A Great Modern Spaniard

AT first thought, the existence in the Spain of to-day of a literature that ranks with the best of other countries in its modern quality of thought and in masterly form would seem to be a most remarkable phenomenon. But, after all, it is not so remarkable ; for if there is a law in these things, the law must demand that literary activity shall persist so long as the language and the race that produced it may exist. If the land of Shakespeare has a great contemporary literature, why not the land of Cervantes and Calderon ?

But the conditions are different, it is replied. England is mighty ; Spain is weak. English-speaking peoples are literate ; Spaniards are illiterate.

England, however, was an illiterate country when it produced Shakespeare, — probably more illiterate than Spain was in the day of Cervantes. Spain is still an illiterate country, — much less so, indeed, than when Don Quixote was written; but conditions not radically unlike those that prompted Cervantes to his immortal utterance prompt the eminent Spanish authors of the present. Now, as then, these conditions compel great thoughts to expression ; and now, as it was then, the speaking has more regard to the quality of the audience than to its numbers. In the latter respect the audience has given little pecuniary encouragement. This constituency, however, we should bear in mind, is wider than that comprised in the few millions of the Iberian Peninsula. For as Greater Britain extends around the world and includes the American republic in its realm of letters, so Greater Spain is also worldembracing ; and that its reading public is by no means inconsiderable is manifest in the numerous bookstores to be found in capitals like Mexico and Havana.

Aside from a group of brilliant dramatists that make the Spanish theatre of to-day a force as vital as it was in the times of Calderon and Lope de Vega, contemporary Spanish literature can show a list of eminent names in fiction. At its head stand Pereda, Galdós, Alarcon, Valera, Emilia Pardo Bazan, and Valdés. Less known, as yet, outside of their country are such authors as Navarrete, Ortega Munilla, Castro y Serrano, Coello, Teresa Arroniz, Villoslada, Amós Escalante, and Oller. Armando Palacio Valdés, like Señora Pardo Bazan, is one of the relatively younger writers, and like that lady, who is regarded by not a few critics as the foremost woman novelist in the world, is one of the greatest figures in contemporary Spanish literature. But while Señora Pardo Bazan is an aristocrat by birth, and somewhat so in personal attitude, — though intrinsically democratic in subject and treatment, as an author, — Valdés is essentially a man of the people ; radically democratic, and in religious matters transcending the limits of creed. Valdés stands high in the esteem of many English and American readers, to whom he has been made familiar by the translation of several of his novels ; and he has enjoyed the rare distinction of the appearance of one of his novels in English, in serial form, here in the United States, prior to its publication in Spanish.

Valdés is a native of northern Spain. He was born in the province of Asturias, in a village called Entralgo, where his parents possessed a small estate, that is now his own property. Entralgo is situated in the wildest and most rugged part of Spain, and is partially described in the author’s first novel, El Señorito Octavio, and partially in El Idilio de un Enfermo (The Idyl of an Invalid), his third important work. In the former, he speaks of a view near the village as “ one of the most splendid and grandiose panoramas of the most beautiful province of Spain.” Segada, as he calls his native village in the story, rises from the depths of the valley in the angle formed by a brook that runs from the neighboring mountains to the Lora. “ A half league down the valley, which is not extensive, is to be seen a white group of buildings, — the town of Vegalora. Between the village and the town the river runs turbulent and clear, traversing and leaving at will that part of the valley most convenient to its course. As it changes its bed very frequently, the fields of maize and the meadows that border its banks are never certain of the morrow, and are as ready to regale ear and eye with their sonorously waving maize and their verdant turf as they are to torment the feet with their rounded or pointed pebbles. The people of Vegalora and Segada, in the space of forty or fifty years, have seen the river run over almost the entire surface of the valley. Notwithstanding this, in a little while after the river has forsaken any part of its bed a rich vegetation breaks forth, and the valley continues always picturesque and joyous like few others. On all sides it is surrounded by hills of a regular elevation, clothed with chestnut woods and gleaming meadows, except below, or on the Segada side. Here the hills occupy only the front rank ; above them there rise enormous and craggy mountains, snowcovered from October to June, forming part of the wild cordillera that separates the provinces of the north from those of the centre. Vegalora was therefore the last council-town of the province, and beyond those immense and shadowy masses there extended the barren and dilated plains of Castile.”

The mother of young Palacio was not resigned to the life of the village, and in the year of his birth the family removed to the maritime town of Avilés, where her own people lived. This town is the scene of Marta y Maria (Martha and Mary), the novel that caused Howells to give Valdés a most cordial introduction to the readers of the Editor’s Study, in Harper’s, and is pictured in that story under the name of Nieva. The lad ran about the town at complete liberty, acquiring, like so many coast-town boys, an extravagant liking for maritime life. He had exceedingly good and tolerant parents, and his childhood was happy. At the age of twelve years he was sent to study at the secondary school at Oviedo, the capital of the province, where he lived with his grandfather. He spent his summer vacations at Avilés or Entralgo, according to the whereabouts of his parents.

