Familiar Spanish Travels, by William Dean Howells

A Night and Day in Toledo

If you choose to make your visit to Toledo an episode of your stay in Madrid, you have still to choose between going at eight in the morning and arriving back at five in the evening, or going at five one evening and coming back at the same hour the next. In either case you will have two hours’ jolting each way over the roughest bit of railroad in the world, and if your mozo, before you could stop him, has selected for your going a compartment over the wheels, you can never be sure that he has done worse for you than you will have done for yourself when you come back in a compartment between the trucks. However you go or come, you remain in doubt whether you have been jolting over rails jointed at every yard, or getting on without any track over a cobble-stone pavement. Still, if the compartment is wide and well cushioned, as it is in Spain nearly always, with free play for your person between roof and floor and wall and wall; and if you go at five o’clock you have from your windows, as long as the afternoon light lasts, while you bound and rebound, glimpses of far-stretching wheat-fields, with nearer kitchen-gardens rich in beets and cabbages, alternating with purple and yellow patches of vineyard.

I

I find from my ever-faithful note-book that the landscape seemed to grow drearier as we got away from Madrid, but this may have been the effect of the waning day: a day which at its brightest had been dim from recurrent rain and incessant damp. The gloom was not relieved by the long stops at the frequent stations, though the stops were good for getting one’s breath, and for trying to plan greater control over one’s activities when the train should be going on again. The stations themselves were not so alluring that we were not willing to get away from them; and we were glad to get away from them by train, instead of by mule-team over the rainy levels to the towns that glimmered along the horizon two or three miles off. There had been nothing to lift the heart in the sight of two small boys ready perched on one horse, or of a priest difficultly mounting another in his long robe. At the only station which I can remember having any town about it a large number of our passengers left the train, and I realized that they were commuters like those who might have been leaving it at some soaking suburb of Long Island or New Jersey. In the sense of human brotherhood which the fact inspired I was not so lonely as I might have been, when we resumed our gloomy progress, with all that punctilio which custom demands of a Spanish way-train. First the station-master rings a bell of alarming note hanging on the wall, and the mozos run along the train shutting the car doors. After an interval some other official sounds a pocket whistle, and then there is still time for a belated passenger to find his car and scramble aboard. When the ensuing pause prolongs itself until you think the train has decided to remain all day, or all night, and several passengers have left it again, the locomotive rouses itself and utters a peremptory screech. This really means going, but your doubt has not been fully overcome when the wheels begin to bump under your compartment, and you set your teeth and clutch your seat, and otherwise prepare yourself for the renewal of your acrobatic feats. I may not get the order of the signals for departure just right, but I am sure of their number. Perhaps the Sud–Express starts with less, but the Sud–Express is partly French.

It had been raining intermittently all day; now that the weary old day was done the young night took up the work and vigorously devoted itself to a steady downpour which, when we reached our hotel in Toledo, had taken the role of a theatrical tempest, with sudden peals of thunder and long loud bellowing reverberations and blinding flashes of lightning, such as the wildest stage effects of the tempest in the Catskills when Rip Van Winkle is lost would have been nothing to. Foreboding the inner chill of a Spanish hotel on such a day, we had telegraphed for a fire in our rooms, and our eccentricity had been interpreted in spirit as well as in letter. It was not the habitual hotel omnibus which met us at the station, but a luxurious closed carriage commanded by an interpreter who intuitively opened our compartment door, and conveyed us dry and warm to our hotel, in every circumstance of tender regard for our comfort, during the slow, sidelong uphill climb to the city midst details of historic and romantic picturesqueness which the lightning momently flashed in sight. From our carriage we passed as in a dream between the dress-coated head waiter and the skull-capped landlord who silently and motionlessly received us in the Gothic doorway, and mounted by a stately stair from a beautiful glass-roofed patio, columned round with airy galleries, to the rooms from which a smoky warmth gushed out to welcome us.

The warmth was from the generous blaze kindled in the fireplace against our coming, and the smoke was from the crevices in a chimneypiece not sufficiently calked with newspapers to keep the smoke going up the flue. The fastidious may think this a defect in our perfect experience, but we would not have had it otherwise, if we could, and probably we could not. We easily assumed that we were in the palace of some haughty hidalgo, adapted to the uses of a modern hotel, with a magical prevision which need not include the accurate jointing of a chimneypiece. The storm bellowed and blazed outside, the rain strummed richly on the patio roof which the lightning illumined, and as we descended that stately stair, with its walls ramped and foliaged over with heraldic fauna and flora, I felt as never before the disadvantage of not being still fourteen years old.

