Gatherings From Spain
Gatherings From Spain
Gatherings From Spain
MANY ladies, some of whom even contemplate a visit to Spain, having condescended to signify to the publisher their regrets, that the Handbook was printed in a form, which rendered its perusal irksome, and also to express a wish that the type had been larger, the Author, to whom this distinguished compliment was communicated, has hastened to submit to their indulgence a few extracts and selections, which may throw some light on the character of a country and people, always of the highest interest, and particularly so at this moment, when their independence is once more threatened by a crafty and aggressive neighbour.
In preparing these compilations for the press much new matter has been added, to supply the place of portions omitted; for, in order to lighten the narrative, the Author has removed much lumber of learning, and has not scrupled occasionally to throw Strabo, and even Saint Isidore himself, overboard. Progress is the order of the day in Spain, and its advance is the more rapid, as she was so much in arrear of other nations. Transition is the present condition of the country, where yesterday is effaced by to-morrow. There the relentless march of European intellect is crushing many a native wild flower, which, having no value save colour and sweetness, must be rooted up before cotton-mills are constructed and bread stuffs substituted; many a trait of nationality in manners and costume is already effaced; monks are gone, and mantillas are going, alas! going.
In the changes that have recently taken place, many descriptions of ways and things now presented to the public will soon become almost matters of history and antiquarian interest. The passages here reprinted will be omitted in the forthcoming new edition of the Handbook, to which these pages may form a companion; but their chief object has been to offer a few hours’ amusement, and may be of instruction, to those who remain at home; and should the humble attempt meet with the approbation of fair readers, the author will bear, with more than Spanish resignation, whatever animadversions bearded critics may be pleased to inflict on this or on the other side of the water.
A general view of Spain – Isolation – King of the Spains – Castilian precedence – Localism – Want of Union – Admiration of Spain – M. Thiers in Spain.
KING OF THE SPAINS
LOCALISM OF SPANIARDS
THE kingdom of Spain, which looks so compact on the map, is composed of many distinct provinces, each of which in earlier times formed a separate and independent kingdom; and although all are now united under one crown by marriage, inheritance, conquest, and other circumstances, the original distinctions, geographical as well as social, remain almost unaltered. The language, costume, habits, and local character of the natives, vary no less than the climate and productions of the soil. The chains of mountains which intersect the whole peninsula, and the deep rivers which separate portions of it, have, for many years, operated as so many walls and moats, by cutting off intercommunication, and by fostering that tendency to isolation which must exist in all hilly countries, where good roads and bridges do not abound. As similar circumstances led the people of ancient Greece to split into small principalities, tribes and clans, so in Spain, man, following the example of the nature by which he is surrounded, has little in common with the inhabitant of the adjoining district; and these differences are increased and perpetuated by the ancient jealousies and inveterate dislikes, which petty and contiguous states keep up with such tenacious memory. The general comprehensive term “Spain,” which is convenient for geographers and politicians, is calculated to mislead the traveller, for it would be far from easy to predicate any single thing of Spain or Spaniards which will be equally applicable to all its heterogeneous component parts. The north-western provinces are more rainy than Devonshire, while the centre plains are more calcined than those of the deserts of Arabia, and the littoral south or eastern coasts altogether Algerian. The rude agricultural Gallician, the industrious manufacturing artisan of Barcelona, the gay and voluptuous Andalucian, the sly vindictive Valencian, are as essentially different from each other as so many distinct characters at the same masquerade. It will therefore be more convenient to the traveller to take each province by itself and treat it in detail, keeping on the look-out for those peculiarities, those social and natural characteristics or idiosyncracies which particularly belong to each division, and distinguish it from its neighbours. The Spaniards who have written on their own geography and statistics, and who ought to be supposed to understand their own country and institutions the best, have found it advisable to adopt this arrangement from feeling the utter impossibility of treating Spain (where union is not unity) as a whole. There is no king of Spain: among the infinity of kingdoms, the list of which swells out the royal style, that of “Spain” is not found; he is King of the Spains, Rex Hispaniarum, Rey de las Españas, not “Rey de España.” Philip II., called by his countrymen el prudente, the prudent, wishing to fuse down his heterogeneous subjects, was desirous after his conquest of Portugal, which consolidated his dominion, to call himself King of Spain, which he then really was; but this alteration of title was beyond the power of even his despotism; such was the opposition of the kingdoms of Arragon and Navarre, which never gave up the hopes of shaking off the yoke of Castile, and recovering their former independence, while the empire provinces of New and Old Castile refused in anywise to compromise