HotFreeBooks.com
Castilian Days
by John Hay
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

We did not intend to talk of politics in this room, but that line of royal effigies was too tempting. Before we go, let us look at a beautiful Magdalen in penitence, by an unknown artist of the school of Murillo. She stands near the entrance of her cave, in a listening attitude. The bright out-of-door light falls on her bare shoulder and gives the faintest touch of gold to her dishevelled brown hair. She casts her eyes upward, the large melting eyes of Andalusia; a chastened sorrow, through which a trembling hope is shining, softens the somewhat worldly beauty of her exquisite and sensitive face. Through the mouth of the cave we catch a glimpse of sunny mountain solitude, and in the rosy air that always travels with Spanish angels a band of celestial serenaders is playing. It is a charming composition, without any depth of sentiment or especial mastery of treatment, but evidently painted by a clever artist in his youth, and this Magdalen is the portrait of the lady of his dreams. None of Murillo's pupils but Tobar could have painted it, and the manner is precisely the same as that of his Divina Pastora.

Across the hall is the gallery consecrated to Italian artists. There are not many pictures of the first rank here. They have been reserved for the great central gallery, where we are going. But while here, we must notice especially two glorious works of Tintoret,—the same subject differently treated,—the Death of Holofernes. Both are placed higher than they should be, considering their incontestable merit. A full light is needed to do justice to that magnificence of color which is the pride of Venice. There are two remarkable pictures of Giordano,—one in the Roman style, which would not be unworthy of the great Sanzio himself, a Holy Family, drawn and colored with that scrupulous correctness which seems so impossible in the ordinary products of this Protean genius; and just opposite, an apotheosis of Rubens, surrounded by his usual "properties" of fat angels and genii, which could be readily sold anywhere as a specimen of the estimate which the unabashed Fleming placed upon himself. It is marvellous that any man should so master the habit and the thought of two artists so widely apart as Raphael and Rubens, as to produce just such pictures as they would have painted upon the same themes. The halls and dark corridors of the Museum are filled with Giordano's canvases. In less than ten years' residence in Spain he covered the walls of dozens of churches and palaces with his fatally facile work. There are more than three hundred pictures recorded as executed by him in that time. They are far from being without merit. There is a singular slap-dash vigor about his drawing. His coloring, except when he is imitating some earlier master, is usually thin and poor. It is difficult to repress an emotion of regret in looking at his laborious yet useless life. With great talents, with indefatigable industry, he deluged Europe with paintings that no one cares for, and passed into history simply as Luca Fa Presto,—Luke Work-Fast.

It is not by mere activity that great things are done in art. In the great gallery we now enter we see the deathless work of the men who wrought in faith. This is the grandest room in Christendom. It is about three hundred and fifty feet long and thirty-five broad and high. It is beautifully lighted from above. Its great length is broken here and there by vases and statues, so placed between doors as nowhere to embarrass the view. The northern half of the gallery is Spanish, and the southern half Italian. Halfway down, a door to the left opens into an oval chamber, devoted to an eclectic set of masterpieces of every school and age. The gallery ends in a circular room of French and German pictures, on either side of which there are two great halls of Dutch and Flemish. On the ground floor there are some hundreds more Flemish and a hall of sculpture.

The first pictures you see to your left are by the early masters of Spain,—Morales, called in Spain the Divine, whose works are now extremely rare, the Museum possessing only three or four, long, fleshless faces and stiff figures of Christs and Marys,—and Juan de Juanes, the founder of the Valentian school, who brought back from Italy the lessons of Raphael's studio, that firmness of design and brilliancy of color, and whose genuine merit has survived all vicissitudes of changing taste. He has here a superb Last Supper and a spirited series of pictures illustrating the martyrdom of Stephen. There is perhaps a little too much elaboration of detail, even for the Romans. Stephen's robes are unnecessarily new, and the ground where he is stoned is profusely covered with convenient round missiles the size of Vienna rolls, so exactly suited to the purpose that it looks as if Providence sided with the persecutors. But what a wonderful variety and truth in the faces and the attitudes of the groups! What mastery of drawing, and what honest integrity of color after all these ages! It is reported of Juanes that he always confessed and prayed before venturing to take up his pencils to touch the features of the saints and Saviours that shine on his canvas. His conscientious fervor has its reward.

Across the room are the Murillos. Hung together are two pictures, not of large dimensions, but of exquisite perfection, which will serve as fair illustrations of the work of his youth and his age; the frio and the vaporoso manner. In the former manner is this charming picture of Rebecca at the Well; a graceful composition, correct and somewhat severe drawing, the greatest sharpness and clearness of outline. In the Martyrdom of St. Andrew the drawing and the composition are no less absolutely perfect, but there hangs over the whole picture a luminous haze of strangeness and mystery. A light that never was on sea or land bathes the distant hills and battlements, touches the spears of the legionaries, and shines in full glory on the ecstatic face of the aged saint. It does not seem a part of the scene. You see the picture through it. A step further on there is a Holy Family, which seems to me the ultimate effort of the early manner. A Jewish carpenter holds his fair-haired child between his knees. The urchin holds up a bird to attract the attention of a little white dog on the floor. The mother, a dark-haired peasant woman, looks on the scene with quiet amusement. The picture is absolutely perfect in detail. It seems to be the consigne among critics to say it lacks "style." They say it is a family scene in Judaea, voila tout. Of course, and it is that very truth and nature that makes this picture so fascinating. The Word was made flesh, and not a phosphorescent apparition; and Murillo knew what he was about when he painted this view of the interior of St. Joseph's shop. What absurd presumption to accuse this great thinker of a deficiency of ideality, in face of these two glorious Marys of the Conception that fill the room with light and majesty! They hang side by side, so alike and yet so distinct in character. One is a woman in knowledge and a goddess of purity; the other, absolute innocence, startled by the stupendous revelation and exalted by the vaguely comprehended glory of the future. It is before this picture that the visitor always lingers longest. The face is the purest expression of girlish loveliness possible to art. The Virgin floats upborne by rosy clouds, flocks of pink cherubs flutter at her feet waving palm-branches. The golden air is thick with suggestions of dim celestial faces, but nothing mars the imposing solitude of the Queen of Heaven, shrined alone, throned in the luminous azure. Surely no man ever understood or interpreted like this grand Andalusian the power that the worship of woman exerts on the religions of the world. All the passionate love that has been poured out in all the ages at the feet of Ashtaroth and Artemis and Aphrodite and Freya found visible form and color at last on that immortal canvas where, with his fervor of religion and the full strength of his virile devotion to beauty, he created, for the adoration of those who should follow him, this type of the perfect Feminine,—

"Thee! standing loveliest in the open heaven! Ave Maria! only Heaven and Thee!"

There are some dozens more of Murillo here almost equally remarkable, but I cannot stop to make an unmeaning catalogue of them. There is a charming Gypsy Fortune-teller, whose wheedling voice and smile were caught and fixed in some happy moment in Seville; an Adoration of the Shepherds, wonderful in its happy combination of rigid truth with the warmest glow of poetry; two Annunciations, rich with the radiance that streams through the rent veil of the innermost heaven,—lights painted boldly upon lights, the White Dove sailing out of the dazzling background of celestial effulgence,—a miracle and mystery of theology repeated by a miracle and mystery of art.

Even when you have exhausted the Murillos of the Museum you have not reached his highest achievements in color and design. You will find these in the Academy of San Fernando,—the Dream of the Roman Gentleman, and the Founding of the Church of St. Mary the Greater; and the powerful composition of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, in her hospital work. In the first, a noble Roman and his wife have suddenly fallen asleep in their chairs in an elegant apartment. Their slumber is painted with curious felicity,—you lower your voice for fear of waking them. On the left of the picture is their dream: the Virgin comes in a halo of golden clouds and designates the spot where her church is to be built. In the next picture the happy couple kneel before the pope and expose their high commission, and outside a brilliant procession moves to the ceremony of the laying of the corner-stone. The St. Elizabeth is a triumph of genius over a most terribly repulsive subject. The wounds and sores of the beggars are painted with unshrinking fidelity, but every vulgar detail is redeemed by the beauty and majesty of the whole. I think in these pictures of Murillo the last word of Spanish art was reached. There was no further progress possible in life, even for him. "Other heights in other lives, God willing."

