuba annexed to the United States, and many of them ardently desire it. It would relieve them from many great burdens they now bear, open their commerce to the world, rid them of a tyrannical government, and allow them to manage their own affairs in their own way. But Spain derives from the possession of Cuba advantages too great to be relinquished. She extracts from Cuba a revenue of twelve millions of dollars; her government sends its needy nobility, and all for whom it would provide, to fill lucrative offices in Cuba—the priests, the military officers, the civil authorities, every man who fills a judicial post or holds a clerkship is from old Spain. The Spanish government dares not give up Cuba if it were inclined.
"Nor will the people of Cuba make any effort to emancipate themselves by taking up arms. The struggle with the power of Spain would be bloody and uncertain, even if the white population were united, but the mutual distrust with which the planters and the peasantry regard each other, would make the issue of such an enterprise still more doubtful. At present it would not be safe for a Cuba planter to speak publicly of annexation to the United States. He would run the risk of being imprisoned or exiled."
Of course, if Cuba were to be annexed to the United States, the slave trade with Africa would cease to be carried on as now, though its perfect suppression might be found difficult. Negroes would be imported in large numbers from the United States, and planters would emigrate with them. Institutions of education would be introduced, commerce and religion would both be made free, and the character of the islanders would be elevated by the responsibilities which a free government would throw upon them. The planters, however, would doubtless adopt regulations insuring the perpetuity of slavery; they would unquestionably, as soon as they were allowed to frame ordinances for the island, take away the facilities which the present laws give the slave for effecting his own emancipation.
English Exhibitions of Works of Art.
London, July 7, 1849.
I have just been to visit a gallery of drawings in water-colors, now open for exhibition. The English may be almost said to have created this branch of art. Till within a few years, delineations in water-colors, on drawing paper, have been so feeble and meagre as to be held in little esteem, but the English artists have shown that as much, though in a somewhat different way, may be done on drawing-paper as on canvas; that as high a degree of expression may be reached, as much strength given to the coloring, and as much boldness to the lights and shadows. In the collection of which I speak, are about four hundred drawings not before exhibited. Those which appeared to me the most remarkable, though not in the highest department of art, were still-life pieces by Hunt. It seems to me impossible to carry pictorial illusion to a higher pitch than he has attained. A sprig of hawthorn flowers, freshly plucked, lies before you, and you are half-tempted to take it up and inhale its fragrance; those speckled eggs in the bird's nest, you are sure you might, if you pleased, take into your hand; that tuft of ivy leaves and buds is so complete an optical deception, that you can hardly believe that it has not been attached by some process to the paper on which you see it. A servant girl, in a calico gown, with a broom, by the same artist, and a young woman standing at a window, at which the light is streaming in, are as fine in their way, and as perfect imitations of every-day nature, as you see in the works of the best Flemish painters.
It is to landscape, however, that the artists in water-colors have principally devoted their attention. There are several very fine ones in the collection by Copley Fielding, the foregrounds drawn with much strength, the distant objects softly blending with the atmosphere as in nature, and a surprising depth and transparency given to the sky. Alfred Fripp and George Fripp have also produced some very fine landscapes—mills, waters in foam or sleeping in pellucid pools, and the darkness of the tempest in contrast with gleams of sunshine. Oakley has some spirited groups of gipsies and country people, and there are several of a similar kind by Taylor, who designs and executes with great force. One of the earliest of the new school of artists in water-colors is Prout, whose drawings are principally architectural, and who has shown how admirably suited this new style of art is to the delineation of the rich carvings of Gothic churches. Most of the finer pieces, I observed, were marked 'sold;' they brought prices varying from thirty to fifty guineas.
There is an exhibition now open of the paintings of Etty, who stands high in the world of art as an historical painter. The "Society of the Arts"—I believe that is its name—every year gets up an exhibition of the works of some eminent painter, with the proceeds of which it buys one of his pictures, and places it in the National Gallery. This is a very effectual plan of forming in time a various and valuable collection of the works of British artists.
