The Homes of the New World/Letter XXXIV.
Cardinas, March 19th.
It was at Cardinas that the first senseless robber-expedition against Cuba, under the conduct of Lopez, landed last year, and was repulsed by the bravery of the Spanish army. You are shown holes in the walls made by cannon-balls, and they are now living in daily expectation and fear of a new attack under the same leader, the news of which is just now in circulation, and people are on the alert in consequence, and the city under watch.
Cardinas is a small city built in the same style as Havannah, and carries on a brisk trade in sugar and treacle. It is situated by the sea, but lies so low that it can scarcely be seen from the sea; its harbour is very shallow, and will not admit vessels of large size. I am living in a small hotel kept by a Mrs. W., the widow of a Portuguese, and who has five daughters, which is nearly four too many! I should not be afraid of having ten daughters in the United States; I should be certain that they all, however poor they might be, would be able to attain to their proper human development, would gain consideration and a competence through their own merits and endeavours. But in Cuba, what could any one do with five daughters? Marriage is the only means there of obtaining for them respect and a living, and it is not so very easy to get married at Cuba, because it is not an easy thing to maintain yourself in an honourable way there. Two of these young girls are very pretty; the eldest, a perfect blonde, has the noblest profile. She is betrothed to a young officer; but it frequently happens that marriage does not follow love and betrothal.
Among the people who interest me here, is a young lawyer, a Spaniard, more than ordinarily agreeable and lively in social intercourse. I have obtained a good deal of information from him respecting the administration of the laws of the island with regard to slaves and their treatment, of which I shall have more to say another time. In other respects Cardinas appears to me an uninteresting little city; but kind people here have afforded me an opportunity of seeing things in the neighbourhood of the city which have great interest for me; one of which is a coffee plantation in full bloom. The coffee-plant flowers once a month, and the whole of the plantation is in blossom on one single day, and the flowers which are in full bloom in the morning wither in the evening. The earliest blossoming in the year is in February, the latest in November. The flowers, which are placed upon the twig in compact white racemes and bunches, produce small fruit-pods, which are first green, then red, and lastly of a dark brown, when they are gathered; these contain the coffee-beans. The harvest is, therefore, continually going on during three or four months of the year.
The coffee plantation which I visited was in full bloom, and the appearance was as of a shower of snow over the green shrubs. The coffee shrub has beautiful rich green, smooth laurel-like leaves, the flowers resemble those of the single white hyacinth, and have a delicate, agreeable scent. This coffee plantation was remarkably lovely, with beautiful avenues of alternate orange-trees and sago-palms; the pine-apple grew there, and there were avenues and groves of bananas. The trees were full of blossom and fruit. The people who lived here had never noticed the peculiar blossoming of the banana; people live amid the richest treasures of nature without paying attention to them.
Among the beautiful objects on this plantation, I must mention its proprietor, and her lovely young daughters especially. They presented me with flowers and fruit, and I have sketched a blossoming branch of the coffee-shrub for mamma.
The second object of interest to me was a little zoological garden, or museum, which a German collected in the neighbourhood of Cardinas, of the birds and other animals of Cuba. Among the latter were a crocodile and an alligator together in the same tank. They were so alike, that to my ignorant eyes they seemed entirely so; but I was shown various distinctive markings. Their owner had made vain attempts to tame them. They seem to be the most devoid of intellect, as well as the ugliest of all animals, at least, to my taste. Neither alligators nor crocodiles, however, are found in the rivers of Cuba; these have been brought hither as curiosities from America and Africa.
March 21st.—There stands in the court into which my room looks, a large hencoop containing many kinds of poultry for household use. The present cook of the family, a tall, handsome, Spanish soldier, came this morning to fetch away a couple of the feathered company for dinner, for the family and guests. The first that he carried off was a large black turkey; and I could not but admire the manner in which he set about the business, it was so gentle, so humane, and wise. He stroked the turkey in the first place, before he took it from the pen, and even this was done with so much suavity, that the turkey, when he carried him off quite comfortably across the court, merely looked a little astonished, and uttered a few sounds in his throat, as if he would say, “Now what's going to be done?”
I have seen with us, when a hen was to be killed, the whole poultry yard in a state of uproar, and she herself breathless from terror before she gave up the ghost. Spaniards are not in a general way remarkable for humanity to animals; and the country people frequently come to market with turkeys and fowls hanging by the feet tied together across the horse's saddle; so that their heads hang down. This barbarity was forbidden by a Governor Tacon of Cuba, who is described as having been a severe man, but who abolished many abuses; this, however, is still continued, and I have frequently met monteros riding between clusters of poultry thus suspended, and sometimes half dead.
There is a district not far from Cardinas which is called Havanavana, which is almost entirely peopled by free negroes, the number of whom, I understand, amounts to twelve or thirteen hundred. They are mostly cultivators of land, on the half system, with Spanish Creoles. I should be extremely glad to see how these small farms are managed by them—to see with my own eyes how negroes manage when they are left to themselves; but I am advised not to go there as I am not acquainted with the language of the country, and the government is very suspicious of strangers. The slave-disturbances of 1846 are still fresh in the minds of people, and they originated in this part of the island. These disturbances which gave rise to such cruel proceedings on the part of the Spanish government, have also caused severe restrictions to be laid upon the occupations and amusements of the free negroes. Formerly, it is said, might be heard every evening and night, both afar and near, the joyous sound of the African drum, as it was beaten at the negro dances. When, however, it was discovered that these dancing assemblies had been made use of for the organisation of the disturbances which afterwards took place, their liberty became very much circumscribed.
The free negroes of Havannah have, each nation to itself, their own halls of assembly and guilds, or, as they are called cabildos, for which they elect queens, who again choose kings to assist them. I must see these Cabildos de Negroes.
St. Amelia Inhegno, March 23rd.
