The first play of his I ever saw, "Gente Conocida," impressed me, I remember, at a time when I understood about one word in ten and had to content myself with following the general modulation of things, as carrying on to the stage, the moment the curtain rose, the very people, intonations, phrases, that were stirring in the seats about me. After the first act a broad-bosomed lady in black silk leaned back in the seat beside me sighing comfortably "Que castizo es este Benavente," and then went into a volley of approving chirpings. The full import of her enthusiasm did not come to me until much later when I read the play in the comparative light of a surer knowledge of Castilian, and found that it was a most vitriolic dissecting of the manner of life of that very dowager's own circle, a showing up of the predatory spite of "people of consequence." Here was this society woman, who in any other country would have been indignant, enjoying the annihilation of her kind. On such willingness to play the game of wit, even of abuse, without too much rancor, which is the unction to ease of social intercourse, is founded all the popularity of Benavente's writing. Somewhere in Hugo's Spanish grammar (God save the mark!) is a proverb to the effect that the wind of Madrid is so subtle that it will kill a man without putting out a candle. The same, at their best, can be said of Benavente's satiric comedies:
El viento de Madrid es tan sutil que mata a un hombre y no apaga un candil.
From the opposite bank of the Manzanares, a slimy shrunken stream usually that flows almost hidden under clothes lines where billow the undergarments of all Madrid, in certain lights you can recapture almost entire the silhouette of the city as Goya has drawn it again and again; clots of peeling stucco houses huddling up a flattened hill towards the dome of San Francisco El Grande, then an undulating skyline with cupolas and baroque belfries jutting among the sudden lights and darks of the clouds. Then perhaps the sun will light up with a spreading shaft of light the electric-light factory, the sign on a biscuit manufacturer's warehouse, a row of white blocks of apartments along the edge of town to the north, and instead of odd grimy aboriginal Madrid, it will be a type city in Europe in the industrial era that shines in the sun beyond the blue shadows and creamy flashes of the clothes on the lines. So will it be in a few years with modernized Madrid, with the life of cafes and paseos and theatres. There will be moments when in American automats, elegant smokeless tearooms, shiny restaurants built in copy of those of Buenos Aires, someone who has read his Benavente will be able to catch momentary glimpses of old intonations, of witty parries, of noisy bombastic harangues and feel for one pentecostal moment the full and by that time forgotten import of lo castizo.
XV: Talk by the Road
The sun next morning was tingling warm. Telemachus strode along with a taste of a milky bowl of coffee and crisp churros in his mouth and a fresh wind in his hair; his feet rasped pleasantly on the gravel of the road. Behind him the town sank into the dun emerald-striped plain, roofs clustering, huddling more and more under the shadow of the beetling church, and the tower becoming leaner and darker against the steamy clouds that oozed in billowing tiers over the mountains to the north. Crows flapped about the fields where here and there the dark figures of a man and a pair of mules moved up a long slope. On the telegraph wires at a bend in the road two magpies sat, the sunlight glinting, when they stirred, on the white patches on their wings. Telemachus felt well-rested and content with himself.
"After all mother knows best," he was thinking. "That foolish Lyaeus will come dragging himself into Toledo a week from now."
Before noon he came on the same Don Alonso he had seen the day before in Illescas. Don Alonso was stretched out under an olive tree, a long red sausage in his hand, a loaf of bread and a small leather bottle of wine on the sward in front of him. Hitched to the tree, at the bark of which he nibbled with long teeth, was the grey horse.
"Hola, my friend," cried Don Alonso, "still bent on Toledo?"
"How soon can I get there?"
"Soon enough to see the castle of San Servando against the sunset. We will go together. You travel as fast as my old nag. But do me the honor of eating something, you must be hungry." Thereupon Don Alonso handed Telemachus the sausage and a knife to peel and slice it with.
"How early you must have started."
They sat together munching bread and sausage to which the sweet pepper mashed into it gave a bright red color, and occasionally, head thrown back, let a little wine squirt into their mouths from the bottle.
Don Alonso waved discursively a bit of sausage held between bread by tips of long grey fingers.
"You are now, my friend, in the heart of Castile. Look, nothing but live-oaks along the gulches and wheat-lands rolling up under a tremendous sky. Have you ever seen more sky? In Madrid there is not so much sky, is there? In your country there is not so much sky? Look at the huge volutes of those clouds. This is a setting for thoughts as mighty in contour as the white cumulus over the Sierra, such as come into the minds of men lean, wind-tanned, long-striding...." Don Alonso put a finger to his high yellow forehead. "There is in Castile a potential beauty, my friend, something humane, tolerant, vivid, robust.... I don't say it is in me. My only merit lies in recognizing it, formulating it, for I am no more than a thinker.... But the day will come when in this gruff land we shall have flower and fruit."
Don Alonso was smiling with thin lips, head thrown back against the twisted trunk of the olive tree. Then all at once he got to his feet, and after rummaging a moment in the little knapsack that hung over his shoulder, produced absent-mindedly a handful of small white candies the shape of millstones which he stared at in a puzzled way for some seconds.
"After all," he went on, "they make famous sweets in these old Castilian towns. These are melindres. Have one.... When people, d'you know, are kind to children, there are things to be expected."
"Certainly children are indulgently treated in Spain," said Telemachus, his mouth full of almond paste. "They actually seem to like children!"
A cart drawn by four mules tandem led by a very minute donkey with three strings of blue beads round his neck was jingling past along the road. As the canvas curtains of the cover were closed the only evidence of the driver was a sleepy song in monotone that trailed with the dust cloud after the cart. While they stood by the roadside watching the joggle of it away from them down the road, a flushed face was poked out from between the curtains and a voice cried "Hello, Tel!"
