It is not possible to forget Washington Irving in the Alhambra. With a single volume, the simple, gentle, kindly American man of letters became no less a figure in the Moor's Red Palace than Boabdil and Lindaraxa of whom he wrote. And yet, never perhaps did a book make so unconscious a bid for popularity. Irving visited Granada in 1828. He returned the following year, when the Governor's apartments in the Alhambra were lent to him as lodgings. There he spent several weeks, his love for the place growing with every day and hour. It was this affection, and no more complex motive, that prompted him to describe its courts and gardens and to record its legends. The work was the amusement of his leisure moments, filling the interval between the completion of one serious, and now all but unknown, history and the beginning of the next.
Not many other men just then could write about Spain or anything Spanish so naturally. For, in 1829, while, within the walls of Alhamar and Yusef, he was listening to the prattle of Mateo and Dolores, in Paris, Alfred de Musset was writing his Contes d'Espagne, and Victor Hugo was publishing a new edition of his Orientales. A year later and the battle of Hernani was to be fought at the Comédie Française; a few more, and Théophile Gautier would be on his way across the Pyrenees. Time had passed since Châteaubriand, the pioneer of romance, could dismiss the Alhambra with a word. Hugo, in turning all eyes to the East, had declared that Spain also was Oriental, and to his disciples the journey, dreamed or made, through the land where Irving travelled in single-minded enjoyment, was an excuse for the profession of their literary faith. Irving, whatever his accomplishments, was unencumbered with a mission and innocent of pose. There is no reason to believe that he had ever heard of the Romanticists, or the part Spain was playing in the revolution; though he had been in Paris when the storm was brewing; though he returned after the famous red waistcoat had been sported in the public's face. At any rate, like the original genius of to-day, he kept his knowledge to himself.
Literary work took Irving to Spain. Several years before, in 1818, he had watched the total wreck of his brother's business. This was the second event of importance in his hitherto mild and colourless existence. The first had been the death of the girl he was to marry, a loss which left him without interest or ambition. There was then no need for him to work, and his health was delicate. He travelled a little: an intelligent, sympathetic and observant tourist. He wrote a little, discovering that he was an author with Knickerbocker. But his writing was of the desultory sort until, when he was thirty-five years old, his brother's failure forced him to make literature his profession. It was after he had published his Sketch-Book and Bracebridge Hall and Old Christmas, after their reception had been of the kind to satisfy even the present generation of writers who measure the excellence of work by the price paid for it, that some one suggested he should translate the journeys of Columbus, which Navarrete, a Spanish author, had in hand. Murray, it was thought, would give a handsome sum down for the translation. Murray himself, however, was not so sure: wanted, wise man, first to see a portion of the manuscript. This was just what could not be until Irving had begun his task. But already in Madrid, and assured of nothing, he found the rôle of translator less congenial than that of historian, and the Spanish work eventually resolved itself into his Life of Columbus. "Delving in the rich ore" of the old chronicles in the Jesuits' Library of St. Isidoro, there was one side issue in the history he was studying that enchanted him above all else. This was the Conquest of Granada, the brilliant episode which had fascinated him ever since, as a boy at play on the banks of the Hudson, his allegiance had been divided between the Spanish cavalier, in gold and silver armour, prancing over the Vega, and the Red Indian brandishing his tomahawk on the war-path. Now, occasionally, Columbus was forgotten that he might collect the materials for a new story of the Conquest to be told by himself. To consult further documents he started one spring (1828), when the almond trees were blossoming, for Andalusia; and Granada, of course, came into his journey. Thus chance brought him to the Alhambra, while (1829) the courtesy of the Governor and the kindness of old Tia Antonia put him in possession of the rooms of the beautiful Elizabeth of Parma, overlooking the oranges and fountains of the Garden of Lindaraxa.
The Alhambra reveals but half its charm to the casual visitor. I know, of my own experience, how far custom is from staling its infinite variety, how its beauty increases as day by day one watches the play of light and shadow on its walls, as day by day one yields to the indolent dreams for which it was built. There was one summer when, all through July and August, its halls and courts gave me shelter from the burning, blinding sunshine of Andalusia, and the weeks in passing strengthened the spell that held me there. For Gautier, the place borrowed new loveliness from the one night he slept in the Court of Lions. But by day and night alike, it belonged to Irving; he saw it before it had degenerated into a disgracefully managed museum and annex to a bric-à-brac shop for the tourist; and he had heard all its stories, or had had time to invent them, before he was called away by his appointment to some useless and unnecessary diplomatic post at the American Legation in London.