The greatest work of Etty is the series representing the Death of Holofernes by the hand of Judith. It consists of three paintings, the first of which shows Judith in prayer before the execution of her attempt; in the next, and the finest, she is seen standing by the conch of the heathen warrior, with the sword raised to heaven, to which she turns her eyes, as if imploring supernatural assistance; and in the third, she appears issuing from the tent, bearing the head of the ravager of her country, which she conceals from the armed attendants who stand on guard at the entrance, and exhibits to her astonished handmaid, who has been waiting the result. The subject is an old one, but Etty has treated it in a new way, and given it a moral interest, which the old painters seem not to have thought of. In the delineation of the naked human figure, Etty is allowed to surpass all the English living artists, and his manner of painting flesh is thought to be next to that of Rubens. His reputation for these qualities has influenced his choice of subjects in a remarkable manner. The walls of the exhibition were covered writh Venuses and Eves, Cupids and Psyches, and nymphs innocent of drapery, reclining on couches, or admiring their own beauty reflected in clear fountains. I almost thought myself in the midst of a collection made for the Grand Seignior.
The annual exhibition of the Royal Academy is now open. Its general character is mediocrity, unrelieved by any works of extraordinary or striking merit. There are some clever landscapes by the younger Danbys, and one by the father, which is by no means among his happiest—a dark picture, which in half a dozen years will be one mass of black paint. Cooper, almost equal to Paul Potter as a cattle painter, contributes some good pieces of that kind, and one of them, in which the cattle are from his pencil, and the landscape from that of Lee, appeared to me the finest thing in the collection. There is, however, a picture by Leslie, which his friends insist is the best in the exhibition. It represents the chaplain of the Duke leaving the table in a rage, after an harangue by Don Quixote in praise of knight-errantry. The suppressed mirth of the Duke and Duchess, the sly looks of the servants, the stormy anger of the ecclesiastic, and the serene gravity of the knight, are well expressed; but there is a stiffness in some of the figures which makes them look as if copied from the wooden models in the artist's study, and a raw and crude appearance in the handling, so that you are reminded of the brush every time you look at the painting. To do Leslie justice, however, his paintings ripen wonderfully, and seem to acquire a finish with years.
If one wishes to form an idea of the vast numbers of indifferent paintings which are annually produced in England, he should visit, as I did, another exhibition, a large gallery lighted from above, in which each artist, most of them of the younger or obscurer class, takes a certain number of feet on the wall and exhibits just what he pleases. Every man is his own hanging committee, and if his pictures are not placed in the most advantageous position, it is his own fault. Here acres of canvas are exhibited, most of which is spoiled of course, though here and there a good picture is to be seen, and others which give promise of future merit.
Enough of pictures. The principal subject of political discussion since I have been in England, has been the expediency of allowing Jews to sit in Parliament. You have seen by what a large majority Baron Rothschild has been again returned from the city of London, after his resignation, in spite of the zealous opposition of the conservatives. It is allowed, I think, on all hands, that the majority of the nation are in favor of allowing Jews to hold seats in Parliament, but the other side urge the inconsistency of maintaining a Christian Church as a state institution, and admitting the enemies of Christianity to a share in its administration. Public opinion, however, is so strongly against political disabilities on account of religious faith, that with the aid of the ministry, it will, no doubt, triumph, and we shall see another class of adversaries of the Establishment making war upon it in the House of Commons. Nor will it be at all surprising if, after a little while, we hear of Jewish barons, earls, and marquises in the House of Peers. Rothschild himself may become the founder of a noble line, opulent beyond the proudest of them all.
The protectionist party here are laboring to persuade the people that the government have committed a great error, in granting such liberal conditions to the trade of other nations, to the prejudice of British industry. They do not, however, seem to make much impression on the public mind. The necessaries of life are obtained at a cheaper rate than formerly, and that satisfies the people. Peel has been making a speech in Parliament on the free-trade question, which I often hear referred to as a very able argument for the free-trade policy. Neither on this question nor on that of the Jewish disabilities, do the opposition seem to have the country with them.
