Familiar Spanish Travels, by William Dean Howells

First Days in Seville

Cordova seemed to cheer up as much as we at our going. We had undoubtedly had the better night’s sleep; as often as we woke we found Cordova awake, walking and talking, and coughing more than the night before, probably from fresh colds taken in the rain. From time to time there were church-bells, variously like tin pans and iron pots in tone, without sonorousness in their noise, or such wild clangor as some Italian church-bells have. But Cordova had lived through it, and at the station was lively with the arriving and departing trains. The morning was not only bright; it was hot, and the place babbled with many voices. We thought one voice crying “Agua, agua!” was a parrot’s and then we thought it was a girl’s, but really it was a boy with water for sale in a stone bottle. He had not a rose, white or red, in his hair, but if he had been a girl, old or young, he would have had one, white or red. Some of the elder women wore mantillas, but these wore flowers too, and were less pleasing than pathetic for it; one very massive matron was less pleasing and more pathetic than the rest. Peasant women carried bunches of chickens by the legs, and one had a turkey in a rush bag with a narrow neck to put its head out of for its greater convenience in gobbling. At the door of the station a donkey tried to bite a fly on its back; but even a Spanish donkey cannot do everything. There was no attempt to cheat us in the weight of our trunks, as there often is in Italy, and the mozo who put us and our hand-bags into the train was content with his reasonable fee. As for the pair of Civil Guards who were to go with us, they were of an insurpassable beauty and propriety, and we felt it a peculiar honor when one of them got into the compartment beside ours.

We were to take the mail-train to Seville; and in Spain the correo is next to the Sud–Express, which is the last word in the vocabulary of Peninsular railroading. Our correo had been up all night on the way from Madrid, and our compartment had apparently been used as a bedchamber, with moments of supper-room. It seemed to have been occupied by a whole family; there were frowsy pillows crushed into the corners of the seats, and, though a porter caught these away, the cigar stubs, and the cigarette ashes strewing the rug and fixed in it with various liquids, as well as some scattering hair-pins, escaped his care. But when it was dried and aired out by windows opened to the sunny weather, it was by no means a bad compartment. The broad cushions were certainly cleaner than the carpet; and it was something — it was a great deal — to be getting out of Cordova on any terms. Not that Cordova seems at this distance so bad as it seemed on the ground. If we could have had the bright Monday of our departure instead of the rainy Sunday of our stay there we might have wished to stay longer. But as it was the four hours’ run to Seville was delightful, largely because it Was the run from Cordova.

We were running at once over a gentle ground-swell which rose and sank in larger billows now and then, and the yellow Guadalquivir followed us all the way, in a valley that sometimes widened to the blue mountains always walling the horizon. We had first entered Andalusia after dark, and the scene had now a novelty little staled by the distant view of the afternoon before. The olive orchards then seen afar were intimately realized more and more in their amazing extent. None of the trees looked so old, so world-old, as certain trees in the careless olive groves of Italy. They were regularly planted, and most were in a vigorous middle life; where they were old they were closely pollarded; and there were young trees, apparently newly set out; there were holes indefinitely waiting for others. These were often, throughout Andalusia, covered to their first fork with cones of earth; and we remained in the dramatic superstition that this was to protect them against the omnivorous hunger of the goats, till we were told that it was to save their roots from being loosened by the wind. The orchards filled the level foregrounds and the hilly backgrounds to the vanishing-points of the mountainous perspectives; but when I say this I mean the reader to allow for wide expanses of pasturage, where lordly bulls were hoarding themselves for the feasts throughout Spain which the bulls of Andalusia are happy beyond others in supplying. With their devoted families they paraded the meadows, black against the green, or stood in sharp arrest, the most characteristic accent of the scene. In the farther rather than the nearer distance there were towns, very white, very African, keeping jealously away from the stations, as the custom of most towns is in Spain, beyond the wheat-lands which disputed the landscape with the olive orchards.

One of these towns lay white at the base of a hill topped by a yellow Moorish castle against the blue sky, like a subject waiting for its painter and conscious of its wonderful adaptation to water-color. The railroad-banks were hedged with Spanish bayonet, and in places with cactus grown into trees, all knees and elbows, and of a diabolical uncouthness. The air was fresh and springlike, and under the bright sun, which we had already felt hot, men were plowing the gray fields for wheat. Other men were beginning their noonday lunch, which, with the long nap to follow, would last till three o’clock, and perhaps be rashly accounted to them for sloth by the industrious tourist who did not know that their work had begun at dawn and would not end till dusk. Indolence may be a vice of the towns in Spain, but there is no loafing in the country, if I may believe the conclusions of my note-book. The fields often looked barren enough, and large spaces of their surface were covered by a sort of ground palm, as it seemed to be, though whether it was really a ground palm or not I know no more than I know the name or nature of the wild flower which looked an autumn crocus, and which with other wild flowers fringed the whole course of the train. There was especially a small yellow flower, star-shaped, which we afterward learned was called Todos Santos, from its custom of blooming at All Saints, and which washed the sward in the childlike enthusiasm of buttercups. A fine white narcissus abounded, and clumps of a mauve flower which swung its tiny bells over the sward washed by the Todos Santos. There were other flowers, which did what they could to brighten our way, all clinging to the notion of summer, which the weather continued to flatter throughout our fortnight in Seville.