But you cannot be of every age at once and it was no bad thing to be presently sitting down in my actual epoch at one of those excellent Spanish dinners which no European hotel can surpass and no American hotel can equal. It may seem a descent from the high horse, the winged steed of dreaming, to have been following those admirable courses with unflagging appetite, as it were on foot, but man born of woman is hungry after such a ride as ours from Madrid; and it was with no appreciable loss to our sense of enchantment that we presently learned from our host, waiting skull-capped in the patio, that we were in no real palace of an ancient hidalgo, but were housed as we found ourselves by the fancy of a rich nobleman of Toledo whom the whim had taken to equip his city with a hotel of poetic perfection. I am afraid I have forgotten his name; perhaps I should not have the right to parade it here if I remembered it; but I cannot help saluting him brother in imagination, and thanking him for one of the rarest pleasures that travel, even Spanish travel, has given me.

II

One must recall the effect of such a gentle fantasy as his with some such emotion as one recalls a pleasant tale unexpectedly told when one feared a repetition of stale commonplaces, and I now feel a pang of retroactive self-reproach for not spending the whole evening after dinner in reading up the story of that most storied city where this Spanish castle received us. What better could I have done in the smoky warmth of our hearth-fire than to con, by the light of the electric bulb dangling overhead, its annals in some such voluntarily quaint and unconsciously old-fashioned volume as Irving’s Legends of the Conquest of Spain; or to read in some such (if there is any such other) imperishably actual and unfadingly brilliant record of impressions as Gautier’s Voyage en Espagne, the miserably tragic tale of that poor, wicked, over-punished last of the Gothic kings, Don Roderick? It comes to much the same effect in both, and as I knew it already from the notes to Scott’s poem of Don Roderick, which I had read sixty years before in the loft of our log cabin (long before the era of my unguided Spanish studies), I found it better to go to bed after a day which had not been without its pains as well as pleasures. I could recall the story well enough for all purposes of the imagination as I found it in the fine print of those notes, and if I could believe the reader did not know it I would tell him now how this wretched Don Roderick betrayed the daughter of Count Julian whom her father had intrusted to him here in his capital of Toledo, when, with the rest of Spain, it had submitted to his rule. That was in the eighth century when the hearts of kings were more easily corrupted by power than perhaps in the twentieth; and it is possible that there was a good deal of politics mixed up with Count Julian’s passion for revenge on the king, when he invited the Moors to invade his native land and helped them overrun it. The conquest, let me remind the reader, was also abetted by the Jews who had been flourishing mightily under the Gothic anarchy, but whom Don Roderick had reduced to a choice between exile or slavery when he came to full power. Every one knows how in a few weeks the whole peninsula fell before the invaders. Toledo fell after the battle of Guadalete, where even the Bishop of Seville fought on their side, and Roderick was lastingly numbered among the missing, and was no doubt killed, as nothing has since been heard of him. It was not until nearly three hundred years afterward that the Christians recovered the city. By this time they were no longer Arians, but good Catholics; so good that Philip II. himself, one of the best of Catholics (as I have told), is said to have removed the capital to Madrid because he could not endure the still more scrupulous Catholicity of the Toledan Bishop.

Nobody is obliged to believe this, but I should be sorry if any reader of mine questioned the insurpassable antiquity of Toledo, as attested by a cloud of chroniclers. Theophile Gautier notes that “the most moderate place the epoch of its foundation before the Deluge,” and he does not see why they do not put the time “under the pre-Adamite kings, some years before the creation of the world. Some attribute the honor of laying its first stone to Jubal, others to the Greek; some to the Roman consuls Tolmor and Brutus; some to the Jews who entered Spain with Nebuchadnezzar, resting their theory on the etymology of Toledo, which comes from Toledoth, a Hebrew word signifying generations, because the Twelve Tribes had helped to build and people it.”

III

Even if the whole of this was not accurate, it offered such an embarrassing abundance to the choice that I am glad I knew little or nothing of the antagonistic origins when I opened my window to the sunny morning which smiled at the notion of the overnight tempest, and lighted all the landscape on that side of the hotel. The outlook was over vast plowed lands red as Virginia or New Jersey fields, stretching and billowing away from the yellow Tagus in the foreground to the mountain-walled horizon, with far stretches of forest in the middle distance. What riches of gray roof, of white wall, of glossy green, or embrowning foliage in the city gardens the prospect included, one should have the brush rather than the pen to suggest; or else one should have an inexhaustible ink-bottle with every color of the chromatic scale in it to pour the right tints. Mostly, however, I should say that the city of Toledo is of a mellow gray, and the country of Toledo a rich orange. Seen from any elevation the gray of the town made me think of Genoa; and if the reader’s knowledge does not enable him, to realize it from this association, he had better lose no time in going to Genoa.