Once more in my excellent room, with my charming Mrs. de C., for a couple of days. I came hither in a whirling cloud of hot, red dust. The soil of Cuba is as red as burnt clay, and the dust is dreadful in windy weather. In rainy weather, again, it becomes a thick slime, which it is impossible to get through. This belongs to the obverse side of nature here. The volante, drawn by three horses a-breast, flew like a whirlwind through the red dust, and our calashero, Patricio, seemed greatly to enjoy the wild career.
It is again Sunday, that Sunday upon which the slaves are to have a few leisure hours, and I have talked to both the old gentleman and the young one about it, and prayed that the slaves might have a dance; but we shall see how it will be. The sugar-mill is not at work, but I see the slaves going about, carrying la bagaza, and I hear the cracking of the whip keeping them to work. It is already late in the afternoon; I am waiting in expectation and impatience. Will there be a dance or no? I fear that some pretext will be found for changing the dance into labour. I confess that I shall be very much annoyed if it is so; for the dance has been promised me, and the poor people need enlivening; neither should I allow them to dance to no purpose. There—the African drum! There will be a dance.—I hasten to witness it.
Later.—The dance did not this time take place under a shady almond-tree, but in the hot court of the bohea. The musicians were stationed with their drums on the shady side of the kitchen. There was merely a small company of dancers, and the dance was of the same kind as that at Ariadne, and presented no new feature of interest; until an elderly Congo negro, called Carlo Congo, entered with his herculean chest into the dance. He ordered the drummers to beat a new tune, and to this he performed a dance, which, with its bendings, its evolutions, and tremulosities would have told well in a ballet of the Paris opera; that is to say, in the person of a satyr or faun, for the dance had no higher character; but it was admirable from the power of the dancer, his agility, flexibility, bold transitions, and the wild, picturesque beauty of his evolutions. This was the Congo dance; but Carlo Congo could not execute it in its full perfection; wearied by four months' labour, day and night, his limbs were evidently deficient in the needful power; he was obliged to pause many times to rest, and though he soon recommenced, he again came to a stand, shaking his head good-humouredly, as if he would say—“No! it will not do!” His countenance had that expression of power and sensibility which I have so often seen among the negroes; he wore a little cotton cap on his head, and a necklace of blue glass beads round his throat; the upper portion of the body and the muscular arms were bare; and their form, and the development of the muscles, during the dance, were worthy the study of a sculptor. The partner of this skilful dance was also more animated in her movements than any of the negro women whom I had yet seen, and swung round with great dexterity and art. Carlo placed a little sprig of myrtle in her mouth, after which she danced, holding it between her lips as a bird would have held it in his bill.
By degrees the dancers increased in number. The women also invited partners to dance, generally by giving a little blow with a handkerchief to the selected cavalier, who immediately showed himself ready and willing. Some of the men dropped on the knee during the dance; so true to nature does this movement appear to be, which of old obtained admission into the refined world of gallantry and chivalry.
There were others who danced solo to the beating of the drums, twirling round upon one spot, and waving the while up and down with the body; children also came, naked as God made them, and imitated, most excellently, the dancing of the elders. But others, both men and women, passed by, and cast gloomy, joyless glances on the dance; and the bitter expression of those dark night-like countenances testified of the darkest night-life of slavery; countenances those were which I shall never forget, one especially, that of an elderly woman! Other negroes were passing through the gate of the bohea, laden with bunches of bananas and tomatoes (which here grow wild), or other green vegetables. The young overseer inquired whether they were from their own country, and they replied curtly, “Yes.” They passed by the dancers, some with an indifferent glance, others with a half-smile. The dancing in the meantime became more and more animated in that hot sun, and the numbers increased, both of men and women. Now, however, the loud crack of a whip was heard, and the dancing stopped at once. The dancers dispersed again to recommence work in the sugar-mill. I too left the bohea, but not without thanking the drummers, and in particular Carlo Congo, in the manner which I knew was most agreeable to them.
I am now again in my quiet chamber. The sugar-mill is clamouring and smoking, and the slaves are carrying la bagaza.
I see above the walls of the bohea, but far beyond them, the magnificent guadarajah of palms below the hills of Camerioca. These hills also have deep caverns and concealed tracts, which serve as the retreats of fugitive slaves. They dig pitfalls at the mouths of the caverns to preserve them from their pursuers. But the pursuit of them is now given up, as it is not only unavailing but attended by great peril to the pursuers. Sometimes they will come down in the night-time to the plantations for sustenance, which they obtain from the negroes of the plantation who never betray the fugitives of the mountains. The negroes, it is said, never betray one another except under the torture of the whip.
March 26th.—I have visited with my kind hostess some of the plantations in the neighbourhood. The most agreeable of these visits was to that of a handsome young couple, M. and Madame Belle C., French creoles. An enchanting expression of human kindness was portrayed on their countenances. They are said to be very kind to their slaves, and I understand that M. Belle C. is thinking of taking a sugar-plantation in Florida, on which he will employ only free negroes. May he succeed! One single successful experiment of this kind would effect a great change in American slavery. The man who does this may be reckoned as among the greatest benefactors of humanity.
I saw at M. and Mdme. Belle C.'s two of the sweetest little children, and a well-kept garden, in which were many beautiful plants. I saw some remarkably fine Provence roses, but without any sign of fragrance. The great heat, it is said, destroys the scent of this and many other flowers. This handsome young couple have invited me to spend some time with them, but I must decline the invitation.
The planters of Cuba are extremely hospitable, and as the life of the ladies is very monotonous, and increasingly so of late, for the hand of the Spanish government has rested heavily on the Spanish Creole since the late disturbances, compelling him to pay a tax,—they are by no means unwilling to have the monotony of their everyday life diversified by the presence of an European stranger.
