A RESIDENCE IN ALGEBIS- *
Mens.mx Pars is the widow of a French physician, who was induced by a variety of " untoward circumstances " to go to Algeria, at an age no longer young, in order to join her brother, who having been rained by the revolution of 1848 had accepted an allotment in a newly-planned village. The first news that greeted Madame Prus on her arrival was the death of her brother : his allotment was subsequently found to be enough to kill anybody; and she returned to Bona, where she gained a living by making artificial flowers, and wrote the letters to her friends in Europe of which this. volume is the translation.
At an English settlement, such a person might have had pity and cold assistance, but a maker of flowers for the head would not have got into society. The French, to do them justice, do not much regard a person's means if the manners are unexceptionable. Madame Prus appears to have formed acquaintances and re- ceived attentions from official people, which enabled her to mix in society. She also made friends with several of the natives ; by which means she learned something of Arab life and of Arab feelings. Of her adventures and observations she wrote an account to her friends, sprinkled with sketches of native manners and customs, and with stories or tales,—which last have rather a bookmaking cast, though told with a Frenchwoman's cleverness. Although Algiers has never been a very attractive region for travellers, it has been visited often enough for the world to be acquainted with the manners of the people ; and the slight modifi- cations that have taken place in their domestic life under French rule is not of much importance. The colony and the colonists is the most interesting part of the Residence in Algeria. Some allowance is probably to be made for the mood of mind in which the writer examined matters. A person who without sufficient consideration embarks in an undertaking where suffering and fail- ure are pretty certain to ensue, is apt to ascribe the ill result to anybody else. A wilder project than for an elderly Frenchman to go to Africa to gain his living as a cultivator, one could hardly imagine; unless it were for a female to join him before he was thoroughly settled. In the general opinions there may be some harshness if not exaggeration ; but there are particular facts throw- ing a light upon French colonization in Africa that cannot be gain- said.
It appears that the lands are surveyed and allotted by authority, and in the village of Mondovi houses were built for the settlers : all which is very proper, unless it be that finding colonists in houses without payment is rather stimulant than encouragement. This particular spot, however, was badly chosen ; the soil bad, and pro- ducing disease when just turned-up,—as, indeed, is said often to be the case in America. The place abounded in insects, and the houses were mere hovels after the Irish fashion. The settlers are under military rule, not only as a militia formed for self-defence, but in every action of their lives; a thing necessary, perhaps, in a military colony like Algeria, but utterly destructive of colonial prosperity : for what man will labour for more than a bare sub- sistence, when military necessity or perhaps military despotism may- sub' eet him to the loss of all he has which is not removeable P This is the picture drawn by Madame Pres of Mondovi and its dis- agreeables.
"At five o'clock in the morning, I perceived the first houses of the village, or rather the encampment, of Menden. My heart sank within me at the deso- late appearance of this Colony. Imagine, dear Caroline, long rows of wooden huts, divided lengthways by slight-partition walls, and subdivided again into spaces of various sizes, according to the number of individuals in each tinnily. In these spaces, or rooms as they are miscalled, men, women, chil- dren, dogs, cats, pigs, hens and chickens, live huddled together in lamentable confusion. The wooden roofs of these houses afford but feeble protection against the burning heat of an African sun; but at seven o'clock in the evening an abundant, cold, and heavy dew invariably falls, and such as yield to the temptation of breathing the evening air pay dearly for this temporary relief. But this is not all.
"After sunset, the vapours rising' from the ground produce such a pro- digious number of insects, that it is no exaggeration to say one is literally covered with them. Added to these, swarms of mosquitoes render the idea of repose entirely useless. I thus passed three weeks ; spending the nights in a state of feverish agitation, and the days in the lassitude caused by want of sleep, and the annoyance of insects of all descriptions. "The allotment of land conceded to my brother was transferred to me, as his heiress-at-law. From that time I was placed as a widow on the registers of the colony, and was obliged to share the dwelling of another widow, in the same circumstances as myself.
