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

We sat on the terrace benches to enjoy the light and graceful lines of the building, the delicately ornate door, the unique drapery of iron chains which the freed Christians hung here when delivered from the hands of the Moors. A lovely child, with pensive blue eyes fringed with long lashes, and the slow sweet smile of a Madonna, sat near us and sang to a soft, monotonous air a war-song of the Carlists. Her beauty soon attracted the artistic eyes of La Senora, and we learned she was named Francisca, and her baby brother, whose flaxen head lay heavily on her shoulder, was called Jesus Mary. She asked, Would we like to go into the church? She knew the sacristan and would go for him. She ran away like a fawn, the tow head of little Jesus tumbling dangerously about. She reappeared in a moment; she had disposed of mi nino, as she called it, and had found the sacristan. This personage was rather disappointing. A sacristan should be aged and mouldy, clothed in black of a decent shabbiness. This was a Toledan swell in a velvet shooting-jacket, and yellow peg-top trousers. However, he had the wit to confine himself to turning keys, and so we gradually recovered from the shock of the shooting-jacket.

The church forms one great nave, divided into four vaults enriched with wonderful stone lace-work. A superb frieze surrounds the entire nave, bearing in great Gothic letters an inscription narrating the foundation of the church. Everywhere the arms of Castile and Arragon, and the wedded ciphers of the Catholic kings. Statues of heralds start unexpectedly out from the face of the pillars. Fine as the church is, we cannot linger here long. The glory of San Juan is its cloisters. It may challenge the world to show anything so fine in the latest bloom and last development of Gothic art. One of the galleries is in ruins,—a sad witness of the brutality of armies. But the three others are enough to show how much of beauty was possible in that final age of pure Gothic building. The arches bear a double garland of leaves, of flowers, and of fruits, and among them are ramping and writhing and playing every figure of bird or beast or monster that man has seen or poet imagined. There are no two arches alike, and yet a most beautiful harmony pervades them all. In some the leaves are in profile, in others delicately spread upon the graceful columns and every vein displayed. I saw one window where a stone monkey sat reading his prayers, gowned and cowled,—an odd caprice of the tired sculptor. There is in this infinite variety of detail a delight that ends in something like fatigue. You cannot help feeling that this was naturally and logically the end of Gothic art. It had run its course. There was nothing left but this feverish quest of variety. It was in danger, after having gained such divine heights of invention, of degenerating into prettinesses and affectation.

But how marvellously fine it was at last! One must see it, as in these unequalled cloisters, half ruined, silent, and deserted, bearing with something of conscious dignity the blows of time and the ruder wrongs of men, to appreciate fully its proud superiority to all the accidents of changing taste and modified culture. It is only the truest art that can bear that test. The fanes of Paestum will always be more beautiful even than the magical shore on which they stand. The Parthenon, fixed like a battered coronet on the brow of the Acropolis, will always be the loveliest sight that Greece can offer to those who come sailing in from the blue Aegean. It is scarcely possible to imagine a condition of thought or feeling in which these master-works shall seem quaint or old-fashioned. They appeal, now and always, with that calm power of perfection, to the heart and eyes of every man born of woman.

The cloisters enclose a little garden just enough neglected to allow the lush dark ivy, the passionflowers, and the spreading oleanders to do their best in beautifying the place, as men have done their worst in marring it. The clambering vines seem trying to hide the scars of their hardly less perfect copies. Every arch is adorned with a soft and delicious drapery of leaves and tendrils; the fair and outraged child of art is cherished and caressed by the gracious and bountiful hands of Mother Nature.

As we came away, little Francisca plucked one of the five-pointed leaves of the passion-flowers and gave it to La Senora, saying reverentially, "This is the Hand of Our Blessed Lord!"

The sun was throned, red as a bacchanal king, upon the purple hills, as we descended the rocky declivity and crossed the bridge of St. Martin.

Our little Toledan maid came with us, talking and singing incessantly, like a sweet-voiced starling. We rested on the farther side and looked back at the towering city, glorious in the sunset, its spires aflame, its long lines of palace and convent clear in the level rays, its ruins softened in the gathering shadows, the lofty bridge hanging transfigured over the glowing river. Before us the crumbling walls and turrets of the Gothic kings ran down from the bluff to the water-side, its terrace overlooking the baths where, for his woe, Don Roderick saw Count Julian's daughter under the same inflammatory circumstances as those in which, from a Judaean housetop, Don David beheld Captain Uriah's wife. There is a great deal of human nature abroad in the world in all ages.

Little Francisca kept on chattering. "That is St. Martin's bridge. A girl jumped into the water last year. She was not a lady. She was in service. She was tired of living because she was in love. They found her three weeks afterwards; but, Santisima Maria! she was good for nothing then."

Our little maid was too young to have sympathy for kings or servant girls who die for love. She was a pretty picture as she sat there, her blue eyes and Madonna face turned to the rosy west, singing in her sweet child's voice her fierce little song of sedition and war:—

"Arriba los valientes! Abajo tirania! Pronto llegara el dia De la Restauracion.

Carlistas a caballo! Soldados en Campana! Viva el Rey de Espana, Don Carlos de Borbon!"

I cannot enumerate the churches of Toledo,—you find them in every street and by-way. In the palmy days of the absolute theocracy this narrow space contained more than a hundred churches and chapels. The province was gnawed by the cancer of sixteen monasteries of monks and twice as many convents of nuns, all crowded within these city walls. Fully one half the ground of the city was covered by religious buildings and mortmain property. In that age, when money meant ten times what it signifies now, the rent-roll of the Church in Toledo was forty millions of reals. There are even yet portions of the town where you find nothing but churches and convents. The grass grows green in the silent streets. You hear nothing but the chime of bells and the faint echoes of masses. You see on every side bolted doors and barred windows, and, gliding over the mossy pavements, the stealthy-stepping, long-robed priests.

I will only mention two more churches, and both of these converts from heathendom; both of them dedicated to San Cristo, for in the democracy of the calendar the Saviour is merely a saint, and reduced to the level of the rest. One is the old pretorian temple of the Romans, which was converted by King Sizebuto into a Christian church in the seventh century. It is a curious structure in brick and mortar, with an apsis and an odd arrangement of round arches sunken in the outer wall and still deeper pointed ones. It is famed as the resting-place of Saints Ildefonso and Leocadia, whom we have met before. The statue of the latter stands over the door graceful and pensive enough for a heathen muse. The little cloisters leading to the church are burial vaults. On one side lie the canonical dead and on the other the laity, with bright marble tablets and gilt inscriptions. In the court outside I noticed a flat stone marked Ossuarium. The sacristan told me this covered the pit where the nameless dead reposed, and when the genteel people in the gilt marble vaults neglected to pay their annual rent, they were taken out and tumbled in to moulder with the common clay.

This San Cristo de la Vega, St. Christ of the Plain, stands on the wide flat below the town, where you find the greater portion of the Roman remains. Heaps of crumbling composite stretched in an oval form over the meadow mark the site of the great circus. Green turf and fields of waving grain occupy the ground where once a Latin city stood. The Romans built on the plain. The Goths, following their instinct of isolation, fixed their dwelling on the steep and rugged rock. The rapid Tagus girdling the city like a horseshoe left only the declivity to the west to be defended, and the ruins of King Wamba's wall show with what jealous care that work was done. But the Moors, after they captured the city, apparently did little for its defence. A great suburb grew up in the course of ages outside the wall, and when the Christians recaptured Toledo in 1085, the first care of Alonso VI. was to build another wall, this time nearer the foot of the hill, taking inside all the accretion of these years. From that day to this that wall has held Toledo. The city has never reached, perhaps will never reach, the base of the steep rock on which it stands.

When King Alonso stormed the city, his first thought, in the busy half hour that follows victory, was to find some convenient place to say his prayers. Chance led him to a beautiful little Moorish mosque or oratory near the superb Puerta del Sol. He entered, gave thanks, and hung up his shield as a votive offering. This is the Church of San Cristo de la Luz. The shield of Alonso hangs there defying time for eight centuries,—a golden cross on a red field,—and the exquisite oratory, not much larger than a child's toy-house, is to-day one of the most charming specimens of Moorish art in Spain. Four square pillars support the roof, which is divided into five equal "half-orange" domes, each different from the others and each equally fascinating in its unexpected simplicity and grace. You cannot avoid a feeling of personal kindliness and respect for the refined and genial spirit who left this elegant legacy to an alien race and a hostile creed.

The Military College of Santa Cruz is one of the most precious specimens extant of those somewhat confused but beautiful results of the transition from florid Gothic to the Renaissance. The plateresque is young and modest, and seeks to please in this splendid monument by allying the innovating forms with the traditions of a school outgrown. There is an exquisite and touching reminiscence of the Gothic in the superb portal and the matchless group of the Invention of the Cross. All this fine facade is by that true and genuine artist, Enrique de Egas, the same who carved the grand Gate of the Lions, for which may the gate of paradise be open to him.

The inner court is surrounded by two stories of airy arcades, supported by slim Corinthian columns. In one corner is the most elaborate staircase in Spain. All the elegance and fancy of Arab and Renaissance art have been lavished upon this masterly work.

Santa Cruz was built for a hospital by that haughty Cardinal Mendoza, the Tertius Rex of Ferdinand and Isabella. It is now occupied by the military school, which receives six hundred cadets. They are under the charge of an inspector-general and a numerous staff of professors. They pay forty cents a day for their board. The instruction is gratuitous and comprehends a curriculum almost identical with that of West Point. It occupies, however, only three years.

