Campomanes — Olavides — Sierra Morena — Aranjuez — Mengs — The Marquis Grimaldi — Toledo — Madame Pelliccia — My Return to Madrid
Different circumstances in my life seem to have combined to render me somewhat superstitious; it is a humiliating confession, and yet I make it. But who could help it? A man who abandons himself to his whims and fancies is like a child playing with a billiard cue. It may make a stroke that would be an honour to the most practised and scientific player; and such are the strange coincidences of life which, as I have said, have caused me to become superstitious.
Fortune, which under the humbler name of luck seems but a word, is a very divinity when it guides the most important actions of a man’s life. Always it has seemed to me that this divinity is not blind, as the mythologists affirm; she had brought me low only to exalt me, and I found myself in high places, only, as it seems, to be cast into the depths. Fortune has done her best to make me regard her as a reasoning, almighty power; she has made me feel that the strength of my will is as nothing before this mysterious power, which takes my will and moulds it, and makes it a mere instrument for the accomplishment of its decrees.
I could not possibly have done anything in Spain without the help of the representative of my country, and he would not have dared to do anything for me without the letter I had just given him. This letter, in its turn, would probably have had but slight effect if it had not come to hand so soon after my imprisonment, which had become the talk of the town, through the handsome satisfaction the Count of Aranda had given me.
The letter made the ambassador sorry that he had not interposed on my behalf, but he hoped people would believe that the count would not have acted as he did if it had not been for his interposition. His favourite, Count Manucci, had come to ask me to dinner; as it happened I was engaged to Mengs, which obtained an invitation for the painter, and flattered his vanity excessively. He fancied that the invitation proceeded from gratitude, and it certainly smoothed away the mortification he had felt at seeing me arrested in his house. He immediately wrote to the effect that he would call upon me with his carriage.
I called on the Count of Aranda, who kept me waiting for a quarter of an hour, and then came in with some papers in his hand. He smiled when he saw me, and said —
“Your business is done. Stay, here are four letters; take them and read them over again.”
“Why should I read them again? This is the document I gave the alcalde.”
“I know that. Read, and confess that you should not have written so violently, in spite of the wrongs that vexed you.”
“I crave your pardon, my lord, but a man who meditates suicide does not pick terms. I believed that your excellency was at the bottom of it all.”
“Then you don’t know me. Go and thank Don Emmanuel de Roda, who wants to know you, and I shall be glad if you will call once on the alcalde, not to make him an apology, for you owe him none, but as an act of politeness to salve over the hard things you said of him. If you write the history of Princess Lubomirska, I hope you will tell her that I did my best for you.”
I then called on Colonel Royas, who told me that I had made a great mistake in saying that I was satisfied.
“What could I claim?”
“Everything. Dismissal of the alcalde and compensation to the tune of fifty thousand duros. Spain is a country where a man may speak out save in the matters which the Holy Inquisition looks after.”
This colonel, now a general, is one of the pleasantest Spaniards I have ever met.
I had not long returned to my lodging when Mengs called for me in his carriage. The ambassador gave me a most gracious reception, and overwhelmed Mengs with compliments for having endeavoured to shelter me. At dinner I told the story of my sufferings at Buen Retiro, and the conversation I had just had with the Count of Aranda, who had returned me my letters. The company expressed a desire to see them, and everyone gave an opinion on the matter.
The guests were Abbe Bigliardi, the French consul, Don Rodrigues de Campomanes, and the famous Don Pablo d’Olavides. Everyone spoke his mind, and the ambassador condemned the letters as too ferocious. On the other hand, Campomanes approved them, saying that they were not abusive, and were wonderfully adapted to my purpose, namely, to force the reader to do me prompt justice, were the reader to be the king himself. Olavides and Bigliardi echoed this sentiment. Mengs sided with the ambassador, and begged me to come and live with him, so as not to be liable to any more inconveniences from spying servants. I did not accept this invitation till I had been pressed for some time, and I noted the remark of the ambassador, who said I owed Mengs this reparation for the indirect affront he had received.
I was delighted to make the acquaintance of Campomanes and Olavides, men of intellect and of a stamp very rare in Spain. They were not exactly men of learning, but they were above religious prejudices, and were not only fearless in throwing public scorn upon them but even laboured openly for their destruction. It was Campomanes who had furnished Aranda with all the damaging matter against the Jesuits. By a curious coincidence, Campomanes, the Count of Aranda, and the General of the Jesuits, were all squint-eyed. I asked Campomanes why he hated the Jesuits so bitterly, and he replied that he looked upon them in the same light as the other religious orders, whom he considered a parasitical and noxious race, and would gladly banish them all, not only from the peninsula but from the face of the earth.
