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MALTA DURING THE LATE WAR.
“I would as soon allow the English to have possession of the heights of Montmartre as of the island of Malta,” said Buonaparte, then First Consul, to Lord Whitworth, in his memorable conference with that minister, during the short-lived peace of Amiens. In fact, the disputed possession of the rock of Malta was one of the principal causes of the breaking out of that second war, which ended at last by the English not only retaining Malta, but taking moreover possession of those very heights of Montmartre, the ne plus ultra of Buonaparte's foresight of improbabilities! The emphatic expression just quoted, however, shows the great importance that quick-sighted chief attached to the dominion of an island less than sixty miles in circumference, and producing hardly any thing but some cotton and a few oranges. But it is the situation of this island, in the centre of the Mediterranean, at a most convenient distance from Asia, Africa, and Europe, and at the entrance of the Adriatic, the Tyrrhenian, and the Agean Seas, as well as its strength both natural and artificial, that render it of such immense importance to any of the great maritime powers. England, therefore, has wisely retained it; and it now forms one of the brightest, though smallest, jewels of the British Crown.
The appearance of Malta from the sea, as you approach the point of St. Elmo, conveys a full idea of its consequence and strength. The two spacious harbours, between which the city stands, proudly seated on a lofty peninsula ; the commodious creeks which branch out of the main basins, and afford security to vessels; the vast extent of fortifications towering perpendicularly over the sea which dashes its waves against the cliffs below; the formidable ranges of batteries placed one above the other; the cavaliers, bastions, and detached forts which appear frowning on every side as you enter the port; the splendid churches, the handsome alberghi, or hotels formerly belonging to the knights; the broad quays and capacious warehouses which line the shoreall these constitute one of the most magnificent harbour-views in the world. It is a panorama, the most striking objects of which are the production of art; no trees or mountains are to be seen, but a low coast at the inland extremity of the harbour, and white naked hills on the left. Five distinct towns, each enclosed by separate walls, arise in an amphitheatre around the principal or eastern harbour, Valletta and Floriana to the right; and Vittoriosa, Senglea, and Cospicua to the left: the three latter are joined together by the lines of Cottoner, which enclose besides a very xtensive tract of open ground. The population of this assem
VOL. III. PART II.
blage of cities was, during the late war, about thirty-five thousand inhabitants, and that of the whole island, not including Gozo, about one hundred thousand,
so that Malta was by far the most thickly-populated country, in Europe. On an eminence in the middle of the island is built the old city or Notabile; and twenty-four Casali, or large villages, some of them containing four or five thousand inhabitants, are scattered over the rest of the country;
During the last war between England and France, or, to speak more correctly, between England and the Continent, Malta became the busiest spot in the whole Mediterranean for political, naval, military, and commercial affairs. It was the centre of all the operations of the English in that quarter of the globe. It was here that fleets and armies were assembled, and expeditions prepared, which afterwards were sent to the coasts of Egypt and Greece, of Italy and Spain,-- which threatened the French king of Naples in his own palace, and the Sultan in the very recess of his Seraglio. This rock still resounds with the names of Nelson and Sydney Smith, of Abercrombie and Stuart, and with the report of their triumphs on infidel or christian shores. In a diplomatic point of view, Malta was extremely convenient for keeping up the correspondence with the enemies of the French over the Continent. From hence the English overawed Sicily, and threatened Naples; protected the exiled courts of Sardinia; commanded the respect of the Moorish Regencies; and entertained a good intelligence with the Pacha of Egypt and with the Porte Intercourse was carried on with the Austrian and Russian empires, through the ports of the Adriatic and of the Black Sea ; and a channel of quick information kept open with the important possessions of India, through Alexandria and the Red Sea. This short recapitulation, which is but a mere statement of facts, will suffice to show at one view the extensive ramifications branching from this one single settlement. To these advantages, derived from its situation, must be added the accompanying and most important one, of its being easily defended, and indeed absolutely impregnable in the hands of a great maritime power, so as to enable its possessors to sit in it in the greatest security, and collect immense stores and provisions for the supply of armies and fleets during the whole war. A small island, fortified in all its accessible points,-a population naturally submissive, and from the smallness of their number easily overawed, and those famed ramparts which baffled the whole Ottoman power in its meridian, these are more than sufficient guarantees of a peaceful possession.
Such was the pleasant feeling of confidence in this sea-girt fortress, from which its inhabitants looked afar upon the storms that agitated Europe during the late war,--that eventful period, which, however now fast receding from the memory of men, can never be forgotten by those who contemplated it in all its bearings ; a period which was marked with a character of more ominous importance for the whole civilized world than any other since the reformation. I still recollect the agreeable and tranquillizing impression which the vicinity of Malta produced upon a company,
of different countries, who had left the convulsed shores of the Continent, when the merchant-vessel which carried us came, toward the evening of a fine summer-day, in sight of the high land of Gozo. We had been alarmed by the report of Genoese privateers hovering between Barbary and Sicily; “ we are now safe," cried out a Maltese, with proud exultation, as he descried his native cliffs, “no tri-coloured flag dares to show itself on these waters.” That night, for the first time in our voyage, we slept secure on the deck, while gliding along the indented shores of Gozo and Malta, and next morning, when we awoke in the great harbour, every idea of former danger was banished. The might of Napoleon was quite inefficient against such a place, defended by proper men.