The most considerable Renaissance structure in Toledo is the Royal Alcazar. It covers with its vast bulk the highest hilltop in the city. From the earliest antiquity this spot has been occupied by a royal palace or fortress. But the present structure was built by Charles V. and completed by Herrera for Philip II. Its north and south facades are very fine. The Alcazar seems to have been marked by fate. The Portuguese burned it in the last century, and Charles III. restored it just in time for the French to destroy it anew. Its indestructible walls alone remain. Now, after many years of ruinous neglect, the government has begun the work of restoration. The vast quadrangle is one mass of scaffolding and plaster dust. The grand staircase is almost finished again. In the course of a few years we may expect to see the Alcazar in a state worthy of its name and history. We would hope it might never again shelter a king. They have had their day there. Their line goes back so far into the mists of time that its beginning eludes our utmost search. The Roman drove out the unnamed chiefs of Iberia. The fair-haired Goth dispossessed the Italian. The Berber destroyed the Gothic monarchy. Castile and Leon fought their way down inch by inch through three centuries from Covadonga to Toledo, halfway in time and territory to Granada and the Midland Sea. And since then how many royal feet have trodden this breezy crest,—Sanchos and Henrys and Ferdinands,—the line broken now and then by a usurping uncle or a fratricide brother,—a red-handed bastard of Trastamara, a star-gazing Alonso, a plotting and praying Charles, and, after Philip, the dwindling scions of Austria and the nullities of Bourbon. This height has known as well the rustle of the trailing robes of queens,—Berenguela, Isabel the Catholic, and Juana,—Crazy Jane. It was the prison of the widow of Philip IV. and mother of Charles II. What wonder if her life left much to be desired? With such a husband and such a son, she had no memories nor hopes.

The kings have had a long day here. They did some good in their time. But the world has outgrown them, and the people, here as elsewhere, is coming of age. This Alcazar is built more strongly than any dynasty. It will make a glorious school-house when the repairs are finished and the Republic is established, and then may both last forever!

One morning at sunrise, I crossed the ancient bridge of Alcantara, and climbed the steep hill east of the river to the ruined castle of San Cervantes, perched on a high, bold rock, which guards the river and overlooks the valley. Near as it is to the city, it stands entirely alone. The instinct of aggregation is so powerful in this people that the old towns have no environs, no houses sprinkled in the outlying country, like modern cities. Every one must be huddled inside the walls. If a solitary house, like this castle, is built without, it must be in itself an impregnable fortress. This fine old ruin, in obedience to this instinct of jealous distrust, has but one entrance, and that so narrow that Sir John Falstaff would have been embarrassed to accept its hospitalities. In the shade of the broken walls, grass-grown and gay with scattered poppies, I looked at Toledo, fresh and clear in the early day. On the extreme right lay the new spick-and-span bull-ring, then the great hospice and Chapel of St. John the Baptist, the Convent of the Immaculate Conception, and next, the Latin cross of the Chapel of Santa Cruz, whose beautiful fagade lay soft in shadow; the huge arrogant bulk of the Alcazar loomed squarely before me, hiding half the view; to the left glittered the slender spire of the Cathedral, holding up in the pure air that emblem of august resignation, the triple crown of thorns; then a crowd of cupolas, ending at last near the river-banks with the sharp angular mass of San Cristobal. The field of vision was filled with churches and chapels, with the palaces of the king and the monk. Behind me the waste lands went rolling away untilled to the brown Toledo mountains. Below, the vigorous current of the Tagus brawled over its rocky bed, and the distant valley showed in its deep rich green what vitality there was in those waters if they were only used.

A quiet, as of a plague-stricken city, lay on Toledo. A few mules wound up the splendid roads with baskets of vegetables. A few listless fishermen were preparing their lines. The chimes of sleepy bells floated softly out on the morning air. They seemed like the requiem of municipal life and activity slain centuries ago by the crozier and the crown.

Thank Heaven, that double despotism is wounded to death. As Chesterfield predicted, before the first muttering of the thunders of '89, "the trades of king and priest have lost half their value." With the decay of this unrighteous power, the false, unwholesome activity it fostered has also disappeared. There must be years of toil and leanness, years perhaps of struggle and misery, before the new genuine life of the people springs up from beneath the dead and withered rubbish of temporal and spiritual tyranny. Freedom is an angel whose blessing is gained by wrestling.


The only battle in which Philip II. was ever engaged was that of St. Quentin, and the only part he took in that memorable fight was to listen to the thunder of the captains and the shouting afar off, and pray with great unction and fervor to various saints of his acquaintance and particularly to St. Lawrence of the Gridiron, who, being the celestial officer of the day, was supposed to have unlimited authority, and to whom he was therefore profuse in vows. While Egmont and his stout Flemings were capturing the Constable Montmorency and cutting his army in pieces, this young and chivalrous monarch was beating his breast and pattering his panic-stricken prayers. As soon as the victory was won, however, he lost his nervousness, and divided the entire credit of it between himself and his saints. He had his picture painted in full armor, as he appeared that day, and sent it to his doting spouse, Bloody Mary of England. He even thought he had gained glory enough, and while his father, the emperor-monk, was fiercely asking the messenger who brought the news of victory to Yuste, "Is my son at Paris?" the prudent Philip was making a treaty of peace, by which his son Don Carlos was to marry the Princess Elizabeth of France. But Mary obligingly died at this moment, and the stricken widower thought he needed consolation more than his boy, and so married the pretty princess himself.

He always prided himself greatly on the battle of St. Quentin, and probably soon came to believe he had done yeoman service there. The childlike credulity of the people is a great temptation to kings. It is very likely that after the coup-d'etat of December, the trembling puppet who had sat shivering over his fire in the palace of the Elysee while Morny and Fleury and St. Arnaud and the rest of the cool gamblers were playing their last desperate stake on that fatal night, really persuaded himself that the work was his, and that he had saved society. That the fly should imagine he is moving the coach is natural enough; but that the horses, and the wooden lumbering machine, and the passengers should take it for granted that the light gilded insect is carrying them all,—there is the true miracle.

We must confess to a special fancy for Philip II. He was so true a king, so vain, so superstitious, so mean and cruel, it is probable so great a king never lived. Nothing could be more royal than the way he distributed his gratitude for the victory on St. Lawrence's day. To Count Egmont, whose splendid courage and loyalty gained him the battle, he gave ignominy and death on the scaffold; and to exhibit a gratitude to a myth which he was too mean to feel to a man, he built to San Lorenzo that stupendous mass of granite which is to-day the visible demonstration of the might and the weakness of Philip and his age.

He called it the Monastery of San Lorenzo el Real, but the nomenclature of the great has no authority with the people. It was built on a site once covered with cinder-heaps from a long abandoned iron-mine, and so it was called in common speech the Escorial. The royal seat of San Ildefonso can gain from the general public no higher name than La Granja, the Farm. The great palace of Catharine de Medici, the home of three dynasties, is simply the Tuileries, the Tile-fields. You cannot make people call the White House the Executive Mansion. A merchant named Pitti built a palace in Florence, and though kings and grand dukes have inhabited it since, it is still the Pitti. There is nothing so democratic as language. You may alter a name by trick when force is unavailing. A noble lord in Segovia, following the custom of the good old times, once murdered a Jew, and stole his house. It was a pretty residence, but the skeleton in his closet was that the stupid commons would not call it anything but "the Jew's house." He killed a few of them for it, but that did not serve. At last, by advice of his confessor, he had the facade ornamented with projecting knobs of stucco, and the work was done. It is called to this day "the knobby house."

The conscience of Philip did not permit a long delay in the accomplishment of his vow. Charles V. had charged him in his will to build a mausoleum for the kings of the Austrian race. He bound the two obligations in one, and added a third destination to the enormous pile he contemplated. It should be a palace as well as a monastery and a royal charnel-house. He chose the most appropriate spot in Spain for the erection of the most cheerless monument in existence. He had fixed his capital at Madrid because it was the dreariest town in Spain, and to envelop himself in a still profounder desolation, he built the Escorial out of sight of the city, on a bleak, bare hillside, swept by the glacial gales of the Guadarrama, parched by the vertical suns of summer, and cursed at all seasons with the curse of barrenness. Before it towers the great chain of mountains separating Old and New Castile. Behind it the chilled winds sweep down to the Madrid plateau, over rocky hillocks and involved ravines,—a scene in which probably no man ever took pleasure except the royal recluse who chose it for his home.

John Baptist of Toledo laid the corner-stone on an April day of 1563, and in the autumn of 1584 John of Herrera looked upon the finished work, so vast and so gloomy that it lay like an incubus upon the breast of earth. It is a parallelogram measuring from north to south seven hundred and forty-four feet, and five hundred and eighty feet from east to west. It is built, by order of the fantastic bigot, in the form of St. Lawrence's gridiron, the courts representing the interstices of the bars, and the towers at the corners sticking helpless in the air like the legs of the supine implement. It is composed of a clean gray granite, chiefly in the Doric order, with a severity of facade that degenerates into poverty, and defrauds the building of the effect its great bulk merits. The sheer monotonous walls are pierced with eleven thousand windows, which, though really large enough for the rooms, seem on that stupendous surface to shrink into musketry loopholes. In the centre of the parallelogram stands the great church, surmounted by its soaring dome. All around the principal building is stretched a circumscribing line of convents, in the same style of doleful yellowish-gray uniformity, so endless in extent that the inmates might easily despair of any world beyond them.

