The Bible in Spain, by George Borrow

Chapter 51

Cadiz — The Fortifications — The Consul–General — Characteristic Anecdote — Catalan Steamer — Trafalgar — Alonzo Guzman — Gibil Muza — Orestes Frigate — The Hostile Lion — Works of the Creator — Lizard of the Rock — The Concourse — Queen of the Waters — Broken Prayer.

Cadiz stands, as is well known, upon a long narrow neck of land stretching out into the ocean, from whose bosom the town appears to rise, the salt waters laving its walls on all sides save the east, where a sandy isthmus connects it with the coast of Spain. The town, as it exists at the present day, is of modern construction, and very unlike any other town which is to be found in the Peninsula, being built with great regularity and symmetry. The streets are numerous, and intersect each other, for the most part, at right angles. They are very narrow in comparison to the height of the houses, so that they are almost impervious to the rays of the sun, except when at its midday altitude. The principal street, however, is an exception, it being of some width. This street, in which stands the Bolsa, or exchange, and which contains the houses of the chief merchants and nobility, is the grand resort of loungers as well as men of business during the early part of the day, and in that respect resembles the Puerta del Sol at Madrid. It is connected with the great square, which, though not of very considerable extent, has many pretensions to magnificence, it being surrounded with large imposing houses, and planted with fine trees, with marble seats below them for the accommodation of the public. There are few public edifices worthy of much attention: the chief church, indeed, might be considered a fine monument of labour in some other countries, but in Spain, the land of noble and gigantic cathedrals, it can be styled nothing more than a decent place of worship; it is still in an unfinished state. There is a public walk or alameda on the northern ramparts, which is generally thronged in summer evenings: the green of its trees, when viewed from the bay, affords an agreeable relief to the eye, dazzled with the glare of the white buildings, for Cadiz is also a bright city. It was once the wealthiest place in all Spain, but its prosperity has of late years sadly diminished, and its inhabitants are continually lamenting its ruined trade; on which account many are daily abandoning it for Seville, where living at least is cheaper. There is still, however, much life and bustle in the streets, which are adorned with many splendid shops, several of which are in the style of Paris and London. The present population is said to amount to eighty thousand souls.

It is not without reason that Cadiz has been called a strong town: the fortifications on the land side, which were partly the work of the French during the sway of Napoleon, are perfectly admirable, and seem impregnable: towards the sea it is defended as much by nature as by art, water and sunken rocks being no contemptible bulwarks. The defences of the town, however, except the landward ones, afford melancholy proofs of Spanish apathy and neglect, even when allowance is made for the present peculiarly unhappy circumstances of the country. Scarcely a gun, except a few dismounted ones, is to be seen on the fortifications, which are rapidly falling to decay, so that this insulated stronghold is at present almost at the mercy of any foreign nation which, upon any pretence, or none at all, should seek to tear it from the grasp of its present legitimate possessors, and convert it into a foreign colony.

A few hours after my arrival, I waited upon Mr. B., the British consul-general at Cadiz. His house, which is the corner one at the entrance of the alameda, commands a noble prospect of the bay, and is very large and magnificent. I had of course long been acquainted with Mr. B. by reputation; I knew that for several years he had filled, with advantage to his native country and with honour to himself, the distinguished and highly responsible situation which he holds in Spain. I knew, likewise, that he was a good and pious Christian, and, moreover, the firm and enlightened friend of the Bible Society. Of all this I was aware, but I had never yet enjoyed the advantage of being personally acquainted with him. I saw him now for the first time, and was much struck with his appearance. He is a tall, athletic, finely built man, seemingly about forty-five or fifty; there is much dignity in his countenance, which is, however, softened by an expression of good humour truly engaging. His manner is frank and affable in the extreme. I am not going to enter into minute details of our interview, which was to me a very interesting one. He knew already the leading parts of my history since my arrival in Spain, and made several comments upon it, which displayed his intimate knowledge of the situation of the country as regards ecclesiastical matters, and the state of opinion respecting religious innovation.

I was pleased to find that his ideas in many points accorded with my own, and we were both decidedly of opinion that, notwithstanding the great persecution and outcry which had lately been raised against the Gospel, the battle was by no means lost, and that the holy cause might yet triumph in Spain, if zeal united with discretion and Christian humility were displayed by those called upon to uphold it.