A Visit to the Shetland Isles.
Aberdeen, July 19, 1849.
Two days ago I was in the Orkneys; the day before I was in the Shetland Isles, the "farthest Thule" of the Romans, where I climbed the Noup of the Noss, as the famous headland of the island of Noss is called, from which you look out upon the sea that lies between Shetland and Norway.
From Wick, a considerable fishing town in Caithness, on the northern coast of Scotland, a steamer, named the Queen, departs once a week, in the summer months, for Kirkwall, in the Orkneys, and Lerwick, in Shetland. We went on board of her about ten o'clock on the 14th of July. The herring fishery had just begun, and the artificial port of Wick, constructed with massive walls of stone, was crowded with fishing vessels which had returned that morning from the labors of the night; for in the herring fishery it is only in the night that the nets are spread and drawn. Many of the vessels had landed their cargo; in others the fishermen were busily disengaging the herrings from the black nets and throwing them in heaps; and now and then a boat later than the rest, was entering from the sea. The green heights all around the bay were covered with groups of women, sitting or walking, dressed for the most part in caps and white short gowns, waiting for the arrival of the boats manned by their husbands and brothers, or belonging to the families of those who had come to seek occupation as fishermen. I had seen two or three of the principal streets of Wick that morning, swarming with strapping fellows, in blue highland bonnets, with blue jackets and pantaloons, and coarse blue flannel shirts. A shopkeeper, standing at his door, instructed me who they were.
"They are men of the Celtic race," he said—the term Celtic has grown to be quite fashionable, I find, when applied to the Highlanders. "They came from the Hebrides and other parts of western Scotland, to get employment in the herring fishery. These people have travelled perhaps three hundred miles, most of them on foot, to be employed six or seven weeks, for which they will receive about six pounds wages. Those whom you see are not the best of their class; the more enterprising and industrious have boats of their own, and carry on the fishery on their own account."
We found the Queen a strong steamboat, with a good cabin and convenient state-rooms, but dirty, and smelling of fish from stem to stern. It has seemed to me that the further north I went, the more dirt I found. Our captain was an old Aberdeen seaman, with a stoop in his shoulders, and looked as if he was continually watching for land, an occupation for which the foggy climate of these latitudes gives him full scope. We left Wick between eleven and twelve o'clock in the forenoon, and glided over a calm sea, with a cloudless sky above us, and a thin haze on the surface of the waters. The haze thickened to a fog, which grew more and more dense, and finally closed overhead. After about three hours sail, the captain began to grow uneasy, and was seen walking about on the bridge between the wheel-houses, anxiously peering into the mist, on the look-out for the coast of the Orkneys. At length he gave up the search, and stopped the engine. The passengers amused themselves with fishing. Several coal-fish, a large fish of slender shape, were caught, and one fine cod was hauled up by a gentleman who united in his person, as he gave me to understand, the two capacities of portrait-painter and preacher of the gospel, and who held that the universal church of Christendom had gone sadly astray from the true primitive doctrine, in regard to the time when the millennium is to take place.
The fog cleared away in the evening; our steamer was again in motion: we landed at Kirkwall in the middle of the night, and when I went on deck the next morning, we were smoothly passing the shores of Fair Isle—high and steep rocks, impending over the waters with a covering of green turf. Before they were out of sight we saw the Shetland coast, the dark rock of Sumburgh Head, and behind it, half shrouded in mist, the promontory of Fitfiel Head,—Fitful Head, as it is called by Scott, in his novel of the Pirate. Beyond, to the east, black rocky promontories came in sight, one after the other, beetling over the sea. At ten o'clock, we were passing through a channel between the islands leading to Lerwick, the capital of Shetland, on the principal island bearing the name of Mainland. Fields, yellow with flowers, among which stood here and there a cottage, sloped softly down to the water, and beyond them rose the bare declivities and summits of the hills, dark with heath, with here and there still darker spots, of an almost inky hue, where peat had been cut for fuel. Not a tree, not a shrub was to be seen, and the greater part of the soil appeared never to have been reduced to cultivation.
