The Bible in Spain, by George Borrow

Chapter 14

State of Spain — Isturitz — Revolution of the Granja — The Disturbance — Signs of Mischief — Newspaper Reporters — Quesada’s Onslaught — The Closing Scene — Flight of the Moderados — The Coffee Bowl.

In the meantime the affairs of the moderados did not proceed in a very satisfactory manner; they were unpopular at Madrid, and still more so in the other large towns of Spain, in most of which juntas had been formed, which, taking the local administration into their own hands, declared themselves independent of the queen and her ministers, and refused to pay taxes; so that the government was within a short time reduced to great straits for money; the army was unpaid, and the war languished; I mean on the part of the Christinos, for the Carlists were pushing it on with considerable vigour; parties of their guerillas scouring the country in all directions, whilst a large division, under the celebrated Gomez, was making the entire circuit of Spain. To crown the whole, an insurrection was daily expected at Madrid, to prevent which the nationals were disarmed, which measure tended greatly to increase their hatred against the moderado government, and especially against Quesada, with whom it was supposed to have originated.

With respect to my own matters, I lost no opportunity of pushing forward my application; the Aragonese secretary, however, still harped upon the Council of Trent, and succeeded in baffling all my efforts. He appeared to have inoculated his principal with his own ideas upon the subject, for the duke, when he beheld me at his levees, took no farther notice of me than by a contemptuous glance; and once, when I stepped up for the purpose of addressing him, disappeared through a side door, and I never saw him again, for I was disgusted with the treatment which I had received, and forebore paying any more visits at the Casa de la Inquisicion. Poor Galiano still proved himself my unshaken friend, but candidly informed me that there was no hope of my succeeding in the above quarter. “The duke,” said he, “says that your request cannot be granted; and the other day, when I myself mentioned it in the council, began to talk of the decision of Trent, and spoke of yourself as a plaguy pestilent fellow; whereupon I answered him with some acrimony, and there ensued a bit of a function between us, at which Isturitz laughed heartily. By the by,” continued he, “what need have you of a regular permission, which it does not appear that any one has authority to grant. The best thing that you can do under all circumstances is to commit the work to the press, with an understanding that you shall not be interfered with when you attempt to distribute it. I strongly advise you to see Isturitz himself upon the matter. I will prepare him for the interview, and will answer that he receives you civilly.”

In fact, a few days afterwards, I had an interview with Isturitz at the palace, and for the sake of brevity I shall content myself with saying that I found him perfectly well disposed to favour my views. “I have lived long in England,” said he; “the Bible is free there, and I see no reason why it should not be free in Spain also. I am not prepared to say that England is indebted for her prosperity to the knowledge which all her children, more or less, possess of the sacred writings; but of one thing I am sure, namely, that the Bible has done no harm in that country, nor do I believe that it will effect any in Spain; print it, therefore, by all means, and circulate it as extensively as possible.” I retired, highly satisfied with my interview, having obtained, if not a written permission to print the sacred volume, what, under all circumstances, I considered as almost equivalent, an understanding that my biblical pursuits would be tolerated in Spain; and I had fervent hope that whatever was the fate of the present ministry, no future one, particularly a liberal one, would venture to interfere with me, more especially as the English ambassador was my friend, and was privy to all the steps I had taken throughout the whole affair.

Two or three things connected with the above interview with Isturitz struck me as being highly remarkable. First of all, the extreme facility with which I obtained admission to the presence of the prime minister of Spain. I had not to wait, or indeed to send in my name, but was introduced at once by the door-keeper. Secondly, the air of loneliness which pervaded the place, so unlike the bustle, noise, and activity which I observed when I waited on Mendizabal. In this instance, there were no eager candidates for an interview with the great man; indeed, I did not behold a single individual, with the exception of Isturitz and the official. But that which made the most profound impression upon me, was the manner of the minister himself, who, when I entered, sat upon a sofa, with his arms folded, and his eyes directed to the ground. When he spoke there was extreme depression in the tones of his voice, his dark features wore an air of melancholy, and he exhibited all the appearance of a person meditating to escape from the miseries of this life by the most desperate of all acts — suicide.