"It's Lyaeus," cried Telemachus and ran after the cart bubbling with curiosity to hear his companion's adventures.
With a angle of mulebells and a hoarse shout from the driver the cart stopped, and Lyaeus tumbled out. His hair was mussed and there were wisps of hay on his clothes. He immediately stuck his head back in through the curtains. By the time Telemachus reached him the cart was tinkling its way down the road again and Lyaeus stood grinning, blinking sleepy eyes in the middle of the road, in one hand a skin of wine, in the other a canvas bag.
"What ho!" cried Telemachus.
"Figs and wine," said Lyaeus. Then, as Don Alonso came up leading his grey horse, he added in an explanatory tone, "I was asleep in the cart."
"Well?" said Telemachus.
"O it's such a long story," said Lyaeus.
Walking beside them, Don Alonso was reciting into his horse's ear:
'Sigue la vana sombra, el bien fingido. El hombre esta entregado al sueno, de su suerte no cuidando, y con paso callado el cielo vueltas dando las horas del vivir le va hurtando.'
"Whose is that?" said Lyaeus.
"The revolving sky goes stealing his hours of life.... But I don't know," said Don Alonso, "perhaps like you, this Spain of ours makes ground sleeping as well as awake. What does a day matter? The driver snores but the good mules jog on down the appointed road."
Then without another word he jumped on his horse and with a smile and a wave of the hand trotted off ahead of them.
XVI: A Funeral in Madrid
Doce dias son pasados despues que el Cid acabara aderezanse las gentes para salir a batalla con Bucar ese rey moro y contra la su canalla. Cuando fuera media noche el cuerpo asi coma estaba le ponen sobre Babieca y al caballo lo ataban.
And when the army sailed out of Valencia the Moors of King Bucar fled before the dead body of the Cid and ten thousand of them were drowned trying to scramble into their ships, among them twenty kings, and the Christians got so much booty of gold and silver among the tents that the poorest of them became a rich man. Then the army continued, the dead Cid riding each day's journey on his horse, across the dry mountains to Sant Pedro de Cardena in Castile where the king Don Alfonso had come from Toledo, and he seeing the Cid's face still so beautiful and his beard so long and his eyes so flaming ordered that instead of closing the body in a coffin with gold nails they should set it upright in a chair beside the altar, with the sword Tizona in its hand. And there the Cid stayed more than ten years.
Mando que no se enterrase sino que el cuerpo arreado se ponga junto al altar y a Tizona en la su mano; asi estuvo mucho tiempo que fueron mas de diez anos.
In the pass above people were skiing. On the hard snow of the road there were orange-skins. A victoria had just driven by in which sat a bored inflated couple much swathed in furs.
"Where on earth are they going?"
"To the Puerta de Navecerrada," my friend answered.
"But they look as if they'd be happier having tea at Molinero's than paddling about up there in the snow."
"They would be, but it's the style ... winter sports ... and all because a lithe little brown man who died two years ago liked the mountains. Before him no madrileno ever knew the Sierra existed."
"Who was that?"
"Don Francisco Giner."
That afternoon when it was already getting dark we were scrambling wet, chilled, our faces lashed by the snow, down through drifts from a shoulder of Siete Picos with the mist all about us and nothing but the track of a flock of sheep for a guide. The light from a hut pushed a long gleaming orange finger up the mountainside. Once inside we pulled off our shoes and stockings and toasted our feet at a great fireplace round which were flushed faces, glint of teeth in laughter, schoolboys and people from the university shouting and declaiming, a smell of tea and wet woolens. Everybody was noisy with the rather hysterical excitement that warmth brings after exertion in cold mountain air. Cheeks were purple and tingling. A young man with fuzzy yellow hair told me a story in French about the Emperor of Morocco, and produced a tin of potted blackbirds which it came out were from the said personage's private stores. Unending fountains of tea seethed in two smoke-blackened pots on the hearth. In the back of the hut among leaping shadows were piles of skis and the door, which occasionally opened to let in a new wet snowy figure and shut again on skimming snow-gusts. Everyone was rocked with enormous jollity. Train time came suddenly and we ran and stumbled and slid the miles to the station through the dark, down the rocky path.
In the third-class carriage people sang songs as the train jounced its way towards the plain and Madrid. The man who sat next to me asked me if I knew it was Don Francisco who had had that hut built for the children of the Institucion Libre de Insenanza. Little by little he told me the history of the Krausistas and Francisco Giner de los Rios and the revolution of 1873, a story like enough to many others in the annals of the nineteenth century movement for education, but in its overtones so intimately Spanish and individual that it came as the explanation of many things I had been wondering about and gave me an inkling of some of the origins of a rather special mentality I had noticed in people I knew about Madrid.
Somewhere in the forties a professor of the Universidad Central, Sanz del Rio, was sent to Germany to study philosophy on a government scholarship. Spain was still in the intellectual coma that had followed the failure of the Cortes of Cadiz and the restoration of Fernando Septimo. A decade or more before, Larra, the last flame of romantic revolt, had shot himself for love in Madrid. In Germany, at Heidelberg, Sanz del Rio found dying Krause, the first archpriest who stood interpreting between Kant and the world. When he returned to Spain he refused to take up his chair at the university saying he must have time to think out his problems, and retired to a tiny room—a room so dark that they say that to read he had to sit on a stepladder under the window in the town of Illescas, where was another student, Greco's San Ildefonso. There he lived several years in seclusion. When he did return to the university it was to refuse to make the profession of political and religious faith required by a certain prime minister named Orovio. He was dismissed and several of his disciples. At the same time Francisco Giner de los Rios, then a young man who had just gained an appointment with great difficulty because of his liberal ideas, resigned out of solidarity with the rest. In 1868 came the liberal revolution which was the political expression of this whole movement, and all these professors were reinstated. Until the restoration of the Bourbons in '75 Spain was a hive of modernization, Europeanization.
