The Land of The Blessed Virgin; Sketches and Impressions in Andalusia
by William Somerset Maugham
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The country about Jerez undulates in just such an easy comfortable fashion as you would expect. It is scenery of the gentlest and pleasantest type, sinuous; little hills rising with rounded lines and fertile valleys. The vines cover the whole land, creeping over the brown soil fantastically, black stumps, shrivelled and gnarled, tortured into uncouth shapes; they remind you of the creeping things in a naturalist's museum, of giant spiders and great dried centipedes and scorpions. But imagine the vineyards later, when the spring has stirred the earth with fecundity! The green shoots tenderly forth; at first it is all too delicate for a colour, it is but a mist of indescribable tenuity; and gradually the leaves burst out and trail along the ground with ever-increasing luxuriance; and then it is a rippling sea of passionate verdure.

But I liked Jerez best towards evening, when the sun had set and the twilight glided through the tortuous alleys like a woman dressed in white. Then, as I walked in the silent streets, narrow and steep, with their cobble-paving, the white houses gained a new aspect. There seemed not a soul in the world, and the loneliness was more intoxicating than all their wines; the shining sun was gone, and the sky lost its blue richness, it became so pale that you felt it like a face of death—and the houses looked like long rows of tombs. We walked through the deserted streets, I and the woman dressed in white, side by side silently; our footsteps made no sound upon the stones. And Jerez was wrapped in a ghostly shroud. Ah, the beautiful things I have seen which other men have not!


[Sidenote: Cadiz]

I admire the strenuous tourist who sets out in the morning with his well-thumbed Baedeker to examine the curiosities of a foreign town, but I do not follow in his steps; his eagerness after knowledge, his devotion to duty, compel my respect, but excite me to no imitation. I prefer to wander in old streets at random without a guide-book, trusting that fortune will bring me across things worth seeing; and if occasionally I miss some monument that is world-famous, more often I discover some little dainty piece of architecture, some scrap of decoration, that repays me for all else I lose. And in this fashion the less pretentious beauties of a town delight me, which, if I sought under the guidance of the industrious German, would seem perhaps scarcely worth the trouble. Nor do I know that there is in Cadiz much to attract the traveller beyond the grace with which it lies along the blue sea and the unstudied charm of its gardens, streets, and market-place; the echo in the cathedral to which the gaping tripper listens with astonishment leaves me unmoved; and in the church of Santa Catalina, which contains the last work of Murillo, upon which he was engaged at his death, I am more interested in the tall stout priest, unctuous and astute, who shows me his treasure, than in the picture itself. I am relieved now and again to visit a place that has no obvious claims on my admiration; it throws me back on the peculiarities of the people, on the stray incidents of the street, on the contents of the shops.

Cadiz is said to be the gayest town in Andalusia. Spaniards have always a certain gravity; they are not very talkative, and like the English, take their pleasures a little sadly. But here lightness of heart is thought to reign supreme, and the inhabitants have not even the apparent seriousness with which the Sevillan cloaks a somewhat vacant mind. They are great theatre-goers, and as dancers, of course, have been famous since the world began. But I doubt whether Cadiz deserves its reputation, for it always seems to me a little prim. The streets are well-kept and spacious, the houses, taller than is usual in Andalusia, have almost as cared-for an appearance as those in a prosperous suburb of London; and it is only quite occasionally, when you catch a glimpse of tawny rock and of white breakwater against the blue sea, that by a reminiscence of Naples you can persuade yourself it is as immoral as they say. For, not unlike the Syren City, Cadiz lies white and cool along the bay, with gardens at the water's edge; but it has not the magic colour of its rival, it is quieter, smaller, more restful; and on the whole lacks that agreeable air of wickedness which the Italian town possesses to perfection. It is impossible to be a day in Naples without discovering that it is the most depraved city in Europe; there is something in the atmosphere which relaxes the moral fibre, and the churchwarden who keeps guard in the bosom of every Englishman falls asleep, so that you feel capable of committing far more than the seven deadly sins. Of course, you don't, but still it is comfortable to have them within reach.