During the greater part of this and the following day, I was much occupied at the custom-house, endeavouring to obtain the documents necessary for the exportation of the Testaments. On the afternoon of Saturday, I dined with Mr. B. and his family, an interesting group, — his lady, his beautiful daughters, and his son, a fine intelligent young man. Early the next morning, a steamer, the Balear, was to quit Cadiz for Marseilles, touching on the way at Algeciras, Gibraltar, and various other ports of Spain. I had engaged my passage on board her as far as Gibraltar, having nothing farther to detain me at Cadiz; my business with the custom-house having been brought at last to a termination, though I believe I should never have got through it but for the kind assistance of Mr. B. I quitted this excellent man and my other charming friends at a late hour with regret. I believe that I carried with me their very best wishes; and, in whatever part of the world I, a poor wanderer in the Gospel’s cause, may chance to be, I shall not unfrequently offer up sincere prayers for their happiness and well-being.

Before taking leave of Cadiz, I shall relate an anecdote of the British consul, characteristic of him and the happy manner in which he contrives to execute the most disagreeable duties of his situation. I was in conversation with him in a parlour of his house, when we were interrupted by the entrance of two very unexpected visitors: they were the captain of a Liverpool merchant vessel and one of the crew. The latter was a rough sailor, a Welshman, who could only express himself in very imperfect English. They looked unutterable dislike and defiance at each other. It appeared that the latter had refused to work, and insisted on leaving the ship, and his master had in consequence brought him before the consul, in order that, if he persisted, the consequences might be detailed to him, which would be the forfeiture of his wages and clothes. This was done; but the fellow became more and more dogged, refusing ever to tread the same deck again with his captain, who, he said, had called him “Greek, lazy lubberly Greek,” which he would not bear. The word Greek rankled in the sailor’s mind, and stung him to the very core. Mr. B., who seemed to be perfectly acquainted with the character of Welshmen in general, who are proverbially obstinate when opposition is offered to them, and who saw at once that the dispute had arisen on foolish and trivial grounds, now told the man, with a smile, that he would inform him of a way by which he might gain the weather-gage of every one of them, consul and captain and all, and secure his wages and clothes; which was by merely going on board a brig of war of her Majesty, which was then lying in the bay. The fellow said he was aware of this, and intended to do so. His grim features, however, instantly relaxed in some degree, and he looked more humanely upon his captain. Mr. B. then, addressing himself to the latter, made some observations on the impropriety of using the word Greek to a British sailor; not forgetting, at the same time, to speak of the absolute necessity of obedience and discipline on board every ship. His words produced such an effect, that in a very little time the sailor held out his hand towards his captain, and expressed his willingness to go on board with him and perform his duty, adding, that the captain, upon the whole, was the best man in the world. So they departed mutually pleased; the consul making both of them promise to attend divine service at his house on the following day.

Sunday morning came, and I was on board the steamer by six o’clock. As I ascended the side, the harsh sound of the Catalan dialect assailed my ears. In fact, the vessel was Catalan built, and the captain and crew were of that nation; the greater part of the passengers already on board, or who subsequently arrived, appeared to be Catalans, and seemed to vie with each other in producing disagreeable sounds. A burly merchant, however, with a red face, peaked chin, sharp eyes, and hooked nose, clearly bore off the palm; he conversed with astonishing eagerness on seemingly the most indifferent subjects, or rather on no subject at all; his voice would have sounded exactly like a coffee-mill but for a vile nasal twang: he poured forth his Catalan incessantly till we arrived at Gibraltar. Such people are never sea-sick, though they frequently produce or aggravate the malady in others. We did not get under way until past eight o’clock, for we waited for the Governor of Algeciras, and started instantly on his coming on board. He was a tall, thin, rigid figure of about seventy, with a long, grave, wrinkled countenance; in a word, the very image of an old Spanish grandee. We stood out of the bay, rounding the lofty lighthouse, which stands on a ledge of rocks, and then bent our course to the south, in the direction of the straits. It was a glorious morning, a blue sunny sky and blue sunny ocean; or, rather, as my friend Oehlenschlaeger has observed on a similar occasion, there appeared two skies and two suns, one above and one below.

