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Among the passengers was a man rudely clad, who, with an air half mysterious, and half clownish, approached me, and asked me if I understood Latin. He then told me, that he was a priest, from near the frontiers of Portugal, and that he had been banished to St. Mary's for a year, as a punishment for speaking too freely against the Queen and her government. He was one of those simple, foolish creatures, of whom I have met with more than one among the lower orders of the Spanish clergy, who, as tools of their superiors, are used to do the small work of the church. Their pay is trifling, and their education scarce reaches beyond a sufficient knowledge of Latin to enable them to bawl forth the public prayers, while at the same time there is nothing in their character to command respect, either for themselves or the religion which they represent. The individual in question was wellnigh an idiot, and often strove to amuse those on deck by a variety of screeching noises, and numerous low-bred monkey antics. I could not but think him a striking exception to the proverb, that “ Kings never banish fools."
We arrived in good time at Cadiz, and though I spent several weeks there, yet but little need be said respecting it. Under its ancient name of Gades, it was founded by the Phænicians, about eight centuries before Christ. Situated on the extremity of a peninsula, connected with the continent only by a long and narrow neck of land, while elsewhere it is enclosed by a massive wall, the base of which is washed by the ocean; it has ever been a place of much consequence, as well from its great commercial advantages, as from the ease with which it could be defended against foreign invasion. Though Cadiz, from the limited space which it occupies, has not those extensive public walks and gardens which give such a charm to other Spanish cities, yet the cleanliness of the streets, and the external beauty of the houses, with walls of the purest white, adorned with projecting balconies and verandahs of the brightest green, and filled with flowering shrubs and plants of the deepest and the richest verdure; all combine in making it one of the handsomest cities of Europe.
The population of Cadiz has varied much at different periods. Ai the close of the last century, there were 80,000 inhabitants, but in the year 1800, 50,000 were attacked by the plague, of whom 10,000 died in the space of two months. The number of males who thus perished, compared with the females, were in a proportion of 48 to 1. When the armies of
Bonaparte overran Spain, Cadiz was the only place which held out against them, and thus it became the asylum of most of the Spanish nobility. 150,000 people were crowded together there, and one who has long been a resident of the city informed me, that the effect on public morals, and the degree in which licentiousness was then introduced and prevailed throughout all ranks of society, was truly appalling. There are at present in Cadiz about 43,000 inhabitants, and it forms the outlet of most of the Xerez, or Sherry wines, receiving in return, from the United States, large quantities of tobacco, and of the staves from which the wine-casks are made. The houses in Cadiz, like those throughout the cities of Southern Spain, are built in the Moorish style, with an open court in the middle, but they have not, as in Seville, those fanciful doors of iron grating, through which the passer by may look in upon the little paradise of flowering and fruit-bearing shrubs and plants, where, with an awning above to exclude the sun, the family spend their summer hours. A gentleman who has travelled extensively in the East, informed me, that the houses of Seville, both in their structure and internal ornaments, are precisely similar to those of Damascus; and indeed throughout Southern Spain, the climate, modes of tillage, the face of the country, and manners of the people, bear a strong resemblance to those which are met with in the East.
In company with an American wine-merchant, I made an excursion to St. Mary's and Xerez, the two places where, and in their immediate neighbourhood, the famous Xerez or Sherry wines are produced. St. Mary's is about six miles from Cadiz, on the opposite side of the bay, and Xerez is eight miles beyond St. Mary's. The soil of the country around is light and warm, and sufficiently fertile to produce the grape in its greatest perfection. As the company in which I was not only secured to me the most free and generous hospitality, but placed within my reach all desirable information respecting the quality and value of the wines produced there, and the manner in which they are prepared for market, it may not be amiss here to notice a few facts connected with this subject. The vines on which the grapes grow are so pruned, as not to rise more than two or three feet in height, that thus the clusters may have the full benefit of the heat reflected from the ground, and none of them be shaded by the leaves. The vintage commences about the first of September, and continues until November, the grapes which ripen first being picked early, while the others are left for a longer period. The longer time grapes are left upon the vines, provided they do not decay, the less wine they make, but its quality is proportionably richer. From two to four butts of fine wine to the acre, each butt holding 130 gallons, is as much as is commonly expected; and is, owing to a rainy season, or from picking the grapes ton soon, more wine is obtained, it is of an inferior quality. The grapes, when picked, are thrown into a large tub or vat, which contains a sufficient quantity to make a butt of wine, when a number of men, with nails in their shoes, trample on them until they are fully bruized. It is in allusion to this process that Isaiah says,
“I have trodden the wine-press alone, and of the people there was none with me.” Frequent references are also made to the wine-press and the vintage in other parts of the sacred Scriptures, and the illustrations of religious truth derived from this source are peculiarly forcible and happy.
