The “Knickerbocker’s History of New York” and the “Sketch–Book” never would have won for Irving the gold medal of the Royal Society of Literature, or the degree of D. C. L. from Oxford.
However much the world would have liked frankly to honor the writer for that which it most enjoyed and was under most obligations for, it would have been a violent shock to the constitution of things to have given such honor to the mere humorist and the writer of short sketches. The conventional literary proprieties must be observed. Only some laborious, solid, and improving work of the pen could sanction such distinction — a book of research or an historical composition. It need not necessarily be dull, but it must be grave in tone and serious in intention, in order to give the author high recognition.
Irving himself shared this opinion. He hoped, in the composition of his “Columbus” and his “Washington,” to produce works which should justify the good opinion his countrymen had formed of him, should reasonably satisfy the expectations excited by his lighter books, and should lay for him the basis of enduring reputation. All that he had done before was the play of careless genius, the exercise of frolicsome fancy, which might amuse and perhaps win an affectionate regard for the author, but could not justify a high respect or secure a permanent place in literature. For this, some work of scholarship and industry was needed.
And yet everybody would probably have admitted that there was but one man then living who could have created and peopled the vast and humorous world of the Knickerbockers; that all the learning of Oxford and Cambridge together would not enable a man to draw the whimsical portrait of Ichabod Crane, or to outline the fascinating legend of Rip Van Winkle; while Europe was full of scholars of more learning than Irving, and writers of equal skill in narrative, who might have told the story of Columbus as well as he told it and perhaps better. The under-graduates of Oxford who hooted their admiration of the shy author when he appeared in the theater to receive his complimentary degree perhaps understood this, and expressed it in their shouts of “Diedrich Knickerbocker,” “Ichabod Crane,” “Rip Van Winkle.”
Irving’s “gift” was humor; and allied to this was sentiment. These qualities modified and restrained each other; and it was by these that he touched the heart. He acquired other powers which he himself may have valued more highly, and which brought him more substantial honors; but the historical compositions, which he and his contemporaries regarded as a solid basis of fame, could be spared without serious loss, while the works of humor, the first fruits of his genius, are possessions in English literature the loss of which would be irreparable. The world may never openly allow to humor a position “above the salt,” but it clings to its fresh and original productions, generation after generation, finding room for them in its accumulating literary baggage, while more “important” tomes of scholarship and industry strew the line of its march.
I feel that this study of Irving as a man of letters would be incomplete, especially for the young readers of this generation, if it did not contain some more extended citations from those works upon which we have formed our estimate of his quality. We will take first a few passages from the —“History of New York”.
It has been said that Irving lacked imagination. That, while he had humor and feeling and fancy, he was wanting in the higher quality, which is the last test of genius. We have come to attach to the word “imagination” a larger meaning than the mere reproduction in the mind of certain absent objects of sense that have been perceived; there must be a suggestion of something beyond these, and an ennobling suggestion, if not a combination, that amounts to a new creation. Now, it seems to me that the transmutation of the crude and heretofore unpoetical materials which he found in the New World into what is as absolute a creation as exists in literature, was a distinct work of the imagination. Its humorous quality does not interfere with its largeness of outline, nor with its essential poetic coloring. For, whimsical and comical as is the Knickerbocker creation, it is enlarged to the proportion of a realm, and over that new country of the imagination is always the rosy light of sentiment.
This largeness of modified conception cannot be made apparent in such brief extracts as we can make, but they will show its quality and the author’s humor. The Low–Dutch settlers of the Nieuw Nederlandts are supposed to have sailed from Amsterdam in a ship called the Goede Vrouw, built by the carpenters of that city, who always model their ships on the fair forms of their countrywomen. This vessel, whose beauteous model was declared to be the greatest belle in Amsterdam, had one hundred feet in the beam, one hundred feet in the keel, and one hundred feet from the bottom of the stern-post to the taffrail. Those illustrious adventurers who sailed in her landed on the Jersey flats, preferring a marshy ground, where they could drive piles and construct dykes. They made a settlement at the Indian village of Communipaw, the egg from which was hatched the mighty city of New York. In the author’s time this place had lost its importance:
“Communipaw is at present but a small village, pleasantly situated, among rural scenery, on that beauteous part of the Jersey shore which was known in ancient legends by the name of Pavonia — [Pavonia, in the ancient maps, is given to a tract of country extending from about Hoboken to Amboy]— and commands a grand prospect of the superb bay of New York. It is within but half an hour’s sail of the latter place, provided you have a fair wind, and may be distinctly seen from the city. Nay, it is a well known fact, which I can testify from my own experience, that on a clear still summer evening, you may hear, from the Battery of New York, the obstreperous peals of broad-mouthed laughter of the Dutch negroes at Communipaw, who, like most other negroes, are famous for their risible powers. This is peculiarly the case on Sunday evenings, when, it is remarked by an ingenious and observant philosopher, who has made great discoveries in the neighborhood of this city, that they always laugh loudest, which he attributes to the circumstance of their having their holiday clothes on.
“These negroes, in fact, like the monks of the dark ages, engross all the knowledge of the place, and being infinitely more adventurous and more knowing than their masters, carry on all the foreign trade; making frequent voyages to town in canoes loaded with oysters, buttermilk, and cabbages. They are great astrologers, predicting the different changes of weather almost as accurately as an almanac; they are moreover exquisite performers on three-stringed fiddles; in whistling they almost boast the far-famed powers of Orpheus’s lyre, for not a horse or an ox in the place, when at the plough or before the wagon, will budge a foot until he hears the well-known whistle of his black driver and companion. And from their amazing skill at casting up accounts upon their fingers, they are regarded with as much veneration as were the disciples of Pythagoras of yore, when initiated into the sacred quaternary of numbers.
“As to the honest burghers of Communipaw, like wise men and sound philosophers, they never look beyond their pipes, nor trouble their heads about any affairs out of their immediate neighborhood; so that they live in profound and enviable ignorance of all the troubles, anxieties, and revolutions of this distracted planet. I am even told that many among them do verily believe that Holland, of which they have heard so much from tradition, is situated somewhere on Long Island — that Spiking-devil and the Narrows are the two ends of the world — that the country is still under the dominion of their High Mightinesses — and that the city of New York still goes by the name of Nieuw Amsterdam. They meet every Saturday afternoon at the only tavern in the place, which bears as a sign a square-headed likeness of the Prince of Orange, where they smoke a silent pipe, by way of promoting social conviviality, and invariably drink a mug of cider to the success of Admiral Van Tromp, who they imagine is still sweeping the British channel with a broom at his mast-head.
“Communipaw, in short, is one of the numerous little villages in the vicinity of this most beautiful of cities, which are so many strongholds and fastnesses, whither the primitive manners of our Dutch forefathers have retreated, and where they are cherished with devout and scrupulous strictness. The dress of the original settlers is handed down inviolate, from father to son: the identical broad-brimmed hat, broad-skirted coat, and broad-bottomed breeches, continue from generation to generation; and several gigantic knee-buckles of massy silver are still in wear, that made gallant display in the days of the patriarchs of Communipaw. The language likewise continues unadulterated by barbarous innovations; and so critically correct is the village schoolmaster in his dialect, that his reading of a Low–Dutch psalm has much the same effect on the nerves as the filing of a handsaw.”
The early prosperity of this settlement is dwelt on with satisfaction by the author:
“The neighboring Indians in a short time became accustomed to the uncouth sound of the Dutch language, and an intercourse gradually took place between them and the new-comers. The Indians were much given to long talks, and the Dutch to long silence; — in this particular, therefore, they accommodated each other completely. The chiefs would make long speeches about the big bull, the Wabash, and the Great Spirit, to which the others would listen very attentively, smoke their pipes, and grunt ‘yah, mynher’, whereat the poor savages were wondrously delighted. They instructed the new settlers in the best art of curing and smoking tobacco, while the latter, in return, made them drunk with true Hollands — and then taught them the art of making bargains.
“A brisk trade for furs was soon opened; the Dutch traders were scrupulously honest in their dealings and purchased by weight, establishing it as an invariable table of avoirdupois, that the hand of a Dutchman weighed one pound, and his foot two pounds. It is true, the simple Indians were often puzzled by the great disproportion between bulk and weight, for let them place a bundle of furs, never so large, in one scale, and a Dutchman put his hand or foot in the other, the bundle was sure to kick the beam; — never was a package of furs known to weigh more than two pounds in the market of Communipaw!
“This is a singular fact — but I have it direct from my great-great-grandfather, who had risen to considerable importance in the colony, being promoted to the office of weigh-master, on account of the uncommon heaviness of his foot.
“The Dutch possessions in this part of the globe began now to assume a very thriving appearance, and were comprehended under the general title of Nieuw Nederlandts, on account, as the Sage Vander Donck observes, of their great resemblance to the Dutch Netherlands — which indeed was truly remarkable, excepting that the former were rugged and mountainous, and the latter level and marshy. About this time the tranquillity of the Dutch colonists was doomed to suffer a temporary interruption. In 1614, Captain Sir Samuel Argal, sailing under a commission from Dale, governor of Virginia, visited the Dutch settlements on Hudson River, and demanded their submission to the English crown and Virginian dominion. To this arrogant demand, as they were in no condition to resist it, they submitted for the time, like discreet and reasonable men.
“It does not appear that the valiant Argal molested the settlement of Communipaw; on the contrary, I am told that when his vessel first hove in sight, the worthy burghers were seized with such a panic, that they fell to smoking their pipes with astonishing vehemence; insomuch that they quickly raised a cloud, which, combining with the surrounding woods and marshes, completely enveloped and concealed their beloved village, and overhung the fair regions of Pavoniaso that the terrible Captain Argal passed on totally unsuspicious that a sturdy little Dutch settlement lay snugly couched in the mud, under cover of all this pestilent vapor. In commemoration of this fortunate escape, the worthy inhabitants have continue, to smoke, almost without intermission, unto this very day; which is said to be the cause of the remarkable fog which often hangs over Communipaw of a clear afternoon.”
The golden age of New York was under the reign of Walter Van Twiller, the first governor of the province, and the best it ever had. In his sketch of this excellent magistrate Irving has embodied the abundance and tranquillity of those halcyon days:
“The renowned Wouter (or Walter Van Twiller) was descended from a long line of Dutch burgomasters, who had successively dozed away their lives, and grown fat upon the bench of magistracy in Rotterdam; and who had comported themselves with such singular wisdom and propriety that they were never either heard or talked of — which, next to being universally applauded, should be the object of ambition of all magistrates and rulers. There are two opposite ways by which some men make a figure in the world: one, by talking faster than they think, and the other, by holding their tongues and not thinking at all. By the first, many a smatterer acquires the reputation of a man of quick parts; by the other, many a dunderpate, like the owl, the stupidest of birds, comes to be considered the very type of wisdom. This, by the way, is a casual remark, which I would not, for the universe, have it thought I apply to Governor Van Twiller. It is true he was a man shut up within himself, like an oyster, and rarely spoke, except in monosyllables; but then it was allowed he seldom said a foolish thing. So invincible was his gravity that he was never known to laugh or even to smile through the whole course of along and prosperous life. Nay, if a joke were uttered in his presence, that set light-minded hearers in a roar, it was observed to throw him into a state of perplexity. Sometimes he would deign to inquire into the matter, and when, after much explanation, the joke was made as plain as a pikestaff, he would continue to smoke his pipe in silence, and at length, knocking out the ashes, would exclaim, ‘Well! I see nothing in all that to laugh about.’
