Spain in Easy Lessons
This is the second of a pair of articles on Spain by ELLEIIY SEDGWICK,Editor of the Atlantic from 1908 to 1938. The Paradox of Spain appeared in the September issue. Mr. Sedgwick made his first extended visit to Spain in the year of the King’s abdication (1931). He went back again in 1937. this time in company with his friend Cameron Forbes, the former Governor General of the Philippines. And for the past three years he has spent the winter on the Peninsula, noting the contrasts and characteristics which have made Spain a special focus of American interest and controversy.
by ELLERY SEDGWICK
NECESSITY number one for the Traveler is a guidebook, but who has not felt the horrid compulsion of its still small voice? What Leviticus is to the orthodox, even so are its admonitions to the conscientious sightseer. I recall an incident giving point to this warning. I had just done my whole duty to a gallery and was restoring my soul on a bench bordering a crowded sidewalk. Two American ladies brushed past me and the nearer, too tired to know where she walked, crunched with her heel my extended toe. “Oh,” she exclaimed, “I am so sorry.” “Madam,” I replied, “I share your regret.” She smiled wanly and I should have thought no more of the ladies, had I not passed them a few moments later, seated in their turn on the next bench. I could not but notice their exhaustion. Their shoulders drooped, for they were paying the eternal price of culture. An open Baedeker lay between them, a pencil in the crease of its down-turned pages. Two voices with a single breath were murmuring, “Thank God.” Feeling that they had already introduced themselves, I asked, “Why this thanksgiving?” Again with one voice, they replied: “We have checked off the last item of a five-day tour,”
So if a guidebook is your first necessity, your first rule is: Be its master, not its slave. Treat enjoyment not as a pleasure but as a duty. I myself take that duty seriously, and habitually travel by wheel chair. Nothing is more comfortable, and a chair has the further advantage of requiring a wife to push it. The combination is perfection and I have learned from it an important aesthetic concept: appreciation is less a quality of the mind than of the legs. Roll through a gallery, and the longer it is, the more delightful. Pictures take on a brighter hue and every martyred saint you pass wears a more cheerful air.
Now the model of all guidebooks happens to have been written about Spain. It was the first and remains the best. The Handbook for Travellers in Spain by Richard Ford was first published in 1845, but you can still pick up a copy of a later edit ion in a secondhand shop. Ford was an aristocrat but regarded nothing as common or unclean. He traveled on horseback and can give you no advice about hotels or railroads, but his information about Spain and the Spaniard is unsurpassed. Remember, he insists, that simple or gentle, every Spaniard is a Caballero. Laborer, brigand, or beggar, he is on terms of social equality with you and a touch of the hat will help you to his favor. Then, when the talk is over, do not fail to bid your friend “Go with God” —a far more suitable admonition than to invite, as we do, the Deity to leave His tasks for your friend’s company.
In Ford’s day brigandage was a natural hazard of travel. Here his advice is full of common sense. “Turn a deaf ear to the yarns of muleteers and the ‘definite facts’ of waiters but abjure chattering about plans and hours of starting. Englishmen, except when well armed and traveling in numbers, should never attempt resistance against Spanish robbers. A frank, good-humored surrender and a courteous appeal to them as Caballeros seldom fails to conciliate the gentlemen and to chloroform the discomfort of the operation.”
Fortunately these discomforts of the road have abated. Occasionally a night lorry is relieved of its wine barrels. A load of Yaldepenas or Cepa de Oro is worth an incident of the road. But for generations the grand routes have been patrolled by a remarkable body of men with whom the motorist will have frequent acquaintance. The Civil Guards are well disciplined and straight-shooting. Their profession runs in families, and by a unique regulation they must be descended from parents and grandpa rents who have been spotless before the law. You sec them in their blue-gray uniforms, always in pairs; stout, confident men, rifle on shoulder. their hats of patent leather, flat-topped and cocked behind with a flourish of Spanish bravura.
Ford of the guidebook was a man of great cultivation and it shakes our complacency to compare* his artistic* appreciations with our own. ‘ake for instance his comments on two famous artists whose reputations have changed places with a vengeance during the past century. I quote:
“A painter, not a Spaniard, must not be omitted, more on account of the false reputation he has acquired than for his merits Domenico Thentoeopuli, called El Greco. In Spain he fell into a disagreeable, monotonous tone of colouring, of an ashy grey, which, with execrable drawing, render the greater number of his pictures singularly disagreeable, if not absolutely repulsive. Some in the Madrid Gallery are almost caricatures.”
