NEW GRANADA, AND THE ISTHMUS OF PANAMÁ.

It is probably known to all that New Granada is the most northern of
the republics of South America; or it should rather be said that it
is the state nearest to the isthmus, of which indeed it comprehends
a considerable portion; the territory of the Gulf of Darien and the
district of Panamá all being within the limits of New Granada.

It was, however, but the other day that New Granada formed only a
part of the republic of Columbia, the republic of which Bolivar was
the hero. As the inhabitants of Central America found it necessary to
break up their state into different republics, so also did the people
of Columbia. The heroes and patriots of Caracas and Quito could not
consent to be governed from Bogotá; and therefore three states were
formed out of one. They are New Granada, with its capital of Bogotá;
Venezuela, with its capital of Caracas, lying exactly to the east of
New Granada; and Ecuador–the state, that is, of Equator–lying to
the south of New Granada, having its seaport at Guayaquil on the
Pacific, with Quito, its chief city, exactly on the line.

The district of Columbia was one of the grandest appanages of the
Spanish throne when the appanages of the Spanish throne were grand
indeed. The town and port of Cartagena, on the Atlantic, were
admirably fortified, as was also Panamá on the Pacific. Its interior
cities were populous, flourishing, and, for that age, fairly
civilized. Now the whole country has received the boon of Utopian
freedom; and the mind loses itself in contemplating to what lowest
pitch of human degradation the people will gradually fall.

Civilization here is retrograding. Men are becoming more ignorant
than their fathers, are learning to read less, to know less, to
have fewer aspirations of a high order; to care less for truth and
justice, to have more and more of the contentment of a brute,–that
contentment which comes from a full belly and untaxed sinews; or even
from an empty belly, so long as the sinews be left idle.

To what this will tend a prophet in these days can hardly see; or
rather none less than a prophet can pretend to see. That those
lands which the Spaniards have occupied, and to a great extent made
Spanish, should have no higher destiny than that which they have
already accomplished, I can hardly bring myself to think. That their
unlimited fertility and magnificent rivers should be given for
nothing; that their power of producing all that man wants should be
intended for no use, I cannot believe. At present, however, it would
seem that Providence has abandoned it. It is making no progress. Land
that was cultivated is receding from cultivation; cities that were
populous are falling into ruins; and men are going back into animals,
under the influence of unlimited liberty and universal suffrage.

In 1851 emancipation from slavery was finally established in New
Granada; and so far, doubtless, a good deed was done. But it was
established at the same time that every man, emancipated slave or
other, let him be an industrial occupier of land, or idle occupier of
nothing, should have an equal vote in electing presidents and members
of the Federal Congress, and members of the Congress of the different
states; that, in short, all men should be equal for all state
purposes. And the result, as may be supposed, is not gratifying.
As far as I am able to judge, a negro has not generally those
gifts of God which enable one man to exercise rule and masterdom
over his fellow-men. I myself should object strongly to be
represented, say in the city of London, by any black man that I
ever saw. “The unfortunate nigger gone masterless,” whom Carlyle so
tenderly commiserates, has not strong ideas of the duties even of
self-government, much less of the government of others. Universal
suffrage in such hands can hardly lead to good results. Let him at
any rate have first saved some sixty pounds in a savings-bank, or
made himself undoubted owner–an easy thing in New Granada–of a
forty-shilling freehold!

Not that pure-blooded negroes are common through the whole of New
Granada. At Panamá and the adjacent districts they are so; but in the
other parts of the republic they are, I believe, few in number. At
Santa Martha, where I first landed, I saw few, if any. And yet the
trace of the negroes, the woolly hair and flat nose, were common
enough, mixed always with Indian blood, and of course to a great
extent with Spanish blood also.

This Santa Martha is a wretched village–a city it is there
called–at which we, with intense cruelty, maintain a British Consul,
and a British post-office. There is a cathedral there of the old
Spanish order, with the choir removed from the altar down towards the
western door; and there is, I was informed, a bishop. But neither
bishop nor cathedral were in any way remarkable. There is there
a governor of the province, some small tradesman, who seemed to
exercise very few governing functions. It may almost be said that no
trade exists in the place, which seemed indeed to be nearly dead. A
few black or nearly black children run about the streets in a state
almost of nudity; and there are shops, from the extremities of which,
as I was told, crinoline and hats laden with bugles may be extracted.

“Every one of my predecessors here died of fever,” said the Consul to
me, in a tone of triumph. What could a man say to him on so terribly
mortal a subject? “And my wife has been down in fever thirteen
times!” Heavens, what a life! That is, as long as it is life.