The character of the sugar-plantation and the life upon it seems to me very much the same everywhere. The most beautiful features of these plantations are the great avenues, especially of palms; I cannot walk through these guadarajahs without a sentiment of devotion, so beautiful and magnificent are they! The gardens are frequently quite small, and commonly but ill kept. The fields of sugar-cane encroach upon everything else. The life of the ladies is not cheerful and scarcely active at all. They seem to me to suffer from the condition of the plantation, which is never free from danger, and which does not allow them to develope at all their more beautiful activity, nay, which even checks their movements. They dare not go out alone; they are afraid of runaway slaves: besides, with all the beauty of trees and vegetation peculiar to the Cuban plantation, it still lacks that which constitutes one of the greatest delights of country life—when one looks at it merely from the pleasurable point of view—it lacks grass-sward—that soft, submissive, verdant sward, in which millions of small blades of grass and masses of little flowers are brought together, to prepare for human beings a fresh and soft couch on which to repose in the open air. It lacks those groves of shadowy trees and underwood, beneath and amid which, we repose so pleasantly; and I soon observed that this paradisiacal atmosphere, and these guadarajahs could not compensate to the inhabitants of the island for the absence of those unpretending rural pleasures.
Besides we behold no injustice around us in the country, no want which we cannot in some degree lessen. They behold much daily which they cannot do anything to alleviate. Nay, the more noble a woman is in Cuba, the more unhappy must she become. And even if she be united to the best of husbands who does all that lies in his power for her and for his slaves, she still cannot close her eyes to that which occurs around her. The plantation is never many acres in extent, and it adjoins other plantations which are managed according to the disposition of their masters, and of what kind this sometimes is, we know already. Add to this the state of the government of the island, the violence of government officials, slave-trade, slave tumults, the examinations of the Spanish government, and the punishments which it inflicts, one perpetual state of fear;—no delicious waftings of the heavenly atmosphere of Cuba can give cheerfulness to life under such circumstances.
Last week a cargo of slaves from Africa arrived at Havannah; they were no less than seven hundred in number, and all children, the eldest not eighteen, and the youngest under ten years of age. It was spoken of this evening in our circle.
“They who do this,” said a mother of the party, bitterly, “ought to have some day the reward they deserve!”
And yet, if human beings are to be conveyed from their native country into foreign slavery, it is better that it should take place when they are children than when grown up; it is less bitter then. As children they become accustomed to the bohea and to the whip, and have not the memory of a life of freedom, which drives them to despair and suicide.
Amid these gloomy thoughts and impressions, again and again the unspeakable beauty of the air and the vegetation presents itself, and affects my soul to thanksgiving, and shows me a future paradise.
It is again full moon, and the nights are indescribably beautiful. I returned home late last night from a visit with my hostess. We drove, with uncovered heads, in the open volante, through palm-groves, beneath the vault of heaven, which was flooded with light. The air was delicious and bland, as the purest human kindness.
There are two splendid palm avenues at the plantation of St. Amelia, a hundred trees in a row, I have no doubt. Many of them are just now in bloom. The luxuriant sprays of flowers shoot out like a garland of wings around the stem, a little below the palm-crown, in the most beautiful relationship both to it and the stem. There is another avenue of the tamarind (from the green heads of which the beans are now falling, and which the little negro children eagerly gather, to suck the agreeable acid fruit), and of mango-trees, and a species of acacia, with red berries, from which the negroes make necklaces. There are, in front of the house, many of those trees, with lime-tree-like heads and dark fiery-red flowers, such as I saw on La Plaza de Armas at Havannah; the botanic name of which is Hibiscus tiliacea.
Cuba is an outer court of Paradise, worthy to be studied by the natural historian, the painter, and the poet. The forms and colours of the vegetation seem to typify a transition from earthly life to a freer and a loftier sphere of beauty.
Caffetal L'Industrie, April 1st.
Thank God that it is now the commencement of spring in Sweden, and that you can now begin to think about salt-baths, summer and convalescence, and that all around you can begin to live; way-side weeds, butterflies, the little yellow flowers and larks—the cheerful larks, which warble and sing, “Now it is spring-time! now it is spring-time!” Ah! the diffusive joy which spring imparts among us, that—that is not known in this beautiful Cuba.
But—Cuba has beauty enough to make human life happy, if its beauty and its glorious atmosphere might only operate unimpededly.
I have now been for some days on a new plantation, both of sugar and coffee, with an American family of the name of P., consisting of an elderly gentleman, his wife, much younger than himself; two young sons and two daughters. I have to thank the Swedish consul, Mr. Ninninger, for this invitation. Mr. P. is a warm republican, and courageous enough openly to express his republican sympathies in the very face of the Spanish authorities of the island. He would do it, he says, “at the mouth of a four-and-twenty pounder,” and I believe him, the brave old gentleman, and I like him for it! Mrs. P. was born in England, and now, at near fifty, her countenance has still all the charm and sweetness of youth, combined with an expression of the greatest kindness. She reminds me of those springs of fresh water, which God permits here and there to well up in the sandy deserts of the tropics for the invigoration of the desert pilgrim. Palm-trees grow around them, and the sward becomes verdant; the wanderer rests there and drinks of the springs, and wishes only that he could linger there. When I meet with one of these characters of perfectly original goodness, I involuntarily ask myself why, when such might be created and given to the earth, we yet see so few of them. As it is, they seem like the spirit of the wind on this island, merely to reveal themselves on the earth, to remind us of a paradise which—is not to be found there.
