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The province of Valencia and the neighbouring country suf fered much in this obstinate contest. Alicant was at that time attached to the French interest, and made a very obstinate resistance to the English troops who besieged it in 1706: but this disposition was by no means general throughout the province; and the capital declared for the Austrians, as well as several other places, among which the ancient town of Xativa afforded the most tragical proof of antipathy to the French:
Xativa was one of the towns most exasperated against Philip V, and the most obstinate in their rebellion against that prince. The town within was the theatre of exploits which would have done honour to the warriors of any age, if courage and honour alone had directed them.
This rebellious town was besieged by the Chevalier d'Asfelt in the month of May 1706. Its garrison consisted of some battalions of English troops only; but the courage of its inhabitants constituted its principal force.
Though the French army was at the foot of the breach, menacing the town with an assault, the inhabitants, equally deaf to the fear of death and to the offers of pardon, would not yield. The assault was made, they every where fought with a courage supported by ungovernable rage; but at length they were overcome and the town was carried. The sword was raised, the inhabitants braved the fury of the soldiers, and preferred death, they said, to obeying Philip. The order for slaughter was given; these unhappy victims of obstinacy presented themselves to the sword and mutually animated each other to die; but wishing to bury their town with them they set fire to it. The soldiers seconded them; the sword in one hand, the fire-brand in the other, they fought and set fire to the buildings.
In a little time rivers of blood filled the squares and inundated the streets; heaps of dead and dying bodies covered the surface, volumes of flame rose in the air, the cries of soldiers, the groans of the dying, the crash of falling houses, and an atmosphere on fire, formed a spectacle of horror sufficient to appal the most insensible. All perished, men, women, old and young; the French general could save only a few women and priests; it was no longer possible to con troul the soldiers. No more of Xativa remained, neither ramparts nor edifices, nor inhabitants, nor even the name it had borne until then. A new town arose from its ashes, and it was called SanFelipe.
The inhabitants of the new city have not yet forgotten that it was the French who destroyed Xativa; and their resentment is transmnitted from father to son.'
Of the beautiful plains that embellish this province, the grandest is that which surrounds the city of Valencia; and of which the circumference extends twenty-five leagues. Other plains, such as those of Alicant and Orihuela, rival it in ferti
lity, and in the beauty of particular objects: but it is unmatched in magnitude and sublimity as a whole. Of the smaller plains, those of Liria and Grandia are the finest, particularly the latter, which slopes from a semicircular range of hills, and presents a prospect of more than thirty villages, the houses in which appear confounded with the trees that surround them. In regard to habits of industry, the Valencians hold a middle station between their northern and southern neighbours. They fallgreatly short of the Catalans in activity and perseverance; while they take decidedly the lead of the Andalusians and the Murcians. The roads in this province are inferior to those in Biscay, but better than those of other parts of Spain. The city of Valencia, and the mixture of good and bad which forms the character of its inhabitants, are well described by M. Laborde:
Valencia is most beautifully and advantageously situated. It is in a plain completely open, and of considerable extent, within half league of the sea, upon the right bank of the river Turia, or Guadalavjar, which flows at the foot of its walls, separating it from part of its suburbs, and it is surrounded by beautiful, cheerful, and rich fields, intersected with canals, which carry water for their fertilization every where. It was formerly a fortified town, at the time when the art of sieges was still in its infancy; but it has at present no fortifications; it is notwithstanding surrounded with ramparts, whose walls are entire. The population of the town of Valencia and its suburbs is about 82,000 inhabitants. The streets of this town are narrow, short, crooked, and intersected by a great number of lanes and alleys; there are many where two carriages cannot pass.'
The quantity of manufactures is a proof of the industrious character of the Valencians: they are numerous and of different kinds, occupying a multitude of persons. The manufactories of silk are the most considerable: they employ nearly 25,000 persons.'
Valencia, take it altogether, is an agreeable town, inhabited by an opulent nobility, a great number of rich merchants, an active and industrious people, and a wealthy clergy; it has playhouses, and other places of resort; a taste for pleasure is manifested every where; the streets are clean, the houses agreeable, and we meet with smiling faces; all is gaiety, pleasures are multiplied and feast succeeds feast: we scarcely believe that we are in Spain on finding ourselves in the midst of an airy, lively people, passionately fond of singing and dancing, of all that can amuse them, and who outwardly appear warm and cordial. The Valencians have an easiness of disposition which renders their address open, unconstrained, and agreeable, influences their connections and affections, and makes their society pleasing and amiable; but, in consequence of this easiness, they take prejudices as readily as prepossessions; they withdraw their affections as easily as they grant them; they change their connections with as great facility as they form them; and take disgust to things and persons as promptly as they become fond of them." I 3
It is well known, that for a long time there were many mercenary assassins in the kingdom of Valencia, who, for small sums, charged themselves with the vengeance of others. There are none of these now; but murders are still frequent; I have known six perpetrated at Valencia in five months; in a small town, at no great distance from it, there were fourteen in eighteen months. A counsellor of the criminal court of the Royal Audience assured me, that there was nearly one a day committed in the province. The prisons consequently are always full: and though there are ten or twelve at Valencia, they are often insufficient.'
The province of La Mancha differs much, both morally and physically, from Valencia. Instead of a rich succession of hill and dale, the eye wanders here over wide unvaried plains; and with regard to the people, we pass from the gayest to one of the gravest and most solemn classes among the Spaniards. They are strongly attached to antient customs and etiquette, and are consequently very backward in all kinds of improvement. It was at Ocana in this province that the Spanish General, Areizaga, had the imprudence to meet the French during the last winter in a pitched battle; which led, as might have been expected, to the entire dispersion of his army.
