The People of Gibraltar

1908 - W.D. Howell - Semitic brethren

William Dean Howell was born in Ohio in 1837.  He was a prolific writer and is often regarded as the 'father of American Realism' influencing both Mark Twain and Henry James. The following quotes are taken from his 1908 publication, Roman Holidays and Others. They  concentrate on his thoughts on Gibraltar - and the Campo  - after a short visit.

Perhaps it is worth pointing out that a common American university question which often crops up in exams for students taking novel-writing courses, is to discuss Howells's attitudes toward gender and class. The quotes below may have little to offer on his opinions on 'gender' but might be interesting as regards both 'class' and 'racism'. I leave it to the reader to make up his or her mind. 
There is nothing strikes the traveller in his approach to the rock of Gibraltar so much as its resemblance to the trade-mark of the Prudential Insurance Company. He cannot help feeling that the famous stronghold is pictorially a plagiarism from the advertisements of that institution. As the lines change with the ship's course, the resemblance is less remarkable; but it is always remarkable, and I suppose it detracts somewhat from the majesty of the fortress, which we could wish to be more entirely original.  

This was my feeling when I first saw Gibraltar four years ago, and it remains my feeling after having last seen it four weeks ago. The eye seeks the bold, familiar legend, and one suffers a certain disappointment in its absence. Otherwise Gibraltar does not and cannot disappoint the most exacting tourist. 
. . . We were promised separate vehicles for parties of three or four, with English-speaking drivers, and the promise was fairly well kept. The carriages bore a strong family likeness to the pictures of Spanish state coaches of the seventeenth century, and were curtained and cushioned in reddish calico. Rubber tires are yet unknown in southern Europe, and these mediaeval arks bounded over the stones with a violence which must once have been characteristic of those in the illustrations. 

Typical Gibraltar gharry somewhere up the Rock. This style of coach was a Maltese import and was often referred to as a Malta gharry during the late 19th and early 20th century    ( 1890s )
But the English of our English-speaking driver was all that we could have asked for the shillings we paid Cook for him, or, if it was not, it was all we got. He was an energetic young fellow and satisfyingly Spanish in colouring, but in his eagerness to please he was less grave than I could now wish; I now wish everything in Spain to have been in keeping. 
What was most perfectly, most fittingly in keeping was the sight of the Moors whom we began at once to see on the wharves and in the streets. They probably looked very much like the Moors who followed their caliph, if he was a caliph, into Spain when he drove Don Roderick out of his kingdom and established his own race and religion in the Peninsula.  
Moslem costumes can have changed very little in the last eleven or twelve hundred years, and these handsome fellows, who had come over with fresh eggs and vegetables and chickens and turkeys from Tangier, could not have been handsomer when they bore scimitars and javelins instead of coops and baskets. They had baggy drawers on, and brown cloaks, with bare, red legs and yellow slippers; one, when he took his fez off, had a head shaved perfectly bald, like the one-eyed Calender or the Barber's brother out of the Arabian Nights; the sparse moustache and short-forked beard heightened the verisimilitude.  
Whether they squatted on the wharf, or passed gravely through the street, or waited for custom in their little market among the hen-coops and the herds of rather lean, dispirited turkeys (which had not the satisfaction of their American kindred in being fattened for the sacrifice, for in Europe all turkeys are served lean), these Moors had an allure impossible to any Occidental race. It was greater even than that of their Semitic brethren, who had a market farther up in the town, and showed that a Jewish market could be much filthier than a Moorish market without being more picturesque. 