Returned to power Orovio lost no time in republishing his decrees of a profession of faith. Giner, Ascarate, Salmeron and several others were arrested and exiled to distant fortresses when they protested; their friends declared themselves in sympathy and lost their jobs, and many other professors resigned, so that the university was at one blow denuded of its best men. From this came the idea of founding a free university which should be supported entirely by private subscription. From that moment the life of Giner de los Rios was completely entwined with the growth of the Institucion Libre de Insenanza, which developed in the course of a few years into a coeducational primary school. And directly or indirectly there is not a single outstanding figure in Spanish life to-day whose development was not largely influenced by this dark slender baldheaded old man with a white beard whose picture one finds on people's writing desks.
... Oh, si, llevad, amigos, su cuerpo a la montana a los azules montes del ancho Guadarrama,
wrote his pupil, Antonio Machado—and I rather think Machado is the pupil whose name will live the longest—after Don Francisco's death in 1915.
... Yes, carry, friends his body to the hills to the blue peaks of the wide Guadarrama. There are deep gulches of green pines where the wind sings. There is rest for his spirit under a cold live oak in loam full of thyme, where play golden butterflies.... There the master one day dreamed new flowerings for Spain.
These are fragments from an elegy by Juan Ramon Jimenez, another poet-pupil of Don Francisco:
"Don Francisco.... It seemed that he summed up all that is tender and keen in life: flowers, flames, birds, peaks, children.... Now, stretched on his bed, like a frozen river that perhaps still flows under the ice, he is the clear path for endless recurrence.... He was like a living statue of himself, a statue of earth, of wind, of water, of fire. He had so freed himself from the husk of every day that talking to him we might have thought we were talking to his image. Yes. One would have said he wasn't going to die: that he had already passed, without anybody's knowing it, beyond death; that he was with us forever, like a spirit.
* * * * *
"In the little door of the bedroom one already feels well-being. A trail of the smell of thyme and violets that comes and goes with the breeze from the open window leads like a delicate hand towards where he lies.... Peace. All death has done has been to infuse the color of his skin with a deep violet veiling of ashes.
"What a suave smell, and how excellent death is here! No rasping essences, none of the exterior of blackness and crepe. All this is white and uncluttered, like a hut in the fields in Andalusia, like the whitewashed portal of some garden in the south. All just as it was. Only he who was there has gone.
* * * * *
"The day is fading, with a little wind that has a premonition of spring. In the window panes is a confused mirroring of rosy clouds. The blackbird, the blackbird that he must have heard for thirty years, that he'd have liked to have gone on hearing dead, has come to see if he's listening. Peace. The bedroom and the garden strive quietly light against light: the brightness of the bedroom is stronger and glows out into the afternoon. A sparrow flutters up into the sudden stain with which the sun splashes the top of a tree and sits there twittering. In the shadow below the blackbird whistles once more. Now and then one seems to hear the voice that is silenced forever.
"How pleasant to be here! It's like sitting beside a spring, reading under a tree, like letting the stream of a lyric river carry one away.... And one feels like never moving: like plucking to infinity, as one might tear roses to pieces, these white full hours; like clinging forever to this clear teacher in the eternal twilight of this last lesson of austerity and beauty.
* * * * *
"'Municipal Cemetery' it says on the gate, so that one may know, opposite that other sign 'Catholic Cemetery,' so that one may also know.
"He didn't want to be buried in that cemetery, so opposed to the smiling savourous poetry of his spirit. But it had to be. He'll still hear the blackbirds of the familiar garden. 'After all,' says Cossio, 'I don't think he'll be sorry to spend a little while with Don Julian....'
"Careful hands have taken the dampness out of the earth with thyme; on the coffin they have thrown roses, narcissus, violets. There comes, lost, an aroma of last evening, a bit of the bedroom from which they took so much away....
"Silence. Faint sunlight. Great piles of cloud full of wind drag frozen shadows across us, and through them flying low, black grackles. In the distance Guadarrama, chaste beyond belief, lifts crystals of cubed white light. Some tiny bird trills for a second in the sown fields nearby that are already vaguely greenish, then lights on the creamy top of a tomb, then flies away....
"Neither impatience nor cares; slowness and forgetfulness.... Silence. In the silence, the voice of a child walking through the fields, the sound of a sob hidden among the tombstones, the wind, the broad wind of these days....
"I've seen occasionally a fire put out with earth. Innumerable little tongues spurted from every side. A pupil of his who was a mason made for this extinguished fire its palace of mud on a piece of earth two friends kept free. He has at the head a euonymus, young and strong, and at the foot, already full of sprouts with coming spring, an acacia...."
Round El Pardo the evergreen oaks, encinas, are scattered sparsely, tight round heads of blue green, over hills that in summer are yellow like the haunches of lions. From Madrid to El Pardo was one of Don Francisco's favorite walks, out past the jail, where over the gate is written an echo of his teaching: "Abhor the crime but pity the criminal," past the palace of Moncloa with its stately abandoned gardens, and out along the Manzanares by a road through the royal domain where are gamekeepers with shotguns and signs of "Beware the mantraps," then up a low hill from which one sees the Sierra Guadarrama piled up against the sky to the north, greenish snow-peaks above long blue foothills and all the foreground rolling land full of clumps of encinas, and at last into the little village with its barracks and its dilapidated convent and its planetrees in front of the mansion Charles V built. It was under an encina that I sat all one long morning reading up in reviews and textbooks on the theory of law, the life and opinions of Don Francisco. In the moments when the sun shone the heat made the sticky cistus bushes with the glistening white flowers all about me reek with pungence. Then a cool whisp of wind would bring a chill of snow-slopes from the mountains and a passionless indefinite fragrance of distances. At intervals a church bell would toll in a peevish importunate manner from the boxlike convent on the hill opposite. I was reading an account of the philosophical concept of monism, cudgelling my brain with phrases. And his fervent love of nature made the master evoke occasionally in class this beautiful image of the great poet and philosopher Schelling: "Man is the eye with which the spirit of nature contemplates itself"; and then having qualified with a phrase Schelling's expression, he would turn on those who see in nature manifestation of the rough, the gross, the instinctive, and offer for meditation this saying of Michelet: "Cloth woven by a weaver is just as natural as that a spider weaves. All is in one Being, all is in the Idea and for the Idea, the latter being understood in the way Platonic substantialism has been interpreted...."