He was the author of all the pamphlets that had been written on the subject of mortmain; and as he was an intimate friend of the ambassador’s, M. Mocenigo had furnished him with an account of the proceedings of the Venetian Republic against the monks. He might have dispensed with this source of information if he had read the writings of Father Paul Sarpi on the same subject. Quick-sighted, firm, with the courage of his opinions, Campomanes was the fiscal of the Supreme Council of Castille, of which Aranda was president. Everyone knew him to be a thoroughly honest man, who acted solely for the good of the State. Thus statesmen and officials had warm feelings of respect for him, while the monks and bigots hated the sound of his name, and the Inquisition had sworn to be his ruin. It was said openly that he would either become a bishop or perish in the cells of the holy brotherhood. The prophecy was only partly fulfilled. Four years after my visit to Spain he was incarcerated in the dungeons of the Inquisition, but he obtained his release after three years’ confinement by doing public penance. The leprosy which eats out the heart of Spain is not yet cured. Olavides was still more harshly treated, and even Aranda would have fallen a victim if he had not had the good sense to ask the king to send him to France as his ambassador. The king was very glad to do so, as otherwise he would have been forced to deliver him up to the infuriated monks. Charles III. (who died a madman) was a remarkable character. He was as obstinate as a mule, as weak as a woman, as gross as a Dutchman, and a thorough-paced bigot. It was no wonder that he became the tool of his confessor.
At the time of which I am speaking the cabinet of Madrid was occupied in a curious scheme. A thousand Catholic families had been enticed from Switzerland to form a colony in the beautiful but deserted region called the Sierra Morena, well known all over Europe by its mention in Don Quixote. Nature seemed there to have lavished all her gifts; the climate was perfect, the soil fertile, and streams of all kinds watered the land, but in spite of all it was almost depopulated.
Desiring to change this state of things, his Catholic majesty had decided to make a present of all the agricultural products for a certain number of years to industrious colonists. He had consequently invited the Swiss Catholics, and had paid their expenses for the journey. The Swiss arrived, and the Spanish government did its best to provide them with lodging and spiritual and temporal superintendence. Olavides was the soul of this scheme. He conferred with the ministers to provide the new population with magistrates, priests, a governor, craftsmen of all kinds to build churches and houses, and especially a bull-ring, a necessity for the Spaniards, but a perfectly useless provision as far as the simple Swiss were concerned.
In the documents which Don Pablo Olavides had composed on the subject he demonstrated the inexpediency of establishing any religious orders in the new colony, but if he could have proved his opinion to be correct with foot and rule he would none the less have drawn on his head the implacable hatred of the monks, and of the bishop in whose diocese the new colony was situated. The secular clergy supported Olavides, but the monks cried out against his impiety, and as the Inquisition was eminently monkish in its sympathies persecution had already begun, and this was one of the subjects of conversation at the dinner at which I was present.
I listened to the arguments, sensible and otherwise, which were advanced, and I finally gave my opinion, as modestly as I could, that in a few years the colony would banish like smoke; and this for several reasons.
“The Swiss,” I said, “are a very peculiar people; if you transplant them to a foreign shore, they languish and die; they become a prey to home- sickness. When this once begins in a Switzer, the only thing is to take him home to the mountain, the lake, or the valley, where he was born, or else he will infallibly die.”
“It would be wise, I think,” I continued, “to endeavour to combine a Spanish colony with the Swiss colony, so as to effect a mingling of races. At first, at all events, their rules, both spiritual and temporal, should be Swiss, and, above all, you would have to insure them complete immunity from the Inquisition. The Swiss who has been bred in the country has peculiar customs and manners of love-making, of which the Spanish Church might not exactly approve; but the least attempt to restrain their liberty in this respect would immediately bring about a general home-sickness.”
At first Olavides thought I was joking, but he soon found out that my remarks had some sense in them. He begged me to write out my opinions on the subject, and to give him the benefit of my knowledge. I promised to do so, and Mengs fixed a day for him to come and dine with me at his house.
The next day I moved my household goods to Mengs’s house, and began my philosophical and physiological treatise on the colony.
I called on Don Emmanuel de Roda, who was a man of letters, a ‘rara aves’ in Spain. He liked Latin poetry, had read some Italian, but very naturally gave the palm to the Spanish poets. He welcomed me warmly, begged me to come and see him again, and told me how sorry he had been at my unjust imprisonment.
The Duke of Lossada congratulated me on the way in which the Venetian ambassador spoke of me everywhere, and encouraged me in my idea of getting some place under Government, promising to give me his support in the matter.
The Prince della Catolica, invited me to dinner with the Venetian ambassador; and in the course of three weeks I had made a great number of valuable acquaintances. I thought seriously of seeking employment in Spain, as not having heard from Lisbon I dared not go there on the chance of finding something to do. I had not received any letters from Pauline of late, and had no idea as to what had become of her.
I passed a good many of my evenings with a Spanish lady, named Sabatini, who gave ‘tertullas’ or assemblies, frequented chiefly by fifth-rate literary men. I also visited the Duke of Medina-Sidonia, a well-read and intelligent man, to whom I had been presented by Don Domingo Varnier, one of the gentlemen of the king’s chamber, whom I had met at Mengs’s house. I paid a good many visits to Donna Ignazia, but as I was never left alone with her these visits became tiresome. When I suggested a party of pleasure with her and her cousins, she replied that she would like it as much as I, but as it was Lent and near Holy Week, in which God died for our salvation, it was more fit to think of penance than pleasure. After Easter, she said, we might consider the matter. Ignazia was a perfect example of the young Spanish devotee.