Typical Gibraltar scenes ( 1917 - Graphic Magazine )
Into the web of Oriental life were wrought the dapper figures of the red-coated, red-cheeked English soldiers, with blue, blue eyes and incredible red and yellow hair, lounging or hurrying orderlies with swagger-sticks, and apparently aimless privates no doubt bent 'upon quite definite business or pleasure. Now and then an English groom led an English horse through the long street from which the other streets in Gibraltar branch up and down hill, for there is no other level; and now and then an English man or woman rode trimly by. 
The whole place is an incongruous mixture of Latin and Saxon. The strictly South-European effect of the houses and churches is a mute protest against the alien presence which keeps the streets so clean and maintains order by means of policemen showing under the helmets of the London bobby the faces of the native alguazil. In the shops the saleswomen speak English and look Spanish. Our driver, indeed, looked more Spanish than he spoke English.
His knowledge of our rude tongue extended hardly beyond the mention of certain conventional objects of interest, and did not suffice to explain why we could not see the old disused galleries of the fortifications. I do not know why we wished to see these; I doubt if we really did so, but we embittered life for that well-meaning boy by our insistence upon them, and we brought him under unjust suspicion of deceit by forcing him to a sort of time-limit in respect to them. 
We appealed from him to the blandest of black-moustached, olive-skinned bobby-alguazils, who directed us to a certain government office for a permit. There our application caused something like dismay, and we were directed to another office, but were saved from the shame of failure by incidentally learning that the galleries could not be seen till after three o'clock. As our ship sailed at that hour, we were probably saved a life-long disappointment. 

What Howell missed - St Georges Hall which forms part of the Galleries. Would it have been 'a life-long disappointment'?
Everywhere the rock of the Prudential beetles and towers over the town; but the fortifications are so far up in the sky that you can really distinguish nothing but the Marconi telegraphic apparatus at the top. Along the sea-level, which the town mostly keeps, the war-like harness of the stronghold shows through the civil dress of the town in barracks and specific forts and gray battle-ships lying at anchor in the docks. 
But all is simple and reserved, in the right English fashion. The strength of the place is not to be put forth till it is needed, which will be never, since it is hard to imagine how it can ever be even attempted by a hostile force. This is not saying, I hope, that an American fleet could not batter it down, nor leave one letter of the insurance advertisement after another on the face of the precipice.
There is a pretty public garden at Gibraltar in that part of the town which is farthest from the steamer's landing, and this proved the end of our excursion in our state coach. We found other state coaches there, and joined their passengers in strolling over the pleasant paths and trying to make out what bird it was singing somewhere in the trees. 
. . . There is a mild monument or two in this garden, to what memories I promptly failed to remember afterward; but as there are more military memories in the world than is good for it, and as these were undoubtedly military memories, I cannot much blame myself in the matter. 

Wellington Monument - Alameda Gardens ( 1890s )
After viewing them, there was nothing left to do but to get lunch, which we got extremely good at the hotel where a friend led us. There was at this hotel a head-waiter, in a silver-braided silk dress-coat of a mauve color, who imagined our wants so perfectly that I shall always regret not taking more of the omelette  . .  
The eggs must have been laid for it in Africa that morning at daybreak, and brought over by a Moorish marketman, but we turned from the poetic experience of this omelette in the greedy hope of better things. Better things there could not be, but the fish was as good as the fish at Madeira, and the belief of the chops that they were lamb and not kid seemed better founded.
There had been an excellent bottle of Rioja Blanca, such as you may have as good at some Spanish restaurant in New York for as little money; and the lunch, when reckoned up in English shillings and Spanish undertones, was not cheap. . . An English dean in full clericals, and some English ladies talking in the waiting-room, added an agreeable confusion to our doubt of where and what we were, and we came away from the hotel as well content as if we had lunched in Plymouth or Bath. 
It is said that living is dear in Gibraltar, especially in the matter of house rent. The houses in the town are like all the houses of Latin Europe in their gray or yellowish walls of stone or stucco and their dark-green shutters. There is an English residential quarter at the east end of the town, where the houses may be different, for all I know; the English of our driver or the hire of our state coach did not enable us to visit that suburb, where the reader may imagine villas standing in grounds with lawns and gardens about them. 
The English have prevailed nothing against the local civilization in most things, while they have infected it with the costliness of the whole Anglo-Saxon life. We should not think seven hundred dollars in New York dear for even a quite small house, but it has come to that in Gibraltar, and there they think it dear, with other things proportionately so. Of course, it is an artificial place; the fortress makes the town, and the town in turn lives upon the fortress. 
The English plant themselves nowhere without gathering English conveniences or conventions about them; Americans would not always think them comforts. There is at Gibraltar a club or clubs; there is a hunt, there is a lending library, there is tennis, there is golf, there is bridge, there is a cathedral, and I dare say there is gossip, but I do not know it. It was difficult to get land for the golf links, we heard, because of the Spanish jealousy of the English occupation, which they will not have extended any farther over Spanish soil, even in golf links. . . All this foreign life must be exterior to the aboriginal Spanish life which has so long outlasted the Moorish, and is not without hope of outlasting the English. 

