CUBA

Cuba is the largest and the most westerly of the West Indian islands.
It is in the shape of a half-moon, and with one of its horns nearly
lies across the mouth of the Gulf of Mexico. It belongs to the
Spanish crown, of which it is by far the most splendid appendage. So
much for facts–geographical and historical.

The journey from Kingston to Cien Fuegos, of which I have said
somewhat in my first chapter, was not completed under better auspices
than those which witnessed its commencement. That perfidious bark,
built in the eclipse, was bad to the last, and my voyage took nine
days instead of three. My humble stock of provisions had long been
all gone, and my patience was nearly at as low an ebb. Then, as a
finale, the Cuban pilot who took us in hand as we entered the port,
ran us on shore just under the Spanish fort, and there left us. From
this position it was impossible to escape, though the shore lay close
to us, inasmuch as it is an offence of the gravest nature to land in
those ports without the ceremony of a visit from the medical officer;
and no medical officer would come to us there. And then two of our
small crew had been taken sick, and we had before us in our mind’s
eye all the pleasures of quarantine.

A man, and especially an author, is thankful for calamities if they
be of a tragic dye. It would be as good as a small fortune to be
left for three days without food or water, or to run for one’s life
before a black storm on unknown seas in a small boat. But we had no
such luck as this. There was plenty of food, though it was not very
palatable; and the peril of our position cannot be insisted on, as
we might have thrown a baby on shore from the vessel, let alone a
biscuit. We did what we could to get up a catastrophe among the
sharks, by bathing off the ship’s sides. But even this was in vain.
One small shark we did see. But in lieu of it eating us, we ate it.
In spite of the popular prejudice, I have to declare that it was
delicious.

But at last I did find myself in the hotel at Cien Fuegos. And here I
must say a word in praise of the civility of the Spanish authorities
of that town–and, indeed, of those gentlemen generally wherever I
chanced to meet them. They welcome you with easy courtesy; offer you
coffee or beer; assure you at parting that their whole house is at
your disposal; and then load you–at least they so loaded me–with
cigars.

“My friend,” said the captain of the port, holding in his hand a huge
parcel of these articles, each about seven inches long–“I wish I
could do you a service. It would make me happy for ever if I could
truly serve you.”

“Señor, the service you have done me is inestimable in allowing me to
make the acquaintance of Don —-.”

“But at least accept these few cigars;” and then he pressed the
bundle into my hand, and pressed his own hand over mine. “Smoke one
daily after dinner; and when you procure any that are better, do a
fastidious old smoker the great kindness to inform him where they are
to be found.”

This treasure to which his fancy alluded, but in the existence of
which he will never believe, I have not yet discovered.

Cien Fuegos is a small new town on the southern coast of Cuba,
created by the sugar trade, and devoted, of course, to commerce. It
is clean, prosperous, and quickly increasing. Its streets are lighted
with gas, while those in the Havana still depend upon oil-lamps. It
has its opera, its governor’s house, its alaméda, its military and
public hospital, its market-place, and railway station; and unless
the engineers deceive themselves, it will in time have its well. It
has also that institution which in the eyes of travellers ranks so
much above all others, a good and clean inn.

My first object after landing was to see a slave sugar estate. I
had been told in Jamaica that to effect this required some little
management; that the owners of the slaves were not usually willing
to allow strangers to see them at work; and that the manufacture of
sugar in Cuba was as a rule kept sacred from profane eyes. But I
found no such difficulty. I made my request to an English merchant
at Cien Fuegos, and he gave me a letter of introduction to the
proprietor of an estate some fifteen miles from the town; and by
their joint courtesy I saw all that I wished.

On this property, which consisted altogether of eighteen
hundred acres–the greater portion of which was not yet under
cultivation–there were six hundred acres of cane pieces. The average
year’s produce was eighteen hundred hogsheads, or three hogsheads to
the acre. The hogshead was intended to represent a ton of sugar when
it reached the market, but judging from all that I could learn it
usually fell short of it by more than a hundredweight. The value of
such a hogshead at Cien Fuegos was about twenty-five pounds. There
were one hundred and fifty negro men on the estate, the average cash
value of each man being three hundred and fifty pounds; most of
the men had their wives. In stating this it must not be supposed
that either I or my informant insist much on the validity of their
marriage ceremony; any such ceremony was probably of rare occurrence.
During the crop time, at which period my visit was made, and which
lasts generally from November till May, the negroes sleep during six
hours out of the twenty-four, have two for their meals, and work
for sixteen! No difference is made on Sunday. Their food is very
plentiful, and of a good and strong description. They are sleek
and fat and large, like well-preserved brewers’ horses; and with
reference to them, as also with reference to the brewers’ horses, it
has probably been ascertained what amount of work may be exacted so
as to give the greatest profit. During the remainder of the year the
labour of the negroes averages twelve hours a day, and one day of
rest in the week is usually allowed to them.

