It is commonly averred that Madrid really owes her official primacy among Spanish cities to the great toe of Charles V. The keen climate of its lofty plateau suited well the ailments of that doughty and gouty monarch, and led him to pass much time there, thus making a capital by pure fiat in a spot where originally it would have seemed that there existed no excuse, near or remote, for building any city at all, certainly not a city intended for the residence of a royal court. Madrid was not without her claims to centrality, to be sure, and this element naturally shared with the salubrious character of her atmosphere the honor of making her the capital of Spain. But in the time of Charles V, it was the imperial gout that really decided the matter, and Madrid came into being as a regal city in a spot devoid of every vestige of natural attractiveness.
With Philip II, who succeeded Charles, the geographical element probably weighed the more heavily. The constituent parts of his kingdom were such that no other city would serve as well. Saragossa, Burgos, Seville, Toledo, Cordova, all well-established and ancient cities, were either by location or by nature unsuitable. Some new site must be found ; and while Madrid had no form nor comeliness that a monarch of ordinary mould should desire her, she was obviously most central with reference to the discordant sections of the Spanish dominions. Furthermore, Philip was far from being the man to revolt from cheerless or gloomy surroundings ; and what would have repelled almost any other king as being quite unsuited to the requirements of a royal abode probably appealed to his austere and chilly soul with double force. The monarch who could build an Escorial must inevitably approve Madrid as the site of his government.
Circumstances long ago ceased to make this a habitation enforced either by physical or governmental necessity. Subsequent rulers escaped the twinges that so burdened the Emperor Charles, and Spanish unity would doubtless be as well served today if the capital were elsewhere. The kings of Spain since the line of fanatic Philips have generally been much less addicted to the worship of misery and much more inclined to cheer. But Spain is the land of fixed habits to an extraordinary degree ; and after Madrid had served the country as its capital for two successive reigns it is probable that it would have required a delicate surgical operation on the intellect of the entire people to implant the idea that a capital could ever by any chance be located anywhere else.
No site in all Spain could have been less promis ing. A lofty and arid desert stretches away on every hand in the most stupidly dreary landscape that could well be imagined, gratefully relieved to the north and west, however, by the rugged and snowy chain of the Guadarramas. Yet these same mountains, while diversifying the view, likewise serve to render the climate of Madrid intolerably bitter in winter without sensibly mitigating its intense heat in summer. The climate of the whole interior of Spain is bad enough, but it is probably at its worst in the principal official city of the realm, which stands at a level of two thousand feet above the sea.
And yet Madrid lives, and presumably always will, despite occasional proposals to move the capital to some more agreeable site. Her people manifest an almost absurd devotion to the spot. They have permitted themselves for many centuries to believe that their capital is one of the most charming in the world. They have done their best to beautify it with imposing buildings and magnificent streets and squares. To the east of the city they have laid out a huge park of trees in feeble imitation of the Bois de Boulogne, the life of the trees being as artificially maintained as the life of Madrid has been from the first. And still, despite all the loving care that has been lavished on it, and with all the activity and enthusiasm of its half-million of people, Madrid cannot conceal that artificiality, and re-mains, according to the concurrent judgment of many hasty visitors, one of the stupidest of all the famous cities of the earth. She has too much the air of having been made to order. She lacks the saving grace of romantic legend and stirring history. As she exists to-day she cannot even claim to be particularly old. But she has remained the capital of Spain for so long that the inconvenience of her location and climate has been swallowed up in the greater inconvenience of moving away. And I must confess that the city has a certain degree of charm which has grown on me as I have come to know it better.
While the most famous of the Spanish monarchs were thus directly responsible for the adoption of the site as their capital, it must not be assumed that there was no previous occupancy of the spot. As a matter of fact, the settlement and the name of the city go back to the Moors, who appear to have established an outpost here as early as the tenth century, calling its name Madjrit. It had no celebrity, however, and little strength. It lay exposed in a bare table-land on the edge of a deep ravine through which ran the Manzanares, a stream which is meagre at best. Indeed, it is recorded that when Philip built a rather pretentious bridge over it, a brilliant Frenchwoman in his court inquired why he did not sell his bridge or buy a river !
So much for the fact that Madrid blossomed in the desert by monarchical decree. Her tenure, at first precarious, seems so no longer. Her streets are broad and teem with people. Her distances are magnificent. Her cafés are numerous and gay. Her major thoroughfares are crowded with fine carriages and splendid automobiles, filled with fashionably dressed and handsome women. Her shady boulevards afford a delightful promenade. Madrid is no mean flower to have grown out of such sterile soil, but is joyous, and brilliant, and blessed with an abounding sense of her own charms which the foreigner, casually visiting within her gates, finds it a trifle difficult to understand. Even a local proverb sums up the keenness of the climate by saying that it “is as sharp as a knife; it will spare a candle, but blow out your life.” And with all the life and gayety and movement in the city streets, it is probably the fact that if it were not for her matchless museum of the Prado the average visitor would dismiss the city with no more than a day’s notice.