In the grass under my book were bright fronds of moss, among which very small red ants performed prodigies of mountaineering, while along tramped tunnels long black ants scuttled darkly, glinting when the light struck them. The smell of cistus was intense, hot, full of spices as the narrow streets of an oriental town at night. In the distance the mountains piled up in zones olive green, Prussian blue, ultra-marine, white. A cold wind-gust turned the pages of the book. Thought and passion, reflection and instinct, affections, emotions, impulses collaborate in the rule of custom, which is revealed not in words declared and promulgated in view of future conduct, but in the act itself, tacit, taken for granted, or, according to the energetic expression of the Digest: rebus et factis. Over "factis," sat a little green and purple fly with the body curved under at the table. I wondered vaguely if it was a Mayfly. And then all of a sudden it was clear to me that these books, these dusty philosophical phrases, these mortuary articles by official personages were dimming the legend in my mind, taking the brilliance out of the indirect but extraordinarily personal impact of the man himself. They embalmed the Cid and set him up in the church with his sword in his hand, for all men to see. What sort of legend would a technical disquisition by the archbishop on his theory of the angle of machicolations have generated in men's minds? And what can a saint or a soldier or a founder of institutions leave behind him but a legend? Certainly it is not for the Franciscans that one remembers Francis of Assisi.
And the curious thing about the legend of a personality is that it may reach the highest fervor without being formulated. It is something by itself that stands behind anecdotes, death-notices, elegies.
In Madrid at the funeral of another of the great figures of nineteenth century Spain, Perez Galdos, I stood on the curb beside a large-mouthed youth with a flattened toadlike face, who was balancing a great white-metal jar of milk on his shoulder. The plumed hearse and the carriages full of flowers had just passed. The street in front of us was a slow stream of people very silent, their feet shuffling, shuffling, feet in patent-leather shoes and spats, feet in square-toed shoes, pointed-toed shoes, alpargatas, canvas sandals; people along the sides seemed unable to resist the suction of it, joined in unostentatiously to follow if only a few moments the procession of the legend of Don Benito. The boy with the milk turned to me and said how lucky it was they were burying Galdos, he'd have an excuse for being late for the milk. Then suddenly he pulled his cap off and became enormously excited and began offering cigarettes to everyone round about. He scratched his head and said in the voice of a Saul stricken on the road to Damascus: "How many books he must have written, that gentleman! !Caspita!... It makes a fellow sorry when a gentleman like that dies," and shouldering his pail, his blue tunic fluttering in the wind, he joined the procession.
Like the milk boy I found myself joining the procession of the legend of Giner de los Rios. That morning under the encina I closed up the volumes on the theory of law and the bulletins with their death-notices and got to my feet and looked over the tawny hills of El Bardo and thought of the little lithe baldheaded man with a white beard like the beard in El Greco's portrait of Covarrubias, who had taught a generation to love the tremendous contours of their country, to climb mountains and bathe in cold torrents, who was the first, it almost seems, to feel the tragic beauty of Toledo, who in a lifetime of courageous unobtrusive work managed to stamp all the men and women whose lives remotely touched his with the seal of his personality. Born in Ronda in the wildest part of Andalusia of a family that came from Velez-Malaga, a white town near the sea in the rich fringes of the Sierra Nevada, he had the mental agility and the sceptical tolerance and the uproarious good nature of the people of that region, the sobriety and sinewiness of a mountaineer. His puritanism became a definite part of the creed of the hopeful discontented generations that are gradually, for better or for worse, remoulding Spain. His nostalgia of the north, of fjords where fir trees hang over black tidal waters, of blonde people cheerfully orderly in rectangular blue-tiled towns, became the gospel of Europeanization, of wholesale destruction of all that was individual, savage, African in the Spanish tradition. Rebus et factis. And yet none of the things and acts do much to explain the peculiar radiance of his memory, the jovial tenderness with which people tell one about him. The immanence of the man is such that even an outsider, one who like the milk boy at the funeral of Galdos meets the procession accidentally with another errand in his head, is drawn in almost without knowing it. It's impossible to think of him buried in a box in unconsecrated ground in the Cementerio Civil. In Madrid, in the little garden of the Institucion where he used to teach the children, in front of a certain open fire in a certain house at El Pardo where they say he loved to sit and talk, I used to half expect to meet him, that some friend would take me to see him as they took people to see Cid in San Pedro de Cardena.
Cara tiene de hermosura muy hermosa y colorada; los ojos igual abiertos muy apuesta la su barba Non parece que esta muerto antes vivo semejaba.
Although Miguel de Unamuno was recently condemned to fifteen years' imprisonment for lese majeste for some remark made in an article published in a Valencia paper, no attempt has been made either to make him serve the term or to remove him from the chair of Greek at the University of Salamanca. Which proves something about the efficiency of the stand Giner de los Rios and his friends made fifty years before. Furthermore, at the time of the revolutionary attempt of August, 1917, the removal of Bestiero from his chair caused so many of the faculty to resign and such universal protest that he was reinstated although an actual member of the revolutionary committee and at that time under sentence for life. In 1875 after the fall of the republic it had been in the face of universal popular reaction that the Krausistas founded their free university. The lump is leavened.