There is a glorious view from the front of the house, across the country, and to the distant blue sea. I enjoy it and the breezes from the sea, as I walk upon the broad piazza in the incomparably beautiful mornings and evenings. My charming little room adjoins the piazza, and from it also I have an extensive view; there, however, I am often disturbed by the little negro children, who climb up by the iron railing before my window, and peep in, exclaiming, “Buon dios, Signora” good morning, missis! which, spite of their good-tempered, joyous countenances, splendid eyes and teeth, does not always amuse me, that is, when I wish to be quiet. But it is, after all, really a joy to see how fearless the negro children are on this plantation. The good, motherly lady and her daughters have produced this effect, and the children are evidently well cared for, and the elder ones well clad. They run about freely, and accompany us on our walks, sometimes in little troops. I frequently see the elder children carrying the younger ones, riding astride upon the left hip, whilst they hold them up with the left arm thrown round the bead-encircled bodies of the little creatures. I see them in this way move about, and even run, with great ease; the girls are particularly dextrous in this respect, and as I thus see them, I frequently cannot help admiring their beautiful and perfectly developed frames.
The slaves on this plantation seem to me well fed and full of enjoyment. Neither is their bohea locked up and prison-like; it is left freely open, and I have seen dwelling-rooms there full of possessions like the dwellings of the slaves in America. The good lady of the plantation is fond of her people, and takes good care of the feeble and the sick.
From her gentle lips I have written down the following words:—
“It is a great sin to call the slaves wicked, there are among them both bad and good, as among all people. It is rare to meet with such as are wicked, and many are very good!
“They who consider the whip necessary to drive the negroes to work, which they would do willingly with reasonable treatment, do not understand them, and frequently make them wicked. I cannot tell you what I have suffered; nay, indeed, I have been ill for weeks from the grief occasioned by the sight of so much flogging, and of the many cruelties, which, in many cases, a kind and serious word might have prevented the necessity of! The negro nation is wonderfully susceptible to kindness and indulgence when they are judiciously used. They are capable of becoming the best and the most devoted of servants and friends.”
The German overseer of a plantation, La Sonona, belonging also to Mr. P., made the following remarks regarding negro slaves:—
“They are not at all difficult to manage, if they are treated, at the same time, with firmness and kindness. They love regularity and decision in their masters, and obey without difficulty when they are treated with equanimity and reason. It will not do to be remiss; neither is there any necessity for severity and cruelty.”
This I believe to be the truth; and well would it be if many gentlemen would believe so too, and then treat them according to this belief; but a despotic temper and passion are often the masters' master, and the slaves suffer in consequence.
The most remarkable occurrence that has happened to me, since I last wrote, is my having seen the Southern Cross, and the cuculio, or “the Cuban firefly,” which now begins to make its appearance; but which is not a fly but a beetle, which in form and appearance resembles our Thor-beetle, only somewhat longer and narrower. It flies in the same manner, but more slowly and much higher, and produces during its flight a still louder and more buzzing sound. It emits light in two ways, when it creeps along, or is still, from two round, small shining points immediately behind the eyes, and I read by the light thus produced with great ease last evening, by conducting the cuculio along the lines like a little lamp; and, secondly, when it flies, it emits from an opening in the stomach, a strong clear light, now quickly shining out, and then extinguished, as is the case with the American firefly, but shining steadily as long as it remains on the wing: you can scarcely conceive how beautiful it is. Imagine now the planets Venus, Jupiter, Mars, and others as bright, coming down from above, and flying around through the air, over the roof, and among the trees and bushes, and you behold the cuculio; it has the loveliest, clear blue fire which you can imagine.
Fireflies make their appearance at the commencement
of the rainy season, and
has we have now had a couple of
small showers, to the great joy of the coffee-planters, the
cuculios show themselves as soon as it begins to grow
dark. They are not, however, numerous as yet; but I
am told that when the rainy season sets in, in May, June,
and July, they become so numerous that the heads of
large trees are sometimes entirely covered with them, and
gleam out as from millions of little tapers. It is not
known here how and whence they come, it is maintained
that during the dry season they conceal themselves in
decayed trees; they now feed on sugar-cane, and I have
a whole party in a glass in my room, where they sack
pieces of sugar-cane. They seem to be very well off
there, and think more about eating, apparently, than
freedom; they sit quite still and suck the cane, and
their light seems dimmed the while; but if I oblige
them with a bath of fresh water, it becomes bright again,
and the whole creature more lively. Sometimes when
I wake in the night, I hear a buzzing noise in my room,
and see one or two cuculios flying about, and lighting
up every part of the room which they approach.
I have to day drawn a couple of them in my album. I have here a perfect frenzy, sketching and drawing, people, birds, trees, flowers, dwellings, everything which strikes me; and so much strikes me here, from its beauty or its novelty, that I am in a continual drawing fever. Many of my efforts are not wholly successful, both from want of time and artistic skill; but I shall carry home with me some small memories which it will be pleasant to possess.
I see in the evenings the Southern Cross slowly rising in a slanting direction, with regard to the horizon; at midnight it stands perpendicularly above it. I went out last night to see it. This lovely constellation shone bright and beautiful amid the tranquil beautiful night. The stars are of the second magnitude, one of them, however, is of the third; but the proportion between them is so perfect, that the whole figure is striking in the highest degree; besides which, the splendid Cross stands solitary in the southern heavens, with its foot almost touching the earth, and its arms extending over it. The whole figure produces a solemn but melancholy effect upon me. A glory is formed above the cross by the stars of Centaur, and the two stars Circinus and Robur, stand like sentinels one on either side.
After midnight the Cross declines towards the right, and thus sinks, by degrees, once more beneath the orb of the earth. The nights are very dark, but the darkness is as if transparent; the air is not felt. There could not be more beautiful nights in Paradise. The beauty of our midsummer in the north of Sweden might emulate it, but in another way.
When I turn from the Southern Cross, and the palm-trees between which it shines, I see in the northern firmament, above a beautiful ceiba-tree in the court, the North Star and the Great Bear.