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I came across, while examining the wares of a vendor of antiquities, a contemporary narrative from the Spanish side of the attack made on Cadiz by Sir Francis Drake when he set out to singe the beard of Philip II.; and this induced me afterwards to look into the English story. It is far from me to wish to inform the reader, but the account is not undiverting, and shows, besides, a frame of mind which the Anglo-Saxon has not ceased to cultivate. 'But the Almighty God,' says the historian, 'knowing and seeing his (the Spanish king's) wicked intent to punish, molest, and trouble His little flock, the children of Israel, hath raised up a faithful Moses for the defence of His chosen, and will not suffer His people utterly to fall into the hands of their enemies.' Drake set sail from Plymouth with four of her Majesty's ships, two pinnaces, and some twenty merchantmen. A vessel was sent after, charging him not to show hostilities, but the messenger, owing to contrary winds, could never come near the admiral, and vastly to the annoyance of the Virgin Queen, as she solemnly assured the ambassadors of foreign powers, had to sail home. Under the circumstances it was, perhaps, hardly discreet of her to take so large a share of the booty.

Faithful Moses arrived in Cadiz, spreading horrid consternation, and the Spanish pamphlet shows very vividly the confusion of the enemy. It appears that, had he boldly landed, he might have sacked the town, but he imagined the preparations much greater than they were. However, he was not idle. 'The same night our general, having, by God's good favour and sufferance, opportunity to punish the enemy of God's true gospel and our daily adversary, and further willing to discharge his expected duty towards God, his peace and country, began to sink and fire divers of their ships.'

The English fleet burned thirty sail of great burden, and captured vast quantities of the bread, wheat, wine and oil which had been prepared for the descent upon England. Sir Francis Drake himself remarks that 'the sight of the terrible fires were to us very pleasant, and mitigated the burden of our continual travail, wherein we were busied for two nights and one day, in discharging, firing, and lading of provisions.'

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It is a curious thing to see entirely deserted a place of entertainment, where great numbers of people are in the habit of assembling. A theatre by day, without a soul in it, gives me always a sensation of the ridiculous futility of things; and a public garden towards evening offers the same emotion. On the morrow I was starting for Africa; I watched the sunset from the quays of Cadiz, the vapours of the twilight rise and envelop the ships in greyness, and I walked by the alamadas that stretch along the bay till I came to the park. The light was rapidly failing and I found myself alone. It had quaint avenues of short palms, evidently not long planted, and between them rows of yellow iron chairs arranged with great neatness and precision. It was there that on Sunday I had seen the populace disport itself, and it was full of life then, gay and insouciant. The fair ladies drove in their carriages, and the fine gentlemen, proud of their English clothes, lounged idly. The chairs were taken by all the lesser fry, by stout mothers, dragons attendant on dark-eyed girls, and their lovers in broad hats, in all the gala array of the flamenco. There was a joyous clamour of speech and laughter; the voices of Spanish women are harsh and unrestrained; the park sparkled with colour, and the sun caught the fluttering of countless fans.

For those blithe people it seemed that there was no morrow: the present was there to be enjoyed, divine and various, and the world was full of beauty and of sunshine; merely to live was happiness enough; if there was pain or sorrow it served but to enhance the gladness. The hurrying hours for a while had ceased their journey. Life was a cup of red wine, and they were willing to drink its very dregs, a brimming cup in which there was no bitterness, but a joy more thrilling than the gods could give in all their paradise.

But now I walked alone between the even rows of chairs. The little palms were so precise, with their careful foliage, that they did not look like real trees; the flower-beds were very stiff and neat, and now and then a pine stood out, erect and formal as if it were a cardboard tree from a Noah's Ark. The scene was so artificial that it brought to my mind the setting of a pantomime. I stopped, almost expecting a thousand ballet-girls to appear from the wings, scantily clad, and go through a measure to the playing of some sudden band, and retire and come forward till the stage was filled and a great tableau formed.

But the day grew quite dim, and the vast stage remained empty. The painted scene became still more unreal, and presently the park was filled with the ghostly shapes of all the light-hearted people who had lived their hour and exhibited their youth in the empty garden. I heard the whispered compliments, and the soft laughter of the ladies; there was a peculiar little snap as gaily they closed their fans.


[Sidenote: El Genero Chico]

In the evening I wandered again along the quay, my thoughts part occupied with the novel things I expected from Morocco, part sorrowful because I must leave the scented land of Spain. I seemed never before to have enjoyed so intensely the exquisite softness of the air, and there was all about me a sense of spaciousness which gave a curious feeling of power. In the harbour, on the ships, the lights of the masts twinkled like the stars above; and looking over the stony parapet, I heard the waves lap against the granite like a long murmur of regret; I tried to pierce the darkness, straining my eyes to see some deeper obscurity which I might imagine to be the massive coasts of Africa. But at last I could bear the solitude no longer, and I dived into the labyrinth of streets.

