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ART. I.-The Basque Provinces: their Political State, Scenery, and Inhabitants; with Adventures amongst the Carlists and Christinos. By EDWARD BELL STEPHENS, Esq. 2 Vols. London: Whittaker and Co. 1837.
Ir is far from our present purpose to enter into the merits of the civil war that distracts Spain, and the adjoining provinces subject to the Spanish crown. The topic is not only so stale, but it has become the arena of such conflicting opinions, that no satisfaction could be derived by the readers of the "Monthly Review," were our pages wasted on its discussion. To any publication, however, which addresses itself principally to politics, or which strenuously upholds party views, the volumes now before us offer abundant materials, either to be combatted or brought forward as supports, according to the side of the question advocated. The author announces at the very outset, that he proceeded to the seat of war between the Carlists and Christinos, the professed correspondent of the "Morning Post," and certainly every one of his chapters breathes an animus which is in perfect conformity with the politics of that ultra Tory paper. Very many of his sketches here produced have previously appeared in nearly a similar shape, we believe, in that journal. This must be enough to convince any impartial individual that strong one-sided views will prevail throughout the work, which we have no inclination to consider. One extract which we leave without a single word of comment, will sufficiently illustrate our statement.
"As I approached Fuentarabia and saw the defenceless condition of the place from which Evans had retreated so shamefully, I was struck with surprise. I could scarcely believe that any one with such pretensions to skill in the military art, and supported by a force of 6,000 men, had shrunk from the attack of such a heap of ruins as it presents. The town is built on a rocky cliff, at the side of the bay, and was once magnificently fortified, as may be perceived by the remaining curtain of cut stone which faces the VOL. III. (1837.) NO. I.
approach from Irun, and serves the little garrison for a ball-alley, but which Evans did not face as he descended from the hills in his march from Passages. In fact he could not see any thing but ruins from his position. There is not a single bastion left standing round the town. The crumbled walls are overthrown, in many places to their very foundations;-sad memorials of the result of French and English interference in the affairs of the Peninsula. Notwithstanding the great care formerly bestowed on the water-defences of the town, nothing now remain of them but the marshy traces of ditches, and the town is approachable at all sides dry-shod. There is scarcely as much of its ancient upper works left as would serve to shelter a marksman. The destroyers did not spare even the parapet wall of the ball-alley. The only outwork, as Evans saw plainly enough, consists of a slight wall, recently built on the ruins of the old ramparts, pierced with holes for musketry; and this is of so rough, yet unsubstantial a construction, that many a farmer in England would not think it good enough for his haggard. The side at which Evans appeared is the most accessible of all. Where the fosse is not filled up with the fallen curtain, it is peaceably planted with maize,-maize is also planted on what remains of the rampart promenade above; and any of the Westminster heroes who ever had the slightest treadmill practice, might have marched step by step up the rubbish, without breaking rank, till they came to vault over the wall at the top, (and the most serious danger then would be, that, if a dozen of them laid hold of it together, they would pull it down upon themselves); but at the angles, where the great bastions have fallen abroad at an angle of forty-five degrees, even Ducrow's troop of horse could have gone up and over all at a stage gallop. The real defence of the little ruined town was-first, the presence of 250 soldier peasants within, ready to stand by each other and the cause of Don Carlos to the death; and secondly, the sympathetic cowardice of 6,000 mercenaries without, who well knew their General's want of ability to lead, and their own state of demoralization and disinclination to follow. His excuses of want of scaling ladders and breaching cannon, and his military foresight, or far-sight, of the danger of being taken in flank by 300 men two miles off, at Irun, are, to any one on the spot, thoroughly • ridiculous."
It is with the sketches which Mr. Stephens gives of the manners, the condition, and resources of the inhabitants of the Basque Provinces, as well as of the scenery he viewed, and the adventures in which he shared, that we have to do; and in respect of these matters we are happy in having it to say, that his volumes contain a fuller and more satisfactory account than most of those which have been written by tourists in these regions since the present civil war commenced. He is, besides, a lively and spirited writer, everywhere betraying an active turn, both of body and mind,which is particularly necessary in the case of one who has to rough it in a country disturbed by war. We must add, however, that there seems frequently in his narrative a tendency to strive after an exaggerated effect which becomes doubly offensive on account of the feeble and forced sort of wit that is introduced on many occasions, and which appears to us to have been more generally employed with the design of
exciting a laugh or admiration of the author, than from an anxiety to convey a precise and faithful picture. Having thrown out these few general observations which, as we believe, will be found in accordance with the opinion of every one who may skim over the pages of this light and sketchy work, it remains for us to accompany the writer in some of his most interesting details relative to the points already mentioned as suitable to our review.
It was in September, 1836, that we are told Mr. Stephens crossed the frontier between France and Spain, which was an enterprise not free from danger and many difficulties, and of which there is an amusing description given-having been performed at night and in disguise. He is in raptures with almost everything that appears after having set foot on ground the occupants of which profess allegiance to Don Carlos. The valleys of Navarre in respect of splendid scenery are scarcely to be rivalled-the hatred of the inhabitants in reference to the Christinos, especially Rodil, is unquenchable and unutterable-the activity and merits of these same haters unrivalled. Here is a spirited sketch of them, in certain capacities.
"The Navarrese seem made for their mountains.
Clad and armed in the lightest and simplest manner, they skip along the rocks like deer. They wore blue cloth bonnets, (similar to that of the French Basques which our guides wore, but extended trencher-wise by a hoop of willow,) short jackets, with linen trowsers in summer. The voluntario, who accompanied our mules as a guard of honour, seemed rather to prefer running than walking. His pace excited my admiration, for he got over the staircases, up or down hill, as if his legs were springs and the rocks Indian rubber; but nearly all whom we met seemed to possess the same happy elasticity of step. Several facciosos passed us at this courier trot, going and coming, carrying their coats over one shoulder, and their guns club fashion, over the other; the bayonet (which has a useful slide ring to secure it on the muzzle) is worn at the right side in a broad strap round the waist. Twenty cartridge tubes of tin are borne in front, attached to the same waist belt, and secured from all danger of wet or explosion by a falling flap of leather. This was the arrangement of Zumalacarregui, and I could easily believe that one soldier so accoutred is as effective for mountaineer warfare as two burthened in the style of the French troops of the line, with knapsack and lengthy cross belts, cartouche boxes and bayonets, swords which they never use, and stocks which really deserve the name. As I observed in my ride the two species of soldiers at opposite sides of the river, it struck me what a vast saving of weight it would be to the latter, if their belts were made a little longer, and their swords, bayonets and cartouche boxes allowed to trail on duty and parade. A heavy knapsack would hang a Basque or Navarrese mountaineer, and a stock would choke him or be burst open by the free play of the muscles and veins in his neck, which experience the full benefit of sun, wind and rain all the year round. A small bag or net slung over his shoulder carries all he wants or cares for. His great superiority of movement, however, appeared to be the result of the simple and judici