I was of course anxious to see what was the nature of the coercive
measures used with them. But in this respect my curiosity was not
indulged. I can only say that I saw none, and saw the mark and signs
of none. No doubt the whip is in use, but I did not see it. The
gentleman whose estate I visited had no notice of our coming, and
there was no appearance of anything being hidden from us. I could
not, however, bring myself to inquire of him as to their punishment.

The slaves throughout the island are always as a rule baptized. Those
who are employed in the town and as household servants appear to
be educated in compliance with, at any rate the outward doctrines
of, the Roman Catholic church. But with the great mass of the
negroes–those who work on the sugar-canes–all attention to religion
ends with their baptism. They have the advantage, whatever it may
be, of that ceremony in infancy; and from that time forth they are
treated as the beasts of the stall.

From all that I could hear, as well as from what I could see, I
have reason to think that, regarding them as beasts, they are well
treated. Their hours of labour are certainly very long–so long as to
appear almost impossible to a European workman. But under the system,
such as it is, the men do not apparently lose their health, though,
no doubt, they become prematurely old, and as a rule die early. The
property is too valuable to be neglected or ill used. The object of
course is to make that property pay; and therefore a present healthy
condition is cared for, but long life is not regarded. It is exactly
the same with horses in this country.

When all has been said that can be said in favour of the slave-owner
in Cuba, it comes to this–that he treats his slaves as beasts of
burden, and so treating them, does it skilfully and with prudence.
The point which most shocks an Englishman is the absence of all
religion, the ignoring of the black man’s soul. But this, perhaps,
may be taken as an excuse, that the white men here ignore their own
souls also. The Roman Catholic worship seems to be at a lower ebb in
Cuba than almost any country in which I have seen it.

It is singular that no priest should even make any effort on the
subject with regard to the negroes; but I am assured that such is
the fact. They do not wish to do so; nor will they allow of any one
asking them to make the experiment. One would think that had there
been any truth or any courage in them, they would have declared the
inutility of baptism, and have proclaimed that negroes have no souls.
But there is no truth in them; neither is there any courage.

The works at the Cuban sugar estate were very different from those I
had seen at Jamaica. They were on a much larger scale, in much better
order, overlooked by a larger proportion of white men, with a greater
amount of skilled labour. The evidences of capital were very plain in
Cuba; whereas, the want of it was frequently equally plain in our own
island.

Not that the planters in Cuba are as a rule themselves very rich
men. The estates are deeply mortgaged to the different merchants
at the different ports, as are those in Jamaica to the merchants
of Kingston. These merchants in Cuba are generally Americans,
Englishmen, Germans, Spaniards from the American republics–anything
but Cubans; and the slave-owners are but the go-betweens, who secure
the profits of the slave-trade for the merchants.

My friend at the estate invited us to a late breakfast after having
shown me what I came to see. “You have taken me so unawares,” said
he, “that we cannot offer you much except a welcome.” Well, it
was not much–for Cuba perhaps. A delicious soup, made partly of
eggs, a bottle of excellent claret, a paté de foie gras, some game
deliciously dressed, and half a dozen kinds of vegetables; that was
all. I had seen nothing among the slaves which in any way interfered
with my appetite, or with the cup of coffee and cigar which came
after the little nothings above mentioned.

We then went down to the railway station. It was a peculiar station I
was told, and the tickets could not be paid for till we reached Cien
Fuegos. But, lo! on arriving at Cien Fuegos there was nothing more to
pay. “It has all been done,” said some one to me.

If one was but convinced that those sleek, fat, smiling bipeds were
but two legged beasts of burden, and nothing more, all would have
been well at the estate which we visited.

