Letter No. 20
February 12, 1860
“Rosalia” to Manila
and overland via China
My dear Nanny,
As I have the only faintest idea of when I last wrote you, it would be as well on this occasion to sink all reference to such absurd things as dates – if, however, you will have allusion to those weal inventions, I may mention that somewhere about June last year was the time when I think you were last epistolarised from this quarter of the world. What to say in defense of the immense hiatus in correspondence? Nothing – inevitable force of circumstances – and chiefly in fact (paradoxical as it might seem to the undiscerning mind) the very wish of writing you a long, and only a long letter at times of departure of mails, when the writing of long letters in addition to those perennial business ones which are the bane of one’s existence, was not to be thought of.
I will not class “the likes of you” among undiscerning minds, and will therefore assume at once that you will see by the light of intuition how completely impossible it is that I should, would, or might have written since June, or whenever it was, last year. Having triumphantly disposed of that little business, I take a fresh dip, and proceed.
The last letter from you that I discover among my chaotic private papers is dated August 17th. I think it is the last although not quite sure – no disposable time at present to institute a rigorous search – but anyhow I was, and am, very much indebted to you for it. All that you so kindly say was, you may be sure, thoroughly appreciated and understood. Je ne dirais pas plus sur cela, parceque comme J’ai dit autrefois, mes lettres ne sont pas vue par vous seul, et pour des raisons que vous pouvez comprendre – il y a des choses que on n’aime pas a dire a toute le monde[i] – not that I mean “tout le monde” to be taken literally, or even approximately – but you perceive what I do mean.
You will notice from my rambling letter to Father that pecuniary matter in re my debtor friend are turning out unfavourable, as to avoid comprising his agent at Antique, I shall hand over to the latter a quantity of goods and money obtained (legally as far as I was concerned) from him – to be added to the general fund or assets for the benefit of the other creditors – in which I may also share, but from which little will be got, after a lapse of goodness knows how long. Still all this is nothing at all provided I find a sufficient sum to my credit towards the end of the year to enable me to go home, with a fair margin to spare, and not too many outstanding accounts pending – and that this will be the case I have full reason to believe – particularly if a tolerable saccharine business to be done in this year of grace one thousand eight hundred sixty – as to which by the bye, I have not had the opportunity of wishing you “a happy new year.” As for the year one thousand eight hundred and fifty-nine, I think he is about the most disagreeable individual of his fraternity that I have yet made acquaintance with. On many accounts he has been to me a most objectionable old party, but I daresay that a time may come when I may see him under another aspect, and be inclined on the whole to condone his apparent absurdities.
So much for Buckingham from the hopes and fears and money and tonnage point of view. Now let us look back at him in a less disagreeable and shoppy kind of light. Let us contemplate him at his ancient practice of cutting about on unknown coasts in queer little caravels. You have been having your excursion to Warwickshire, and I mine to the Isle of Negros.
On the 31st of December 1859, Francisco del Castillo, Felipe G. Diez and I embarked in a panca for a trip of a few days to the Isle of Negros including a cruise round the island of Guimaras. After a night of wind and rain, which we spent on deck, we found ourselves opposite Bacolod, the chief town of Negros. Disembarked in a gloomy shower of rain, got duly wet, and went to the Governor’s – Dr. Pedro Beaumont, a loud-voiced peremptory man, with a face which reminded me of Haydon’s idea of a countenance like a “vulgar eagle.” He was engaged in ordering the gobernadorcillo and teniente mayor under arrest for deficient supply of grass to his horses. Received us very politely, between the intervals of storming at those unhappy functionaries – sundry Spaniards about the sala, and other residents of Bacolod. Talked about things in general. Spiced sausage, biscuits and wine. Sallied forth to visit Lieutenant Governor Don Pedro Campo and other fellows. Returned at three to Governor’s to dinner, which was a good one, and host very amiable. Don Jose de Alvarez y Sotomayor a tall, thin, good-looking blue-eyed, small-headed Spaniard with the mark of climate stamped on him, was great on sugar crops and sugar, cane crushing labour, etc. – he having converted a large estate at Ginigaran; Felipe Diez and Beaumont reminisced of Madrid and “people they had met.” After dinner went to the stables and looked at the horses, and talked that most dreary of all talks – a talk about horses – wonderful qualities and prices of animals you have never seen and don’t want to see. As I walked down to the beach some Indians carried us through the water to the baroto and pulled off to the panca – with us came Don Hugo Koch, a Prussian ex-naturalist settled at Valladolid and married to a mestizo daughter of a sugar planter. Started for Pulo Pandan on the southern coast of Negros.