I rode some four or five miles into the country to visit the house in
which Bolivar died. It is a deserted little country villa or chateau,
called San Pedro, standing in a farm-yard, and now containing no
other furniture than a marble bust of the Dictator, with a few
wretchedly coloured French prints with cracked glass plates. The bust
is not a bad one, and seems to have a solemn and sad meaning in its
melancholy face, standing there in its solitary niche in the very
room in which the would-be liberator died.

For Bolivar had grand ideas of freedom, though doubtless he had
grand ideas also of personal power and pre-eminence; as has been the
case with most of those who have moved or professed to move in the
vanguard of liberty. To free mankind from all injurious thraldom is
the aspiration of such men; but who ever thought that obedience to
himself was a thraldom that could be injurious?

And here in this house, on the 17th December, 1830, Bolivar died,
broken-hearted, owing his shelter to charity, and relieved in his
last wants by the hands of strangers to his country. When the breath
was out of him and he was well dead, so that on such a matter he
himself could probably have no strong wish in any direction, they
took away his body, of course with all honour, to the district that
gave him birth, and that could afford to be proud of him now that
he was dead;–into Venezuela and reburied him at Caracas. But dying
poverty and funeral honours have been the fate of great men in other
countries besides Columbia.

“And why did you come to visit such a region as this?” asked Bolivar,
when dying, of a Frenchman to whom in his last days he was indebted
for much. “For freedom,” said the Frenchman. “For freedom!” said
Bolivar. “Then let me tell you that you have missed your mark
altogether; you could hardly have turned in a worse direction.”

Our ride from Santa Martha to the house had been altogether between
bushes, among which we saw but small signs of cultivation. Round
the house I saw none. On my return I learnt that the place was the
property of a rich man who possessed a large estate in its vicinity.
“But will nothing grow there?” I asked. “Grow there! yes; anything
would grow there. Some years since the whole district was covered
with sugar-canes.” But since the emancipation in 1851 it had become
impossible to procure labour; men could not be got to work; and so
bush had grown up, and the earth gave none of her increase; except
indeed where half-caste Indians squatted here and there, and made
provision grounds.

I then went on to Cartagena. This is a much better town than
Santa Martha, though even this is in its decadence. It was once a
flourishing city, great in commerce and strong in war. It was taken
by the English, not however without signal reverses on our part, and
by the special valour–so the story goes–of certain sailors who
dragged a single gun to the summit of a high abrupt hill called the
“Papa,” which commands the town. If the thermometer stood in those
days as high at Cartagena as it does now, pretty nearly through the
whole of the year, those sailors ought to have had the Victoria
cross. But these deeds were done long years ago, in the time of Drake
and his followers; and Victoria crosses were then chiefly kept for
the officers.

The harbour at Cartagena is singularly circumstanced. There are two
entrances to it, one some ten miles from the city and the other close
to it. This nearer aperture was blocked up by the Spaniards, who sank
ships across the mouth; and it has never been used or usable since.
The present entrance is very strongly fortified. The fortifications
are still there, bristling down to the water’s edge; or they would
bristle, were it not that all the guns have been sold for the value
of the brass metal.

Cartagena was hotter even than Santa Martha; but the place is by no
means so desolate and death-like. The shops there are open to the
streets, as shops are in other towns. Men and women may occasionally
be seen about the square; and there is a trade,–in poultry if in
nothing else.

There is a cathedral here also, and I presume a bishop. The former
is built after the Spanish fashion, and boasts a so-called handsome,
large, marble pulpit. That it is large and marble, I confess; but
I venture to question its claims to the other epithet. There are
pictures also in the cathedral; of spirits in a state of torture
certainly; and if I rightly remember of beatified spirits also.
But in such pictures the agonies of the damned always excite more
attention and a keener remembrance than the ecstasies of the blest.
I cannot say that the artist had come up either to the spirit of Fra
Angelico, or to the strength of Orcagna.

At Cartagena I encountered a family of native ladies and gentlemen,
who were journeying from Bogotá to Peru. Looking at the map, one
would say that the route from Bogotá to Buena-ventura on the Pacific
was both easy and short. The distance as the crow flies–the condor I
should perhaps more properly say–would not be much over two hundred
miles. And yet this family, of whom one was an old woman, had come
down to Cartagena, having been twenty days on the road, having from
thence a long sea journey to the isthmus, thence the passage over
it to Panamá, and then the journey down the Pacific! The fact of
course is that there are no means of transit in the country except on
certain tracks, very few in number; and that even on these all motion
is very difficult. Bogotá is about three hundred and seventy miles
from Cartagena, and the journey can hardly be made in less than
fourteen days.