All Cuba was of course full of the late message from the President of
the United States, which at the time of my visit was some two months
old there. The purport of what Mr. Buchanan said regarding Cuba
may perhaps be expressed as follows:–“Circumstances and destiny
absolutely require that the United States should be the masters of
that island. That we should take it by filibustering or violence
is not in accordance with our national genius. It will suit our
character and honesty much better that we should obtain it by
purchase. Let us therefore offer a fair price for it. If a fair price
be refused, that of course will be a casus belli. Spain will then
have injured us, and we may declare war. Under these circumstances we
should probably obtain the place without purchase; but let us hope
better things.” This is what the President has said, either in plain
words or by inference equally plain.

It may easily be conceived with what feeling such an announcement
has been received by Spain and those who hold Spanish authority in
Cuba. There is an outspoken insolence in the threat, which, by a
first-class power, would itself have been considered a cause for war.
But Spain is not a first-class power, and like the other weak ones of
the earth must either perish or live by adhering to and obeying those
who will protect her. Though too ignoble to be strong, she has been
too proud to be obedient. And as a matter of course she will go to
the wall.

A scrupulous man who feels that he would fain regulate his course in
politics by the same line as that used for his ordinary life, cannot
but feel angry at the loud tone of America’s audacious threat. But
even such a one knows that that threat will sooner or later be
carried out, and that humanity will benefit by its accomplishment.
Perhaps it may be said that scrupulous men should have but little
dealing in state policy.

The plea under which Mr. Buchanan proposes to quarrel with Spain, if
she will not sell that which America wishes to buy, is the plea under
which Ahab quarrelled with Naboth. A man is, individually, disgusted
that a President of the United States should have made such an
utterance. But looking at the question in a broader point of view, in
one which regards future ages rather than the present time, one can
hardly refrain from rejoicing at any event which will tend to bring
about that which in itself is so desirable.

We reprobate the name of filibuster, and have a holy horror of the
trade. And it is perhaps fortunate that with us the age of individual
filibustering is well-nigh gone by. But it may be fair for us to
consider whether we have not in our younger days done as much in this
line as have the Americans–whether Clive, for instance, was not a
filibuster–or Warren Hastings. Have we not annexed, and maintained,
and encroached; protected, and assumed, and taken possession in the
East–doing it all of course for the good of humanity? And why should
we begrudge the same career to America?

That we do begrudge it is certain. That she purchased California and
took Texas went at first against the grain with us; and Englishmen,
as a rule, would wish to maintain Cuba in the possession of Spain.
But what Englishman who thinks about it will doubt that California
and Texas have thriven since they were annexed, as they never could
have thriven while forming part of the Mexican empire–or can doubt
that Cuba, if delivered up to the States, would gain infinitely by
such a change of masters?

Filibustering, called by that or some other name, is the destiny of
a great portion of that race to which we Englishmen and Americans
belong. It would be a bad profession probably for a scrupulous man.
With the unscrupulous man, what stumbling-blocks there may be between
his deeds and his conscience is for his consideration and for God’s
judgment. But it will hardly suit us as a nation to be loud against
it. By what other process have poor and weak races been compelled to
give way to those who have power and energy? And who have displaced
so many of the poor and weak, and spread abroad so vast an energy,
such an extent of power as we of England?

The truth may perhaps be this:–that a filibuster needs expect no
good word from his fellow-mortals till he has proved his claim to it
by success.

From such information as I could obtain, I am of opinion that the
Cubans themselves would be glad enough to see the transfer well
effected. How, indeed, can it be otherwise? At present they have no
national privilege except that of undergoing taxation. Every office
is held by a Spaniard. Every soldier in the island–and they say that
there are twenty-five thousand–must be a Spaniard. The ships of
war are commanded and manned by Spaniards. All that is shown before
their eyes of brilliancy and power and high place is purely Spanish.
No Cuban has any voice in his own country. He can never have the
consolation of thinking that his tyrant is his countryman, or reflect
that under altered circumstances it might possibly have been his
fortune to tyrannize. What love can he have for Spain? He cannot even
have the poor pride of being slave to a great lord. He is the lacquey
of a reduced gentleman, and lives on the vails of those who despise
his master. Of course the transfer would be grateful to him.

But no Cuban will himself do anything to bring it about. To wish is
one thing; to act is another. A man standing behind his counter may
feel that his hand is restricted on every side, and his taxes alone
unrestricted; but he must have other than Hispano-Creole blood in
his veins if he do more than stand and feel. Indeed, wishing is too
strong a word to be fairly applicable to his state of mind. He would
be glad that Cuba should be American; but he would prefer that he
himself should lie in a dormant state while the dangerous transfer is
going on.

