Letter No. 13
July 5th, 1857
My dear Nanny,
My last respects were dated May 23rd and I am since in receipt of your esteemed favours of Feb. 28th and March 27th. No vessel has left this town for Manila since the 25th of June, and at that time I couldn’t exactly find an appropriate moment for sitting down to write, so that you good people will again have a month’s exemption from the usual postal tax on letters from the “Islas Filipinas.”
I commence this letter, as one usually does these familiar communications, without the faintest notion of what I am going to say. All I seem to be conscious of at present is that I am seated in my solitary sala this drowsyish Sunday afternoon; that a subdued roar of waves comes up from the sea beach, mingled with a nearer sound of rustling trees; that the time piece shows that another hour has dropped into eternity since noon, and that it wouldn’t be a bad thing to have a glass of eau sucree[i] or an orange or something of a like refrigerant nature.
The above leisurely beginning of what I intended should be a long letter was untimely disturbed by the apparition of our local poet, Don Vicente Rico, who frequently bursts in here on Sundays and entertains me with vehement disquisitions on literature and things in general, gesticulating about the room, and screaming at the top of his voice, as the manner of some poets is. He has just vanished, with an explosion of laughter at a kind of pun on the name of the vessel (the Aviso) which should bring on our advices from Manila, but which is making a very long voyage.
Now it’s very close upon dinner-time (which with me is half past four) and my letter writing pretensions must be limited for the present to finishing off this most inane of pages.
The weather has been very bad here lately – raining and blowing constantly, and I have been out of doors very little, and seen scarcely anything of anybody, spending my evenings in great measure “to dull forgetfulness a prey” in yonder chair.
There’s another squall – about the tenth today – reminding me of A. Smith:
Down comes the frantic rain
We hear the wail of the remorseful winds
In their strange penance. And this wretched orb
Knows not the taste of rest; a maniac world,
Homeless and sobbing through the deep she goes.
And here I go “like a great hungry soul” (to use the same author’s words, very differently applied) to shout the magic words “Trae la comida!” which being interpreted, mean “Bring the dinner.” A responsive “Si señor” from two young servitors comes cheerily up from the kitchen, giving hopes of the early apparition of my soup, my piece of beef, my fish, my side dishes, my sweetmeats, my cheese and my pale ale.
I have dined alone now for a great many months together. The Spaniards are not a dinner-giving people, except to particular friends, so I am likely to continue eating solitary meals, unless I take to dinner-giving myself, which thing economy forbids.
July 13th. This vessel has been detained by bad weather, and I have left this scrawl unfinished until now. It is a fact that I have nothing in particular to say at present. Carmen Kierulf has gone to Manila, with the old Coloner – she, to visit Mrs. Sturgis and see the beloved one, and he to report himself to the new Captain General. Dolores is left alone, to sigh after the delights of the Philippine metropolis and haply lament the absence of any Caballero (gentleman) to fill the aching void in her dolorous heart. Talking of Señoritas (pronounced Senyoreetas) there is a rather pretty one who lives just opposite me; her name is Antonia Aldeguer, country-born, and daughter of one of the Spanish traders here. Decidedly pretty, I repeat, a stunning dancer, and a prospective heiress of some thousands of dollars; but Lord, Sir, her mind is like a weedy garden.
Did I tell you that friend Edward Jackson, who I have formerly mentioned to you, has been married at Manila? He actually has, to a young woman of the name of Juana Zaragoza, and I presume that he must have professed Roman Catholicism before doing so – that being a sine qua non with the priests. What would Mrs. Jackson of Church St. Kingston Surry and her two Protestant daughters say if they knew this?
But to return to Iloilo – though I don’t know why we should, as I have at present nothing very interesting to remark about it. Yesterday evening I drove out to Jaro to visit the Padre at the convent, with whom I am on cordial sort of term – which may be illustrated by the fact of his wanting to lend me the other day any amount of tin he might have, or I might require. He derives a very good income from the large town of Jaro – upwards of $6,000, or L1,600 a year. We talked about the sugar crops, and the future greatness of Iloilo, and abused the Government in good set terms for not opening the ports before, or extinguishing the tobacco monopoly, and drank sugar and water ad lib. The padre is very desirous of seeing the foreign trade commenced, for seeing that it will give a great start in time to this province, in which he will probably end his days, as none of the priests here are allowed to return to Europe.
As this foreign trade arrangement has occupied my thoughts and pen for a considerable time, and I see some hopes of getting it brought about, I am sometimes foolish enough to ask myself whether it was a destiny reserved for me to be instrumental in some way in the matter, and whether my long sojourns in S. America and Manila were a kind of preparation thereunto… questions to which a candid negative is the only reply possible – especially as the thing is still in embryo, and may not come to pass in my time.