At first, in unfrequented ways, I passed people only one by one, some woman walking rapidly with averted face, or a pair of chattering students; but as I came near the centre of the town the passers-by grew more frequent, and suddenly I found myself in the midst of a thronging, noisy crowd. I looked up and saw that I was opposite a theatre; the people had just come from the second funcion. I had heard that the natives of Cadiz were eager theatre-goers, and was curious to see how they took this pleasure. I saw also that the next piece was Las Borrachos, a play of Seville life that I had often seen; and I felt that I could not spend my last evening better than in living again some of those scenes which pattered across my heart now like little sorrowful feet.

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The theatre in Spain is the only thing that has developed further than in the rest of Europe—in fact, it has nearly developed clean away. The Spaniards were the first to confess that dramatic art bored them to death; and their habits rendered impossible the long play which took an evening to produce. Eating late, they did not wish to go to the theatre till past nine; being somewhat frivolous, they could not sit for more than an hour without going outside and talking to their friends; and they were poor. To satisfy their needs the genero chico, or little style, sprang into existence; and quickly every theatre in Spain was given over to the system of four houses a night. Each function is different, and the stall costs little more than sixpence.

We English are idealists; and on the stage especially reality stinks in our nostrils. The poor are vulgar, and in our franker moments we confess our wish to have nothing to do with them. The middle classes are sordid; we have enough of them in real life, and no desire to observe their doings at the theatre, particularly when we wear our evening clothes. But when a dramatist presents duchesses to our admiring eyes, we feel at last in our element; we watch the acts of persons whom we would willingly meet at dinner, and our craving for the ideal is satisfied.

But in Spain nobles are common and excite no overwhelming awe. The Spaniard, most democratic of Europeans, clamours for realism, and nothing pleases him more than a literal transcript of the life about him. The manners and customs of good society do not entertain him, and the genero chico concerns itself almost exclusively with the lower classes. The bull-fighter is, of course, one of the most usual figures; and round him are gathered the lovers of the ring, inn-keepers, cobblers and carpenters, policemen, workmen, flower-sellers, street-singers, cigarette girls, country maidens. The little pieces are innumerable, and together form a compend of low life in Spain; the best are full of gaiety and high spirits, with a delicate feeling for character, and often enough are touched by a breath of poetry. Songs and dances are introduced, and these come in the more naturally since the action generally takes place on a holiday. The result is a musical comedy in one act; but with nothing in it of the entertainment which is a joy to the British public: an Andalusian audience would never stand that representation of an impossible and vulgar world in which the women are all trollops and the men, rips, nincompoops and bounders; they would never suffer the coarse humour and the shoddy patriotism.

Unfortunately, these one-act plays have destroyed the legitimate drama. Whereas Maria Guerrero, that charming actress, will have a run of twenty nights in a new play by Echegaray, a popular zarzuela will be acted hundreds of times in every town in Spain. But none can regret that the Spaniards have evolved these very national little pieces, and little has been lost in the non-existence of an indefinite number of imitations from the French. The zarzuela, I should add, lasts about an hour, and for the most part is divided into three scenes.

Such a play as Los Borrachos is nothing less than a genre picture of Seville life. It reminds one of a painting by Teniers; and I should like to give some idea of it, since it is really one of the best examples of the class, witty, varied, and vivacious. But an obstacle presents itself in the fact that I can find no vestige of a plot. The authors set out to characterise the various lovers of the vine, (nowhere in Andalusia are the devotees of the yellow Manzanilla more numerous than in Seville,) and with telling strokes have drawn the good-natured tippler, the surly tippler, the religious tippler. To these they have added other types, which every Andalusian can recognise as old friends—the sharp-tongued harridan, the improviser of couplets with his ridiculous vanity, the flower-seller, and the 'prentice-boy of fifteen, who, notwithstanding his tender years, is afflicted with love for the dark-eyed heroine. The action takes place first in a street, then in a court-yard, lastly in a carpenter's shop. There are dainty love-scenes between Soledad, the distressed maiden, and Juanillo, the flower-seller; and one, very Spanish, where the witty and precocious apprentice offers her his diminutive hand and heart. Numerous people come and go, the drunkards drink and quarrel and make peace; the whole thing, if somewhat confused, is very life-like, and runs with admirable lightness and ease. It is true that the play has neither beginning nor end, but perhaps that only makes it seem the truer; and if the scenes have no obvious connection they are all amusing and characteristic. It is acted with extraordinary spirit. The players, indeed, are not acting, but living their ordinary lives, and it is pleasant to see the zest with which they throw themselves into the performance. When the hero presses the heroine in his arms, smiles and passionate glances pass between them, which suggest that even the love-making is not entirely make-believe.