RICHES OF GRAY ROOF AND WHITE WALL MARK ITS INSURPASSABLE ANTIQUITY

I myself should prefer going again to Toledo, where we made only a day’s demand upon the city’s wealth of beauty when a lifetime would hardly have exhausted it. Yet I would not counsel any one to pass his whole life in Toledo unless he was sure he could bear the fullness of that beauty. Add insurpassable antiquity, add tragedy, add unendurable orthodoxy, add the pathos of hopeless decay, and I think I would rather give a day than a lifetime to Toledo. Or I would like to go back and give another day to it and come every year and give a day. This very moment, instead of writing of it in a high New York flat and looking out on a prospect incomparably sky-scrapered, I would rather be in that glass-roofed patio of our histrionic hotel, engaging the services of one of the most admirable guides who ever fell to the lot of mortal Americans, while much advised by our skull-capped landlord to shun the cicerone of another hotel as “an Italian man,” with little or no English.

As soon as we appeared outside the beggars of Toledo swarmed upon us; but I hope it was not from them I formed the notion that the beauty of the place was architectural and not personal, though these poor things were as deplorably plain as they were obviously miserable. The inhabitants who did not ask alms were of course in the majority, but neither were these impressive in looks or bearing. Rather, I should say, their average was small and dark, and in color of eyes and hair as well as skin they suggested the African race that held Toledo for four centuries. Neither here nor anywhere else in Spain are there any traces of the Jews who helped bring the Arabs in; once for all, that people have been banished so perfectly that they do not show their noses anywhere. Possibly they exist, but they do not exist openly, any more than the descendants of the Moorish invaders practise their Moslem rites. As for the beggars, to whom I return as they constantly returned to us, it did not avail to do them charity; that by no means dispersed them; the thronging misery and mutilation in the lame, the halt and the blind, was as great at our coming back to our hotel as our going out of it. They were of every age and sex; the very school-children left their sports to chance our charity; and it is still with a pang that I remember the little girl whom we denied a copper when she was really asking for a florecito out of the nosegay that one of us carried. But how could we know that it was a little flower and not a “little dog” she wanted?

There was something vividly spectacular in the square, by no means large, which we came into on turning the corner from our hotel. It was a sort of market-place as well as business place, and it looked as if it might be the resort at certain hours of the polite as well as the impolite leisure of a city of leisure not apparently overworked in any of its classes. But at ten o’clock in the morning it was empty enough, and after a small purchase at one of the shops we passed from it without elbowing or being elbowed, and found ourselves at the portal of that ancient posada where Cervantes is said to have once sojourned at least long enough to write one of his Exemplary Novels. He was of such a ubiquitous habit that if we had visited every city of Spain we should have found some witness of his stay, but I do not believe we could have found any more satisfactory than this. It is verified by a tablet in its outer wall, and within it is convincingly a posada of his time. It has a large low-vaulted interior, with the carts and wagons of the muleteers at the right of the entrance, and beyond these the stalls of the mules where they stood chewing their provender, and glancing uninterestedly round at the intruders, for plainly we were not of the guests who frequent the place. Such, for a chamber like those around and behind the stalls, on the same earthen level, pay five cents of our money a day; they supply their own bed and board and pay five cents more for the use of a fire.

Some guests were coming and going in the dim light of the cavernous spaces; others were squatting on the ground before their morning meal. An endearing smoke-browned wooden gallery went round three sides of the patio overhead; half-way to this at one side rose an immense earthen water jar, dim red; piles of straw mats, which were perhaps the bedding of the guests, heaped the ground or hung from the gallery; and the guests, among them a most beautiful youth, black as Africa, but of a Greek perfection of profile, regarded us with a friendly indifference that contrasted strikingly with the fixed stare of the bluish-gray hound beside one of the wagons. He had a human effect of having brushed his hair from his strange grave eyes, and of a sad, hopeless puzzle in the effort to make us out. If he was haunted by some inexplicable relation in me to the great author whose dog he undoubtedly had been in a retroactive incarnation, and was thinking to question me of that ever unfulfilled boyish self-promise of writing the life of Cervantes, I could as successfully have challenged him to say how and where in such a place as that an Exemplary Novelist could have written even the story of The Illustrious Scullion. But he seemed on reflection not to push the matter with me, and I left him still lost in his puzzle while I came away in mine. Whether Cervantes really wrote one of his tales there or not, it is certain that he could have exactly studied from that posada the setting of the scene for the episode of the enchanted castle in Don Quixote, where the knight suffered all the demoniacal torments which a jealous and infuriate muleteer knew how to inflict.