The book was not published until more than two years later (1832). Irving, though a hack in a manner, had too much self-respect to rush into print on the slightest provocation. Colburn and Bentley were his English publishers, their edition preceding by a few months the American, brought out by Lea and Carey of Philadelphia. The same year saw two further issues in Paris, one by Galignani, and the other in Baudry's Foreign Library, as well as a French translation from the house of Fournier. The success of The Alhambra was immediate. De Musset and Victor Hugo had left the great public in France as indifferent as ever to the land beyond the Pyrenees. Irving raised a storm of popular applause in England and America, where, of a sudden, he made Spain, which the Romanticists would have snatched as their spoils, the prey of the "bourgeois" they despised. Nor was it the general public only that applauded. There were few literary men in England who did not welcome the book with delight.
I think to-day, without suspicion of disloyalty, one may wonder a little at this success. Certainly, in its first edition, The Alhambra is crude and stilted, though, to compare it with the pompous trash which Roscoe published three years afterward, as text for the drawings of David Roberts, is to see in it a masterpiece. Irving, more critical than his readers, knew it needed revision. "It is generally labour lost," he said once in a letter to Alexander Everett, "to attempt to improve a book that has already made its impression on the public." Nevertheless, The Alhambra was all but re-written in 1857, when he was preparing a complete edition of his works for Putnam, the New York publisher, and it gained enormously in the process. It was not so much by the addition of new chapters, or the re-arrangement of the old; but rather by the changes made in the actual text – the light touch of local colour here, and there the rounding of a period, the developing of an incident. For example "The Journey," so gay and vivacious in the final version, was, at first, but a bare statement of facts, with no space for the little adventures by the way: the rest at the old mill near Seville; the glimpses of Archidona, Antiquero, Osuna, names that lend picturesque value to the ride; the talk and story-telling in the inn at Loxa. Another change, less commendable, is the omission from the late editions of the dedication to Wilkie. It was a pleasant tribute to the British painter, who, with several of his fellows – Lewis and Roberts – was carried away by that wave of Orientalism which sent the French Marilhat and Decamps, Fromentin and Delacroix to the East, and had not yet spent its force in the time of Regnault. The dedication was well-written, kindly, appreciative: an amiable reminder of the rambles the two men had taken together in Toledo and Seville, and the interest they had shared in the beauty left by the Moor to mark his passage through the land both were learning to love. As a memorial to the friendship between author and artist, it could less well have been spared than any one of the historical chapters that go to swell the volume.
Even in the revised edition it would be easy to belittle Irving's achievement, now that it is the fashion to disparage him as author. Certainly, The Alhambra has none of the splendid melodrama of Borrow's Bible in Spain, none of the picturesqueness of Gautier's record. It is very far from being that "something in the Haroun Alraschid style," with dash of Arabian spice, which Wilkie had urged him to make it. Nor are its faults wholly negative. It has its moments of dulness. It abounds in repetitions. Certain adjectives recur with a pertinacity that irritates. The Vega is blooming, the battle is bloody, the Moorish maiden is beauteous far more than once too often. Worse still, descriptions are duplicated, practically the same passage reappearing again and again, as if for the sake of padding, or else as the mere babble of the easy writer. Indeed, many of the purely historical chapters have been crowded in so obviously because they happened to be at hand, and he without better means to dispose of them, and then scattered discreetly, that there is less hesitation in omitting them altogether from the present edition. An edited Tom Jones, a bowdlerized Shakespeare may be an absurdity. But to drop certain chapters from The Alhambra is simply to anticipate the reader in the act of skipping. There is no loss, since all important facts and descriptions are given more graphically and entertainingly elsewhere in the book.
Perhaps it may seem injudicious to introduce a new edition of so popular a work by pointing out its defects. But one can afford to be honest about Irving. The Alhambra might have more serious blemishes, and its charm would still survive triumphantly the test of the harshest criticism. For, whatever subtlety, whatever elegance Irving's style may lack, it is always distinguished by that something which, for want of a better name, is called charm – a quality always as difficult to define as Lowell thought when he found it in verse or in perfume. But there it is in all Washington Irving wrote: a clue to the lavish praise of his contemporaries – of Coleridge, who pronounced The Conquest of Granada a chef d'œuvre, and Campbell, who believed he had added clarity to the English tongue; of Byron and Scott and Southey; of Dickens, whose pockets were at one time filled with Irving's books worn to tatters; of Thackeray, who likened the American to Goldsmith, describing him as "one of the most charming masters of our lighter language."