I wish I could translate the song which Juanillo sings when he passes his lady's window, bearing his basket of flowers:

Carnations for pretty girls that are true, Musk-roses for pretty girls that are coy, Rosebuds as small as thy mouth, my dearest, And roses as fair as thy cheeks.

I cannot, indeed, resist the temptation of giving one verse in that Andalusian dialect, from which all harsh consonants and unmusical sounds have been worn away—the most complete and perfect language in the world for lovers and the passion of love:

Sal, morena, a tu ventana, Mira las flores que traigo; Sal y di si son bastantes Pa arfombrita de tu cuarto. Que yo te quiero Y a ti te doy Tos los tesoros der mundo entero, To le que vargo, to lo que soy.


[Sidenote: Adios]

And then the morrow was come. Getting up at five to catch my boat, I went down to the harbour; a grey mist hung over the sea, and the sun had barely risen, a pallid, yellow circle; the fishing-boats lolled on the smooth, dim water, and fishermen in little groups blew on their fingers.

And from Cadiz I saw the shores of Spain sink into the sea; I saw my last of Andalusia. Who, when he leaves a place that he has loved, can help wondering when he will see it again? I asked the wind, and it sighed back the Spanish answer: 'Quien sabe? Who knows?' The traveller makes up his mind to return quickly, but all manner of things happen, and one accident or another prevents him; time passes till the desire is lost, and when at last he comes back, himself has altered or changes have occurred in the old places and all seems different. He looks quite coldly at what had given an intense emotion, and though he may see new things, the others hardly move him; it is not thus he imagined them in the years of waiting. And how can he tell what the future may have in store; perhaps, notwithstanding all his passionate desires, he will indeed never return.

Of course the intention of this book is not to induce people to go to Spain: railway journeys are long and tedious, the trains crawl, and the hotels are bad. Experienced globe-trotters have told me that all mountains are very much alike, and that pictures, when you have seen a great many, offer no vast difference. It is much better to read books of travel than to travel oneself; he really enjoys foreign lands who never goes abroad; and the man who stays at home, preserving his illusions, has certainly the best of it. How delightful is the anticipation as he looks over time-tables and books of photographs, forming delightful images of future pleasure! But the reality is full of disappointment, and the more famous the monument the bitterer the disillusion. Has any one seen St. Peter's without asking himself: Is that all? And the truest enjoyment arises from things that come unexpectedly, that one had never heard of. Then, living in a strange land, one loses all impression of its strangeness; it is only afterwards, in England, that one realises the charm and longs to return; and a hundred pictures rise to fill the mind with delight. Why can one not be strong enough to leave it at that and never tempt the fates again?

The wisest thing is to leave unvisited in every country some place that one wants very much to see. In Italy I have never been to Siena, and in Andalusia I have taken pains to avoid Malaga. The guide-books tell me there is nothing whatever to see there; and according to them it is merely a prosperous sea-port with a good climate. But to me, who have never seen it, Malaga is something very different; it is the very cream of Andalusia, where every trait and characteristic is refined to perfect expression.

I imagine Malaga to be the most smiling town on the seaboard, and it lies along the shore ten times more charmingly than Cadiz. The houses are white, whiter than in Jerez; the patios are beautiful with oranges and palm-trees, and the dark green of the luxuriant foliage contrasts with the snowy walls. In Malaga the sky is always blue and the sun shines, but the narrow Arab streets are cool and shady. The passionate odours of Andalusia float in the air, the perfume of a myriad cigarettes and the fresh scent of fruit and flower. The blue sea lazily kisses the beach and fishing-boats bask on its bosom.

In Malaga, for me, there are dark churches, with massive, tall pillars; the light falls softly through the painted glass, regilding the golden woodwork, the angels and the saints and the bishops in their mitres. The air is heavy with incense, and women in mantillas kneel in the half-light, praying silently. Now and then I come across an old house with a fragment of Moorish work, reminding me that here again the Moors have left their mark.

