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Rock of Gibraltar. — Moorish Castle. - Visit to the Town. - Feelings thus
excited. — Fortifications. — United States Consul. - Strife of Tongues. Various Nations. - Jews. - Visit a Synagogue. - Ascend the Rock. Pleasant Companions. - Excavations. Meet a Friend. - St. Michael's Cave. Signal House. — O‘Hara's Folly.- Reflections.-Exciting Scenes.
Sabbath at Sea. - Grandeur and Beauty of the Sea. —Evening Scene. - Arrive at Mahon. - Cholera. - Quarantine. - Rev. Mr. Jones. - Harbour of Mahon.-Fortifications. - Georgetown. - Mahon. — Houses. — Education. - The Sabbath. - The Catholic Clergy.
The Rock of Gibraltar is fourteen hundred and seventy feet high, and is composed of gray limestone, divided by perpendicular fissures, filled with calcareous concretions, containing an immense quantity of bones and shells. Many of the former belong to different sorts of deer, none of which are at present found in Europe.
The town of Gibraltar lies near the northern extremity of the rock. Next south of this, are the parade ground and public garden; and still further south is Point Europa, where many of the officers of the garrison reside, and having more the appearance of an English than of a Spanish town. The western declivity of the rock is mostly covered with loose, broken fragments of limestone, among which herds of goats clamber about, feeding on the numerous wild shrubs and plants which grow there. The eastern side, which descends to the Mediterranean, and the southern end, are mostly precipitous cliffs. The northern extremity is a lofty, perpendicular wall, while the summit of the rock, along its whole extent, is a sharp, waving ridge, higher at each end than in the middle. This outline of the summit has been compared, in form, to a bull; the northern bluff being taken for the towering neck and head, with which, as if in fighting attitude, this giant monster bids defiance to the world.
On the side of the rock, just above the town, is an old Moorish Castle, which, for a thousand years, has withstood the warring of the elements and the shock of arms, and may yet, for centuries to come, look down upon the changing and eventful scenes in the drama of empires lost and won, which
shall be enacted there. To me it had peculiar interest, from the fact of its being, at the time, by far the oldest of the works of man that I had ever seen. What a strange and varied succession of kings and heroes had, in ages past, contended unto death, to gain possession of that ancient tower, or to repel invading foes. And could those battered and time-worn walls disclose the history of the past, what tales of reckless daring, of wild ambition, and of deadly strife might they not unfold.
Before any of us left the ship, a health officer came alongside in a boat, and having satisfied himself that we had no contagious disease on board, we were admitted to prattique; that is, we were permitted freely to visit the shore. I eagerly seized the opportunity offered, of leaving the ship in the first boat which left, in company with some officers, who were sent to wait on our Consul, Mr. Sprague, and invite him on board.
There are two places for landing. The Water Port, where the shipping business is done, is at the north end of the town. The Ragged Staff, where naval and other military officers land, is just south of the town. There we went on shore; and I need not say, that my feelings were highly excited when I first placed my feet on European ground, and not the less so, from doing it at a place of so much natural and historic interest, as the Rock of Gibraltar. But aside from all romance, those only who have been tossed for weeks upon the ocean, can know the sensation of wild and boyish delight, I had alınost said ecstasy, that fills the soul, when the confinement of a ship, and the rolling, and uncertain foothold of the deck, is exchanged for the wide range of the open fields, and the firm tread of the solid earth. With those who are peculiarly sensitive, this excitement has been known to amount to a kind of temporary intoxication, or delirium. The feelings of childhood come strangely over one, and he can scarce restrain himself from running, and skipping, and shouting aloud for joy. Facts like these have an important moral bearing, and should be taken into account by those who are laboring to elevate the moral character of seamen, and to prevent the wild and reckless excesses of which they are guilty, when first set free from the confinement and rigid discipline of a ship. Some channel of innocent and rational enjoyment should be opened, where this 'excess of feeling may expend itself, so as to allure them from the low and beastly revels of the brothel and the dram-shop.
As we passed on through the town, we met officers and soldiers at every turn, with all that neatness of dress, and precision of movement, for which the English military are so much noied.
The walls along the water side, and the whole surface of the mountain around, are bristling with cannon, while others, in long, dark rows, are looking out from galleries, which have been blasted from the solid rock, one thousand feet above the level of the sea. We passed through a gate in the massive wall, erected by the Emperor Charles the Fifth, parallel to which is another, of more modern construction, both extending from the water to the summit of the rock. There is much in the general appearance of Gibraltar to remind one of Quebec, though the fortifications and natural scenery are on a much more grand and imposing scale, than in the Canadian city.