And a few days showed that he had, indeed, cause for much melancholy meditation: in less than a week occurred the revolution of the Granja, as it is called. The Granja, or Grange, is a royal country seat, situated amongst pine forests, on the other side of the Guadarama hills, about twelve leagues distant from Madrid. To this place the queen regent Christina had retired, in order to be aloof from the discontent of the capital, and to enjoy rural air and amusements in this celebrated retreat, a monument of the taste and magnificence of the first Bourbon who ascended the throne of Spain. She was not, however, permitted to remain long in tranquillity; her own guards were disaffected, and more inclined to the principles of the constitution of 1823 than to those of absolute monarchy, which the moderados were attempting to revive again in the government of Spain. Early one morning, a party of these soldiers, headed by a certain Sergeant Garcia, entered her apartment, and proposed that she should subscribe her hand to this constitution, and swear solemnly to abide by it. Christina, however, who was a woman of considerable spirit, refused to comply with this proposal, and ordered them to withdraw. A scene of violence and tumult ensued, but the regent still continuing firm, the soldiers at length led her down to one of the courts of the palace, where stood her well-known paramour, Munos, bound and blindfolded. “Swear to the constitution, you she-rogue,” vociferated the swarthy sergeant. “Never!” said the spirited daughter of the Neapolitan Bourbons. “Then your cortejo shall die!” replied the sergeant. “Ho! ho! my lads; get ready your arms, and send four bullets through the fellow’s brain.” Munos was forthwith led to the wall, and compelled to kneel down, the soldiers levelled their muskets and another moment would have consigned the unfortunate wight to eternity, when Christina, forgetting everything but the feelings of her woman’s heart, suddenly started forward with a shriek, exclaiming: “Hold, hold! I sign, I sign!”

The day after this event I entered the Puerta del Sol at about noon. There is always a crowd there about this hour, but it is generally a very quiet motionless crowd, consisting of listless idlers calmly smoking their cigars, or listening to or retailing the — in general — very dull news of the capital; but on the day of which I am speaking the mass was no longer inert. There was much gesticulation and vociferation, and several people were running about shouting, “Viva la constitucion!” — a cry which, a few days previously, would have been visited on the utterer with death, the city having for some weeks past been subjected to the rigour of martial law. I occasionally heard the words, “La Granja! La Granja!” Which words were sure to be succeeded by the shout of “Viva la constitucion!” Opposite the Casa de Postas were drawn up in a line about a dozen mounted dragoons, some of whom were continually waving their caps in the air and joining the common cry, in which they were encouraged by their commander, a handsome young officer, who flourished his sword, and more than once cried out with great glee, “Long live the constitutional queen! Long live the constitution!”

The crowd was rapidly increasing, and several nationals made their appearance in their uniforms, but without their arms, of which they had been deprived, as I have already stated. “What has become of the moderado government?” said I to Baltasar, whom I suddenly observed amongst the crowd, dressed as when I had first seen him, in his old regimental great coat and foraging cap; “have the ministers been deposed and others put in their place?”

“Not yet, Don Jorge,” said the little soldier-tailor; “not yet; the scoundrels still hold out, relying on the brute bull Quesada and a few infantry, who still continue true to them; but there is no fear, Don Jorge; the queen is ours, thanks to the courage of my friend Garcia, and if the brute bull should make his appearance — ho! ho! Don Jorge, you shall see something — I am prepared for him, ho! ho!” and thereupon he half opened his great coat, and showed me a small gun, which he bore beneath it in a sling, and then moving away with a wink and a nod, disappeared amongst the crowd.

Presently I perceived a small body of soldiers advancing up the Calle Mayor, or principal street which runs from the Puerta del Sol in the direction of the palace; they might be about twenty in number, and an officer marched at their head with a drawn sword; the men appeared to have been collected in a hurry, many of them being in fatigue dress, with foraging caps on their heads. On they came, slowly marching; neither their officer nor themselves paying the slightest attention to the cries of the crowd which thronged about them, shouting “Long live the constitution!” save and except by an occasional surly side glance: on they marched with contracted brows and set teeth, till they came in front of the cavalry, where they halted and drew up in a rank.

“Those men mean mischief,” said I to my friend D-, of the Morning Chronicle, who at this moment joined me; “and depend upon it, that if they are ordered they will commence firing, caring nothing whom they hit, — but what can those cavalry fellows behind them mean, who are evidently of the other opinion by their shouting, why don’t they charge at once this handful of foot people and overturn them? Once down, the crowd would wrest from them their muskets in a moment. You are a liberal, which I am not; why do you not go to that silly young man who commands the horse and give him a word of counsel in time?”