Returning to the Museum and to Velazquez, we find ourselves in front of his greatest historical work, the Surrender of Breda. This is probably the most utterly unaffected historical painting in existence. There is positively no stage business about it. On the right is the Spanish staff, on the left the deputation of the vanquished Flemings. In the centre the great Spinola accepts the keys of the city from the governor; his attitude and face are full of dignity softened by generous and affable grace. He lays his hand upon the shoulder of the Flemish general, and you can see he is paying him some chivalrous compliment on the gallant fight he has lost. If your eyes wander through the open space between the two escorts, you see a wonderful widespread landscape in the Netherlands, which would form a fine picture if the figures all were gone. Opposite this great work is another which artists consider greater,—Las Meninas. When Luca Giordano came from Italy he inquired for this picture, and said on seeing it, "This is the theology of painting." If our theology were what it should be, and cannot be, absolute and unquestionable truth, Luca the Quick-worker would have been right. Velazquez was painting the portrait of a stupid little infanta when the idea came to him of perpetuating the scene just as it was. We know how we have wished to be sure of the exact accessories of past events. The modern rage for theatrical local color is an illustration of this desire. The great artist, who must have honored his art, determined to give to future ages an exact picture of one instant of his glorious life. It is not too much to say he has done this. He stands before his easel, his pencils in his hand. The little princess is stiffly posing in the centre. Her little maids are grouped about her. Two hideous dwarfs on the right are teasing a noble dog who is too drowsy and magnanimous to growl. In the background at the end of a long gallery a gentleman is opening a door to the garden. The presence of royalty is indicated by the reflection of the faces of the king and queen in a small mirror, where you would expect to see your own. The longer you look upon this marvellous painting, the less possible does it seem that it is merely the placing of color on canvas which causes this perfect illusion. It does not seem possible that you are looking at a plane surface. There is a stratum of air before, behind, and beside these figures. You could walk on that floor and see how the artist is getting on with the portrait. There is space and light in this picture, as in any room. Every object is detached, as in the common miracle of the stereoscope. If art consist in making a fleeting moment immortal, if the True is a higher ideal than the Beautiful, then it will be hard to find a greater painting than this. It is utterly without beauty; its tone is a cold olive green-gray; there is not one redeeming grace or charm about it except the noble figure of Velazquez himself,—yet in its austere fidelity to truth it stands incomparable in the world. It gained Velazquez his greatest triumph. You see on his breast a sprawling red cross, painted evidently by an unskilful hand. This was the gracious answer made by Philip IV. when the artist asked him if anything was wanting to the picture. This decoration, daubed by the royal hand, was the accolade of the knighthood of Santiago,—an honor beyond the dreams of an artist of that day. It may be considered the highest compliment ever paid to a painter, except the one paid by Courbet to himself, when he refused to be decorated by the Man of December.

Among Velazquez's most admirable studies of life is his picture of the Borrachos. A group of rustic roysterers are admitting a neophyte into the drunken confrerie. He kneels to receive a crown of ivy from the hands of the king of the revel. A group of older tipplers are filling their cups, or eyeing their brimming glasses, with tipsy, mock-serious glances. There has never been a chapter written which so clearly shows the drunkard's nature as this vulgar anacreontic. A thousand men have painted drunken frolics, but never one with such distinct spiritual insight as this. To me the finest product of Jordaens' genius is his Bohnen Koenig in the Belvedere, but there you see only the incidents of the mad revel; every one is shouting or singing or weeping with maudlin glee or tears. But in this scene of the Borrachos there is nothing scenic or forced. These topers have come together to drink, for the love of the wine,—the fun is secondary. This wonderful reserve of Velazquez is clearly seen in his conception of the king of the rouse. He is a young man, with a heavy, dull, somewhat serious face, fat rather than bloated, rather pale than flushed. He is naked to the waist to show the plump white arms and shoulders and the satiny skin of the voluptuary; one of those men whose heads and whose stomachs are too loyal ever to give them Katzenjammer or remorse. The others are of the commoner type of haunters of wine-shops,—with red eyes and coarse hides and grizzled matted hair,—but every man of them inexorably true, and a predestined sot.

We must break away from Velazquez, passing by his marvellous portraits of kings and dwarfs, saints and poodles,—among whom there is a dwarf of two centuries ago, who is too like Tom Thumb to serve for his twin brother,—and a portrait of Aesop, which is a flash of intuition, an epitome of all the fables. Before leaving the Spaniards we must look at the most pleasing of all Ribera's works,—the Ladder-Dream of Jacob. The patriarch lies stretched on the open plain in the deep sleep of the weary. To the right in a broad shaft of cloudy gold the angels are ascending and descending. The picture is remarkable for its mingling the merits of Ribera's first and second manner. It is a Caravaggio in its strength and breadth of light and shade, and a Correggio in its delicacy of sentiment and refined beauty of coloring. He was not often so fortunate in his Parmese efforts. They are usually marked by a timidity and an attempt at prettiness inconceivable in the haughty and impulsive master of the Neapolitan school.

Of the three great Spaniards, Ribera is the least sympathetic. He often displays a tumultuous power and energy to which his calmer rivals are strangers. But you miss in him that steady devotion to truth which distinguishes Velazquez, and that spiritual lift which ennobles Murillo. The difference, I conceive, lies in the moral character of the three. Ribera was a great artist, and the others were noble men. Ribera passed a youth of struggle and hunger and toil among the artists of Rome,—a stranger and penniless in the magnificent city,—picking up crusts in the street and sketching on quiet curbstones, with no friend, and no name but that of Spagnoletto,—the little Spaniard. Suddenly rising to fame, he broke loose from his Roman associations and fled to Naples, where he soon became the wealthiest and the most arrogant artist of his time. He held continually at his orders a faction of bravi who drove from Naples, with threats and insults and violence, every artist of eminence who dared visit the city. Car-racci and Guido only saved their lives by flight, and the blameless and gifted Domenichino, it is said, was foully murdered by his order. It is not to such a heart as this that is given the ineffable raptures of Murillo or the positive revelations of Velazquez. These great souls were above cruelty or jealousy. Velazquez never knew the storms of adversity. Safely anchored in the royal favor, he passed his uneventful life in the calm of his beloved work. But his hand and home were always open to the struggling artists of Spain. He was the benefactor of Alonzo Cano; and when Murillo came up to Madrid, weary and footsore with his long tramp from Andalusia, sustained by an innate consciousness of power, all on fire with a picture of Van Dyck he had seen in Seville, the rich and honored painter of the court received with generous kindness the shabby young wanderer, clothed him, and taught him, and watched with noble delight the first flights of the young eagle whose strong wing was so soon to cleave the empyrean. And when Murillo went back to Seville he paid his debt by doing as much for others. These magnanimous hearts were fit company for the saints they drew.

We have lingered so long with the native artists we shall have little to say of the rest. There are ten fine Raphaels, but it is needless to speak of them. They have been endlessly reproduced. Raphael is known and judged by the world. After some centuries of discussion the scorners and the critics are dumb. All men have learned the habit of Albani, who, in a frivolous and unappreciative age, always uncovered his head at the name of Raphael Sanzio. We look at his precious work with a mingled feeling of gratitude for what we have, and of rebellious wonder that lives like his and Shelley's should be extinguished in their glorious dawn, while kings and country gentlemen live a hundred years. What boundless possibilities of bright achievement these two divine youths owed us in the forty years more they should have lived! Raphael's greatest pictures in Madrid are the Spasimo di Sicilia, and the Holy Family, called La Perla. The former has a singular history. It was painted for a convent in Palermo, shipwrecked on the way, and thrown ashore on the gulf of Genoa. It was again sent to Sicily, brought to Spain by the Viceroy of Naples, stolen by Napoleon, and in Paris was subjected to a brilliantly successful operation for transferring the layer of paint from the worm-eaten wood to canvas. It came back to Spain with other stolen goods from the Louvre. La Perla was bought by Philip IV. at the sale of Charles I.'s effects after his decapitation. Philip was fond of Charles, but could not resist the temptation to profit by his death. This picture was the richest of the booty. It is, of all the faces of the Virgin extant, the most perfectly beautiful and one of the least spiritual.

There is another fine Madonna, commonly called La Virgen del Pez, from a fish which young Tobit holds in his hand. It is rather tawny in color, as if it had been painted on a pine board and the wood had asserted itself from below. It is a charming picture, with all the great Roman's inevitable perfection of design; but it is incomprehensible that critics, M. Viardot among them, should call it the first in rank of Raphael's Virgins in Glory. There are none which can dispute that title with Our Lady of San Sisto, unearthly and supernatural in beauty and majesty.

The school of Florence is represented by a charming Mona Lisa of Leonardo da Vinci, almost identical with that of the Louvre; and six admirable pictures of Andrea del Sarto. But the one which most attracts and holds all those who regard the Faultless Painter with sympathy, and who admiring his genius regret his errors, is a portrait of his wife Lucrezia Fede, whose name, a French writer has said, is a double epigram. It was this capricious and wilful beauty who made poor Andrea break his word and embezzle the money King Francis had given him to spend for works of art. Yet this dangerous face is his best excuse,—the face of a man-snarer, subtle and passionate and cruel in its blind selfishness, and yet so beautiful that any man might yield to it against the cry of his own warning conscience. Browning must have seen it before he wrote, in his pathetic poem,—

"Let my hands frame your face in your hair's gold, You beautiful Lucrezia, that are mine!"