IV

Upon the whole I am not sure that I was more edified by the cathedral of Toledo, though I am afraid to own it, and must make haste to say that it is a cathedral surpassing in some things any other cathedral in Spain. Chiefly it surpasses them in the glory of that stupendous retablo which fills one whole end of the vast fane, and mounting from floor to roof, tells the Christian story with an ineffable fullness of dramatic detail, up to the tragic climax of the crucifixion, the Calvario, at the summit. Every fact of it fixes itself the more ineffaceably in the consciousness because of that cunningly studied increase in the stature of the actors, who always appear life-size in spite of their lift from level to level above the spectator. But what is the use, what is the use? Am I to abandon the young and younger wisdom with which I have refrained in so many books from attempting the portrayal of any Italian, any English church, and fall into the folly, now that I am old, of trying to say again in words what one of the greatest of Spanish churches says in form, in color? Let me rather turn from that vainest endeavor to the trivialities of sight-seeing which endear the memory of monuments and make the experience of them endurable. The beautiful choir, with its walls pierced in gigantic filigree, might have been art or not, as one chose, but the three young girls who smiled and whispered with the young man near it were nature, which there could be no two minds about. They were pathetically privileged there to a moment of the free interplay of youthful interests and emotions which the Spanish convention forbids less in the churches than anywhere else.

The Spanish religion is, in fact, kind to the young in many ways, and on our way to the cathedral we had paused at a shrine of the Virgin in appreciation of her friendly offices to poor girls wanting husbands; they have only to drop a pin inside the grating before her and draw a husband, tall for a large pin and short for a little one; or if they can make their offering in coin, their chances of marrying money are good. The Virgin is always ready to befriend her devotees, and in the cathedral near that beautiful choir screen she has a shrine above the stone where she alighted when she brought a chasuble to St. Ildefonso (she owed him something for his maintenance of her Immaculate Conception long before it was imagined a dogma) and left the print of her foot in the pavement. The fact is attested by the very simple yet absolute inscription:

Quando la Reina del Cielo
Puso los pies en el suelo,
En esta piedra los puso,

or as my English will have it:

When the Queen of Heaven put
Upon the earth her foot,
She put it on this stone

and left it indelible there, so that now if you thrust your finger through the grille and touch the place you get off three hundred years of purgatory: not much in the count of eternity, but still something.

We saw a woman and a priest touching it as we stood by and going away enviably comforted; but we were there as connoisseurs, not as votaries; and we were trying to be conscious solely of the surpassing grandeur and beauty of the cathedral. Here as elsewhere in Spain the passionate desire of the race to realize a fact in art expresses itself gloriously or grotesquely according to the occasion. The rear of the chorus is one vast riot of rococo sculpture, representing I do not know what mystical event; but down through the midst of the livingly studied performance a mighty angel comes plunging, with his fine legs following his torso through the air, like those of a diver taking a header into the water. Nothing less than the sublime touch of those legs would have satisfied the instinct from which and for which the artist worked; they gave reality to the affair in every part.

I wish I could give reality to every part of that most noble, that most lovably beautiful temple. We had only a poor half-hour for it, and we could not do more than flutter the pages of the epic it was and catch here and there a word, a phrase: a word writ in architecture or sculpture, a phrase richly expressed in gold and silver and precious marble, or painted in the dyes of the dawns and sunsets which used to lend themselves so much more willingly to the arts than they seem to do now. From our note-books I find that this cathedral of Toledo appeared more wonderful to one of us than the cathedral of Burgos; but who knows? It might have been that the day was warmer and brighter and had not yet shivered and saddened to the cold rain it ended in. At any rate the vast church filled itself more and more with the solemn glow in which we left it steeped when we went out and took our dreamway through the narrow, winding, wandering streets that seemed to lure us where they would. One of them climbed with us to the Alcazar, which is no longer any great thing to see in itself, but which opens a hospitable space within its court for a prospect of so much of the world around Toledo, the world of yellow river and red fields and blue mountains, and white-clouded azure sky, that we might well have mistaken it for the whole earth. In itself, as I say, the Alcazar is no great thing for where it is, but if we had here in New York an Alcazar that remembered historically back through French, English, Arabic, Gothic. Roman, and Carthaginian occupations to the inarticulate Iberian past we should come, I suppose, from far and near to visit it. Now, however, after gasping at its outlook, we left it hopelessly, and lost ourselves, except for our kindly guide, in the crooked little stony lanes, with the sun hot on our backs and the shade cool in our faces. There were Moorish bits and suggestions in the white walls and the low flat roofs of the houses, but these were not so jealous of their privacy as such houses were once meant to be. Through the gate of one we were led into a garden of simple flowers belted with a world-old parapet, over which we could look at a stretch of the Gothic wall of King Wamba’s time, before the miserable Roderick won and lost his kingdom. A pomegranate tree, red with fruit, overhung us, and from the borders of marigolds and zinnias and German clover the gray garden-wife gathered a nosegay for us. She said she was three duros and a half old, as who should say three dollars and a half, and she had a grim amusement in so translating her seventy years.

