Spain – A Study In Contrasts

THE world-old struggle between conservatism and advance is at its most dramatic point in Spain. The united forces of clericalism and militarism work for the continuance of ancient institutions, methods, ideas, and those leaders who do battle in the name of liberalism are too often nothing more than selfish politicians. But with all these odds against progress, it is making way. The mass of the people, kept so long in the darkness of ignorance and superstition, are looking toward the light. During my last week in Madrid I chanced upon two extreme expressions of these warring principles. The first was a royal and religious ceremony, the second a monster mass meeting,—the one intent on cherishing the past, the other clamoring at the gates of the future.

I was looking over the Imparcial as I took my coffee one morning, when my eye fell on an item to the effect that there would be capilla publica en Palacio at ten o’clock. A traveller learns to jump at opportunity. Public service in the royal chapel promised to be of interest, and half-past nine found me waiting, with a miscellaneous company of gentles and tatterdemalions, natives and foreigners, on the palace side of the Plaza de Armas, the expectant throng streaming far down the paved and covered way. We were well marshalled by soldiers, who kept the crowd in form of a long troop, and banded this by military lines, with gleaming bayonets. These bands, but a few feet apart, were effectual in preventing crowding and disorder, and when at last the doors were thrown open, a double rank of soldiers closed in before the portal as often as the entering file showed any tendency to press and hurry, and thus passed us through by small divisions, so that there was no unseemly struggling on the succession of bare, plain stairways that led to the upper galleries.

For ” public service in the royal chapel,” I was now to discover, does not mean that the public is admitted to the chapel itself. This is small, but very Spanish, with profusion of gilding, imposing altar, and frescoed saints, the characteristic splendor being tempered with a no less characteristic gloom, an effect enhanced by austere columns of gray marble. On days of public service, which are usually high feast days, three long galleries, forming three sides of a great quadrangle, are traversed by the court in passing from the royal rooms to the chapel door, and it is to these galleries only that the public is admitted. On such occasions the gallery walls are hung with richly colored tapestries from the magnificent collection of eight hundred pieces that enriches the royal Tapiceria.

The instant I crossed the threshold these tapestries blazed upon the eye, so dazzling in their beauty that it was difficult to grasp the general situation. Civil Guards, in gala uniform, each armed with a pike taller than himself, were stationed at intervals of about six feet all along these tapestried walls, holding the carpeted way open for the passage of the royal and ecclesiastical party. The public hastened to fill in the spaces left between the guards, so that when the dignitaries paced the length of the three galleries, they walked between continuous human lines of mingled soldiery and spectators. We were of various ages, sizes, colors, and quite as picturesque, take it all in all, as the slowly stepping group on which our eyes were focussed.

A division of the royal escort, marching with drawn swords, preceded the Queen Regent, a slight and elegant figure in white and heliotrope, her mantilla pinned with diamonds. She walked in royal solitude, with a bearing of majesty and grace, but her face had a hard and almost sour look, which of itself might account for her unpopularity. The King and the younger Infanta did not take part in the day’s ceremony, but the Princess of Asturias followed her mother, a fresh-faced girl, charmingly dressed in white and blue, with pearls and turquoises. A respectful step or two in the rear of her niece, yet at her side rather than behind, came in rich green silk adorned with emeralds the stout, gray-puffed, easy-going Infanta Isabel, her broad, florid face beaming with affability. The guards had passed stern word down the line for all hats to be off, but there was no sign of greeting, so far as I saw, from the spectators to the royal party, except as now and then some happy Spaniard bowed him to the dust in acknowledgment of a nod, as familiar as a wink, from this popular Infanta.

The occasion of this stately function was the elevation of the Papal Nuncio to the rank of cardinal. He passed in all priestly magnificence of vestments and jewels, his red hat borne before him on a cushion. He was attended by the chief clerics of Court and capital, but even these gorgeous personages were outshone by the military and naval officers, whose breasts were a mosaic of medals, and whose headgear such erections of vainglory as to hush the crested cockatoo with shame. The Gentlemen of the Palace, too, were such peacocks in their glittering coats of many colors, their plumes and sashes, gold lace and silver lace, that the plump Ladies in Waiting, for all their pride of velvet, satin, and brocade, looked like mere hens in the wake of strutting chanticleers.

The American mind is ill prepared to do homage to the dress parades of European courts, and I laid by the memory to laugh over when I should have reached a place and hour where laughter would be inoffensive. As the Diplomatic Corps, in its varied costumes, came trooping on, twice a whisper ran along the gazing lines. ” The Turk ! ” and the traditional enemy of Spain limped smilingly past, a bent, shrewd-faced old Mussulman, whose Oriental finery was topped by the red fez. ” The Yankee ! ” and Spain’s latest adversary strode by in the person of the newly arrived United States Minister, decorously arrayed in dress suit and a Catholic expression,

