« PreviousContinue »
part of the public burthens from the shoulders of those who can evade the monopoly to the shoulders of those who cannot.
There is still a strong hold left to the supporters of the usury laws: the repeal will be an innovation, say they, and nobody can tell what will be the consequence, till it has been tried. The objection is inapplicable, because the laws may be restored at any time, if their abrogation should be found mischievous. Innovations which give new rights may be dangerous, because it may not be safe or practicable to take away such rights when once given, however urgently the general good may require it: but the removal of these restraints will neither evititle nor empower any man or set of men to resist the restoration of them whenever it shall seem good to the legislature. There is then, as it seems to us, no good reason for maintaining the usury laws. They are neither necessary nor effectual for the prevention of fraud; they are not advantageous to the government; they are positively injurious to all classes of the people, to which their operation extends.
Art. VIII.- Don Esteban, or Memoirs of a Spaniard, written
by himself. In three volumes, 8vo. London. 1825. THAT a Spaniard has furnished a part of the materials of
this work cannot be doubted; but that every thing which the author relates is to be considered as simple matter of fact, with the sole exception of those names which he has assigned to the parties figuring in the merely biographical part of his story,' is an assertion which no attentive reader will credit. Whatever there is of truth in these volumes has been foisted into a tale, which we are strongly inclined to attribute to some one of our English third-rate Novel writers.
But even in those portions of the book, in which we discover the hand of a native, there is a something inexplicable to the Spanish scholar, who has studied the manners and habits of Spaniards in their own country. The national features are certainly there; but so distorted, so like a portrait attempted by an unskilful painter, half from recollection, half from description, that we confess we are at a loss to conjecture the whole truth as to the stock and parentage of this work. In the first place, many of the Spanish words, of which there is an affected display, are mangled in a manner which it seems scarcely possible to attribute to the hand of a native; and blunders perpetually occur, betraying that half knowledge of a language, which is sure to mislead the possessor, whenever he is determined to be exceedingly accurate. The word Calatayud, for instance, is spelt Calataguz,
as if the writer had forgotten the guttural sound of g before u, and thought himself a perfect Castilian by substituting a z for the final d. In another place, the inhabitants of Cadiz are called Caditans; from which we suspect that the writer failed to catch the sound of the G in the true Spanish word Gaditanos, which preserves it from the Latin Gades. It is inconceivable how a Spaniard could have supposed that Pero Botero, a synonime of Old Nick, could be translated literally, Swearing Peter, taking Botero for Votero, and imagining that the word, thus altered, can be derived from Voto, an oath. Botero, in fact, comes from Bota, a skin-bottle, the makers of which, being obliged to use a great quantity of melted pitch, and looking not much whiter than our chimney sweepers, have, unhappily for the honour of the trade, exposed their workshops to be made the emblems of the infernal regions.—The measure of the short verses of seven and of eight syllables is so'familiar to the Spanish ear, that the most illiterate natives, and even mere children, never fail to discover a halting line. Yet, in a quotation from the modern poet Cienfuegos, we find the following stanza.
O quanta dulce imagen
Quiere decirlas, y calla. The last verse exceeds the measure by a syllable; and the pronoun las, in decirlas, which has caused the mischief, is evidently added by a person, who, misguided by his grammar, and unchecked by his ear, has missed the delicate idiom of the poet. The true reading is Quiere decir, y calla.t If a Spaniard inserted these verses he must have quitted his country at an early age. No other supposition can, indeed, reconcile the existence in the work of much that must have come from a native, mixed with inaccuracies and mistakes, which no native but a child could have made. There is scarcely a description of manners and customs in the book, which we could not quote in proof of this assertion. The account of the vintage, at the beginning of the work, is, we believe, the only exception; and that attributable perhaps to the circumstance that the author was familiar with it in his boyhood.
One of the sketches nearest to nature is that of a talkative Andalusian muleteer; and yet part of it is so exaggerated, that were it translated into Spanish, the Andalusians would be inclined to suspect its having come from the hand of some of the English officers, who during the Peninsular war often amused them with their efforts to understand and assume the peculiar humour of the province. When touching upon church matters, Don Esteban is sure to blunder, in a manner which, without showing complete ignorance, betrays a very imperfect recollection of things, which, had he grown up in Spain, he must have known thoroughly, though a layman. What Spaniard could imagine that an ancient image of the Virgin was washed and scoured to take out the dark colour, which age and the lamps had given it; or thiat the priest of a country town, removing the pix with the consecrated host from the danger of profanation, on the approach of the French, would have put it into the hands of one of the Guerrilla men, who protected the flight? Such a privilege is not allowed even to a clergymnan in sub-deacon's orders. The priest, in the case imagined by Don Esteban, evidently for the sake of a picturesque sketch, would have consumed all the consecrated wafers, or carried them in his own bosom.
It may not be unacceptable to some of our readers to learn, by the way, that the old English appellation Cales for Cadis was derived from Calis, the name given to that town in the Chronicle of Don Pedro Niño.
+ It is corious that, in a Paris edition of Cienfuegos, the same verse is altered into Quiere decira, y calla, which preserves the measure by the absence of the s; the two rowels a and 'y being in that case pronounced together. We should infer from this circumstance tiat the Paris editor, though not a good scholar, was a native Spaniard. whose ear was his chief guide.
translated Romer is derived, we believe, from Romero, a pilgrim bound to Rome. As by means of the system of indulgences the merit and spiritual benefits of visiting Rome in person, were often conferred by the pope on such as performed certain devotions before some image or shrine which the monks wished to bring into notice, the short jaunt to a convent or hermitage was probably dignified at an early period with the name of a journey to Rome; or, what is more likely, pilgrimages in Spain took the name of those devotional journeys which were most frequent. It should be also remembered that pilgrims to the Iloly Land, generally, if not universally, took Bome in their way.