V

It was hard by her cottage that we saw our first mosque, which had begun by being a Gothic church, but had lost itself in paynim hands for centuries, in spite of the lamp always kept burning in it. Then one day the Cid came riding by, and his horse, at sight of a white stone in the street pavement, knelt down and would not budge till men came and dug through the wall of the mosque and disclosed this indefatigable lamp in the church. We expressed our doubt of the man’s knowing so unerringly that the horse meant them to dig through the mosque. “If you can believe the rest I think you can believe that,” our guide argued.

He was like so many taciturn Spaniards, not inconversable, and we had a pleasure in his unobtrusive intelligence which I should be sorry to exaggerate. He supplied us with such statistics of his city as we brought away with us, and as I think the reader may join me in trusting, and in regretting that I did not ask more. Still it is something to have learned that in Toledo now each family lives English fashion in a house of its own, while in the other continental cities it mostly dwells in a flat. This is because the population has fallen from two hundred thousand to twenty thousand, and the houses have not shared its decay, but remain habitable for numbers immensely beyond those of the households. In the summer the family inhabits the first floor which the patio and the subterranean damp from the rains keep cool; in the winter it retreats to the upper chambers which the sun is supposed to warm, and which are at any rate dry even on cloudy days. The rents would be thought low in New York: three dollars a month get a fair house in Toledo; but wages are low, too; three dollars a month for a manservant and a dollar and a half for a maid. If the Toledans from high to low are extravagant in anything it is dress, but dress for the outside, not the inside, which does not show, as our guide satirically explained. They scrimp themselves in food and they pay the penalty in lessened vitality; there is not so much fever as one might think; but there is a great deal of consumption; and as we could not help seeing everywhere in the streets there were many blind, who seemed oftenest to have suffered from smallpox. The beggars were not so well dressed as the other classes, but I saw no such delirious patchwork as at Burgos. On the other hand, there were no idle people who were fashionably dressed; no men or women who looked great-world.


AN ANCIENT CORNER OF THE CITY

Perhaps if the afternoon had kept the sunny promise of the forenoon they might have been driving in the Paseo, a promenade which Toledo has like every Spanish city; but it rained and we did not stop at the Paseo which looked so pleasant.

The city, as so many have told and as I hope the reader will imagine, is a network of winding and crooked lanes, which the books say are Moorish, but which are medieval like those of every old city. They nowhere lend themselves to walking for pleasure, and the houses do not open their patios to the passer with Andalusian expansiveness; they are in fact of a quite Oriental reserve. I remember no dwellings of the grade, quite, of hovels; but neither do there seem to be many palaces or palatial houses in my hurried impression. Whatever it may be industrially or ecclesiastically, Toledo is now socially provincial and tending to extinction. It is so near Madrid that if I myself were living in Toledo I would want to live in Madrid, and only return for brief sojourns to mourn my want of a serious object in life; at Toledo it must be easy to cherish such an object.

