No. 457.
Mr. Lowell to Mr. Evarts.

No. 65.]

Sir: In these days of newspaper enterprise, when everything that happens, ought to happen, or might have happened is reported by telegraph to all quarters of the world, the slow-going dispatch-bag can hardly be expected to bring anything very fresh or interesting in regard to a public ceremonial which, though intended for political effect, had little political significance. The next morning, frames of fire-works are not inspiring, unless to the moralist; and Madrid is already quarreling over the cost and mismanagement of a show, for the tickets to which it was quarreling a week ago.

Yet a few words will not be out of place upon a royal holiday which but yesterday divided the attention of the world with the awful historical tragedy of the East and the momentous social problems which are looming in the West. Nowhere in the world could a spectacle have been presented which recalled so various, so far-reaching, and in some respects so sublime associations, yet rendered depressing by a sense of anachronism, of decay, and of that unreality which is all the sadder for being-gorgeous. The Roman amphitheater (partem et circenses); the united scutcheons from whose quartering dates the downfall of Saracenic civilization and dominion in Spain; the banners of Lepanto and of the Inquisition fading together into senile oblivion on the walls of the Atocha; the names and titles that recalled the conquest of western empires, or the long defeat whose heroism established the independence of the United Provinces and proved that a confederacy of traders could be heroic; the state coaches, plumed horses, blazing liveries, and running footmen of Louis Quatorze; the partisans of Philip Second’s bodyguard, the three-cornered hats, white breeches, and long black gaiters of a century ago, mingled pell-mell with the French shakos and red trousers of to-day; the gay or somber costumes from every province of Spain, some recalling the Moor and some the motley mercenaries of Lope de Figueroa; the dense and mostly silent throng which lined for [Page 781] miles the avenues to the church, crowding the windows with white mantillas, fringing the eaves and ridge-poles, and clustered like swarming bees on every kind of open ground; all of these certainly touched the imagination, but in my case, at least, with a chill as of the dead man’s hand that played so large a part in earlier incantations to recall the buried or to delay the inevitable. There was everything to remind one of the past; there was nothing to suggest the future.

And yet I am unjust. There were the young King and his bride, radiant with spirit and hope, rehearsing the idyll which is charming alike to youth and age, and giving pledges, as I hope and believe, of more peaceful and prosperous years to come for a country which has had too much glory and too little good housekeeping. No one familiar with Spanish history, or who has even that superficial knowledge of her national character which is all that a foreigner is capable of acquiring, can expect any sudden or immediate regeneration. The bent of ages is not to be straightened in a day by never so many liberal constitutions nor by the pedantic application of theories drawn from foreign experience, the result of a wholly different past. If the ninety years since the French revolution have taught anything, it has been that institutions grow and cannot be made to order; that they grow out of an actual past, and are not to be conspired out of a conjectural future; that human nature is stronger than any invention of man. How much of this lesson has been learned in Spain it is hard to say, but if the young King apply his really acute intelligence, as those who know him best believe he will, to the conscientious exercise of constitutional powers, and the steady development of parliamentary methods, till party leaders learn that an ounce of patience is worth a pound of passion, Spain may at length count on that duration of tranquillity, the want of which has been the chief obstacle to her material development. Looked at in this light, the pomps of the wedding festival on the 23d of last month may be something more than a mere show. Nor should it be forgotten that here it is not the idea of law, but of power, that is rooted in the consciousness of the people, and that ceremonial is the garment of authority.

Madrid, as you know, being an improvised capital, is not the see of a bishop, and accordingly has no cathedral. The Atocha is a small church, and the ceremony there was necessarily private, thus lacking the popular affluente and the perspective which a building of grander proportions would have given to it. But the splendor of the costumes, especially those of the higher clergy and the heralds-at-arms, which are the same now as five hundred years ago, gave one the feeling that he saw the original scene of some illuminated page in Froissart. I was struck by the great number of times that the phrase rey catolico de España was repeated during the wedding service, and with the emphasis which the officiating prelate, the archbishop of Toledo, seemed to lay upon the adjective, the legal title of Alfonso XII being rey constitutional. I was struck also with the look of genuine happiness in the faces of the royal bride and bridegroom, which strongly confirmed the opinion of those who believe that the match is one of love and not of convenience.

The ceremony over, the King and Queen, preceded by the cabinet ministers, the special ambassadors, and the grandees of Spain, and followed by other personages, all in coaches of state, drove at a foot-pace to the palace, where their Majesties received the congratulations of the court, and afterwards passed in review the garrison of Madrid. By invitation of the president of the council, the foreign legations witnessed the royal procession from the balconies of the presidency. It was a very picturesque spectacle, and yet so comically like a scene from Cinderella [Page 782] as to have a strong flavor of unreality. It was the Past coming hack again, and thus typified one of the chronic maladies of Spain. There was no enthusiasm, nothing more than the curiosity of idleness which would have drawn as great a crowd to gape at the entry of a Japanese ambassador. I heard none of the shouts of which I read in some of the newspapers next day. No inference, however, should be drawn from this as to the popularity or unpopularity of the King. The people of the capital have been promised the millennium too often, and have been too constantly disappointed, to indulge in many illusions. Spain, isolated as in many respects she is, cannot help suffering in sympathy with the commercial depression of the rest of the world, and Spaniards like the rest of mankind look to a change of ministry for a change in the nature of things. The internal policies of the country (even could I understand them, as I am studying to do) do not come directly within my province, but it is safe to say that Spain is lucky in having her ablest recent statesman at the head of affairs, though at the cost of many other private ambitions. That he has to steer according to the prevailing set of the wind is, perhaps, rather the necessity of his position than the fault of his inclination. Whoever has seen the breasts of the peasantry fringed with charms older than Carthage, and relics as old as Borne, and those of the upper classes plastered with decorations, will not expect Spain to become conscious of the nineteenth century and ready to welcome it in a day.