There are few scenes in the world so depressing as that which greets you as you enter into the wide court before the church, called El Templo. You are shut finally in by these iron-gray walls. The outside day has given you up. Your feet slip on the damp flags. An unhealthy fungus tinges the humid corners with a pallid green. You look in vain for any trace of human sympathy in those blank walls and that severe facade. There is a dismal attempt in that direction in the gilded garments and the painted faces of the colossal prophets and kings that are perched above the lofty doors. But they do not comfort you; they are tinselled stones, not statues.

Entering the vestibule of the church, and looking up, you observe with a sort of horror that the ceiling is of massive granite and flat. The sacristan has a story that when Philip saw this ceiling, which forms the floor of the high choir, he remonstrated against it as too audacious, and insisted on a strong pillar being built to support it. The architect complied, but when Philip came to see the improvement he burst into lamentation, as the enormous column destroyed the effect of the great altar. The canny architect, who had built the pillar of pasteboard, removed it with a touch, and his majesty was comforted. Walking forward to the edge of this shadowy vestibule, you recognize the skill and taste which presided at this unique and intelligent arrangement of the choir. If left, as usual, in the body of the church, it would have seriously impaired that solemn and simple grandeur which distinguishes this above all other temples. There is nothing to break the effect of the three great naves, divided by immense square-clustered columns, and surmounted by the vast dome that rises with all the easy majesty of a mountain more than three hundred feet from the decent black and white pavement. I know of nothing so simple and so imposing as this royal chapel, built purely for the glory of God and with no thought of mercy or consolation for human infirmity. The frescos of Luca Giordano show the attempt of a later and degenerate age to enliven with form and color the sombre dignity of this faultless pile. But there is something in the blue and vapory pictures which shows that even the unabashed Luca was not free from the impressive influence of the Escorial.

A flight of veined marble steps leads to the beautiful retable of the high altar. The screen, over ninety feet high, cost the Milanese Trezzo seven years of labor. The pictures illustrative of the life of our Lord are by Tibaldi and Zuccaro. The gilt bronze tabernacle of Trezzo and Herrera, which has been likened with the doors of the Baptistery of Florence as worthy to figure in the architecture of heaven, no longer exists. It furnished a half hour's amusement to the soldiers of France. On either side of the high altar are the oratories of the royal family, and above them are the kneeling effigies of Charles, with his wife, daughter, and sisters, and Philip with his successive harem of wives. One of the few luxuries this fierce bigot allowed himself was that of a new widowhood every few years. There are forty other altars with pictures good and bad. The best are by the wonderful deaf-mute, Navarrete, of Logrono, and by Sanchez Coello, the favorite of Philip.

To the right of the high altar in the transept you will find, if your tastes, unlike Miss Riderhood's, run in a bony direction, the most remarkable Reliquary in the world. With the exception perhaps of Cuvier, Philip could see more in a bone than any man who ever lived. In his long life of osseous enthusiasm he collected seven thousand four hundred and twenty-one genuine relics,—whole skeletons, odd shins, teeth, toe-nails, and skulls of martyrs,—sometimes by a miracle of special grace getting duplicate skeletons of the same saint. The prime jewels of this royal collection are the grilled bones of San Lorenzo himself, bearing dim traces of his sacred gridiron.

The sacristan will show you also the retable of the miraculous wafer, which bled when trampled on by Protestant heels at Gorcum in 1525. This has always been one of the chief treasures of the Spanish crown. The devil-haunted idiot Charles II. made a sort of idol of it, building it this superb altar, consecrated "in this miracle of earth to the miracle of heaven." When the atheist Frenchmen sacked the Escorial and stripped it of silver and gold, the pious monks thought most of hiding this wonderful wafer, and when the storm passed by, the booby Ferdinand VII. restored it with much burning of candles, swinging of censers, and chiming of bells. Worthless as it is, it has done one good work in the world. It inspired the altar-picture of Claudio Coello, the last best work of the last of the great school of Spanish painters. He finished it just before he died of shame and grief at seeing Giordano, the nimble Neapolitan, emptying his buckets of paint on the ceiling of the grand staircase, where St. Lawrence and an army of martyrs go sailing with a fair wind into glory.

The great days of art in the Escorial are gone. Once in every nook and corner it concealed treasures of beauty that the world had nearly forgotten. The Perla of Raphael hung in the dark sacristy. The Cena of Titian dropped to pieces in the refectory. The Gloria, which had sunk into eclipse on the death of Charles V., was hidden here among unappreciative monks. But on the secularization of the monasteries, these superb canvases went to swell the riches of the Royal Museum. There are still enough left here, however, to vindicate the ancient fame of the collection. They are perhaps more impressive in their beauty and loneliness than if they were pranking among their kin in the glorious galleries and perfect light of that enchanted palace of Charles III. The inexhaustible old man of Cadora has the Prayer on Mount Olivet, an Ecce Homo, an Adoration of the Magi. Velazquez one of his rare scriptural pieces, Jacob and his Children. Tintoretto is rather injured at the Museo by the number and importance of his pictures left in this monkish twilight; among them is a lovely Esther, and a masterly Presentation of Christ to the People. Plenty of Giordanos and Bassanos and one or two by El Greco, with his weird plague-stricken faces, all chalk and charcoal. A sense of duty will take you into the crypt where the dead kings are sleeping in brass. This mausoleum, ordered by the great Charles, was slow in finishing. All of his line had a hand in it down to Philip IV., who completed it and gathered in the poor relics of royal mortality from many graves. The key of the vault is the stone where the priest stands when he elevates the Host in the temple above. The vault is a graceful octagon about forty feet high, with nearly the same diameter; the flickering light of your torches shows twenty-six sarcophagi, some occupied and some empty, filling the niches of the polished marble. On the right sleep the sovereigns, on the left their consorts. There is a coffin for Dona Isabel de Bourbon among the kings, and one for her amiable and lady-like husband among the queens. They were not lovely in their lives, and in their deaths they shall be divided. The quaint old church-mouse who showed me the crypt called my attention to the coffin where Maria Louisa, wife of Charles IV.,—the lady who so gallantly bestrides her war-horse, in the uniform of a colonel, in Goya's picture,—coming down those slippery steps with the sure footing of feverish insanity, during a severe illness, scratched Luisa with the point of her scissors and marked the sarcophagus for her own. All there was good of her is interred with her bones. Her frailties live on in scandalized history.

Twice, it is said, the coffin of the emperor has been opened by curious hands,—by Philip IV., who found the corpse of his great ancestor intact, and observed to the courtier at his elbow, "An honest body, Don Luis!" and again by the Ministers of State and Fomento in the spring of 1870, who started back aghast when the coffin-lid was lifted and disclosed the grim face of the Burgess of Ghent, just as Titian painted him,—the keen, bold face of a world-stealer.

I do not know if Philip's funeral urn was ever opened. He stayed above ground too long as it was, and it is probable that people have never cared to look upon his face again. All that was human had died out of him years before his actual demise, and death seemed not to consider it worth while to carry off a vampire. Go into the little apartment where his last days were passed; a wooden table and book-shelf, one arm-chair and two stools—the one upholstered with cloth for winter, the other with tin for summer—on which he rested his gouty leg, and a low chair for a secretary,—this was all the furniture he used. The rooms are not larger than cupboards, low and dark. The little oratory where he died looks out upon the high altar of the Temple. In a living death, as if by an awful anticipation of the common lot it was ordained that in the flesh he should know corruption, he lay waiting his summons hourly for fifty-three days. What tremendous doubts and fears must have assailed him in that endless agony! He had done more for the Church than any living man. He was the author of that sublime utterance of uncalculating bigotry, "Better not reign than reign over heretics." He had pursued error with fire and sword. He had peopled limbo with myriads of rash thinkers. He had impoverished his kingdom in Catholic wars. Yet all this had not sufficed. He lay there like a leper smitten by the hand of the God he had so zealously served. Even in his mind there was no peace. He held in his clenched hand his father's crucifix, which Charles had held in his exultant death at Yuste. Yet in his waking hours he was never free from the horrible suggestion that he had not done enough for salvation. He would start in horror from a sleep that was peopled with shapes from torment. Humanity was avenged at last.

So powerful is the influence of a great personality that in the Escorial you can think of no one but Philip II. He lived here only fourteen years, but every corridor and cloister seems to preserve the souvenir of his sombre and imperious genius. For two and a half centuries his feeble successors have trod these granite halls; but they flit through your mind pale and unsubstantial as dreams. The only tradition they preserved of their great descent was their magnificence and their bigotry. There has never been one utterance of liberty or free thought inspired by this haunted ground. The king has always been absolute here, and the monk has been the conscience-keeper of the king. The whole life of the Escorial has been unwholesomely pervaded by a flavor of holy water and burial vaults. There was enough of the repressive influence of that savage Spanish piety to spoil the freshness and vigor of a natural life, but not enough to lead the court and the courtiers to a moral walk and conversation. It was as profligate a court in reality, with all its masses and monks, as the gay and atheist circle of the Regent of Orleans. Even Philip, the Inquisitor King, did not confine his royal favor to his series of wives. A more reckless and profligate young prodigal than Don Carlos, the hope of Spain and Rome, it would be hard to find to-day at Mabille or Cre-morne. But he was a deeply religious lad for all that, and asked absolution from his confessors before attempting to put in practice his intention of killing his father. Philip, forewarned, shut him up until he died, in an edifying frame of mind, and then calmly superintended the funeral arrangements from a window of the palace. The same mingling of vice and superstition is seen in the lessening line down to our day. The last true king of the old school was Philip IV. Amid the ruins of his tumbling kingdom he lived royally here among his priests and his painters and his ladies. There was one jealous exigency of Spanish etiquette that made his favor fatal. The object of his adoration, when his errant fancy strayed to another, must go into a convent and nevermore be seen of lesser men. Madame Daunoy, who lodged at court, heard one night an august footstep in the hall and a kingly rap on the bolted door of a lady of honor. But we are happy to say she heard also the spirited reply from within, "May your grace go with God! I do not wish to be a nun!"