their claims of pre-eminence. They from early times, as now, took the lead in national nomenclature; hence “Castellano,” Castilian, is synonymous with Spaniard, and particularly with the proud genuine older stock. “Castellano á las derechas,” means a Spaniard to the backbone; “Hablar Castellano,” to speak Castilian, is the correct expression for speaking the Spanish language. Spain again was long without the advantage of a fixed metropolis, like Rome, Paris, or London, which have been capitals from their foundation, and recognized and submitted to as such; here, the cities of Leon, Burgos, Toledo, Seville, Valladolid, and others, have each in their turns been the capitals of the kingdom. This constant change and short-lived pre-eminence has weakened any prescriptive superiority of one city over another, and has been a cause of national weakness by raising up rivalries and disputes about precedence, which is one of the most fertile sources of dissension among a punctilious people. In fact the king was the state, and wherever he fixed his head-quarters was the court, La Corte, a word still synonymous with Madrid, which now claims to be the only residence of the Sovereign – the residenz, as Germans would say; otherwise, when compared with the cities above mentioned, it is a modern place; from not having a bishop or cathedral, of which latter some older cities possess two, it has not even the rank of a ciudad, or city, but is merely denominated villa, or town. In moments of national danger it exercises little influence over the Peninsula: at the same time, from being the seat of the court and government, and therefore the centre of patronage and fashion, it attracts from all parts those who wish to make their fortune; yet the capital has a hold on the ambition rather than on the affections of the nation at large. The inhabitants of the different provinces think, indeed, that Madrid is the greatest and richest court in the world, but their hearts are in their native localities. “Mi paisano,” my fellow-countryman, or rather my fellow-county-man, fellow-parishioner, does not mean Spaniard, but Andalucian, Catalonian, as the case may be. When a Spaniard is asked, Where do you come from? the reply is, “Soy hijo de Murcia – hijo de Granada,” “I am a son of Murcia – a son of Granada,” &c. This is strictly analogous to the “Children of Israel,” the “Beni” of the Spanish Moors, and to this day the Arabs of Cairo call themselves children of that town, “Ibn el Musr,” &c.; and just as the Milesian Irishman is “a boy from Tipperary,” &c., and ready to fight with any one who is so also, against all who are not of that ilk; similar too is the clanship of the Highlander; indeed, everywhere, not perhaps to the same extent as in Spain, the being of the same province or town creates a powerful freemasonry; the parties cling together like old school-fellows. It is a home and really binding feeling. To the spot of their birth all their recollections, comparisons, and eulogies are turned; nothing to them comes up to their particular province, that is, their real country. “La Patria,” meaning Spain at large, is a subject of declamation, fine words, palabras– palaver, in which all, like Orientals, delight to indulge, and to which their grandiloquent idiom lends itself readily; but their patriotism is parochial, and self is the centre of Spanish gravity. Like the German, they may sing and spout about Fatherland: in both cases the theory is splendid, but in practice each Spaniard thinks his own province or town the best in the Peninsula, and himself the finest fellow in it. From the earliest period down to the present all observers have been struck with this localism as a salient feature in the character of the Iberians, who never would amalgamate, never would, as Strabo said, put their shields together – never would sacrifice their own local private interest for the general good; on the contrary, in the hour of need they had, as at present, a constant tendency to separate into distinct juntas, “collective” assemblies, each of which only thought of its own views, utterly indifferent to the injury thereby occasioned to what ought to have been the common cause of all. Common danger and interest scarcely can keep them together, the tendency of each being rather to repel than to attract the other: the common enemy once removed, they instantly fall to loggerheads among each other, especially if there be any spoil to be divided: scarcely ever, as in the East, can the energy of one individual bind the loose staves by the iron power of a master mind; remove the band, and the centrifugal members instantaneously disunite. Thus the virility and vitality of the noble people have been neutralised: they have, indeed, strong limbs and honest hearts; but, as in the Oriental parable, “a head” is wanting to direct and govern: hence Spain is to-day, as it always has been, a bundle of small bodies tied together by a rope of sand, and, being without union, is also without strength, and has been beaten in detail. The much-used phrase Españolismo expresses rather a “dislike of foreign dictation,” and the “self-estimation” of Spaniards, Españoles sobre todos, than any real patriotic love of country, however highly they rate its excellences and superiority to every other one under heaven: this opinion is condensed in one of those pithy proverbs which, nowhere more than in Spain, are the exponents of popular sentiment: it runs thus, – “Quien dice España, dice todo,” which means, “Whoever says Spain, says everything.” A foreigner may perhaps think this a trifle too comprehensive and exclusive; but he will do well to express no doubts on the subject, since he will only be set down by every native as either jealous, envious, or ignorant, and probably all three.