“With all his reflective habits, he never made up his mind on a subject. His adherents accounted for this by the astonishing magnitude of his ideas. He conceived every subject on so grand a scale that he had not room in his head to turn it over and examine both sides of it. Certain it is, that, if any matter were propounded to him on which ordinary mortals would rashly determine at first glance, he would put on a vague, mysterious look, shake his capacious head, smoke some time in profound silence, and at length observe, that ‘he had his doubts about the matter;’ which gained him the reputation of a man slow of belief and not easily imposed upon. What is more, it has gained him a lasting name; for to this habit of the mind has been attributed his surname of Twiller; which is said to be a corruption of the original Twijfler, or, in plain English, Doubter.
“The person of this illustrious old gentleman was formed and proportioned, as though it had been moulded by the hands of some cunning Dutch statuary, as a model of majesty and lordly grandeur. He was exactly five feet six inches in height, and six feet five inches in circumference. His head was a perfect sphere, and of such stupendous dimensions, that dame Nature, with all her sex’s ingenuity, would have been puzzled to construct a neck capable of supporting it; wherefore she wisely declined the attempt, and settled it firmly on the top of his backbone, just between the shoulders. His body was oblong and particularly capacious at bottom; which was wisely ordered by Providence, seeing that he was a man of sedentary habits, and very averse to the idle labor of walking. His legs were short, but sturdy in proportion to the weight they had to sustain; so that when erect he had not a little the appearance of a beer-barrel on skids. His face, that infallible index of the mind, presented a vast expanse, unfurrowed by any of those lines and angles which disfigure the human countenance with what is termed expression. Two small gray eyes twinkled feebly in the midst, like two stars of lesser magnitude in a hazy firmament, and his full-fed cheeks, which seemed to have taken toll of everything that went into his mouth, were curiously mottled and streaked with dusky red, like a spitzenberg apple.
“His habits were as regular as his person. He daily took his four stated meals, appropriating exactly an hour to each; he smoked and doubted eight hours, and he slept the remaining twelve of the four-and-twenty. Such was the renowned Wouter Van Twiller — a true philosopher, for his mind was either elevated above, or tranquilly settled below, the cares and perplexities of this world. He had lived in it for years, without feeling the least curiosity to know whether the sun revolved round it, or it round the sun; and he had watched, for at least half a century, the smoke curling from his pipe to the ceiling, without once troubling his head with any of those numerous theories by which a philosopher would have perplexed his brain, in accounting for its rising above the surrounding atmosphere.
“In his council he presided with great state and solemnity. He sat in a huge chair of solid oak, hewn in the celebrated forest of the Hague, fabricated by an experienced timmerman of Amsterdam, and curiously carved about the arms and feet into exact imitations of gigantic eagle’s claws. Instead of a sceptre, he swayed a long Turkish pipe, wrought with jasmine and amber, which had been presented to a stadtholder of Holland at the conclusion of a treaty with one of the petty Barbary powers. In this stately chair would he sit, and this magnificent pipe would he smoke, shaking his right knee with a constant motion, and fixing his eye for hours together upon a little print of Amsterdam, which hung in a black frame against the opposite wall of the council-chamber. Nay, it has even been said, that when any deliberation of extraordinary length and intricacy was on the carpet, the renowned Wouter would shut his eyes for full two hours at a time, that he might not be disturbed by external objects; and at such times the internal commotion of his mind was evinced by certain regular guttural sounds, which his admirers declared were merely the noise of conflict, made by his contending doubts and opinions . . . .
“I have been the more anxious to delineate fully the person and habits of Wouter Van Twiller, from the consideration that he was not only the first but also the best governor that ever presided over this ancient and respectable province; and so tranquil and benevolent was his reign, that I do not find throughout the whole of it a single instance of any offender being brought to punishment, — a most indubitable sign of a merciful governor, and a case unparalleled, excepting in the reign of the illustrious King Log, from whom, it is hinted, the renowned Van Twiller was a lineal descendant.
“The very outset of the career of this excellent magistrate was distinguished by an example of legal acumen that gave flattering presage of a wise and equitable administration. The morning after he had been installed in office, and at the moment that he was making his breakfast from a prodigious earthen dish, filled with milk and Indian pudding, he was interrupted by the appearance of Wandle Schoonhoven, a very important old burgher of New Amsterdam, who complained bitterly of one Barent Bleecker, inasmuch as he refused to come to a settlement of accounts, seeing that there was a heavy balance in favor of the said Wandle. Governor Van Twiller, as I have already observed, was a man of few words; he was likewise a mortal enemy to multiplying writings — or being disturbed at his breakfast. Having listened attentively to the statement of Wandle Schoonhoven, giving an occasional grunt, as he shoveled a spoonful of Indian pudding into his mouth — either as a sign that he relished the dish, or comprehended the story — he called unto him his constable, and pulling out of his breeches-pocket a huge jackknife, dispatched it after the defendant as a summons, accompanied by his tobacco-box as a warrant.
“This summary process was as effectual in those simple days as was the seal-ring of the great Haroun Alraschid among the true believers. The two parties being confronted before him, each produced a book of accounts, written in a language and character that would have puzzled any but a High–Dutch commentator, or a learned decipherer of Egyptian obelisks. The sage Wouter took them one after the other, and having poised them in his hands, and attentively counted over the number of leaves, fell straightway into a very great doubt, and smoked for half an hour without saying a word; at length, laying his finger beside his nose, and shutting his eyes for a moment, with the air of a man who has just caught a subtle idea by the tail, he slowly took his pipe from his mouth, puffed forth a column of tobacco-smoke, and with marvelous gravity and solemnity pronounced that, having carefully counted over the leaves and weighed the books, it was found that one was just as thick and as heavy as the other: therefore, it was the final opinion of the court that the accounts were equally balanced: therefore, Wandle should give Barent a receipt, and Barent should give Wandle a receipt, and the constable should pay the costs. This decision, being straightway made known, diffused general joy throughout New Amsterdam, for the people immediately perceived that they had a very wise and equitable magistrate to rule over them. But its happiest effect was, that not another lawsuit took place throughout the whole of his administration; and the office of constable fell into such decay that there was not one of those losel scouts known in the province for many years. I am the more particular in dwelling on this transaction, not only because I deem it one of the most sage and righteous judgments on record, and well worthy the attention of modern magistrates, but because it was a miraculous event in the history of the renowned Wouter — being the only time he was ever known to come to a decision in the whole course of his life.”
This peaceful age ended with the accession of William the Testy, and the advent of the enterprising Yankees. During the reigns of William Kieft and Peter Stuyvesant, between the Yankees of the Connecticut and the Swedes of the Delaware, the Dutch community knew no repose, and the “History” is little more than a series of exhausting sieges and desperate battles, which would have been as heroic as any in history if they had been attended with loss of life. The forces that were gathered by Peter Stuyvesant for the expedition to avenge upon the Swedes the defeat at Fort Casimir, and their appearance on the march, give some notion of the military prowess of the Dutch. Their appearance, when they were encamped on the Bowling Green, recalls the Homeric age:
“In the centre, then, was pitched the tent of the men of battle of the Manhattoes, who, being the inmates of the metropolis, composed the lifeguards of the governor. These were commanded by the valiant Stoffel Brinkerhoof, who whilom had acquired such immortal fame at Oyster Bay; they displayed as a standard a beaver rampant on a field of orange, being the arms of the province, and denoting the persevering industry and the amphibious origin of the Nederlands.
“On their right hand might be seen the vassals of that renowned Mynheer, Michael Paw, who lorded it over the fair regions of ancient Pavonia, and the lands away south even unto the Navesink Mountains, and was, moreover, patroon of Gibbet Island. His standard was borne by his trusty squire, Cornelius Van Vorst; consisting of a huge oyster recumbent upon a sea-green field; being the armorial bearings of his favorite metropolis, Communipaw. He brought to the camp a stout force of warriors, heavily armed, being each clad in ten pair of linsey-woolsey breeches, and overshadowed by broad-brimmed beavers, with short pipes twisted in their hatbands. These were the men who vegetated in the mud along the shores of Pavonia, being of the race of genuine copperheads, and were fabled to have sprung from oysters.
“At a little distance was encamped the tribe of warriors who came from the neighborhood of Hell-gate. These were commanded by the Suy Dams, and the Van Dams — incontinent hard swearers, as their names betoken. They were terrible looking fellows, clad in broad-skirted gaberdines, of that curious colored cloth called thunder and lightning, and bore as a standard three devil’s darning-needles, volant, in a flame-colored field.
“Hard by was the tent of the men of battle from the marshy borders of the Waale–Boght and the country thereabouts. These were of a sour aspect, by reason that they lived on crabs, which abound in these parts. They were the first institutors of that honorable order of knighthood called Fly-market shirks, and, if tradition speak true, did likewise introduce the far-famed step in dancing called ‘double trouble.’ They were commanded by the fearless Jacobus Varra Vanger — and had, moreover, a jolly band of Breuckelen ferry-men, who performed a brave concerto on conch shells.
“But I refrain from pursuing this minute description, which goes on to describe the warriors of Bloemen-dael, and Weehawk, and Hoboken, and sundry other places, well known in history and song; for now do the notes of martial music alarm the people of New Amsterdam, sounding afar from beyond the walls of the city. But this alarm was in a little while relieved, for lo! from the midst of a vast cloud of dust, they recognized the brimstone-colored breeches and splendid silver leg of Peter Stuyvesant, glaring in the sunbeams; and beheld him approaching at the head of a formidable army, which he had mustered along the banks of the Hudson. And here the excellent but anonymous writer of the Stuyvesant manuscript breaks out into a brave and glorious description of the forces, as they defiled through the principal gate of the city, that stood by the head of Wall Street.
“First of all came the Van Bummels, who inhabit the pleasant borders of the Bronx: these were short fat men, wearing exceeding large trunk-breeches, and were renowned for feats of the trencher. They were the first inventors of suppawn, or mush and milk. — Close in their rear marched the Van Vlotens, of Kaatskill, horrible quaffers of new cider, and arrant braggarts in their liquor. — After them came the Van Pelts of Groodt Esopus, dexterous horsemen, mounted upon goodly switch-tailed steeds of the Esopus breed. These were mighty hunters of minks and musk-rats, whence came the word Peltry. — Then the Van Nests of Kinderhoeck, valiant robbers of birds’- nests, as their name denotes. To these, if report may be believed, are we indebted for the invention of slap-jacks, or buckwheat-cakes. — Then the Van Higginbottoms, of Wapping’s creek. These came armed with ferules and birchen rods, being a race of schoolmasters, who first discovered the marvelous sympathy between the seat of honor and the seat of intellect — and that the shortest way to get knowledge into the head was to hammer it into the bottom. — Then the Van Grolls, of Antony’s Nose, who carried their liquor in fair, round little pottles, by reason they could not house it out of their canteens, having such rare long noses. Then the Gardeniers, of Hudson and thereabouts, distinguished by many triumphant feats, such as robbing watermelon patches, smoking rabbits out of their holes, and the like, and by being great lovers of roasted pigs’ tails. These were the ancestors of the renowned congressman of that name. —— Then the Van Hoesens, of Sing–Sing, great choristers and players upon the jew’s-harp. These marched two and two, singing the great song of St. Nicholas. Then the Couenhovens, of Sleepy Hollow. These gave birth to a jolly race of publicans, who first discovered the magic artifice of conjuring a quart of wine into a pint bottle. — Then the Van Kortlandts, who lived on the wild banks of the Croton, and were great killers of wild ducks, being much spoken of for their skill in shooting with the long bow. — Then the Van Bunschotens, of Nyack and Kakiat, who were the first that did ever kick with the left foot. They were gallant bushwhackers and hunters of raccoons by moonlight. — Then the Van Winkles, of Haerlem, potent suckers of eggs, and noted for running of horses, and running up of scores at taverns. They were the first that ever winked with both eyes at once. — Lastly came the KNICKERBOCKERS, of the great town of Scaghtikoke, where the folk lay stones upon the houses in windy weather, lest they should be blown away. These derive their name, as some say, from Knicker, to shake, and Beker, a goblet, indicating thereby that they were sturdy tosspots of yore; but, in truth, it was derived from Knicker, to nod, and Boeken, books: plainly meaning that they were great nodders or dozers over books. From them did descend the writer of this history.”