There is little in these frivolous lives that is worth knowing,—the long inglorious reigns of the dwindling Austrians and the parody of greater days played by the scions of Bourbon, relieved for a few creditable years by the heroic struggle of Charles III. against the hopeless decadence. You may walk for an hour through the dismal line of drawing-rooms in the cheerless palace that forms the gridiron's handle, and not a spirit is evoked from memory among all the tapestry and panelling and gilding.

The only cheerful room in this granite wilderness is the library, still in good and careful keeping. A long, beautiful room, two hundred feet of bookcases, and tasteful frescos by Tibaldi and Carducho, representing the march of the liberal sciences. Most of the older folios are bound in vellum, with their gilded edges, on which the title is stamped, turned to the front. A precious collection of old books and older manuscripts, useless to the world as the hoard of a miser. Along the wall are hung the portraits of the Escorial kings and builders. The hall is furnished with marble and porphyry tables, and elaborate glass cases display some of the curiosities of the library,—a copy of the Gospels that belonged to the Emperor Conrad, the Suabian Kurz; a richly illuminated Apocalypse; a gorgeous missal of Charles V.; a Greek Bible, which once belonged to Mrs. Phcebus's ancestor Cantacuzene; Persian and Chinese sacred books; and a Koran, which is said to be the one captured by Don Juan at Lepanto. Mr. Ford says it is spurious; Mr. Madoz says it is genuine. The ladies with whom I had the happiness to visit the library inclined to the latter opinion for two very good reasons,—the book is a very pretty one, and Mr. Madoz's head is much balder than Mr. Ford's. Wandering aimlessly through the frescoed cloisters and looking in at all the open doors, over each of which a cunning little gridiron is inlaid in the woodwork, we heard the startling and unexpected sound of boyish voices and laughter. We approached the scene of such agreeable tumult, and found the theatre of the monastery full of young students rehearsing a play for the coming holidays. A clever-looking priest was directing the drama, and one juvenile Thespis was denouncing tyrants and dying for his country in hexameters of a shrill treble. His friends were applauding more than was necessary or kind, and flourishing their wooden swords with much ferocity of action. All that is left of the once extensive establishment of the monastery is a boys' school, where some two hundred youths are trained in the humanities, and a college where an almost equal number are educated for the priesthood.

So depressing is the effect of the Escorial's gloom and its memories, that when you issue at last from its massive doors, the trim and terraced gardens seem gay and heartsome, and the bleak wild scene is full of comfort. For here at least there is light and air and boundless space. You have emerged from the twilight of the past into the present day. The sky above you bends over Paris and Cheyenne. By this light Darwin is writing, and the merchants are meeting in the Chicago Board of Trade. Just below you winds the railway which will take you in two hours to Madrid,—to the city of Philip II., where the nineteenth century has arrived; where there are five Protestant churches and fifteen hundred evangelical communicants. Our young crusader, Professor Knapp, holds night schools and day schools and prayer meetings, with an active devotion, a practical and American fervor, that is leavening a great lump of apathy and death. These Anglo-Saxon missionaries have a larger and more tolerant spirit of propaganda than has been hitherto seen. They can differ about the best shape for the cup and the platter, but they use what they find to their hand. They are giving a tangible direction and purpose to the vague impulse of reform that was stirring, before they came, in many devout hearts. A little while longer of this state of freedom and inquiry, and the shock of controversy will come, and Spain will be brought to life.

Already the signs are full of promise. The ancient barriers of superstition have already given way in many places. A Protestant can not only live in Spain, but, what was once a more important matter, he can die and be buried there. This is one of the conquests of the revolution. So delicate has been the susceptibility of the Spanish mind in regard to the pollution of its soil by heretic corpses that even Charles I. of England, when he came a-wooing to Spain, could hardly gain permission to bury his page by night in the garden of the embassy; and in later days the Prussian Minister was compelled to smuggle his dead child out of the kingdom among his luggage to give it Christian burial. Even since the days of September the clergy has fought manfully against giving sepulture to Protestants; but Rivero, alcalde of Madrid and president of the Cortes, was not inclined to waste time in dialectics, and sent a police force to protect the heretic funerals and to arrest any priest who disturbed them. There is freedom of speech and printing. The humorous journals are full of blasphemous caricatures that would be impossible out of a Catholic country, for superstition and blasphemy always run in couples. It was the Duke de Guise, commanding the pope's army at Civitella, who cried in his rage at a rain which favored Alva, "God has turned Spaniard;" like Quashee, who burns his fetish when the weather is foul. The liberal Spanish papers overflowed with wit at the proclamation of infallibility. They announced that his holiness was now going into the lottery business with brilliant prospects of success; that he could now tell what Father Manterola had done with the thirty thousand dollars' worth of bulls he sold last year and punctually neglects to account for, and other levities of the sort, which seemed greatly relished, and which would have burned the facetious author two centuries before, and fined and imprisoned him before the fight at Alcolea. The minister having charge of the public instruction has promised to present a law for the prohibition of dogmatic doctrine in the national schools. The law of civil registry and civil marriage, after a desperate struggle in the Cortes, has gone into operation with general assent. There is a large party which actively favors the entire separation of the spiritual from the temporal power, making religion voluntary, and free, and breaking its long concubinage with the crown. The old superstition, it is true, still hangs like a malarial fog over Spain. But it is invaded by flashes and rays of progress. It cannot resist much longer the sunshine of this tolerant age.

Far up the mountain-side, in the shade of a cluster of chestnuts, is a rude block of stone, called the "King's Chair," where Philip used to sit in silent revery, watching as from an eyry the progress of the enormous work below. If you go there, you will see the same scene upon which his basilisk glance reposed,—in a changed world, the .same unchanging scene,—the stricken waste, the shaggy horror of the mountains, the fixed plain wrinkled like a frozen sea, and in the centre of the perfect picture the vast chill bulk of that granite pile, rising cold, colorless, and stupendous, as if carved from an iceberg by the hand of Northern gnomes. It is the palace of vanished royalty, the temple of a religion which is dead. There are kings and priests still, and will be for many coming years. But never again can a power exist which shall rear to the glory of the sceptre and the cowl a monument like this. It is a page of history deserving to be well pondered, for it never will be repeated. The world which Philip ruled from the foot of the Guadarrama has passed away. A new heaven and a new earth came in with the thunders of 1776 and 1789. There will be no more Pyramids, no more Versailles, no more Escoriais. The unpublished fiat has gone forth that man is worth more than the glory of princes. The better religion of the future has no need of these massive dungeon-temples of superstition and fear. Yet there is a store of precious teachings in this mass of stone. It is one of the results of that mysterious law to which the genius of history has subjected the caprices of kings, to the end that we might not be left without a witness of the past for our warning and example,—the law which induces a judged and sentenced dynasty to build for posterity some monument of its power, which hastens and commemorates its ruin. By virtue of this law we read on the plains of Egypt the pride and the fall of the Pharaohs. Before the fagade of Versailles we see at a glance the grandeur of the Capetian kings and the necessity of the Revolution. And the most vivid picture of that fierce and gloomy religion of the sixteenth century, compounded of a base alloy of worship for an absolute king and a vengeful God, is to be found in this colossal hermitage in the flinty heart of the mountains of Castile.


In the windy month of March a sudden gloom falls upon Madrid,—the reaction after the folie gaiete of the Carnival. The theatres are at their gayest in February until Prince Carnival and his jolly train assault the town, and convert the temples of the drama into ball-rooms. They have not yet arrived at the wonderful expedition and despatch observed in Paris, where a half hour is enough to convert the grand opera into the masked ball. The invention of this process of flooring the orchestra flush with the stage and making a vast dancing-hall out of both is due to an ingenious courtier of the regency, bearing the great name of De Bouillon, who got much credit and a pension by it. In Madrid they take the afternoon leisurely to the transformation, and the evening's performance is of course sacrificed. So the sock and buskin, not being adapted to the cancan, yielded with February, and the theatres were closed finally on Ash Wednesday.

Going by the pleasant little theatre of Lope de Rueda, in the Calle Barquillo, I saw the office-doors open, the posters up, and an unmistakable air of animation among the loungers who mark with a seal so peculiar the entrance of places of amusement. Struck by this apparent levity in the midst of the general mortification, I went over to look at the bills and found the subject announced serious enough for the most Lenten entertainment,—Los Siete Dolores de Maria,—The Seven Sorrows of Mary,—the old mediaeval Miracle of the Life of the Saviour.