DISUNION OF SPANIARDS
ADMIRATION OF SPAIN
M. THIERS IN SPAIN
To boast of Spain’s strength, said the Duke of Wellington, is the national weakness. Every infinitesimal particle which constitutes nosotros, or ourselves, as Spaniards term themselves, will talk of his country as if the armies were still led to victory by the mighty Charles V., or the councils managed by Philip II. instead of Louis-Philippe. Fortunate, indeed, was it, according to a Castilian preacher, that the Pyrenees concealed Spain when the Wicked One tempted the Son of Man by an offer of all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them. This, indeed, was predicated in the mediæval or dark ages, but few peninsular congregations, even in these enlightened times, would dispute the inference. It was but the other day that a foreigner was relating in a tertulia, or conversazione of Madrid, the well-known anecdote of Adam’s revisit to the earth. The narrator explained how our first father on lighting in Italy was perplexed and taken aback; how, on crossing the Alps into Germany, he found nothing that he could understand – how matters got darker and stranger at Paris, until on his reaching England he was altogether lost, confounded, and abroad, being unable to make out any thing. Spain was his next point, where, to his infinite satisfaction, he found himself quite at home, so little had things changed since his absence, or indeed since the sun at its creation first shone over Toledo. The story concluded, a distinguished Spaniard, who was present, hurt perhaps at the somewhat protestant-dissenting tone of the speaker, gravely remarked, the rest of the party coinciding, —Si, Señor, y tenia razon; la España es Paradiso– “Adam, Sir, was right, for Spain is paradise;” and in many respects this worthy, zealous gentleman was not wrong, although it is affirmed by some of his countrymen that some portions of it are inhabited by persons not totally exempt from original sin; thus the Valencians will say of their ravishing huerta, or garden, Es un paradiso habitado por demonios, – “It is an Eden peopled by subjects of his Satanic Majesty.” Again, according to the natives, Murcia, a land overflowing with milk and honey, where Flora and Pomona dispute the prize with Ceres and Bacchus, possesses a cielo y suelo bueno, el entresuelo malo, has “a sky and soil that are good, while all between is indifferent;” which the entresol occupant must settle to his liking.
Another little anecdote, like a straw thrown up in the air, will point out the direction in which the wind blows. Monsieur Thiers, the great historical romance writer, in his recent hand-gallop tour through the Peninsula, passed a few days only at Madrid; his mind being, as logicians would say, of a subjective rather than an objective turn, that is, disposed rather to the consideration of the ego, and to things relating to self, than to those that do not, he scarcely looked more at any thing there, than he did during his similar run through London: “Behold,” said the Spaniards, “that little gabacho; he dares not remain, nor raise his eyes from the ground in this land, whose vast superiority wounds his personal and national vanity.” There is nothing new in this. The old Castilian has an older saying: —Si Dios no fuese Dios, seria rey de las Españas, y el de Francia su cocinero– “If God were not God, he would make himself king of the Spains, with him of France for his cook.” Lope de Vega, without derogating one jot from these paradisiacal pretensions, used him of England better. His sonnet on the romantic trip to Madrid ran thus: —
“Carlos Stuardo soy,
Que siendo amor mi guia,
Al cielo de España voy,
Por ver mi estrella Maria.”
“I am Charles Stuart, who, with love for my guide, hasten to the heaven Spain to see my star Mary.” The Virgin, it must be remembered, after whom this infanta was named, is held by every Spaniard to be the brightest luminary, and the sole empress of heaven.
GEOGRAPHY OF SPAIN
The Geography of Spain – Zones – Mountains – The Pyrenees – The Gabacho, and French Politics.