It is a decidedly modern place. The great streets radiating from the spacious Puerta del Sol are lined with magnificent shops of every kind, and one will not inspect them very long before discovering a remarkable feature of business life in Madrid ; to wit, the prevalence of the sobrinos. A sobrino is, being interpreted, a nephew ; and in no other land are collateral relations so proud of their connections. It is no uncommon thing to read in imposing gilt letters over a shop such an inscription as “Widow of Juan Cortez and Nephews of Manuel Cervera,” or oftener still, merely the “Nephews,” thus prolonging the commercial celebrity of some old established house unto the third and fourth generation, occasionally spread out pretty thin, no doubt.
The shops are seldom open before nine in the morning, for the Madrileno is essentially a creature of nocturnal habits and is not often to be seen abroad at any very early hour. This delay in opening the day, however, is amply atoned for by postponing its close far into the night. The grand central square of the Puerta del Sol is as lively and congested at mid-evening as it is at midday, and of all the sights in the modern city is easily the most animated and pleasing. Ten great streets radiate from it, and out of each comes a constant torrent of people hurrying, as much as anybody in Spain ever does hurry, into the maelstrom of the square and into the streets on the other side. By day it is a vast area of sunshine, well deserving its name. By night it is gay with myriad lights. It is, in con-sequence, noisy at all times, and the hotels which cluster around this focus of activity are noisy too. One who cherishes repose will do well to avoid the immediate vicinity of the Puerta del Sol and seek such seclusion as adjacent highways may grant, but not too far away. For the puerta is the practical focus of Madrid, centre and soul of the tramway system, and therefore the point from which every other point may most easily be reached. Here also most of the public carriages congregate, bearing aloft metal flags inscribed se alquila, “to let.”
However, there are not very many attractions in Madrid that the stranger will seriously care to see, and these few are at no great distance from the Puerta del Sol. The chief of all must always be the grand collection of paintings housed at the Museo del Prado, which it will be well to consider here at some length. And after that collection, little remains to see save the royal palace and the magnificent armory adjacent to it, in which latter narrow room one may absorb more vivid history in half an hour than would be derived from many books in many weeks. There are also one or two minor collections of paintings which, by comparison with the Prado, are unimportant ; but beyond that Madrid has almost nothing to offer but her intensely modern life in a modern setting. For those who prefer that sort of thing, Madrid possesses abundant charm. But it requires, of course, opportunities for protracted residence to attain anything like familiarity with this side of the city, and a more intimate acquaintance with Spanish life than can possibly fall to the lot of the casual traveler. I can imagine Madrid being a very delightful place to one properly equipped. To the artist, especially, it must be one of the most desirable cities. But to the ordinary voyager through Spain it is perhaps the least attractive and is saved from disgracefully cavalier treatment by the fame of Velasquez alone.
The Prado museum, which is, as its name implies, located on the boulevard of the Prado, enjoys an admirably attractive situation. The highway that stretches up and down before it, well shaded by vigorous trees and adorned here and there with attractive fountains, is one of the handsomest thoroughfares in Madrid, and one of the gayest. As for the museum itself, it will hardly be denied that it is one of the finest collections in Europe, from any point of view ; while as a gathering of the works of the most famous painters of the golden age of art, it is perhaps the very finest in the world. Its most undisputed preëminence is, of course, in its possession of Velasquez ; for no other gallery in the world can begin to compare with it as a repository of the work of that consummate master. If the Prado museum had no other paintings to show than those of Philip IV’s great court painter, it could still claim a foremost place among the world’s notable collections of pictures ; and as an actual fact it can show a great deal more. The late John Hay, writing something like thirty years ago, did not hesitate to rate it above the Pitti, the Louvre, and the National Gallery as a collection of the great masters of the Renaissance, although other galleries may easily surpass it in exemplifying the many lower strata which mark the gradual progress of art. When one adds to the vast body of foreign work the exquisite achievements of the native Velasquez, a due proportion of Murillo, a multitude of the works of El Greco, a grand collection of the paintings of the industrious Ribera (Lo Spagnoletto) , and a highly interesting, though occasionally somewhat grotesque, accumulation of Goyas, it really seems not to be a very dangerous exaggeration to place the whole at the head of the notable art collections of the world.
The building in which the treasures of the Prado are housed was begun by Charles III, who designed it for a museum of natural history; and as a natural result it leaves very much to be desired as a place for hanging oil paintings today. The chief credit for converting it to the uses of a great museum of art belongs, by a curious circumstance, to Ferdinand VII, whose other claims to celebrity are lamentably few. That monarch, being seized one day with a desire to renovate and decorate his palaces, had all the pictures they contained taken down and carted to the Prado for storage. And the instant popularity of this temporary housing led the king to make it permanent; so that the mere accident of a monarch’s passing whim gave to Madrid her crowning glory.