I have ventured to say that humanity would certainly be benefited
by such a transfer. We, when we think of Cuba, think of it almost
entirely as a slave country. And, indeed, in this light, and in
this light only, is it peculiar, being the solitary land into which
slaves are now systematically imported out of Africa. Into that great
question of guarding the slave coast it would be futile here to
enter; but this I believe is acknowledged, that if the Cuban market
be closed against the trade, the trade must perish of exhaustion. At
present slaves are brought into Cuba in spite of us; and as we all
know, can be brought in under the American stars and stripes. But no
one accuses the American Government of systematically favouring an
importation of Africans into their own States. When Cuba becomes one
of them the trade will cease. The obstacle to that trade which is
created by our vessels of war on the coast of Africa may, or may not,
be worth the cost. But no man who looks into the subject will presume
to say that we can be as efficacious there as the Americans would be
if they were the owners of the present slave-market.

I do not know whether it be sufficiently understood in England,
that though slavery is an institution of the United States, the
slave-trade, as commonly understood under that denomination, is as
illegal there as in England. That slavery itself would be continued
in Cuba under the Americans–continued for a while–is of course
certain. So is it in Louisiana and the Carolinas. But the horrors of
the middle passage, the kidnapping of negroes, the African wars which
are waged for the sake of prisoners, would of necessity come to an
end.

But this slave-trade is as opposed to the laws of Spain and its
colonies as it is to those of the United States or of Great Britain.
This is true; and were the law carried out in Cuba as well as it is
in the United States, an Englishman would feel disinclined to look on
with calmness at the violent dismemberment of the Spanish empire. But
in Cuba the law is broken systematically. The Captain-General in Cuba
will allow no African to be imported into the island–except for a
consideration. It is said that the present Captain-General receives
only a gold doubloon, or about three pounds twelve shillings, on
every head of wool so brought in; and he has therefore the reputation
of being a very moderate man. O’Donnel required twice as large a
bribe. Valdez would take nothing, and he is spoken of as the foolish
Governor. Even he, though he would take no bribe, was not allowed
to throw obstacles in the way of the slave-trade. That such a bribe
is usually demanded, and as a matter of course paid, is as well
known–ay, much better known, than any other of the island port
duties. The fact is so notorious to all men, that it is almost as
absurd to insist on it as it would be to urge that the income of the
Queen of England is paid from the taxes. It is known to every one,
and among others is known to the government of Spain. Under these
circumstances, who can feel sympathy with her, or wish that she
should retain her colony? Does she not daily show that she is unfit
to hold it?

There must be some stage in misgovernment which will justify the
interference of bystanding nations, in the name of humanity. That
rule in life which forbids a man to come between a husband and his
wife is a good rule. But nevertheless, who can stand by quiescent
and see a brute half murder the poor woman whom he should protect?

And in other ways, and through causes also, humanity would be
benefited by such a transfer. We in England are not very fond of
a republic. We would hardly exchange our throne for a president’s
chair, or even dispense at present with our House of Peers or our
Bench of Bishops. But we can see that men thrive under the stars
and stripes; whereas they pine beneath the red and yellow flag of
Spain. This, it may be said, is attributable to the race of the men
rather than to the government. But the race will be improved by the
infusion of new blood. Let the world say what chance there is of such
improvement in the Spanish government.

The trade of the country is falling into the hands of
foreigners–into those principally of Americans from the States. The
Havana will soon become as much American as New Orleans. It requires
but little of the spirit of prophecy to foretell that the Spanish
rule will not be long obeyed by such people.

On the whole I cannot see how Englishmen can refrain from
sympathizing with the desire of the United States to become possessed
of this fertile island. As far as we ourselves are concerned, it
would be infinitely for our benefit. We can trade with the United
States when we can hardly do so with Spain. Moreover, if Jamaica,
and the smaller British islands can ever again hold up their heads
against Cuba as sugar-producing colonies, it will be when the
slave-trade has been abolished. Till such time it can never be.

And then where are our professions for the amelioration, and
especially for the Christianity of the human race? I have said what
is the religious education of the slaves in Cuba. I may also say that
in this island no place of Protestant worship exists, or is possible.
The Roman Catholic religion is alone allowed, and that is at its very
lowest point. “The old women of both sexes go to mass,” a Spaniard
told me; “and the girls when their clothes are new.”