I could not honestly say that the stations or the people about them were more interesting than in La Mancha. But at one place, where some gentlemen in linen jackets dismounted with their guns, a group of men with dogs leashed in pairs and saddle-horses behind them, took me with the sense of something peculiarly native where everything was so native. They were slim, narrow-hipped young fellows, tight-jerkined, loose-trousered, with a sort of divided apron of leather facing the leg and coming to the ankle; and all were of a most masterly Velasquez coloring and drawing. As they stood smoking motionlessly, letting the smoke drift from their nostrils, they seemed somehow of the same make with the slouching hounds, and they leaned forward together, giving the hunters no visible or audible greeting, but questioning their will with one quality of gaze. The hunters moved toward them, but not as if they belonged together, or expected any sort of demonstration from the men, dogs, and horses that were of course there to meet them. As long as our train paused, no electrifying spark kindled them to a show of emotion; but it would have been interesting to see what happened after we left them behind; they could not have kept their attitude of mutual indifference much longer. These peasants, like the Spaniards everywhere, were of an intelligent and sagacious look; they only wanted a chance, one must think, to be a leading race. They have sometimes an anxiety of appeal in their apathy, as if they would like to know more than they do.

There was some livelier thronging at the station where the train stopped for luncheon, but secure with the pretty rush-basket which the head waiter at our hotel, so much better than the hotel, had furnished us at starting, we kept to our car; and there presently we were joined by a young couple who were unmistakably a new married couple. The man was of a rich brown, and the woman of a dead white with dead black hair. They both might have been better-looking than they were, but apparently not better otherwise, for at Seville the groom helped us out of the car with our hand-bags.

I do not know what polite offers from him had already brought out the thanks in which our speech bewrayed us; but at our outlandish accents they at once became easier. They became frankly at home with themselves, and talked in their Andalusian patter with no fear of being understood. I might, indeed, have been far apter in Spanish without understanding their talk, for when printed the Andalusian dialect varies as far from the Castilian as, say, the Venetian varies from the Tuscan, and when spoken, more. It may then be reduced almost wholly to vowel sounds, and from the lips of some speakers it is really no more consonantal than if it came from the beaks of birds. They do not lisp the soft c or the z, as the Castilians do, but hiss them, and lisp the s instead, as the reader will find amusingly noted in the Sevillian chapters of The Sister of San Sulpice, which are the most charming chapters of that most charming novel. At the stations there were sometimes girls and sometimes boys with water for sale from stone bottles, who walked by the cars crying it; and there were bits of bright garden, or there were flowers in pots. There were also poor little human flowers, or call them weeds, if you will, that suddenly sprang up beside our windows, and moved their petals in pitiful prayer for alms. They always sprang up on the off side of the train, so that the trainmen could not see them, but I hope no trainman in Spain would have had the heart to molest them. As a matter of taste in vegetation, however, we preferred an occasional effect of mixed orange and pomegranate trees, with their perennial green and their autumnal red. We were, in fact, so spoiled by the profusion of these little human flowers, or weeds, that we even liked the change to the dried stalk of an old man, flowering at top into a flat basket of pale-pink shrimps. He gave us our first sight of sea-fruit, when we had got, without knowing it, to Seville Junction. There was, oddly enough, no other fruit for sale there; but there was a very agreeable-looking booth at the end of the platform placarded with signs of Puerto Rico coffee, cognac, and other drinks; and outside of it there were wash-basins and clean towels. I do not know how an old woman with a blind daughter made herself effective in the crowd, which did not seem much preoccupied with the opportunities of ablution and refection at that booth; but perhaps she begged with her blind daughter’s help while the crowd was busy in assorting itself for Cadiz and Seville and Malaga and Cordova and other musically syllabled mothers of history and romance.


A few miles and a few minutes more and we were in the embrace of the loveliest of them, which was at first the clutch on the octroi. But the octroi at Seville is not serious, and a walrus-mustached old porter, who looked like an old American car-driver of the bearded eighteen-sixties, eased us — not very swiftly, but softly — through the local customs, and then we drove neither so swiftly nor so softly to the hotel, where we had decided we would have rooms on the patio. We had still to learn that if there is a patio in a Spanish hotel you cannot have rooms in it, because they are either in repair or they are occupied. In the present case they were occupied; but we could have rooms over the street, which were the same as in the patio, and which were perfectly quiet, as we could perceive from the trolley-cars grinding and squealing under their windows. The manager (if that was the quality of the patient and amiable old official who received us) seemed surprised to see the cars there, perhaps because they were so inaudible; but he said we could have rooms in the annex, fronting on the adjoining plaza and siding on an inoffensive avenue where there were absolutely no cars. The interior, climbing to a lofty roof by a succession of galleries, was hushed by four silent senoras, all in black, and seated in mute ceremony around a table in chairs from which their little feet scarcely touched the marble pavement. Their quiet confirmed the manager’s assurance of a pervading tranquillity, and though the only bath in the annex was confessedly on the ground floor, and we were to be two floors above, the affair was very simple: the chambermaid would always show us where the bath was.