This was bringing suddenly home to me the fact that I was really in a Catholic country. I had never thought of going to Ammergau, and so, when reading of these shows, I had entertained no more hope of seeing one than of assisting at an auto-da-fe or a witch-burning. I went to the box-office to buy seats. But they were all sold. The forestallers had swept the board. I was never able to determine whether I most pitied or despised these pests of the theatre. Whenever a popular play is presented, a dozen ragged and garlic-odorous vagabonds go early in the day and buy as many of the best places as they can pay for. They hang about the door of the theatre all day, and generally manage to dispose of their purchases at an advance. But it happens very often that they are disappointed; that the play does not draw, or that the evening threatens rain, and the Spaniard is devoted to his hat. He would keep out of a revolution if it rained. So that, at the pleasant hour when the orchestra are giving the last tweak to the key of their fiddles, you may see these woebegone wretches rushing distractedly from the Piamonte to the Alcala, offering their tickets at a price which falls rapidly from double to even, and tumbles headlong to half-price at the first note of the opening overture. When I see the fore-staller luxuriously basking at the office-door in the warm sunshine, and scornfully refusing to treat for less than twice the treasurer's figures, I feel a divided indignation against the nuisance and the management that permits it. But when in the evening I meet him haggard and feverish, hawking his unsold places in desperate panic on the sidewalk, I cannot but remember that probably a half dozen dirty and tawny descendants of Pelayo will eat no beans to-morrow for those unfortunate tickets, and my wrath melts, and I buy his crumpled papers, moist with the sweat of anxiety, and add a slight propina, which I fear will be spent in aguardiente to calm his shattered nerves.

This day the sky looked threatening, and my shabby hidalgo listened to reason, and sold me my places at their price and a petit verre.

As we entered in the evening the play had just begun. The scene was the interior of the Temple at Jerusalem, rather well done,—two ranges of superimposed porphyry columns with a good effect of oblique perspective, which is very common in the Spanish theatres. St. Simeon, in a dress suspiciously resembling that of the modern bishop, was talking with a fiery young Hebrew who turns out to be Demas, the Penitent Thief, and who is destined to play a very noticeable part in the evening's entertainment. He has received some slight from the government authorities and does not propose to submit to it. The aged and cooler-blooded Simeon advises him to do nothing rash. Here at the very outset is a most characteristic Spanish touch. You are expected to be interested in Demas, and the only crime which could appeal to the sympathies of a Castilian crowd would be one committed at the promptings of injured dignity.

There is a soft, gentle strain of music played pianissimo by the orchestra, and, surrounded by a chorus of mothers and maidens, the Virgin Mother enters with the Divine Child in her arms. The Madonna is a strapping young girl named Gutierrez, a very clever actress; and the Child has been bought in the neighboring toy-shop, a most palpable and cynical wax-doll. The doll is handed to Simeon, and the solemn ceremony of the Presentation is performed to fine and thoughtful music. St. Joseph has come in sheepishly by the flies with his inseparable staff crowned with a garland of lilies, which remain miraculously fresh during thirty years or so, and kneels at the altar, on the side opposite to Miss Gutierrez.

As the music ceases, Simeon starts as from a trance and predicts in a few rapid couplets the sufferings and the crucifixion of the child. Mary falls overwhelmed into the arms of her attendants, and Simeon exclaims, "Most blessed and most unfortunate among women! thy heart is to be pierced with Seven Sorrows, and this is the first." Demas rushes in and announces the massacre of the innocents, concluding with the appropriate reflection, "Perish the kings! always the murderers of the people." This sentiment is so much to the taste of the gamins of the paraiso that they vociferously demand an encore; but the Roman soldiers come in and commence the pleasing task of prodding the dolls in the arms of the chorus.

The next act is the Flight into Egypt. The curtain rises on a rocky ravine with a tinsel torrent in the background and a group of robbers on the stage. Gestas, the impenitent thief, stands sulky and glum in a corner, fingering his dagger as you might be sure he would, and informing himself in a growling soliloquy that his heart is consumed with envy and hate because he is not captain. The captain, one Issachar, comes in, a superbly handsome young fellow, named Mario, to my thinking the first comedian in Spain, dressed in a flashy suit of leopard hides, and announces the arrival of a stranger. Enters Demas, who says he hates the world and would fain drink its foul blood. He is made politely welcome. No! he will be captain or nothing. Issachar laughs scornfully and says he is in the way of that modest aspiration. But Demas speedily puts him out of the way with an Albacete knife, and becomes captain, to the profound disgust of the impenitent Gestas, who exclaims, just as the profane villains do nowadays on every well-conducted stage, "Damnation! foiled again!"

The robbers pick up their idolized leader and pitch him into the tinsel torrent. This is also extremely satisfactory to the wide-awake young Arabs of the cock-loft. The bandits disperse, and Demas indulges in some fifty lines of rhymed reflections, which are interrupted by the approach of the Holy Family, hotly pursued by the soldiery of Herod. They stop under a sycamore tree, which instantly, by very clever machinery, bends down its spreading branches and miraculously hides them from the bloodthirsty legionaries. These pass on, and Demas leads the saintly trio by a secret pass over the torrent,—the Mother and Child mounted upon an ass and St. Joseph trudging on behind with his lily-decked staff, looking all as if they were on a short leave of absence from Correggio's picture-frame.

Demas comes back, calls up his merrymen, and has a battle-royal with the enraged legionaries, which puts the critics of the gallery into a frenzy of delight and assures the success of the spectacle. The curtain falls in a gust of applause, is stormed up again, Demas comes forward and makes a neat speech, announcing the author. Que salga! roar the gods,—"Trot him out!" A shabby young cripple hobbles to the front, leaning upon a crutch, his sallow face flushed with a hectic glow of pride and pleasure. He also makes a glib speech,—I have never seen a Spaniard who could not,—disclaiming all credit for himself, but lauding the sublimity of the acting and the perfection of the scene-painting, and saying that the memory of this unmerited applause will be forever engraved upon his humble heart.

Act third, the Lost Child, or Christ in the Temple. The scene is before the Temple on a festival day, plenty of chorus-girls, music, and flowers. Demas and the impenitent Gestas and Barabbas, who, I was pleased to see, was after all a very good sort of fellow, with no more malice than you or I, were down in the city on a sort of lark, their leopard skins left in the mountains and their daggers hid under the natty costume of the Judaean dandy of the period. Demas and Gestas have a quarrel, in which Gestas is rather roughly handled, and goes off growling like every villain, qui se respecte,—"I will have r-revenge." Barabbas proposes to go around to the cider-cellars, but Demas confides to him that he is enslaved by a dream of a child, who said to him, "Follow me—to Paradise;" that he had come down to Jerusalem to seek and find the mysterious infant of his vision. The jovial Barabbas seems imperfectly impressed by these transcendental fancies, and at this moment Mary comes in dressed like a Madonna of Guido Reni, and soon after St. Joseph and his staff. They ask each other where is the Child,—a scene of alarm and bustle, which ends by the door of the Temple flying open and discovering, shrined in ineffable light, Jesus teaching the doctors.

In the fourth act, Demas meets a beautiful woman by the city gate, in the loose, graceful dress of the Hetairai, and the most wonderful luxuriance of black curls I have ever seen falling in dense masses to her knees. After a conversation of amorous banter, he gives her a golden chain, which she assumes, well pleased, and gives him her name, La Magdalena. A motley crowd of street loafers here rushed upon the scene, and I am sure there was no one of Northern blood in the theatre that did not shudder for an instant at the startling apparition that formed the central figure of the group. The world has long ago agreed upon a typical face and figure for the Saviour of men; it has been repeated on myriads of canvases and reproduced in thousands of statues, till there is scarcely a man living that does not have the same image of the Redeemer in his mind. Well, that image walked quietly upon the stage, so perfect in make-up that you longed for some error to break the terrible vraisemblance. I was really relieved when the august appearance spoke, and I recognized the voice of a young actor named Morales, a clever light comedian of the Bressant type.

The Magdalene is soon converted by the preaching of the Nazarene Prophet, and the scene closes by the triumphant entry into Jerusalem amid the waving of palm-branches, the strewing of flowers, and "sonorous metal blowing martial sounds." The pathetic and sublime lament, "Jerusalem! Jerusalem! thou that killest the prophets!" was delivered with great 'feeling and power.

The next act brings us before the judgment-seat of Pontius Pilate. This act is almost solely horrible. The Magdalene in her garb of penitence comes in to beg the release of Jesus of Nazareth. Pontius, who is represented as a gallant old gentleman, says he can refuse nothing to a lady. The prisoner is dragged in by two ferocious ruffians, who beat and buffet him with absurd and exaggerated violence. There is nothing more hideous than the awful concreteness of this show,—the naked helplessness of the prisoner, his horrible, cringing, overdone humility, the coarse kicking and cuffing of the deputy sheriffs. The Prophet is stripped and scourged at the pillar until he drops from exhaustion. He is dragged anew before Pilate and examined, but his only word is, "Thou hast said." The scene lasts nearly an hour. The theatre was full of sobbing women and children. At every fresh brutality I could hear the weeping spectators say, "Pobre Jesus!" "How wicked they are!" The bulk of the audience was of people who do not often go to theatres. They looked upon the revolting scene as a real and living fact. One hard-featured man near me clenched his fists and cursed the cruel guards. A pale, delicate-featured girl who was leaning out of her box, with her brown eyes, dilated with horror, fixed upon the scene, suddenly shrieked as a Roman soldier struck the unresisting Saviour, and fell back fainting in the arms of her friends.