Our progress was rather slow, notwithstanding the fineness of the weather, probably owing to the tide being against us. In about two hours we passed the Castle of Santa Petra, and at noon were in sight of Trafalgar. The wind now freshened and was dead ahead; on which account we hugged closely to the coast, in order to avoid as much as possible the strong heavy sea which was pouring down from the Straits. We passed within a very short distance of the Cape, a bold bluff foreland, but not of any considerable height.

It is impossible for an Englishman to pass by this place — the scene of the most celebrated naval action on record — without emotion. Here it was that the united navies of France and Spain were annihilated by a far inferior force; but that force was British, and was directed by one of the most remarkable men of the age, and perhaps the greatest hero of any time. Huge fragments of wreck still frequently emerge from the watery gulf whose billows chafe the rocky sides of Trafalgar: they are relies of the enormous ships which were burnt and sunk on that terrible day, when the heroic champion of Britain concluded his work and died. I never heard but one individual venture to say a word in disparagement of Nelson’s glory: it was a pert American, who observed, that the British admiral was much overrated. “Can that individual be overrated,” replied a stranger, “whose every thought was bent on his country’s honour, who scarcely ever fought without leaving a piece of his body in the fray, and who, not to speak of minor triumphs, was victorious in two such actions as Aboukir and Trafalgar?”

We were now soon in sight of the Moorish coast, Cape Spartel appearing dimly through mist and vapour on our right. A regular Levanter had now come on, and the vessel pitched and tossed to a very considerable degree. Most of the passengers were sea-sick; the governor, however, and myself held out manfully: we sat on a bench together, and entered into conversation respecting the Moors and their country. Torquemada himself could not have spoken of both with more abhorrence. He informed me that he had been frequently in several of the principal Moorish towns of the coast, which he described as heaps of ruins: the Moors themselves he called Caffres and wild beasts. He observed that he had never been even at Tangier, where the people were most civilised, without experiencing some insult, so great was the abhorrence of the Moors to anything in the shape of a Christian. He added, however, that they treated the English with comparative civility, and that they had a saying among them to the effect that Englishman and Mahometan were one and the same; he then looked particularly grave for a moment, and, crossing himself, was silent. I guessed what was passing in his mind:

“From heretic boors, And Turkish Moors, Star of the sea, Gentle Marie, Deliver me!”

At about three we were passing Tarifa, so frequently mentioned in the history of the Moors and Christians. Who has not heard of Alonzo Guzman the faithful, who allowed his only son to be crucified before the walls of the town rather than submit to the ignominy of delivering up the keys to the Moorish monarch, who, with a host which is said to have amounted to nearly half a million of men, had landed on the shores of Andalusia, and threatened to bring all Spain once more beneath the Moslem yoke? Certainly if there be a land and a spot where the name of that good patriot is not sometimes mentioned and sung, that land, that spot is modern Spain and modern Tarifa. I have heard the ballad of Alonzo Guzman chanted in Danish, by a hind in the wilds of Jutland; but once speaking of “the Faithful” to some inhabitants of Tarifa, they replied that they had never heard of Guzman the faithful of Tarifa, but were acquainted with Alonzo Guzman, “the one-eyed” (el tuerto), and that he was one of the most villainous arrieros on the Cadiz road.