With misgiving, lost in a sense of our helplessness, we tried to think that the avenue under us was then quieting down with the waning day; and certainly it was not so noisy as the plaza, which, resounded with the whips and quips of the cabmen, and gave no signs of quiescence. Otherwise the annex was very pleasant, and we took the rooms shown us, hoping the best and fearing the worst. Our fears were wiser than our hopes, but we did not know this, and we went as gaily as we could for tea in the patio of our hotel, where a fountain typically trickled amidst its water-plants and a noiseless Englishman at his separate table almost restored our lost faith in a world not wholly racket. A young Spaniard and two young Spanish girls helped out the illusion with their gentle movements and their muted gutturals, and we looked forward to dinner with fond expectation. To tell the truth, the dinner, when we came back to it, was not very good, or at least not very winning, and the next night it was no better, though the head waiter had then, made us so much favor with himself as to promise us a side-table for the rest of our stay. He was a very friendly head waiter, and the dining-room was a long glare of the encaustic tiling which all Seville seems lined with, and of every Moorish motive in the decoration. Besides, there was a young Scotch girl, very interestingly pale and delicate of face, at one of the tables, and at another a Spanish girl with the most wonderful fire-red hair, and there were several miracles of the beautiful obesity which abounds in Spain.

When we returned to the annex it did seem, for the short time we kept our windows shut, that the manager had spoken true, and we promised ourselves a tranquil night, which, after our two nights in Cordova, we needed if we did not merit. But we had counted without the spread of popular education in Spain. Under our windows, just across the way, there proved to be a school of the “Royal Society of Friends of their Country,” as the Spanish inscription in its front proclaimed; and at dusk its pupils, children and young people of both sexes, began clamoring for knowledge at its doors. About ten o’clock they burst from them again with joyous exultation in their acquirements; then, shortly after, every manner of vehicle began to pass, especially heavy market wagons overladen and drawn by horses swarming with bells. Their succession left scarcely a moment of the night unstunned; but if ever a moment seemed to be escaping, there was a maniacal bell in a church near by that clashed out: “Hello! Here’s a bit of silence; let’s knock it on the head!”

We went promptly the next day to the gentle old manager and told him that he had been deceived in thinking he had given us rooms on a quiet street, and appealed to his invention for something, for anything, different. His invention had probably never been put to such stress before, and he showed us an excess of impossible apartments, which we subjected to a consideration worthy of the greatest promise in them. Our search ended in a suite of rooms on the top floor, where we could have the range of a flat roof outside if we wanted; but as the private family living next door kept hens, led by a lordly turkey, on their roof, we were sorrowfully forced to forego our peculiar advantage. Peculiar we then thought it, though we learned afterward that poultry-farming was not uncommon on the flat roofs of Seville, and there is now no telling how we might have prospered if we had taken those rooms and stocked our roof with Plymouth Rocks and Wyandottes. At the moment, however, we thought it would not do, and we could only offer our excuses to the manager, whose resources we had now exhausted, but not whose patience, and we parted with expressions of mutual esteem and regret.

Our own grief was sincerer in leaving behind us the enthusiastic chambermaid of the annex who had greeted us with glad service, and was so hopeful that when she said our doors should be made to latch and lock in the morning, it was as if they latched and locked already. Her zeal made the hot water she brought for the baths really hot, “Caliente, caliente,” and her voice would have quieted the street under our windows if music could have soothed it. At a friendly word she grew trustful, and told us how it was hard, hard for poor people in Seville; how she had three dollars a month and her husband four; and how they had to toil for it. When we could not help telling her, cruelly enough, what they singly and jointly earn in New York, she praised rather than coveted the happier chance impossible to them. They would like to go, but they could not go! She was gay with it all, and after we had left the hotel and come back for the shawl which had been forgotten, she ran for it, shouting with laughter, as if we must see it the great joke she did; and she took the reward offered with the self-respect never wanting to the Spanish poor. Very likely if I ransacked my memory I might find instances of their abusing those advantages over the stranger which Providence puts in the reach of the native everywhere; but on the spur of the moment, I do not recall any. In Spain, where a woman earns three dollars a month, as in America where she earns thirty, the poor seem to abound in the comparative virtues which the rich demand in return for the chances of Heaven which they abandon to them. There were few of those rendering us service there whom we would not willingly have brought away with us; but very likely we should have found they had the defects of their qualities.

When we definitely turned our backs on the potential poultry-farm offered us at our hotel, we found ourselves in as good housing at another, overlooking the length and breadth of the stately Plaza San Fernando, with its parallelogram of tall palms, under a full moon swimming in a cloudless heaven by night and by day. By day, of course, we did not see it, but the sun was visibly there, rather blazing hot, even in mid-October, and showing more distinctly than the moon the beautiful tower of the Giralda from the waist up, and the shoulder of the great cathedral, besides features of other noble, though less noble, edifices. Our plaza was so full of romantic suggestion that I am rather glad now I had no association with it. I am sure I could not have borne at the time to know, as I have only now learned by recurring to my Baedeker, that in the old Franciscan cloister once there had stood the equestrian statue of the Comendador who dismounts and comes unbidden to the supper of Don Giovanni in the opera. That was a statue which, seen in my far youth, haunted my nightmares for many a year, and I am sure it would have kept me from sleep in the conditions, now so perfect, of our new housing if I had known, about it.