The Nazarene Prophet was condemned at last. Gestas gives evidence against him, and also delivers Demas to the law, but is himself denounced, and shares their sentence. The crowd howled with exultation, and Pilate washed his hands in impotent rage and remorse. The curtain came down leaving the uncultivated portion of the audience in the frame of mind in which their ancestors a few centuries earlier would have gone from the theatre determined to serve God and relieve their feelings by killing the first Jew they could find. The diversion was all the better, because safer, if they happened to the good luck of meeting a Hebrew woman or child.

The Calle de Amargura—the Street of Bitterness—was the next scene. First came a long procession of official Romans,—lictors and swordsmen, and the heralds announcing the day's business. Demas appears, dragged along with vicious jerks to execution. The Saviour follows, and falls under the weight of the cross before the footlights. Another long and dreary scene takes place, of brutalities from the Roman soldiers, the ringleader of whom is a sanguinary Andalusian ingeniously encased in a tin barrel, a hundred lines of rhymed sorrow from the Madonna, and a most curious scene of the Wandering Jew. This worthy, who in defiance of tradition is called Samuel, is sitting in his doorway watching the show, when the suffering Christ begs permission to rest a moment on his threshold. He says churlishly, Anda!—"Begone!" "I will go, but thou shalt go forever until I come." The Jew's feet begin to twitch convulsively, as if pulled from under him. He struggles for a moment, and at last is carried off by his legs, which are moved like those of the walking dolls with the Greek names. This odd tradition, so utterly in contradiction with the picture the Scriptures give us of the meek dignity with which the Redeemer forgave all personal injuries, has taken a singular hold upon the imaginations of all peoples. Under varying names,—-Ahasuerus, Salathiel, le Juif Errant, der ewige Jude,—his story is the delight and edification of many lands; and I have met some worthy people who stoutly insisted that they had read it in the Bible.

The sinister procession moves on. The audience, which had been somewhat cheered by the prompt and picturesque punishment inflicted upon the inhospitable Samuel, was still further exhilarated by the spectacle of the impenitent traitor Gestas, staggering under an enormous cross, his eyes and teeth glaring with abject fear, with an athletic Roman haling him up to Calvary with a new hempen halter.

A long intermission followed, devoted to putting babies to sleep,—for there were hundreds of them, wide-eyed and strong-lunged,—to smoking the hasty cigarette, to discussing the next combination of Prim or the last scandal in the gay world. The carpenters were busy behind the scenes building the mountain. When the curtain rose, it was worth waiting for. It was an admirable scene. A genuine Spanish mountain, great humpy undulations of rock and sand, gigantic cacti for all vegetation, a lurid sky behind, but not over-colored. A group of Roman soldiers in the foreground, in the rear the hill, and the executioners busily employed in nailing the three victims to their crosses. Demas was fastened first; then Gestas, who, when undressed for execution, was a superb model of a youthful Hercules. But the third cross still lay on the ground; the hammering and disputing and coming and going were horribly lifelike and real.

At last the victim is securely nailed to the wood, and the cross is slowly and clumsily lifted and falls with a shock into its socket. The soldiers huzza., the fiend in the tin barrel and another in a tin hat come down to the footlights and throw dice for the raiment. "Caramba! curse my luck!" says our friend in the tin case, and the other walks off with the vestment.

The Passion begins, and lasts an interminable time. The grouping is admirable, every shifting of the crowd in the foreground produces a new and finished picture, with always the same background of the three high crosses and their agonizing burdens against that lurid sky. The impenitent Gestas curses and dies; the penitent Demas believes and receives eternal rest. The Holy Women come in and group themselves in picturesque despair at the foot of the cross. The awful drama goes on with no detail omitted,—the thirst the sponge dipped in vinegar, the cry of desolation, the spear-thrust, the giving up of the ghost. The stage-lights are lowered. A thick darkness—of crape—comes down over the sky. Horror falls on the impious multitude, and the scene is deserted save by the faithful.

The closing act opens with a fine effect of moon and stars. "Que linda luna!" sighed a young woman beside me, drying her tears, comforted by the beauty of the scene. The central cross is bathed in the full splendor that is denied the others. Joseph of Abarimathea (as he is here called) comes in with ladders and winding-sheets, and the dead Christ is taken from the cross. The Descent is managed with singular skill and genuine artistic feeling. The principal actor, who has been suspended for an hour in a most painful and constrained posture, has a corpse-like rigidity and numbness. There is one moment when you can almost imagine yourself in Antwerp, looking at that sublimest work of Rubens. The Entombment ends, and the last tableau is of the Mater Dolorosa in the Solitude. I have rarely seen an effect so simple, and yet so striking,—the darkened stage, the softened moonlight, the now Holy Rood spectral and tall against the starry sky, and the Dolorous Mother, alone in her sublime sorrow, as she will be worshipped and revered for coming aeons.

A curious observation is made by all foreigners, of the absence of the apostles from the drama. They appear from time to time, but merely as supernumeraries. One would think that the character of Judas was especially fitted for dramatic use. I spoke of this to a friend, and he said that formerly the false apostle was introduced in the play, but that the sight of him so fired the Spanish heart that not only his life, but the success of the piece was endangered. This reminds one of Mr. A. Ward's account of a high-handed outrage at "Utiky," where a young gentleman of good family stove in the wax head of "Jewdas Iscarrit," characterizing him at the same time as a "pew-serlanimous cuss."

"To see these Mysteries in their glory," continued my friend, "you should go into the small towns in the provinces, uncontaminated with railroads or unbelief. There they last several days The stage is the town, the Temple scene takes place in the church, the Judgment at the city hall, and the procession of the Via Crucis moves through all the principal streets. The leading roles are no joke,—carrying fifty kilos of wood over the mud and cobble-stones for half a day. The Judas or Gestas must be paid double for the kicks and cuffs he gets from tender-hearted spectators,—the curses he accepts willingly as a tribute to his dramatic ability. His proudest boast in the evening is Querian matarme,—'They wanted to kill me!' I once saw the hero of the drama stop before a wine-shop, sweating like rain, and positively swear by the life of the Devil, he would not carry his gallows a step farther unless he had a drink. They brought him a bottle of Valdepenas, and he drained it before resuming his way to Golgotha. Some of us laughed thoughtlessly, and narrowly escaped the knives of the orthodox ruffians who followed the procession."

The most striking fact in this species of exhibition is the evident and unquestioning faith of the audience. To all foreigners the show is at first shocking and then tedious; to the good people of Madrid it is a sermon, full of absolute truth and vivid reality. The class of persons who attend these spectacles is very different from that which you find at the Royal Theatre or the Comic Opera. They are sober, serious bourgeois, who mind their shops and go to mass regularly, and who come to the theatre only in Lent, when the gay world stays away. They would not dream of such an indiscretion as reading the Bible. Their doctrinal education consists of their catechism, the sermons of the curas, and the traditions of the Church. The miracle of St. Veronica, who, wiping the brow of the Saviour in the Street of Bitterness, finds his portrait on her handkerchief, is to them as real and reverend as if it were related by the evangelist. The spirit of inquiry which has broken so many idols, and opened such new vistas of thought for the minds of all the world, is as yet a stranger to Spain. It is the blind and fatal boast of even the best of Spaniards that their country is a unit in religious faith. Nunca se disputo en Espana,—"There has never been any discussion in Spain,"—exclaims proudly an eminent Spanish writer. Spectacles like that which we have just seen were one of the elements which in a barbarous and unenlightened age contributed strongly to the consolidation of that unthinking and ardent faith which has fused the nation into one torpid and homogeneous mass of superstition. No better means could have been devised for the purpose. Leaving out of view the sublime teachings of the large and tolerant morality of Jesus, the clergy made his personality the sole object of worship and reverence. By dwelling almost exclusively upon the story of his sufferings, they excited the emotional nature of the ignorant, and left their intellects untouched and dormant. They aimed to arouse their sympathies, and when that was done, to turn their natural resentment against those whom the Church considered dangerous. To the inflamed and excited worshippers, a heretic was the enemy of the crucified Saviour, a Jew was his murderer, a Moor was his reviler. A Protestant wore to their bloodshot eyes the semblance of the torturer who had mocked and scourged the meek Redeemer, who had crowned his guileless head with thorns, who had pierced and slain him. The rack, the gibbet, and the stake were not enough to glut the pious hate this priestly trickery inspired. It was not enough that the doubter's life should go out in the blaze of the crackling fagots, but it must be loaded in eternity with the curses of the faithful.

Is there not food for earnest thought in the fact that faith in Christ, which led the Puritans across the sea to found the purest social and political system which the wit of man has yet evolved from the tangled problems of time, has dragged this great Spanish people down to a depth of hopeless apathy, from which it may take long years of civil tumult to raise them? May we not find the explanation of this strange phenomenon in the contrast of Catholic unity with Protestant diversity? "Thou that killest the prophets!"—the system to which this apostrophe can be applied is doomed. And it matters little who the prophets may be.


In Rembrandt Peale's picture of the Court of Death a cadaverous shape lies for judgment at the foot of the throne, touching at either extremity the waters of Lethe. There is something similar in the history of the greatest of Spanish writers. No man knew, for more than a century after the death of Cervantes, the place of his birth and burial. About a hundred years ago the investigations of Rios and Pellicer established the claim of Alcala de Henares to be his native city; and last year the researches of the Spanish Academy have proved conclusively that he is buried in the Convent of the Trinitarians in Madrid. But the precise spot where he was born is only indicated by vague tradition; and the shadowy conjecture that has so long hallowed the chapel and cloisters of the Calle Cantarranas has never settled upon any one slab of their pavement.