I have no intention of entering upon anything like a catalogue or thorough description of the museum of the Prado. Its scope is so great and its canvases are so manifold that to attempt any such thing within the compass of this book would be physically impossible, as well as a bit of needless hardihood. Nevertheless one obviously cannot pass it by without a word, and must select with some little care what to speak of in passing. Following the course of least resistance, and recurring only to what left its profoundest impression, I find my mind reverting to the great room set apart for the works of Velasquez and ignoring the superb collection of Italian masters, although by no means forgetful of the incomparable portrait gallery, the wealth of Riberas, the gaunt Grecos, and the curious Goyas. For within this temple of art, Don Diego Velasquez is unquestionably high priest. Of all his known works, practically a half are housed here, in a collection by themselves. There are about sixty of them, and no other gallery possesses a tithe of that number, or can claim to possess anything like the same interest. The Velasquez room leads off the great central hall about midway of the building, and is practically given up in its entirety to the works of the Spanish master.
But these are not all. In the long and narrow hall outside hang several Velasquez paintings (only partly authenticated, however), including at least one of the familiar portraits of Philip IV, as well as a most charming one of the young prince Baltasar Carlos at the age of sixteen. This latter is one of those that are only “attributed to” the great Sevillian, but I cannot bring myself to regard it as anything but a Velasquez, in full and regular standing. Surely it is thoroughly admirable, and if the master did not paint it himself he must have transmitted his personal skill for this one effort to some remarkably apt pupil. Nowhere, in my own judgment, does Valasquez succeed better than in his several paintings of this ill-starred son of Philip IV. He seems to have found an inspiration in this radiant boy that was wholly lacking in the long, lean, supercilious face of his much-painted father. Don Diego painted the lad again and again as he grew toward the manhood he was destined never to reach, now as a child with a gun, now mounted on an incredibly fat and roly-poly pony, now as a sweet and winning youth in sober black, but always with a princely grace and air of distinction. He painted Philip, the father, more often still, and likewise in many attitudes, even at prayer, with an abstracted face and lack-lustre eye that make you feel that the painter was more in his thoughts than his devotions. One grows to love the little prince, Baltasar Carlos, and to bemoan his untimely death. One grows to dislike Philip IV, from seeing him too much. And yet one does feel, at the end, that one knows him rather well ! Velasquez proved himself a worthy vassal, and gave his sovereign an immortality that the king’s own deeds would never have conferred ; and he saved poor little Don Baltasar from the oblivion that his early death had otherwise wrapped about him.
Fortunately we are not left without an accurate idea of the features of Velasquez himself, for besides his other portraits he managed to work his own face into the picture generally esteemed to be his masterpiece, the painting known as “Las Meninas (the handmaidens), which enjoys the distinction of having a room to itself, perfectly lighted and always besieged by a throng of admirers. To add to the almost perfect illusion of the picture, the custodians have arranged mirrors for viewing it indirectly, and when thus seen it is difficult to believe that this can possibly be no more than paint and canvas. Velasquez himself is seen looking out of the picture, dark and debonair, brush in hand, and obviously at work on the canvas that rises just before him. Most probably he is painting the portraits of the king and queen, and not that of the little princess in the foreground, who, in all the oddity of her prodigious skirts, is enlivening a respite in the sitting, surrounded by her maids.’ One of these offers her a bit of refreshment, while the others stand in rather stolid indifference to her left hand, and a mischievous dwarf prods a sleepy old dog with his foot. It is a wonderfully lifelike dog, and one may fairly hear his comfortable grunts as the lad rolls him under his slippered toe. In the dimness of the background, in a mirror, one may catch the reflected image of Philip and his queen. Don Diego thus considerately helped himself to a share of that immortality of feature which his brush bestowed so impartially on Philip, Isabel of Bourbon, Marianne of Austria, Dona Maria Teresa, Don Baltasar, and all the rest.
It is entirely probable that Velasquez suffers from this excess of Philip IV. It is small wonder that he grew marvelously expert in portraying him. But it was with Velasquez as it was with Murillo, he was forced to work too much along one line. Even the elusive reflection in the dusky mirror in the background of Las Meninas could by no possibility be mistaken for any one but Philip, the most beportraited king that ever sat on any throne. Nevertheless, Velasquez did now and then escape altogether from his royal master, and gave a taste of his quality in other directions. Just outside the door that leads to the shrine of the handmaidens there is a large and admirable picture of tapestry weavers, perhaps second only to the more famous painting within as a masterpiece of Velasquez’s art. On an adjacent wall hangs the historical painting representing the surrender of Breda, a wonderful presentation of the magnanimous hour of victory, part portrait and part imagination. Different from any of the other works in tone and temperament is the painting of the roguish bacchanals, half-drunken peasants who are playing at pagan divinity and are initiating a neophyte. It is not entirely pleasant, to be sure, but there are few more realistic faces on any canvas than that which leers out at you from fully and rather slowly, to be sure, for it was nearly his tercentenary before the world at large hailed him as acknowledged prince among the immortals.