Much of this power to please is due, no doubt, to the simplicity and sincerity of Irving's style at its best. Despite a tendency to diffuseness, despite a fancy for the ornate, when there is a story to be told, he can be as simple and straightforward as the child's "Once upon a time," with which he begins many a tale: appropriately, since the legends of the Alhambra are but stories for grown-up children. And there is no question of the sincerity of his love for everything savouring of romance. For that matter, it is seldom that he does not mean what he says and does not say it so truly with his whole heart, that you are convinced, where you distrust the emotion of De Amicis, pumping up tears of admiration before the wrong thing, or of Maurice Barrès seeing all Spain through a haze of blood, voluptuousness, and death. It was the strength of his feeling for the Alhambra that led Irving to write in its praise, not the desire to write that manufactured the feeling. Humour and sentiment some of his critics have thought the predominant traits of his writing, as of his character. It is a fortunate combination: his sentiment, though it often threatens, seldom overflows into gush, kept within bounds as it is by the sense of humour that so rarely fails him. His power of observation was of still greater service. He could use his eyes. He could see things for himself. And he was quick to detect character. Occasionally one finds him slipping. In his landscape, the purple mountains of Alhama rise wherever he considers them most effective in the picture; and the snow considerately never melts from the slopes of the Sierra Nevada, which I have seen all brown at midsummer. He could look only through the magnifying glass of tradition at the hand and key on the Gate of Justice: symbols so gigantic in fiction, so insignificant in fact that one might miss them altogether, did not every book, paper, and paragraph, every cadging, swindling tout – I mean guide – in Granada bid one look for them. But these are minor discrepancies. In essentials, his observation never played him false. There may not be a single passage to equal in force and brilliance Gautier's wonderful description of the bull-fight at Malaga; but his impressions were so clear, his record of them so faithful, that the effect of his book remains, while the accomplishment of a finer artist in words may be remembered but vaguely. It is Irving who prepares one best for the stern grandeur and rugged solemnity of the country between Seville and Granada. The journey can now be made by rail. But to travel by road as he did – as we have done – is to know that his arid mountains and savage passes are no more exaggerated than the pleasant valleys and plains that lie between. For Spain is not all gaiety as most travellers would like to imagine it, as most painters have painted it, save Daumier in his pictures of Don Quixote among the barren hills of La Mancha. And if nothing in Granada and the Alhambra can be quite unexpected, it is because one has seen it all beforehand with Irving, from the high Tower of Comares and the windows of the Hall of Ambassadors, or else, following him through the baths and mosque and courts of the silent Palace, crossing the ravine to the cooler gardens of the Generalife, and climbing the Albaycin to the white church upon its summit.
There have been many changes in the Alhambra since Irving's day. The Court of Lions lost in loveliness when the roses with which he saw it filled were uprooted. The desertion he found had more picturesqueness than the present restoration and pretence of orderliness. Irving was struck with the efforts which the then Commander, Don Francisco de Serna, was making to keep the Palace in a state of repair and to arrest its too certain decay. Had the predecessors of De Serna, he thought, discharged the duties of their station with equal fidelity, the Alhambra might have been still almost as the Moor, or at least Spanish royalty had left it. What would he say, one wonders, to the Alhambra under its present management? Frank neglect is often less an evil than sham zeal. The student, watched, badgered, oppressed by red-tapeism, has not gained by official vigilance; nor is the Palace the more secure because responsibility has been transferred from a pleasant gossiping old woman to half a dozen indolent guides. The burnt roof in the ante-chamber to the Hall of Ambassadors shows the carelessness of which the new officers can be guilty; the matches and cigarette ends with which courts and halls are strewn explain that so eloquent a warning has been in vain. And if the restorer has been let loose in the Alhambra, at the Generalife there is an Italian proprietor, eager, it would seem, to initiate the somnolent Spaniard into the brisker ways of Young Italy. Cypresses, old as Zoraïde, have already been cut down ruthlessly along that once unrivalled avenue, and their destruction, one fears, is but the beginning of the end.