A fortnight after, the King and Court left Madrid for Aranjuez. M. de Mocenigo asked me to come and stay with him, as he would be able to present me at Court. As may be imagined, I should have been only too glad to accept, but on the eve of my departure, as I was driving with Mengs, I was suddenly seized with a fever, and was convulsed so violently that my head was dashed against the carriage window, which it shivered to fragments. Mengs ordered the coachman to drive home, and I was put to bed. In four hours I was seized with a sweating fit, which lasted for ten or twelve hours. The bed and two mattresses were soaked through with my perspiration, which dripped on to the floor beneath. The fever abated in forty-eight hours, but left me in such a state of weakness that I was kept to my bed for a whole week, and could not go to Aranjuez till Holy Saturday. The ambassador welcomed me warmly, but on the night I arrived a small lump which I had felt in the course of the day grew as large as an egg, and I was unable to go to mass on Easter Day.
In five days the excrescence became as large as an average melon, much to the amazement of Manucci and the ambassador, and even of the king’s surgeon, a Frenchman who declared he had never seen the like before. I was not alarmed personally, for, as I suffered no pain and the lump was quite soft, I guessed it was only a collection of lymph, the remainder of the evil humours which I had sweated away in the fever. I told the surgeon the history of the fever and begged him to lance the abscess, which he did, and for four days the opening discharged an almost incredible amount of matter. On the fifth day the wound was almost healed, but the exhaustion had left me so weak that I could not leave my bed.
Such was my situation when I received a letter from Mengs. It is before me at the present moment, and I give below a true copy:
“Yesterday the rector of the parish in which I reside affixed to the church-door a list of those of his parishioners who are Atheists and have neglected their Easter duties. Amongst them your name figures in full, and the aforesaid rector has reproached me bitterly for harbouring a heretic. I did not know what answer to make, for I feel sure that you could have stopped in Madrid a day longer to discharge the duties of a Christian, even if it were only out of regard for me. The duty I owe to the king, my master, the care I am bound to take of my reputation, and my fears of being molested, all make me request you to look upon my house as yours no longer. When you return to Madrid you may go where you will, and my servants shall transport your effects to your new abode.
“I am, etc.,
“ANToNIO RAPHAEL MENGS.”
I was so annoyed by this rude, brutal, and ungrateful letter, that if I had not been seven leagues from Madrid, and in a state of the utmost weakness, Mengs should have suffered for his insolence. I told the messenger who had brought it to begone, but he replied that he had orders to await my reply. I crushed the letter in my hand and flung it at his face, saying —
“Go and tell your unworthy master what I did with his letter, and tell him that is the only answer that such a letter deserves.”
The innocent messenger went his way in great amazement.
My anger gave me strength, and having dressed myself and summoned a sedan-chair I went to church, and was confessed by a Grey Friar, and at six o’clock the next morning I received the Sacrament.
My confessor was kind enough to give me a certificate to the effect that I had been obliged to keep my bed since my arrival ‘al sitio’, and that in spite of my extreme weakness I had gone to church, and had confessed and communicated like a good Christian. He also told me the name of the priest who had affixed the paper containing my name to the door of the church.
When I returned to the ambassador’s house I wrote to this priest, telling him that the certificate enclosed would inform him as to my reasons for not communicating. I expressed a hope that, being satisfied of my orthodoxy, he would not delay in removing my name from his church-doors, and I concluded by begging him to hand the enclosed letter to the Chevalier Mengs.
To the painter I wrote that I felt that I had deserved the shameful insult he had given me by my great mistake in acceding to his request to honour him by staying in his house. However, as a good Christian who had just received the Holy Communion, I told him that his brutal behaviour was forgiven; but I bade him to take to heart the line, well known to all honest people, and doubtless unknown to him:
‘Turpius ejicitur quam non admittitur hospes.’
After sending the letter I told the ambassador what had happened, to which he replied —
“I am not at all surprised at what you tell me. Mengs is only liked for his talents in painting; in everything else he is well known to be little better than a fool.”
As a matter of fact he had only asked me to stay with him to gratify his own vanity. He knew that all the town was talking of my imprisonment and of the satisfaction the Count of Aranda had accorded me, and he wanted people to think that his influence had obtained the favour that had been shewn me. Indeed, he had said in a moment of exaltation that I should have compelled the Alcade Messa to escort me not to my own house but to his, as it was in his house that I had been arrested.
Mengs was an exceedingly ambitious and a very jealous man; he hated all his brother painters. His colour and design were excellent, but his invention was very weak, and invention is as necessary to a great painter as a great poet.
I happened to say to him one day, “Just as every poet should be a painter, so every painter should be a poet;” and he got quite angry, thinking that I was alluding to his weakness of imagination, which he felt but would not acknowledge.