Nowhere, away from the Adriatic, is the Venetian school so richly represented as in Madrid. Charles and Philip were the most munificent friends and patrons of Titian, and the Royal Museum counts among its treasures in consequence the enormous number of forty-three pictures by the wonderful centenarian. Among these are two upon which he set great value,—a Last Supper, which has unfortunately mouldered to ruin in the humid refectory of the Escorial, equal in merit and destiny with that of Leonardo; and the Gloria, or apotheosis of the imperial family, which, after the death of Charles, was brought from Yuste to the Escorial, and thence came to swell the treasures of the Museum. It is a grand and masterly work. The vigorous genius of Titian has grappled with the essential difficulties of a subject that trembles on the balance of ridiculous and sublime, and has come out triumphant. The Father and the Son sit on high. The Operating Spirit hovers above them. The Virgin in robes of azure stands in the blaze of the Presence. The celestial army is ranged around. Below, a little lower than the angels, are Charles and Philip with their wives, on their knees, with white cowls and clasped hands,—Charles in his premature age, with worn face and grizzled beard; and Philip in his youth of unwholesome fairness, with red lips and pink eyelids, such as Titian painted him in the Adonis. The foreground is filled with prophets and saints of the first dignity, and a kneeling woman, whose face is not visible, but whose attitude and drapery are drawn with the sinuous and undulating grace of that hand which could not fail. Every figure is turned to the enthroned Deity, touched with ineffable light. The artist has painted heaven, and is not absurd. In that age of substantial faith such achievements were possible.

There are two Venuses by Titian very like that of Dresden, but the heads have not the same dignity; and a Danae which is a replica of the Vienna one. His Salome bearing the Head of John the Baptist is one of the finest impersonations of the pride of life conceivable. So unapproachable are the soft lights and tones on the perfect arms and shoulders of the full-bodied maiden, that Tintoret one day exclaimed in despair before it, "That fellow paints with ground flesh."

This gallery possesses one of the last works of Titian,—the Battle of Lepanto, which was fought when the artist was ninety-four years of age. It is a courtly allegory,—King Philip holds his little son in his arms, a courier angel brings the news of victory, and to the infant a palm-branch and the scroll Majora tibi. Outside you see the smoke and flash of a naval battle, and a malignant and tur-baned Turk lies bound on the floor. It would seem incredible that this enormous canvas should have been executed at such an age, did we not know that when the pest cut the mighty master off in his hundredth year he was busily at work upon a Descent from the Cross, which Palma the Elder finished on his knees and dedicated to God: Quod Titianus inchoatum reliquit Palma reverenter absolvit Deoque dicavit opus.

The vast representation of Titian rather injures Veronese and Tintoret. Opposite the Gloria of Yuste hangs the sketch of that stupendous Paradise of Tintoret, which we see in the Palace of the Doges,—the biggest picture ever painted by mortal, thirty feet high and seventy-four long.

The sketch was secured by Velazquez in his tour through Italy. The most charming picture of Veronese is a Venus and Adonis, which is finer than that of Titian,—a classic and most exquisite idyl of love and sleep, cool shadow and golden-sifted sunshine. His most considerable work in the gallery is a Christ teaching the Doctors, magnificent in arrangement, severely correct in drawing, and of a most vivid and dramatic interest.

We pass through a circular vaulted chamber to reach the Flemish rooms. There is a choice though scanty collection of the German and French schools. Albert Durer has an Adam and Eve, and a priceless portrait of himself as perfectly preserved as if it were painted yesterday. He wears a curious and picturesque costume,—striped black-and-white,—a graceful tasselled cap of the same. The picture is sufficiently like the statue at Nuremberg; a long South-German face, blue-eyed and thin, fair-whiskered, with that expression of quiet confidence you would expect in the man who said one day, with admirable candor, when people were praising a picture of his, "It could not be better done." In this circular room are four great Claudes, two of which, Sunrise and Sunset, otherwise called the Embarcation of Sta. Paula, and Tobit and the Angel, are in his best and richest manner. It is inconceivable to us, who graduate men by a high-school standard, that these refined and most elegant works could have been produced by a man so imperfectly educated as Claude Lorrain.

There remain the pictures of the Dutch and the Flemings. It is due to the causes we have mentioned in the beginning that neither in Antwerp nor Dresden nor Paris is there such wealth and profusion of the Netherlands art as in this mountain-guarded corner of Western Europe. I shall have but a word to say of these three vast rooms, for Rubens and Van Dyck and Teniers are known to every one. The first has here a representation so complete that if Europe were sunk by a cataclysm from the Baltic to the Pyrenees every essential characteristic of the great Fleming could still be studied in this gallery. With the exception of his Descent from the Cross in the Cathedral at Antwerp, painted in a moment of full inspiration that never comes twice in a life, everything he has done elsewhere may be matched in Madrid. His largest picture here is an Adoration of the Kings, an overpowering exhibition of wasteful luxuriance of color and fougue of composition. To the left the Virgin stands leaning with queenly majesty over the effulgent Child. From this point the light flashes out over the kneeling magi, the gorgeously robed attendants, the prodigality of velvet and jewels and gold, to fade into the lovely clear-obscure of a starry night peopled with dim camels and cattle. On the extreme right is a most graceful and gallant portrait of the artist on horseback. We have another fine self-portraiture in the Garden of Love,—a group of lords and ladies in a delicious pleasance where the greatest seigneur is Peter Paul Rubens and the finest lady is Helen Forman. These true artists had to paint for money so many ignoble faces that they could not be blamed for taking their revenge in painting sometimes their own noble heads. Van Dyck never drew a profile so faultless in manly beauty as his own which we see on the same canvas with that of his friend the Earl of Bristol. Look at the two faces side by side, and say whether God or the king can make the better nobleman.

Among those mythological subjects in which Rubens delighted, the best here are his Perseus and Andromeda, where the young hero comes gloriously in a brand-new suit of Milanese armor, while the lovely princess, in a costume that never grows old-fashioned, consisting of sunshine and golden hair, awaits him and deliverance in beautiful resignation; a Judgment of Paris, the Three Graces,—both prodigies of his strawberries-and-cream color; and a curious suckling of Hercules, which is the prototype or adumbration of the ecstatic vision of St. Bernard. He has also a copy of Titian's Adam and Eve, in an out-of-the-way place downstairs, which should be hung beside the original, to show the difference of handling of the two master colorists.

Especially happy is this Museum in its Van Dycks. Besides those incomparable portraits of Lady Oxford, of Liberti the Organist of Antwerp, and others better than the best of any other man, there are a few large and elaborate compositions such as I have never seen elsewhere. The principal one is the Capture of Christ by Night in the Garden of Gethsemane, which has all the strength of Rubens, with a more refined study of attitudes and a greater delicacy of tone and touch. Another is the Crowning with Thorns,—although of less dimensions, of profound significance in expression, and a flowing and marrowy softness of execution. You cannot survey the work of Van Dyck in this collection, so full of deep suggestion, showing an intellect so vivid and so refined, a mastery of processes so thorough and so intelligent, without the old wonder of what he would have done in that ripe age when Titian and Murillo and Shakespeare wrought their best and fullest, and the old regret for the dead,—as Edgar Poe sings, the doubly dead in that they died so young. We are tempted to lift the veil that hides the unknown, at least with the furtive hand of conjecture; to imagine a field of unquenched activity where the early dead, free from the clogs and trammels of the lower world, may follow out the impulses of their diviner nature,—where Andrea has no wife, and Raphael and Van Dyck no disease,—where Keats and Shelley have all eternity for their lofty rhyme,—where Ellsworth and Koerner and the Lowell boys can turn their alert and athletic intelligence to something better than war.



A CASTLE IN THE AIR

I have sometimes thought that a symptom of the decay of true kinghood in modern times is the love of monarchs for solitude. In the early days when monarchy was a real power to answer a real want, the king had no need to hide himself. He was the strongest, the most knowing, the most cunning. He moved among men their acknowledged chief. He guided and controlled them. He never lost his dignity by daily use. He could steal a horse like Diomede, he could mend his own breeches like Dagobert, and never tarnish the lustre of the crown by it. But in later times the throne has become an anachronism. The wearer of a crown has done nothing to gain it but give himself the trouble to be born. He has no claim to the reverence or respect of men. Yet he insists upon it, and receives some show of it. His life is mainly passed in keeping up this battle for a lost dignity and worship. He is given up to shams and ceremonies.

To a life like this there is something embarrassing in the movement and activity of a great city. The king cannot join in it without a loss of prestige. Being outside of it, he is vexed and humiliated by it. The empty forms become nauseous in the midst of this honest and wholesome reality of out-of-doors.

Hence the necessity of these quiet retreats in the forests, in the water-guarded islands, in the cloud-girdled mountains. Here the world is not seen or heard. Here the king may live with such approach to nature as his false and deformed education will allow. He is surrounded by nothing but the world of servants and courtiers, and it requires little effort of the imagination to consider himself chief and lord.

It was this spirit which in the decaying ripeness of the Bourbon dynasty drove the Louis from Paris to Versailles and from Versailles to Marly. Millions were wasted to build the vast monument of royal fatuity, and when it was done the Grand Monarque found it necessary to fly from time to time to the sham solitude and mock retirement he had built an hour away.