D— turned upon me his broad red good-humoured English countenance, with a peculiarly arch look, as much as to say — (whatever you think most applicable, gentle reader), then taking me by the arm, “Let us get,” said he, “out of this crowd and mount to some window, where I can write down what is about to take place, for I agree with you that mischief is meant.” Just opposite the post office was a large house, in the topmost story of which we beheld a paper displayed, importing that apartments were to let; whereupon we instantly ascended the common stair, and having agreed with the mistress of the etage for the use of the front room for the day, we bolted the door, and the reporter, producing his pocket-book and pencil, prepared to take notes of the coming events, which were already casting their shadow before.

What most extraordinary men are these reporters of newspapers in general, I mean English newspapers; surely if there be any class of individuals who are entitled to the appellation of cosmopolites, it is these; who pursue their avocation in all countries indifferently, and accommodate themselves at will to the manners of all classes of society: their fluency of style as writers is only surpassed by their facility of language in conversation, and their attainments in classical and polite literature only by their profound knowledge of the world, acquired by an early introduction into its bustling scenes. The activity, energy, and courage which they occasionally display in the pursuit of information are truly remarkable. I saw them during the three days at Paris, mingled with canaille and gamins behind the barriers, whilst the mitraille was flying in all directions, and the desperate cuirassiers were dashing their fierce horses against these seemingly feeble bulwarks. There stood they, dotting down their observations in their pocket-books as unconcernedly as if reporting the proceedings of a reform meeting in Covent Garden or Finsbury Square; whilst in Spain, several of them accompanied the Carlist and Christino guerillas in some of their most desperate raids and expeditions, exposing themselves to the danger of hostile bullets, the inclemency of winter, and the fierce heat of the summer sun.

We had scarcely been five minutes at the window, when we suddenly heard the clattering of horses’ feet hastening down the street called the Calle de Carretas. The house in which we had stationed ourselves was, as I have already observed, just opposite to the post office, at the left of which this street debouches from the north into the Puerta del Sol: as the sounds became louder and louder, the cries of the crowd below diminished, and a species of panic seemed to have fallen upon all: once or twice, however, I could distinguish the words Quesada! Quesada! The foot soldiers stood calm and motionless, but I observed that the cavalry, with the young officer who commanded them, displayed both confusion and fear, exchanging with each other some hurried words; all of a sudden that part of the crowd which stood near the mouth of the Calle de Carretas fell back in great disorder, leaving a considerable space unoccupied, and the next moment Quesada, in complete general’s uniform, and mounted on a bright bay thorough bred English horse, with a drawn sword in his hand, dashed at full gallop into the area, in much the same manner as I have seen a Manchegan bull rush into the amphitheatre when the gates of his pen are suddenly flung open.

He was closely followed by two mounted officers, and at a short distance by as many dragoons. In almost less time than is sufficient to relate it, several individuals in the crowd were knocked down and lay sprawling upon the ground, beneath the horses of Quesada and his two friends, for as to the dragoons, they halted as soon as they had entered the Puerta del Sol. It was a fine sight to see three men, by dint of valour and good horsemanship, strike terror into at least as many thousands: I saw Quesada spur his horse repeatedly into the dense masses of the crowd, and then extricate himself in the most masterly manner. The rabble were completely awed and gave way, retiring by the Calle del Comercio and the street of Alcala. All at once, Quesada singled out two nationals, who were attempting to escape, and setting spurs to his horse, turned them in a moment, and drove them in another direction, striking them in a contemptuous manner with the flat of his sabre. He was crying out, “Long live the absolute queen!” when, just beneath me, amidst a portion of the crowd which had still maintained its ground, perhaps from not having the means of escaping, I saw a small gun glitter for a moment, then there was a sharp report, and a bullet had nearly sent Quesada to his long account, passing so near to the countenance of the general as to graze his hat. I had an indistinct view for a moment of a well-known foraging cap just about the spot from whence the gun had been discharged, then there was a rush of the crowd, and the shooter, whoever he was, escaped discovery amidst the confusion which arose.

As for Quesada, he seemed to treat the danger from which he had escaped with the utmost contempt. He glared about him fiercely for a moment, then leaving the two nationals, who sneaked away like whipped hounds, he went up to the young officer who commanded the cavalry, and who had been active in raising the cry of the constitution, and to him he addressed a few words with an air of stern menace; the youth evidently quailed before him, and probably in obedience to his orders, resigned the command of the party, and rode slowly away with a discomfited air; whereupon Quesada dismounted and walked slowly backwards and forwards before the Casa de Postas with a mien which seemed to bid defiance to mankind.