Gibraltar Golf Course in Campamento, Spain ( Early 20th Century )
I do not know what the occupations and amusements of that life are, but I will suppose them unworthy enough. There must be a certain space of neutral life uniting or dividing the two, which would form a curious inquiry, but would probably not lend itself to literary study. Besides this middle ground there is another neutral territory at Gibraltar which we traversed after luncheon, in order to say that we had been in Spain. 
. . . It was a charmingly characteristic foretaste of Spanish travel that the driver of the state coach which we first engaged should, when we presently came back, have replaced himself by another for no other reason than, perhaps, that he could so provide us with a worse horse. I am not sure of this theory, and I do not insist upon it, but it seems plausible.
As soon as we rounded the rock of Gibraltar and struck across a flatter country than I supposed could be found within fifty miles of Gibraltar, we were swept by a blast which must have come from the Pyrenees, it was so savagely rough and cold. It may be always blowing there as a Spanish protest against the English treatment of the neutral territory; in fact, it does not seem quite the thing to build over that space as the English have done, though the structures are entirely peaceable, and it is not strange that the Spaniards have refused to meet them half-way with a good road over it, or to let them make one the whole way. 
They stand gravely opposed to any further incursion. Officially in all the Spanish documents the place is styled "Gibraltar, temporarily occupied by Great Britain," and there is a little town which you see sparkling in the sun no great way off in Spain called San Roque, of which the mayor is also mayor of Gibraltar; he visits his province once a year, and many people living for generations over the Spanish line keep the keys of the houses that they personally or ancestrally own in Gibraltar. 

A view from San Roque ( 1860s - George W. Wilson )
The case has its pathos, but as a selfish witness I wish they had let the English make that road through the neutral territory. The present road is so bad that our state coach, in bounding over its inequalities, sometimes almost flung us into the arms of the Spanish beggars always extended toward us. . . .One pleasant starveling of ten or twelve entreated us for bread with a cigarette in his mouth, and, being rewarded for his impudence, entered into the spirit of the affair and asked for more, just as if we had given nothing.
A squalid little town grew up out of the flying gravel as we approached, and we left our state coach at the custom-house, which seemed the chief public edifice. There the inspectors did not go through the form of examining our hand-bags, as they would have done at an American frontier; and they did not pierce our carriage cushions with the long javelins with which they are armed for the detection of smuggling among the natives who have been shopping in Gibraltar. 
As the gates of that town are closed every day at nightfall by a patrol with drum and fife, and everybody is shut either in or out, it may easily happen with shoppers in haste to get through that they bring dutiable goods into Spain; but the official javelins rectify the error. 
We left our belongings in our state coach and started for that stroll in Spain which I have measured as two up-town blocks, by what I think a pretty accurate guess; two cross-town blocks I am sure it was not. It was a mean-looking street, unswept and otherwise unkempt, with the usual yellowish or grayish buildings, rather low and rather new, as if prompted by a mistaken modern enterprise. 
They were both shops and dwellings; I am sure of a neat pharmacy and a fresh-looking cafe restaurant, and one dwelling all faced with bright-green tiles. An alguazil—I am certain he was an alguazil, though he looked like an Italian carabiniere and wore a cocked hat—loitered into a police station; but I remember no one else during our brief stay in that street except those bouffe boy beggars. 
Of course, they wished to sell us postal-cards, but they were willing to accept charity on any terms. Otherwise our Spanish tour was, so far as we then knew, absolutely without incident; but when we got too far away to return we found that we had been among brigands as well as beggars, and all the Spanish picaresque fiction seemed to come true in the theft of a black chudda shawl, which had indeed been so often lost in duplicate that it was time it was entirely lost. 
. . . Our visit to Spain did not wholly realize my early dreams of that romantic land, and yet it had not been finally destitute of incident. Besides, we had not gone very far into the country; a third block might have teemed with adventure, but we had to be back on the steamer before three o'clock, and we dared not go beyond the second. 

View of Gibraltar with the Spanish frontier town of La Linea in the middle distance from the Queen of Spain's Chair. The guns being fired from the Rock are celebrating Queen Victoria's 72nd birthday ( 1891 )