Crowding closely on the heels of Velasquez as affording to the halls of the Prado unusual distinction come Titian and Raphael. The great portrait of Charles already referred to is but one of forty can-vases from the brush of the great Venetian, which include other portraits of that puissant monarch and his gloomy son, worthy to rank with the inter-minable collection of the later Philip as relics of a famous age. On the whole, Titian fares as well in the Prado as he does in any European gallery, simply because he was so great a favorite of the emperor; and Vasari relates that after Charles became acquainted with Titian and his work he would permit no other painter to portray him.
Raphael’s contributions to the Prado collection are somewhat less numerous, but happily they include several. of his most famous works. There are two admirable Holy Families, one of which Philip IV bought for £2000 of Charles I of England, and regarded as “the pearl” of his Raphaels, although not all have since concurred in this judgment. The over its brimming cup. A still different class of pictures is to be found in the tall panels called respectively “Aesop” and “Menippus,” evidently character studies, and to my mind very nearly the most attractive of all this prolific painter’s inimitable work. Then there are various other portraits scattered about, repulsive dwarfs, jesters, lawyers, sculptors, story-tellers. It is a wonderful room for variety, after all, despite the frequent recurrence of Philip’s morbid face with its watery blue eyes and pale mustachios. The prevailing tone appears to be a cool gray-green, its varying degrees of sombreness relieved now and then by such touches of color as the rosy scarf of the little Baltasar on his corpulent and prancing steed. Not many pictures before Velasquez’s time possess this curiously sombre charm, but there is at least one in the Prado which may well lay claim to it, and that is Titian’s magnificent equestrian portrait of Charles V, cantering so gravely and alone to battle at Mühlberg.
A Crucifixion hung in the same room with the others reveals the fact that even the lively and courtly Velasquez permitted himself to paint a religious picture now and then, but he would certainly never have achieved great fame by these alone. It is by his secular work, his portraits, his whimsical interpretation of character, his consummate mastery of light, and above all of shade, that he has climbed to his present eminence, rather pain-Madonna of the Fish, which also hangs in the Italian section, ranks high among the noble army of Madonnas with which Raphael peopled the galleries of the continent, and appears to be indisputably a work entirely by the master’s own hand.
Space would fail me to attempt here any more detailed description of this bewildering array of Italian masters, or any extended catalogue of the paintings of the industrious and honest Ribera, so honest that soiled nails and other blemishes were not beneath his notice in the portrayal of unkempt hermits and holy men ! Yet he unquestionably ranks among the best of Spain’s painters, and some have been so discerning as to declare him to be the superior of Murillo. Neither shall I make any effort to describe tall, thin Grecos or the quaint array of Goyas, although Madrid holds Goya in high esteem and adorns the principal entrance of her great art gallery with his rotund and quizzical statue. It should be added, however, that much of the uncouthness displayed in his paintings is to be accounted for by the fact that many of these were mere studies for the guidance of tapestry weavers. But I am free to confess that I personally have never been able to bring myself to like him, and even Greco seems to be a sort of acquired taste to which many pretend, but which few genuinely feel save as a duty.
I cannot forbear to say just a word regarding the great portrait gallery that opens from the rotunda at the entrance, because this hall must divide with the royal armory at the other side of the town the high honor of being Madrid’s greatest historical inspiration. Here is Titian’s other great portrait of Charles V, standing, this time, rather than on horseback, and accompanied by a huge dog. Close beside him stands the figure of his gloomy son, Philip II, also by Titian, revealing the joyless and fanatical priggishness of his nature in his sombre face. Isabella of Portugal, Charles’s wife, where will one find a lovelier queen than she? Surely not in the features of Mary of England, whose beady eyes and scowling brows stare out at one from across the room ! And yet it was this very painting that led a king of Spain to desire her to wife !
The tendency to prolixity in such a presence is a dangerous one, more especially so when the layman seeks to set down his vagrant impressions of art months after the pictures have faded into elusive memories. And while it is with a sincere regret, I must resolutely deny myself the luxury of further consideration of the Prado, well knowing that therein I must leave much of that noble collection of Italian and Flemish masterpieces quite unmentioned.