April 3rd.—I have spent this beautiful morning in the banana groves, which are always to be met with on coffee plantations, sketching the tree, with my favourite fruit and all its little upspringing family around its stem. I found here also flowering cotton-plants in a considerably wild state. The shrub has twisting, irregular stems, coarse lobed leaves of a dark dull green colour. The flower resembles a double mallow, and is of a clear, light yellow colour, and of the most delicate and graceful form. The manner in which the capsule opens, and throws out the bunches of cotton in which the seeds are embedded, is wonderfully pretty. I must now paint this, as well as the Southern Cross above the palm-trees.
The palm-trees! I never grow weary of contemplating the waving of their heads in the wind, and the soft and majestic inclination of the branches. They are full of poetry and of symbolic beauty; they speak forcibly of the union of the noble in thought and deed, and the beautiful in expression: wherever I turn they meet my eye with new aspects of beauty. The palm-tree's crown has generally from fourteen to sixteen branches. Every month, or every alternate month, one of the lower branches falls off. I have often seen such, six or seven ells long, lying across the path as I have been driving out, and every month a new one shoots forth. This always shoots up in the centre of the crown, like an upright sceptre ruling the tree; it unfolds itself first at the point, and the delicate leaves sport in the wind like a green flame, or flag, above the tree.
It is customary in this neighbourhood to cut off the branches of the palm in the woods and fields for the purposes of thatching roofs, &c., and the tree is sometimes left with merely two or three branches, by which one might imagine that it was bereft of all its beauty; but no! the despoiled palm elevates its two remaining branches with a graceful bend towards the branches of another tree in the same condition, and you behold gothic porticoes, and arches of the most beautiful proportions, arising in the fields, or in the depths of the forest: to deprive the palm of its nobility and its beauty, requires the destruction of its life. The king-palm has always an upright column or stem; the cocoa-palm, on the contrary, has a curved, leaning stem, much thinner than that of the king-palm. I see the latter almost always heavily laden with fruit, which grows in clusters close to, or beneath, the branches. People here are fond of the milk of the fruit, and consider it as a purifier of the blood; it has the appearance of whey, and one must be accustomed to its flavour before one can like it. The fruit of the king-palm is a berry, and is only used for fodder for cattle. The cabbage of the palm, as it is called,—that is, the middle of the stem nearest to the crown,—the very core as it were of the tree, is said to be a great delicacy; but it cannot be removed without taking the life of the tree.
In the afternoons I have driven out with my kind hostess in her volante, to visit some of the neighbours. Yesterday we called on an elderly French lady, who interested me by her strongly-marked individuality; it was a pleasure to hear her relate anything, and to follow her expressions and gestures. In a general way, it seems to me, that Europeans have far more accent and emphasis in their whole being than the Americans; or than those families of European origin which have been resident in America for any length of time. The former speak louder, emphasise the words more strongly, use more action; appear more forcible; make more demonstration: the latter move and speak with very little outward action; there is a something silent and without sound in their being; energy has a more inward, a more concentrated power. The great expression of the American seems to be properly, in his public institutions, in the development of the political life of the States, in the advancement of commerce, in the magnitude of his public undertakings. Individuality does not indeed vanish; but it seems to me to occupy itself in a higher species of manifestation.
The Spaniards present, in manners and appearance, the strongest contrast which can be conceived to the Anglo-American, and the melody and majesty of the Spanish language always enchants me—excepting indeed, when I hear it spoken or screamed out, by uneducated women. I visited a farm, one afternoon, where we found an assembly of ten or twelve women, belonging to the working-class, but not to the poorest. They were, the greater number of them, thin and very brown, and they screamed and made such a din, although it was all in kindness and cheerfulness, that it was almost deafening; one might have imagined oneself amid a flock of turkeys; and to all this noise was added a great deal of action, very energetic, but angular and quite devoid of grace. On the contrary, from the lips of educated and refined women, the Spanish language is the most beautiful music.
The beautiful cuculios are now my torment, as well as my delight, because, oh! they are stupid; and when they fold together their wings, they are the most awkward and helpless of all creatures. During their flight they strike themselves against anything that comes in their way, and then fall down, when they creep, or lie upon their backs as foolishly as our cock-chafers. They allow themselves to be caught with the greatest ease, and once caught they seem to forget that they have wings. The little negro children run after them crying, “Cuccu! cuccu!” catch them easily, and then torment them in many ways. And since the time when I purchased some of these poor, stupid creatures for a few galietas, to release them from the hands of their tormenters, dozens of these young negroes come crowding in the evening on the piazza, which lies on the same level with the great parlour, poke in their curly heads and stretch out their hands, with the brilliant insects in them, shouting “Cuccu! cuccu!” One is obliged to purchase some of them out of captivity, but all—a whole pocket full of galietas, would not suffice for that! If one makes any demonstration of driving the children away, off they fly like a flock of sparrows, with a loud cry of exultation, for they are full of fun; but they are soon back again, shouting “Cuccu! cuccu!” If one takes no notice of them, they will steal into the room—that is to say, if no gentlemen are there—and come up to the piano when Miss P. is playing Cuban dances, or I Swedish polskas, and temptingly stretch out their hands full of “cuccus” merrily laughing. If I take up my handkerchief with a threatening gesture, away they scamper like the wind, but merely for a moment.
These beautiful cuculios are really the most tormenting of all creatures. The negroes place them in vials and bottles, and use them as lanterns and candles in their rooms. In this way they will live for a week, until finally they die of suffocation. If they were but as devoid of feeling as they are of sense! The children of the family and I amuse ourselves in the evenings, by endeavouring to make the cuculios fly, which we have either picked up or purchased out of bondage. It is sometimes difficult to persuade them to it, but when one sets them on the point of one's finger, and holds it up in the air, one may often see them spread out their wings, and making their droning sound, ascend aloft, giving forth their beautiful incomparable light.
