By-Ways of Europe: From Perpignan to Montserrat
“OUT of France and into Spain,” says the old nursery rhyme ; but at the eastern base of the Pyrenees one seems to have entered Spain before leaving France. The rich vine-plains of Roussillon once belonged to the former country; they retain quite as distinct traces of the earlier Moorish occupancy, and their people speak a dialect almost identical with that of Catalonia. I do not remember the old boundaries of the province, but I noticed the change immediately after leaving Narbonne. Vine-green, with the grays of olive and rock, were the only colors of the landscape. The tower, massive and perched upon elevations, spoke of assault and defence ; the laborers in the fields were brown, dark-haired, and grave, and the semiAfrican silence of Spain seemed already to brood over the land.
I entered Perpignan under a heavy Moorish gateway, and made my way to a hostel through narrow, tortuous streets, between houses with projecting balconies, and windows few and small, as in the Orient. The hostel, though ambitiously calling itself an hotel, was filled with that Mediterranean atmosphere and odor which you breathe everywhere in Italy and the Levant,— a single characteristic flavor, in which, nevertheless, you fancy you detect the exhalations of garlic, oranges, horses, cheese, and oil. A mild whiff of it stimulates the imagination, and is no detriment to physical comfort. When, at breakfast, red mullet came upon the table, and oranges fresh from the tree, I straightway took off my Northern nature as a garment, folded it and packed it neatly away in my knapsack, and took out, in its stead, the light beribboned and bespangled Southern nature, which I had not worn for some eight or nine years. It was like a dressing-gown after a dress-coat, and I went about with a delightfully free play of the mental and moral joints.
There were four hours before the departure of the diligence for Spain, and I presume I might have seen various historical or architectural sights of Perpignan ; but I was really too comfortable for anything else than a lazy meandering about the city, feeding my eyes on quaint houses, groups of people full of noise and gesture, the scarlet blossoms of the pomegranate, and the glitter of citron-leaves in the gardens. A one-legged fellow, seven feet high, who called himself a cominissionnaire, insisted on accompanying me, and I finally accepted him, for two reasons ; — first, he knew nothing whatever about the city; and secondly, tourists are so rare that he must have been very poor. His wooden leg, moreover, easily kept pace with my loitering steps, and though, as a matter of conscience, he sometimes volunteered a little information, he took my silence meekly and without offence. In this wise, I gained some pleasant pictures of the place ; and the pictures which come with least effort are those which remain freshest in memory.
There was one point, however, where my limping giant made a stand, and set his will against expostulation or entreaty. I must see the avenue of sycamores, he said ; there was plenty of time ; France, the world, had no such avenue ; it was near at hand; every stranger went to sec it and was amazed ; — and therewith he set off, without waiting for my answer. I followed, for I saw that otherwise he would not have considered his fee earned. The avenue of sycamores was indeed all that he had promised. I had seen larger trees in Syria and Negropont, but here was a triple avenue, nearly half a mile in length, so trained and sculptured that they rivalled the regularity of masonry. Each trunk, at the height of ten or twelve feet, divided into two arms, which then leaned outwards at the same angle, and mingled their smaller boughs, fifty feet overhead. The aisles between them thus took the form of very slender pyramids, truncated near the top. If the elm gives the Gothic, this was assuredly the Cyclopean arch. In the beginning, the effect must have been artificially produced, but the trees were now so old, and had so accustomed themselves to the forms imposed, that no impression of force or restraint remained. Through the roof of this superb green minster not a beam of sunshine found its way. On the hard gravel floor groups of peasants, soldiers, nurses, and children strolled up and down, all with the careless and leisurely air of a region where time has no particular value.
We passed a dark-haired and rather handsome gentleman and lady. “ They are opera-singers, Italians,” said my companion, “ and they are going with you in the diligence.” I looked at my watch and found that the hour of departure had nearly arrived, and I should have barely time to procure a little Spanish money. When I reached the office, the gentleman and lady were already installed in the two corners of the coupé. My place, apparently, was between them. The agent was politely handing me up the steps, when the gentleman began to remonstrate ; but in France the regulations are rigid, and he presently saw that the intrusion could not be prevented. With a sigh and a groan he gave up his comfortable corner to me, and took the middle seat, for which I was booked ! “ Will you have your place?” whispered the agent. I shook my head. “You get the best seat, don’t you see ? ” he resumed, “ because —” But the rest of the sentence was a wink and a laugh. I am sure there is the least possible of the Don Juan in my appearance; yet this agent never lost an opportunity to wink at me whenever he came near the diligence, and I fancied I heard him humming to himself, as we drove away, —
I endeavored to be reasonably courteous, without familiarity, towards the opera-singers, but the effect of the malicious winks and smiles made the lady appear to me timid and oppressed, and the gentleman an unexploded mine of jealousy. My remarks were civilly if briefly answered, and then they turned towards each other and began conversing in a language which was not Italian, although melodious, nor French, although nasal. I pricked up my ears and listened more sharply than good manners allowed, — but only until I had recognized the Portuguese tongue. Whomsoever I may meet, in wandering over the world, it rarely happens that I cannot discover some common or “mutual” friend, and in this instance I determined to try the experiment. After preliminaries, which gently led the conversation to Portugal, I asked: —
“ Do you happen to know Count M-?”