In Oviedo he made friends of several youths of literary proclivities, and this determined his own career. Nevertheless, he felt from the beginning a greater liking for philosophical and political studies than for la belln literatura. Oviedo, he says, is a very original place, and was more so in those days. It is the scene of one of his later novels, El Maestrante (The Cavalier), in which it goes by the name of Lancia.

He finished his school studies at the age of seventeen, and his parents sent him to Madrid to study jurisprudence, for which he felt an extreme liking. His one ambition was to become a professor of political economy, to which science he devoted many hours of his life at that time. In the meanwhile he lost almost completely the taste for literature with which his Oviedo friends had inspired him. Before completing his studies, he was appointed first secretary of the section of moral and political sciences in the Ateneo of Madrid. Having become a lawyer, be began to prepare himself for a professorship of civil law or of political economy. At that period he wrote and published several articles on religious philosophy. These attracted the attention of the publisher of the Revista Europea, and the young philosopher was honored with a proffer of the direction of that periodical. This he accepted, and for twenty-two years he was at the head of the most important scientific review in Spain.

To give a more animated aspect to the publication, Señor Valdés began to write and print humorous parodies of orators, poets, and novelists. This caused a revival of the literary tendencies of his adolescence. Meanwhile he eagerly read every class of work in the Ateneo. This was an epoch of great intellectual activity for him, and it undoubtedly determined his career.

When he had completed his series of parodies, it occurred to him to write a novel, and El Señorito Octavio was the result. This story now strikes its author as exaggerated, infantile, and ecstatic, and he says that he would like to efface it from his literary history. Two or three years later he wrote Marta y Maria. In the meantime be abandoned his project to achieve a professorship, and dedicated himself wholly to a life of letters.

In the year when Marta y Maria was published, Señor Valdés met in Candás — a hamlet of Asturian fisher folk, which he depicts under the name of Rodillero in his novel José — a girl of fifteen years, by the name of Luisa Prendes. This girl was from the neighboring town of Gigon, — pictured in El Cuarto Poder (The Fourth Estate) as Sarrió, — and the next year she became his wife. She was then scarcely sixteen years old, and the day of the wedding was his thirtieth birthday. He went to Madrid with his child wife.

“ My married life was the sweetest idyl,” he once wrote a friend. “ The year and a half that it lasted I was happier than the angels in heaven and the immortals of Olympus. Then God called my wife to his choir of seraphim. I have never known another being who approached her in the virtues of the human soul. Eight years have passed [in 1893], and at this moment, as I write, my eyes are dimmed with tears. The story of my love may be found in Riverita, and that of my matrimony in Maximina (the second name of my wife). But my Luisa was undoubtedly more perfect than Maximina. When I read in a newspaper of this country these words, ‘ Where can Señor valdés have found so ideal a character as that of Maximina ? ' my heart began to throb violently. I have never seen in the heroine of this novel more than a poor copy ; the original was vastly superior.

“ My life was completely broken. My son and my art were my salvation. But the loss, tingeing my life with an indelible cast of melancholy, confirmed me in my philosophical idealism. The man who has received from Heaven such a companion can be neither skeptic nor materialist.”

Señor Valées leads a quiet life, reading, working, enjoying physical exercise, and looking after his boy, now a lad of about fifteen years. His favorite reading is supplied by the Greek classics, Shakespeare, Molière, and Balzac. He abhors the materialistic tendency of French positivism, but at the same time he is fond of the natural sciences. Instead, however, of finding therein ground for credulity and skepticism, he sees more clearly each day that the grand enigma of existence can be solved only through the medium of faith. “ Every man of feeling possesses the secret,” he says. “ In the silent enjoyment of this, and with a continuous and sustained activity, I live in a sweet melancholy which I would not exchange for all the empires of the earth.”

In these words the author writes to an American friend about his daily life : “ Literature continues for me a pleasure, as much when I read as when I write. On the other hand, I avoid the literary life, which here is sad and poor as you can hardly imagine. I believe that the spectacle of the general life of the world in all its rich variety is indispensable to the poet, but I find literary intercourse dismal. I therefore pursue a fairly sociable activity, but without literary society. I remember only that I am of that sort when I sit at my desk to write. The poets and the novelists of the present age do not lead the adventurous and interesting life of our colleagues of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Life, in normalizing itself and becoming more secure, has lost much of its poesy. Our biography is purely internal; and the little that is interesting and external about us costs labor to achieve. What I wish to convey to you is that I am much given to the exterior life ; it pleases me to live in the greatest number of situations possible. There is hardly a page in my novels that I have not lived, or seen enacted before my eyes. Wherever I go, I like to dispossess myself of my character and my opinions, that I may assume those of the persons about me. In this way I have at times lived it all: vicious and virtuous, man of studies and man of the world, laborer, mariner, politician, and the rest. But do not believe that I have done this with literary intentions. Nothing of that sort! It is because I have a character but vaguely defined, and therefore I enjoy adapting myself to the medium in which I live. The happiest days of my life, apart from the year and a half when I was married, were those which I passed in living the life of a fisherman in a little village on the coast of Asturias. Life is bad and sad ; but believe me, my friend, that we make it more sad and bitter by not knowing how to extract the little sugar that it contains.”