On the score of tardiness in improvement, Estremadura deserves to be placed by the side of La Mancha. It is destitute of establishments for education, and the inhabitants are of course immersed in profound ignorance. In natural advantages, in soil, in climate, and in supply of water, this province is second to none in Spain: but the industry of man has not here followed the bounteous example of Providence. The principal cause of this ruinous neglect is in the remarkable custom known by the name of Mesta, a term which may require explanation for some of our readers. The word mesta signifies mixture, and is applied to the union of the flocks of many proprietors in one connected body, for the purpose of travelling backwards and forwards. These flocks generally consist of nearly 10,000 sheep each, and are conducted by a master-shepherd called a maymal, who has fifty shepherds placed under him; the complement of dogs to each flock is also fifty. The flocks are called Merinos, and constitute the divisions in which the great mass is made to move; it is to the mass that the name of mesta belongs; and its total numbers are said to amount to four or five millions. Towards the end of April, the flocks are put in motion from the plains of Estremadura, Leon, and Andalusia, to the mountains of Castile, Biscay, Navarre, and Arragon, where they remain during the warm weather; and towards the end of September they are brought back to pass the winter in the plains. Sheep-shearing
is performed in the upward journey, in large buildings called Esquileos, placed near the road, and capable of containing 40, 50, or 60,000 sheep. The principal of these are in the environs of Segovia, and hence the fame of that city for wool. The ewes produce the finest, and the wethers the heaviest fleeces; each fleece being divided into four qualities, more or less fine according to the parts of the animal whence it is taken. These journies vary in length from three to four hundred miles, and are performed in a month or five weeks. The flocks are intitled to pasture on the commons in their route, but they traverse the cultivated lands in a kind of column along a track of eighty yards in width, which the proprietors are obliged by law to leave open for them. The Mesta has its peculiar laws, which are administered by a special court called the honourable council of the Mesta. This court is accused of partiality to the shepherds; and it is a subject of complaint throughout Spain, that all disputes relative to the Mesta should be referable to such a tribunal. The proprietors of flocks, being wealthy and powerful, have obtained from government, at various times, privileges which are manifestly injurious to the public; and a general though hitherto ineffectual call has long prevailed for the abolition of the Mesta. Under its present form, it is productive of various grievances. The cultivated lands adjacent to the track of the flocks are subject to continual trespass, which is the more pernicious on account of the seasons of the journies. The manure of these immense flocks is also lost to agriculture, because they are never folded on arable land; and the unsettled life of the shepherds being unfavourable to marriage, an obstacle is thus created to the progress of population.
Estremadura bears many marks of the pernicious operation of the Mesta; and the traveller here passes through vast spaces without seeing a village, a house, or a human being. It accords much better with the indolence of a Spanish land-holder to draw a fixed sum without any personal trouble, for pasturage, than to make exertions for a future augmentation of the value of his property. It has been calculated that the district of Badajoz contains a space of seventy English miles in length, and forty in breadth, in a state of waste.
The town of Badajoz stands on a plain, on the banks of the Guadiana, within a league and a half of the Portuguese frontier. The English General, Sir Arthur Wellesley, cantoned his troops here in the autumn of 1809 under feelings of great disappointment; and he seems to have fixed on Badajoz as a spot from which he could easily pass into Portugal, without renouncing the Spanish territory until the necessity for retreat
should arise. He probably counted on compensating by watercommunication on the Guadiana for the poverty of the surrounding country. The population of Badajoz is 14,000. Plasencia, through which he marched, is a little town situated in a valley on the banks of the river Xerte.
It has been remarked that architectural monuments of antiquity are best preserved in countries of slow improvement, where the industry of succeeding generations has not been applied to convert the materials of these fabrics to purposes of convenience or emolument. All the benefit that may be ascribed to such a circumstance is fully possessed by Estremadura; and the vestiges of Roman works are here, in consequence, abundant. Merida, antiently Emerita Augusta, became a Roman colony under Augustus, and afterward the capital of Lusitania. It has at present only 5000 inhabitants, and is full of monuments of former grandeur; which are exhibited in the pavement of the streets, the houses, and the churches; in inscriptions; and in the ruins of columns, vases, and capitals. At Coria, (the antient Cauria,) the limits of the Roman fortifications still exist; and at Galisto we travel along their roads. Of the present state of the roads and the manner of living in this uncomfortable country, some idea may be formed from M. Laborde's account :
Nature has formed the roads of Estremadura, art has scarcely contributed to them at all. The grand road which leads into Portugal is the best kept; it was repaired every time that any of the royal family of Spain and Portugal were going to travel that way, which has happened more frequently since the two families became allied by marriages. The traveller in entering Estremadura should arm himself with courage and patience; the inconveniencies which he has experienced in the posadas of the other parts of Spain are nothing compared to those which attend him in this province. These houses where the traveller seeks shelter and repose are for the most part like bad stables: the rooms, the kitchens, the persons who inhabit them are all filthy: we are sometimes by the side of a hog, an ass or a mule; the bedsteads are not equal to a truss of straw; we find nothing to eat in the posada, and frequently nothing is to be bought in the places where they are situated.'
No kind of dissipation or pleasures are known in Estremadura, there is no variety, every thing is regular, and melancholy. Persons. of high birth, and those who have fortune or are at their ease, seldom associate and that but accidentally. It is still worse with the common people; they are so poor that they are constantly experiencing deprivations of every kind, and often want the necessarics of life, without looking forward to any favourable change of this pitiable condition. This excess of poverty, which spreads from family to family, oppresses the soul and enervates the body.'