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The Azores

( Originally Published 1905 )

ON the fifteenth day of November, 1901, at two P.M., I was pacing the deck of the Tartar Prince, nine days out from New York, when her skipper, Captain McFarlane, pointed to what seemed to me a huge bank of snow, stationary and retaining its towering outlines among the ever shifting clouds. "That," said he, "is Pico, 7,500 feet above the sea and the highest peak of the Azores." A shout from the steerage deck hailed the solitary island and reminded us that other eyes than ours had seen the snow-crowned mount. We were now sailing through and winding around the famed volcanic islands of the Azores, claiming a population of 260,000 and the honour of being the solitary survivors of the lost continent of Atlantis. San Miguel, Santa Maria, Pico, Terceira, Fayal, San Jorge, Graciosa, Flores and Corvo, with two groups of rocks known as Formigas and Dollabaret form the Azorean archipelago, eight hundred miles off the coast of Portugal.

Notwithstanding the dread the ancient mariners felt for the great Western Ocean their poets found it full of charm and mystery. Their imagination revelled in golden sunsets and in marvellous legends associated with the "Blessed isles of the sea," where the souls of heroes dwelt in luxurious ease, and rapturous pleasures. Homer tells us in the fourth book of his Odyssey,

"No snow

Is there, nor yet great storm, nor any rain, But always ocean sendeth forth the breeze Of the shrill West, and bloweth cool on men."

His contemporary Hesiod envies the souls of the great dead who dwelt;

" In those blest isles where Saturn holds his reign, Apart from Heaven's immortal calm they share A rest unsullied from the clouds of care: And yearly thrice with sweet luxuriance crown'd Springs the ripe harvest from the teeming ground."

The poet Pindar in his dream of ecstacy says that,

"O'er these Isles of the Blest the ocean breezes blow, and flowers gleam with gold, some from the land on glistening trees, while others the water feeds; and with bracelets of these they entwine their hands and make crowns for their heads."

Here also according to mythological history was celebrated the marriage of Zeus and Hera. At the feast which followed the nuptials the invited gods acknowledged the honour conferred upon them by many gifts presented to the sovereign pair. Titoa the daughter of Pan caused a wonderful tree to spring from the earth. It bore golden apples of a delicious flavour and was given in trust to the Hesperides, the seven daughters of the world bearing Atlas. These virgins dwelt in Hesperus, the garden of the gods, now said to be the Azorean Flores. Like frail Eve they yielded to temptation, ate of the fruit and fell asleep. Then Ladon, the great serpent, was brought to Hesperus and commanded to watch the garden and protect the precious fruit. One of the labours imposed upon Hercules by the king of Mycenae was to bring to the monarch one of the golden apples. Hercules penetrated the mystic isles, fought and slew Ladon, the serpent, and carried off three of the apples.

Such was the ancient legend of "these blest isles," before Sherif Mohammed al Edrisi, a Tetuanian by birth, discovered in the twelfth century the Azorean Islands. In 1444, the Portuguese navigator Cabral re-discovered the Azores and landed on an island which he named Santa Maria. The discovery of the other eight, which form the archipelago, naturally followed.

Like all oceanic islands far away from the mainland the Azores were uninhabited. In the southeastern Atlantic the Canary Islands were the only lands inhabited when discovered by the Spaniards and Portuguese. Here the Spaniards found the Guanches, a mysterious race of men and women, now extinct, who knew nothing of any other land. When asked by the Spanish chaplain of the ship how they came there, their only answer was, " God placed us on these islands and then forgot us and forsook us." They embalmed their dead, preserved the mummies in wooden coffins like the Egyptians, and their only domestic animal was the goat. Who they were, where they came from, and at what time their forebears settled on the islands they knew not.

And now a word touching the inhabitants of the Azores and we close this historical record. Of all the nations of Europe, perhaps the Portuguese spring from the most heterogeneous elements. In the remote past there was no intermarrying or indeed association between race and race. In the dark abysm of time the hand of every man of one race was against the hand of every man of all other races. Stranger meant enemy, alien meant foe. In the twelfth chapter of the Book of Judges, we read how the Gileadites slew forty-two thousand Ephraimites at the passages of the Jordan because they pronounced "shibboleth" "sibboleth." By their faulty speech they proved themselves to be of another people and they were slain. Rivers and mountains were then the barriers separating one race from the other. Then the race issue was at its strongest.

But a fallow race begets weedy men who in time will perish from off the earth. To break down this human law of isolation and interbreeding, a mysterious and irresistible force begins to move. Some strong race feels within it the lust of conquest. Its rulers find or make an excuse for war, enter their neighbours' territory, conquer the weak nation and settle down and intermarry with the daughters of the conquered. In time a new and stronger race is begotten, retaining perhaps its old name and may be its old language, fattened with words from the language of the victors. Thus the Portuguese language is enriched with two hundred Moorish words. So into the great national caldron of Portugal was poured the blood of Iberians, Phoenicians, Celts, Lusitanians, Greeks, Romans, Goths, and Moors, who in succession overran the land and married with the daughters of the country. In more recent times came in Burgundians, Hebrews, African slaves and Flemings. From this commingling of blood and fusion of foreign races was begotten the Portuguese, a strong, vigorous and prolific people.

Early in the fifteenth century the Portuguese began the settlement of the Azores. They have been long enough on these islands to form an almost distinct race known as the Azorean, civilly and legally united to the old land and retaining the language, religion and many of the customs of their ancestors. A few years ago a river of emigration began to flow from the Azores to the New England States, and to stay the prospective depopulation of the islands the home government imposed on the emigrant a head tax of fifty dollars, an almost prohibitive impost for an Azorean. There are quite a number of Massachusetts ships engaged in the contraband trade of smuggling young men and women from the islands. The owners and captains take large risks, for when captured their vessels are confiscated and the captains heavily fined and often imprisoned.

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