Let us hasten, then, with the memory of these historical personages clearly in our minds, to the armory before referred to as lying close to the great royal palaces. It is situated at the end of one of those tremendous stone antennæ that embrace the level Plaza de Armas, or parade ground, before the royal residence ; and to reach it one must cross that broad square, glaringly yellow in the noontide sun, where the green-gloved soldiery maintain a constant guard. The armory, a rather small room by comparison, is one of the most impressive museums of warlike accoutrements in the world. Here are stored the arms of the kings of Spain from the earliest times to the present day, as well as the trophies of many a hard-fought field. Here is a multitude of guns, and here are swords, daggers, pistols, lances, suits on suits of armor, the latter not only standing erect but filled in many cases with the effigies of their ancient and royal owners. Charles V, mounted on his powerful horse, canters as gravely off to Mühlberg as ever he did in Titian’s picture, and this is the very armor that he wore. This is the self-same horse-clothing that we see on Titian’s canvas, from the trailing cape to the ” Plus Ultra” of the bridle rein. Here is the slender and ladylike sword that Isabella of Castile was wont to carry. Here is the richly decorated tent used by the ill-starred Francis I at Pavia. Truly it is a bewildering arsenal, and every piece that one sees is instinct with the momentous history of a glorious past. The inlaid gun-stocks, the Damascened blades, the highly wrought greaves and cuirasses, all are of marvelous beauty.
With all this martial display, reflecting the glory that was Spain’s, bugles from far outside seem to blend perfectly. It is the signal for the daily changing of the palace guard, a stately ceremony that one may profitably step outside to see. One corps of soldiers, representing detachments of infantry, artillery, and cavalry, which has been guarding the royal person for the past twenty-four hours, is about to be relieved of its arduous duties by another similar detachment. It will take something like an hour say from eleven o’clock to noon to per-form this ceremony, so it is well to step into the shade of the building for comfort. But as you are prudent, be quiet and sedate ; else the officious troopers who swarm all about will glare and admonish ! At last comes the relieving host, heralded by a splendid band playing a soft and haunting melody, – the royal march of Spain. It is no quick-step, this march, nor yet is it a dirge. It is simply a stately and dignified measure, as difficult to “march by” as the bridal music of Lohengrin, to the notes of which so many awkward steps have been taken ; but the Spanish soldiers do it admirably, throwing out their advancing feet and poising them in mid-air with all the grace and precision of a corps de ballet.
Slowly and with impressive tread the invading host circles about the Plaza de Armas, and as slowly the retiring troop collects its scattered squads ready to march out. Each body is at last drawn up before the palace. The captains ride majestically up toward the royal balcony, empty as it is, and salute.
The band plays a brief concert programme, said to be for the pleasure of the queen. Then the captains salute each other, the bands begin once more the haunting softness of that stately march, and the old guard that marches away but never surrenders passes slowly out of the inclosure to those deep, dainty, dignified, yet martial strains, every man keeping time with that astonishingly unmilitary goose-step. And at last they are gone. The new guard settles itself in the shade of pillars and sentry boxes, pulls its bright green cotton gloves up over its wrists, and sets itself to watching over the king and his interesting family, as every well-regulated domestic guard should do.
King Alfonso XIII, by the way, appears to be a very popular young sovereign, with an equally popular young English wife, a very lusty and popular crown prince, and a second son, born on the very day of this writing, who, if he lives, will doubt-less be popular too. It is to be hoped that these evidences of popularity are sincere, and not superficial merely. As for the young king, his appearance is that of a good-natured, boyish, but still dignified monarch, fond of a jest, courageous, chivalrous, and fond of automobiling. The Prince of Asturias, who at this writing is about a year old, is already a full-fledged colonel in the army, in a regiment of infantry, no doubt ! The younger son, Prince Jaime, is already, I believe, a high admiral of Spain.
It remains for us to turn to one other feature of Spanish life not as attractive as the Prado nor as instructive as the armory, but fully as often de-scribed as either. Let us assume that it is a Sunday in the vicinity of Easter, Palm Sunday, if you please, and that the hour is three in the afternoon. The Puerta del Sol is alive with people as usual ; but this time, if they come from every quarter, they all proceed thence in one direction, down the great and broad highway of the Alcala. Some are riding in street cars marked in great letters “TOROS.” Others crowd into railway omnibuses, diverted for the afternoon to the purpose of taking the populace to the bull-ring. Thousands go on foot. It is a scene such as the subordinate American city can show on but one day in the year, circus day ; but in Madrid it is the regular Sunday afternoon spectacle from Eastertide until the feast of All Souls. Such was the sight that greeted our own eyes one Sunday as we descended the long flights that led down from our pension in the Calle Mayor and joined the moving throng.
I had made up my mind to see at least one bull-fight while in Spain, although with great reluctance, chiefly because to omit it would be to ignore one experience that might be said to be thoroughly Spanish. At the last moment one of the senoras decided to go too, though with many womanly misgivings, and we went.