In the morning I return to Matanzas, and thence I shall proceed to Havanna, and afterwards to San Antonio de los Bagnos—a bathing-place, where the country is said to be magnificent, and thence to a plantation at some distance. A young planter here, a French Creole of the name of S., wishes me to become acquainted with his mother, a widow, after a second marriage with a Spanish marquis C. who resides there; and he has often spoken of her in such a manner as makes me wish to know her. Besides this, she is said to enjoy literature and art, and the company of people who are devoted to them. I shall thus remain longer in Cuba than I intended, but—I shall be at Cuba only once in my life; and Cuba is a home of beauty, and I am annoyed that it is so little known. Natural historians, architects, painters, and poets ought to come hither for new knowledge and new inspiration. Air and light, the vegetation above ground, and the caverns below it, are full of life and beauty! There is also a remarkable grotto not far from this plantation, which we, if possible, shall visit early in the morning.
We have now as visitor in the house a lively young girl, a French Creole, Eudoxia B., whose cheerful conversation and natural, healthy and graceful manners it is a pleasure both to hear and see. I hear from her that young girls have sometimes in Cuba, as well as in Sweden, certain Utopian dreams of a home (a kind of paradise for young girls) into which no man shall be allowed to enter. Eudoxia's only brother is said also to have similar dreams of a corresponding paradise for young men, from which all ladies are to be excluded. I am mistaken if these young exclusives will not, one fine day, exclude themselves from their paradise by entering the marriage state; I would not be surety for the pretty Eudoxia's vocation as a nun. I have drawn this charming young girl's portrait in my album. A little green lizard sate all the while, certainly for two hours, upon a vine-branch by the window, and peeped in; another lizard, its counterpart or spouse, sate a little higher up, just opposite, and seemed to watch its movements. The little creatures amuse me greatly, they look so wise and so reflective. When they would make themselves agreeable one to another, they open a kind of wing on one side, of the brightest red colour, and wave it about like a fan.
I found this morning to my astonishment that all my cuculios had disappeared from the glass which always stands upon my toilet table. I could not comprehend how it could be, for I knew that they had not energy enough to leave the sugar-cane and fly away. Somewhat later in the forenoon, I beheld a huge coal-black spider—as large as a little child's hand—sitting upon the wall of my room with a cuculio in its mouth. I had already seen the ugly creature there several times. These spiders have a hideous appearance, but are said to be inoffensive to man. The multitudes of creeping things here are nevertheless a nuisance; in order to preserve eatables from them, they must be surrounded by water.
There is a general talk now of a fresh attack being made on Cuba, a new attempt at conquest which is said to originate with the Americans. It is said also that the expedition is arming at Yucatan, and consists of a number of people who were in the Mexican war; it is expected about Easter. Many families on the plantations hold themselves in readiness for flight from the island on the first outbreak of disturbances. The Creoles are bitterly displeased with the Spanish government, and they have reason for being so. They wish universally to be liberated from the Spanish yoke, but are themselves too weak to undertake their own liberation; and they fear the negroes, who, on the first occasion, would rise against them. The Spanish army is in active preparation to defend the island against the Americans. The American government has publicly declared itself opposed to these robber expeditions, and admonishes all good citizens of the United States to oppose them. The Spaniards, however, suspect the American Slave States of being concerned in them, and of desiring their success, in order that by the annexation of Cuba as a slave state, they might have a balance in the South, against the increase of the Free States in the North. I shall hear the result of all this, however, in the United States.
On the 22nd of April I shall bid farewell to this beautiful, but serpent-stung, Cuba!
Matanzas, April 6th.
I am once more at the good and excellent house of Mr. and Mrs. B., happy to be with these young and handsome people inhaling the delicious air! No place has such air as Matanzas, so animating, and so charming; and nowhere does one hear so much music. The whole day through may be heard Cuban dances from four or five pianos in the neighbourhood; and in the evening a couple of gentlemen come out upon a piazza, nearly opposite to ours, and sing Spanish songs, and accompany themselves on the guitar; a skilful harp-player goes about from door to door, twanging upon his harp-strings as he carries his harp on his back, and playing at the doors “La Hauta Arragonesa,” that dance so full of quivering life, till my whole being quivers and dances as I listen to it—or la Cachuca so full of grace; and during all this the band is sounding from La Plaza de Armas, where the beau monde of Matanzas are walking about in the moonlight beneath the poplars; the ladies without bonnets and with flowers or other ornaments in their hair, in their transparent veils and white dresses,—and where I also walk during these pleasant evenings with my young hostess and the gentlemen of the house, or with my agreeable young countryman, Mr. F.; so that one hears music enough at Matanzas, that is in the evenings especially, when there is a regular charivari of it, but which is by no means disagreeable, because the time and the spirit of the music is in all cases so very much alike. In all this there is a gay, sportive, care-free life; I give myself up to the influence of it, and bathe, as it were, in the softly floating atmosphere which dances around me, like playful zephyrs, as I pace the piazza till toward midnight and see the Southern Cross gleaming as it ascends higher and higher in the heavens, above a row of dark-green, shadowy sapota-trees. Yes, this is indeed a peculiarly delicious, tranquil life; I wish that everybody could thus enjoy it. On the prairies of America, and often in America did I stretch out my arms and fly, fly over the whole earth. Here I wish merely to be quiet, to sit in the shade of the palms and listen to the rustling of their branches, or on the piazza in a rocking-chair soothed by music and the zephyrs of Paradise; thus could I sit, it seems to me, for an eternity, and feel nothing wanting!
Mrs. B. drove me last evening in her volante to the top of Combre. A pair of horses drew the volante rapidly up the hill, although it is a two hours' journey. The road lay between lofty candelabra-like aloe-plants; and when we had reached the summit or ridge of hills, we beheld the blue, vast sea, stretching out on the right hand, scattered over with trading vessels and ships of war both large and small; all that great world's life and that boundless ocean of the world; and to the left, inclosed within mountains, Yumori valley, with its green and lovely groves of palms, like a quiet, peaceful paradise,—a greater or more beautiful contrast cannot be imagined. Beautiful habitations, the country-houses of the wealthy inhabitants of Matanzas, were scattered about this elevation, surrounded by trees and flowers. We saw the sun set and the moon rise in calm majesty. I could merely say, “God, how beautiful are thy works!”