But above all things it behoves us to rid ourselves of the jealousy
which I fear we too often feel towards American pretension. “Jonathan
is getting bumptious,” we are apt to say; “he ought to have–” this
and that other punishment, according to the taste of the offended
Englishman.

Jonathan is becoming bumptious, no doubt. Young men of genius, when
they succeed in life at comparatively early years, are generally
afflicted more or less with this disease. But one is not inclined to
throw aside as useless, the intellect, energy, and genius of youth
because it is not accompanied by modesty, grace, and self-denial. Do
we not, in regard to all our friends, take the good that we find in
them, aware that in the very best there will be some deficiency to
forgive? That young barrister who is so bright, so energetic, so
useful, is perhaps _soi-disant_ more than a little. One cannot deny
it. But age will cure that. Have we a right to expect that he should
be perfect?

And are the Americans the first bumptious people on record? Has no
other nation assumed itself to be in advance of the world; to be the
apostle of progress, the fountain of liberty, the rock-spring of
manly work? If the Americans were not bumptious, how unlike would
they be to the parent that bore them!

The world is wide enough for us and for our offspring, and we may be
well content that we have it nearly all between us. Let them fulfil
their destiny in the West, while we do so in the East. It may be that
there also we may establish another child who in due time shall also
run alone, shall also boast somewhat loudly of its own doings. It is
a proud reflection that we alone, of all people, have such children;
a proud reflection, and a joyous one; though the weaning of the baby
will always be in some respects painful to the mother.

Nowhere have I met a kinder hospitality than I did at Cien Fuegos,
whether from Spaniards, Frenchmen, Americans, or Englishmen; for at
Cien Fuegos there are men of all these countries. But I must specify
my friend Mr. ——. Why should such a man be shut up for life at such
an outlandish place? Full of wit, singing an excellent song, telling
a story better, I think, than any other man to whom I have ever
listened, speaking four or five languages fluently, pleasant in
manner, hospitable in heart, a thorough good fellow at all points,
why should he bury himself at Cien Fuegos? “Auri sacra fames.” It is
the presumable reason for all such burials. English reader, shouldst
thou find thyself at Cien Fuegos in thy travels, it will not take
thee long to discover my friend ——. He is there known to every
one. It will only concern thee to see that thou art worthy of his
acquaintance.

From Cien Fuegos I went to the Havana, the metropolis, as all the
world knows, of Cuba. Our route lay by steamer to Batavano, and
thence by railway. The communication round Cuba–that is from port to
port–is not ill arranged or ill conducted. The boats are American
built, and engineered by Englishmen or Americans. Breakfast and
dinner are given on board, and the cost is included in the sum paid
for the fare. The provisions are plentiful, and not bad, if oil can
be avoided. As everything is done to foster Spain, Spanish wine is
always used, and Spanish ware, and, above all things, Spanish oil.
Now Spain does not send her best oil to her colonies. I heard great
complaint made of the fares charged on board these boats. The fares
when compared with those charged in America doubtless are high; but
I do not know that any one has a right to expect that he shall travel
as cheaply in Cuba as in the States.

I had heard much of the extravagant charges made for all kinds of
accommodation in Cuba; at hotels, in the shops, for travelling, for
chance work, and the general wants of a stranger. I found these
statements to be much exaggerated. Railway travelling by the first
class is about 3½_d._ a mile, which is about 1_d._ a mile more than
in England. At hotels the charge is two and a half or three dollars
a day. The former sum is the more general. This includes a cup of
coffee in the morning, a very serious meal at nine o’clock together
with fairly good Catalan wine, dinner at four with another cup of
coffee and more wine _ad libitum_, bed, and attendance. Indeed, a man
may go out of his hotel, without inconvenience, paying nothing beyond
the regular daily charge. Extras are dear. I, for instance, having in
my ignorance asked for a bottle of champagne, paid for it seventeen
shillings. A friend dining with one also, or breakfasting, is an
expensive affair. The two together cost considerably more than one’s
own total daily payment. Thus, as one pays at an hotel whether one’s
dinner be eaten or no, it becomes almost an insane expense for
friends at different hotels to invite each other.