Industrially, of course, one associates it with the manufacture of the famous Toledo blades, which it is said are made as wonderful as ever, and I had a dim idea of getting a large one for decorative use in a, New York flat. But the foundry is a mile out of town, and I only got so far as to look at the artists who engrave the smaller sort in shops open to the public eye; and my purpose dwindled to the purchase of a little pair of scissors, much as a high resolve for the famous marchpane of Toledo ended in a piece of that pastry about twice the size of a silver dollar. Not all of the twenty thousand people of Toledo could be engaged in these specialties, and I owe myself to blame for not asking more about the local industries; but it is not too late for the reader, whom I could do no greater favor than sending him there, to repair my deficiency. In self-defense I urge my knowledge of a military school in the Alcazar, where and in the street leading up to it we saw some companies of the comely and kindly-looking cadets. I know also that there are public night schools where those so minded may study the arts and letters, as our guide was doing in certain directions. Now that there are no longer any Jews in Toledo, and the Arabs to whom they betrayed the Gothic capital have all been Christians or exiles for many centuries, we felt that we represented the whole alien element of the place; there seemed to be at least no other visitors of our lineage or language.

VI

We were going to spend the rest of the day driving out through the city into the country beyond the Tagus, and we drove off in our really splendid turnout through swarms of beggars whose prayers our horses’ bells drowned when we left them to their despair at the hotel door. At the moment of course we believe that it was a purely dramatic misery which the wretched creatures represented; but sometimes I have since had moments of remorse in which I wish I had thrown big and little dogs broadcast among them. They could not all have been begging for the profit or pleasure of it; some of them were imaginably out of work and worthily ragged as I saw them, and hungry as I begin to fear them. I am glad now to think that many of them could not see with their poor blind eyes the face which I hardened against them, as we whirled away to the music of our horses’ bells.

The bells pretty well covered our horses from their necks to their haunches, a pair of gallant grays urged to their briskest pace by the driver whose short square face and humorous mouth and eyes were a joy whenever we caught a glimpse of them. He was one of those drivers who know everybody; he passed the time of day with all the men we met, and he had a joking compliment for all the women, who gladdened at sight of him from the thresholds where they sat sewing or knitting: such a driver as brings a gay world to home-keeping souls and leaves them with the feeling of having been in it. I would have given much more than I gave the beggars in Toledo to know just in what terms he and his universal acquaintance bantered each other; but the terms might sometimes have been rather rank. Something, at any rate, qualified the air, which I fancied softer than that of Madrid, with a faint recurrent odor, as if in testimony of the driver’s derivation from those old rancid Christians, as the Spaniards used to call them, whose lineage had never been crossed with Moorish blood. If it was merely something the carriage had acquired from the stable, still it was to be valued for its distinction in a country of many smells; and I would not have been without it.

When we crossed the Tagus by a bridge which a company of workmen willingly paused from mending to let us by, and remained standing absent-mindedly aside some time after we had passed, we found ourselves in a scene which I do not believe was ever surpassed for spectacularity in any theater. I hope this is not giving the notion of something fictitious in it; I only mean that here Nature was in one of her most dramatic moods. The yellow torrent swept through a deep gorge of red earth, which on the farther side climbed in precipitous banks, cleft by enormous fissures, or chasms rather, to the wide plateau where the gray city stood. The roofs of mellow tiles formed a succession of levels from which the irregular towers and pinnacles of the churches stamped themselves against a sky now filled with clouds, but in an air so clear that their beautiful irregularities and differences showed to one very noble effect. The city still looked the ancient capital of the two hundred thousand souls it once embraced, and in its stony repair there was no hint of decay.

On our right, the road mounted through country wild enough at times, but for the most part comparatively friendly, with moments of being almost homelike. There were slopes which, if massive always, were sometimes mild and were gray with immemorial olives. In certain orchard nooks there were apricot trees, yellowing to the autumn, with red-brown withered grasses tangling under them. Men were gathering the fruit of the abounding cactuses in places, and in one place a peasant was bearing an arm-load of them to a wide stone pen in the midst of which stood a lordly black pig, with head lifted and staring, indifferent to cactuses, toward Toledo. His statuesque pose was of a fine hauteur, and a more imaginative tourist than I might have fancied him lost in a dream of the past, piercing beyond the time of the Iberian autochtons to those prehistoric ages

When wild in woods the noble savage ran,

pursuing or pursued by his tusked and bristled ancestor, and then slowly reverting through the different invasions and civilizations to that signal moment when, after three hundred Moslem years, Toledo became Christian again forever, and pork resumed its primacy at the table. Dark, mysterious, fierce, the proud pig stood, a figure made for sculpture; and if he had been a lion, with the lion’s royal ideal of eating rather than feeding the human race, the reader would not have thought him unworthy of literature; I have seldom seen a lion that looked worthier of it.