On Thursday there was a grand public reception at the palace, at which 5,000 persons are said to have filed before their Majesties in witness of their loyalty. All the palaces since the grand siècle have been more or less tawdry, but that of Madrid has a certain massive dignity, and the throne-room especially has space and height enough to give proper effect to ceremonies of this kind. The young Queen wore her crown for the first time, and performed her new functions with the grace of entire self-possession. The ceremony, naturally somewhat tedious in itself, acquired more interest from the fact that the presence or absence of certain personages was an event of more or less political importance.

In the evening there was a dinner to the special ambassadors and the diplomatic corps, followed by a very crowded reception at the palace of the presidency, at which all of Madrid that has a name seemed to be present. The fine apartments were crowded until half past two in the morning. The street on which the palace stands (the Alcala) was so crammed for its whole length with people that the carriages of ministers on their way to the dinner were unable to pass. The mob (and a Madrid mob is no joke) became so threatening that foreign representatives were forced to renounce their privilege of tree passage and to reach their dinners in a more roundabout and diplomatic fashion. It is to the credit of their professional ability that all arrived in season. I have seen nothing so characteristic since my arrival as the wild faces, threatening gestures, and frightful imprecations of this jam of human beings, which, reasonably enough, refused to be driven over.

On Friday took place the first bull-fight, at which every inhabitant of Madrid, and all foreigners commorant therein, deemed it a natural right to be present. The latter, indeed, asserted that the logical reason for the existence of legations was to supply their countrymen with tickets to this particular spectacle for nothing. Though I do not share in the belief that the sole use of a foreign minister is to save the cost of a valet de place to people who can perfectly well afford to pay for one, I did all I could to have my countrymen fare as well as the rest of the world. And so they did, if they were willing to buy the tickets, which [Page 783] were for sale at every corner. The distribution of them had been performed on some principle unheard of out of Spain, and apparently not understood even there, so that everybody was dissatisfied, most of all those who got them.

The day was as disagreeable as the prince of the powers of the air could make it, even with special reference to a festival. A furious and bitterly cold wind discharged volleys of coarse dust, which stung like sleet, in every direction at once, and seemed always to threaten rain or snow, but, unable to make up its mind as to which would be most unpleasant, decided on neither. Yet the broad avenue to the amphitheater was continually blocked by the swarm of vehicles of every shape, size, color, and discomfort that the nightmare of a bankrupt livery-stabler could have invented. All the hospitals and prisons for decayed or condemned carriages seemed to have discharged their inmates for the day, and all found willing victims. And yet all Madrid seemed flocking toward the common magnet on foot also.

I attended officially, as a matter of duty, and escaped early. It was my first bull-fight, and will be my last. To me it was a shocking and brutalizing spectacle, in which all my sympathies were on the side of the bull. As I came out I was nearly ridden down by a mounted guard, owing to my want of any official badge. For the moment I almost wished myself the representative of Liberia. Since this dreadful day the 16,000 spectators who were so happy as to be present have done nothing but blow their noses and cough.

By far the prettiest and most interesting feature of the week of the festival was the dancing in the plaza de drmas, before the palace, of deputations from all the provinces of Spain in their picturesque costumes. The dances were rather curious than graceful, and it was odd that the only one which we are accustomed to consider pre-eminently Spanish, the cachucha, was performed by two professional dancers. The rest had, however, a higher interest from their manifest antiquity and almost rudimentary characters. When the dances were over, the deputations were ranged in files, and were passed in review by the King and his guests. One was struck by the general want of beauty, whether of face or form, in both sexes, and by the lowness of stature. But there was great vigor of body, and the hard features had an expression of shrewdness and honesty. By far the prettiest among the women were those from Andalusia.

The same evening (Sunday) the King entertained the special ambassadors and diplomatic body at dinner, and this was followed by a reception. A dinner, where one is planted between two entire strangers, and expected to be entertaining in an alien tongue, will, one may hope, be reckoned to our credit in another world. The reception had one striking and novel feature, and this was the marching past of the Madrid garrison with colored lanterns and torches. It was a spectacle of vivid picturesqueness. Besides these hospitalities there were two performances at the opera, which I did not attend. During the whole week the city was gay with colored hangings by day, and bright with illuminations (some of them very pretty) by night.

At last the natural order of things began again. As on all such occasions, there had been long and constantly heightening expectation, short fruition, and general relief when all was over. Everybody grumbled, everybody could have managed things better, and yet, on the whole, I think everything went off almost better than could have been expected.

I have, &c.,