“ Only by name.”
“ Or Senhor O-, a young man and an astronomer ? ”
“Very well!” was the reply. “He is one of the most distinguished young men of science in Portugal.”
The ice was thereupon broken, and the gentleman became communicative and agreeable. I saw, very soon, that the pair were no more opera-singers than they were Italians ; that the lady was not timid, nor her husband jealous ; but he had simply preferred, as any respectable husband would, to give up his comfortable seat rather than have a stranger thrust between himself and his wife.
Once out of Perpignan, the Pyrenees lay clear before us. Over bare red hills, near at hand, rose a gray mountain rampart, neither lofty nor formidable ; but westward, between the valleys of the Tech and the Tet, towered the solitary pyramid of the Canigou, streaked with snow-filled ravines. The landscapes would have appeared bleak and melancholy, but for the riotous growth of vines which cover the plain and climb the hillsides wherever there is room for a terrace of earth. These vines produce the dark, rich wine of Roussillon, the best vintage of Southern France. Hedges of aloes, clumps of Southern cypress, poplars by the drybeds of winter streams, with brown tints in the houses and red in the soil, increased the resemblance to Spain. Rough fellows, in rusty velvet, who now and then dug their dangling heels into the sides of the mules or asses they rode, were enough like arrieros or contrabandistas to be the real article. Our stout and friendly coachman, even, was hailed by the name of Moreno, and spoke French with a foreign accent.
At the post-station of Le Boulou, we left the plain of Roussillon behind us. At this end of the Pyrenean chain there are no such trumpetnames as Roncesvalles, Fontarabia, and the Bidassoa. Hannibal, Caesar, Charlemagne, and the Saracens have marched through these defiles, and left no grand historic footprint, but they will always keep the interest which belongs to those natural barriers and division walls whereby races and histories were once separated. It was enough for me that here were the Pyrenees, and I looked forward, perhaps, with a keener curiosity, to the character and forms of their scenery, than to the sentiment which any historic association could produce. A broad and perfect highway led us through shallow valleys, whose rocky sides were hung with rows of olive-trees, into wilder and more abrupt dells, where vegetation engaged in a struggle with stone, and without man’s help would have been driven from the field. Over us the mountains lifted themselves in bold bastions and parapets, disforested now, if those gray upper plateaus ever bore forests, and of a uniform slaty-gray in tone, except where reddish patches of oxidation showed like the rust of age.
But, like “ all waste and solitary places,” the scenery had its own peculiar charm. Poussin and Salvator Rosa would have seated themselves afresh at every twist of the glen, and sketched the new picture which it unfolded. The huge rocks, fallen from above, or shattered in the original upheaval of the chain, presented a thousand sharp, forcible outlines and ragged facets of shadow, and the two native growths of the Pyrenees — box and cork-oak — fringed them as thickets or overhung them as trees, in the wildest and most picturesque combinations. Indeed, during tins portion of the journey, I saw scores of sketches waiting for the selected artist who has not yet come for them, — sketches full of strength and beauty, and with a harmony of color as simple as the chord of triple tones in music. When to their dark grays and greens came the scarlet Phrygian cap of the Catalonian, it was brighter than sunshine.
The French fortress of Bellegarde, crowning a drum-shaped mass of rock, which blocked up the narrow valley in front, announced our approach to the Spanish frontier. The road wound back and forth as it climbed through a stony wilderness to the mouth of a gorge under the fortress, and I saw, before we entered this last gateway into Spain, the peak of the Canigou touched with sunset, and the sweep of plain beyond it black under the shadow of storm-clouds. On either side were some heaps of stone, left from forts and chapels of the Middle Ages, indicating that we had already reached the summit of the pass, which is less than a thousand feet above the sea-level. In ten minutes the gorge opened, and we found ourselves suddenly rattling along the one street of the gay French village of Perthus. Officers from Bellegarde sat at the table in front of the smart café and drank absinthe ; soldiers in red trousers chatted with the lively women who sold tobacco and groceries; there were trees, little gardens, arbors of vine, and the valley opened southwards, descending and broadening towards a cloudless evening sky.