But let it not be supposed that I speak in praise of the hotels at
the Havana. Far be it from me to do so. I only say that they are not
dear. I found it impossible to command the luxury of a bedroom to
myself. It was not the custom of the country they told me. If I chose
to pay five dollars a day, just double the usual price, I could be
indulged as soon–as circumstances would admit of it; which was
intended to signify that they would be happy to charge me for the
second bed as soon as the time should come that they had no one else
on whom to levy the rate. And the dirt of that bedroom!

I had been unable to get into either of the hotels at the Havana
to which I had been recommended, every corner in each having been
appropriated. In my grief at the dirt of my abode, and at the too
near vicinity of my Spanish neighbour–the fellow-occupant of my
chamber was from Spain–I complained somewhat bitterly to an American
acquaintance, who had as I thought been more lucky in his inn.

“One companion!” said he; “why, I have three; one walks about all
night in a bed-gown, a second snores, and the other is dying!”

A friend of mine, an English officer, was at another house. He also
was one of four; and it so occurred that he lost thirty pounds out
of his sac de nuit. On the whole I may consider myself to have been
lucky.

Labour generally is dear, a workman getting a dollar or four
shillings and twopence, where in England a man might earn perhaps
half a crown. A porter therefore for whom sixpence might suffice in
England will require a shilling. A volante–I shall have a word to
say about volantes by-and-by–for any distance within the walls costs
eightpence. Outside the walls the price seems to be unconscionably
higher. Omnibuses which run over two miles charge some fraction
over sixpence for each journey. I find that a pair of boots cost me
twenty-five shillings. In London they would cost about the same.
Those procured in Cuba, however, were worth nothing, which certainly
makes a difference. Meat is eightpence the English pound. Bread is
somewhat dearer than in England, but not much.

House rent may be taken as being nearly four times as high as it is
in any decent but not fashionable part of London, and the wages of
house servants are twice as high as they are with us. The high prices
in the Havana are such therefore as to affect the resident rather
than the stranger. One article, however, is very costly; but as it
concerns a luxury not much in general use among the inhabitants this
is not surprising. If a man will have his linen washed he will be
made to pay for it.

There is nothing attractive about the town of Havana; nothing
whatever to my mind, if we except the harbour. The streets are
narrow, dirty, and foul. In this respect there is certainly much
difference between those within and without the wall. The latter are
wider, more airy, and less vile. But even in them there is nothing
to justify the praises with which the Havana is generally mentioned
in the West Indies. It excels in population, size, and no doubt
in wealth any other city there; but this does not imply a great
eulogium. The three principal public buildings are the Opera House,
the Cathedral, and the palace of the Captain-General. The former has
been nearly knocked down by an explosion of gas, and is now closed.
I believe it to be an admirable model for a second-rate house. The
cathedral is as devoid of beauty, both externally and internally, as
such an edifice can be made. To describe such a building would be an
absurd waste of time and patience. We all know what is a large Roman
Catholic church, built in the worst taste, and by a combination of
the lowest attributes of Gothic and Latin architecture. The palace,
having been built for a residence, does not appear so utterly vile,
though it is the child of some similar father. It occupies one
side of a public square or pláza, and from its position has a
moderately-imposing effect. Of pictures in the Havana there are none
of which mention should be made.

But the glory of the Havana is the Paseo–the glory so called. This
is the public drive and fashionable lounge of the town–the Hyde
Park, the Bois de Boulogne, the Cascine, the Corso, the Alaméda. It
is for their hour on the Paseo that the ladies dress themselves, and
the gentlemen prepare their jewelry. It consists of a road running
outside a portion of the wall, of the extent perhaps of half a mile,
and ornamented with seats and avenues of trees, as are the boulevards
at Paris. If it is to be compared with any other resort of the kind
in the West Indies, it certainly must be owned there is nothing like
it; but a European on first seeing it cannot understand why it is
so eulogized. Indeed, it is probable that if he first goes thither
alone, as was the case with me, he will pass over it, seeking for
some other Paseo.

But then the glory of the Paseo consists in its volantes. As one
boasts that one has swum in a gondola, so will one boast of having
sat in a volante. It is the pride of Cuban girls to appear on the
Paseo in these carriages on the afternoons of holidays and Sundays;
and there is certainly enough of the picturesque about the vehicle
to make it worthy of some description. It is the most singular
of carriages, and its construction is such as to give a flat
contradiction to all an Englishman’s preconceived notions respecting
the power of horses.