Night very stormy, with thunder, lightnings, and a heavy rain and sea. Water very phosphorescent – shoals in the immediate neighbourhood. Master of panca not sure of his course or whereabouts, main-boom smashed in two, and things in general, ominous. Getting out of the neighbourhood of the shoals, we had, however, some supper and managed to get to the anchorage of Pulo Pandan before morning. Found loading there the brigantine “San Nicholas” and surprised my old friend of the “Sumbilla,” Captain Don Santiago de Sierra, by shouting to him to come on board. Walked along sandy beach to Valladolid, and arrived in a hot state at Don Hugo’s house – refection – afterwards to breakfast at the convent with Padre Julian – poor Father Julian putting on his black Recoleto robes to go and bury someone. At two, with a terrific sun, started on horseback for the estate of Don Hugo’s father-in-law, Don Agustin Montilla. Rode along a very indifferent road by swampy paddy fields with the grain laid nearly flat by the rains, and where Ceres, in the shape of brown Bisayan women with kirtle looped above the knee, was cutting off the ears of rice in all directions. The Prussian gave me his horse and, mounted on a sorry animal which had come that day all the way from Bacolod, went shouting and whooping along the way, wielding a bamboo – a good rider though a rough one. There were some little pink flowers on the edges of the road – something between a vetch and a clover – which took my fancy considerably.
Bye and bye we came to long cane fields, the commencement of Montilla’s estate, and in the distance a long line of luxuriant bamboos marked the course of the river Bago. Reached Montilla’s house about four, when Don Agustin (a Philippine Spaniard) did the honours with planterian hospitality. His wife and daughter being unaccustomed to see much of Europeans, did not show up, but when going round the grounds we caught glimpses of the latter peeping out of windows in the vicinity of the kitchen. They seemed to be good-looking – but as for loveliness, the river of Bago is equal to Abana and Pharphar and all the rivers of Damascus – such a gleaming flow of deliciously clear water between banks of feathery bamboo, areca palms, creepers, camanchiles and other manner of tropical greenery! Stunning, sir – stunning, is about the only word that can convey to you a remote notion of that blessed Bago river which henceforth forms an inalienable part of my mental consciousness.
Montilla took us to the cane-crushing department where Diez and I worked at the mills while the others put through a few canes. One of the mills is an iron one. Then we made an attack on the cane field, breaking off joints of the tallest canes, and wending our way munching, back to the house, passing with considerable difficulty a large deposit of water where a series of frail logs propped on stakes were the only means of locomotion, but where a number of water lilies and strange overgrowth of singular plants made the water and banks a miracle of almost painful beauty. (I mean painful in the sense of a passage I have lately met with in the “Revue de Deux Mondes” in a paper entitled “Pages d’un Reveur Inconnu” – Pages of an Unknown Dreamer) being fragments strung together from the papers of M. Alfred Tonnelle, a young Frenchman who died of fever among the Catalonian mountains, after having been to England and most of the Continent.
But if I go on this way I shall use up the miserable scrap of paper yet left without getting to the end of the day’s doings. Suffice it to say that we got back and rode to Valladolid, and after a weary walk to Pulo Pandan slept on board the “San Nicholas” – how we sailed in the panca the next day for Ginigaran – how the Padre of Ginigaran, an Aragones named Friar Jose Martinez, was a first-rate fellow who accompanied us up an immense salt-water creek to the hacienda of Sotomayor – how we inspected the iron mills from Ker & Co. and the boiling apparatus and oven – how we returned in the evening in a big prau down the desolate mangrove-fringed river - how the Padre gave us a most wonderfully good supper – how we got back to Pulo Pandan next day – and on the following morning started for Iloilo – how a gale of wind split our sails and drove us into a most delightful harbour of Guimaras – how we ascended a mountain, and the glory of the scene we saw from thence – how we bathed in an alligator creek – how we had a fright during the night from two praus full of people emigrating from Antique to Negros, whom we took for pirates from their pulling furiously in our direction – how we started the next morning for the Iloilo coast and reached Miagao with a staggering breeze of wind and came overland by way of Guimbal, Tigbauan, Oton, Arevalo and Molo to Iloilo – how can these things be worthily recounted on a wretched bit of papyrus like this?
The brigantine “Moleño” arrived this afternoon with mail from Manila, and among my letters is one from Father of December 2nd by which I notice that you were still in Warwickshire and intended leaving in a few days for Southampton – Don Roberto was at home I perceive. I epistolarize him by the next craft to Manila.
But all this time I have said nothing about your likeness, the receipt of which I hurriedly acknowledged to you on Sept. 29th. It seems to be a good one, although thirteen years have, of course, produced some difference from the original as recollected by me in May 1847, and photographs never do give a perfect likeness – the mouth, as in most sun-portraits is somewhat exaggerated, the upper part of the face is excellent. I have much pleasure in receiving this portrait and must again thank you for it. The lines you enclosed were very appropriate – but the fag end of a frantic note written at this moment with sugar matters distracting one’s attention, justice cannot be done to this high argument of a “Lady’s portrait 1859,” and further notice must be reserved for a subsequent number. Now look here, you just write an article for the Cornhill magazine and send it to Mr. Makepiece Thackeray. You can do it and it must be done.
Ask Robert what he thinks of you and he and some of the girls and I taking a small run across the Channel to France for a day or two in the spring time next year? With love to Mother, Harriet, Sophie, Aunt Kitty, Mary and Lizzie (when you write them) believe me always
Your very affectionate brother,
P.S. I see Harriet and Aunt Kitty had been to hear J.B. lecture on China. I am executing a commission for a friend of J.B’s – an ethnological professor named Dr. J. Barnard Davis for no less an article than Philippine skulls – have got three from a church yard from a friendly priest.
[i] “I will not say more on that, because as I’ve said formerly, my letters are not seen by you alone, and for reasons which you will understand, there are things which one does not like to say to everybody.”