The chapel doors closed on this haughty train, and we, the invited public, cheerily proceeded to pass a social hour or two in chat and promenade and in contemplation of the tapestries. Even the Civil Guards unbent, dancing their babies, lending their pikes to delighted urchins, and raising forbidden curtains to give their womenkind furtive peeps into the royal apartments. Most astonishing was the maltreatment of those priceless tapestries. Small boys, unrebuked, played at hide and seek under the heavy folds, old men traced the patterns with horny fingers, and the roughest fellows from the streets lounged stupidly against them, rubbing dirty jacketed shoulders over the superb coloring. The most splendid series displayed was from a master-loom of the Netherlands, illustrating the conquest of Tunis by Charles V — marvellously vivid scenes, where one beholds the spread of mighty camps, the battle shock of great armies and navies, and, like shrill chords of pain in some wild harmony, the countless individual tragedies of war. The scimitar of the Turk flashes down on the Spanish neck, while the upturned eyes are still too fierce for terror; the turbaned chief leans from his gold-wrought saddle to scan the severed heads that two blood-stained sons of the prophet are emulously holding up to his survey, hoping to recognize in those ghastly faces enemies of rank ; white-robed women on the strand, their little ones clinging to their knees, reach arms of helpless anguish toward the smitten galley of their lords, who are leaping into the waves for refuge from the Christian cannonade.

I wondered how the Turkish Minister liked those tapestries, as his stooped-back Excellency passed in conference with a Chinese mandarin, who must have studied his costume from a teacup. For we had all been hustled into rows again to make that human lane through which the Royalties and the Reverends returned from their devotions. I was facing a quaint old tapestry of Christ enthroned in glory, with the beasts of the Apocalypse climbing over Him like pet kittens, and this so distracted my attention that I omitted to ask the amiable Infanta Isabel, who would, I am sure, have told anybody anything, what had taken place. But I read it all in the Epocha that evening—how her Majesty with her own august hands had fitted the red hat to the Nuncio’s tonsured head, and how the new-made cardinal had addressed her in a grateful oration, praising her virtues as manifested in ” the double character of queen and mother, an example rich in those peculiar gifts by which your Royal Grace has won the veneration and. love of the noble and chivalrous Spanish people, the especial affection of the Father of the Faithful, and the respect and sympathy of all the world.” For her and for the youthful monarch of Spain he invoked the favor of Heaven, and uttered a fervent hope that the cup of bitterness which this most Catholic nation had bowed herself to drink might be blessed to her in a renewal of strength and a reconquest of her ancient preeminence among the peoples of the earth.

The most significant expression of “new Spain ” that I encountered in Madrid was a mass meeting — a rare and novel feature in Spanish public life. I blundered upon it as foolishly as one well could. The second day of July was the first anniversary of the founding of a daring Madrid weekly, the Vida Nueva, to which, attracted by its literary values, as well as its political courage, I had subscribed. The sheet is usually issued Sunday, but as I was on the point of going out one Saturday afternoon my Vida Nueva arrived, accompanied by two non-committal tickets. They gave entrance to the Fronton Central, ” only that and nothing more.” I called one of the pretty senoritas of the household into council, and she sagely decided that these were tickets to pelota, the Basque ball game, played in one or another of the various Madrid halls almost every summer afternoon. It seemed a little too considerate in the Vida Nueva to provide for the recreation of its subscribers, but I was growing accustomed to surprises of Spanish courtesy, and tucked the tickets away in a safe corner. The folded newspaper rustled and whispered, and finally fluttered to my feet, but I was eager to be off, and, after the blind fashion of mortals, put it by.

It was my privilege to dine that day with two compatriots, and one of these, who knows and loves Spain better than many Spaniards do, began at once to tell me of that most unusual occurrence, a Madrid mass meeting, to take place this very evening. Of course we resolved to go, although my friend’s husband was not in the city, and no other escort would countenance so harebrained an expedition. For the street to which this valiant lady led the way was choked with a flood of men surging toward an open door. The hall for the ” meeting,” a word which the Spanish language has fully adopted, was the Fronton Central, and admission was by ticket. Light dawned on my dim wits, and, while my two companions, with dignified and tranquil mien, stood themselves up against the outer wall, I besought a lei-surely cabman, who insisted on waiting to pick up a little ragamuffin clamoring for a ride, to drive me in hot haste to my domicile. Here I searched out the tickets, put away only too carefully, and took a fleeting glance at the Vida Nueva, which urged all ” men of heart ” to celebrate the eve of its anniversary by their presence at this mass meeting.

I had not realized that there were so many men of heart in Madrid. The street on my return was worse than before. The cabman objected strenuously to leaving us in these tempestuous surroundings, and, since there were only two tickets, we two elders of the trio agreed that the American girl was all too young for such an escapade, and forthwith despatched her, under his fatherly care, to the hotel. Then came the tug of war. We saw men fighting fiercely about the door, we heard the loud bandying of angry words, we were warned again and again that we could never get through the jam, we were told that, tickets or no tickets, ladies would not, could not, and should not be admitted ; it was darkly hinted that, before the evening was over, there would be wild and bloody work within those walls. But we noticed a few other women in the throng, and decided, from moment to moment, to wait a little longer, and see what happened next. Meanwhile, we were almost unjostled in the midst of that excited, struggling crowd, often catching the words : “Stand back there! Don’t press on the ladies ! Leave room !! ” And when it came to the final dash we had well-nigh a clear passage. Our tickets gave access only to the floor of a big, oblong hall, closely packed with a standing mass of some ten thousand men ; but a debonair personage in authority conducted us, with more chivalry than justice, to the reserved boxes in the gallery, where we occupied perfect seats,—for which other people probably held tickets, — in the front row, overlooking all the house.