The volante is made to hold two sitters, though there is sometimes a
low middle seat which affords accommodation to a third lady. We will
commence the description from behind. There are two very huge wheels,
rough, strong, high, thick, and of considerable weight. The axles
generally are not capped, but the nave shines with coarse polished
metal. Supported on the axletree, and swinging forward from it on
springs, is the body of a cabriolet such as ordinary cabriolets used
to be, with the seat, however, somewhat lower, and with much more
room for the feet. The back of this is open, and generally a curtain
hangs down over the open space. A metal bar, which is polished so
as to look like silver, runs across the footboard and supports the
feet. The body, it must be understood, swings forward from these high
wheels, so that the whole of the weight, instead of being supported,
hangs from it. Then there are a pair of shafts, which, counting from
the back of the carriage to the front where they touch the horse at
the saddle, are about fourteen feet in length. They do not go beyond
the saddle, or the tug depending from the saddle in which they hang.
From this immense length it comes to pass that there is a wide
interval, exceeding six feet, between the carriage and the horse’s
tail; and it follows also, from the construction of the machine, that
a large portion of the weight must rest on the horse’s back.

In addition to this, the unfortunate horse has ordinarily to bear
the weight of a rider. For with a volante your servant rides, and
does not drive you. With the fashionable world on the Paseo a second
horse is used–what we should call an outrider–and the servant
sits on this. But as regards those which ply in the town, there is
but one horse. How animals can work beneath such a yoke was to me
unintelligible.

The great point in the volante of fashion is the servant’s dress.
He is always a negro, and generally a large negro. He wears a huge
pair–not of boots, for they have no feet to them–of galligaskins I
may call them, made of thick stiff leather, but so as to fit the leg
exactly. The top of them comes some nine inches above the knee, so
that when one of these men is seen seated at his ease, the point of
his boot nearly touches his chin. They are fastened down the sides
with metal fastenings, and at the bottom there is a huge spur. The
usual dress of these men, over and above their boots, consists
of white breeches, red jackets ornamented with gold lace, and
broad-brimmed straw hats. Nothing can be more awkward, and nothing
more barbaric than the whole affair; but nevertheless there is about
it a barbaric splendour, which has its effect. The great length of
the equipage, and the distance of the horse from his work, is what
chiefly strikes an Englishman.

The carriage usually holds, when on the Paseo, two or three ladies.
Their great object evidently has been to expand their dresses, so
that they may group well together, and with a good result as regards
colour. It must be confessed that in this respect they are generally
successful. They wear no head-dress when in their carriages, and
indeed may generally be seen out of doors with their hair uncovered.
Though they are of Spanish descent, the mantilla is unknown here. Nor
could I trace much similarity to Spanish manner in other particulars.
The ladies do not walk like Spanish women–at least not like the
women of Andalusia, with whom one would presume them to have had
the nearest connection. The walk of the Andalusian women surpasses
that of any other, while the Cuban lady is not graceful in her gait.
Neither can they boast the brilliantly dangerous beauty of Seville.
In Cuba they have good eyes, but rarely good faces. The forehead and
the chin too generally recede, leaving the nose with a prominence
that is not agreeable. But as my gallantry has not prevented me from
speaking in this uncourteous manner of their appearance, my honesty
bids me add, that what they lack in beauty they make up in morals,
as compared with their cousins in Europe. For travelling _en garçon_
I should probably prefer the south of Spain. But were I doomed to
look for domesticity in either clime–and God forbid that such a
doom should be mine!–I might perhaps prefer a Cuban mother for my
children.

But the volante is held as very precious by the Cuban ladies. The
volante itself I mean–the actual vehicle. It is not intrusted, as
coaches are with us, to the dusty mercies of a coach-house. It is
ordinarily kept in the hall, and you pass it by as you enter the
house; but it is by no means uncommon to see it in the dining-room.
As the rooms are large and usually not full of furniture, it does
not look amiss there.

The amusements of the Cubans are not very varied, and are innocent in
their nature; for the gambling as carried on there I regard rather
as a business than an amusement They greatly love dancing, and have
dances of their own and music of their own, which are peculiar, and
difficult to a stranger. Their tunes are striking, and very pretty.
They are fond of music generally, and maintain a fairly good opera
company at the Havana. In the pláza there–the square, namely, in
front of the Captain-General’s house–a military band plays from
eight to nine every evening. The place is then thronged with people,
but by far the majority of them are men.