He was an ignorant man, and liked to pass for a scholar; he sacrificed to Bacchus and Comus, and would fain be thought sober; he was lustful, bad- tempered, envious, and miserly, but yet would be considered a virtuous man. He loved hard work, and this forced him to abstain, as a rule, from dinner, as he drank so inordinately at that meal that he could do nothing after it. When he dined out he had to drink nothing but water, so as not to compromise his reputation for temperance. He spoke four languages, and all badly, and could not even write his native tongue with correctness; and yet he claimed perfection for his grammar and orthography, as for all his other qualities. While I was staying with him I became acquainted with some of his weak points, and endeavoured to correct them, at which he took great offence. The fellow writhed under a sense of obligation to me. Once I prevented his sending a petition to the Court, which the king would have seen, and which would have made Mengs ridiculous. In signing his name he had written ‘el mas inclito’, wishing to say your most humble. I pointed out to him that ‘el mas inclito’ meant the most illustrious, and that the Spanish for the expression he wanted was ‘el mas humilde’. The proud fool was quite enraged, telling me that he knew Spanish better than I, but when the dictionary was searched he had to swallow the bitter pill of confessing himself in the wrong.
Another time I suppressed a heavy and stupid criticism of his on someone who had maintained that there were no monuments still existing of the antediluvian period. Mengs thought he would confound the author by citing the remains of the Tower of Babel — a double piece of folly, for in the first place there are no such remains, and in the second, the Tower of Babel was a post-diluvian building.
He was also largely given to the discussion of metaphysical questions, on which his knowledge was simply nil, and a favourite pursuit of his was defining beauty in the abstract, and when he was on this topic the nonsense he talked was something dreadful.
Mengs was a very passionate man, and would sometimes beat his children most cruelly. More than once I have rescued his poor sons from his furious hands. He boasted that his father, a bad Bohemian artist, had brought him up with the stick. Thus, he said, he had become a great painter, and he wished his own children to enjoy the same advantages.
He was deeply offended when he received a letter, of which the address omitted his title of chevalier, and his name, Rafael. One day I ventured to say that these things were but trifles after all, and that I had taken no offence at his omitting the chevalier on the letters he had written to me, though I was a knight of the same order as himself. He very wisely made no answer; but his objection to the omission of his baptismal name was a very ridiculous one. He said he was called Antonio after Antonio Correggio, and Rafael after Rafael da Urbino, and that those who omitted these names, or either of them, implicitly denied his possession of the qualities of both these great painters.
Once I dared to tell him that he had made a mistake in the hand of one of his figures, as the ring finger was shorter than the index. He replied sharply that it was quite right, and shewed me his hand by way of proof. I laughed, and shewed him my hand in return, saying that I was certain that my hand was made like that of all the descendants of Adam.
“Then whom do you think that I am descended from?”
“I don’t know, but you are certainly not of the same species as myself.”
“You mean you are not of my species; all well-made hands of men, and women too, are like mine and not like yours.”
“I’ll wager a hundred doubloons that you are in the wrong.”
He got up, threw down brushes and palette, and rang up his servants, saying —
“We shall see which is right.”
The servants came, and on examination he found that I was right. For once in his life, he laughed and passed it off as a joke, saying —
“I am delighted that I can boast of being unique in one particular, at all events.”
Here I must note another very sensible remark of his.
He had painted a Magdalen, which was really wonderfully beautiful. For ten days he had said every morning, “The picture will be finished to- night.” At last I told him that he had made a mistake in saying it would be finished, as he was still working on it.
“No, I have not,” he replied, “ninety-nine connoisseurs out of a hundred would have pronounced it finished long ago, but I want the praise of the hundredth man. There’s not a picture in the world that can be called finished save in a relative sense; this Magdalen will not be finished till I stop working at it, and then it will be only finished relatively, for if I were to give another day’s work to it it would be more finished still. Not one of Petrarch’s sonnets is a really finished production; no, nor any other man’s sonnets. Nothing that the mind of man can conceive is perfect, save it be a mathematical theorem.”
I expressed my warm approval of the excellent way in which he had spoken. He was not so sensible another time when he expressed a wish to have been Raphael.
“He was such a great painter.”
“Certainly,” said I, “but what can you mean by wishing you had been Raphael? This is not sense; if you had been Raphael, you would no longer be existing. But perhaps you only meant to express a wish that you were tasting the joys of Paradise; in that case I will say no more.”
“No, no; I mean I would have liked to have been Raphael without troubling myself about existing now, either in soul or body.”
“Really such a desire is an absurdity; think it over, and you will see it for yourself.”
He flew into a rage, and abused me so heartily that I could not help laughing.
Another time he made a comparison between a tragic author and a painter, of course to the advantage of the latter.
I analysed the matter calmly, shewing him that the painter’s labour is to a great extent purely mechanical, and can be done whilst engaged in casual talk; whilst a well-written tragedy is the work of genius pure and simple. Therefore, the poet must be immeasurably superior to the painter.