In the midst of Irving’s mock-heroics, he always preserves a substratum of good sense. An instance of this is the address of the redoubtable wooden-legged governor, on his departure at the head of his warriors to chastise the Swedes:
“Certain it is, not an old woman in New Amsterdam but considered Peter Stuyvesant as a tower of strength, and rested satisfied that the public welfare was secure so long as he was in the city. It is not surprising, then, that they looked upon his departure as a sore affliction. With heavy hearts they draggled at the heels of his troop, as they marched down to the river-side to embark. The governor, from the stern of his schooner, gave a short but truly patriarchal address to his citizens, wherein he recommended them to comport like loyal and peaceable subjects — to go to church regularly on Sundays, and to mind their business all the week besides. That the women should be dutiful and affectionate to their husbands — looking after nobody’s concerns but their own — eschewing all gossipings and morning gaddings — and carrying short tongues and long petticoats. That the men should abstain from intermeddling in public concerns, intrusting the cares of government to the officers appointed to support them, staying at home, like good citizens, making money for themselves, and getting children for the benefit of their country. That the burgomasters should look well to the public interest — not oppressing the poor nor indulging the rich — not tasking their ingenuity to devise new laws, but faithfully enforcing those which were already made, rather bending their attention to prevent evil than to punish it; ever recollecting that civil magistrates should consider themselves more as guardians of public morals than rat-catchers employed to entrap public delinquents. Finally, he exhorted them, one and all, high and low, rich and poor, to conduct themselves as well as they could, assuring them that if they faithfully and conscientiously complied with this golden rule, there was no danger but that they would all conduct themselves well enough. This done, he gave them a paternal benediction, the sturdy Antony sounded a most loving farewell with his trumpet, the jolly crews put up a shout of triumph, and the invincible armada swept off proudly down the bay.”
The account of an expedition against Fort Christina deserves to be quoted in full, for it is an example of what war might be, full of excitement, and exercise, and heroism, without danger to life. We take up the narrative at the moment when the Dutch host,
“Brimful of wrath and cabbage,”
and excited by the eloquence of the mighty Peter, lighted their pipes, and charged upon the fort:
“The Swedish garrison, ordered by the cunning Risingh not to fire until they could distinguish the whites of their assailants’ eyes, stood in horrid silence on the covert-way, until the eager Dutchmen had ascended the glacis. Then did they pour into them such a tremendous volley, that the very hills quaked around, and were terrified even unto an incontinence of water, insomuch that certain springs burst forth from their sides, which continue to run unto the present day. Not a Dutchman but would have bitten the dust beneath that dreadful fire, had not the protecting Minerva kindly taken care that the Swedes should, one and all, observe their usual custom of shutting their eyes and turning away their heads at the moment of discharge.
“The Swedes followed up their fire by leaping the counterscarp, and falling tooth and nail upon the foe with curious outcries. And now might be seen prodigies of valor, unmatched in history or song. Here was the sturdy Stoffel Brinkerhoff brandishing his quarter-staff, like the giant Blanderon his oak-tree (for he scorned to carry any other weapon), and drumming a horrific tune upon the hard heads of the Swedish soldiery. There were the Van Kortlandts, posted at a distance, like the Locrian archers of yore, and plying it most potently with the long-bow, for which they were so justly renowned. On a rising knoll were gathered the valiant men of Sing–Sing, assisting marvelously in the fight by chanting the great song of St. Nicholas; but as to the Gardeniers of Hudson, they were absent on a marauding party, laying waste the neighboring water-melon patches.
“In a different part of the field were the Van Grolls of Antony’s Nose, struggling to get to the thickest of the fight, but horribly perplexed in a defile between two hills, by reason of the length of their noses. So also the Van Bunschotens of Nyack and Kakiat, so renowned for kicking with the left foot, were brought to a stand for want of wind, in consequence of the hearty dinner they had eaten, and would have been put to utter rout but for the arrival of a gallant corps of voltigeurs, composed of the Hoppers, who advanced nimbly to their assistance on one foot. Nor must I omit to mention the valiant achievements of Antony Van Corlear, who, for a good quarter of an hour, waged stubborn fight with a little pursy Swedish drummer, whose hide he drummed most magnificently, and whom he would infallibly have annihilated on the spot, but that he had come into the battle with no other weapon but his trumpet.
“But now the combat thickened. On came the mighty Jacobus Varra Vanger and the fighting-men of the Wallabout; after them thundered the Van Pelts of Esopus, together with the Van Rippers and the Van Brunts, bearing down all before them; then the Suy Dams, and the Van Dams, pressing forward with many a blustering oath, at the head of the warriors of Hell-gate, clad in their thunder-and-lightning gaberdines; and lastly, the standard-bearers and body-guard of Peter Stuyvesant, bearing the great beaver of the Manhattoes.
“And now commenced the horrid din, the desperate struggle, the maddening ferocity, the frantic desperation, the confusion and self-abandonment of war. Dutchman and Swede commingled, tugged, panted, and blowed. The heavens were darkened with a tempest of missives. Bang! went the guns; whack! went the broad-swords; thump went the cudgels; crash! went the musket-stocks; blows, kicks, cuffs; scratches, black eyes and bloody noses swelling the horrors of the scene! Thick thwack, cut and hack, helter-skelter, higgledy-piggledy, hurly-burly, head-over-heels, rough-and-tumble! Dunder and blixum! swore the Dutchmen; splitter and splutter! cried the Swedes. Storm the works! shouted Hardkoppig Peter. Fire the mine roared stout Risingh. Tanta-rar-ra-ra! twanged the trumpet of Antony Van Corlear; — until all voice and sound became unintelligible — grunts of pain, yells of fury, and shouts of triumph mingling in one hideous clamor. The earth shook as if struck with a paralytic stroke; trees shrunk aghast, and withered at the sight; rocks burrowed in the ground like rabbits; and even Christina Creek turned from its course and ran up a hill in breathless terror.
“Long hung the contest doubtful; for though a heavy shower of rain, sent by the ‘cloud-compelling Jove,’ in some measure cooled their ardor, as doth a bucket of water thrown on a group of fighting mastiffs, yet did they but pause for a moment, to return with tenfold fury to the charge. Just at this juncture a vast and dense column of smoke was seen slowly rolling toward the scene of battle. The combatants paused for a moment, gazing in mute astonishment, until the wind, dispelling the murky cloud, revealed the flaunting banner of Michael Paw, the Patroon of Communipaw. That valiant chieftain came fearlessly on at the head of a phalanx of oyster-fed Pavonians and a corps de reserve of the Van Arsdales and Van Bummels, who had remained behind to digest the enormous dinner they had eaten. These now trudged manfully forward, smoking their pipes with outrageous vigor, so as to raise the awful cloud that has been mentioned, but marching exceedingly slow, being short of leg, and of great rotundity in the belt.
“And now the deities who watched over the fortunes of the Nederlanders having unthinkingly left the field, and stepped into a neighboring tavern to refresh themselves with a pot of beer, a direful catastrophe had well-nigh ensued. Scarce had the myrmidons of Michael Paw attained the front of battle, when the Swedes, instructed by the cunning Risingh, leveled a shower of blows full at their tobacco-pipes. Astounded at this assault, and dismayed at the havoc of their pipes, these ponderous warriors gave way, and like a drove of frightened elephants broke through the ranks of their own army. The little Hoppers were borne down in the surge; the sacred banner emblazoned with the gigantic oyster of Communipaw was trampled in the dirt; on blundered and thundered the heavy-sterned fugitives, the Swedes pressing on their rear and applying their feet a parte poste of the Van Arsdales and the Van Bummels with a vigor that prodigiously accelerated their movements; nor did the renowned Michael Paw himself fail to receive divers grievous and dishonorable visitations of shoe-leather.
“But what, oh Muse! was the rage of Peter Stuyvesant, when from afar he saw his army giving way! In the transports of his wrath he sent forth a roar, enough to shake the very hills. The men of the Manhattoes plucked up new courage at the sound, or, rather, they rallied at the voice of their leader, of whom they stood more in awe than of all the Swedes in Christendom. Without waiting for their aid, the daring Peter dashed, sword in hand, into the thickest of the foe. Then might be seen achievements worthy of the days of the giants. Wherever he went the enemy shrank before him; the Swedes fled to right and left, or were driven, like dogs, into their own ditch; but as he pushed forward, singly with headlong courage, the foe closed behind and hung upon his rear. One aimed a blow full at his heart; but the protecting power which watches over the great and good turned aside the hostile blade and directed it to a side-pocket, where reposed an enormous iron tobacco-box, endowed, like the shield of Achilles, with supernatural powers, doubtless from bearing the portrait of the blessed St. Nicholas. Peter Stuyvesant turned like an angry bear upon the foe, and seizing him, as he fled, by an immeasurable queue, ‘Ah, whoreson caterpillar,’ roared he, ‘here’s what shall make worms’ meat of thee!’ so saying he whirled his sword and dealt a blow that would have decapitated the varlet, but that the pitying steel struck short and shaved the queue forever from his crown. At this moment an arquebusier leveled his piece from a neighboring mound, with deadly aim; but the watchful Minerva, who had just stopped to tie up her garter, seeing the peril of her favorite hero, sent old Boreas with his bellows, who, as the match descended to the pan, gave a blast that blew the priming from the touch-hole.
“Thus waged the fight, when the stout Risingh, surveying the field from the top of a little ravelin, perceived his troops banged, beaten, and kicked by the invincible Peter. Drawing his falchion, and uttering a thousand anathemas, he strode down to the scene of combat with some such thundering strides as Jupiter is said by Hesiod to have taken when he strode down the spheres to hurl his thunder-bolts at the Titans.
“When the rival heroes came face to face, each made a prodigious start in the style of a veteran stage-champion. Then did they regard each other for a moment with the bitter aspect of two furious ram-cats on the point of a clapper-clawing. Then did they throw themselves into one attitude, then into another, striking their swords on the ground, first on the right side, then on the left: at last at it they went with incredible ferocity. Words cannot tell the prodigies of strength and valor displayed in this direful encounter — an encounter compared to which the far-famed battles of Ajax with Hector, of AEneas with Turnus, Orlando with Rodomont, Guy of Warwick with Colbrand the Dane, or of that renowned Welsh knight, Sir Owen of the Mountains, with the giant Guylon, were all gentle sports and holiday recreations. At length the valiant Peter, watching his opportunity, aimed a blow enough to cleave his adversary to the very chine; but Risingh, nimbly raising his sword, warded it off so narrowly, that, glancing on one side, it shaved away a huge canteen in which he carried his liquor — thence pursuing its trenchant course, it severed off a deep coat-pocket, stored with bread and cheese — which provant, rolling among the armies, occasioned a fearful scrambling between the Swedes and Dutchmen, and made the general battle to wax more furious than ever.
“Enraged to see his military stores laid waste, the stout Risingh, collecting all his forces, aimed a mighty blow full at the hero’s crest. In vain did his fierce little cocked hat oppose its course. The biting steel clove through the stubborn ram beaver, and would have cracked the crown of any one not endowed with supernatural hardness of head; but the brittle weapon shivered in pieces on the skull of Hardkoppig Piet, shedding a thousand sparks, like beams of glory, round his grizzly visage.