Well, after returning from Jaro, I went and had a delightful bath in the sea by a dim moonlight. There is a beautiful sandy beach here, as smooth as a carpet and as firm as a board. Into this I poke my stick, and on the stick my garments, and setting Doroteo to watch that it doesn’t flow away, I plunge into the briny deep, to a cautious extent for fear of sharks. This morning I drove to Jaro to call on the Lt. Governor to return and lend some books, but found him not at home; so I returned, lolling back magnificently in my vehicle, and looking benignly at sundry hatdoffing clodhoppers met on the road. Talking of carriages you and Robert seem to think my having one a sort of event. Carriages however, are gammon – I have been so used to riding about in them for the last ten years that I look upon them “as naught.”
My domestic affairs get on much as usual. Domingo had another row with his wife, and had recourse to a stick to stop her tongue. From what I could make out of the quarrel, he had taken to billiard playing at a table to which the fast youths of the pueblo resort, and which is a few yards from my house. Billiard-playing might – and perhaps had been – in her opinion, the means of plunging him into further depths of depravity – and hence the perpetual lifting up of a shrill and accusatory voice. I remonstrated with the excited parties, forbade the billiard table on pain of terrific punishment, and restored the interrupted harmony – which will be destroyed again before very long no doubt. The mother-in-law has lately come from Manila - a fattish old woman with the long hair reaching to the ground. The coachman, Mr. Victor, I have lately had to thrash to a moderate extent for disappearing o’ nights. Doroteo has been having fights with Victor, and was lately laid up for a long time with a bruised instep from a kick from that functionary. Mariano is strongly suspected of frequenting the billiard room for some sinister purpose, though he is hardly tall enough to use a cue. His last enormity was to go and invest a dollar – which I had given him for clothes to be bought by his mother – in a couple of yards of trashy cotton drill with brilliant green stripes. It appeared on the trial that he went to Jaro market with his mother and the dollar, and that perceiving this fascinating piece of stuff, he suddenly disappeared, and was afterwards discovered, minus the money, but mentally rich in the possession of a gorgeous piece of trousering worth about nine pence. I decided that he was never to be entrusted with any more money, and blew up his unfortunate old parent for not exercising stricter surveillance over her imaginative son. My cats have all disappeared. They got frightened at the bustle of removing from Jaro, and couldn’t be caught afterwards. The little poodle dog is as defiant as ever, and still treats men as his natural enemy. Not so a beautiful coach dog given me as a pup by Doña Federica – a good-natured, useless animal, which serves as an ornament to the corridor, where he is generally to be seen lying about.
But “something too much of this,” as somebody said about something. I will make few or no comments on your two last letters. They are both of them dated from Croft, where you seem to be given up to washing days and looking after the smaller branches of the family tree.
I don’t know whether chronicling small beer entered on the round of your avocations, but am rather scandalized that your reading should have been reduced to two numbers of the “Family Herald.” Have you read “Aurora Leigh?” and having read it do you not intend to give us something of like sort? Seriously, I shall continuously admonish you until I see you enrolled among the feminine writers of the day. Why don’t you go into descriptions of Social Life, some phrases of which you are well qualified to hold the mirror up to, like a female Thackeray, drawn rather milder – and as to style, yours is A-1, and getting better every year. Let’s have that sonnet of W. Marston’s in your next. As for me, my education was far too imperfect to enable me to do anything; and I haven’t power enough to make up the want by reading – in the reading line I am about as barren as you described yourself to be. Scarcely get through my English reviews and newspapers, and lend all my “Revues de Deuz Mondes” to other fellows, before getting a look at ‘em. I always manage to get a few pages of something scanned over at night in bed, without which operation I can never settle down to sleep – such is the force of habit. Over one’s chocolate in the morning little snatches of reading may be done; but as you remarked some time ago, most of this sort of reading is mere mental dissipation – a sort of shirking of something else which one ought to be doing. I hope to have better accounts of john than you give in your last but fear that remorseless disease will at most but relax its hold with the remedies prescribed. Let me know how Lizzie gets on under anything but reassuring circumstances which Father mentions. I note Henry’s doings on the coast – and am rather inclined to agree with him in his declamation against the coloured race. Here we have a set of deceitful, lazy vagabonds, who require a constant application of the bamboo – not but that there are exceptions and some good traits in the native character – which I can’t stop to point out, this country would go ahead much faster if there were some available means of coercion to make the natives work on the estates – on many of which of great part of the crop perishes for want of hands to help the proprietor through in time of need.[ii]
What has become of John Sparkes? I have lost sight of his movements, but don’t think he has gone to Singapore – I wish those two P&O steamers now running from Singapore to Manila would touch here. They would be glad enough to do so if the Government weren’t so Japanese. Doña Federica is expected to present Don Emilio with a son or daughter shortly – they are building a new Government house her, but it will take a long time to finish it. I have got to the end of this stupidest of screeds. Give my love to Mary when you write or see the cove, and believe me to be your lovely – loving I mean – brother,
P.S. Your Croftian violets – if a few fragments of mouldings can be so called – came on all right, and are preserved religiously. Some day I hope to gather some on the same spot myself, and take some of those walks which you, to my great envy, described.