THE civilization of Spain, streaked as it is with Oriental barbarisms, belated and discouraged as the end of the nineteenth century finds it, is still in many respects finer than our own. In everything that relates to grace and charm of social intercourse, to the dignified expression of reverence, compassion, and acknowledgment, Spain puts us to the blush. I was especially touched in Granada by the whole-souled sympathy and veneration with which the city rendered public honors to one of its sons, Angel Ganivet, who died in the preceding winter, a poet hardly thirty.
Although I had glanced over obituary notices of this Spanish writer in the Paris papers, I had but a vague idea of his work and life, and sought, before the night of the memorial ceremonies, for further information. I appealed, first of all, to our table waiter, whose keen black eyes instantly turned sad and tender.
“Pobre! Pobre! He threw himself into the river at Riga, in Russia, where he was consul. It was at the close of the war. And he such a genius ! So young ! So true a Spaniard ! But all Granada will be at the theatre. He left his play to Granada, asking that it be seen here first of all. I have never read his books, but I have met him in the streets, and lifted my hat to him for a wise caballero who cared greatly for Spain.”
My next appeal was to our kind neighbor, the English consul, who assured me laughingly that he, like myself, was vainly ransacking the few bookstores of Granada for Ganivet’s works.
” The first time I ever heard the name,” he added, ” was some three or four years ago, when I noticed an old gentle-man standing often in front of my house, and gazing at the British coat-of-arms above my door. He told me one day when I drew him into talk that he had a nephew, Angel Ganivet, roaming in foreign lands. ‘ But he does not forget his old uncle,’ said he. ‘I always receive my little pension prompt to the day, and so I like to look at the foreign shields about the city, and remember my nephew, far away, who remembers me.’ That was a trifle, of course, but it gave me a kindly feeling for the young fellow, and I’m sorry he came to such an end. They found him in the river, you know. I dare say it was suicide, and likely enough the defeat of Spain had its share in causing his despondency; but nobody knows. He was a zealous patriot, I understand, and all Granada seems to take his death to heart.”
My next authority was an aged Granadine, a man of letters ; but he had not read Ganivet’s books.
“I have heard of him often,” he said, “but I never met him. He was not much in Granada, although he seems to have had a romantic affection for the place. Bueno ! Its pomegranates are worth remembering. But Ganivet liked to live in foreign countries, with the idea of understanding his own better by comparison. He was young ; he still had hopes for Spain. Eighty years are on my head, and I have long done with hoping. I have served in my country’s armies, I have served in her Government, I have seen much of Church and State, and since the night when they murdered General Prim I have seen nothing good. But Ganivet had faith in the national future, and the people, without waiting to ask on what that faith was founded, love him for it, and mourn his loss as if he had been their benefactor. They are all going to pour into the theatre tomorrow night to hear his symbolic drama, that not one in a hundred of them will try to understand, and the hundredth will get it all wrong.”
The ” function ” took place in the Gran Teatro de Isabel la Catolica, a name to conjure with throughout all Spain, and especially in Granada. The day set for the performance, and widely advertised by newspapers and posters for a month in advance, was a Wednesday. On Tuesday, in a fever lest we be too late, we arrived at the ticket office. We had our hurry all to ourselves. Apparently nobody else had as yet taken a seat. The office was empty, save for us and our attendant train of boys and beggars.
The official in charge, deaf, slow, and courteous, invited us into a private room and gave us rocking-chairs by the brasero, while he, with paper and pencil, laboriously added the price of our entradas to the price of our modest box, and spent five minutes in subtracting the amount from the figure of the small bill we handed him. The counting out of the change was another strain on his arithmetic, and, after all these toils, we were still without tickets. He said he would “write them out at home,” and we might send some one for them the next day. But he affably offered to show us the theatre, and led us through black passages to a great dusky space, where, while he struck match after match, we could catch glimpses of pit and balconies, and even a far-off stage, with a group of actors gathered about a lamp, rehearsing the play. In Wednesday morning’s paper, however, they announced with entire nonchalance that they were not ready yet, and would postpone the representation until Thursday.