FROM Spain being the most southern country in Europe, it is very natural that those who have never been there, and who in England criticise those who have, should imagine the climate to be even more delicious than that of Italy or Greece. This is far from being the fact; some, indeed, of the sea coasts and sheltered plains in the S. and E. provinces are warm in winter, and exposed to an almost African sun in summer, but the N. and W. districts are damp and rainy for the greater part of the year, while the interior is either cold and cheerless, or sunburnt and wind-blown: winters have occurred at Madrid of such severity that sentinels have been frozen to death; and frequently all communication is suspended by the depth of the snow in the elevated roads over the mountain passes of the Castiles. All, therefore, who are about to travel through the Peninsula, are particularly cautioned to consider well their line of route beforehand, and to select certain portions to be visited at certain seasons, and thus avoid every local disadvantage.
GENERAL VIEW OF SPAIN
One glance at a map of Europe will convey a clearer notion of the relative position of Spain in regard to other countries than pages of letter-press: this is an advantage which every schoolboy possesses over the Plinys and Strabos of antiquity; the ancients were content to compare the shape of the Peninsula to that of a bull’s hide, nor was the comparison ill chosen in some respects. We will not weary readers with details of latitude and longitude, but just mention that the whole superficies of the Peninsula, including Portugal, contains upwards of 19,000 square leagues, of which somewhat more than 15,500 belong to Spain; it is thus almost twice as large as the British Islands, and only one-tenth smaller than France; the circumference or coast-line is estimated at 750 leagues. This compact and isolated territory, inhabited by a fine, hardy, warlike population, ought, therefore, to have rivalled France in military power, while its position between those two great seas which command the commerce of the old and new world, its indented line of coast, abounding in bays and harbours, offered every advantage of vying with England in maritime enterprise.
Nature has provided commensurate outlets for the infinite productions of a country which is rich alike in everything that is to be found either on the face or in the bowels of the earth; for the mines and quarries abound with precious metals and marbles, from gold to iron, from the agate to coal, while a fertile soil and every possible variety of climate admit of unlimited cultivation of the natural productions of the temperate or tropical zones: thus in the province of Granada the sugar-cane and cotton-tree luxuriate at the base of ranges which are covered with eternal snow: a wide range is thus afforded to the botanist, who may ascend by zones, through every variety of vegetable strata, from the hothouse plant growing wild, to the hardiest lichen. It has, indeed, required the utmost ingenuity and bad government of man to neutralise the prodigality of advantages which Providence has lavished on this highly favoured land, and which, while under the dominion of the Romans and Moors, resembled an Eden, a garden of plenty and delight, when in the words of an old author, there was nothing idle, nothing barren in Spain – “nihil otiosum, nihil sterile in Híspaniâ.” A sad change has come over this fair vision, and now the bulk of the Peninsula offers a picture of neglect and desolation, moral and physical, which it is painful to contemplate: the face of nature and the mind of man have too often been dwarfed and curtailed of their fair proportions; they have either been neglected and their inherent fertility allowed to run into vice and luxuriant weeds, which it will show against any country in the world, or their energies have been misdirected, and a capability of all good converted into an element equally powerful for evil; but pride and laziness are here as everywhere the keys to poverty, altivez y pereza, llaves de pobreza.
CLIMATE AND ELEVATION OF SPAIN
The geological construction of Spain is very peculiar, and unlike that of most other countries; it is almost one mountain or agglomeration of mountains, as those of our countrymen who are speculating in Spanish railroads are just beginning to discover. The interior rises on every side from the sea, and the central portions are higher than any other table-lands in Europe, ranging on an average from two to three thousand feet above the level of the sea, while from this elevated plain chains of mountains rise again to a still greater height. Madrid, which stands on this central plateau, is situated about 2000 feet above the level of Naples, which lies in the same latitude; the mean temperature of Madrid is 59°, while that of Naples is 63° 30´; it is to this difference of elevation that the extraordinary difference of climate and vegetable productions between the two capitals is to be ascribed. Fruits which flourish on the coasts of Provence and Genoa, which lie four degrees more to the north than any portion of Spain, are rarely to be met with in the elevated interior of the Peninsula: on the other hand, the low and sunny maritime belts abound with productions of a tropical vegetation. The mountainous character and general aspect of the coast are nearly analogous throughout the circuit which extends from the Basque Provinces to Cape Finisterre; and offer a remarkable contrast to those sunny alluvial plains which extend, more or less, from Cadiz to Barcelona, and which closely resemble each other in vegetable productions, such as the fig, orange, pomegranate, aloe, and carob tree, which grow everywhere in profusion, except in those parts where the mountains come down abruptly into the sea itself. Again, the central districts, composed of vast plains and steppes, Parameras, Tierras de campo, y Secanos, closely resemble each other in their monotonous denuded aspect, in their scarcity of fruit and timber, and their abundance of cereal productions.
