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Corfu

Leave Malta

Thursday 4th February – weather very fine, wind fresh and in our favour.

Friday 5th – to day the wind is still favourable. Dull hazy weather with heavy squalls and showers of rain. At half past 3 P.M. we descried the land of Greece, just as it was in contemplation to change our course and wait till next day before we bore up for Corfu, owing to the hazy w.r, we were pretty close upon the island of Paxo before we saw it and it was ½ past 9 P.M. when we came to anchor in the Bay of Corfu.

Saturday 6th – this day proved to be one of constant and heavy rain, so that it was impossible to leave the vessel. We were not however dull, as many people both natives and others came off either for packages or trade. We found lying in Harbour the frigate Madagascar, the Weasel, Mosquito and Aetna bomb vessel. [3] 

Greeks great talkers – Opinion of Corfu

Sunday 7th – the weather tho’ variable, promising to be generally fine, I resolved to go ashore and asked M.r Geach to accompany; but matters of duty rendering it impossible for him to leave the ship before 10 oClock, I was forced to be my own companion. When I landed I found the same heterogeneous crowd which is usually met with here, although I observed that there [were] fewer of the different Grecian tribes now than last year and moreover that an air of greater stillness pervaded the Streets, a circumstance which I was at a loss to account. I was afterwards told, that from observing the particular regard paid by the English to the Sabbath, they have to a certain degree followed their example - but it is in appearance not in reality, for tho’ the shops are many of them shut, business is transacted with as great facility on this day as on any other. I dare say the good Corfuates consider our practice a great bore and I can assure you, that if they abstain from business, they give themselves full liberty in the use of the tongue – at least I have not remarked their intolerable talking so much as I have done to day. Such chat – chattering – and violent gesticulation and such loudness of tone – why you would suppose that instead of there being only two persons engaged in amicable conversation, there were either at downright fighting, or that half a dozen were all gabbling at once. I witnessed a falling out and dispute between two sailors and such a screaming, shaking of heads curling of moustaches – it was most laughable to look at.

Being determined to see as much as possible of the Town, I took the first street that presented itself and wherever chance led me I followed. I passed thro’ many miserable holes and streets, which I can compare to nothing but the wynds & closes of our Cowgate, so narrow and squashed. After a pretty close investigation, the impression left on my mind is, that Corfu is at best but a very indifferent place and would be shunned by every one, who has any predilection for good houses & fine streets. One thing which struck me was the great numbers of Churches, Chapels of all sizes and appearances.

Visit a Church – Importunity and beggars there –

The first has a cross either of wood, metal, or painted and the entrance is festooned with leaves and branches. Into as many as were open I entered, but had not the slightest temptation to prolong my stay after I had satisfied my curiosity with a cursory glance at the interior. There were however two exceptions. Passing along one of the streets, I saw a large church, from which many persons, especially females, were issuing. I stepped in and found that divine service was being performed. The ornaments of the body of the church and altar were extremely paltry, compared with the magnificence of similar edifices in Brazil – tinsel and gaudiness made up for gold and good taste. I was, however, much pleased with the chanting which I heard – the full-sonorous voices of the priests, as they kept time admirably, had to my ears a highly pleasing effect. All the congregation seemed to be very quiet and attentive to what was going on – and I would have been equally so, had I not been perpetually pestered by the importunate solicitations of crowds of beggars. These go round from one devotee to another, holding out their hands and uttering some doleful form of solicitation, which of course was lost on me, as I did not understand them. They were of all ages and sexes – and I must confess that I did not see any stout able bodied men and women such as are frequently to be met with among that class of people in Scotland – but they were all poor miserable creatures, whose condition was certainly calculated to excite sympathy and compassion.

Begging in Church at Corfu

And this instance affords an illustration of the practice which held in the Jewish and early ages of the Christian Church, when they brought the lame, the blind and the maim, to the doors of the temple and the church, as to a place where their miserable condition would most likely be compassionated. For it was a very natural supposition, that men who were going to enter by prayer into the presence of the Creator, who is full of mercy and long suffering, would have their hearts more easily affected towards their destitute fellow mortals, by the consideration that they intended to ask that assistance from the Almighty, which they asked from them – and it was also not unnatural for them to imagine that the prayer of their petition would be rejected by him who says “if ye forgive not your enemies (nor succour the distressed) how can you expect that god will forgive you, or help you in your need.”

