Philip Ii. Of Spain

By CHARLES GAYARRÉ, Author of “The History of Louisiana under the French, Spanish, and American Domination,” etc., etc. With an Introductory Letter, by GEORGE BANCROFT. New York : W. J. Widdleton.
FOR no reason that we can very satisfactorily explain, we have read this odd book quite through ; and at the end we are in doubt whether Mr. Gayarré, who is of Spanish extraction, wrote the work in the extravagant and curious English it now wears, or whether he produced it in Spanish, and has been too literally translated. It is certainly as individual in expression as in conception, and is scarcely to be compared with other histories in any way. Indeed, the author himself declares that it is rather a biography of Philip than a chronicle of his reign, and deals with events chiefly as they concern the development of his character.
The work opens with a picture of the hideous corporeal decay into which Philip fell before death, and dwells with revolting fidelity upon the facts of his loathsome and terrible malady. The author thereafter proceeds to study his subject in the acts of his private and public life, confining himself mainly to the consideration of demeanor and policy immediately affecting Spaniards. The persecution of the Protestants in the Netherlands is scarcely more than collaterally mentioned, and the cruel war for the destruction of the Moriscos does not receive much greater attention. But the violent subversion of the Aragonese liberties and the no less insolent and deliberate though tacit reduction of the Castilian Cortes to legislative nonentity, occupy the author in four out of the ten chapters of his book, and interest his reader more than all the rest. In fact, the whole story of Philip’s minister, Antonio Perez, is a fascinating episode, though we follow the brilliant, unprincipled, and unhappy adventurer with much the same sort of interest that we feel in the fortunes of Lazarillo de Tormes, or any other picaresque hero. Mr. Gayarré has done well to give so much space to this episode; for it seems to us that nothing else could have so well illustrated the character of Philip and of Philip’s Spain as such an absurd and gloomy tragedy. Aragon actually enjoyed a degree of liberty till the favorite of the morose king intrigued with Philip’s reputed mistress, and, after incurring his displeasure, and suffering his dilatory but not the less unrelenting persecution, escaped from Madrid to Aragon, where, as a native of that kingdom, he claimed the protection of her privileges, stirred up the people to revolt against Philip’s assumptions, successfully defied his government and the Inquisition, and at last fled to France, leaving the Aragonese and their ancient rights to the annihilating resentment of the king. The trial of Perez lasted near half a score of years, moving or halting as it seemed possible or not to destroy him together with the secrets of Philip which he held. To Mr. Gayarré’s volume we must refer the reader for the extraordinary events of the trial. An unworthier rogue than Perez seems never to have precipitated the disasters of a generous people ; and at no time in history does any people seem to have lost its liberty more entirely from want of patriotic and courageous leadership.
This want could scarcely have occurred through indifference of the former governing classes to the interests of the country, but rather through a blind and unreasoning devotion to the king. Philip could ruin Aragon and ruin Spain, not because the Spaniards had lost their manhood, but because their loyalty had outgrown their manhood. It is pathetic to read in Mr. Gayarré’s book how faithfully the Cortes strove in vain for the passage of laws favoring industry and equity and at least material progress, and how unfailingly and remorselessly Philip snubbed them into inaction and despair. The story would have been more impressive if it had been told with more succinctness ; but the reader is nevertheless made to understand the situation and the fact that no one but Philip, who was Spanish in everything that was bad, and Spanish in nothing that was good, could have annulled Spain. He came, like George III., a native prince succeeding a foreign-born ruler, and sympathizing with all that was stupid and arbitrary and mean in his countrymen ; and he was only more destructive to Spain than George was to England, because Spain was Catholic and England was Protestant.
We cannot say that Mr. Gayarré has placed Philip’s character in a new light, or developed it with very powerful effect; but he has made an interesting book, and in some respects a valuable one. It is all the more interesting in its enthusiastic hatred of Philip and the Inquisition, from the fact of the author’s Spanish race and ancestral religion.
The work was written, we are told, during the late war of the Rebellion, to beguile the anxieties of the time ; and we could wish that a greater number of persons in the seceding States had employed their painful leisure so harmlessly to themselves, and so usefully to others. As it is, this is the only book produced south of Mason and Dixon’s line, within the last six years, which deserves notice. It deserves more than this, perhaps, as the first contribution from the South to those historical studies in which American scholars have distinguished themselves.