That we did not enjoy it may as well be predicated from the first. People not to the manner born, but who live in Spain, tell me that after a few experiences one may overcome the initial aversion and even grow to like it ; but I cannot conceive of it. A more abominable exhibition of brutality, misnamed “sport,” it would be almost impossible to devise. Our football games, with all their drawbacks and dangers, are not to be mentioned in the same breath with bullfighting. It is true that fatalities in the bull-ring are now rather rare, and it may well be that football levies the greater annual tribute of life and even of limb. But the indictment of bullfighting is that it is not worth the name of “sport” at all, as we understand that term. The Spanish torero is no sportsman, and his game is not sportsmanlike, either in conception or in execution. Briefly stated, it consists in killing a foolish brute in the presence of a breathless multitude, after goading the beast to as high a pitch of insensate fury as possible by means as diabolical as man’s ingenuity can devise. For be it understood the bull is but a foolish beast, after all, despite his formidable appearance and his long sharp horns. He is thick of wit, slow of motion, always ready to vent his absurd rage on a red scarf without noticing the man behind it, and so clumsy that a trained and nimble toreador can elude his onslaughts with ease. Still it would not be so bad, even as a sport, if it were not for the utterly indefensible employment of blindfolded horses, whose presence in the ring conduces not one whit to the killing of the bull, but simply affords the brute a live object on which to vent his propensity for goring something. To allow the bull to waste all his strength in tearing a red cape to tatters would be poor sport for a race delighting in real blood. To allow the men themselves to be killed would not at all suit the honorable profession of toreros. Hence the presence of horses, generally worn-out old hacks that have served their time in the streets of Madrid or elsewhere, to furnish the gore and give a semblance of real carnage to the play.
It was a bleak Sunday in Madrid that we chose for our visit to the Plaza de Toros. The sun shone with but an ineffectual fire, and a bitter wind swooped down from the Guadarramas in a way that made us glad of our wraps. We were early on the road, fearing the crowd, but it was an unnecessary precaution. The bulk of the population proceeded in other conveyances than the special trolley cars, owing to the fact that for this occasion only the fare had been raised to half a peseta. Thus we rode out to the bull-ring, a circular building affecting the Moorish style to some degree, and far from ungraceful in design. A great crowd streamed toward it from all directions across the vacant lands that surrounded it, but the system of tickets and en-trances was admirably worked out and there was no confusion. Even unskilled as we were, we found the right entrance for our red tickets, and ascended the stairs to the corridor which adjoined our lofty section of the amphitheatre.
Seats for a corida de toros may always be bought at an established office in the city, and we had procured ours there in the forenoon, taking care to learn which were most advisable for ladies who might conceivably wish not to remain long. These we found to be in the balcony immediately above the unroofed circle that adjoins the arena, which latter would exactly correspond to our “bleachers.” The technical name for the rank in which we found ourselves seated was delantera de gradas, and it turned out to mean a row of leather-cushioned set-tees ranged close to the railing of the balcony. They were movable, and across a narrow passageway be-hind them rose more and more tiers of fixed seats, more comfortable than those below and covered by the roof of the ring proper, or better by the flooring of the boxes above. For the topmost row of places was given up to boxes of equal size, save where the royal apartment projected above the heads of those below, and the balcony of the president of the games made itself apparent just above the main entrance. There is always a distinction drawn between the seats in the sun and those in the shade, the latter being as a rule the more desirable and therefore more expensive. But on this particular Sunday we shivered in our seats and envied those who received the few pale rays which the afternoon sun vouchsafed to send down upon Madrid.
The arena proper proved to be a huge open circle of yellow sand around which, in a perfect amphi-theatre, rose the thousands of seats. They were already filling with an excited throng, although many still loitered in the level area below, discussing the prospect of the day’s sport, and, I presume, wagering their sesterces on the blood of the six bulls, although I have not been able to understand what there is to lay wagers upon. It is a moral certainty that the bull will be killed, and that many horses will be disemboweled and slain, but hardly probable that any man will be so much as scratched. Possibly there is ample room for betting on the way the animals will die and on the thousand and one fine points that we outlanders do not in the slightest comprehend.
All around the arena in which the actual fighting was to take place there ran a narrow corridor, separated from the ring by a barrier several feet in height, supposedly high enough to keep the bulls inside during the conflict, but not too high to prevent the fighters from leaping into a place of safety when too hotly pursued. Active and unusually angry bulls have been known to leap over this fence, I am told, and when that happens there is a large chance that somebody will be killed or maimed. The barrier was pierced by numerous gates, and until the fight was about to begin these stood open, admitting the crowd freely to wander about, conversing in little knots.