The plaza is named, of course, for King Fernando, who took Seville from the Moors six hundred years ago, and was canonized for his conquests and his virtues. But I must not enter so rashly upon the history of Seville, or forget the arrears of personal impression which I have to bring up. The very drive from the station was full of impressions, from the narrow and crooked streets, the houses of yellow, blue, and pink stucco, the flowered and fountained patios glimpsed passingly, the half-lengths of church-towers, and the fleeting facades of convents and palaces, all lovely in the mild afternoon light. These impressions soon became confluent, so that without the constant witness of our note-books I should now find it impossible to separate them. If they could be imparted to the reader in their complexity, that would doubtless be the ideal, though he would not believe that their confused pattern was a true reflex of Seville; so I recur to the record, which says that the morning after our arrival we hurried to see the great and beautiful cathedral. It had failed, in our approach the afternoon before, to fulfil the promise of one of our half-dozen guide-books (I forget which one) that it would seem to gather Seville about it as a hen gathers her chickens, but its vastness grew upon us with every moment of our more intimate acquaintance. Our acquaintance quickly ripened into the affectionate friendship which became a tender regret when we looked our last upon it; and vast as it was, it was never too large for our embrace. I doubt if there was a moment in our fortnight’s devotion when we thought the doughty canons, its brave-spoken founders, “mad to have undertaken it,” as they said they expected people to think, or any moment when we did not revere them for imagining a temple at once so beautiful and so big.

Our first visit was redeemed from the commonplace of our duty-round of the side-chapels by two things which I can remember without the help of my notes. One, and the great one, was Murillo’s “Vision of St. Anthony,” in which the painter has most surpassed himself, and which not to have seen, Gautier says, is not to have known the painter. It is so glorious a masterpiece, with the Child joyously running down from the clustering angels toward the kneeling saint in the nearest corner of the foreground, that it was distinctly a moment before I realized that the saint had once been cut out of his corner and sent into an incredible exile in America, and then munificently restored to it, though the seam in the canvas only too literally attested the incident. I could not well say how this fact then enhanced the interest of the painting, and then how it ceased from the consciousness, which it must always recur to with any remembrance of it. If one could envy wealth its chance of doing a deed of absolute good, here was the occasion, and I used it. I did envy the mind, along with the money, to do that great thing. Another great thing which still more swelled my American heart and made it glow with patriotic pride was the monument to Columbus, which our suffering his dust to be translated from Havana has made possible in Seville. There may be other noble results of our war on Spain for the suzerainty of Cuba and the conquest of Puerto Rico and the Philippines, but there is none which matches in moral beauty the chance it won us for this Grand Consent. I suppose those effigies of the four Spanish realms of Castile, Leon, Aragon, and Navarre, which bear the coffin of the discoverer in stateliest processional on their shoulders, may be censured for being too boldly superb, too almost swagger, but I will not be the one to censure them. They are painted the color of life, and they advance colossally, royal-robed and mail-clad, as if marching to some proud music, and would tread you down if you did not stand aside. It is perhaps not art, but it is magnificent; nothing less stupendously Spanish would have sufficed; and I felt that the magnanimity which had yielded Spain this swelling opportunity had made America her equal in it.

We went to the cathedral the first morning after our arrival in Seville, because we did not know how soon we might go away, and then we went every morning or every afternoon of our fortnight there. Habitually we entered by that Gate of Pardon which in former times had opened the sanctuary to any wickedness short of heresy; but, as our need of refuge was not pressing, we wearied of the Gate of Pardon, with its beautiful Saracenic arch converted to Christianity by the Renaissance bas-relief obliterating the texts from the Koran. We tried to form the habit of going in by other gates, but the Gate of Pardon finally prevailed; there was always a gantlet of cabmen to be run beside it, which brought our sins home to us. It led into the badly paved Court of Oranges, where the trees seem planted haphazard and where there used also to be fountains. Gate and court are remnants of the mosque, patterned upon that of Cordova by one of the proud Moorish kings of Seville, and burned by the Normans when they took and sacked his city. His mosque had displaced the early Christian basilica of San Vicente, which the still earlier temple to Venus Salambo had become. Then, after the mosque was rebuilt, the good San Fernando in his turn equipped it with a Gothic choir and chapels and turned it into the cathedral, which was worn out with pious uses when the present edifice was founded, in their folie des grandeurs, by those glorious madmen in the first year of the fifteenth century.