So taste decreed a century ago. Today El Greco, theavalarof the moderns, is a chief glory of Spain. The other painter of whom Ford speaks has fallen to low estate. Once he ruled on high. “Pearls beyond price are some of Murillos female figures in which the hidden strength of chastity in all its unconquerable majesty is most exquisitely portrayed.”We read and rub our eyes. It is thus our grandfathers thought of those simpering Virgins standing coyly on the crescent moon.
An amusing story reinforces the parallel of then and now. In 1848, Year of Revolution, mobs surged through the si reels of Laris, and curators of the Louvre met in alarm. Should worst come to worst, which masterpiece of all was to be saved.”The picture chosen was Murillo’s Virgin!
THE riches of Spain are too diverse and manifold for any tour. My advice to the traveler is to follow that thread in the skein which to him shines brightest, but always to remember that Spain is Spain because it rests firmly on Roman foundations. Study any castle, citadel, or city wall and you will note that the lower courses are formed of those formidable Roman blocks built to resist eternity. Even more vividly than in Rome itself, the picture of her greatness rises in the traveler’s mind as he contemplates her works, standing on the fringes of empire where the image of Janus, keeper of doorways, once marked the terminus of civilization.
Of all provinces, Spain was the most thoroughly Romanized. Two of the best emperors were horn in Spain. So were Martial the wit, the poet Lucan, Quintilian the critic, and the younger Seneca. Hundreds of years before Vespasian and Trajan, Scipio Asiaticus had disbanded his legions there. Great Roman cities sprang up in the south. The visitor to Sevilia has but a mile or two to go to see all that remains of Italica, once second largest of colonial cities. Others not far off arc at Merida, Cordoba, and Carmona, lying between Cordoba and Sevilla. In those renowned cities tourists swarm, but too often they merely pause at the foot of the steep hill crowned by Carmona, taken glance at the fortress Julius Caesar called “by far the strongest in all Spain,”and whisk on to wonder at the greatest of mosques in Cordoba — or if they travel in the other direction, to seek the creature comforts of the Alfonso XIII in Sevilla.
Rut we, belter advised, pass through the great gale to the huge ruin of the Alcazar, given a bucolic touch by the potatoes planted in the neighboring bull-ring. Then, if you would know the Roman in his toga as he lived, pass half an hour in the tiny museum not far off. You have the domestic feeling that strikes you at Lompeii. Little gravestones with their touching tributes share their grief with you. Roman epitaphs are very human. Above them is some homely device suggesting sorrow for the world just lost — a cock in full crow, a nibbling rabbit, a horse ready bridled for his master, a. gladiator whom the dead had backed to win. Other emblems refer to the ultimate adventure — the peacock with his promise of immortality, the griflin with his courage to fight the unknown. There is a series of glass pluals, iridescent with age, which once held the tears of professional mourners, and lamps to light the dead through the darkness of the Styx. One tablet fastened to the castle wall seemed like a hand oul si retched through the centuries. I transcribe its Greek text in a rough translation: —
“This memorial is sacred to the holy manes of the dead Eilomcnlor, a native of Tarsus, son of Athenodorus of Cauana, traveling for the sake of his passion for philosophic wisdom. He died in the consulship of Crassus and Pisonus. His soul sits among the immortals. His body is interred in this sacred grave, He lived 48 years, 6 months, and 4 days. May earth lie light upon him.”
The gent le pet it ion to earth is the Roman equivalent of R.L.P., and how much more comforting to one perplexed by the tremendous riddle of immortality is this specific entreaty..
This traveler in search of philosophic wisdom seemed to me a guide on my own way and I went deeper into his history. First he must have brushed elbows with Paul the Apostle when be was persecuting the saints in Tarsus. Then the trusty Britanuica informed me that this fat her, Athenodorus of Canana (I can rely on Atlantic readers not to confuse him with Athenodorus of Teos who, they will recall, played the cithara at the wedding of Alexander the Great), rose to high honor as tutor to Octavian and was bold enough to curb that headstrong young gentleman’s temper. “If anger seizes you,”he would say , “before you strike, repeat to yourself the letters of the alphabet.”It sets us wondering how far down the list of letters the half master of the world went when news reached him that Antony had joined his Cleopatra. Cicero, too, speaks in his letters with admiration of Athenodorus, and it is to his influence modern scholarship attributes the striking resemblance connecting the philosophies of Paul and Seneca.