We may see from this that Valdés has the prime qualification for a great novelist, in the modern sense, — that is, a revealer and interpreter of life, — for he has the power of identifying himself with the lives of others. When he describes his character as one that is but vaguely defined, it must not be understood as something shadowy and lacking individuality. It is rather one that shades off, and merges itself in the life of the whole. The walls of the personality, commonly so dense as to shut the individual into a cell of selfishness, dull to impressions from without and correspondingly meagre in spirit, are thus made tenuous and sensitive, delicately responsive to the world’s movement. Hence they constitute but a slight barrier against the external, permitting him to make the life of others his own life, the sum of their experiences his own experience as well, and enriching his soul with the life of the world. This confers true individuality upon the personal unit that feels itself the centre of things, its bounds inimitably expanded.

With the heartiness, the wholeness, of his work there is therefore the deepest, keenest sympathy with all things; a clear vision that penetrates to darkest depths, that lifts itself to farthest heights, illuminating and clarifying. He shows us the things of every day and of common life as they are, but we are made to see them with his sense of proportion ; and while we recognize them as the things we have always known, he endows them with unsuspected interest, and reveals their inherent character in a wealth of illustrative detail.

He refutes most convincingly the charge that realism in art exalts the trivial. He says that no one who has meditated upon the lofty problems of existence can speak depreciatively of trifles in life. The trivial, he maintains, is but a relative term ; that which is a trifle for some is the great fact for others. “ The death of a child, for example, is an insignificant event, a trifle, in every village, however small it may be ; for the parents it is a principal fact,—perhaps the most important and transcendental of their lives. The deposing of an alcalde and his trial are a capital occurrence in any town, but a trifle for the province to which that town belongs. The incidents of a political struggle in any province are important facts there, and trifles for the nation. The revolutions that agitate and destroy the nation are facts of little moment in the lap of humanity. And following this order of reasoning, we comprehend how this very planet where we live is verily a sad and insignificant trifle in the depths of infinite space. Either no created thing has importance, or it has all importance. The last is what I believe, for in all things the divine substance is manifest, hidden or revealed. In the whole of the particular the general exhibits itself; in the whole of the finite, the infinite. Art is that which has the mission of revealing this ; it is that which represents absolute truth in sensible images. The more particular, the more determinate, the object, the better will this be shown, for it will discover a new form of the infinite existence.”

Valdés frankly confesses that he is neither pessimist nor optimist ; or rather, that at times he is both. He says that if he wrote for the sake of popularity he would be ostentatiously optimistic, and carefully efface from his pages every pessimistic thought. But since pessimism represents one of the great phases of existence, one half of the truth attained by human understanding, and since the two elements will ever be factors in all creations of art, he feels that, should he confine himself to this side, he would show himself wanting in the artistic sincerity which he regards as indispensable to every literary work. For a work of art is no more than a manifestation of the way in which the artist’s spirit has been beautified in the contemplation of nature. If this beautification is false, if the artist has not felt that which he says, a beautiful result is not possible. “ Sincerity, therefore, if not the foundation, is the indispensable condition of every artistic production.”

As to literary decadence, Valdés holds that it can be manifest only when authors strive to falsify their sentiments, with the gross intention of producing excessive effect, of affecting excessive originality. The principal cause of decadence in contemporary literature he finds in the vice which, very graphically, has been termed “ effectism,” the itching to awake in the reader, at any cost, vivid and violent emotions that accredit the inventiveness and the originality of the writer. “ This vice is rooted in human nature, and more visibly in that of the artist. His spirit has something of the feminine that stimulates him to coquet with his reader, dangling before the eyes those qualities in which he believes he excels, just as women smile without other motive than to show their teeth when they are white, regular, and dainty, or lift the skirt to show the foot when there is no mud in the street.”

Our author remarks that French naturalism errs in supposing that realism is incarnated exclusively in that school. While recognizing the merits of naturalism, and admiring some of its most illustrious exponents, he protests that it represents only an insignificant part of life; far from being a definitive literature, as claimed by some of its greatest representatives, he is inclined to regard it as even more ephemeral than romantic literature. His ground for this is that it is characterized by gloominess and by a certain limitation. Among its merits he reckons its freshness, spontaneity, and, above all, legibility, qualities that make one think and feel something. But the rock on which many novelists affiliated with the modern French school find shipwreck is prosaism. “ The novel is a work, not of science, but of art; it is the poem of our times, and its sole end is to express the life and the beauty of human beings and their relations.”