“Find me if you can,” said I, “a poet who can order his supper between the lines of his tragedy, or discuss the weather whilst he is composing epic verses.”
When Mengs was beaten in an argument, instead of acknowledging his defeat, he invariably became brutal and insulting. He died at the age of fifty, and is regarded by posterity as a Stoic philosopher, a scholar, and a compendium of all the virtues; and this opinion must be ascribed to a fine biography of him in royal quarto, choicely printed, and dedicated to the King of Spain. This panegyric is a mere tissue of lies. Mengs was a great painter, and nothing else; and if he had only produced the splendid picture which hangs over the high altar of the chapel royal at Dresden, he would deserve eternal fame, though indeed he is indebted to the great Raphael for the idea of the painting.
We shall hear more of Mengs when I describe my meeting with him at Rome, two or three years later.
I was still weak and confined to my room when Manucci came to me, and proposed that I should go with him to Toledo.
“The ambassador,” he said, “is going to give a grand official dinner to the ambassadors of the other powers, and as I have not been presented at Court I am excluded from being present. However, if I travel, my absence will not give rise to any remarks. We shall be back in five or six days.”
I was delighted to have the chance of seeing Toledo, and of making the journey in a comfortable carriage, so I accepted. We started the next morning, and reached Toledo in the evening of the same day. For Spain we were lodged comfortably enough, and the next day we went out under the charge of a cicerone, who took us to the Alcazar, the Louvre of Toledo, formerly the palace of the Moorish kings. Afterwards we inspected the cathedral, which is well worthy of a visit, on account of the riches it contains. I saw the great tabernacle used on Corpus Christi. It is made of silver, and is so heavy that it requires thirty strong men to lift it. The Archbishop of Toledo has three hundred thousand duros a year, and his clergy have four hundred thousand, amounting to two million francs in French money. One of the canons, as he was shewing me the urns containing the relics, told me that one of them contained the thirty pieces of silver for which Judas betrayed our Lord. I begged him to let me see them, to which he replied severely that the king himself would not have dared to express such indecent curiosity.
I hastened to apologise, begging him not to take offence at a stranger’s heedless questions; and this seemed to calm his anger.
The Spanish priests are a band of knaves, but one has to treat them with more respect than one would pay to honest men elsewhere. The following day we were shewn the museum of natural history. It was rather a dull exhibition; but, at all events, one could laugh at it without exciting the wrath of the monks and the terrors of the Inquisition. We were shewn, amongst other wonders, a stuffed dragon, and the man who exhibited it said —
“This proves, gentlemen, that the dragon is not a fabulous animal;” but I thought there was more of art than nature about the beast. He then shewed us a basilisk, but instead of slaying us with a glance it only made us laugh. The greatest wonder of all, however, was nothing else than a Freemason’s apron, which, as the curator very sagely declared, proved the existence of such an order, whatever some might say.
The journey restored me to health, and when I returned to Aranjuez, I proceeded to pay my court to all the ministers. The ambassador presented me to Marquis Grimaldi, with whom I had some conversations on the subject of the Swiss colony, which was going on badly. I reiterated my opinion that the colony should be composed of Spaniards.
“Yes,” said he, “but Spain is thinly peopled everywhere, and your plan would amount to impoverishing one district to make another rich.”
“Not at all, for if you took ten persons who are dying of poverty in the Asturias, and placed them in the Sierra Morena, they would not die till they had begotten fifty children. This fifty would beget two hundred and so on.”
My scheme was laid before a commission, and the marquis promised that I should be made governor of the colony if the plan was accepted.
An Italian Opera Comique was then amusing the Court, with the exception of the king, who had no taste for music. His majesty bore a considerable resemblance to a sheep in the face, and it seemed as if the likeness went deeper, for sheep have not the slightest idea of sound. His favourite pursuit was sport, and the reason will be given later on.
An Italian musician at the Court desired to compose some music for a new opera, and as there was no time to send to Italy I offered to compose the libretto. My offer was accepted, and by the next day the first act was ready. The music was composed in four days, and the Venetian ambassador invited all the ministers to the rehearsal in the grand hall of his palace. The music was pronounced exquisite; the two other acts were written, and in a fortnight the opera was put upon the stage. The musician was rewarded handsomely, but I was considered too grand to work for money and my reward was paid me in the Court money of compliments. However, I was glad to see that the ambassador was proud of me and that the minister’s esteem for me seemed increased.
In writing the libretto I had become acquainted with the actresses. The chief of them was a Roman named Pelliccia, neither pretty nor ugly, with a slight squint, and but moderate talents. Her younger sister was pretty if not handsome; but no one cared for the younger, while the elder was a universal favourite. Her expression was pleasant, her smile delightful, and her manners most captivating. Her husband was an indifferent painter, plain-looking, and more like her servant than her husband. He was indeed her very humble servant, and she treated him with great kindness. The feelings she inspired me with were not love, but a sincere respect and friendship. I used to visit her every day, and wrote verses for her to sing to the Roman airs she delivered so gracefully.