“The good Peter reeled with the blow, and turning up his eyes beheld a thousand suns, besides moons and stars, dancing about the firmament; at length, missing his footing, by reason of his wooden leg, down he came on his seat of honor with a crash which shook the surrounding hills, and might have wrecked his frame, had he not been received into a cushion softer than velvet, which Providence, or Minerva, or St. Nicholas, or some cow, had benevolently prepared for his reception.
“The furious Risingh, in despite of the maxim, cherished by all true knights, that ‘fair play is a jewel,’ hastened to take advantage of the hero’s fall; but, as he stooped to give a fatal blow, Peter Stuyvesant dealt him a thwack over the sconce with his wooden leg, which set a chime of bells ringing triple bob-majors in his cerebellum. The bewildered Swede staggered with the blow, and the wary Peter seizing a pocket-pistol, which lay hard by, discharged it full at the head of the reeling Risingh. Let not my reader mistake; it was not a murderous weapon loaded with powder and ball, but a little sturdy stone pottle charged to the muzzle with a double dram of true Dutch courage, which the knowing Antony Van Corlear carried about him by way of replenishing his valor, and which had dropped from his wallet during his furious encounter with the drummer. The hideous weapon sang through the air, and true to its course as was the fragment of a rock discharged at Hector by bully Ajax, encountered the head of the gigantic Swede with matchless violence.
“This heaven-directed blow decided the battle. The ponderous pericranium of General Jan Risingh sank upon his breast; his knees tottered under him; a deathlike torpor seized upon his frame, and he tumbled to the earth with such violence that old Pluto started with affright, lest he should have broken through the roof of his infernal palace.
“His fall was the signal of defeat and victory: the Swedes gave way, the Dutch pressed forward; the former took to their heels, the latter hotly pursued. Some entered with them, pell-mell, through the sally-port; others stormed the bastion, and others scrambled over the curtain. Thus in a little while the fortress of Fort Christina, which, like another Troy, had stood a siege of full ten hours, was carried by assault, without the loss of a single man on either side. Victory, in the likeness of a gigantic ox-fly, sat perched upon the cocked hat of the gallant Stuyvesant; and it was declared by all the writers whom he hired to write the history of his expedition that on this memorable day he gained a sufficient quantity of glory to immortalize a dozen of the greatest heroes in Christendom!”
In the “Sketch–Book,” Irving set a kind of fashion in narrative essays, in brief stories of mingled humor and pathos, which was followed for half a century. He himself worked the same vein in” Bracebridge Hall” and “Tales of a Traveller.” And there is no doubt that some of the most fascinating of the minor sketches of Charles Dickens, such as the story of the Bagman’s Uncle, are lineal descendants of, if they were not suggested by, Irving’s “Adventure of My Uncle,” and the “Bold Dragoon.”
The taste for the leisurely description and reminiscent essay of the “Sketch–Book” does not characterize the readers of this generation, and we have discovered that the pathos of its elaborated scenes is somewhat “literary.” The sketches of “Little Britain,” and “Westminster Abbey,” and, indeed, that of “Stratford-on-Avon,” will for a long time retain their place in selections of “good reading;” but the “Sketch–Book” is only floated, as an original work, by two papers, the “Rip Van Winkle” and the “Legend of Sleepy Hollow;” that is to say by the use of the Dutch material, and the elaboration of the “Knickerbocker Legend,” which was the great achievement of Irving’s life. This was broadened and deepened and illustrated by the several stories of the “Money Diggers,” of “Wolfert Webber” and “Kidd the Pirate,” in the “Tales of a Traveller,” and by “Dolph Heyliger” in “Bracebridge Hall.” Irving was never more successful than in painting the Dutch manners and habits of the early time, and he returned again and again to the task until he not only made the shores of the Hudson and the islands of New York harbor and the East River classic ground, but until his conception of Dutch life in the New World had assumed historical solidity and become a tradition of the highest poetic value. If in the multiplicity of books and the change of taste the bulk of Irving’s works shall go out of print, a volume made up of his Knickerbocker history and the legends relating to the region of New York and the Hudson would survive as long as anything that has been produced in this country.
The philosophical student of the origin of New World society may find food for reflection in the “materiality” of the basis of the civilization of New York. The picture of abundance and of enjoyment of animal life is perhaps not overdrawn in Irving’s sketch of the home of the Van Tassels, in the “Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” It is all the extract we can make room for from that careful study.
“Among the musical disciples who assembled, one evening in each week, to receive his instructions in psalmody, was Katrina Van Tassel, the daughter and only child of a substantial Dutch farmer. She was a blooming lass of fresh eighteen; plump as a partridge; ripe and melting and rosy-checked as one of her father’s peaches, and universally famed, not merely for her beauty, but her vast expectations. She was, withal, a little of a coquette, as might be perceived even in her dress, which was a mixture of ancient and modern fashions, as most suited to set off her charms. She wore the ornaments of pure yellow gold which her great-great-grandmother had brought over from Saardam; the tempting stomacher of the olden time; and withal a provokingly short petticoat, to display the prettiest foot and ankle in the country round.
“Ichabod Crane had a soft and foolish heart towards the sex; and it is not to be wondered at that so tempting a morsel soon found favor in his eyes, more especially after he had visited her in her paternal mansion. Old Baltus Van Tassel was a perfect picture of a thriving, contented, liberal-hearted farmer. He seldom, it is true, sent either his eyes or his thoughts beyond the boundaries of his own farm; but within those everything was snug, happy, and well-conditioned. He was satisfied with his wealth, but not proud of it; and piqued himself upon the hearty abundance rather than the style in which he lived. His stronghold was situated on the banks of the Hudson, in one of those green, sheltered, fertile nooks in which the Dutch farmers are so fond of nestling. A great elm-tree spread its broad branches over it, at the foot of which bubbled up a spring, of the softest and sweetest water, in a little well, formed of a barrel, and then stole sparkling away through the grass to a neighboring brook, that bubbled along among alders and dwarf willows. Hard by the farm-house was a vast barn, that might have served for a church, every window and crevice of which seemed bursting forth with the treasures of the farm. The flail was busily resounding within it from morning till night; swallows and martins skimmed twittering about the eaves; and rows of pigeons, some with one eye turned up, as if watching the weather, some with their heads under their wings, or buried in their bosoms, and others swelling and cooing and bowing about their dames, were enjoying the sunshine on the roof. Sleek, unwieldy porkers were grunting in the repose and abundance of their pens, whence sallied forth, now and then, troops of sucking pigs, as if to snuff the air. A stately squadron of snowy geese were riding in an adjoining pond, convoying whole fleets of ducks; regiments of turkeys were gobbling through the farm-yard, and guinea fowls fretting about it, like ill-tempered housewives, with their peevish, discontented cry. Before the barn door strutted the gallant cock, that pattern of a husband, a warrior, and a fine gentleman, clapping his burnished wings, and crowing in the pride and gladness of his heart — sometimes tearing up the earth with his feet, and then generously calling his ever-hungry family of wives and children to enjoy the rich morsel which he had discovered.
“The pedagogue’s mouth watered as he looked upon this sumptuous promise of luxurious winter fare. In his devouring mind’s eye he pictured to himself every roasting-pig running about with a pudding in his belly, and an apple in his mouth; the pigeons were snugly put to bed in a comfortable pie, and tucked in with a coverlet of crust; the geese were swimming in their own gravy, and the ducks pairing cosily in dishes, like snug married couples, with a decent competency of onion-sauce. In the porkers he saw carved out the future sleek side of bacon, and juicy, relishing ham; not a turkey but he beheld daintily trussed up, with its gizzard under its wing, and, peradventure, a necklace-of savory sausages; and even bright chanticleer himself lay sprawling on his back, in a side-dish, with uplifted claws, as if craving that quarter which his chivalrous spirit disdained to ask while living.
“As the enraptured Ichabod fancied all this, and as he rolled his great green eyes over the fat meadow-lands, the rich fields of wheat, of rye, of buckwheat, and Indian corn, and the orchard burdened with ruddy fruit, which surrounded the warm tenement of Van Tassel, his heart yearned after the damsel who was to inherit these domains, and his imagination expanded with the idea how they might be readily turned into cash, and the money invested in immense tracts of wild land and shingle palaces in the wilderness. Nay, his busy fancy already realized his hopes, and presented to him the blooming Katrina, with a whole family of children, mounted on the top of a wagon loaded with household trumpery, with pots and kettles dangling beneath; and he beheld himself bestriding a pacing mare, with a colt at her heels, setting out for Kentucky, Tennessee, or the Lord knows where.
“When he entered the house, the conquest of his heart was complete. It was one of those spacious farm-houses, with high-ridged, but lowly-sloping roofs, built in the style handed down from the first Dutch settlers; the low projecting eaves forming a piazza along the front, capable of being closed up in bad weather. Under this were hung flails, harness, various utensils of husbandry, and nets for fishing in the neighboring river. Benches were built along the sides for summer use; and a great spinning-wheel at one end, and a churn at the other, showed the various uses to which this important porch might be devoted. From this piazza the wondering Ichabod entered the hall, which formed the centre of the mansion and the place of usual residence. Here, rows of resplendent pewter, ranged on a long dresser, dazzled his eyes. In one corner stood a huge bag of wool ready to be spun; in another a quantity of linsey-woolsey just from the loom; ears of Indian corn, and strings of dried apples and peaches, hung in gay festoons along the walls, mingled with the gaud of red peppers; and a door left ajar gave him a peep into the best parlor, where the claw-footed chairs and dark mahogany tables shone like mirrors; and irons, with their accompanying shovel and tongs, glistened from their covert of asparagus tops; mock-oranges and conch-shells decorated the mantelpiece; strings of various colored birds’ eggs were suspended above it; a great ostrich egg was hung from the centre of the room, and a corner cupboard, knowingly left open, displayed immense treasures of old silver and well-mended china.”
It is an abrupt transition from these homely scenes, which humor commends to our liking, to the chivalrous pageant unrolled for us in the “Conquest of Granada.” The former are more characteristic and the more enduring of Irving’s writings, but as a literary artist his genius lent itself just as readily to oriental and medieval romance as to the Knickerbocker legend; and there is no doubt that the delicate perception he had of chivalric achievements gave a refined tone to his mock heroics, which greatly heightened their effect. It may almost be claimed that Irving did for Granada and the Alhambra what he did, in a totally different way, for New York and its vicinity.
The first passage I take from the “Conquest” is the description of the advent at Cordova of the Lord Scales, Earl of Rivers, who was brother of the queen of Henry VII, a soldier who had fought at Bosworth field, and now volunteered to aid Ferdinand and Isabella in the extermination of the Saracens. The description is put into the mouth of Fray Antonio Agapidda, a fictitious chronicler invented by Irving, an unfortunate intervention which gives to the whole book an air of unveracity:
“‘This cavalier [he observes] was from the far island of England, and brought with him a train of his vassals; men who had been hardened in certain civil wars which raged in their country. They were a comely race of men, but too fair and fresh for warriors, not having the sunburnt, warlike hue of our old Castilian soldiery. They were huge feeders also, and deep carousers, and could not accommodate themselves to the sober diet of our troops, but must fain eat and drink after the manner of their own country. They were often noisy and unruly, also, in their wassail; and their quarter of the camp was prone to be a scene of loud revel and sudden brawl. They were, withal, of great pride, yet it was not like our inflammable Spanish pride: they stood not much upon the ‘pundonor,’ the high punctilio, and rarely drew the stiletto in their disputes; but their pride was silent and contumelious. Though from a remote and somewhat barbarous island, they believed themselves the most perfect men upon earth, and magnified their chieftain, the Lord Scales, beyond the greatest of their grandees. With all this, it must be said of them that they were marvelous good men in the field, dexterous archers, and powerful with the battleaxe. In their great pride and self-will, they always sought to press in the advance and take the post of danger, trying to outvie our Spanish chivalry. They did not rush on fiercely to the fight, nor make a brilliant onset like the Moorish and Spanish troops, but they went into the fight deliberately, and persisted obstinately, and were slow to find out when they were beaten. Withal they were much esteemed yet little liked by our soldiery, who considered them staunch companions in the field, yet coveted but little fellowship with them in the camp.