When Philip V. came down from France to his splendid exile on the throne of Spain, he soon wearied of the interminable ceremonies of the Cas-tilian court, and finding one day, while hunting, a pleasant farm on the territory of the Segovian monks, flourishing in a wrinkle of the Guadarrama Mountains, he bought it, and reared the Palace of La Granja. It is only kings who can build their castles in the air of palpable stones and mortar. This lordly pleasure-house stands four thousand feet above the sea level. On this commanding height, in this savage Alpine loneliness, in the midst of a scenery once wildly beautiful, but now shorn and shaven into a smug likeness of a French garden, Philip passed all the later years of his gloomy and inglorious life.

It has been ever since a most tempting summer-house to all the Bourbons. When the sun is calcining the plains of Castile, and the streets of Madrid are white with the hot light of midsummer, this palace in the clouds is as cool and shadowy as spring twilights. And besides, as all public business is transacted in Madrid, and La Granja is a day's journey away, it is too much trouble to send a courier every day for the royal signature,—or, rather, rubric, for royalty in Spain is above handwriting, and gives its majestic approval with a flourish of the pen,—so that everything waits a week or so, and much business goes finally undone; and this is the highest triumph of Spanish industry and skill.

We had some formal business with the court of the regent, and were not sorry to learn that his highness would not return to the capital for some weeks, and that consequently, following the precedent of a certain prophet, we must go to the mountain.

We found at the Estacion del Norte the state railway carriage of her late majesty,—a brilliant creation of yellow satin and profuse gilding, a bovidoir on wheels,—not too full of a distinguished company. Some of the leading men of New Spain, one or two ministers, were there, and we passed a pleasant two hours on the road in that most seductive of all human occupations,—talking politics.

It is remarkable that whenever a nation is remodelling its internal structure, the subject most generally discussed is the constitutional system of the United States. The republicans usually adopt it solid. The monarchists study it with a jealous interest. I fell into conversation with Senor———, one of the best minds in Spain, an enlightened though conservative statesman. He said: "It is hard for Europe to adopt a settled belief about you. America is a land of wonders, of contradictions. One party calls your system freedom, another anarchy. In all legislative assemblies of Europe, republicans and absolutists alike draw arguments from America. But what cannot be denied are the effects, the results. These are evident, something vast and grandiose, a life and movement to which the Old World is stranger." He afterwards referred with great interest to the imaginary imperialist movement in America, and raised his eyebrows in polite incredulity when I assured him there was as much danger of Spain becoming Mohammedan as of America becoming imperialist.

We stopped at the little station of Villalba, in the midst of the wide brown table-land that stretches from Madrid to the Escorial. At Villalba we found the inevitable swarm of beggars, who always know by the sure instinct of wretchedness where a harvest of cuartos is to be achieved. I have often passed Villalba and have seen nothing but the station-master and the water-vender. But to-day, because there were a half dozen excellencies on the train, the entire mendicant force of the district was on parade. They could not have known these gentlemen were coming; they must have scented pennies in the air.

Awaiting us at the rear of the station were three enormous lumbering diligences, each furnished with nine superb mules,—four pairs and a leader. They were loaded with gaudy trappings, and their shiny coats, and backs shorn into graceful arabesques, showed that they did not belong to the working-classes, but enjoyed the gentlemanly leisure of official station. The drivers wore a smart postilion uniform and the royal crown on their caps.

We threw some handfuls of copper and bronze among the picturesque mendicants. They gathered them up with grave Castilian decorum, and said, "God will repay your graces." The postilions cracked their whips, the mules shook their bells gayly, the heavy wagons started off at a full gallop, and the beggars said, "May your graces go with God!"

It was the end of July, and the sky was blue and cloudless. The fine, soft light of the afternoon was falling on the tawny slopes and the close-reaped fields. The harvest was over. In the fields on either side they were threshing their grain, not as in the outside world, with the whirring of loud and swift machinery, nor even with the active and lively swinging of flails; but in the open air, under the warm sky, the cattle were lazily treading out the corn on the bare ground, to be winnowed by the wandering wind. No change from the time of Solomon. Through an infinity of ages, ever since corn and cattle were, the Iberian farmer in this very spot had driven his beasts over his crop, and never dreamed of a better way of doing the work.

Not only does the Spaniard not seek for improvements, he utterly despises and rejects them. The poorer classes especially, who would find an enormous advantage in increased production, lightening their hard lot by a greater plenty of the means of life, regard every introduction of improved machinery as a blow at the rights of labor. When many years ago a Dutch vintner went to Valdepenas and so greatly improved the manufacture of that excellent but ill-made wine that its price immediately rose in the Madrid market, he was mobbed and plundered by his ignorant neighbors, because, as they said, he was laboring to make wine dearer. In every attempt which has been made to manufacture improved machinery in Spain, the greatest care has to be taken to prevent the workmen from maliciously damaging the works, which they imagine are to take the bread from the mouths of their children.

So strong is this feeling in every department of national life, that the mayoral who drove our spanking nine-in-hand received with very ill humor our suggestion that the time could be greatly shortened by a Fell railroad over the hills to La Granja. "What would become of nosotros?" he asked. And it really would seem a pity to annihilate so much picturesqueness and color at the bidding of mere utility. A gayly embroidered Andalusian jacket, bright scarlet silk waistcoat,—a rich wide belt, into which his long knife, the navaja, was jauntily thrust,—buckskin breeches, with Valentian stockings, which, as they are open at the bottom, have been aptly likened to a Spaniard's purse,—and shoes made of Murcian matting, composed his natty outfit. By his side on the box sat the zagal, his assistant, whose especial function seemed to be to swear at the cattle. I have heard some eloquent imprecation in my day. "Our army swore terribly" at Hilton Head. The objuration of the boatmen of the Mississippi is very vigorous and racy. But I have never assisted at a session of profanity so loud, so energetic, so original as that with which this Castilian postilion regaled us. The wonderful consistency and perseverance with which the role was sustained was worthy of a much better cause.

He began by yelling in a coarse, strident voice, "Arre! arre!" (Get up!) with a vicious emphasis on the final syllable. This is one of the Moorish words that have remained fixed like fossils in the language of the conquerors. Its constant use in the mouths of muleteers has given them the name of arrieros. This general admonition being addressed to the team at large, the zagal descended to details, and proceeded to vilipend the galloping beasts separately, beginning with the leader. He informed him, still in this wild, jerking scream, that he was a dog, that his mother's character was far from that of Caesar's wife, and that if more speed was not exhibited on this down grade, he would be forced to resort to extreme measures. At the mention of a whip, the tall male mule who led the team dashed gallantly off, and the diligence was soon enveloped in a cloud of dust. This seemed to excite our gay charioteer to the highest degree. He screamed lustily at his mules, addressing each personally by its name. "Andaluza, arre! Thou of Arragon, go! Beware the scourge, Manchega!" and every animal acknowledged the special attention by shaking its ears and bells and whisking its shaven tail, as the diligence rolled furiously over the dull drab plain.

For three hours the iron lungs of the muleteer knew no rest or pause. Several times in the journey we stopped at a post-station to change our cattle, but the same brazen throat sufficed for all the threatening and encouragement that kept them at the top of their speed. Before we arrived at our journey's end, however, he was hoarse as a raven, and kept one hand pressed to his jaw to reinforce the exhausted muscles of speech.

When the wide and dusty plain was passed, we began by a slow and winding ascent the passage of the Guadarrama. The road is an excellent one, and although so seldom used,—a few months only in the year,—it is kept in the most perfect repair. It is exclusively a summer road, being in the winter impassable with snow. It affords at every turn the most charming compositions of mountain and wooded valley. At intervals we passed a mounted guardia civil, who sat as motionless in his saddle as an equestrian statue, and saluted as the coaches rattled by. And once or twice in a quiet nook by the roadside we came upon the lonely cross that marked the spot where a man had been murdered.

It was nearly sunset when we arrived at the summit of the pass. We halted to ask for a glass of water at the hut of a gray-haired woman on the mountain-top. It was given and received as always in this pious country, in the name of God. As we descended, the mules seemed to have gained new vigor from the prospect of an easy stretch of facilis descensus, and the zagal employed what was left of his voice in provoking them to speed by insulting remarks upon their lineage. The quick twilight fell as we entered a vast forest of pines that clothed the mountain-side. The enormous trees looked in the dim evening light like the forms of the Anakim, maimed with lightning but still defying heaven. Years of battle with the mountain winds had twisted them into every conceivable shape of writhing and distorted deformity. I never saw trees that so nearly conveyed the idea of being the visible prison of tortured dryads. Their trunks, white and glistening with oozing resin, added to the ghostly impression they created in the uncertain and failing light.

We reached the valley and rattled by a sleepy village, where we were greeted by a chorus of outraged curs whose beauty-sleep we had disturbed, and then began the slow ascent of the hill where St. Ildefonso stands. We had not gone far when we heard a pattering of hoofs and a ringing of sabres coming down the road to meet us. The diligence stopped, and the Introducer of Ambassadors jumped to the ground and announced, "El Regente del Reino!" It was the regent, the courteous and amiable Marshal Serrano, who had ridden out from the palace to welcome his guests, and who, after hasty salutations, galloped back to La Granja, where we soon arrived.