"According to the original plan, the village is to consist of two hundred brick houses. Of these, scarcely thirty have been built. The colonists are amused with promises of more substantial dwellings than their present tene- ments; but in spite of these, the works proceed but slowly, it being almost impossible to prevail on the masons of Berta to work at Mondovi, except for enormous wages. The reason of this is obvious ; unwholesome exhalations rise from the soil when it is ploughed or dug for the purposes of cultivation or build- ing. These produce the frightful epidemic of typhus fever; and the wind, blow- ing over the vast plains of the desert, fills the air with fine and burning sand, which corrodes the eyebrows and strikes with ophthalmia. The result of these calamities has been, that half the inhabitants of the colony, and the whole of the garrison with the exception of thirteen men, have been removed to the hospital at Bona ; where one third of them have died. The masons who caught the fever refuse to expose themselves to the same peril for any remuneration, and the Arabian workmen follow their example. It is said that the works necessary to establish the colony have killed more soldiers than were destroyed by the Arabs. • • •
"The colony of Mondovi is divided into two camps, called Centre No. 1 and No. 2. They are situated at the distance of a mile and a half from each other. Centre No. 2 is situated near the mountain passes of Ella-rough, now the resort of the wild hordes of the Kabyles, on a hill without water, which greatly increases the difficulty of cultivation. No. 1, on the contrary, is provided with two old Roman wells, and the Sebhouse, one of the principal
• A Residence in Algeria. By Madame Prus. Published by Pickering.
rivers of the country, flows to the North of the village. This river pro- duces very bad fish, but is useful in many places for irrigation.
"Our captain—for we are under military government—told me that he in- tended to organize the colonists of the two centres into a kind of National Guard ; as all the garrisons would be withdrawn to their respective battalions, should war break out with the revolted tribes. Then how should we de- fend ourselves against the Kabyles ? ' I inquired. As best you can,' was the answer."
As an example of the uselessness of this pretended Government aid, and its mischievous interference, the success of the Maltese may be taken ; although there seems to be something in a French- man which ill adapts him for colonization, under the best of cir- cumstances.
"The population of Bona amounts to 12,000; of which 4000 are French, principally natives of Provence. It seems as if Algeria had been conquered solely for their benefit; _ for directly after the invasion of our army, the Provencaux and Toidonnais followed with theirs ; but even their arri- val had been forestalled by the Maltese, who had come in the rear of our troops, like a flock of birds of prey. They immediately assumed the mono- poly of provisions and household goods, and of loans at interest, which are tolerated here as a secondary evil. The rate of usury here is ten per cent , but in urgent cases it is raised to twenty-five, thirty, and even forty. If a Frenchman wishes to establish himself in any trade exercised by the Mal- tese, all the corporation join against him ; prices are suddenly lowered, and the Frenchman, obliged to sell at a loss, is either ruined or forced to retire. They also lay sole claim to the office of street-porter. All luggage and par- cels are seized by these Maltese when a vessel arrives at the landing-place, and are carried, regardless of the wish of the owners, to the hotel where the best remuneration is given to the bearers; who afterwards drive a hard bar- gain for their trouble, if you can understand them sufficiently. All the Maltese, without exception, are rich, and display a degree of acuteness in their worldly interest seldom equalled by any civilized nation.
"If the sovereignty of the French were to cease in Algeria, that of the Maltese would probably take its place. These latter have taken such firm possession of the soil, that it would be difficult even for the Arabs, though more numerous, to dislodge them. The treatment which the unfortunate natives receive from the emigrants from Toulon and Marseilles is quite hard enough, and they dislike the intruders accordingly ; but they positively exe- crate the Maltese, who constantly ill-use them for no cause whatever.
"As we are bound to give everybody their due, I must admit that the Maltese are a most laborious people, and indefatigable in their undertakings ; they may be seen attending to their business at all seasons of the year. They sleep on the floor of their warehouses, or on a single board, generally without taking off their clothes. Such is their muscular strength, that four Maltese can easily carry a great cask of wine, suspended by ropes to long wooden poles, which they place on their shoulders. It is very common to see six Maltese carry in this way one of those large measures of brandy called pipes of Montpellier. In eases of any general plague or calamity, the Maltese undertake to gather all necessary contributions, but demand a high price for their services"