On one of the days of rehearsals I was pointing out to her the various great personages who were present. The manager of the company, Marescalchi by name, had entered into an arrangement with the Governor of Valentia to bring the company there in September to play comic opera in a small theatre which had been built on purpose. Italian opera had hitherto never been presented at Valentia, and Marecalchi hoped to make a good deal of money there. Madame Pelliccia knew nobody in Valentia, and wanted a letter of introduction to someone there. She asked me if I thought she could venture to ask the Venetian ambassador to do her the favour, but I advised her to try the Duke of Arcos.
“Where is he?”
“That gentleman who is looking in your direction now.”
“How can I dare to ask him?”
“He is a true nobleman, and I am sure he will be only too happy to oblige you. Go and ask him now; you will not be denied.”
“I haven’t the courage to do so. Come with me and introduce me.”
“That would spoil everything; he must not even think that I am your adviser in the matter. I am just going to leave you; you must make your request directly afterwards.”
I walked towards the orchestra, and looking round I saw that the duke was approaching the actress.
“The thing’s as good as done,” I said to myself.
After the rehearsal was over Madame Pelliccia came and told me that the Duke would give her the letter on the day on which the opera was produced. He kept his word, and she received a sealed letter for a merchant and banker, Don Diego Valencia.
It was then May, and she was not to go to Valentia till September, so we shall hear what the letter contained later on.
I often saw the king’s gentleman of the chamber, Don Domingo Varnier, another ‘gentleman in the service of the Princess of the Asturias, and one of the princess’s bed-chamber women. This most popular princess succeeded in suppressing a good deal of the old etiquette, and the tone of her Court had lost the air of solemnity common in Spanish society. It was a strange thing to see the King of Spain always dining at eleven o’clock, like the Parisian cordwainers in the seventeenth century. His meal always consisted of the same dishes, he always went out hunting at the same hour, coming back in the evening thoroughly fatigued.
The king was ugly, but everything is relative, he was handsome compared with his brother, who was terrifically ugly.
This brother never went anywhere without a picture of the Virgin, which Mengs had painted for him. It was two feet high by three and a half broad. The figure was depicted as seated on the grass with legs crossed after the Eastern fashion, and uncovered up to the knees. It was, in reality, a voluptuous painting; and the prince mistook for devotion that which was really a sinful passion, for it was impossible to look upon the figure without desiring to have the original within one’s arms. However, the prince did not see this, and was delighted to find himself in love with the mother of the Saviour. In this he was a true Spaniard; they only love pictures of this kind, and interpret the passions they excite in the most favourable sense.
At Madrid I had, seen a picture of the Madonna with the child at her breast. It was the altarpiece of a chapel in the Calle St. Jeronimo. The place was filled all day by the devout, who came to adore the Mother of God, whose figure was only interesting by reason of her magnificent breast. The alms given at this chapel were so numerous, that in the hundred and fifty years, since the picture had been placed there, the clergy had been able to purchase numerous lamps and candlesticks of silver, and vessels of silver gilt, and even of gold. The doorway was always blocked by carriages, and a sentinel was placed there to keep order amongst the coachmen; no nobleman would pass by without going in to pray to the Virgin, and to contemplate those ‘beata ubera, quae lactaverunt aeterni patris filium’. But there came a change.
When I returned to Madrid I wanted to pay a visit to the Abbe Pico, and told my coachman to take another way so as to avoid the crush in front of the chapel.
“It is not so frequented now, senor,” said he, “I can easily get by it.”
He went on his way, and I found the entrance to the chapel deserted. As I was getting out of the carriage I asked my coachman what was the reason of the change, and he replied —
“Oh, senor! men are getting more wicked every day,”
This reason did not satisfy me, and when I had taken my chocolate with the abbe, an intelligent and venerable old man, I asked him why the chapel in question had lost its reputation.
He burst out laughing, and replied —
“Excuse me, I really cannot tell you. Go and see for yourself; your curiosity will soon be satisfied.”
As soon as I left him I went to the chapel, and the state of the picture told me all. The breast of the Virgin had disappeared under a kerchief which some profane brush had dared to paint over it. The beautiful picture was spoilt; the magic and fascination had disappeared. Even the teat had been painted out; the Child held on to nothing, and the head of the Virgin no longer appeared natural.
This disaster had taken place at the end of the Carnival of 1768. The old chaplain died, and the Vandal who succeeded him pronounced the painting to be a scandalous one, and robbed it of all its charm.
He may have been in the right as a fool, but as a Christian and a Spaniard he was certainly in the wrong, and he was probably soon convinced of the mistake he had made by the diminution in the offerings of the faithful.
My interest in the study of human nature made me call on this priest, whom I expected to find a stupid old man.
I went one morning, but instead of being old, the priest was an active, clever-looking man of thirty, who immediately offered me chocolate with the best grace imaginable. I refused, as was my duty as a stranger, and indeed the Spaniards offer visitors chocolate so frequently at all hours, that if one accepted it all one would be choked.