But in my humble opinion this good practice is perverted in its intention, when the poor and the afflicted interrupt you in the midst of your devotions, and withdraw by their importunity, your attention from hearing a prayer, or meditation. To have done with this topic, upon which there may exist a diversity of opinion, I may observe that the people either thought as I do, or possessed very little of the spirit of charity, since from the peculiarity of the circumstances, never before having witnessed it, I took particular notice that not one in ten contributed a single obli (one halfpenny) whilst every one seemed ready and willing to contribute his mite to the use of the priest who went about as diligent but more successful beggar than any of the others.

Visit the Cathedral – Kissing of Images

After leaving this Church, I went into another which is dignified with the name of Cathedral. It was of much larger size than the former, but had no greater pretensions to splendour or elegance – and I observed that there were fewer worshippers. When we entered all was silent as the grave. Some people were seated either as spectators of what [was] to go on or engaged in holy meditation and silent prayer – others again were making a more open and officious display of their piety by frequent genuflections, crossings, and kissings of images and pictures, this last practice I have never witnesses any where else as yet – and I could hardly help laughing to see a reverend grey beard, approach a paltry picture or worse executed image with solemn awe, and bending his hoary head impress his venerable lips on the senseless and insensate daub. After such a palpable evidence of gross superstition, will any Greek priest pretend to assert, that there is no idolatry in all this.

Idolatry or Non-idolatry of the Catholics

Whether they do so or not I am not aware – their brethren of the Roman Catholic persuasion have at least the bare facedness to make the declaration and add that images and pictures, when knelt to and adored, are not in reality the objects of worship and adoration, but that the use of them is to keep up in the mind of the devout a lively and tangible representation of the actions of these blessed saints, who have suffered and bled for Christ’s sake. All this is indeed very plausible and we can in charity conceive that many educated and enlightened persons can have their religious affections, & desires, warmed into a holy glow by the sculptors or the paintor’s art, and can look at these abstracted from all material ideas with advantage. But we may ask, what becomes of the presumed intention and spiritual use of these idols, when we see men – and these far removed from the lowest class of society, actually salute them with a kiss or kisses, considering to themselves that they have performed service and that they are entitled to the protection of their saint for this disgusting act of adoration to his pretended image. It has also struck me, that the circumstance of one particular image, from being reputed to have performed certain miracles, being more generally and more fervently adored than any one of the same saints, is a most convincing proof of the idolatry of the Greek and Romanish churches. For on what other principle, can it [be] explained, why all the images of the same saint should not be all equally adopted to represent his action and character to the mind’s eye? That this is not the case, the history of almost every saint in the Calendar will attest. How many images of the virgin are there, which enjoy very unequal portions of respect and worship – how capricious are the saints made to appear by their performing miracles to recommend one piece of wood or canvass, while no less valuable blocks and paintings are allowed to moulder by neglect. From all this I can infer, first that the people conceive that more merit resides in one image, and one picture, than in another of the same saint, and that therefore more especial worship is due to the favoured representation, and secondly as a consequence of such an opinion, they are actually guilty of idolatry when they thus bestow marks of worship and adoration, due to the Almighty Alone.

Sepulchre of the Patron Sail in Corfu

But to return from this digression into which the mention of kissing images has led me, - in one corner of the Cathedral was a small door leading to a chamber of very circumscribed dimensions, where a few tapers cast a dim and religious light around. To this chamber of sepulchre (for such it was) we ascended by a few steps and at first could hardly gain admittance from the number within, who kept continually bowing and kissing some object which had a shining appearance. When at last we obtained vacant room, we perceived what at first sight led me to imagine was a table stretching the whole breadth of the chamber and made of, or covered with silver. I however examined it more narrowly and saw it was intended for a sepulchre (I believe of the patron saint of Corfu) – but of what metal the covering was, I could not say.

Opinion of [there being no women visibly corrected]

In my Journal of our last voyage I expressed my belief that Corfuates had followed the practice of the Turks in immuring their women – and this in consequence of not having seen any – but now I find that this is not the case, at least on Sunday. For in every Church and in every street I saw great numbers. Their appearance and dress resembles very much those of my own countrywomen at home, with one or two exceptions which I shall afterwards mention. They seemed very attentive and devout, but if all stories can be credited, they are only so far religious, as religion does not clash with their inclinations and passions.