Open main menu

Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 130.djvu/125

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
117
VISIT TO A SPANISH PRISON.

of a kind that cannot be gainsaid or set aside. Austria saw this in 1866, and accepted the hard and bitter truth in time to save herself. It would have been well for France had she done the same. The triumph of Germany in 1870 was no mere military triumph, but a national triumph, due to causes in accordance with which nations rise and fall. What France wanted after Sedan was a head clear enough to perceive this, and a hand strong enough to apply the only remedy, peace at any price. The writing was on the wall, traced in characters of blood and fire, but there was no one to read it. The only effect of her protracted resistance was to place her more and more at the mercy of the conqueror, and to prolong almost indefinitely the period that must elapse before she can renew the struggle. The moral of this is, that nations should keep their armies on the principle of sudden expansion and mobilization, ready to throw every man, every horse, and every gun on the frontier, for there and there only should the battle be fought. And this is what is actually being done. The next war between two leading powers will probably see even the celerity of 1870 outstripped as regards preparation, and in the interests of the civilian it is to be hoped that the struggle may be fought at or near the frontier. Then, although the condition of those residing on the spot will be no better, the devastation will be confined to a smaller area. More than this it is at present impossible to hope for.




From Temple Bar.

VISIT TO A SPANISH PRISON.

A Spaniard, making his tour of inquiry through England, would glean no smattering at all of English national character from a visit to an English model prison. He would merely see law and order exhibited in their severest features, and the stolid rustic, the clever artisan, and the acute man of business reduced to machines for picking oakum to some purpose, or working on the treadmill for none. He would see the ploughman called, for the first time in his life, No. 1 and the fine gentleman No. 2; while the coarse prison dress, worn alike by one and all, would show him no difference between classes.

In Spain, however, where a certain wild freedom, a certain respect of persons, is mingled with excessive oppression and tyranny, the case is far different. In a Spanish prison each inmate wears the dress in which he enters, which generally betokens his particular province, and certainly his station in life; he is called by his usual name, and he is free to do as he likes, whether his "like" be to work or to gamble, or to sleep the hours away. Spanish prisons are of three kinds: first, the small house of detention, or lock-up, or cárcel; secondly, the ordinary prison, or cárcel proper, where those condemned to short terms of imprisonment, and those undergoing or awaiting trial, are kept; and, thirdly, the presidio, or prison of large size, under military law, where all those who have been sentenced to a long term of imprisonment are kept under strict watch and ward. In this last, the convicts, called presidarios, work in chains, making government roads or renewing fortifications; some of these men are sentenced to as much as fifteen years of presidio. In the presidio the discipline is stricter; the clothes worn are generally prison garments; the inmates, from hard work and hard fare, lose much of their national characteristics, and, therefore, it is to a cárcel proper, or ordinary jail, that I propose to make a visit with my readers.

The prison, which was formerly a convent, is a large, square stone building of three storeys, with the usual patio, or spacious courtyard, around which it is built, with its modest cloisters that offer a walk sheltered from the blazing sun. Two soldiers of the line kept guard, with fixed bayonets, outside, and the same number within; in the prison is, also, close to the door, a guardroom, where a party of six soldiers, and a cabo, or sergeant, were dozing, or writing on the sloping tables that form the Spanish soldiers' rude bedstead, and which are used both for writing and sleeping upon.

As we entered the quadrangle, which looked bright and clear enough, the following sight met our eyes: about thirty clean, smiling young fellows, each wearing his ordinary clothes, and many of whom were smoking their customary cigarillos, lounging about or leaning against the wall chatting gaily enough; there was the peasant, from the wilds of the campo, his colored handkerchief knotted round his head, denoting him probably to be a Valenciano or Manchego, that primitive head-gear being still adhered to in those provinces; the trim artisan, in his jacket and striped trousers; and many wearing no article of clothing save a fine flannel vest and white trousers, the day being intensely hot. Just