“‘Their commander, the Lord Scales, was an accomplished cavalier, of gracious and noble presence and fair speech; it was a marvel to see so much courtesy in a knight brought up so far from our Castilian court. He was much honored by the king and queen, and found great favor with the fair dames about the court, who indeed are rather prone to be pleased with foreign cavaliers. He went always in costly state, attended by pages and esquires, and accompanied by noble young cavaliers of his country, who had enrolled themselves under his banner, to learn the gentle exercise of arms. In all pageants and festivals, the eyes of the populace were attracted by the singular bearing and rich array of the English earl and his train, who prided themselves in always appearing in the garb and manner of their country-and were indeed something very magnificent, delectable, and strange to behold.’
“The worthy chronicler is no less elaborate in his description of the masters of Santiago, Calatrava, and Alcantara, and their valiant knights, armed at all points, and decorated with the badges of their orders. These, he affirms, were the flower of Christian chivalry; being constantly in service they became more steadfast and accomplished in discipline than the irregular and temporary levies of feudal nobles. Calm, solemn, and stately, they sat like towers upon their powerful chargers. On parades they manifested none of the show and ostentation of the other troops: neither, in battle, did they endeavor to signalize themselves by any fiery vivacity, or desperate and vainglorious exploit — everything, with them, was measured and sedate; yet it was observed that none were more warlike in their appearance in the camp, or more terrible for their achievements in the field.
“The gorgeous magnificence of the Spanish nobles found but little favor in the eyes of the sovereigns. They saw that it caused a competition in expense ruinous to cavaliers of moderate fortune; and they feared that a softness and effeminacy might thus be introduced, incompatible with the stern nature of the war. They signified their disapprobation to several of the principal noblemen, and recommended a more sober and soldier-like display while in actual service.
“‘These are rare troops for a tourney, my lord [said Ferdinand to the Duke of Infantado, as he beheld his retainers glittering in gold and embroidery]; but gold, though gorgeous, is soft and yielding: iron is the metal for the field.’
“‘Sire replied the duke, if my men parade in gold, your majesty will find they fight with steel.’ The king smiled, but shook his head, and the duke treasured up his speech in his heart.”
Our author excels in such descriptions as that of the progress of Isabella to the camp of Ferdinand after the capture of Loxa, and of the picturesque pageantry which imparted something of gayety to the brutal pastime of war:
“It was in the early part of June that the queen departed from Cordova, with the Princess Isabella and numerous ladies of her court. She had a glorious attendance of cavaliers and pages, with many guards and domestics. There were forty mules for the use of the queen, the princess, and their train.
“As this courtly cavalcade approached the Rock of the Lovers, on the banks of the river Yeguas, they beheld a splendid train of knights advancing to meet them. It was headed by that accomplished cavalier the Marques Duke de Cadiz, accompanied by the adelantado of Andalusia. He had left the camp the day after the capture of Illora, and advanced thus far to receive the queen and escort her over the borders. The queen received the marques with distinguished honor, for he was esteemed the mirror of chivalry. His actions in this war had become the theme of every tongue, and many hesitated not to compare him in prowess with the immortal Cid.
“Thus gallantly attended, the queen entered the vanquished frontier of Granada, journeying securely along the pleasant banks of the Xenel, so lately subject to the scourings of the Moors. She stopped at Loxa, where she administered aid and consolation to the wounded, distributing money among them for their support, according to their rank.
“The king, after the capture of Illora, had removed his camp before the fortress of Moclin, with an intention of besieging it. Thither the queen proceeded, still escorted through the mountain roads by the Marques of Cadiz. As Isabella drew near to the camp, the Duke del Infantado issued forth a league and a half to receive her, magnificently arrayed, and followed by all his chivalry in glorious attire. With him came the standard of Seville, borne by the men-at-arms of that renowned city, and the Prior of St. Juan, with his followers. They ranged themselves in order of battle, on the left of the road by which the queen was to pass.
“The worthy Agapida is loyally minute in his description of the state and grandeur of the Catholic sovereigns. The queen rode a chestnut mule, seated in a magnificent saddle-chair, decorated with silver gilt. The housings of the mule were of fine crimson cloth; the borders embroidered with gold; the reins and head-piece were of satin, curiously embossed with needlework of silk, and wrought with golden letters. The queen wore a brial or regal skirt of velvet, under which were others of brocade; a scarlet mantle, ornamented in the Moresco fashion; and a black hat, embroidered round the crown and brim.
“The infanta was likewise mounted on a chestnut mule, richly caparisoned. She wore a brial or skirt of black brocade, and a black mantle ornamented like that of the queen.
“When the royal cavalcade passed by the chivalry of the Duke del Infantado, which was drawn out in battle array, the queen made a reverence to the standard of Seville, and ordered it to pass to the right hand. When she approached the camp, the multitude ran forth to meet her, with great demonstrations of joy; for she was universally beloved by her subjects. All the battalions sallied forth in military array, bearing the various standards and banners of the camp, which were lowered in salutation as she passed.
“The king now came forth in royal state, mounted on a superb chestnut horse, and attended by many grandees of Castile. He wore a jubon or close vest of crimson cloth, with cuisses or short skirts of yellow satin, a loose cassock of brocade, a rich Moorish scimiter, and a hat with plumes. The grandees who attended him were arrayed with wonderful magnificence, each according to his taste and invention.
“These high and mighty princes [says Antonio Agapida] regarded each other with great deference, as allied sovereigns rather than with connubial familiarity, as mere husband and wife. When they approached each other, therefore, before embracing, they made three profound reverences, the queen taking off her hat, and remaining in a silk net or cawl, with her face uncovered. The king then approached and embraced her, and kissed her respectfully on the cheek. He also embraced his daughter the princess; and, making the sign of the cross, he blessed her, and kissed her on the lips.
“The good Agapida seems scarcely to have been more struck with the appearance of the sovereigns than with that of the English earl. He followed [says he] immediately after the king, with great pomp, and, in an extraordinary manner, taking precedence of all the rest. He was mounted ‘a la guisa,’ or with long stirrups, on a superb chestnut horse, with trappings of azure silk which reached to the ground. The housings were of mulberry, powdered with stars of gold. He was armed in proof, and wore over his armor a short French mantle of black brocade; he had a white French hat with plumes, and carried on his left arm a small round buckler, banded with gold. Five pages attended him, appareled in silk and brocade, and mounted on horses sumptuously caparisoned; he had also a train of followers, bravely attired after the fashion of his country.
“He advanced in a chivalrous and courteous manner, making his reverences first to the queen and infanta, and afterwards to the king. Queen Isabella received him graciously, complimenting him on his courageous conduct at Loxa, and condoling with him on the loss of his teeth. The earl, however, made light of his disfiguring wound, saying that your blessed Lord, who had built all that house, had opened a window there, that he might see more readily what passed within; whereupon the worthy Fray Antonio Agapida is more than ever astonished at the pregnant wit of this island cavalier. The earl continued some little distance by the side of the royal family, complimenting them all with courteous speeches, his horse curveting and caracoling, but being managed with great grace and dexterity, leaving the grandees and the people at large not more filled with admiration at the strangeness and magnificence of his state than at the excellence of his horsemanship.
“To testify her sense of the gallantry and services of this noble English knight, who had come from so far to assist in their wars, the queen sent him the next day presents of twelve horses, with stately tents, fine linen, two beds with coverings of gold brocade, and many other articles of great value.”
The protracted siege of the city of Granada was the occasion of feats of arms and hostile courtesies which rival in brilliancy any in the romances of chivalry. Irving’s pen is never more congenially employed than in describing these desperate but romantic encounters. One of the most picturesque of these was known as “the queen’s skirmish.” The royal encampment was situated so far from Granada that only the general aspect of the city could be seen as it rose from the vega, covering the sides of the hills with its palaces and towers. Queen Isabella expressed a desire for a nearer view of the city, whose beauty was renowned throughout the world, and the courteous Marques of Cadiz proposed to give her this perilous gratification.
“On the morning of June the 18th, a magnificent and powerful train issued from the Christian camp. The advanced guard was composed of legions of cavalry, heavily armed, looking like moving masses of polished steel. Then came the king and queen, with the prince and princesses, and the ladies of the court, surrounded by the royal bodyguard, sumptuously arrayed, composed of the sons of the most illustrious houses of Spain; after these was the rearguard, a powerful force of horse and foot; for the flower of the army sallied forth that day. The Moors gazed with fearful admiration at this glorious pageant, wherein the pomp of the court was mingled with the terrors of the camp. It moved along in radiant line, across the vega, to the melodious thunders of martial music, while banner and plume, and silken scarf, and rich brocade, gave a gay and gorgeous relief to the grim visage of iron war that lurked beneath.
“The army moved towards the hamlet of Zubia, built on the skirts of the mountain to the left of Granada, and commanding a view of the Alhambra, and the most beautiful quarter of the city. As they approached the hamlet, the Marques of Villena, the Count Urena, and Don Alonzo de Aguilar filed off with their battalions, and were soon seen glittering along, the side of the mountain above the village. In the mean time the Marques of Cadiz, the Count de Tendilla, the Count de Cabra, and Don Alonzo Fernandez, senior of Alcaudrete and Montemayor, drew up their forges in battle array on the plain below the hamlet, presenting a living barrier of loyal chivalry between the sovereigns and the city.
“Thus securely guarded, the royal party alighted, and, entering one of the houses of the hamlet, which had been prepared for their reception, enjoyed a full view which the city from its terraced roof. The ladies of the court gazed with delight at the red towers of the Alhambra, rising from amid shady groves, anticipating the time when the Catholic sovereigns should be enthroned within its walls, and its courts shine with the splendor of Spanish chivalry. ‘The reverend prelates and holy friars, who always surrounded the queen, looked with serene satisfaction,’ says Fray Antonio Agapida, at this modern Babylon, enjoying the triumph that awaited them, when those mosques and minarets should be converted into churches, and goodly priests and bishops should succeed to the infidel alfaquis.’
“When the Moors beheld the Christians thus drawn forth in full array in the plain, they supposed it was to offer battle, and hesitated not to accept it. In a little while the queen beheld a body of Moorish cavalry pouring into the vega, the riders managing their fleet and fiery steeds with admirable address. They were richly armed, and clothed in the most brilliant colors, and the caparisons of their steeds flamed with gold and embroidery. This was the favorite squadron of Muza, composed of the flower of the youthful cavaliers of Granada. Others succeeded, some heavily armed, others a la gineta, with lance and buckler; and lastly came the legions of foot-soldiers, with arquebus and crossbow, and spear and scimiter.
“When the queen saw this army issuing from the city, she sent to the Marques of Cadiz, and forbade any attack upon the enemy, or the acceptance of any challenge to a skirmish; for she was loth that her curiosity should cost the life of a single human being.