We are not accustomed to think of the Spanish as a humorous people, though if we reflected a moment we should perceive that a race that produced a Cervantes could not well be other than humorous. Humor, indeed, is one of the foremost attributes of Spanish literature, and Valdés has his full share of the gift. His work is saturated with it, and it is of a rich, delicious, sympathetic sort, that somehow seems strikingly akin to the humor which we know as distinctively American, — perhaps more akin than the humor of any other nationality, not even excepting that of our brothers the English. In a discussion of the place of humor in literature, Valdés says that, in general, the style called humoristic is that which best reveals the personality of the writer ; and this is easy of comprehension. “ The humorous is an entirely original mode of expression,” he says. “ The writer appears completely on the scene, and does not permit affairs to develop according to their conventional logic, but in obedience to that of his own head.” While the greater number of critics have considered Valdés an essentially humoristic writer, and while he allows that possibly humor may be that trait which is most intimate and genuine in his temperament, he declares that he is not its blind partisan, and holds that it has a place in fiction only under conditions of limitation and quality. Of the various kinds of humor, he defines one class as that which scoffs at all created things, setting a constant negation against every human sentiment, whatever it may be ; seeing in all manifestations of the real nothing but vain appearances, and pausing only to destroy them. “ There is also a form of humor that consists in a play of the imagination, which capriciously alters and transforms the logical order of natural relations ; which is alert for paradoxical ideas and daring strokes, in the doing of which the author takes all his glory, without heed for the development of matters according to their nature. And finally, there is a humor that strives to set the vain appearance of things face to face with a lofty ideal that the author does not express, but permits to be divined.” In the first-mentioned class he arrays a multitude of satirical writers, without faith in anything, and often without conscience ; placing their genius at the service of their ruinous passions, attacking indiscriminately the good and the bad. In the second class Jean Paul Richter and Heinrich Heine are ranked as the two most notable models. “ The third has been illuminated by a number of immortal spirits adored by humanity : Cervantes, Sterne, Molière, Dickens, etc. I love solely the humor of these. When the spirit places itself on a level so elevated that it reveals the misery to which it is subject at the time, and opposes thereto the permanent and divine principle that resides in all beings ; when the sublime contempt for the transitory penetrates our soul, and we joyously contemplate ourselves joined by an eternal bond to the Infinite Idea that animates creation, then I believe with Jean Paul that the humoristic form is the most beautiful and excellent of all; for it responds to the most elevated situation in which the spirit may find itself. This humor, implacable and disdainful of the ruinous and trivial manifestations of humanity, respectful of noble sentiments, of purity, of innocence, of loyalty, of sacrifice of self, of all, in short, that proclaims that, though we come from the shadow, we march toward the light, that we are citizens of heaven, — this humor is that which I delight to accept in the novel. The rest, above all the first, repel and make me indignant. I would break my pen to pieces before I would knowingly scoff at the good, the holy, and the beautiful.”

There are conventions as to what may properly be subjects for literary treatment, and as to what may properly be said, that, as a rule, are more limited in the literature of our language than in that of most other countries. There is no call for the discussion, at this moment, of the merits or the justification of the respective attitudes upon this question of literary propriety. In a measure, it is a matter of local convention, — much as though the word “ pantaloons ” were something not to be uttered in polite society in one country, while the word “ waistcoat” were under a similar ban in another. So far as manner of expression goes, Valdés is no exception to the custom of wider latitude in utterance, common to Latin tongues. But the impression made is by no means repellent; at the most, the effect is that of an engaging frankness, and not a few of us are disposed to question if our own literary morality would not be of a more robust quality if greater freedom in this regard were permissible.

Valdés is a writer intrinsically clean and pure in thought. He finds in the naturalistic French writers a mania for impudicity, which he has fortunately never met among the good writers of other countries. He says : “ I abhor prudishness, but I detest as much, or more, the loathsome libertinage that is now displayed by some writers to whom God should not have given their talent, they employ it so badly. Having sufficiently considered this aspect, I am convinced of a sad truth. Back of the famous theories which they have invented in defense of their excesses there is hidden a sordid thought: that this procacity is the consequence, not of an absurd system, but of a commercial premeditation. In substance, it is that the books in which they accumulate brutal descriptions and obscene phrases sell better than those in which decency is respected. This conviction excuses me from adding another word; however, since there are still some innocent persons who believe that not only may one licitly break with pudicity, but that in this action is contained the principal merit of a novelist, I am going to say something to dissuade them. I firmly believe, like the naturalistic writers, that on this planet the last phase of animal evolution is represented by man ; that, on this hypothesis, the study of his instincts and animal passions is of interest, and that it explains a great portion of his actions. But this study has for me solely an historical value ; because, if man proceeds directly from the animal, every day separates him more and more therefrom : and upon this, and upon nothing else, progress is founded. We come, it is true, from the instinctive, from the unconscious, and from the necessary; but we march toward the rational, the conscious, and the free. Therefore, the study of all that refers to the rational, free, and conscious spirit as an explanation of the other great portion of human actions — the only noble and worthy ones — is very superior to the former. It is more interesting to study man as man than as animal, although the naturalistic school thinks otherwise. The material act of procreation confounds us, in effect, with the beasts ; but man has added to this act a spiritual element, — that of chastity. To destroy this is to despoil ourselves voluntarily of a great conquest and retrograde to the beast. He who respects chastity respects not only the reason of others, but his own reason. Is this as much as to say that beauty is not expressible in that which refers to the union of the two sexes ? By no means. I simply maintain that, for the manifestation of beauty, it is essential for us to show therein the Idea; and this may be made to appear only in adding to the material union that belongs to the beasts the spiritual element that belongs to man. That alone is good, beautiful, and true which conforms to the being or the nature of things. For beauty to appear in man, it is necessary that he should manifest himself as man, not as beast.”

