Travel Letters: Burgos (1883)

MY DEAR LIZZIE, — Your last letter gave me such a lively idea of what was going on in New York that Burgos, by contrast, seems a little dull. Nothing goes on in Burgos but the cathedral bells. My breakfast, for which I am waiting, does not seem to go on at all. But if I think of you all in New York, it will make my head spin as much as is good for it, in this quiet place, so I am going to answer your letter, in hopes to get another.

Wildes would have been so proud and delighted if he could have seen me this morning at 1.17, in fact, from that to 3.12. No trains in Spain ever connect with any others, so I was left over all that time at Venta di Banos, on my way from Leon here. And I sat in the railway restaurant at that dead hour of the night and read the report of the Eighth Church Congress, which had reached me just before I started on my journey. Think of it ! . . . Was ever such a tribute paid to the general secretary before ? I was listening still to Dr. Shattuck’s account of the early Ecclesiastical History of Boston, when the express train from Madrid came along, and I got in, and soon the cathedral of Burgos came in sight. It really is a very great cathedral, the first I have seen in Spain.

The glorious things I have seen in Spain have been, first, the approach to Gibraltar and the Pillars of Hercules ; second, the Alhambra, with the Sierra Nevada behind it; and third, the pictures of Velasquez at Madrid. Those things are all superb, worth the journey here to see, if there were nothing else. There is a lot else scattered along the road, but those are the great things, and as to Gothic architecture, he who has seen Chartres, Rheims, Amiens, and Cologne (to say nothing of York and Durham) need not be impatient about seeing Seville, or Leon, or Toledo, or even Burgos ; though Burgos is far the finest of them all, and must rank, though not very high, among the greatest cathedrals of the world.

There is something in their architecture that is like the people, a trace of something coarse, a lack of just the best refinement. The people whose great mediaeval glory is the Inquisition, and whose great modern delight is the bull-fight, must have something brutal in their very constitution. Now the Moors were thorough gentlemen, not a touch in them of the sham which was always in the Hidalgo ; so the Moorish architecture is exquisite in its refinement, and Velasquez was too great for the national coarseness to spoil him, though he has it, and Gibraltar belongs to England ! So that Nature and the Moors and Velasquez have done the finest things in Spain.

… To-morrow I go to Paris, whence I started last August to join you in Cologne. It has been a long loop, and has inclosed a lot of pleasant things. Now the summer is almost here, and then comes — home. My friend Mr. Paine, of Boston, talked before I left of coming over to join me, about the first of July, and I think he will do so. Write me what you and Arthur are doing and planning. My love to him.

Affectionately, PHILLIPS.