Castilian Days

By JOHN HAY. Boston: James R. Osgood & Co.
THE satisfaction given by faithful study and clear, bold treatment of facts is the chief pleasure which awaits the reader of this admirable book ; but that is only one of many delights he will find in it, if he is a reader who cares also for the artistic side, and can enjoy the charm of its forcible and brilliant style ; or is one who likes to find a man as well as an author in a book, and can be glad of very decided, yet tolerant feeling upon matters of modern interest and dispute. Mr. Hay regards Spain not merely in a literary way, and with the purpose of turning her characteristics to literary account, but views her as a part of the living world, with due share in the common advance and reaction; yet his attitude is no more that of a reformer than that of a sentimentalist, in the tiresome and disheartening sense. The chapters on “ Influence of Tradition in Spanish Life,” “ The Moral of Spanish Politics,” “The Bourbon Duel,” and “Necessity of the Republic,” form a picture of foreign political life of almost unique excellence, singularly vivid, simple, and intelligible ; and “ A Field Night in the Spanish Cortes ” is a piece of writing in which the author establishes his pre-eminence as an observer of political character. The felicity with which he portrays all those unknown or dimly known leaders of Spanish parties, and makes us comprehend, without tedious explanation, all those alien political conditions, is his peculiar gift. The ideas and motives of those who disagree with us are so hard to state with fairness, that we are almost ready to rate Mr. Hay’s justice as highly as the more positive power he shows in this vigorous sketch, where the warmth of color is in his undisguised yet perfectly controlled feeling, and the light is that of a wholesome and steadfast common sense. It is the best chapter in the book, we think, who think so well of all the rest; and not unnaturally so, for Mr. Hay, besides inherent aptness, has through his varied experience of political life at home and abroad had unusual training for that kind of work. This experience has not made a politician of him, but an observer of politicians, − a rarer, and for our country, a usefuller character. It perhaps accounts for a certain polished hardness of manner on which the reader strikes unpleasantly at times, in different parts of the book, but which is not without its advantages.
Next to this chapter we like “An Hour with the Painters,” a body of refreshingly sane and comprehensible comment on a collection of art which Mr. Hay believes, and goes far to prove, the best in the world. We do not know that in speaking of art he is at any time dishonest or obscure ; which we conceive places him very high among critics of art. “ The Cradle and the Grave of Cervantes ” is the most sympathetically written chapter in the book ; and Mr. Hay might learn a lesson from the fact that it is one of the best, if his defect were an habitually unsympathetic tone. It is thoroughly charming, and as useful in accounting for modem Spain as any of the chapters on her modern life. Indeed, it is Mr. Hay’s custom to treat Spain present and Spain past as an historical unity, either to be inferred from the other, with a perfectly logical strictness, and he seldom considers one without reference to the other. This gives an unusual interest to all his social and local sketches, and makes his pictures of the whole condition of Spanish things singularly intelligible. It is not a very hopeful condition at first glance ; for we are told that honor and not honesty, religion and not morality, are the ruling principles in public and private affairs ; that the country is essentially poor, and the state immemorially bankrupt ; that the leaders are insincere, and the led are ignorant; but Mr. Hay takes courage from the fact that Spain is a bundle of anomalies, and from the more encouraging fact that there is now perfect equality of religious sects, and the beginning of popular education ; he hopes for the best, that is to say, the republic ; and he is not disturbed in this hope by the apparition of King Amadeus. There is nothing we like better in his book than the very hearty tone of his democracy or − if Americanism is yet to mean something better than democracy − his Americanism. No fair-minded man can now look at any part of Europe, and not be glad of America, in spite of New York ; and Mr. Hay is above all fairminded.
We leave ourselves little space to speak of the delightfulness of the book as a study of the social life of a most picturesque and interesting people, or to praise those admirable chapters on Madrid, Toledo, La Granja, the Escorial, bull-fighting, and holidays. In these respects it is as satisfactory as in its solider qualities ; and it takes its place beside the best books of a rare and valuable kind. In style, in perfect adequacy of expression, it is also of the first. Every page sparkles with witty comment,−at times perhaps too little relieved by the kindness of humor, − but its epigram never wearies ; and the spice of literary Gallicism in it only adds an agreeable piquancy. No other book in English about Spain can compare with it, and we know of none on the subject which offers, with such easy and charming grace, so much that we may all be the wiser for knowing. This is high praise for a book on Spain. Mr. Hay’s volume merits greater.