“The marques promised to obey, though sorely against his will; and it grieved the spirit of the Spanish cavaliers to be obliged to remain with sheathed swords while bearded by the foe. The Moors could not comprehend the meaning of this inaction of the Christians, after having apparently invited a battle. They sallied several times from their ranks, and approached near enough to discharge their arrows; but the Christians were immovable. Many of the Moorish horsemen galloped close to the Christian ranks, brandishing their lances and scimiters, and defying various cavaliers to single combat; but Ferdinand had rigorously prohibited all duels of this kind, and they dared not transgress his orders under his very eye.
“Here, however, the worthy Fray Antonio Agapida, in his enthusiasm for the triumphs of the faith, records the following incident, which we fear is not sustained by any grave chronicler of the times, but rests merely on tradition, or the authority of certain poets and dramatic writers, who have perpetuated the tradition in their works. While this grim and reluctant tranquillity prevailed along the Christian line, says Agapida, there rose a mingled shout and sound of laughter near the gate of the city. A Moorish horseman, armed at all points, issued forth, followed by a rabble, who drew back as he approached the scene of danger. The Moor was more robust and brawny than was common with his countrymen. His visor was closed; he bore a huge buckler and a ponderous lance; his scimiter was of a Damascus blade, and his richly ornamented dagger was wrought by an artificer of Fez. He was known by his device to be Tarfe, the most insolent, yet valiant, of the Moslem warriors — the same who had hurled into the royal camp his lance, inscribed to the queen. As he rode slowly along in front of the army, his very steed, prancing with fiery eye and distended nostril, seemed to breathe defiance to the Christians.
“But what were the feelings of the Spanish cavaliers when they beheld, tied to the tail of his steed, and dragged in the dust, the very inscription, ‘AVE MARIA,’ which Hernan Perez del Pulgar had affixed to the door of the mosque! A burst of horror and indignation broke forth from the army. Hernan was not at hand, to maintain his previous achievement; but one of his young companions in arms, Garcilasso de la Vega by name, putting spurs to his horse, galloped to the hamlet of Zubia, threw himself on his knees before the king, and besought permission to accept the defiance of this insolent infidel, and to revenge the insult offered to our Blessed Lady. The request was too pious to be refused. Garcilasso remounted his steed, closed his helmet, graced by four sable plumes, grasped his buckler of Flemish workmanship, and his lance of matchless temper, and defied the haughty Moor in the midst of his career. A combat took place in view of the two armies and of the Castilian court. The Moor was powerful in wielding his weapons, and dexterous in managing his steed. He was of larger frame than Garcilasso, and more completely aimed, and the Christians trembled for their champion. The shock of their encounter was dreadful; their lances were shivered, and sent up splinters in the air. Garcilasso was thrown back in his saddle — his horse made a wide career before he could recover, gather up the reins, and return to the conflict. They now encountered each other with swords. The Moor circled round his opponent, as a hawk circles when about to make a swoop; his steed obeyed his rider with matchless quickness; at every attack of the infidel, it seemed as if the Christian knight must sink beneath his flashing scimiter. But if Garcilasso was inferior to him in power, he was superior in agility; many of his blows he parried; others he received upon his Flemish shield, which was proof against the Damascus blade. The blood streamed from numerous wounds received by either warrior. The Moor, seeing his antagonist exhausted, availed himself of his superior force, and, grappling, endeavored to wrest him from his saddle. They both fell to earth; the Moor placed his knee upon the breast of his victim, and, brandishing his dagger, aimed a blow at his throat. A cry of despair was uttered by the Christian warriors, when suddenly they beheld the Moor rolling lifeless in the dust. Garcilasso had shortened his sword, and, as his adversary raised his arm to strike, had pierced him to the heart. It was a singular and miraculous victory,’ says Fray Antonio Agapida; ‘but the Christian knight was armed by the sacred nature of his cause, and the Holy Virgin gave him strength, like another David, to slay this gigantic champion of the Gentiles.’
“The laws of chivalry were observed throughout the combat — no one interfered on either side. Garcilasso now despoiled his adversary; then, rescuing the holy inscription of ‘AVE MARIA’ from its degrading situation, he elevated it on the point of his sword, and bore it off as a signal of triumph, amidst the rapturous shouts of the Christian army.
“The sun had now reached the meridian, and the hot blood of the Moors was inflamed by its rays, and by the sight of the defeat of their champion. Muza ordered two pieces of ordnance to open a fire upon the Christians. A confusion was produced in one part of their ranks: Muza called to the chiefs of the army, ‘Let us waste no more time in empty challenges — let us charge upon the enemy: he who assaults has always an advantage in the combat.’ So saying, he rushed forward, followed by a large body of horse and foot, and charged so furiously upon the advance guard of the Christians, that he drove it in upon the battalion of the Marques of Cadiz.
“The gallant marques now considered himself absolved from all further obedience to the queen’s commands. He gave the signal to attack. ‘Santiago!’ was shouted along the line; and he pressed forward to the encounter, with his battalion of twelve hundred lances. The other cavaliers followed his example, and the battle instantly became general.
“When the king and queen beheld the armies thus rushing to the combat, they threw themselves on their knees, and implored the Holy Virgin to protect her faithful warriors. The prince and princess, the ladies of the court, and the prelates and friars who were present, did the same; and the effect of the prayers of these illustrious and saintly persons was immediately apparent. The fierceness with which the Moors had rushed to the attack was suddenly cooled; they were bold and adroit for a skirmish, but unequal to the veteran Spaniards in the open field. A panic seized upon the foot-soldiers — they turned and took to flight. Muza and his cavaliers in vain endeavored to rally them. Some took refuge in the mountains; but the greater part fled to the city, in such confusion that they overturned and trampled upon each other. The Christians pursued them to the very gates. Upwards of two thousand were either killed, wounded, or taken prisoners; and the two pieces of ordnance were brought off as trophies of the victory. Not a Christian lance but was bathed that day in the blood of an infidel.
“Such was the brief but bloody action which was known among the Christian warriors by the name of ‘The Queen’s Skirmish;’ for when the Marques of Cadiz waited upon her majesty to apologize for breaking her commands, he attributed the victory entirely to her presence. The queen, however, insisted that it was all owing to her troops being led on by so valiant a commander. Her majesty had not yet recovered from her agitation at beholding so terrible a scene of bloodshed, though certain veterans present pronounced it as gay and gentle a skirmish as they had ever witnessed.”
The charm of the “Alhambra” is largely in the leisurely, loitering, dreamy spirit in which the temporary American resident of the ancient palace-fortress entered into its moldering beauties and romantic associations, and in the artistic skill with which he wove the commonplace daily life of his attendant: there into the more brilliant woof of its past. The book abounds in delightful legends, and yet then are all so touched with the author’s airy humor that our credulity is never overtaxed; we imbibe all the romantic interest of the place without for a moment losing our hold upon reality. The enchantment of this Moorish paradise become part of our mental possessions, without the least shock to our common sense. After a few days of residence in the part of the Alhambra occupied by Dame Tia Antonia and her family, of which the handmaid Dolores was the most fascinating member, Irving succeeded in establishing himself in a remote and vacant part of the vast pile, in a suite of delicate and elegant chambers with secluded gardens and fountains, that had once been occupied by the beautiful Elizabeth of Farnese, daughter of the Duke of Parma, and more than four centuries ago by a Moorish beauty named Lindaraxa, who flourished in the court of Muhamed the Left–Handed. These solitary and ruined chambers had their own terrors and enchantments, and for the first nights gave the author little but sinister suggestions and grotesque food for his imagination. But familiarity dispersed the gloom and the superstitious fancies.
“In the course of a few evenings a thorough change took place in the scene and its associations. The moon, which, when I took possession of my new apartments, was invisible, gradually gained each evening upon the darkness of the night, and at length rolled in full splendor above the towers, pouring a flood of tempered light into every court and hall. The garden beneath my window, before wrapped in gloom, was gently lighted up; the orange and citron trees were tipped with silver; the fountain sparkled in the moonbeams, and even the blush of the rose was faintly visible.
“I now felt the poetic merit of the Arabic inscription on the walls: ‘How beauteous is this garden; where the flowers of the earth vie with the stars of heaven. What can compare with the vase of yon alabaster fountain filled with crystal water? nothing but the moon in her fullness, shining in the midst of an unclouded sky!’
“On such heavenly nights I would sit for hours at my window inhaling the sweetness of the garden, and musing on the checkered fortunes of those whose history was dimly shadowed out in the elegant memorials around. Sometimes, when all was quiet, and the clock from the distant cathedral of Granada struck the midnight hour, I have sallied out on another tour and wandered over the whole building; but how different from my first tour! No longer dark and mysterious; no longer peopled with shadowy foes; no longer recalling scenes of violence and murder; all was open, spacious, beautiful; everything called up pleasing and romantic fancies; Lindaraxa once more walked in her garden; the gay chivalry of Moslem Granada once more glittered about the Court of Lions! Who can do justice to a moonlight night in such a climate and such a place? The temperature of a summer midnight in Andalusia is perfectly ethereal. We seem lifted up into a purer atmosphere; we feel a serenity of soul, a buoyancy of spirits, an elasticity of frame, which render mere existence happiness. But when moonlight is added to all this, the effect is like enchantment. Under its plastic sway the Alhambra seems to regain its pristine glories. Every rent and chasm of time, every mouldering tint and weather-stain, is gone; the marble resumes its original whiteness; the long colonnades brighten in the moonbeams; the halls are illuminated with a softened radiance, we tread the enchanted palace of an Arabian tale.
“What a delight, at such a time, to ascend to the little airy pavilion of the queen’s toilet (el tocador de la reyna), which, like a bird-cage, overhangs the valley of the Darro, and gaze from its light arcades upon the moonlight prospect! To the right, the swelling mountains of the Sierra Nevada, robbed of their ruggedness and softened into a fairy land, with their snowy summits gleaming like silver clouds against the deep blue sky. And then to lean over the parapet of the Tocador and gaze down upon Granada and the Albaycin spread out like a map below; all buried in deep repose; the white palaces and convents sleeping in the moonshine, and beyond all these the vapory vega fading away like a dreamland in the distance.
“Sometimes the faint click of castanets rises from the Alameda, where some gay Andalusians are dancing away the summer night. Sometimes the dubious tones of a guitar and the notes of an amorous voice, tell perchance the whereabout of some moonstruck lover serenading his lady’s window.
“Such is a faint picture of the moonlight nights I have passed loitering about the courts and halls and balconies of this most suggestive pile; ‘feeding my fancy with sugared suppositions,’ and enjoying that mixture of reverie and sensation which steals away existence in a southern climate; so that it has been almost morning before I have retired to bed, and been lulled to sleep by the falling waters of the fountain of Lindaraxa.”