At the end of the village I saw a granite pyramid, with the single word “Gallia” engraved upon it; a few paces farther two marble posts bore the halfobliterated arms of Spain. Here the diligence paused a moment, and an officer of customs took his seat beside the coachman. The telegraph-pole behind us was of barked pine, the next one in front was painted gray; the vente de tabac became estanco nacional, and the only overlapping of the two nationalities which I observed — all things else being suddenly and sharply divided — was that some awkward and dusty Spanish soldiers were walking up the street of Perthus, and some trim, jaunty French soldiers were walking down the road, towards the first Spanish wine-shop. We also went down, and swiftly, in the falling twilight, through which, erelong, gardens and fields began to glimmer, and in half an hour drew up in the little Spanish town of La Junquera, the ancient “place of rushes.” Here there was a rapid and courteous examination of baggage, a call for passports, which were opened and then handed back to us without visé or fee being demanded, and we were declared free to journey in Spain. Verily, the world is becoming civilized, when Spain, the moral satrapy of Rome, begins to pull down her barriers and let the stranger in !
I inspected our “ insides,” as they issued forth, and found, in addition to a priest and three or four commercial individuals with a contraband air, a young French naval officer, and an old German who was too practical for a professor and too stubborn in his views to be anything else. He had made fifteen journeys to Switzerland, he informed me, knew Scotland from the Cheviots to John o’ Groat’s, and now proposed the conquest of Spain. Here Moreno summoned us to our places, and the diligence rolled onward. Past groups of Catalans, in sandals and scarlet bonnets, returning from the harvest fields ; past stacks of dusky grain and shadowy olive-orchards; past open, houses, where a single lamp sometimes flashed upon a woman’s head ; past a bonfire, turning the cork-trees into transparent bronze, and past the sound of water, plunging under the idle millwheel, in the cool, delicious summer air,—we journeyed on. The stars were beginning to gather in the sky, when, square towers and masses of cubic houses rose against them, and the steady roll of our wheels on the smooth highway became a dreadful clatter on the rough cobble-stones of Figueras.
The Pyrenees were already behind us ; the town overlooks a wide, marshy plain. But the mountains make their vicinity felt in a peculiar manner. The north-wind, gathered into the low pass of Bellegarde and drawn to a focus of strength, blows down the opening valley with a force which sometimes lays an embargo on travel. Diligences are overturned, postilions blown out of their saddles, and pedestrians carried off their feet. The people then pray to their saints that the tramontana may cease ; but, on the other hand, as it is a very healthy wind, sweeping away the feverish exhalations from the marshy soil, they get up a grand annual procession to some mountain-shrine of the Virgin, and pray that it may blow. So, when the Virgin takes them at their word, the saints are invoked on the other side, and the wonder is that both parties don’t get out of patience with the people of Figueras.
The diligence drew up at the door of a fonda, and Moreno announced that we were to take supper and wait until midnight. This was welcome news to all ; but the old German drew me aside as we entered the house, and whispered, “ Now our stomachs are going to be tried.” “ Not at all,” I answered, “ we shall find very good provender.” “ But the guide-book says it is very bad,” he persisted. And he looked despondent, even with a clean table-cloth and a crisp roll of bread before him, until the soup steamed under his nose. His face brightened at the odor, grew radiant at the flavor, and long before we reached the roast pullet and salad he expressed his satisfaction with Spanish cookery. With the dessert came a vino rancio, full of summer fire, and the tongues of the company were loosened. From the weather and the Paris Exposition we leaped boldly into politics, and, being on Spanish soil, discussed France and the Mexican business. The French officer was silent and annoyed : he was a pleasant fellow, and I, for one, had a little sympathy with his annoyance, but I could not help saying that all Americans (except the Rev.-) considered the action of France as an outrage and an impertinence, and were satisfied with her miserable failure. The Spanish passengers nodded and smiled.
I should not have spoken, had I foreseen one consequence of my words. The German snatched the reins of conversation out of our hands, and dashed off at full speed, trampling France and her ruler under his feet. At the first pause, I said to him, in German: “ Pray don’t be so violent in your expressions,—the gentleman beside me is a naval officer.” But he answered : “ I don’t care,— I must speak my mind, which I could not do in Paris. France has been the curse of Spain, as well as of all Europe, and there will be no peace until we put a stop to her pretensions ! ” Thereupon he said the same thing to the company; but the Spaniards were too politic to acquiesce openly. The officer replied, “ France has not injured Spain, but, on the contrary, has protected her! ” and he evidently had not the slightest suspicion that there was anything offensive in his words. The Spaniards still remained silent, but another expression came into their eyes. It was time to change the subject ; so the principle of non-intervention, in its fullest, most literal sense, was proposed and accepted. A grave Majorcan gentleman distributed cigars ; his daughter, with her soft, melodious voice, was oil to the troubled waters, and before midnight we were all equally courteous and cosmopolitan.