Oh! I would bring to this height of Combre, the woman wearied and embittered by life; she, who has seen into the darkened abysses of life; I would let her here see, breathe, and derive again courage and hope from these speaking symbols of the affluence and glory of the All-good! I would place her here, and say to her, “See, all this is thine, will be thine one day when thy desert-pilgrimage shall be ended, and thou shalt have won the victory—Trust, and hope!”
We drove back through the clearest moonlight, with the view across the bay lying unbroken before us the whole way. But Mrs. B. and I had absorbed ourselves in a conversation upon quite another subject than the beauties of nature, and I gave to them merely a half attention, a pre-occupied mind, and now feel a little reproach of conscience.
10th—Ah, how charming it was to receive a letter from you, and to know how everything was at home. The letter was, it is true, somewhat old, for it was written in January, but it sounded deliriously fresh to me, poor West-Indian pilgrim! And nothing in it pleased me more than to know that you on the first of June will go with the Q.'s to Marstrand. Thoughtful, rational people, brother-in-law and sister!
I shall not, however, be at home in July, and perhaps not even in August; I have still so much to see and to consider thoroughly in the United States: but when colder weather comes, then my dear child I shall come and be with you and mamma. And how much of light, and warmth, and good, both in great and small, shall I not have gathered up in my wanderings—nor shall I keep them all to myself—of that you may be sure!
I have enjoyed, and still enjoy, much in Cuba, both in soul and body, and I have become really stout and young again there—(N.B. In comparison with what I was in the United States, where I grew both thin and old)—I should have still further improved if I could only have rested somewhat. But my imagination has been so much invigorated—or rather, so much excited here, that it has left me no repose, but has kept me in an almost continual fever. New objects and new combinations are continually presenting themselves, and exciting me to copy them or to avail myself of them, and urging me to undertake more than I can accomplish, both as regards time and ability. It is almost laughable, and sometimes also a little to be regretted, because I can get no rest. I am, however, more amused by my work than I have ever been, and I take portraits now better than I did formerly; but those which are most successful I generally leave at the homes where I am staying at the time. Yes, those good, beautiful homes! they have been as good to me at Cuba, as in the United States; open, hospitable, they have afforded me rest and friends, and have enabled me to see and to know the inner life and condition of society, and have given me an opportunity of seeing people who will be united in my heart with the delicious air and the beautiful palms of Cuba. Among these is Mrs. P., one of the best hearts in the world, one of those gentle, motherly beings whom one must love and reverence with one's whole heart. It was a grief to me to part with her and her kind daughters, who overwhelmed me with kindnesses and gifts, even to the last moment.
I live with the young couple here as with a younger brother and sister, and am as happy as possible with them in their lovely home, and in the charming air of Matanzas. I have again visited my beloved valley of Yumori, and made a drawing of its opening, as being most manageable from the azotea of the house, which commands a beautiful view of this point. I wished also to draw a Cuban house, and selected for this purpose a small, very pretty house on La Plaza de Armas. Very early in the morning accordingly, I seated myself upon a bench under the poplars there with pencil and book, and thus hoped, quite unobserved, to place Casa donna Fabriana Hernandez in my album. The first morning, everything succeeded to my wishes. One negro only looked out of the gate of the house and cast suspicious glances at me. The second morning, however, several heads peeped forth from the house, and a crowd of lads gathered round me, peeping into my album. On the third morning, the house was in evident inward uneasiness, and tall men came round me talking Spanish, not in any unfriendly manner, and with questions to which I could give no other reply than by showing them my drawing, and saying “hermoso Casa in Matanzas.” They laughed, but would see me at work, and there was no more tranquillity for me, I therefore left the place as soon as I had done sufficient of the house to enable me to finish the drawing at home. A handsome Cuban house, with its fresco-paintings, its handsome iron railing, parapet, and decorations, is a complete trinket from its ornament and loveliness. The gate of the house is, comparatively speaking, too large for the house, and there always stands the elegant volante, which may be regarded as the feet of the family, because these seldom move out of the house excepting to be conveyed by it. The gate is always kept fastened, excepting when it is opened for the volante, and a little wicket in the gate serves for the ingress and egress of pedestrians.
I drive out in the afternoons with Mrs. B., sometimes to make purchases, and sometimes upon one of the beautiful promenades, Paseo de Tacon or La Pleja; this last, along the shore, where we breathe the fresh, delightful sea air, whilst the waves dash and roar against the beach, is indescribably delightful. It is sometimes late before we return, and then it is beautiful to see the lights gleaming in Matanzas, in the shadow of the hills along the shore, in the dark but clear air.
Our shopping is managed in this way; the volante stops before a shop, when immediately one or two shopmen hasten out to the carriage, and inform themselves of what the signoras require. We mention what we wish, and immediately as great a choice of the particular article is brought out to us as we can desire, and our purchase is made without our leaving the volante. But, whether we purchase or not, the behaviour of the young gentlemen of the shop is alike polite, attentive, and agreeable. Yes, one might fancy that a young page of the days of chivalry rather than a simple shopman was before one, so courteously and agreeably does he behave, that young Spaniard, to the purchasing signoras or senoritas, as he sometimes calls them in a nattering, melodious voice.
Many of these young tradesmen are sons of good families of the island; for the Creoles have not much higher prospect in life than trade or agriculture. Civil and military employment is generally given to Spaniards.