One of the writer’s vantage points of observation was a balcony of the central window of the Hall of Ambassadors, from which he had a magnificent prospect of mountain, valley, and vega, and could look down upon a busy scene of human life in an alameda, or public walk, at the foot of the hill, and the suburb of the city, filling the narrow gorge below. Here the author used to sit for hours, weaving histories out of the casual incidents passing under his eye, and the occupations of the busy mortals below. The following passage exhibits his power in transmuting the commonplace life of the present into material perfectly in keeping with the romantic associations of the place:
“There was scarce a pretty face or a striking figure that I daily saw, about which I had not thus gradually framed a dramatic story, though some of my characters would occasionally act in direct opposition to the part assigned them, and disconcert the whole drama. Reconnoitring one day with my glass the streets of the Albaycin, I beheld the procession of a novice about to take the veil; and remarked several circumstances which excited the strongest sympathy in the fate of the youthful being thus about to be consigned to a living tomb. I ascertained to my satisfaction that she was beautiful, and, from the paleness of her cheek, that she was a victim rather than a votary. She was arrayed in bridal garments, and decked with a chaplet of white flowers, but her heart evidently revolted at this mockery of a spiritual union, and yearned after its earthly loves. A tall, stern-looking man walked near her in the procession: it was, of course, the tyrannical father, who, from some bigoted or sordid motive, had compelled this sacrifice. Amid the crowd was a dark, handsome youth, in Andalusian garb, who seemed to fix on her an eye of agony. It was doubtless the secret lover from whom she was forever to be separated. My indignation rose as I noted the malignant expression painted on the countenances of the attendant monks and friars. The procession arrived at the chapel of the convent; the sun gleamed for the last time upon the chaplet of the poor novice, as she crossed the fatal threshold and disappeared within the building. The throng poured in with cowl, and cross, and minstrelsy; the lover paused for a moment at the door. I could divine the tumult of his feelings; but he mastered them, and entered. There was a long interval. I pictured to myself the scene passing within: the poor novice despoiled of her transient finery, and clothed in the conventual garb; the bridal chaplet taken from her brow, and her beautiful head shorn of its long silken tresses. I heard her murmur the irrevocable vow. I saw her extended on a bier; the death-pall spread over her; the funeral service performed that proclaimed her dead to the world; her sighs were drowned in the deep tones of the organ, and the plaintive requiem of the nuns; the father looked on, unmoved, without a tear; the lover — no my imagination refused to portray the anguish of the lover — there the picture remained a blank.
“After a time the throng again poured forth and dispersed various ways, to enjoy the light of the sun and mingle with the stirring scenes of life; but the victim, with her bridal chaplet, was no longer there. The door of the convent closed that severed her from the world forever. I saw the father and the lover issue forth; they were in earnest conversation. The latter was vehement in his gesticulations; I expected some violent termination to my drama; but an angle of a building interfered and closed the scene. My eye afterwards was frequently turned to that convent with painful interest. I remarked late at night a solitary light twinkling from a remote lattice of one of its towers. ‘There,’ said I, the unhappy nun sits weeping in her cell, while perhaps her lover paces the street below in unavailing anguish.’ . . .
“The officious Mateo interrupted my meditations and destroyed in an instant the cobweb tissue of my fancy. With his usual zeal he had gathered facts concerning the scene, which put my fictions all to flight. The heroine of my romance was neither young nor handsome; she had no lover; she had entered the convent of her own free will, as a respectable asylum, and was one of the most cheerful residents within its walls.
“It was some little while before I could forgive the wrong done me by the nun in being thus happy in her cell, in contradiction to all the rules of romance; I diverted my spleen, however, by watching, for a day or two, the pretty coquetries of a dark-eyed brunette, who, from the covert of a balcony shrouded with flowering shrubs and a silken awning, was carrying on a mysterious correspondence with a handsome, dark, well-whiskered cavalier, who lurked frequently in the street beneath her window. Sometimes I saw him at an early hour, stealing forth wrapped to the eyes in a mantle. Sometimes he loitered at a corner, in various disguises, apparently waiting for a private signal to slip into the house. Then there was the tinkling of a guitar at night, and a lantern shifted from place to place in the balcony. I imagined another intrigue like that of Almaviva, but was again disconcerted in all my suppositions. The supposed lover turned out to be the husband of the lady, and a noted contrabandista; and all his mysterious signs and movements had doubtless some smuggling scheme in view . . . .
“I occasionally amused myself with noting from this balcony the gradual changes of the scenes below, according to the different stages of the day.
“Scarce has the gray dawn streaked the sky, and the earliest cock crowed from the cottages of the hill-side, when the suburbs give sign of reviving animation; for the fresh hours of dawning are precious in the summer season in a sultry climate. All are anxious to get the start of the sun, in the business of the day. The muleteer drives forth his loaded train for the journey; the traveler slings his carbine behind his saddle, and mounts his steed at the gate of the hostel; the brown peasant from the country urges forward his loitering beasts, laden with panniers of sunny fruit and fresh dewy vegetables, for already the thrifty housewives are hastening to the market.
“The sun is up and sparkles along the valley, tipping the transparent foliage of the groves. The matin bells resound melodiously through the pure bright air, announcing the hour of devotion. The muleteer halts his burdened animals before the chapel, thrusts his staff through his belt behind, and enters with hat in hand, smoothing his coal-black hair, to hear a mass, and to put up a prayer for a prosperous wayfaring across the sierra. And now steals forth on fairy foot the gentle Senora, in trim basquina, with restless fan in hand, and dark eye flashing from beneath the gracefully folded mantilla; she seeks some well-frequented church to offer up her morning orisons; but the nicely adjusted dress, the dainty shoe and cobweb stocking, the raven tresses exquisitely braided, the fresh-plucked rose, gleaming among them like a gem, show that earth divides with Heaven the empire of her thoughts. Keep an eye upon her, careful mother, or virgin aunt, or vigilant duenna, whichever you may be, that walk behind!
“As the morning advances, the din of labor augments on every side; the streets are thronged with man, and steed, and beast of burden, and there is a hum and murmur, like the surges of the ocean. As the sun ascends to his meridian, the hum and bustle gradually decline; at the height of noon there is a pause. The panting city sinks into lassitude, and for several hours there is a general repose. The windows are closed, the curtains drawn, the inhabitants retired into the coolest recesses of their mansions; the full-fed monk snores in his dormitory; the brawny porter lies stretched on the pavement beside his burden; the peasant and the laborer sleep beneath the trees of the Alameda, lulled by the sultry chirping of the locust. The streets are deserted, except by the water-carrier, who refreshes the ear by proclaiming the merits of his sparkling beverage, ‘colder than the mountain snow (mas fria que la nieve).’
“As the sun declines, there is again a gradual reviving, and when the vesper bell rings out his sinking knell, all nature seems to rejoice that the tyrant of the day has fallen. Now begins the bustle of enjoyment, when the citizens pour forth to breathe the evening air, and revel away the brief twilight in the walks and gardens of the Darro and Xenil.
“As night closes, the capricious scene assumes new features. Light after light gradually twinkles forth; here a taper from a balconied window; there a votive lamp before the image of a saint. Thus, by degrees, the city emerges the banners of the haughty chiefs of Spain, and flaunted in triumph through these Moslem halls. I picture to myself Columbus, the future discoverer of a world, taking his modest stand in a remote corner, the humble and neglected spectator of the pageant. I see in imagination the Catholic sovereigns prostrating themselves before the altar, and pouring forth thanks for their victory; while the vaults resound with sacred minstrelsy and the deep-toned Te Deum.
“The transient illusion is over — the pageant melts from the fancy, — monarch, priest, and warrior return into oblivion with the poor Moslems over whom they exulted. The hall of their triumph is waste and desolate. The bat flits about its twilight vault, and the owl hoots from the neighboring tower of Comares.”
It is a Moslem tradition that the court and army of Boabdil the Unfortunate, the last Moorish king of Granada, are shut up in the mountain by a powerful enchantment, and that it is written in the book of fate that when the enchantment is broken, Boabdil will descend from the mountain at the head of his army, resume his throne in the Alhambra, and, gathering together the enchanted warriors from all parts of Spain, reconquer the peninsula. Nothing in this volume is more amusing and at the same time more poetic and romantic than the story of “Governor Manco and the Soldier,” in which this legend is used to cover the exploit of a dare-devil contrabandista. But it is too long to quote. I take, therefore, another story, which has something of the same elements, that of a merry mendicant student of Salamanca, Don Vicente by name, who wandered from village to village, and picked up a living by playing the guitar for the peasants, among whom he was sure of a hearty welcome. In the course of his wandering he had found a seal-ring, having for its device the cabalistic sign invented by King Solomon the Wise, and of mighty power in all cases of enchantment.
“At length he arrived at the great object of his musical vagabondizing, the far-famed city of Granada, and hailed with wonder and delight its Moorish towers, its lovely vega, and its snowy mountains glistening through a summer atmosphere. It is needless to say with what eager curiosity he entered its gates and wandered through its streets, and gazed upon its Oriental monuments. Every female face peering through a window or beaming from a balcony was to him a Zorayda or a Zelinda, nor could he meet a stately dame on the Alameda but he was ready to fancy her a Moorish princess, and to spread his student’s robe beneath her feet.
“His musical talent, his happy humor, his youth and his good looks, won him a universal welcome in spite of his ragged robes, and for several days he led a gay life in the old Moorish capital and its environs. One of his occasional haunts was the fountain of Avellanos, in the valley of Darro. It is one of the popular resorts of Granada, and has been so since the days of the Moors; and here the student had an opportunity of pursuing his studies of female beauty; a branch of study to which he was a little prone.
“Here he would take his seat with his guitar, improvise love-ditties to admiring groups of majos and majas, or prompt with his music the ever-ready dance. He was thus engaged one evening when he beheld a padre of the church advancing, at whose approach every one touched the hat. He was evidently a man of consequence; he certainly was a mirror of good if not of holy living; robust and rosy-faced, and breathing at every pore with the warmth of the weather and the exercise of the walk. As he passed along he would every now and then draw a maravedi out of his pocket and bestow it on a beggar, with an air of signal beneficence. ‘Ah, the blessed father!’ would be the cry; long life to him, and may he soon be a bishop!’
“To aid his steps in ascending the hill he leaned gently now and then on the arm of a handmaid, evidently the pet-lamb of this kindest of pastors. Ah, such a damsel! Andalus from head to foot; from the rose in her hair, to the fairy shoe and lacework stocking; Andalus in every movement; in every undulation of the body:— ripe, melting Andalus! But then so modest! — so shy! — ever, with downcast eyes, listening to the words of the padre; or, if by chance she let flash a side glance, it was suddenly checked and her eyes once more cast to the ground.
“The good padre looked benignantly on the company about the fountain, and took his seat with some emphasis on a stone bench, while the handmaid hastened to bring him a glass of sparkling water. He sipped it deliberately and with a relish, tempering it with one of those spongy pieces of frosted eggs and sugar so dear to Spanish epicures, and on returning the glass to the hand of the damsel pinched her cheek with infinite loving-kindness.
“‘Ah, the good pastor!’ whispered the student to himself; ‘what a happiness would it be to be gathered into his fold with such a pet-lamb for a companion!’
“But no such good fare was likely to befall him. In vain he essayed those powers of pleasing which he had found so irresistible with country curates and country lasses. Never had he touched his guitar with such skill; never had he poured forth more soul-moving ditties, but he had no longer a country curate or country lass to deal with. The worthy priest evidently did not relish music, and the modest damsel never raised her eyes from the ground. They remained but a short time at the fountain; the good padre hastened their return to Granada. The damsel gave the student one shy glance in retiring; but it plucked the heart out of his bosom!
“He inquired about them after they had gone. Padre Tomas was one of the saints of Granada, a model of regularity; punctual in his hour of rising; his hour of taking a paseo for an appetite; his hours of eating; his hour of taking his siesta; his hour of playing his game of tresillo, of an evening, with some of the dames of the cathedral circle; his hour of supping, and his hour of retiring to rest, to gather fresh strength for another day’s round of similar duties. He had an easy sleek mule for his riding; a matronly housekeeper skilled in preparing tidbits for his table; and the pet-lamb, to smooth his pillow at night and bring him his chocolate in the morning.
“Adieu now to the gay, thoughtless life of the student; the side-glance of a bright eye had been the undoing of him. Day and night he could not get the image of this most modest damsel out of his mind. He sought the mansion of the padre. Alas! it was above the class of houses accessible to a strolling student like himself. The worthy padre had no sympathy with him; he had never been Estudiante sopista, obliged to sing for his supper. He blockaded the house by day, catching a glance of the damsel now and then as she appeared at a casement; but these glances only fed his flame without encouraging his hope. He serenaded her balcony at night, and at one time was flattered by the appearance of something white at a window. Alas, it was only the nightcap of the padre.