We were assigned the apartments usually given to the papal nuncio, and slept with an episcopal peace of mind. In the morning, as we were walking about the gardens, we saw looking from the palace window one of the most accomplished gentlemen and diplomatists of the new regime. He descended and did the honors of the place. The system of gardens and fountains is enormous. It is evidently modelled upon Versailles, but the copy is in many respects finer than the original. The peculiarity of the site, while offering great difficulties, at the same time enhances the triumph of success. This is a garden taught to bloom upon a barren mountain-side. The earth in which these trees are planted was brought from those dim plains in the distance on the backs of men and mules. The pipes that supply these innumerable fountains were laid on the bare rocks and the soil was thrown over them. Every tree was guarded and watched like a baby. There was probably never a garden that grew under such circumstances,—but the result is superb. The fountains are fed by a vast reservoir in the mountain, and the water they throw into the bright air is as clear as morning dew. Every alley and avenue is a vista that ends in a vast picture of shaggy hills or far-off plains,—while behind the royal gardens towers the lordly peak of the Penalara, thrust eight thousand feet into the thin blue ether.

The palace has its share of history. It witnessed the abdication of the uxorious bigot Philip V. in 1724, and his resumption of the crown the next year at the instance of his proud and turbulent Parmesan wife. His bones rest in the church here, as he hated the Austrian line too intensely to share with them the gorgeous crypt of the Escorial. His wife, Elizabeth Farnese, lies under the same gravestone with him, as if unwilling to forego even in death that tremendous influence which her vigorous vitality had always exercised over his wavering and sensual nature. "Das Ewig-Weibliche" masters and guides him still.

This retreat in the autumn of 1832 was the scene of a prodigious exhibition of courage and energy on the part of another Italian woman, Dona Louisa Carlota de Borbon. Ferdinand VIL, his mind weakened by illness, and influenced by his ministers, had proclaimed his brother Don Carlos heir to the throne, to the exclusion of his own infant daughter. His wife, Queen Christine, broken down by the long conflict, had given way in despair. But her sister, Dona Louisa Carlota, heard of the news in the south of Spain, and, leaving her babies at Cadiz (two little urchins, one of whom was to be king consort, and the other was to fall by his cousin Montpensier's hand in the field of Carabanchel), she posted without a moment's pause for rest or sleep over mountains and plains from the sea to La Granja. She fought with the lackeys and the ministers twenty-four hours before she could see her sister the queen. Having breathed into Christine her own invincible spirit, they succeeded, after endless pains, in reaching the king. Obstinate as the weak often are, he refused at first to listen to them; but by their womanly wiles, their Italian policy, their magnetic force, they at last brought him to revoke his decree in favor of Don Carlos and to recognize the right of his daughter to the crown. Then, terrible in her triumph, Dona Louisa Carlota sent for the Minister Calomarde, overwhelmed him with the coarsest and most furious abuse, and, unable to confine her victorious rage and hate to words alone, she slapped the astounded minister in the face. Calomarde, trembling with rage, bowed and said, "A white hand cannot offend."

There is nothing stronger than a woman's weakness, or weaker than a woman's strength.

A few years later, when Ferdinand was in his grave, and the baby Isabel reigned under the regency of Christine, a movement in favor of the constitution of 1812 burst out, where revolutions generally do, in the south, and spread rapidly over the contiguous provinces. The infection gained the troops of the royal guard at La Granja, and they surrounded the palace bawling for the constitution. The regentess, with a proud reliance upon her own power, ordered them to send a deputation to her apartment. A dozen of the mutineers came in, and demanded the constitution.

"What is that?" asked the queen.

They looked at each other and cudgelled their brains. They had never thought of that before.

"Caramba!" said they. "We don't know. They say it is a good thing, and will raise our pay and make salt cheaper."

Their political economy was somewhat flimsy, but they had the bayonets, and the queen was compelled to give way and proclaim the constitution.

I must add one trifling reminiscence more of La Granja, which has also its little moral. A friend of mine, a colonel of engineers, in the summer before the revolution, was standing before the palace with some officers, when a mean-looking cur ran past.

"What an ugly dog!" said the colonel.

"Hush!" replied another, with an awe-struck face. "That is the dog of his royal highness the Prince of Asturias."

The colonel unfortunately had a logical mind, and failed to see that ownership had any bearing on a purely aesthetic question. He defined his position. "I do not think the dog is ugly because he belongs to the prince. I only mean the prince has an ugly dog."

The window just above them slammed, and another officer came up and said that the Adversary was to pay. "THE QUEEN was at the window and heard every word you said."

An hour after the colonel received an order from the commandant of the place, revoking his leave of absence and ordering him to duty in Madrid. It is not very surprising that this officer was at the Bridge of Alcolea.

At noon the day grew dark with clouds, and the black storm-wreath came down over the mountains. A terrific fire of artillery resounded for a half-hour in the craggy peaks about us, and a driving shower passed over palace and gardens. Then the sun came out again, the pleasure-grounds were fresher and greener than ever, and the visitors thronged in the court of the palace to see the fountains in play. The regent led the way on foot. The general followed in a pony phaeton, and ministers, adjutants, and the population of the district trooped along in a party-colored mass.

It was a good afternoon's work to visit all the fountains. They are twenty-six in number, strewn over the undulating grounds. People who visit Paris usually consider a day of Grandes Eaux at Versailles the last word of this species of costly trifling. But the waters at Versailles bear no comparison with those of La Granja. The sense is fatigued and bewildered here with their magnificence and infinite variety. The vast reservoir in the bosom of the mountain, filled with the purest water, gives a possibility of more superb effects than have been attained anywhere else in the world. The Fountain of the Winds is one, where a vast mass of water springs into the air from the foot of a great cavernous rock; there is a succession of exquisite cascades called the Race-Course, filled with graceful statuary; a colossal group of Apollo slaying the Python, who in his death agony bleeds a torrent of water; the Basket of Flowers, which throws up a system of forty jets; the great single jet called Fame, which leaps one hundred and thirty feet into the air, a Niagara reversed; and the crowning glory of the garden, the Baths of Diana, an immense stage scene in marble and bronze, crowded with nymphs and hunting-parties, wild beasts and birds, and everywhere the wildest luxuriance of spouting waters. We were told that it was one of the royal caprices of a recent tenant of the palace to emulate her chaste prototype of the silver bow by choosing this artistic basin for her ablutions, a sufficient number of civil guards being posted to prevent the approach of Castilian Actaeons. Ford aptly remarks of these extravagant follies: "The yoke of building kings is grievous, and especially when, as St. Simon said of Louis XIV. and his Versailles, 'II se plut a tyranniser la nature.'"

As the bilious Philip paused before this mass of sculptured extravagance, he looked at it a moment with evident pleasure. Then he thought of the bill, and whined, "Thou hast amused me three minutes and hast cost me three millions."

To do Philip justice, he did not allow the bills to trouble him much. He died owing forty-five million piastres, which his dutiful son refused to pay. When you deal with Bourbons, it is well to remember the Spanish proverb, "A sparrow in the hand is better than a bustard on the wing."

We wasted an hour in walking through the palace. It is, like all palaces, too fine and dreary to describe. Miles of drawing-rooms and boudoirs, with an infinity of tapestry and gilt chairs, all the apartments haunted by the demon of ennui. All idea of comfort is sacrificed to costly glitter and flimsy magnificence. Some fine paintings were pining in exile on the desolate walls. They looked homesick for the Museum, where they could be seen of men.

The next morning we drove down the mountain and over the rolling plain to the fine old city of Segovia. In point of antiquity and historic interest it is inferior to no town in Spain. It has lost its ancient importance as a seat of government and a mart of commerce. Its population is now not more than eleven thousand. Its manufactures have gone to decay. Its woollen works, which once employed fourteen thousand persons and produced annually twenty-five thousand pieces of cloth, now sustain a sickly existence and turn out not more than two hundred pieces yearly. Its mint, which once spread over Spain a Danaean shower of ounces and dollars, is now reduced to the humble office of striking copper cuartos. More than two centuries ago this decline began. Boisel, who was there in 1669, speaks of the city as "presque desert et fort pauvre." He mentions as a mark of the general unthrift that the day he arrived there was no bread in town until two o'clock in the afternoon, "and no one was astonished at it."

Yet even in its poverty and rags it has the air of a town that has seen better days. Tradition says it was founded by Hercules. It was an important city of the Roman Empire, and a great capital in the days of the Arab monarchy. It was the court of the star-gazing King Alonso the Wise. Through a dozen centuries it was the flower of the mountains of Castile. Each succeeding age and race beautified and embellished it, and each, departing, left the trace of its passage in the abiding granite of its monuments. The Romans left the glorious aqueduct, that work of demigods who scorned to mention it in their histories; its mediaeval bishops bequeathed to later times their ideas of ecclesiastical architecture; and the Arabs the science of fortification and the industrial arts.

Its very ruin and decay makes it only more precious to the traveller. There are here none of the modern and commonplace evidences of life and activity that shock the artistic sense in other towns. All is old, moribund, and picturesque. It lies here in the heart of the Guadarramas, lost and forgotten by the civilization of the age, muttering in its senile dream of the glories of an older world. It has not vitality enough to attract a railroad, and so is only reached by a long and tiresome journey by diligence. Its solitude is rarely intruded upon by the impertinent curious, and the red back of Murray is a rare apparition in its winding streets.