The account of a Romeria,* or annual visit, to some country sanctuary, though prettily told, appears to us to be taken partly from hearsay and partly from imperfect remembrance.
* All along the fertile plain, at the foot of the hermitage, groups of persons were seen lying on the ground, with their fiambre (cold ineai) and botas (borrachios) of wine before them, singing, laughing, and playing all kinds of tricks, all ranks, ages and sexes huddled together, with a cordiality characteristic only of the Spanish nation. There might be seen persons of the true-blue blood, slighting all etiquette, and offering part of their provisions to the plebeian, who, sensible of the honour, sati bimself down to eat with them, and treated them with a joke, or some witty story of his own invention; while the handicraftsman politely offered his bota to the hidalgo, both rendering common. what each had brought for his family and friends,
All this is well enough, though there is some exaggeration as to the primitive familiarity with which the picture is coloured. As for the church festivals, the gigantic dancing figures, and the procession which he describes in another part, we think he has borrowed the materials from books already in the hands of the
public. It would indeed be no difficult matter to trace Don Esteban, in this as in many other places, to the stores from which he has taken detached pieces for his patchwork, or to detect the mistakes he has made in the act of appropriation; such as the attributing the elegant language of the fan, to the Manolas of Madrid—the coarsest, lowest, and most disgusting of the Spanish females:--and the transferring to the Prado of Madrid, all the peculiarities of the Alameda of Seville.
If we are to believe Don Esteban's account of the noisy and in general grossly offensive meetings of the Romerias, which he transforms into a kind of Arcadian festival, extemporaneous poems flow from the lips of half the company. The Spaniards, we are gravely told,' possess great readiness for poetry, and their talent for improvisation (which is quite equal to that of the Italians) is a source of much entertainment at these parties.' This is the mere exaggeration of national partiality. The number of these extempore poets was at all times very limited, and their performances generally of a nature to excite mirth at their own expense.
The custom itself of improvisation has been ridiculed and exploded in Spain, as any one who has read the History of Father Gerund will readily believe. But to state that
these natural versifiers compose, with the rapidity of thought, octavus and decimas, often all constructed on the same rhyme, and keep up poetical disputes, which might puzzle the most fertile and ingenious,'is pure unmeaning jargon, as groundless as the assertion that the Spaniards are not inferior to the Italians in readiness for poetical composition. The only mode of accounting for such outrageous mistatements is to suppose the union of an undue portion of national vanity with an utter ignorance of the peculiar difficulties which the Spanish language opposes to ready versification, and of the advantages possessed by the Italian.
It is far from being our wish to deter an industrious foreigner from attempting to obtain naturalization in our literature. The Spaniard who has written a part of Don Esteban does not appear deficient in talent, though his taste is still unrefined, and he wants the leading hand of acquired knowledge. We conceive that, by a longer residence in this country, a better acquaintance with our eminent writers, and the assistance of a higher description of literary advisers, than the whole conduct of his present work betrays, he may be able to rise above the busy and contemptible class of book-makers and every day novelists. But, before he can realize this hope, he must cure himself of the national defect, which of itself was sufficient to have spoiled the work before us: we mean that spirit of rhodomontade, that absolute inability to draw any object in its natural dimensions, to which the
Spaniards seem to be more subject in these their days of national wretchedness than even at the period of their dazzling and transient glory. This is the last resource of humbled pride, which, constantly forced to avoid reality, takes up its abode in the fancy, swelling and distorting its images for the sake of a vain gratification. It is a morbid symptom peculiar, we believe, to all retrograde nations, but most remarkably exbibited in the Spaniards.
If we observe the national tone of feeling, when it begins to appear under a growing and settling form, in the Spanish literature of the fifteenth century, we shall find it perfectly free from exaggeration, and quite in accordance with the sedate and dignified manner which Europe has, even to our own days, attributed to the Castilians. Juan de Mina, their chief poet, and the Chroniclers, their best prose writers of that period, though certainly deficient in genius, show talent, information, and that kind of taste which rejects and curtails more from timidity than refinement. To judge by them of the prevalent mental habits of the nation, (and no guides can be safer than books which have both led and reflected the public mind) the Spaniards of the fifteenth century, far from indulging imagination, seem to have laboured under a certain awkwardness and false modesty, having their powers more curbed and cramped by fear of what might be wrong and unseemly, than urged into free action by the hope and anticipation of any thing becoming and graceful. We are indeed inclined to believe, that as this was the period when the Castilian monarchy began to be better known in Europe, it was also the original from which the common notion of Spanish formality and reserve was derived.
During the rapid accession of power which, from the conclusion of the fifteenth to the middle of the seventeenth century, gave Spain her unnatural preponderance under Ferdinand V. and Charles his grandson, and till the unsteady foundations of that power gave way, almost at once, in the reign of Philip III., the Castilian literature exhibits a modification of the national feelings, exactly answering to the political circumstances of Spain. The shyness of misconceived propriety and decorum, the awkwardness of deep seated pride, afraid of ridicule, appear relieved by the assurance arising from national weight and importance; and the Spaniards of that time seem to feel that they may venture to be natural. Yet, if we except Cervantes, who was led by the unhesitating confidence of real genius, the Spanish writers seldom attempted to be original; as if the concentrated and cautious pride of the national character did not allow them to risk any thing that might expose their dignity, and determined them always to act by rule and precedent. The taste for elaborate VOL. XXXIII. NO. LXV.