So much for Spanish indulgence to audacious womenfolk. But as to the meeting itself, what was it all about ? In Spain one word suffices for an answer. Montjuich has become a Liberal rallying cry, although the movement is not bound in by party lines. It is the Dreyfus affaire in a Spanish edition. The Castello de Montjuich is a strong fortress, with large magazines and quarters for ten thousand soldiers. It is built on a commanding height, the old Mountain of the Jews, just outside Barcelona, and has again and again suffered bombardment and storm. But in this latest assault on Montjuich the weapons are words that burn and pens keener than swords. It was on the seventh of June, 1896, that the famous bomb was exploded in Barcelona. It was taken for an Anarchist outrage, and over two hundred men, including teachers, writers, and labor leaders, were arrested on suspicion. Nearly two months passed, and, despite the offer of tempting rewards, no trace of the culprits had been found. In the Fortress of Montjuich the guards deputed to watch the prisoners, acting more or less under superior authority, which itself may have been influenced by Jesuit suggestion, began on the fourth of August to inflict tortures upon the accused for the purpose of extracting evidence. The trials were by military procedure, power sat in the seat of justice, and innocent men, it is believed, were condemned on the strength of those forced confessions – mere assents, wrung from them by bodily agony, to whatever their guards might dictate. But many persisted in denial, and in course of time a number were released, maimed, in certain cases, for life. Others were shot, and a score still lay in prison. The fortress dungeons are deep and dark, but little by little the cries and groans of the “martyrs of Montjuich ” penetrated the dull stone and sounded through-out Spain.

On the fourteenth of May, last year, the Vida Nueva, this bold young periodical in the van of the Liberal cause, brought out an illustrated number devoted to ” The Torments of Montjuich.” Other periodicals sprang to its support and kept the Government busy with denunciations, while they vehemently called for a revision of the judicial process, with the hope of releasing the men still under sentence and clearing the names of those who had perished. Mass meetings to urge such revision, which could be accorded only by vote of the Cortes, were held in Barcelona, Saragossa, Valencia, Santander, and other principal cities, all demanding revision in the sacred names of patriotism, humanity, and justice.

Our Madrid mass meeting was of chief consequence in impressing the Government with the weight of popular opinion. The swaying multitude was called to order at quarter of ten by Senor Canalejas, who introduced a notable array of speakers. There were representatives of labor, of republicanism, of the press, a Catalan charged with a greeting from Barcelona, the champion of Spanish Socialism, Pablo Iglesias by name, and great men of the nation, Azcarate, Moret, and Salmeron. Spanish eloquence at its best thrills the blood to wine, and the swift succession of orators, four-teen all told, played on the vast audience like master artists on a murmurous organ. Yet there was no disorder. A generous and grateful hearing was accorded the Count of Las Almenas, who frankly declared himself a conservative in politics and an apostolic Roman Catholic in religion, but in the name of both these creeds a lover of justice and humanity. Since for these he ever held himself ready to do battle in the Cortes, he gave the meeting his pledge that he would support Azcarate in the motion for revision.

But the wrath and grief of the audience could hardly be controlled when one of the released prisoners took the plat-form to recount the horrors of Montjuich. He told of dungeons with earth floor and one grated window, of savage guards determined to gain the crosses and pensions promised to those who should extract evidence. He told how the help.. less captives, weakened by confinement, were tortured with cords, whips, sleeplessness, hunger, and thirst. Bound as they were, water was held before their parched mouths, with the sinister words, ” Confess what we bid you, and you shall drink.” When the famished men begged for food, they were answered with the lash, or, more fiendishly, with shreds of salt codfish, which increased their thirst a hundred fold. One man in his desperation sprang to the lamp and quaffed the dirty oil. They licked the moisture from their dungeon walls. They thrust white tongues through the grating to catch the drops of rain. Soon the guards proceeded to more violent torments, wrenching, burning, and probing the quivering flesh with a devilish ingenuity of torture, making a derisive sport of their atrocious work. One of the victims went mad while undergoing torture by compression of the head. Others, on hearing the coming steps of the guards, strove to escape their cruel hands by suicide. One drank a bowl of disinfectant found in his cell, one beat his forehead against the wall, one strove to drive a rusted nail into his heart.

It was a frightful tale to hear. I looked across the hall to where a Spanish flag was hung. Yellow wax is funeral wax, and Alarcon, who sees in yellow a symbol of death and of decay, laments that it is the color of half the Spanish banner. ” Ay de la bandera espanola I” But surely there is hope for Spain, while she has sons who, in grasp of a military tyranny which has rendered such crimes possible, contend in open field for the overthrow of the ” black Spain ” of the Inquisition, and still bear heart of hope for a white, regenerated Spain, where religion shall include the love of man.