Little of this learning troubled me in my visits to the cathedral, or even the fact that, next to St. Peter’s, it was the largest church in the world. It was sufficient to itself by mere force of architectural presence, without the help of incidents or measurements. It was a city in itself, with a community of priests and sacristans dwelling in it, and a floating population of sightseers and worshipers always passing through it. The first morning we had submitted to make the round of the chapels, patiently paying to have each of them unlocked and wearily wondering at their wonders, but only sympathizing really with the stern cleric who showed the ceremonial vestments and jewels of the cathedral, and whose bitter face expressed, or seemed to express, abhorrence of our whole trivial tourist tribe. After that morning we took our curiosity into our own keeping and looked at nothing that did not interest us, and we were interested most in those fellow-beings who kept coming and going all day long.


Chiefly, of course, they were women. In Catholic countries women have either more sins to be forgiven than the men, or else they are sorrier for them; and here, whether there was service or not, they were dropped everywhere in veiled and motionless prayer. In Seville the law of the mantilla is rigorously enforced. If a woman drives, she may wear a hat; but if she walks, she must wear a mantilla under pain of being pointed at by the finger of scorn. If she is a young girl she may wear colors with it (a cheerful blue seems the favorite), but by far the greater number came to the cathedral in complete black. Those somber figures which clustered before chapel, or singly dotted the pavement everywhere, flitted in and out like shadows in the perpetual twilight. For far the greater number, their coming to the church was almost their sole escape into the world. They sometimes met friends, and after a moment, or an hour, of prayer they could cheer their hearts with neighborly gossip. But for the greater part they appeared and disappeared silently and swiftly, and left the spectator to helpless conjecture of their history. Many of them would have first met their husbands in the cathedral when they prayed, or when they began to look around to see who was looking at them. It might have been their trysting-place, safeguarding them in their lovers’ meetings, and after marriage it had become their social world, when their husbands left them for the clubs or the cafes. They could not go at night, of course, except to some special function, but they could come by day as often as they liked. I do not suppose that the worshipers I saw habitually united love or friendship with their devotions in the cathedral, but some certainly joined business with devotion; at a high function one day an American girl felt herself sharply nudged in the side, and when she turned she found the palm of her kneeling neighbor stretched toward her. They must all have had their parish churches besides the cathedral, and a devotee might make the day a social whirl by visiting one shrine after another. But I do not think that many do. The Spanish women are of a domestic genus, and are expected to keep at home by the men who expect to keep abroad.

I do not know just how it is in the parish churches; they must each have its special rite, which draws and holds the frequenter; but the cathedral constantly offers a drama of irresistible appeal. We non-Catholics can feel this even at the distance to which our Protestantism has remanded us, and at your first visit to the Seville cathedral during mass you cannot help a moment of recreant regret when you wish that a part in the mystery enacting was your birthright. The esthetic emotion is not denied you; the organ-tide that floods the place bears you on it, too; the priests perform their rites before the altar for you; they come and go, they bow and kneel, for you; the censer swings and smokes for you; the little wicked-eyed choir-boys and mischievous-looking acolytes suppress their natures in your behalf as much as if you were a believer, or perhaps more. The whole unstinted hospitality of the service is there for you, as well as for the children of the house, and the heart must be rude and the soul ungrateful that would refuse it. For my part, I accepted it as far as I knew how, and when I left the worshipers on their knees and went tiptoeing from picture to picture and chapel to chapel, it was with shame for the unscrupulous sacristan showing me about, and I felt that he, if not I, ought to be put out and not allowed back till the function was over. I call him sacristan at a venture; but there were several kinds of guides in the cathedral, some in the livery of the place and some in civil dress, willing to supplement our hotel interpreter, or lying in wait for us when we came alone. I wish now I had taken them all, but at the time they tired me, and I denied them.

Though not a day passed but we saw it, I am not able to say what the cathedral was like. The choir was planted in the heart of it, as it might be a celestial refuge in that forest of mighty pillars, as great in girth as the giant redwoods of California, and climbing to a Gothic firmament horizoned round as with sunset light from near a hundred painted windows. The chapels on each side, the most beautiful in Spain, abound in riches of art and pious memorials, with chief among them the Royal Chapel, in the prow, as it were, of the ship which the cathedral has been likened to, keeping the bones not only of the sainted hero, King Fernando, but also, among others, the bones of Peter the Cruel, and of his unwedded love, Maria de Padilla, far too good for Peter in life, if not quite worthy of San Fernando in death. You can see the saint’s body on certain dates four times a year, when, as your Baedeker will tell you, “the troops of the garrison march past and lower their colors” outside the cathedral. We were there on none of these dates, and, far more regretably, not on the day of Corpus Christi, when those boys whose effigies in sculptured and painted wood we had seen in the museum at Valladolid pace in their mystic dance before the people at the opposite portal of the cathedral. But I appoint any reader, so minded, to go and witness the rite some springtime for me. There is no hurry, for it is destined to endure through the device practised in defeating the pope who proposed to abolish it. He ordained that it should continue only as long as the boys’ actual costumes lasted; but by renewing these carefully wherever they began to wear out, they have become practically imperishable.