THE BRIDGE ACROSS THE YELLOW TAGUS

We must have met farmer-folk, men and women, on our way and have seen their white houses farther or nearer. But mostly the landscape was lonely and at times nightmarish, as the Castilian landscape has a trick of being, and remanded us momently to the awful entourage of our run from Valladolid to Madrid. We were glad to get back to the Tagus, which if awful is not grisly, but wherever it rolls its yellow flood lends the landscape such a sublimity that it was no esthetic descent from the high perch of that proud pig to the mighty gorge through which, geologically long ago, the river had torn its way. When we drove back the bridge-menders stood aside for us while we were yet far off, and the women came to their doorways at the sound of our bells for another exchange of jokes with our driver. By the time a protracted file of mules had preceded us over the bridge, a brisk shower had come up, and after urging our grays at their topmost speed toward the famous church of San Juan de los Reyes Catolicos, we still had to run from our carriage door through the rain.

Happily the portal was in the keeping of one of those authorized beggars who guard the gates of heaven everywhere in that kind country, and he welcomed us so eagerly from the wet that I could not do less than give him a big dog at once. In a moment of confusion I turned about, and taking him for another beggar, I gave him another big dog; and when we came out of the church he had put off his cap and arranged so complete a disguise with the red handkerchief bravely tied round his head, that my innocence was again abused, and once more a big dog passed between us. But if the merit of the church might only be partially attributed to him, he was worth the whole three. The merit of the church was incalculable, for it was meant to be the sepulcher of the Catholic Kings, who were eventually more fitly buried in the cathedral at Granada, in the heart of their great conquest; and it is a most beautiful church, of a mingled Saracenic plateresque Gothic, as the guide-books remind me, and extravagantly baroque as I myself found it. I personally recall also a sense of chill obscurity and of an airy gallery wandering far aloof in the upper gloom, which remains overhead with me still, and the yet fainter sense of the balconies crowning like capitals the two pillars fronting the high altar. I am now sorry for our haste, but one has not so much time for enjoying such churches in their presence as for regretting them in their absence. One should live near them, and visit them daily, if one would feel their beauty in its recondite details; to have come three thousand miles for three minutes of them is no way of making that beauty part of one’s being, and I will not pretend that I did in this case. What I shall always maintain is that I had a living heartache from the sight of that space on the fagade of this church which is overhung with the chains of the Christian captives rescued from slavery among the Moors by the Catholic Kings in their conquest of Granada. They were not only the memorials of the most sorrowful fact, but they represented the misery of a thousand years of warfare in which the prisoners on either side suffered in chains for being Moslems or being Christians. The manacles and the fetters on the church front are merely decorative to the glance, but to the eye that reads deeper, how structural in their tale of man’s inhumanity to man! How heavily they had hung on weary limbs! How pitilessly they had eaten through bleeding ulcers to the bone! Yet they were very, very decorative, as the flowers are that bloom on battle-fields.

Even with only a few minutes of a scant quarter-hour to spare, I would not have any one miss seeing the cloister, from which the Catholic Kings used to enter the church by the gallery to those balcony capitals, but which the common American must now see by going outside the church. The cloister is turned to the uses of an industrial school, as we were glad to realize because our guide, whom we liked so much, was a night student there. It remains as beautiful and reverend as if it were of no secular use, full of gentle sculptures, with a garden in the middle, raised above the pavement with a border of thin tiles, and flower-pots standing on their coping, all in the shadow of tall trees, overhanging a deep secret-keeping well. From this place, where you will be partly sheltered from the rain, your next profitable sally through the storm will be to Santa Maria la Blanca, once the synagogue of the richest Jews of Toledo, but now turned church in spite of its high authorization as a place of Hebrew worship. It was permitted them to build it because they declared they were of that tribe of Israel which, when Caiaphas, the High Priest, sent round to the different tribes for their vote whether Jesus should live or die, alone voted that He should live. Their response, as Theophile Gautier reports from the chronicles, is preserved in the Vatican with a Latin version of the Hebrew text. The fable, if it is a fable, has its pathos; and I for one can only lament the religious zeal to which the preaching of a fanatical monk roused the Christian neighborhood in the fifteenth century, to such excess that these kind Jews were afterward forbidden their worship in the place. It is a very clean-looking, cold-looking white monument of the Catholic faith, with a retablo attributed to Berruguete, and much plateresque Gothic detail mingled with Byzantine ornament, and Moorish arabesquing and the famous stucco honeycombing which we were destined at Seville and Granada to find almost sickeningly sweet. Where the Rabbis read the law from their pulpit the high altar stands, and the pious populace has for three hundred years pushed the Jews from the surrounding streets, where they had so humbled their dwellings to the lowliest lest they should rouse the jealousy of their sleepless enemies.

