Spain - Expo Paris 1867

Spain at the Exhibition Expo Paris 1867

A Spanish ambassador to Venice in the seventeenth century was once taken to the cellars of the Bank, and as he was shown the riches of the Doge's Republic, he replied, looking at the chests full of sequins: "These treasures have no roots in the ground like those of the king my master! He was thus alluding to the much more inexhaustible quantity of gold and silver that the Spanish monarchy could draw from its vast possessions in America.

It was doubtless a word of perfect accuracy in the circumstance in which it was uttered; but today, after two centuries, this assertion offers itself to our minds as a chimerical rodomontade; for, alas, the millions of the Republic of Venice are no more swallowed up in the waves of the Adriatic than the legendary galleons have disappeared equally in the abyss of the Ocean and in the abyss of time.

We would have preferred the representative of the Escorial to have been able to answer in such a case:
"Spain is much more rich, for its wealth is based on the industry of its inhabitants. "
Therefore, in order to have the right to excuse and acknowledge a certain inferiority in the present, we shall precede this study with some retrospective considerations on the industrial crises and contingencies of Spain in the past. These causes of gradual decline seem to us to be so manifold and diverse that, in order to make them clear, we shall first mention some historical and local peculiarities which are generally little known.

Well, do you want to know why Madrid, the capital of the gigantic monarchy of Philip II, has not grown in extent and population as London and Paris have? Do you think it was because, even at the beginning of the reign of Charles V, the court was still resident in Valladolid? Do you suppose that it is because Madrid became the capital of Spain only after the long formation of Spanish unity, and that it has thus lacked the time to grow for three centuries? But consider the prodigious development that Paris and London have undergone during this same period; as for Madrid, here is the singular, unimaginable royal monopoly that was devised to do honour to that city by raising it to the rank of capital; an edict was issued according to which....

His Majesty the King was to be the owner of the first floor of any new house.

Was this an incentive to build? Who could be the owner of land foolish enough to think of building under such conditions? And since the first thing to have inhabitants in a city is to have houses to house them, Madrid was thus condemned to remain stationary for an indefinite period.

If, on the one hand, Madrid has not grown, another of Spain's most important cities, Cadiz, has long since only decreased in population and wealth. The security of its harbour, as well as its geographical position, offer such advantages that Charles V, in his last instructions, recommended to Philip II to keep three ports: Vlissingen in the Netherlands, Cadiz in Spain and La Goulet in Africa. We need not wonder what has become of Goulette and Flushing for Spain today; Cadiz alone remains, but it is in such a state of decay, that if it has been retained as a possession, it may be said to have been lost as a real value. Placed, however, at the south-western extremity of Europe, this city seemed to be its vanguard for relations with America; no place in the world was better situated to serve for the exchange of the products of the two continents. Indeed, its mercantile prosperity was for a long time affected by this admirable position; it was in its waters that the galleons from Peru arrived, loaded with gold like floating mines.

Then, by degrees, this edifice of fortune collapsed as if it had been built on a foundation of sand. The brigs carrying the spoils of the New World went off to land their treasures on other shores. Add to this another germ of evil stemming from the administrative imperialism of exorbitant customs duties, as a bias to sterilise a fertile source; Cadiz was not declared a free port until the end of the reign of Ferdinand VII.
The means of revival were then applied to a dying body, regeneration could not be grafted on to accomplished decadence; Cadiz no longer counted, Havre and Liverpool had replaced it.

In other less important respects, more than one local industry was gradually lost. A hundred years ago, for example, the wine of Ribadavia, in Galicia, was quoted as the best wine in Spain; what gourmet is learned enough today to know this completely ignored vintage? In the same Galicia, that part of Spain which is so productive and so little exploited, the fishing of anchovies was also enough to make Redondela rich. I will not speak of Santiago de Compostela, which has lost its reputation as the long-established practice of making pilgrimages to its marvellous shrine studded with diamonds and miracles has diminished. I can nevertheless continue this sad inventory of the decadence of so many Spanish cities. For example, the mountain on which Antequera is built produces a large quantity of salt which cooks itself by the heat of the sun; this exceptional advantage has not stimulated the activity of the inhabitants of the country to exploit such a source of fortune. Thus, the entire region around Marchena in Andalusia is a veritable olive nursery, a source of agricultural wealth that was once exploited, but which is now neglected through unforgivable indolence. Thus, in Sarreal in Catalonia, quarries of alabaster were worked, which was beautiful and polished enough to make ice; and this marvellous product is not even known today on the markets of Europe; thus, we have ceased to take advantage of those famous sheets of which Avila was proud as if it were the birth of Saint Teresa; Thus, the coins minted in Segovia were formerly praised, and now the currency which is most current in Spain is the five-franc coin of French origin; they are called napoleons in the modern Castilian language, and this mût is now consecrated there as much as in France that of louis to designate twenty gold francs.

In continuing our investigations into the various causes which have paralysed industry in Spain, we must also recognise that it has not developed in a normal proportion there for want of sufficient remuneration. As a document in support of our statement, we shall place before the reader's eyes some extracts from a calendar of the reign of Philip III, consequently of the beginning of the seventeenth century, that is to say of the most flourishing period of the Spanish monarchy.

