1867 - Mark Twain - Vagabonds from Tetuan
Samuel Langhorne Clemens - better known to everybody as Mark Twain - was of course the author of those two well known classics - The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and its sequel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
1871 - Mark Twain
In 1867, however, an American newspaper funded a trip to Europe and the Middle East and he wrote a series of articles giving details of his experiences. These he compiled and published two years later as The Innocents Abroad. It was on this trip that he visited Gibraltar.
Perhaps understandably, his chapter on the Rock does little to add to our knowledge of the place and its people as one gets the impression that he was more concerned in promoting his own fame as a wit than in giving us any serious descriptions of the people or social history of any of the places that he visited.
The following are - in my opinion - the more pertinent paragraphs from his chapter on Gibraltar. The illustration are all taken from the book.
The Quaker City - Mark Twain's boat - running into stormy weather before reaching Gibraltar
We were approaching the famed Pillars of Hercules . . . In a very few moments a lonely and enormous mass of rock, standing seemingly in the centre of the wide straits and apparently washed on all sides by the sea swung magnificently into view, and we needed no tedious travelled parrot to tell us it was Gibraltar. There could not be two rocks like that in one kingdom.
. . . One side and one end of it come about come up as about as straight out of the sea as the side of a house, the other end is irregular and the other side is a steep slant, which an army might find difficult to climb. At the foot of the slant is the walled town of Gibraltar - or rather the town occupies part of the slant. Everywhere - on hillside, in the precipice, by the sea, on the heights - everywhere you, everywhere you choose to look Gibraltar is clad with masonry and bristling with guns. It makes a striking and lively picture from whatsoever point you contemplate it.
The Rock from Spain
First impressionsWe had no sooner gotten rid of Spain's distress than the Gibraltar guides started another - a tiresome repetition of a legend that had nothing very astonishing about it even in the first place; "that high hill yonder is called the Queen of Spain's Chair; it is because one of the Queens of Spain placed her chair there when French and Spanish troops were besieging Gibraltar, and said she would never move from the spot until the English flag was lowered from the fortress. If the English hadn't been gallant enough to lower the flag for a few hours one day, she'd have had to break her oath or die up there"
To make his point, Twain repeats this anecdote - or portions of it - no less than four times. To quote the editor of the collection of Mark Twain’s notebooks on which the book is based - ‘Clemens made the yarn, if possible, even more tiresome in . . . his Innocents Abroad.’
Mark Twain and the Gibraltarian tourist guide
The People of the RockThere is an English garrison at Gibraltar of 6000 or 7000 men, and so uniforms of flaming red are plenty; and red and blue, and undress costumes of snowy white, and also the queer uniform of the bare-kneed Highlander; and one sees soft eyed Spanish girls from San Roque, and veiled Moorish beauties ( I suppose they are beauties ) from Tarifa, and turbaned, sashed, and trousered Moorish merchants from Fez, and long-robed, bare-legged, ragged Muhammadan vagabonds from Tetuan and Tangier, some brown some yellow and some as black as virgin ink - and Jews from all around, in gabardine, skullcap, and slippers, just as they are in pictures and theatres, and just as there were three thousand years ago, no doubt. You can easily understand that a tribe . . . like ours, made up from fifteen or sixteen states of the Union, found enough to stare at in this shifting panorama of fashion today.
. . . . . The ship had to stay a week or more at Gibraltar to take in coal for the home voyage. It would be very tiresome staying here, and so four of us ran the quarantine blockade and spent seven delightful days in Seville, Cordova, Cadiz, and wandering through the pleasant rural scenery of Andalusia, the garden of Old Spain.
On the whole one gets the impression that Twain was not overly impressed with the Rock. While there he wrote to his family that he was 'clear worn out with riding and climbing in and over this monstrous rock and its fortifications.'
Nevertheless he does seem to have been much taken by the women in Gibraltar - but then he was renown as an out and out womaniser. Here is an absurd little interlude which he deals with at far greater length that the quote shown below.
Every now and then my glove purchase in Gibraltar last night intrudes itself upon me. Dan and the ship's surgeon and I had been up to the great square, listening to the music of the fine military bands and contemplating English and Spanish female loveliness and fashion, and at nine o'clock were on our way to the theatre, when we met the General, the Judge, the Commodore, the Colonel, and the Commissioner of the United States of America to Europe, Asia, and Africa, who had been to the Club House to register their several titles and impoverish the bill of fare; and they told us to go over to the little variety store near the Hall of Justice and buy some kid gloves.
They said they were elegant and very moderate in price. It seemed a stylish thing to go to the theatre in kid gloves, and we acted upon the hint. A very handsome young lady in the store offered me a pair of blue gloves. I did not want blue, but she said they would look very pretty on a hand like mine. The remark touched me tenderly.
I glanced furtively at my hand, and somehow it did seem rather a comely member. I tried a glove on my left and blushed a little. Manifestly the size was too small for me. But I felt gratified when she said: "Oh, it is just right!" Yet I knew it was no such thing.
The 'Glove' anecdote
Billiards on the RockWe had played billiards in the Azores with balls that were not round and on an ancient table that was very little smoother than a brick pavement . . . . We had played at Gibraltar with balls the size of a walnut, on a table like a public square—and in both instances we achieved far more aggravation than amusement.
There were also various other observations that can be gleaned from his note book that were not included in the book. For example his hotel may have had a reputation of being the best one in town at the time but it was probably not the most comfortable one. Twain mentions the Club House Hotel also in Commercial Square. It was reputed to be ‘old established and comfortable’ although Twain was unimpressed with the service. They didn’t keep a proper register and never knew who was staying and who was not. They also refused to send out a servant when he wanted to locate some friends and - perhaps the greatest sin – the landlord lied about the Tangier boat.
What exactly he lied about was not revealed but it might have had something to do with the fact that he had not been warned that there was no mole or landing place in Tangier and passengers were required to change boats in order to approach the beach and then forced to hitch a smelly ride on the backs of non-too-clean Tangerine porters to avoid getting their feet wet.