Yet those who come are richly repaid. One does not quickly forget the impression produced by the first view of the vast aqueduct, as you drive into the town from La Granja. It comes upon you in an instant,—the two great ranges of superimposed arches, over one hundred feet high, spanning the ravine-like suburb from the outer hills to the Alcazar. You raise your eyes from the market-place, with its dickering crowd, from the old and squalid houses clustered like shot rubbish at the foot of the chasm, to this grand and soaring wonder of utilitarian architecture, with something of a fancy that it was never made, that it has stood there since the morning of the world. It has the lightness and the strength, the absence of ornament and the essential beauty, the vastness and the perfection, of a work of nature.

It is one of those gigantic works of Trajan, so common in that magnificent age that Roman authors do not allude to it. It was built to bring the cool mountain water of the Sierra Fonfria a distance of nine miles through the hills, the gulches, and the pine forests of Valsain, and over the open plain to the thirsty city of Segovia. The aqueduct proper runs from the old tower of Caseron three thousand feet to the reservoir where the water deposits its sand and sediment, and thence begins the series of one hundred and nineteen arches, which traverse three thousand feet more and pass the valley, the arrabal, and reach the citadel. It is composed of great blocks of granite, so perfectly framed and fitted that not a particle of mortar or cement is employed in the construction.

The wonder of the work is not so much in its vastness or its beauty as in its tremendous solidity and duration. A portion of it had been cut away by barbarous armies during the fifteenth century, and in the reign of Isabella the Catholic the monk-architect of the Parral, Juan Escovedo, the greatest builder of his day in Spain, repaired it. These repairs have themselves twice needed repairing since then. Marshal Ney, when he came to this portion of the monument, exclaimed, "Here begins the work of men's hands."

The true Segovian would hoot at you if you assigned any mortal paternity to the aqueduct. He calls it the Devil's Bridge, and tells you this story. The Evil One was in love with a pretty girl of the upper town, and full of protestations of devotion. The fair Segovian listened to him one evening, when her plump arms ached with the work of bringing water from the ravine, and promised eyes of favor if his Infernal Majesty would build an aqueduct to her door before morning. He worked all night, like the Devil, and the maiden, opening her black eyes at sunrise, saw him putting the last stone in the last arch, as the first ray of the sun lighted on his shining tail. The Church, we think very unfairly, decided that he had failed, and released the coquettish contractor from her promise; and it is said the Devil has never trusted a Sego-vian out of his sight again.

The bartizaned keep of the Moorish Alcazar is perched on the western promontory of the city that guards the meeting of the streams Eresma and Clamores. It has been in the changes of the warring times a palace, a fortress, a prison (where our friend—everybody's friend—Gil Blas was once confined), and of late years a college of artillery. In one of its rooms Alonso the Wise studied the heavens more than was good for his orthodoxy, and from one of its windows a lady of the court once dropped a royal baby, of the bad blood of Trasta-mara. Henry of Trastamara will seem more real if we connect him with fiction. He was the son of "La Favorita," who will outlast all legitimate princesses, in the deathless music of Donizetti.

Driving through a throng of beggars that encumbered the carriage wheels as grasshoppers sometimes do the locomotives on a Western railway, we came to the fine Gothic Cathedral, built by Gil de Ontanon, father and son, in the early part of the sixteenth century. It is a delight to the eyes; the rich harmonious color of the stone, the symmetry of proportion, the profuse opulence and grave finish of the details. It was built in that happy era of architecture when a builder of taste and culture had all the past of Gothic art at his disposition, and before the degrading influence of the Jesuits appeared in the churches of Europe. Within the Cathedral is remarkably airy and graceful in effect. A most judicious use has been made of the exquisite salmon-colored marbles of the country in the great altar and the pavement.

We were met by civil ecclesiastics of the foundation and shown the beauties and the wonders of the place. Among much that is worthless, there is one very impressive Descent from the Cross by Juan de Juni, of which that excellent Mr. Madoz says "it is worthy to rank with the best masterpieces of Raphael or—Mengs;" as if one should say of a poet that he was equal to Shakespeare or Southey.

We walked through the cloisters and looked at the tombs. A flood of warm light poured through the graceful arches and lit up the trees in the garden and set the birds to singing, and made these cloisters pleasanter to remember than they usually are. Our attendant priest told us, with an earnest credulity that was very touching, the story of Maria del Salto, Mary of the Leap, whose history was staring at us from the wall. She was a Jewish lady, whose husband had doubts of her discretion, and so threw her from a local Tarpeian rock. As she fell she invoked the Virgin, and came down easily, sustained, as you see in the picture, by her faith and her petticoats.

As we parted from the good fathers and entered our carriages at the door of the church, the swarm of mendicants had become an army. The word had doubtless gone through the city of the outlandish men who had gone into the Cathedral with whole coats, and the result was a levee en masse of the needy. Every coin that was thrown to them but increased the clamor, as it confirmed them in their idea of the boundless wealth and munificence of the givers. We recalled the profound thought of Emerson, "If the rich were only as rich as the poor think them!"

At last we drove desperately away through the ragged and screaming throng. We passed by the former home of the Jeronomite monks of the Parral, which was once called an earthly paradise, and in later years has been a pen for swine; past crumbling convents and ruined churches; past the charming Romanesque San Millan, girdled with its round-arched cloisters; the granite palace of his Reverence the Bishop of Segovia, and the elegant tower of St. Esteban, where the Roman is dying and the Gothic is dawning; and every step of the route is a study and a joy to the antiquarian.

But though enriched by all these legacies of an immemorial past, there seems no hope, no future for Segovia. It is as dead as the cities of the Plain. Its spindles have rusted into silence. Its gay company is gone. Its streets are too large for the population, and yet they swarm with beggars. I had often heard it compared in outline to a ship,—the sunrise astern and the prow pointing westward,—and as we drove away that day and I looked back to the receding town, it seemed to me like a grand hulk of some richly laden galleon, aground on the rock that holds it, alone, abandoned to its fate among the barren billows of the tumbling ridges, its crew tired out with struggling and apathetic in despair, mocked by the finest air and the clearest sunshine that ever shone, and gazing always forward to the new world and the new times hidden in the rosy sunset, which they shall never see.



THE CITY OF THE VISIGOTHS

Emilio Castelar said to me one day, "Toledo is the most remarkable city in Spain. You will find there three strata of glories,—Gothic, Arab, and Castilian,—and an upper crust of beggars and silence."

I went there in the pleasantest time of the year, the first days of June. The early harvest was in progress, and the sunny road ran through golden fields which were enlivened by the reapers gathering in their grain with shining sickles. The borders of the Tagus were so cool and fresh that it was hard to believe one was in the arid land of Castile. From Madrid to Aranjuez you meet the usual landscapes of dun hillocks and pale-blue vegetation, such as are only seen in nature in Central Spain, and only seen in art on the matchless canvas of Velazquez. But from the time you cross the tawny flood of the Tagus just north of Aranjuez, the valley is gladdened by its waters all the way to the Primate City.

I am glad I am not writing a guide-book, and do not feel any responsibility resting upon me of advising the gentle reader to stop at Aranjuez or to go by on the other side. There is a most amiable and praiseworthy class of travellers who feel a certain moral necessity impelling them to visit every royal abode within their reach. They always see precisely the same things,—some thousand of gilt chairs, some faded tapestry and marvellous satin upholstery, a room in porcelain, and a room in imitation of some other room somewhere else, and a picture or two by that worthy and tedious young man, Raphael Mengs. I knew I would see all these things at Aranjuez, and so contented myself with admiring its pretty site, its stone-cornered brick facade, its high-shouldered French roof, and its general air of the Place Royale, from the outside. The gardens are very pleasant, and lonely enough for the most philosophic stroller. A clever Spanish writer says of them, "They are sombre as the thoughts of Philip II., mysterious and gallant as the pleasures of Philip IV." To a revolutionary mind, it is a certain pleasure to remember that this was the scene of the emeute that drove Charles IV. from his throne, and the Prince of Peace from his queen's boudoir. Ferdinand VII., the turbulent and restless Prince of Asturias, reaped the immediate profit of his father's abdication; but the two worthless creatures soon called in Napoleon to decide the squabble, which he did in his leonine way by taking the crown away from both of them and handing it over for safe-keeping to his lieutenant brother Joseph. Honor among thieves!—a silly proverb, as one readily sees if he falls into their hands, or reads the history of kings.

If Toledo had been built, by some caprice of enlightened power, especially for a show city, it could not be finer in effect. In detail, it is one vast museum. In ensemble, it stands majestic on its hills, with its long lines of palaces and convents terraced around the rocky slope, and on the height the soaring steeples of a swarm of churches piercing the blue, and the huge cube of the Alcazar crowning the topmost crest, and domineering the scene. The magnificent zigzag road which leads up the steep hillside from the bridge of Alcantara gives an indefinable impression, as of the lordly ramp of some fortress of impossible extent.