See how large a view opens from a little window. So, fellow tourist, if you too seek philosophic wisdom, go to Alcántara where the rock-bound Tagus is spanned by a glorious Roman bridge, and remember that when those cyclopean arches were building, imperialism was not traduced as tyranny and Spain with all her treasures — tin, copper, iron, lead, silver, her olive orchards, her harvests protected by Ceres — enjoyed a government more equitable, peaceful, and respected than any other in twenty-five hundred years of her tragical history. The balance sheet of “self-determination ” is not all on one side.
LOVEIIS of beauty, lovers of history, lovers of Hemingway — I know not which are most plentiful — will not neglect to visit Honda. Founded on a mighty rock, almost circled by the tumultuous Guadiaro, it borders the brink of a tremendous chasm that is one of the wonders of the Spanish world. Stand on that vertiginous edge and there, five hundred sheer feet below, the river lashes itself to a black fury as it strikes the jagged cliffs and crashes into the valley. Spain is drama and in this apocalyptic gorge is pictured Spain’s tragedyloving temperament. One is tempted to believe that it was Nature which preordained Honda as the stage where the bullfight first became sign and symbol of Spanish chivalry. In early times, the bull was fought in city squares and today at the great fete of Pamplona a herd of bulls rush blindly through the streets, seeking revenge on country drovers who make a holiday of prodding them to fury. But it was at Ronda that the rules of the bullfight were first framed and the complicated artistry of death contrived with all its deftness and cold courage. There, too, dwelt, the famous Homero.
The Homeros were a clan greatly gifted in the arena, but he at Honda excelled his kind, His bearing was noble, his eye born to command bull or woman. No virgin of the city but would have been his for a nod; and when his choice fell not on one of them but upon a beautiful gitana, the consternation of his family was hardly greater than that in every house wherein dwelt ;m unmarried maid. Tears and prayer availed not. As in all legends, the father stormed, the mother groveled on her knees, but the hero was inflexible. For months after their wedding the felicity of the pair was the single subject of chatter as the women filled their evening jars at the town fountain. That and Elena’s loveliness. Her eyes outshone the evening star and her form was the most exquisite that ever drove an Andalusian lover to distraction. Every now and then the bridegroom would go forth to a fight, slay his six bulls with a delicacy and precision that brought an hysteria of applause; but his pride was not in the blue and silver of his coat, not in the sonorous voice of the alcalde as he pronounced Homero victor of victors —but in the vision of his enchanting wife, awaiting him in his doorway, still in her gypsy dress, holding out her arms for his embrace.
Honda is famous for what happened a few months later. One morning, Homero mounted his horse and set out for Malaga, where a peculiarly glorious triumph promised to await him. For several hours he rode, thinking only of Elena. Then of a sudden his mare shied, stumbled, and fell heavily. No bones were broken but the hero s legs were bruised and stiff. There was no fight for him that day.
Painfully he mounted. His horse limped slowly home and the clock in the ancient tower of Honda church struck midnight as he reached his doorstep. The house was tight shuttered. All was dark and silent. Homero knocked with the light, tap Elena knew so well. In an instant her arms would close about him and every ache would vanish. But there was no movement within, though his keen ears seemed to catch the slightest stir in an upper room. He knocked louder. The faint sound persisted and then he fairly banged the door. Now within the bosom of every Spanish husband there lurks something of the Moorish past, and the torment in Othello’s heart entered into his. Homero shook the door till it almost gave on its hinges. At last it opened. His wife stood on the threshold, all loving tenderness, but the peach of her cheek seemed white in the pale moonlight, and the arms that, clasped his neck were trembling. “I feared so terribly you ’ere hurt,” she whispered, but in the sudden agony of his doubt he brushed her roughly aside and rushed up t Ho narrow stairs.
A Spanish chamber is not apt to be overfurnished. Elena’s contained a bed, a chair, and in one corner a huge vat ready for the autumn pressing. The halfcrazed husband wrenched off the cover and there within, squatted like a toad, was a human figure. One look Homero took. Dim as was the light, lie recognized the tonsured head of a Capuchin. A dozen times he stabbed blindly with his knife, then turned on his fainting wife, caught her up as if she were a bundle of noxious offal contaminating the house, dashed down the stairs and on through the streets till he came to the terrifying brink of the chasm of the Guadiaro. There, pausing for one second, he hurled his shrieking burden into the void.