Discussing the question of theme in works of fiction, Valdés remarks : “ The world of poesy and of its present form, the novel, is inexhaustible. It therefore displeases me to see the naturalistic Frenchmen, and those that faithfully follow in their track, persist in limiting their themes extremely, reducing them almost to a single one, — that of adultery. I well comprehend that in modern society adultery is perhaps the social relation that generates the greatest number of complications, and brings into play and tension the most recondite springs of the human soul; but although recognizing this, I believe it necessary to affirm that other relations exist that are equally or more worthy of translation to the novel. Love contains infinite shadings, in which adultery has no place ; and aside from sexual love there exist sentiments and passions that may give being to many an interesting novel. In explanation, though not in justification, of the fact that in dramatic work the element of adultery almost always plays the leading part, it may be said that it is because the author has but little time and space at his command, and is compelled to appeal to passions that immediately generate the violent struggle and the formidable conflict. But in the novel — a more spiritual genus, because lacking the plasticity of the drama—the author is master of indeterminate time and space; he may calmly prepare his situations, and the production of vivid and strong emotions to force immediate applause is not essential. This privilege must therefore be used to conduct us to all the places where any interesting condition of life may be found.”

What may be called the democratic tendency of art finds expression in some admirable words : “ Realism, as a spiritual manifestation, maintains a close relation with all the other manifestations of our epoch, and is a direct consequence of the general movement of life. Our epoch is characterized by a grand sentiment of curiosity, by a vivid and constant observation of nature in science, by a tendency toward the equality of all men before the law, and by an invincible desire to scrutinize and analyze our passions and sentiments in the sphere of art. The man of this epoch wants to know everything and enjoy everything ; he directs the objective of a powerful equatorial to the celestial spaces where moves the infinitude of the stars, as he applies the microscope to the infinitely small, whose laws are identical. His experience, joined to his intuition, has convinced him that in nature there is neither large nor small; all is equal. All is equally great, all is equally just, all is equally beautiful, because all is equally divine. Just as science studies with extreme solicitude that infinite world of corpuscles which our natural vision cannot perceive, and derives from its examination as rich a source of wisdom as from astronomical mathematics and physics ; just as politics, by means of long and painful labor, if not by vivid and cruel experimentation, has succeeded in elevating the condition of a great number of men condemned to perpetual degradation, realizing the sociological principle of equality before the law : so art, following the same impulse, has raised up certain beings that were condemned to perpetual ugliness, and has proclaimed them beautiful. In acquiring its political rights the lowly estate has acquired the right to beauty. The ancient poets, with rare exceptions, found worthy of their songs only the kings and warriors, the princesses and their sublimated loves, the heroic enterprises, the joys and the sorrows of the great ones of the earth. Those of today do not fear to soil their wings by descending to the abodes of the poor, to sing their feelings and their actions, often as interesting and heroic as those of the most famous warriors. Marguerite, Evangeline, Eugénie Grandet, poor children, born and reared in humble social spheres, are the beautiful heroines of our poems, — as beautiful and interesting as Helena, Dido, and Penelope. The beings who are worthy subjects for art have neither country nor social condition ; they are born in all countries and in all classes of society. To be beautiful, it is only necessary for an artist to find them such, and to have adequate power to make them appear so to others.”

Realist as he is, Valdés has little sympathy with certain manifestations of recent literature that have been classed as realism, and there is much about Ibsen and Tolstoi, as well as about the naturalistic Frenchmen, that he cannot stomach. He believes that at no time is there lacking talent for art, and the reason for the absence of good art at certain periods he ascribes to quite other causes. He attributes decadence, when there is no external reason for it, to a perversion of taste; that is, to the lack of a sane and adequate direction for artists. The origin of this perversion of taste, he holds, is not to be sought in momentary circumstances, in defects of schooling transmitted from one individual to another, or in fortuitous deviations. Its root is to be found, in his judgment, in the same principle that has engendered the great artistic superiority of the Occident as compared with Asia, in the greater development of individual energy. “ The greater individual energy, the affirmation of its independence in the presence of nature, producing variety of character, is that which has elevated the Greek above the Hindu, and Occidental art above Asiatic. In the Oriental world there exist only types : hence the monotony of its poetical monuments, though often not wanting in beauty and sublimity. But that fecund principle for civilization, and singularly for the arts, which generated the Iliad, the Prometheus Bound, the Niobe, and the Parthenon ; which later created the portentous works of the Renaissance, being exaggerated in modern Europe, and forced beyond its just limits, has produced a lack of balance, and has resulted in decadence. The exaggeration of individual energy and of independence has transformed those qualities into vanity. This is the worm that corrodes and paralyzes the force of contemporary artists.”

