Entering Madrid

The railway from Zaragoza lands the traveller in a low and disagreeable part of Madrid. At the time of our arrival a new station was in process of erection and the old one had been allowed to deteriorate. With deliberation and precision we were permitted to leave the railway and were placed in a long yellow omnibus, belonging to a company which seems to have a monopoly of the passenger travel. I was reminded of a certain transfer company in New York, when I found how difficult it was to “transfer.” Finally, however, the luggage was discovered, the passengers paid their fare, and the six mules simultaneously kicked up their heels, jerked all our bags off the seats, and made the passengers intimately acquainted. Then they began to toil over the stones and up the hills to the hotel and finally landed us in good style at the door, where we were welcomed by a handsome English-speaking manager, whom we afterwards learned to be a native of Constantinolale, able to read and write a dozen languages. Madrid is a “little Paris,” without the surface refinements which make Paris so delightful to the looker-on. There is the same sort of active life in the streets, brilliancy in the shop windows, and a vivacity which has nothing in common with the dignified Spanish character. A great number of handsome equipages promenade in the “Retiro” every afternoon, driving around and around, just as “the world” does in the Allee des Acacias in the Parisian Bois; there is a wild rush in Madrid to the bull-fights, just as Parisians rush to the races; and the crowds of handsomely dressed people and showy nurses, which one meets upon the Prado of Madrid in the fine afternoons, differ only in their faces and forms from those which throng the Champs Elysees in Paris.

The French language, too, is almost as common as Spanish, and the fashions come direct from the French capital. Only in the customs of the people is the difference manifest. The Madrileno puffs his smoke in a lady’s face, and stares her out of countenance, and picks his teeth between every course at the table d’hote, though he does not intend rudeness any more than the tobacco-chewing American does who squirts his filthy juice in cars and hotels all over the floor. We were at the Hotel de Paris, which is the best hotel in Madrid. The food was excellent and well served; the Spanish people who ate it had the habits of animals and worse. The rooms were well furnished, but the all-pervading odor of stale tobacco and the abundance of insect life made them undesirable habitations for thin-skinned people. There are five long staircases in the hotel, and no elevator. The lower rooms are noisy and ill ventilated; the upper rooms are pleasant-when you get there. The house fronts the “Puerta del Sol,” or Gate of the Sun, and this is the heart of Madrid. Other hotels and places of business surround the great plaza, and it is always full of people by day and by night. All the principal streets lead into the Puerta del Sol, which is about four hundred feet long and one hundred and fifty feet wide. There is a fine fountain in the centre of the square, which throws its sparkling jets at least sixty feet into the air. This pure water, brought from the Guadarrama mountains, is supplied throughout the city, and is said to add much to the comfort and health of the inhabitants. The streets are constantly washed, and the roads in the Prado are always muddy, and channels are made to carry water to the roots of the trees. Comparatively few women are seen in the Puerta, but of men and animals there is no lack. Splendid horses, and equally handsome mules, herds of goats for milking, and multitudes of workmen pass through the square from early morning till midnight. Here newsboys cry their papers, in various editions, during eighteen hours out of the twenty-four; venders of lottery tickets ply their trade, and sellers of all things that can be carried on donkeys, or upon the backs of men and women, seek a market for their wares. In the sun during the winter, and in the shade during the summer, there is an ever changing but never departing assembly of loafers, with slouch hats and long cloaks thrown over one shoulder, to be found in the Puerta de1 Sol, who do nothing but smoke and lounge the hours away. Mingling among them are the omnipresent beggars, who regard the stranger as their legitimate prey. On Sundays and saints’ days (and it seems as if every other day were a saint’s day), the shops are closed, and the people throng to the churches, to the bull-fights, to the theatres, and later on to the balls and tertulias, which last far into the night. Activity ‘there is much of, but industry, which is quite another thing, seems at a discount in Spain. We were inclined to agree with a former traveller who says that one third of the people of Madrid spend their lives in carriages, one third in cafes, and the other third in begging.

The situation of Madrid, twenty-five hundred feet above the sea, is in the midst of a stern and desolate landscape. From the square in front of the royal palace, the mountains of the Guadarrama chain are seen in the distance, and until the summer heats there is snow upon them. Nothing protects the city from sudden and dangerous winds, which are often fatal to those who are in delicate health. The changes of temperature are sudden and violent; the sky is overcast, a deluge of rain falls, an icy blast sweeps down from the mountains, across the treeless hills and plains, like a messenger of death; the natives wrap themselves closely in their fur-lined brown cloaks, and pull the sombrero about their ears. In another hour the sun is out -with burning beat and there is not a breath of air. But the nights are always cold and the Spaniards muffle themselves up to their noses. Only the women are exposed; they wear the mantilla or go bareheaded, and seem to fear no evil.

On Sunday we searched for the English Church, and found it in the Legation, where also were schools for children and a depot for the sale of Bibles and Testaments. The congregation consisted of a dozen people besides the family of the British ambassador, but the service was well and seriously read, the singing was excellent, and the chaplain of the embassy preached a most able and philosophical sermon upon the “Freedom of the Will.” Many years ago, Jonathan Edwards had settled that question for me in a New England college, and it seemed rather singular to listen to its discussion again in a stone chamber in the capital of Spain, not far from the place where the Inquisition tortured its victims for asserting the right of private judgment. Things have- changed even in Spain since those days; though the cause of religious liberty moves slowly, yet it makes progress. But Romanism is nowhere so dense and dark and relentless still as in the land of Isabella the Catholic and Philip the Second.