ZONES OF SPAIN
Spanish geographers have divided the Peninsula into seven distinct chains of mountains. These commence with the Pyrenees and end with the Bætican or Andalucian ranges: these cordilleras, or lines of lofty ridges, arise on each side of intervening plains, which once formed the basins of internal lakes, until the accumulated waters, by bursting through the obstructions by which they were dammed up, found a passage to the ocean: the dip or inclination of the country lies from the east towards the west, and, accordingly, the chief rivers which form the drains and principal water-sheds of the greater parts of the surface, flow into the Atlantic: their courses, like the basins through which they pass, lie in a transversal and almost a parallel direction; thus the Duero, the Tagus, the Guadiana, and the Guadalquivir, all flow into their recipient between their distinct chains of mountains. The sources of the supply to these leading arteries arise in the longitudinal range of elevations which descends all through the Peninsula, approaching rather to the eastern than to the western coast, whereby a considerably greater length is obtained by each of these four rivers, when compared to the Ebro, which disembogues in the Mediterranean.
The Moorish geographer Alrasi was the first to take difference of climate as the rule of dividing the Peninsula into distinct portions; and modern authorities, carrying out this idea, have drawn an imaginary line, which runs north-east to south-west, thus separating the Peninsula into the northern, or the boreal and temperate, and the southern or the torrid, and subdividing these two into four zones: nor is this division altogether fanciful, for there is no caprice or mistake in tests derived from the vegetable world; manners may make man, but the sun alone modifies the plant: man may be fused down by social appliances into one uniform mass, but the rude elements are not to be civilized, nor can nature be made cosmopolitan, which heaven forfend.
ZONES OF SPAIN
The first or northern zone is the Cantabrian, the European; this portion skirts the base of the Pyrenees, and includes portions of Catalonia, Arragon, and Navarre, the Basque provinces, the Asturias, and Gallicia. This is the region of humidity, and as the winters are long, and the springs and autumns rainy, it should only be visited in the summer. It is a country of hill and dale, is intersected by numerous streams which abound in fish, and which irrigate rich meadows for pastures. The valleys form the now improving dairy country of Spain, while the mountains furnish the most valuable and available timber of the Peninsula. In some parts corn will scarcely ripen, while in others, in addition to the cerealia, cider and an ordinary wine are produced. It is inhabited by a hardy, independent, and rarely subdued population, since the mountainous country offers natural means of defence to brave highlanders. It is useless to attempt the conquest with a small army, while a large one would find no means of support in the hungry localities.
The second zone is the Iberian or eastern, which, in its maritime portions, is more Asiatic than European, and where the lower classes partake of the Greek and Carthaginian character, being false, cruel, and treacherous, yet lively, ingenious, and fond of pleasure: this portion commences at Burgos, and includes the southern portion of Catalonia and Arragon, with parts of Castile, Valencia, and Murcia. The sea-coasts should be visited in the spring and autumn, when they are delicious; but they are intensely hot in the summer, and infested with myriads of muskitoes. The districts about Burgos are among the coldest in Spain, and the thermometer sinks very much below the ordinary average of our more temperate climate; and as they have little at any time to attract the traveller, he will do well to avoid them except during the summer months. The population is grave, sober, and Castilian. The elevation is very considerable; thus the upper valley of the Miño and some of the north-western portions of Old Castile and Leon are placed more than 6000 feet above the level of the sea, and the frosts often last for three months at a time.