But whatever changes the past sixty years have brought about in Granada, the popularity of Irving's book has not weakened with time. Not Ford, nor Murray, nor Hare has been able to replace it. The tourist reads it within the walls it commemorates as conscientiously as the devout read Ruskin in Florence. It serves as text book in the Court of Lions and the Garden of Lindaraxa. It is the student's manual in the high mirador of the Sultanas and the court of the mosque where Fortuny painted. In a Spanish translation it is pressed upon you almost as you cross the threshold. Irving's rooms in the Palace are always locked, that the guide may get an extra fee for opening – as a special favour – an apartment which half the people ask to see. As the steamers "Rip Van Winkle" and "Knickerbocker" ply up and down the Hudson, so the Hotel Washington Irving rises under the shadow of the Alhambra. Even the spirits and spooks that haunt every grove and garden are all of his creation, as Spaniards themselves will be quick to tell you; though who Irving – or, in their familiar speech, "Vashington" – was, but very few of them could explain. And thus his name has become so closely associated with the place that, just as Diedrich Knickerbocker will be remembered while New York stands, so Washington Irving cannot be forgotten so long as the Red Palace looks down upon the Vega and the tradition of the Moor lingers in Granada.
Elizabeth Robins Pennell.
In the spring of 1829, the author of this work, whom curiosity had brought into Spain, made a rambling expedition from Seville to Granada in company with a friend, a member of the Russian Embassy at Madrid. Accident had thrown us together from distant regions of the globe and a similarity of taste led us to wander together among the romantic mountains of Andalusia.
And here, before setting forth, let me indulge in a few previous remarks on Spanish scenery and Spanish travelling. Many are apt to picture Spain to their imaginations as a soft southern region, decked out with the luxuriant charms of voluptuous Italy. On the contrary, though there are exceptions in some of the maritime provinces, yet, for the greater part, it is a stern, melancholy country, with rugged mountains, and long sweeping plains, destitute of trees, and indescribably silent and lonesome, partaking of the savage and solitary character of Africa. What adds to this silence and loneliness, is the absence of singing-birds, a natural consequence of the want of groves and hedges. The vulture and the eagle are seen wheeling about the mountain-cliffs, and soaring over the plains, and groups of shy bustards stalk about the heaths; but the myriads of smaller birds, which animate the whole face of other countries, are met with in but few provinces in Spain, and in those chiefly among the orchards and gardens which surround the habitations of man.
In the interior provinces the traveller occasionally traverses great tracts cultivated with grain as far as the eye can reach, waving at times with verdure, at other times naked and sunburnt, but he looks round in vain for the hand that has tilled the soil. At length he perceives some village on a steep hill, or rugged crag, with mouldering battlements and ruined watch-tower: a stronghold, in old times, against civil war, or Moorish inroad: for the custom among the peasantry of congregating together for mutual protection is still kept up in most parts of Spain, in consequence of the maraudings of roving freebooters.
But though a great part of Spain is deficient in the garniture of groves and forests, and the softer charms of ornamental cultivation, yet its scenery is noble in its severity and in unison with the attributes of its people; and I think that I better understand the proud, hardy, frugal, and abstemious Spaniard, his manly defiance of hardships, and contempt of effeminate indulgences, since I have seen the country he inhabits.
There is something, too, in the sternly simple features of the Spanish landscape, that impresses on the soul a feeling of sublimity. The immense plains of the Castiles and of La Mancha, extending as far as the eye can reach, derive an interest from their very nakedness and immensity, and possess, in some degree, the solemn grandeur of the ocean. In ranging over these boundless wastes, the eye catches sight here and there of a straggling herd of cattle attended by a lonely herdsman, motionless as a statue, with his long slender pike tapering up like a lance into the air; or beholds a long train of mules slowly moving along the waste like a train of camels in the desert; or a single horseman, armed with blunderbuss and stiletto, and prowling over the plain. Thus the country, the habits, the very looks of the people, have something of the Arabian character. The general insecurity of the country is evinced in the universal use of weapons. The herdsman in the field, the shepherd in the plain, has his musket and his knife. The wealthy villager rarely ventures to the market-town without his trabuco, and, perhaps, a servant on foot with a blunderbuss on his shoulder; and the most petty journey is undertaken with the preparation of a warlike enterprise.