Under shelter of the protecting power of England, a number of mercantile people of all nations had assembled here. Whilst many of the old firms of Leghorn, Genoa, and Marseilles had deserted their counting-houses, and retired to their country seats, waiting for more propitious times; while maritime trade was annihilated in France and Italy, in consequence of the Berlin and Milan decrees, the commerce of Malta flourished on the ruins of that of its neighbours. Malta had become a great warehouse for English goods, which were thence introduced by numerous inlets into the Continent, in spite of the outrageous mockery of burning bales of English muslins and calicoes in the public squares, one of the most disgraceful and wanton acts of Napoleon's boasted system. Malta was also the key of a considerable trade with the Turkish dominions, the produce from which countries was brought by Greeks to Malta, there expurgated in the Lazzeretto, and then shipped again for England and other countries. Houses from various parts of the continent, Italian, German, Swiss, &c., who were doing little or nothing in their counting-houses at home, had formed establishments in the island of Malta; where they had sent a partner or a confidential agent to transact their business under another name, for fear of Buonaparte's police, as at that time it was risking not less than life for a man to be discovered having any sort of intercourse with an English settlement. Besides several respectable English houses established at Valletta, a number of young men had proceeded thither on speculation, some with little and others with no capital; and although some of them failed, yet many had with common prudence and activity risen to the rank of merchants, receiving consignments, and transacting business on a considerable scale. Some of these were living in an expensive manner, and in a style that astonished natives as well as foreigners. Their sumptuous dinners and fine wines, their country-seats and mistresses, servants, and horses, all these were common items of their establishments; it was a pays de cocagne, a life da non morir mai as the Italian saying is; but the tide of success, when at its height, was nearest its sudden termination: the plague of 1813, and the peace
which followed, put an end at once to this course of gay revelry and easy prosperity: Many who might, during the harvest time, have
made provision for future years, found themselves, on leaving Malta, no richer than when they entered it.
The nations of the ancient east and of the neighbouring coast of Africa, formed a striking feature among the strange crowd which had resorted to Malta. Moorish shipmasters and supercargoes; Egyptian, Ottoman, and Syrian traders; pilgrims on their way to or from Mecca; Jewish brokers from all the tribes scattered over Islam ; Greek and Sclavonian sailors,—all these were seen jostling up and down the streets of Valletta, or assembled in groupes in the palace-square, along Strada Reale, and in the neighbouring coffee-houses. There a buzzing noise of outlandish tongues was heard, such as perhaps never occurred since the days of Babel.–Sclavonian, Illyric, Albanian, Turkish, Romaic, Arabic, Armenian, with all their dialects, jarred with the western languages of Italy, Germany, France, England, and Spain. Malta was like a great half-way house, a kind of exchange, between the children of the East and those of the West. Four languages, however, may be said to have predominated at Valletta ; Italian, Maltese, English, and Greek: and I have heard favourite opera songs paraphrased and sung on the stage in these four languages to please the various parts of the audience
. Greek merchants, shipmasters, and supercargoes, with their subordinates, formed a considerable part of the foreign population of Malta during the war. They had, in general, the reputation of being wealthy, kept chiefly among themselves, and were liberal in their expenses at inns, coffee-houses, billiards, and other places of resort. The Greeks residing at Malta dressed mostly in the European costume, and seemed to enjoy their independence, elbowing with perfect equality the proud Osmanlee, who stalked silently on in his embroidered jacket and white turban, and with his long pipe in hand; while the swarthy wild-looking Arab or Moor was seen enveloped in his baracan, or wrapped up simply in a blanket, constituting his whole dress in the day and his bed at night; and thus equipped, he squatted himself on the stone seats under the government-palace, no ways abashed by the contrast between the display of civilization and luxury all around him, and his own primitive appearance and equipment.
The Maltese population might be divided into two classes, the citizens and the country people. The former are a mixed race, but mostly European in their appearance, and differing little from the natives of the cities of Naples or Palermo. This is especially the case with the people of Valletta, or Vallettani, as they are called by the other natives; for, in the cities on the other side of the harbour, there is much of the true Maltese countenance and manner to be seen. They speak Italian with a sort of lengthened interrogative cadence at the end of words and sentences, and something of the lingua Franca phraseology. The women have a national costume, which
swerve from ; a black silk
gown, and the faldetta, a sort of mantelet of black satin or taffeta, thrown over the head, of which they hold the two corners in their hand so as to hide part or even the whole of the face. This costume allows of a great deal of coquetry, and is reckoned very favourable to female appearance. The education of the Maltese was, until of late, similar to that of their neighbours the Sicilians—that of the women was particularly neglected. Their intercourse with the English has improved the minds at least of the men, for the women do not mix much with foreigners even now: the younger generation of Maltese have been brought up something in the Englislı manner ; and most of the young men speak that language, which is now the language of the government.
The trading and working classes of the Maltese were kept, during the war, in a state of constant and well-remunerated employment by the numerous foreigners whom war had collected on this spot. The prizes coming in, taken by men of war and privateers, and the cargoes of which were sold by public auction; the other continual sales of goods arising from failures or deterioration, and from other motives; the necessities of traders who required accommodation from capitalists,—all these contributed to bring money into the hands of the Maltese; and the expenditure of the British fleet, garrison, and civil administration, swelled the current of wealth. The Maltese, like all people deficient in information, suddenly emancipated and suddenly enriched, became proud and overbearing. Their contempt of foreigners, which many of them testified by contumelious expressions, both in their jargon and in broken Italian, was truly ridiculous, considering that they lived and got rich upon those very foreigners ; as Malta, left to its own resources, is far from being a rich country, and the Maltese capitalists were inconsiderable compared to the foreign settlers. The very porters and boatmen of the marina of Valletta or Isola would ask an unreasonable reward for the