And in Malaga, for me, the women are more lovely than in Seville; for their dark eyes glitter marvellously, and their lips, so red and soft, are ever trembling with a half-formed smile. They are more graceful than the daffodils, their hands are lovers' sighs, and their voice is a caressing song. (What was your voice like, Rosarito? Alas! it is so long ago that I forget.) The men are tall and slender, with strong, clear features and shining eyes, deep sunken in their sockets.

In Malaga, for me, life is a holiday in which there are no dullards and no bores; all the world is strong and young and full of health, and there is nothing to remind one of horrible things. Malaga, I know, is the most delightful place in Andalusia. Oh, how refreshing it is to get away from sober fact, but what a fool I should be ever to go there!

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The steamer plods on against the wind slowly, and as the land sinks away, unsatisfied to leave the impressions hovering vaguely through my mind, I try to find the moral. The Englishman, ever somewhat sententiously inclined, asks what a place can teach him. The churchwarden in his bosom gives no constant, enduring peace; and after all, though he may be often ridiculous, it is the churchwarden who has made good part of England's greatness.

And most obviously Andalusia suggests that it might not be ill to take things a little more easily: we English look upon life so very seriously, so much without humour. Is it worth while to be quite so strenuous? At the stations on the line between Jerez and Cadiz, I noticed again how calmly they took things; people lounged idly talking to one another; the officials of the railway smoked their cigarettes; no one was in a hurry, time was long, and whether the train arrived late or punctual could really matter much to no one. A beggar came to the window, a cigarette-end between his lips.

'Caballero! Alms for the love of God for a poor old man. God will repay you!'

He passed slowly down the train. It waited for no reason; the passengers stared idly at the loungers on the platform, and they stared idly back. No one moved except to roll himself a cigarette. The sky was blue and the air warm and comforting. Life seemed good enough, and above all things easy. There was no particular cause to trouble. What is the use of hurrying to pile up money when one can live on so little? What is the use of reading these endless books? Why not let things slide a little, and just take what comes our way? It is only for a little while, and then the great antique mother receives us once more in her bosom. And there are so many people in the world. Think again of all the countless hordes who have come and gone, and who will come and go; the immense sea of Time covers them, and what matters the life they led? What odds is it that they ever existed at all? Let us do our best to be happy; the earth is good and sweet-smelling, there is sunshine and colour and youth and loveliness; and afterwards—well, let us shrug our shoulders and not think of it.

And then in bitter irony, contradicting my moral, a train came in with a number of Cuban soldiers. There were above fifty of them, and they had to change at the junction. They reached out to open the carriage doors and crawled down to the platform. Some of them seemed at death's door; they could not walk, and chairs were brought that they might be carried; others leaned heavily on their companions. And they were dishevelled, with stubbly beards. But what struck me most was the deathly colour; for their faces were almost green, while round their sunken eyes were great white rings, and the white was ghastly, corpse-like. They trooped along in a dazed and listless fashion, wasted with fever, and now and then one stopped, shaken with a racking cough; he leaned against the wall, and put his hand to his heart as if the pain were unendurable. It was a pitiful sight. They were stunted and under-sized; they ceased to develop when they went to the cruel island, and they were puny creatures with hollow chests and thin powerless limbs; often, strangely enough, their faces had remained quite boyish. They were twenty or twenty-two, and they looked sixteen. And then, by the sight of those boys who had never known youth with its joyful flowers, doomed to a hopeless life, I was forced against my will to another moral. Perhaps some would recover, but the majority must drag on with ruined health, fever-stricken, dying one by one, falling like the unripe fruit of a rotten tree. They had no chance, poor wretches! They would return to their miserable homes; they could not work, and their people were too poor to keep them—so they must starve. Their lives were even shorter than those of the rest, and what pleasure had they had?

And that is the result of the Spanish insouciance—death and corruption, loss of power and land and honour, the ruin of countless lives, and absolute decay. It is rather a bitter irony, isn't it? And now all they have left is their sunshine and the equanimity which nothing can disturb.

Printed by BALLANTYNE, HANSON & CO. London & Edinburgh

* * * * *

CASTILIAN DAYS. By Hon. J. HAY. Illustrated by JOSEPH PENNELL. In one vol., pott 4to, price 10s. net.

ITALIAN JOURNEYS. By W. D. HOWELLS. Illustrated by JOSEPH PENNELL. In one vol., pott 4to, price 10s. net.

A LITTLE TOUR IN FRANCE. By HENRY JAMES. Illustrated by JOSEPH PENNELL. In one vol., pott 4to, 10s. net.




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