It is, however, only the beginning and the end of this most chivalrous and genial apparition of the sixteenth century that is concealed from our view. We know where he was christened and where he died. So that there are sufficiently authentic shrines in Alcala and Madrid to satisfy the most sceptical pilgrims.

I went to Alcala one summer day, when the bare fields were brown and dry in their after-harvest nudity, and the hills that bordered the winding Henares were drab in the light and purple in the shadow. From a distance the town is one of the most imposing in Castile. It lies in the midst of a vast plain by the green water-side, and the land approach is fortified by a most impressive wall emphasized by sturdy square towers and flanking bastions. But as you come nearer you see this wall is a tradition. It is almost in ruins.

The crenellated towers are good for nothing but to sketch. A short walk from the station brings you to the gate, which is well defended by a gang of picturesque beggars, who are old enough to have sat for Murillo, and revoltingly pitiable enough to be millionaires by this time, if Castilians had the cowardly habit of sponging out disagreeable impressions with pennies. At the first charge we rushed in panic into a tobacco-shop and filled our pockets with maravedis, and thereafter faced the ragged battalion with calm.

It is a fine, handsome, and terribly lonesome town. Its streets are wide, well built, and silent v as avenues in a graveyard. On every hand there are tall and stately churches, a few palaces, and some two dozen great monasteries turning their long walls, pierced with jealous grated windows, to the grass-grown streets. In many quarters there is no sign of life, no human habitations among these morose and now empty barracks of a monkish army. Some of them have been turned into military casernes, and the bright red and blue uniforms of the Spanish officers and troopers now brighten the cloisters that used to see nothing gayer than the gowns of cord-girdled friars. A large garrison is always kept here. The convents are convenient for lodging men and horses. The fields in the vicinity produce great store of grain and alfalfa,—food for beast and rider. It is near enough to the capital to use the garrison on any sudden emergency, such as frequently happens in Peninsular politics.

The railroad that runs by Alcala has not brought with it any taint of the nineteenth century. The army is a corrupting influence, but not modern. The vice that follows the trail of armies, or sprouts, fungus-like, about the walls of barracks, is as old as war, and links the present, with its struggle for a better life, to the old mediaeval world of wrong. These trim fellows in loose trousers and embroidered jackets are the same race that fought and drank and made prompt love in Italy and Flanders and butchered the Aztecs in the name of religion three hundred years ago. They have laid off their helmets and hauberks, and use the Berdan rifle instead of the Roman spear. But they are the same careless, idle, dissolute bread-wasters now as then.

The town has not changed in the least. It has only shrunk a little. You think sometimes it must be a vacation, and that you will come again when people return. The little you see of the people is very attractive. Passing along the desolate streets, you glance in at an open door and see a most delightful cabinet picture of domestic life. All the doors in the house are open. You can see through the entry, the front room, into the cool court beyond, gay with oleanders and vines, where a group of women half dressed are sewing and spinning and cheering their souls with gossip. If you enter under pretence of asking a question, you will be received with grave courtesy, your doubts solved, and they will bid you go with God, with the quaint^ frankness of patriarchal times.

They do not seem to have been spoiled by overmuch travel. Such impressive and Oriental courtesy could not have survived the trampling feet of the great army of tourists. On our pilgrim-way to the cradle of Cervantes we came suddenly upon the superb facade of the university. This is one of the most exquisite compositions of plateresque in existence. The entire front of the central body of the building is covered with rich and tasteful ornamentation. Over the great door is an enormous escutcheon of the arms of Austria, supported by two finely carved statues,—on the one side a nearly nude warrior, on the other the New World as a feather-clad Indian woman. Still above this a fine, bold group of statuary, representing, with that reverent naivete of early art, God the Father in the work of creation. Surrounding the whole front as with a frame, and reaching to the ground on either side, is carved the knotted cord of the Franciscan monks. No description can convey the charming impression given by the harmony of proportion and the loving finish of detail everywhere seen in this beautifully preserved fagade. While we were admiring it an officer came out of the adjoining cuartel and walked by us with jingling spurs. I asked him if one could go inside. He shrugged his shoulders with a Quien sabe? indicating a doubt as profound as if I had asked him whether chignons were worn in the moon. He had never thought of anything inside. There was no wine nor pretty girls there. Why should one want to go in? We entered the cool vestibule, and were ascending the stairs to the first court, when a porter came out of his lodge and inquired our errand. We were wandering barbarians with an eye to the picturesque, and would fain see the university, if it were not unlawful. He replied, in a hushed and scholastic tone of voice, and with a succession of confidential winks that would have inspired confidence in the heart of a Talleyrand, that if our lordships would give him our cards he had no doubt he could obtain the required permission from the rector. He showed us into a dim, claustral-looking anteroom, in which, as I was told by my friend, who trifles in lost moments with the integral calculus, there were seventy-two chairs and one microscopic table. The wall was decked with portraits of the youth of the college, all from the same artist, who probably went mad from the attempt to make fifty beardless faces look unlike each other. We sat for some time mourning over his failure, until the door opened, and not the porter, but the rector himself, a most courteous and polished gentleman in the black robe and three-cornered hat of his order, came in and graciously placed himself and the university at our disposition. We had reason to congratulate ourselves upon this good fortune. He showed us every nook and corner of the vast edifice, where the present and the past elbowed each other at every turn: here the boys' gymnasium, there the tomb of Valles; here the new patent cocks of the water-pipes, and there the tri-lingual patio where Alonso Sanchez lectured in Arabic, Greek, and Chaldean, doubtless making a choice hash of the three; the airy and graceful paraninfo, or hall of degrees, a masterpiece of Moresque architecture, with a gorgeous panelled roof, a rich profusion of plaster arabesques, and, horresco referens, the walls covered with a bright French paper. Our good rector groaned at this abomination, but said the Gauls had torn away the glorious carved panelling for firewood in the war of 1808, and the college was too poor to restore it. His righteous indignation waxed hot again when we came to the beautiful sculptured pulpit of the chapel, where all the delicate details are degraded by a thick coating of whitewash, which in some places has fallen away and shows the gilding of the time of the Catholic kings.

There is in this chapel a picture of the Virgin appearing to the great cardinal whom we call Ximenez and the Spaniards Cisneros, which is precious for two reasons. The portrait of Ximenez was painted from life by the nameless artist, who, it is said, came from France for the purpose, and the face of the Virgin is a portrait of Isabella the Catholic. It is a good wholesome face, such as you would expect. But the thin, powerful profile of Ximenez is very striking, with his red hair and florid tint, his curved beak, and long, nervous lips. He looks not unlike that superb portrait Raphael has left of Cardinal Medici.

This university is fragrant with the good fame of Ximenez. In the principal court there is a fine medallion of the illustrious founder and protector, as he delighted to be drawn, with a sword in one hand and a crucifix in the other,—twin brother in genius and fortune of the soldier-priest of France, the Cardinal-Duke Richelieu. On his gorgeous sarcophagus you read the arrogant epitaph with which he revenged himself for the littleness of kings and courtiers:—

"Praetextam junxi sacco, galeamque galero, Frater, dux, praesul, cardineusque pater. Quin, virtute mea junctum est diadema cucullo, Dum mihi regnanti patuit Gesperia."

By a happy chance our visit was made in a holiday time, and the students were all away. It was better that there should be perfect solitude and silence as we walked through the noble system of buildings and strove to re-create the student world of Cervantes's time. The chronicle which mentions the visit of Francis I. to Alcala, when a prisoner in Spain, says he was received by eleven thousand students. This was only twenty years before the birth of Cervantes. The world will never see again so brilliant a throng of ingenuous youth as gathered together in the great university towns in those years of vivid and impassioned greed for letters that followed the revival of learning. The romance of Oxford or Heidelberg or Harvard is tame compared with that electric life of a new-born world that wrought and flourished in Padua, Paris, and Alcala. Walking with my long-robed scholarly guide through the still, shadowy courts, under Renaissance arches and Moorish roofs, hearing him talking with enthusiasm of the glories of the past and never a word of the events of the present, in his pure, strong, guttural Castilian, no living thing in view but an occasional Franciscan gliding under the graceful arcades, it was not difficult to imagine the scenes of the intense young life which filled these noble halls in that fresh day of aspiration and hope, when this Spanish sunlight fell on the marble and the granite bright and sharp from the chisel of the builder, and the great Ximenez looked proudly on his perfect work and saw that it was good.

The twilight of superstition still hung heavily over Europe. But this was nevertheless the breaking of dawn, the herald of the fuller day of investigation and inquiry.

It was into this rosy morning of the modern world that Cervantes was ushered in the season of the falling leaves of 1547. He was born to a life of poverty and struggle and an immortality of fame. His own city did not know him while he lived, and now is only known through him. Pilgrims often come from over distant seas to breathe for one day the air that filled his baby lungs, and to muse among the scenes that shaped his earliest thoughts.