VII

When we had visited this church there remained only the house of the painter known as El Greco, for whom we had formed such a distaste, because of the long features of the faces in his pictures, that our guide could hardly persuade us his house was worth seeing. Now I am glad he prevailed with us, for we have since come to find a peculiar charm in these long features and the characteristic coloring of El Greco’s pictures. The little house full of memorials and the little garden full of flowers, which ought to have been all forget-me-nots, were entirely delightful. As every one but I knew, and even I now know, he was born a Greek with the name of Theotocopuli, and studied tinder Titian till he found his account in a manner of his own, making long noses and long chins and high narrow foreheads in ashen gray, and at last went mad in the excess of his manner. The house has been restored by the Marquis de la Vega, according to his notion of an old Spanish house, and has the pleasantest small patio in the world, looked down into from a carved wooden gallery, with a pavement of red tiles interset with Moorish tiles of divers colors. There are interesting pictures everywhere, and on one wall the certificate of the owner’s membership in the Hispanic Society of America, which made me feel at home because it was signed with the name of an American friend of mine, who is repressed by prosperity from being known as a poet and one of the first Spanish scholars of any time.

The whole place is endearingly homelike and so genuinely hospitable that we almost sat down to luncheon in the kitchen with the young Spanish king who had lunched with the Marquis there a few weeks before. There was a veranda outside where we could linger till the rain held up, and look into the garden where the flowers ought to have been forget-me-nots, but were as usual mostly marigolds and zinnias. They crowded round tile-edged pools, and other flowers bloomed in pots on the coping of the garden-seats built up of thin tiles carved on their edges to an inward curve. It is strongly believed that there are several stories under the house, and the Marquis is going some day to dig them up or out to the last one where the original Jewish owner of the house is supposed to have hid his treasure. In the mean time we could look across the low wall that belted the garden in, to a vacant ground a little way off where some boys were playing with a wagon they had made. They had made it out of an oblong box, with wheels so rudely and imperfectly rounded, that they wabbled fearfully and at times gave way under the body; just as they did with the wagons that the boys I knew seventy years ago used to make.

I became so engrossed in the spectacle, so essentially a part of the drama, that I did not make due account of some particulars of the subterranean six stories of El Greco’s house. There must have been other things worth seeing in Toledo, thousands of others, and some others we saw, but most we missed, and many I do not remember. It was now coming the hour to leave Toledo, and we drove back to our enchanted castle for our bill, and for the omnibus to the station. I thought for some time that there was no charge for the fire, or even the smoke we had the night before, but my eyes were holden from the item which I found later, by seeing myself addressed as Milor. I had never been addressed as a lord in any bill before, but I reflected that in the proud old metropolis of the Goths I could not be saluted as less, and I gladly paid the bill, which observed a golden mean between cheapness and dearness, and we parted good friends with our host, and better with our guide, who at the last brought out an English book, given him by an English friend, about the English cathedrals. He was fine, and I could not wish any future traveler kinder fortune than to have his guidance in Toledo. Some day I am going back to profit more fully by it, and to repay him the various fees which he disbursed for me to different doorkeepers and custodians and which I forgot at parting and he was too delicate to remind me of.

When all leaves were taken and we were bowed out and away our horses, covered with bells, burst with the omnibus through a solid mass of beggars come to give us a last chance of meriting heaven by charity to them, and dashed down the hill to the station. There we sat a long half-hour in the wet evening air, wondering how we had been spared seeing those wretches trampled under our horses’ feet, or how the long train of goats climbing to the city to be milked escaped our wheels. But as we were guiltless of inflicting either disaster, we could watch with a good conscience the quiescent industry of some laborers in the brickyard beyond the track. Slowly and more slowly they worked, wearily, apathetically, fetching, carrying, in their divided skirts of cross-barred stuff of a rich Velasquez dirt color. One was especially worthy of admiration from his wide-brimmed black hat and his thoughtful indifference to his task, which was stacking up a sort of bundles of long grass; but I dare say he knew what it all meant. Throughout I was tormented by question of the precise co-racial quality of some English-speaking folk who had come to share our bone-breaking return to Madrid in the train so deliberately waiting there to begin afflicting us. English English they certainly were not; American English as little. If they were Australian English, why should not it have been a convention of polite travel for them to come up and say so, and save us that torment of curiosity? But perhaps they were not Australians.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/h/howells/william_dean/familiar/chapter6.html

Last updated Monday, March 17, 2014 at 16:42