I lost no time in exordiums, but came to the point at once, by saying that as a lover of paintings I had been grieved at finding the magnificent Madonna spoilt.
“Very likely,” he replied, “but it was exactly the physical beauty of the picture that rendered it in my eyes unfit to represent one whose aspect should purify and purge the senses, instead of exciting them. Let all the pictures in the world be destroyed, if they be found to have caused the commission of one mortal sin.”
“Who allowed you to commit this mutilation? The Venetian State Inquisitors, even M. Barberigo, though he is a devout man, would have put you under the Leads for such a deed. The love of Paradise should not be allowed to interfere with the fine arts, and I am sure that St. Luke himself (who was a painter, as you know) would condemn you if he could come to life again.”
“Sir, I needed no one’s leave or license. I have to say mass at that altar every day, and I am not ashamed to tell you that I was unable to consecrate. You are a man and a Christian, you can excuse my weakness. That voluptuous picture drew away my thoughts from holy things.”
“Who obliged you to look at it?”
“I did not look at it; the devil, the enemy of God, made me see it in spite of myself.”
“Then you should have mutilated yourself like Origen. Your generative organs, believe me, are not so valuable as the picture you have ruined.”
“Sir, you insult me.”
“Not at all, I have no intention of doing so.”
That young priest shewed me the door with such brusqueness that I felt sure he would inform against me to the Inquisition. I knew he would have no difficulty in finding out my name, so I resolved to be beforehand with him.
Both my fear and my resolve were inspired by an incident which I shall mention as an episode.
A few days before, I had met a Frenchman named Segur, who had just come out of the prisons of the Inquisition. He had been shut up for three years for committing the following crime:
In the hall of his house there was a fountain, composed of a marble basin and the statue of a naked child, who discharged the water in the same way as the well-known statue of Brussels, that is to say, by his virile member. The child might be a Cupid or an Infant Jesus, as you pleased, but the sculptor had adorned the head with a kind of aureole; and so the fanatics declared that it was a mocking of God.
Poor Segur was accused of impiety, and the Inquisition dealt with him accordingly.
I felt that my fault might be adjudged as great as Segur’s, and not caring to run the risk of a like punishment I called on the bishop, who held the office of Grand Inquisitor, and told him word for word the conversation I had had with the iconoclast chaplain. I ended by craving pardon, if I had offended the chaplain, as I was a good Christian, and orthodox on all points.
I had never expected to find the Grand Inquisitor of Madrid a kindly and intelligent, though ill-favoured, prelate; but so it was, and he did nothing but laugh from the beginning to the end of my story, for he would not let me call it a confession.
“The chaplain,” he said, “is himself blameworthy and unfit for his position, in that he has adjudged others to be as weak as himself; in fact, he has committed a wrong against religion. Nevertheless, my dear son, it was not wise of you to go and irritate him.” As I had told him my name he shewed me, smilingly, an accusation against me, drawn up by someone who had witnessed the fact. The good bishop gently chid me for having called the friar-confessor of the Duke of Medina an ignoramus. He had refused to admit that a priest might say mass a second time on a high festival, after breaking his fast, on the command of his sovereign prince, who, by the hypothesis, had not heard mass before.
“You were quite right in your contention,” said the Inquisitor, “but yet every truth is not good to utter, and it was wrong to call the man an ignoramus in his presence. For the future you would do well to avoid all idle discussion on religious matters, both on dogma and discipline. And I must also tell you, in order that you may not leave Spain with any harsh ideas on the Inquisition, that the priest who affixed your name to the church-door amongst the excommunicated has been severely reprimanded. He ought to have given you a fatherly admonition, and, above all, enquired as to your health, as we know that you were seriously ill at the time.”
Thereupon I knelt down and kissed his hand, and went my way, well pleased with my call.
To go back to Aranjuez. As soon as I heard that the ambassador could not put me up at Madrid, I wrote to the worthy cobbler, Don Diego, that I wanted a well-furnished room, a closet, a good bed, and an honest servant. I informed him how much I was willing to spend a month, and said I would leave Aranjuez as soon as I heard that everything was ready.
I was a good deal occupied with the question of colonising the Sierra Morena; I wrote principally on the subject of the civil government, a most important item in a scheme for a new colony. My articles pleased the Marquis Grimaldi and flattered Mocenigo; for the latter hoped that I should become governor of the colony, and that his embassy would thereby shine with a borrowed light.
My labours did not prevent my amusing myself, and I frequented the society of those about the Court who could tell me most of the king and royal family. Don Varnier, a man of much frankness and intelligence, was my principal source of information.
I asked him one day whether the king was fond of Gregorio Squillace only because he had been once his wife’s lover.