But Unamuno. A Basque from the country of Loyola, living in Salamanca in the highest coldest part of the plateau of old Castile, in many senses the opposite of Giner de los Rios, who was austere as a man on a long pleasant walk doesn't overeat or overdrink so that the walk may be longer and pleasanter, while Unamuno is austere religiously, mystically. Giner de los Rios was the champion of life, Unamuno is the champion of death. Here is his creed, one of his creeds, from the preface of the Vida de Don Quijote y Sancho:
"There is no future: there is never a future. This thing they call the future is one of the greatest lies. To-day is the real future. What will we be to-morrow? There is no to-morrow. What about us to-day, now; that is the only question.
"And as for to-day, all these nincompoops are thoroughly satisfied because they exist to-day, mere existence is enough for them. Existence, ordinary naked existence fills their whole soul. They feel nothing beyond existence.
"But do they exist? Really exist? I think not, because if they did exist, if they really existed, existence would be suffering for them and they wouldn't content themselves with it. If they really and truly existed in time and space they would suffer not being of eternity and infinity. And this suffering, this passion, what is it but the passion of God in us? God who suffers in us from our temporariness and finitude, that divine suffering will burst all the puny bonds of logic with which they try to tie down their puny memories and their puny hopes, the illusion of their past and the illusion of their future.
* * * * *
"Your Quixotic madness has made you more than once speak to me of Quixotism as the new religion. And I tell you that this new religion you propose to me, if it hatched, would have two singular merits. One that its founder, its prophet, Don Quixote—not Cervantes—probably wasn't a real man of flesh and blood at all, indeed we suspect that he was pure fiction. And the other merit would be that this prophet was a ridiculous prophet, people's butt and laughing stock.
"What we need most is the valor to face ridicule. Ridicule is the arm of all the miserable barbers, bachelors, parish priests, canons and dukes who keep hidden the sepulchre of the Knight of Madness, Knight who made all the world laugh but never cracked a joke. He had too great a soul to bring forth jokes. They laughed at his seriousness.
"Begin then, friend, to do the Peter the Hermit and call people to join you, to join us, and let us all go win back the sepulchre even if we don't know where it is. The crusade itself will reveal to us the sacred place.
* * * * *
"Start marching! Where are you going? The star will tell you: to the sepulchre! What shall we do on the road while we march? What? Fight! Fight, and how?
"How? If you find a man lying? Shout in his face: 'lie!' and forward! If you find a man stealing, shout: 'thief!' and forward! If you find a man babbling asininities, to whom the crowd listens open-mouthed, shout at them all: 'idiots!' and forward, always forward!
* * * * *
"To the march then! And throw out of the sacred squadron all those who begin to study the step and its length and its rhythm. Above everything, throw out all those who fuss about this business of rhythm. They'll turn the squadron into a quadrille and the march into a dance. Away with them! Let them go off somewhere else to sing the flesh.
"Those who try to turn the squadron on the march into a dancing quadrille call themselves and each other poets. But they're not. They're something else. They only go to the sepulchre out of curiosity, to see what it's like, looking for a new sensation, and to amuse themselves along the road. Away with them!
"It's these that with their indulgence of Bohemians contribute to maintain cowardice and lies and all the weaknesses that flood us. When they preach liberty they only think of one: that of disposing of their neighbor's wife. All is sensuality with them. They even fall in love sensually with ideas, with great ideas. They are incapable of marrying a great and pure idea and breeding a family with it; they only flirt with ideas. They want them as mistresses, sometimes just for the night. Away with them!
"If a man wants to pluck some flower or other along the path that smiles from the fringe of grass, let him pluck it, but without breaking ranks, without dropping out of the squadron of which the leader must always keep his eyes on the flaming sonorous star. But if he put the little flower in the strap above his cuirass, not to look at it himself, but for others to look at, away with him! Let him go with his flower in his buttonhole and dance somewhere else.
"Look, friend, if you want to accomplish your mission and serve your country you must make yourself unpleasant to the sensitive boys who only see the world through the eyes of their sweethearts. Or through something worse. Let your words be strident and rasping in their ears.
"The squadron must only stop at night, near a wood or under the lee of a mountain. There they will pitch their tents and the crusaders will wash their feet, and sup off what their women have prepared, then they will beget a son on them and kiss them and go to sleep to begin the march again the following day. And when someone dies they will leave him on the edge of the road with his armor on him, at the mercy of the crows. Let the dead take the trouble to bury the dead."
Instead of the rationalists and humanists of the North, Unamuno's idols are the mystics and saints and sensualists of Castile, hard stalwart men who walked with God, Loyola, Torquemada, Pizarro, Narvaez, who governed with whips and thumbscrews and drank death down greedily like heady wine. He is excited by the amorous madness of the mysticism of Santa Teresa and San Juan de la Cruz. His religion is paradoxical, unreasonable, of faith alone, full of furious yearning other-worldliness. His style, it follows perforce, is headlong, gruff, redundant, full of tremendous pounding phrases. There is a vigorous angry insistence about his dogmas that makes his essays unforgettable, even if one objects as violently as I do to his asceticism and death-worship. There is an anarchic fury about his crying in the wilderness that will win many a man from the fleshpots and chain gangs.