Among the crowded and indolent population of southern Europe, it is always easy to obtain guides to go with you wherever you please, and you are lucky indeed, if, when you wish for one, you do not get half a dozen, all of whom expect a reward for their services. To secure employment, they will pretend to know people and places, though entirely ignorant of them, and hence will only mislead you. Thus was it, at first, with us, but at length we reached the Consul's house. It is spacious, and in fine style, and Mr. Sprague and his intelligent and interesting family make all Americans who visit them, entirely at home. He was a native of Boston, and though he has spent most of his life in Europe, yet this seems only to have strengthened his attachment for the land of his birth, and he remarked, that visiting the old world had the same effect on all Americans whom he had met with abroad. By his kind and unaffected politeness, and his generous hospitality, he does much credit to his country, and well sustains, in these respects, the reputation of the good old city of the pilgrims, from which he came.
On sallying forth to inspect the town, every thing seemed new and strange to me indeed. How singular was it to hear even the little children in the street prattling in an unknown tongue. And, oh! what a jargon of confused sounds greeted my ears. A motley tribe of the builders of Babel, each anxious to display, to the utmost, his new-caught dialect, could hardly have equalled the lingo around me. But this was nothing to the varieties of dress, costume, and manners, which everywhere met the eye.
In a strange city, the public market-place, and the street, where most business is done, are commonly the first that I visit.
In these places, one meets with the greatest concourse of people, and the striking varieties of character are seen in boldest relief, in connexion with the sharp collision which takes place, where money is at stake.
Gibraltar, from the various wants of its inhabitants,-dependent as they are, even for their garden vegetables, on the neighbouring ports of Spain and Africa, - from its being a free port, and the extensive smuggling trade carried on from thence into Spain, and from being a point where so much commerce, from all parts of the world, passes, and where, owing to the narrowness of the straits, and the strong inward current, ships, in large numbers, are often windbound, -from these, and other causes, Gibraltar collects a greater variety of foreigners than almost any other port, aside from its own motley mass of inhabitants. Owing to the narrow limits of the place, too, those who meet there, are thrown so compactly together, as to present, at a single glance, a kind of living panorama of the world, not unlike (in the varieties of men to be met with) the grand and varied exhibition of the brute creation, in that floating menagerie, – Noah's Ark. There is the haughty English officer, living, with all his pomp and power, a Hoating, vagabondish kind of life. Then come those man-machines, the soldiers, stuffed, and padded into legal form and size, starched, and stiff as a maypole, slaves to martial rule, with no power of thought or action, which accords not with their commander's will. The sober Dutchman, with his pipe, -the reckless and jolly Irishman, rolling off his brogue, – the Frenchman, with limber neck, and tongue more limber still, the shrewd and active Genoese, the Yankees of Italy, - the dark and wily Sicilian, cringing and deceitful, -the well-formed and athletic Greek, intent on gain, and yet, with his eastern costume, and his free and independent bearing, conspicuous among the rest,-Spanjards, with their dark faces, and still darker eyes; some, with their steeple-crowned sombreros decked with beads and tassels; others, with savage, haggard faces, with loose, leather leggins, and long, red caps hanging down their backs, giving
them a kind of cut-throat look, - the haughty and indolent Moor, tall and gaunt, and with his bag-breeches, and fulltopped turban, stalking along, as if monarch of all he surveys, and laughing to scorn, the poor, deluded infidels around him, — and, last and lowest in the scale of degradation and oppression, the poor Jews, who seem to have exhausted, to the very dregs, the cup of cursing and bitterness given them, in answer to that awful invocation, — "His blood be on us, and on our children.” Some of them, indeed, are rich, and dress in the English mode, but most of them are, like the Gibeonites of old," hewers of wood, and drawers of water," or rather, are beasts of burden to the Gentiles around them. Like the Irish and Negroes in the United States, they are employed as porters, and for the most menial services. They are the descendants of those who were driven from Spain and Portugal, in the time of Ferdinand and Isabella, many thousands of whom then perished, as victims of Catholic cruelty. The lower classes of them move about the streets, abject, and with a filthy dress, bearing every kind of burden, or selling fruit, and other articles of small value. They wear large bagbreeches, open at the bottom, and reaching but little below the knee. The calf of the leg and ankle are bare, while, for an upper garment, they have a loose shirt, or frock, with a hood, which is the only covering of their heads. These garments are made of dark, coarse cloth, which is often striped, like bed-ticking. They have the common Jewish look, save that their faces are very lean and thin, and their eyes peculiarly large and ghastly. Truly, they are a living fulfilment of prophecy, a nation trodden down and peeled, yet beloved for their father's sake," and destined by God, to be again the objects of his favor, when, with sincere repentance, they shall look on him whom they pierced, and mourn.
With one of the Jewish priests, or Rabbis, I went to the principal synagogue, (besides which, they have three others.) It had massive silver lamps, and was dimly lighted by small windows. It was the morning of their Sabbath, but there was then no service going on. The Rabbi who was with me, called in three or four of his brethren, with whom I spent some time. They unlocked the cases where were their parchment scrolls, with silver mountings, and enclosed with tapestry. They also showed me their various books. Most of these were from Germany, and printed with the vowel points. They had also a copy of Levy's Hebrew Prayers, with an English translation,