“Never was lover more devoted; never damsel more shy: the poor student was reduced to despair. At length arrived the eve of St. John, when the lower classes of Granada swarm into the country, dance away the afternoon, and pass midsummer’s night on the banks of the Darro and the Xenil. Happy are they who on this eventful night can wash their faces in those waters just as the cathedral bell tells midnight; for at that precise moment they have a beautifying power. The student, having nothing to do, suffered himself to be carried away by the holiday-seeking throng until he found himself in the narrow valley of the Darro, below the lofty hill and ruddy towers of the Alhambra. The dry bed of the river; the rocks which border it; the terraced gardens which overhang it, were alive with variegated groups, dancing under the vines and fig-trees to the sound of the guitar and castanets.
“The student remained for some time in doleful dumps, leaning against one of the huge misshapen stone pomegranates which adorn the ends of the little bridge over the Darro. He cast a wistful glance upon the merry scene, where every cavalier had his dame; or, to speak more appropriately, every Jack his Jill; sighed at his own solitary state, a victim to the black eye of the most unapproachable of damsels, and repined at his ragged garb, which seemed to shut the gate of hope against him.
“By degrees his attention was attracted to a neighbor equally solitary with himself. This was a tall soldier, of a stern aspect and grizzled beard, who seemed posted as a sentry at the opposite pomegranate. His face was bronzed by time; he was arrayed in ancient Spanish armor, with buckler and lance, and stood immovable as a statue. What surprised the student was, that though thus strangely equipped, he was totally unnoticed by the passing throng, albeit that many almost brushed against him.
“‘This is a city of old time peculiarities,’ thought the student, I and doubtless this is one of them with which the inhabitants are too familiar to be surprised.’ His own curiosity, however, was awakened, and being of a social disposition, he accosted the soldier.
“‘A rare old suit of armor that which you wear, comrade. May I ask what corps you belong to?’
“The soldier gasped out a reply from a pair of jaws which seemed to have rusted on their hinges.
“‘The royal guard of Ferdinand and Isabella.’
“‘Santa Maria! Why, it is three centuries since that corps was in service.’
“‘And for three centuries have I been mounting guard. Now I trust my tour of duty draws to a close. Dost thou desire fortune?’
“The student held up his tattered cloak in reply.
“‘I understand thee. If thou hast faith and courage, follow me, and thy fortune is made.’
“‘Softly, comrade; to follow thee would require small courage in one who has nothing to lose but life and an old guitar, neither of much value; but my faith is of a different matter, and not to be put in temptation. If it be any criminal act by which I am to mend my fortune, think not my ragged coat will make me undertake it.’
“The soldier turned on him a look of high displeasure. ‘My sword,’ said he, ‘has never been drawn but in the cause of the faith and the throne. I am a ‘Cristiano viejo;’ trust in me and fear no evil.’
“The student followed him wondering. He observed that no one heeded their conversation, and that the soldier made his way through the various groups of idlers unnoticed, as if invisible.
“Crossing the bridge, the soldier led the way by a narrow and steep path past a Moorish mill and aqueduct, and up the ravine which separates the domains of the Generalife from those of the Alhambra. The last ray of the sun shone upon the red battlements of the latter, which beetled far above; and the convent-bells were proclaiming the festival of the ensuing day. The ravine was overshadowed by fig-trees, vines, and myrtles, and the outer towers and walls of the fortress. It was dark and lonely, and the twilight-loving bats began to flit about. At length the soldier halted at a remote and ruined tower apparently intended to guard a Moorish aqueduct. He struck the foundation with the buttend of his spear. A rumbling sound was heard, and the solid stones yawned apart, leaving an opening as wide as a door.
“‘Enter in the name of the Holy Trinity,’ said the soldier, ‘and fear nothing.’ The student’s heart quaked, but he made the sign of the cross, muttered his Ave Maria, and followed his mysterious guide into a deep vault cut out of the solid rock under the tower, and covered with Arabic inscriptions. The soldier pointed to a stone seat hewn along one side of the vault. ‘Behold,’ said he, ‘my couch for three hundred years.’ The bewildered student tried to force a joke. ‘By the blessed St. Anthony,’ said he, ‘but you must have slept soundly, considering the hardness of your couch.’
“‘On the contrary, sleep has been a stranger to these eyes; incessant watchfulness has been my doom. Listen to my lot. I was one of the royal guards of Ferdinand and Isabella; but was taken prisoner by the Moors in one of their sorties, and confined a captive in this tower. When preparations were made to surrender the fortress to the Christian sovereigns, I was prevailed upon by an alfaqui, a Moorish priest, to aid him in secreting some of the treasures of Boabdil in this vault. I was justly punished for my fault. The alfaqui was an African necromancer, and by his infernal arts cast a spell upon me — to guard his treasures. Something must have happened to him, for he never returned, and here have I remained ever since, buried alive. Years and years have rolled away; earthquakes have shaken this hill; I have heard stone by stone of the tower above tumbling to the ground, in the natural operation of time; but the spell-bound walls of this vault set both time and earthquakes at defiance.
“‘Once every hundred years, on the festival of St. John, the enchantment ceases to have thorough sway; I am permitted to go forth and post myself upon the bridge of the Darro, where you met me, waiting until some one shall arrive who may have power to break this magic spell. I have hitherto mounted guard there in vain. I walk as in a cloud, concealed from mortal sight. You are the first to accost me for now three hundred years. I behold the reason. I see on your finger the seal-ring of Solomon the Wise, which is proof against all enchantment. With you it remains to deliver me from this awful dungeon, or to leave me to keep guard here for another hundred years.’
“The student listened to this tale in mute wonderment. He had heard many tales of treasures shut up under strong enchantment in the vaults of the Alhambra, but had treated them as fables. He now felt the value of the seal-ring, which had, in a manner, been given to him by St. Cyprian. Still, though armed by so potent a talisman, it was an awful thing to find himself tete-a-tete in such a place with an enchanted soldier, who, according to the laws of nature, ought to have been quietly in his grave for nearly three centuries.
“A personage of this kind, however, was quite out of the ordinary run, and not to be trifled with, and he assured him he might rely upon his friendship and good will to do everything in his power for his deliverance.
“‘I trust to a motive more powerful than friendship,’ said the soldier.
“He pointed to a ponderous iron coffer, secured by locks inscribed with Arabic characters. ‘That coffer,’ said he, ‘contains countless treasure in gold and jewels and precious stones. Break the magic spell by which I am enthralled, and one half of this treasure shall be thine.’
“‘But how am I to do it?’
“‘The aid of a Christian priest and a Christian maid is necessary. The priest to exorcise the powers of darkness; the damsel to touch this chest with the seal of Solomon. This must be done at night. But have a care. This is solemn work, and not to be effected by the carnal-minded. The priest must be a Cristiano viejo, a model of sanctity; and must mortify the flesh before he comes here, by a rigorous fast of four-and-twenty hours: and as to the maiden, she must be above reproach, and proof against temptation. Linger not in finding such aid. In three days my furlough is at an end; if not delivered before midnight of the third, I shall have to mount guard for another century.’
“‘Fear not,’ said the student, ‘I have in my eye the very priest and damsel you describe; but how am I to regain admission to this tower?
“‘The seal of Solomon will open the way for thee.’
“The student issued forth from the tower much more gayly than he had entered. The wall closed behind him, and remained solid as before.
“The next morning he repaired boldly to the mansion of the priest, no longer a poor strolling student, thrumming his way with a guitar; but an ambassador from the shadowy world, with enchanted treasures to bestow. No particulars are told of his negotiation, excepting that the zeal of the worthy priest was easily kindled at the idea of rescuing an old soldier of the faith and a strong-box of King Chico from the very clutches of Satan; and then what alms might be dispensed, what churches built, and how many poor relatives enriched with the Moorish treasure!
“As to the immaculate handmaid, she was ready to lend her hand, which was all that was required, to the pious work; and if a shy glance now and then might be believed, the ambassador began to find favor in her modest eyes.
“The greatest difficulty, however, was the fast to which the good padre had to subject himself. Twice he attempted it, and twice the flesh was too strong for the spirit. It was only on the third day that he was enabled to withstand the temptations of the cupboard; but it was still a question whether he would hold out until the spell was broken.
“At a late hour of the night the party groped their way up the ravine by the light of a lantern, and bearing a basket with provisions for exorcising the demon of hunger so soon as the other demons should be laid in the Red Sea.
“The seal of Solomon opened their way into the tower. They found the soldier seated on the enchanted strong-box, awaiting their arrival. The exorcism was performed in due style. The damsel advanced and touched the locks of the coffer with the seal of Solomon. The lid flew open; and such treasures of gold and jewels and precious stones as flashed upon the eye!
“‘Here’s cut and come again!’ cried the student, exultingly, as he proceeded to cram his pockets.
“‘Fairly and softly,’ exclaimed the soldier. ‘Let us get the coffer out entire, and then divide:
“They accordingly went to work with might and main; but it was a difficult task; the chest was enormously heavy, and had been imbedded there for centuries. While they were thus employed the good dominie drew on one side and made a vigorous onslaught on the basket, by way of exorcising the demon of hunger which was raging in his entrails. In a little while a fat capon was devoured, and washed down by a deep potation of Val de penas; and, by way of grace after meat, he gave a kind-hearted kiss to the pet-lamb who waited on him. It was quietly done in a corner, but the tell-tale walls babbled it forth as if in triumph. Never was chaste salute more awful in its effects. At the sound the soldier gave a great cry of despair; the coffer, which was half raised, fell back in its place and was locked once more. Priest, student, and damsel found themselves outside of the tower, the wall of which closed with a thundering jar. Alas! the good padre had broken his fast too soon!
“When recovered from his surprise, the student would have reentered the tower, but learnt to his dismay that the damsel, in her fright, had let fall the seal of Solomon; it remained within the vault.
“In a word, the cathedral bell tolled midnight; the spell was renewed; the soldier was doomed to mount guard for another hundred years, and there he and the treasure remain to this day — and all because the kind-hearted padre kissed his handmaid. ‘Ah, father! father!’ said the student, shaking his head ruefully, as they returned down the ravine, ‘I fear there was less of the saint than the sinner in that kiss!’
“Thus ends the legend as far as it has been authenticated. There is a tradition, however, that the student had brought off treasure enough in his pocket to set him up in the world; that he prospered in his affairs, that the worthy padre gave him the pet-lamb in marriage, by way of amends for the blunder in the vault; that the immaculate damsel proved a pattern for wives as she had been for handmaids, and bore her husband a numerous progeny; that the first was a wonder; it was born seven months after her marriage, and though a seven months’ boy, was the sturdiest of the flock. The rest were all born in the ordinary course of time.
“The story of the enchanted soldier remains one of the popular traditions of Granada, though told in a variety of ways; the common people affirm that he still mounts guard on midsummer eve beside the gigantic stone pomegranate on the bridge of the Darro; but remains invisible excepting to such lucky mortal as may possess the seal of Solomon.”
These passages from the most characteristic of Irving’s books do not by any means exhaust his variety, but they afford a fair measure of his purely literary skill, upon which his reputation must rest. To my apprehension this “charm” in literature is as necessary to the amelioration and enjoyment of human life as the more solid achievements of scholarship. That Irving should find it in the prosaic and materialistic conditions of the New World as well as in the tradition-laden atmosphere of the Old, is evidence that he possessed genius of a refined and subtle quality, if not of the most robust order.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:51