In the apse of the old cathedral of Salamanca is a fresco of the Last Judgment, perhaps by the Castilian painter Gallegos. Over the retablo on a black ground a tremendous figure of the avenging angel brandishes a sword while behind him unrolls the scroll of the Dies Irae and huddled clusters of plump little naked people fall away into space from under his feet. There are moments in "Del Sentimiento Tragico de la Vida" and in the "Vida de Don Quijote y Sancho" when in the rolling earthy Castilian phrases one can feel the brandishing of the sword of that very angel. Not for nothing does Unamuno live in the rust and saffron-colored town of Salamanca in the midst of bare red hills that bulge against an enormous flat sky in which the clouds look like piles of granite, like floating cathedrals, they are so solid, heavy, ominous. A country where barrenness and the sweep of cold wind and the lash of strong wine have made people's minds ingrow into the hereafter, where the clouds have been tramped by the angry feet of the destroying angel. A Patmos for a new Apocalypse. Unamuno is constantly attacking sturdily those who clamor for the modernization, Europeanization of Spanish life and Spanish thought: he is the counterpoise to the northward-yearning apostles of Giner de los Rios.
In an essay in one of the volumes published by the Residencia de Estudiantes he wrote:
"As can be seen I proceed by what they call arbitrary affirmations, without documentation, without proof, outside of a modern European logic, disdainful of its methods.
"Perhaps. I want no other method than that of passion, and when my breast swells with disgust, repugnance, sympathy or disdain, I let the mouth speak the bitterness of the heart, and let the words come as they come.
"We Spaniards are, they say, arbitrary charlatans, who fill up with rhetoric the gaps in logic, who subtilize with more or less ingenuity, but uselessly, who lack the sense of coherence, with scholastic souls, casuists and all that.
"I've heard similar things said of Augustine, the great African, soul of fire that spilt itself in leaping waves of rhetoric, twistings of the phrase, antithesis, paradoxes and ingenuities. Saint Augustine was a Gongorine and a conceptualist at the same time, which makes me think that Gongorism and conceptualism are the most natural forms of passion and vehemence.
"The great African, the great ancient African! Here is an expression—ancient African—that one can oppose to modern European, and that's worth as much at least. African and ancient were Saint Augustine and Tertullian. And why shouldn't we say: 'We must make ourselves ancient African-style' or else 'We must make ourselves African ancient-style.'"
The typical tree of Castile is the encina, a kind of live-oak that grows low with dense bluish foliage and a ribbed, knotted and contorted trunk; it always grows singly and on dry hills. On the roads one meets lean men with knotted hands and brown sun-wizened faces that seem brothers to the encinas of their country. The thought of Unamuno, emphatic, lonely, contorted, hammered into homely violent phrases, oak-tough, oak-twisted, is brother to the men on the roads and to the encinas on the hills of Castile.
This from the end of "Del Sentimiento Tragico de la Vida":
"And in this critical century, Don Quixote has also contaminated himself with criticism, and he must charge against himself, victim of intellectualism and sentimentalism, who when he is most sincere appears most affected. The poor man wants to rationalize the irrational, and irrationalize the rational. And he falls victim of the inevitable despair of a rationalism century, of which the greatest victims were Tolstoy and Nietzsche. Out of despair he enters into the heroic fury of that Quixote of thought who broke out of the cloister, Giordano Bruno, and makes himself awakener of sleeping souls, 'dormitantium animorum excubitor,' as the ex-Dominican says of himself, he who wrote: 'Heroic love is proper to superior natures called insane—insane, not because they do not know—non sanno—but because they know too much—soprasanno—.'
"But Bruno believed in the triumph of his doctrines, or at least at the foot of his statue on the Campo dei Fiori, opposite the Vatican, they have put that it is offered by the century he had divined—'il secolo da lui divinato.' But our Don Quixote, the resurrected, internal Don Quixote, does not believe that his doctrines will triumph in the world, because they are not his. And it is better that they should not triumph. If they wanted to make Don Quixote king he would retire alone to the hilltop, fleeing the crowds of king-makers and king-killers, as did Christ when, after the miracle of the loaves and fishes, they wanted to proclaim him king. He left the title of king to be put above the cross.
"What is, then, the new mission of Don Quixote in this world? To cry, to cry in the wilderness. For the wilderness hears although men do not hear, and one day will turn into a sonorous wood, and that solitary voice that spreads in the desert like seed will sprout into a gigantic cedar that will sing with a hundred thousand tongues an eternal hosanna to the Lord of life and death."
"Lyaeus, you've found it."
"Her, you mean."
"No, the essence, the gesture."
"I carry no butterfly net."
The sun blazed in a halo of heat about their heads. Both sides of the straight road olive trees contorted gouty trunks as they walked past. On a bank beside a quietly grazing donkey a man was asleep wrapped in a brown blanket. Occasionally a little grey bird twittered encouragingly from the telegraph wires. When the wind came there was a chill of winter and wisps of cloud drifted across the sun and a shiver of silver ran along the olive groves.
"Tel," cried Lyaeus after a pause, "maybe I have found it. Maybe you are right. You should have been with me last night."
"What happened last night?" As a wave of bitter envy swept over him Telemachus saw for a moment the face of his mother Penelope, brows contracted with warning, white hand raised in admonition. For a fleeting second the memory of his quest brushed through the back of his mind. But Lyaeus was talking.
"Nothing much happened. There were a few things.... O this is wonderful." He waved a clenched fist about his head. "The finest people, Tel! You never saw such people, Tel. They gave me a tambourine. Here it is; wait a minute." He placed the bag he carried on his shoulder on top of a milestone and untied its mouth. When he pulled the tambourine out it was full of figs. "Look, pocket these. I taught her to write her name on the back; see, 'Pilar,' She didn't know how to write."
Telemachus involuntarily cleared his throat.