During these drives, my young hostess salutes the passers-by, or the people in their houses, with a gracious wave of the hand, and the word adios! as we proceed. Such is the custom here, and the salutation by a graceful and friendly movement of the hand, which has various degrees of expression and warmth, is universal both for ladies and gentlemen, and seems to me a graceful and becoming mode of salutation, in comparison with which our custom, of a gentleman's taking off his hat, seems very troublesome and unnecessary. The polite Spaniard adds to this salutation of a lady, “I kiss your hands!” which, of course, means nothing, but which sounds well, and the expression of his countenance is at the same time extremely charming. The Spaniards are certainly the most polite of all men, but it is asserted that they are just as fickle.
I yesterday afternoon saw the Spanish soldiers exercise. Their manœuvres were excellent; but they were very short men. Their discipline and conduct on the island is said to be very good.
With the evening, comes music both within and out of the house, and the play of the sea-breezes on the piazza. Mrs. B. plays the lively Cuban and Spanish dances remarkably well; and now also she plays Swedish polskas, which she has learned from me, and I play her dances. Sometimes there are visitors both of the European settlers on the island and Spanish ladies, who always manœuvre and flutter a great deal with their fans, for the weight and the splendour of the fan is the pride of the Spanish lady. I have seen here fans which have cost from twenty-five to one hundred dollars each. The most valuable are of ivory set with gold, and greatly ornamented, in part, with small oval mirrors on the outer sides. The manœuvring with the fan is quite a little science, in which the Spanish lady or Spanish Creole lady comprehends a whole language of signs, by which she converses when and how she will with the friend of her heart.
In the reception-rooms of Cuba stand two rows of rocking-chairs, some of the Spanish and some of the American style—the Spanish being very much more magnificent and heavier—the one against the windows, and the other within the room. Here people sit and talk, rocking and fanning themselves whilst the wind sports in through the windows. They drink tea and eat preserves. The Creole ladies have fine, soft, brown eyes; they are said to have good natural understanding and intelligence, but to be very ignorant. They are principally occupied within the house in sewing, dressing themselves, and receiving visitors.
I shall make one more excursion with my kind friends—that is to say, up the Canima, which is one of the most beautiful rivers of Cuba, and not far from this place, then I must say farewell to Matanzas.
April 13th, evening.—Yesterday morning before sunrise we set out, Mrs. B., her brother Philip, and myself, and, just as the sun ascended in all his glory from the sea, we put off from the shore at Matanzas. An elderly, weather-beaten seaman from the Canary isles, and his two young sons, were our boatmen. The sea was quite calm, or merely moved in long smooth waves without foam. This was all as it should be, for otherwise we could not have entered the Canima, which, in rough weather, is dangerous at its outlet into the sea. Cuba has many rivers flowing from the mountains, but none large, and none navigable to any great extent.
After a sail of about half an hour on the sea, we reached the outlet of the Canima, a clear little river flowing with a sweep into the sea, from between lofty, precipitous, rocky walls, covered with tropical vegetation. Fan-palms waved on the heights in picturesque groups, and along the steep, rocky heights grew an infinite variety of trees and shrubs, amid which hung splendid orchids, with red, yellow, white, and purple flowers, around which hovered swarms of green humming-birds. Nearest to the river grew trees and shrubs of bamboo, bending down towards the water with a movement of such incomparable grace, that it enchanted me, and made me almost melancholy. The shadow of the hills fell over the river, which, perfectly calm, lay with its tropical world, like a beautiful mystery before us. Thus advanced we onward hour after hour, and at every new bend of the river discovered new beauties, but all of the same character—palms, aloes, bamboos, orchids, humming-birds. A lovely white bird flew continually in advance of us for some time, alighting on the banks to rest, and then flying on again when we approached, only anew to show us the way; they called it the gazza. But the sun ascended, and there was not a breath of air in that deep glen. The boys who rowed us poured, every now and then, water down their throats from the spout of a clay vessel, in such a manner that the stream of water flowed straight into their stomachs without any appearance of swallowing. They held their heads slanting backwards, their mouths wide open, and the clay spout at some distance from their mouths, and in this way the water flowed down their throats for several seconds, after which they cried or groaned out Ave Maria! laughed, and rowed on.
We landed at a little bend of the river, and ate our breakfast under some beautiful bamboo trees, whilst the humming-birds danced over their red flowers around us.
I took a walk along the banks of the river, which is here very narrow. A couple of ruinous wooden houses stood upon the opposite bank; the most lovely groups of palms and bamboos were scattered beside the river. The whole scene had a luxuriant and paradisiacally wild appearance. Crabs, and that species of craw-fish which is called in America the fiddler, from its one large claw, swarmed on the shore, as they had done through the whole of our course. Spite of all the beauty of the vegetation, I felt that in order for any one to live happily here in this narrow world, he must be either a crab or a humming-bird. I should have died here for want of fresh air.
We were surprised on our return by a thunderstorm of the wildest description, and notwithstanding the arched, sail-cloth covering of our boat, we were wet through, which made me very uneasy on account of Mrs. B., who was not well that day, and who is not strong. We were glad to reach home after a sail of ten hours. Our boatmen continued to pour water into themselves, and to sigh out their Ave Maria! and were to the last in good humour, and apparently unwearied; I cannot but admire their power of endurance.
We were very weary; but we had, however, seen the Canima, and I now can place the impression of its tropical scenery, beside that of the Hudson, the Savannah, the Mississippi, the Ohio, and other rivers of the Western-land, which I traversed.
And now it is evening; my last evening at Matanzas; in the morning I shall set off to Havannah. I have spent the evening alone with my young friends; I have for the last time heard Mrs. B. play La Hauta Arragonesa; have heard for the last time Adeste fideles played by Mr. B. on the organ. I asked them for these pieces, that I might bear them away with me as my latest memories of the days spent in their home; and in the morning early I part from these estimable, kind people; from Matanzas and its beautiful neighbourhood. It grieves me to leave them, but it cannot be helped. Never more shall I feel such an atmosphere; such zephyrs; never again hear such a flood of joyous music, never again behold Yumori, Canima, and Combre!