Of the four ensuing hours I can give no account. Neither asleep nor awake, hearing with closed eyes, or seeing with half-closed senses, one can never afterwards distinguish between what is seen and what is dreamed. This is a state in which the body may possibly obtain some rest, but the mind becomes inexpressibly fatigued. One’s memory of it is a blurred sketch, a faded daguerreotype. I welcomed that hour when
While the morning doth unfold,”
for it blew away this film, which usurped the place of the blessed mantle of sleep. Chill, even here in African Spain, where the pale pearl of the dawn foretold a burning noon, and where, in May, the harvests were already reaped, the morning brightened; but we were near the end of the journey. At sunrise, the towers of Giron stood fast and firm over the misty level of the shimmering olive-groves; then the huge dull mass of the cathedral, the walls and bastions of the hill-forts, which resisted a siege of seven months during the Peninsular war, and finally the monotonous streets of the lower town, through which we drove.
The industrious Catalans were already awake and stirring. Smokes from domestic hearths warmed the cool morning air; cheerful noises of men, animals, and fowls broke the silence; doors were open as we entered the town, and the women were combing and twisting their black hair in the shadows within. At the post some brown grooms lounged about the door. A priest passed,— a genuine Don Basilio, in inky gown and shovel-hat; and these graceless grooms looked after him, thrust their tongues into their cheeks, and made an irreverent grimace. The agent at Perpignan came into my mind; I winked at the fellows, without any clear idea wherefore, but it must have expressed something, for they burst into a laugh and repeated the grimace.
The lower town seemed to be of immense length. Once out of it, a superb avenue of plane-trees received us, at the end of which was the railway-station. In another hour the train would leave for Barcelona. Our trunks must be again examined. When I asked the reason why this annoying regulation, obsolete elsewhere in Europe, is here retained, the Spaniards gravely informed me that, if it were abolished, a great many people would be thrown out of employment. Not that they get much pay for the examination, — but they are constantly bribed not to examine ! There was a café attached to the station, and I advised my fellow-passengers to take a cup of the delicious ropy chocolate of Spain, after which one accepts the inevitable more patiently.
I found the landscapes from Giron to Barcelona very bright and beautiful. Our locomotive had fallen into the national habit: it was stately and deliberate, it could not be hurried, its very whistle was subdued and dignified. We went forward at an easy pace, making about fifteen miles an hour, which enabled me to notice the patient industry of the people, as manifested on every plain and hillside. The Catalans are called rough and ungraceful ; beside the sprightly Andalusians they seem cold and repellent; they have less of that blue blood which makes the beggar as proud as the grandee, but they possess the virtue of labor, which, however our artistic tastes may undervalue it, is the basis from which all good must spring. When I saw how the red and rocky hills were turned into garden-terraces, how the olive-trees were pruned into health and productiveness, how the wheat stood so thick that it rolled but stiffly under the breeze, I forgot the jaunty majos of Seville, and gave my hearty admiration to the strong-backed reapers in the fields of Catalonia.
The passengers we took up on the way, though belonging to the better class, and speaking Spanish whenever it was necessary, all seemed to prefer the popular dialect. Proprietors of estates and elegant young ladies conversed together in the rough patois of the peasants, which to me was especially tantalizing, because it sounded so familiar, and yet was so unintelligible. It is in reality the old langue limousine of France, kindred to the Provencal, and differs very slightly from the dialect spoken on the other side of the Pyrenees. It is terse, forcible, and expressive, and I must confess that the lisping Spanish, beside it, seems to gain in melody at the expense of strength.
We approached Barcelona across the wide plain of the Llobregat, where orange-gardens and factory chimneys, fountains “I’ the midst of roses” and machine-shops full of grimy workmen, succeed each other in a curious tangle of poetry and greasy fact. The Mediterranean gleams in a blue line on the left, the citadel of Montjoi crowns a bluff in front; but the level city hides itself behind the foliage of the plain, and is not seen. At the station you wait half an hour, until the baggage is again deposited on the dissecting-tables of the customs officers ; and here, if, instead of joining the crowd of unhappy murmurers in the anteroom, you take your station in the doorway, looking down upon porters, pedlers, idlers, and policemen, you are sure to be diverted by a little comedy acted in pantomime. An outside porter has in some way interfered with the rights of a stationporter; a policeman steps between the two, the latter of whom, lifting both hands to heaven in a wild appeal, brings them down swiftly and thrusts them out before him, as if descending to earthly justice. The outsider goes through the same gestures, and then both, with flashing eyes and open mouths, teeth glittering under the drawn lips, await the decision. The policeman first makes a sabre-cut with his right arm, then with his left; then also lifts his hands to heaven, shakes them there a moment, and, turning as he brings them down, faces the outside porter. The latter utters a passionate cry, and his arms begin to rise ; but he is seized by the shoulder and turned aside ; the crowd closes in, and the comedy is over.