Both Valdés and Señora Pardo Bazan have adopted the admirable custom of occasionally including with one of their novels a prologue setting forth theirideas in relation to literature. In this way they secure a wider public for such utterances than if published separately, for in the latter form their sentiments would be likely to gain but small circulation. The prologues which Valdés has written for his La Hermann San Sulpicio (The Sister St. Sulpice) and his Los Majos de Cádiz (The Gallants of Cadiz) are two of the most valuable essays upon the art of fiction ever written. The opinions and appreciations which have been cited in the foregoing make but a small fraction of the rich fund of thought upon many phases of his art, comprised therein. It should be noted that in the prologue to La Hermana San Sulpicio Valdés makes a charming acknowledgment to Mr. Howells for frankly indicating to him his disapproval of a certain situation in the novel El Cuarto Poder. The two authors have for many years been intimate through correspondence, and Mr. Howells wrote Valdés that the situation in question seemed to him a romantic and false note that makes a discord in the truth that resides in the rest of the work. Valdés remarks that this chapter was that which had won for him the liveliest eulogiums, and had been praised as the best in the book. The words of the illusrtious American, therefore, came like a jar of cold water emptied upon his head. But the Spanish author instantly saw that his friend was right, and resolved to perpetrate no more effectisms of the sort.

As to the material proper for a novelist’s choice, however, he makes a very definite distinction between the avoidance of effectism and confinement to the commonplace in his ideas. He finds it necessary to protest against the absurd supposition that only common and ordinary events should find place in the novel. “ On the contrary,” he says, “ life seethes with rare occasions, characters, and phenomena of such æsthetic value that their reproduction in art is not only desirable, but necessary.” In this connection he says that it is curious to note what has happened in his own case, and presumably in that of all novelists. “ I have often been blamed for the inverisimilitude of scenes or actions, when I have simply translated them from reality. On the other hand, no one has ever found inverisimilitude in the scenes that I have invented. The reason is that when I have witnessed or heard of some rare occurrence I have not scrupled to use it, knowing its truth; but when invention has been necessary, I have endeavored to avoid everything that seemed strange or improbable.”

Realist as he is, he nevertheless holds that to live cradled in a gentle ideality is the best for the artist. “ Imagination is the magic that transforms and embellishes the world. But one must at the same time take care to bathe himself frequently in the real, to approach the earth each moment: every time he touches it, like the giant Antæus, he will gather fresh strength. The fact has an inestimable value, which we may seek in vain in the forces of our spirit. All abstractions disappear before it; it is the true revealer of the essence of things, not the conceptions that our reason extracts from them ; to that fact we must return in the last instance to found all judgments and to delight ourselves with any beauty. I therefore applaud without reserve that respect which good modern novelists show for the truth, and the care with which they avoid its falsification, even in the smallest details.” Notwithstanding this, he says the first obligation of the artist is, not exactness, hut to make felt the beautiful.

He finds not altogether admirable the scrupulosity that makes it necessary to seek a model for everything, and he reminds us that the great master painters did not work in this way : they carried nature in their heads ; it was sufficient for them to have seen an object to be able to reproduce it at any time, however distant. “ For the poet even this is not necessary. He bears in himself the soul of all humanity, and a slight sign is sufficient for him to divine the soul of any man. The poet and the saint are they in whom the profound identity of all beings best finds expression ; for both know, intuitively, directly, without necessity of experience, the heart of man. ‘ Ye are hiding from me very grave faults,’ said St. John of the Cross to his hearers. ‘ Do you not know that your souls form part of mine ? Yourselves and mine are distinct beings in the world; in God, our common origin, we are one being, and we live one and the same life.’ ”

In the practice of his art, Valdes has been singularly loyal to the high standard that he has set. He is, of course, no exception to the fact that there has never yet lived an artist who has not departed from his ideal. But this departure has at no time been taken with deliberate intention, and he has ever been frank to acknowledge his shortcomings. He confesses that there are some chapters in his books that he would now take great pleasure in effacing, and he purposes to banish from his productions every false and unreal element; his endeavor being to produce an effect, not violent, but deep. His sole aspiration is to touch his readers, to bring to their thoughts and perceptions the beauty that ever passes unheeded before their eyes. He therefore seeks the simplest form for his work, with the purpose of giving verisimilitude to the picture ; avoiding the idea that what is presented is a phantasmagory ; striving to make it appear, on the contrary, that it is an integral part of the truth, something that has been experienced. He has no desire to make an astounding effect with his inventions, for he well knows what such things amount to ; but he wishes to make his readers remember all their lives certain characters, whose originality and beauty he himself has felt, or which have impressed him profoundly in the course of his existence. To be guided by nature, not to do violence to her, is his principle. He feels that what every artist should do is to take her by the hand, and, like those modern divinators when they seek to discover the place where some object has been concealed, carefully follow the slightest impulses, until he reaches the spot where are hidden his treasures of the beautiful.