The voyage of these narrow seas can scarcely fail to be interesting to the most apathetic individual, from the nature of the scenery which presents itself to the eye on either side. The coasts are exceedingly high and bold, especially that of Spain, which seems to overthrow the Moorish; but opposite to Tarifa, the African continent, rounding towards the south-west, assumes an air of sublimity and grandeur. A hoary mountain is seen uplifting its summits above the clouds: it is Mount Abyla, or as it is called in the Moorish tongue, Gibil Muza, or the hill of Muza, from the circumstance of its containing the sepulchre of a prophet of that name. This is one of the two excrescences of nature on which the Old World bestowed the title of the Pillars of Hercules. Its skirts and sides occupy the Moorish coast for many leagues in more than one direction, but the broad aspect of its steep and stupendous front is turned full towards that part of the European continent where Gibraltar lies like a huge monster stretching far into the brine. Of the two hills or pillars, the most remarkable, when viewed from afar, is the African one, Gibil Muza. It is the tallest and bulkiest, and is visible at a greater distance; but scan them both from near, and you feel that all your wonder is engrossed by the European column. Gibil Muza is an immense shapeless mass, a wilderness of rocks, with here and there a few trees and shrubs nodding from the clefts of its precipices; it is uninhabited, save by wolves, wild swine, and chattering monkeys, on which last account it is called by the Spaniards, Montana de las Monas (the hill of the baboons); whilst, on the contrary, Gibraltar, not to speak of the strange city which covers part of it, a city inhabited by men of all nations and tongues, its batteries and excavations, all of them miracles of art, is the most singular-looking mountain in the world — a mountain which can neither be described by pen nor pencil, and at which the eye is never satiated with gazing.

It was near sunset, and we were crossing the bay of Gibraltar. We had stopped at Algeciras, on the Spanish side, for the purpose of landing the old governor and his suite, and delivering and receiving letters.

Algeciras is an ancient Moorish town, as the name denotes, which is an Arabic word, and signifies “the place of the islands.” It is situated at the water’s edge, with a lofty range of mountains in the rear. It seemed a sad deserted place, as far as I could judge at the distance of half a mile. In the harbour, however, lay a Spanish frigate and French war brig. As we passed the former, some of the Spaniards on board our steamer became boastful at the expense of the English. It appeared that, a few weeks before, an English vessel, suspected to be a contraband trader, was seen by this frigate hovering about a bay on the Andalusian coast, in company with an English frigate, the Orestes. The Spaniard dogged them for some time, till one morning observing that the Orestes had disappeared, he hoisted English colours, and made a signal to the trader to bear down; the latter, deceived by the British ensign, and supposing that the Spaniard was the friendly Orestes, instantly drew near, was fired at and boarded, and proving in effect to be a contraband trader, she was carried into port and delivered over to the Spanish authorities. In a few days the captain of the Orestes hearing of this, and incensed at the unwarrantable use made of the British flag, sent a boat on board the frigate demanding that the vessel should be instantly restored, as, if she was not, he would retake her by force; adding that he had forty cannons on board. The captain of the Spanish frigate returned for answer, that the trader was in the hands of the officers of the customs, and was no longer at his disposal; that the captain of the Orestes however, could do what he pleased, and that if he had forty guns, he himself had forty-four; whereupon the Orestes thought proper to bear away. Such at least was the Spanish account as related by the journals. Observing the Spaniards to be in great glee at the idea of one of their nation having frightened away the Englishman, I exclaimed, “Gentlemen, all of you who suppose that an English sea captain has been deterred from attacking a Spaniard, from an apprehension of a superior force of four guns, remember, if you please, the fate of the Santissima Trinidad, and be pleased also not to forget that we are almost within cannon’s sound of Trafalgar.”

It was neat sunset, I repeat, and we were crossing the bay of Gibraltar. I stood on the prow of the vessel, with my eyes intently fixed on the mountain fortress, which, though I had seen it several times before, filled my mind with admiration and interest. Viewed from this situation, it certainly, if it resembles any animate object in nature, has something of the appearance of a terrible couchant lion, whose stupendous head menaces Spain. Had I been dreaming, I should almost have concluded it to be the genius of Africa, in the shape of its most puissant monster, who had bounded over the sea from the clime of sand and sun, bent on the destruction of the rival continent, more especially as the hue of its stony sides, its crest and chine, is tawny even as that of the hide of the desert king. A hostile lion has it almost invariably proved to Spain, at least since it first began to play a part in history, which was at the time when Tarik seized and fortified it. It has for the most part been in the hands of foreigners: first the swarthy and turbaned Moor possessed it, and it is now tenanted by a fair-haired race from a distant isle. Though a part of Spain, it seems to disavow the connexion, and at the end of a long narrow sandy isthmus, almost level with the sea, raising its blasted and perpendicular brow to denounce the crimes which deform the history of that fair and majestic land.