On Thursday evening the theatre, choking full though it was, hardly presented a brilliant appearance. Granada is not Madrid, nor Seville, and the best the Granadines had to offer their dead poet was the tribute of their presence in such guise as they could command. The big, barnlike theatre, with its rows of broken lamp-chimneys, looked shabby, and the rag-tag proportion of the audience was so great that it overflowed the Paraiso into the aisles and doorways and all conceivable corners. People were so jumbled and crumpled together that, with reminiscences of my traveller’s hold-all, I found myself wondering if they would ever shake out smooth again.
Whole families were there, from the infant in arms that invariably screamed when the actors were reciting any passage of peculiar delicacy, to the dozing old grandfather, who kept dropping his cigarette out of his mouth in a way that threatened to set us all on fire. The gentlemen, even in the boxes and the stalls, were generally ungloved, and we did not see a dress suit in the house. Cloaks and neckties were ablaze with color as usual, but the masculine toilets eluded our stricter observation ; for when the curtain was up, our eyes were all for the stage, and between acts your Spaniard sits with hat on head, enveloped in a cloud of tobacco smoke.
But the Andalusian ladies made amends for everything. By some prehistoric agreement, Spanish women have yielded the rainbow to the men, reserving for their own attire the quiet elegance of black or the festive beauty of pure white. The dress that evening, even in the principal boxes, was conspicuously simple. But the clear brunette complexions, the delicate contours, the rich black hair worn high and crowned with natural flowers, the waving fans and flashing glances, cast a glamour over the whole scene.
The memorial rites themselves made up in quantity whatever they might lack in quality, continuing from eight o’clock till two. An orchestra, organized from Granada musicians for this occasion, opened the programme. The bust of Ganivet, wrought by a young Granada sculptor, was reverently unveiled. The star actor, Fuentes of Granada, who had undertaken with his troupe to present his fellow-townsman’s drama purely as a labor of love, read an interpretation written by one of Granada’s leading critics. The orchestra was in evidence again, introducing the first act, entitled ” Faith.” After this the orchestra played Breton’s serenade, ” In the Alhambra,” and the curtain rose for the second act on so natural a scene-painting of the famous fortress that the audience went wild with enthusiasm, and the blushing artist, also a Granadine, had to be literally shoved from the wings upon the stage to receive his plaudits.
Between the second act, “Love,” and the last act, “Death,” came an andante elegiaco, ” written expressly for this artistic solemnity” by a Granada composer. Here, again, the appreciation of the audience was unbounded, and nothing would do but the reluctant master must leave his box, struggle through the packed multitude to the conductor’s stand, and take the baton himself for a second rendering from the first chord to the last. At the close of the third act the orchestra did its part once more, and the celebration ended, somewhat incongruously, with a lively bit of modern comedy.
There was imperfection enough, had one been disposed to look for it. The fifty members of the impromptu orchestra had hardly brought themselves into accord, the acting was not of the best Spanish quality, and the players had not half learned their parts. Every long declamation was a duet, the prompter’s rapid undertone charging along beneath the actor’s voice like a horse beneath its rider. But the audience under-stood, forgave, were grateful, and sat with sublime patience through the long pauses between the acts, repeating one to another, “They say Fuentes is studying his speeches.” As the caustic old scholar had predicted, most of them, apparently, did not try to understand the allegory. They applauded the obviously poetic touches, the palpably dramatic situations, and when, in the Alhambra act, a gypsy air was sung, the galleries delightedly caught it up and chorused it over again.
But in general that nondescript assembly Iooked on in passive gravity while El Escultor de su Alma was rendered, as their poet had bidden, in their own theatre and for them. They may have gathered hints and snatches of that mystical message from the dead, whose lofty look, fixed in shining marble, dominated all the house.