From Cartagena I went on to the isthmus; the Isthmus of Panamá, as
it is called by all the world, though the American town of Aspinwall
will gradually become the name best known in connexion with the
passage between the two oceans.

This passage is now made by a railway which has been opened by an
American company between the town of Aspinwall, or Colon, as it is
called in England, and the city of Panamá. Colon is the local name
for this place, which also bears the denomination of Navy Bay in
the language of sailors. But our friends from Yankee-land like to
carry things with a high hand, and to have a nomenclature of their
own. Here, as their energy and their money and their habits are
undoubtedly in the ascendant, they will probably be successful; and
the place will be called Aspinwall in spite of the disgust of the New
Granadians, and the propriety of the English, who choose to adhere to
the names of the existing government of the country.

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, and Colon or Aspinwall
will be equally vile however you may call it. It is a wretched,
unhealthy, miserably situated but thriving little American town,
created by and for the railway and the passenger traffic which comes
here both from Southampton and New York. That from New York is of
course immensely the greatest, for this is at present the main route
to San Francisco and California.

I visited the place three times, for I passed over the isthmus on my
way to Costa Rica, and on my return from that country I went again to
Panamá, and of course back to Colon. I can say nothing in its favour.
My only dealing there was with a washerwoman, and I wish I could
place before my readers a picture of my linen in the condition in
which it came back from that artist’s hands. I confess that I sat
down and shed bitter tears. In these localities there are but two
luxuries of life, iced soda-water and clean shirts. And now I was
debarred from any true enjoyment of the latter for more than a
fortnight.

The Panamá railway is certainly a great fact, as men now-a-days say
when anything of importance is accomplished. The necessity of some
means of passing the isthmus, and the question as to the best means,
has been debated since, I may say, the days of Cortes. Men have
foreseen that it would become a necessity to the world that there
should be some such transit, and every conceivable point of the
isthmus has, at some period or by some nation, been selected as the
best for the purpose. This railway is certainly the first that can
be regarded as a properly organized means of travelling; and it may
be doubted whether it will not remain as the best, if not the only
permanent mode of transit.

Very great difficulty was experienced in erecting this line. In the
first place, it was necessary that terms should be made with the
government of the country through which the line should pass, and to
effect this it was expedient to hold out great inducements. Among
the chief of these is an understanding that the whole line shall
become the absolute property of the New Granadian government when it
shall have been opened for forty-nine years. But who can tell what
government will prevail in New Granada in forty-nine years? It is not
impossible that the whole district may then be an outlying territory
belonging to the United States. At any rate, I should imagine that
it is very far from the intention of the American company to adhere
with rigid strictness to this part of the bargain. Who knows what may
occur between this and the end of the century?

And when these terms were made there was great difficulty in
obtaining labour. The road had to be cut through one continuous
forest, and for the greater part of the way along the course of the
Chagres river. Nothing could be more unhealthy than such work, and in
consequence the men died very rapidly. The high rate of wages enticed
many Irishmen here, but most of them found their graves amidst the
works. Chinese were tried, but they were quite inefficacious for such
labour, and when distressed had a habit of hanging themselves. The
most useful men were to be got from the coast round Cartagena, but
they were enticed thither only by very high pay.

The whole road lies through trees and bushes of thick tropical
growth, and is in this way pretty and interesting. But there is
nothing wonderful in the scenery, unless to one who has never before
witnessed tropical forest scenery. The growth here is so quick that
the strip of ground closely adjacent to the line, some twenty yards
perhaps on each side, has to be cleared of timber and foliage every
six months. If left for twelve months the whole would be covered with
thick bushes, twelve feet high. At intervals of four and a half miles
there are large wooden houses–pretty-looking houses they are, built
with much taste,–in each of which a superintendent with a certain
number of labourers resides. These men are supplied with provisions
and all necessaries by the company. For there are no villages
here in which workmen can live, no shops from which they can supply
themselves, no labour which can be hired as it may be wanted.

From this it may be imagined that the line is maintained at a great
cost. But, nevertheless, it already pays a dividend of twelve and
a half per cent. So much at least is acknowledged; but those who
pretend to understand the matter declare that the real profit
accruing to the shareholders is hardly less than five-and-twenty
per cent. The sum charged for the passage is extremely high, being
twenty-five dollars, or five pounds for a single ticket. The distance
is under fifty miles. And there is no class but the one. Everybody
passing over the isthmus, if he pay his fare, must pay twenty-five
dollars. Steerage passengers from New York to San Francisco are at
present booked through for fifty dollars. This includes their food
on the two sea voyages, which are on an average of about eleven days
each. And yet out of this fifty dollars twenty-five are paid to the
railway for this conveyance over fifty miles! The charge for luggage,
too, is commensurately high. The ordinary kit of a travelling
Englishman–a portmanteau, bag, desk, and hat-box–would cost two
pounds ten shillings over and above his own fare.