It is the custom at all the towns in Cuba for the family, when at
home, to pass their evening seated near the large low open window of
their drawing-rooms; and as these windows almost always look into
the streets, the whole internal arrangement is seen by every one who
passes. These windows are always protected by iron bars, as though
they were the windows of a prison; in other respects they are
completely open.

Four chairs are to be seen ranged in a row, and four more opposite
to them, running from the window into the room, and placed close
together. Between these is generally laid a small piece of carpet.
The majority of these chairs are made to rock; for the Creole
lady always rocks herself. I have watched them going through the
accustomed motion with their bodies, even when seated on chairs with
stern immovable legs. This is the usual evening living-place of the
family; and I never yet saw an occupant of one of these chairs with a
book in her hand, or in his. I asked an Englishman, a resident in the
Havana, whether he had ever done so. “A book!” he answered; “why, the
girls can’t read, in your sense of the word reading.”

The young men, and many of those who are no longer young, spend their
evenings, and apparently a large portion of their days, in eating
ices and playing billiards. The accommodation in the Havana for these
amusements is on a very large scale.

The harbour at the Havana is an interesting sight. It is in the first
place very picturesque, which to the ordinary visitor is the most
important feature. But it is also commodious, large, and safe. It
is approached between two forts. That to the westward, which is
the principal defence, is called the Morro. Here also stands the
lighthouse. No Englishman omits to hear, as he enters the harbour,
that these forts were taken by the English in Albemarle’s time. Now,
it seems to me, they might very easily be taken by any one who chose
to spend on them the necessary amount of gunpowder. But then I know
nothing about forts.

This special one of the Morro I did take; not by gunpowder, but by
stratagem. I was informed that no one was allowed to see it since
the open defiance of the island contained in the last message of the
United States’ President. But I was also informed–whisperingly, in
the ear — that a request to see the lighthouse would be granted, and
that as I was not an American the fort should follow. It resulted
in a little black boy taking me over the whole edifice–an impudent
little black boy, who filled his pockets with stones and pelted the
sentries. The view of the harbour from the lighthouse is very good,
quite worth the trouble of the visit. The fort itself I did not
understand, but a young English officer, who was with me, pooh-poohed
it as a thing of nothing. But then young English officers pooh-pooh
everything. Here again I must add that nothing can exceed the
courtesy of all Spanish officials. If they could only possess honesty
and energy as well as courtesy!

By far the most interesting spot in the Havana is the Quay, to which
the vessels are fastened end-ways, the bow usually lying against the
Quay. In other places the side of the vessel is, I believe, brought
to the wharf. Here there are signs of true life. One cannot but think
how those quays would be extended, and that life increased, if the
place were in the hands of other people.

I have said that I regarded gambling in Cuba, not as an amusement,
but an occupation. The public lotteries offer the daily means to
every one for gratifying this passion. They are maintained by the
government, and afford a profit, I am told, of something over a
million dollars per annum. In all public places tickets are hawked
about. One may buy a whole ticket, half, a quarter, an eighth, or
a sixteenth. It is done without any disguise or shame, and the
institution seemed, I must say, to be as popular with the Europeans
living there as with the natives. In the eyes of an Englishman new
from Great Britain, with his prejudices still thick upon him, this
great national feature loses some of its nobility and grandeur.

This, together with the bribery, which is so universal, shows what is
the spirit of the country. For a government supported by the profits
of a gambling-hell, and for a Governor enriched by bribes on slaves
illegally imported, what Englishman can feel sympathy? I would fain
hope that there is no such sympathy felt in England.

I have been answered, when expressing indignation at the system, by
a request that I would first look at home; and have been so answered
by Englishmen. “How can you blame the Captain-General,” they have
said, “when the same thing is done by the French and English consuls
through the islands?” That the French and English consuls do take
bribes to wink at the importation of slaves, I cannot and do not
believe. But Cæsar’s wife should not even be suspected.

I found it difficult to learn what is exactly the present population
of Cuba. I believe it to be about 1,300,000, and of this number
about 600,000 are slaves. There are many Chinese now in the island,
employed as household servants, or on railways, or about the
sugar-works. Many are also kept at work on the cane-pieces, though
it seems that for this labour they have hardly sufficient strength.
These unfortunate deluded creatures receive, I fear, very little
better treatment than the slaves.

My best wish for the island is that it may speedily be reckoned among
the annexations of the United States.