His first novel, El Señorito Octavio, with all its shortcomings, is a work full of brilliant promise, rich with the charm of description, and notable for a trait that strongly marks his writings, — a hearty detestation of the conditions that confer privilege of birth. A chief character in the book is a nobleman, whose essentially mean and base personality, covered with a varnish of manner, makes us feel that aristocracy itself is something essentially mean and base, bearing the seeds of inevitable decadence. That aristocratic lineage is quite likely to originate in meanness and baseness is made evident in much of his subsequent work. In Maximina, for example, we are told that the habitual attitude of the typical young aristocrat is one of universal depreciation of everything, and we find it expressed in these words that give reasons for his pride in himself : “ I am owing ninety thousand dollars; I am a viscount, and am ‘ some pumpkins ; ’ I play a powerful game of baccarat; an ancestor of mine used to put on Philip II.’s boots; I can drive a carriage like the best coachman ; I wear such notable pantaloons that passers-by turn their heads to look ; I have an affair with a ballet girl at the Royal Opera, and others are paying for it.”

The strongest picture, however, of the worthlessness of aristocracy as an institution is given in the novel called La Espuma (Froth), which in the English translation is wrongly entitled Scum. It is a vivid presentation of the gilded and frivolous life of fashionable Madrid, in which the vulgar multimillionaire, with a freshly bought ducal title, plays a dominant part among the descendants of those whose rough metal of rank, similarly purchased centuries before, has by long usage been worn to polished elegance.

But that gentle birth is not necessarily synonymous with a decadent character is abundantly shown in the author’s work. A most charming example is that of the manly young Marques de Peñalta, in Marta y Maria, the second novel of Valdés, and an admirable work. A most sympathetic figure in this story is Don Mariano Elorza, a typical cultivated modern Spanish gentleman : liberal in views, sincerely religious, but making a distinction between religion and the clergy, “ for whom he professed a sort of Voltairean enmity,” and holding unchangeable faith in modern progress. He had an enthusiasm for new inventions, and if any interesting machine that he read about in the newspapers was not expensive he would send for it, although he had no use for anything of the kind, and his house was full of curious mechanical contrivances, all covered with dust. This lovable gentleman is marked by many of the kindliest traits, and the author individualizes him with such delicious touches, for instance, as a passion for the smell of fresh linen, so that he loved to go and hold his face in the closet where it was stored. Marta y Maria is the story of two sisters, — one domestic in character, and the other dreamily religious. The intense degree of selfishness that may characterize a devout nature is depicted with consummate delicacy. One thing that must impress the reader of this book is that the Spanish people there portrayed are remarkably like ourselves. The scene is in a town on the north coast, and in its essentials the life of the place seems much the same that one might find in a town on the New England coast, with minor differences of local color.

The north coast, in Asturias, is a favorite region of Valdés. It is the scene of José, a masterly study of humble life on shore and sea, and of El Cuarto Poder, while the scenes of Riverita and of Maximina are in part laid there. El Idilio de un Enfermo is a beautiful study of a primitive bucolic life.

In El Cuarto Poder the theme is that of the establishment of a newspaper in a little town where nothing of the kind had before existed, and the amount of trouble that was stirred up thereby. The fact that the men of the place used to slap one another’s faces when enraged, and that they used to settle their difficulties with the fist, seems quite Yankeelike, and considerably at variance with our traditional conception of Spanish procedure in these matters, which we have been wont to fancy had a deal to do with knives and pistols. But such a thing as a duel was unknown in that region, until the innovating founder of the newspaper, fired with the desire for improving and modernizing the town, and desiring to bring its customs up to date, picked a quarrel with an editor elsewhere in the province, — after duly taking a course with a fencing master, expressly imported, — and precipitated a duel!

In Riverita we have a most captivating picture of boy life, stamped with truth on every page; and in Maximina, its sequel, the character of the heroine is one of the most exquisite in modern fiction. We are made to feel that it is as true as it is angelically beautiful. In the celebrated scene of the balcony, where Maximina and her husband stand and look at the midnight heaven, we have a noble example of the mysticism that forms a lofty trait of the author. Many eminent Spanish writers of the present, as of the past, have a strong mystical cast in their writings. This is natural, of course, in a land whose people are saturated with mysticism. We find it in Galdós, in Valera, in Pardo Bazan, and in Alarcon, as well as in Valdés. In El Origen del Pensamiento (The Origin of Thought), by Valdes, the ending of the novel is marked by it as by the pure harmony of a symphony’s close. But the sublimest manifestation of this quality is found in La Fe (Faith), which in certain ways is the masterpiece of Valdés.

La Fe is the story of a youthful priest, a saintly character, who is made a skeptic by the reading of modern scientific and philosophical works. He is falsely accused of crime, and is condemned to a long imprisonment. But his pondering over the riddle of life and his anguish of soul carry his understanding beyond the limitations of material science, and land him in a faith immensely higher than that which had been destroyed, so that his prison life is made an absolutely blessed one.