"It was the finest dive ... Part house, part cave. We all roared in and there was the funniest little girl ... Lot of other people, fat women, but my eyes were in a highly selective state. She was very skinny with enormous black eyes, doe's eyes, timid as a dog's. She had a fat pink puppy in her lap."
"But I meant something in line, movement, eternal, not that."
"There are very few gestures," said Lyaeus.
They walked along in silence.
"I am tired," said Lyaeus; "at least let's stop in here. I see a bush over the door."
"Why stop? We are nearly there."
"Why go on?"
"We want to get to Toledo, don't we?"
"Because we started for there."
"No reason at all," said Lyaeus with a laugh as he went in the door of the wineshop.
When they came out they found Don Alonso waiting for them, holding his horse by the bridle.
"The Spartans," he said with a smile, "never drank wine on the march."
"How far are we from Toledo?" asked Telemachus. "It was nice of you to wait for us."
"About a league, five kilometers, nothing.... I wanted to see your faces when you first saw the town. I think you will appreciate it."
"Let's walk fast," said Telemachus. "There are some things one doesn't want to wait for."
"It will be sunset and the whole town will be on the paseo in front of the hospital of San Juan Bautista.... This is Sunday of Carnival; people will be dressed up in masks and very noisy. It's a day on which they play tricks on strangers."
"Here's the trick they played me at the last town," said Lyaeus agitating his bag of figs. "Let's eat some. I'm sure the Spartans ate figs on the road. Will Rosinante,—I mean will your horse eat them?" He put his hand with some figs on it under the horse's mouth. The horse sniffed noisily out of black nostrils dappled with pink and then reached for the figs. Lyaeus wiped his hand on the seat of his pants and they proceeded.
"Toledo is symbolically the soul of Spain," began Don Alonso after a few moments of silent walking. "By that I mean that through the many Spains you have seen and will see is everywhere an undercurrent of fantastic tragedy, Greco on the one hand, Goya on the other, Morales, Gallegos, a great flame of despair amid dust, rags, ulcers, human life rising in a sudden paean out of desolate abandoned dun-colored spaces. To me, Toledo expresses the supreme beauty of that tragic farce.... And the apex, the victory, the deathlessness of it is in El Greco.... How strange it is that it should be that Cypriote who lived in such Venetian state in a great house near the abandoned synagogue, scandalizing us austere Spaniards by the sounds of revelry and unabashed music that came from it at meal-times, making pert sayings under the nose of humorless visitors like Pacheco, living solitary in a country where he remained to his death misunderstood and alien and where two centuries thought of him along with Don Quixote as a madman,—how strange that it should be he who should express most flamingly all that was imperturbable in Toledo.... I have often wondered whether that fiery vitality of spirit that we feel in El Greco, that we felt in my generation when I was young, that I see occasionally in the young men of your time, has become conscious only because it is about to be smothered in the great advancing waves of European banality. I was thinking the other day that perhaps states of life only became conscious once their intensity was waning."
"But most of the intellectuals I met in Madrid," put in Telemachus, "seemed enormously anxious for subways and mechanical progress, seemed to think that existence could be made perfect by slot-machines."
"They are anxious to hold stock in the subway and slot-machine enterprises that they may have more money to unSpanish themselves in Paris ... but let us not talk of that. From the next turn in the road, round that little hill, we shall see Toledo."
Don Alonso jumped on his horse, and Lyaeus and Telemachus doubled the speed of their stride.
First above the bulge of reddish saffron striped with dark of a plowed field they saw a weathercock, then under it the slate cap of a tower. "The Alcazar," said Don Alonso. The road turned away and olive trees hid the weathercock. At the next bend the towers were four, strongly buttressing a square building where on the western windows glinted reflections of sunset. As they walked more towers, dust colored, and domes and the spire of a cathedral, greenish, spiky like the tail of a pickerel, jutted to the right of the citadel. The road dipped again, passed some white houses where children sat in the doorways; from the inner rooms came a sound of frying oil and a pungence of cistus-twigs burning. Starting up the next rise that skirted a slope planted with almond trees they caught sight of a castle, rounded towers, built of rough grey stone, joined by crenellated walls that appeared occasionally behind the erratic lacework of angular twigs on which here and there a cluster of pink flowers had already come into bloom. At the summit was a wineshop with mules tethered against the walls, and below the Tagus and the great bridge, and Toledo.
Against the grey and ochre-streaked theatre of the Cigarrales were piled masses of buttressed wall that caught the orange sunset light on many tall plane surfaces rising into crenellations and square towers and domes and slate-capped spires above a litter of yellowish tile roofs that fell away in terraces from the highest points and sloped outside the walls towards the river and the piers from which sprang the enormous arch of the bridge. The shadows were blue-green and violet. A pale cobalt haze of supperfires hung over the quarters near the river. As they started down the hill towards the heavy pile of San Juan Bautista, that stood under its broad tiled dome outside the nearest gate, a great volley of bell-ringing swung about their ears. A donkey brayed; there was a sound of shouting from the town.
"Here we are, gentlemen, I'll look for you to-morrow at the fonda," shouted Don Alonso. He took off his hat and galloped towards the gate, leaving Telemachus and Lyaeus standing by the roadside looking out over the city.
* * * * *
Beyond the zinc bar was an irregular room with Nile-green walls into which light still filtered through three little round arches high up on one side. In a corner were some hogsheads of wine, in another small tables with three-legged stools. From outside came the distant braying of a brass band and racket of a street full of people, laughter, and the occasional shivering jangle of a tambourine. Lyaeus had dropped onto a stool and spread his feet out before him on the tiled floor.
"Never walked so far in my life," he said, "my toes are pulverized, pulverized!" He leaned over and pulled off his shoes. There were holes in his socks. He pulled them off in turn, and started wiggling his toes meditatively. His ankles were grimed with dust.