At the appointed hour a trumpet sounded and the ring was speedily cleared, most of its occupants betaking themselves to the seats nearest the arena, where they packed themselves in tightly, content to sit there as long as might be necessary. Exit from such seats is a matter of great difficulty, and we had been warned against them. As soon as the ring was entirely clear, the gates swung open and the fighters entered in a splendid procession. They gave the needed touch of color, for the dense throng of spectators rising on every hand was a sombre spectacle, composed mostly of men and sadly lacking the lively hues that Spanish women with their fans and gay costumes might have given on a more balmy day. In the advancing band of toreros, how-ever, there was an abundance of good cheer. They were gay with red and blue and tinsel. Even their black cocked hats had an air of alert life, and the flaunting capes lent animation as well as color. On foot came the men whose duty it was to excite the bull and divert him from making human sacrifice. On horseback came the picadores, armed with long lances, whose function is never to kill, but to infuriate the beast and get their horses gored if possible. Also there were matadores, the swordsmen who do the actual killing in the end.
These gorgeous creatures encircled the arena, followed by a gruesome team of horses or mules, dragging a tackle which was intended for hauling off the dead bodies of bulls and steeds. They halted before the box of the presiding officer, made stately obeisance in his direction, and disappeared. Two horsemen in black then cantered around the ring, making sure everything was snug, received the official key flung down from the hands of the president, unlocked the door from which the bulls were to enter, and then dashed madly out of the arena as if all the herds of Andalusia were after them. The crowd sat in a breathless hush on the edges of the seats, expectantly eyeing the grim portal on the farther side of the ring from where we sat.
Slowly it swung on its hinges, and from its shade a dun bull advanced suspiciously into the open, shaking his magnificent head with its wicked horns. The gates of the barrier clanged behind him, and he gazed to right and left in stupid bewilderment, evidently astonished at finding himself in an unwonted spot. He stood in the midst of a huge and perfect circle with thousands of men looking down upon him, no longer silent but yelling their encouragement or their derision. Far away across the sand were gesticulating figures in gay attire, waving banners of a color that he loathed, and advancing gingerly in his direction. The bull snorted, lowered his head, and charged for the nearest picador, who braced himself with leveled lance on the back of his poor, doomed horse. It took place at our very feet. The poor animal, blindfolded as he was, had no possible chance to save himself, and knew nothing of the furious creature bearing down upon him. I closed my own eyes and waited for the agonized shriek which should tell me that the horse was fatally hurt. None came. I opened my eyes cautiously again, and saw what was far worse than a dead horse, for the horns had not inflicted a deathblow, but had merely gashed the side of the poor beast, and his rider was urging him, maimed as he was and bleeding frightfully, to his feet. He himself had not been unhorsed, but had punctured the bull’s tough hide with his spear. The chulos with their capes were scampering over the yellow sands trailing their red-maroon cloths and tolling the bull after them. He made for the other horse, and I closed my eyes once more. When I opened them again the second horse was down and obviously done for. His rider had jumped and vaulted over the barrier, while the chulos once more tolled the infuriated monster away. Happily an attendant dispatched the dying horse with a poniard and left him convulsively kicking in his death agony. It was sickening, and I shall not again speak of the repeated assaults on these decrepit hacks, which quite as often were not killed, but staggered, half-eviscerated, around the arena until their tired legs would bear them up no more. To all this I discreetly shut my eyes, else I fear I should not have remained to see the ultimate slaughter of even a single bull.
To our unbounded relief a trumpet speedily sounded the end of this, the first act of the drama ; and the horses that remained alive were led out of the ring, leaving the field to the men on foot. This was better, surely. The men, at least, were there because they wished to be, and with their skill apparently stood in no great peril. Besides, the second act promised something more enlivening than the goring of a few wretched horses who could see nothing, something savoring of dexterity and nerve. The chulos remained in the game with their flaunting capes, which the bull invariably menaced with his reeking horns, preferring to expend his fury on these and to ignore the men. Now and then a cape would be dropped, and without it the chulo would vault lightly over the barrier to wait until a chance offered for recovering his weapon. Now came the banderilleros, the men with ribboned darts, who to my mind afford the chief excitement of a bullfight. One of these standing entirely alone in the midst of the arena extended both arms toward the bull, who had halted opposite him regarding him with shaking head. In each hand he waved a bunch of gaudy ribbons. It was too much. The bull dropped his head and made for him at full speed, lumbering over the sands with terrific momentum. Calmly the banderillero awaited him, not a muscle moving, arms still ex-tended and darts poised. Then, just as the bull was upon him, he leaped lightly to one side, drove the darts down into the neck of the brute as it thundered past him, and a chulo with trailing scarf drew the animal on. The surrounding thousands burst into a roar of applause, and I confess that I applauded too. For it was masterly well done.