Tongues still wag in Honda of that destructive night. In the morning the fathers of the city met. They were quite conscious of the importance of family discipline, and the summary execution of the Capuchin seemed to them not merely justified but salutary and instructive to all young and pretty wives. But to cast a lawful wife into so deep a pit — that was going beyond all regulations. It was determined that Romero should be arrested and held for trial. But prison and the garrote were not to that hero’s liking. Before another midnight sounded he was off to the mountains and enthusiastically accepted as chief of a band of brigands. Of his further exploits my friends did not enlighten me, but the episode I have described has a remarkable history. For, in after years, one Prosper Merimee listened to the Honda story and revolutionized it. Romero was transmuted into José; Elena, immortalized as Carmen. The world does not hold a better tale than Mérimcé’s, and to live again as Carmen certainly compensated Elena for her stupendous mishap. Fame loved her sins and altered the gypsy almost beyond recognition. By the devious course of destiny, a version of Merimce’s study produced by the collaboration of Meilliac and Halevy was apotheosized into Bizet s astounding opera. Full sixty years ago at the Metropolitan Opera in New York the thrilling notes of Calve singing the sorrows of Carmen fell on the ears of 1 his narrator and stirred him to an enthusiasm so lasting that, standing yesterday in Honda, he rejoiced that Elena lived and loved and sinned and fell.
AMONGST the shrubbery of my garden stands an antique jar having on one side a bundle of arrows, on the other a yoke. Everywhere in Leon, Castile, and Aragon you will see these symbols, commemorating the central fact of Spanish history; the union of Ferdinand of Aragon with Isabella of Castile; the flechas (arrows) form the device of Ferdinand, and the yvgo (yoke) stands lor Isabella. Without some knowledge of these two remarkable monarchs, ruling as absolute equals, the maze of Spanish history is impenetrable. Los Reyes Católicos conquered the Moors, extirpated (he Jews, established the Inquisition, and created a nation of one blood, one purpose, and one religion. I he discipline they imposed made their country, in the next generation, the leading power of the world and, it we look further, planted the seeds of its eventual demoralization. In the single annus mirabils of 1492, the Catholic Kings captured the Moorish kingdom of Granada, slaughtered or drove into exile 160,000 Jews, and dispatched Columbus to win a new world.
By every modern standard, Ferdinand was a wicked king. His contemporaries t bought ol herwise. Like Louis XI of France, it was by crookedness he made straight the path of his people, The philosopher Maehiavelli held him the model of all a Prince should be. “Those Princes,” he wrote, “who have done great things, have held good faith of little account and in t he end have ov ercome those relying on their word. There are two ways of carrying on a combat, one by law, the other by force. The first befits man, the second, brutes. But as the first, is often unsuccessful, it is necessary to have recourse to the second. Since a Prince, then, is compelled to play a brute’s part, he should be both the Lion and the Fox.”
If Ferdinand was the Fox, Isabella was the Lion. What Elizabeth was to England, such was she to Spain — as a woman nobler far, and as a queen her equal. But what a price she paid for her achievements! No queen and few women have laid upon the altar of their God more costly offerings of human anguish. I doubt no more than she that, throughout her reign, she never contravened that she held the will of God. Yet He punished her as implacably as ever she punished backsliding Jews.
Her misfortunes were as Niobe’s. Her darling son, Juan, accomplished, virtuous, and married but six months, failed suddenly, dying at seventeen. Think of him when you enter the wonderful portal of the palace at Valladolid, where the boy one day lav dying as he discoursed to his fat her of the divine Aristotle and of his own perfect resignation. And if Art can move you, you will suffer with Isabella when you stand before his tomb at Avila. In the whole range of the Renaissance there is no more affecting work than this masterpiece of Domenico Fancelli. There the Prince lies, struck in the flower of his youth, one arm outstretched, with the empty gauntlet slipped from his grasp. The brightest hope of his mother’s life was buried with him. Then for a season she hoped again. Her daughter, married to King Manuel of Portugal, bore a son. Might not this Prince of Peace, as Isabella called him, make of the Peninsula a single nation? But within two years the infant died. Another daughter was wed to I he Archduke of Austria. She adored her husband and when he died young she went quite crazed. History knows her as Joan the Fool or, more vulgarly, Crazy Jane, Yet by a quirk of fate the son of this madwoman was destined to become, as Charles V, the mightiest monarch since Charlemagne.
So much history, fellow tourist, you are bound to carry with you; and contemplating it in that spirit, of philosophic wisdom we have spoken of, you will marvel at the ways of the Lord, who often rewards his servants with sorrows almost beyond bearing, not according to their iniquities but in the seeming presence of every v irtue.