We have a faint interest in Barcelona for the sake of Columbus ; but, apart from this one association, we set it down beside Manchester, Lowell, and other manufacturing cities. It was so crowded within its former walls, that little space was left for architectural display. In many of the streets I doubt whether four persons could walk abreast. Only in the Rambla, a broad central boulevard, is there any chance for air and sunshine, and all the leisure and pleasure of the city is poured into this one avenue. Since the useless walls have been removed, an ambitious modern suburb is springing up on the west, and there will in time be a new city better than the old.
This region appears to be the headquarters of political discontent in Spain, — probably because the people get to be more sensible of the misrule under which they languish, in proportion as they become more active and industrious. Nothing could have been more peaceable upon the surface than the aspect of things ; the local newspapers never reported any disturbance, yet intelligence of trouble in Catalonia was circulating through the rest of Europe, and something — I could not ascertain precisely what it was — took place during my brief visit. The telegraph-wires were cut, and some hundreds of soldiers were sent into the country; but the matter was never mentioned, unless two persons whom I saw whispering together in the darkest corner of a café were discussing it. I believe, if a battle had been fought within hearing of the cannon, the Barcelonese would have gone about the streets with the same placid, unconcerned faces. Whether this was cunning, phlegm, or the ascendency of solid material interests over the fiery, impulsive nature of the Spaniard, was not clear to a passing observer. In either case it was a prudent course.
If, in the darkened streets—or rather lanes — of Barcelona, I saw some suggestive pictures ; if the court-yard of the cathedral, with its fountains and orange-trees, seemed a thousand miles removed from the trade and manufacture of the city ; if the issuing into sunshine on the mole was like a blow in the eyes, to which the sapphire bloom of the Mediterranean became a healing balm ; and if the Rambla, towards evening, changed into a shifting diorama of color and cheerful life,—none of these things inclined me to remain longer than the preparation for my further journey required. Before reaching the city, I had caught a glimpse, far up the valley of the Llobregat, of a high, curiously serrated mountain, and that old book of the “ Wonders of the World,” (now, alas ! driven from the library of childhood,) opened its pages and showed its rough woodcuts, in memory, to tell me what the mountain was. How many times has that wonderful book been the chief charm of my travels, causing me to forget Sulpicius on the Ægean Sea, Byron in Italy, and Humboldt in Mexico !
To those who live in Barcelona, Montserrat has become a commonplace, the resort of Sunday excursions and picnics, one fourth devotional, and three fourths epicurean. Wild, mysterious, almost inaccessible as it stands in one’s fancy, it sinks at this distance into the very material atmosphere of railroad and omnibus ; but, for all that, we are not going to give it up. though another “Wonder of the World” should go by the board. Take the Tarragona train then with me, on a cloudless afternoon. In a few minutes the scattered suburban blocks are left behind, and we enter the belt of villas, with their fountained terraces and tropical gardens. More and more the dark red earth shows through the thin foliage of the olives, as the hills draw nearer, and it finally gives color to the landscapes. The vines covering the levels and lower slopes are wonderfully luxuriant; but we can see how carefully they are cultivated. Hedges of aloe and cactus divide them ; here and there some underground cavern has tumbled in, lettingdown irregular tracts of soil, and the vines still flourish at the bottom of the pits thus made. As the plain shrinks to a valley, the hills on either side ascend into rounded summits, which begin to be dark with pine forests ; villages with square, brown churchtowers perch on the lower heights ; cotton-mills draw into their service the scanty waters of the river, and the appearance of cheerful, thrifty labor increases as the country becomes rougher.
All this time the serrated mountain is drawing nearer, and breaking into a wilder confusion of pinnacles. It stands alone, planted across the base of a triangular tract of open country, — a strange, solitary, exiled peak, drifted away in the beginning of things from its brethren of the Pyrenees, and stranded in a different geological period. This circumstance must have long ago impressed the inhabitants of the region,—even in the ante-historic ages. When Christianity rendered a new set of traditions necessary, the story arose that the mountain was so split and shattered at the moment when Christ breathed his last on the cross of Calvary. This is still the popular belief; but the singular formation of Montserrat, independent of it, was sufficient to fix the anchoretic tastes of the early Christians. It is set apart by Nature, not only towering above all the surrounding heights, but drawing itself haughtily away from contact with them, as if conscious of its earlier origin.