The dangers of the road produce also a mode of travelling resembling, on a diminutive scale, the caravans of the East. The arrieros, or carriers, congregate in convoys, and set off in large and well-armed trains on appointed days; while additional travellers swell their number, and contribute to their strength. In this primitive way is the commerce of the country carried on. The muleteer is the general medium of traffic, and the legitimate traverser of the land, crossing the peninsula from the Pyrenees and the Asturias to the Alpuxarras, the Serrania de Ronda, and even to the gates of Gibraltar. He lives frugally and hardily: his alforjas of coarse cloth hold his scanty stock of provisions; a leathern bottle, hanging at his saddle-bow, contains wine or water, for a supply across barren mountains and thirsty plains; a mule-cloth spread upon the ground is his bed at night, and his pack-saddle his pillow. His low, but clean-limbed and sinewy form betokens strength; his complexion is dark and sunburnt; his eye resolute, but quiet in its expression, except when kindled by sudden emotion; his demeanour is frank, manly, and courteous, and he never passes you without a grave salutation: "Dios guarde à usted!" "Va usted con Dios, Caballero!" "God guard you!" "God be with you, Cavalier!"
As these men have often their whole fortune at stake upon the burden of their mules, they have their weapons at hand, slung to their saddles, and ready to be snatched out for desperate defence; but their united numbers render them secure against petty bands of marauders, and the solitary bandolero, armed to the teeth, and mounted on his Andalusian steed, hovers about them, like a pirate about a merchant convoy, without daring to assault.
The Spanish muleteer has an inexhaustible stock of songs and ballads, with which to beguile his incessant wayfaring. The airs are rude and simple, consisting of but few inflections. These he chants forth with a loud voice, and long, drawling cadence, seated sideways on his mule, who seems to listen with infinite gravity, and to keep time, with his paces, to the tune. The couplets thus chanted are often old traditional romances about the Moors, or some legend of a saint, or some love-ditty; or, what is still more frequent, some ballad about a bold contrabandista, or hardy bandolero, for the smuggler and the robber are poetical heroes among the common people of Spain. Often, the song of the muleteer is composed at the instant, and relates to some local scene, or some incident of the journey. This talent of singing and improvising is frequent in Spain, and is said to have been inherited from the Moors. There is something wildly pleasing in listening to these ditties among the rude and lonely scenes they illustrate; accompanied, as they are, by the occasional jingle of the mule-bell.
It has a most picturesque effect also to meet a train of muleteers in some mountain-pass. First you hear the bells of the leading mules, breaking with their simple melody the stillness of the airy height; or, perhaps, the voice of the muleteer admonishing some tardy or wandering animal, or chanting, at the full stretch of his lungs, some traditionary ballad. At length you see the mules slowly winding along the cragged defile, sometimes descending precipitous cliffs, so as to present themselves in full relief against the sky, sometimes toiling up the deep arid chasms below you. As they approach, you descry their gay decorations of worsted stuffs, tassels, and saddle-cloths, while, as they pass by, the ever ready trabuco, slung behind the packs and saddles, gives a hint of the insecurity of the road.
The ancient kingdom of Granada, into which we were about to penetrate, is one of the most mountainous regions of Spain. Vast sierras, or chains of mountains, destitute of shrub or tree, and mottled with variegated marbles and granites, elevate their sunburnt summits against a deep-blue sky; yet in their rugged bosoms lie ingulfed verdant and fertile valleys, where the desert and the garden strive for mastery, and the very rock is, as it were, compelled to yield the fig, the orange, and the citron, and to blossom with the myrtle and the rose.
In the wild passes of these mountains the sight of walled towns and villages, built like eagles' nests among the cliffs, and surrounded by Moorish battlements, or of ruined watch-towers perched on lofty peaks, carries the mind back to the chivalric days of Christian and Moslem warfare, and to the romantic struggle for the conquest of Granada. In traversing these lofty sierras the traveller is often obliged to alight, and lead his horse up and down the steep and jagged ascents and descents, resembling the broken steps of a staircase. Sometimes the road winds along dizzy precipices, without parapet to guard him from the gulfs below, and then will plunge down steep and dark and dangerous declivities. Sometimes it struggles through rugged barrancos, or ravines, worn by winter torrents, the obscure path of the contrabandista; while, ever and anon, the ominous cross, the monument of robbery and murder, erected on a mound of stones at some lonely part of the road, admonishes the traveller that he is among the haunts of banditti, perhaps at that very moment under the eye of some lurking bandolero. Sometimes, in winding through the narrow valleys, he is startled by a hoarse bellowing, and beholds above him on some green fold of the mountain a herd of fierce Andalusian bulls, destined for the combat of the arena. I have felt, if I may so express it, an agreeable horror in thus contemplating, near at hand, these terrific animals, clothed with tremendous strength, and ranging their native pastures in untamed wildness, strangers almost to the face of man: they know no one but the solitary herdsman who attends upon them, and even he at times dares not venture to approach them. The low bellowing of these bulls, and their menacing aspect as they look down from their rocky height, give additional wildness to the savage scenery.