This road is new, and in perfect condition. But do not imagine you can judge the city by the approaches. When your carriage has mounted the hill and passed the evening promenade of the To-ledans, the quaint triangular Place,—I had nearly called it Square,—"waking laughter in indolent reviewers," the Zocodover, you are lost in the dae-dalian windings of the true streets of Toledo, where you can touch the walls on either side, and where two carriages could no more pass each other than two locomotives could salute and go by on the same track. This interesting experiment, which is so common in our favored land, could never be tried in Toledo, as I believe there is only one turnout in the city, a minute omnibus with striped linen hangings at the sides, driven by a young Castilian whose love of money is the root of much discussion when you pay his bill. It is a most remarkable establishment. The horses can cheerfully do their mile in fifteen or twenty minutes, but they make more row about it than a high-pressure Mississippi steamer; and the crazy little trap is noisier in proportion to its size than anything I have ever seen, except perhaps an Indiana tree-toad. If you make an excursion outside the walls, the omnibus, noise and all, is inevitable; let it come. But inside the city you must walk; the slower the better, for every door is a study.

It is hard to conceive that this was once a great capital with a population of two hundred thousand souls. You can easily walk from one end of the city to the other in less than half an hour, and the houses that remain seem comfortably filled by eighteen thousand inhabitants. But in this narrow space once swarmed that enormous and busy multitude. The city was walled about by powerful stone ramparts, which yet stand in all their massy perfection. So there could have been no suburbs. This great aggregation of humanity lived and toiled on the crests and in the wrinkles of the seven hills we see to-day. How important were the industries of the earlier days we can guess from the single fact that John of Padilla, when he rose in defence of municipal liberty in the time of Charles V., drew in one day from the teeming workshops twenty thousand fighting men. He met the usual fate of all Spanish patriots, shameful and cruel death. His palace was razed to the ground. Successive governments, in shifting fever-fits of liberalism and absolutism, have set up and pulled down his statue. But his memory is loved and honored, and the example of this noblest of the comuneros impresses powerfully to-day the ardent young minds of the new Spain.

Your first walk is of course to the Cathedral, the Primate Church of the kingdom. Besides its ecclesiastical importance, it is well worthy of notice in itself. It is one of the purest specimens of Gothic architecture in existence, and is kept in an admirable state of preservation. Its situation is not the most favorable. It is approached by a network of descending streets, all narrow and winding, as streets were always built under the intelligent rule of the Moors. They preferred to be cool in summer and sheltered in winter, rather than to lay out great deserts of boulevards, the haunts of sunstroke and pneumonia. The site of the Cathedral was chosen from strategic reasons by St. Eugene, who built there his first Episcopal Church. The Moors made a mosque of it when they conquered Castile, and the fastidious piety of St. Ferdinand would not permit him to worship in a shrine thus profaned. He tore down the old church and laid, in 1227, the foundations of this magnificent structure, which was two centuries after his death in building. There is, however, great unity of purpose and execution in this Cathedral, due doubtless to the fact that the architect Perez gave fifty years of his long life to the superintendence of the early work. Inside and outside it is marked by a grave and harmonious majesty. The great western facade is enriched with three splendid portals,—the side ones called the doors of Hell and Judgment; and the central a beautiful ogival arch divided into two smaller ones, and adorned with a lavish profusion of delicately sculptured figures of saints and prophets; on the chaste and severe cornice above, a group of spirited busts represents the Last Supper. There are five other doors to the temple, of which the door of the Lions is the finest, and just beside it a heavy Ionic portico in the most detestable taste indicates the feeling and culture that survived in the reign of Charles IV.

To the north of the west facade rises the massive tower. It is not among the tallest in the world, being three hundred and twenty-four feet high, but is very symmetrical and impressive. In the preservation of its pyramidal purpose it is scarcely inferior to that most consummate work, the tower of St. Stephen's in Vienna. It is composed of three superimposed structures, gradually diminishing in solidity and massiveness from the square base to the high-springing octagonal spire, garlanded with thorny crowns. It is balanced at the south end of the facade by the pretty cupola and lantern of the Mozarabic Chapel, the work of the Greek Theotocopouli.

But we soon grow tired of the hot glare of June, and pass in a moment into the cool twilight vastness of the interior, refreshing to body and soul. Five fine naves, with eighty-four pillars formed each of sixteen graceful columns,—the entire edifice measuring four hundred feet in length and two hundred feet in breadth,—a grand and shadowy temple grove of marble and granite. At all times the light is of an unearthly softness and purity, toned by the exquisite windows and rosaces. But as evening draws on, you should linger till the sacristan grows peremptory, to watch the gorgeous glow of the western sunlight on the blazing roses of the portals, and the marvellous play of rich shadows and faint gray lights in the eastern chapels, where the grand aisles sweep in their perfect curves around the high altar. A singular effect is here created by the gilded organ pipes thrust out horizontally from the choir. When the powerful choral anthems of the church peal out over the kneeling multitude, it requires little fancy to imagine them the golden trumpets of concealed archangels, who would be quite at home in that incomparable choir.

If one should speak of all the noteworthy things you meet in this Cathedral, he would find himself in danger of following in the footsteps of Mr. Parro, who wrote a handbook of Toledo, in which seven hundred and forty-five pages are devoted to a hasty sketch of the basilica. For five hundred years enormous wealth and fanatical piety have worked together and in rivalry to beautify this spot. The boundless riches of the Church and the boundless superstition of the laity have left their traces here in every generation in forms of magnificence and beauty. Each of the chapels—and there are twenty-one of them—is a separate masterpiece in its way. The finest are those of Santiago and St. Ildefonso,—the former built by the famous Constable Alvaro de Luna as a burial-place for himself and family, and where he and his wife lie in storied marble; and the other commemorating that celebrated visit of the Virgin to the bishop, which is the favorite theme of the artists and ecclesiastical gossips of Spain.

There was probably never a morning call which gave rise to so much talk. It was not the first time the Virgin had come to Toledo. This was always a favorite excursion of hers. She had come from time to time, escorted by St. Peter, St. Paul, and St. James. But on the morning in question, which was not long after Bishop Ildefonso had written his clever treatise, "De Virginitate Stae Mariae," the Queen of Heaven came down to matin prayers, and, taking the bishop's seat, listened to the sermon with great edification. After service she presented him with a nice new chasuble, as his own was getting rather shabby, made of "cloth of heaven," in token of her appreciation of his spirited pamphlet in her defence. This chasuble still exists in a chest in Asturias. If you open the chest, you will not see it; but this only proves the truth of the miracle, for the chroniclers say the sacred vestment is invisible to mortal eyes.

But we have another and more palpable proof of the truth of the history. The slab of marble on which the feet of the celestial visitor alighted is still preserved in the Cathedral in a tidy chapel built on the very spot where the avatar took place. The slab is enclosed in red jasper and guarded by an iron grating, and above it these words of the Psalmist are engraved in the stone, Adorabimus in loco ubi steterunt pedes ejus.

This story is cut in marble and carved in wood and drawn upon brass and painted upon canvas, in a thousand shapes and forms all over Spain. You see in the Museum at Madrid a picture by Murillo devoted to this idle fancy of a cunning or dreaming priest. The subject was unworthy of the painter, and the result is what might have been expected,—a picture of trivial and mundane beauty, without the least suggestion of spirituality.

But there can be no doubt of the serious, solemn earnestness with which the worthy Castilians from that day to this believe the romance. They came up in groups and families, touching their fingers to the sacred slab and kissing them reverentially with muttered prayers. A father would take the first kiss himself, and pass his consecrated finger around among his awe-struck babes, who were too brief to reach to the grating. Even the aged verger who showed us the shrine, who was so frail and so old that we thought he might be a ghost escaped from some of the mediaeval tombs in the neighborhood, never passed that pretty white-and-gold chapel without sticking in his thumb and pulling out a blessing.

A few feet from this worship-worn stone, a circle drawn on one of the marble flags marks the spot where Santa Leocadia also appeared to this same favored Ildefonso and made her compliments on his pamphlet. Was ever author so happy in his subject and his gentle readers? The good bishop evidently thought the story of this second apparition might be considered rather a heavy draught on the credulity of his flock, so he whipped out a convenient knife and cut off a piece of her saint-ship's veil, which clinched the narrative and struck doubters dumb. That great king and crazy relic-hunter, Philip II., saw this rag in his time with profound emotion,—this tiger heart, who could order the murder of a thousand innocent beings without a pang.

There is another chapel in this Cathedral which preaches forever its silent condemnation of Spanish bigotry to deaf ears. This is the Mozarabic Chapel, sacred to the celebration of the early Christian rite of Spain. During the three centuries of Moorish domination the enlightened and magnanimous conquerors guaranteed to those Christians who remained within their lines the free exercise of all their rights, including perfect freedom of worship. So that side by side the mosque and the church worshipped God each in its own way without fear or wrong. But when Alonso VI. recaptured the city in the eleventh century, he wished to establish uniformity of worship, and forbade the use of the ancient liturgy in Toledo. That which the heathen had respected the Catholic outraged. The great Cardinal Ximenez restored the primitive rite and devoted this charming chapel to its service. How ill a return was made for Moorish tolerance we see in the infernal treatment they afterwards received from king and Church. They made them choose between conversion and death. They embraced Christianity to save their lives. Then the priests said, "Perhaps this conversion is not genuine! Let us send the heathen away out of our sight." One million of the best citizens of Spain were thus torn from their homes and landed starving on the wild African coast. And Te Deums were sung in the churches for this triumph of Catholic unity. From that hour Spain has never prospered. It seems as if she were lying ever since under the curse of these breaking hearts.