At the station of Martorel I left the train, and took a coach which was in waiting for the village of Collbató, at the southern base of the mountain. My companion in the coupé was a young cotton-manufacturer, who assured me that in Spain the sky and soil were good, but the entresol (namely, the human race) was bad. The interior was crowded with country women, each of whom seemed to have four large baskets. I watched the driver for half an hour attempting to light a broken cigar, and then rewarded his astonishing patience with a fresh one, whereby we became good friends. Such a peaceful light lay upon the landscape, the people were so cheerful, the laborers worked so quietly in the vineyards, that the thought of a political disturbance the day before seemed very absurd. The olive-trees, which clothed the hills wherever their bony roots could find the least lodgement of soil, were of remarkably healthy and vigorous growth, and the regular cubic form into which they were pruned marked the climbing terraces with long lines of gray light, as the sun slanted across them.
“You see,” said the Spaniard, as I noticed this peculiarity, “the entresol is a little better in this neighborhood than elsewhere in Spain. The people cut the trees into this shape in order that they may become more compact and produce better; besides which, the fruit is more easily gathered. In all those orchards you will not find a decayed or an unhealthy tree ; they are dug up and burned, and young ones planted in their place.”
At the village of Esparaguerra the other passengers left, and I went on towards Collbató alone. But I had Montserrat for company, towering more grandly, more brokenly, from minute to minute. Every change in the foreground gave me a new picture. Now it was a clump of olives with twisted trunks; now an aloe, lifting its giant candelabrum of blossoms from the edge of a rock ; now a bank of dull vermilion earth, upon which goats were hanging. The upper spires of the mountain disappeared behind its basal buttresses of gray rock, a thousand feet in perpendicular height, and the sinking sun, as it crept westward, edged these with sharp lines of light. Up, under the tremendous cliffs, and already in shadow, lay Collbato, and I was presently set down at the gate of the posada.
Don Pedro, the host, came forward to meet and welcome me, and his pretty daughter, sitting on the steps, rose up and dropped a salute. In the entrance hall I read, painted in large letters on the wall, the words of St. Augustine : “ In necessariis unitas; in dubiis libertas ; in omnibus, caritas.” (If these sayings are not St. Augustine’s, somebody will be sure to correct me.) Verily, thought I, Don Pedro must be a character. I had no sooner comfortably seated myself in the doorway to contemplate the exquisite evening landscape, which the Mediterranean bounded in the distance, and await my supper, than Don Pedro ordered his daughter to bring the guests’ book, and then betook himself to the task of running down a lean chicken. In the record of ten years I found that Germans were the most frequent visitors ; Americans appeared but thrice. One party of the latter registered themselves as “gentlemen,” and stated that they had seen the “ promanent points,” — which gave occasion to a later Englishman to comment upon the intelligence of American gentlemen. The host’s daughter, Pepita, was the theme of praise in prose and raptures in poetry.
“Are you Pepita?” I asked, turning to the girl, who sat on the steps before me, gazing into the evening sky with an expression of the most indolent happiness. I noticed for the first time, and admired, her firm, regular, almost Roman profile, and the dark masses of real hair on her head. Her attitude, also, was very graceful, and she would have been, to impressible eyes, a phantom of delight, but for the ungraceful fact that she inveterately scratched herselt whenever and wherever a flea happened to bite.
“No, señor,” she answered ; I am Carmen. Pepita was married first, and then Mariquita. Angelita and myself are the only ones at home.”
“ I see there is also a poem to Angelita,” I remarked, turning over the last leaves.
O, that was a poet!” said she, — “a funny man ! Everybody knows him : he writes for the theatre, and all that is about some eggs which Angelita fried for him. We can’t understand it all, but we think it’s good-natured.”
Here the mother came, not as duenna, but as companion, with her distaff and spindle, and talked and span until I could no longer distinguish the thread against her gray dress. When the lean chicken was set before me, Don Pedro announced that a mule and guide would be in readiness at sunrise, and I could, if I chose, mount to the topmost peak of San Geronimo. In the base of the mountain, near Collbató, there are spacious caverns, which most travellers feel bound to visit; but I think that six or seven caves, one coal mine, and one gold mine are enough for a lifetime, and have renounced any further subterranean researches. Why delve into those dark, moist, oppressive crypts, when the blessed sunshine of years shows one so little of the earth and of human life ? Let any one that chooses come and explore the caverns of Montserrat, and then tell me (as people have a passion for doing), “ You missed the best! ” The best is that with which one is satisfied.
Instead of five o’clock, when I should have been called, I awoke naturally at six, and found that Don Pedro had set out for San Geronimo four hours before, while neither guide nor mule was forthcoming. The old woman pointed to some specks far up in the shadow of the cliffs, which she assured me were travellers, and would arrive with mules in fifteen minutes. But I applied the words in dubiis libertas, and insisted on an immediate animal and guide, both of which, somewhat to my surprise, were produced. The black mule was strong, and the lank old Catalan shouldered my heavy valise and walked off without a murmur. The sun was already hot; but once risen above the last painfully constructed terrace of olives, and climbing the stony steep, we dipped into the cool shadow of the mountain. The path was difficult but not dangerous, winding upward through rocks fringed with dwarf ilex, box, and mastic, which made the air fragrant. Thyme, wild flax, and aconite blossomed in the crevices. The botany of the mountain is as exceptional as its geology; it includes five hundred different species.
The box-tree, which my Catalan guide called bōsch in his dialect, is a reminiscence, wherever one sees it, of Italy and Greece, — of ancient culture and art. Its odor, as Holmes admirably says, suggests eternity. If it was not the first plant that sprang up on the cooling planet, it ought to have been. Its glossy mounds, and rude, statuesque clumps, which often seem struggling to mould themselves into human shape, cover with beauty the terrible rocks of Montserrat. M. Delavigne had warned me of the dangers of the path I was pursuing,—walls on one side, and chasms a thousand feet deep on the other, — but the box everywhere shaped itself into protecting figures, and whispered as I went by, “Never fear; if you slip, I will hold you! ”
The mountain is an irregular cone, about thirty-five hundred feet in height, and cleft down the middle by a torrent which breaks through its walls on the northeastern side. It presents a perpendicular face, which seems inaccessible, for the shelves between the successive elevations, when seen from below, appear as narrow fringes of vegetation, growing out of one unbroken wall. They furnish, indeed, but scanty room for the bridle-path, which at various points is both excavated and supported by arches of masonry. After nearly an hour, I found myself over Collbató, upon the roofs of which, it seemed, I might fling a stone. At the next angle of the mountain, the crest was attained, and I stood between the torn and scarred upper wilderness of Montserrat on the one hand, and the broad, airy sweep of landscape, bounded by the sea, on the other. To the northward, a similar cape thrust out its sheer walls against the dim, dissolving distances, and it was necessary to climb along the sides of the intervening gulf, which sank under me into depths of shadow. Every step of the way was inspiring, for there was the constant threat, without the reality, of danger. My mule paced securely along the giddy brinks ; and though the path seemed to terminate fifty paces ahead, I was always sure to find a loop-hole or coigne of vantage which the box and mastic had hidden from sight. So in another hour the opposite foreland was attained, and from its crest I saw, all along the northern horizon, the snowy wall of the Pyrenees.
Here a path branched off to the peak of San Geronimo, — a two hours’ clamber through an absolute desert of rock. My guide, although panting and sweating with his load, proposed the ascent ; but in the film of heat which overspread the land I should have only had a wider panorama in which all distinct forms were lost, — vast, no doubt, but as blurred and intangible as a metaphysical treatise. I judged it better to follow the example of a pious peasant and his wife whom we had overtaken, and who, setting their faces toward the renowned monastery, murmured an Ave from time to time. Erelong, on emerging from the thickets, we burst suddenly upon one of the wildest and most wonderful pictures I ever beheld. A tremendous wall of rock arose in front, crowned by colossal turrets, pyramids, clubs, pillars, and ten-pin shaped masses, which were drawn singly, or in groups of incredible distortion, against the deep blue of the sky. At the foot of the rock, the buildings of the monastery, huge and massive, the church, the houses for pilgrims, and the narrow gardens completely filled and almost overhung a horizontal shelf of the mountain, under which it again fell sheer away, down, down into misty depths, the bottom of which was hidden from sight. I dropped from the mule, sat down upon the grass, and, under pretence of sketching, studied this picture for an hour. In all the galleries of memory I could find nothing resembling it.
The descriptions of Montserrat must have made a powerful impression upon Goethe’s mind, since he deliberately appropriated the scenery for the fifth act of the Second Part of Faust. Goethe was in the steadfast habit of choosing a local and actual habitation for the creations of his imagination ; his landscapes were always either painted from nature, or copied from the sketch-books of others. The marvellous choruses of the fifth act floated through my mind as I drew; the “ Pater Ecstaticus ” hovered in the sunny air, the anchorites chanted from their caves, and the mystic voices of the undeveloped child-spirits came between, like the breathing of an Æolian harp. I suspect that the sanctity of the mountain really depends as much upon its extraordinary forms, as upon the traditions which have been gradually attached to it. These latter, however, are so strange and grotesque, that they could only be accepted here.
The monastery owes its foundation to a miraculous statue of the Virgin, sculptured by St. Luke, and brought to Spain by no less a personage than St. Peter. In the year 880, some shepherds who had climbed the mountain in search of stray goats heard celestial harmonies among the rocks. This phenomenon coming to the ears of Bishop Gondemar, he climbed to the spot, and was led by the music to the mouth of a cave, which exhaled a delicious perfume. There, enshrined in light, lay the sacred statue. Gondemar and his priests, chanting as they went, set out for Manresa, the seat of the diocese, carrying it with them; but on reaching a certain spot, they found it impossible to move farther. The statue obstinately refused to accompany them, — which was taken as a sign that there, and nowhere else, the shrine should be built. Just below the monastery there still stands a cross, with the inscription, “Here the Holy Image declared itself immovable, 880.”