If we missed this attraction of the cathedral, we had the high good fortune to witness another ceremony peculiar to it, but perhaps less popularly acceptable. The building had often suffered from earthquakes, and on the awful day, dies irae, of the great Lisbon earthquake, during mass and at the moment of the elevation of the Host, when the worshipers were on their knees, there came such a mighty shock in sympathy with the far-off cataclysm that the people started to their feet and ran out of the cathedral. If the priests ran after them, as soon as the apparent danger was past they led the return of their flock and resumed the interrupted rite. It was, of course, by a miracle that the temple was spared, and when it was realized how scarcely Seville had escaped the fate of Lisbon it was natural that the event should be dramatized in a perpetual observance. Every year now, on the 1st of November, the clergy leave the cathedral at a chosen moment of the mass, with much more stateliness than in the original event, and lead the people out of one portal, to return with them by another for the conclusion of the ceremonial.


We waited long for the climax, but at last we almost missed it through the overeagerness of the guide I had chosen out of many that petitioned. He was so politely, so forbearingly insistent in his offer to see that we were vigilantly cared for, that I must have had a heart harder than Peter the Cruel’s to have denied him, and he planted us at the most favorable point for the function in the High Chapel, with instructions which portal to hurry to when the movement began, and took his peseta and went his way. Then, while we confidingly waited, he came rushing back and with a great sweep of his hat wafted us to the door which he had said the procession would go out by, but which he seemed to have learned it would come in by, and we were saved from what had almost been his fatal error. I forgave him the more gladly because I could rejoice in his returning to repair his error, although he had collected his money; and with a heart full of pride in his verification of my theory of the faithful Spanish nature, I gave myself to the shining gorgeousness of the procession that advanced chanting in the blaze of the Sevillian sun. There was every rank of clergy, from the archbishop down, in robes of ceremonial, but I am unable honestly to declare the admiration for their splendor which I would have willingly felt. The ages of faith in which those vestments were designed were apparently not the ages of taste; yet it was the shape of the vestments and not the color which troubled the eye of unfaith, if not of taste. The archbishop in crimson silk, with his train borne by two acolytes, the canons in their purple, the dean in his gold-embroidered robes, and the priests and choristers in their black robes and white surplices richly satisfied it; and if some of the clerics were a little frayed and some of the acolytes were spotted with the droppings of the candles, these were details which one remembered afterward and that did not matter at the time.

When the procession was housed again, we went off and forgot it in the gardens of the Alcazar. But I must not begin yet on the gardens of the Alcazar. We went to them every day, as we did to the cathedral, but we did not see them until our second morning in Seville. We gave what was left from the first morning in the cathedral to a random exploration of the streets and places of the city. There was, no doubt, everywhere some touch of the bravery of our square of San Fernando, where the public windows were hung with crimson tapestries and brocades in honor of St. Raphael; but his holiday did not make itself molestively felt in the city’s business or pleasure. Where we could drive we drove, and where we must we walked, and we walked of course through the famous Calle de las Sierpes, because no one drives there. As a rule no woman walks there, and naturally there were many women walking there, under the eyes of the popular cafes and aristocratic clubs which principally abound in Las Sierpes, for it is also the street of the principal shops, though it is not very long and is narrower than many other streets of Seville. It has its name from so commonplace an origin as the sign over a tavern door, with some snakes painted on it; but if the example of sinuosity had been set it by prehistoric serpents, there were scores of other streets which have bettered its instruction. There were streets that crooked away everywhere, not going anywhere, and breaking from time to time into irregular angular spaces with a church or a convent or a nobleman’s house looking into them.


The noblemen’s houses often showed a severely simple facade to the square or street, and hid their inner glories with what could have been fancied a haughty reserve if it had not been for the frankness with which they opened their patios to the gaze of the stranger, who, when he did not halt his carriage before them, could enjoy their hospitality from a sidewalk sometimes eighteen inches wide. The passing tram-car might grind him against the tall grilles which were the only barriers to the patios, but otherwise there would be nothing to spoil his enjoyment of those marble floors and tiled walls and fountains potted round with flowering plants. In summer he could have seen the family life there; and people who are of such oriental seclusion otherwise will sometimes even suffer the admiring traveler to come as well as look within. But one who would not press their hospitality so far could reward his forbearance by finding some of the patios too new-looking, with rather a glare from their tiles and marbles, their painted iron pillars, and their glass roofs which the rain comes through in the winter. The ladies sit and sew there, or talk, if they prefer, and receive their friends, and turn night into day in the fashion of climates where they are so easily convertible. The patio is the place of that peculiarly Spanish rite, the tertulia, and the family nightly meets its next of kin and then its nearer and farther friends there with that Latin regularity which may also be monotony. One patio is often much like another, though none was perhaps of so much public interest as the patio of the lady who loved a bull-fighter and has made her patio a sort of shrine to him. The famous espada perished in his heroic calling, no worse if no better than those who saw him die, and now his bust is in plain view, with a fit inscription recognizing his worth and prowess, and with the heads of some of the bulls he slew.