GENERAL DROUGHT OF SPAIN
The third zone is the Lusitanian, or western, which is by far the largest, and includes the central parts of Spain and all Portugal. The interior of this portion, and especially the provinces of the two Castiles and La Mancha, both in the physical condition of the soil and the moral qualities of the inhabitants, presents a very unfavourable view of the Peninsula, as these inland steppes are burnt up by summer suns, and are tempest and wind-rent during winter. The general absence of trees, hedges, and enclosures exposes these wide unprotected plains to the rage and violence of the elements: poverty-stricken mud houses, scattered here and there in the desolate extent, afford a wretched home to a poor, proud, and ignorant population; but these localities, which offer in themselves neither pleasure nor profit to the stranger, contain many sites and cities of the highest interest, which none who wish to understand Spain can possibly pass by unnoticed. The best periods for visiting this portion of Spain are May and June, or September and October.
The more western districts of this Lusitanian zone are not so disagreeable. There in the uplands the ilex and chesnut abound, while the rich plains produce vast harvests of corn, and the vineyards powerful red wines. The central table-land, which closely resembles the plateau of Mexico, forms nearly one-half of the entire area of the Peninsula. The peculiarity of the climate is its dryness; it is not, however, unhealthy, being free from the agues and fevers which are prevalent in the lower plains, river-swamps, and rice-grounds of parts of Valencia and Andalucia. Rain, indeed, is so comparatively scarce on this table-land, that the annual quantity on an average does not amount to more than ten inches. The least quantity falls in the mountain regions near Guadalupe, and on the high plains of Cuenca and Murcia, where sometimes eight or nine months pass without a drop falling. The occasional thunder-storms do but just lay the dust, since here moisture dries up quicker even than woman’s tears. The face of the earth is tanned, tawny, and baked into a veritable terra cotta: everything seems dead and burnt on a funeral pile. It is all but a miracle how the principle of life in the green herb is preserved, since the very grass appears scorched and dead; yet when once the rains set in, vegetation springs up, phœnix-like, from the ashes, and bursts forth in an inconceivable luxuriance and life. The ripe seeds which have fallen on the soil are called into existence, carpeting the desert with verdure, gladdening the eye with flowers, and intoxicating the senses with perfume. The thirsty chinky dry earth drinks in these genial showers, and then rising like a giant refreshed with wine, puts forth all its strength; and what vegetation is, where moisture is combined with great heat, cannot even be guessed at in lands of stinted suns. The periods of rains are the winter and spring, and when these are plentiful, all kinds of grain, and in many places wines, are produced in abundance. The olive, however, is only to be met with in a few favoured localities.
GEOGRAPHY OF SPAIN
The fourth zone is the Bætican, which is the most southern and African; it coasts the Mediterranean, basking at the foot of the mountains which rise behind and form the mass of the Peninsula: this mural barrier offers a sure protection against the cold winds which sweep across the central region. Nothing can be more striking than the descent from the table elevations into these maritime strips; in a few hours the face of nature is completely changed, and the traveller passes from the climate and vegetation of Europe into that of Africa. This region is characterised by a dry burning atmosphere during a large part of the year. The winters are short and temperate, and consist rather in rain than in cold, for in the sunny valleys ice is scarcely known except for eating; the springs and autumns delightful beyond all conception. Much of the cultivation depends on artificial irrigation, which was carried by the Moors to the highest perfection: indeed water, under this forcing, vivifying sun, is the blood of the earth, and synonymous with fertility: the productions are tropical; sugar, cotton, rice, the orange, lemon, and date. The algarrobo, the carob tree, and the adelfa, the oleander, may be considered as forming boundary marks between this the tierra caliente, or torrid district, and the colder regions by which it is encompassed.
Such are the geographical divisions of nature with which the vegetable and animal productions are closely connected; and we shall presently enter somewhat more fully into the climate of Spain, of which the natives are as proud as if they had made it themselves. This Bætican zone, Andalucia, which contains in itself many of the most interesting cities, sites, and natural beauties of the Peninsula, will always take precedence in any plan of the traveller, and each of these points has its own peculiar attractions. These embrace a wide range of varied scenery and objects; and Andalucia, easy of access, may be gone over almost at every portion of the year. The winters may be spent at Cadiz, Seville, or Malaga; the summers in the cool mountains of Ronda, Aracena, or Granada. April, May, and June, or September, October, and November, are, however, the most preferable. Those who go in the spring should reserve June for the mountains; those who go in the autumn should reverse the plan, and commence with Ronda and Granada, ending with Seville and Cadiz.