It was near sunset, I say it for the third time, and we were crossing the bay of Gibraltar. Bay! it seemed no bay, but an inland sea, surrounded on all sides by enchanted barriers, so strange, so wonderful was the aspect of its coasts. Before us lay the impregnable hill; on our right the African continent, with its grey Gibil Muza, and the crag of Ceuta, to which last a solitary bark seemed steering its way; behind us the town we had just quitted, with its mountain wall; on our left the coast of Spain. The surface of the water was unruffled by a wave, and as we rapidly glided on, the strange object which we were approaching became momentarily more distinct and visible. There, at the base of the mountain, and covering a small portion of its side, lay the city, with its ramparts garnished with black guns pointing significantly at its moles and harbours; above, seemingly on every crag which could be made available for the purpose of defence or destruction, peered batteries, pale and sepulchral-looking, as if ominous of the fate which awaited any intrusive foe; whilst east and west towards Africa and Spain, on the extreme points, rose castles, towers, or atalaias which overcrowded the whole, and all the circumjacent region, whether land or sea. Mighty and threatening appeared the fortifications, and doubtless, viewed in any other situation, would have alone occupied the mind and engrossed its wonder; but the hill, the wondrous hill, was everywhere about them, beneath them, or above them, overpowering their effect as a spectacle. Who, when he beholds the enormous elephant, with his brandished trunk, dashing impetuously to the war, sees the castle which he bears, or fears the javelins of those whom he carries, however skilful and warlike they may be? Never does God appear so great and powerful as when the works of his hands stand in contrast with the labours of man. Survey the Escurial, it is a proud work, but wonder if you can when you see the mountain mocking it behind; survey that boast of Moorish kings, survey Granada from its plain, and wonder if you can, for you see the Alpujarra mocking it from behind. O what are the works of man compared with those of the Lord? Even as man is compared with his creator. Man builds pyramids, and God builds pyramids: the pyramids of man are heaps of shingles, tiny hillocks on a sandy plain; the pyramids of the Lord are Andes and Indian hills. Man builds walls and so does his Master; but the walls of God are the black precipices of Gibraltar and Horneel, eternal, indestructible, and not to be scaled; whilst those of man can be climbed, can be broken by the wave or shattered by the lightning or the powder blast. Would man display his power and grandeur to advantage, let him flee far from the hills; for the broad pennants of God, even his clouds, float upon the tops of the hills, and the majesty of God is most manifest among the hills. Call Gibraltar the hill of Tarik or Hercules if you will, but gaze upon it for a moment and you will call it the hill of God. Tarik and the old giant may have built upon it; but not all the dark race of whom Tarik was one, nor all the giants of old renown of whom the other was one, could have built up its crags or chiseled the enormous mass to its present shape.

We dropped anchor not far from the mole. As we expected every moment to hear the evening gun, after which no person is permitted to enter the town, I was in trepidation lest I should be obliged to pass the night on board the dirty Catalan steamer, which, as I had no occasion to proceed farther in her, I was in great haste to quit. A boat now drew nigh, with two individuals at the stern, one of whom, standing up, demanded, in an authoritative voice, the name of the vessel, her destination and cargo. Upon being answered, they came on board. After some conversation with the captain, they were about to depart, when I inquired whether I could accompany them on shore. The person I addressed was a tall young man, with a fustian frock coat. He had a long face, long nose, and wide mouth, with large restless eyes. There was a grin on his countenance which seemed permanent, and had it not been for his bronzed complexion, I should have declared him to be a cockney, and nothing else. He was, however, no such thing, but what is called a rock lizard, that is, a person born at Gibraltar of English parents. Upon hearing my question, which was in Spanish, he grinned more than ever, and inquired, in a strange accent, whether I was a son of Gibraltar. I replied that I had not that honour, but that I was a British subject. Whereupon he said that he should make no difficulty in taking me ashore. We entered the boat, which was rapidly rowed towards the land by four Genoese sailors. My two companions chattered in their strange Spanish, he of the fustian occasionally turning his countenance full upon me, the last grin appearing ever more hideous than the preceding ones. We soon reached the quay, where my name was noted down by a person who demanded my passport, and I was then permitted to advance.