Under that clement sky the elements do not waste the works of man as elsewhere, and many of the houses of Seville are said to be such as the Moors built there. We did not know them from the Christian houses; but there are no longer any mosques, while in our wanderings we had the pretty constant succession of the convents which, when they are still in the keeping of their sisterhoods and brotherhoods, remain monuments of the medieval piety of Spain; or, when they are suppressed and turned to secular uses, attest the recurrence of her modern moods of revolution and reform. It is to one of these that Seville owes the stately Alameda de Hercules, a promenade covering the length and breadth of aforetime convent gardens, which you reach from the Street of the Serpents by the Street of the Love of God, and are then startled by the pagan presence of two mighty columns lifting aloft the figures of Caesar and of the titular demigod. Statues and pillars are alike antique, and give you a moment of the Eternal City the more intense because the promenade is of an unkempt and broken surface, like the Cow-field which the Roman Forum used to be. Baedeker calls it shady, and I dare say it is shady, but I do not remember the trees — only those glorious columns climbing the summer sky of the Andalusian autumn, and proclaiming the imperishable memory of the republic that conquered and the empire that ruled the world, and have never loosed their hold upon it. We were rather newly from the grass-grown ruin of a Roman town in Wales, and in this other Iberian land we were always meeting the witnesses of the grandeur which no change short of some universal sea change can wholly sweep from the earth. Before it Goth and Arab shrink, with all their works, into the local and provisional; Rome remains for all time imperial and universal.


To descend from this high-horsed reflection, as I must, I have to record that there did not seem to be so many small boys in Seville as in the Castillian capitals we had visited; in the very home of the bull-feast we did not see one mimic corrida given by the torreros of the future. Not even in the suburb of Triana, where the small boys again consolingly superabounded, was the great national game played among the wheels and hoofs of the dusty streets to which we crossed the Guadalquivir that afternoon. To be sure, we were so taken with other things that a boyish bull-feast might have rioted unnoticed under our horses’ very feet, especially on the long bridge which gives you the far upward and downward stretch of the river, so simple and quiet and empty above, so busy and noisy and thronged with shipping below. I suppose there are lovelier rivers than that — we ourselves are known to brag of our Pharpar and Abana — but I cannot think of anything more nobly beautiful than the Guadalquivir resting at peace in her bed, where she has had so many bad dreams of Carthaginian and Roman and Gothic and Arab and Norman invasion. Now her waters redden, for the time at least, only from the scarlet hulls of the tramp steamers lying in long succession beside the shore where the gardens of the Delicias were waiting to welcome us that afternoon to our first sight of the pride and fashion of Seville. I never got enough of the brave color of those tramp steamers; and in thinking of them as English, Norse, French, and Dutch, fetching or carrying their cargoes over those war-worn, storied waters, I had some finer thrills than in dwelling on the Tower of Gold which rose from the midst of them. It was built in the last century of the Moorish dominion to mark the last point to which the gardens of the Moorish palace of the Alcazar could stretch, but they were long ago obliterated behind it; and though it was so recent, no doubt it would have had its pathos if I could ever have felt pity for the downfall of the Moslem power in Spain. As it was, I found the tramp steamers more moving, and it was these that my eye preferably sought whenever I crossed the Triana bridge.


We were often crossing it on one errand or other, but now we were especially going to see the gipsy quarter of Seville, which disputes with that of Granada the infamy of the loathsomest purlieu imaginable. Perhaps because it was so very loathsome, I would not afterward visit the gipsy quarter in Granada, and if such a thing were possible I would willingly unvisit the gipsy quarter of Seville. All Triana is pretty squalid, though it has merits and charms to which I will try eventually to be just, and I must even now advise the reader to visit the tile potteries there. If he has our good-fortune he may see in the manager of one a type of that fusion of races with which Spain long so cruelly and vainly struggled after the fall of the last Moorish kingdom. He was beautifully lean and clean of limb, and of a grave gentleness of manner; his classically regular face was as swarthy as the darkest mulatto’s, but his quiet eyes were gray. I carried the sense of his fine decency with me when we drove away from his warerooms, and suddenly whirled round the corner of the street into the gipsy quarter, and made it my prophylactic against the human noisomeness which instantly beset our course. Let no Romany Rye romancing Barrow, or other fond fibbing sentimentalist, ever pretend to me hereafter that those persistent savages have even the ridiculous claim of the North American Indians to the interest of the civilized man, except as something to be morally and physically scoured and washed up, and drained and fumigated, and treated with insecticides and put away in mothballs. Our own settled order of things is not agreeable at all points; it reeks and it smells, especially in Spain, when you get down to its lower levels; but it does not assail the senses with such rank offense as smites them in the gipsy quarter with sights and sounds and odors which to eye and ear, as well as nose, were all stenches.