Passing by a world of artistic beauties which never tire the eyes, but soon would tire the chronicler and reader, stepping over the broad bronze slab in the floor which covers the dust of the haughty primate Porto Carrero, but which bears neither name nor date, only this inscription of arrogant humility, HIC JACET PULVIS CINIS ET NIHIL, we walk into the verdurous and cheerful Gothic cloisters. They occupy the site of the ancient Jewish markets, and the zealous prelate Tenorio, cousin to the great lady's man Don Juan, could think of no better way of acquiring the ground than that of stirring up the mob to burn the houses of the heretics. A fresco that adorns the gate explains the means employed, adding insult to the old injury. It is a picture of a beautiful child hanging upon a cross; a fiendish-looking Jew, on a ladder beside him, holds in his hand the child's heart, which he has just taken from his bleeding breast; he holds the dripping knife in his teeth. This brutal myth was used for centuries with great effect by the priesthood upon the mob whenever they wanted a Jew's money or his blood. Even to-day the old poison has not lost its power. This very morning I heard under my window loud and shrill voices. I looked out and saw a group of brown and ragged women, with babies in their arms, discussing the news from Madrid. The Protestants, they said, had begun to steal Catholic children. They talked themselves into a fury. Their elf-locks hung about their fierce black eyes. The sinews of their lean necks worked tensely in their voluble rage. Had they seen our mild missionary at that moment, whom all men respect and all children instinctively love, they would have torn him in pieces in their Maenad fury, and would have thought they were doing their duty as mothers and Catholics.

This absurd and devilish charge was seriously made in a Madrid journal, the organ of the Moderates, and caused great fermentation for several days, street rows, and debates in the Cortes, before the excitement died away. Last summer, in the old Murcian town of Lorca, an English gentleman, who had been several weeks in the place, was attacked and nearly killed by a mob, who insisted that he was engaged in the business of stealing children, and using their spinal marrow for lubricating telegraph wires! What a picture of blind and savage ignorance is here presented! It reminds us of that sad and pitiful "blood-bath revolt" of Paris, where the wretched mob rose against the wretched tyrant Louis XV., accusing him of bathing in the blood of children to restore his own wasted and corrupted energies.

Toledo is a city where you should eschew guides and trust implicitly to chance in your wanderings. You can never be lost; the town is so small that a short walk always brings you to the river or the wall, and there you can take a new departure. If you do not know where you are going, you have every moment the delight of some unforeseen pleasure. There is not a street in Toledo that is not rich in treasures of architecture,—hovels that once were marvels of building, balconies of curiously wrought iron, great doors with sculptured posts and lintels, with gracefully finished hinges, and studded with huge nails whose fanciful heads are as large as billiard balls. Some of these are still handsome residences, but most have fallen into neglect and abandonment. You may find a beggar installed in the ruined palace of a Moorish prince, a cobbler at work in the pleasure-house of a Castilian conqueror. The graceful carvings are mutilated and destroyed, the delicate arabesques are smothered and hidden under a triple coat of whitewash. The most beautiful Moorish house in the city, the so-called Taller del Moro, where the grim governor of Huesca invited four hundred influential gentlemen of the province to a political dinner, and cut off all their heads as they entered (if we may believe the chronicle, which we do not), is now empty and rapidly going to ruin. The exquisite panelling of the walls, the endlessly varied stucco work that seems to have been wrought by the deft fingers of ingenious fairies, is shockingly broken and marred. Gigantic cacti look into the windows from the outer court. A gay pomegranate-tree flings its scarlet blossoms in on the ruined floor. Rude little birds have built their nests in the beautiful fretted rafters, and flutter in and out as busy as brokers. But of all the feasting and loving and plotting these lovely walls beheld in that strange age that seems like fable now,—the vivid, intelligent, scientific, tolerant age of the Moors,—even the memory has perished utterly and forever.

We strolled away aimlessly from this beautiful desolation, and soon came out upon the bright and airy Paseo del Transito. The afternoon sunshine lay warm on the dull brown suburb, but a breeze blew freshly through the dark river-gorge, and we sat upon the stone benches bordering the bluff and gave ourselves up to the scene. To the right were the ruins of the Roman bridge and the Moorish mills; to the left the airy arch of San Martin's bridge spanned the bounding torrent, and far beyond stretched the vast expanse of the green valley refreshed by the river, and rolling in rank waves of verdure to the blue hills of Guadalupe. Below us on the slippery rocks that lay at the foot of the sheer cliffs, some luxurious fishermen reclined, idly watching their idle lines. The hills stretched away, ragged and rocky, dotted with solitary towers and villas.

A squad of beggars rapidly gathered, attracted by the gracious faces of Las Senoras. Begging seems almost the only regular industry of Toledo. Besides the serious professionals, who are real artists in studied misery and ingenious deformity, all the children in town occasionally leave their marbles and their leap-frog to turn an honest penny by amateur mendicancy.

A chorus of piteous whines went up. But La Senora was firm. She checked the ready hands of the juveniles. "Children should not be encouraged to pursue this wretched life. We should give only to blind men, because here is a great and evident affliction; and to old women, because they look so lonely about the boots." The exposition was so subtle and logical that it admitted no reply. The old women and the blind men shuffled away with their pennies, and we began to chaff the sturdy and rosy children.

A Spanish beggar can bear anything but banter. He is a keen physiognomist, and selects his victims with unerring acumen. If you storm or scowl at him, he knows he is making you uncomfortable, and hangs on like a burr. But if you laugh at him, with good humor, he is disarmed. A friend of mine reduced to confusion one of the most unabashed mendicants in Castile by replying to his whining petition, politely and with a beaming smile, "No, thank you. I never eat them." The beggar is far from considering his employment a degrading one. It is recognized by the Church, and the obligation of this form of charity especially inculcated. The average Spaniard regards it as a sort of tax to be as readily satisfied as a toll-fee. He will often stop and give a beggar a cent, and wait for the change in maravedises. One day, at the railway station, a muscular rogue approached me and begged for alms. I offered him my sac-de-nuit to carry a block or two. He drew himself up proudly and said, "I beg your pardon, sir; I am no Gallician." An old woman came up with a basket on her arm. "Can it be possible in this far country," said La Senora, "or are these—yes, they are, deliberate peanuts." With a penny we bought unlimited quantities of this levelling edible, and with them the devoted adherence of the aged merchant. She immediately took charge of our education. We must see Santa Maria la Blanca,—it was a beautiful thing; so was the Transito. Did we see those men and women grubbing in the hillside? They were digging bones to sell at the station. Where did the bones come from? Quien sabe? Those dust-heaps have been there since King Wamba. Come, we must go and see the Churches of Mary before it grew dark. And the zealous old creature marched away with us to the synagogue built by Samuel Ben Levi, treasurer to that crowned panther, Peter the Cruel. This able financier built this fine temple to the God of his fathers out of his own purse. He was murdered for his money by his ungrateful lord, and his synagogue stolen by the Church. It now belongs to the order of Cala-trava.

But the other and older synagogue, now called Santa Maria la Blanca, is much more interesting. It stands in the same quarter, the suburb formerly occupied by the industrious and thriving Hebrews of the Middle Ages until the stupid zeal of the Catholic kings drove them out of Spain. The synagogue was built in the ninth century under the enlightened domination of the Moors. At the slaughter of the Jews in 1405 it became a church. It has passed through varying fortunes since then, having been hospital, hermitage, stable, and warehouse; but it is now under the care of the provincial committee of art, and is somewhat decently restored. Its architecture is altogether Moorish. It has three aisles with thick octagonal columns supporting heavy horseshoe arches. The spandrels are curiously adorned with rich circular stucco figures. The soil you tread is sacred, for it was brought from Zion long before the Crusades; the cedar rafters above you preserve the memory and the odors of Lebanon.

A little farther west, on a fine hill overlooking the river, in the midst of the ruined palaces of the early kings, stands the beautiful votive church of San Juan de los Reyes. It was built by Ferdinand and Isabella, before the Columbus days, to commemorate a victory over their neighbors the Portuguese. During a prolonged absence of the king, the pious queen, wishing to prepare him a pleasant surprise, instead of embroidering a pair of impracticable slippers as a faithful young wife would do nowadays, finished this exquisite church by setting at work upon it some regiments of stone-cutters and builders. It is not difficult to imagine the beauty of the structure that greeted the king on his welcome home. For even now, after the storms of four centuries have beaten upon it, and the malignant hands of invading armies have used their utmost malice against it, it is still a won-drously perfect work of the Gothic inspiration.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse