Castilian Days: Iv. The Cradle and the Grave of Cervantes

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

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

I went to Alcalá one summer day, when the bare fields were brown and dry in their after-harvest nudity, and the hills that bordered the winding Henares were drab in the light and purple in the shadow. From a distance the town is one of the most imposing in Castile. It lies in the midst of a vast plain by the green water-side, and the land approach is fortified by a most impressive wall emphasized by sturdy square towers and flanking bastions. But as you come nearer you see this wall is a tradition. It is almost in ruins. The crenellated towers are good for nothing but to sketch. A short walk from the station brings you to the gate, which is well defended by a gang of picturesque beggars, who are old enough to have sat for Murillo, and revoltingly pitiable enough to be millionnaires by this time, if Castilians had the cowardly habit of sponging out disagreeable impressions with pennies. At the first charge we rushed in panic into a tobacco-shop and filled our pockets with maravedis, and thereafter faced the ragged battalion with calm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“ Prætextam junxi sacco, galeamquc galero,
Frater, dux, pratsul, cardineusque pater.
Quin, virtute mea junctum est diadema cucullo,
Dum mihi regnanti patuit Gesperia.”

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

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

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

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

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

“ You think lightly of a glory of Castile.”

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

Puede ser,” I assented. “ Many thanks. May your Grace go with God ! ”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are those who find the mirth and fun of his later works so inconsistent with these ascetic professions, that they have been led to believe Cervantes a bit of a hypocrite. But we cannot agree with such. Literature was at that time a diversion of the great, and the chief aim of a writer was to amuse. The best opinion of scholars now is that Rabelais, whose genius illustrated the preceding century, was a man of serious and severe life, whose gaulish crudeness of style and brilliant wit have been the cause of all the fables that distort his personal history. No one can read attentively even the Quixote without seeing how powerful an influence was exerted by his religion even upon the noble and kindly soul of Cervantes. He was a blind bigot and a devoted royalist, like all the rest. The mean neglect of the Court never caused his stanch loyalty to swerve. The expulsion of the Moors, the crowning crime and madness of the reign of Philip III., found in him a hearty advocate and defender. Non facit monochum cucullus, — it was not his hood and girdle that made him a monk ; he was thoroughly saturated with their spirit before he put them on. But he was the noblest courtier and the kindliest bigot that ever flattered or persecuted.

In 1610 the Count of Lemos, who had in his grand and distant way patronized our poet, was appointed Viceroy of Naples, and took with him to his kingdom a brilliant following of Spanish wits and scholars. He refused the petition of the greatest of them all, however, and to soften the blow gave him a small pension, which he continued during the rest of Cervantes’ life. It was a mere pittance, a bone thrown to an old hound, but he took it and gnawed it with a gratitude more generous than the gift. From this time forth all his works were dedicated to the Lord of Lemos, and they form a garland more brilliant and enduring than the crown of the Spains. Only kind words to disguised fairies have ever been so munificently repaid, as this young noble’s pension to the old genius.

It certainly eased somewhat his declining years. Relieving him from the necessity of earning his daily crust, it gave him leisure to complete and bring out in rapid succession the works which have made him immortal. He had published the first part of Don Quixote in the midst of his hungry poverty at Valladolid in 1605. He was then fiftyeight, and all his works that survive are posterior to that date. He built his monument from the ground up, in his old age. The Persiles and Sigismunda, the Exemplary Novels, and that most masterly and perfect work, the Second Part of Quixote, were written by the flickering glimmer of a life burnt out.

It would be incorrect to infer that the scanty dole of his patron sustained him in comfort. Nothing more clearly proves his straitened circumstances than his frequent change of lodgings. Old men do not move for the love of variety. We have traced him through six streets in the last four years of his life. But a touching fact is that they are all in the same quarter. It is understood that his natural daughter and only child, Isabel de Saavedra, entered the Convent of the Trinitarian nuns in the street of Cantarranas —the Singing Frogs — at some date unknown. All the shifting and changing which Cervantes made in these embarrassed years are within a small half-circle, whose centre is his grave and the cell of his child. He fluttered about that little convent like a gaunt old eagle about the cage that guards his callow young.

Like Albert Dürer, like Raphael and Vandyke, he painted his own portrait at this time with a force and vigor of touch which leaves little to the imagination. As few people ever read the Exemplary Novels, — more is the pity — I will translate this passage from the Prologue : —

“ He whom you see there with the aquiline face, chestnut hair, a smooth and open brow, merry eyes, a nose curved but well proportioned, a beard of silver which twenty years ago was of gold, long mustaches, a small mouth, not too full of teeth, seeing he has but six, and these in bad condition, a form of middle height, a lively color, rather fair than brown, somewhat round-shouldered and not too light on his feet ; this is the face of the author of Galatea and of Don Quixote de la Mancha, of him who made the Voyage to Parnassus, and other works which are straying about without the name of the owner: he is commonly called M iguel de Cervantes Saavedra.”

There were, after all, compensations in this evening of life. As long as his dropsy would let him, he climbed the hilly street of the Olivar to say his prayers in the little oratory. He passed many a cheerful hour of gossip with Mother Francisca Romero, the Independent Superior of the Trinitarian Convent, until the time when the Supreme Council, jealous of the freedom of the good lady’s life, walled up the door which led from her house to her convent and cut her off from her nuns. He sometimes dropped into the studios of Carducho and Caxes, and one of them made a sketch of him one fortunate day. He was friends with many of the easy-going Bohemians who swarmed in the quarter, — Cristobal de Mesa, Quevedo, and Mendoza, whose writings, Don Miguel says, are distinguished by the absence of all that would bring a “ blush to the cheek of a young person,”

“ Por graves, puros, castos y excelentes.”

In the same street where Cervantes lived and died the great Lope de Vega passed his edifying old age. This phenomenon of incredible fecundity is one of the mysteries of that time. Few men of letters have ever won so marvellous a success in their own lives, few have been so little read after death. The inscription on Lope’s house records that he is the author of two thousand comedies and twenty-one million of verses. Making all possible deductions for Spanish exaggeration, it must still be admitted that his activity and fertility of genius was prodigious. In those days a play was rarely acted more than two or three times, and he wrote nearly all that were produced in Spain. He had driven all competitors from the scene. Cervantes, when he published his collection of plays, admitted the impossibility of getting a hearing in the theatre while this “ monster of nature ” existed. There was a courteous acquaintance between the two great poets. They sometimes wrote sonnets to each other, and often met in the same oratories. But a grand seigneur like Frey Lope could not afford to be intimate with a shabby genius like brother Miguel. In his inmost heart he thought Don Quixote rather low, and wondered what people could see in it. Cervantes, recognizing the great gifts of De Vega, and, generously giving him his full meed of praise, saw with clearer insight than any man of his time that this deluge of prodigal and facile genius would desolate rather than fructify the drama of Spain. What a contrast in character and destiny between our dilapidated poet and his brilliant neighbor across the way ! The one rich, magnificent, the poet of princes and a prince among poets, the “ Phœnix of Spanish Genius,” in whose ashes there is no flame of resurrection ; the other, hounded through life by unmerciful disaster, and using the brief respite of age to achieve an enduring renown : the one, with his twenty millions of verses, has a great name in the history of literature ; but the other, with his volume you can carry in your pocket, has caused the world to call the Castilian tongue the language of Cervantes. We will not decide which lot is the more enviable. But it seems a poet must choose. We have the high authority of Sancho for saying,

“ Para dar y tener
Seso ha menester.”

He is a bright boy who can eat his cake and have it.

In some incidents of the closing scenes of these memorable lives there is a curious parallelism. Lope de Vega and Cervantes lived and died in the same street, now called the Calle de Cervantes, and were buried in the same convent of the street now called Calle de Lope de Vega. In this convent each had placed a beloved daughter, the pledge of an early and unlawful passion. Isabel de Saavedra, the child of sin and poverty, was so ignorant she could not sign her name ; while Lope’s daughter, the lovely and gifted Marcela de Carpio, was rich in the genius of her father and the beauty of her mother, the high-born Maria de Lujan. Cervantes’ child glided from obscurity to oblivion no one knew when, and the name she assumed with her spiritual vows is lost to tradition. But the mystic espousals of the Sister Marcela de San Felix to the eldest son of God — the audacious phrase is of the father and priest Frey Lope — were celebrated with princely pomp and luxury ; grandees of Spain were her sponsors; the streets were invaded with carriages from the palace, the verses of the dramatist were sung in the service by the Court tenor Florian, called the “ Canary of Heaven ” ; and the event celebrated in endless rhymes by the genteel poets of the period.

Rarely has a lovelier sacrifice been offered on the altar of superstition. The father, who had been married twice before he entered the priesthood, and who had seen the folly of errant loves without number, twitters in the most innocent way about the beauty and the charm of his child, without one thought of the crime of quenching in the gloom of the cloister the light of that rich young life. After the lapse of more than two centuries we know better than he what the world lost by that life-long imprisonment. The Marquis of Molins, Director of the Spanish Academy, was shown by the ladies of the convent in this year of 1870 a volume of manuscript poems from the hand of Sor Marcela, which prove her to have been one of the vigorous and original poets of the time. They are chiefly mystical and ecstatic, and full of the refined and spiritual voluptuousness of a devout young heart whose pulsations had never learned to beat for earthly objects. M. de Molins is preparing a volume of these manuscripts ; but I am glad to present one of the seguidillas here, as an illustration of the tender and ardent fantasies of virginal passion this Christian Sappho embroidered upon the theme of her wasted prayers : —

“Let them say to my Lover
That here I lie !
The thing of his pleasure,
His slave am I.
“ Say that I seek him
Only for love,
And welcome are tortures
My passion to prove.
“ Love giving gifts
Is suspicious and cold ;
I have all, my Beloved,
When thee I hold.
“ Hope and devotion
The good may gain,
I am but worthy
Of passion and pain.
“ So noble a Lord
None serves in vain, —
For the pay of my love
Is my love’s sweet pain.
“ I love thee, to love thee
No more 1 desire.
By faith is nourished
My love’s strong fire.
“ I kiss thy hands
When I feel their blows,
In the place of caresses
Thou givest me woes.
“ But in thy chastising
Is joy and peace,
O Master and Love,
Let thy blows not cease !
“ Thy beauty, Beloved,
With scorn is rife !
But I know that thou lovest me
Better than life.
“ And because thou lovest me,
Lover of mine,
Death can but make me
Utterly thine !
“ I die with longing
Thy face to see ;
Ah ! sweet is the anguish
Of death to me ! ”

This is a long digression, but it will be forgiven by those who feel how much ot beautiful and pathetic there is in the memory of this mute nightingale dying with her passionate music all unheard in the silence and shadows. It is to me the most purely poetic association that clings about the grave of Cervantes.

This vein of mysticism in religion had been made popular by the recent canonization of Saint Theresa, the ecstatic nun of Avila. In the ceremonies that celebrated this event there were three prizes awarded for odes to the new saint. Lope de Vega was chairman of the committee of award, and Cervantes was one of the competitors. The prizes it must be admitted were very tempting : first, a silver pitcher ; second, eight yards of camlet; and third, a pair of silk stockings. We hope Cervantes’ poem was not the best. We would rather see him carry home the stuff for a new cloak and pourpoint, or even those very attractive silk stockings for his shrunk shank, than that silver pitcher which he was too Castilian ever to turn to any sensible use. The poems are published in a compendium of the time, without indicating the successful ones; and that of Cervantes contained these lines, which would seem hazardous in this colder age, but which then were greatly admired : —

“ Breaking all bolts and bars,
Comes the Divine One, sailing from the stars,
Full in thy sight to dwell :
And those who seek him, shortening the road
Come to thy blest abode,
And find him in thy heart or in thy cell.”

The anti-climax is the poet’s, and not mine.

He knew he was nearing his end, but worked desperately to retrieve the lost years of his youth, and leave the world some testimony of his powers. He was able to finish and publish the Second Part of Quixote, and to give the last touches of the file to his favorite work, the long-pondered and cherished Persiles. This, he assures Count Lemos, will be either the best or the worst work ever produced by mortal man, and he quickly adds that it will not be the worst. The terrible disease gains upon him, laying its cold hand on his heart. He feels the pulsations growing slower, but bates no jot of his cheerful philosophy. “With one foot in the stirrup,” he writes a last farewell of noble gratitude to the viceroy of Naples. He makes his will, commanding that his body be laid in the Convent of the Trinitarians. He had fixed his departure for Sunday, the 17th of April, but waited six days for Shakespeare, and the two greatest souls of that age went into the unknown together, on the 23d of April, 1616.

The burial of Cervantes was as humble as his christening. His bier was borne on the shoulders of four brethren of his order. The upper half of the coffin-lid was open and displayed the sharpened features to the few who cared to see them : his right hand grasped a crucifix with the grip of a soldier Behind the grating was a sobbing nun whose name in the world was Isabel de Saavedra. But there was no scenic effort or display, such as a few years later in that same spot witnessed the laying away of the mortal part of Vega-Carpio. This is the last of Cervantes upon earth. He had fought a good fight. A long life had been devoted to his country’s service. In his youth he had poured out his blood, and dragged the chains of captivity. In his age he had accomplished a work which folds in with Spanish fame the orb of the world. But he was laid in his grave like a pauper, and the spot where he lay was quickly forgotten. At that very hour a vast multitude was assisting at what the polished academician calls a “ more solemn ceremony,” the bearing of the Virgin of Atocha to the Convent of San Domingo el Real, to see if peradventure pleased by the airing, she would send rain to the parching fields.

The world speedily did justice to his name. Even before his death it had begun. The gentlemen of the French embassy who came to Madrid in 1615 to arrange the royal marriages asked the chaplain of the Archbishop of Toledo in his first visit many questions of Miguel Cervantes. The chaplain happened to be a friend of the poet, and so replied, “ I know him. He is old, a soldier, a gentleman, and poor.” At which they wondered greatly. But after a while, when the whole civilized world had translated and knew the Quixote by heart, the Spaniards began to be proud of the genius they had neglected and despised. They quote with a certain fatuity the eulogy of Montesquieu, who says it is the only book they have ; “a proposition ” which Navarrete considers “ inexact,” and we agree with Navarrete. He has written a good book himself. The Spaniards have very frankly accepted the judgment of the world, and although they do not read Cervantes much, they admire him greatly, and talk about him more than is amusing. The Spanish Academy has set up a pretty mural tablet on the façade of the convent which shelters the tired bones of the unlucky immortal, enjoying now their first and only repose. In the Plaza of the Cortes a fine bronze statue stands facing the Prado, catching on his chiselled curls and forehead the first rays of morning that leap over the hill of the Retiro. It is a well-poised, energetic, chivalrous figure, and Mr. Germond de Lavigne has criticised it as having more of the sabreur than the savant. The objection does not seem to us well founded. It is not pleasant for the world to be continually reminded of its meannesses. We do not want to see Cervantes’ days of poverty and struggle eternized in statues. We know that he always looked back with fondness on his campaigning days, and even in his decrepit age he called himself a soldier. If there were any period in that troubled history that could be called happy, surely it was the time when he had youth and valor and hope as the companions of his toil. It would have been a precious consolation to his cheerless age to dream that he would stand in bronze, as we hope he may stand for centuries, in the unchanging bloom of manhood, with the cloak and sword of a gentleman and soldier, bathing his Olympian brow forever in the light of all the mornings, and gazing, at evening, at the rosy reflex flushing the east, — the memory of the day and the promise of the dawn.

John Hay.