"Well...." began Telemachus.
The padron, a lean man with moustaches and a fancy yellow vest which he wore unbuttoned over a lavender shirt, brought two glasses of dense black wine.
"You have walked a long way?" he asked, looking with interest at Lyaeus' feet.
"Not all in one day."
"You are sailors going to rejoin your ship in Sevilla." The padron looked from one to another with a knowing expression, twisting his mouth so that one of the points of his moustache slanted towards the ceiling and the other towards the floor.
Another man drew up his chair to their table, first taking off his wide cap and saying gravely: "Con permiso de ustedes." His broad, slightly flabby face was very pale; the eyes under his sparse blonde eyelashes were large and grey. He put his two hands on their shoulders so as to draw their heads together and said in a whisper:
"You aren't deserters, are you?"
"I hoped you were. I might have helped you. I escaped from prison in Barcelona a week ago. I am a syndicalist."
"Have a drink," cried Lyaeus. "Another glass.... And we can let you have some money if you need it, too, if you want to get out of the country."
The padron brought the wine and retired discreetly to a chair beside the bar from which he beamed at them with almost religious approbation.
"You are comrades?"
"Of those who break out," said Lyaeus flushing. "What about the progress of events? When do you think the pot will boil over?"
"Soon or never," said the syndicalist.... "That is never in our lifetime. We are being buried under industrialism like the rest of Europe. Our people, our comrades even, are fast getting the bourgeois mentality. There is danger that we shall lose everything we have fought for.... You see, if we could only have captured the means of production when the system was young and weak, we could have developed it slowly for our benefit, made the machine the slave of man. Every day we wait makes it more difficult. It is a race as to whether this peninsula will be captured by communism or capitalism. It is still neither one nor the other, in its soul." He thumped his clenched fist against his chest.
"How long were you in prison?"
"Only a month this time, but if they catch me it will be bad. They won't catch me."
He spoke quietly without gestures, occasionally rolling an unlit cigarette between his brown fingers.
"Hadn't we better go out before it gets quite dark?" said Telemachus.
"When shall I see you again?" said Lyaeus to the syndicalist.
"Oh, we'll meet if you stay in Toledo a few days...."
Lyaeus got to his feet and took the man by the arm.
"Look, let me give you some money; won't you be wanting to go to Portugal?"
The man flushed and shook his head.
"If our opinions coincided...."
"I agree with all those who break out," said Lyaeus.
"That's not the same, my friend."
They shook hands and Telemachus and Lyaeus went out of the tavern.
Two carriages hung with gaudily embroidered shawls, full of dominos and pierrots and harlequins who threw handfuls of confetti at people along the sidewalks, clattered into town through the dark arches of the gate. Telemachus got some confetti in his mouth. A crowd of little children danced about him jeering as he stood spluttering on the curbstone. Lyaeus took him by the arm and drew him along the street after the carriages, bent double with laughter. This irritated Telemachus who tore his arm away suddenly and made off with long strides up a dark street.
* * * * *
A half-waned moon shone through the perforations in a round terra-cotta chimney into the street's angular greenish shadow. From somewhere came the seethe of water over a dam. Telemachus was leaning against a damp wall, tired and exultant, looking vaguely at the oval of a woman's face half surmised behind the bars of an upper window, when he heard a clatter of unsteady feet on the cobbles and Lyaeus appeared, reeling a little, his lips moist, his eyebrows raised in an expression of drunken jollity.
"Lyaeus, I am very happy," cried Telemachus stepping forward to meet his friend. "Walking about here in these empty zigzag streets I have suddenly felt familiar with it all, as if it were a part of me, as if I had soaked up some essence out of it."
"Silly that about essences, gestures, Tel, silly.... Awake all you need." Lyaeus stood on a little worn stone that kept wheels off the corner of the house where the street turned and waved his arms. "Awake! Dormitant animorum excubitor.... That's not right. Latin's no good. Means a fellow who says: 'wake up, you son of a gun.'"
"Oh, you're drunk. It's much more important than that. It's like learning to swim. For a long time you flounder about, it's unpleasant and gets up your nose and you choke. Then all at once you are swimming like a duck. That's how I feel about all this.... The challenge was that woman in Madrid, dancing, dancing...."
"Tel, there are things too good to talk about.... Look, I'm like St. Simeon Stylites." Lyaeus lifted one leg, then the other, waving his arms like a tight-rope walker.
"When I left you I walked out over the other bridge, the bridge of St. Martin and climbed...."
"Shut up, I think I hear a girl giggling up in the window there."
Lyaeus stood up very straight on his column and threw a kiss up into the darkness. The giggling turned to a shrill laughter; a head craned out from a window opposite. Lyaeus beckoned with both hands.
"Never mind about them.... Look out, somebody threw something.... Oh, it's an orange.... I want to tell you how I felt the gesture. I had climbed up on one of the hills of the Cigarrales and was looking at the silhouette of the town so black against the stormy marbled sky. The moon hadn't risen yet.... Let's move away from here."
"Ven, flor de mi corazon," shouted Lyaeus towards the upper window.
"A flock of goats was passing on the road below, and from somewhere came the tremendous lilt of...."
"Heads!" cried Lyaeus throwing himself round an angle in the wall.
Telemachus looked up, his mind full of his mother Penelope's voice saying reproachfully:
"You might have been murdered in that dark alley." A girl was leaning from the window, shaken with laughter, taking aim with a bucket she swung with both hands.
"Stop," cried Telemachus, "it's the other...."
As he spoke a column of cold water struck his head, knocked his breath out, drenched him.
"Speaking of gestures...." whispered Lyaeus breathlessly from the doorway where he was crouching, and the street was filled with uncontrollable shrieking laughter.