I have been betrayed unconsciously into a longer disquisition than I intended on the general features of Spanish travelling; but there is a romance about all the recollections of the Peninsula dear to the imagination.
As our proposed route to Granada lay through mountainous regions, where the roads are little better than mule-paths, and said to be frequently beset by robbers, we took due travelling precautions. Forwarding the most valuable part of our luggage a day or two in advance by the arrieros, we retained merely clothing and necessaries for the journey and money for the expenses of the road; with a little surplus of hard dollars by way of robber purse, to satisfy the gentlemen of the road should we be assailed. Unlucky is the too wary traveller who, having grudged this precaution, falls into their clutches empty-handed; they are apt to give him a sound rib-roasting for cheating them out of their dues. "Caballeros like them cannot afford to scour the roads and risk the gallows for nothing."
A couple of stout steeds were provided for our own mounting, and a third for our scanty luggage and the conveyance of a sturdy Biscayan lad, about twenty years of age, who was to be our guide, our groom, our valet, and at all times our guard. For the latter office he was provided with a formidable trabuco or carbine, with which he promised to defend us against rateros or solitary foot-pads; but as to powerful bands, like that of the "Sons of Ecija," he confessed they were quite beyond his prowess. He made much vainglorious boast about his weapon at the outset of the journey; though, to the discredit of his generalship, it was suffered to hang unloaded behind his saddle.
According to our stipulations, the man from whom we hired the horses was to be at the expense of their feed and stabling on the journey, as well as of the maintenance of our Biscayan squire, who of course was provided with funds for the purpose; we took care, however, to give the latter a private hint, that, though we made a close bargain with his master, it was all in his favour, as, if he proved a good man and true, both he and the horses should live at our cost, and the money provided for their maintenance remain in his pocket. This unexpected largess, with the occasional present of a cigar, won his heart completely. He was, in truth, a faithful, cheery, kind-hearted creature, as full of saws and proverbs as that miracle of squires, the renowned Sancho himself, whose name, by the by, we bestowed upon him, and, like a true Spaniard, though treated by us with companionable familiarity, he never for a moment, in his utmost hilarity, overstepped the bounds of respectful decorum.
Such were our minor preparations for the journey, but above all we laid in an ample stock of good-humour, and a genuine disposition to be pleased; determining to travel in true contrabandista style; taking things as we found them, rough or smooth, and mingling with all classes and conditions in a kind of vagabond companionship. It is the true way to travel in Spain. With such disposition and determination, what a country is it for a traveller, where the most miserable inn is as full of adventure as an enchanted castle, and every meal is in itself an achievement! Let others repine at the lack of turnpike roads and sumptuous hotels, and all the elaborate comforts of a country cultivated and civilised into tameness and commonplace; but give me the rude mountain scramble; the roving, hap-hazard, wayfaring; the half wild, yet frank and hospitable manners, which impart such a true game-flavour to dear old romantic Spain!
Thus equipped and attended, we cantered out of "Fair Seville city" at half-past six in the morning of a bright May day, in company with a lady and gentleman of our acquaintance, who rode a few miles with us, in the Spanish mode of taking leave. Our route lay through old Alcala de Guadaira (Alcala on the river Aira), the benefactress of Seville, that supplies it with bread and water. Here live the bakers who furnish Seville with that delicious bread for which it is renowned; here are fabricated those roscas well known by the well-merited appellation of pan de Dios (bread of God); with which, by the way, we ordered our man, Sancho, to stock his alforjas for the journey. Well has this beneficent little city been denominated the "Oven of Seville"; well has it been called Alcala de los Panaderos (Alcala of the bakers), for a great part of its inhabitants by lines of mules and donkeys laden with great panniers of loaves and roscas.
I have said Alcala supplies Seville with water. Here are great tanks or reservoirs, of Roman and Moorish construction, whence water is conveyed to Seville by noble aqueducts. The springs of Alcala are almost as much vaunted as its ovens; and to the lightness, sweetness, and purity of its water is attributed in some measure the delicacy of its bread.