The restless Spirit of Man, seeking the perfect Truth, tears himself loose from the bride of his youth, Heavenly Faith, and wanders in beggary through the world. Yet Truth for him can only be the child of his union with Faith, and in parting from one he has parted from both. In old age, almost maddened by his wanderings and woes, he meets his Truth again, full-grown and beautiful, but is so fierce and wild in his desire to possess her that only Death can reconcile them Death and that Heavenly Faith who could not abandon him, though he had forsaken her.
Ganivet’s mother, who, with his brothers, witnessed the play from behind the scenes, is said to have rejoiced in it as a last solemn assurance from her son of his secure repose in the Catholic faith of his fathers. It may not have meant so much to that great audience, many of whom could neither read nor write, but those tiers upon tiers of dark Spanish faces were full of earnestness and of a proud content. However it may have baffled their heads, this legacy of a play, in its Alhambra setting, spoke clearly to their hearts. One raga-muffin said to another, as an all-sufficient criticism, ” He was thinking of Granada when he wrote it.”
A few days later, I found and eagerly read Angel Ganivet’s most significant booklet, Idearium, published in the autumn of 1896, in which he sets forth his dream for the future of his beloved country.
Ganivet claims that the deepest moral element in Spanish character is stoicism, ” not the brutal and heroic stoicism of Cato, nor the serene and majestic stoicism of Marcus Aurelius, nor the rigid and extreme stoicism of Epictetus, but the natural and humane stoicism of Seneca.” He holds that Seneca, himself a Spaniard, found his philosophy in the inherent genius of the country, and only gave voice to the indwelling soul of Spain. The Spanish church, cherishing this element, became a thing apart from the general Catholicism of Europe. The long warfare and incidental intercourse with the Moors stamped Spanish Christianity with its two other characteristic features of mysticism and fanaticism. ” Mysticism was like a sanctification of African sensuality, and fanaticism was a turning against ourselves, when the Reconquest ended, of the fury accumulated during eight centuries of combat.”
The author, muy espanol, is naturally muy catolico, yet he protests against violence in the repression of other forms of religion. ” Liberty should bring with it no fear.” He believes that Spain is, above all, sui generis, independent and individual. The representative Spaniard is a free lance, striving and conquering by his own impulse and under his own direction, like the Cid of old or Cortes in the field of arms, like Loyola in the church, like Cervantes in letters. He lays stress on the achievements of Spanish art the master paintings of Velazquez and Murillo, the master dramas of Lope de Vega and Calderon, as expressing, better than political history has expressed, that intensification of Spanish life resulting from the struggle against the Arabs “and making of our nation a Christian Greece.”
He finds it logical and right that Spain, after her successive periods of Roman influence, Visigothic influence, Arab influence, and her modern era of colonial expansion, should now abandon foreign policies and concentrate all her vitality within her own borders. Not by the sword, but by the spirit, would he have Spain henceforth hold sway over mankind, and especially over the Spanish-descended peoples of South America.
He winces under the monopoly of the term ” American ” by the citizens of the United States ” a formidable nation,” he admits, ” very populous, very rich, and apparently very well governed.” He notes, in contrast, the poverty and comparative anarchy of the South American republics, but he urges still that the Spanish character, shaped through such eventful centuries, is an entity, clear and firm, with qualities well defined, whereas the Yankees are yet in the fusing pot. He would have all the peoples of Hispanian descent recognize and realize in themselves this Spanish individuality, effecting not a political union, but a “confederation, intellectual and spiritual,” whose first aim should be the preservation of Spanish ideas and ideals, and the second, the free gift of these to all the nations of the earth.
The ancient glory of Spain, he says, has vanished like a dream ; let a new and whiter glory dawn. Her career of material conquest is ended. Those savage struggles have left her faint and spent. Let her now seek to attain, through purification and discipline, such fresh ‘fulness of life as shall insure the triumph of her spiritual forces her fervent faith and her unworldly wisdom. ” Our Ulysses is Don Quixote.”