We strolled away from the university through the still lanes and squares to the Calle Mayor, the only thoroughfare of the town that yet retains some vestige of traffic. It is a fine, long street bordered by stone arcades, within which are the shops, and without which in the pleasant afternoon are the rosy and contemplative shopkeepers. It would seem a pity to disturb their dreamy repose by offering to trade; and in justice to Castilian taste and feeling I must say that nobody does it. Halfway down the street a side alley runs to the right, called Calle de Cervantes, and into this we turned to find the birthplace of the romancer. On one side was a line of squalid, quaint, gabled houses, on the other a long garden wall. We walked under the shadow of the latter and stared at the house-fronts, looking for an inscription we had heard of. We saw in sunny doorways mothers oiling into obedience the stiff horse-tail hair of their daughters. By the grated windows we caught glimpses of the black eyes and nut-brown cheeks of maidens at their needles. But we saw nothing to show which of these mansions had been honored by tradition as the residence of Roderick Cervantes.

A brisk and practical-looking man went past us.

I asked him where was the house of the poet. He smiled in a superior sort of way, and pointed to the wall above my head: "There is no such house. Some people think it once stood here, and they have placed that stone in the garden-wall to mark the spot. I believe what I see. It is all child's play anyhow, whether true or false. There is better work to be done now than to honor Cervantes. He fought for a bigot king, and died in a monk's hood."

"You think lightly of a glory of Castile."

"If we could forget all the glories of Castile it would be better for us."

"Puede ser," I assented. "Many thanks. May your grace go with God!"

"Health and fraternity!" he answered, and moved away with a step full of energy and dissent. He entered a door under an inscription, "Federal Republican Club."

Go your ways, I thought, radical brother. You are not so courteous nor so learned as the rector. But this Peninsula has need of men like you. The ages of belief have done their work for good and ill. Let us have some years of the spirit that denies, and asks for proofs. The power of the monk is broken, but the work is not yet done. The convents have been turned into barracks, which is no improvement. The ringing of spurs in the streets of Alcala is no better than the rustling of the sandalled friars. If this Republican party of yours cannot do something to free Spain from the triple curse of crown, crozier, and sabre, then Spain is in doleful case. They are at last divided, and the first two have been sorely weakened in detail. The last should be the easiest work.

The scorn of my radical friend did not prevent my copying the modest tablet on the wall:—

"Here was born Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, author of Don Quixote. By his fame and his genius he belongs to the civilized world; by his cradle to Alcala de Henares."

There is no doubt of the truth of the latter part of this inscription. Eight Spanish towns have claimed to have given birth to Cervantes, thus beating the blind Scian by one town; every one that can show on its church records the baptism of a child so called has made its claim. Yet Alcala, who spells his name wrong, calling him Carvantes, is certainly in the right, as the names of his father, mother, brothers, and sisters are also given in its records, and all doubt is now removed from the matter by the discovery of Cervantes's manuscript statement of his captivity in Algiers and his petition for employment in America, in both of which he styles himself "Natural de Alcala de Henares."

Having examined the evidence, we considered ourselves justly entitled to all the usual emotions in visiting the church of the parish, Santa Maria la Mayor. It was evening, and from a dozen belfries in the neighborhood came the soft dreamy chime of silver-throated bells. In the little square in front of the church a few families sat in silence on the massive stone benches. A few beggars hurried by, too intent upon getting home to supper to beg. A rural and a twilight repose lay on everything. Only in the air, rosy with the level light, flew out and greeted each other those musical voices of the bells rich with the memories of all the days of Alcala. The church was not open, but we followed a sacristan in, and he seemed too feeble-minded to forbid. It is a pretty church, not large nor imposing, with a look of cosy comfort about it. Through the darkness the high altar loomed before us, dimly lighted by a few candles where the sacristans were setting up the properties for the grand mass of the morrow,—Our Lady of the Snows. There was much talk and hot discussion as to the placing of the boards and the draperies, and the image of Our Lady seemed unmoved by words unsuited to her presence. We know that every vibration of air makes its own impression on the world of matter. So that the curses of the sacristans at their work, the prayers of penitents at the altar, the wailing of breaking hearts bowed on the pavement through many years, are all recorded mysteriously, in these rocky walls. This church is the illegible history of the parish. But of all its ringing of bells, and swinging of censers, and droning of psalms, and putting on and off of goodly raiment, the only show that consecrates it for the world's pilgrimage is that humble procession that came on the 9th day of October, in the year of Grace 1547, to baptize Roderick Cervantes's youngest child. There could not be an humbler christening. Juan Pardo—John Gray—was the sponsor, and the witnesses were "Baltazar Vazquez, the sacristan, and I who baptized him and signed with my name," says Mr. Bachelor Serrano, who never dreamed he was stumbling into fame when he touched that pink face with the holy water and called the child Miguel. It is my profound conviction that Juan Pardo brought the baby himself to the church and took it home again, screaming wrathfully; Neighbor' Pardo feeling a little sheepish and mentally resolving never to do another good-natured action as long as he lived.

As for the neophyte, he could not be blamed for screaming and kicking against the new existence he was entering, if the instinct of genius gave him any hint of it. Between the font of St. Mary's and the bier at St. Ildefonso's there was scarcely an hour of joy waiting him in his long life, except that which comes from noble and earnest work.

His youth was passed in the shabby privation of a poor gentleman's house; his early talents attracted the attention of my Lord Aquaviva, the papal legate, who took him back to Rome in his service; but the high-spirited youth soon left the inglorious ease of the cardinal's house to enlist as a private soldier in the sea-war against the Turk. He fought bravely at Lepanto, where he was three times wounded and his left hand crippled. Going home for promotion, loaded with praise and kind letters from the generous bastard, Don Juan of Austria, the true son of the Emperor Charles and pretty Barbara Blumberg, he was captured with his brother by the Moors, and passed five miserable years in slavery, never for one instant submitting to his lot, but wearying his hostile fate with constant struggles. He headed a dozen attempts at flight or insurrection, and yet his thrifty owners would not kill him. They thought a man who bore letters from a prince, and who continued cock of his walk through years of servitude, would one day bring a round ransom. At last the tardy day of his redemption came, but not from the cold-hearted tyrant he had so nobly served. The matter was presented to him by Cervantes's comrades, but he would do nothing. So that Don Roderick sold his estate and his sisters sacrificed their dowry to buy the freedom of the captive brothers.

They came back to Spain still young enough to be fond of glory, and simple-hearted enough to believe in the justice of the great. They immediately joined the army and served in the war with Portugal. The elder brother made his way and got some little promotion, but Miguel got married and discharged, and wrote verses and plays, and took a small office in Seville, and moved with the Court to Valladolid; and kept his accounts badly, and was too honest to steal, and so got into jail, and grew every year poorer and wittier and better; he was a public amanuensis, a business agent, a sub-tax-gatherer,—anything to keep his lean larder garnished with scant ammunition against the wolf hunger. In these few lines you have the pitiful story of the life of the greatest of Spaniards, up to his return to Madrid in 1606, when he was nearly sixty years old.

From this point his history becomes clearer and more connected up to the time of his death. He lived in the new-built suburb, erected on the site of the gardens of the Duke of Lerma, first minister and favorite of Philip III. It was a quarter much affected by artists and men of letters, and equally so by ecclesiastics. The names of the streets indicate the traditions of piety and art that still hallow the neighborhood. Jesus Street leads you into the street of Lope de Vega. Quevedo and Saint Augustine run side by side. In the same neighborhood are the streets called Cervantes, Saint Mary, and Saint Joseph, and just round the corner are the Magdalen and the Love-of-God. The actors and artists of that day were pious and devout madcaps. They did not abound in morality, but they had of religion enough and to spare. Many of them were members of religious orders, and it is this fact which has procured us such accurate records of their history. All the events in the daily life of the religious establishments were carefully recorded, and the manuscript archives of the convents and brotherhoods of that period are rich in materials for the biographer.

There was a special reason for the sudden rise of religious brotherhoods among the laity. The great schism of England had been fully completed under Elizabeth. The devout heart of Spain was bursting under this wrong, and they could think of no way to avenge it. They would fain have roasted the whole heretical island, but the memory of the Armada was fresh in men's minds, and the great Philip was dead. There were not enough heretics in Spain to make it worth while to waste time in hunting them. Philip could say as Narvaez, on his death-bed, said to his confessor who urged him to forgive his enemies, "Bless your heart, I have none. I have killed them all." To ease their pious hearts, they formed confraternities all over Spain, for the worship of the Host. They called themselves "Unworthy Slaves of the Most Holy Sacrament." These grew at once very popular in all classes. Artisans rushed in, and wasted half their working days in processions and meetings. The severe Suarez de Figueroa speaks savagely of the crowd of Narcissuses and petits maitres (a word which is delicious in its Spanish dress of petimetres) who entered the congregations simply to flutter about the processions in brave raiment, to be admired of the multitude. But there were other more serious members,—the politicians who joined to stand well with the bigot court, and the devout believers who found comfort and edification in worship. Of this latter class was Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, who joined the brotherhood in the street of the Olivar in 1609. He was now sixty-two years old, and somewhat infirm,—a time, as he said, when a man's salvation is no joke. From this period to the day of his death he seemed to be laboring, after the fashion of the age, to fortify his standing in the other world. He adopted the habit of the Franciscans in Alcala in 1613, and formally professed in the Third Order in 1616, three weeks before his death.

There are those who find the mirth and fun of his later works so inconsistent with these ascetic professions, that they have been led to believe Cervantes a bit of a hypocrite. But we cannot agree with such. Literature was at that time a diversion of the great, and the chief aim of the writer was to amuse. The best opinion of scholars now is that Rabelais, whose genius illustrated the preceding century, was a man of serious and severe life, whose gaulish crudeness of style and brilliant wit have been the cause of all the fables that distort his personal history.

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