There was a great bullfight, the first Sunday afternoon that we spent in Madrid. Of course we did not go to such a performance on Sunday. I do not think it would tempt me on any day, for I am not fond of cowardice and cruelty, which are the two prominent features of the performance. I have no special sympathy for the bull as an animal; but if I cared to see him dexterously killed, I would choose a brawny Chicago butcher, who hits the bull with his club, and hills him in a minute, in preference to the splendidly decorated iron-incased blackguards, called picadores and espadas, who worry the unfortunate animal for twenty minutes, allow him to disembowel a dozen horses, and then plunge a rapier into his heart, all for the amusement of a crowd of cowards, who, if the bull leaps the railing, as he sometimes does, run shrieking from his onset. All the advantage in the fight is on the side of the fighter; the bull is doomed from the moment that he enters the ring where mounted spearmen, and their attendant footmen, and the final slayers are leagued for his death. Sometimes a fierce bull makes havoc of the company, and this year seven men have been killed or maimed by being thrown against the sides of the ring; but in general only horses are killed. Six bulls were killed on the Sunday we were in Madrid, and twenty horses were either killed or mangled so that they had to be shot. No man was hurt, and the immense crowd that thronged the bull-ring, to see the cowardly cruelty, had the satisfaction of a gory spectacle without a particle of danger.
It has been said that the sight of the brilliant audience crowding the benches of the Plaza de Toros attracts the English and American visitors to the bull-fight. It does, no more and no less than the audience in any theatre or circus attracts itself. The foreigners who go in Spain to a bull-fight would go in England to a prize-fight, and in America to a base-ball game; and they would go in each case to see the game more than to see the people. The Spaniards attend the bull-fight, because they are educated to enjoy it; little Spanish boys play at a game in which one of their number personates the bull, and their mothers and fathers take them when young to the bull-ring. The habits and tastes of the people must be changed before this national amusement passes away, although it is so cowardly and cruel, and so hostile to civilization and Christianity.
It has been recently said that the bull-fights were declining in interest. Of course I cannot form a comparative estimate, for I have never been in Spain before; but I will describe Madrid on the Sunday afternoon of the bull-fight, and leave the reader to imagine what the interest must have been in former times, if this is “declining.” It was a bright and dry afternoon in Madrid, and the city was full of color. Flags waved from all the public buildings and hotels, and window-sills were covered with silk and velvet hangings. The shops were closed, except the cafes and cigar stores, and a vast crowd filled the streets. Hundreds of men in the Puerta del Sol, and the streets leading from it, were hawking programmes and tickets for the bull-fight, which was to take place in the great amphitheatre about four o’clock. Carriages were to be had only at the most exorbitant rates, and vehicles of every description were in great demand. “Not going to the bull-fight?” said the maid at the hotel to a lady of our party; “why, it is the greatest thing in Spain. Do get your father to take you.”All the ladies in the hotel were going, the ladies of the different embassies were to be among the spectators, the members of the Cortes and their wives, the best of the Madrilenos, perhaps also the worst, were to be there. As the afternoon advanced, the city became wild with excitement. The broad avenue leading to the Plaza de Toros began to be crowded with people. Thousands were on foot; men in companies of ten and twenty, all smoking cigarettes, and working-women carrying children or baskets with food and drink, boys as numerous as though the schools had suddenly been turned loose, swarmed up the avenue. All the railway omnibuses, tramcars, carts with extempore seats and drawn by two, four, six, eight, ten, and twelve horses or mules, were packed with men as thick as they could stand, and a few women in each. Some wagons were drawn by ponies and asses, covered with trappings and hung with bells. Hundreds of people were mounted, sometimes two or three on one horse or ass; and there were cabs with six people, and a driver sitting on the shafts or astride of the horse. This motley mass of animals was galloping and tearing along at a furious pace, drivers beating and encouraging their horses, the huge, unwieldy, and overloaded vehicles swaying dangerously from side to side, men yelling and waving canes and scarfs, women screaming with fright or excitement, and an army of mounted and armed police in uniform, successfully laboring to prevent accident and diminish danger.
Scattered through this moving mass were to be seen sometimes a long line of elegant carriages, sometimes a single superb equipage, with horses than which no finer exist in the world, and liveried servants, and gorgeously dressed ladies, beautiful to look upon, with their dark hair and eyes, and flashing jewels, and rich lace mantillas, and costly fans. Here and there was a “picador” incased in steel, which made his attitude on the horse that he rode stiff and ungainly, though over his steel he was clothed in velvet slashed with gold, and gayly trimmed leather trousers. On to the bull-fight they hurried, and rushed headlong in a wild, confused race, workmen, rowdies, ladies, horsemen, footmen, swells, noblemen and beggars, fifteen thousand people, the devil and all his host, in one grand jumble and melee.
For two hours Madrid seemed hushed to an unwonted quiet, the Prado was deserted, the Retiro was like a private garden, the broad avenues slept in the sunlight, except as the hose-men were making yellow mud of the deep dust which had gathered since morning. At six o’clock the scene had changed again. The six unflinching Andalusian bulls had been harried by the ” chulos ” and ” banderilleros ” with barbed darts and explosive arrows that wounded and tortured them, till the time came for the “espada ” to slay; they had been allowed to tear and gash the terrified and maddened horses till they fell, and were dragged from the arena, and now their turn had come suddenly with a stroke, and they have fallen one by one, pouring out their life-blood on the sand. While the thousands of spectators huzzaed, and the killer was idolized by the crowd, a splendid team of mules whirled the dead bulls out of the ring, and the tragedies were over for the day. The multitude returned to town-the fashionables to drive around and around for an hour in the promenade of the Retiro and then go to dinner, and the long evening of Spanish society in its ” tertulias ” and gayer assemblies, the lower class to gamble at dominos and cards in cafes and saloons, and the working-people to sleep in their dirty and smoke-scented dens. This is the bull-fight, as I saw it outside of the bull-ring on a Sunday in Madrid. There were others in Seville, at Cordova, and Granada while I was in Spain, but the Madrid spectacle was said to be the finest and drew the greatest crowds.
It was a pleasant contrast to go from a noisy hotel to the bright and beautiful American home of General Grubb, the successful and honored minister of the United States at the Spanish court, and, while enjoying his elegant hospitality, to talk of mutual friends and recall memories of other days. Our country has been well represented in Spain from the time of Washington Irving onwards; and though the present minister has not devoted himself to literary work as some of his predecessors, he has shown a practical sagacity which has been mutually beneficial to Spain and the United States, has successfully engineered a valuable treaty, and maintained the embassy in a style and character eminently befitting the represen tative of a great country. A soldier and a patriot, beloved and honored in his own State of New Jersey, he has added laurels of peace, during his official residence in Spain, to the bays which he earned in battle for his country.