Here are your emoluments which some of the merchants and suppliers attached to the court received as their only salary:
The harquebusier ......50 ducats per year
The gilder . . ......50 ducats per year
The armourer..........100 ducats per year
The coachbuilder ......60 ducats per year
Plumbers ......50 ducats per year
Saddler..........60 ducats per year
Surgeon ......4 reals per day
Barber ........4 reals per day
The cook........4 reals per day
Jeweller .......40 ducats per year
shoemaker........50 ducats per year
Hatter........30 ducats per year
Tailor .......50 ducats per year
Shoemaker ......50 ducats per year
The seamstress. .....40 ducats per year
Laundress....40 ducats per year

The Spanish ducat was worth one hundred and five cents of French money; four reals do not even make a franc; let us admit, moreover, that money was then worth four times as much as it is today; calculate even in this way how modest this remuneration was, especially when it was a question of paying the work of people who must have been eminent in their respective fields, since they had the privilege of being attached to the service of the royal family.

These are some of the latent or manifest causes which must have prevented Spanish industry from flourishing; sometimes spurious advantages without result; sometimes the lack of a lucrative incentive, sometimes also the hindrances of administrative machinery and outmoded customs.

We shall now point out other seeds of industrial decay in the very history of the nation with which we are concerned.

It is a universally acknowledged fact that the Saracens of Spain, those Orientals of the West, have been distinguished far more than the other followers of Islam by a marvellous industry, by a rare aptitude in the sciences and in the arts, and by the refinements of an early civilisation. This race seemed to be privileged among the Arab races: the proverbial apathy of the inhabitants of the desert soon ceased to numb the victors of King Rodrigue, as if the sun of Spain had exerted on their torpor a vivifying influence. When, in the first impulse of the invasion, they drove the Goths back to the mountains of Biscay, it was to raise themselves to a social level which victorious Mohammedanism had never reached elsewhere. Intelligent merchants, they were the first promoters of trade transactions in the Mediterranean with the Venetians; master workers in manual production and in the mechanical arts, they possessed the secrets of manufacturing damascene armour as well as brocade and silk fabrics. They were patient and painstaking researchers, and knew no science; they pushed astronomy to the point of magic, chemistry to the point of alchemy, and such was their progress in medicine that the books of Averroës balanced the dogmas of Aristotle as an authority; finally, still today, like a luminous trail of their passage, the bridges, aqueducts,. The bridges, aqueducts, palaces and churches left by the Moors attest to the extent to which they were advanced as engineers and architects at a time when the rest of Europe was languishing in a deep night of ignorance and barbarism.

It was nevertheless an inexorable necessity, after the capture of Granada by Ferdinand and Isabella, to complete the expulsion of this industrious race par excellence from Spanish soil. Who could calculate what a disastrous blow was dealt to the future prosperity of the territory in dispute by this forced dismemberment of a vital part of its population? The other peoples of feudal Europe achieved unity by fusion; Spain, on the contrary, could only achieve this unity by the merciless immolation of half her vital forces.

To these causes of decay must be added one more deadly than all the others, though it was at first offered to Spain as the complement of her greatness.

When Columbus gave the Catholic kings the New World, he undoubtedly made them an incomparable present; when Fernando Cortez and Pizarro continued his work by flying the flag of Castile on the farthest coasts of the American continent, the master of so many kingdoms could say to himself with legitimate pride that the sun did not set in his States; But these vast empires beyond the seas and set up as viceroyalties, these colonies of limitless extent imposed a fatal dilemma on the mother country; it is that she could only populate them by depopulating herself; it is that by going to seek in another hemisphere an increase of strength, she dried up the source in her own bosom; The action of the government, either in the time of the House of Austria, or since the present dynasty, has been only secondary in this movement of immense emigration from Spain to America; for more than three centuries, on seeing the arrival of the vessels laden with gold from the New World, the adventurous souls of the Spanish peninsula have naturally wanted to go and seek out these fairy-tale treasures in the countries whence they came; No statistic can accurately assess the degree of exhaustion to which this long voluntary and individual expatriation of its most able members must necessarily lead a nation; today their descendants have put their pride of independence into breaking the bond of annexation which united them to the fatherland of which they are the sons; this is, it seems, the law of gratitude of the colonies.

And now, having made it our duty to explain and excuse, by the reasons we have just deduced, what may be inferior in the products of Spain compared with those of the great and illustrious nations which shine in the forefront of this important Exhibition of 1867, we shall make it our duty to do it even greater justice by citing all that it may have presented that is remarkable or characteristic; we thank M. We thank Mr. Marquis de Beimar, the Spanish Commissioner, for the extreme courtesy with which he has placed himself at our disposal for all the information we may need; we also ask all the Spanish exhibitors to kindly send us the documents which concern them personally, so that in our following articles we may not be reproached for any omission of deserved praise; and we are perfectly convinced that Spanish industry will in due course reappear with the lustre that befits it, like the Guadiana, which hides for a moment underground, only to flow again on green banks and in the face of the sun.

©L'Exposition Universelle de 1867 Illustrée