We who consider history take for our criterion the standards of our age. Whoever has contravened those standards, we hold him guilty. But God, who knoweth the heart, may well decide otherwise. Byr their own lights, He judges the children of men. By that rule Isabella the Catholic lived spotless as a woman as she reigned glorious as a queen.
We have good American authority for stay-athome travel, letting the mind go a-wander, while we sit comfortably at our own fireside. Lowell puts it into homely verse: —
If with vision unfurled you leave your abode You may go round the world by Old Marlboro road.
But, to mv thinking, the best way of all is to travel abroad and to take your mind with you. Before you go (again the accent is on the mind) let me advise you to bone up on some particular subject and see that your itinerary illuminates it. Take, for example, education in the Middle Ages, for that is a peculiarly fascinaling topic and will bring as your reward a journey to Salamanca.
Once Salamanca rivaled Paris as the most famous university in Europe. Five thousand boys, most ot them ragged and living hungrily on their hopes, crowded through the sculptured portal in a pursuit of learning in tenser perhaps than any before or since. For knowledge long lost was come again, and a world the ancients had never known stretched limitless beyond the horizon. The four props of medieval learning logic, grammar, law, and medicine— were the only subjects taught, but proficiency in any one could make a man’s fame and fortune, and many a cadaverous student lived to become a fat prelate or an administrator high in the comfortable service of the state.
Students had other reasons for loving universitylife. Their pallets might be straw and their victuals bread and cheese, but in a very real sense they owned the university, it was their fees which paid the professor, He was their man, and when the lecture was over they had the contractual right to quiz him. Think of the educational possibilit’ of that! For a full half hour, by statute, the lecturer must stand, his hack to the wall, and answer every question that, the devilish ingenuit’ of hoys can suggest. What a zip and an edge this practice would have given the classes of our own youth! In my own case I should have spent a week plunged in the most refined thought, preparing for such an opportunity.
In earlier times, the lecture halls were encumbered by no furniture whatever, and students kept their minds alert standing on their legs; blit in ihe sixteenth century, Oxford led the way down the enervating path of college luxury by introducing seals. Salamanca followed suit and rough-hewn benches made their agreeable appearance. They are there now in tight serried rows. On one I noticed, cut deep in ihe oak, the name of an idle boy not unknown to fame, who conquered his idleness with a vengeance. Lope do Vega the name was, most prolific of world playwrights—and if we conform to Spanish estimate, one of the supremely great.
Think of all that has happened in t his schoolroom! Once, on that dais, Columbus stood telling goggling boys his tale of wonder. There, when the whole world was living in the innermost crystal globe of the Ptolemaic t henry, disciples of Copernicus taught them the truth: the sun of this great, world ceased to move round it.
True it is, scholastic education left uncultivated much of imagination, It trained pure intellect and spun subtlety into a thousand mazes. But remember the part logic, inheritance of Aristotle, has played in all our inv entions and discoveries. Were I asked to what ihe practical success of the Rockefeller Foundation is due, I should answer that the early practice of drawing upon remarkable graduates of religious seminaries deserves half the credit. Splitting the hairs of Methodism and Presby terianism is a whetstone for intellects fit to shape the world of tomorrow.
Travel is the archenemy of prejudice. It creates comparison and is the death of smugness. We think of Spain as being many centuries behind in the skills of living —and so, in many respects, it is. But where can we learn so well that pleasantest of human accomplishments — the art. of manners? Where is the individual more his own man? Where else can we witness faith exalted lo the dizzy height appointed by the New Testament? Not in Borne, where faith is overtopped by prelacy; not in the East, where fanaticism has entered into its soul. But to me, chiefest of all gifts of travel is its enhancement of the sense of beauty. In America, natural beauty is manifold and marvelous; but it is where monasteries and castles crown the hills, and cathedral spires rise above huddled cities, that beauty becomes so permeated with ihe story of mankind that, the two blond indissolubly and the enrichment of centuries colors with its intricate embroidery the scenes before us. To take il all in, the mind enlarges. We see in a single glance what is and what has been. The view becomes a vision.
I would not have the reader think this ;i disparagement of our own inherit ance, which I love as he does; so my last words shall be Rosalind’s; —
“Farewell, Monsieur Traveller. Look you lisp and wear strange sails, disable all the benefits of your own country, be out of love with your nativity and almost chide God for making you that countenance you are;or I will scarce think you have swam in a gondola.”