It was now dusk, and I lost no time in crossing the drawbridge and entering the long low archway which, passing under the rampart, communicates with the town. Beneath this archway paced with measured tread, tall red-coated sentinels with shouldered guns. There was no stopping, no sauntering in these men. There was no laughter, no exchange of light conversation with the passers by, but their bearing was that of British soldiers, conscious of the duties of their station. What a difference between them and the listless loiterers who stand at guard at the gate of a Spanish garrisoned town.

I now proceeded up the principal street, which runs with a gentle ascent along the base of the hill. Accustomed for some months past to the melancholy silence of Seville, I was almost deafened by the noise and bustle which reigned around. It was Sunday night, and of course no business was going on, but there were throngs of people passing up and down. Here was a military guard proceeding along; here walked a group of officers, there a knot of soldiers stood talking and laughing. The greater part of the civilians appeared to be Spaniards, but there was a large sprinkling of Jews in the dress of those of Barbary, and here and there a turbaned Moor. There were gangs of sailors likewise, Genoese, judging from the patois which they were speaking, though I occasionally distinguished the sound of “tou logou sas,” by which I knew there were Greeks at hand, and twice or thrice caught a glimpse of the red cap and blue silken petticoats of the mariner from the Romaic isles. On still I hurried, till I arrived at a well known hostelry, close by a kind of square, in which stands the little exchange of Gibraltar. Into this I ran and demanded lodging, receiving a cheerful welcome from the genius of the place, who stood behind the bar, and whom I shall perhaps have occasion subsequently to describe. All the lower rooms were filled with men of the rock, burly men in general, with swarthy complexions and English features, with white hats, white jean jerkins, and white jean pantaloons. They were smoking pipes and cigars, and drinking porter, wine and various other fluids, and conversing in the rock Spanish, or rock English as the fit took them. Dense was the smoke of tobacco, and great the din of voices, and I was glad to hasten up stairs to an unoccupied apartment, where I was served with some refreshment, of which I stood much in need.

I was soon disturbed by the sound of martial music close below my windows. I went down and stood at the door. A military band was marshalled upon the little square before the exchange. It was preparing to beat the retreat. After the prelude, which was admirably executed, the tall leader gave a flourish with his stick, and strode forward up the street, followed by the whole company of noble looking fellows and a crowd of admiring listeners. The cymbals clashed, the horns screamed, and the kettle-drum emitted its deep awful note, till the old rock echoed again, and the hanging terraces of the town rang with the stirring noise:

“Dub-a-dub, dub-a-dub — thus go the drums, Tantara, tantara, the Englishman comes.”

O England! long, long may it be ere the sun of thy glory sink beneath the wave of darkness! Though gloomy and portentous clouds are now gathering rapidly around thee, still, still may it please the Almighty to disperse them, and to grant thee a futurity longer in duration and still brighter in renown than thy past! Or if thy doom be at hand, may that doom be a noble one, and worthy of her who has been styled the Old Queen of the waters! May thou sink, if thou dost sink, amidst blood and flame, with a mighty noise, causing more than one nation to participate in thy downfall! Of all fates, may it please the Lord to preserve thee from a disgraceful and a slow decay; becoming, ere extinct, a scorn and a mockery for those selfsame foes who now, though they envy and abhor thee, still fear thee, nay, even against their will, honour and respect thee.

Arouse thee, whilst yet there is time, and prepare thee for the combat of life and death! Cast from thee the foul scurf which now encrusts thy robust limbs, which deadens their force, and makes them heavy and powerless! Cast from thee thy false philosophers, who would fain decry what, next to the love of God, has hitherto been deemed most sacred, the love of the mother land! Cast from thee thy false patriots, who, under the. pretext of redressing the wrongs of the poor and weak, seek to promote internal discord, so that thou mayest become only terrible to thyself! And remove from thee the false prophets, who have seen vanity and divined lies; who have daubed thy wall with untempered mortar, that it may fall; who see visions of peace where there is no peace; who have strengthened the hands of the wicked, and made the heart of the righteous sad. O, do this, and fear not the result, for either shall thy end be a majestic and an enviable one, or God shall perpetuate thy reign upon the waters, thou old Queen!

The above was part of a broken prayer for my native land, which, after my usual thanksgiving, I breathed to the Almighty ere retiring to rest that Sunday night at Gibraltar.

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