When the grapes have been sufficiently bruised they are enclosed in straw mátting, and placed under a screw for pressure. Thus the purest and richest qualities of wine are produced. After this, if what remains of the grapes is not to be used for making brandy, water is thrown upon it, and a weaker kind of wine is obtained. The wine from the press is strained and placed in clean butts, a vacuum of one fifteenth of their whole contents being left to give room for fermentation. It is left upon the lees with the bung out, until March, when it is again drawn off and strained, and placed in clean casks, well smoked with sulphur. When the insensible fermentation has taken place, it is again drawn off into other casks, and after this the same process is repeated twice before exportation. Brandy is added to that which is to cross the ocean; and ten gallons to each butt of wine is the least quantity with which it is considered safe to export it. The same amount of alcohol may, indeed, be obtained by boiling down the wines, or by leaving them for a length of time on the lees, by which means any degree of strength may be given them. Indeed, the gentleman who first sent what is called “ temperance wine,” to the United States, told me that he put no brandy in it, but permitted it to remain so long upon the lees, that it acquired the strength of the common mixture of brandy and water which is used by topers. The only form in which the juice of the grape can be had without alcohol, is
to take it before fermentation. The Spaniards preserve it in this form in bottles; and by mixing it with iced water, a most delightful beverage is made, which they call “ Agrass." It is less acid than lemonade, but far richer and more palatable.
The amount of capital vested in the wine trade, at Xerez, is truly immense. To say nothing of the great value of the extensive vineyards which belong to the principal wine merchants, one need but to wander through the spacious bodegas, or wine vaults, to be convinced of the princely wealth of their owners. One of these which I visited, contained 4,500 butts of wine, some of which were extremely large. They are long buildings, some of them extending many hundred feet, without cellars; and parallel rows of casks, two or three deep, reach from one extremity to the other. A single mer. chant there has six of these vaults; and the head of one of the firms there, which is by no means the largest, informed me, that they then had wines to the value of $ 200,000 in the hands of a single agent in London. A merchant at St. Mary's, who gave $ 135,000 for a single vault containing old and choice wines, said that he had made a good speculation by it. The old wines are used to give a flavor and character to those which are new, by mingling a few gallons in each butt. Thus, from a butt which is eighty years old, a small quantity is taken and put into that which is but a few years old, thus giving the latter a greatly increased value, while that which is taken from the former is supplied from wine which is seventy-nine years old; and thus at the end of the next year, the first cask will contain no wine which is less than eighty years old, and after a time, much of it will be more than one hundred years of age. These old wines are thus the stock in trade by which each mercantile house acquires and retains its credit, and no money would purchase them. Indeed, one gentleman informed me, that the firm to which he belonged had been requested, as a special favor, to sell twenty butts of their wine, of the second and third qualities, for $ 1.000 a butt, and had refused; and that George the Fourth, the late king of England, had paid $3,000 for a single butt of Xerez wine. About 60,000 butts of wine are exported from Xerez every year, which, at $ 100 a butt, would amount to $6,000,000. Besides this, about 150,000 butts of wine are kept constantly on hand there, which is rapidly improving by age, both in quality and value.
Thus, if we add to the value of the vineyards and other real estate, that of this immense quantity of old and valuable wine which is kept on hand, and that also which is in the hands of foreign agents, for sale, we may say of Xerez, as was said of ancient Tyre, that her merchants are princes : — And all this vast amount of wealth, too, employed in supplying the demands of luxury, and of an injurious artificial appetite.
The situation of Xerez, on the summit of a gentle eminence, surrounded by fertile valleys, is truly beautiful. Its population exceeds, by a few thousands, that of Cadiz; but consists, in a great degree, of those who labor in the vineyards in the country, during the day, and, as elsewhere in Spain, are led by a regard to safety, to collect together in town at night. Robberies are frequent between St. Mary's and Xerez; though the country is open, the road is much travelled, and most of the distance one is in sight of either one town or the other. A wealthy English gentleman of St. Mary's told us, that he and his partner in trade were walking into town one evening, when two robbers stepped up to them, and placing a knife at each of their breasts, and a pistol at the right ear, called upon them to give up what they had, with the assurance that if they kept any thing back, they would surely kill them. He was thus relieved of a valuable gold watch and chain, and a quantity of coin of the same metal. Some time after, he met the man who robbed him in the streets, who gave him a knowing grin, in passing; but such is the number of the scoundrels in the vicinity, that he did not judge it prudent to arrest the robber, and bring him to trial. Our worthy and intelligent Consul at Cadiz informed me, that he was one day riding to Xerez, with a friend, and, in company with a large number of carriages, was just leaving the halfway house between there and St. Mary's, when some persons, who had left just before them, came driving rapidly back, attended by a number of men on horseback, who were charged with being robbers, but denied the fact. In the midst of the confusion that was thus caused, the Consul and his friend drove round the company, and passed on. They learned afterwards that these same men, during that afternoon and evening, robbed eighty persons, and confined them during the night, in a barn at some distance from the road, where no one dare open his mouth until morning, not knowing whether those around him were friends or foes. A merchant in Gibraltar, who has had many adventures with