“ Back of this life of appearances that surrounds us he saw the real life, the infinite life, and he entered into it with a heart filled with joy. In this infinite life everything is love, or, what is the same thing, everything is felicity. To enter therein is to step into the empire of Eternity. It is the life of the spirit. The world cannot change it, nor time destroy it, for it is the essence of time and of the world. He enjoyed life in God; beyond the realm of time, he lived at the very fountain head, ideal and perennial, of the imaginative world that envelops us all. His days no longer passed sadly and anxiously, as a part of time. He no longer feared the torment of will, no longer uttered pitiful complaints about his sins, about his vanquished resolutions; for he no longer loved his own works, however good they might have been, as once he had loved them; he loved only the Eternal. For works have their origin in the person, and he had rid himself of his ; he had denied it with firmness. In the midst of a holy and sweet indifference he left God to work within his spirit. Forever exempt from doubt and incertitude, he knew that he had to desire but one thing, and all the rest would be added thereto. He was sure that the fountain of divine love that had been revealed within himself would nevermore be exhausted, and that this love would guide him eternally. The fear of destruction by death no longer perturbed him. Death, since his entrance into the life of eternity, had become incomprehensible. It was not necessary for him to descend to the tomb to obtain this life eternal; it sufficed him to join his heart to God in order to possess it and to enjoy it.

“ He learned, in the end, once and forever, that man may save himself from grief and from death, not through reason, but through faith; that is, through a knowledge distinct from and superior to that which reason may give us. Since this knowledge had illumined his spirit, he had attained absolute felicity. Without inquietude for the future, without feeling for the past, hungering for nothing, neither refusing anything, his life had for some time been gliding by like a happy dream, like a sweet intoxication. He had let fall the burden of desires and of sorrows that had bound him to the earth. Set free from all illusion and from all effort, with neither fear of annihilation nor egoistic hope of resurrection, by the virtue of faith and of love he had learned how to reproduce in his soul the true kingdom of God.”

In both La Fe and El Origen del Pensamiento the sophistical and morbid psychology of Lombroso and his school receives scathing condemnation, and in the latter the positivist philosophy meets with keenest ridicule. The shadow side of life prevails in El Maestrante, a heartrendingly tragic book. But both in this and in El Cuarto Poder, which is tragical in its outcome, there is so much of the world’s sunnier aspect that the sense of verity — which has to do with a life of infinitely commingled light and shadow, more or less of one and the other here and there—is not broken. El Maestrante has something of the inevitable movement of a Greek tragedy ; and in that novel, too, one is made to feel the ruinous decadence of a worn-out aristocracy, which in fact is the great lesson of the book.

The merriest, sunniest work of Valdés is La Hermana San Sulpicio, vivacious as the nature of the Andalusian folk among whom its scenes are laid. It is an enchanting idyl. Los Majos de Cádiz is a comedy, in the true sense of the word, of life among a lower social class. Like José and El Idilio de un Enfermo, it tells us that the same sentiments and passions, the same thoughts and emotions, have the same inherent interest among humble people as in higher ranks of life.

Valdés’s latest work is La Alegría del Capitan Ribot (The Joy of Captain Ribot). Like La Hermann San Sulpicio and Los Majos de Cádiz, it is a story of the semi-tropical south of Spain, and exhibits Valencia as they depict Andalusia. There is a classic serenity in the pictures of the tranquil life in the luxuriant huerta, the wide - expanding garden of the ancient kingdom, with its orchards and its meadows forever green, and its villas imbedded in flowers beside the sea. It has the same gay sparkle, the same idyllic movement, as La Hermana San Sulpicio, but is informed with some of the deeper tones of life. For all lovers of wholesome art, it has a special value in being “ a protest from the depths against the eternal adultery of the French novel,” as the author wrote of it to a friend. In Doña Cristina, the lovely and devoted wife who is the heroine of this very human story, Valdés has created one of the most vital figures in recent fiction, hardly surpassed in sympathetic charm and gracious presentation by any other woman that lives in the world’s literature.

We have seen that Valdés has been true to the office of the novelist in its highest sense, — that which transcends the rôle of mere entertainment to the function of the interpreter of life. He has shown us the heights and the depths, the sunshine and the shadows, of very much of human existence ; and since he is still on the sunny side of fifty, we may expect to explore under his illuminating guidance many another province of the infinite realm of the beautiful, the true, and the good.

Less than two years ago, his country and ours, the land that he dearly loves and the land that we dearly love, were at war. Passions hateful in God’s sight were aroused. Multitudes in each land were thinking all ill of the people of the other. But we have seen how a great writer of Spain has been true to the life of its people. Natural history tells us that in any species we can find no normal example that does not constitute a type of innumerable individuals that closely resemble it. We therefore may be sure that a country whose people have produced such types as Maximina, Padre Gil the convict-saint, and numerous other persons of kindly heart, noble mind, and beautiful spirit, all so genuinely human, that are found in the works of Valdés and his eminent contemporaries, — as in the past that country gave birth to the great soul of Cervantes, and inspired the lovely works of Murillo, — must possess unnumbered beings of similar worth.

Higher than any man-governed country in our allegiance is the fatherland of the spirit; and compatriots therein, with many of ourselves who understand and love them, are Valdés and those countrymen of his who are his brothers in heart and soul.

Sylvester Baxter.