Spain, it has thus been shown, is one mountain, or rather a jumble of mountains, – for the principal and secondary ranges are all more or less connected with each other, and descend in a serpentising direction throughout the Peninsula, with a general inclination to the west. Nature, by thus dislocating the country, seems to have suggested, nay, almost to have forced, localism and isolation to the inhabitants, who each in their valleys and districts are shut off from their neighbours, whom to love, they are enjoined in vain.
The internal communication of the Peninsula, which is thus divided by the mountain-walls, is effected by some good roads, few and far between, and which are carried over the most convenient points, where the natural dips are the lowest, and the ascents and descents the most practicable. These passes are called Puertos—portæ, or gates. There are, indeed, mule-tracks and goat-paths over other and intermediate portions of the chain, but they are difficult and dangerous, and being seldom provided with ventas or villages, are fitter for smugglers and bandits than honest men: the farthest and fairest way about will always be found the best and shortest road.
The Spanish mountains in general have a dreary and harsh character, yet not without a certain desolate sublimity: the highest are frequently capped with snow, which glistens in the clear sky. They are rarely clad with forest trees; the scarped and denuded ridges cut with a serrated outline the clean clear blue sky. The granitic masses soar above the green valley or yellow corn-plains in solitary state, like the castles of a feudal baron, that lord it over all below, with which they are too proud to have aught in common. These mountains are seen to greatest advantage at the rise and setting of the sun, for during the day the vertical rays destroy all form by removing shadows.
These geographical peculiarities of Spain, and particularly the existence of the great central elevation, when once attained are apt to be forgotten. The country rises from the coast, directly in the north-western provinces, and in some of the southern and eastern, with an intervening alluvial strip and swell: but when once the ascent is accomplished, no real descent ever takes place – we are then on the summit of a vast elevated mass. The roads indeed apparently ascend and descend, but the mean height is seldom diminished: the interior hills or plains are undulations of one mountain. The traveller is often deceived at the apparent low level of snow-clad ranges, such as the Guadarrama; this will be accounted for by adding the great elevation of their bases above the level of the sea. The palace of the Escorial, which is placed at the foot of the Guadarrama, and at the head of a seeming plain, stands in reality at 2725 feet above Valencia, while the summer residence of the king at La Granja, in the same chain, is thirty feet higher than the summit of Vesuvius. This, indeed, is a castle in the air – a château en Espagne, and worthy of the most German potentate to whom that element belongs, as the sea does to Britannia. The mean temperature on the plateau of Spain is as 15° Réaumur, while that of the coast is as 18° and 19°, in addition to the protection from cutting winds which their mountainous backgrounds afford; nor is the traveller less deceived as regards the heights of the interior mountains than he is with the champaigns, or table-land plains. The eye wanders over a vast level extent bounded only by the horizon, or a faint blue line of other distant sierras; this space, which appears one townless level, is intersected with deep ravines, barrancos, in which villages lie concealed, and streams, arroyos, flow unperceived. Another important effect of this central elevation is the searching dryness and rarefication of the air. It is often highly prejudicial to strangers; the least exposure, which is very tempting under a burning sun, will often bring on ophthalmia, irritable colics, and inflammatory diseases of the lungs and vital organs. Such are the causes of the pulmonia, which carries off the invalid in a few days, and is the disease of Madrid. The frozen blasts descending from the snow-clad Guadarrama catch the incautious passenger at the turning of streets which are roasting under a fierce sun. Is it to be wondered at, that this capital should be so very insalubrious? in winter you are frozen alive, in summer baked. A man taking a walk for the benefit of his health, crosses with his pores open from an oven to an ice-house; catch-cold introduces the Spanish doctor, who soon in his turn presents the undertaker.
As the Pyrenees possess an European interest at this moment when the Napoleon of Peace proposes to annihilate their existence, which defied Louis XIV. and Buonaparte, some details may be not unacceptable. This gigantic barrier, which divides Spain and France, is connected with the dorsal chain which comes down from Tartary and Asia. It stretches far beyond the transversal spine, for the mountains of the Basque Provinces, Asturias, and Gallicia, are its continuation. The Pyrenees, properly speaking, extend E. to W., in length about 270 miles, being both broadest and highest in the central portions, where the width is about 60 miles, and the elevations exceed 11,000 feet. The spurs and offsets of this great transversal spine penetrate on both sides into the lateral valleys like ribs from a back-bone. The central nucleus slopes gradually E. to the gentle Mediterranean, and W. to the fierce Atlantic, in a long uneven swell.