Here we halted for a time, at the ruins of the old Moorish castle, a favourite resort for picnic parties from Seville, where we had passed many a pleasant hour. The walls are of great extent, pierced with loopholes; enclosing a huge square tower or keep, with the remains of masmoras, or subterranean granaries. The Guadaira winds its stream round the hill, at the foot of these ruins, whimpering among reeds, rushes, and pond-lilies, and overhung with rhododendron, eglantine, yellow myrtle, and a profusion of wild flowers and aromatic shrubs; while along its banks are groves of oranges, citrons, and pomegranates, among which we heard the early note of the nightingale.
A picturesque bridge was thrown across the little river, at one end of which was the ancient Moorish mill of the castle, defended by a tower of yellow stone; a fisherman's net hung against the wall to dry, and hard by in the river was his boat; a group of peasant women in bright-coloured dresses, crossing the arched bridge, were reflected in the placid stream. Altogether it was an admirable scene for a landscape-painter.
The old Moorish mills, so often found on secluded streams, are characteristic objects in Spanish landscape, and suggestive of the perilous times of old. They are of stone, and often in the form of towers with loopholes and battlements, capable of defence in those warlike days when the country on both sides of the border was subject to sudden inroad and hasty ravage, and when men had to labour with their weapons at hand, and some place of temporary refuge.
Our next halting-place was at Gandul, where were the remains of another Moorish castle, with its ruined tower, a nestling-place for storks, and commanding a view over a vast campiña or fertile plain, with the mountains of Ronda in the distance. These castles were strongholds to protect the plains from the talas or forays to which they were subject, when the fields of corn would be laid waste, the flocks and herds swept from the vast pastures, and, together with captive peasantry, hurried off in long cavalgadas across the borders.
At Gandul we found a tolerable posada; the good folks could not tell us what time of day it was, the clock only struck once in the day, two hours after noon; until that time it was guess-work. We guessed it was full time to eat; so, alighting, we ordered a repast. While that was in preparation, we visited the palace once the residence of the Marquis of Gandul. All was gone to decay; there were but two or three rooms habitable, and very poorly furnished. Yet here were the remains of grandeur: a terrace, where fair dames and gentle cavaliers may once have walked; a fish-pond and ruined garden, with grape-vines and date-bearing palm-trees. Here we were joined by a fat curate, who gathered a bouquet of roses, and presented it, very gallantly, to the lady who accompanied us.
Below the palace was the mill, with orange-trees and aloes in front, and a pretty stream of pure water. We took a seat in the shade; and the millers, all leaving their work, sat down and smoked with us; for the Andalusians are always ready for a gossip. They were waiting for the regular visit of the barber, who came once a week to put all their chins in order. He arrived shortly afterwards: a lad of seventeen, mounted on a donkey, eager to display his new alforjas or saddle-bags, just bought at a fair; price one dollar, to be paid on St. John's day (in June), by which time he trusted to have mown beards enough to put him in funds.
By the time the laconic clock of the castle had struck two we had finished our dinner. So, taking leave of our Seville friends, and leaving the millers still under the hands of the barber, we set off on our ride across the campiña. It was one of those vast plains, common in Spain, where for miles and miles there is neither house nor tree. Unlucky the traveller who has to traverse it, exposed as we were to heavy and repeated showers of rain. There is no escape nor shelter. Our only protection was our Spanish cloaks, which nearly covered man and horse, but grew heavier every mile. By the time we had lived through one shower we would see another slowly but inevitably approaching; fortunately in the interval there would be an outbreak of bright, warm, Andalusian sunshine, which would make our cloaks send up wreaths of steam, but which partially dried them before the next drenching.
Shortly after sunset we arrived at Arahal, a little town among the hills. We found it in a bustle with a party of miquelets, who were patrolling the country to ferret out robbers. The appearance of foreigners like ourselves was an unusual circumstance in an interior country town; and little Spanish towns of the kind are easily put in a state of gossip and wonderment by such an occurrence. Mine host, with two or three old wise-acre comrades in brown cloaks, studied our passports in a corner of the posada, while an Alguazil took notes by the dim light of a lamp. The passports were in foreign languages and perplexed them, but our Squire Sancho assisted them in their studies, and magnified our importance with the grandiloquence of a Spaniard. In the meantime the magnificent distribution of a few cigars had won the hearts of all around us; in a little while the whole community seemed put in agitation to make us welcome. The Corregidor himself waited upon us, and a great rush-bottomed arm-chair was ostentatiously bolstered into our room by our landlady, for the accommodation of that important personage. The commander of the patrol took supper with us: a lively, talking, laughing Andaluz, who had made a campaign in South America, and recounted his exploits in love and war with much pomp of phrase, vehemence of gesticulation, and mysterious rolling of the eye. He told us that he had a list of all the robbers in the country, and meant to ferret out every mother's son of them; he offered us at the same time some of his soldiers as an escort. "One is enough to protect you, señors; the robbers know me, and know my men; the sight of one is enough to spread terror through a whole sierra." We thanked him for his offer, but assured him, in his own strain, that with the protection of our redoubtable squire, Sancho, we were not afraid of all the ladrones of Andalusia.