This continued for some time, several performers planting their barbs in the neck and back of the bull, who was growing tired and losing his fighting spirit instead of gaining it. He proved to be but a poor beast, after all, and his nerve was gone. He stood irresolute and pawed the sand for minutes at a time, while the crowd called him vaca (cow), and demanded fireworks to enliven him, considered, I believe, a disgraceful last resort to encourage coward bulls. These latter were speedily forthcoming, the banderillero planting them in his adversary’s bleeding shoulders with the customary precision, whereat the squibs they contained exploded. But it was of no avail, and the trumpet impatiently sounded the last act, the matador with his sword.
He came from his retreat under the building, a handsome, alert figure attired in magnificent, tight-fitting raiment. In his hands he bore a keen, flexible blade and a bright scarlet cape. In a few words which we could not catch he addressed the president, apparently asking permission to kill this bull for the honor of the citizens of Madrid, and then turned to his work. But it was a sorry opportunity for any skill. The brute was now absolutely tired out, and refused to be harried into life again. In vain did matador and the lively chulos wave their red cloths in his bewildered face. He backed away from them all, and at lastcrowning disgrace !retired to the other side of the ring and lay wearily down, as much as to say, “I ‘m tired of all this. Come and kill me, and let us have it over.” I had never expected to pity a bull as I had so recently pitied the poor horses slaughtered to make a Madrileflo’s holiday. But here was a tired brute, as devoid of fight as a sleepy kitten, mutely begging to be allowed to die !
The matador in disgust went up and dispatched him with a blow. The crowd were angry, of course, and heaped derisive epithets on the carcass as it was dragged ingloriously out, and the dead horses after it. The evidences of the carnage were covered with fresh sand and in a trice the trumpet sounded for the second bull.
I shall not attempt to describe this second killing in detail, although I remained to see it through. This beast had more fire than the first, and from the moment when he charged into the ring sent the chulos scampering in hot haste for the protection of the barrier. But the game soon steadied down to a tiresome repetition of the first one, the same end-less flaunting of banners, the same goring of horses, the daring feats of the banderilleros, and finally another killing by a second matador, who had more of a task before him than the first. For this bull did not lie down and beg for mercy or for death. He kept the runners busy, and the swordsman had an opportunity to show his skill by piercing his spinal marrow neatly as the great head dashed by him, in pursuit, as usual, of a red flag. There was, however, one moment of very real excitement and danger. A picador, impaling the bull upon his lance as his horse went down, was unable to with-draw the weapon and found himself pinned under the animal with the bull glaring down upon him. The roar which had greeted the assault froze on the lips of the crowd, and the angry bull lowered his horns, unmindful of the frantic chulos and their scarfs. This time I could not close my eyes, the scene fascinated me far too much, awful as it was. The terrified picador was caught on the horns and tossed, fell among his fellows, who instantly formed a cordon around him, and was hurried, protesting and struggling, to a hospital. A daring fighter managed to get the bull’s attention and drew him away. And the fight went on.
Next day we learned that the wounded picador had received a serious cut from the sharp horns of the animal, and would not be able to appear again for some time. He was treated at the hospital ad-joining the arena, for such an institution is always handy, and eke a chaplain to shrive any torero who by any chance may be fatally hurt. It is also said that a chapel is likewise connected with the bullring, and that it is the custom of these hired butchers to prepare themselves for their dangerous game by prayer and devotion.
I am now prepared heartily to echo the sentiment expressed by the clergyman quoted in the guide-books, who says he came away from the bull-ring “bored” by the spectacle. For I was even more bored than disgusted by it, if that be possible. Surely nothing could be duller. Always it was the same skillful toying with a senseless creature, too clumsy to be especially dangerous to an expert fighter, and seldom capable of being stirred to more than a passing frenzy. The bull was the one participant who never had any chance at all, if one except the poor horses who had no function to perform but to stand and be gored, thus serving as living incitements to the fury of the bull, an improvement over the red capes because they would bleed and suffer, while a bloodthirsty crowd looked on and rubbed its hands with delight ! And yet these same people could be all kindness and courtesy to the stranger, devout Christians, loving husbands and wives, gentle toward animals and passionately fond of little children ! How can one reconcile this lovable side of the Spanish character with its devotion to bullfighting? It is a passion that no power has been able to eradicate. Popes have fulminated against it in vain to these most Catholic subjects of the Most Catholic King, and yet bullfighting goes on with unabated vigor.
I came away while the third bull was being baited. He was no more vicious than the first, and the killing of him was evidently to be the same old story over again. At the pension the charming Senorita Rosario inquired how we enjoyed it. “Not at all,” said we.
“Ah, no!” she replied. “Nor do I. The bulls are not so bad, but the horses, it is not pleasing ! You will without doubt desire some viskee or some cognac? No? Most Americanos and most Ingleses do so!”