This was the glorious day of Quesada’s existence, his glorious and last day. I call it the day of his glory, for he certainly never before appeared under such brilliant circumstances, and he never lived to see another sun set. No action of any conqueror or hero on record is to be compared with this closing scene of the life of Quesada, for who, by his single desperate courage and impetuosity, ever before stopped a revolution in full course? Quesada did: he stopped the revolution at Madrid for one entire day, and brought back the uproarious and hostile mob of a huge city to perfect order and quiet. His burst into the Puerta del Sol was the most tremendous and successful piece of daring ever witnessed. I admired so much the spirit of the “brute bull” that I frequently, during his wild onset, shouted “Viva Quesada!” for I wished him well. Not that I am of any political party or system. No, no! I have lived too long with Rommany Chals and Petulengres 10 to be of any politics save Gypsy politics; and it is well known that, during elections, the children of Roma side with both parties so long as the event is doubtful, promising success to each; and then when the fight is done, and the battle won, invariably range themselves in the ranks of the victorious. But I repeat that I wished well to Quesada, witnessing, as I did, his stout heart and good horsemanship. Tranquillity was restored to Madrid throughout the remainder of the day; the handful of infantry bivouacked in the Puerta del Sol. No more cries of long live the constitution were heard; and the revolution in the capital seemed to have been effectually put down. It is probable, indeed, that had the chiefs of the moderado party but continued true to themselves for forty-eight hours longer, their cause would have triumphed, and the revolutionary soldiers at the Granja would have been glad to restore the Queen Regent to liberty, and to have come to terms, as it was well known that several regiments, who still continued loyal, were marching upon Madrid. The moderados, however, were not true to themselves; that very night their hearts failed them, and they fled in various directions. Isturitz and Galiano to France; and the Duke of Rivas to Gibraltar: the panic of his colleagues even infected Quesada, who, disguised as a civilian, took to flight. He was not, however, so successful as the rest, but was recognised at a village about three leagues from Madrid, and cast into prison by some friends of the constitution. Intelligence of his capture was instantly transmitted to the capital, and a vast mob of the nationals, some on foot, some on horseback, and others in cabriolets, instantly set out. “The nationals are coming,” said a paisano to Quesada. “Then,” said he, “I am lost,” and forthwith prepared himself for death.

There is a celebrated coffee-house in the Calle d’Alcala at Madrid, capable of holding several hundred individuals. On the evening of the day in question, I was seated there, sipping a cup of the brown beverage, when I heard a prodigious noise and clamour in the street; it proceeded from the nationals, who were returning from their expedition. In a few minutes I saw a body of them enter the coffee-house marching arm in arm, two by two, stamping on the ground with their feet in a kind of measure, and repeating in loud chorus as they walked round the spacious apartment, the following grisly stanza:—

“Que es lo que abaja

Por aquel cerro?

Ta ra ra ra ra.

Son los huesos de Quesada,

Que los trae un perro —

Ta ra ra ra ra.” 11

A huge bowl of coffee was then called for, which was placed upon a table, around which gathered the national soldiers: there was silence for a moment, which was interrupted by a voice roaring out, “el panuelo!” A blue kerchief was forthwith produced, which appeared to contain a substance of some kind; it was untied, and a gory hand and three or four dissevered fingers made their appearance, and with these the contents of the bowl were stirred up. “Cups! cups!” cried the nationals.

“Ho, ho, Don Jorge,” cried Baltasarito, coming up to me with a cup of coffee, “pray do me the favour to drink upon this glorious occasion. This is a pleasant day for Spain, and for the gallant nationals of Madrid. I have seen many a bull funcion, but none which has given me so much pleasure as this. Yesterday the brute had it all his own way, but today the toreros have prevailed, as you see, Don Jorge. Pray drink; for I must now run home to fetch my pajandi to play my brethren a tune, and sing a copla. What shall it be? Something in Gitano?

“Una noche sinava en tucue.”

You shake your head, Don Jorge. Ha, ha; I am young, and youth is the time for pleasure; well, well, out of compliment to you, who are an Englishman and a monro, it shall not be that, but something liberal, something patriotic, the Hymn of Riego — Hasta despues, Don Jorge!”

10 A compound of the modern Greek [Greek text], and the Sanskrit kara, the literal meaning being Lord of the horse-shoe (i.e. maker); it is one of the private cognominations of “The Smiths,” an English Gypsy clan.

11 Of these lines the following translation, in the style of the old English ballad, will, perhaps, not be unacceptable:—

“What down the hill comes hurrying there? —

With a hey, with a ho, a sword, and a gun!

Quesada’s bones, which a hound doth bear. —

Hurrah, brave brothers! — the work is done.”

Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:32