While we were supping with our drawcansir friend, we heard the notes of a guitar, and the click of castanets, and presently a chorus of voices singing a popular air. In fact, mine host had gathered together the amateur singers and musicians, and the rustic belles of the neighbourhood, and, on going forth, the court-yard or patio of the inn presented a scene of true Spanish festivity. We took our seats with mine host and hostess and the commander of the patrol, under an archway opening into the court; the guitar passed from hand to hand, but a jovial shoemaker was the Orpheus of the place. He was a pleasant-looking fellow, with huge black whiskers; his sleeves were rolled up to his elbows. He touched the guitar with masterly skill, and sang a little amorous ditty with an expressive leer at the women, with whom he was evidently a favourite. He afterwards danced a fandango with a buxom Andalusian damsel, to the great delight of the spectators. But none of the females present could compare with mine host's pretty daughter, Pepita, who had slipped away and made her toilette for the occasion and had covered her head with roses; and who distinguished herself in a bolero with a handsome young dragoon. We ordered our host to let wine and refreshment circulate freely among the company, yet, though there was a motley assembly of soldiers, muleteers, and villagers, no one exceeded the bounds of sober enjoyment. The scene was a study for a painter: the picturesque group of dancers, the troopers in their half military dresses, the peasantry wrapped in their brown cloaks; nor must I omit to mention the old meagre Alguazil, in a short black cloak, who took no notice of anything going on, but sat in a corner diligently writing by the dim light of a huge copper lamp, that might have figured in the days of Don Quixote.
The following morning was bright and balmy, as a May morning ought to be, according to the poets. Leaving Arahal at seven o'clock, with all the posada at the door to cheer us off, we pursued our way through a fertile country, covered with grain and beautifully verdant; but which in summer, when the harvest is over and the fields parched and brown, must be monotonous and lonely; for, as in our ride of yesterday, there were neither houses nor people to be seen. The latter all congregate in villages and strongholds among the hills, as if these fertile plains were still subject to the ravages of the Moor.
At noon we came to where there was a group of trees, beside a brook in a rich meadow. Here we alighted to make our mid-day meal. It was really a luxurious spot, among wild flowers and aromatic herbs, with birds singing around us. Knowing the scanty larders of Spanish inns, and the houseless tracts we might have to traverse, we had taken care to have the alforjas of our squire well stocked with cold provisions, and his bota, or leathern bottle, which might hold a gallon, filled to the neck with choice Valdepeñas wine.[1 - It may be as well to note here, that the alforjas are square pockets at each end of a long cloth about a foot and a half wide, formed by turning up its extremities. The cloth is then thrown over the saddle, and the pockets hang on each side like saddle-bags. It is an Arab invention. The bota is a leathern bag or bottle, of portly dimensions, with a narrow neck. It is also Oriental. Hence the scriptural caution which perplexed me in my boyhood, not to put new wine into old bottles.] As we depended more upon these for our well-being than even his trabuco, we exhorted him to be more attentive in keeping them well charged; and I must do him the justice to say that his namesake, the trencher-loving Sancho Panza, was never a more provident purveyor. Though the alforjas and the bota were frequently and vigorously assailed throughout the journey, they had a wonderful power of repletion, our vigilant squire sacking everything that remained from our repasts at the inns to supplying these junketings by the road-side, which were his delight.
On the present occasion he spread quite a sumptuous variety of remnants on the greensward before us, graced with an excellent ham brought from Seville; then, taking his seat at a little distance, he solaced himself with what remained in the alforjas. A visit or two to the bota made him as merry and chirruping as a grasshopper filled with dew. On my comparing his contents of the alforjas to Sancho's skimming of the flesh-pots at the wedding of Camacho, I found he was well versed in the history of Don Quixote, but, like many of the common people of Spain, firmly believed it to be a true history.
"All that happened a long time ago, Señor," said he, with an inquiring look.
"A very long time," I replied.
"I dare say more than a thousand years," – still looking dubiously.