The chapel when built was intrusted to the pious care of Fray Juan Garin, whose hermitage is pointed out to you, on a peak which seems accessible only to the eagle. The Devil, however, interfered, as he always does in such cases. He first entered into Riquilda, the daughter of the Count of Barcelona, and then declared through her mouth that he would not quit her body except by the order of Juan Garin, the hermit of Montserrat. Riquilda was therefore sent to the mountain and given into the hermit’s charge. A temptation similar to that of St. Anthony followed, but with exactly the opposite result. In order to conceal his sin, Juan Garin cut off Riquilda’s head, buried her, and fled. Overtaken by remorse, he made his way to Rome, confessed himself to the Pope, and prayed for a punishment proportioned to his crime. He was ordered to become a beast, never lifting his face towards heaven, until the hour when God himself should signify his pardon.
Juan Garin went forth from the Papal presence on his hands and knees, crawled back to Montserrat, and there lived seven years as a wild animal, eating grass and bark, and never lifting his face towards heaven. At the end of this time his body was entirely covered with hair, and it so happened that the hunters of the Count snared him as a strange beast, put a chain around his neck, and took him to Barcelona. In the mansion of the Count there was an infant only five months old, in its nurse’s arms. No sooner had the child beheld the supposed animal, than it gave a loud cry and exclaimed : “ Rise up, Juan Garin ; God has pardoned thee!” Then, to the astonishment of all, the beast arose and spoke in a human tongue. He told his story, and the Count set out at once with him to the spot where Riquilda was buried. They opened the grave and the maiden rose up alive, with only a rosy mark, like a thread, around her neck. In commemoration of so many miracles, the Count founded the monastery.
At present, the monks retain but a fragment of their former wealth and power. Their number is reduced to nineteen, which is barely enough to guard the shrine, perform the offices, and prepare and bless the rosaries and other articles of devotional traffic. I visited the church, courts, and corridors, but took no pains to get sight of the miraculous statue. I have already seen both the painting and the sculpture of St. Luke, and think him one of the worst artists that ever existed. Moreover, the place is fast assuming a secular, not to say profane air. There is a modern restaurant, with bill of fare and wine list, inside the gate, ticketoffice for travellers, and a daily omnibus to the nearest railway station. Ladies in black mantillas lounge about the court-yards, gentlemen smoke on the balconies, and only the brown-faced peasant pilgrims, arriving with weary feet, enter the church with an expression of awe and of unquestioning faitl The enormous wealth which the monastery once possessed — the offering of kings —has disappeared in the vicissitudes of Spanish history, the French, in 1811, being the last pillagers. Since then, the treasures of gold and jewels have not returned : for the crowns offered to the Virgin by the city of Barcelona and by a rich American are of gilded silver, set with diamonds of paste !
I loitered for hours on the narrow terraces around the monastery, constantly finding some new and strange combination of forms in the architecture of the mountain. The bright silver-gray of the rock contrasted finely with the dark masses of eternal box, and there was an endless play of light and shade as the sun burst suddenly through some unsuspected gap, or hid himself behind one of the giant ten-pins of the summit. The world below swam in dim red undulations, for the color of the soil showed everywhere through its thin clothing of olive-trees. In hue as in form, Montserrat had no fellowship with the surrounding region.
The descent on the northern side is far less picturesque, inasmuch as you are perched upon the front seat of an omnibus, and have an excellent road — a work of great cost and labor—the whole way. But, on the other hand, you skirt the base of a number of the detached pillars and pyramids into which the mountain separates, and gain fresh pictures of its remarkable structure. There is one isolated shaft, visible at a great distance, which I should judge to be three hundred feet in height by forty or fifty in diameter. At the western end, the outline is less precipitous, and here the fields of vine and olive climb much higher than elsewhere. In an hour from the time of leaving the monastery, we were below the last rampart, rolling through dust in the hot valley of the Llobregat, and tracing the course of the invisible road across the walls of Montserrat, with a feeling of incredulity that we had really descended from such a point.
At the village of Montrisol, on the river, there is a large cotton factory. The doors opened as we approached, and the workmen came forth, their day’s labor done. Men and women, boys and girls, in red caps and sandals, or bareheaded and barefooted, they streamed merrily along the road, teeth and eyes flashing as they chatted and sang. They were no pale, melancholy factory slaves, but joyous and light-hearted children of labor, and, it seemed to me, the proper successors of the useless idlers in the monastery of Montserrat. Up there, on the mountain, a system, all-powerful in the past, was swiftly dying; here, in the valley, was the first life of the only system that can give a future to Spain.