Low huts lined the street, which swarmed at our coming with ragged children running beside us and after us and screaming, “Minny, mooney, money!” in a climax of what they wanted. Men leaned against the door-posts and stared motionless, and hags, lean and fat, sat on the thresholds and wished to tell our fortunes; younger women ranged the sidewalks and offered to dance. They all had flowers in their hair, and some were of a horrible beauty, especially one in a green waist, with both white and red flowers in her dusky locks. Down the middle of the road a troop of children, some blond, but mostly black, tormented a hapless ass colt; and we hurried away as fast as our guide could persuade our cabman to drive. But the gipsy quarter had another street in reserve which made us sorry to have left the first. It paralleled the river, and into the center of it every manner of offal had been cast from the beginning of time to reek and fester and juicily ripen and rot in unspeakable corruption. It was such a thoroughfare as Dante might have imagined in his Hell, if people in his time had minded such horrors; but as it was we could only realize that it was worse than infernal, it was medieval, and that we were driving in such putrid foulness as the gilded carriages of kings and queens and the prancing steeds and palfreys of knights and ladies found their way through whenever they went abroad in the picturesque and romantic Middle Ages. I scarcely remember now how we got away and down to the decent waterside, and then by the helpful bridge to the other shore of the Guadalquivir, painted red with the reflections of those consoling tramp steamers.

After that abhorrent home of indolence, which its children never left except to do a little fortune-telling and mule and donkey trading, eked out with theft in the country round, any show of honest industry looked wholesome and kind. I rejoiced almost as much in the machinery as in the men who were loading the steamers; even the huge casks of olives, which were working from the salt-water poured into them and frothing at the bung in great white sponges of spume, might have been examples of toil by which those noisome vagabonds could well have profited. But now we had come to see another sort of leisure — the famous leisure of fortune and fashion driving in the Delicias, but perhaps never quite fulfilling the traveler’s fond ideal of it. We came many times to the Delicias in hope of it, with decreasing disappointment, indeed, but to the last without entire fruition. For our first visit we could not have had a fitter evening, with its pale sky reddening from a streak of sunset beyond Triana, and we arrived in appropriate circumstance, round the immense circle of the bull-ring and past the palace which the Duc de Montpensier has given the church for a theological seminary, with long stretches of beautiful gardens. Then we were in the famous Paseo, a drive with footways on each side, and on one side dusky groves widening to the river. The paths were lit with gleaming statues, and among the palms and the eucalyptuses were orange trees full of their golden globes, which we wondered were not stolen till we were told they were of that bitter sort which are mostly sent to Scotland, not because they are in accord with the acrid nature of man there, but that they may be wrought into marmalade. On the other hand stretched less formal woods, with fields for such polite athletics as tennis, which the example of the beloved young English Queen of Spain is bringing into reluctant favor with women immemorially accustomed to immobility. The road was badly kept, like most things in Spain, where when a thing is done it is expected to stay done. Every afternoon it is a cloud of dust and every evening a welter of mud, for the Iberian idea of watering a street is to soak it into a slough. But nothing can spoil the Paseo, and that evening we had it mostly to ourselves, though there were two or three carriages with ladies in hats, and at one place other ladies dismounted and courageously walking, while their carriages followed. A magnate of some sort was shut alone in a brougham, in the care of footman and coachman with deeply silver-banded hats; there were a few military and civil riders, and there was distinctly a young man in a dog-cart with a groom, keeping abreast the landau of three ladies in mantillas, with whom he was improving what seemed a chance acquaintance. Along the course the public park gave way at times to the grounds of private villas; before one of these a boy did what he could for us by playing ball with a priest. At other points there were booths with chairs and tables, where I am sure interesting parties of people would have been sitting if they could have expected us to pass.


The reader, pampered by the brilliant excitements of our American promenades, may think this spectacle of the gay world of Seville dull; but he ought to have been with us a colder, redder, and sadder evening when we had the Delicias still more to ourselves. Afterward the Delicias seemed to cheer up, and the place was fairly frequented on a holiday, which we had not suspected was one till our cabman convinced us from his tariff that we must pay him double, because you must always do that in Seville on holidays. By this time we knew that most of the Sevillian rank and riches had gone to Madrid for the winter, and we were the more surprised by some evident show of them in the private turnouts where by far most of the turnouts were public. But in Spain a carriage is a carriage, and the Sevillian cabs are really very proper and sometimes even handsome, and we felt that our own did no discredit to the Delicias. Many of the holiday-makers were walking, and there were actually women on foot in hats and hobble-skirts without being openly mocked. On the evening of our last resort to the Delicias it was quite thronged far into the twilight, after a lemon sunset that continued to tinge the east with pink and violet. There were hundreds of carriages, fully half of them private, with coachmen and footmen in livery. With them it seemed to be the rule to stop in the circle at a turning-point a mile off and watch the going and coming. It was a serious spectacle, but not solemn, and it had its reliefs, its high-lights. It was always pleasant to see three Spanish ladies on a carriage seat, the middle one protruding because of their common bulk, and oftener in umbrella-wide hats with towering plumes than in the charming mantilla. There were no top-hats or other formality in the men’s dress; some of them were on horseback, and there were two women riding.

Suddenly, as if it had come up out of the ground, I perceived a tram-car keeping abreast of the riding and walking and driving, and through all I was agreeably aware of files of peasants bestriding their homing donkeys on the bridle-path next the tram. I confess that they interested me more than my social equals and superiors; I should have liked to talk with those fathers and mothers of toil, bestriding or perched on the cruppers of their donkeys, and I should have liked especially to know what passed in the mind of one dear little girl who sat before her father with her bare brown legs tucked into the pockets of the pannier.


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56