But at the same time, nothing can be more liberal than the general
management of the line. On passengers journeying from New York to
California, or from Southampton to Chili and Peru, their demand no
doubt is very high. But to men of all classes, merely travelling from
Aspinwall to Panamá for pleasure–or, apparently, on business, if
travelling only between those two places,–free tickets are given
almost without restriction. One train goes each way daily, and as a
rule most of the passengers are carried free, except on those days
when packets have arrived at either terminus. On my first passage
over I paid my fare, for I went across with other passengers out of
the mail packet. But on my return the superintendent not only gave me
a ticket, but asked me whether I wanted others for any friends. The
line is a single line throughout.

Panamá has doubtless become a place of importance to Englishmen
and Americans, and its name is very familiar to our ears. But
nevertheless it is a place whose glory has passed away. It was a
large Spanish town, strongly fortified, with some thirty thousand
inhabitants. Now its fortifications are mostly gone, its churches
are tumbling to the ground, its old houses have so tumbled, and its
old Spanish population has vanished. It is still the chief city of
a State, and a congress sits there. There is a governor and a judge,
and there are elections; but were it not for the passengers of the
isthmus there would soon be but little left of the city of Panamá.

Here the negro race abounds, and among the common people the negro
traits are stronger and more marked than those either of the Indians
or Spaniards. Of Spanish blood among the natives of the surrounding
country there seems to be but little. The negroes here are of course
free, free to vote for their own governors, and make their own laws;
and consequently they are often very troublesome, the country people
attacking those in the town, and so on. “And is justice ultimately
done on the offenders?” I asked. “Well, sir; perhaps not justice. But
some notice is taken; and the matter is smoothed over.” Such was the
answer.

There is a Spanish cathedral here also, in which I heard a very
sweet-toned organ, and one magnificent tenor voice. The old church
buildings still standing here are not without pretence, and are
interesting from the dark tawny colour of the stone, if from no
other cause. I should guess them to be some two centuries old. Their
style in many respects resembles that which is so generally odious to
an Englishman’s eye and ear, under the title of Renaissance. It is
probably an offshoot of that which is called Plateresque in the south
of Spain.

During the whole time that I was at Panamá the thermometer stood at
something above ninety. In Calcutta I believe it is often as high as
one hundred and ten, so that I have no right to speak of the extreme
heat. But, nevertheless, Panamá is supposed to be one of the hottest
places in the western world; and I was assured, while there, that
weather so continuously hot for the twenty-four hours had not been
known during the last nine years. The rainy season should have
commenced by this time–the early part of May. But it had not done
so; and it appeared that when the rain is late, that is the hottest
period of the whole year.

The heat made me uncomfortable, but never made me ill. I lost all
pleasure in eating, and indeed in everything else. I used to feel a
craving for my food, but no appetite when it came. I was lethargic,
as though from repletion, when I did eat, and was always glad when my
watch would allow me to go to bed. But yet I was never ill.

The country round the town is pretty, and very well adapted for
riding. There are large open savanahs which stretch away for miles
and miles, and which are kept as grazing-farms for cattle. These are
not flat and plain, but are broken into undulations, and covered here
and there with forest bushes. The horses here are taught to pace,
that is, move with the two off legs together and then with the two
near legs. The motion is exceedingly gentle, and well fitted for this
hot climate, in which the rougher work of trotting would be almost
too much for the energies of debilitated mankind. The same pace is
common in Cuba, Costa Rica, and other Spanish countries in the west.

Off from Panamá, a few miles distant in the western ocean, there are
various picturesque islands. On two of these are the depôts of two
great steam-packet companies, that belonging to the Americans which
carries on the trade to California, and an English company whose
vessels run down the Pacific to Peru and Chili. I visited Toboga,
in which are the head-quarters of the latter. Here I found a small
English maritime colony, with a little town of their own, composed
of captains, doctors, engineers, officers, artificers, and sailors,
living together on the company’s wages, and as regards the upper
classes, at tables provided by the company. But I saw there no
women of any description. I beg therefore to suggest to the company
that their servants would probably be much more comfortable if the
institution partook less of the monastic order.

If, as is probable, this becomes one of the high-roads to Australia,
then another large ship company will have to fix its quarters here.