About one o'clock we cast anchor before Lerwick, a fishing village, built on the shore of Bressay Sound, which here forms one of the finest harbors in the world. It has two passages to the sea, so that when the wind blows a storm on one side of the islands, the Shetlander in his boat passes out in the other direction, and finds himself in comparatively smooth water. It was Sunday, and the man who landed us at the quay and took our baggage to our lodging, said as he left us—
"It's the Sabbath, and I'll no tak' my pay now, but I'll call the morrow. My name is Jim Sinclair, pilot, and if ye'll be wanting to go anywhere, I'll be glad to tak' ye in my boat." In a few minutes we were snugly established at our lodgings. There is no inn throughout all the Shetland Islands, which contain about thirty thousand inhabitants, but if any of my friends should have occasion to visit Lerwick, I can cheerfully recommend to them the comfortable lodging-house of Mrs. Walker, who keeps a little shop in the principal street, not far from Queen's lane. We made haste to get ready for church, and sallied out to find the place of worship frequented by our landlady, which was not a difficult matter.
The little town of Lerwick consists of two-story houses, built mostly of unhewn stone, rough-cast, with steep roofs and a chimney at each end. They are arranged along a winding street parallel with the shore, and along narrow lanes running upward to the top of the hill. The main street is flagged with smooth stones, like the streets in Venice, for no vehicle runs on wheels in the Shetland islands. We went up Queen's lane and soon found the building occupied by the Free Church of Scotland, until a temple of fairer proportions, on which the masons are now at work, on the top of the hill, shall be completed for their reception. It was crowded with attentive worshipers, one of whom obligingly came forward and found a seat for us. The minister, Mr. Frazer, had begun the evening service, and was at prayer. When I entered, he was speaking of "our father the devil;" but the prayer was followed by an earnest, practical discourse, though somewhat crude in the composition, and reminding me of an expression I once heard used by a distinguished Scotchman, who complained that the clergy of his country, in composing their sermons, too often "mak' rough wark of it."
I looked about among these descendants of the Norwegians, but could not see any thing singular in their physiognomy; and but for the harsh accent of the preacher, I might almost have thought myself in the midst of a country congregation in the United States. They are mostly of a light complexion, with an appearance of health and strength, though of a sparer make than the people of the more southern British isles. After the service was over, we returned to our lodgings, by a way which led to the top of the hill, and made the circuit of the little town. The paths leading into the interior of the island, were full of people returning homeward; the women in their best attire, a few in silks, with wind-tanned faces. We saw them disappearing, one after another, in the hollows, or over the dark bare hill-tops. With a population of less than three thousand souls, Lerwick has four places of worship—a church of the Establishment, a Free church, a church for the Seceders, and one for the Methodists. The road we took commanded a fine view of the harbor, surrounded and sheltered by hills. Within it lay a numerous group of idle fishing-vessels, with one great steamer in the midst; and more formidable in appearance, a Dutch man-of-war, sent to protect the Dutch fisheries, with the flag of Holland flying at the mast-head. Above the town, on tall poles, were floating the flags of four or five different nations, to mark the habitation of their consuls.
On the side opposite to the harbor, lay the small fresh-water lake of Cleikimin, with the remains of a Pictish castle in the midst; one of those circular buildings of unhewn, uncemented stone, skillfully laid, forming apartments and galleries of such small dimensions as to lead Sir Walter Scott to infer that the Picts were a people of a stature considerably below the ordinary standard of the human race. A deep Sabbath silence reigned over the scene, except the sound of the wind, which here never ceases to blow from one quarter or another, as it swept the herbage and beat against the stone walls surrounding the fields. The ground under our feet was thick with daisies and the blossoms of the crow-foot and other flowers; for in the brief summer of these islands, nature, which has no groves to embellish, makes amends by pranking the ground, particularly in the uncultivated parts, with a great profusion and variety of flowers.