“That’s an idle calumny,” he replied. “If the epithet of ‘chaste’ can be applied to any monarch, Charles III. certainly deserves it better than any other. He has never touched any woman in his life except his wife, not only out of respect or the sanctity of marriage, but also as a good Christian. He has avoided this sin that his soul may remain pure, and so as not to have the shame of confessing it to his chaplain. He enjoys an iron constitution, sickness is unknown to him, and he is a thorough Spaniard in temperament. Ever since his marriage he has paid his duty to his wife every day, except when the state of her health compelled her to call for a truce. In such seasons this chaste husband brought down his fleshly desires by the fatigue of hunting and by abstinence. You can imagine his distress at being left a widower, for he would rather die than take a mistress. His only resource was in hunting, and in so planning out his day that he should have no time left wherein to think of women. It was a difficult matter, for he cares neither for reading nor writing, music wearies him, and conversation of a lively turn inspires him with disgust.
“He has adopted the following plan, in which he will preserve till his dying day: He dresses at seven, then goes into his closet and has his hair dressed. At eight o’clock he says his prayers, then hears mass, and when this is over he takes chocolate and an enormous pinch of snuff, over which his big nose ruminates for some minutes; this is his only pinch in the whole day. At nine o’clock he sees his ministers, and works with them till eleven. Then comes dinner, which he always takes alone, then a short visit to the Princess of the Austurias, and at twelve sharp he gets into his carriage and drives to the hunting-grounds. At seven o’clock he takes a morsel wherever he happens to be, and at eight o’clock he comes home, so tired that he often goes to sleep before he can get his clothes off. Thus he keeps down the desires of the flesh.”
“Poor voluntary martyr!”
“He thought of marrying a second time, but when Adelaide of France saw his portrait she was quite frightened and refused him. He was very mortified, and renounced all thoughts of marriage; and woe to the courtier who should advise him to get a mistress!”
In further speaking of his character Don Domingo told me that the ministers had good cause for making him inaccessible, as whenever anyone did succeed in getting at him and asked a favour, he made a point of granting it, as it was at such times that he felt himself really a king.
“Then he is not a hard man, as some say?”
“Not at all. Kings seldom have the reputation they deserve. The most accessible monarchs are the least generous; they are overwhelmed with importunate requests, and their first instinct is always to refuse.”
“But as Charles III. is so inaccessible he can have no opportunity of either granting or refusing.”
“People catch him when he is hunting; he is usually in a good humour then. His chief defect is his obstinacy; when he has once made up his mind there is no changing it.
“He has the greatest liking for his brother, and can scarce refuse him anything, though he must be master in all things. It is thought he will give him leave to marry for the sake of his salvation; the king has the greatest horror of illegitimate children, and his brother has three already.”
There were an immense number of persons at Aranjuez, who persecuted the ministers in the hope of getting employment.
“They will go back as they come,” said Don Domingo, “and that is empty- handed.”
“Then they ask impossibilities?”
“They don’t ask anything. ‘What do you want?’ says a minister.
“‘What your excellency will let me have.’
“‘What can you do?’
“‘I am ready to do whatever your excellency pleases to think best for me’
“‘Please leave me. I have no time to waste.’”
That is always the way. Charles III. died a madman; the Queen of Portugal is mad; the King of England has been mad, and, as some say, is not really cured. There is nothing astonishing in it; a king who tries to do his duty is almost forced into madness by his enormous task.
I took leave of M. Mocenigo three days before he left Aranjuez, and I embraced Manucci affectionately. He had been most kind to me throughout my stay.
My cobbler had written to tell me that for the sum I had mentioned he could provide me with a Biscayan maid who could cook. He sent me the address of my new lodging in the Calle Alcala. I arrived there in the afternoon, having started from Aranjuez in the morning.
I found that the Biscayan maid could speak French; my room was a very pleasant one, with another chamber annexed where I could lodge a friend. After I had had my effects carried up I saw my man, whose face pleased me.
I was anxious to test the skill of my cook, so I ordered her to get a good supper for me, and I gave her some money.
“I have some money,” she replied, “and I will let you have the bill to- morrow.”
After taking away whatever I had left with Mengs I went to Don Diego’s house, and to my astonishment found it empty. I went back and asked Philippe, my man, where Don Diego was staying.
“It’s some distance, sir; I will take you there tomorrow.”
“Where is my landlord?”
“In the floor above; but they are very quiet people.”
“I should like to see him.”
“He is gone out and won’t be home till ten.”
At nine o’clock I was told that my supper was ready. I was very hungry, and the neatness with which the table was laid was a pleasant surprise in Spain. I was sorry that I had had no opportunity of expressing my satisfaction to Don Diego, but I sat down to supper. Then indeed I thought the cobbler a hero; the Biscayan maid might have entered into rivalry with the best cook in France. There were five dishes, including my favourite delicacy ‘las criadillas’, and everything was exquisite. My lodging was dear enough, but the cook made the whole arrangement a wonderful bargain.
Towards the end of supper Philippe told me that the landlord had come in, and that with my leave he would wish me a good evening.
“Shew him in by all means.”
I saw Don Diego and his charming daughter enter; he had rented the house on purpose to be my landlord.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:52